Posts tagged with "Russia"

U.S. Intelligence helped Ukraine strike Russian flagship, officials say

May 9, 2022

The United States provided intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces to locate and strike the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet last month—another sign that the Administration is easing its self-imposed limitations on how far it will go in helping Ukraine fight Russia, U.S. officials told The New York Times.

The targeting help, which contributed to the eventual sinking of the flagship, the Moskva, is part of a continuing classified effort by the Biden Administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine, the Times said.

That intelligence also includes sharing anticipated Russian troop movements, gleaned from a recent American assessment of Moscow’s battle plan for the fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the officials said.

The Administration has sought to keep much of the battlefield and maritime intelligence it is sharing with the Ukrainians secret out of fear it will be seen as an escalation and provoke President Vladimir Putin of Russia into a wider war. But in recent weeks, the United States has sped heavier weapons to Ukraine;  and  requested an extraordinary $33 billion in additional military, economic, and humanitarian aid from Congress, demonstrating how quickly American restraints on support for Ukraine are shifting.

Two senior American officials said that Ukraine already had obtained the Moskva’s targeting data on its own, and that the United States provided only confirmation. But other officials said the American intelligence was crucial to Ukraine’s sinking of the ship.

The U.S. intelligence help in striking the Moskva was reported earlier by NBC News.

On April 13, Ukrainian forces on the ground fired two Neptune missiles, striking the Moskva and igniting a fire that eventually led to the sinking of the warship.

Attention also has focused on whether the aging ship’s radar systems were working properly. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said the Moskva was possibly distracted by Ukraine’s deploying of a Turkish-made Bayraktar unmanned drone nearby.

Immediately after the strike, Biden Administration officials were scrupulously silent, declining to confirm even that the Moskva had been struck. But in recent days, American officials confirmed that targeting data from American intelligence sources was provided to Ukraine in the hours before the Neptune missiles were launched.

Russia has denied Ukrainian missiles played any role in the Moskva’s demise, claiming instead that an onboard fire caused a munitions explosion that doomed the ship. Independent Russian news outlets based outside the country have reported that about 40 men died and an additional 100 were injured when the warship was damaged and sank.

Research contact: @nytimes

They flooded their own village and kept the Russians at bay

April 28, 2022

They pull up soggy linoleum from their floors, and fish potatoes and jars of pickles from submerged cellars. They hang out waterlogged rugs to dry in the pale spring sunshine. All around Demydiv—a village north of Ukriane’s capital, Kyiv,—residents have been grappling with the aftermath of a severe flood, which under ordinary circumstances would have been yet another misfortune for a people under attack. This time, it was quite the opposite, reports The New York Times.

In fact, it was a tactical victory in the war against Russia. The Ukrainians flooded the village intentionally, along with a vast expanse of fields and bogs around it, creating a quagmire that thwarted a Russian tank assault on Kyiv and bought the army precious time to prepare defenses.

The residents of Demydiv paid the price in the rivers of dank green floodwater that engulfed many of their homes. And they couldn’t be more pleased.

“Everybody understands and nobody regrets it for a moment,” said Antonina Kostuchenko, a retiree, whose living room is now a musty space with waterlines a foot or so up the walls. “We saved Kyiv!” she said with pride.

What happened in Demydiv was not an outlier. Since the war’s early days, Ukraine has been swift and effective in wreaking havoc on its own territory, often by destroying infrastructure, as a way to foil a Russian army with superior numbers and weaponry.

Demydiv was flooded when troops opened a nearby dam and sent water surging into the countryside. Elsewhere in Ukraine, the military has, without hesitation, blown up bridges, bombed roads, and disabled rail lines and airports. The goal has been to slow Russian advances, channel enemy troops into traps, and force tank columns onto less favorable terrain.

So far, more than 300 bridges have been destroyed across Ukraine, the country’s Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov, said. When the Russians tried to take a key airport outside Kyiv on the first day of the invasion, Ukrainian forces shelled the runway, leaving them pockmarked with craters and unable to receive planeloads of Russian special forces.

The scorched-earth policy has played an important role in Ukraine’s success in holding off Russian forces in the north and preventing them from capturing Kyiv, the capital, military experts said.

Research contact: @nytimes

‘An unparalleled action’: Switzerland forgoes neutrality to freeze Russian financial assets

March 1, 2022

Russians face a global financial backlash following Vladimir Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine that is so extensive that even the Swiss are taking sides, reports Raw Story.

Switzerland, a favorite destination for Russian oligarchs and their money, announced on Monday that it would freeze Russian financial assets in the country, setting aside a deeply rooted tradition of neutrality to join the European Union and a growing number of nations seeking to penalize Russia for the invasion of Ukraine,” The New York Times reported.

The Times continued, “After a meeting with the Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland’s president, Ignazio Cassis, said that the country would immediately freeze the assets of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin; Prime Minister Mikhail V. Mishustin; and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov; as well as all 367 individuals sanctioned last week by the European Union.”

“The Swiss Federal Council has decided today to fully adopt EU sanctions,” Swiss Federal President Ignazio Cassis said Monday, according to CNN. “It is an unparalleled action of Switzerland, who has always stayed neutral before.”

The sanctions will prevent Lavrov from flying to Geneva on Tuesday to address the UN Human Rights Council, Russia announced.

“Swiss national bank data showed that Russian companies and individuals held assets worth more than $11 billion in Swiss banks in 2020,” the Times reported. “Switzerland cherishes a reputation for neutrality that has established Geneva as a home to the United Nations and a host to peace talks in numerous conflicts, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Recently, Geneva was the venue for last year’s summit between President Biden and Mr. Putin.”

Research contact: @RawStory

‘Furmidable’: Giant cat looks set to break world record at 27.5 pounds

January 20, 2022

No ‘kitten’ around—Yulia Minina of Stary Oskol, Russia, is a big cat fan. Her Maine Coon cat, Kefir, is only 22 months old and, already, he’s just a whisker away from a world record at 27.5 pounds of purry love, reports The Sun. .

Indeed, at his age, Kefir still is considered a kitten—and, unbelievably enough, has lots of growing to do.  Yulia explains: “I could not even think that an ordinary baby can become so big,” noting, “The look is generally like that of a person, and Kefir has a formidable appearance, but he is a very affectionate and modest child.”

What’s more, he’s not only large in size, she says: “He not only grew up big in appearance; he is also very smart and always behaves calmly.”

.He usually gets not just a first, but also a second look: “When friends and acquaintances come to the house,” Yulia says, “all the attention is on him and he willingly allows himself to be stroked. But when strangers come to the house, everyone first confuses him with a dog.”

And at night, he has become a “heavy” sleeper: “He has one more habit: At night he likes to climb on me and sleep,” she says, adding, “When he was a kitten, it didn’t cause me any inconvenience, but now he has become big and [hefty].”

Research contact: @TheSun

Want to be a space cowboy? Training camps are popping up all over

December 21, 2021

Space tourism is about to blast off. This year, Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic all sent everyday citizens into the stratosphere; and the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant became the ninth and tenth civilians to visit the International Space Station on Wednesday, December 8.

In 2022, the frequency of launches and the options for leaving Earth’s atmosphere will only increase, according to the Robb Report.

For citizen astronauts who want to boldly go where William Shatner has now finally gone—or anyone who’s even thinking about going—the journey starts with space training, which is increasingly accessible through a number of companies and at varying levels of intensity and expense.

“For someone who’s considering space travel, it’s the best way to get a taste of the experience,” says Tom Shelley, the president of Space Adventures in Vienna, Virginia. “Some people do it and feel they’ve gotten close enough, while others commit to a full program.”

Stellar Frontiers, a London-based training provider, recently set up a trip for a family of four to witness a rocket blast-off from close range. “There’s a lot of demand,” says CEO Geordie Mackay-Lewis, “but people want to understand it first. They think it’s uncomfortable and complex, so they want to get a sense of the experience.”

The simplest options range from launch viewings to a one-day visit to the Gargarin Cosmonaut Center in Star City, Russia, that includes a tour of the facility at the center of the Russian space program and a chance to try on an actual space suit.

Two- or three-day packages mix in multiple simulators, space-food taste testing, emergency drills, zero-gravity training, centrifugal G-force testing and spacewalk simulations. Finally, one- to three-month full-immersion programs match what ISS visitors experience and are available even to those who never want to leave Earth.

“We have some set packages, but we also put together custom programs,” says Shelley, whose company trained Maezawa. “Anything is possible depending on someone’s time commitment and budget.”

The multi-day packages can range from $20,000 to $100,000, but they include comforts that viewers of The Right Stuff could never imagine. Visits to Star City, which any of the companies can arrange, include five-star hotel accommodations and bespoke services.

“We’re adding a level of luxury and accommodation that are worthy of the experience,” says Nicolas Gaume, a long-time hospitality executive and co-founder of Orbite, a French company that plans to build the luxe Space Gateway Complex designed by Philippe Stark at an undisclosed location in the United States.

For now, Orbite holds sessions in the south of France and Orlando, Florida, that include zero-G and G-force testing and intense virtual reality simulations of the hanger, the various spacecraft available and the trip itself. “It gives you a chance to see the vehicles to scale and feel what the trip will be like,” says Gaume. “It’s real enough that we’ve had a few participants break down in tears from the beauty of the experience.”

The emotional and mental preparation for space is a surprising but potent aspect of training. “We’ve dispelled this myth that you have to be some sort of super fit, crazy adventurer to go to space,” says Shelley. “But many people who have gone have a deeply spiritual experience. Seeing the planet from above allows them to see how small and fragile it is. They come back changed.”

Indeed, Captain James T. Kirk was so moved he cried upon his return to Earth after just ten minutes on the edge of the final frontier.

Research contact: @RobbReport

Twitter whacks 32,000 state-linked agitprop accounts from Russia, China, and Turkey

June 15, 2020

Twitter has announced that it has shut down 32,242 accounts linked to the governments of Russia, China and Turkey that are peddling disinformation, The Huffington Post reports.

“Every account and piece of content associated” with “three distinct operations … attributed to the People’s Republic of China, Russia and Turkey” have been “permanently removed from the service,” the social media company said in a statement on Thursday, June 11.

Twitter and other social media companies were harshly criticized in the wake of the 2016 presidential election for failing to curb propaganda—especially from accounts launched by the Kremlin in an apparent bid to sway the election in Donald Trump’s favor.

Twitter on Thursday reemphasized the company’s vow to provide more vigorous and transparent action to weed out false conversations being peddled to manipulate a nation’s politics.

“Ultimately our goal is to serve the public conversation, remove bad faith actors, and to advance public understanding of these critical topics,” Twitter said. 

According to the HuffPost, the social media platform went on to note, “We’re disclosing new state-linked information operations to our public archive — the only one of its kind in the industry. Originating from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia, and Turkey, all associated accounts and content have been removed. https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/information-operations-june-2020.html 

Twitter provided few details about specific content campaigns, and most of the affected accounts appeared to be aimed at manipulating citizens inside the three nations.

Specifically, Twitter removed 1,152 accounts (which, the company said, had tweeted 3.4 million times) associated with Current Policy, a “media website engaging in state-backed political propaganda within Russia,” including activities “promoting the United Russia party and attacking political dissidents,” according to the company.

The accounts, which also disseminated “anti-Western content,” violated Twitter policy because they engaged in “cross-posting and amplifying content in an inauthentic, coordinated manner for political ends,” the company said.

The 7,340 “fake and compromised accounts” in Turkey (which tweeted 36.9 million times) were linked to the youth wing of the ruling Justice and Development Party, and were used primarily to “amplify political narratives favorable” to the ruling party and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to Twitter.

The 23,750 accounts (tweeted 348,608 times) linked to the Chinese government were tweeting mostly in Chinese languages and “spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China, while continuing to push deceptive narratives about the political dynamics in Hong Kong,” Twitter said. Tweets also praised China’s response to COVID-19, especially compared with how the U.S. or Taiwan addressed the pandemic.

The Huffington Post notes that the messages removed by Twitter have been archived for study and have been shared with researchers at the Internet Observatory of Stanford University and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Research contact: @HuffPost

 

 

Democrats set to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress

December 11, 2019

President Donald Trump—aka Teflon Don—has managed to sidestep every scandal in his campaign and administration over the past three years. But now it’s time for him to show his base some really fancy footwork: House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled two articles of impeachment against Trump—accusing him of abusing his office for personal political gain and all but guaranteeing that he will become just the third president in the nation’s history to be impeached, The Hill reported.

Democrats are bringing two charges against Trump, which they say rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors: that he abused the power of his office and that he obstructed Congress in its impeachment inquiry. 

Both of the charges, the news outlet noted, are related to the unfolding controversy surrounding Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s government to conduct a pair of investigations that might have helped him politically: one into Trump’s political rivals—including former Vice President Joe Biden—and another into the debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the U.S. elections of 2016.

The historic move, which follows weeks of closed-door and public hearings on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, carries far-reaching implications for a fiercely divided country that’s split roughly in half on whether Trump should be removed from office and ensures that the impeachment debate will carry far into an election year, The Hill noted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California)—who had resisted moving for impeachment for most of the year—struck a somber tone when announcing the articles in the Capitol, saying Trump’s handling of foreign policy in Kyiv had left Democrats no alternative.

“On this solemn day, I recall that the first order of business for members of Congress is the solemn act to take an oath to defend the Constitution,” she said aat a press conference situated in the august, wood-paneled Rayburn Room adjacent to the House chamber. 

“It is an impeachable offense for a president to use the powers of his office to seek a personal benefit,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) said in introducing the first article. 

“And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry,” Nadler continued, pointing to the second article of obstruction of Congress.

The Judiciary chairman said his committee would vote on the articles later this week — likely Thursday, according to several sources —setting up a vote of the full House as early as next week, before Congress leaves Washington for the winter holidays.

Forecasting a nasty battle to come, Trump quickly took to Twitter to attack Democrats’ decision, complaining “To impeach a President who has proven through results, ioncluding producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history, to have one of the most successful presidencies eer, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness! #2020Election.” 

However, Democrats allege, Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine and dangled a White House meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure the country’s leader to publicly announce an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, who worked on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings.

This, they warned, makes clear that Trump believes he is above the law, and will continue this pattern of misconduct if he remains in office.

We stand here today because the president’s continuing abuse of his power has left us no choice,” said Representative Adam Schiff (D-California), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which led the weeks-long investigation into the Ukraine affair. “To do nothing would make ourselves complicit in the president’s abuse of his high office, the public trust and our national security.”

But Republicans  argue this is a “sham” impeachment inquiry designed by Democrats to remove a president they cannot defeat at the ballot box.

The articles were announced one day after a Democratic staff counsel, going over the evidence produced by Schiff’s Intelligence Committee, said Trump represented “a clear and present danger” to the nation’s national security, and to fair and free elections, The Hill reported.

Democrats described the move as a hard, but necessary—one they must make to protect the country from a lawless president. “It is rather a question of duty,” Schiff said at the conclusion of the press conference. “The president’s oath of office appears to mean very little to him but the articles put forward today will give us a chance to show that we will defend the Constitution and that our oath means something to us.”

Research contact: @thehill

GOP lawmaker: Trump’s conduct meets ‘threshold for impeachment’

May 21, 2019

Representative Justin Amash (R-Michigan)–a detractor of the president who has weighed a run against him in 2020—has become the first GOP congressman to say that Trump “engaged in impeachable conduct,” based on the findings detailed in the Mueller report, The Washington Post reported on May 18.

The Michigan lawmaker shared his conclusions in a lengthy Twitter thread on Saturday after reviewing the full report on Russian interference into the 2016 election and obstruction of justice by POTUS.

“Here are my principal conclusions,” he said:

  1. Attorney General [Bill] Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.
  2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
  3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.
  4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

Amash, who has served in Congress since 2011, said that the AG’s deceit in his four-page summary and press conference amounted to smoke and mirrors—noting: “Barr’s misrepresentations are significant but often subtle, frequently taking the form of sleight-of-hand qualifications or logical fallacies, which he hopes people will not notice.

However, he said, “Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” Amash wrote.

In fact, Amash said, “Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.”

Impeachment, he noted, “which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.”

Late Saturday, the Post reported, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel released a statement rejecting Amash’s comments: “It’s sad to see Congressman Amash parroting the Democrats’ talking points on Russia. The only people still fixated on the Russia collusion hoax are political foes of President Trump hoping to defeat him in 2020 by any desperate means possible.”

As for the president, himself, on May 19, he posted the following comment to Twitter: Never a fan of @justinamash, a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 Angry Dems who hated Trump… he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION … Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”

According to the Post, “Amash’s full-throated condemnation of Barr, Trump and his colleagues could give Democrats more ammunition to continue pursuing their [own] investigations.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Americans stew over loss of influence in Middle East

May 29, 2018

More than two-thirds of Americans are alarmed that the United States is losing influence in the Middle East, according to findings of a study conducted by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies/Harris Poll and released exclusively to The Hill on May 24.

Fully 69% of the 1,347 U.S. registered voters who responded to the online poll said they believe that America is ceding influence in the region to such countries as Russia, Iran and China.

Tempers in the region have flared since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran pact and moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, both this month.

Fifty-four percent of respondents told the researchers that America should have attempted to renegotiate the Iran deal instead of withdrawing, while 46% said that they agreed with the administration’s decision.

But there was consensus that Iran has violated its end of the bargain, the Hill reported: 65% believe that Iran isn’t sticking to the terms of the agreement, which rolled back sanctions in exchange for Iran ramping down its development of nuclear weapons.

While a majority of respondents polled didn’t back Trump’s decision in Iran, there’s far stronger support for his decision to move the U.S. Embassy. Forty percent of respondents approved, while 31 percent believed it should only have been moved in exchange for a major concession from Israel.

A near-majority of Americans also put the blame for the violence that occurred during protests in Gaza in the days surrounding the announcement on Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group.

Research contact: @bkamisar

Most Americans think Trump is obstructing justice

December 19, 2017

The majority of Americans believe U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to obstruct the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller—which already has brought charges against four of his campaign advisers and increasingly appears to be focused on the POTUS’s inner circle.

Indeed, 40% of Americans think the president has done something illegal when it comes to Russia, while an additional 30% say he’s at least done something unethical.

What’s more, 68% disapprove of his response to the investigations, based on poll results released by The Associated PressNORC Center for Public Affairs Research on December 15.

It is no surprise that Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to be concerned about Trump’s actions, or to feel invested in what the probes uncover, the poll, covered by Georgia radio station WDUN, noted. Overall, the poll found, 62% of Democrats say they think Trump has done something illegal, while just 5% of Republicans think the same. Among Republicans, 33% think he’s done something unethical, while 60% think he’s done nothing wrong at all.

But, specifically, did Trump obstruct the investigations into whether his campaign had Russian ties? According to the survey, 86% of Democrats, 67% of Independents and 24% of Republicans say he did.

But, Americans also are unsure of how fair and impartial Mueller’s investigation is turning out to be. Of the special counsel’s investigation, just 26%t say they’re very or extremely confident that it will be fair and impartial, while an additional 31% are moderately confident.

Opinions about the possibility of a fair and impartial congressional investigation are even lower, with just 13% saying they’re very or extremely confident in that happening and 32 % saying they are moderately confident.

The AP-NORC poll surveyed 1,020 adults in early December using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population.

Research contact: gentile-claudia@norc.org