Dozens detained in Moscow as protesters show up at unauthorized location (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

Dozens were detained at an unauthorized protest in Moscow after Aleksey Navalny called for the demonstration to be moved from its authorized location, citing obstructions to installng a sound system and stage. Hundreds turned up at the authorized site, with sound systems present.

Recap: RT’s extensive LIVE updates on Moscow protest rallies

About 4,500 people took part in an unauthorized protest on Tverskaya Street in the center of the Russian capital, Moscow police said in a statement. More than 150 people were taken to police stations for “breaching public order,” the statement added.

Protest at historic fair contained. Police making arrests. Opposition chanting “shame”. People urged to go to designated protest venue

It came after one of the organizers, Aleksey Navalny, called for the demonstration to be moved from the authorized location on Sakharova Street to Tverskaya Street, through a message on his website just hours before the event. Navalny cited a lack of stage and audio systems as a reason for moving the location.

“Some contractors refuse [to provide equipment] straight away, others when they learn about the geolocation,” Navalny claimed, adding that equipment suppliers were allegedly being “pressured” not to work with him, regardless of the money he offered.

Navalny urged protesters to come to Tverskaya Street instead. Moscow authorities announced they were not contacted on the issue and assumed that it was a “new provocation” intended to deceive people into attending an unauthorized gathering. The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office warned Navalny that holding a demonstration on Tverskaya Street would violate the law and law enforcement would be compelled to take necessary measures.

Around 1,800 people, according to police estimates, showed up at the original location on Sakharova Street, and the demonstration concluded without any major incidents, according to Moscow police.

It can be seen in a video that a stage equipped with audio systems was functioning on Sakharova Street, and was used by people protesting a massive Moscow redevelopment project.

Navalny himself was not able to show up at any of the events, as he was detained by police before the beginning of the protest. According to his lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, Navalny’s administrative case involves repeated violation of rules for organizing or carrying out a public rally.

A number of opposition protesters, following Navalny’s call, gatecrashed the celebrations on Tverskaya Street, including ‘The Times and Epochs’ historical festival. The festival has been running at multiple locations in Moscow since June 1, with over 6,000 reenactors participating, including history enthusiasts from the UK, US, Italy, Sweden, France, Ireland and other countries.

Families with children now fleeing historical fair in Moscow, after opposition protesters blockaded one of the enterances to the fair

Police contained the unauthorized protest and urged them to go back to nearby Pushkinskaya Square in an orderly fashion. Over 150 people were detained in Moscow during the unauthorized protest, the police said.

While 4,500 people came to Tverskaya Street to participate in the unauthorized protest, over 270,000 people visited the central Moscow street to take part in the Russia Day festivities, according to police estimates. Russia Day is the national holiday commemorating the 1990 declaration of sovereignty. Some 3.8 million people have participated in around 3,000 events across the country, police reported.

Another unauthorized protest rally was held in St. Petersburg. Some 3,500 people turned out at the event, according to police estimates, while at least 500 were detained over public order disruption.

A number of sanctioned opposition protests were held across other Russian cities. The events concluded without any major incidents. Around 2,500 protesters participated in an anti-corruption demonstration In Chelyabinsk, according to police, and up to 2,000 people took part in an authorized rally in Ekaterinburg.

The protests in other Russian cities attracted much smaller turnouts. Rallies in Murmansk, Kurgan and Belgorod were attended by some 100 people each. About 150 protesters gathered in Cheboksary, Magnitogorsk and Ulan-Ude, about 200 met in Bryansk and Rostov-on-Don, and 300 people gathered in Tyumen.

Russia, Iran warn US against new Syria attacks

A week since the US launched airstrikes in Syria, Iranian, Syrian and Russian foreign ministers have met in Moscow. All three countries strongly warned the United States against launching new strikes.

Russland Treffen von Lavrov, Javad Zarif und Muallem in Moskau (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Hosting three-way talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (pictured above, left), and Iranian counterpart Mohammed Dschawad Sarif (pictured above, right) in Moscow on Friday, Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergey Lavrov denounced last week’s US attack on Syria and warned that any further such action would entail “grave consequences not only for regional but global security.”

Read: US skips out on Afghanistan conference in Moscow

Lavrov also told al-Moualem that Russia and the US have a shared understanding that such strikes would not be repeated.

The Interfax news agency reported that the Russian diplomat revealed this had been “concluded” during Wednesday’s visit of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Moscow.

Watch video00:42

Lavrov: “Future of Syria has to be decided by Syrians themselves”

US ‘did not rule out any future action’

In Washington, however, the US State Department said Tillerson did not eliminate the possibility of the US maybe undertaking future strikes.

“The secretary explained there were no subsequent targets after the missile strike, but he did not rule out any future action,” State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

“He stressed that Russia is in a position to use its influence over the Assad regime to ensure it is never again necessary for the US to act,” Toner said.

US blames Assad regime

The US launched Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat air base near Homs last Friday, in response toa chemical attack in the northwestern Idlibprovince.

Washington has blamed Assad’s government for the deadly attack which killed more than 80 people. Damascus, however, has staunchly denied the accusation.

The Syria crisis is also set to be the focus of further talks planned for Saturday between Lavrov and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani.




‘Mother of all bombs’ – what has it achieved?

The US has dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an “Islamic State” (IS) target in Nangarhar. DW examines the reasons behind the attack, its timing, and whether IS really poses a big threat to the US in Afghanistan.

USA Bombe GBU-43/B in Florida (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/US Air Force)

Residents of Achin district, where the US dropped the “Massive Ordinance Air Blast” or MOAB – touted as the “mother of all bombs” – described the explosion as the biggest they had ever seen. And the Afghans have definitively seen a lot of colossal bombings in the past few decades, particularly during the US invasion of their country in 2001 and after the consequent fall of the Taliban’s Islamist regime.

Defense experts say the MOAB is a successor to the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” used during the Vietnam War and the start of the post 9/11 Afghanistan conflict.

“What it (MOAB) does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” said Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, to an American journal.

“It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”

But President Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to drop such a huge bomb in the war-ravaged Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province raises a number of questions.

Watch video01:29

US drops ‘mother of all bombs’ on IS caves

First of all, does the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) pose such a massive threat to US interests in the region that justified the use of the MOAB against the group?

Secondly, what did Washington achieve by killing some 36 IS fighters in Afghanistan through this very expensive explosion?

“I’m familiar with the area and I believe the US military did not need to use such a huge bomb to target a small number of IS fighters,” Attiqullah Amarkhail, a Kabul-based retired military general, told DW.

“When you drop 11 tons of explosives and kill only 36 of your enemies, it is a waste of your weaponry, unless you have some other targets to achieve,” Amarkhail added.

‘IS’ in Afghanistan

According to US’ own estimates, there are between 600 and 800 IS fighters in Afghanistan, primarily in Nangarhar province. The militant group is much more active and has a much bigger presence in Iraq and Syria. The US has never used the MOAB in these Middle Eastern countries.


US drops largest non-nuclear bomb on ‘IS’ target in Afghanistan

The Pentagon has confirmed the first-ever combat use of the GBU-43, also known as the MOAB, or “mother of all bombs,” in a targeted attack on ‘Islamic State.’ Afghan officials said the bomb killed at least 36 fighters. (13.04.2017)

Opinion: A calculated step toward the apocalypse?

What makes MOAB Mother of All Bombs?

Nangarhar: Gateway to Afghanistan for ‘Islamic State’

An Afghanistan conference without Afghanistan

But that certainly does not mean IS is not expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan.

Reports of IS presence in Afghanistan emerged in early 2015. In 2014, the Afghan government and US military officials acknowledged that the terror group was recruiting fighters in eastern Afghanistan, using the power vacuum in the Taliban leadership.

“If this group is not stopped here [in Nangarhar province], it will pose a danger not only to Afghanistan but also to other countries in the region,” a resident of Achin district told DW in 2015, calling on the Afghan government to support their fight against the terror group.

The scene in Achin district in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, which shares a border with Pakistan’s tribal areas, bears resemblance to parts of Syria and Iraq under IS command. Members of the terror group control large parts of the district, killing opponents, looting houses and spreading fear among residents with the help of their recently-launched propaganda tool, “The Caliphate Radio.”

IS members broadcast threats to harshly punish those who oppose Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the self-declared “caliphate” extending over parts of Iraq and Syria.

“The MOAB was clearly meant to telegraph a message of intent, that the US will come after IS militants wherever they may be, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere,” Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW. “That said, we shouldn’t assume that this bomb will set some type of precedent for assaults on IS elsewhere around the world.”

The American expert admits that the group’s presence in Nangarhar has been weakened in recent months. “The US and Afghanistan have been leading a joint effort to eliminate IS fighters there for quite some time, and in fact just earlier this week they took out a large number of fighters in the very district where the bomb was dropped. My sense is that this bomb was meant to eliminate those fighters that survived the earlier US-Afghan operation and had fled into the tunnels that the bomb targeted,” Kugelman noted.

Bildergalerie IS in Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)IS is expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan

Experts say the Thursday bombing in Afghanistan could also be a message to Afghanistan’s neighboring country Pakistan, which many policymakers in Washington believe is supporting Afghan militant groups, including the Taliban and IS.

Despite the fact that the “IS” presence in Afghanistan seems quite limited, there is a possibility that the militant group is getting assistance, and possibly fighters, from neighboring Pakistan. In the past few months, IS has claimed a number of deadly attacks on Pakistani soil.

The Islamic country also has a reputation as a breeding ground for Sunni militant groups. Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government.

Moscow conference

Observers find it interesting that the US chose to use the biggest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal at a time when Russia is hosting an Afghanistan conference in Moscow.

Twelve countries, including Afghanistan, China, India, Iran and Pakistan, are participating in the Friday conference. The US was invited to take part, but it turned down the invitation.

In December last year, representatives of Pakistan, China and Russia met in Moscow to discuss the Afghan conflict but they excluded Afghan officials from the gathering.

Geostrategic relations are rapidly changing in southern Asia. Former Cold War rivals India and the US are bolstering their defense and trade ties amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness in the region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea. On the other hand, Islamabad and Washington, who were allies against the former Soviet Union and collaborated in the 1980s Afghan War, are drifting apart. Simultaneously, Islamabad and Moscow are reviving their ties, as the two Cold War-era foes held their first-ever joint military drills last year.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Gipfel in Ufa Premierminister Nawaz Sharif und Präsident Wladimir Putin (picture alliance/dpa/SCO Photoshot/Ria Novosti)Pakistan is seeking to forge closer ties with China and Russia to counter New Delhi’s growing influence in Kabul

The changing geopolitics has also prompted Pakistan to forge closer ties with its long-time ally China. Beijing is expanding trade and military cooperation with Islamabad in view of the New Delhi-Washington maneuvers.

Experts say the US does not want Russia and China to increase their presence and influence in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan and Iran. They note that the Nangarhar bombing was a message from the Trump administration to these countries that they should not take Washington’s somewhat minimal role in Afghanistan as its weakness.

“The US is showing its military power to Russia and China. The timing of the use of MOAB is very important to understand the situation. Moscow is hosting a conference on Afghanistan and the US has sent a warning to everyone participating in the meeting,” underlined Afghan expert Amarkhail.

But Amarkhail believes that the Nangarhar bombing will exacerbate the security situation in Afghanistan.

“The militants will use this bombing to recruit more fighters.”


Putin meets with Tillerson in Russia as Syria rift deepens

Tillerson: Russia-US relations at a low point
Now PlayingTillerson: Russia-US…
Tillerson: Russia-US relations at a low point 03:45

Story highlights

  • Putin says relations with US have ‘worsened’ under Trump administration
  • Washington accuses Moscow of a confusion campaign over chemical attack

(CNN)US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that relations with Moscow are at a low point after meetings in Russia that seemed to do little to bridge a deepening diplomatic divide over a chemical attack in Syria.

Relations are “at a low point, there is a low level of trust between our two countries,” Tillerson said at a news conference with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Tillerson and Lavrov spoke to the press after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in an extended display of US-Russian disagreements over the chemical attack that left more than 80 dead; the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s future; US actions in the Middle East; and Russian involvement in the US election.
The unvarnished airing of differences made for one of the more bare-knuckled and blunt diplomatic encounters in recent years and points to a less accommodating and more confrontational approach to Russia than the Trump administration initially said it would embrace.
The US has tried to use the attack to try to drive a wedge between Moscow and Damascus, saying that Russia must choose between Syria — and being on the wrong side of history — or turn toward the international community in getting rid of Assad. Tillerson offered his Russian counterparts a bridge, tempering the open tensions by urging that Washington and Moscow find ways to cooperate.
Tillerson said that he and Lavrov discussed Assad at length and that he made clear that the Trump administration has come around to the view that the Syrian President cannot stay in power.
“Our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end and they have brought that on themselves with their conduct,” the top US diplomat said.

Common ground?

Still, the two diplomats hinted that they could find common ground on this issue. Tillerson said that the US wouldn’t dictate how Assad’s departure takes place, saying, “We leave that to the process going forward,” and added that it’s important his departure “is done in an orderly way” and that it will “take a pace of its own.”
Lavrov, meanwhile, said that Russia is “not staking everything on a personality … we are simply insisting that everybody sits around the table and talks about it.”
Lavrov also announced that Putin has agreed to reinstate a military “deconfliction” channel to ensure there are no unintended clashes in the skies above Syria. And Tillerson said that the two sides had agreed to establish a working group that would address smaller frictions and aim to make progress on larger differences.
The news conference came after Lavrov issued a warning to Tillerson Wednesday against any further US strikes on the Syrian regime. Russia is Syria’s most powerful ally.
The two top diplomats had sat down together earlier in the day to work through the fallout of last week’s chemical attack in northwestern Syria, which plunged the old Cold War enemies to a new low.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. left, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow on Wednesday.

Russia has rejected the US conclusion that Damascus was responsible for last week’s chemical attack, which killed 89 people and prompted the US to carry out its first strike against the Syrian regime in the six-year conflict, taking out aircraft and infrastructure at a Syrian military air base.

Differences over attack

“The facts we have are conclusive” that the attack was planned and carried by Syrian government forces, Tillerson said, adding that the US was “quite confident of that” and describing it as “just the latest in a series of uses of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”
Lavrov countered, “It is perfectly obvious the subject is one we diverge on.” He floated an alternate theory that “some of these stockpiles are being controlled by extremists,” and added, “Russia is insisting on an objective investigation” and will protest if it does not take place.
The White House on Tuesday accused Russia and Syria of carrying out a confusion campaign over who was responsible for the chemical attack.
Haley: I think Russia knew about attack

Haley: I think Russia knew about attack 02:41
Less than an hour after their news conference, Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have required Syria to cooperate with investigators and face full accountability after the brutal chemical weapons attack in that country.
When asked about Russian interference in the US election, Tillerson said that Russia’s responsibility “is fairly well established.” That set off Lavrov, who hadn’t been asked for his thoughts but piped up to say that “not a single fact has been confirmed. Who saw the fact? We don’t know. No one has shown us anything.”
The Russian repeatedly raised the issue of US interference in other countries, pointing to the fallout after the Iraq War and the 2011 US intervention in Libya as he warned against the US taking action in Syria.
“This insistence on removing or ousting a totalitarian leader, we’ve already been through it, we know very well what happens when you do that,” Lavrov said. “I don’t know of any place of a dictator being removed smoothly without violence.”
Tillerson's tough task in Russia

Tillerson’s tough task in Russia 02:32
The Russians were clearly steeling themselves for a tough visit. Putin said in an interview with state-run MIR television earlier Wednesday that relations with the US had deteriorated.
“The working level of confidence in Russian-American relations, especially at the military level, under the administration of Donald Trump, has not improved, but rather worsened.”
Tillerson and Putin are no strangers — Putin in 2013 awarded the Order of Friendship to Tillerson when he was CEO of ExxonMobil, the highest honor Russia gives to foreigners.

An icy welcome

Despite that history, Lavrov gave Tillerson an icy welcome Wednesday, diving straight into Moscow’s grievances with Washington in what would usually be warm opening remarks.
Russia “saw some very troubling actions regarding the attack on Syria,” he said, according to an official Russian interpreter. Following the chemical attack, US President Donald Trump ordered a Tomahawk missile strike against Syria’s Shayrat airfield, from which the US says the aircraft launch the attack.
“We believe it is fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again,” Lavrov said.
Full coverage
  • Putin implies plot to stage attacks in Syria
  • He hit back at remarks Tillerson made a day earlier that Russia would have to decide whether it was with the US and the West in standing up against Assad, or against them, describing the comments as “wrong choices.”
    Tillerson took a more diplomatic tone in his opening remarks, saying that he hoped to clarify “areas of common objectives, areas of common interests, even when our tactical approaches may be different.”
    “And to further clarify areas of sharp difference, so we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be.”
    It was a hostile start to the long-awaited meeting, which began with the two men entering a conference room making very little eye contact, and made for a marked contrast to the hopes Trump has expressed of improved relations with Moscow.
    Lavrov also complained about the mixed messages coming out of Washington about the Trump administration’s Syria policy: “I will be frank that we had a lot of questions regarding a lot of very ambiguous as well as contradictory ideas on a whole plethora of bilateral and international agenda coming from Washington.”

    What is the US’ Syria policy?

    Indeed, the White House has also caused a great deal of confusion — the US position on Syria is still unclear, as Trump has made no comprehensive statement on Syria since last week’s missile attack. He has made some comments to Fox News on Syria, saying he did not plan for the US to be drawn fully into the Syrian war.
    White House press secretary Sean Spicer has said that the Trump administration would respond if the Assad regime used barrel bombs against his own people, something that has been a regular occurrence in the six-year civil war. Aides later clarified that this “did not signal a change in administration policy.”
    US Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that while defeating ISIS was first priority, further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would not be tolerated and could warrant additional military action.
    “If they use chemical weapons, they are going to pay a very, very stiff price,” Mattis told reporters during his first Pentagon briefing as secretary.

    Syria strike signals a change for Trump

    Story highlights

    • Tensions with Russia high as Tillerson heads to Moscow next week
    • Trump’s Syria strike marks a policy reversal

    Washington (CNN)The US attack on a Syrian air base Thursday devastated an airfield, sent a stark message to Syria and its protector Russia and raised a host of questions about whether and how the Trump administration’s stance on the Middle East might change.

    President Donald Trump’s decision to punish Syria for a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people, including children, marked a 180-degree departure from the “America First” philosophy that signaled a rejection of international engagements and from his September 2016 declaration that the US “cannot be the policeman of the world.”
    Instead, the decision to blast 60 Tomahawk missiles from a US Navy destroyer to wreak havoc inside Syria sends an entirely different signal that will put Damascus and other rogue regimes on notice and shape relations with Syria’s ally and protector Russia just as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to visit Moscow.
    Administration officials insisted Friday that their overall policy hadn’t changed and that the strike was only meant to convey that chemical weapons are unacceptable.
    But the strike could set in motion events that force Trump to take a more active role on the world stage, experts said, while others suggested the chemical weapons attack might have changed Trump’s outlook on the role the US should play.
    “To me, it was a very clarifying moment for the president,” Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I’ve seen him evolve … in a good way on China, evolve in a good way on NATO, evolve in a good way on Israel.”
    Trump has “maybe not had the experiences of those of us who have seen these people in refugee camps, have seen what this monster [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad has done in torturing people, and I think this was a clarifying moment for him.”
    Indeed, Trump used to rail against former President Barack Obama for involvement in Syria and during the campaign he even floated the idea of cooperating with Assad. But at a Wednesday press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, Trump told reporters that “my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
    In the weeks leading up to the chemical attack, the administration had stressed that its priority in the Middle East was defeating ISIS, that it had no interest in getting mired there and that Assad’s removal — an Obama administration focus — was no longer a priority.
    McCain: The Russians are as bad as Assad

    McCain: The Russians are as bad as Assad 01:28
    On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced new sanctions against Syria were on the way. And a senior administration official cautioned the strike shouldn’t be seen as the beginning of a wider campaign to weaken or remove the Syrian leader. The official said the mission was aimed at dealing with the “unacceptability” of Assad’s use chemical weapons and that Trump’s priority focus remains defeating ISIS.
    But analysts warned that having stepped into the Syrian fray, Trump may find it hard to step back or differentiate himself from Obama unless he takes steps to do more.
    The International Rescue Committee was among groups that immediately started urging Trump to do more on Syria. “Now that the US administration has chosen to deploy military force, they have a greater responsibility to redouble diplomatic efforts toward establishing a credible path towards peace,” said IRC president David Miliband. He noted that “the only true protection from conflict is the end of conflict.”
    Frederic Hof, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, said that if the strike is “simply a one-off, a punch in the nose for using those chemicals on those poor people, then the message is ‘do whatever you want, as long as it’s not with chemicals’.”
    Trump’s press secretary would not say definitively whether the President believes the Syrian leader should go. “The President’s actions were very decisive last night, and very clear about what he thinks needs to get done,” Sean Spicer told reporters in Florida on Thursday.
     “The Syrian government and the Assad regime should, at a minimum, agree to abide by the agreements they made not to use chemical weapons,” Spicer said. “I think that’s where we start,” he said.
    Sen. Ernst: This was a one-time attack

    Sen. Ernst: This was a one-time attack 02:48
    Hof, who served as Obama’s special adviser for transition in Syria, is among the many who argue that Assad’s brutality acts as a major recruiting tool for terrorists, and that leaving the Syrian leader in place “will make it very hard for the administration to meet its primary objective of defeating Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
    In that light, leaving Assad in power would mean the US strike “will ultimately go down in history as a particularly useless gesture,” Hof said. “That’s why I think it’s important for the Trump administration to get the message to the Russians, ‘You’ve got to get your guy out’.”
    Tillerson is set to travel to Moscow next week, and though he is new to diplomacy, he is deeply familiar with Russia, where he spent time during his work as CEO of ExxonMobil. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was “particularly disappointed” by the way the strike “damages US-Russia relations, (but) I don’t think this will lead to an irreversible situation.”
    Russia suspended but didn’t cancel a deconfliction channel the US and Russian militaries use to ensure they don’t accidentally clash during operations against ISIS. “Clearly it complicates the bilateral relationship in the short term,” Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia who is now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, said of the strike.
    James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq who is now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it’s unlikely Russia will have much success using the attack against the US. The fulsome international support for the US strike “is going to box Russia in” if it tries to attack the US at the United Nations, he said.
    Syrian survivor to Trump: Thank you
    Syrian survivor to Trump: Thank you 00:57
    Russia might even see an advantage in the strike, said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute. He notes the Russians have had “a hard time” getting Assad to the negotiating table with the Syrian opposition. Now, he said, they could use the strike to apply pressure, warning that the regime might be subject to more if they don’t cooperate.
    “Having a sword of Damocles hanging over Assad’s head is not necessarily a bad thing,” Tabler said.
    Vershbow sees an opportunity for the US to apply pressure as well. “If Russia wants an endless civil war, they will continue to shield Assad,” the former ambassador said. Tillerson should tell Russia that “if you want to bring this to an end, giving Assad impunity has to stop,” he said. The question, Vershbow added, is whether the US will be prepared “to threaten the ‘or else’ part.”
    “So I think the administration has to think through clearly,” Vershbow said, “because without an ‘or else,’ it’s not going to be a credible message.”

    St. Petersburg Metro Explosion Kills 10 as Putin Visits City


    A wounded person received medical attention outside the Sennaya Square subway station after the explosion in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday. CreditAnton Vaganov/Reuters

    MOSCOW — A bomb tore through a subway train in St. Petersburg on Monday afternoon, killing an estimated 10 people and injuring dozens more, government officials said.

    The explosion occurred on a subway train traveling between the Technology Institute and Sennaya Square stations, according to the Investigative Committee, Russia’s federal criminal investigation agency. At the time of the attack, President Vladimir V. Putin was a few miles away in St. Petersburg, his hometown and the country’s second-largest city and former capital, on official business.

    There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and Mr. Putin said all possibilities were being investigated.

    The bomb, a homemade device filled with shrapnel, exploded in the third car just after the front of the train had entered the tunnel, Russian news outlets reported.

    Ten people died — seven in the subway system, one while en route to a hospital and two while they were being admitted to an emergency room — and 39 others were injured, the health minister, Veronika Skvortsova, announced live on television. Some of the wounded included children, she said.

    Another bomb was found at a nearby station, Vosstaniya Square, but was disarmed, a spokesman for the National Anti-Terrorism Committee, Andrei Przhezdomskiy, said on television. The subway system was shut after the attack, which occurred around 2:45 p.m. local time. The city announced that all surface public transportation would be free until further notice, and officials urged residents to remain vigilant.

    “I appeal to you, citizens of St. Petersburg and guests of our city, to be alert, attentive and cautious, and to behave in a responsible manner in light of events,” Georgi S. Poltavchenko, the governor of St. Petersburg, said in a statement. As the old imperial capital, the city has the status of a federal governorate.

    The governor declared a three-day period of mourning, starting on Tuesday.

    The transit hubs in central St. Petersburg are normally crowded with passengers — the subway system carries two million passengers a day — but the explosion occurred before the evening rush hour.

    Security was beefed up on the Moscow Metro and major airports after the blast. The entrances to all Moscow stations have metal detectors, leftover from the last such serious attacks seven years ago, but they have not been in use recently.


    Mr. Putin, in a televised statement less than an hour after the explosion, said he had spoken with the leaders of the special services, including the Federal Security Service, and with law enforcement officials, who he said would “do everything to find out the causes of what had happened.”

    Speaking from the Constantine Palace in the Strelna district of St. Petersburg, about 12 miles west of the blast, he added, “The government, both on the city and federal levels, will do everything to support families of the victims and injured.”

    Images circulated on social media showing a damaged subway car and several people on a subway platform, apparently with injuries.

    The Russian news media initially reported that there had been two explosions — one at the Technology Institute station and one at Sennaya Square. But by late afternoon that account was revised, saying there had been just one bombing, on a southbound train as it headed toward Technology Institute from Sennaya Square.

    The two stations are adjacent on the No. 2 subway line, which runs north-south through the city. Both stations are transfer points with other subway lines. In the 19th century, the area around Sennaya Square was a notorious slum, depicted in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”

    Continue reading the main story


    A damaged train car at the Technology Institute station. CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

    Mikhail Syrovatskiy wrote on Vkontakte, a Russian social media network, that he had been traveling up the escalator at the Technology Institute station when a blast occurred, followed by urgent calls to evacuate the station and the arrival of ambulances and a helicopter. “Left metro just in time,” he wrote.

    Mr. Syrovatskiy added, “I was standing on the escalator when some kind of noise started coming from below, then I heard the noise of the coming train.”

    People started screaming, he added, and an announcement ordered passengers to disembark and evacuate. “Very soon a smell of burning started to be felt, but I didn’t see any smoke,” he said. “I didn’t see what was going on the platform itself. I think everyone thought this was a fire.”

    Mr. Putin was in St. Petersburg for a meeting with the president of Belarus, Alexander G. Lukashenko, a traditional ally who has recently feuded with the Kremlin, and to give a speech at the All-Russia People’s Front, a political group started by the president.

    In Washington, President Trump said the St. Petersburg bombing was a “terrible thing” that was “happening all over the world.”

    Continue reading the main story


    Victims at the Technology Institute station in St. Petersburg. Credit, via Associated Press

    Over the years, most terrorist attacks against domestic targets in Russia have been the work of Islamic insurgents, many of them fighters who fled Russia during a bloody crackdown across the Northern Caucasus. Thousands more joined the Islamic State, whose leadership has periodically threatened to carry out attacks in Russia in retaliation for Moscow’s bombing campaign in Syria.

    Mr. Putin, in deploying the Russian military to Syria in September 2015, said the move was meant to take the fight to Islamic radicals before they brought it home. Once deployed, however, the Russians concentrated more on shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad than on attacking the Islamic State.

    The Islamic State claimed responsibility in October 2015 for a bomb that brought down a Russian airliner after takeoff from Egypt, killing 224 people on board. In December 2013, weeks before the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, twin bombings at a train station and on a bus in the southern city of Volgograd killed more than 30 people. And in January 2011, a suicide attack at Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow killed more than three dozen people.

    The last fatal attack on a subway system in Russia occurred in March 2010, when explosions at two stations in central Moscow killed at least 33 people. Investigators blamed two suicide bombers from the Dagestan region for those attacks; the leader of the Islamic insurgency in Chechnya, who has since been killed, claimed responsibility.

    The subway system in Moscow was also twice struck in 2004 by deadly attacks. In February that year, a bomb detonated inside a train car as it left the Avtozavodskaya station in southeastern Moscow, killing at least 39 people; and that September, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a station north of Moscow, killing nine.

    Correction: April 3, 2017
    An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which twin bombings took place in the city of Volgograd. They occurred in 2013, not 2012.

    Russia Looks to Exploit White House ‘Turbulence,’ Analysts Say

    MOSCOW — The Kremlin, increasingly convinced that President Trump will not fundamentally change relations with Russia, is instead seeking to bolster its global influence by exploiting what it considers weakness in Washington, according to political advisers, diplomats, journalists and other analysts.

    Russia has continued to test the United States on the military front, with fighter jets flying close to an American warship in the Black Sea this month and a Russian naval vessel steaming conspicuously in the Atlantic off the coast of Delaware.

    “They think he is unstable, that he can be manipulated, that he is authoritarian and a person without a team,” Alexei A. Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, a liberal radio station, said of President Trump.

    The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, has long sought to crack the liberal Western order, both as a competitor and as a champion of an alternative, illiberal model. To that end, he did what he could to buttress the electoral chances of Mr. Trump, who seemed like a kindred spirit with his harsh denunciations of NATO and the European Union, his endorsement of the British withdrawal from the European Union and his repeated shrugs over Russia’s destabilizing Ukraine.

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    In this context, Mr. Trump’s election was an unexpected bonus, but the original giddiness has worn off, and Moscow has returned to its tried-and-true formula of creating turmoil and exploiting the resulting opportunities.

    “They are all telling each other that this is great, he created this turbulence inside, as we wanted, and now he is focused on his domestic problems and we have more freedom to maneuver,” Mr. Venediktov said. “Let them deal with their own problems. There, not in Ukraine. There, not in the Middle East. There, not in NATO. This is the state of mind right now.”

    Sergei A. Markov, a leading analyst friendly to the Kremlin, made much the same point. “Right now the Kremlin is looking for ways that Russia can use the chaos in Washington to pursue its own interests,” said Mr. Markov, a member of the Civic Chamber, a Kremlin advisory group. “The main hope is that the U.S. will be preoccupied with itself and will stop pressuring Russia.”

    Any turbulence that Russia foments also gives the Kremlin leverage that it can try to trade in the global arena at a time when it does not have much that others want.

    Mr. Venediktov compared the Russian position to an intrusive neighbor who promises to be helpful by avoiding noisy restoration activity at night even though it breaks the apartment building rules in the first place.

    Analysts say the Kremlin is aware that the tactic of creating and exploiting disarray can become self-defeating, in that prolonged instability could allow threats like the extremist group Islamic State to flourish.

    “It is important for Russia that America does its job in foreign policy,” said Alexey Chesnakov, a periodic Kremlin political adviser and the director of the Center for Current Politics, a trend analysis group in Moscow. “If there is nobody to do that job, it might not be good for us, either.”

    The Middle East provides examples of both vectors, analysts say, a moment of chaos to exploit and concerns about achieving stability for the long-term future.

    Moscow has begun courting Libya, where Mr. Putin seems to want to prove that the Obama administration and other Western powers made a mistake by working to force Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power in 2011. Russia invited various powerful figures to Moscow and sent the country’s lone aircraft carrier, the somewhat dilapidated Admiral Kuznetsov, on a port call to Libya on its way back from Syria last month. Khalifa Haftar, the military commander in eastern Libya, got a tour. The government invited veteran officials and analysts from around the Arab world this week to discuss the future of Libya and Yemen, among other topics.


    Residents at a humanitarian food distribution site in Avdiivka, Ukraine, this month. Some analysts say American attention could be diverted from areas of conflict with Russia, like Ukraine, while President Trump focuses on domestic concerns. CreditBrendan Hoffman/Getty Images

    Syria, on the other hand, underscores the limits to Russian power. In the two months since Russian-backed government forces took back the city of Aleppo, there has been little movement in forging peace.

    Not least, Russia can ill afford the billions of dollars needed to rebuild the country. For that it needs Washington to help persuade its allies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who all seek a political transition away from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Like much of the world, nobody in Moscow can figure out who makes Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, never mind what it will be. Since the inauguration, it has become clear that Mr. Trump’s rosy view of Mr. Putin is not shared by the president’s top foreign policy advisers, with the possible exception of Stephen K. Bannon, his chief White House strategist.

    “We cannot understand how they will work in concert,” said Igor Yurgens, a Russian economist who is prominent in business and development.

    The Kremlin has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Mr. Trump, analysts said, expecting the first meeting with Mr. Putin in Europe sometime this summer to set the course for relations.

    Dmitry K. Kiselyov, the anchor of the main state propaganda program “News of the Week,” recently pronounced what seemed to be the new party line on the air. “Let’s not judge too harshly, things are still unsettled in the White House,” he said. “Still not a word from there. Only little words, and that doesn’t amount to a policy.”

    Just how unsettled was underscored on Monday, when the White House announced plans to increase military spending by $54 billion, an amount just about equal to what Russia spends in total on its military annually.

    While the appearance of such turmoil in the White House has probably been surprising, even gratifying, to the Kremlin, analysts say Russia’s government is worried about having too much of a good thing. “It would be better for us to have a predictable partner,” Mr. Markov said. “An unpredictable one is dangerous.”

    The perception of weakness calls into question here in Moscow whether Mr. Trump can ever live up to the many statements he made during the campaign about forging closer ties with Mr. Putin and Russia. “The overwhelming view of the Kremlin is that Trump is not very strong,” said Valeriy Solovey, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. “He might have sympathy toward Russia, but he is contained within the political establishment.”

    Russia’s far right regularly predicts Mr. Trump’s assassination at the hands of the American establishment, a view occasionally echoed on state television.

    Alexander Dugin, a nationalist Russian philosopher, called Mr. Trump’s inauguration the happiest day of his life because it signified the demise of the liberal international order. Mr. Dugin seemed most eager for Mr. Trump to get on with his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, although he worried about the consequences. “It can kill,” Mr. Dugin said in an interview. “It is not so easy to drain the swamp.”

    Since the inauguration, however, enthusiasm for Mr. Trump in official Russia lurched from cool to uncool seemingly overnight. Dmitri S. Peskov, the presidential spokesman, denied that the new skepticism had been ordered from the top. The speed of the change was striking, however.

    Russia’s political class marvels at how much time it now spends chewing over the minutiae of the American political system. Some attribute that to the fact that domestic politics are comatose, with Mr. Putin assured of winning another six-year term in 2018.

    “Nobody is talking about the Putin election,” said Mr. Chesnakov, the political consultant. “We are discussing relations between Congress and Trump.”