Putin says Russia will make new missiles, warns of arms race

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 5, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Vladimir Soldatkin

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would produce missiles that were banned under a landmark Cold-War era nuclear pact that ended last month, but that Moscow would not deploy them unless the United States did so first.

Speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Far East, Putin said Moscow had urged the United States to de-escalate a spiraling arms race between the former Cold War foes, but that Washington had not responded.

The Russian leader said he was concerned by U.S. talk of deploying missiles in Japan and South Korea, a deployment he said would cover parts of Russian territory.

Tensions over nuclear arms control have been rising after Washington formally pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) pact last month accusing Russia of violating it, allegations Moscow denied.

Last month the United States tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit a target more than 500 km away, a test that would have been prohibited under the INF.

The pact banned land-based missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

“…Of course we will produce such missiles,” Putin told an economic forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok. He repeated a pledge by Moscow not to deploy any new missiles unless the United States does so first.

“We are not happy about the fact that the head of the Pentagon said that the United States intends to deploy them in Japan and South Korea, this saddens us and is a cause for certain concern,” Putin said.

Putin said he offered U.S. President Donald Trump in a recent phone call the chance to buy one of the hypersonic nuclear weapons Moscow is developing. He said Trump spurned the offer and replied that Washington was making its own.

Putin said he feared that an arms race could spread into space and that Washington could develop a new space weapon.

(Additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin, Maria Vasilyeva; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

European Court says Russia not facing up to domestic abuse problem

FILE PHOTO: The building of the European Court of Human Rights is seen in Strasbourg, France March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia failed to protect a woman from repeated acts of violence by her former partner, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday, saying her case showed that Moscow was not facing up to its domestic abuse problem.

Valeriya Volodina, who now uses a different name for security reasons, was assaulted, kidnapped and stalked by her former partner after she left him in 2015 and moved out of their shared home in the Russian city of Ulyanovsk, the court said.

The police never opened a criminal investigation into violence and threats that she reported to them from January 2016 to March 2018, it said in its statement.

In one such episode, she was forced to have an abortion after he punched her in the face and stomach when she was pregnant. In other incidents, the partner, whom she met in 2014, cut her car’s brake hose and stole her identity papers, it said.

After she moved to Moscow, Volodina discovered a GPS tracker planted in her bag and the former partner, identified only as S., subsequently started stalking her outside her home and attempted to drag her from a taxi.

The court in Strasbourg said Russia’s police had interviewed the partner and carried out pre-investigation inquiries but not opened formal proceedings against him as it deemed that “no publicly prosecutable offense had been committed”.

Russian legislation does not define or mention domestic violence as a separate offense or aggravating element in other offenses and there is no mechanism for imposing restraining or protection orders, the court said.

“Those failings clearly demonstrated that the authorities were reluctant to acknowledge the gravity of the problem of domestic violence in Russia and its discriminatory effect on women,” the court said in a statement.

Each year, about 14,000 women die in Russia at the hands of husbands or other relatives, according to a 2010 United Nations report.

Police finally opened a criminal investigation only in March 2018 when the partner circulated photographs of her on social networks without her consent, the court said.

The court said Russia’s response had been “manifestly inadequate” and ruled unanimously there had been two violations of the European Convention on human rights, one on the prohibition of discrimination and the other on the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment.

Russia’s Justice Ministry said it had three months to decide whether to appeal against the ruling, but that it would study the findings of the court, Interfax news agency reported.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

Pompeo to raise ‘aggressive, destabilizing’ Russian actions with Putin, Lavrov

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boards a plane before departing from London Stansted Airport, north of London, Britain May 9, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mike Pompeo will make his first trip to Russia as U.S. secretary of state next week for talks with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on “aggressive and destabilizing actions” Moscow has taken around the world, a senior State Department official said on Friday.

Pompeo would reiterate U.S. concerns about Russia’s roles in Venezuela and Syria and its breach of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, as well as Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. elections, the official told reporters in previewing Pompeo’s trip to Moscow and Sochi next week.

“We have many areas of disagreement with the Russian government and the secretary will have a very candid conversation about concerns in our bilateral relationship,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Russia has taken a series of aggressive and destabilizing actions on the global stage and this trip is an opportunity to make those points clear to the Russian government and what our expectations are and see how to forge a path forward.”

The official noted that President Donald Trump had stressed the importance of “a productive dialogue” with Russia and finding ways to cooperate on shared interests.

Progress had been made in a number of areas, with engagement on Afghanistan, North Korea and counter-terrorism.

The official said the two sides had had constructive discussions on efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, “even though we don’t agree with Russia about all the details of how to achieve this goal. We welcome the positive role of Russia, China and any other country in the Afghan peace process,” he said.

Pompeo will fly on Monday to Moscow, where he will meet with U.S. Embassy staff and members of the business community before heading to Sochi for talks with Lavrov and Putin on Tuesday.

The official declined to forecast concrete outcomes.

“We are approaching this from a very realistic approach, that this is an opportunity to take the conversation to a higher level and to have that frank and direct conversation on this full range of issues.”

The official said the United States was seeking a new era of arms control with Russia to address “new and emerging threats” and Pompeo’s trip would be an opportunity to discuss that.

Trump spoke with Putin by phone last week and said they discussed the possibility of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China in what would be a major deal between the globe’s top three atomic powers.

The 2011 New START treaty, the only U.S.-Russia arms control pact limiting deployed strategic nuclear weapons, expires in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree. Without the agreement, it could be harder to gauge each other’s intentions, arms control advocates say.

Trump has called the New START treaty concluded by his predecessor, Barack Obama, a “bad deal” and “one-sided.”

Pompeo met Lavrov in Finland this week and raised concerns about interference in upcoming U.S. elections.

A report by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller released last month found Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” favoring Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump said last week he discussed “the Russia Hoax” in his call with Putin but did not raise concerns about further Russian meddling.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Jonathan Landay, Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Trott)

Forty-one reported killed after Russian passenger plane crash-lands in Moscow

A passenger plane is seen on fire after an emergency landing at the Sheremetyevo Airport outside Moscow, Russia May 5, 2019. The Investigative Committee of Russia/Handout via REUTERS.

By Maria Tsvetkova and Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Forty-one people on board a Russian Aeroflot passenger plane were killed on Sunday, including two children, after the aircraft caught fire as it made a bumpy emergency landing at a Moscow airport, Russian investigators said.

Television footage showed the Sukhoi Superjet 100 crash bouncing along the tarmac at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport before the rear part of the plane suddenly burst into flames.

Many passengers on board SU 1492 then escaped via the plane’s emergency slides that inflated after the hard landing.

The plane, which had been flying from Moscow to the northern Russian city of Murmansk, had been carrying 73 passengers and five crew members, Russia’s aviation watchdog said.

Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, said in a statement that only 37 out of 78 people on board had survived, meaning 41 people had lost their lives.

No official cause has been given for the disaster.

The Investigative Committee said it had opened an investigation and was looking into whether the pilots had breached air safety rules.

Some passengers blamed bad weather and lightning.

“We took off and then lightning struck the plane,” the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily cited one surviving passenger, Pyotr Egorov, as saying.

“The plane turned back and there was a hard landing. We were so scared, we almost lost consciousness. The plane jumped down the landing strip like a grasshopper and then caught fire on the ground.”

State TV broadcast mobile phone footage shot by another passenger in which people could be heard screaming.

President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed their condolences and ordered investigators to establish what had happened.

The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed “informed source” as saying the evacuation of the plane had been delayed by some passengers insisting on collecting their hand luggage first.

Russian news agencies reported that injured passengers were being treated in hospitals.

DEBRIS IN THE ENGINES

The Flightradar24 tracking service showed that the plane had circled twice over Moscow before making an emergency landing after just under 30 minutes in the air.

The plane’s undercarriage gave way on impact and its engines caught fire.

Interfax cited a source as saying the plane had only succeeded in making an emergency landing on the second attempt and that some of the aircraft’s systems had then failed.

The emergency landing was so hard that debris had found its way into the engines, sparking a fire that swiftly engulfed the rear of the fuselage, the same source said.

Russian investigators said they were looking into various versions.

Russian news agencies reported that the plane had been produced in 2017 and had been serviced as recently as April this year.

Aeroflot has long shaken off its troubled post-Soviet safety record and now has one of the world’s most modern fleets on international routes where it relies on Boeing and Airbus aircraft.

Russian officials are keen for Aeroflot to buy more Sukhoi Superjets, a regional airliner, for domestic flights to support the country’s fledgling civil aircraft industry. The plane is built in Russia’s Far East.

A Sukhoi Superjet crashed in Indonesia in 2012, killing all 45 people on board in an accident blamed on human error.

The Superjet entered service in 2011 and was the first new passenger jet developed in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. It has been hit, however, by sporadic concerns over safety and reliability, including a December 2016 grounding after a defect was discovered in an aircraft’s tail section.

Russian officials said on Sunday it was premature to talk of grounding the Sukhoi Superjet for now. The plane is predominantly used by Russian airlines like Aeroflot, but is also used by a few other foreign operators, including a low-cost Mexican airline.

Dozens of flights at Sheremetyevo were delayed because of the disaster.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow and Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)

Putin to U.S.: I’m ready for another Cuban Missile crisis if you want one

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is militarily ready for a Cuban Missile-style crisis if the United States is foolish enough to want one and that his country currently has the edge when it comes to a first nuclear strike.

The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in 1962 when Moscow responded to a U.S. missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba, sparking a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

More than five decades on, tensions are rising again over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe as a landmark Cold war-era arms control treaty unravels.

Putin’s comments, made to Russian media late on Wednesday, follow his warning that Moscow will match any U.S. move to deploy new missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the United States or by deploying faster missiles or both.

Putin fleshed out his warning in detail for the first time, saying Russia could deploy hypersonic missiles on ships and submarines which could lurk outside U.S. territorial waters if Washington now moved to deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

“(We’re talking about) naval delivery vehicles: submarines or surface ships. And we can put them, given the speed and range (of our missiles)… in neutral waters. Plus they are not stationary, they move and they will have to find them,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.

“You work it out. Mach nine (the speed of the missiles) and over 1,000 km (their range).”

TREATY VIOLATIONS

The U.S. State Department dismissed Putin’s earlier warning as propaganda, saying it was designed to divert attention from what Washington alleges are Moscow’s violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The pact, which banned Russia and the United States from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe, is in its death throes, raising the prospect of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow.

Putin has said he does not want an arms race with the United States, but that he would have no choice but to act if Washington deployed new missiles in Europe, some of which he says would be able to strike Moscow within 10-12 minutes.

Putin said his naval response to such a move would mean Russia could strike the United States faster than U.S. missiles deployed in Europe could hit Moscow because the flight time would be shorter.

“It (the calculation) would not be in their favor, at least as things stand today. That’s for sure.” said Putin.

Relations between Moscow and Washington were strained, he added, but the tensions were not comparable to those of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“They (the tensions) are not a reason to ratchet up confrontation to the levels of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. In any case that’s not what we want,” said Putin. “If someone wants that, well OK they are welcome. I have set out today what that would mean. Let them count (the missile flight times).”

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

Trump phones Venezuela’s Guaido as U.S. pushes for Maduro to go

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido attends a session of the Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Vivian Sequera and Andrew Osborn

CARACAS/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president by phone on Wednesday, reiterating support for his “fight to regain democracy,” as Washington’s push to force socialist President Nicolas Maduro from power picked up steam.

The White House said Trump and Juan Guaido, the opposition leader trying to replace Maduro, agreed to maintain regular communication after Venezuelan authorities opened an investigation that could lead to Guaido’s arrest.

The moves against Guaido, 35, including a travel ban and assets freeze, were in retaliation for oil sanctions imposed by the United States this week. They intensified the fight to control Venezuela, an OPEC nation that has the world’s largest oil reserves.

The U.S. president spoke to Guaido to “congratulate him on his historic assumption of the presidency and to reinforce President Trump’s strong support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Guaido thanked Trump for the U.S. commitment to freedom and prosperity in Venezuela and the region and noted the importance of planned protests across the country against Maduro on Wednesday and Saturday, she said in a statement.

“They agreed to maintain regular communication to support Venezuela’s path back to stability, and to rebuild the bilateral relationship between the United States and Venezuela,” Sanders said.

Maduro, 56, accused Trump of ordering his assassination, while his main global backer Russia called on Wednesday for mediation in a standoff that is splitting foreign powers.

Maduro, facing the biggest challenge to his rule since replacing Hugo Chavez six years ago, said Trump had ordered neighboring Colombia to murder him.

“Donald Trump has without doubt given an order to kill me and has told the government of Colombia and the Colombian mafia to kill me,” Maduro said in an interview with Moscow’s RIA news agency, reprising an accusation that he and Chavez have often made over the years.

Bogota and Washington have routinely denied that, while foes say Maduro uses such accusations as a smokescreen when in trouble.

However, speculation about military action against him was fueled this week when Trump national security adviser John Bolton carried a notepad with the words “5,000 troops to Colombia”. U.S. Major General Mark Stammer, the commander of U.S. Army South, was in Colombia on Wednesday, U.S. embassy officials said.

Russia, which like China has loaned and invested billions of dollars in OPEC member Venezuela, called on Guaido to drop his demand for a snap election and instead accept mediation.

However, given the failure of previous rounds of dialogue between the government and opposition, including one led by the Vatican, opponents are suspicious, believing Maduro uses them to quell protests and buy time.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court imposed the travel ban on Guaido and froze his bank accounts in apparent retaliation for the U.S. oil sanctions, which are expected to deliver another blow to an already collapsing economy. Some 3 million Venezuelans have left the country amid food shortages and hyperinflation.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Venezuela, given the unrest.

GLOBAL STANDOFF

The United States is Venezuela’s largest crude importer, ahead of India and China, but the new measures limit transactions between U.S. companies and state oil company PDVSA.

Oil prices rose nearly 3 percent on Wednesday, boosted by U.S. government data that showed signs of tightening supply, as investors remained concerned about supply disruptions because of Venezuela

Guaido, an opposition lawmaker who is president of the National Assembly, has been recognized as president by the United States and most Western Hemisphere nations. He says Maduro fraudulently won elections last year and is offering an amnesty to military officials.

Maduro, who took office for his second term this month and who accuses Guaido of staging a U.S.-directed coup against him, still has the support of senior military officers. He is unlikely to back down unless that changes.

In the RIA interview, Maduro reiterated he was ready for talks with the opposition, but rejected as blackmail calls for a snap election.

“I won legitimately,” he said of last year’s election. “If the imperialists want a new election, let them wait until 2025.”

Maduro also expressed “pleasure and gratitude” for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help.

Sources have told Reuters private military contractors who do secret missions for Moscow were in Venezuela.

Guaido called for protests on Wednesday and a mass march at the weekend. More than 40 people have died so far in and around the protests that began a week ago, the U.N. human rights office said. Hundreds have also been arrested, including children.

Government supporters have also attended large rallies led by Maduro allies, while the president visited military bases in recent days. He ordered the creation of 50,000 popular defense units, community groups charged with the “integral defense of the fatherland.”

Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Saab sought a preliminary investigation of Guaido on the basis that he helped foreign interference in Venezuela. Announcing the moves against Guaido, Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno, a major Maduro ally, said the measures were to “protect the integrity of the country.”

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Susan Heavey, Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Karin Strohecker and Noah Browning in London; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Alison Williams, Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)

Family of former U.S. marine held by Russia denies reports of Russia visit

FILE PHOTO: Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia for suspected spying, appears in a photo provided by the Whelan family on January 1, 2019. Courtesy Whelan Family/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The brother of ex-U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying, denied on Tuesday a Russian media report that said his family planned to visit Russia in an effort to free him.

“Those reports are false,” David Whelan, the ex-Marine’s twin brother, said in an email to Reuters. “Neither his parents nor his siblings are flying to Russia, and we have no plans to fly to Russia.”

The Interfax news agency on Tuesday had cited a lawyer for the Whelan family as saying that they would make such a visit.

Whelan, a former U.S. marine who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28. His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow and Barbara Goldberg in New York, writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Retired U.S. Marine held in Russia for spying is innocent: family

Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia for suspected spying, appears in a photo provided by the Whelan family on January 1, 2019. Courtesy Whelan Family/Handout via REUTERS

By Gabrielle T’trault-Farber and Barbara Goldberg

MOSCOW/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A retired U.S. Marine who has been detained by Russia for alleged spying was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a former fellow marine and is innocent of the espionage charges against him, his family said.

Paul Whelan had been staying with the wedding party at Moscow’s Metropol hotel when he went missing, his brother, David, said.

“His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” Whelan’s family said in a statement released on Twitter on Tuesday.

Russia’s FSB state security service said Whelan had been detained on Friday, but it gave no details of his alleged espionage activities. Espionage can carry a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years under Russian law.

A U.S. State Department representative said Russia had notified it that a U.S. citizen had been detained and it expected Moscow to allow consular access to him.

“Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access. We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it,” the representative said, without providing details of the American’s identity or the reasons behind his detention.

David Whelan told CNN that his brother, who had served in Iraq, has been to Russia many times in the past for both work and personal trips, and had been serving as a tour guide for some of the wedding guests. He apparently disappeared on Friday and his friends filed a missing persons report in Moscow, his brother said.

David Whelan told the news channel that the family was relieved at first when they heard he was in custody.

“It’s knowing that he’s not dead, it weirdly really helps,” he said.

He declined to comment on his brother’s work status at the time of his arrest and whether his brother lived in Novi, Michigan, as address records indicate.

BorgWarner, a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier, said Whelan is the “company’s director, global security. He is responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan and at other company locations around the world.”

BUTINA CASE

Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow station chief, said it was “possible, even likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered Whelan’s arrest to set up an exchange for Maria Butina, a Russian citizen who pleaded guilty on Dec. 13 to acting as an agent tasked with influencing U.S. conservative groups.

Russia says Butina was forced to make a false confession about being a Russian agent.

Putin’s aim was “to make us feel some pain and his family to feel some pain. That’s their (Moscow’s) pressure point,” Hoffman told Reuters.

“Putin knows there will be a lot of public square pressure to get this guy out,” he said.

Putin told U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter on Sunday that Moscow was ready for dialogue on a “wide-ranging agenda,” the Kremlin said following a series of failed attempts to hold a new summit.

At the end of November, Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina, citing tensions about Russian forces opening fire on Ukrainian navy boats and then seizing them.

Trump’s relations with Putin have been under a microscope as a result of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Moscow has denied intervening in the election and Trump has branded Mueller’s probe as a witch hunt.

Russia’s relations with the United States plummeted when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Washington and Western allies have imposed a broad range of sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New YorkAdditional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington and Rich McKay in Atlanta, Editing by Bill Tarrant, Paul Simao, Richard Balmforth)

Four dead, dozens trapped under rubble after Russian gas blast: agencies

Emergency personnel work at the site of collapsed apartment building after a suspected gas blast in Magnitogorsk, Russia December 31, 2018. Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief/Handout via REUTERS.

MOSCOW (Reuters) – As many as 40 people could still be trapped in the rubble of a Russian apartment block that partially collapsed in an explosion on Monday, killing at least four people, news agencies reported.

The blast, thought to have been caused by a gas leak, damaged 48 apartments in a nine-story building in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the Urals some 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow, the emergencies ministry said.

Emergency personnel work at the site of collapsed apartment building after a suspected gas blast in Magnitogorsk, Russia December 31, 2018. Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief/Handout via REUTERS.

Emergency personnel work at the site of collapsed apartment building after a suspected gas blast in Magnitogorsk, Russia December 31, 2018. Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief/Handout via REUTERS.

President Vladimir Putin flew into Magnitogorsk late on Monday afternoon, visiting the injured in hospital and meeting with local authorities, state television showed.

Putin looked on as rescue workers toiled in temperatures of -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit) to locate people trapped in the debris.

Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev said at a meeting with Putin there were “presumably between 36 and 40 people under the rubble,” agencies reported.

The ministry told Russian agencies earlier on Monday that five people were in hospital and that the fate of 35 people was unknown.

Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova told state television that the chances of finding survivors were diminishing as the day wore on.

The blast tore through the building at around 6 a.m. (0100 GMT) when many residents were asleep, RIA news agency reported. Monday was a public holiday in Russia.

There have been several similar incidents in Russia in recent years due to aging infrastructure and poor safety regulations surrounding gas usage.

In 2015, at least five people were killed when a gas explosion damaged an apartment building in the southern city of Volgograd.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Gabrielle T’trault-Farber; editing by Richard Balmforth and Robin Pomeroy)

Russia detains U.S. citizen in Moscow for suspected spying

FILE PHOTO: A flag flies behind an enclosure on the territory of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Russia March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s FSB state security service said on Monday it had detained an American citizen suspected of spying in Moscow and had opened a criminal case against him.

The FSB said the American had been detained on December 28 but it gave no details of the nature of his alleged espionage.

The English-language service of TASS news agency named the American as Paul Whelan but Reuters was unable to independently confirm the exact spelling of his name.

Russia’s foreign ministry told TASS it could not provide further detail on the case, but said the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had been informed.

The U.S. Embassy would not comment directly, referring inquiries to the State Department in Washington.

Under Russian law, espionage can carry between 10 and 20 years in prison.

Earlier this month Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to a conspiracy charge in a deal with prosecutors and admitted to working with a top Russian official to infiltrate American conservative activist groups and politicians as an agent for Moscow.

U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller in July indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges related to hacking Democratic Party computer networks in 2016.

In February he charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies as part of a criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper in the election to support Trump and disparage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Russia has denied interfering in the election. Trump has denied colluding with Moscow.

Russia’s relations with the United States plummeted when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and Washington and Western allies have imposed a broad range of sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Trault-Farber in Moscow and Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Richard Balmforth, William Maclean)