Russia

Dhārmikatva / Creative Commons

A Fairfield University professor is joining international calls for a full and transparent investigation into the killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.  

David McFadden is director of the Russian and East European studies program at Fairfield. He said he doesn’t believe Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the murder, “but there are plenty of right-wing people close to the regime, or on the fringes of the regime, that wanted him dead because he was a great opposition alternative,” he said.

In a claim that's meeting with skepticism in Kiev, Russian-backed separatists say they've started to withdraw heavy weapons in eastern Ukraine, as required by a recent cease-fire. Ukraine's military says separatist attacks are ongoing.

The development comes after Russia's President Vladimir Putin said he thinks a war with Ukraine would be "apocalyptic" — but that the area is now on a path to stability, after the recent Minsk agreement.

British fighter jets scrambled from their base on Wednesday after two Russian long-range bombers skirted the coast of Cornwall, in the southwest of England. The incident comes one day after British Foreign Secretary Michael Fallon warned about Russia's intentions in Europe.

Following heavy shelling in what had been a Ukraine-controlled city, the central government's force is retreating from Debaltseve, a key railroad and transportation hub. Ukraine says it has now withdrawn 80 percent of its armed forces from the city.

"I can say now that the Ukrainian armed forces and the National Guard completed an operation on the planned and organized withdrawal of some units from Debaltseve this morning," Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said, according to the Interfax news agency in Ukraine.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have resulted in a cease-fire which is set to begin Sunday. But there's still a long ways to go before a lasting peace can exist between the two countries.

Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman doesn't think the cease-fire will hold. He told CNN that the U.S. should send weapons to Ukrainian fighters to help counter Russian-backed troops and President Vladamir Putin.

"I think if we give them the weapons to defend themselves, it actually raises the prospects that the cease-fire will hold because it creates a little more balance on the ground and creates a bit of a disincentive for Putin and the separatists to keep moving through eastern Ukraine," said Lieberman.

A new cease-fire is set to begin Sunday in eastern Ukraine, in a deal after 16 hours of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. The leaders of France and Germany helped broker the deal, which calls for a buffer zone free of heavy weapons. News of the temporary peace emerged along with a new international aid plan for Ukraine.

As has been the case in Ukraine's nearly yearlong conflict with separatists, the new arrangement established by Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko leaves some important issues unresolved.

A year ago, Russia's economy was riding high. Today, the country is widely thought to be entering a recession, if it's not already there.

The plunge in oil prices has been the main culprit, but Russia's economy has had trouble regaining its footing because of sanctions imposed by the West after the annexation of Crimea. President Obama and other Western leaders were quick to condemn Russia when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula last March, and they struggled to find a way to show their outrage.

Evgeny Feldman / Wikimedia Commons

Updated at 11:36 a.m. 

A Russian activist with ties to Yale University has received a suspended sentence on fraud charges. Alexei Navalny has become a prominent political opposition leader in Russia, leading protests over the years against President Vladimir Putin. 

According to the Associated Press, thousands of protestors took to the streets outside the Kremlin in response to the conviction. Navalny was subsequently arrested for breaking the terms of his house arrest and joining the protestors.

Apples and oranges / Creative Commons

It’s been just over a year since Russian authorities arrested 30 activists aboard Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III -- a ship protesting Russia’s controversial oil rig in the Arctic. Among those arrested was the ship’s captain, Peter Willcox, a Greenpeace veteran and resident of Norwalk, Connecticut. 

President Obama departed the venue of the annual G20 summit in Australia today, declaring it had been a "strong week for American leadership."

The gathering wrapped up by promising to fight climate change and work toward boosting economic growth even as leaders made it clear that new sanctions would be imposed on Russia if Moscow doesn't back down in Eastern Ukraine.

Elections in Ukraine are pointing to a new parliament that will be dominated by pro-Western parties, a result that President Petro Poroshenko is hailing as a "course toward Europe" but one that is likely to further anger Russia.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Kiev that exit polls show the bloc supporting Porsohenko is projected to win about 23 percent of the vote, followed closely by an allied party, the People's Front, with around 21 percent.

As Oil Prices Fall, Who Wins And Who Loses?

Oct 16, 2014

With oil around $85 a barrel and tumbling to its lowest levels in several years, here's the upside: Gasoline prices are down, the U.S. is feeling less dependent on foreign crude, and serious economic pressure is growing on oil producers such as Iran and Russia.

Here's the downside: The low demand for oil reflects a fragile global economy that's vulnerable to additional shocks, like falling stock markets around the world.

A group of hackers, allegedly from Russia, found a fundamental flaw in Microsoft Windows and exploited it to spy on Western governments, NATO, European energy companies and an academic organization in the United States.

That's according to new research from iSight Partners, a Dallas-based cybersecurity firm.

An initial investigation by Dutch experts appears to support the long-held theory of what happened to MH17 over eastern Ukraine: The Malaysian airliner was brought down by multiple "high-energy objects from outside the aircraft."

Although the preliminary technical report by the Dutch Safety Board did not directly say the objects were surface-to-air missiles, it left little room to conclude otherwise.

Ukraine and the West, including the United States, insist that the Russian army has been fighting in eastern Ukraine, a charge that Russia just as vehemently denies.

But reports from Russia now acknowledge that Russian soldiers are part of the battle — though they are claimed to be volunteers, on leave from their army jobs.

Critics say the Russian military is ordering soldiers into the fight, and covering up the deaths of those who are killed, in an unacknowledged war on foreign soil.

This post was updated at 1 p.m. ET.

The government of Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in the east say they have stopped fighting, honoring a cease-fire that took effect late Friday afternoon local time.

NPR's Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered a cease-fire once separatists agreed to peace talks at a meeting in Belarus.

During a televised press conference, Poroshenko said the peace deal was forged based on a phone conversation he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Can NATO Find A Way To Contain Russia?

Sep 3, 2014

Ever since the Cold War ended, the armies of NATO and Russia have been moving warily toward each other while their political positions keep moving further apart.

Twelve Eastern European countries have joined NATO since the Soviet breakup, and NATO is now on the verge of creating a rapid-reaction force for the region. Russia has sent troops into two former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Georgia, that have relationships with NATO, but not membership.

The morning started on a hopeful note: The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two had agreed on a "permanent cease-fire."

But that was short-lived. As the state-funded Russia Today reports, the Russians quickly pointed out that they had reached no such agreement, because "Russia is not party to Ukraine conflict."

NATO To Create New 'Spearhead' Force For Eastern Europe

Sep 2, 2014

NATO leaders are expected to set up a rapid-response force to deploy quickly to eastern Europe to defend against potential Russian aggression at their meeting in Wales later this week.

The force of about 4,000 troops will be ready to move on 48 hours notice from a station in a member country close to Russia, The New York Times reported.

Update at 3:21 p.m. ET

Pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine are no longer demanding full independence, telling negotiators in Belarus that they will respect Ukraine's sovereignty in exchange for autonomy.

The Associated Press adds:

"It's a shift that reflects Moscow's desire to strike a deal at a new round of peace talks — possibly avoiding tougher Western sanctions. The talks follow last week's meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine. Similar talks earlier this summer produced no visible results."

Chion Wolf / WNPR

As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia continues to escalate, Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy wants to call it what it is: a war.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says his government has sent parliament a bill that allows Ukraine to open a path toward membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"The main and only goal of Ukraine's foreign policy is to join the European Union," Yatsenyuk said in a statement.

Updated at 4:47 p.m.

President Obama blamed Russia for the violence in Ukraine and said its "incursion" into the former Soviet state will only carry additional costs.

"Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see," Obama said at a White House news conference on Thursday.

Update at 5:00 p.m. ET

After being halted at the border for more than a week, a Russian aid convoy is rumbling into eastern Ukraine without permission, prompting Kiev to label the move a "direct invasion" of sovereign territory.

Karoun Demirjian, reporting for NPR from Moscow, says 150 Russian trucks arrived in the rebel-held city of Luhansk on Friday.

Russia and Ukraine are holding large military exercises along their shared border as the Ukrainian military claims to be closing in on rebel strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk, NPR's Karoun Demirjian reports from Moscow.

Government troops and separatists have been fighting for months for control of eastern Ukraine, Karoun says, and Ukrainian leaders say Russia has been supplying the separatists with weapons and strategic assistance — a charge Moscow denies.

Ukrainian forces were reportedly advancing on rebel positions near the key eastern town of Donetsk on Saturday, as they try to retake the separatist stronghold.

Donetsk is the region where Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down on July 17, killing nearly 300 people. Pro-Russian rebels have been blamed for downing the plane and they have hampered international efforts to access the site of the wreckage.

The U.S. says it has "new evidence" that Russian forces have been firing artillery across the border to attack Ukrainian military positions, and that Moscow is planning to ship powerful rocket artillery to the rebels it backs in the country's east.

"We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said during a daily briefing.

A refrigerated train carrying the remains of the people who died aboard the downed Malaysia Airlines plane arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. That's a city controlled by the central government in Kiev and 17 hours away from the chaos of Hrabove, the eastern city controlled by pro-Russian separatists, where the debris and remains were scattered.

The New York Times sets the scene:

This post was last updated at 7:10 p.m. ET.

Pro-Russian separatists have given what they say are Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17's data recorders to Malaysian officials in Donetsk, the city in eastern Ukraine that has been the militants' stronghold.

Along with the release of victims' bodies hours earlier, the transfer of the black boxes fulfills part of a deal Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he had reached with the rebels Monday.

WNPR

On Monday at the White House, President Obama urged Russian President Vladmir Putin to order Russian separatists in Ukraine to allow international investigators unfettered access to the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. 

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