Posts Tagged russia

China unmoved on Iran sanctions (BBC)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, New York (23 Sept 2009)

Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to shake “honestly extended” hands

China says placing sanctions on Iran is not the right way to resolve the controversy over its nuclear plans.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on all sides to “redouble diplomatic efforts” to persuade Iran to end its nuclear programme.

Her remarks came after Russia indicated it could soften its longstanding opposition to further sanctions.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are set to lead Thursday’s nuclear proliferation debate at the UN General Assembly.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for civilian use only but many Western states believe it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Beijing, Ms Jiang said: “We believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue.”

Correspondents says Iran’s oil and gas industries are likely to be affected if sanctions are strengthened, which could explain China’s reluctance to back further restrictions.

Wide focus

Russia has already agreed to limited sanctions on Iran but has so far opposed any additions.

ANALYSIS
Quentin Sommerville
Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beijing

When Jiang Yu said that sanctions and pressure would not solve the Iranian nuclear issue, she was simply repeating China’s stated policy of non-interference in another country’s sovereignty.

China rarely votes “no” in the Security Council, but often abstains. However, Beijing has backed a number of resolutions that would open the way to sanctions against Iran, but did so with its nose firmly held. Sanctions don’t work says China, they only victimise ordinary citizens. But is this sound principle or just smart business?

Trade between China and Iran is booming – it jumped by a third between 2007 and 2008. The United States and others accuse China of sanctions-busting and helping Tehran’s weapons programme, something that Beijing has consistently denied.

On Wednesday, however, President Dmitry Medvedev said although they were rarely productive, sanctions were in some cases “inevitable”.

“We need to help Iran to [make] the right decisions,” he said, following a meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York.

The move was welcomed by the White House. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Russia’s “willingness to play a constructive role is extremely important”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says Russia’s apparent change of direction could have been influenced by the US announcement last week that it was dropping plans for an anti-missile defence shield close to Russian borders.

But exactly how far Russia might go is not yet clear, our correspondent says.

In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not refer directly to the nuclear stand-off, but said Iran was ready to shake all hands “that are honestly extended to us”.

US officials have stressed that Thursday’s talks at the UN aim to create a “framework” for dealing with nuclear issues rather than focusing specifically on Iran.

Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama 23.9.09

“There is a deliberate effort here to focus on this issue comprehensively, and not use this meeting to focus on any specific country or problem,” said the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, Alex Wolff.

However, Iran is expected to dominate the agenda.

Six world powers are preparing to hold talks with Iranian officials on 1 October that are expected to cover global nuclear disarmament.

Mr Obama is hoping for a united position among the group but analysts say that if the talks yield nothing, he wants to pursue tougher sanctions against Tehran.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said the six powers had agreed Iran must give a “serious response” to accusations against it.

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Obama shelves Europe missile plan (BBC)

Barack Obama: “I’m confident… we have strengthened America’s national security”

US President Barack Obama has shelved plans for controversial bases in Poland and the Czech Republic in a major overhaul of missile defence in Europe.

The bases are to be scrapped after a review of the threat from Iran.

Mr Obama said there would be a “proven, cost-effective” system using land- and sea-based interceptors against Iran’s short- and medium-range missile threat.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed the US decision, calling it a “responsible move”.

Russia had always seen the shield as a threat.

However, there has been criticism of the decision in conservative circles in the US.

The US signed a deal in August 2008 with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.

ANALYSIS
Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington

It would be hard to invent a news story that tied together more strategic and political issues than the Obama administration’s decision to change its stance on the deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

It touches on Washington’s assessment of Iran’s military capabilities. There is an underlying assumption that Tehran’s capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.

It also sends a signal to the peoples of Central Europe about how President Barack Obama proposes to manage the post Cold War order in their neck of the woods in the next few years. And it raises questions about the administration’s much-talked-about desire to “hit the reset” button on its relationship with Russia.

The US had said the missile shield would be fully operational by 2012.

But President Obama this year ordered a review of the defence system, which was strongly backed by his predecessor George W Bush.

‘Stronger and smarter’

On Thursday, President Obama said in a live TV address that the change was needed to “deploy a defence system that best responds to the threats we face”.

He said a review had shown the need to switch strategy to defending against the short- and medium-range missiles that Iran could use to target Europe.

Twice Mr Obama referred to the need for a system that was “proven and cost effective”.

He said the new approach would provide “a stronger, smarter and swifter defence” of US and allied forces in Europe.

Mr Obama said he had spoken to both the Czech Republic and Poland and stressed his commitments to their defence.

But he said again that Russia’s concerns about the old system were “entirely unfounded”.

It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return
John Bolton,
former Bush undersecretary

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later stressed the overhaul was “not about Russia”.

Although the White House said the US “no longer planned to move forward” with the old shield scheme for Poland and the Czech Republic, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the US was not abandoning missile defence of Europe.

He said negotiations were under way with both nations about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015.

The first phase of the new strategy, he said, would be to deploy “current and proven missile defence systems in the next two years”, including the sea-based Aegis and the current SM-3.

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran’s neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

‘Responsible’

Mr Medvedev said the US decision was a “positive” one.

He said he would discuss the missile defence issue with President Obama during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.

Mr Medvedev said in a TV address: “We value the US president’s responsible approach towards implementing our agreements. I am ready to continue the dialogue.”

Ground-based Midcourse Defense locations map

The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the US move could influence Russia to be more co-operative, correspondents say.

Mr Medvedev said there were now “good conditions” for talks on missile reduction.

Gates on missile shield overhaul

However, there has already been some criticism in the US.

John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was “unambiguously a bad decision”.

He said: “This gives away an important defensive mechanism against threats from countries like Iran and other rogue states, not only for the US but for Europe as well.

“It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return.”

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the US move was “a positive step”, Associated Press reported.

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Insight: Russia’s leading men (BBC)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow (09 September 2009)

By Bridget Kendall
BBC diplomatic correspondent

It may be a while until the next Russian presidential election, but when Vladimir Putin announced he was not ruling out returning to power as president in 2012, it caused ripples through political Moscow.

It was this comment from his long meeting with the Valdai club of foreign experts last week which prompted the most debate in Russian newspapers, and in private conversations with Russian colleagues.

And no wonder. In a country where one man at the top can decide so much, any whiff of the political future is of huge significance.

But it is not just Mr Putin’s game plan that matters. After all, it is his erstwhile protege, Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently president. He would be consulted, said Mr Putin graciously.

So what does Mr Medvedev think?

In a parallel meeting with the president – like last year, across from the Kremlin in the slightly incongruous setting of the banqueting hall of the GUM department store – the top issue that needed clarifying seemed to be this: just how closely aligned are these two leaders in their plans for Russia and ambitions for themselves?

I never worked in the committee of State Security, for 10 years I worked as a businessman. So I know what I am talking about
Dmitry Medvedev

President Medvedev was expecting the question about 2012 and grinned broadly.

“I do have a plan,” he said. “But I’m not making any predictions”.

“I didn’t want to run for president last time, but that was my fate. I don’t make any forecasts.”

But he pointedly did not endorse Mr Putin’s view that they would work it out between them.

In fact, what was most interesting about the Valdai group’s encounter with President Medvedev this year was the way he seemed to try to distance himself from his benefactor, as if to assert his right to hold an independent view.

It is true that in some sensitive policy areas, his responses were just as sharp as Mr Putin’s.

He did not regret one bit his scathing letter accusing President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine of stoking tensions with Russia. He could see no chance of Moscow improving relations with Georgia while President Mikheil Saakashvili was still there.

And, as for the direct elections of Russian governors in Russia – abolished in the wake of the Beslan crisis five years ago – he could see no prospect of restoring those in 100 years.

‘Personal views’

But Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin do not see eye to eye on everything, it seems.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US President Barack Obama in Moscow (06 July 2009)

Mr Medvedev praised Mr Obama for not relying on his aides

They had disagreed over whether Russia should join the World Trade Organization, Mr Medvedev told us, though they were now united in blaming a reluctant United States for keeping Russia out.

He welcomed new talks with Iran but deliberately left open the possibility of fresh sanctions – whereas, only days before, Mr Putin had told us sanctions were unworkable and any threat to use force against Iran “unacceptable”.

He enthused over his eight hours of talks and lunch with Barack Obama in Moscow in July – Mr Putin was only invited to breakfast – and pointedly praised the US president for speaking up for himself.

“President Obama tries to be independent in his position, instead of relying on his aides,” said Dmitry Medvedev, “which is exactly what I try to do.”

And he slipped in a nod to Mr Putin’s KGB past, apparently to burnish his own credentials for fighting corruption.

“I never worked in the committee of State Security. For 10 years I worked as a businessman, so I know what I am talking about,” said Mr Medvedev.

“Corrupt officials run Russia. They have the true power in Russia… We should squeeze it out.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi (14 August 2009)

Mr Medvedev is possibly no match as yet for Mr Putin

Corruption was one theme in a bleak and far-reaching vision to modernise Russia which he kept returning to.

He had laid it out in a long internet article last week, which openly spoke of influential opponents who would try to put obstacles in his way. The assessment, he said, had been his and his alone.

“Did you notice how often I used the pronoun ‘I’ and ‘me’ in the article?” he asked. “It is very clear these were my personal views.”

So did the ambitious vision he had set himself mean that he hoped to remain Russian president for at least one more term, whatever Mr Putin said?, I asked him.

Again, the president grinned and shifted in his seat, and then dodged the question. There was no “collision” looming between himself and Mr Putin, he told us.

“We have quite a friendly relationship,” he said.

“We talk over issues, though not as often as some people think – once a week perhaps. He makes his statements, I make mine.”

Genial leader

Their views on where Russia was heading were not in contradiction, Mr Medvedev said.

Maybe we have our differences, but that’s what matters – the mindset. We speak the same language.
Dmitry Medvedev

As prime minister, Vladimir Putin defended positive indicators in the state of the economy at the moment, whereas he warned of the dire problems Russia could face in the long term if it did not adjust its strategy.

“Perhaps we should both take a blood test to check whether we are of ‘one blood’,” he joked, referring to Mr Putin’s characterisation of their partnership, which he agreed was close and strong.

“Don’t forget Putin doesn’t just have a KGB past. The two of us were educated at the same law department of the same university. We have the same mindsets.

“Maybe we have our differences, but that’s what matters – the mindset. We speak the same language.”

Does that sound like the beginnings of a split? A protege beginning to spread his wings? Hardly.

Maybe Dmitry Medvedev is sincere in wanting to make an impact. Maybe he can convince Russians that his criticism of Russia and desire to change it is more than fine words.

He says he wrote his article to seek out public opinion ahead of the annual address he will give to the Russian Duma in November.

His own economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, was adamant when he spoke to us that the president and his team had no more than two and a half years – until the next election – to show they meant business by enacting the first steps of a viable plan of reform.

But at the same time, Mr Medvedev told us that any change in Russia must come slowly or it would be resisted.

There may be hardliners in the Russian government, he says, but that is a good thing because all points of view must be taken into account.

It does not really sound like a recipe to galvanize the support of the young internet-savvy Russians whom he hopes will lead his modernisation plans.

He is an accommodating president, not a revolutionary – genial, even likeable, but so far still no match for the steely Mr Putin, one suspects.

He is the junior partner in a dance where his mentor calls the tune.

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Arctic Sea Iran arms link denied (BBC)

The Arctic Sea, file image

The ship’s disappearance continues to puzzle experts

Russia has denied media reports that a cargo ship which was apparently hijacked in July was carrying Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports that the ship had illegal arms on board were “absolutely untrue”.

The Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea vessel with 15 Russian crew went missing for more than two weeks. It was found on 16 August off West Africa.

Eight men were later charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men, mostly from Estonia, are suspected of seizing the ship and its crew after raiding it disguised as police.

‘Serious people’

Speaking in Moscow, Mr Lavrov dismissed media speculation about S-300 missiles on board the Arctic Sea as “groundless”.

Russia’s top diplomat also promised a “transparent” investigation in which Maltese officials would also be invited to take part.

The 4,000-tonne vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Last week, Britain’s Sunday Times quotes sources in Russia and Israel claiming that the Arctic Sea was carrying arms to Iran and not timber.

It said that the sources claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad.

The arms were sold by former military officers linked to the underworld, the Sunday Times reported.

Also last week, a Russian journalist fled his country after suggesting that the ship might have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of the Sovfracht online maritime journal, said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The FSB has made no public comments on the allegations.

There has also been speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

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Russia ship mystery editor flees (BBC)

Mikhail Voitenko at a press conference in Moscow, 18 August 2009

Mr Voitenko said it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved

A journalist has fled Russia after suggesting the Arctic Sea cargo ship that was apparently hijacked in July may have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

The editor of Sovfracht, an online maritime journal, fled on Wednesday, saying he may not be able to return as his life would be in danger.

Eight men, mainly from Estonia, have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men are suspected of seizing the ship and its 15-man Russian crew after raiding it disguised as police.

The alleged hijackers were taken to Russia after the ship was spotted 300 miles (480km) off the west coast of Africa on 16 August.

Secret shipment

Mr Voitenko – who was among the first to cast doubt on official explanations about the ship’s disappearance – told the BBC it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved.

Suspected hijacker of the Arctic Sea being escorted in Moscow, 26 August 2009

Eight men have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case

Instead he suggested the ship may have been carrying a secret shipment of weapons as part of a private business deal by state officials.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The caller told Mr Voitenko that those involved in the mysterious case of the Arctic Sea were very angry with him because he had spoken publicly, and were planning on taking action against him, he said.

“As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe,” Mr Voitenko told the BBC. “At least they won’t be able to get me back to Russia and convict [me].”

He also said Nato knew exactly what had happened to the Arctic Sea.

A Nato spokesman said the alliance had been in contact with Russia throughout the crisis, but would not say anything more.

The FSB refused to comment on the allegations.

Further inspection

Mystery continues to surround the ship’s disappearance, amid speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

Arctic Sea, file image

There has been much speculation over what actually happened on the ship

The 4,000-tonne Maltese-flagged vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Observers have questioned why the alleged hijackers would risk seizing the Arctic Sea in one of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes for a relatively inexpensive cargo.

Russian authorities said nothing suspicious was found aboard the ship when it was found last month, but have said a more thorough inspection would be carried out when the Arctic Sea arrives in the Russian port of Novorossiisk.

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Arctic Sea transported Russian missiles (Interfax)

TALLINN. Aug 19 (Interfax) – The dry cargo ship Arctic Sea that was
reportedly attacked by pirates recently could have been involved in arms
trafficking, which is indirectly evident from the fact that Russian
combat planes and ships were dispatched to release the vessel, said
Tarmo Kouts, an EU rapporteur on piracy and former commander of the
Estonian defense forces.
“Only the presence of cruise missiles on board the ship can explain
Russia’s strange behavior in this whole story,” Kouts said in an article
published in the Wednesday issue of the Estonian newspaper Postimees.
If the vessel had been transporting illegal drugs, Russia would not
have taken such energetic steps to find the missing vessel, he said.
“This whole story looks so farfetched that it would have been naive
to believe Russia’s official version,” he said.
“First, the dry cargo ship’s owner officially tied to Finland but
having relation to Latvians, who were ethnic Russians, reported the
ship’s disappearance to the Russian president, after which three big
battleships and a frigate from the Black Sea were sent to chase it,”
Kouts said.
This naval unit was significantly stronger than that engaged in a
recent Somali piracy crisis, he noted.
The cargo that was on board the Arctic Sea, i.e. timber bound for
Algeria, could have been the best camouflage for arms contraband, Kouts
said.
“A whole alley of guided missiles can easily be hidden under stacks
of timber, because, in order to uncover them, the vessel needs to be
brought to a port, and its hold has to be emptied. They are not so easy
to uncover at sea,” he said.
Kouts emphasized that only the transportation of weapons can
explain Russia’s controversial behavior during the incident.

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The decline of Russia’s oligarchs (BBC)

By James Rodgers
Analysis, BBC News

Oleg Deripaska with Prime Minister Putin, Sochi , Sept 2008

PM Putin forced Mr Deripaska to reopen an aluminium plant in June

If you look up the word “oligarch” in the dictionary, you will find it means a member of a small group holding power in a state.

Today, though, it usually refers to the super-rich Russians who made their fortunes in the sometimes barbaric business world of their country in the 1990s.

In some cases, they sought to convert their new financial clout into political influence.

They grew even richer as oil prices and the Moscow stock markets soared in the boom years which followed.

Then, 12 months ago, as the global financial crisis reached Russia, the oligarchs got a shock.

“They have taken the biggest hit because they had the most to lose,” says Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Uralsib, a banking and investment company based in Moscow.

“The stock market in the second half of last year fell almost 75%, and we’ve seen that reflected in the Forbes list of billionaires et cetera,” Mr Weafer says.

“Just looking at the wealth of these individuals, they’ve taken a huge hit – hundreds of billions of dollars have been wiped from the value they had in the middle of 2008.”

There is no formal oligarchs’ club or association – and the way individuals have fared has varied depending on where their money was invested.

But any list of wealthy Russian businessmen would be likely to include Roman Abramovich – most famous outside Russia as owner of Chelsea football club – aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska and Boris Berezovsky, who has become an implacable opponent of the current Russian leadership. He now lives in Britain.

Public humiliation

As the crisis hit home, some of Russia’s richest ran into difficulties.

Today it’s very, very clear who’s calling the shots, and it’s not the oligarchs
Chris Weafer
Chief strategist, Uralsib

In June, Mr Deripaska found himself in a piece of political theatre on Russia’s biggest stage: the national television news.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in the northern Russian town of Pikalyevo to deliver a public reprimand to Mr Deripaska and others with a stake in the town’s main factory. Workers had not been getting their wages.

Viewers saw Mr Putin call Mr Deripaska forward. He ordered him to sign an agreement to solve the problem.

It looked like a teacher telling off a pupil – especially when Mr Putin asked for his pen back.

“It’s a very Russian approach. Nobody in Russia was surprised,” says Zoya Trunova, an editor at the BBC’s Russian Service.

“Everyone thought, ‘Well, that’s a fair thing to do. What else would the prime minister be doing?’ And then Deripaska looked very intimidated by that, but then he would do what he was told, but obviously the state feels that oligarchs are almost their own team of people so they can tell them what to do.”

This shift in power did not just come with the economic crisis. Vladimir Putin seems to have decided, as soon as he first rose to political prominence ten years ago, to rein in the oligarchs.

“He’s made it very clear that he expects the oligarchs to look after the workers, to help the government in terms of the stimulus package,” says Chris Weafer. “And today I think it’s very, very clear who’s calling the shots, and it’s not the oligarchs.”

Staging a comeback

The oligarchs’ global fame – or notoriety – has been built on tales of extravagance.

Boris Berezovsky in London 2007

Dissident billionaire Boris Berezovsky lives in London

Stewart Lansley – a co-author of the book, Londongrad, about their lives in the British capital – says their reduced spending actually fuelled the downturn in the luxury goods market in Britain. Now, he says, they’re returning.

“What’s happened in the last couple of months is that the Russians have been creeping back. There’s evidence already that they’ve started looking for bargains in a number of areas, they’ve been reappearing in jewellery shops, they’ve been reappearing buying Rolls Royces and top end cars.”

The oligarchs have usually excelled at reading the Russian political situation. Jonathan Eyal, from the Royal United Services Institute in London, agrees that the government currently has a political advantage – but, he argues, that does not mean that the oligarchs are finished.

“The oligarchs have many opportunities of influencing Russian political life, partly because Russian political life is itself now quite brittle,” Mr Eyal says.

“We have a double-headed leadership – on the one hand, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on the other hand President Medvedev – and in that kind of a structure the oligarchs will always find a weak point, or will always be able to divide and rule.”

The dictionary definition of oligarch doesn’t refer to wealth. Russia’s oligarchs have definitely lost part of theirs, and, as a result, they may also lose some of the “power they hold in the state”.

Given their proven ability to survive and prosper in the toughest of times, they are not about to disappear.

You can hear James Rodgers’ piece on the BBC World Service Analysis programme on Monday 31 August.

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Putin condemns Nazi-Soviet pact (BBC)

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signs the Nazi-Soviet pact as his German counterpart Joachim Von Ribbentrop (left), and Stalin look on, Moscow, 23 August 1939

The pact led to the carving-up of Poland and eastern Europe

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact signed a week before Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland as “immoral”.

In a piece for the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, he also expressed sorrow over the massacre of Polish army officers by Soviet forces at Katyn in 1940.

His words are seen as a bid to ease tensions with Poland over World War II.

But he also argued the Munich agreement signed by France and Britain wrecked efforts to build an anti-Nazi alliance.

A year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism
Vladimir Putin
Russian prime minister

Mr Putin is among several statesmen attending a service in the Polish port city of Gdansk on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of Poland’s invasion.

“Our duty is to remove the burden of distrust and prejudice left from the past in Polish-Russian relations,” said Mr Putin in the article, which was also published on the Russian government website.

“Our duty… is to turn the page and start to write a new one.”

Katyn regret

Memories of the 1939 pact – in which the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany essentially agreed to carve up Poland and the Baltic States between them – have long soured Moscow’s relations with Poland and other east European states.

Joachim von Ribbentrop signing the ratification of the Nazi-Soviet pact in Berlin, 28 September 1939

Within a month of the pact being signed, Soviet troops had invaded and occupied parts of eastern Poland.

“It is possible to condemn – and with good reason – the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact concluded in August 1939,” wrote Mr Putin, referring to the two foreign ministers who signed the pact at the Kremlin.

It was clear today, he said, that any form of agreement with the Nazi regime was “unacceptable from the moral point of view and had no chance of being realised”.

“But after all,” he added, “a year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism.”

The Munich Agreement of September 1938, widely seen as the low point of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, allowed Germany to annex Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region.

Mr Putin added that Russian people understood “all too well the acute emotions of Poles in connection with Katyn”.

In 1940 Soviet secret police massacred more than 21,000 army officers and intellectuals on Stalin’s direct orders in the Katyn forest near the city of Smolensk.

Moscow only took responsibility for the killings in 1990, having previously blamed the massacre on the Nazis.

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Putin’s action-man holiday album (BBC)

Putin swims in a lake in the Siberian Tuva region

The images are meant to portray a man who is in charge

By James Rodgers
BBC News

The Tuva holidays of Vladimir Putin – the title of a summer blockbuster film?

The name of a thriller about an ex-KGB officer just trying to enjoy a quiet life, but who keeps getting drawn back to solve problems which defeat everyone else?

No, but there might be something to that…

It is actually the headline which the website of one of Russia’s leading news agencies, Ria Novosti, put above a selection of official photographs of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enjoying a summer break in a remote region of Siberia.

Putin sits in a tree while traveling in the Siberian Tuva region of Russia

Mr Putin is shown standing on a rocky mountain slope; resting in the branches of a tree; swimming in a river; riding a horse.

In most of the photos, he wears military-style clothes and boots. In the equestrian shots, he is shirtless.

In a country where most men do not live until the age of 60, Mr Putin stands out as an example of someone who has looked after himself.

Smoking and drinking are big factors in Russia’s low male life expectancy.

Mr Putin will be 57 in October. He looks in better physical shape than many Russian men 20 years his junior.

His media team want to make sure that message – like Mr Putin’s chest – does not remain hidden.

The implication, obviously, is that he knows how to look after the country too.

To anyone fed up with their father/husband/boss dragging himself out of bed, or going to work so hung over he does not really know what he is doing, these pictures say: “At least there is one man who is in control”.

Lost in translation

That is important for the prime minister, whose main task is to steer Russia through the storms of economic crisis.

Putin rides a horse outside the town of Kyzyl in Southern Siberia, 3 August

Putin’s equestrian skills were not the only things on display

It also serves as a reminder that he has in no sense become less active since ending his time as president.

The suggestion is that he would be in good shape to go back to the top job in 2012 if that is the way things turn out.

The Kremlin either does not know, or does not care, how these pictures will be seen by some people in the West.

The photographs of a bare-chested Mr Putin riding a horse through mountain scenery may of course put some people more in mind of a recent Hollywood film about gay cowboys.

That is not the message these pictures, and those of previous years, send out to the majority of Russians.

In Russia, they reinforce Mr Putin’s image as a man many men aspire to be, and – as a recent pop song suggested – many women aspire to be with.

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