“… Accused by a number of Western nations and their Middle Eastern allies of war crimes, Assad has managed to largely overcome a 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising with the support of Russia and Iran. * * * The United States, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were among the countries to fund efforts to overthrow the Syrian leader. The rise of ultraconservative Sunni Muslim organizations such as the Islamic State … and a sweeping Syrian military comeback … have changed the dynamics ….Defense Secretary James Mattis [said] in August that the U.S. goal was to ‘move the Syria civil war into the Geneva process so the Syrian people can establish a new government … not led by Assad and give them a chance for a future that Assad has denied them, with overt Russian and Iranian support.’ A document submitted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top diplomats … stressed that their countries would not support Syrian reconstruction efforts ‘before the beginning of political process led by the United Nations to achieve a comprehensive, honest and true political transition that cannot be reversed,’ according to Saudi Arabia’s Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. …”
SCW RUSSIAWIRE TRANSCRIPT, LINKS, WANTED POSTER: “U.S. Charges Russian GRU Officers with International Hacking and Related Influence and Disinformation Operations” – DOJ
FBI wanted poster and DOJ news release follow further below
Click here for:
- PDF of the 41-page indictment
- DOJ links hub for related materials
- DOJ news release
- FBI Wanted Poster
In the latest round of U.S. indictments of Russian figures in connection with espionage, hacking, or other covert activities, the U.S. Department of Justice, on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, announced an indictment, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, of Russian GRU military intelligence officers Leksei Sergeyevich Morenets, Evgenii Mikhaylovich Serebriakov, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, Oleg Mikhaylovich Sotnikov and Alexey Valerevich Minin, for conspiracy, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to launder money.
The Russian hacking and other covert activities were alleged to included activities targeting: international efforts against Russia’s state-sponsored program athletic doping; international efforts to enforce international norms regarding chemical weapons; and Westinghouse in western Pennsylvania.
[TRANSCRIPT OF DOJ NEWS RELEASE FOLLOWS]
Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 4, 2018
U.S. Charges Russian GRU Officers with International Hacking and Related Influence and Disinformation Operations
Conspirators Included a Russian Intelligence “Close Access” Hacking Team that Traveled Abroad to Compromise Computer Networks Used by Anti-Doping and Sporting Officials and Organizations Investigating Russia’s Use of Chemical Weapons
A grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania has indicted seven defendants, all officers in the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a military intelligence agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, for computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.
According to the indictment, beginning in or around December 2014 and continuing until at least May 2018, the conspiracy conducted persistent and sophisticated computer intrusions affecting U.S. persons, corporate entities, international organizations, and their respective employees located around the world, based on their strategic interest to the Russian government.
Among the goals of the conspiracy was to publicize stolen information as part of an influence and disinformation campaign designed to undermine, retaliate against, and otherwise delegitimize the efforts of international anti-doping organizations and officials who had publicly exposed a Russian state-sponsored athlete doping program and to damage the reputations of athletes around the world by falsely claiming that such athletes were using banned or performance-enhancing drugs.
The charges were announced at a press conference by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott W. Brady, FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Cyber Division, Eric Welling, and Director General Mark Flynn for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“State-sponsored hacking and disinformation campaigns pose serious threats to our security and to our open society, but the Department of Justice is defending against them,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “Today we are indicting seven GRU officers for multiple felonies each, including the use of hacking to spread the personal information of hundreds of anti-doping officials and athletes as part of an effort to distract from Russia’s state-sponsored doping program. The defendants in this case allegedly targeted multiple Americans and American entities for hacking, from our national anti-doping agency to the Westinghouse Electric Company near Pittsburgh. We are determined to achieve justice in these cases and we will continue to protect the American people from hackers and disinformation.”
“The investigation leading to the indictments announced t (link is external)oday is the FBI at its best,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The actions of these seven hackers, all working as officials for the Russian government, were criminal, retaliatory, and damaging to innocent victims and the United States’ economy, as well as to world organizations. Their actions extended beyond borders, but so did the FBI’s investigation. We worked closely with our international partners to identify the actors and disrupt their criminal campaign – and today, we are sending this message: The FBI will not permit any government, group, or individual to threaten our people, our country, or our partners. We will work tirelessly to find them, stop them, and bring them to justice.”
“We want the hundreds of victims of these Russian hackers to know that we will do everything we can to hold these criminals accountable for their crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Brady. State actors who target U.S. citizens and companies are no different than any other common criminal: they will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The defendants, all Russian nationals and residents, are Aleksei Sergeyevich Morenets, 41, Evgenii Mikhaylovich, Serebriakov, 37, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, 32, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, 30, and Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, 27, who were each assigned to Military Unit 26165, and Oleg Mikhaylovich Sotnikov, 46, and Alexey Valerevich Minin, 46, who were also GRU officers.
The indictment alleges that defendants Yermakov, Malyshev, Badin, and unidentified conspirators, often using fictitious personas and proxy servers, researched victims, sent spearphishing emails, and compiled, used, and monitored malware command and control servers.
When the conspirators’ remote hacking efforts failed to capture log-in credentials, or if the accounts that were successfully compromised did not have the necessary access privileges for the sought-after information, teams of GRU technical intelligence officers, including Morenets, Serebriakov, Sotnikov, and Minin, traveled to locations around the world where targets were physically located. Using specialized equipment, and with the remote support of conspirators in Russia, including Yermakov, these close access teams hacked computer networks used by victim organizations or their personnel through Wi-Fi connections, including hotel Wi-Fi networks. After a successful hacking operation, the close access team transferred such access to conspirators in Russia for exploitation.
Among other instances, the indictment alleges that following a series of high-profile independent investigations starting in 2015, which publicly exposed Russia’s systematic state-sponsored subversion of the drug testing processes prior to, during, and subsequent to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (according to one report, known as the “McLaren Report”), the conspirators began targeting systems used by international anti-doping organizations and officials. After compromising those systems, the defendants stole credentials, medical records, and other data, including information regarding therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs), which allow athletes to use otherwise prohibited substances.
Using social media accounts and other infrastructure acquired and maintained by GRU Unit 74455 in Russia, the conspiracy thereafter publicly released selected items of stolen information, in many cases in a manner that did not accurately reflect their original form, under the false auspices of a hacktivist group calling itself the “Fancy Bears’ Hack Team.” As part of its influence and disinformation efforts, the Fancy Bears’ Hack Team engaged in a concerted effort to draw media attention to the leaks through a proactive outreach campaign. The conspirators exchanged e-mails and private messages with approximately 186 reporters in an apparent attempt to amplify the exposure and effect of their message.
Each defendant is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, both of which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. Defendants Morenets, Serebriakov, Yermakov, Malyshev, and Badin are each also charged with two counts of aggravated identity theft, which carries a consecutive sentence of two years in prison. Defendant Yermakov is also charged with five counts of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Defendants Yermakov, Malyshev, and Badin are also charged defendants in federal indictment number CR 18-215 in the District of Columbia, and accused of conspiring to gain unauthorized access into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
According to the indictment:
Context of the Hacking and Related Influence and Disinformation Efforts
In July 2016, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Independent Person Report (the “First McLaren Report”) was released, describing Russia’s systematic state-sponsored subversion of the drug testing process prior to, during, and subsequent to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This investigation had the support of advocates for clean sports, including the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES, Canada’s anti-doping agency). Eventually, in some instances only after arbitration rulings by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAS/CAS), approximately 111 Russian athletes were excluded from the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by a number of international athletics federations, including track-and-field’s International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) further imposed a blanket ban of Russian athletes from the 2016 Paralympic Games, which were also held in Rio.
Intrusion Activities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Days after the release of the First McLaren Report and the International Olympic Committee’s and IPC’s subsequent decisions regarding the exclusion of Russian athletes, the conspirators prepared to hack into the networks of WADA, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and TAS/CAS. The conspirators, including specifically defendants Yermakov and Malyshev, procured spoofed domains (which mimicked legitimate WADA and TAS/CAS domains) and other infrastructure, probed such entities’ networks, and spearphished WADA and USADA employees. Although Yermakov and Malyshev are both alleged to have prepared to send spearphishing e-mails to TAS/CAS, the indictment does not allege that organization was compromised.
Likely as a result of the conspirators’ failure to capture necessary log-in credentials, or because those victim accounts that were successfully compromised did not have the necessary access privileges for the sought-after information, defendants Morenets and Serebriakov, in at least one instance with the remote support of Yermakov, deployed to Rio to conduct hacking operations targeting and maintaining persistent access to Wi-Fi networks used by anti-doping officials. As a result of these efforts, in August 2016, the conspirators captured that IOC official’s credentials and thereafter used them, and another set of credentials belonging to the same official to gain unauthorized access to an account in WADA’s ADAMS database and medical and anti-doping related information contained therein. (The broader ADAMS database was not compromised in the intrusion.)
Also in 2016, a senior USADA anti-doping official traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics and Paralympic games. While there, the USADA official used Wi-Fi at the hotel and other Wi-Fi access points in Rio to remotely access USADA’s computer systems and conduct official business. While the USADA official was in Rio, conspirators successfully compromised the credentials for his or her USADA email account, which included summaries of athlete test results and prescribed medications.
Intrusion Activities in Lausanne, Switzerland
In mid-September 2016, WADA hosted an anti-doping conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. On September 18, 2016, defendants Morenets and Serebriakov traveled to Lausanne with equipment used in close access Wi-Fi compromises. On or about September 19, 2016, Morenets and Serebriakov compromised the Wi-Fi network of a hotel hosting the conference and leveraged that access to compromise the laptop and credentials of a senior CCES official staying at the hotel. Other conspirators thereafter used the stolen credentials to compromise CCES’s networks in Canada, using a tool used to extract hashed passwords, the metadata of which indicated it was compiled by Badin.
Intrusion Targeting Anti-Doping Officials at Sporting Federations
In December 2016 and January 2017, conspirators successfully compromised the networks of IAAF and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) and targeted computers and accounts used by each organization’s top anti-doping official. Among the data stolen from such officials were keylogs, file directories, anti-doping policies and strategies, lab results, medical reports, contracts with doctors and medical testing labs, information about medical testing procedures, and TUEs.
Related GRU Influence and Disinformation Operations
On September 12, 2016, shortly after the compromise of the IOC official’s ADAMS credentials, but before the compromise of USADA’s and CCES’s networks, conspirators claiming to be the hacktivist group Fancy Bears’ Hack Team used online accounts and other infrastructure procured and managed by Unit 74455, as well as the website fancybears.net, to publicly release TUEs, other medical information, and emails stolen from anti-doping officials at WADA, USADA, CCES, IAAF, FIFA, and approximately 35 other anti-doping agencies or sporting organizations. In some instances, the WADA documents were modified from their original form. Ultimately, the Fancy Bears’ Hack Team released stolen information that included private or medical information of approximately 250 athletes from almost 30 countries.
The conspirators’ release of the stolen information was, in some instances, accompanied by posts and other communications that parroted or supported themes that the Russian government had used in its official narrative regarding the anti-doping agencies’ investigative findings. From 2016 through 2018, the conspirators engaged in a proactive outreach campaign, using Twitter and e-mail to communicate with approximately 186 reporters about the stolen information. After articles were published, conspirators used the Fancy Bears’ Hack Team social media accounts to draw attention to the articles in an attempt to amplify the exposure and effect of their message.
Other Targets of the Conspiracy
The conspiracy is also alleged to have targeted other entities in the Western District of Pennsylvania and abroad that were of interest to the Russian government. For example, as early as November 20, 2014, Yermakov performed reconnaissance of Westinghouse Electric Company’s (WEC) networks and personnel. In the following months, Yermakov and conspirators created a fake WEC domain and sent spearphishing emails to WEC employees’ work and personal email accounts, which were designed to harvest the employees’ log-in credentials.
More recently, in April 2018, Morenets, Serebriakov, Sotnikov, and Minin, all using diplomatic passports, traveled to The Hague in the Netherlands in furtherance of another close access operation targeting the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) computer networks through Wi-Fi connections. All four GRU officers intended to travel thereafter to Spiez, Switzerland, to target the Spiez Swiss Chemical Laboratory, an accredited laboratory of the OPCW which was analyzing military chemical agents, including the chemical agent that the United Kingdom authorities connected to the poisoning of a former GRU officer in that country. However, Morenets, Serebriakov, Sotnikov, and Minin were disrupted during their OPCW hacking operation by the Militaire Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst (MIVD), the Dutch defense intelligence service. As part of this disruption, Morenet’s and Serebriakov’s abandoned the Wi-Fi compromise equipment, which they had placed in the trunk of a rental car parked adjacent to the OPCW property. Data obtained from at least one item of this equipment confirmed its operational use at multiple locations around the world, including connections to the Wi-Fi network of the CCES official’s hotel in Switzerland (the dates the conspirators conducted the Wi-Fi compromise of the senior CCES official’s laptop at the same hotel), and at another hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in December 2017.
In connection with the unsealing of the indictment, and in an effort to limit further exposure of the private lives of victim athletes, the FBI seized the fancybears.net and fancybears.org domains pursuant to court orders issued on October 3, 2018, in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Moreover, the maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentence of a defendant will be determined by the assigned judge.
The FBI, led by the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Field Offices, conducted the investigation that resulted in charges announced today. The FBI’s investigation was assisted by a parallel, independent Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation. This case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance throughout this investigation, as did the MIVD, the Government of the Netherlands, Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General, the U.K.’s National Security and Intelligence Agencies, and many of the FBI’s Legal Attachés and other foreign authorities around the world.
Note: More information can be found at [justice.gov/opa/documents-and-resources-october-4-2018-press-conference]
National Security Division (NSD)
Press Release Number:
18 – 1296
SCW NEWSWATCH: “Exit Strategy: Rule of Law and the U.S. Army [Excerpt and Link]” – U.S. Army War College/ Shima D. Keene/ September 2018
[text provided for informational purposes or to spur reflection and debate; inclusion does not imply specific or particular endorsement]
[Click here for: “[PDF] Exit Strategy: Rule of Law and the U.S. Army [Excerpt and Link]” – U.S. Army War College/ Shima D. Keene/ September 2018]
The importance of establishing rule of law in post-conflict states has been recognized as key in delivering stability in fragile states in the short, medium, and long term. This is in the interest of the U.S. Army and its partners not only from a [counterinsurgency] COIN perspective, but also to protect U.S. security interests both at home and abroad. To that aim, assistance is required to ensure that in post-conflict environments, the management and maintenance of security is successfully transferred to civilian organizations such as the police and the justice system more generally. It is only when this successful transition occurs and sustainable rule of law has been established that military commitments can cease. As such, it is essential that the end state to a successful civilian handover form part of a plan for disengagement after an intervention.
However, one key challenge for organizations (such as the police) emerging from conflict is the requisite to transition from a combat function to a more traditional policing function. This is difficult due not only to a lack of the necessary skill sets, but also because of the need for a fundamental change in mindset about the purpose of policing. The U.S. Army can play an important role in facilitating the establishment of effective rule of law institutions and practices in post-conflict states in many ways. Additionally, a lack of appreciation of the importance of civilian institutions and their role in establishing rule of law will lead to an exacerbation of the problem.
Delivering rule of law interventions is a complex task involving multiple stakeholders. Numerous challenges exist, each of which can prevent the establishment of effective and sustainable rule of law institutions. This in turn is likely to lead to a requirement for further military support from the U.S. Army resulting in even longer term deployments in what can become an unending conflict. In order to avoid unintended consequences which will have the impact of undermining rule of law interventions carried out by the U.S. Army and its partners more broadly, the following recommendations should be considered in shaping future U.S. Army interventions relating to establishing rule of law as part of its future COIN and state building missions.
RECOMMENDATIONSRecommendation 1: Contextual Understanding Develop a broad understanding of the rule of law landscape in the post-conflict state in question, and identify key challenges which may deter the establishment of effective and sustainable rule of law institutions.
Recommendation 2: Unintended Consequences Consider the potential unintended consequences of U.S. Army interventions in training local police forces and other rule of law interventions, and determine how can these be mitigated or avoided.
Recommendation 3: Strategic Objectives Reevaluate objectives to ensure that expectations are realistic in terms of what is to be achieved and the timescale in which to achieve them. Consider the impact of short-term mission objectives in attempting to achieve medium to long-term objectives. Recommendation 4: Sustainability Ensure that rule of law interventions are sustainable after withdrawal of troops and form part of U.S. Army exit strategies. Ensure that these are integrated into post-conflict planning before intervention is considered.
Recommendation 5: COIN versus State Building Address the existing confusion between the combat element of COIN operations and state building missions, and understand how this conflict can undermine both operations.
Recommendation 6: Police Training Determine the role that the U.S. Army should play in facilitating a transition from military to civilian rule of law, and exercise particular attention to challenges relating to corporate culture.
Recommendation 7: Skills Shortages Determine when and how rule of law mechanisms and advisors should be integrated into stability operations and consider how the U.S. Army could better utilize its Reserve Forces to provide capacity and specialist skills to facilitate civilian transition.
Recommendation 8: Corruption and Human Rights Abuses[:] Adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward corruption and human rights abuses and provide remedial education where such practices may have become institutionalized.
Recommendation 9: Management and Oversight: Provide management and oversight of third party contractors through deployment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engi neers to ensure that construction projects relating to rule of law interventions are completed to the required specifications.
Recommendation 10: International Liaison Highlight other partner institutions the U.S. Army could or should be engaging with to ensure a coordinated approach to the establishment of effective rule of law institutions and practices in the host country.”
[Click here for: “[PDF] Exit Strategy: Rule of Law and the U.S. Army [Excerpt and Link]” – U.S. Army War College/ Shima D. Keene/ September 2018]
[more publication information set out further below on this webpage]
[original publication, at https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/download.cfm?q=1387 contains the following notice:
“Shima D. Keene
The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Authors of Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) and U.S. Army War College (USAWC) Press publications enjoy full academic freedom, provided they do not disclose classified information, jeopardize operations security, or misrepresent official U.S. policy. Such academic freedom empowers them to offer new and sometimes controversial perspectives in the interest of furthering debate on key issues. This report is cleared for public release; distribution is unlimited.
This publication is subject to Title 17, United States Code, Sections 101 and 105. It is in the public domain and may not be copyrighted.”]
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Ukraine needs Azov Sea base to counter new Russian threat: military chief” – Reuters
“Ukraine will build a military base on the Azov Sea and has sent more forces to the area to counter a worsening Russian threat, Ukraine’s armed forces head [said] … referring to an arm of the Black Sea [where Ukraine and Russia both have coastlines]. Ukraine has been at loggerheads with Russia since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and more than 10,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatists. Ukraine and NATO countries accuse Russia of supplying troops and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine, which Moscow denies. Viktor Muzhenko, Chief of the General Staff, said Russia had moved beyond covert fighting in the Donbass region, home of a Kremlin-backed separatist insurgency, to building up its military presence on Ukraine’s borders and nakedly aggressive actions against ships sailing to Ukrainian ports. * * *… Muzhenko said [U.S.-supplied] Javelin [anti-tank missiles] ha[ve] been tested … but … not … deployed in battle …. Asked whether Ukraine wanted to buy the U.S. Patriot air defense system, he said various options were being considered.”
Click here for: “Ukraine needs Azov Sea base to counter new Russian threat: military chief” – Reuters
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Russia begins missile system delivery to Syria, warns West on peace talks” – Reuters
“Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday Moscow had started delivering the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria … Russia, along with Iran, has helped Assad recover huge amounts of lost territory in Syria without persuading him to agree to any political reforms. It has also pushed its own talks with Iran and Turkey, known as the Astana process.… Some diplomats have said [an] Israeli incident [involving Syria shooting down a Russian plane during an incursion by Israeli jets] and a Turkish-Russian deal to suspend an offensive on the last rebel-held stronghold of Idlib could provide a window to push for … U.N. Security Council [UNSC] resolution 2254 [aiming to end the] conflict in Syria. The [UNSC] … has mandated [that] U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura … get a deal on a new constitution, new elections and a reform of Syria’s governance. …”
Click here for: “Russia begins missile system delivery to Syria, warns West on peace talks” – Reuters
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Huge Military Drills Show Both the Limits and the Durability of China-Russia Ties” – RAND/World Politics Review
“In the largest Russian military exercise since the height of the Cold War, Moscow … [in September] deploy[ed] 300,000 troops, 900 tanks and 1,000 aircraft in central and eastern Russia. … [for] ‘Vostok 2018,’ or East Exercise 2018 …. for the first time ever, Chinese military forces … participate[d], with plans to send 3,200 troops and 30 aircraft over the border into eastern Russia. … highlight[ing] two important, seemingly contradictory [aspects of] the relationship between China and Russia. First, the appearance of military cooperation masks deep strategic distrust and suspicion below the surface. … [Yet] strong incentives and a lack of alternatives provide a sturdy foundation for a continued strategic partnership going forward. Vostok 2018 represents the latest in a series of combined Chinese-Russian military exercises stretching back more than a decade. Their militaries have been training together since 2005, and China and Russia have been holding joint naval exercises every year since 2012, including near each other’s respective hotspots. Last year, China sent three naval ships to its first jointly held exercise with Russian forces in the Baltic Sea. In 2016, the two navies carried out a joint exercise in the South China Sea … [after] a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejecting China’s territorial claims in the contested waterway. Warm political statements by top Chinese and Russian leaders have complemented these military actions. …”
Click here for: “Huge Military Drills Show Both the Limits and the Durability of China-Russia Ties” – RAND/World Politics Review/Timothy R. Heath … or click here for longer version
SCW NEWSWATCH: “Russia Offers 62-mile Buffer Between Iranian Forces and Israel-Syria Border, Senior Official Says; Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn” – Haaretz
“Russia is working to ensure the removal of Iranian forces to 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from the Golan Heights, but Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn, a senior Israeli official said … after a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Russian officials. The official said that Israel prefers to act now rather than wait until Iran has ‘hundreds and thousands of missiles’ in Syria, and that the government will not allow Iran ‘to turn Syria into another Lebanon.’
* * *
[Separately,] Mike Pompeo denounced Iran’s leaders as a ‘mafia’ and promised unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government. …”
Click here for: “Russia Offers 62-mile Buffer Between Iranian Forces and Israel-Syria Border, Senior Official Says; Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn” – Haaretz
“The Trump administration’s war of words against Iran reflects a widening diplomatic chasm, and comments from four leaders over the past two days make it clear that tensions are rising dramatically. … [Iranian] President Hassan Rouhani …. Ayatollah Khamenei …. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo …. “
* * *
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
* * *
“Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday Moscow would respond if Sweden and Finland were drawn into the NATO alliance and that such expansion would undermine global security, the Interfax news agency reported. …”
[featured image is file photo from another occasion]
NEWSWATCH: “Putin’s Success Masks Russian Weakness; Things are breaking his way. But if China is a tiger, Russia is a pussycat on stilts” – Wall Street Journal/Walter Russell Mead
“Despite … Putin’s successes, Russia remains weak, and its leverage over other nations is limited. China can woo its neighbors with multibillion-dollar projects like its ‘One Belt, One Road’ trade initiative. Russia has much less to offer: If China is a tiger, Russia is a pussycat on stilts. … Putin can obstruct Germany’s faltering European project, but he lacks the resources to offer an alternative. In the Middle East, the Kremlin’s position depends on American forbearance. If … Trump decides to make opposing the Assad regime a crucial part of his anti-Iran strategy, … Putin may have to stand by and watch his client fall. … developments at home counsel restraint as well. … Putin’s string of dramatic foreign-policy successes has shored up his domestic popularity, [but] Russia’s sclerotic economy and corrupt social order ensure that the foundations of his power remain weak. … Putin has made Russia great again on the international stage, but the Russian people would rather see him use that daring and finesse to improve the situation at home.”
Click here for: “Putin’s Success Masks Russian Weakness; Things are breaking his way. But if China is a tiger, Russia is a pussycat on stilts” – Wall Street Journal/Walter Russell Mead
SCW RUSSIA WIRE NEWSWATCH: “Sudan/Russian Nuclear Power Cooperation Poses Proliferation Risks”- Institute for Science and International Security/David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Allison Lach, Bridget Leahy, Andrea Stricker
“Reuters reported on March 13, 2018 that Russia has agreed to sign a ‘roadmap’ with Sudan on building nuclear power stations. However, Sudan has poor export controls, no adherence to nuclear power safety or nuclear terrorism conventions, and weak safeguards standards. Its neighbors also maintain poor implementation of these preventions against nuclear material and commodity theft or diversion. Russia should not build nuclear reactors in Sudan. Sudan should instead bolster its infrastructure so that it can at some point in the future underpin a well safeguarded nuclear power program backed by robust, internationally-acceptable strategic export controls.”
Click here for: “Sudan/Russian Nuclear Power Cooperation Poses Proliferation Risks”- Institute for Science and International Security/David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, Allison Lach, Bridget Leahy, Andrea Stricker
Whoops, better scrub your facebook posts and twitter rants. Secrecy News reports that Congress is focusing on asking the executive branch to delve into social media activity when vetting persons needing a security clearance.
“Members of Congress are urging the executive branch to update and expand the security clearance process by examining the social media presence of individuals … considered for a security clearance for access to classified information. ‘I put more effort into understanding who my interns are’ than the security clearance process does, said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr at a hearing …. ‘You go to the areas that you learn the most about them — social media is right at the top of the list.’ ‘I can’t envision anyone coming into the office that you haven’t thoroughly checked out everything that they’ve said online,’ …
Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to promote the use of social media in security clearance investigations. …”
SCW RUSSIA WIRE NEWSWATCH: “Strategic Warning on NATO’s Eastern Flank Pitfalls, Prospects, and Limits” – RAND/Mark R. Cozad
“Since 2008, Russia’s military has embarked on an extensive modernization program designed to overcome shortfalls in readiness, competence, sustainability, and deployability. These and changes in logistics and operational capability have raised concerns about the Intelligence Community’s (IC’s) ability to warn of future Russian aggression. Achieving timely warning has proven extremely difficult, for a variety of reasons, in large part because of a lack of insight into Russian leadership intentions.”
Click here for Introductory Summary: “Strategic Warning on NATO’s Eastern Flank Pitfalls, Prospects, and Limits” – RAND/Mark R. Cozad
Click here for Full PDF of Report: “Strategic Warning on NATO’s Eastern Flank Pitfalls, Prospects, and Limits” – RAND/Mark R. Cozad
Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades.
The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, …. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey. * * * Disagreements between Turkey, which has the second-largest army by personnel numbers in NATO, and the U.S., the bloc’s biggest military, have also impacted business. …
“… On Tuesday, WikiLeaks dumped a trove of 8,700 documents that allegedly detail the CIA’s secret hacking operations, including spying tools designed for mobile phones, PCs and smart TVs. …”
“The administration’s much touted $110 billion arms proposal to #SaudiArabia, previously slim on specifics, includes seven #THAAD #MissileDefense batteries, over 100,000 air-to-ground munitions and billions of dollars’ worth of new aircraft …. #Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia on May 20 drew headlines for what was billed as a $110 billion arms agreement. However, experts quickly pointed out that much of the deal was speculative, as any arms sale has to go through the process of being cleared by the State Department, then Congress, before going through an often lengthy negotiating period with industry. …”
NEWSLINK: “U.S. general in #Afghanistan says there is no doubt #Russia is providing weapons to #Taliban” – Telegraph
“America’s top general in #Afghanistan has said there was no doubt that #Russia was providing weapons to the #Taliban. In the strongest statement yet over Russia’s apparent re-engagement in the Afghanistan war, Gen. John #Nicholson said he would “not refute” that #Moscow’s involvement included giving weapons to the Taliban.
He was speaking in Kabul alongside James #Mattis, the US defence secretary, who said that America needed to confront Russia over its actions in Afghanistan, where the Soviet Union fought and lost a bloody war in the 1980s.
NEWSLINK: “#Russian Military Planes Crowd the U.S. for a Fourth Day; U.S., Canadian fighters intercept long-range bombers” – Wall Street Journal 4.21.17
“#Russia flew long-range combat aircraft near American airspace for the fourth consecutive day, the Pentagon said Friday, marking the first such string of incursions since 2014, but prompting little concern from the White House. American and Canadian jet fighters intercepted a pair of Russian “Bear” long-range bombers in international airspace near #Alaska on Thursday, said … a spokesman for North American Aerospace Defense Command, or #Norad. …”
“… For the second consecutive night, #Russia flew two long-range bombers off the coast of #Alaska on Tuesday, this time coming within 36 miles of the mainland while flying north of the #Aleutian Islands …. The two #nuclear-capable Tu-95 bombers were spotted by U.S. military radar at 5 p.m. local time. Unlike a similar incident Monday night, this time the U.S. Air Force did not scramble any fighter jets. Instead, it launched a single E-3 Sentry early warning aircraft, known as AWACS, to make sure there were only the two Russian bombers flying near Alaska, and not other aircraft flying underneath the large bombers. …”
“#Russia has protested the U.S.’ refusal to allow its inspectors to participate in a formal investigation into a chemical weapons attack that struck the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhan in northern Idlib, #Syria, earlier this month.”
VIDEO NEWSWATCH: “Syria, Russia Would Be ‘Insane’ to Retaliate Over U.S. Airstrikes, Former U.S. Ambassador Says” – Fox News
“… In the wake of the airstrikes on a military base in Syria after a deadly chemical attack on civilians, Russia announced it was suspending cooperation of its communication link with the U.S. that protects pilots flying missions over the war-torn country. ‘I think that is a major mistake on the part of Moscow… they’re actually putting their own forces in greater jeopardy,’ Crocker said. ‘It would be to Moscow’s benefit to have these basic lines of communication. So they will lose more than we will.’ …”
Click here for: “Syria, Russia Would Be ‘Insane’ to Retaliate Over US Airstrikes, Former US Ambassador Says” – Fox News
“Recent Russian naval activity in Europe exceeds levels seen during the Cold War, a top U.S. and NATO military officer said, voicing concern that the distributed nature of the deployments could end up ‘splitting and distracting’ the transatlantic alliance. Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, who heads NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples and commands U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa, said Russia had clearly stepped up its naval actions in recent years although the size of its navy was smaller now ….”
[featured image is file photo]
“The United States launched nearly five dozen cruise missiles at a #Syrian airfield early Friday in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, the first direct assault on the Damascus government since the beginning of that country’s bloody civil war in 2011. ‘It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,’ President Donald #Trump said in a statement. ‘Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.’
Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles targeted an airbase at Shayrat, located outside Homs. The missiles targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said. …”
VIDEO: U.S. strikes in #Syria launched from USS Porter – The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the #Mediterranean Sea. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. Navy video by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ford Williams
(Department of Defense – Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity – WASHINGTON, April 6, 2017 – article also appeared at defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1144601/trump-orders-missile-attack-in-retaliation-for-syrian-chemical-strikes)
The United States fired Tomahawk missiles into Syria today in retaliation for the regime of Bashar Assad using nerve agents to attack his own people.
President Donald J. Trump ordered the attack on Al-Shayrat Air Base, the base from which the chemical attack on Syria’s Idlib province was launched. The missiles were launched from U.S. Navy ships in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert S. Price
The attack is in retaliation for the Syrian dictator for using banned chemical agents in the April 4 attack.
“Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians,” Trump said in a statement to the nation. “Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”
Vital National Security Interest
Trump ordered the targeted military strike on the airfield that launched the attack. “It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” the president said.
No one disputes that Syria used banned chemical weapons of the people of Idlib, he said, adding that this is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria also ignored United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”
Trump called on all civilized nations to join the United States in seeking an end to the slaughter in Syria, and to end the threat terrorism poses in the blighted nation.
Details of Strike
Shortly after the president’s address, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis issued a statement providing details of the strike. It took place at about 8:40 p.m. EDT — 4:40 a.m. April 7 in Syria, he said.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile while conducting naval operations in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert S. Price
The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, or TLAMs, launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Davis said in his statement. A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.
“As always,” Davis said, “the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.”
The strike was “a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act,” the Pentagon spokesman said, noting that Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the April 4 chemical weapons attack, he added, and the strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.
Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line, Davis said, and U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel at the airfield.
“We are assessing the results of the strike,” Davis said. “Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee hears testimony from witnesses on cybersecurity, #Russian hacking capabilities and U.S. and European elections, in two sessions on March 30, 2017.
(Startfor.com – March 28, 2017)
In January, conflict almost erupted in the Balkans after the Kosovar government dispatched special police forces to stop a Serbian train headed into Kosovo’s majority-Serb northern territory, emblazoned with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 languages.
Russia will keep trying to exploit divisions in the western Balkans, traditionally a theater of competition for many world powers.
Russian influence will continue to spread in some of the Balkans’ most turbulent areas, including Serbia, northern Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia.
By stoking tensions in the region, Moscow could engineer a series of crises too challenging for the West to contain.
The Balkan Peninsula has long stood at the edge of empires. The region, with its jumble of ethnicities, religions and political movements, has been a playing field for competing world powers throughout its history. Russia began to vie with the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires for influence over the area in the 19th century. During the Cold War, Yugoslavia became a battleground between the Soviet Union and the West, despite its officially nonaligned status following World War II. While the West tried to woo the country with economic aid, the Soviets played to its ruling Communist Party, and the two sides continued in deadlock through the 1980s. Once the country dissolved in 1991, however, the tides turned. The collapse of the Soviet Union left Moscow in no position to see Yugoslavia’s constituent states through their transition to sovereignty, leaving that task to the European Union. The West has dominated the Balkan states’ economic and security relationships ever since.
Russia still maintained its footholds in the Balkans, though. And today, as the European Union’s divisions deepen and uncertainty prevails within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Moscow has turned its focus to the region once more. The Balkans’ stability has been such a hot topic in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meetings with the Kremlin Security Council this year that the council’s chief even said it was a top priority for Moscow. Incidents of Russia’s meddling in the Balkans have been on the rise, meanwhile, raising questions about whether it will be the next theater in Moscow’s ongoing struggle against Western power and unity. After all, stoking tensions in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia offers the Russian government a convenient means to increase its influence and further distract the West.
Rattling Sabers in Serbia
Since the end of the Cold War, Serbia, unlike many of its Western-leaning neighbors, has stayed in the middle of the Russia-West dynamic. The country has drawn on its cultural and religious bonds to Russia to keep a strong relationship with Moscow while also pursuing membership in the European Union. Over the past two years, however, Russia’s influence in Serbia has grown noticeably. The number of Russian media outlets and nongovernmental organizations in the country has jumped from fewer than a dozen to more than 100 since 2015, according to the Belgrade-based Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies. The Kremlin’s two main news networks, Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today), have both begun offering television programming, online news and radio broadcasts in Serbian. In addition, Russian state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta prints Nedeljnik, a widely read weekly, in Moscow before delivering it to Serbia. The publications make frequent use of anti-Western rhetoric, for instance through references to NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serbia and Moscow’s support for Belgrade during that conflict. And the strategy seems to be working: A poll conducted in February by Serbian weekly Vreme indicated that some 68 percent of Serbs prefer relations with Russia to ties with the European Union.
At the same time, Russia and Serbia have flaunted their military connections in recent months. A Russian plane carrying 40 metric tons of food, clothing and medical supplies from Serbia set off for Syria in October 2016. The following month, the Russian and Belarusian militaries held drills in Serbia to coincide with NATO exercises just across the border in Montenegro. The government in Belgrade, moreover, will receive six Mikoyan Mig-29 fighter jets and dozens of tanks and combat vehicles in the next few weeks as a gift from Moscow, which has also offered to sell it the Buk anti-aircraft missile systems. (The equipment will be a welcome update to the Soviet technology that the Serbian military still relies on.)
Much of this saber rattling is political theater meant to appeal to Serbia’s nationalist voters ahead of the April 2 presidential election. But beneath Belgrade’s politicking runs an undercurrent of tension between the country and its neighboring states — particularly Kosovo, whose independence Serbia does not acknowledge. The two almost fell into conflict in January when Kosovo’s government deployed special police forces to stop a train headed from Belgrade to the state’s northern territory, home to mostly Kosovar Serbs, and emblazoned with the phrase “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 languages. Responding to the incident, Kosovar President Hashim Thaci accused Serbia of attempting to use the “Crimean model” to take over the northern part of his country. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, meanwhile, telephoned his Russian counterpart to ask for support, sparking fears that a new war was nigh.
How to Create a Crisis
Now that Kosovo is once again flirting with the idea of transforming its lightly armed security force into a bona fide army, relations between the two states are coming under further strain. The United States and its fellow NATO members have threatened to rescind their support and protection for Kosovo if it follows through with the plan. Even so, Thaci sent a draft law approving a regular army to the legislature during the week of March 20, citing Serbia’s recent military deals with Russia and Belgrade’s influence in northern Kosovo as grounds for the measure. The Kosovar government in Pristina is concerned that between the European Union’s internal divisions and the new administration in Washington, the West won’t have the time or attention to devote to keeping the nine-year-old sovereign state safe. And if tensions continue to mount between Kosovo and Serbia, Russia could use them to engineer a full-blown crisis down the line.
In fact, Moscow is currently facing allegations that it tried to do just that in Montenegro. The country’s government has accused Russian security forces of plotting to assassinate Milo Djukanovic, then the prime minister, just before parliamentary elections in October in an effort to thwart its bid for NATO membership. Russia’s former deputy military attache to Poland, who was ejected from Warsaw in 2014 for espionage, organized the plan, according to Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor. Adding to the intrigue, Djukanovic said Moscow poured money into the country’s parliamentary campaigns in the runup to the elections. Serbia detained and deported a group of Russians accused of planning the coup in the weeks after the vote, and another 21 suspects were arrested in Montenegro. Moscow, for its part, has denied involvement in the plot and accused the country’s government of falsifying events to cast it in a negative light. Regardless, a prospective new election in 2018 could give Russia another opportunity to sow seeds of discord in Montenegro’s fragile government.
A Referendum on Russia’s Influence?
A vote in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska, likewise, could give Moscow a chance to increase its sway there. The republic’s president, Milorad Dodik, has called for a referendum next year on the independence of Republika Srpska, which is home primarily to Orthodox Serbs. (The proposal recalls the independence vote that Crimea held just before Russia annexed it.) Dodik, who first suggested the referendum during his campaign for the presidency in 2014, has made no secret of his ties to the Kremlin. Two weeks before the presidential vote, he traveled to Moscow to meet with Putin, and on election day itself, he liaised with Russian ultranationalist and propagandist Konstantin Malofeev at a posh hotel after casting his ballot. Malofeev is an agent of Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov; together, the two have reportedly organized and funded referendums in Ukraine’s restive Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions. What’s more, he arrived at the election day meeting with a group of Russian Cossacks later seen walking the streets near polling sites.
Dodik managed only a slim victory in the vote, limiting the amount of clout Russia has in Bosnia-Herzegovina through him. Nevertheless, more and more Russian media has been creeping into the country over the Serbian border for the past two years to spread Moscow’s word. Though voters in Republika Srpska are divided over the issue of secession, the Kremlin’s media campaigns will likely ramp up as the possible referendum approaches, perhaps igniting one of the largest political powder kegs in the Balkans today.
The mostly Slavic state of Macedonia is already in the thick of a Russian disinformation campaign. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has accused the European Union and United States of supporting separatist movements among the inherently fragile country’s Albanian minority, which makes up 25 percent of the population. Over the past few weeks, Macedonians have taken to the streets to protest Macedonian Albanians’ demands for their own government. Moscow is stoking the unrest, claiming that the West is supporting calls for the creation of a so-called Greater Albania. According to a Stratfor source, the German and Austrian embassies in the country are trying to counter Russia’s propaganda, as is the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Even so, recent polls show that most Macedonians would sooner turn to Russia for help in the future than to the West because they doubt Western governments’ commitment. (Indeed, Washington is reportedly planning to cut funding for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, creating a vacuum in the Macedonian media for Russia to fill.)
Although the instability in Macedonia pales in comparison with that in Kosovo or Republika Srpska, the situation there offers yet another example of Russia’s activities in the Balkans. Of course, not all states in the region have accepted Moscow’s advances: Croatia, a member of the European Union as well as NATO, has actively worked to keep Russian or pro-Russian media from spreading inside its borders, according to a Stratfor source. A fellow NATO member, Albania, has also attempted to resist Russia’s influence as the Kremlin’s media outlets have expanded their coverage to include Albanian-language services. Still, the campaigns are sure to continue. For Moscow, meddling in the Balkans is a low-cost and high-yield endeavor. The Russian government has no illusions that it will be able to win the Balkan countries over to its side. Instead, it views the region as a hornet’s nest. By stirring it up, Moscow could create a series of crises too deep for the European Union or NATO to contain, thereby giving it another card to play in its negotiations with the West.
Article also appeared at stratfor.com/analysis/russia-stirs-hornets-nest bearing the following notice:
Reprinting or republication of this report on websites is authorized by prominently displaying the following sentence, including the hyperlink to Stratfor, at the beginning or end of the report.
“#UN #humanrights investigators say #Syrian civilians fell victim to #war crimes committed by all parties during the battle for #Aleppo last year. Daily air strikes by #Syria’s government and its ally #Russia claimed hundreds of lives, according to a new report. Government forces also dropped chlorine bombs, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties, it alleges. Rebels are meanwhile accused of firing shells indiscriminately at government-held areas and of using human shields. The evacuation of the rebel enclave in eastern Aleppo in December, which brought the battle to an end, also amounted to forced displacement, the investigators say. …”
“Both #Syrian rebels and their enemies, the #Assad regime along with its #Russian allies, are guilty of committing #warcrimes in #Aleppo, #Syria, the #UN said Wednesday.
The U.N. Commission of Inquiry (UNCI) released an assessment of developments in the five-year war that occured between July and December of last year. …”
NEWSWATCH: “Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States; What it Takes to Win” – RAND/David A. Shlapak/Congressional Testimony
Testimony presented before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces on March 1, 2017.
“… the United States and … NATO confront three related challenges in deterring Russian aggression in the Baltics (and, more generally, wherever NATO territory may be threatened). Solving all three of these is vital to achieving core American objectives in Europe … since 1945: ensure peace and stability, support democratic and market forces, and prevent the use of armed force to coerce the free people of Europe or to alter established borders. … ‘winning’ means putting in place the wherewithal to effectively deter any Russian adventurism aimed at NATO member states by being prepared to deny Moscow its objectives without escalating to the first use of nuclear weapons. …”
NEWSLINK: “U.S. Demands Russia Observe Cease-Fire; Says Combined Russian-Separatist Forces Attack Monitors” – RFE/RL
“The United States has called on #Russia to ‘immediately’ observe a cease-fire deal in eastern Ukraine — saying that a combined force from Russia’s military and pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine had been targeting international monitors. In a February 26 statement, the U.S. State Department called on “Russia and the separatist forces it backs to immediately observe the cease-fire, withdraw all heavy weapons, and allow full and unfettered access” to the region for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In a February 26 statement, the U.S. State Department called on “Russia and the separatist forces it backs to immediately observe the cease-fire, withdraw all heavy weapons, and allow full and unfettered access” to the region for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Washington’s call came a day after the OSCE monitoring mission said armed men in separatist-controlled territory to the north of Donetsk had seized one of the unarmed drones that the monitors use to assess cease-fire violations. …”
“#Montenegro is reportedly preparing to indict the #Russian #intelligence officer it accuses of masterminding a bloody coup plot to stop the Balkan nation joining #Nato. …”
NEWSLINK: “Canadian troops to find permanent home in Latvia to deter Russian aggression” – Edmonton Journal
#Canadian troops will be permanently stationed in #Europe starting this June — for the first time since the end of the Cold War — as a deterrent against #Russian agitations in the region. …
“#Finland is urging #Europe to increase #NATO contributions and focus more on security as the continent grapples with political turmoil from all sides, including from within.
Once the U.K. has quit the European Union, the 27 nations left behind need to double down on the bloc’s founding principle and give the remaining 444 million citizens what they most crave: security, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview at his seaside residence in Helsinki on Friday. The 68-year-old is head of state of the nation that shares the EU’s longest border with #Russia, a country with which Finland has regular contact for security and practical reasons.”
NEWSLINK: “#InternationalLaw and #Cyber Operations – Launch of the Tallinn Manual 2.0” – Atlantic Council
“… The first Tallinn Manual was the most comprehensive analysis of how existing international law applies to #cyber space, mostly focusing on cyber operations occurring during armed conflict. Four years after its publication, we have witnessed cyber rapidly moving to the forefront of national security agendas in response to the proliferation of cyberattacks against states, companies, and individuals alike. The Tallinn Manual 2.0, authored by nineteen respected international law experts across the globe, adds analysis of international law governing these more common forms of cyber incidents occurring during peace time. …”
NEWSLINK: “#Kasparov: Comparing USA to #Russia like comparing surgeon to Jack the Ripper” – The Hill/Garry Kasparov
“The chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, Russian chess master Garry #Kasparov, criticized President Donald #Trump Sunday for implying this weekend that the United States isn’t so pure when it comes to condemning #Russia’s human rights record. ‘Comparing the USA to Putin’s Russia is like comparing a surgeon to Jack the Ripper because they both cut people with knives,’ Kasparov tweeted, referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin and the 19th century London serial killer who slashed his victims.”
“… #Trump pledged to work with both #Russia and #Ukraine to restore peace on the border, in a Saturday interview with Fox News. Trump’s comments come amid intense fighting in eastern Ukraine between the military and Russian-backed separatists. Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, and is under international sanction by the U.S. and European Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea in August to reportedly ‘mull anti-terror measures.’ The uptick in violence may be Putin’s first test of Trump. Trump told Fox News, ‘we will work with Ukraine, Russia and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border.'”
If carried out, #Tillerson’s proposal to bar Beijing from some South #China Sea islands would likely trigger #military battle, experts say
“From Russia to North Korea to the slaughter in Syria, the next president will face foreign-policy challenges that test the very fundamentals of world order.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton is a Radically Pro-Abortion Extremist, Calling Into Question the Patriotism and Basic Decency of Her Supporters
Not only is Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton pro-abortion, she is among the most extreme pro-abortion politicians imaginable, voting in favor of partial-birth abortion.
A super-majority of Americans oppose partial-birth abortion, including at least some Democratic legislators who otherwise claim to support access to abortion generally. Yet Rodham Clinton voted against banning partial-birth abortion.
Some commentators also accuse Rodham Clinton of otherwise essentially favoring liberalized abortion up to the point of delivery.
Rodham Clinton has financial ties to the nation’s largest abortion provide, and has praised that organization’s founder, even though the founder was known for racist views and connecting population control with racist motivations and eugenics.
The sheer magnitude of abortion in the United States is almost mind-boggling, with abortion killing more Americans in the womb than the totals killed in all U.S. wars. Given that the right to live and not be killed is the most fundamental, foundational of basic human rights, abortion emerges as the most shocking and extensive human rights issue of our time. Hillary Rodham Clinton is so deeply involved, and so deeply entangled, with abortion, she emerges as one of the most infamous human rights violators of our time.
In terms of sheer numbers, abortion is the biggest threat to American lives, and therefore is a bigger national security threat than terrorism or any conventional war. Only a full-scale global nuclear war could surpass abortion as a national security to the United States.
Rodham Clinton’s culpability for abortion, as a practical matter, therefore makes her both one of the world’s most infamous human rights violators, and one of the biggest national security threats posed to the United States.
These realities call into question the patriotism, motives, good faith and basic decency of Rodham Clinton’s supporters and funders. They also raise serious questions about the ethics and integrity of persons claiming to be Christian or Jewish who vote for her or otherwise lend their support.
Also questionable is whether Rodham Clinton should be involved at all with public service, or nonprofit activities, in any capacity at an level.
AP, on Sept. 21, reports on #Russia’s plans to send their only aircraft carrier to the eastern #Mediterranean, where the #Syrian port of #Tartus serves as the site of the only Russian naval facility outside the former Soviet Union.
The Russian navy will send its sole aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean …. the Admiral Kuznetsov will … join other Russian ships …. Russian media have earlier reported that the mission was planned for the fall.
The Admiral Kuznetsov dates to Soviet days and has been reequipped with new Su-33 and MiG-29K fighters. Smaller than U.S. carriers, it carries about 40 aircraft.
For about a year, Russia has become an active belligerent in the Syrian conflict, bolstering its ally, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
Russia reportedly is using its Syrian campaign to test some of its military capabilities. The presence of the aircraft carrier will provide the opportunity for Russia to use carrier-born aircraft in combat for the first time ever.
Since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, 2015, the military has used it to test its latest jets and missiles. In a demonstration of its new precision strike capability, Russian strategic bombers, surface ships and a submarine have repeatedly launched cruise missiles at targets in Syria. … sending the Admiral Kuznetsov to Syria’s shores, Russia would significantly beef up its forces there [and offer] a chance to test its carrier-born aircraft in combat for the first time.
Russia has maintained an ongoing presence in the eastern Mediterranean since 2013, the first time since the early 1990’s when the Soviet Union fell. AP seems to be reporting that the Syrian port of Tartus is the only Russian military facility outside of the former Soviet Union.
In 2013, the Russian navy restored a constant presence in the eastern Mediterranean for the first time since the Soviet collapse, using the Soviet-era facility in the Syrian port of Tartus to replenish supplies. … the only such facility the Russian military now has outside the former Soviet Union.
(The article does not specify whether AP is claiming that Tartus is the only Russian military facility outside of the former Soviet Union, or simply the only facility of a particular type. Additionally, considering the significance of Tartus as a port, the article does not address whether the entire port is essentially run as a Russian military base, or whether Russia simply has ongoing rights to access it and berth there, perhaps with some on-shore buildings, perhaps as a sub-part of a larger port area used by other entities for other purposes, such as any commercial activity.
Additionally, when article references Tartus as the only such Russian military facility outside the former Soviet Union, as opposed to simply being outside Russia, it does not address the existence of Russian facilities outside Russia but within the sprawl of other former Soviet states. Most notably, of course, Russia has military facilities in occupied Crimea, on territory that legally belongs to Ukraine.)
The AP article also served as a conduit for Russian propaganda, quoting a Russian official as making the head-scratching claim that a Soviet military presence in the Mediterranean in the late 1960’s helped to prevent the escalation of Arab-Israeli tensions. Soviet military forces, of course, would never have been anything other than a source of instability, and AP failed to provide a source countering the Russian propaganda.
[featured images are file photos]
The United States believes two Russian aircraft attacked an aid convoy near Aleppo in a strike that shattered a one-week truce …. Despite the military blame game over Monday’s deadly attack, diplomats struggled to save the U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement …. The incident, in which 18 trucks from a 31-vehicle convoy were destroyed, looked likely to deal a death blow to diplomatic efforts to halt [the] civil war …. Two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 warplanes were in the skies above the aid convoy at the exact time it was struck …. The Syrian Red Crescent said the head of one of its local offices and ‘around 20 civilians’ had been killed … other death tolls differed. The attack prompted the United Nations to suspend all aid shipments into Syria. …
Three times in the last two months, the United States has flown B-1 bombers, equipped with the latest non-nuclear cruise missiles, on missions in Europe and Asia meant to show adversaries as well as allies what one U.S. commander called ‘an unshakable commitment.’ … part of strategic missions aimed at sending explicit messages to Russia, China and North Korea. Each of the B-1s is equipped with two dozen non-nuclear cruise missiles with highly accurate, bunker-busting warheads, a new capability. … The latest … took place … over the Korean peninsula, when two B-1 bombers flew within a few miles of the DMZ between North and South Korea, accompanied by U.S. F-16s and South Korean F-15s. … related to North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test …
NEWSWATCH: “Russia’s Ambitions in the Atlantic; Patrolling the GIUK Gap” – Foreign Affiars/Robbie Gramer
A new arena of competition is opening between Russia and NATO in the North Atlantic. … a newly vulnerable Cold War chokepoint known as the GIUK gap. … the maritime line between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom that served as a defensive perimeter for NATO during the Cold War. … still the only point through which Russia can project power into the Atlantic Ocean and Europe’s littoral beyond the bottlenecked Baltic and Black Seas. It remains the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean for Russia’s largest and most strategically important fleet, the Northern Fleet. … Vital global undersea communications cables also run along the ocean floor in the North Atlantic near the GIUK gap, carrying nearly all global internet traffic. Russian submarines have skirted uncomfortably close to the cables … prompting concerns that the cables would be cut if tensions between Russia and the West worsened over Ukraine, the Baltic States, Syria, or somewhere else. …
Click here for Foreign Affiars/Robbie Gramer: “Russia’s Ambitions in the Atlantic; Patrolling the GIUK Gap”
Russian support enabled the regime to regain momentum against the rebels, who are supported by the U.S. and Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. Backed by Russian airstrikes, government troops fought to retake rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital. Their campaign got an unexpected boost when Turkey’s government, suspicious of U.S. involvement in a failed coup in Istanbul in July, began to slow weapons shipments to Syria’s rebels while forging closer ties with Russia. In March, Russia announced that it would largely withdraw its forces from Syria. But it said it would still target terrorists. ….
NEWSWATCH VIDEO: House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: “Reforming the National Security Council: Efficiency and Accountability”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: “Reforming the National Security Council: Efficiency and Accountability” [scroll down for video, which has a delayed start at about the 9:00 mark]
In recent years, there has been increasing bipartisan concern over the size and role of the President’s National Security Council. In too many cases, its traditional role of ‘honest broker’ has evolved to a policy-making role – it has even undertaken secret diplomatic negotiations – all done out of Congress’ view. … While concerns about the NSC aren’t new, they’ve reached new heights …. This is a staff that has increased from 100 persons at the start of President George W. Bush’s presidency to reportedly over 400 today. Such a large staff sends the message that the President intends to run foreign policy and military operations out of the White House to the exclusion of the Cabinet. … More staff means more meetings and often paralysis. … How many hearings has the Committee held on Ukraine at which State Department officials have told us that the White House is still debating Kiev’s request for heavy defensive weapons? Also of concern, the profile of an NSC staffer has changed from a seasoned professional doing a stint at the White House as the capstone of their career, to that of junior professionals just off the campaign trail. [from opening statement of Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA)]
Russian warships will join elements of China’s navy in military exercises in the South China Sea next month as tensions continue to rise over Beijing’s territorial claims. … The September exercise, named Joint Sea 2016, is the fifth time the two nations have conducted such joint naval operations.
It comes amid heightened tensions in the region after an international court of arbitration in The Hague last month rejected Beijing’s claims to sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea as illegal. Since immediately before the ruling, China has staged an almost continuous series of live-fire naval and air exercises — some involving more than 300 ships — in and around the region.
The United States Army’s finances are so jumbled it had to make trillions of dollars of improper accounting adjustments to create an illusion that its books are balanced. … [DOD’s] Inspector General … said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015 … $6.5 trillion for the year. … the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up. … the latest example of … severe accounting problems plaguing [DOD] for decades. … a spokesman … downplayed the significance of the improper changes, which he said net out to $62.4 billion. … The IG report also blamed DFAS, saying it too made unjustified changes to numbers. For example … rather than solving [a] disparity, DFAS personnel inserted a false ‘correction’ to make … numbers match. … [and] more than 16,000 financial data files … vanished ….
Chinese planes and ships held war games in the Sea of Japan last week, the military said, during which Beijing displayed its latest-generation frigate at a time of bitter territorial disputes with Asian neighbors. … The statement made no mention of what sort of conflict the exercise was intended as a response to, prospective foes or why the Sea of Japan was chosen as the location of the drills. However, China has grown increasingly assertive over its claim to a chain of uninhabited islands controlled by Japan …. * * * China [also] is involved in an intense rivalry with the U.S. over military dominance in the region. Tensions in the South China Sea have also risen after China refused to accept an international arbitration panel’s ruling invalidating its claim [there] …. China plans joint naval exercises with Russia in the South China Sea next month ….
Russian warplanes are now taking off from an Iranian air base to target … Syria. … the Russian Defense Ministry said … Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 fighter bombers had taken off from Khamandan air base in Iran to target ISIS and the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir-ez Zor and Idlib. … the first time the Russians have launched … warplanes from inside Iran since Moscow began striking targets in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last September. … Army Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve … would not confirm if ISIS targets were in Aleppo or Idlib, two of the locations the Russians identified striking from the Iranian base. He only said that the U.S.-led coalition had not struck targets in those areas in a ‘very long time.’ [He added:] ‘We don’t see concentrations of ISIS in those areas.’ … On Monday, Interfax news service reported that Russia asked Iran and Iraq last week if Russian cruise missiles could pass through their airspace.
U.S. Transfers 15 Guantanamo Bay Detainees; The United Arab Emirates accepts 15 prisoners under President Obama’s push to nearly empty Gitmo by January
The Wall Street Journal reports on the United States transferring 15 Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) detainees, 12 Yemenis and three Afghans, to the United Arab Emirates on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. Sixty-one detainees are left at GTMO, down from 242 in 2009. However, far more detainees were transferred during the George W. Bush administration, a total of 532. Nearly 800 individuals have been detained at GTMO since it was opened after the 9/11 attacks.
Under Obama, the United States often pays up to $100,000 per detainee transferred, and attempts to continue electronic surveillance of transferred detainees.
The U.S. usually pays foreign governments to monitor transferred detainees, and underwrites resettlement costs—for language instruction, vocational courses and the like—up to $100,000 each …. people familiar with the matter said the U.S. typically conducts electronic surveillance of former detainees, while local authorities keep physical tabs on them. … the administration leverag[es] rivalries to get countries to compete over resettling the men. … Foreign governments are realizing that ‘if you want to get attention in the Obama administration, one way to do it is to take Guantanamo detainees,’ [an] official said. * * * In the U.A.E., the 15 newly transferred men will enter a rehabilitation facility modeled after a Saudi program that seeks to ‘de-radicalize’ former detainees, a senior administration official said. ‘There is an ideological component. They bring in the moderate [religious leaders]. They provide literature. They work on life skills’ ….
Concern continues about whether transferred or released detainees could rejoin terrorist activity, and opposition continues to Congressional action to authorize a complete closure of GTMO detention.
At least 30 to 40 detainees are set for prosecution by military commissions or are otherwise deemed to dangerous to release.
Administration negotiating teams continue to push to facilitate the transfer process, raising questions about whether poorer countries are being paid to induce them to take detainees that they might not otherwise take.
Click here for Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Transfers 15 Guantanamo Bay Detainees;
The United Arab Emirates accepts 15 prisoners under President Obama’s push to nearly empty Gitmo by January”
A ‘terrorist’ gunman killed 80 people and wounded scores when he drove a heavy truck at high speed into a crowd that had watched Bastille Day fireworks in the French Riviera city of Nice late on Thursday …. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 80 people died and 18 were in a critical condition. Many more were also wounded …. The driver also opened fire before police shot him dead. … President Francois Hollande said he was calling up military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by an eight-month state of emergency begun after … Islamic State … killed 130 … in Paris. The state of emergency was extended by three months.
NEWSWATCH: “At least 80 dead, 18 seriously injured in Bastille Day terror attack in France” – Fox News
At least 80 people were killed … 18 others … seriously injured Thursday when a terrorist drove a large truck loaded with guns and hand grenades into a crowd … gathered for a Bastille Day fireworks display in the southern French city of Nice.
… no immediate claim of responsibility, but two sources, including a U.S. counterterrorism source who collects and monitors jihadist social media, told Fox News that accounts linked to ISIS were ‘celebratory’ and their followers were told to use the hashtag ‘Nice’.