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The Kremlin has announced the removal of long-time ally Sergei Shoigu from his position as defense minister, replacing him with Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, who lacks significant military experience. Shoigu will be appointed secretary of Russia’s Security Council. This move, a rare reshuffle in Russian politics, is seen as reflecting President Putin’s decision-making authority, particularly regarding the conflict in Ukraine.

Belousov’s appointment surprises many due to his background as an economist. However, analysts suggest this decision aligns with Putin’s aim to integrate the Russian economy more closely with military efforts. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov emphasized the need for innovation in the defense ministry, comparing Russia’s situation to the mid-1980s Soviet Union when a large portion of GDP was allocated to military spending.

The decision to appoint a civilian to such a significant military role underscores the changing priorities within the Kremlin and the necessity to improve efficiency in the armed forces amid ongoing conflicts. Recent events, including the arrest of one of Shoigu’s deputies on corruption charges and prolonged military engagement in Ukraine, likely contributed to speculation about Shoigu’s weakening position.

While Shoigu will retain influence as secretary of the Security Council, his reassignment may be interpreted as a demotion. The future of Nikolai Patrushev, the council’s current head, remains uncertain. Shoigu, who has a civil engineering background, gained prominence in the 1990s as head of the emergencies and disaster relief ministry.

Belousov, described as a staunch defender of the state who believes Russia faces numerous external threats, shares a close relationship with Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. He has practiced martial arts, including karate and sambo, and previously served as an aide to Putin. His support for the annexation of Crimea in 2014 aligns with Putin’s policies.

Putin’s recent reelection for a fifth term with an overwhelming majority solidifies his leadership position in Russia, which he has held since 2000.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently enjoyed his inaugural ride in a luxury car gifted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, marking a symbolic moment in the strengthening relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow. This gesture underscores the deepening ties since their summit in September, as Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, highlighted the significance of the occasion as evidence of the robust DPRK-Russia friendship. The vehicle, an Aurus Senat limousine, arrived in Pyongyang in February after Putin’s invitation to Kim during their meeting.

Aurus, touted as Russia’s premier luxury car brand, has been a staple in the motorcades of top Russian officials since Putin’s inauguration in 2018. Notably, Kim Jong Un, known for his collection of foreign luxury cars, has previously utilized vehicles like the Maybach limousine during his travels, including his visit to Russia. However, the gift of the Aurus adds another dimension to his collection.

Despite the diplomatic exchange, concerns have been raised, particularly regarding potential violations of UN sanctions. The Ministry of Unification in South Korea condemned North Korea’s public display of the gift, stressing Russia’s responsibility as a UN Security Council member. Additionally, there are concerns about the close ties between North Korea and Russia amid the latter’s conflict with Ukraine and suspicions of military cooperation between the two nations.

Kim’s use of the luxury vehicle was coupled with overseeing military drills, emphasizing his country’s military capabilities. Furthermore, his daughter accompanied him during this event, indicating a potential succession plan within the leadership.

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Leonid Volkov, a close ally of the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was attacked outside his residence in Lithuania, sustaining injuries including a broken arm and multiple blows to his leg with a hammer. Lithuanian authorities suspect Russian involvement in organizing and executing the attack, a notion Volkov concurs with, attributing it to Putin’s regime. The incident occurred as Volkov arrived home in Vilnius.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda condemned the attack, expressing defiance against Putin, asserting that no one fears him in Lithuania. Another Navalny team member, Ivan Zhdanov, shared images of Volkov’s injuries on social media, affirming the attack’s political nature.

Volkov’s wife, Anna Biryukova, vowed to intensify their activism despite the assault. Volkov, who has been living outside Russia for safety reasons, has been a key figure in Navalny’s movement, facing politically motivated charges in Russia. Lithuanian authorities and the VSD state security department are investigating the attack, viewing it as an attempt to impede opposition efforts during Russia’s upcoming presidential elections, which lack genuine opposition candidates.

In a video statement, Volkov denounced the attack, emphasizing his determination to continue political activism. He called for peaceful protests during the election period and urged Russians to participate in a coordinated action against Putin’s regime.

Despite challenges, Volkov has ensured the continuity of Navalny’s activism from abroad, facilitating anti-corruption investigations and supporting protests in Russia. The Navalny organization has faced severe crackdowns, with many members imprisoned and the group labeled extremist in Russia. Ahead of the upcoming election, Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, echoes Volkov’s call for opposition unity, aligning with Navalny’s vision before his demise.

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Hundreds of individuals in Russia gathered for the funeral of Alexei Navalny, the outspoken Putin critic who died in prison last month. Despite a substantial police presence and erected barricades, mourners broke into applause as Navalny’s body was brought into a church near Moscow. Attendees knowingly risked arrest for expressing support, while Navalny’s wife squarely pointed the finger at President Putin for his demise, contrary to Moscow’s claim of natural causes.

Navalny’s memorial service commenced at 14:00 Moscow time at the Church of the Icon of Our Lady Quench My Sorrows, with notable foreign diplomats present in solidarity. Following the service, Navalny was laid to rest at Borisovskoye Cemetery. Despite efforts to broadcast the event live, disruptions to mobile signals hindered streaming, leaving many unable to witness the proceedings.

Despite warnings from the Kremlin, mourners seized the opportunity to voice their admiration for Navalny’s bravery and questioned the authorities’ apparent fear. Navalny’s team encountered challenges in organizing the funeral, including difficulties in procuring a hearse. Supporters abroad were urged to participate in memorial services, reminiscent of past public displays of grief for opposition figures.

Concerns about surveillance and the potential for post-funeral detentions were widespread, with social media platforms sharing advice urging attendees to exercise caution. The gathering was marked by a sense of defiance against government crackdowns on dissent.

Navalny’s immediate family, excluding his children residing abroad, attended the ceremony. However, his widow, Yulia, faced potential arrest upon her return to Russia, further underscoring the risks associated with opposition activism in the country.

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Russian Private Military Contractor, Wagner Group’s Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin Claims Control of Military Sites in Rostov-on-Don, Defying President Putin’s Accusations of Betrayal

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group, has asserted that his mercenaries have taken over “all military facilities” in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. Reports suggest that they have also been deployed in Voronezh, located further north, following Prigozhin’s threat to march on Moscow and remove Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu from power.

President Vladimir Putin has condemned these actions, referring to them as a “stab in the back” and vowing to punish those who have “betrayed” Russia. Security measures have been tightened in numerous regions, including Moscow.

The Wagner Group, known for its involvement alongside the regular Russian army in the conflict in Ukraine, has been experiencing increasing tensions with the military leadership over their differing approaches to the war. Prigozhin has been openly criticizing Russia’s military command in recent months.

The situation escalated dramatically after Prigozhin accused the Russian military of targeting his group’s base in Ukraine, a claim that Moscow denies.

Prigozhin insists that this is not a military coup, but rather an attempt to overthrow Russia’s military leadership. However, President Putin, in his address, described the situation as an act of “treason.”

While Prigozhin was not mentioned by name, President Putin warned that those who engaged in betrayal, armed rebellion, blackmail, or terrorist methods would face severe consequences under the law and before the Russian people.

In response, Prigozhin, for the first time directly criticizing the Russian leader, stated that his troops were “patriots of our motherland” and argued that President Putin was “profoundly mistaken” to accuse them of betrayal.

In a video shared on his Telegram channel, Prigozhin claimed that his fighters had entered Rostov-on-Don after crossing the border from Ukraine, asserting that his forces would eliminate anyone obstructing their path. However, the location and veracity of his claim regarding shooting down a Russian military helicopter that allegedly fired upon a civilian convoy remain unverified.

President Putin acknowledged the challenging situation in Rostov-on-Don, where Wagner forces reportedly control military installations. The city of Voronezh, en route to Moscow, is also said to be under their control, prompting the governor to initiate a “counter-terrorism operation.”

Previously, Prigozhin and President Putin had a close relationship. However, this latest challenge, combined with the complications arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has presented a headache for the Russian leader. Consequently, Putin has taken a firm stance, declaring “enough is enough.”

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Foreign volunteers are needed to fight Ukrainian forces, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He said those who wanted to volunteer to fight alongside Russia-backed forces should be allowed to do so at a Russian security council meeting.

Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, said 16,000 volunteers were ready to fight alongside Russia-backed forces in the Middle East.

Syrians skilled in urban combat, according to US officials, could be among them.

Syria has long been a Russian ally, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a vocal supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the country’s civil war.

“If you see that there are these people who want to come to help the people in Donbas on their own volition, not for money,” Mr Putin told his defence minister, “then we need to give them what they want and help them get to the conflict zone.”

Mr. Shoigu also proposed transferring captured Western anti-tank missile systems to Russian-backed rebel fighters in the Donbas region’s breakaway Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Foreign fighters, including former and current members of the British army, have been arriving in Ukraine to fight for Kyiv’s government.

Mr Zelensky recently stated that 16,000 foreigners had volunteered for the cause, forming a “international legion,” as he put it.

Charles Lister, a Middle East Institute analyst in the United States, questioned how useful Syrian forces would be to Mr Putin.

“If [President] Assad’s regime sends troops to Ukraine, they’ll be nothing more than cannon fodder in a battle and environment they’ve never experienced,” he wrote on Twitter.

He went on to say that there was no evidence of any actual recruitment of Syrians.

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Recently, certain intellectuals likened the return of Alexei Navalny, the critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the return of Lenin to Moscow ahead of the 1917 October Revolution, which overturned the history of the country.

Can Alexei be equated to Lenin is the big question at this juncture.

It is true that the popularity of Mr. Navalny outside Moscow has considerably increased lately. Earlier, Mr. Navalny was a leader whose influence was considered to the four wall of the capital city of Russia, Moscow.

It is also an undisputed fact that the acceptance of Mr. Navalny has grown outside the circle of youngsters. Earlier, the prime supporters of this opposition leader were youngsters who were angry with the authoritarian way they were ruled. The presence of people from all age groups in the protest developed in the aftermath of the arrest of the leader points to a fact that Mr. Navalny is no longer a leader of youth but is a leader who enjoys the support of all age groups.

Mr. Navalny is a very young leader. He has years before him. The graph of his political career has been steadily increasing since he entered into the turbulent platform in the year 2000.  

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is likely to remain in the Russian custody for at least thirty days.

The Russian government has not yet responded to the appeal made by the International community demanding the release of the opposition leader.

Last day, several western countries particularly France demanded the immediate release of Mr. Navalny, who is a fearless critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Navalny was arrested by the Russian police after he had returned to his country.

Last year, the Russian opposition leader was poisoned while he was travelling towards Moscow in a domestic flight.

He was shifted to Germany immediately, as his supporters accused the Russian leader for the incident.

The Russian government recently filed several charges against the opposition leader allegedly to prevent his return to the country.

It is alleged that Vladimir Putin does not wish to allow the return of the opposition leader, who is capable to threaten the domination of the Russian president over the country.

Anyway, the Russian government faces serious pression from the global community to release the opposition leader.

In the coming days, the community is expected to step up its pressure over the country.    

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed a media investigation that has blamed Russian secret service agents for the poisoning attack against Alexei Navalny – the main critic of the Russia supremo.

Mr. Navalny was poisoned while he was travelling to Moscow in a domestic flight. He was initially rushed to a hospital in Russia, where he was declared instable due to an unknown heath condition. The hospital in Russia denied the speculation that the political activist was poisoned.

He was later shifted to a hospital in Germany, where he was declared instable due to a poisoning attack.

He was in coma. He recovered from the heath condition shorty after he had been admitted to the German hospital.

The Russian government has dismissed the allegation. It has termed the investigation as a conspiracy against the government.   

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In a dramatic development related to global politics, Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated US President-elect Joe Biden.

It is the first time that the Russian president has extended a cordial note to the Democratic leader, who defeated US President Donald Trump, who represented the Republican Party in the 2020 US Presidential Election.

Mr. Putin is known for his close attachment with Mr. Trump.

During the 2016 Presidential Election, it was alleged that the Russian government had interfered in the election to turn the election in favour of the Republican candidate.

The latest development indicates that the Russian government is trying to develop a smooth diplomatic channel between Moscow and Washington DC.

Russia is at present not in a good relation with the rest of the Europe. The latest development has a serious political implication.

It seems that Russia wants to counter the possible upgradation of the US-EU relation post the induction of the new regime with the improved relation with Mr. Biden.

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