Foreign ministers from the Council of Europe, the continent’s chief human rights watchdog, reached an agreement on Friday that opens the way for Russia to return to the organisation, resolving a dispute that began after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea. The agreement follows efforts by France and Germany to find a compromise among the 47-nation group and means Russia will likely take part in a meeting of the council’s parliamentary assembly in June, when key new appointments will be made. Russia has indicated it will resume payment of its membership dues as a result. It stopped payment nearly two years ago after its voting rights in the council were suspended over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Ukraine, supported by six other countries, tried unsuccessfully to block the agreement, which was approved by a qualified majority, diplomats said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed the move. “We do not intend to leave the Council of Europe as some people are trying to suggest by spreading false rumours. And we are not refusing to fulfil a single obligation, including financial ones,” Lavrov said in Helsinki, where the meeting was held. Finland currently chairs the council. The Russian spat has prompted questions about the future and durability of the 70-year-old Council of Europe, the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights and the creator of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It also left a 90 million euro hole in the council’s budget since Russia accounts for around 7%
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and his Russian counterpart discussed ways to reduce tension in Syria’s Idlib province, the Turkish Defence Ministry said on Tuesday, after the biggest military escalation in northwest Syria in nearly a year. Russia has backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has backed some rebels in Syria’s eight-year civil war, but they have recently worked together to try to contain fighting in the country’s northwest. That effort has been strained by the surge in violence in Syria’s last major insurgent stronghold in recent weeks. The offensive by the Syrian army and its allies, backed by Russia, has uprooted more than 150,000 people, the United Nations says, while rescue workers and civil defence officials say more than 120 civilians have been killed. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the attacks by Syrian forces a flagrant violation of a September ceasefire that had averted a government offensive. He said in a tweet on Tuesday it went counter to the spirit of Turkey’s efforts to work with Russia and Iran to reduce hostilities and casualties in Idlib and neighbouring areas. On Monday, rebels said they mounted a counterattack against government forces. A senior rebel commander said on Tuesday the offensive showed an array of rebel forces – from Turkey-backed rebels to jihadists – were still able to prevent the army from making major advances despite heavy air strikes. “We conducted this lighting offensive to show the Russians we are not easy prey and throw the
Donald Trump said that Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t seeking to “get involved” in the crisis in Venezuela, despite assertions by the American president’s top national security advisers that the Kremlin is offering critical support to Nicolas Maduro’s regime.
“He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday, following a call with the Russian leader earlier in the day. “And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid -- right now people are starving, they have no water, they have no food.”
Russia's support for Venezuela's embattled President Nicolas Maduro has become the latest flashpoint in deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia, moving to the top of a list of long-simmering spats between the Cold War foes.
As the dispute intensifies with both sides trading accusations and entrenched in diametrically opposed positions from which they are unwilling to retreat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week in Finland to discuss the matter.
A senior State Department official said Pompeo would use the opportunity of being at the same meeting of Arctic Council with Lavrov to express U.S. "concerns about Russian behavior." ''That includes Ukraine and certainly Venezuela," said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
“There are ongoing attempts to attack the Hmeimim airbase and positions of the Syrian army in the Latakia province by the terrorist groups staying in the Idlib de-escalation zone with multiple-launch rocket systems and unmanned aerial vehicles,” Major General Viktor Kupchishin, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation said.
Russian and Syrian forces intensified air strikes and shelling in rebel-held northwestern Syria overnight, the heaviest assault since the area was declared a demilitarized zone under a Russian-Turkish deal, residents and medics said on Thursday. The targeted villages and towns in northern Hama and southern Idlib fall within a buffer zone agreed last September between Russia and Turkey as part of a deal which averted a major offensive on the area.
Schools, health facilities and residential areas have been hit, United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis told Reuters on Thursday. “The barrel bombing is the worst we have seen for at least 15 months.”
He added that 300,000 people live in the buffer zone where there are hostilities. Earlier this week, the United States warned violence in the buffer zone “will result in the destabilisation of the region”.