Syrian rebel shelling destroys at least seven Russian planes, report says

Russian dailys report points to countrys single biggest loss of military hardware since launching airstrikes in Syria in late 2015

At least seven Russian planes were destroyed by rebel shelling at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria on 31 December, the Russian daily Kommersant reported late on Wednesday, citing two sources.

If confirmed, the attack would mark the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched airstrikes in Syria in autumn 2015. More than 10 servicemen were wounded in the shelling by radical Islamists, the report said.

At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two military-diplomatic sources.

The attack came days after Vladimir Putin made a triumphant visit to Khmeimim, where he met his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad and told the Russian air force detachment at the base: You are coming back home with victory.

Kommersant said the Russian defence ministry had not commented. Reuters was not able to immediately reach the ministry.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ministry said a Mi-24 helicopter had crash-landed in Syria due to a technical fault and two pilots died.

Last month, Russia began establishing a permanent presence at Hmeymim and a naval base at Tartous although Putin has ordered a significant withdrawal of his military from Syria, declaring its work largely done.

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Moscow-led church in Ukraine refuses to bury boy from Kiev branch

Death of a baby crushed by a man jumping from apartment block exposes religious divide in the Orthodox Christian country

The death of a baby crushed by a drunk man who committed suicide by jumping out of an eighth-floor apartment in Ukraine has exposed the religious divide in the Orthodox Christian country.

A Moscow-led church in the central city of Zaporizhia refused to bury the one-year-old boy killed on New Years Eve because he was christened by a rival church overseen by Kiev.

Local media reported that the boys bereaved father punched the priest in anger in an incident that has prompted renewed acrimony between the two branches of Ukraines main faith.

The Ukrainian church splintered into rival Moscow- and Kiev-led branches when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The bad blood between the two has been heightened by the war in eastern Ukraine between Russian- and Kiev-backed sides that has killed more than 10,000 people in nearly four years.

The Moscow-led denomination is much larger and is dominant in Zaporizhia a city of more than 700,000 people that was founded more than 1,000 years ago and is now an industrial hub.

The family of the boy, who was killed as he was being led out of the apartment building by his father, belong to the Kiev Patriarchate.

His father, Roman Polishchuk, said the priest of the Moscow-led church they turned to told the family he could not perform the burial ceremony.

The priest said our baby was unchristened and our church was a sham, Polishchuk told the local news site Forpost. My wife cried and threw herself before him on her knees, but this did not help.

The priest, Yevgen Molchanov, said the father punched him and a small brawl broke out inside the church before the family was forced to leave. The parents eventually took the babys body to the church where he was christened to perform the burial rights.

Molchanov said he had no choice because those were the rules of his faith.

I am very sorry. I feel for those people, he told Forpost. But there are certain lines I cannot cross. A child christened by the Kiev Patriarchate remains unchristened … And the Kiev Church itself is a hoax.

A spokesman for the Kiev Patriarchate said such incidents had happened before and only fed frustrations among the faithful in Ukraine.

There is no official document from the Moscow Patriarchate saying this must be the case, Yevstratiy Zorya wrote on Facebook. This is all completely arbitrary and based on some verbal orders that are issued under the guise of secret canons.

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Mike Flynns love of Putin has dangerous echoes across Europes right | Owen Jones

Trumps US national security adviser resigned over his relationship with Russia, but its leader is a hero to populists who want to see authoritarian, racist regimes across the west

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Violence flares in war-weary Ukraine as US dithers and Russia pounces

As Ukrainian forces trade shellfire with Russia-backed rebels, the residents of Avdiivka face endless stress and misery

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Violence flares in war-weary Ukraine as US dithers and Russia pounces

As Ukrainian forces trade shellfire with Russia-backed rebels, the residents of Avdiivka face endless stress and misery

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Norway accuses group linked to Russia of carrying out cyber-attack

Norwegian intelligence service PST among targets of malicious emails believed to have been sent by APT 29

Norways foreign ministry, army and other institutions have been targeted in a cyber-attack by a group suspected of having links to Russian authorities, according to Norwegian intelligence, which was one of the targets.

Known as APT 29, the group singled out by Oslo has already been accused of hacking interference in the US presidential election.

Nine different email accounts were targeted in an attempt at what is called spear phishing, in other words, malicious emails, Arne Christian Haugstoyl, an official with Norways intelligence service, PST, told television channel TV2.

He said it was difficult to know the goal of the operation, to which Norway was alerted by an allied country, but he described APT 29 as a group with links to the Russian authorities.

The PST spokesman Martin Bernsen said there was no reason to believe that classified information had been obtained in connection with the attack, according to the daily newspaper Verdens Gang (VG).

In addition to the PST, the foreign ministry and the army, the attack targeted the radiation protection agency, a school and the parliamentary group of the Labour party, the traditionally dominant party in Norway which is currently in opposition.

Legislative elections are scheduled for 11 September, although no link has been made to the vote.

Norway, a Nato member, and neighbouring Russia normally enjoy good relations but these have grown more tense since the Ukraine crisis.

It summoned the Russian ambassador on Wednesday to lodge a protest after Moscow refused visas to two senior parliamentarians in a move Oslo denounced as unjustifiable. Russia said the refusal was a reaction to Norways participation in EU economic sanctions against it over the Ukraine crisis. Moscow was also angered by the recent deployment of about 300 US soldiers on Norwegian soil.

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Russian doctor defies intimidation to authorise gender reassignment surgery

Dmitri Isaev is exploiting a legal loophole to help the transgender community from a secret location in St Petersburg

You wont find any mention of Dr Dmitri Isaevs clinic online, and patients cant look up the number in a phone book. Both name and address are kept secret, and those who would like an appointment with Isaev, a leading gender identity expert, must discover the location of his St Petersburg clinic by word of mouth.

The doctor has been working undercover after conservative activists led a campaign of intimidation against his clinic for transgender patients at Saint Petersburg State Paediatric Medical University.

Isaev, a 60-year-old psychiatrist, led a team of doctors at the university for nine years, issuing official permission for gender reassignment surgery and for changes to identity documents.

It was the countrys largest trans clinic, granting authorisation documents for up to half of the reassignment procedures that take place in Russia each year, according to Isaev. Costs for the permits were kept at a relatively modest 10,000-15,000 roubles (135-200).

But in 2014, the publics attitude to his work changed. A year after the passage of a controversial federal law banning anything perceived to be gay propaganda, a self-styled anti-gay hunter named Timur Bulatov spearheaded a campaign against Isaev.

When interviewed in Aprilabout the psychiatrists work, Bulatov claimed the doctor had created an entire army of gender perverts and described him as Dr Frankenstein.

The campaign against Isaev lasted for months. First came abusive text messages, then a social media campaign, with his phone number and photograph posted on dozens of homophobic social media pages, some with hundreds of members.

Isaev said he was forced to leave his position at the university after complaints about his work reached the district attorneys office.The university denied that he had been forced to resign and said he had left of his own accord to focus on his research.

Not long after his departure, trans people were banned from driving in Russia as part of a legal amendment limiting people with physical and mental disabilities from driving. A move widely condemned by human rights groups.

Undeterred by the escalating climate of intolerance, Isaev decided to reopen his clinic, but this time covertly.

Wary of public pressure, several clinics turned down Isaevs request for treatment rooms, but after 11 months of searching he found his new location in St Petersburg traditionally considered Russias most liberal city.

Though most such consultations take place at medical universities, the psychiatrist found a legal loophole that allowed him to set up privately under the proviso that all of the staff responsible for authorising surgery were certified to practice medicine.

From the undisclosed location, he is once again able to issue the legal permits needed for a person to change their gender identity. The practice is thriving.

Since the late 1990s, Russia has followed a system modelled on many European countries, whereby anyone wishing to change their gender identity must undergo a psychiatric evaluation before receiving the permit needed to change their documents and have surgery.

Certified psychiatrists such as Isaev and his team evaluate candidates based on whether they have fully formed their gender identity and are ready for the repercussions that may come with changing gender in Russia.

Isaev said the witchhunt over the past three years reminded him of the 1980s, when gender and identity research was still based on Soviet academic papers.At least in those days, he said, the rules of the game were clear. Its incredibly complicated to predict what can happen now.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Isaev dedicated his research to transgenderism, and has since published more than 120 academic articles and his advocacy has earned him respect among Russias trans community.

Things moved from a dead stop thanks to Isaev, said Anastasia Gerasimova, who received permission for a sex-change from him. People would come to his consultations from across the country.

A local trans activist, Igor Burtsyev, said there had been some advantages in Isaevs forced change of location, since the secret clinic was now enjoying greater independence from the university, a government institution.

Part of us want the government to actually change something, but those of us quite close to the situation understand that until the government changes things, we actually have it much better, Burtsyev said.

A version of this article first appeared on Coda Story


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