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Putin met Taliban chief for support against IS

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London: A top Afghan militant commander has claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin held an unpublicized meeting with Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the current Taliban chief, to discuss possible Russian support against the IS insurgents who in recent weeks have been advancing in Afghanistan, a media report said.

Putin is known to be concerned that the IS militants are gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, which borders the former Soviet satellite states of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

A Taliban commander told The Sunday Times that his group had been promised Russian arms and financial support only weeks before a resurgence in violence that has seen key districts in the southern province of Helmand fall under the Taliban control.

Putin is said to have met Mulla Mansour over dinner at a late night meeting on a military base in Tajikistan in September.

The Russian president was present in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, on September 14 and 15 to attend a regional counter-terrorism meeting, however, the Taliban denied reports that their representatives met Russian officials to discuss the common threat from the IS in Afghanistan.

In a statement, the Taliban said they were in contact with countries in the region but had not discussed support against the Islamic State.

“The Islamic Emirate has made and will continue to make contacts with many regional countries to bring an end to the American invasion of our country and we consider this our legitimate right,” it said, using its formal name.

“But we do not see a need for receiving aid from anyone concerning so-called Daesh and neither have we contacted nor talked with anyone about this issue,” it added.(IANS) 

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Russia: Reports of Putin Fathering Twins Test Free Speech

The private life of Russia’s leader is apparently off-limits

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Russia, Reports, Putin, Twins
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen getting out of his limousine in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 23, 2014. VOA

Normally the delivery of twins is a cause for celebration — and when the head of government is one of the parents and the other is an aspiring politician it opens up the possibility for cute photo-opportunities. Not so in Russia under the command of Vladimir Putin, it would seem, where the private life of Russia’s leader is apparently off-limits, say analysts.

Rumors have been swirling for days in Moscow that the Russian leader’s reputed 36-year-old girlfriend, former Olympic gold medal-winning rhythmic gymnast Alina Kabaeva and now a media executive, gave birth to twin boys earlier this month in the Russian capital.

Nicknamed “the secret first lady,” Kabaeva, three decades younger than Putin, was rumored in 2008 to have given birth to a daughter at a private Swiss clinic recommended by Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi.

Then, as now, the Kremlin has moved to scotch reports of the births. Putin, who guards his private life fiercely — possibly a habit from his days as a KGB agent — has long denied he is in a relationship with Kabaeva.

Russia, Reports, Putin, Twins
FILE – President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with gymnast Alina Kabaeva at a Kremlin banquet in Moscow, Russia, Nov. 4, 2004. VOA

Asked once daringly about a possible romance, Putin responded: “I’ve always had a negative feeling about people poking their snotty noses and erotic fantasies into other people’s lives.”

In 2013, Putin announced the end of his 30-year marriage to wife Lyudmila Shkrebneva, with whom he has two grown-up daughters. He appeared in public for the announcement with his estranged wife, a former Aeroflot flight attendant and languages teacher, during the interval of a performance by the Kremlin Ballet. During their marriage, Shkrebneva, who since her divorce with Putin has remarried, kept a low public profile and her appearances were kept to a minimum.

The Kremlin moved swiftly last week to stop news stories of the delivery of twins, say media insiders — a further example of their strict management of top newspapers and news-sites, especially when it comes to coverage of Putin. In 2016, three editors at Russia’s RBC media group, were fired over an article on the sources of Putin’s wealth in what media watchdogs feared would mark the demise of investigative reporting in Russia.

The website of newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, which is owned by one of the Russian leader’s oligarch friends, Arkady Rotenberg, reported the alleged Kabaeva births. But the report was quickly removed. Russian officials decline to comment.

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But reports here and there on Kabaeva, an Uzbek by birth, have continued amid accusations by Putin loyalists that they are being encouraged by Ukrainian enemies of the Russian leader. One site, dni.ru, announced in a headline: “Alina Kabaeva gave birth to twins and disappeared.” A showbiz website, Dom2Life, which is owned by another oligarch close to Putin, Alexander Karmanov, first reported the births on May 12, Kabaeva’s 36th birthday.

And according to Russian investigative journalist, Sergei Kanev, Kabaeva gave birth to twin boys by Caesarean at the Kulakov maternity clinic, where the VIP floor had been cleared in advance. He told Britain’s Daily Mail a doctor from Italy helped with the C-section delivery.

Kabaeva became a model on leaving competitive sport and was a Russian lawmaker until 2014. She now heads the National Media Group.

The mystery surrounding Kabaeva coincides with a further crackdown on the media in Russia amid rising complaints about shrinking press freedom and the Kremlin’s increasing determination to manage coverage.

Russia, Reports, Putin, Twins
FILE – Former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, at the time deputy chair of the State Duma Committee for Youth Affairs is seen during a session of the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, in Moscow, April 20, 2011. VOA

Earlier this month, nearly a dozen journalists quit their posts at Kommersant, a liberal business-focused newspaper, and at one time a trailblazer for press freedom, in protest at the firing of two star reporters, Ivan Safronov and Maxim Ivanov. They co-wrote an article that ran afoul of the Kremlin, they say.

The newspaper is owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov, another oligarch with close ties to Putin. One of the sacked reporters, Maxim Ivanov said on his Facebook page: “I’m no longer employed at the Kommersant publishing house. To avoid waxing lyrical: formally, my resignation from Kommersant is a mutual agreement between parties, but the decision to terminate my employment was made by the publishing house’s stakeholder.”

In March, another Kommersant journalist, Maria Karpenko, was fired over her reports on political developments in St. Petersburg.

The unfolding events at Kommersant have prompted the condemnation of the media watchdog and NGO Reporters Without Borders, which said in a statement May 20 that it is “dismayed” but the firings, dubbing them a “terrible blow to what is left of journalistic independence” in Russia.

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According to The Bell, an independent news outlet, Kommersant had been accorded by the Kremlin some independence, unlike many rival outlets, “but is subject to censorship on political topics. The mass resignation of journalists will now call this arrangement into question.”

It added that “it is not entirely clear why the article [by Ivanov and Safronov] upset the authorities so much.” The story reported that Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, would resign soon and be replaced by Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service.

Russian journalists fear the curtailing of editorial independence will only get stricter. In March, Putin signed new laws against the spreading “fake news” and showing “blatant disrespect” to the state with fines or jail sentences for offenders. Observers warned that the laws’ vague language could be abused to stifle free speech. (VOA)