Showing posts with label Russia-Nazi like. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russia-Nazi like. Show all posts

March 15, 2017

Two Russian Spies (FSB) are Indicted Over Yahoo Hacking

The FBI issued a series of  anted” posters for Russians accused of cybercrimes 
Wednesday, including Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, who is alleged 
to be a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer.
Courtesy of FBI
Updated at 2:40 p.m. ET
The Justice Department has announced charges against four people, including two Russian security officials, over cybercrimes linked to a massive hack of millions of Yahoo user accounts.
Two of the defendants — Dmitry Dokuchaev and his superior Igor Sushchin — are officers of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. According to court documents, they "protected, directed, facilitated and paid" two criminal hackers, Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov, to access information that has intelligence value. Belan also allegedly used the information obtained for his personal financial gain.
"The criminal conduct at issue, carried out and otherwise facilitated by officers from an FSB unit that serves as the FBI's point of contact in Moscow on cybercrime matters, is beyond the pale," Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord said.

Both Alexsey Belan (left) and Dmitry Dokuchaev (right) were included 
in the series of wanted" posters for Russians accused 
of cybercrimes Wednesday.
Courtesy of FBI
She told reporters that U.S. investigators believe Dokuchaev and Sushchin were working in their official capacity as FSB agents at the time.
Baratov was arrested Tuesday in Canada. NPR's Greg Myre reports that the U.S. plans to seek his extradition, and that three other defendants are in Russia, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

Belan is one of the world's most notorious hackers. There's an Interpol "Red Notice" for his arrest, and he has been listed as one of the FBI's Most Wanted hackers since 2012.
"Rather than arrest him, however, the FSB officers used him," the indictment reads. It alleges that the officers also "provided him with sensitive FSB law enforcement and intelligence information that would have helped him avoid detection by law enforcement."
The massive hack against at least 500 million Yahoo user accounts happened in 2014. The company publicly acknowledged the breach last September, saying at the time that it believed a "state-sponsored actor" was responsible, without naming any foreign government. The disclosure prompted an investigation by U.S. authorities.
Some of the accounts breached had obvious intelligence value. According to court documents, these included: "Russian journalists and politicians critical of the Russian government; Russian citizens and government officials; former officials from countries bordering Russia; and U.S. government officials, including cyber security, diplomatic, military, and White House personnel."
Other targets included businesses, such as a Russian investment banking firm as well as "a French transportation company; U.S. financial services and private equity firms; a Swiss bitcoin and banking firm; and a U.S. airline."
The court documents state that Belan "provided his FSB conspirators ... with the unauthorized access to Yahoo's network." He is also accused of using the access to the network for personal financial gain. For example, he allegedly stole financial and gift card information from the Yahoo accounts, and implemented a spam marketing scheme that impacted millions of users, according to the documents.
Baratov allegedly helped the FSB agents access accounts at other providers such as Google, often assisted by information stolen from the breached Yahoo accounts. He was allegedly paid about $100 per account accessed.  
The company has also indicated in regulatory filings that forged cookies may have been used to access user accounts. It said today that those cookies are also part of the alleged Russian security breach.
"We appreciate the FBI's diligent investigative work and the DOJ's decisive action to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes against Yahoo and its users," the company said in a statement Wednesday. "We're committed to keeping our users and our platforms secure and will continue to engage with law enforcement to combat cybercrime."
This wasn't the only major breach Yahoo has reported in recent years. The company revealed an even larger hacking incident impacting more than 1 billion accounts that occurred in 2013, as we reported. It's not clear whether the intrusions are related.
Today's charges are also distinct from the U.S. intelligence community's conclusionthat Russia launched an "influence campaign" in order to help President Trump win the election.
The Department of Justice is trying to ratchet up pressure on foreign hackers accused of carrying out cyberattacks on U.S. targets. Federal officials have also recently charged individuals from China and Iran over hacking allegations.
In 2014, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reported, the Department of Justice "charged five uniformed members of Unit 61398 of the People's Liberation Army of China with stealing secrets from American business competitors."
Last year, U.S. officials indicted seven hackers with links to the Iranian government for cyberattacks. "Court papers said the intruders attacked the web sites of dozens of major U.S. banks and breached controls at a dam in Rye, N.Y., raising alarms about safeguards in American infrastructure," Carrie reported.

January 30, 2017

Even In The Arctic Putin Will Get Your Pride Event Banned in Russia

If you are gay and you live in Russia, how do you work on getting your civil rights? Can’t do it on the streets because you can’t even go to the corner and say you are “Gay” because you will be breaking the law and will be jailed before you are allowed to run and hide. So how about going all the way up to the arctic and have a Pride walk there to bring attention to your plight. Good idea but even that the Putin government wont allow and with Putin’s internet hacking he finds out about protests even before they happen. 

Moscow Pride
Russian police officers detain a gay rights activist with his flag during an attempt to hold a gay pride parade Sunday in Moscow, Russia. Russian police have detained around a dozen protesters demanding the right to hold a gay pride parade in Moscow. Associated Press
An LGBTQ pride event in the Arctic circle, in the town of Salekhard, Russia, has been banned due to the “gay propaganda” law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in 2013.
Police have banned around 300 people who were looking to march on Jan. 29 in what was named Polar Pride. The city administration cited the so-called gay propaganda law, which bans providing information about homosexuality to minors. They claimed the march would be harmful to children’s “health and development.”
The same law was used in defense of a 100 year ban on gay pride marches in Moscow, the nation’s capital, handed down in 2012. Moscow Pride began having marches in 2006 and continued through 2011, in spite of repeated homophobic attacks against demonstrators.
Nikolai Alexeyev, who leads Moscow Pride, has helped activists apply for permits to hold Pride parades across Russia. They have been denied in Arkhangelsk,, Yekaterinburg, Cheylabinsk, Sarank, St Petersburg, Tula, Tver and Vladimir, reports Gay Star News.
Nikolai Alekseev at en.wikipedia
Nikolai Alexeyev is interviewed by a TV station at a Moscow Pride event.
“It will, if necessary, brought to the European Court of Human Rights,” said Alexeyev, who is also a lawyer and journalist. He added that the law is in violation of Russian’s constitution, which protects the right of the people to freely assemble.
“Putin’s politics on gay and lesbian issues is a breach of human rights,” said Stein Sebastian Fredriksen, director of Norway’s Tromsø Arctic Pride.
“It happens in broad daylight and nobody does anything about it. It makes me shocked, it makes me sad,” he continued.
Police in Russia continue to break up attempts at LGBTQ rights demonstrations. Holding Prides in smaller communities is even more important than in bigger cities. In smaller communities, there’s not a lot going on and a lot more prejudice. It’s important to build an identity as a LGBT person and to give the greater society opportunities to celebrate diversity.
“This is one of the best ways to celebrate as well as for societies to get to know each other.”
Fredriksen concluded with a word of hope.
“I give them my strong support. I want them to know democracies around the world are monitoring what is going on in Russia and we stand with them and support them,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is set to speak with Putin by phone on Saturday. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said she expects they will speak about issues on which they have “common ground.”
Conway specifically cited the attempt to “defeat radical Islamic terrorism.”
Yet with Trump’s administration filled with those with anti-LGBTQ views and voting records, his worrying Supreme Court nominees list, and with his own support of the discriminatory piece of legislation known as the First Amendment Defense Act, there is reason to worry that Putin could be one more bigoted voice whispering in our new president’s ear.

January 3, 2017

Putin’s Resurgent Russia and Some Consequences

“The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us,” Barack Obama said on Dec. 16, during his final press conference as president. “They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate. But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values.”

The theme of Obama’s first term, when it came to Russia, was “reset”: an attempt to normalize relations after the heightened tension of the Bush years, which ended with Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia. The theme of the second, as relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated sharply following Vladimir Putin’s return in 2012, has been dismissal bordering on mockery. The only thing we have to fear from Russia, the president seemed to argue, is the fear of Russia itself.

Obama had been sounding this note since his race for re-election, when Mitt Romney made what was at the time considered a gaffe by calling Russia America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” On a debate stage in Boca Raton, Florida, in October 2012, Obama said that the 1980s were “calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Obama first tried out the “Russia doesn’t make anything” line in a 2014 interview with the Economist, as civil war was raging in Eastern Ukraine: “I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking.”

Russia was not supposed to be an indispensible nation in global affairs in the year 2017.
The commodities-exports-as-proxy-for-national-prowess argument was never quite convincing, and not just because “oil, and gas, and arms” are some awfully valuable commodities—mighty global empires have been built on far less. Does Obama, who has been an eloquent exponent of his own nation’s lofty ideals, really measure a nation’s greatness by the quality of the products it exports? When he talks about Russia, the president has sounded, ironically, like a 1940s Soviet apparatchik boasting of the USSR’s superior grain yields, or even Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat—the apotheosis of Western media derision of the post-Soviet world—bragging in song about how “other countries have inferior potassium.”

In 2014, the line at least had the air of dismissive confidence about it. In 2016, when Obama repeated it, Russian jets were in the process of laying waste to Aleppo, Syria, effectively ending the internationally backed rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s government, leaving the U.S. and its allies little to do but issue statements of concern and condemnation. (Two weeks later, Russia and Turkey would announce a new cease-fire deal in Syria, which appears for now to be holding, without any input from Washington.) Officials at Obama’s own intelligence agencies were telling reporters at the Washington Post and New York Times that Russia had deliberately interfered in the U.S. presidential election to undermine his preferred successor, Hillary Clinton, and help elect an unqualified and suspiciously pro-Russian candidate who threatens to reverse much of the president’s legacy. With Russia demonstrating its new clout everywhere from the Black Sea to the Great Lakes, it seemed dangerously out of touch to depict its manifest power as a paranoid delusion.

Admittedly, this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. While many Americans, likely including Obama himself, have long accepted that the United States’ post­–Cold War moment as the world’s sole superpower wouldn’t last indefinitely, the challenge to American hegemony on everyone’s mind was always dynamic, hyperproductive China, or perhaps rising developing-world powers like India or Brazil. Russia was the past, a land of, yes, rusting factories and declining life expectancies, where the people are brainwashed by propaganda and led by a cartoonish strongman president. Russia was not supposed to be an indispensible nation in global affairs in the year 2017.

And yet, for all that the U.S. president and American commentators dismissed that notion throughout Obama’s second term, the events of the past year have proved that Russia has become exactly that. Against all expectation, relations with Russia have dominated the Obama administration’s foreign policy, right up through last week, when the president issued sweeping sanctions, in retaliation for Russia’s election meddling, that belied the blithe tone of his previous remarks. Relations with the renascent superpower are likely to dominate the next president’s term as well—in ways we’re only beginning to fathom.

There’s a well-known story about a young Vladimir Putin and a cornered rat. He tells it in First Person, the short autobiography published after he assumed the presidency as a relative unknown in 2000. Living in a communal apartment with his family in a poor area of war-scarred St. Petersburg, young Vladimir and his friends liked to chase rats in the building’s stairwell:

There, on that stair landing, I got a quick and lasting lesson in the meaning of the word cornered. There were hordes of rats in the front entryway. My friends and I used to chase them around with sticks. Once I spotted a huge rat and pursued it down the hall until I drove it into a corner. It had nowhere to run. Suddenly it lashed around and threw itself at me. I was surprised and frightened. Now the rat was chasing me. It jumped across the landing and down the stairs. Luckily, I was a little faster and managed to slam the door shut in its nose.
The story stands out as a rare moment of vulnerability in an autobiography that’s otherwise largely a catalog of personal and professional triumphs. The notion of a weak, cornered creature turning the tables on his tormentor clearly stuck with him. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that soon afterward, a young, aimless Putin found purpose in judo, a discipline premised on finding ways to exploit a stronger opponent’s weaknesses.

Numerous articles have cited the rat story as a glimpse into the making of the Russian president’s worldview. Putin’s Russia, in this reading, is the rat: Cornered by U.S.-sponsored efforts to promote democracy in its region (efforts Russians view as thinly veiled attempts at regime change) and by an arrogant Western attitude that asks Russians to accept that their days as a significant player on the world stage are long past. The rat, rather than accepting its fate, lunges at its tormentors.

“For the majority of the population, the collapse of the Soviet Union was associated with uncertainty and a sharp decline in living standards.”
Arkady Ostrovsky
It is a useful parable when considering how Putin has wielded his power. For all the Americans who have underestimated him, an equal if not greater number have overestimated him, seeing in the events of the past few years evidence of a brilliant strategist thinking multiple moves ahead of his opponents. Once it was right-wingers like Ted Cruz giving Putin credit for playing chess while Obama played checkers in Syria. Today, it’s apoplectic liberals who see in Trump’s victory a grand, Russian-orchestrated conspiracy. But Putin’s Russia has traditionally reacted to global events rather than actively shaping them.

Whether he was sending in troops to “protect” Russian minorities in Georgia’s breakaway enclaves in 2008 after that country elected an anti-Russian government, giving refuge to an on-the-run Edward Snowden in 2013, seizing on the Obama administration’s reluctance to attack the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons to cut a favorable deal for Assad, or taking advantage of chaos following the 2014 ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to annex Crimea, few leaders have proved more adept at seizing the opportunities presented to them. What many Russia hawks in the U.S. often fail to recognize is that, from Russia’s perspective, these moves are parries, not attacks. The thing about the rat story is, if you don’t look at how the incident began, all you see is a big rat chasing a skinny, little blond boy down a stairwell.
Indeed, Americans and Russians hold profoundly different views of the country’s post-Soviet history. In his 2016 book, The Invention of Russia, the journalist Arkady Ostrovsky reflects on the euphoria that he felt upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. “For me, the shortages of food in the shops were fully compensated by this exhilarating new sense of possibility. History was being made in Moscow, and we were in the middle of it. Looking back at that period, I realize now that this sense of excitement was experienced by a narrow circle of people. For the majority of the population, the collapse of the Soviet Union was associated with uncertainty and a sharp decline in living standards.”

American impressions of this period have also been colored, to a disproportionate extent, by how educated, English-speaking, Western-facing liberals like Ostrovsky reacted at the time, rather than by the experience of the majority of Russians. Putin’s famous 2005 remark that the collapse of the USSR was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century is often trotted out by American hawks as evidence of irredentist impulses and a blinkered view of his own country’s tragic history. But it’s not out of step with the views of many of the people he governs, however autocratically.

To understand Russia’s current posture, it’s important to understand how the events of the past 25 years have looked from the country’s perspective. The rapid transition to free-market capitalism advocated by Western economists, the “color revolutions” championed by Western governments, the expansion of NATO into formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe, NATO intervention in the Balkans, the lectures on human rights and democracy from foreign-backed nongovernmental organizations in Moscow: All are viewed as attempts to undercut Russian power and stymie its interests.

This in no way justifies Russia’s policies under Vladimir Putin, domestic or foreign. Russia’s neighbors should get to decide for themselves whether they want closer economic or military ties with Europe and the United States. Support for civil society groups is not the same thing as regime change. NGOs, activists, media outlets, and opposition parties in Russia should have the right to operate freely, and the U.S. should have no qualms about saying so. But understanding that Russia has viewed itself as operating from a defensive crouch for 25 years is necessary for talking about how it will operate now that it’s recovered some of its Soviet-era swagger.

Russia is no longer just defending its interests—it’s expanding them.
Russia is neither a dysfunctional basket case nor is it an all-powerful shaper of global events. At least until recently, it’s been a country with a keen sense that its interests were imperiled by the West and a cagey knack for exploiting opportunities to reclaim former prerogatives. In just the past few years, it has managed to enter two wars, in Ukraine and Syria, that its rivals saw as unwinnable quagmires and, with relatively little money or manpower, to reassert its power in old spheres of influence.

What has changed in the past year is that Russia is no longer just defending its interests—it’s expanding them. Examples of Russia’s growing clout are not confined to its traditional “near abroad” in the former Soviet countries or even its former client states. Take the recent OPEC meeting, where Putin played intermediary between Iran and Saudi Arabia to forge an agreement to cut production. Take Japan, which has spent years disputing Russian claims to the Kuril Islands—a bit of leftover business from the end of World War II—but agreed this year to most of Russia’s demands, setting up a “special system” for joint economic activity on the islands. Even Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, not exactly a traditional friend of Moscow, has been warming to Putin lately.

Russia’s Putin tickles Israel’s Netanyaho’s funny bone (Unaware he had one before..adamfoxie*)and other things. Just like the  guy with a sugar daddy who is going to make him jealous by flirting with the neighborhood gangster just because he wont buy him another mansion in a different color scheme
Russia’s military forces have been modernizing rapidly, and in the increasingly contested Arctic, its presence is approaching parity with its Western rivals. Politically, Russia has won a beachhead in the European Union through its support for a number of far-right parties, including Austria’s Freedom Party, whose leader signed a cooperation agreement at the Kremlin last week. A report from the Bulgaria-based Center for the Study of Democracy in October argued that in several Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Serbia, and Slovakia, “Russian influence has become so pervasive and endemic that it has challenged national stability as well as a country’s Western orientation and Euro-Atlantic stability.” And, of course, Putin achieved something the Soviet Union could only have dreamed of: influencing, if not outright altering, the results of a U.S. presidential election in its own favor.

These gains notwithstanding, it remains a mistake to overstate Russia’s power. There are limits to what it can accomplish. Despite having annexed Crimea and made the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine essentially ungovernable for the foreseeable future, Putin’s original goal of bringing Ukraine as a whole back under Russia’s thumb looks hopeless, with Kiev’s elites more anti-Russian than ever. His longtime plan for a Eurasian Economic Union has been severely weakened by Ukraine’s absence. A Collective Security Treaty Organization meant to rival NATO appears to be unraveling. And as last month’s assassination of its ambassador to Turkey showed, the bombardment of Syria hasn’t exactly made Russia safe from terrorism. Russia may control Crimea, but no other country recognizes that control. The Russian-backed breakaway regions of Georgia— Abkhazia and South Ossetia—are recognized only by the unlikely coalition of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru. Russian reserves of soft power are clearly still lacking.

But as we’ve seen again and again in recent months, the U.S. can’t exactly impose its will whenever and wherever it likes either. Russia’s not omnipotent—no country ever is—but in its foreign policy it is acting like a global power broker, and doing so effectively. It has an ideological underpinning, in the revived doctrine of Eurasianism, which asserts that Russia’s status as an imperial power is a natural outgrowth of its geographical position between Europe and Asia. It has a tactical modus operandi in the techniques of “hybrid warfare,” which include covert military action, media manipulation, political pressure, and diplomatic clout. It is even playing an increasingly influential role at the U.N., on everything from narcotics policy to climate change. If Russia is not a superpower today, no country is.

The Obama administration and its allies in Europe are clearly aware of Russia’s growing influence, but they still seem to expect the bottom to fall out from under Putin. And not unreasonably: Obama’s dismissive assessments of Russia’s domestic situation aren’t exactly wrong. The country’s economy is built on a flimsy foundation and is overly dependent on energy exports. It’s mired in its longest recession in two decades, the country’s poverty rate is at an all-time high, and consumers seem to be cutting back on food and medicine. It was reeling from low global oil prices even before the U.S. and European Union applied sanctions over the events in Ukraine. In a grim indication of the level of desperation, nearly 50 people were killed in one Siberian town last month after drinking bath oil, hoping for a cheap buzz. As I myself have written, Russia shouldn’t have been able to carry on in the face of international isolation so long.

“Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the sanctions that we’ve already imposed have made a weak Russian economy even weaker,” Obama said in June 2014. “Foreign investors already are increasingly staying away. ... Projections for Russian economic growth are down to near zero.” That December, when the ruble saw its largest decline since 1998, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote, “talk of a new cold war, comparisons between Putin’s Russia and the USSR, look a bit silly now, don’t they?”

Two years later, his column looks a bit silly. It would be fair to say that sanctions were “working” if the criteria for success were taking a bite out of the Russian economy and immiserating Russians. But the goal is to alter Putin’s behavior, to “change his calculus” as Obama put it, and by that criteria, they have failed. The outgoing administration responded last week to Russia’s alleged election hacking in much the way it has to provocations heretofore: more sanctions, this time accompanied by the expulsion of 35 diplomats. The actions seem unlikely to change Russian behavior any more so than previous, comparable measures.

What Obama has failed to appreciate is that Russia values its geopolitical position more than its economic security. And that’s not merely the position of its leader. Putin’s approval rating remains at more than 80 percent, according to the independent Levada Center. A Pew Survey last year showed that Russians are well aware that the Russian government’s actions in Ukraine have dampened international views of their country and have hurt the economy, but 83 percent of them supported those actions.

If Russia is not a superpower, no country is.
Most Americans would not be willing to accept economic conditions akin to Russia’s in exchange for, say, a more effective Middle East policy. Obama was elected in part on the promise of reducing his country’s global footprint in order to focus on domestic priorities, so it’s perhaps not surprising that his administration has had a hard time grappling with the fact that Russians want a greater global footprint even if it comes at the expense of domestic prosperity.

What accounts for the difference? Some political scientists have observed that Russians exhibit a stronger “rally-around-the-flag” effect during times of war and crisis than citizens of other countries. Ostrovsky argues that Russia is an “idea-centric country,” where abstract concepts like Russia’s historical destiny and cultural identity play a particularly important role in politics, even at the expense of bread-and-butter policy. Putin’s embrace of religious conservatism since his return to the presidency and rhetoric that couches his foreign policy in a historical tradition that reaches back farther than the Soviet Union to the earliest days of Russian empire have given the people a compelling narrative to believe in their country again. Whatever the reasons, Putin has encouraged Russians to back an expansionist and aggressive foreign policy, despite the costs. He promised to make Russia great again, and—by a certain set of criteria—he is delivering.

What happens next is not clear. In the near term, Russia’s run of foreign-policy success seems likely to continue. After the fall of Aleppo, the election of an American president who sees the Syrian conflict the same way he does, and improving relations with Turkey, Russia will continue to have inordinate influence on the conflict in Syria. If we assume that Trump will indeed pursue a more pro-Russian foreign policy, this may encourage former Soviet countries, in Central Asia, for instance, to move closer to Russia’s orbit, given that the United States is less likely to induce them to do otherwise.

While other countries are unlikely to formally recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, no one’s going to seriously challenge it, and the peninsula will increasingly be treated as de facto Russian territory. The anti-Russian coalition that developed in the European Union in response to the Ukraine crisis also looks set to fracture: Next year’s French election is likely to bring to power either the pro-Russian François Fillon or the even more pro-Russian Marine Le Pen. The low-cost, high-result meddling in the U.S. election is a model that has been and can be replicated in important races around the world.

But there are new dangers for Putin as well. The forward momentum of his nationalist project requires more “small victorious wars.” The NATO-member Baltics are probably too high stakes, despite Trump’s worrying rhetoric about defense commitments. Perhaps Belarus’ improving relations with the West could provide pretext for an intervention, or he could provide “protection” for the Russian-speaking population in Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region, but conflicts with the symbolic importance of Crimea or the geopolitical stakes of Syria don’t come along every day. At a certain point, Putin will start to face real pressure about conditions at home—or he’ll bite off more than he can chew abroad, in a play for one more rally around the flag.

Trump’s election may also be a mixed blessing. It’s not a foregone conclusion that the current romance between the two leaders will continue indefinitely. The president-elect’s oddly enthusiastic endorsement of an arms race last month showed just one area where the two powers could still butt heads. But if we assume that in the near term at least, we will have a dramatically more pro-Russian president of the Untied States, and of maybe several Western European countries as well, this could deprive Putin of a key element of his narrative: that he is merely fighting back against Western encroachment. Russians were willing to forgo groceries to support Putin’s wars when they believed the country was fighting for survival. That might be a tougher sell if the White House is giving the Kremlin carte blanche.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen Putin’s government operate with remarkable success from a defensive posture, fighting to protect what it sees as its interests and to maintain its relevance on the world stage. But we’ve only begun to see him act from a position of unquestioned power and influence. This is a dangerous and unfamiliar position for the United States, but also for Putin. After all, the rat didn’t catch young Vladimir. It got a door slammed in its face.

December 7, 2016

Putin Wants to Ban FIFA from Russia, “Too Gay"

Add caption

FIFA 17 could be banned in Russia after MPs suggested it was responsible for promoting “gay propaganda”.
The game’s manufacturer, EA Sports, recently introduced a feature allowing gamers to choose a rainbow-coloured kit for their virtual players in support of LGBT rights group Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign to combat homophobia in sport. 
But Russian MPs have written to the country’s communications watchdog to suggest this is a breach of a 2013 law that banned “gay propaganda”.
In the letter, MPs from the President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party and the Communist Party wrote: “"The FIFA multiplatform video game, developed by EA Canada, invites users to support the action of the English Premier League’s "Rainbow shoelaces" action - a large-scale campaign in support of the LGBT community.
“Meanwhile, according to the law the ‘protection of children from information harmful to their health and development’…includes information that promotes non-traditional sexual relations.”
Valery Rashkin, a Communist Party MP, told Izvestia newspaper: "It is necessary to verify the computer game FIFA 17 for compliance with the stated age group and [ensure] the game [is] in accordance with Russian legislation".
EA Sports may have to make changes to the game or face "the relevant restrictive measures", Mr Rashkin added.
Russia introduced the controversial “gay propaganda” law in 2013 in the face of widespread international opposition.

 Amnesty International told The Independent the criticism of FIFA 17 was the latest example of Russian “intolerance” of gay people.
Denis Krivosheev, the charity’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director said: “Given the extremely hostile environment for LGBTI people in Russia, this isn’t entirely surprising but it’s a worrying sign that Russia’s official culture is growing ever more intolerant of all sexual and political non-conformity.

“With the Russian World Cup only 18 months away, it really is time for the authorities to roll back their homophobic legislation and discriminatory practices, and to set about hosting the world’s premier football tournament in a spirit of tolerance and hospitality toward all.”
Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, which involved footballers being given rainbow-coloured laces to wear during matches, aims to end homophobia in football. There are no openly gay male professional footballers in the UK, despite studies suggesting one in ten British men are gay.
Russia has been widely criticised in recent years for its record on LGBT rights. Same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country and Russian MPs earlier this year debated a new law that would ban “public displays” of gay relationships. A 2013 survey found 74 per cent of Russian people do not believe society should “accept homosexuality”.

September 21, 2016

Proof Positive Russian Airstrikes Hit the Aid Convoy

This image provided by the Syrian anti-government group Aleppo 24 news, shows damaged trucks carrying aid, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. A U.N. humanitarian aid convoy in Syria was hit by airstrikes Monday as the Syrian military declared that a U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire had failed. The US says it is holding Russia responsible for the attack, saying two Russian SU-24 figther jets (inset) were in the area during the attack. AP

 American military officials told CNN on Tuesday that radar, signals intelligence, and aerial surveillance all suggest that Russian aircraft were responsible for airstrikes on an aid convoy near Aleppo, Syria that killed at least 20 people.
"All the evidence we have points to that conclusion," one official told CNN.
The Red Crescent aid convoy was heading to a village just outside Aleppo Monday night when 18 of its 31 trucks, which were carrying UN supplies, were struck in at least two waves of strikes. As a result, the UN has halted all aid delivery in the country.
The attack occurred shortly after a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian regime and rebels seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, which was intended to allow the passage of humanitarian aid, broke down amid renewed fighting.
The Russian military had already denied that Russia or Syria had anything to do with the attacks. Russia's defense ministry released drone footage that they argue proves other factors were at play.
"We carefully studied the video recordings of the so-called activists from the scene and found no signs that any munitions hit the convoy," said Russian military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov, according to Kremlin-owned news agency TASS. "Everything shown on the video is the direct consequence that the cargo caught fire and this began in a strange way simultaneously with carrying out a massive offensive of militants in Aleppo."
While the official explanation was that the convoy had not been hit with munitions, Konashenkov did imply that an offensive from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda linked militant group, had something to do with the deadly strikes.
Later in the day, TASS issued a new report, again quoting Konashenkov, suggesting that the convoy had been accompanied by a "terrorists' truck with a mortar."
"It is not clear who is covering home [sic]: either the mortar is covering the convoy with the White Helmets volunteers or vise versa," the spokesperson said, seemingly implying that the humanitarian aid workers had been working in conjunction with the al-Nusra fighters.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which employs a network of activists in the country to monitor attacks on civilians, reports that it was a series of airstrikes that took out the convoy in Aleppo.
If Russia is proven responsible for the attack, it would be a black eye for the Putin regime, which spent the better part of Monday condemning an accidental airstrike carried out by the US on a Syrian military position, also near Aleppo. 
It's not the first time Russia and America have argued about who was behind an airstrike in Syria. In August, neither country could agree on who was responsible for taking out the Islamic State's second-in-command.
Despite the seeming disintegration of the cease fire, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the agreement is “not dead" and is planning on meeting his counterparts, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, again on Friday.
Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @Justin_Ling

July 28, 2016

Response (from x-CIA Panetta) at Convention to Trump’s Asking Russia to Hack US

Story image for trumps calls on russia to hack emails from NPR

 Former CIA Director Leon Panetta blasted Donald Trump Wednesday night from the stage of the Democratic National Convention, calling his recent comment that Russia should "find" Hillary Clinton's emails "irresponsible" and "inconceivable."

Panetta's comments were largely disrupted by the crowd chanting "No more war," but he continued his remarks.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump urged Russian agents to "find" Clinton's emails and release them, an unprecedented move by a candidate for president encouraging such a foreign breach.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," the GOP presidential nominee said at a news conference in Miami on Wednesday. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

Trump was referring to the ongoing controversy surrounding the private server Clinton used while secretary of state.

C-SPAN via YouTube
"Today, Donald Trump once again took Russia's side," Panetta said. "He asked the Russians to interfere in American politics. Think about that for a moment. Donald Trump, who wants to be president of the United States, is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States to affect our election."

The crowd at the DNC bood loudly, then cheered this remark from Panetta:

"As someone who was responsible for protecting our nation from cyberattacks, it's inconceivable to me that any presidential candidate would be this irresponsible. Donald Trump cannot become our commander in chief."

Trump responded to Panetta in a statement saying "it is alarming that Leon Panetta would, through his silence, excuse Hillary Clinton's enablement of foreign espionage with her illegal email scheme and her corrupt decision to then destroy those emails and dissemble her 'private' server to hide her crimes from the public and authorities."

Separately, the DNC in Philadelphia this week was upended by a release of hacked emails from the party committee believed to have been orchestrated by Russia. While the motive for intrusion and release of emails isn't known, many Democrats have speculated that it's a possible attempt to influence the outcome of this year's presidential election. A second round of releases came in the form of audio voicemails posted by WikiLeaks Wednesday evening.

Pressed by NBC's Katy Tur as to whether he had any "pause about asking a foreign government ... to interfere, to hack into the system of anybody in this country," Trump dismissed that idea and told Tur to "be quiet."

Clinton's campaign responded in disbelief to and with outrage at Trump's comments.

"This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent. That's not hyperbole, those are just the facts," Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. "This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue."

The Trump campaign appeared to try to clean up Trump's comments with a statement from his running mate, Mike Pence.

"The FBI will get to the bottom of who is behind the hacking" of the DNC emails, said Pence. If it was Russia, "I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences."

The Indiana governor called it "outrageous" that Democrats were "singularly focusing on who might be behind" the breach and not the fallout from the leaked emails, which resulted in the ouster of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz after some revealed the DNC was rooting for Clinton as its nominee and worked to handicap Bernie Sanders.

"I'm not going to tell Putin what to do"

But then Trump, taking to his usual medium of Twitter, doubled down on his earlier comments just minutes later. 

Later Wednesday, Trump senior communications adviser Jason Miller maintained that the presidential candidate was simply saying anyone with Clinton's emails should turn them over to federal authorities.

Throughout the campaign, Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose rule has become increasingly authoritarian. In the news conference at his own golf course, the GOP presidential nominee again said he hoped he could work with Putin and threw cold water on the idea that the Russians were behind the DNC hack.

"I'm not going to tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?" Trump retorted. "He already did something today where he said don't blame them, essentially, for your incompetence."

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta called Trump's comments "totally outrageous" and questioned his loyalty to the United States.

"You've got now a presidential candidate who is in fact asking the Russians to engage in American politics," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

"I just think that that's beyond the pale," Panetta, who is backing Clinton, said. "I think that kind of statement only reflects the fact that he truly is not qualified to be president of the United States."

"Zero" ties to Russia

Trump repeatedly batted away questions about whether he might have ties to Russia, saying "Zero! I will tell you right now, zero. I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?"

In fact, Trump has courted Russian investors to fund some of his projects and long sought to extend his brand to Russia and other former Soviet states, according to reporting last month from the Washington Post.

On Putin — who has called Trump "bright" and whom Trump has praised as a strong leader — Trump said they've never spoken. Trump said he wants to have "friendly" relations with Russia if he's elected but denied any connection to the Russian government or investors.

"I don't know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I'm a genius. I said thank you very much to the newspaper and that was the end of it. I never met Putin," Trump said.

Hack Trump's taxes?

Former Obama adviser David Axelrod also weighed in on Trump's comments, suggesting on Twitter that Russian hackers should go searching for Trump's tax returns — which he has yet to release, breaking a long tradition among leading presidential candidates.

Trump reiterated that he has no plans to release his tax returns until an audit is completed — which may not be finished until after the November elections.

"It depends on the audit — not a big deal," Trump said. He noted that he has already put out some financial documents, though not the tax forms that are typically released by major presidential candidates, often during the primary season. Trump suggested that is unnecessary: "I built an unbelievable company, tremendous cash, tremendous company with some of the great assets of the world," he said.

As NPR has reported before, there is no legal obstacle to releasing tax returns while an audit is ongoing.

Posted by NPR  from the Democratic Convention days 3

A Dangerous Mouth

If  history holds, Donald Trump will claim that the press is making too much of his comments that he hoped Russia had hacked Hillary Clinton's emails.  But that's what he said. Any way you slice it, his remarks are both bizarre and dangerous.

"Russia, if you're listening," he said at a news conference in Florida on Wednesday, "I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing." It was a reference to emails reportedly deleted from Hillary Clinton's server.

Debating what Clinton should or shouldn't have done with her emails is fair political game. Wishing that a foreign power compromise the United States, even if in jest,  jeopardizes national security.   

Even Trump's vice presidential running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, seemed shocked by Trump's comments and moved quickly to distance himself from them: "If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you that both [political] parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences."

Trump's not a reality show performer anymore. He's one election away from the White House, and as such, anything that comes out of his mouth has consequences. 

Words have meaning. The world is listening. And what the world is hearing is a man demonstrating that he is unfit to sit in the Oval Office.

Russia is thought to be responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee's servers, leading  to WikiLeaks' public release of nearly 20,000 DNC emails on the eve of the Democratic Party's nominating convention in Philadelphia. That email dump embarrassed the DNC and led to the resignation this week of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Regardless of how Trump says he meant it, a presidential candidate seeming to bless a foreign power and adversary to spy on the United States and a political rival is plainly outrageous. Ronald Reagan rightly took heat for his "we begin bombing in five minutes" joke caught on an open mike as he was preparing to make his weekly Saturday radio address. It was clearly a joke not intended for public consumption. Presidents and would-be presidents must show restraint.

There is an unwritten rule that presidential candidates don't cheer against the United States even if it could damage their political opponent. Coming off a week in which Trump suggested that he would leave NATO countries to go it alone in the event of an attack, his inflammatory remarks Wednesday have him doubling down on pro-Russian and pro-Putin comments.

Foreign governments shouldn't be encouraged to mess around with our domestic politics and national security. Through a spokesman, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan quickly challenged Trump's assertions: "Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election." 

Unfazed, Trump later doubled down with a series of tweets echoing his comments in Florida.     

It is frightening that Trump can't control himself and treats public appearances as an open mike session at a comedy night.  The presidency is a post for an adult, not a guy who can’t control his mouth.

July 9, 2016

Russian Policeman Attacks US Diplomat on his way to Embassy



The State Department condemned Russian security services Friday for an attack on an American diplomat, the latest incident in what U.S. officials said is increasing intimidation of its personnel.
The U.S. diplomat "was attacked by a Russian policeman" while attempting to enter the American embassy last month in Moscow, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters, speaking just days after a video of the altercation was broadcast on Russian TV.
“The action was unprovoked and endangered the safety of our employee," he added. Kirby said that Russian officials' claims that the policeman was attempting to protect the embassy were "simply untrue." 
He called this a "very graphic and violent example" of two years of "increased harassment" of U.S. diplomats in Russia. 
He noted that Washington had initially sought to handle the affair via direct government-to-government channels but said that Russian officials' public allegations compelled the U.S. to make the rebuke public. 
He described Russian behavior as "unprovoked and unnecessary." 
"There's no need for this when there's so many more important things for us to be working on with Russia," he added. 
Washington had delivered high-level complaints to Moscow about accusations of increasing intimidation of American diplomats in Russia, the State Department said in June.
Secretary of State John Kerry last discussed the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 24, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters last month.
"We see an increase and we take it seriously," she said.
Other Western embassies had reported the same behavior toward their diplomats stationed in Moscow, Trudeau added.
Moscow, however, has charged that Washington has also engaged in problematic behavior.
In June, the Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow has "felt a significant increase in pressure on the Russian Embassy and consulates general of our country in the United States."
According to Zakharova, staff members of Russia's consulate missions abroad "regularly become the objects of provocations by the American secret services, face obstacles in making official contacts and other restrictions," including travel. 
Kirby dismissed the Russian complaints about their U.S.-based diplomats receiving similar treatment, calling the claims “without foundation.”

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