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Putin says any Belarusian move to cut gas flows risks hitting ties

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November 13, 2021

By Katya Golubkova and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Belarus had not consulted him before raising the possibility of cutting Russian natural gas flows to Europe, adding that such a move would risk harming ties between Minsk and its key ally Moscow.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened on Thursday to retaliate against any new European Union sanctions against Minsk over a migrant standoff on the Belarus-EU border, suggesting he could halt the transit of gas and other goods via Belarus.

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His warning briefly lifted spot gas prices in Europe, which gets about a third of its supplies of the fuel from Russia, including via the Yamal-Europe pipeline that runs through Belarus to Poland and Germany.

The Belarusian section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline is owned by Russia’s state gas monopoly, Gazprom.

“I’ve recently spoken to (Lukashenko) twice and he didn’t mention this to me once, he didn’t even hint,” Putin said in a state television interview, making his first public comments about the Belarusian threat.

“Of course, in theory, Lukashenko as president of a transit country could order our (gas) supplies to be cut to Europe. But this would mean a breach of our gas transit contract and I hope this will not happen,” Putin added.

Russia has been Belarus’s closest ally for years, helping with everything from cash to cheap energy supplies and military assistance, but Lukashenko’s comments come at a sensitive time for Russia’s energy exports to Europe.

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Analysts say Lukashenko’s gas comments have likely tested Putin’s patience https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/lukashenko-ties-fate-moscow-while-testing-putins-patience-2021-11-12 with Russian gas supplies already at the centre of heated debate in Europe.

European gas prices – and therefore, energy bills – are on the rise this year as the recovery from the pandemic has triggered a spike in demand, forcing customers from Europe to Asia to fight for supplies.

Some European politicians have accused Moscow of failing to do more than just send contractual gas volumes, in order to calm down prices.

The European Commission said on Friday that if Lukashenko made good on his threats, it would further harm gas suppliers.

During Saturday’s interview, Putin said that if Belarus did cut off supplies, it would “cause great damage” to the European energy sector “and would not help in developing our relations with Belarus as a transit country”.

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“I will raise this with him (Lukashenko) in case this wasn’t something (he) said in the heat of the moment,” Putin said.

Russia, which this week started to increase supplies to refill its European storage ahead of the winter heating season, has said more could come once its newly built Nord Stream 2 pipeline gets a green light from Germany.

Nord Stream 2 is another Russian pipeline designed to bypass transit countries, particularly Ukraine, which has a history of gas pricing standoffs with Moscow.

The Kremlin calls the pipeline a “purely commercial project” and denies that politics are behind it in any way.

(Reporting by Katya Golubkova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Helen Popper)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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