Russian TV pulls Ukrainian leader Zelensky’s show after one evening



 Russian state television channel TNT pulled Ukrainian actor-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky’s show “Servant of the People” after one evening this week.

The premiere came a day after Zelensky met for the first time in person with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a summit in Paris, seeking to end a long-running conflict in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border.

Zelensky joked last night that broadcasting the show, which foreshadowed his ascent to the presidency, must have been a mistake by the Russian channel, owned by natural gas export monopoly Gazprom.

It’s obvious that it was a “major error by the broadcaster or the part of the government that controls Russia’s information policy,” Zelensky said in comments aired by Ukrainian channel 1+1.

In the sitcom “Servant of the People”, Zelensky plays an outspoken schoolteacher who unexpectedly wins Ukraine’s presidential election after a candid video of him bad-mouthing the current government goes viral.

Zelensky jokes about Putin early in the series. After winning the presidency, Zelensky’s character is handed a luxury Hublot watch, a brand said to have been proudly worn by Putin.

Ukraine’s new leader replies, “Putin – Hublot?” a pun on a swear word used in an anti-Putin slogan popular in Ukraine.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have fallen to an all-time low since the conflict erupted five years ago in response to Kiev ousting its then pro-Russian president in a political pivot toward the West.

Zelensky, inaugurated this year, has set out ending the conflict as his top priority.


Edited by: Emmanuel Yashim



Repair work at Beirut port’s hangar may be cause of explosion – Defense Council



A meeting of the Lebanese Supreme Defense Council said that a massive blast that occurred in the port of Beirut on Tuesday evening might have been the result of maintenance work at the site.

The council said at an emergency meeting that followed the blast that a door of the port’s hangar, where explosive materials were stored, did not close properly, local media reported.

Following the tragic incident, the city’s governor said that half of the Beirut’s buildings were damaged, and hospitals were overcrowded due to a large number of injured people.

More than 80 people were killed and some 4,000 injured.

“(Some) 2,750 tonnes – the amount of ammonium exploded in the port of Beirut – are materials that were seized in 2014 from the Rhosus dry-cargo ship, registered in Moldova, when it was heading to Africa and suffered damages during navigation,” the Defense Council said, as quoted by local LBCI broadcaster.

During the meeting, representatives of the Lebanese security service said that an explosion took place as a door was being welded, the channel reported.

It was discovered some time ago that the hangar’s door was not properly locked, and there was a gap by the wall, which made it easy to both enter and leave the hangar, the emergency meeting of the defense council said.

“A spark led to the burning of explosive materials in the hangar that then led to a blast of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which is equivalent to 1,800 tonnes of TNT,” Lebanese officials said.

The Lebanese government has declared a three-day mourning for the victims of the tragedy starting Wednesday.

In 2014, the Rhosus cargo ship’s owner abandoned the vessel in Beirut.

Meanwhile, high-risk goods – in particular, ammonium nitrate, which was prohibited from being unloaded or transferred to another vessel by Beirut’s port authorities – remained in the hold.

The cargo stored at the ship was then transported to an appropriate place, but, eventually was moved to hangar 12 at the port.

Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)
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Editors quit Russian newspaper, accusing boss of pro-Kremlin censorship



Five senior editors at Vedomosti, one of Russia’s most prominent business newspapers resigned on Monday in protest at the appointment of an editor-in-chief they say has applied pro-Kremlin censorship to its coverage.

Their resignation, according to the newspaper, occurred after the publication’s acting editor-in-chief, Andrei Shmarov, was confirmed to the post by the publisher’s board of directors.

The five editors, Dmitry Simakov, Boris Safronov, Philip Sterkin, Kirill Kharatyan and Alexander Gubsky  all served as Shmarov’s deputies, Vedomosti reported.

“We do not find it possible to work with an editor-in-chief who with his actions has shown that he doesn’t care about rules, standards and principles,’’

Safronov, a deputy editor-in-chief who has worked for the paper since 1999, told Reuters.

Shmarov said on Monday the resignation of his deputies represented a major loss for the newspaper, which he said would continue its operations.

One reporter in April publicly complained that Shmarov had forbidden negative coverage of President Vladimir Putin’s plans to change the constitution so that he could potentially stay in power until 2036.

The reporter added that Shmarov had threatened to fire those who defied the ban.

Others said Shmarov had barred publication of opinion polls carried out by a research firm that had irritated the Kremlin.

Shmarov told Reuters at the time that he had not threatened to sack anyone and that his editorial decisions were his own and not the result of any instructions given by anyone else, including from any government or business structure.

Until recently, Vedomosti had been widely regarded as one of the few high profile publications in Russia not to be under the direct control of the authorities or businessmen with ties to the Kremlin.

Shmarov was appointed acting editor-in-chief at the end of March, after it was announced that two businessmen would be buying the newspaper.

Journalists had called for the newspaper’s management to appoint someone else.

Edited By: Halima Sheji/Maharazu Ahmed (NAN)
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United States “outraged” by Russian court’s conviction of United States citizen




United States Department of State said on Monday that it was outraged by a Russian court’s decision to convict United States citizen Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in jail earlier in the day.

“The United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict United States citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The Moscow City Court on Monday sentenced United States citizen Paul Whelan to 16 years in jail after finding him guilty of spying in Russia, local media reported.

Whelan’s lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told reporters that after the appeal they will decide whether to request a pardon or an exchange for Russian nationals Konstantin Yaroshenko or Viktor Bout jailed in the United States.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday that Moscow has repeatedly offered options for prisoner swaps to Washington and its position now remains unchanged.

Whelan, 50, was detained in Moscow by the Russian Federal Security Service on suspicion of espionage on Dec. 28, 2018, although his family said he traveled to Moscow only to attend a friend’s wedding.

Before his detention, Whelan was head of the security service of a United States firm producing automobile parts. He also has British, Irish and Canadian citizenships.

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Analysis: Experts say Turkish-Russian differences surface in Libyan conflict




Russian top officials postponed a visit to Turkey at the last minute on Sunday, highlighting their differences on the Libyan conflict, where the two countries have taken a lead in efforts to find a solution to the oil-rich nation’s near decade-long conflict, analysts said.

Meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu planned in Istanbul will take place “at a future date,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday, a day after announcing that the two ministers were set to come for talks.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow separately said the two sides are “actively working to support a settlement in Libya.” No reason has been mentioned for the cancellation of this meeting where Libya was supposed to be the main focus.

Experts think that recent gains in Libya by Turkish-supported forces lay at the core of tensions amid statements from the United Nations that warring sides had begun new peace talks.

“This last minute cancellation is the signal of problems in Libya where Turkey has upped it stakes after recent battle victories on the field. It seems that Turkey’s hand is stronger than before compared to Russia,” Oytun Orhan, coordinator at the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), told Xinhua.

Ankara and Moscow support opposing sides in civil wars in Syria and Libya. Ankara is providing military and diplomatic support to Libya’s United Nations-recognized administration, the Government of National Accord (GNA), while Russia backs rival militia commander Khalifa Haftar.

In Syria, the Russian-backed government aims to retake northern province of Idlib from Islamist militants, while Turkey has vowed to never let that happen, sending thousands of troops there to protect its national interests and avert a new influx of refugees on its soil.

“Turkey doesn’t seem ready to any concessions in Libya where its hand is stronger now with battleground gains around the strategic town of Sirte,” indicated Orhan.

Russia, on the other hand, he said, is trying to force Ankara to a compromise in Libya by using the Idlib card, organising air raids against Turkey-backed forces positions in northern Syria, Orhan stressed.

“There is an ongoing arm wrestling between Russia and Turkey in Syria and Libya,” argued this expert, emphasizing that he doesn’t expect these tensions to simmer in both war theaters into a direct confrontation.

In recent months, Russia and Turkey have taken the lead in efforts to find a solution to Libya’s crisis, hoping in the process to carve out spheres of influence for themselves in the North African nation.

Turkish support for the GNA has allowed it to turn the tide and repel a year-long offensive by eastern-based renegade commander Khalifa Haftar, which Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt back.

The postponed Istanbul talks were supposed to broker a deal which would pave the way of a ceasefire in Libya.

This is not the first time that Russia and Turkey have attempted to broker a ceasefire in Libya, but this time with the United States showing interest to support its NATO ally, Turkey, in the oil-rich nation.

In January, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Haftar visited Moscow as part of Russian-Turkish efforts to secure a lasting ceasefire. However, Haftar, bolstered by his battlefield successes at the time, refused to sign the agreement.

The Moscow meeting was followed a week later by a separate summit, this time hosted by Germany.

Turkey’s prime motivations for entering the war in Libya was a contentious maritime border demarcation agreement it signed with the GNA that expanded its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the resource-abundant eastern Mediterranean.

Several European nations have opposed Turkey’s Libyan ambitions. France escalated over the weekend its stance towards Ankara in Libya, saying that it is “acting in an unacceptable way by using NATO, and France cannot tolerate this.”

Observers think that both Ankara and Moscow have to make concessions at further stages in Libya to secure their gains and prevent an escalation of tensions that would be detrimental to both sides.

“Conditions have drastically changed in the Libyan theater since January and it’s very obvious that Turkey and Russia should engage in a new round of talks if they intend to renew their joint commitment for peace and stability of Libya,” political commentator Serkan Demirtas told Xinhua.

The GNA, backed by Turkey’s military and drones, remarked this expert, is continuing its advance to gain the control of Sirte and al-Jufra airbase. It wants to expand its control along the shoreline and around the Oil Crescent to further consolidate its military gains. It won’t likely stop until these objectives are met.

Nevertheless, Demirtas insisted that a renewed Turkish-Russian political dialogue seems to be the best solution to reach peace in Libya. “Just like in Syria, there is no military solution to the Libyan question either,” he added.

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