A woman as Russian president? Putin says it’s possible

Vladimir Putin has defined the job of Russian president as making the country flexible and competitive, adding that a woman could possibly be elected to fulfill them.

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Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko © Michael Klimentyev

The country should become flexible regarding forms and methods of management. It must have an economy that heads into the future through running the newest technologies and estimating their capabilities in application,” Putin said in his major speech at the Valdai Forum – an event featuring high-profile journalists, politicians, researchers and financial experts.

We must strengthen our defense capability, and perfect our political system so it becomes like a living organism and develops in tune with the development of the rest of the world,” he added.

When a member of the audience asked Putin if it was possible that a woman could become Russian president after the next election, Putin answered that “in our country everything is possible.”

The president also noted that senior Russian authorities currently face the task of creating a new corps of governors out of “young and modern people with potential; people who think about the future, both in their regions and in Russia as a whole.

“It must be a bet on modern and promising technocrats,” he noted.

In this connection the president promised to continue the process of governor replacement. “We will do it very carefully and neatly, in order to always maintain the balance between reliable and seasoned professionals and those who are just beginnig their careers in various professions,” he said.

I will have more meetings with those who worked for many years [on the governors’ posts]; I am very grateful to them for their work and for its results,” he noted. 

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© Maksim Bogodvid

A public opinion poll conducted in mid-February this year by the independent research agency Levada showed that about 33 percent of Russians supported the idea of having a female president, with 54 percent saying that they would not like to see a female president running Russia in the next 10 to 15 years.  The general idea of women being actively engaged in politics was supported by 30 percent of respondents and the share of Russians who said that women should not assume senior state positions was at 38 percent. The share of those who preferred equal representation of the sexes was 56 percent.

In mid-2006 one of Russia’s top politicians, Upper House chair Valentina Matviyenko, told reporters that in her opinion Russian citizens were “mentally ready” for a woman to be president, because in recent times professionalism has become the main requirement for senior politicians. Matviyenko has reminded the press of her position several times over the past months, as the next Russian presidential elections near.

Earlier this week, Russian journalist and celebrity Kseniya Sobchak returned the idea of a female president into the field of public discussion by announcing that she planned to run in the 2018 presidential election. However, Sobchak emphasized that her purpose would not be to win, but to replace the ‘none of the above’ line on ballots.

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CEO of ‘Vampire squid’ Goldman Sachs hints at post-Brexit relocation to Frankfurt

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has hinted that the investment bank could relocate to Frankfurt in the wake of Brexit.

The ‘vampire squid’ executive tweeted on Thursday that he expected to spend more time in the German city after Britain leaves the EU.

“Just left Frankfurt. Great meetings, great weather, really enjoyed it. Good, because I’ll be spending a lot more time there,” tweeted the US banker.

The remark was followed by the hashtag “#Brexit,” linking his comments about the city to Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European bloc.

After Brexit, financial companies based in London will lose their “passporting” rights to provide services in the EU single market.

Like many other financial institutions, Goldman Sachs has said it will consider relocating some of its 6,000-strong London staff to other EU cities, such as Frankfurt, as part of its post-Brexit contingency plans.

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© David Gray

Last month, Wolfgang Fink, co-chief executive of Goldman Sachs in Germany, said that staffing in Frankfurt could rise to 800.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Tory backbencher and MP for Northeast Somerset, hit out at Blankfein’s remarks, and suggested that he was merely trying to cover up for his company’s own hiccups.

“I assume this is some sort of displacement activity since Goldman’s results weren’t so hot,” said Rees-Mogg, who has been tipped to succeed May as Conservative leader.

“I’m sure his shareholders would rather he stuck to business rather than politics.”

Responding to Blankfein’s comments, a Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “We’re not going to comment on an individual statement.

“But let’s be clear, London is and will remain the world’s leading financial centre,” The Times reports.

“We have the breadth of talent, legal system, regulation and deep pools of capital that are simply unrivalled by centers anywhere else in Europe and we are confident of securing an ambitious economic partnership with the EU that will include financial services.”

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Las Vegas mass shooting suite must be preserved, court orders

A court has ruled that the luxury suite used by the Las Vegas gunman who carried out the October 1 attack is to be preserved, along with photos, surveillance video, gambling records and anything else pertaining to the atrocity.

Stephen Paddock used modified semi-automatic weapons to kill 58 people and injure 546 others before turning the gun on himself.

READ MORE: Las Vegas hotel security guard reappears on TV after mysterious absence

Clark County District Court Judge Mark Denton approved a temporary restraining order against MGM Resorts International on Thursday, Las Vegas Now reports, forcing the company to preserve information relating to the room, the hotel and the festival grounds where the shooting took place.

The order was sought by lawyers on behalf of Rachel Sheppard, a 27-year-old woman from Tehachapi, California, who was shot three times at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1. She is still recovering from the attack.  

Stephen Paddock sprayed 200 bullets into the hallway of the Mandalay Bay, injuring a security guard, before opening fire at the concert crowd gathered below.

Aside from MGM Resorts International, the lawsuit also names Paddock’s estate, the concert promoter and the Texas company that manufactures a device police say the gunman used to make semi-automatic weapons fire almost continuously, as defendants.

Our concern is that before the discovery period starts, something bad could happen. That something could be altered, something could be destroyed. They said in court today, they’re already looking at fixing or changing that room,” said Sheppard’s attorney, Brian Nettles.

READ MORE: Las Vegas shooter fired at fuel tanks as part of escape plan, sheriff says

MGM lawyers argued the request was broad and unnecessary, since that material was already being preserved for law enforcement. In a statement, the company said it has no intention of renting the Mandalay Bay suite used by Paddock and is cooperating fully with the investigation.

RT.com has reached out to MGM for comment.

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Iran nuclear deal break-up would jeopardize global security, situation on Korean peninsula – Lavrov

Breaking up the Iran nuclear deal would jeopardize global security, including the situation on the Korean peninsula, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear program, it is impossible to return to the situation which pertained before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was ratified in July 2015 in Vienna, Lavrov said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “performs regular checks and confirms their [Iran’s] strict fulfillment of obligations,” the foreign minister stated.

“Restoring the UN Security Council sanctions [on Iran] is out of the question,” Lavrov stressed.

READ MORE: Missile program will ‘expand & continue’ despite US pressure – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

According to the top Russian official, any changes to the Iran deal would require the approval of all member states, including Iran. The agreement was reached between Tehran and the so-called ‘P5+1’ – five permanent members of the UNSC (China, France, Russia, the UK and US) as well as Germany.

“Any attempts to start such talks [to break up the Iran nuclear deal] may bury this important agreement in the sphere of strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation,” Lavrov said.

Tehran says it won’t be first to withdraw from nuclear deal

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told journalists in Moscow on Friday that Tehran would not withdraw from the nuclear deal before any other party.

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U.S. President Donald Trump © Joshua Roberts

“We won’t be the first [to] withdraw from the deal… We will be committed to our obligations. We will not be the first who violate the agreement,” Araghchi, adding that Iran would “react” to those who quit the agreement.

Iran does not believe that any additional inspections on Iranian nuclear sites are necessary, the minister said. There is no need to change or add any chapters into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iranian deal, he stated.

“The deal, as well as its protocols, was clear in terms of checks and monitoring [of Iran’s nuclear sites], all measures were agreed upon,” he added.

The Iranian nuclear deal has been a hot discussion point since US President Donald Trump opted to not certify the nuclear deal in October, a move which triggered criticism from other signatories. On Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he hoped “that Congress does not put this accord in jeopardy.” Le Drian was speaking on behalf of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the German chancellor, the British prime minister, and the French president.

Later Trump said that a total termination of the Iran nuclear deal is a very real possibility.

In response, Tehran said it had a detailed a plan of action for the contingency wherein Washington backs out of the deal.

“We have a plan… We’ve recently approved in parliament what we should do [if] the Americans undertake certain steps,” Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said. “We will take steps so that the Americans will regret it.”

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Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline sparks fierce war of words from Warsaw

Officials from Poland have again spoken out against the expansion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

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© Christian Charisius

At the EU summit, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo described the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a threat to European energy security. She raised the question even though it was not on the summit agenda.

“The continuation of this investment threatens not only the energy independence of the entire Central and Eastern Europe, but also undermines the energy security of the entire region,” Szydlo said.

“During today’s working session, I decided to raise this topic for discussion, I am pleased to say that my voice in the discussion was supported by other heads of governments, and the importance of this topic was supported by Chairman Donald Tusk [former Prime Minister of Poland – ed.],” she added.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will double the 55 billion cubic meters of gas a year of the existing Nord Stream pipeline. The pipeline has faced fierce opposition from the Baltic States and Poland, who call it a political project of the Kremlin. Moscow has insisted the pipeline is strictly about business.

Last week, the European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said the EU has no legal means to stop the pipeline.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia faces obstacles constructing the new route despite the fact that diversification of gas supplies is cost-effective, beneficial to Europe and serves to enhance the security of supplies.

Proponents of the pipeline claim it will bring gas prices in Europe down. As the EU’s domestic gas production is in decline, Europe needs reliable and affordable gas supplies from Russia, the developers say. They add that natural gas is a lower-carbon fuel that can replace other fossil fuels in Europe.

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‘Naïve’ jihadists should be reintegrated into British society after leaving ISIS, says govt expert

Britons who joined Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria should not be prosecuted for their involvement, according to the Government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. Max Hill QC says many were simply naïve, and should therefore be rehabilitated into British society.

Many UK nationals who have returned after taking up arms in the Middle East have not been charged with any crime, says Hill. Despite warnings from Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, hundreds of people will avoid punishment.

Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, announced just days ago that terrorism threats are evolving at an unprecedented rate.

Hundreds of jihadists are believed to be back in Britain after fighting in the Middle East. Around 850 are thought to have travelled to Syria since 2011. Hill says the way to deal with them could be simply to allow them back into society.

“We are told we do have a significant number already back in this country who have previously gone to Iraq and Syria,” he told the BBC.

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FILE PHOTO: Fighters of al-Qaeda linked ISIL carry their weapons during a parade at the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, near the border with Turkey January 2, 2014. © Yaser Al-Khodor

“That means the authorities have looked at them, and looked at them hard, and have decided that they do not justify prosecution and really we should be looking at reintegration and moving away from any notion that we are going to lose a generation from this travel.”

“It’s not a decision that MI5 and others will have taken lightly. They, I am sure, will have looked intensely at each individual on return.

“But they have left space, and I think they are right to do so, for those who travelled, but who travelled out of a sense of naivety, possibly with some brainwashing along the way, possibly in their mid-teens and who return in a sense of utter disillusionment. We have to leave space for those individuals to be diverted away from the criminal courts.”

Counterterrorism officials have said that “not a huge proportion” of returnees had been prosecuted. However, they are subject to restrictions, including tags, curfews and monitoring. Hill said anyone who commits a crime upon their return should be charged.

Richard Barrett, former director of global counterterrorism at MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, said every case should be looked into.

He also insisted the authorities should be looking at long-term damage and whether specific persons could be a threat in the future.

“Many of them went to join something, join something new, something that looked bright and attractive and satisfied some of the needs in their lives and probably found that didn’t exist out there and so came back highly disillusioned,” he said.

“Also, someone going off to join the Islamic State is not likely initially to be somebody going off to be a domestic terrorist, they seem to me to be two different motivations,” added Barrett.

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State Department admits Al-Nusra affiliate using chemical weapons in Syria

The US Department of State admitted that militants linked to Al-Nusra Front are carrying out terrorist attacks using chemical weapons in Syria. Russia’s defense ministry says it’s the first admission of its kind.

The assertion was made in the latest Syria travel warning issued by the State Department on Wednesday. It also mentions Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL].

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 A general view shows damaged buildings in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Deraa, Syria June 22, 2017 © Alaa Faqir

“Terrorist and other violent extremist groups including ISIS and Al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham [dominated by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization], operate in Syria,” the travel warning reads.

“Tactics of ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and other violent extremist groups include the use of suicide bombers, kidnapping, small and heavy arms, improvised explosive devices, and chemical weapons,” it said.

Terror groups have targeted roadblocks, border crossings, government buildings and other public areas in major Syrian cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Daraa, Homs, Idlib, and Deir-ez-Zor, the State Department acknowledged.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said a precedent had been set by Washington acknowledging that Al-Nusra linked terrorists use chemical weapons in Syria.

“This is the first official recognition by the State Department not only of the presence, but the very use of chemical weapons by Al-Nusra terrorists to carry out terrorist attacks, which we repeatedly warned about,” General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the ministry, commented on Friday.

Previously, the US military reported chemical attacks in Syria.  Last November, Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led coalition in Iraq, said it is “concerned about Islamic State’s use of chemical weapons.”

“[Islamic State] has used them in Iraq and Syria in the past, and we expect them to continue employing these types of weapons,” Dorrian said in an emailed statement to the New York Times. 

The military official said the terrorist group’s ability to stage chemical attacks is “rudimentary,” adding that US, Iraqi and other coalition forces are capable of dealing with the impact of these attacks, namely “rockets, mortar shells or artillery shells filled with chemical agents.”

Earlier in April, the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian military’s airbase Shayrat in response to an alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib Province, where dozens of civilians including children died from suspected gas poisoning in the rebel-occupied territory. Washington was prompt to point the finger at the Syrian government for the incident.

READ MORE: Experts should be sent to Syrian airbase attacked by US to carry out chemical probe – Russian MoD

Moscow said international efforts to investigate the alleged chemical attack did not help to establish hard facts.

“There is a Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM], established in 2015 by the UN and the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to find those behind [the use of chemical weapons in Syria],” Mikhail Ulyanov, director of Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, told TASS.

He said the Joint Mechanism’s experts have visited Shayrat airfield on October 8 and 9, but did not collect ground samples at the site.

“The JIM are categorically refusing to carry out this important function,” the diplomat said, adding, “we can’t say this investigation is of any quality… this is an unprofessional approach that raises huge questions.”

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Gas pipeline blaze rocks Moscow region (VIDEOS)

Residents of the Moscow area woke early to a gas pipeline fire, local emergency services said. Numerous videos have been posted on social media of spectacular flames shooting up into the morning sky.

The incident took place in the town of Lukhovitsy in the Moscow region, some 135 km southeast of the capital on Friday morning, emergency services said, as cited by TASS.

“The gas service has closed the site,” an emergency services official said, adding that firefighters are currently working in the area.

No one was killed or injured by the blaze, the official added.

A crack in the pipeline might have caused the incident, an emergency services source told TASS, citing preliminary information.

Later on Friday an official from the emergency services told TASS that the firefighters had extinguished the blaze.

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McCain threatens White House with subpoena for info on Niger attacks

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) says that he will subpoena the White House for information regarding the recent attacks in Niger, which killed four US servicemen. The issue could become a new bone of contention in McCain’s ongoing feud with President Trump.

McCain told reporters Thursday that the Senate Armed Services Committee, which he chairs, has been told “very little” about the operations in Niger that left four US soldiers dead and two wounded. He added that the committee may have to take legal action to get answers from the White House.

“There’s a mindset over there that they’re a unicameral government,” McCain said, according to the Washington Post. He added that “it was easier under Obama” to get information about military operations.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), another prominent member of the committee, also said that they have not received the proper information from the White House about the operations.

“I’m all for going after terrorists,” Graham added, “but I want to know before I read about it in the paper where our people are and what they’re doing.”

McCain said the committee “may require a subpoena” to get the information that they have not received from the White House.

The senator from Arizona did not go into detail about what information he was expecting to receive, saying that he was interested in “all the specifics.”

“That’s why we’re called the Senate armed services committee. It’s because we have oversight of our military,” McCain said, according to CNN. “So we deserve to have all the information.”

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Frederica Wilson (L), Donald Trump (R) © Wikipedia / Reuters

Earlier this month, four US Special Forces troops were killed and two wounded in an ambush while on a joint patrol with Nigerien forces near Niger’s border with Mali.

President Donald Trump has come under fire for “insensitive” remarks he made to the widow of one of the soldiers as she was en route to the airport to receive his body. According to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida), who was in the car with the grieving widow, Trump told her that her husband “knew what he signed up for.”

White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly told reporters at Thursday’s press briefing the Pentagon is investigating the attacks in order to “find out what happened and why it happened.”

Senator Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) called for the Pentagon to finish their investigation before the committee took its next steps.

“We’ll allow General Mattis to do his investigation,” Rounds said. “At that point, whether it be in a classified session or an unclassified hearing, I would suspect that we’ll have a report delivered.”

However, McCain did not agree, telling reporters that he was not willing to wait for the Pentagon to conclude their investigation.

“That’s not how the system works. We’re coequal branches of government,” McCain said. “We should be informed at all times.”

However, McCain did not acknowledge his role in sending US troops to the region in 2011 in order to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. After the US invaded Libya, the country collapsed into chaos and anarchy, allowing Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) militants to take control and grow their forces using weapons left over from Gaddafi’s forces.

In 2015, Ahmed Gaddafi Al-Dam, a cousin of Muammar Gaddafi, told RT Arabic that IS militants stole chemical weapons from underground storage facilities in Libya that were not properly guarded and used the weapons.

Since then, neighboring countries have seen a rise in terrorist attacks, including Mali and Niger. Mattis said that the US has sent 1,000 US troops to Niger in order to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces, who are still fighting terrorists in the region.

Before taking office, Trump also supported the Libyan intervention, making a video blog in 2011, urging the US to remove Gaddafi.

Trump and McCain have been feuding recently, with the senator denouncing “half-baked, spurious nationalism” while receiving the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal. Trump responded by saying that he may “fight back” at some point, adding that “it won’t be pretty.”

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North Korea turns to Australia for support against Trump in rare letter

North Korea has sent a letter filled with Trump-bashing to the Australian Parliament, urging MPs to condemn Washington’s saber-rattling, while at the same time assuring them of its “highest consideration.”

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Australian navy personnel march past their HMAS Perth Anzac class frigate on display ahead of the IMDEX Asia maritime defence exhibition at Changi Naval Base in Singapore May 18, 2015 © Edgar Su

The letter was penned by North Korea’s Foreign Affairs Committee and sent to Australia’s Indonesian embassy late September, but was received by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop only last week.

The letter starts with the North Korean embassy extending compliments to the Australian Parliament and saying that it has dispatched similar letters to the lawmakers of other countries.

The thrust of the letter is fervent criticism of US President Donald Trump’s declared principle of putting America first “at the expense of the whole world.”

“The US brought to their knees those countries… with its nuclear stick and force, and then cooked up the illegal ‘sanctions resolution,’” the letter reads.

READ MORE: Nuclear war may break out any moment, says N. Korean UN envoy

The committee goes on to note that North Korea “has emerged a fully-fledged nuclear power,” calling Trump’s threat to annihilate it a “big miscalculation and urging the MPs to reject  “heinous and reckless moves” that aim to “drive the world into a horrible nuclear disaster.”

Foreign Minister Bishop, who revealed the existence of the letter on Thursday, argued that this unheard-of way of communication means that Pyongyang has been driven into the corner by international sanctions.

“I think that this shows they are feeling desperate, feeling isolated, trying to demonize the US, trying to divide the international community,” Bishop said, noting that it is the first letter on record that any Australian foreign minister has received from the North Korean authorities.

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The deckhouse of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System (AAMDS) © Kay Nietfeld / DPA / Global Look Press

Bishop praised Trump’s tough stance on North Korea, arguing that it made China review its policy towards its troubled neighbor, and more strictly enforce the sweeping economic sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council in response to North Korea’s missile and nuclear program.

Last week, North Korea warned Australia that “it will not be able to avoid a disaster” if it continues doing the bidding of the US by “imposing military, economic and diplomatic pressure” on Pyongyang. The damning message came on the heels of Bishop’s visit to a border village in South Korea on October 11, whence she called on the international community to step up pressure on North Korea.

Accusing Australia of “preparing a war on the Korean Peninsula,” Pyongyang stated that it betrays its own national interests by playing sidekick in “Trump’s selfish ‘America First’ Policy.”

READ MORE: ‘War merchant & strangler of peace’: N. Korea slams US over arms sales to allies

Australia agreed to host 1,250 US Marines and 13 aircraft at Darwin in April, in the largest deployment of US forces in Australia since 2011.

Early October Australia announced it would fit its new warships with US-produced Aegis anti-missile defense systems to defend itself from long-range missiles in light of the growing threat from “rogue states.” The construction of the frigates is set for completion in 2020.

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