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Russia forges new partnerships in face of West’s ‘total hybrid war’ – Lavrov

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks to the media during a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan May 13, 2022. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

By Mark Trevelyan

LONDON (Reuters) -Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Moscow was the target of “total hybrid war” by the West but would withstand sanctions by forging deeper partnerships with China, India and others.

In a speech on the 80th day since Russia invaded Ukraine, Lavrov pointed to the barrage of sanctions imposed by the West in an effort to portray Russia as the target, not the perpetrator, of aggression.

“The collective West has declared total hybrid war on us and it is hard to predict how long all this will last but it is clear the consequences will be felt by everyone, without exception,” he said.

“We did everything to avoid a direct clash – but now that the challenge has been thrown down, we of course accept it. We are no strangers to sanctions: they were almost always there in one form or another.”

The sanctions on Russia’s top companies, banks and political elite have been imposed to punish it for a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted millions, disrupted energy markets and exacerbated a global food crisis by driving up prices for grain, cooking oils and fertiliser.

In his speech, Lavrov laid out the strategy that Moscow is pinning its hopes on as it tries to cushion the hit to its economy and build new markets elsewhere.

He cited the sanctions, which have included the seizure of nearly half of Russia’s $640 billion in foreign reserves, as evidence that no one is safe against expropriation and “state piracy”, and of the need for countries to lessen economic reliance on the United States and its allies.

“Not only Russia but many others too are reducing dependence on the U.S. dollar, western technology and markets,” he said, without stating evidence.

Efforts by the West to isolate Russia were doomed to fail, he said. Russia’s relations with China were the best they had ever been and it was developing a privileged strategic partnership with India.

Just back from a trip to the Middle East, he also cited the importance of ties with Egypt, Algeria and Gulf nations, as well as Asia, Africa and Latin America.

In one example of a sanctions-induced pivot in exports, Russia sold twice as much crude oil to India in the two months after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine as it did in all of 2021, as Western nations cut purchases of Russian oil and Indian refiners seized the chance to buy it at a discount.

Yet despite Russia’s insistence it can thrive under sanctions, its economy is on track to shrink by somewhere between 8.8% and 12.4%, according to an economy ministry document seen by Reuters, and not return to its pre-invasion size before 2026.

Annual consumer inflation accelerated in April to 17.83%, its highest since 2002.

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Suspect in Buffalo supermarket massacre visited city in March, police say

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© Reuters. A Buffalo Police officer stands at the scene of a shooting at a TOPS supermarket in Buffalo, New York, U.S. May 15, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Jenna Zucker and Gabriella Borter

BUFFALO, N.Y. (Reuters) -An investigation into the weekend shooting of 13 people in Buffalo, New York, turned on Monday to a visit police said the suspect made to the city in March and whether warning signs were missed, as public figures decried the suspect’s racist ideology.

Authorities said Payton Gendron, 18, who is white, carried out an act of “racially motivated violent extremism” when he opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on Saturday at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Buffalo, where 11 of the 13 people struck by gunfire were Black.

Gendron, who police said surrendered to officers who confronted him inside the store, has been jailed without bond on a charge of first-degree murder. He entered a plea of not guilty.

Investigators have said they are searching through phone records, computers and online postings, as well as physical evidence, as new details about the suspect’s past and meticulous planning emerge.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that the suspect, a resident of a southern New York state town hours away by car, made a trip to the Tops store in March to map its layout in preparation for the attack. He was confronted there at the time by a store security guard, who thought he looked suspicious, according to the Post.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters at a news briefing on Monday that the suspect had paid a visit to Buffalo in early March, but he declined to confirm other details of the investigation reported by the Washington Post or other news media.

The Post said the planning trip to Buffalo was described in a 589-page document posted online by someone who identified himself as Gendron. The document is no longer available publicly, the Post reported.

The document referred to the Tops store as “attack area 1” and described two other nearby locations as attack areas to “shoot all blacks,” the Post reported. Gendron counted that there were 53 Black people and six white people in the Tops at the time of his visit, according to the account.

Police confirmed that they are investigating Gendron’s online postings, which included a 180-page manifesto he was believed to have written outlining the “Great Replacement Theory,” a racist conspiracy theory that white people were being replaced by minorities in the United States and elsewhere.

“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake this is an absolute racist hate crime that will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Gramaglia told reporters on Sunday.

Experts say the trend of mostly young white men being inspired by previous racist gun massacres is on the rise, citing recent mass shootings, including the 2015 attack at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a 2019 attack at a Walmart (NYSE:WMT) in an Hispanic neighborhood of El Paso.

President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden plan to visit Buffalo on Tuesday.

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U.S. revises Cuba policy, eases restrictions on remittances, travel

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2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Emigres wave American and Cuban flags outside Versailles restaurant, in reaction to reports of protests in Cuba against its deteriorating economy, in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 18, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello

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By Daphne Psaledakis, Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Monday announced a series of steps to revise its policy toward Cuba, including easing some Trump-era restrictions on family remittances and travel to the island and sharply increasing the processing of U.S. visas for Cubans.

The measures, which come after a lengthy U.S. government review, mark the most significant changes in the U.S. approach to Havana since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.

But the announcement stopped short of returning U.S.-Cuba relations to the historic rapprochement engineered by former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president. That included less crimped flow of remittances, fewer travel curbs and faster visa services.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement said the measures announced Monday were to “further support the Cuban people, providing them additional tools to pursue a life free from Cuban government oppression and to seek greater economic opportunities.”

The State Department said the United States would lift the cap on family remittances, previously set to $1,000 per quarter, and authorize donative remittances to non-family members.

But it made clear that the United States would not remove entities from the Cuba Restricted List, a State Department list of Cuban government- and military-aligned companies with whom U.S. firms and citizens are barred from doing business.

“We are going to ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people, while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses,” an administration official said earlier on Monday.

The United States will use civilian “electronic payment processors” for remittances to avoid funds going directly to the Cuban government, the official said, adding that the United States had already engaged with the Cuban government “about establishing a civilian processor for this.”

Biden officials have been mindful that easing restrictions on Cuba could lead to political fallout from conservative Cuban Americans, a key voting bloc in south Florida who mostly backed former President Donald Trump’s tough policies on Cuba.

Trump slashed visa processing, restricted remittances, scaled back flights to the island and increased hurdles for U.S. citizens seeking to travel to Cuba for anything other than family visits.

There were few details on how the new policy would be implemented.

The Cuban embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FAMILY REUNIFICATION

Among the changes is a plan to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which had provided a legal way for Cuban families to be reunited in the United States, and increase capacity for consular services.

Washington will aim to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year, the official said, in line with a migration accord.

The U.S. embassy in Havana began issuing a trickle of immigrant visas to Cubans this month, making good on an earlier promise to restart visa processing on the island after a four-year hiatus.

The State Department under Trump sharply scaled back embassy staff in 2017 following a spate of “anomalous health incidents” that came to be known as “Havana syndrome.”

Cubans seeking to emigrate to the United States were instead directed to apply for visas in person at the U.S. embassies first in Colombia, and later in Guyana, costly trips beyond the reach of many.

The Biden administration will also expand authorized travel to Cuba, allowing scheduled and charter flights to and from the country to use airports other than Havana, according to the State Department.

Washington will also reinstate some categories of group educational travel, as well as certain travel related to professional meetings and research.

Individual “people-to-people” travel, however, will not be reinstated. The category was eliminated by Trump officials who said it was being abused by Americans taking beach vacations.

The United States will also increase support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs, aiming to ease access to the internet and expanding access to microfinance and training, among other measures.

Biden promised during the 2020 election to re-engage with Cuba. He instead imposed fresh sanctions on Cuban officials in response to Havana’s crackdown on protesters following widespread marches on the island last July.

Hundreds were arrested during and after the demonstrations, widely considered to be the largest protests since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Washington has condemned Cuban authorities for harsh sentences that have been given to some.

The Cuban government blamed the protests on meddling by the United States.

“We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures,” Price said.

The officials said a decision has not been made on whether to invite Cuba to next month’s U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas. Mexico and others have threatened to not attend unless all countries in the Americas are invited.

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Democratic frontrunner in Pennsylvania Senate primary to skip rally after stroke

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, U.S. Democratic Senate candidate for Pennsylvania, poses for a portrait at a meet-and-greet at the Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

By Jarrett Renshaw

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, the leading Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in the state, will skip his election night party on Tuesday as he recovers in a hospital from a stroke suffered during the final days of the campaign.

Fetterman’s Pittsburgh rally will proceed without him “as he will remain in the hospital resting and recovering,” his campaign said in a statement on Monday. His wife, Gisele Fetterman, and other guests, will make remarks in his absence, it said.

Pennsylvania offers Democrats one of their best chances of picking up a Senate seat currently held by a Republican – the retiring Patrick Toomey – as they seek to retain their razor-thin majority in the chamber in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Fetterman’s health scare has shaken his campaign and the party.

Fetterman, who will face centrist U.S. Representative Conor Lamb and two other Democrats on Tuesday, said in a statement issued on Sunday from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital that he suffered the stroke on Friday.

Fetterman, 52, has surged in opinion polls ahead of Tuesday’s primary, surprising political observers who had predicted a close contest with Lamb.

Fetterman said he had not been feeling well but ignored his symptoms until his wife insisted he go to a hospital. Fetterman said in his statement on Sunday that he was “feeling much better” and suffered no cognitive damage.

“I’m well on my way to a full recovery,” Fetterman said. “They’re keeping me here for now for observation, but I should be out of here sometime soon.”

The Democratic nominee will face a Republican opponent who also is set to be chosen on Tuesday. The Republican primary is a close race pitting Mehmet Oz, a television wellness celebrity backed by former President Donald Trump, against David McCormick (NYSE:MKC), a wealthy former hedge fund CEO, and Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator.

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