Seriously, Homeland? Latest episode of US spy drama goes to ‘Moscow’

By ethan / April 25, 2018

Hollywood has always drawn viewers in with Russian villains and scary plots of Kremlin deception. House of Cards, Scandal, Blacklist, Allegiance — you name it, they’ve all delighted their audiences with scary Russian villains.

But has the hit spy drama Homeland taken things too far?

The latest episode of the show takes place mostly in Moscow and sees the two lead characters, Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson hatching a plot to retrieve Simone Martin, an undercover Russian agent who is in a romantic relationship with the White House chief of staff. Yeah, it gets weird.

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Yevgeny Gromov is the baddy standing in the way of the plan. He is played by Costa Ronin, who also plays a Russian baddy on The Americans.

Anyway, the episode opens with Carrie and Saul’s plane touching down in Moscow. The Americans are ostensibly on an “unscheduled diplomatic mission” but the viewer knows it’s really a covert operation to grab Simone from under the Russians’ noses. Cue the dramatic music.

As Carrie and Saul disembark from the plane, we see Yevgeny and another tough-looking Russian watching the Americans on a computer monitor — and that is precisely where any credibility that this could be Moscow ends.

From here on out, the show’s attempts to make its Moscow scenes believable are futile. The first city scene shows the American delegation’s motorcade pulling up outside the easily identifiable New York Cafe in Budapest, complete with an iconic yellow Budapest tram rolling past. In later scenes, popular Budapest tourist locations are shown clearly. It’s almost an insult to the viewer — although the TV critics didn’t seem to notice, so perhaps the production team were right not to bother trying too hard to make Moscow out of Budapest.

There is one meagre attempt to make the city look like Moscow. The Kremlin cathedrals are superimposed into the background of a scene on a rooftop where Carrie and Saul are speaking.

So, back to the plot. The Americans set up a diplomatic meeting in order to pull Yevgeny away from his dacha outside Moscow, where Simone is held. They send a team to retrieve her, but the pesky Russians are onto them. As soon as the American team lay their eyes on Simone they are ambushed by Russians. Mission failed.

Plan B. The Americans blackmail Artem Yakushin, yet another corrupt Russian (snooze fest) with $ 300 million tucked away in US bank accounts. They drain his accounts and force him to lead them to Simone. We’re back in action.

Yakushin rallies a band of men and leads the Americans to the GRU building — the Russian army’s intelligence agency. As they speed down the “Russian” streets, it’s easy to spot road signs in Hungarian — and as the men drive through what is supposed to be central Moscow in the middle of the day, they meet almost no other cars — strange, for one of the busiest, most traffic-congested capitals in the world.

When they arrive at the GRU building, war breaks out between Russian foreign military intelligence officers, the CIA and Yakushin’s thugs. Bullets and fists are flying. Terrified Russians are running for their lives. Just an average day in Moscow.

Meanwhile, back home in Washington, the newly-elected female president, Elizabeth Keane, is holding onto her job by a thread and is ultimately thrown out of office by the invocation of the 25th Amendment. It’s like Homeland is mimicking the period of the Trump presidency just…without Trump.

The portrayal of Russia and Russians is cartoonish. The plot is unimaginative and seems to repeat a hackneyed Hollywood scenario. But we might know where it’s coming from.

In 2014, the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed that the US State Department had sought out some of Hollywood’s biggest players to help them with what they called “anti-Russia messaging” for the big and small screen. It looks like TV and movie producers were happy to oblige.

Oh — and it seems this ‘Budapest as Moscow’ thing is a trend. The recently released Red Sparrow, yet another Russian spy-focused movie, was also filmed in Budapest with zero effort to conceal the city’s most iconic attractions.

Danielle Ryan for RT. 

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CIA agrees to partially declassify Haspel documents

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The CIA announced Tuesday that it will allow senators mulling the nomination of Gina Haspel as director to review classified information from her long and controversial career with the agency.

“The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) remains committed to transparency with the full Senate by providing a complete picture of Deputy Director Haspel’s 33-year career at CIA,” reads a letter from the agency to Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), obtained by The Hill. The CIA offered no further explanation as to what details from Haspel’s career would be covered in the release, as much of her time with the agency has been spent undercover.

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Along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), Heinrich had been demanding the agency declassify information, so that members of the public and senators not on the Senate Intelligence Committee could properly weigh her nomination as the agency’s new director.

The CIA has argued that certain details must remain classified, to protect officers who were involved in the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

“If the CIA were unable or unwilling to protect personnel’s affiliation with the CIA and activities, not only would this benefit our nation’s adversaries, future personnel may be less willing to accept dangerous job assignments, thereby significantly impairing the CIA’s ability to conduct its clandestine intelligence mission,” CIA Director of Congressional Affairs Jaime Cheshire wrote.

Haspel’s nomination is tinged with controversy, and has fuelled fears that President Donald Trump is assembling a “War Cabinet,” with hardliners like Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and potentially Gina Haspel occupying key positions in his administration.

In a letter published by Human Rights First on Monday, as many as 109 retired US generals and admirals urged lawmakers to reject her nomination, for “being intimately involved in torture.”

The document cites Haspel’s time managing a secret CIA “black site” prison in Thailand. The prison, codenamed “Cat’s Eye”, was one of several sites around the world where the CIA locked up and interrogated Al-Qaeda suspects extrajudicially.

A 2014 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence details how one detainee at Haspel’s site was repeatedly subjected to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Before Haspel took over at the site, another detainee, Abu Zubaydah, was tortured almost to death. Zubaydah, a Saudi-born Palestinian, was waterboarded to unconsciousness, physically assaulted by CIA officers, and forced to spend over 11 days in a coffin-sized “confinement box.” He was incorrectly believed to be an Al-Qaeda operative.

The report also outlined how other detainees were subjected to similar treatment in a facility that one officer likened to “a dungeon.”

An internal CIA investigation in 2011 found that Haspel “acted inappropriately” when she ordered the destruction of some 92 videotapes of interrogations carried out at the “Cat’s Eye” site, including the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydeh. Other than a professional admonishment, Haspel was not punished for her action.

An aide to CIA Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo later revealed the agency’s rationale for shredding the tapes, writing in an email that “the heat from destroying [them] is nothing compared with what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain…it would be devastating to us.”

While the generals and admirals acknowledged Haspel’s professional experience, they said that this does not excuse her from overseeing waterboarding and other forms of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment.

“It would send a terrible signal to confirm as the next Director of the CIA someone who was so intimately involved in this dark chapter of our nation’s history,” their letter states.

Haspel is due to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee for her confirmation hearing on May 9.

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MSNBC pulls a Sinclair, compares corporate owner Comcast to Nelson Mandela

By ethan / April 25, 2018

After bashing Sinclair Broadcasting for having its news anchors read a corporate script praising the group’s journalistic standards, MSNBC did the same on Friday,as its journalists extolled the virtues of MSNBC’s owner, Comcast.

In a ‘Morning Joe’ segment presented as news, Comcast forced its anchors to read a commercial for “Comcast Cares Day,” during which Al Sharpton compared the corporate giant’s social message to that of Nelson Mandela.

We do this as a company because as a big company, as a big corporation, we certainly appreciate that we have a responsibility to give back to the communities,” Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen said. “When we’re organized like this, we can do 17 years of this incredible day of service, which has a huge impact on one day but is really a celebration of the fact that we care every day of the year.”

Other Comcast-owned NBC affiliates parroted the same message, including NBC 5 in Chicago, NBC 10 in Philadelphia, NBC 4 in Los Angeles and the Denver Post. Journalist Glenn Greenwald described the feel-good corporate plug as “creepy and humiliating,” while Adam Johnson, a writer with FAIR Media Watch, called the message “cultish.”

Earlier this month, anchors at hundreds of local news stations owned by the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group read verbatim a script praising the “quality, balanced journalism” of local Sinclair stations, while bemoaning the “sharing of biased and false news” by national media. Internal documents called the campaign an “anchor-delivered journalistic responsibility message.”

Sinclair was criticized for the move by other media outlets. An MSNBC segment pondered whether the Sinclair promo represented a “threat,” and described the script as a “dog whistle” to Trump supporters.  

As a journalist, I would assume you don’t listen to your corporate overlord,” MSNBC anchor Katy Tur said. “If somebody at the top of NBC or Comcast came to me and said, ‘Katy Tur, I want you to read this script exactly as it is,’ I would assume, I would hope that I would say: ‘I don’t agree with this…so I’m not going to do it.’”

Seemingly none of Tur’s colleagues felt the same when they read Comcast’s script on Friday.

For a corporation that boasts that it can help “be the generation that helps improve our world one community at a time,” Comcast regularly tops the lists of America’s most hated companies, scoring terribly in cost, performance, billing, customer support and reliability metrics. In 2016, the company was forced to pay a $ 2.3 million fine over allegations that it charged customers for unauthorized services and equipment.

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Gold bars & guitars: The Peter Schmeichel Show heads to World Cup host city Ekaterinburg

By ethan / April 25, 2018

In the latest installment of The Peter Schmeichel Show, the Great Dane visits Ekaterinburg, a city that stands right on the geographical border of Europe and Asia.

Ekaterinburg is the World Cup’s easternmost host city, and is located in the shadow of the Ural mountains, which separate Europe and Asia, right in the geographical heart of Russia.

Apart from the newly refurbished Ekaterinburg Arena, which will host four matches at the upcoming World Cup, Ekaterinburg has plenty of interesting local culture to offer football fans.

From a foundry where Peter learns to make gold bars, to a renowned circus school and local music venues – the Danish goalkeeping legend proves that he’s not only good between the sticks, but also a decent guitarist.

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US violating domestic & intl law by breaking into Russian consulate in Seattle – embassy(LIVE)

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The US government is violating domestic and international law with its decision to break into Russia’s locked consulate in Seattle, the Russian embassy in Washington said in a statement.

The diplomatic building was evacuated earlier this week due to an order from Washington, which expelled 60 Russian diplomats and told the embassy to shut down the Seattle consulate in retaliation for the poisoning of a former double agent in Britain.

After the diplomats left on Tuesday, they locked the building. US officials on Wednesday broke into the compound.

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2018 World Cup – 50 days to go: The spectacular stadiums that will welcome fans in Russia

By ethan / April 25, 2018

With just 50 days to go until the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia, RT Sport looks at the 12 spectacular stadiums in 11 cities that will host games at this summer’s footballing showpiece.

Luzhniki Stadium

City: Moscow

Capacity: 80,000

Luzhniki will be the centerpiece stadium for the World Cup. Opened in 1956 as the Central Lenin Stadium, the venue has a storied history and has hosted major sporting events down the years, including the 1980 Summer Olympics and the 2008 UEFA Champions League final. It closed in 2013 for major renovation work ahead of this summer’s World Cup, and reopened in November of last year.

The capacity has been increased from 78,000 to 80,000, and major changes have been made to the structure, including removing the athletics track from around the pitch and bringing the seats closer to the action. The roof will provide a spectacular light show at night. The stadium’s historic façade has been maintained, however, as has the statue of Lenin outside, which greets visitors making their way to the arena.  

Luzhniki will host seven games at this summer’s tournament, including the opening game and final.

Games: Russia v Saudi Arabia, June 14; Germany v Mexico, June 17; Portugal v Morocco, June 20; Denmark v France, June 26; Round of 16, July 1; Semi-final, July 11; Final, July 15.

Spartak Stadium

City: Moscow

Capacity: 45,000

Located in the Tushino district of Moscow, Spartak Stadium is home to Russia’s most successful football club, Spartak Moscow. It opened in 2014, and hosted games at last summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup. The red and white cladding around the stadium matches the colors of its host team, and the statue of the gladiator Spartacus outside the ground also leaves visitors with no mistake as to who the tenants are. However, when the Russian national team play there, the façade can switch to a color scheme in keeping with the nation’s flag.  

It will host five games at the World Cup, including a mouthwatering opener between Argentina and Iceland on June 16. 

Games: Argentina v Iceland, June 16; Poland v Senegal, June 19; Belgium v Tunisia, June 23; Brazil v Serbia, June 27; Round of 16, July 3.

Kaliningrad Stadium

City: Kaliningrad      

Capacity: 35,000

Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad lies between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast. Formerly known as Konigsberg, the city changed hands from Germany after World War Two. Kaliningrad Stadium stands on Oktyabrsky Island near the center of the city, and will be at the heart of a major development of the area once the World Cup has ended. The exterior design appears basic during the day, but the stadium façade is illuminated at night to provide a stunning spectacle.

The venue is the new home of Russian second-tier club FK Baltika Kaliningrad, and held its first test game on April 11, when the team faced Krylia Sovetov.

The original plan was for the stadium to hold 45,000 – in line with FIFA minimum requirements – but that was reduced to 35,000 after design changes and FIFA made an exception. After the World Cup, the capacity will be further reduced to around 25,000. 

It will host four group-stage games at the World Cup, including the eagerly-awaited England-Belgium clash on June 28.  

Games: Croatia v Nigeria, June 16; Serbia v Switzerland, June 22; Spain v Morocco, June 25; England v Belgium, June 28.

Volgograd Arena

City: Volgograd

Capacity: 45,000

The hand of history rest heavy in Volgograd, which was formerly known as Stalingrad and was the scene of one of the most decisive – and brutal – battles of the Second World War. That history is evident in the location of the Volgograd Arena, which stands at the foot of the Mamayev Kurgan war memorial, which includes the giant ‘Motherland Calling’ statue.

It was built on the site of the former central stadium and the façade has a lattice design reminiscent of the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing.

It will be home to Russian lower-league team FC Rotor after the World Cup. It hosted its first test match on April 21, when Rotor met Luch-Energiya of Vladivostok.

It will be the venue for the Russian cup final on May 9, Victory Day, and will host four group-stage games at the World Cup. After the tournament, the capacity will be reduced to around 35,000.

Games: Tunisia v England, June 18; Nigeria v Iceland, June 22; Saudi Arabia v Egypt, June 25; Japan v Poland, June 28.

Ekaterinburg Arena

City: Ekaterinburg

Capacity: 35,000

One of the World Cup’s most distinctive venues, Ekaterinburg Arena is the World Cup’s easternmost stadium. It stands in Ekaterinburg, a city of around 1.4 million to the east of the Ural Mountains. Originally opened in 1957 as the Central Stadium, it has been extensively refurbished for the World Cup, including the novel addition of temporary stands which extend outside the stadium to ensure added capacity. The classical-style façade largely remains, including its impressive ornate statues.

The stadium officially reopened on April 15, when host team FC Ural beat Spartak Moscow 2-1. It will see four group-stage games at the World Cup. After the tournament, the temporary stands will be removed to reduce the capacity.    

Games: Egypt v Uruguay, June 15;France v Peru, June 21; Japan v Senegal, June 24; Mexico v Sweden, June 27.

Fisht Stadium

City: Sochi

Capacity: 48,000

World Cup venue Sochi lies on the Black Sea coast and will be a popular destination for football fans keen to soak up some sunshine this summer. The city’s Fisht Stadium was originally built for the 2014 Winter Olympics and hosted the opening and closing ceremonies. Since then it has been converted into a football stadium and hosted games at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.

It is located in the city’s Olympic Park, and although its permanent post-World Cup tenants have not been confirmed, there is talk that second-tier club Dynamo St. Petersburg could up sticks and move to the city.

The stadium is named after a mountain in the region, and the design is in the theme of snow-capped peaks. It will host six games in all this summer, including the blockbuster game between Iberian rivals Portugal and Spain, as well as a quarter-final.  

Games: Portugal v Spain, June 15; Belgium v Panama, June 18; Germany v Sweden, June 23; Australia v Peru, June 26; Round of 16, June 30; Quarter-final, July 7.

Kazan Arena

City: Kazan

Capacity: 45,000

Kazan is the main city of the Republic or Tatarstan, and prides itself on being Russia’s “sporting capital.” Kazan Arena stands on a bend in the Kazanka River, and is home to local Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan. The venue opened in 2013 and hosted events at the Summer Universiade of that year. It has also previously been converted to host international swimming events.

The stadium façade boasts the largest outdoor screen in Europe. It hosted matches at last year’s Confederations Cup, and will hold six games this summer, including a quarter-final. 

Games: France v Australia, June 16; Iran v Spain, June 20; Poland v Colombia, June 24; South Korea v Germany, June 27; Round of 16, June 30; Quarter-final, July 6.

Samara Arena

City: Samara

Capacity: 45,000

The most problem-hit of all Russia’s World Cup stadiums, construction in Samara has seen beset by delays which have meant the pitch was only recently laid. The arena will finally hold its first test match only on April 28, when new tenants Krylia Sovetov take on Fakel in the Russian second tier.

The stadium design is, however, spectacular, and incorporates the theme of space in honor of the region’s role a key Russian aerospace center. The dome-shaped design extends 65 meters up, and is illuminated at night to provide spectacular show.

Samara itself is a lively city of 1.1 million, and stands at the confluence of the Samara and Volga rivers. Its riverside promenades will be a particular draw for visiting football fans.

Samara Arena will host six World Cup games, including Russia against Uruguay in the group stage, and one quarter-final. 

Games: Costa Rica v Serbia, June 17; Denmark v Australia, June 21; Uruguay v RussiaJune 25;Senegal v Colombia, June 28; Round of 16, July 2; Quarter-finalJuly 7.

Mordovia Arena

City: Saransk

Capacity: 44,000

Of all of Russia’s World Cup host cities, perhaps the least is known about Saransk, even among Russians themselves. The city has a population of just 300,000, and is the capital of the Mordovia Region – after which the new stadium is named.

The stadium’s exterior is a fiery mix of orange, red and white, in keeping with “the distinctive color palette of Mordovia’s arts and crafts,” according to the FIFA website.

After the World Cup it will be home to lower league local club Mordovia, and the capacity will be reduced to a more realistic 25,000 given the size of the new inhabitants.

The arena stands on the banks of the Insar river, and city authorities have described the new venue as “a new center of gravity” for the city.

It held its first test match on April 21, and will host four group stage games at the World Cup. 

Games: Peru v Denmark, June 16; Colombia v Japan, June 19; Iran v Portugal, June 25; Panama v Tunisia, June 28.

Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

City: Nizhny Novgorod

Capacity: 45,000

Nizhny Novgorod is one of the most intriguing host cities at Russia 2018, and is a place with a rich history as a trading center and later as a key military production facility during the Soviet Union.

The city has a population of around 1.2 million, and stands on the banks of Volga and Oka rivers. The location of the bran new Nizhny Novgorod Stadium is spectacular, overlooking the river and with a backdrop of the city’s  Kremlin on the opposite bank.

The design is distinctive, with a semi-transparent façade with shades of blue and white, in keeping with the themes of wind and water.   

It will be home to Russian second-tier club Olympiets after the tournament, and is also planned as a venue for various events such as major concerts.

It held its first test match on April 15, and will host six games at the World Cup, including a quarter-final.  

Games: Sweden v South Korea, June 18; Argentina v Croatia, June 21; England v Panama, June 24; Switzerland v Costa Rica, June 27; Round of 16, July 1; Quarter-final, July 6.

Rostov Arena

City: Rostov-on-Don

Capacity: 45,000

Rostov Arena is the brand new stadium built for World Cup games that will be held in Rostov-on-Don, a city which lies 1,000km to the south of Moscow, on the banks of the mighty Don River.

The stadium will be home to local club Rostov, who play their football in Russia’s Premier League and who in recent seasons have welcomed European giants such as Bayern Munich and Manchester United in European competitions.

The stadium design has a ripple-type effect which mimics the flow of the Don River, according to designers.

The first test match was held at the stadium on April 15, when Rostov took on SKA Khabarovsk. It will see five games at the World Cup, including a round of 16 match. 

Games: Brazil v Switzerland, June 17; Uruguay v Saudi Arabia, June 20; South Korea v Mexico, June 23; Iceland v Croatia, June 26; Round of 16, July 2.

Saint Petersburg Stadium

City: St. Petersburg

Capacity: 67,000

St. Petersburg Stadium – also known as Krestovsky Stadium – is one of the biggest and most stunning World Cup venues. Home to local Russian Premier League team Zenit St. Petersburg, it opened its doors in 2017 after years of delays and cost overruns, and is reportedly one of the most expensive stadiums anywhere in the world, supposedly coming in at a cost of more than $ 1 billion.

Standing on the iconic city’s Krestovsky Island, it has a retractable roof and is a stunning sight, with its futuristic design with upwardly protruding spikes resembling a spaceship.

It hosted the opening game and final of the 2017 Confederations Cup, and will be at the center of plenty of World Cup action this summer, hosting seven games, including a semi-final and the third place play-off. It will host games at the 2020 UEFA European Championships.

Games: Morocco v Iran, June 15; Russia v Egypt, June 19; Brazil v Costa Rica, June 22; Nigeria v Argentina, June 26; Round of 16, July 3; Semi-final, July 10; Third place play-off, July 14.         

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New York Times issues fake-news correction in article about fake news

By ethan / April 25, 2018

The New York Times was forced to issue a lengthy correction after it published a false statement in an article about “fake news” on Facebook.

In an article about Facebook’s Head of News Partnerships Campbell Brown, NYT journalist Nellie Bowles originally wrote that news about the Palestinian Authority paying rewards to the families of jihadists who die fighting Israel was “an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy theories that have plagued Facebook.”

The Palestinian Authority does in fact pay a stipend to the families of dead or captured jihadists, under the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund. The fund was introduced by Fatah in 1964, and is now administered by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

“This financial reward clearly demonstrates the PA’s institutional commitment to sponsoring terror against Israel,” read a study from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The following day, the paper issued the following correction:

“An earlier version of this article erroneously included a reference to Palestinian actions as an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook. In fact, Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis or convicted of terrorist acts and imprisoned in Israel; that is not a conspiracy theory.”

The error drew the ire of pro-Israel voices on Twitter, however:

Aside from the now-corrected statement, Bowles’ profile on Brown outlines how the Facebook news head has reacted to questions from the press on the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, and details Facebook’s plans to launch its own news service.

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Sochi marks 50 days until FIFA World Cup with ‘record-breaking’ mountain football match

By ethan / April 25, 2018

A record-breaking football match has been staged in the snowy Sochi mountains, 2,064ft above sea level, to mark 50 days until the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be staged in Russia.

Two teams – “Legends of Russian football” and “Legends of Sochi” – comprised of veterans of Russian and Sochi football respectively, faced each other on Wednesday to show off their skills on a slippery snow surface which covered the football pitch in the mountains.

The game, which ended in a 3-3 draw, entered the Record Book of Russia as the highest-altitude football match ever played in the country.

Following the match, the players and guests of the event were invited to taste a specially prepared “football menu.”

The 2018 FIFA World Cup will kick off in Russia on June 14 with the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the newly renovated Luzhniki stadium in Moscow.

Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia, held from June 14 to July 15, must apply for a FAN ID. The FAN ID system will provide visa-free entry into the country for foreign fans and free inter-host city travel and use of public transport on match days.

The World Cup will be staged in 12 stadiums located in 11 Russian cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Saransk, Sochi, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd and Samara.

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China urges ditching dollar & euro trade with Russia in favor of national currencies

By ethan / April 25, 2018

There is no need for Russian and Chinese businesses to pay each other in dollars and euros, when they can settle in rubles and yuan, according to Zhou Liqun, chairman of the Union of Chinese Entrepreneurs in Russia.

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“The leaders of the two countries should think over improving relations, especially in financial cooperation. Why make payments with foreign currency? Why dollar? Why euro? They can be made directly in the yuan and the ruble,” he told RIA Novosti on the sidelines of the Valdai Discussion Club conference in Shanghai, titled “Russia and China: Contemporary Development Challenges.”

According to Zhou Liqun, American and European sanctions gave Russia and China a chance to build up trade and economic cooperation. “Of course, there are sanctions, there are problems, but there is hope and opportunity,” he added.

China is Russia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 15 percent of Russian international trade last year. In January 2018, it grew to 17.2 percent. Germany, which holds second place among Russia’s trade partners, has a share of about eight percent.

The countries have been gradually ditching the dollar and the euro in trade. In 2017, nine percent of payments for Russian imports to China were made in rubles; Russian companies paid 15 percent of Chinese imports in the renminbi. Just three years ago, the numbers were two and nine percent, respectively.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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Duma committee approves proposal for return of smoking rooms in Russian airports

By ethan / April 25, 2018

Despite protests from the Health Ministry, the Lower House committee for transport has approved a bill that, if passed, would allow the return of smoking areas in airports.

The sponsor of the bill, MP Sergey Boyarsky (United Russia), explained the motion by the fact that the current blanket ban on smoking in airports only increases the number of civil offences, because some smokers simply cannot stand prolonged deprivation regardless of punishment.

In addition, such illegal smoking subjects other people to tobacco smoke, potentially damaging their health, which would not happen in dedicated smoking lounges. Finally, smoking outside special areas in airports is dangerous as these facilities hold both highly flammable substances and a lot of visitors.

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Boyarsky also noted that the World Health Organization’s framework convention on tobacco control, which Russia signed in 2008, contains no recommendations on banning smoking in or near airports.

On Wednesday, the State Duma committee for transport and construction gave the go-ahead to the bill, saying that permitting smoking in specially equipped areas in airports was reasonable, considering statistics on civil offences and the harmful effects of passive smoking.

The Health Ministry, however, maintained its extremely negative attitude to the bill. “The realization of this motion could lead to violations of citizens’ rights to a healthy environment and health protection in airport buildings, which is against article 55 of the Russian Constitution,” the ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying by Interfax.

In July 2013, Russia introduced a law banning smoking in certain public places, including offices of state institutions, sports facilities, ships and trains, airports, railway stations and bus stops. One year later, the ban was extended to clubs, cafes and restaurants.

The sponsors of the ban said that it should help to fight widespread and hazardous smoking habits, which used to kill up to 400,000 Russians annually. They also quoted statistics which said that over 60 percent of men and more than 20 percent of women in Russia were smokers, and many of them developed the unhealthy habit from childhood.

In June 2017, Russian Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova announced that the proportion of smokers in the Russian population had dropped from 39.4 percent in 2009 to 30.9 percent in 2016. The share of passive smokers dropped by over a third over the same period, she added.

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