Less than two weeks from a first face-to-face with President Biden in Geneva, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday criticized the U.S. prosecution of rioters who took part in the January attack on the Capitol, calling it an example of American “double standards.”
The comments are likely to add to the pessimism in both Moscow and Washington that the June 16 summit will lead to a breakthrough between the two countries. Relations remain deeply strained over issues such as cyberattacks that Western intelligence says originate in Russia.
Meanwhile, Putin on Friday claimed that the United States wants to “suppress” Russia. He suggested the agenda for the summit with Biden could cover issues of potential common ground, such as climate, the pandemic, disarmament and combating terrorism.
That differed from Biden’s preview of the summit last week, when he said he would press Putin on human rights abuses such as Russia’s treatment of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. In response, the Kremlin has attempted to draw an equivalency to the U.S. treatment of the Capitol rioters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it a “persecution” earlier this week. “These are not looters or thieves, these people came with political requests,” Putin said of the pro-Trump mobs that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The moderator at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum then asked Putin to clarify if he was defending the rioters, adding in a joking tone that the comments could lead to Putin “being banned online. I’m not giving any evaluations to the actual event. I’m talking about what followed after,” he said, adding that he does “not give a damn” if he is banned from social media sites. Applause from the crowd followed.
About 500 people have been charged in the investigation into the Capitol riot for offenses such as assaulting police officers, violent entry to Congress and disorderly conduct. In a separate interview with state television after his session at the St. Petersburg conference, Putin called Biden “a very experienced man. He has been in politics all his life. He is experienced, I hope, and very sensible and careful as a person.”
“I very much hope that our meeting will be positive,” Putin added. I don’t expect any breakthrough in Russian-U. S. relations, anything that could amaze us all with its results. One subject that could come up between the leaders is Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after Putin did nothing to break ranks with his strongman ally.
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Lukashenko last month sparked international outrage for forcing down a civilian jetliner flying over Belarus last month to arrest an opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich, who was on board. Also arrested was Russian activist Sofia Sapega, who was traveling with Protasevich on the flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania.
Lukashenko has claimed that Belarus air traffic controllers diverted the plane because of a emailed bomb threat purporting to be from the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The email, however, appeared to be sent after the plane was diverted, according to the email service provider. Hamas also denied issuing any bomb threat.
Asked if he believed Lukashenko’s explanation, Putin said, “Honestly, I don’t know.” He added that he preferred not to give an opinion, but Russian special services did not play a part.
The moderator then posed a hypothetical: “Would Russia force down a plane flying, for example, from London to Thailand over Russia if there was someone on board on Russia’s wanted list?”
“I won’t tell you,” Putin answered, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s crackdown on its critics has continued. Earlier this week, Russian authorities detained opposition politicians Dmitry Gudkov, a former parliamentarian who has been critical of Putin, and Andrei Pivovarov, director of Open Russia, a now defunct opposition group linked to exiled businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Navalny marked his 45th birthday on Friday, while serving a more-than two-year prison sentence on charges international observers and his allies have said were fabricated as a way to silence him.
Putin avoided referencing the United States for the majority of his session, a rare in-person appearance by him since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. He instead boasted that the first line of Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — linking Russia and Germany — was completed just hours earlier.
The multibillion-dollar pipeline has been a point of contention between the United States and Russia. Putin said the second line of pipes will be finished within a couple of months.
The Biden administration last month eased sanctions on the pipeline, billed as an effort by Washington to mend relations with Berlin and other European partners. It was criticized by some Republican U.S. senators as allowing Russia to use Nord Stream 2 to increase some European Union states’ dependency on Moscow. The United States is an exporter of natural gas to Europe, but Russian gas is cheaper.
“I think it should go ahead especially now that the new U.S. administration said it wants to build friendly relations with its partners in Europe,” Putin said at the St. Petersburg forum. “How can you build good relations with your partners and completely disregard their interests?”
Nigeria Detains Israel Filmmakers for second week without charges
The three Israeli filmmakers arrested by the State Security Service (SSS) will spend the second week in detention without being charged to court by the Nigerian government.
The Israelis were taken in by Nigeria’s secret police over allegations that they supported the activities of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Peoples Gazette had reported that a Zionist activist, Rudy Rochman, filmmaker Noam Leibman and French-Israeli Journalist E. David Benaym were arrested on July 9, when they visited Ogidi village, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State to shoot a documentary.
They took off from Ben Gurion Airport, Israel on July 5 and arrived in Nigeria the following day to film the documentary, “We Were Never Lost”, which explores Jewish communities in African countries such as Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda, and Nigeria.
Their arrest came on the heels of the repatriation of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who in 2018 publicly declared that he “owed his survival to the state of Israel.”
The crew which was arrested at a synagogue during Friday night services on July 9 and subsequently taken to Abuja are also said to be without legal representation in detention.
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Times of Israel reported that one of the men entered Nigeria on a French passport, and the other two on American passports, making it difficult for the Israeli embassy to get involved at the onset. They will now spend the second Shabbat, a symbolic day of rest for the Jews, in custody of Nigerian security forces.
The families of the trio alleged that political groups (in Nigeria) twisted the gifting of a Torah scroll to a local community to claim it constitutes support for separatist political ambitions.
“The filmmaking crew thought it would be a nice gesture to bring several gifts with cultural symbolism to the communities it planned to visit,” their families said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, members of non-state political groups have hijacked for their own purposes images of the filmmakers gifting a Torah to a local community,” the families charged.
They also maintained that they were working with the U.S., Israeli and French embassies on the matter, and “We hope that the DSS will quickly conclude what the facts support.”
The report said SSS released one of the detainees, Mr Benaym to the French Embassy on Tuesday night to receive some medical attention, “with the intention of having him return to DSS custody the next day to continue the investigation.”
A spokesman for the SSS had declined comments about the filmmakers’ arrest and claims of torture.
German floods kill at least 133, search for survivors continues
Rescue workers searched flood-ravaged parts of western Germany for survivors on Saturday as water levels remained high in many towns and houses continued to collapse in the country’s worst natural disaster in half a century.
At least 133 people have died in the flooding, including some 90 people in the Ahrweiler district south of Cologne, according to police estimates on Saturday. Hundreds of people are still missing.
Around 700 residents were evacuated late on Friday after a dam broke in the town of Wassenberg near Cologne, authorities said.
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Over the past several days the floods, which have mostly hit the states of Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, have cut off entire communities from power and communications.
The flooding has also hit parts of Belgium and the Netherlands. At least 20 people have died in Belgium.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, were scheduled to visit Erftstadt, one of the hardest hit towns, on Saturday.
Laschet is ruling CDU party’s candidate in September’s general election. The devastation of the floods could intensify the debate over climate change ahead of the vote.
Scientists have long said that climate change will lead to heavier downpours. But determining its role in these relentless downpours will take at least several weeks to research, scientists said on Friday.
We Won’t Enforce New Mask Mandate – LA County Sheriff
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Friday he will not use his department to enforce a mandatory indoor mask requirement set to take effect this weekend amid a spike in COVID-19 cases across the county since its reopening.
On Thursday, the county Department of Public Health revived a requirement that masks be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status, a month after California dropped its statewide mask mandate for vaccinated people.
“We’re not where we need to be for the millions at risk of infection here in Los Angeles County, and waiting to do something will be too late, given what we’re seeing,” L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a virtual briefing with reporters.
In a statement, Villanueva said forcing those who are vaccinated or who have contracted COVID-19 to wears masks indoors “is not backed by science and contradicts the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.”
“The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) has authority to enforce the order, but the underfunded/defunded Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will not expend our limited resources and instead ask for voluntary compliance,” he said. “We encourage the DPH to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors and law enforcement to establish mandates that are both achievable and supported by science.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathy Barger also voiced her opposition to the order.
“I am concerned by rising cases, but I don’t believe the mask mandate will help efforts to stress vaccine efficacy and compel unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated,” she tweeted Friday. “LA County should remain aligned with the State instead of creating confusion and disagreement at the local level.”
Fox News has reached out to the Department of Public Health but has not heard back.
The new mandate goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Saturday. All indoor spaces, including gyms, retail stores, large events, offices and restaurants – when not eating or drinking – will require the wearing of a mask.
It was not clear how long health officials plan to keep the order. David said transmission of the coronavirus has steadily increased since the county’s June 15 reopening. The Delta variant, which is more contagious than other stains, has raised concerns from health officials, as well.
On Friday, the Public Health Department said the COVID-19 positivity rate increased 700% in one month – jumping from 0.5% to 3.7%. The agency urged residents to get vaccinated.
“The vaccines can protect you from serious illness, hospitalization and death,” it tweeted.
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