“Russian investigators … opened a criminal probe into a failed rocket launch that caused a two-man crew to make an emergency landing shortly after blast-off to the [International Space Station] …. U.S. astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin were rescued without injuries …. An ‘anomaly’ with the booster led to the voyage … being aborted two minutes in, NASA said. The Russian space industry has suffered a series of problems in recent years, including the loss of a number of satellites and cargo spacecraft. [Roscosmo is headed by] Dmitry Rogozin … appointed by … Putin ….”
“The Russian military says it has conducted a massive test of the nation’s strategic nuclear forces … featur[ing] launches of ballistic missiles by the navy’s nuclear submarines from the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. … long-range bombers also fired cruise missiles, the ministry said …. It added that Russia’s early warning system successfully spotted and tracked all launches. … test[ing] the chain of command from its main control room down to military units. …”
“… 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. …”
“India and Russia … signed a pact to build six more nuclear reactors at a new site in India following summit talks …. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also agreed to cooperate on India’s plan for a manned space mission. Russian state-owned reactor manufacturer Rosatom said … the two countries want to build six Russian-design nuclear reactors on a new site in India, boost nuclear cooperation in third countries and new nuclear technologies and are considering building nuclear plants together. The firm said Russia would offer to build its third-generation VVER reactor on the new site and would increase the level of participation of Indian companies ….[T]he pact is not a firm contract … but an agreement to work toward a contract. … India has not chosen the new site yet, which could be controversial …. Last year, the Russian and Indian governments signed an agreement to build reactors 5 and 6 on the site and Putin said at the time that Russia is ready to build a dozen reactors in India over … 20 years. …”
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 RUSSIAWIRE: “Russian spies accused of targeting watchdog investigating UK chemical attacks, probe into MH17 crash[; U.S. indicts Russian military intelligence figures” – Fox News
“Russia’s military spy service has been behind a wave of massive cyber attacks … with targets ranging from the international chemical weapons watchdog group to the probe into the downing of a Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine, officials said Thursday. … the [UK] National Cyber Security Centre … [indicated] that Russia’s GRU has engaged in ‘indiscriminate and reckless’ cyber attacks … target[ing] ‘political institutions, businesses, media, and sport.’ * * * ‘… demonstrat[ing] their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms … with a feeling of impunity and without consequences,’ U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. … [T]he cyber attacks … [are said to] include the 2016 hack of the [DNC] … published … by WikiLeaks, and the leaking of top athletes’ medical records. Also on Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department charged seven Russian military intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organizations either remotely or … ‘on-site’ ….
[The] indictment … said that the GRU targeted … hacking victims … [for] support[ing] a ban on Russian athletes … and … condemn[ing] Russia’s state-sponsored … doping …. Prosecutors said the Russian spies also targeted a Pennsylvania-based nuclear energy company and an international organization … investigating chemical weapons in Syria and the poisoning of a former GRU officer.”
Click here for: “Russian spies accused of targeting watchdog investigating UK chemical attacks, probe into MH17 crash” – Fox News
SCW NEWSWATCH & VIDEO: “Saudis and Russia Open the Oil Taps While the Market Shrugs” – Bloomberg/ Elena Mazneva/ Annmarie Hordern/ Dina Khrennikova/ Grant Smith/ Jack Farchy
“Russia and Saudi Arabia are pumping an extra 1 million barrels a day of oil and could do even more. Yet the market [has had only a muted price reaction]. After their September meeting … spurred prices to a four-year high, the world’s two largest oil exporters sought … to ease … price worries of consumers, and the U.S. president. Russia is pumping record volumes of crude … Saudi Arabia is almost there ….… Trump has been blaming [OPEC] for rising crude prices ever since he [ended] the [Iran] nuclear agreement … and reimpose[d] sanctions. Last month, the group appeared to rebuff his calls for a rapid production increase to offset the drop in Iranian shipments, prompting a surge in prices and even harsher rhetoric. … Russia … already broke its post-Soviet production record last month [and] could add another 200,000 to 300,000 barrels a day of supply within a ‘few months,’ according to Energy Minister Alexander Novak. The oil price is … probably ‘a bit too high,’ he said ….”
Click here for: “Saudis and Russia Open the Oil Taps While the Market Shrugs” – Bloomberg/ Elena Mazneva/ Annmarie Hordern/ Dina Khrennikova/ Grant Smith/ Jack Farchy
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
“… With 95 percent of votes counted on Sunday night, Kremlin-backed United Russia incumbent Andrei Tarasenko was trailing his Communist rival by around 5 percent. But on Monday, the local election commission said Tarasenko had won by just over 1 percent, an unlikely turnaround that the Communists said was evidence of rigging. The scandal is awkward for Putin, who met Tarasenko a week ago and told him that ‘everything will be OK.’ The comment was widely seen as a personal endorsement of Tarasenko, whom Putin appointed acting governor last year, at a time when Putin’s own ratings are under pressure from plans to raise the pension age. … A week ago in the Primorsky Region, which includes the Pacific port of Vladivostok, 6,400 km (4,000 miles) east of Moscow, Tarasenko failed to pass the 50-percent threshold for an outright win. …”
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Russia: Runoffs in Four Regional Races Reveal the Kremlin’s Vulnerability” [Excerpt] – Stratfor
“… Putin … in his fourth and perhaps final term as Russia’s president, faced a key political test in regional elections …. though the ruling party, United Russia, won most of the races – which included gubernatorial elections in 22 regions, legislative elections in 16 regions and a mayoral election in Moscow – it faced stiffer competition and more unrest than usual. In a record four regions, the ruling party’s gubernatorial candidates failed to obtain a simple majority … and will stand in runoff elections Sept. 23. Their opponents are candidates from the Communist and Liberal Democratic parties, registered political parties that work within Russia’s political system and don’t pose a strong threat to Putin’s government. Even so, the result is troubling for the ruling party and practically unprecedented …. The main force behind United Russia’s comparatively lackluster performance in the polls is the Kremlin’s plan to increase the retirement age. …”
Click here for: “Russia: Runoffs in Four Regional Races Reveal the Kremlin’s Vulnerability” – Stratfor.com
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “Russia Inc. Isn’t Waiting for Central Bank to Brave a Rate Hike” – Bloomberg/Anna Andrianova
“The cost of money is rising for Russians well ahead of any potential central bank move to lift interest rates for the first time in almost four years amid concern the U.S. may impose fresh sanctions. State-run Sberbank PJSC, which holds almost half of all Russian savings, is increasing rates for ruble accounts for the first time since 2014. … [and] pay[ing] consumers more to keep dollars on deposit to stanch an outflow …. One of the country’s five largest mortgage lenders, Raiffeisenbank JSC, is charging more for home loans …. From sausages to gasoline, inflation is on the march …. with the central bank’s benchmark on hold at 7.25 percent since a quarter-point cut in March, rates adjusted for inflation remain among Europe’s highest …. “
Click here for: “Russia Inc. Isn’t Waiting for Central Bank to Brave a Rate Hike” – Bloomberg/Anna Andrianova
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “A Dossier Debunking; His lawyer says the Steele claims about Michael Cohen are false” – Wall Street Journal Editorial
“Michael Cohen’s accusations have replaced Russian collusion as Washington’s reason-du-jour to impeach Donald Trump …. Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, confirmed last week that Cohen has never been to Prague in the Czech Republic. … the Steele dossier … commissioned by oppo-research firm Fusion GPS, paid for by the Clinton campaign and used by the FBI in its Trump investigation. … claims … Cohen traveled to Prague in August or September of 2016 to discuss with Kremlin officials how to make ‘cash payments’ to hackers of the Clinton campaign. … Cohen has … offered his passport as proof. …”
Click here for: “A Dossier Debunking; His lawyer says the Steele claims about Michael Cohen are false” – Wall Street Journal Editorial
SCW RUSSIAWIRE VIDEO: “U.S.-Russian Relations – State and Treasury Department Officials Testimony Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee 7.21.18” – C-SPAN
“[July 21, 2018, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing]… Topics included new reports of Russian interference in American democracy, the current state of sanctions against Russian government officials and companies, and clarifying details into the July 2018 Helsinki meeting between … Trump and … Putin. Several members referenced a recent Microsoft claim alleging a Russian plot targeting conservative think tanks and institutions.
… the second in a [series] of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on … the Trump administration’s ‘overall posture on Russia.’ ….”
SCW RUSSIAWIRE: “In Russia, the Corporate Raiders Are Often Cops; Companies face harassment from law-enforcement officials, according to business owners, lawyers and activists” – Wall Street Journal/James Marson, Thomas Grove
“… Russian companies routinely face harassment from law-enforcement officials seeking to extort money or expropriate businesses, according to business owners, lawyers and activists. One in six Russian business owners is facing criminal prosecution, according to [a Kremlin-launched agency]. … weaker prices for oil … and Western sanctions in 2014 sent the economy into a recession that it only emerged from last year. … Putin’s authoritarian rule relies on security officials and political heavyweights who use their authority not only to squash political opponents but also to squeeze companies for payoffs, seize them on behalf of rivals or take them over for themselves, critics say. … mak[ing] changes to the justice system potentially perilous. … [P]eople who should be building Russia’s economy are losing their businesses and their freedom. Russian courts found 99.8% of defendants guilty … and are ripe for hijacking using fabricated cases …. Resisting can be risky and often ends with the company being destroyed anyway. ….”
Click here for: “In Russia, the Corporate Raiders Are Often Cops; Companies face harassment from law-enforcement officials, according to business owners, lawyers and activists” – Wall Street Journal/James Marson, Thomas Grove
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
“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
NEWSWATCH: “U.S. judge says Mueller should not have ‘unfettered power’ in Russia probe” – Reuters/Sarah N. Lynch
“A federal judge said Special Counsel Robert Mueller should not have ‘unfettered power’ in probing ties between … Trump’s campaign and Russia … accus[ing] Mueller of using criminal cases to pressure Trump’s allies to turn against him. At a tense hearing in a federal court in Virginia … U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III sharply questioned whether Mueller exceeded his authority in filing tax and bank fraud charges against Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. … ‘I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a witch hunt,’ [Trump] said of Mueller’s probe ….”
Click here for: “U.S. judge says Mueller should not have ‘unfettered power’ in Russia probe” – Reuters/Sarah N. Lynch
“Russia’s Putin won … March’s election[, ostensibly by large margin,] amid complaints from critics. With neighboring Armenia offering an example of the potential threat, Russian authorities weren’t taking any chances …”
NEWSWATCH: “Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Is Detained Amid Anti-Putin Protests; Demonstrations are held across #Russia, with more than 1,000 protesters held by police” – Wall Street Journal/Thomas Grove
“Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny was detained Saturday together with as many as a thousand of his supporters across the country in protests against the start of … Putin’s fourth term …. The demonstrations, marked by uncharacteristic violence in Moscow, were an attempt by critics of … Putin to spark momentum surrounding their movement, which had faded somewhat since March’s presidential election. … [The] presidential inauguration is planned for Monday. …”
Click here for: “Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Is Detained Amid Anti-Putin Protests; Demonstrations are held across Russia, with more than 1,000 protesters held by police” – Wall Street Journal/Thomas Grove
NEWSWATCH: House Intelligence Committee Report on Russia Investigation; Excerpt: Introduction and Overview
The U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has issued a redacted version of a March 22, 2018, report on its investigation of Russia’s activities surrounding the 2016 U.S. election. PDF versions are available at intelligence.house.gov/UploadedFiles/HPSCI_-_Declassified_Committee_Report_Redacted_FINAL_Redacted.pdf and docs.house.gov/meetings/IG/IG00/20180322/108023/HRPT-115-1.pdf.
“While the Committee found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government, the investigation did find poor judgment and ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns. …”
An excerpt follows:
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Report on Russian Active Measures
March 22, 2018
* * *
Introduction and Overview
(U) Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was nothing novel for the Kremlin. The Kremlin aspires to sow chaos and discord and advance its agenda in targeted nations, particularly in Europe and former Soviet republics such as the Baltics and Ukraine. To do this, Russia effectively combines decades of experience in propaganda and psychological warfare techniques with its vast media apparatus, a strata of well-educated and proficient technicians, and a robust intelligence and security corps.
(U} In the United States, Russian cyberattacks related to the 2016 elections starkly highlighted technical vulnerabilities in U.S. digital infrastructure and bureaucratic shortcomings that were exploited by the Kremlin. Russia’s active measures campaign achieved its primary goal of inciting division and discord among Americans. For more than a year, U.S. politics have been consumed by bitter recriminations, charges, and counter-charges about the attacks. The reliability of the democratic vote-the bedrock of the U.S. republic-was widely and repeatedly questioned.
(U) At the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential election cycle, the Committee was already concerned with Russian malfeasance and aggression in levels that had not been seen since the Cold War. In fact, the IAA for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 included multiple provisions to improve the United States’ ability to counter Russian aggression. However, the Kremlin’s malicious activities during the 2016 U.S. presidential election triggered the Committee to announce a specific inquiry into Russia’s campaign (see Appendix B). The bipartisan parameters focused the investigation and this report-this Committee examined:
(1) Russian cyber activity and other active measures that were directed against the United States and its allies;
(2) whether the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with presidential campaigns;
(3) the U.S. government response to these Russian active measures and what we need to do to protect ourselves and our allies in the future; and
(4) what possible leaks of classified information took place related to the Intelligence Community’s assessment of these matters.1 The Committee interviewed 73 witnesses, conducted 9 hearings and briefings, reviewed approximately 307,900 documents, and issued 20 subpoenas. This allowed the Committee to find answers crucial for identifying and addressing institutional weaknesses to assist the United States with identifying and
responding to inevitable hostile acts in the future.
(U) While the 2016 U.S. presidential election helped focus American attention on Russian cyber and information operations, the Russian government has conducted active measure campaigns in Europe for years. Believing it is engaged in an information war with the West, Russia’s influence activities employ an array of tactics-usually tailored to the target country’s population and environment-in an effort to accomplish the Kremlin’s goals. These goals generally include influencing an opponent’s leadership and population, advancing a narrative, or inducing a behavior change. The factors that make these campaigns successful also make them hard to counter. However, governments, non-governmental organizations, and media organizations in Europe have begun taking actions to address and mitigate the threat that Russian influence campaigns pose.
(U) The Russian active measures campaign against the United States was multifaceted. It leveraged cyberattacks, covert platforms, social media, third-party intermediaries, and state-run media. Hacked material was disseminated through this myriad network of actors with the objective of undermining the effectiveness of the future administration. This dissemination worked in conjunction with derisive messages posted on social media to undermine confidence in the election and sow fear and division in American society.
(U) The U.S. government’s subsequent response to the Russian active measures campaign during the 2016 election was slow [REDACTED] As that picture evolved, the FBl’s notification to victims and oversight committees was inconsistent in timeliness and quality, which contributed to the victims’ failure to both recognize the threat and defend their systems. State and local governments were slow to grasp the seriousness of the threat and when notified of breaches continued to resist any action that implied federal direction or control. Some states opted not to cooperate with important defensive measures offered by the DHS. While no tabulation systems, or systems that count votes, were impacted, the overall security posture of the U.S. federal, state, and local governments was demonstrated to be inadequate and vulnerable.
(U) The Committee’s investigation also reviewed the opening, in summer 2016, of a FBI enterprise counterintelligence investigation into [REDACTED] Trump campaign associates:
[REDACTED] Carter Page [REDACTED] Because of “the sensitivity of the matter,” the FBI did not notify congressional leadership about this investigation during the FBl’s regular counterintelligence briefings.
Three of [REDACTED] original subjects of the FBI investigation have been charged with crimes and the Committee’s review of these cases covers the period prior to the appointment of Special Counsel in May 2017.
(U) While the Committee found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government, the investigation did find poor judgment and ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns. For example, the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer who falsely purported to have damaging information on the Clinton campaign demonstrated poor judgement. The Committee also found the Trump campaign’s periodic praise for and communications with Wikileaks – a hostile foreign organization-to be highly objectionable and inconsistent with U.S. national security interests. The Committee also found that the Clinton campaign and the DNC, using a series of cutouts and intermediaries to obscure their roles, paid for opposition research on Trump obtained from Russian sources, including a litany of claims by high-ranking current and former Russian government officials. Some of this opposition research was used to produce sixteen memos, which comprise what has become known as the Steele dossier.
(U) The effectiveness and relatively low cost of information operations, such as the dissemination of propaganda, make it an attractive tool for foreign adversaries. Unless the cost-benefit equation of such operations changes significantly, the Putin regime and other hostile governments will continue to pursue these attacks against the United States and its allies. Based on the investigation, the Committee recommends several solutions to help safeguard U.S. and allies’ political processes from nefarious actors, such as the Russians. …
NEWSWATCH [Symantec 10.20.17]: “Dragonfly: Western energy sector targeted by sophisticated attack group; Resurgence in energy sector attacks, with the potential for sabotage, linked to re-emergence of Dragonfly cyber espionage group.” – SCW RUSSIA WIRE
“The energy sector in Europe and North America is being targeted by a … wave of cyber attacks that could provide attackers with the means to severely disrupt affected operations. The group behind these attacks is known as Dragonfly. … in operation since at least 2011 … [they have] re-emerged over the past two years from a quiet period following exposure by Symantec and a number of other researchers in 2014. … ‘Dragonfly 2.0’ campaign … appears to have begun in late 2015 [and] shares tactics and tools used in earlier campaigns …. disruptions to Ukraine’s power system in 2015 and 2016 were attributed to a cyber attack …. there have also been media reports of attempted attacks on the electricity grids in some European countries, as well as reports of companies that manage nuclear facilities in the U.S. being compromised by hackers. The Dragonfly group appears to be interested in … learning how energy facilities operate and … gaining access to operational systems themselves … the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so. …”
Click here for: “Dragonfly: Western energy sector targeted by sophisticated attack group Resurgence in energy sector attacks, with the potential for sabotage, linked to re-emergence of Dragonfly cyber espionage group.” – Symantec 10.20.17
NEWSWATCH: “In a first, U.S. blames Russia for cyber attacks on energy grid” – Reuters – SCW RUSSIA WIRE
“The Trump administration … blamed the Russian government for … cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the U.S. power grid … the first time the United States has publicly accused Moscow of hacking into American energy infrastructure. … Russian government hackers sought to penetrate multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and manufacturing …. a ‘multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors’ had targeted the networks of small commercial facilities ‘where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.’ * * * … Thursday’s alert provided a link to an analysis by … Symantec last fall that said a group it had dubbed Dragonfly had targeted energy companies in the United States and Europe and in some cases broke into the core systems that control the companies’ operations. …”
House Permanent Select Committee on #Intelligence
Following a more than yearlong, bipartisan investigation into Russia active measures targeting the 2016 U.S. #election, the House Intelligence Committee has completed a draft report of 150+ pages, with 600+ citations. The draft report addresses, in detail, each of the questions within the agreed parameters of the investigation, as announced in March 2017. It analyzes:
- Russian active measures directed against the 2016 U.S. election and against our European allies;
- The U.S. government response to that attack;
- Links between Russians and the Trump and Clinton campaigns; and
- Purported leaks of classified information. Initial Findings
The draft report contains 40+ initial findings that describe:
- A pattern of Russian attacks on America’s European allies;
- Russian cyberattacks on U.S. political institutions in 2015-2016 and their use of social media to sow discord;
- A lackluster pre-election response to Russian active measures;
- Concurrence with the Intelligence Community Assessment’s judgments, except with respect to Putin’s supposed preference for candidate Trump;
- We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians;
- How anti-Trump research made its way from Russian sources to the Clinton campaign; and
- Problematic contacts between senior Intelligence Community officials and the media.
The draft report includes 25+ proposed recommendations for Congress and the executive branch to improve:
- Election security, including protecting vote tallies;
- Support to European allies;
- The U.S. government response to cyber-attacks;
- Campaign finance transparency; and
- Counterintelligence practices related to political campaigns and unauthorized disclosures.
The draft report will be provided to the Committee minority on March 13 for review and comment. After adoption it will be submitted for a declassification review, and a declassified version will be made public. The report’s completion will signify the closure of one chapter in the Committee’s robust oversight of the threat posed by Moscow—which began well before the investigation and will continue thereafter.
Additional follow-on efforts arising from the investigation include oversight of the unmasking of Americans’ names in intelligence reports, FISA abuse, and other matters.
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
SCW RUSSIA WIRE NEWSWATCH: “Britain says former Russian spy poisoned with nerve agent” – Reuters/Toby Melville, Estelle Shirbon, Kate Kelland, Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden, Gareth Jones
“A nerve agent was used to deliberately poison a former Russian double agent and his daughter, Britain’s top counter-terrorism officer said …. Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench … in the southern English city of Salisbury … Both remain critically ill and a police officer who attended the scene is also in a serious condition in hospital. * * * … a U.S. security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the main line of police inquiry was that Russians may have used the substance against Skripal in revenge …. Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest by Russian authorities in 2004. … given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies caught in the West as part of a Cold War-style spy swap ….”
Click here for: “Britain says former Russian spy poisoned with nerve agent” – Reuters/Toby Melville, Estelle Shirbon, Kate Kelland, Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden, Gareth Jones
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
“A new book details how the #Soviet regime buried evidence and even stopped people from fleeing famine-stricken areas [in #Ukraine] in 1932-33. … Far from an unintended result of ill-conceived policies … the roughly 4m deaths from hunger in 1932 and 1933 were part of a deliberate campaign by … #Stalin and the Bolshevik leadership to crush Ukrainian national aspirations, literally starving actual or potential bearers of those aspirations into submission to the Soviet order. … Stalin was waging ‘war on Ukraine’, the Soviet Union’s strategically and economically most valuable republic after Russia. … the means was starvation. Food supply was not mismanaged by Utopian dreamers. It was weaponised. … [The author] is not shy about suggesting parallels between Stalin’s war and Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine today. …”
NEWSWATCH: “Uber, Yandex combine ridesharing and UberEATS in Russian markets in a $3.72B JV” – TechCrunch
“As Uber continues to work through a huge amount of internal management turmoil, the company is also consolidating and rationalising more of its international business. Today, the company announced that it will be combining its rides-on-demand business and UberEATS, its food ordering and delivery business, in Russia and neighboring markets with Yandex.Taxi, the ridesharing business built up by the Russian search giant over several years and the current leader in the market, in what will be a separate, joint venture valued at $3.72 billion.
The deal — which will cover operations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus and Georgia — is expected to close in Q4 of this year and has already been approved by the boards of both companies. It’s a substantial operation. Currently it covers 35 million trips each month across 127 cities, with the bulk of those coming from the Yandex.Taxi part of the JV; Uber was only in 21 cities. …”
Click here for: “Uber, Yandex combine ridesharing and UberEATS in Russian markets in a $3.72B JV” – TechCrunch/ Ingrid Lunden
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. …
NEWSLINK: “ISIL: Target Russia; Thousands of ISIL fighters are training in the mountains of Afghanistan, plotting an attack on the Kremlin” – Al Jazeera
“Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) have always considered ‘the West’ – and the United States in particular – the ultimate enemy. But following President Vladimir Putin’s policy of military involvement in Syria, Russiamay have taken its place as ISIL’s main target. Thousands of ISIL fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are regrouping in the virtually impregnable mountains of Afghanistan, plotting revenge against the Kremlin. …”
Click here for “ISIL: Target Russia; Thousands of ISIL fighters are training in the mountains of Afghanistan, plotting an attack on the Kremlin” – Al Jazeera
“#Russia carried out the maiden flight of its new MS-21 medium-range passenger plane … its first post-Soviet foray into production of a mainline commercial aircraft which it hopes will rival those of its Western competitors. … manufacturer Irkut Corporation … and … state-controlled parent company United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) … [announced] a 30-minute flight at … 1,000 meters … [and] 300 km an hour. Squeezed by Western #sanctions over its role in the #Ukraine crisis, Russia is trying to rejuvenate domestic industrial production to make the country less dependant on foreign firms. …”
“… Trump on Tuesday fired FBI Director James Comey … ending a rocky year-long stretch for the top law enforcement officer who came under fire for his handling of the Clinton email probe — and whose agency has been investigating whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia. …
The president told Comey in a brief letter that he could not ‘effectively lead’ the bureau and called for ‘new leadership that restores public trust and confidence’ in law enforcement.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president’s decision was based on ‘the clear recommendations’ of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. …”
“President Vladimir #Putin is pushing a plan with U.S. President Donald #Trump to create security zones and deploy peacekeepers in #Syria — possibly including #Russian forces — to enforce a faltering cease-fire as he tries to find a resolution to the more than six-year conflict. …”
“German Chancellor Angela #Merkel told President Vladimir #Putin that #EU #sanctions will have to remain on #Russia as the two leaders clashed over #Ukraine, human rights and election meddling at a chilly encounter in the Black Sea city of Sochi.”
“Police detained dozens of people in several Russian cities as demonstrators joined a protest campaign urging Vladimir Putin not to run in the country’s presidential election next year. The April 29 protests came just three days after authorities moved to ban the organization spearheading the demonstrations: Open Russia, which was set up by former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”
“Several hundred Russians lined up in central Moscow on Saturday under the gaze of riot police to hand over handwritten appeals for President Vladimir Putin to quit, as similar protests took place in other cities. Putin, who has dominated Russian politics for 17 years, has not said whether he will run in presidential elections in March 2018. But the 64-year-old politician, who enjoys high popularity ratings, is widely expected to do so. …”
NEWSLINK: “Russian police arrest dozens of anti-Putin protesters; More than 100 arrested in St Petersburg at demonstration against Vladimir Putin’s expected candidacy in 2018” – Al Jazeera 4.29.17
“More than 100 activists were arrested in St Petersburg on Saturday as hundreds of Russians turned out to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s expected candidacy in elections next year. Demonstrators rallied across several cities under the slogan ‘We’re sick of him.’ The protests were called by the Open Russia movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. …”
“Russian authorities have detained dozens of protesters at rallies demanding that President Vladimir Putin should not seek re-election next year. At least 30 people were reported to have been held in St Petersburg and more than 16 in the southern city of Kemerovo. Activists in some other cities were kept away from protests, reports said. President Putin has not confirmed that he will run in March 2018 but he is widely expected to do so. …”
VIDEO NEWSWATCH: “Anti-Putin Protesters Get a Smart Phone App to Help Get Out of Jail” – Reuters/ U.S. News & World Report/ Parniyan Zemaryalai/ Parniyan Zemaryalai 4.26.17
“Anti-#Kremlin protesters who run the regular risk of being detained by the police … [can utilize a] #smartphone app … to instantly inform others where and when they have been arrested. #Russia faces a presidential election next year … and was last month shaken by large anti-government protests. More are planned. The result of a collaboration between a Russian firm, a human rights group and an opposition movement, the notification system, called #RedButton, automatically transmits the location and emergency contact details of a detained protester. … [to] allow others to act quickly to help free them as it will include details of the police station where the individual is being held. … #Putin remains … the most popular politician in Russia, but opponents argue he keeps a check on dissent through control of the media, especially television, and limiting protest. …”
Created in St. Petersburg by Alexander Litreev, the application’s development received support from the Open Russia foundation, founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and OVD-Info, a human rights organization that monitors detentions.
Click here for: “Anti-Putin Protesters Get a Smart Phone App to Help Get Out of Jail” – Reuters/ U.S. News & World Report 4.26.17
NEWSWATCH: “Russia bans three Khodorkovsky-linked opposition groups; Move comes before planned protests across 30 cities on Saturday” – Financial Times/ Kathrin Hille 4.26.17
“#Russia has banned three non-governmental groups linked to Mikhail #Khodorkovsky … ahead of planned anti-regime demonstrations as the #Kremlin tries to curb the spread of protest sentiment. The Prosecutor General’s Office … declared the Open Russia Foundation, the Institute of Modern Russia and the Open Russia movement to be ‘undesirable organisations’. Such a status allows authorities to freeze their assets in Russia and exposes anyone working with them to criminal prosecution. …”
Click here for: “Russia bans three Khodorkovsky-linked opposition groups; Move comes before planned protests across 30 cities on Saturday” – Financial Times/ Kathrin Hille 4.26.17
NEWSLINK: “Russian Prosecutor Labels Khodorkovsky NGO ‘Undesirable’ Ahead Of Protest” – RFE/RL / Mike Eckel 4.26.17
“Russia’s top prosecutor has blacklisted a nongovernmental organization set up by former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky — a move that puts the group in legal jeopardy just days before a street protest it has been planning. …”
“… The #EuropeanUnion’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told a news conference in the #Russian capital on Monday that the #EU could not pretend that #Moscow had not annexed #Ukraine’s #Crimea in 2014, and that the bloc’s sanctions over the issue would not be lifted. She insisted, however, that cooperation between the two sides was not “frozen,” but rather hampered by differences over issues such as #Ukraine and #Syria. Mogherini was speaking alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey #Lavrov on her first official visit to Moscow in her current role as the EU’s top diplomat. …”
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.
“Emmanuel #Macron’s campaign said its staff received phishing emails meant to steal their passwords. …”
NEWSLINK: “Russia’s Oil Cuts Won’t Be So Easy If OPEC Deal Is Extended; Rosneft and Lukoil plan higher spending and more drilling” – Bloomberg
“For #Russian #oil companies, the historic agreement to boost prices by cutting output in conjunction with [#OPEC] was an easy win. Extending the deal will be less straightforward. Cuts so far this year came alongside the traditional seasonal stagnation in Russian production, meaning the country made relatively few sacrifices in exchange for an increase in crude prices of more than 10 percent. For the powerful Russian oil bosses who plan to discuss the OPEC accord with Energy Minister Alexander Novak this week, a decision by the government to extend the cuts beyond June would stymie plans to boost output, creating many more headaches than the initial agreement. …”
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. …”
“The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that #Russia failed to protect the hostages of the #Beslan school siege in which about 330 people died in 2004. … Chechen rebels took more than 1,000 hostages, mostly children. The operation by Russian forces to end it used disproportionate force, the court added. It also said that officials knew an attack was imminent but did not act. … Witnesses described the operation by Russian security forces as chaotic, saying that the troops used excessive force and heavy weapons. … the court said Russia had sufficient specific information that an attack was being planned in that area, but did not act. It criticised the authorities for being unable to prevent the militants from meeting and travelling on the day of the attack, and failing to increase security at the school or warn the public of the threat. …”
“… The Arctic Trefoil permanent base is in Franz Josef Land, a huge ice-covered, desolate archipelago. The Russian military sees the resource-rich Arctic as a key strategic region. President Vladimir Putin visited the new base, on Alexandra Land, last month. It is built on stilts – to help withstand the extreme cold – and will house 150 personnel on 18-month tours of duty. Winter temperatures typically plunge to minus 40C. …”
“#Russian state television has no doubt who is unpredictable enough to bring the world to war in the North Korean crisis … In the latest sign of the Kremlin’s abrupt about-face on its erstwhile American hero …. * * * Kiselyov and his colleagues on other channels also went after #Trump’s family, noting that Kim hadn’t given his four-year-old daughter an office in his residence, in contrast to Trump’s appointment of his 35-year-old daughter, Ivanka, to a White House role ….
“… 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. …”
NEWSLINK: “The lawyer who will oversee the Russia inquiry for Justice Dept. has experience investigating the White House” – Los Angeles Times 4.23.17
“As a young federal prosecutor in the 1990s, Rod J. Rosenstein played a key role in the highly charged independent investigation of the president and first lady, Bill and Hillary Clinton, over their investments in a failed real estate company known as Whitewater. Rosenstein now is poised to take over another sensitive investigation: the FBI counterintelligence inquiry into whether President Trump’s current or former aides colluded with Russian intelligence to interfere with last year’s election. …”
“#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.”
“A prominent #Russian journalist known for articles criticizing the country’s government and President Vladimir #Putin has died in St. Petersburg after being beaten up, his lawyer was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying. Nikolai #Andrushchenko, a 73-year-old co-founder of the weekly newspaper Novy Peterburg, was found unconscious with what colleagues described as head trauma on March 9. …”
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]
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.
“A former #Russian lawmaker who defected to #Ukraine and aired damning criticism of #Russia’s leadership has been gunned down in broad daylight in the heart of Kyiv in what Ukraine’s president called ‘An act of state #terrorism by Russia.’ … ex-#Duma Deputy Denis #Voronenkov was killed by a gunman as he and his bodyguard were approaching the five-star Premier Palace Hotel …. the attacker fired at least eight shots at the 45-year-old Voronenkov with an ‘old Soviet pistol.’ … caught on security cameras. The attacker was shot in the ensuing gunbattle with Voronenkov’s lone bodyguard and apprehended by police on the street nearby. He later died in hospital … there was initially no word on his identity. … the bodyguard, who was wounded in the exchange of gunfire … was provided by Ukrainian authorities in the past month because there was ‘reason to fear’ that Voronenkov’s life might be in danger. … Voronenkov had become a vocal critic of Kremlin policy toward Ukraine, including its military invasion and annexation of Crimea. But the former communist lawmaker was also unpopular among Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were dubious of his loyalties and critical of authorities fast-tracking a Ukrainian passport ….”
NEWSWATCH: “Denis Voronenkov: ex-#Russian MP who fled to #Ukraine killed in Kiev; Vladimir #Putin’s spokesman dismisses claims that Moscow is linked to the killing of #Kremlin critic who left #Russia last year and renounced citizenship.” – The Guardian (UK)
“A former #Russian MP who had fled to Ukraine was shot dead on a busy street in central Kiev …. Denis #Voronenkov, who had spoken out against … #Putin and #Kremlin policies, was shot three times outside the upmarket Premier Palace hotel. #Ukraine’s president, Petro #Poroshenko, quickly pointed the finger at Russian authorities, calling the killing an act of ‘state #terrorism’. …”
Click here for: “Denis Voronenkov: ex-Russian MP who fled to Ukraine killed in Kiev; Vladimir Putin’s spokesman dismisses claims that Moscow is linked to the killing of Kremlin critic who left Russia last year and renounced citizenship.” – The Guardian (UK)
“#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: “Russian-Backed Militants Open Fire On Civilian Ceasefire Monitors In Ukraine” – Daily Caller/Heritage Foundation
Russian separatist militants opened fire Friday on a group of civilian peace monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in eastern Ukraine, sparking condemnation from the group’s chief monitor and the U.S. Militants from the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) fired on the OSCE monitors as they were attempting to launch a drone in order to investigate the alleged shelling of the Donetsk water filtration station. After seizing the drone, one of the militants opened fire near the monitors. …
NEWSLINK: “House Intel Chair: Calls For Trump-Russia Special Prosecutor ‘Almost Like McCarthyism’” – Daily Caller/Heritage Foundation
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said on Saturday that calls for a special prosecutor to investigate possible ties between Donald #Trump advisers and the #Russian government amount to a ‘witch hunt’ and resemble the #McCarthyism of the 1950s. ‘At this point we can’t go on a witch hunt against any American people … just because they appeared in a news story,’ California Rep. Devin Nunes told reporters at California Republican convention in Sacramento on Saturday, according to the San Francisco Gate.
“Three years on since the #Russian authorities took control of #Crimea, Russian security forces’ actions on the peninsula increasingly recall methods that first gained infamy in the North Caucasus. Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists disappear without a trace, people who protest the policies of the new authorities are arrested, Salafi Muslims are persecuted. Just like in the Caucasus, it’s difficult for journalists, rights defenders and lawyers to operate in Crimea — they are all subject to pressure. Torture has come to Crimea, too. In particular, the Russian security services’ favourite method — electric shock. …”
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. …
As President Donald Trump prepared for his first address to the U.S. Congress, the White House on Sunday sought to fend off the latest calls for an independent probe of Russian efforts to impact last year’s U.S. election and any ties between Moscow and the president’s inner circle. …
NEWSLINK: “Russians march to honor slain opposition leader and Putin critic Boris Nemtsov” – Los Angeles Times
Thousands of #Russians marched in Moscow on Sunday to mark the death of Boris #Nemtsov, an outspoken opposition leader who was gunned down two years ago. The protesters chanted ‘#Putin is a thief!’ and ‘Give Crimea back!’ and carried portraits of Nemtsov, who was one of the best known critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies.
“Vladimir Putin’s posturing towards Afghanistan has opened a new chapter in the great game in the heart of Asia.”
… discussing investigations into Russia’s hacking during last year’s presidential election and disputed contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, ‘the FBI has already said this story is BS.’ … “
“#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.”
“Thousands of people have marched in #Moscow to remember #Russian opposition leader, Boris #Nemtsov, who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015. Mr Nemtsov, a reformer, democrat and former deputy PM, was a fierce critic of President Vladimir #Putin. Some marchers chanted ‘#Russia will be free!” and ‘#Putin is war!’ …”
NEWSLINK: “Republicans divided on Russia probe, calls for special prosecutor over AG Sessions” – Fox News
“#Republicans are increasingly divided over the issue of whether members of Donald #Trump’s presidential campaign made illegal contact with #Russia and if a special prosecutor should be appointed over Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate such allegations. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told “Fox News Sunday” that he has confidence in Sessions, a Trump campaign supporter and former AlabamPolia senator, and his judgment.”
“Moscow city authorities have given the green light for construction of an exclusive health clinic which, according to technical plans seen by Reuters and medical sources, is designed to treat President Vladimir Putin and senior officials. …”
“Moscow on Monday backed national security adviser Mike Flynn, saying he never improperly discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador. ‘We have already said there have not been any such talks,” insisted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked whether Flynn and envoy Sergey Kislyak talked about rolling back tough sanctions imposed by President Obama, once President Trump had assumed office, TASS reported.”
NEWSLINK: “Russia and China bombard Blighty with 188 cyberattacks in 3 months; Security secrets and private businesses are all fair game” – Register (UK)
“Britain has been hit by 188 “high-level attacks” in the last three months. Some of these attempts include Russian state-sponsored hackers trying to steal defence and foreign policy secrets, according to the UK’s newly appointed National Cyber Security Centre chief Ciaran Martin. Russian and Chinese attacks on defence and foreign policy servers are among those being investigated by the organisation. Security vendors said that high-level malfeasance by foreign espionage agencies is an issue for Western businesses as well as governments. …”
“Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank is facing more trouble as Russian authorities believe the bank owes Moscow millions in tax revenues. Russia says the lender didn’t pay for profitable currency swaps. …”
“… What is illegal is leaking highly sensitive classified information about signals intelligence from spying on the Russian ambassador. And what also is illegal is the CIA spying, even incidentally, on Americans. This is not a maybe, or an if, or a sorta. It is ILLEGAL. The aforementioned nine officials should be found, prosecuted, and, if found guilty, imprisoned for leaking classified information. That they did so for political reasons is all the more despicable. …”
NEWSLINK: “Emmanuel Macron aide blames #Russia for #hacking attempts; Russia watchers say Moscow is deploying considerable resources to swing the French election.” – Politico.EU
“A top aide to French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron accused #Russia on Monday of trying to hack into his campaign’s computer systems and spreading disinformation about him via Kremlin-backed news media.”
“#GOP leaders reject suggestion of a moral equivalence between U.S., #Putin; #Pence sees path to end #sanctions”
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.'”
The #Trump administration on Thursday altered #sanctions against companies doing business with #Russia’s domestic intelligence agency. The Treasury Department said it will allow American companies to make limited transactions with the #FSB, the successor to the #KGB, if it needs them to get approval to import or distribute technology products in Russia. The exception will also apply to situations in which companies need to comply with rules administered by the FSB. The implications of the move were not immediately clear, but the U.S. has taken similar steps in the past to help businesses avoid unintended consequences on cross-border transactions.
NEWSLINK: “Team #Trump: Flynn called #Russia ambassador, no sanction talk ‘plain and simple'” – Fox News
“The Donald #Trump transition team has acknowledged that its incoming national security adviser has been in contact with #Russia’s ambassador but denies reports they were plotting over recently imposed #sanctions on Moscow. … a call on Dec. 29, the day President #Obama hit Russia for election-related #hacking … was about ‘logistics’ for a call between … #Putin and #Trump, who on Friday is sworn-in as president. …”
“President-elect Donald #Trump’s nominees for defence secretary and spy chief have been talking tough on #Russia at their Senate confirmation hearings.”
“… #Trump and … #Putin spent some time on the telephone Monday, as the pair discussed hopes that the two nations can thaw icy relations …. The #Kremlin confirmed … both Trump and Putin agreed that U.S.-#Russian relations are presently at an ‘unsatisfactory’ level.
Trump’s campaign said Putin had called to offer his congratulations on winning the election and the two began discussing a range of issues. ….
Syria and global terrorism also reportedly were among the topics of discussion.
Officials in southern Russia have been forced into providing transport for schoolchildren after a video emerged of them walking to school armed with an axe to fend off wolves. …. [children] in the village … have to walk … 6.2 miles … to the nearest secondary school on a route that takes them through a forest. A video of the group trudging their way through deep snow, one student clutching an axe, was shared online by their parents. The journey became necessary after the village’s own school closed, and no buses were put in place. … Once the story made headlines …. [officials] announc[ed] that transport would be provided after all. ….
(Voice of America – voanews.com – Moscow, Nov. 9, 2016)
Russia warmly welcomed the presidential election victory of Donald Trump with officials, analysts, and ordinary citizens cautiously hoping it could turn a new page in relations between Russia and the United States.
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Trump on his win, saying he hoped to work together with the next American president to lift relations out of the current crisis, resolve international issues, and respond to global security challenges.
At an election watch breakfast at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, various foreign and Russian dignitaries mingled as the results came in and took interviews with Russian and international media.
Trump’s victory, defying polls that predicted Hilltary Clinton would win, came a surprise to most present.
Some analysts questioned how much of Trump’s campaign rhetoric would translate into policy and whether, as president, he can improve U.S.-Russia relations.
“Too early to say,” says Moscow-based political analyst and author on Putin, Maria Lipman. “Trump will be president effective end of January. He still has got to deal with the American congress. The American congress is not a crowd of Russia lovers, to say the least. It will depend on Russia as well,” adds Lipman, “whether Russia will try and take advantage of this unexpected result of the election.”
“They will welcome a chance to sit down early on with President Trump and discuss the relationship,” says director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin.
But he was cautious about any dramatic improvement, after more than two years of frosty relations with the West over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria. “We are still in dangerous waters. I don’t think that a change of president in the United States would mean a fundamental change of interests, clearly not. Change of policies or a correction of policies, probably yes. Which direction, we don’t know.”
While Clinton’s positions on Russia are known, Trenin noted there were still many unkowns about Trump’s policy toward Russia. “We don’t know enough about Mr. Trump. We don’t know anything about the Trump administration, we don’t know anything about Trump policies, including his foreign policy.”
On the streets of Moscow, Trump’s victory was overwhelmingly welcomed by most Russians.
“Well, I think that was the best option for Russia than any other ( politician),” says student Irina. “Because they say he is not so critical about Russia.”
Pensioner Elena voiced a rare dissenting opinion on Trump, saying while bilateral relations may improve under Trump, she thought him too emotional. “I have no confidence that he (Trump) is a person who is capable to manage the country in a stable way.”
During the election campaign, Trump and Putin exchanged compliments and expressed interest in improving relations. On the thorny issues of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and Syria, Trump leaned to Moscow’s positions more than his own Republican Party.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko congratulated Trump on his victory, but also said he hoped Trump would continue the Republican Party’s policy of supporting Ukraine.
Leaders of other former Soviet states, such as Moldova, expressed simliar hopes that bilateral relations with Washington remain unchanged under Trump.
Russian state media clearly favored Trump in its reporting, criticism of Hillary Clinton was much more common. But Russian analysts say the attacks were more about disparaging Clinton, who was tougher on Russia, than necessarily wanting or believing that Trump could win.
“I think for some people (in the Kremlin) it was disbelief,” says Trenin. “Some people have always maintained that if Trump looked like he was going to win, his victory would be stolen by the American elite. Now this has not happened. And that sends a message, including to the Kremlin, that democracy works in America.”
[Article also appeared at voanews.com/a/russia-congratulates-trump-victory-hopes-for-better-relations/3589309.html]
Russia is preparing to carry out a new round of strikes targeting Syria from a group of warships … in the eastern Mediterranean … two U.S. defense officials [said] …. The Russian armada is centered around a Soviet-era aircraft carrier and includes three destroyers capable of launching cruise [missiles] …. Russian jets were seen taking off with weapons visible under their wings from Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, part of the flotilla located near Syria …. It marked the first time Russia had conducted armed flight operations from the aircraft carrier since leaving port ….
Click here for Fox News: “Russia poised to unleash new Syria strikes from the sea, US officials say”
… In a telegram sent to Trump on Wednesday, Putin expressed hope that the incoming U.S. president would prove a constructive partner in pulling U.S.-Russia relations back from the brink. Trump’s election, the telegram read, should ‘lead to constructive dialogue between Moscow and Washington based on equality and respect.’ … at a ceremony at the Kremlin for foreign ambassadors, Putin spoke of Trump’s promises on the campaign trail to restore relations with Russia.
Click here for Defense News: “From Moscow: Russian Politicians and Pundits Shocked by Trump Election”
… Unlike US carriers, the Kuznetsov was never designed to project force against land targets—it was built during the Cold War as a floating jet fighter base to defend deployed nuclear strategic submarines against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) anti-submarine attack aircraft in the Barents Sea. The Kuznetsov’s staple Su-33 jets are not designed for attack missions; the new MiG-29KRs are, but the Kuznetsov has no jet catapult, so any jets taking off must carry a limited payload or relatively little fuel. Ka-52K attack helicopters could use the Kuznetsov to launch conventional land attacks, but they are only being introduced (as are the MiG-29Ks) and are not yet fully operational. Of course, some of the Kuznetsov air wing could land at the Russian air base near Latakia and go into action from there with full a payload, but this would hardly add much to the Russian bombing campaign. It is possible the Kuznetsov’s prime objective is, as Shoigu said, to reinforce the Russian naval squadron to deter US carriers from possibly intervening in Syria as the bloody battle of Aleppo unravels this fall.
Click here for Eurasia Defense Monitor: “Russian Military Presence in Syria Increasing With Carrier Deploying to Eastern Mediterranean”
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]
(VOA – Sept. 24, 2016) The size of the bomb craters is becoming larger and the destructive power is growing of the missiles that Russian and Syrian government warplanes are launching at civilians and rebels in Aleppo.
Since the breakdown last week of a U.S.-Russia negotiated cease-fire in Syria, the ferocity of the onslaught on rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo suggests Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his overseas backers, Russia and Iran, are determined to overrun the insurgents in Aleppo, delivering a devastating blow to the five-year campaign to oust the Syrian strongman.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power accused the Assad regime on Sunday of mounting an “all-out offensive” to retake Aleppo.
Analysts and Western diplomats say in the past few weeks, Russian and Syrian warplanes have been pounding Aleppo with munitions designed to penetrate hardened military bunkers, not shallow cellars shielding civilians from round-the-clock airstrikes. They say the weapon of choice to subdue the eastern half of Syria’s once prosperous commercial capital is the bunker-busting BETAB-500 air bomb.
A year ago, when Russia started its military intervention to prop up Assad’s then-floundering forces, Kremlin-controlled websites like Sputnik News boasted how the BETAB-500 air bombs were being “used in Syria to eliminate Islamic State command centers, which are multi-level underground bunkers made of reinforced concrete.”
On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the use of advanced weaponry and bunker-busters against civilians could amount to war crimes. He didn’t spell out the exact nature of the high-tech munitions that are inflicting a new hell on the war-exhausted civilians and rebels in Aleppo. Nor did he detail what precision air bombs like the BETAB-500 can do.
According to Robin Yassin-Kassab, Syrian activist and co-author of the book Burning Country, “Bunker busters dig five meters into the ground and can cause the collapse of three apartment buildings. They’re designed to destroy military bunkers. The Syrian regime and Russia are dropping these bunker busters on neighborhoods in Aleppo, killing entire families.”
Video footage posted online of craters in Aleppo are consistent with what would be expected to be seen from BETAB-500’s, say military analysts. Their explosions send out powerful shockwaves, collapsing nearby buildings.
The 500-kilogram BETAB-500’s have been used regularly by the Russians against the Islamic State terror group, as noted frequently by Russian military spokesmen.
On November 3, 2015, Colonel Igor Klimov, a Russian air force spokesman, told journalists in Syria, “Today, Russian strike aircraft used two BETAB-500 bunker buster bombs against ISIS targets.”
A few days later, Klimov assured Sputnik News, ”BETAB-500 bombs are used to destroy extremely protected and fortified underground bunkers; they are not dropped on cities.”
As the Russian news-site noted, “The concrete-piercing BETAB-500 bombs are equipped with a jet booster, which allows the bombs to completely destroy any underground installation.”
Families, clinics being shelled
The underground installations that have been hit in the past three days in an estimated 200 airstrikes are destroying basements where families are trying to shelter from the relentless air-raids, say local residents and aid workers. They are also striking makeshift clinics that have been set up in cellars.
On Friday, Russian and Syrian warplanes struck three of the four bases in eastern Aleppo of the White Helmets, the Syrian volunteer rescue group whose workers have been fearless in their efforts to tend to the injured. The group has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. A rescue center was destroyed that was featured in a Netflix documentary about the organization and released earlier this month.
“You can see or hear groups of warplanes overhead the whole time,” Zakaria Malahefji, an official with an Aleppo-based FSA [Free Syrian Army] militia, told VOA. “The earth shakes under the bombing.”
A resident contacted by mobile phone described apocalyptic scenes: warplanes dropping an array of weaponry, from incendiary munitions and cheaply made barrel bombs — to smart, bunker-buster bombs — all crumpling and razing eastern Aleppo.
“There is not much you can do when you hear the jets; there’s nowhere that’s safe,” said Mohammed Ghassan, a father of two.
At the beginning of Russia’s intervention, military analysts noted its warplanes were dropping more so-called “dumb” or gravity-dropping munitions without any guidance systems, like the high explosive FAB-500 bombs. As the intervention has progressed, laser and satellite-guided munitions have been launched in greater numbers, including KAB-500’s.
Their effect on eastern Aleppo is clear to see; the weapons wiping out whole blocks are targeting key civilian and rebel infrastructure, from clinics and a water-pumping station to roads and local council buildings.
Since Friday, at least 200 civilians have died in the airstrikes, according to estimates from Syrian opposition and aid workers.
“The death toll is expected to rise because there are some people in critical situations, and due to missing people under the rubble,” reported the pro-opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
[Article also appeared at voanews.com/a/russia-assad-iran-using-more-destructive-weaponry-in-bid-to-subdue-aleppo-syria/3525344.html]
Reykjavik says three Russian Tupulev Tu-160 military planes flew too close to passenger flight for comfort in latest incident last Thursday
NEWSLINK Express (UK): “Plane passengers left terrified after spotting RUSSIAN BOMBERS out of their window”
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. …
The Australian, in an editorial, addresses Russia’s reaction to a U.S.-led airstrike that apparently hit some Syrian forces, including accusations that the United States is in league with the so-called Islamic State. Doubts are raised about the sincerity of Russia’s involvement with a would-be ceasefire.
… precise circumstances surrounding the botched U.S.-led coalition airstrike that killed and wounded Syrian soldiers in the mistaken belief they were Islamic State fighters have yet to be established. … we must not lose sight of the gross hypocrisy being exhibited by … Putin’s Russia as it seeks to exploit the tragedy …. posturing and finger-pointing … that contrasts with its callous belligerence and indolence after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine two years ago with the loss of 298 lives. … the Kremlin is all action on behalf of its surrogate, the murderous Assad regime. Preposterously, Moscow claims the misdirected airstrike shows ‘direct connivance’ by the coalition with Islamic State. ‘We are reaching a really terrifying conclusion for the whole world … that the White House (and, presumably, its allies) is defending Islamic State … there can be no doubt about that,’ Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement that beggars belief given Moscow last week signed a ceasefire agreement, along with the US. … Moscow has vetoed or undermined every proposed UN Security Council resolution that might have helped end the horrifying civil war and … appalling atrocities ….
NEWSWATCH: “Russian Propaganda Is Pervasive, and America Is Behind the Power Curve in Countering It” – RAND
RAND reports on Russian propaganda efforts utilizing the newest technologies, including RT and a host of others. One key tactic is to repeat false and manipulative messages across multiple tracks:
… Russian propagandists are … at work across a wide front, aiming a firehose of falsehoods at ill-informed audiences, foreign and domestic. … this disinformation — intentionally false — leverages psychological vulnerabilities to sway audiences. U.S. leaders should raise public consciousness about its nature and dangers. … The explosion of new media is a boon for propagandists. RT, formerly Russia Today, spends over $300 million per year purveying a toxic mixture of entertainment, real news and disinformation across cable, satellite and online media. Dozens of Kremlin-backed proxy news sites blast propaganda while hiding or downplaying their affiliation. Russian trolls and hackers manipulate thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. This volume and multiplicity of media and modes has an effect; research in psychology shows that multiple sources are more persuasive than a single source.
Russian propaganda also employs the tactics of first impressions and repetition, including the malign Ukrainian political transformation and concoct revisionist history seeking to mute awareness of Russian government culpability in international athletic doping:
Russia’s approach to propaganda emphasizes creating first impressions, which tend to be resilient, and then reinforcing them through repetition. In this way Kremlin propagandists have persuaded some of the less informed that Ukraine’s post-Maidan government is fascist. Contrary to credible findings of pervasive state-sponsored Russian doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Moscow’s early and repeated denials have confused some audiences.
Much of Russian propaganda is wholly false, yet can build a false “credibility” based upon repeated manipulation of an audience with limited information access, such as the Russian people. The U.S. government has not responded robustly enough to Russian propaganda efforts.
While some Russian propaganda stories build around a kernel of truth, others are wholly manufactured and spun. … People are often poor judges of the credibility of both information and its sources, psychology research has found, and over time familiar messages or those previously identified as false can become more persuasive. … some audiences are not turned off by inconsistent or implausible expectations. … Polls last year found that about half of Russians believed they received ‘objective information’ from television, their main source of news. … America is behind the power curve in countering Russian disinformation. … Russian disinformation is a global threat, much of it targeted against democracies. … The Kremlin’s obsession with propaganda and disinformation persists ….
Click here for RAND: “Russian Propaganda Is Pervasive, and America Is Behind the Power Curve in Countering It”
Multiple reports have cited ties between Russian entities and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, and on Wednesday House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said in a CNN interview that the Republican National Committee had been hacked as well, though the Texas congressman quickly backpedaled, saying he ‘misspoke.’
“Russia revives Soviet-era psychiatric punishment: Crimean Tatars, dissenters suffer” – Sydney Morning Herald
… last week after his release from a forced stay in a Crimean psychiatric hospital, Ilmi Umerov [said] ‘It was what you could call one big torture’ … Having made public statements against Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine … Russian authorities charged Umerov with ‘separatism’ and forced him into a psychiatric hospital for a month of observation [even as he already was s]tricken with Parkinson’s, diabetes and heart problems…. * * * The resurgent Soviet-era practice of punitive psychiatry has shut away a number of dissenters and activists who have dared to speak out against the Russian government. [After] opposition activist Mikhail Kosenko took part in mass protests against … Putin’s inauguration for a third term, the … Bolotnaya Square protests [h]e was soon arrested, convicted and confined to a psychiatric hospital for eight months … Earlier this year, an opposition activist was grabbed from his home by orderlies posing as gas company workers and dragged off to a psychiatric hospital, where he was involuntarily injected with drugs before being released a week later. …
Click here for Sydney Morning Herald: “Russia revives Soviet-era psychiatric punishment: Crimean Tatars, dissenters suffer”
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 …
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said … progress toward peace in eastern Ukraine depended primarily on the Kremlin, adding that it was crucial for the West to maintain sanctions …. “Clearly it’s up to the Russians primarily to make progress on the security side. But it’s up to all sides I think in this conversation to make progress together” ….
… Justice Department officials dropped hints … they plan to hold Russia accountable for what is suspected to be a broad hacking campaign targeting U.S. political organizations and election databases. … Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, who leads the National Security Division * * * listed Russia as one of the ‘four main actors’ involved in supporting hackers targeting the U.S., alongside North Korea, Iran and China. The U.S. has taken action against hackers from the other three states, he noted, over hacks against Sony Pictures, financial institutions and U.S. companies. … ‘The message is clear: You are not safe because you are doing it under another nation’s flag. We can figure out who did it … and when we do, we’re committed to holding people accountable.’
… administration officials reportedly are at odds over a newly announced agreement with Russia to curb the violence in Syria … Confusion remains over the terms and aims of the deal. …. [there are] new questions about what level of violence will be accepted by the Obama administration in determining whether to go ahead with the proposed joint venture with Russia after a week-long ceasefire, which includes the sharing of intelligence at a joint intelligence center. … [After seven days of calm] the U.S. and Russia would then cooperate on how to jointly combat the Al Qaeda-linked group … Nusra Front … now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. … militants backed by the U.S. and its Arab allies coordinate and even sometimes fight alongside Al Qaeda-linked militants. … The new cease-fire is supposed to end such ambiguities, and Washington has been urging rebel groups to break ranks with extremists.
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. ….
The U.S. and Russia hit a renewed deadlock over efforts to strike a #Syrian cease-fire deal … Kerry snubbed … Lavrov, who was left cooling his heels in Geneva …. The U.S. has been locked in tough negotiations with Russia, whose military intervention in Syria last year reversed the course of the war in favor of its ally … al-Assad. … The civil war … has killed more than 280,000 people and sent millions fleeing …. It has … let Islamic State seize territory that it’s used as a base to direct and inspire terror attacks worldwide. … The U.S. has proposed sharing intelligence with Russia to carry out strikes against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, now known as Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham. … Assad continues to make gains with each passing day, particularly in … Aleppo, so Russia has little incentive to come up with a deal …. Assad’s forces, backed by pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia and Russian air power, this week cut off the last rebel supply line to the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo, restoring a siege that was broken last month …
Russia’s justice ministry has branded Russia’s only major private pollster a ‘foreign agent,’ a stigma that could lead to its closure. … saying that the Levada polling agency has been listed as a ‘foreign agency’ …. Following major protests against his rule in 2011 and 2012 … Putin signed a law that requires all NGOs receiving foreign funding and found to engage in vaguely defined ‘political activity to register as ‘foreign agents.’ Those who fail to comply face fines and potential closure. Many organizations have said the stigma of ‘foreign agent,’ which rings like ‘spy’ in Russian, would make it impossible for them to work in the country.
The decision comes less than a week after the respected pollster founded by and named after the late sociologist Yuri Levada published its latest election survey, indicating a drop in the ruling party’s ratings. Russia holds a parliamentary election on Sept. 18.
(VOA – voanews.com – article also appeared at voanews.com/a/us-russia-yet-to-reach-syria-cease-fire-deal/3494498.html – Sept. 5, 2016)
Secretary of State John Kerry has returned home empty handed, failing to have reached an accord with his Russian counterpart on a cease-fire in Syria after an intensive period of diplomacy.
The two countries still need to resolve what are described as “technical issues,” and discussions between American and Russian negotiators are set to continue this week, State Department officials said Monday.
Off to the side of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, the U.S. and Russian presidents held talks about Syria that Barack Obama described as “businesslike” and “constructive, but not conclusive.”
“Given the gaps of trust that exist, that’s a tough negotiation and we haven’t yet closed the gaps in a way where we think it would actually work,” the U.S. president told reporters at the conclusion of the G-20 summit.
Obama added he had instructed Kerry, while Russian President Vladimir Putin had told his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, “to keep working at it over the next several days” in hopes an agreement could lead “to a serious conversation about a political solution to this problem” with all parties directly or indirectly involved in the Syrian conflict.
Putin told reporters at a separate news conference that talks with the United States and Turkey were continuing concerning Syria and negotiators had made a step forward.
During the past 10 days, a peripatetic secretary of state kept in touch with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov through face-to-face meetings in Geneva and Hangzhou and telephone conversations in between, while the American senior envoy made stops in Bangladesh and India.
Kerry and senior aides have reiterated they do not want to make a tenuous deal for the sake of an announcement, but rather want Washington and Moscow to agree upon something realistic to achieve a sustainable nationwide cessation of hostilities in Syria.
There is a growing perception among some senior U.S. officials, however, that the Russians are gaming the Americans in the talks.
In private, U.S. diplomats have characterized the negotiations with their Russian counterparts as a litmus test on whether there is a seriousness by Moscow to reach an accord, or if the Russians are buying time that results in Obama and Kerry being portrayed as hapless negotiators.
“The Russians walked back on some of the areas we thought we were agreed on,” a senior State Department official said Saturday, revealing the level of frustration.
Russia is a long-time backer of Syria, and is seen as desiring President Bashar al-Assad remain in power in Damascus to maintain Moscow’s influence in the region.
Diplomats have no illusion that bringing an end to five years of intense misery for the Syrian people will be easy. They describe the battlefield as complex, with shifting alliances among the many militias involved.
“There are five different wars being waged” in Syria is a characterization expressed by more than one person involved in the cease-fire talks.
President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which hosts 3 million Syrian refugees, said he had reiterated to Obama and Putin at the G-20 talks in China the need for a “no-fly zone” over Syria and a “safe zone” where there would be no fighting, in hopes of stemming the human migration.
A half decade of war has fractured Syria. More than 250,000 people are believed to have died from shootings, mortar fire and air strikes. Millions have fled the country. And 18 million more people remain to face an uncertain fate, most of them in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN relief agencies.
NEWSWATCH: “Can Oil Rally After Russia-Saudi Pact? Cooperation reflects the squeeze on revenues and suggests that the demise of OPEC is exaggerated.” – Barron’s
Monday’s announcement of a joint Russia-Saudi Arabian working group to explore avenues for stabilizing the oil market—while short on details and immaterial for actual supply and demand balances—is another indicator of the extreme economic duress that producers are enduring, and in our view, increases the likelihood of some type of collective action if prices remain under significant pressure. We believe that the sovereign producers may eventually come to conclude that they have little to lose by agreeing to cap output when they are close to maxing out on production in the near term. Moreover, while geopolitical tensions between key producers continue to run high because of ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, their leaders may yet opt for pragmatism and seek some financial relief that will allow them to keep their increasingly restive citizens content and off the streets. * * * Frankly put, OPEC producers simply do not want oil prices to fall further. Although cooperative action taken by the cartel and other key producers may prove to be more of a play on optics rather than physically actionable, at a minimum, it alters sentiment, puts a floor into the market, and reminds the market of OPEC’s capacity to co-operate. It would also prove that the prolific pronouncements of the cartel’s demise are premature.
Click here for Barron’s: “Can Oil Rally After Russia-Saudi Pact? Cooperation reflects the squeeze on revenues and suggests that the demise of OPEC is exaggerated.”
TREASURY DEPARTMENT NEWS RELEASE: “Treasury Sanctions Individuals and Entities for Sanctions Evasion and Activities Related to the Conflict in Ukraine”
U.S. Treasury Department Press Release – 9/1/2016
U.S. Will Maintain Sanctions Pressure Until Russia Has Fulfilled All of Its Commitments under the Minsk Agreements
WASHINGTON – To maintain the effectiveness of existing sanctions, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated 37 individuals and entities under three Executive Orders (E.O.s) related to Russia and Ukraine. Today’s action is part of OFAC’s ongoing efforts to counter attempts to circumvent sanctions on Russia, to assist the private sector with sanctions compliance, and to foster a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. The action demonstrates Treasury’s steadfast commitment to maintain sanctions until Russia fully implements its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including a comprehensive cease fire, the withdrawal of all weapons and military personnel, and the restoration of Ukraine’s control over its side of the internationally recognized border. It also underscores the U.S. government’s opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and our firm refusal to recognize its attempted annexation of the peninsula. These sanctions follow the recent extension of European Union sectoral sanctions, and together these steps demonstrate continued international unity in opposing Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
“Russia continues to provoke instability in eastern Ukraine despite its Minsk commitments,” said Acting OFAC Director John E. Smith. “Treasury stands with our partners in condemning Russia’s violation of international law, and we will continue to sanction those who threaten Ukraine’s peace, security, and sovereignty.”
Today OFAC also identified a number of subsidiaries that are owned 50 percent or more by previously sanctioned Russian companies to provide additional information to assist the private sector with sanctions compliance.
Designation Regarding Sanctions Evasion (E.O. 13661)
Today’s action targets one entity pursuant to E.O. 13661, which authorizes sanctions on, among others, any individual or entity that has acted for or on behalf of, or supported, an individual or entity previously designated under this E.O.
CJSC ABR Management (“ABR Management”) is designated for acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, and materially assisting, sponsoring, or providing, financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Bank Rossiya. Bank Rossiya managers founded ABR Management to strategically manage the banking group’s assets. As the trustee under a trust agreement with certain Bank Rossiya shareholders, ABR Management has the power to exercise voting rights for a majority of Bank Rossiya shares, including rights to propose candidates for Bank Rossiya management positions.
Designations Regarding Separatists (E.O. 13660)
Today’s action also targets 17 Ukrainian separatists pursuant to E.O. 13660 for being responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; asserting governmental authority over a part or region of Ukraine without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine; or for acting for or on behalf of previously designated groups as leaders of such entities.
The following six individuals are designated for being responsible for or complicit in, or having engaged in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; asserting governmental authority over a part or region of Ukraine without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine; and acting for or on behalf of the previously designated, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) or the previously designated, self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR): Eduard Basurin, so-called Deputy Commander of the Ministry of Defense, DPR; Viktor Yatsenko, so-called Minister of Communications, DPR; Vladimir Kononov, so-called Minister of Defense, DPR; Zaur Ismailov, so-called Prosecutor General, LPR; Evgeny Manuilov, so-called Minister of Finance, LPR; and Alexandr Shubin, so-called Minister of Justice, LPR.
The following 11 individuals, officials of the so-called Republic of Crimea, are designated for asserting governmental authority over a part or region of Ukraine without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine: Dmitry Polonsky, so-called Minister of Information and Mass Communications; Anna Anyukhina, so-called Minister for Property and Land Relations; Mikhail Sheremet, so-called First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers; Svetlana Alekseevna Borodulina, so-called Minister of Fuel and Energy; Irina Kiviko, so-called Minister of Finance; Valentin Demidov, so-called Minister of Economic Development; Oleg Shapovalov, so-called Minister of Justice; Andrey Gennadievich Vasyuta, so-called Minister of Industrial Policy; Viktor Palagin, so-called Head of the Federal Security Service Directorate; Mikhail Nazarov, so-called Director of the Investigative Committee Chief Investigations Division; and Georgiy Muradov, so-called Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Permanent Representative to the President of the Russian Federation. Two of these individuals, Dmitry Polonsky and Georgiy Muradov, are additionally designated for being responsible for or complicit in, or having engaged in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Additional E.O. 13660 Designation
The Salvation Committee of Ukraine also is designated pursuant to E.O. 13660 for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, whom OFAC previously designated under the same E.O. for the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine.
Designations Regarding Crimean Entities (E.O. 13685)
Today’s action also targets the following 18 construction, transportation, and defense entities pursuant to E.O. 13685, which authorizes sanctions on, among others, any person determined to operate in the Crimea region of Ukraine. Except as otherwise noted, the persons listed below are designated for operating in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
Entities Involved in the Construction of the Kerch Bridge
Russia’s SGM-Most OOO, which is owned by previously designated gas pipeline construction company Stroygazmontazh, is the chief contractor for the construction of the Kerch Bridge, which would span the Kerch Strait to connect the Crimean peninsula with Russia.
PJSC Mostotrest is a major Russian construction company engaged in the construction of bridges, roads, and other transport infrastructure facilities. In March 2016, SGM-Most OOO awarded a multi-billion ruble construction contract to Mostotrest for the development of the Kerch Bridge.
AO ‘Institute Giprostroymost—Saint-Petersburg’ designed the Kerch Bridge.
OOO ‘STG-Eko’ conducted engineering and ecological studies for an Environmental Impact Assessment of the Kerch Bridge for AO ‘Institute Giprostroymost—Saint-Petersburg.’
OOO ‘DSK’ is a Russian construction company whose work includes building access roads to bridges and overpasses. OOO ‘DSK’ won an auction in September 2015 for construction work on access roads to the Kerch Bridge on both sides of the Kerch Strait.
FKU Uprdor ‘Taman’ is a Russian federal institution under the Federal Road Agency (Rosavtodor) authorized to help manage federal highways and related structures in Crimea and in Russian Federation territory. FKU Uprdor ‘Taman’ operationally manages the construction of the Kerch Bridge.
FAU ‘Glavgosekspertiza Rossii’ is a Russian federal institution authorized to conduct official examinations of project documentation for significant construction works in Russian Federation territory. In 2015, after Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of the Crimean peninsula, FAU ‘Glavgosekspertiza Rossii’ opened a branch in the city of Sevastopol and reviewed project documentation for the Kerch Bridge.
Defense Firms Operating in Crimea
OOO Shipyard ‘Zaliv’ is a shipbuilding company in Kerch, Crimea formed after militants forcibly seized the shipyard from its previous owners in August 2014. It holds resident status in the so-called Republic of Crimea’s free economic zone and a license from the Russian government to develop military equipment.
Federal SUE Shipyard ‘Morye’ is a shipbuilding company located in Feodosia, Crimea. It has increased its capacity to construct military vessels and began constructing a guided missile ship for the Russian Navy in May 2016.
OAO Ship Repair Center ‘Zvezdochka’ performs maintenance work on ships and submarines and is located in Severodvinsk, Russia. It has a branch in Sevastopol, Crimea that performs repairs and maintenance work on Russian naval vessels.
SUE RC ‘Feodosia Optical Plant’ produces military optical products and is located in Feodosia, Crimea. It holds a license from the Russian government to develop military equipment and produces optical sights for tanks and heavy weapons.
OAO ‘Uranis-Radiosistemy’ produces radio equipment and is located in Sevastopol, Crimea. It holds resident status in the so-called Republic of Crimea’s free economic zone and a license from the Russian government to develop military equipment.
Entities Operating in Crimean Maritime Sector
Finally, the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group is designated pursuant to E.O. 13685 because it operates in the Crimea region of Ukraine. Affiliated companies SMT-K and LLC Koksokhimtrans are being designated for operating in the Crimea region of Ukraine and being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group. Sovfracht Managing Company LLC is being designated for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group. Finally, OJSC Sovfracht and CJSC Sovmortrans are designated for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group and Sovfracht Managing Company LLC.
The Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group is a Russian shipping and logistics company comprised of several companies, including Sovfracht Managing Company LLC, OJSC Sovfracht, CJSC Sovmortrans, LLC Koksokhimtrans, and SMT-K, a unit of the group registered in Crimea. SMT-K, an abbreviation for Sovmortrans-Crimea, has offices in Simferopol and Kerch, Crimea, and is the operator for a ferry line between the previously designated Port of Kerch in Crimea and Kavkaz in Russia. LLC Koksokhimtrans is the registered operator and manager of two vessels that have served as ferries between Crimea and Russia. Sovfracht Managing Company LLC has oversight over OJSC Sovfracht and CJSC Sovmortrans. OJSC Sovfracht is the flagship company of the Sovfracht-Sovmortrans Group and specializes in transporting of general cargo, while CJSC Sovmortrans specializes in container shipping.
Identifications Under the Sectoral Sanctions Identification List (E.O. 13662)
Today, OFAC also identified a number of subsidiaries of Bank of Moscow and Gazprombank as being 50 percent or more owned by their respective parent entities, all of which were previously sanctioned pursuant to directives issued under E.O. 13662. Bank of Moscow and Gazprombank were previously sanctioned in July 2014; both are subject to Directive 1, which prohibits certain transactions or dealing in debt and equity of the sanctioned entities. OFAC has also identified subsidiaries of Gazprom, which is subject to Directive 4, which prohibits the exportation of goods, services, or technology in support of exploration or production for Russian deepwater, arctic offshore, or shale oil projects. The subsidiaries identified today were already subject to the same restrictions as their respective parent entities per OFAC’s Revised Guidance on Entities Owned by Persons Whose Property and Interests in Property Are Blocked (“50 percent rule guidance”), which can be found here. These identifications will help the public more effectively comply with the sanctions on these companies.
Concurrent with today’s action, OFAC is also issuing a general license to authorize certain transactions for a limited period of time necessary to divest holdings in Mostotrest. To see the general license, click here.
For the identifying information related to today’s action, click here.
A fire swept through a Moscow printing plant warehouse on Saturday, killing 17 migrant workers from Kyrgyzstan … young women trapped in a dressing room … changing into their work clothes.
The fire was caused by a faulty lamp on the first floor of the warehouse, where many flammable liquids and paper products were stored, and it spread quickly through an elevator shaft to the room …
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.
In the latest disturbing account of Russian hacking, the #FBI is reportedly investigating a series of #cyber-attacks targeted at journalists from the New York Times and other U.S. media outlets. … [that] could allow hackers to obtain confidential communications between reporters and …sources in the government. It could also potentially allow Russia to release information, which would embarrass key political leaders as well as obtain insight into U.S. diplomatic or military strategies. … Russia is also the mostly likely suspect behind last week’s ‘Shadow Brokers’ incident … [exposing] a top-secret set of cyber-weapons developed by the #NSA.
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 ….
Donald Trump’s campaign is making its second major staff change …. Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster who has been an adviser to the campaign, will take over as campaign manager [and] Stephen Bannon … executive chairman of Breitbart News … a former banker for Goldman Sachs, will serve as campaign chief executive, a new position. … Breitbart News has been consistently supportive Trump and has even defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski … accused of assaulting Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, who has since resigned from the organization. … Paul Manafort, the campaign’s chairman, will remain in that position, but … his role will be diminished after friction … over the direction of the campaign. Manafort himself has been a distraction … [AP] reported … Manafort helped a pro-Russia group in Ukraine secretly route more than $2 million in payments to two Washington lobbying firms to try to influence U.S. policy.
Russia is reportedly building several nuclear command bunkers … Construction has been under way for several years on dozens … the emergence of the bunkers come just days after US European Command warned … Moscow has adopted an ‘alarming’ nuclear doctrine. … U.S. European Command Army General Curtis Scaparrotti said it was clear Russia was modernising its strategic forces.
‘Russian doctrine states that tactical nuclear weapons may be used in a conventional response scenario’ he reportedly said. * * * Scaparrotti … assumed command of NATO’s Allied Command Operations in May … earlier warned of increasing Russian aggression in Europe. * * * … warnings of Russian aggression in Europe and increasing nuclear threat also follow reports of the former Soviet giant building new bombers, submarines and missiles. … it [also] emerged the country was refurbishing Cold War ships known as battlecruisers to carry high powered, long range missiles.
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.
NEWSWATCH: “How to Counter Russia’s Subversive War on the West” – RAND/William Courtney, Martin C. Libicki
Russia’s apparent cyberespionage against the Democratic Party … and its state-sponsored doping of Olympic athletes show an obsession with disruptive behavior as a tool of statecraft. … Cyberwar and sports doping are among the arrows in Moscow’s quiver of “active measures,” a triple threat of propaganda, deception and subversion that dates to the Soviet era.
Russia’s subversive and corrupt behavior should have a negative impact on its international stature and perceived suitability for investment.
Moscow’s provocative active measures cause foreign investors and international lenders to see higher risks in doing business with Russia. … it should not be surprised if disregard for others’ interests diminishes the international regard it seeks as an influential great power.
European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini urged Russia and Ukraine to avoid escalating tensions …. ‘Any actions that could lead to a further escalation of the conflict must be avoided …. This includes eastern Ukraine, where we urge all parties to … complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.’ * * * ‘The European Union condemns and does not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol ….’
NEWSWATCH: “Exclusive: Congressional leaders were briefed a year ago on hacking of Democrats – sources” – Reuters
U.S. intelligence officials told top congressional leaders a year ago that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party, three sources familiar with the matter said … but the lawmakers were unable to tell the targets … because the information was so secret. … disclosure … would have revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies were continuing to monitor the hacking, as well as … sources and … methods …. The congressional briefing was given … in a secure room called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, to … four Republicans: Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell … Speaker John Boehner … Senator Richard Burr and Representative Devin Nunes, the House and Senate intelligence committee chairs. Their Democratic counterparts were: Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi … Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff of the intelligence committees. * * * One of the sources said the Clinton campaign first detected attacks on its data system in early March, and was given what the source described as a “general briefing” about it by the FBI later that month. The source said the FBI made no mention of a Russian connection in that briefing and did not say when the penetration first took place.
Click here for Reuters: “Exclusive: Congressional leaders were briefed a year ago on hacking of Democrats – sources”
Russian track and field suffered a final humiliation at the Rio Games … when the sport’s governing body suspended long jumper Darya Klishina … The suspension, announced three days before she was due to compete, relates to new evidence uncovered by an anti-doping probe into allegations Russia ran a systematic, state-backed cheating program …. * * * The doping inquiry has cast a pall over the Games, fomenting what some have called an “anti-Russian atmosphere” in Rio and prompting the International Paralympic Committee to exclude Russia from its own Games next month.
IMF: Russia still facing risk from low oil prices Country remains in recession for 2016, but returns to slow growth by next year.
Russia’s economy returns to modest growth next year, but faces medium-term risks from volatility in crude oil prices, the International Monetary Fund said.
An IMF assessment found the Russian economy contracted by 3.7 percent last year because of the collapse in crude oil prices. The economy remains in recession this year before growth resumes at an estimated 1 percent next year. * * * [OPEC] said it expected Russian oil supplies would increase slightly to average almost 11 million barrels per day in 2016, a level that’s higher by 10,000 bpd from the previous estimate. More narrowly, however, second quarter output was 40,000 bpd lower than the first quarter average.