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MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Russia is in talks with the New Development Bank, set up by the BRICS group of major emerging economies, about raising more than $1 billion, Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak told reporters on Monday.

If Russia borrows from the New Development Bank, it may trim its borrowing plan at home where it uses so-called OFZ treasury bonds to cover budget deficit.

Storchak said on Monday that Russia would lower state borrowing via OFZ bonds if it had an option to raise money for building roads and bridges from a development bank.

"With the new BRICS development bank alone we are now preparing four new loans," Storchak said, adding that these loans altogether would comprise slightly more than $1 billion.

The Russian Finance Ministry has earlier planned to raise around 1 trillion roubles ($16.08 billion) a year by selling OFZ treasury bonds in 2018-2020.

Russia is part of the BRICS group, which also includes China, Brazil, India and South Africa.

Russia has planned to increase issuance of OFZ bonds to raise financing for a new set of decrees ordered by President Vladimir Putin. The new decrees envisage investments of 8 trillion roubles ($128.60 billion) into Russia's infrastructure, healthcare and education.

In May, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Moscow was creating a special fund worth 3 trillion roubles to finance the infrastructure projects over the next six years, while continuing its regular borrowing via OFZ bonds for budget needs.

 

HELSINKI, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - US President Donald Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin for a long-awaited summit on Monday saying he wanted good relations with Russia, after blaming Washington's own past "foolishness and stupidity" for the countries' hostile ties.

Trump opened the meeting with warm words for Putin, seated next to the Russian leader in an ornate presidential palace in neutral Finland, and said it was a longstanding goal of his to improve the relationship between the two countries.

"I think we will have an extraordinary relationship. I hope so. I've been saying it, and I'm sure you've heard over the years, and as I campaigned, that getting along with Russia is good thing, not a bad thing," he said.

But to Trump's critics, the friendly words had already been overshadowed by an extraordinary denunciation of his own country's prior policies, which Trump tweeted out hours before the summit.

"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!" he tweeted before the summit began.

The Russian foreign ministry "liked" his tweet, and tweeted back: "We agree".

Trump's opponents at home were furious, with one Democratic congressman tweeting that Trump had turned the White House into "a propaganda arm for the Kremlin".

Putin and Trump met alone apart from interpreters before a working lunch with aides. Trump said they would talk about a range of subjects, listing trade, the military, nuclear weapons and China.

But, at least in his public remarks at the outset, he mentioned none of the issues that have lately brought US-Russian relations to the lowest point since the Cold War: Moscow's annexation of territory from Ukraine, its support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad, as well as Western accusations that it poisoned a spy in England and meddled in elections.

"Our relationship with Russia is strained because of the very malign actions he's refusing to take Russia to task for," tweeted Democratic US Representative Gregory Meeks, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Though relations were worse during the Cold War, at least then the US Presidency wasn't a propaganda arm for the Kremlin."

The Kremlin has played down expectations for the summit. It said it did not expect much from the meeting but hoped it would be a "first step" to resolving a crisis in ties.

"Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along."

 

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - President Vladimir Putin said Russia could be “proud” of its hosting of the football World Cup, judging it a success “in every respect” after Sunday night’s final. “We can surely be proud of how we organised this tournament,” Putin said in televised comments after France’s victory against Croatia.

“We have made this grand event a success in every respect,” he added.

“We have done it for our supporters, for Russians who are passionate about sport and for all those who love sport across the world.”

Putin thanked the foreign fans who came to Russia for the tournament. Before it started a month ago, there had been concerns due to the memory of violence between Russian and English fans during the Euro 2016 tournament in France.

Fans at this World Cup however “showed that sport and football can manage not to divide people and not lead to fights and disputes, but unite people on the basis of common values,” Putin said.

“People tried to scare us by saying the English would come and commit hooliganism... But everyone behaved in a most exemplary manner.”

Putin said foreign visitors holding “fan ID” cards for the World Cup could have visa-free entry to Russia for the rest of 2018.

The fan IDs which permitted ticket-holders to enter Russia during the World Cup had initially been due to expire on July 25.

Now, “foreign supporters who currently have fan IDs will be able to benefit from multiple entries into the Russian Federation without a visa until the end of the year,” Putin said.

Despite high diplomatic tension between Moscow and the West, world football officials and personalities as well as world leaders have lined up to praise Russia’s hosting of the tournament.

Russian leaders revelled in last night’s dramatic match after French players lifted the trophy.

The game was watched by Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.

Putin said he had congratulated both leaders. “A score of 4-2 in a final — I can’t remember seeing a score like that and few people could,” Putin said.

“Both teams were magnificent... I am sure everyone liked the way they played, and so did I.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Instagram: “A marvellous final! France are champions. Russia has organised the best World Cup.”

The Russian foreign ministry congratulated France for its victory in an official tweet.

“Congratulations to the @FrenchTeam for their second title and thank you for this feast of football!” it wrote.

HELSINKI, July 16, 2018 (Reuters) - Hours before he was due to sit down for his first ever summit with Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump blamed “US foolishness” for bad relations between Washington and Moscow, while the Kremlin said it expected a tough meeting.

Trump’s comments show how much domestic political pressure he is under over the meeting in the Finnish capital Helsinki, while the Kremlin’s low expectations reflect its belief that the fact the summit is even happening is a Russian win.

Critics and his own advisers have urged Trump to use the summit to press Putin hard about election meddling and other “malign” activities. But hours before he was due to meet the Russian president, Trump focused his ire on his own country and the investigation into possible links between his 2016 campaign and Russia. The president has denied any collusion took place.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” wrote Trump on Twitter, referring to the investigation into possible collusion.

During a breakfast meeting with Finland’s president before the meeting with Putin in the Finnish capital, Trump appeared upbeat. Asked what he would say to Putin, Trump said: “We’ll do just fine, thank you.”

Trump and his wife Melania returned to their hotel after the breakfast and were expected to remain there for a few hours before the afternoon summit. Putin was due in Helsinki around lunch time.

The two leaders will first meet one-on-one with only their interpreters, followed by a working lunch accompanied by advisers, and a joint news conference.

While Trump has been abroad since last week, the special prosecutor investigating allegations that Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 presidential election indicted 12 Russians on Friday for stealing Democratic Party documents.

Trump’s foes at home have been scathing about his apparent refusal to criticise Putin. His 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Great World Cup. Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

Neither side expects major breakthroughs from the talks and the outcome is uncertain given sharp differences between Washington and Moscow over everything from Syria to Ukraine.

For Putin, the fact that the summit is even happening despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and US allies is a geopolitical win because, in Russian eyes, it shows that Washington recognises Moscow as a great power that cannot be isolated or ignored.

The Kremlin made clear beforehand it did not expect an easy meeting, taking Trump to task over his criticism of a planned Russian gas pipeline to Germany and suggesting it would be hard to find common ground on Syria because of differences over Iran.

Russia hoped however that the summit would be “the first step” in overcoming a crisis in relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s RT TV station. “Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well. There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along.”

Trump wants Russia to help Moscow to use its influence in Syria, where it is backing President Bashar al-Assad militarily, to push Iranian and Iranian-allied forces out.

“Of course Syria will be discussed by the two presidents,” said Peskov. “We all know what Washington thinks of Iran. But at the same time Iran is a good partner to us in terms of trade, economic cooperation and political dialogue. So this will not be an easy exchange of views.”

Trump has predicted he will be accused of being too soft on Putin no matter how the summit goes.

“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia...I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” he tweeted on Sunday.

He has said he will raise the issue of Russian election meddling, but does not expect to get anywhere.

Beyond warm words, the summit could yield an agreement to begin repairing battered US-Russia relations, and maybe a deal to start talks on issues such as nuclear arms control and Syria.

The Helsinki summit is the capstone to a nearly week-long trip for Trump during which he has sown doubts about his commitment to the NATO military alliance, Washington’s so-called special relationship with Britain and US relations with the European Union that he called “a foe” on trade.

MOSCOW, July 14, 2018 (News Wires) - Russia's World Cup organisers said on Saturday that the tournament had so far been a success and would help to improve the country's image abroad.

With the third-place game and the final remaining, Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the local organising committee, said the country had welcomed more than one million foreign guests during the tournament and that its 12 World Cup stadiums had had a 98-percent occupancy rate.

The month-long tournament, which ends with the final between France and Croatia on Sunday at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium, has so far been without major security incidents. Pre-event fears of racism and hooligan violence have not materialised.

"It changed the perception of Russia abroad," Sorokin told a news conference. "It showed who we are. We showed ourselves as an open, hospitable, welcoming nation."

Sorokin said that the fan zones set up in the 11 host cities, including Moscow, St Petersburg and Sochi, had been visited by more than seven million people during the tournament so far.

Although fans from European countries were outnumbered by their Latin American counterparts, Sorokin said Europe's interest in the World Cup picked up as the tournament went on.

"We can only think and speculate why there was not a huge number, why didn't European nations come in huge numbers to support their teams," Sorokin said. "But the truth of the matter is that on the way they really got a taste of the World Cup."

Citing an increase in fan ID requests by English fans as the tournament went on, with England reaching the third-place playoff, Sorokin said prejudices about Russia had been broken during the World Cup.

"You see that we did our best to welcome any fans from any country, from any corner of the world," he said.

Russia's success on the pitch made the World Cup especially appealing for the host country.

Russia qualified automatically for the finals as hosts and entered the tournament as the lowest-ranked team.

But wins against Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the group stage allowed Russia to reach the World Cup knockout stage for the first time in post-Soviet history.

Russia went on to eliminate Spain in the round of 16 before losing to finalists Croatia on penalty kicks in the quarter-finals.

"It changed not only the perception of Russia abroad, it changed us," Sorokin said. "We now believe that we can. We can play football well, we can organise events of global importance well."

 

MOSCOW, July 13, 2018 (News Wires) - FIFA president Gianni Infantino thanked the Russian people and government on Friday for what he described as the "best World Cup" ever.

Sporting a FIFA volunteers' jacket, Infantino told reporters in Moscow that Russia's infrastructure and welcome allied to the quality of football and success of VAR (the video assistant referee system) had contributed to the success of the tournament.

"Since a couple of years I was saying this would be the best World Cup ever. Today I can say it with more conviction because I lived it and you lived it. It is the best World Cup ever," said Infantino, two days ahead of the final between France and Croatia.

Infantino told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the Kremlin last week that the world "all fell in love with Russia," over the past four weeks and repeated his praise for Putin's government and the organisation put in place for the tournament.

More than one million foreign fans have visited Russia during the World Cup, according to Fifa figures, and Infantino said preconceived notions of the country had been changed by their positive experiences.

"I think the World Cup has changed the perception of the world towards Russia," added Infantino.

"Everyone has discovered a beautiful country, a welcoming country, full of people keen to show to the world what maybe sometimes is said is not what happens here."

On the field, Infantino hailed the standard of football, citing just one 0-0 in 62 games so far as an example of the exciting spectacle.

Controversies over the use of VAR threatened to overshadow the football on the pitch early on but Infantino strongly defended introducing the technology for the first time at a World Cup.

"VAR is not changing football, VAR is cleaning football, making football more honest, more transparent," he said.

Just 16 decisions were overturned from 19 reviews by referees after receiving advice from other officials watching replays of incidents on television. The number of correct decisions rose using VAR from 95 percent to 99.32, according to Infantino.

"Now it is difficult to think about the World Cup without VAR," he added. "It has certainly been a more just competition thanks to VAR. This is what we wanted to achieve and what we have achieved so far."

Despite the dominance of European teams, with all four semifinalists and six of the last eight coming from the Uefa confederation, Infantino claimed the presence of Croatia as the smallest nation since 1950 to reach the final should give hope to other countries around the world for 2022.

As things stand, the Qatar World Cup will be the final version of the tournament with 32 teams before expanding to 48 for the 2026 tournament in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

However, Infantino said a decision on whether that expansion will be moved forward for the next World Cup will be discussed and taken "in the next few months".

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