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Putin’s Fiercest Critic Is in a Coma. Was He Poisoned?

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  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent critic, Alexei Navalny, fell into a coma on Thursday aboard a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. 
  • Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, alleges that Navalny was poisoned at the airport after drinking a cup of tea he ordered from a cafe.
  • Many opposition figures have accused Putin of poisoning Navalny, who has been feverishly campaigning for anti-Kremlin candidates in regional elections to be held next month.
  • Navalny is said to be stable but still in serious condition, though police said they currently are not considering this a deliberate poisoning attempt. Opposition leaders have dismissed the statement as propaganda.

Navalny Allegedly Poisoned

Alexei Navalny, Russian President Valdimir Putin’s fiercest critic, fell into a coma Thursday after his spokesperson said he drank a cup of tea that had been laced with poison. He is reportedly in serious condition.

That spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said the incident began as the two were preparing to fly back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia. While waiting for their plane, Yarmysh said Navalny ordered a cup of tea from an airport cafe. 

As they boarded the plane, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Later in the flight, Navalny reportedly began to sweat and seemed like he might be falling ill. According to Yarmysh, he asked her to talk to him so he could “focus on the sound of a voice.”

Shortly after the flight began, Navalny went to the restroom, where he collapsed and lost consciousness. The plane’s pilot later made an emergency landing in Omsk, another city in Siberia. Once the plane landed, paramedics rushed on board to treat Navalny. 

During this time, a passenger on the flight recorded part of the response, where Navalny can be heard loudly moaning in pain. 

Once off the plane, Navalny was transported to a hospital in Omsk and put on a ventilator. He has not woken up since. 

Though he is still in serious condition, doctors treating Navalny have said he has stabilized.

Opposition Figures Accuse Putin

Yarmysh said she believes Navalny’s coffee was poisoned because it was the only thing he had to drink that morning before falling into his coma.

She also immediately accused Putin of orchestrating the attack, saying, “Whether he personally gave the order or not, the blame is entirely with him.”

Once news broke, other opposition figures soon began blaming Putin, as well.

“We are sure that the only people that have the capability to target Navalny or myself are Russian security services with definite clearance from Russia’s political leadership,” anti-Krelim activist Pyotr Verzilov told the Associated Press. “We believe that Putin definitely is a person who gives that go-ahead in this situation.” 

Verzilov is believed to have also been poisoned in 2018 for activism against the Kremlin, or Russia’s executive branch of government. 

Internationally, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he’s “deeply concerned” by the incident. 

Who is Navalny?

Navalny has faced harassment for a number of years for his own activism against the Kremlin. In 2017, several men attacked him by throwing antiseptic in his face, damaging an eye.

In a situation that captured international headlines in late 2017, Navalny was barred from running from Russian presidential elections after campaigning heavily against Putin, who has been in power for two decades and could remain in power until 2036 under a new law that extends his term limits.

Navalny has also been frequently arrested by authorities for his activism. Last year, while in prison, he was rushed to the hospital following a severe allergic attack. The next day, he was discharged back to prison. Navalny’s team has asserted that the allergic reaction was actually a poisoning, and like Thursday’s incident, they believe Putin was behind it.

In March, Navalny was forced to close his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which had exposed crimes by Russia’s elite for more than a decade. 

As far as why he might have been poisoned on Thursday, Yarmysh said she suspects the alleged attack is tied to next month’s regional elections. In fact, on Thursday, Navalny was flying back from a meeting with activists and opposition candidates for those elections.

Navalny’s influence could pose a major threat to Putin in the upcoming elections. Between Putin’s struggle to navigate Russia through the coronavirus pandemic and a declining economy, it’s possible that Navalny could mobilize voters against pro-Kremlin candidates.

Navalny’s Condition

Doctors in the hospital where Navalny is being treated have remained tight-lipped. While they’ve yet to confirm whether or not Navalny was poisoned, they said they’re naturally considering that as a possible cause.

Still, the state-run news agency Tass has reported that police are not considering this to be a deliberate poisoning attempt. Opposition leaders have dismissed the statement as propaganda.

Reportedly, doctors have denied Navalny’s wife, Yulia, the ability to see her husband. That’s because she didn’t have their marriage certificate on her and because Navalny was unable to consent.

Verzilov told the AP that he’s worried the doctors treating Navalny are facing pressure from Russia’s security services.  Alongside that, Navalny’s personal doctor reportedly wants him transferred to a hospital in Germany; however, doctors have refused to turn over the medical documents that would be necessary to make such a transfer.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, said authorities will not consider a request to allow Navalny to be transferred out of the country until test results indicate what has caused Navalny’s condition. Russia still has not fully opened its borders, and like many countries, it remains under a coronavirus lockdown.

“If [Navalny] was actually poisoned, if certain statements are made, and if law enforcement agencies adopt other decisions, an investigation will be opened,” Peskov said amid calls for Russia’s Investigative Committee to open a criminal probe.

See what others saying: (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post) (BBC)

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Trudeau and Liberals Secure Shallow Victory in Snap Elections

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The Prime Minister had hoped to secure a mandate for the Liberal Party and a clear legislative majority to move forward with COVID-19 recovery plans, but he will now face leading yet another minority government.


Two Elections in Two Years

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held onto power after Monday’s federal parliamentary election, but he will still lead a minority government now that his Liberal Party has again failed to secure a majority of seats.

The results mirror those of the country’s last election in 2019, and in the lead-up to Monday’s vote, many Canadians questioned why another parliamentary election was occurring so soon when the next scheduled elections would happen in another two years. The most basic answer is that Trudeau called for a snap election in August. However, reports on his reasoning vary.

Trudeau himself said he wanted a clear mandate from voters so he could move forward with efforts to lead Canada out of the pandemic and focus on recovery plans. Yet, for Conservatives and Canada’s smaller parties, this election was viewed as a blatant power-play by Trudeau to get more seats just two years after his Liberal party lost its majority.

Whatever the reason actually was, the snap-election was a gamble that doesn’t seem to have paid off. While some mail-in votes are still being counted, over 98% of the results are already in and they’ve proven to be a return to the status quo. The Liberals are gaining just one seat and the Conservatives are only losing two, while the minor parties in Canada are exchanging a few seats.

Possible Political Blunder

It’s likely that the call for a snap election was a miscalculation by Trudeau, who received high praise in polls when asked about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, in polls that looked at his overall popularity, most voters said they have a dimmer view of Trudeau.

According to the Angus Reid Institute, a non-profit pollster out of British Columbia, Trudeau struggled to have a majority of voters approve of his tenure. In August, just after he called for snap election, his popularity plummeted further, with a majority of voters overtly disapproving of the Prime Minister.

As of election day, that number continued to rise.

Additionally, Trudeau’s calls for what many viewed as an unnecessary election in order to get a mandate on how to move forward against COVID-19 came off as tone-deaf since Canada is in the middle of dealing with rising Delta cases. This is an argument that the Conservatives picked up on, including leader Erin O’Toole, who called it “un-Canadian.”

There is also criticism over how Trudeau conducted his campaign. The Justin Trudeau of 2021 isn’t the same man who first gained power in 2015. Back then, Trudeau was somewhat of a Barak Obama-esque figure. He was a political underdog who ran on a platform of hopeful optimism over what could be achieved in Canada.

Fast forward to 2021, and Trudeau was less concerned about presenting his party’s hopes for the future and more concerned about sparking fears over what a Conservative government would do. His biggest fears seemed to have been the undoing of years of legislative and executive actions, including the reversal of a firearms ban.

In one rally earlier this month, Trudeau warned supporters that, “Mr. O’Toole won’t make sure the traveler sitting beside you and your kids on a train or a plane is vaccinated.”

“This is the moment for real leadership. Mr. O’Toole doesn’t lead — he misleads.”

But many of the things Trudeau attacked O’Toole and the Conservatives for are possibly no longer positions they hold. O’Toole recently took on the leadership of the Conservatives last year, and before the election, he published a 160-page document that sought to clarify his party’s positions and broaden their appeal.

One major reversal was support for a carbon tax, a traditionally Liberal Party platform. However, that manifesto seemingly wasn’t enough, as O’Toole later had to reverse course on a promise in the manifesto and clarify that the Conservatives wouldn’t actually overturn Trudeau’s ban on 1,500 sporting rifles, leading to some confusion among voters over his actual stance.

That being said, some of the major criticisms of O’Toole levied by Trudeau still stood up to scrutiny, such as his opposition to vaccine mandates or vaccine passports.

The Popular Vote Doesn’t Win Elections, Even in Canada

Another miscalculation that lead to the call for a snap election may have been a misread on how popular the Conservatives are. In 2019, the party won the popular vote, and Monday’s election seems to be another repeat. The Conservatives won just over 34% of the popular vote but only secured 35.8% of the seats in parliament. The Liberals received under 32% of the popular vote, but around 46% of parliament’s states. The disparity in the popular vote and how many seats a party actually receives has led to claims that the system is flawed and as unrepresentative as the United States’ Electoral College allegedly is.

Regardless of the representation disparity in Canada, many felt this snap election meant that Trudeau didn’t get the mandate he sought. Even so, Trudeau gave what he called a “victory speech” in Montreal, saying, “You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic.”

Trudeau will likely need to rely on the left-leaning New Democratic Party to secure enough seats to form a majority government, although there are concerns that such a government could fall, as minority governments are notoriously fragile.

Such a situation would mean that this snap election may prove to be a political pitfall for Trudeau.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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U.S. Will Ease Travel Restrictions for Vaccinated Foreign Passengers

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The move will allow Americans with family abroad to reunite with loved ones who they have been restricted from seeing since early 2020.


U.S. Changes Policy for Foreign Visiters

The White House has said it will lift travel restrictions starting in November for foreign visitors coming to the U.S. who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Along with proof of vaccination, White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday that noncitizens will also have to show a negative COVID test taken within three days of departure.

The announcement ends an 18-month ban on travel from more than 30 countries, including the UK and members of the EU. That ban has been a major source of tension with Europe because European and British officials lifted entry restrictions on people from the U.S. and other countries in June after vaccines became widely available. Up until now, the Biden administration hadn’t reciprocated.

Many experts found the policy hard to understand since some countries with high COVID rates were not on the restricted list while some that had the pandemic more under control were.

Tensions further escalated last month when the EU removed the U.S. from its safe travel list, though that was a nonbinding order that recommended EU nations to restrict U.S. travelers.

It’s also worth noting that the Biden Administration’s latest announcement came as the president prepared to meet face-to-face this week with world leaders at the United Nations.

The UN General Assembly is set to include European leaders who have voiced additional frustration over the administration’s handling of the pullout from Afghanistan. On top of that, France is enraged by a U.S. deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, which France said undercut its own agreement with that country.

Additional Changes

In addition to the changes regarding foreign travelers, the White House has said it will tighten rules for unvaccinated U.S. citizens returning home, saying they now need to test negative one day before departure and schedule another test for after their arrival.

In the coming weeks, the CDC will also be requiring airlines to collect and provide passenger information to aid contract tracing.

There will be a few exemptions to the vaccination requirements for foreign visitors, including ones for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Still, full details of the policy have not yet been released.

The changes have long been called for by airlines and others in the travel industry who are now cheering the news, especially ahead of the holiday season.

The move means Americans will likely see a boost in travel as the year comes to a close, but for many with family abroad, it also means they can finally reunite with loved ones who they’ve been restricted from seeing since early 2020.

See what others are saying:(The Washington Post)(Axios)(The Wall Street Journal)

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Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off

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The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.


Voting App Removed From App Stores

Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.

The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.

Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.

For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.

People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.

Response and Backlash

Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.

“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”

Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”

Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”

Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.

“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.

Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies

The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.

In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.

In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies. 

The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.

Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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