Category Archives: Russia

(MoscowTimes) Putin Is Ready to Give Up Venezuela for the Right Price

(MoscowTimes) Sergei Lavrov and Mike Pompeo will soon meet in Helsinki to discuss Venezuela’s future.

Bruno KellyReuters

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are heading towards a contentious meeting in Finland (their first since the Helsinki summit last year) with the crisis in Venezuela crowding out almost all other items on the agenda.

Last week, Russia and Cuba may have thwarted a U.S. backed plot to engineer a peaceful transfer of power from Nicolas Maduro to a transitional government led by interim president Juan Guaido and Venezuela’s top officials, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno.

Secretary Pompeo accused Moscow of dissuading Maduro from leaving the country (allegedly he was assured of safe passage to Guatemala) when his plane was already on the tarmac. Moscow furiously denied the charges when Pompeo phoned Lavrov on May 1 to protest.

On May 3, U.S. President Donald Trump called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to flag American concerns over Russia’s “disruptive role” in Venezuela and stress his country’s determination to ensure Venezuela’s return to democratic rule.

But, as common in his personal interactions with Putin, Trump quickly lost the initiative, allowing the discussion on Venezuela to drift towards the softer subject of humanitarian aid.

Putin expressed Russia’s displeasure with U.S interference in Venezuela while convincing Trump that he “was not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela”.

Despite Trump’s going “full Helsinki” on his phone chat with Putin, the U.S.-Russia geopolitical stand-off in Venezuela now threatens to derail the few remaining cooperative lanes in the relationship. White House national security advisor John Bolton made it clear on May 1: “This is our hemisphere — it’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering”.

Three weeks ago, the same point, in even more forceful terms, was privately made by Fiona Hill, NSC Senior Director for Europe, Russia and Eurasia during her visit to Moscow.

The Kremlin was struck by Hill’s prioritization of Venezuela as the most important issue in the relationship due to its direct impact on U.S. politics and the 2020 presidential race in Florida. Moscow concluded then it found an issue it could use to force the U.S. to grant concession elsewhere, most notably in Ukraine.

Russia believes that the risk of a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela is low (despite secret meetings at the Pentagon), since Trump does not want to get stuck in another unpopular war. But politically Trump is so heavily invested in a “win” in Venezuela that he has all but drawn himself an untenable red line with prospects of a major loss of face, while his strategy there is just “winging it”. Moscow may be undervaluing Trump’s ability to turn on a dime, but still thinks it finally has leverage.

Russia’s support for Maduro is driven by financial and energy interests, as well as by the Kremlin’s vision of a multi-polar world order, where Russia should block U.S. attempts at regime change in sovereign states friendly to Moscow. But the Russian leadership practices a transactional approach to international affairs in line with Russia’s hierarchy, where core Russian interests trump goals of less importance.

Bolton’s invocation of the Monroe Doctrine and his “spheres of influence framing” makes Moscow believe that, if done on an equal basis, a similar right should be recognized for Russia in Ukraine and other parts of the “near abroad”.

For Moscow, a deal of equals on Venezuela where Russia helps the U.S. diffuse the crisis by engineering a constitutional transition, should involve an equally significant concession by the U.S. (on a par with JFK-Khrushchev deal to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba and Turkey) to pressure Kiev into fully implementing the Minsk-2 agreements that would truncate Ukraine’s sovereignty and allow Moscow to retain some degree of control over Kiev’s security policies.

Putin specifically mentioned that during his call with Trump. Withdrawing Russian military support for Maduro should also be matched by the withdrawal of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.

So far Moscow has been frustrated by American refusal to engage in such bargaining of equals through the U.S. initiated bilateral high-level channel of communication on Venezuela (which Moscow assumed it was intended for). The first meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov and U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams in mid-March ended in the U.S. presenting no bargains and simply repeating its demands Russia ends its support for Maduro.

Sending two Russian military planes to Caracas days after the meeting in Rome was Moscow signaling its position if America wasn’t ready to take them seriously going forward.

Trust between Moscow and Washington is currently non-existent. No side could be sure that even if a deal was reached, the other side would implement its end of the bargain. The meeting between Lavrov and Pompeo may prove to be as bitter as the one held by Hill if neither side signals their willingness to negotiate. Or it might be the wrong format altogether, actual deals might require a secret channel or a one-on-one presidential sit-down.

Moscow, however, knows that the events of last week do not augur well for Maduro’s long-term rule. The Venezuelan military is sitting on the fence and its leaders are mulling their options.

The deal offered to them by the opposition (not just amnesty, but a retention of their power in the transitional government) is more serious than anything discussed before. Moscow does not have control over Venezuela’s military the way it had in Syria, where pro-Assad officers knew they and their families would be slaughtered if they lost the war. Nor are there foreign expeditionary forces of non-Russian provenance supplied and funded by an allied power (Iran) to do the heaviest fighting.

Moscow is ready to sell its stake in Maduro, but it is still unclear whether Washington is ready to offer the right price.

(GUA) Deutsche Bank faces action over $20bn Russian money-laundering scheme

(GUA)

Exclusive: in confidential internal report seen by the Guardian, bank says scandal has hurt global brand

Water spills out of a small dragon sculpture on a fountain with the headquarters of the Deutsche Bank in background in Frankfurt, Germany.
 Deutsche Bank says it has ‘reduced its footprint’ across the post-Soviet region. Photograph: Michael Probst/AP

Germany’s troubled Deutsche Bank faces fines, legal action and the possible prosecution of “senior management” because of its role in a $20bn Russian money-laundering scheme, a confidential internal report seen by the Guardian says.

The bank admits there is a high risk that regulators in the US and UK will take “significant disciplinary action” against it. Deutsche concedes that the scandal has hurt its “global brand” – and is likely to cause “client attrition”, loss of investor confidence and a decline in its market value.

Deutsche Bank was embroiled in a vast money-laundering operation, dubbed the Global Laundromat. Russian criminals with links to the Kremlin, the old KGB and its main successor, the FSB, used the scheme between 2010 and 2014 to move money into the western financial system. The cash involved could total $80bn, detectives believe.

Shell companies typically based in the UK “loaned” money to each other. Companies then defaulted on this large fictitious debt. Corrupt judges in Moldova authenticated the debt – with billions transferred to Moldova and the Baltics via a bank in Latvia.

Deutsche Bank was used to launder the money via its corresponding banking network – effectively allowing illegal Russian payments to be funnelled to the US, the European Union and Asia.

The bank was entirely unaware of the scam until the Guardian and Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) broke the story in March 2017, the report says. The first it knew was an email from the Guardian and Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaperasking for comment.

“Only with this intelligence received is it now possible for Deutsche Bank to start global investigations,” it notes.

In the embarrassing aftermath, the bank asked two in-house financial crime investigators – Philippe Vollot and Hinrich Völcker – to find out what had gone wrong. Their nine-page presentation was shared last year with the audit committee of the bank’s supervisory board and is marked “strictly confidential”.

The pair identified numerous “high-risk entities”. They included 1,244 in the US, 329 in the UK and 950 in Germany. These entities were responsible for nearly 700,000 transactions, the report says, involving at least £62m in the UK, $47m in the US, and €55m in Germany.

As part of its investigation, Deutsche Bank sent 149 “suspicious activity reports” to the National Crime Agency in London. Similar disclosures of potential money-laundering transactions were made to authorities in the US and elsewhere – with 30 private and corporate Deutsche Bank clients reported. Some may have been “unknowingly used”, the report says.

The affair is a further blow to Deutsche Banks’s ailing reputation. It comes amid police raids on its Frankfurt HQ over the Panama Papers, a plunging share price and talks over a possible merger with Germany’s Commerzbank. The raid last November came after German prosecutors alleged two bank employees helped clients launder money via offshore firms.

Deutsche is also under scrutiny in Washington over its financial dealings with Donald Trump. On 15 April, Democrats from the House intelligence and financial services committees issued a subpoena, demanding the bank provide documents about its lending to the president.

Over two decades, Trump borrowed more than $2bn from Deutsche. In 2008, he defaulted on a $45m loan repayment and sued the bank. Its private wealth division in New York subsequently loaned Trump a further $300m – a move that bemused insiders and which has yet to be fully explained.

In recent years, the bank has had a series of bruising encounters with international regulators. Between 2011 and 2018, it paid $14.5bn in fines, with exposure to dubious Russian money a regular theme.

In 2017, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority imposed its largest fine – £163m – after Deutsche carried out a $10bn “mirror trade” scheme run out of its branch in Moscow. The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) fined the bank $425m over the same case, in which roubles were converted into dollars via fake trades on behalf of VIP Russian clients.

Deutsche carried out an internal investigation into the “mirror trades” affair, “Project Square”. The leaked Global Laundromat report says there is “no systematic link” between the two Russian money-laundering schemes. However, it suggests some overlap. Two unnamed entities feature in both and 46 “mirror trade” entities “directly transacted” with 233 laundromat ones.

The leaked report says Deutsche has cleaned up its act. It says it has stopped doing business with the two banks at the centre of the Laundromat scandal – Moldova’s Moldindconbank and Latvia’s Trasta Komercbanka. Regulators in Latvia closed down Trasta in 2016 because of serial money-laundering violations.

Deutsche Bank says it has “reduced its footprint” across the post-Soviet region. It no longer has relationships with any banks in Moldova, Latvia, Estonia and Cyprus, the report says. All are favourite destinations for illicit Moscow money. The bank has scaled down its business activities in Russia and Ukraine, it says.

The bank is under investigation for its role in Europe’s biggest banking scandal, involving Denmark’s Danske Bank. Danske laundered €200bn (£178bn) of Russian money via its branch in Estonia. Deutsche provided correspondent banking services via its US subsidiary.

Deutsche Bank said it could not comment on “potential or ongoing investigations”, or on “any matters regarding our regulators”. It said it was committed to providing “appropriate information to all authorised investigations”.

The bank said: “We have considerably increased staff numbers in anti-financial crime and more than tripled our staff since 2015. Since 2016 we have invested €700m in upgrading our key control functions there.”



(News.com) Venezuela crisis: Russian troops in Caracas threaten US intervention plans

(News.com) Vladimir Putin has flown Russian troops into crisis-torn Venezuela, as the United States dithers over the need for intervention.Jamie Seidel, APNews Corp Australia NetworkMARCH 25, 20193:02PM

Venezuela crisis: Vladimir Putin has flown Russian troops into the country

Two Russian aircraft have landed in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, offloading cargoes of troops and military equipment.

It’s President Putin’s latest play on the world stage, after blindsiding the US with its intervention in Syria and Ukraine.

Venezuela is in crisis.

Its currency is virtually worthless as hyperinflation spins out of control. Basic foodstuffs and medicine are simply not available. Law and order is breaking down, with its fishing fleets turning to piracy in the Caribbean. A mass exodus of its population is underway to neighbouring countries.

Russian troops are seen disembarking from a transport plane outside Caracas, Venezuela. Picture via Federico Black B

Russian troops are seen disembarking from a transport plane outside Caracas, Venezuela. Picture via Federico Black BSource:Supplied

The US State Department has openly backed opposition leader Juan Guaido. But President Nicolas Maduro maintains control over the military.

In January, Guaido declared himself interim president, saying Maduro’s re-election last year was rigged. Maduro alleges that Guaido is a collaborator in a US-directed plot to overthrow him.

The arrival of Russian troops — accompanied by Chief of Staff of Russian Ground Forces Vasily Tonkoshkurov — is set to strengthen Maduro’s position significantly. It poses a major diplomatic and military upset for any US plans to intervene on Guaido’s behalf.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President of Syria Bashar al-Assad, right, inspect arriving troops at the Russian air base in Hmeimim in the northwestern Syrian province of Latakia. A similar intervention may soon happen in Venezuela. Picture: AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President of Syria Bashar al-Assad, right, inspect arriving troops at the Russian air base in Hmeimim in the northwestern Syrian province of Latakia. A similar intervention may soon happen in Venezuela. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

MOSCOW’S MOVE

The Russian aircraft arrived in Caracas this weekend as part of “ongoing military co-operation” between the two allies, a Venezuelan official said overnight.

Russian military officials and troops are visiting to discuss equipment maintenance and training, and strategy, the official told local media on condition of anonymity.

Moscow has previously stated its intention to prevent “provocations” in Venezuela.

“We are very much concerned that the US could carry out any provocations to shed blood, to find a cause and reasons for an intervention in Venezuela,” Close Putin ally and leader of the Russian upper house of parliament Valentina Matvienko told Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez during a recent visit to Moscow. “But we will do all in order not to allow this,”

Now, the presence of a Russian ‘force on the ground’ threatens to confound any international efforts to restore order to the collapsing country.undefined

And it’s not the first time Moscow has signalled its support for President Maduro, who has rejected demands from the United States and dozens of other countries that he resign.

In December, two nuclear-capable Tu-160 strategic bombers were sent to Venezuela as a highly visible demonstration of Russia’s ability to intervene.

United States officials and members of government expressed concern at discussions between Moscow and Caracas about the potential establishment of a Russian military air base on a Venezuelan island.

It’s a scenario that evokes memories of the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s.

Now, President Putin has taken another bold step.

Russian soldiers in Simferopol, Crimea. The presence of Russian troops on the ground in Venezuela threatens to foil US plans to intervene. Picture: AP

Russian soldiers in Simferopol, Crimea. The presence of Russian troops on the ground in Venezuela threatens to foil US plans to intervene. Picture: APSource:AP

TROOPS FLY IN

Russia says it is concerned that the US is considering military intervention in Venezuela, with President Putin criticising US support for Guaido.

The US says it is focusing on economic and diplomatic efforts to oust Maduro, though President Trump has said “all options are on the table.”

Last week, US and Russian officials met in Rome to discuss the crisis, but remained split on how to resolve it.

Now, things have just become a whole lot more complicated.

Analysts noted a Russian air force plane, apparently headed to Caracas while flying across the Caribbean Saturday night. The Ilyushin IL-62 passenger and cargo jet had flown from Moscow via Syria, where Russia supports President Bashar Al-Assad.

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Federico Black B.@FedericoBlackB

Hoy llegaron al aeropuerto Internacional de Maiquetía estos dos aviones de la Fuerza Aerea rusa.

1 Ilyushin Il-62M
1 Antomov 124

Fotos: cortesía1,2119:59 PM – Mar 23, 20194,031 people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacy

News and social media pictures confirm the aircraft are on the ground at Simon Bolivar outside Caracas.

Venezuelan reporter Javier Mayorca tweeted that the first plane carried Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, and up to a hundred troops. The second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.

“In the presidential box of the airport, they were met by the head of the department of international relations (the Venezuelan army), Vice-Admiral Marianni Mata, representatives of the Russian embassy and the Venezuelan armed forces,” said Majorca on Twitter.

Russian government-owned news service Sputnik quoted an unnamed source as saying the flights carried officials to “exchange consultations” with Venezuelan authorities.

“Russia has various contracts that are in the process of being fulfilled, contracts of a technical military character,” Sputnik cited a source as saying.

A government supporter holds a poster with a no symbol over an image of US President Donald Trump defaced with devil horns, and a message that reads in Spanish: "Stay out Venezuela Trump". Picture: AP

A government supporter holds a poster with a no symbol over an image of US President Donald Trump defaced with devil horns, and a message that reads in Spanish: “Stay out Venezuela Trump”. Picture: APSource:AP

GAME OF THRONES

Last week, President Maduro said Russia had promised another immediate shipment of humanitarian aid to the country. Some 300 tons of supplies have already been delivered by Moscow in February.

Washington, however, late last week issued new sanctions against Caracas’s oil industry. National Security Adviser John Bolton declared on Twitter: “To those who are helping send the Venezuelan people’s wealth out of the country to benefit Maduro and his cronies, you are on notice today that the United States is watching”.

John Bolton@AmbJohnBolton

To those who are helping send the Venezuelan people’s wealth out of the country to benefit Maduro and his cronies, you are on notice today that the United States is watching.17K8:24 PM – Mar 23, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy8,540 people are talking about this

While the US has sent aid convoys to the Colombia-Venezuela border, they have been blocked by teargas wielding border police. Bolton also sparked international concern in February when he — apparently carelessly — held a notepad out in plain sight to media with the words “5000 troops to the border” during an address on the crisis.

(ZH) Russia To Withdraw Bombers From Venezuela After White House Pressure

(ZH) The White House announced late in the day Wednesday that Russia will withdraw its long range nuclear capable bombers parked in Venezuela since Monday which flew to Caracas on a 10,000km mission in a show of support for socialist President Nicolás Maduro. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders stated “the planned departure came after the Trump administration spoke with Russian officials,” according to a breaking WSJ report.

The departure is planned for Friday, however, the WSJ also noted a Russian embassy representative in Washington said Moscow has not announced a departure date. Instead the Russian military touted a ten hour flight carried out over the Caribbean Sea on Wednesday while accompanied at times by Venezuelan fighter jets, announcing the provocative lengthy flyover in America’s backyard via official Russian media. Perhaps it was Moscow sending a big middle finger just before departure of the aircraft from Venezuela?

Image released by Russian official TASS news agency late Wednesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s press service announced via TASS:

During the international visit of the Aerospace Defense Forces’ delegation to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, pilots of strategic bombers Tu-160 conducted a flight in the airspace over the Caribbean Sea. The flight lasted for about 10 hours.

“In certain parts of the route, the flight of Russian bombers was conducted together with Su-30 and F-16 fighter jets of the Venezuelan National Bolivarian Military Aviation. The pilots from the two countries practiced air cooperation when fulfilling air tasks,” the defense ministry added.

Perhaps anticipating widespread condemnation from the United States and the West, press release added that “the flight was performed in strict accordance with international rules of using airspace.”

The flight of the pair Tu-160 strategic bombers and support aircraft from Russia to Venezuela drove world headlines early this week after the bombers touched down at Simon Bolivar International Airport in capital Caracas on Monday. Russian state media promoted the flight, which involved training in areas such as aerial refueling. It was the first time Russian bombers touched down in Venezuela since prior visits in 2013 and 2008.

The internationally isolated Maduro regime has found itself increasingly reliant of Russia for aid. Last week the Venezuelan president visited Moscow and signed an estimated $6 billion deal with Putin, involving Russian commitments of major investment in the oil and mining sectors, with military modernization aid a focus of the agreement.

During last week’s trip to Moscow, Maduro had called Russia a “brother country” with which Venezuela had “raised the flag for the creation of a multipolar and multicentric world.”

Russian bombers parked in Venezuela this week, via Russian state media

Meanwhile Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had slammed Russia for sending the pair of bombers “halfway around the world” to Venezuela in comments posted to Twitter late Monday. “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo stated. The tweet set off a war of words and condemnation from Russian counterparts, which called Pompeo’s words “undiplomatic” and “unprofessional”.

No doubt the image of Russian nuke-capable bombers and allied Venezuelan fighter jets circling for ten hours over the Caribbean  smack dab in America’s own backyard — will surely be taken by White House and Pentagon officials as a major provocation.

But the United States can also already claim the victory given reports that Russia has now agreed to withdraw the aircraft and and will send them packing back home.

(LeMonde) Les « gilets jaunes » vus de Moscou : une « révolution de couleur » fomentée par les Etats-Unis

(LeMonde) Selon Dmitri Kisselev, présentateur vedette de la chaîne russe Rossiya 1, il semblerait que, tout comme lors de la « révolution orange » en Ukraine, les Américains sont à la manœuvre en France.

Manifestation des « gilets jaunes », place de l’Etoile, à Paris, le 1er décembre.
Manifestation des « gilets jaunes », place de l’Etoile, à Paris, le 1er décembre. Julien Muguet pour « Le Monde »

Comme partout, la sidération l’emporte en Russie après les violentes émeutes survenues le 1er décembre à Paris lors de la nouvelle manifestation de colère des « gilets jaunes ». Mais Dmitri Kisselev a son interprétation : le jaune est une couleur, les événements mettent en péril le pouvoir, donc, c’est une « révolution de couleur », orchestrée en sous-main, comme toutes les autres avant elles – notamment la « révolution orange » en Ukraine –, par les Etats-Unis.

Lire aussi  « Gilets jaunes » : le point sur les blocages et les concertations en cours

Dimanche 2 décembre au soir, sur la chaîne publique Rossiya 1, le directeur de la chaîne et présentateur vedette de l’émission « Vesti » (nouvelles) – la préférée, dit-on, de Vladimir Poutine – a avancé cet argument imparable à ses yeux pour décrire la situation en France : « Cela ressemble à l’exportation américaine d’une révolution de couleur, et tout cela parce que le président Macron a parlé de la nécessité d’une armée européenne. »

Car sinon, a développé le présentateur devant un fond écran sur lequel s’inscrivaient en grosses lettres les mots « révolte exportée ? », comment expliquer qu’une « microscopique augmentation du prix de l’essence provoque dans la rue des scènes de pillage, la mobilisation d’une armée de policiers, de la fumée, des tirs, du sang, des nuages de gaz lacrymogène, des éclats de verre partout ? » Non, non, « le prétexte est disproportionné », assure Dmitri Kisselev, qui s’est renseigné. Certes, « le prix de l’essence est deux fois plus cher en France qu’en Russie », mais il est encore plus élevé en Grèce ou aux Pays-Bas.

Et puis comment croire cet enchaînement improbable : une coordination de protestation sur les réseaux sociaux avec des vidéos « réalisées soi-disant par de simples Français », et l’apparition de surcroît d’un « nom aussi accrocheur » que celui de « gilets jaunes » ? « Vraiment, enchaîne le présentateur, les Etats-Unis peuvent-ils tolérer une alternative à l’OTAN en Europe ? Pensez ce que vous voulez, mais la première vague des émeutes liées au prix du carburant a balayé la France une semaine seulement après la déclaration de Macron sur la nécessité de créer une armée européenne. » Les images de l’Arc de triomphe et de l’avenue des Champs-Elysées dévastés ont suivi l’exposé.

Connu pour ses outrances

Dmitri Kissilev n’est pas tout à fait un présentateur comme les autres. Connu pour ses outrances, inscrit sur la liste européenne des personnalités russes placées sous sanctions, il est aussi et surtout le patron de Rossia Sevognia, la maison mère de la chaîne de télévision RT et le site Sputnik, les deux médias implantés dans le monde entier pour exporter la voix du Kremlin. Mais dimanche, la leçon s’adressait d’abord aux Russes : révoltez-vous et vous aurez le chaos.

Depuis 2014 et le soulèvement ukrainien sur la place Maïdan, Vladimir Poutine n’a cessé de marteler ce même message : les Etats-Unis sont derrière chaque révolte. « Ils ont commencé à soutenir à toute force les révolutions de couleur, y compris le prétendu printemps arabe et à quoi cela mène-t-il ? Au chaos », répétait encore le chef du Kremlin lors du forum économique de Saint-Pétersbourg en juin 2016.

On notera tout de même aussi cette contradiction parmi les sources influentes en Russie. Dans un tweet envoyé à la veille des rassemblements du 1er décembre en France, Alexandre Douguine, un intellectuel proche des milieux d’extrême droite qui a inspiré le virage eurasien et antioccidental du président russe, écrivait : « Je suis “gilet jaune”. » En français dans le texte.

P.O (BBC) Head of Russian Skripal-linked GRU spy agency dies

P.O.
I don’t believe a word about this supposed long illness.
Not a word.
Did you hear me?:
Not a word.

FCMP

(BBC)

Gen Korobov, Aug 2017Image copyrightAFP
Image captionGen Korobov served in the Russian air force before becoming GRU chief (Aug 2017 pic)

The head of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, General Igor Korobov, has died aged 62, Russia’s defence ministry says.

Gen Korobov, who took up the post in 2016, is said to have died after “a serious and long illness” on Wednesday.

The GRU was this year linked to a nerve agent attack in Britain on Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

Gen Korobov is understood to have faced criticism by Russian officials over the failure of the operation.

The attack on Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on 4 March led to them requiring weeks of hospital treatment.

The poisoning is alleged to have been carried out by suspects Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, both identified by British authorities as GRU operatives, and “almost certainly” approved by the Russian state.

Russia denies the allegations. The UK and its Western allies expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the attack.

Media captionWhat we know about the GRU

Vice-Admiral Igor Kostyukov, who has commanded Russian forces in Syria, will serve as interim GRU chief. He had already taken over while Gen Korobov was ill, military sources told Russian media.

The appointment of a permanent chief is a matter for President Vladimir Putin.

The GRU, or Main Intelligence Directorate, is the intelligence arm of the Russian military, tasked with carrying out undercover international operations.

Gen Korobov had received the Hero of Russia medal – the state’s highest award.

In December 2016 the US added Gen Korobov to its list of senior Russian officials subject to sanctions, accusing him of involvement in computer hacking.

Other Western sanctions target Russians accused of helping the separatist insurgents in Ukraine.

Russia has two other main spy organisations: the Federal Security Service (FSB), mainly involved in internal security, and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), whose role is similar to that of Britain’s MI6.

Presentational grey line

GRU’s year of notoriety

The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow writes:

Igor Korobov’s career in the Soviet, then Russian military, spanned more than 40 years.

He joined military intelligence in the mid-1980s and rose through the GRU ranks to a key position, overseeing strategic intelligence-gathering.

In 2016 he was given the top job: agency chief.

Under Korobov, and his predecessor Igor Sergun, the GRU became the Kremlin’s spy agency of choice for a series of high-profile and highly controversial operations. The GRU has been linked to Russia’s military operation in eastern Ukraine, to Moscow’s meddling in the US election and to a failed coup in Montenegro.

The defence ministry described Korobov as a “wonderful person”. But 2018 has been less than wonderful for the agency he headed. A series of botched operations – most notably the Salisbury poisoning – has thrust the GRU into the limelight and raised questions about its methods and activities.

Korobov reportedly died “after a long, extended illness”. Did he fall ill, as rumours suggest, after a dressing-down from the president? I can’t confirm that.

But what’s clear is that if you take on the role of GRU chief, don’t expect a carriage clock and a happy retirement at the end of it. Korobov’s predecessor, Igor Sergun, also died while in office.

Presentational grey line
GRU HQ, 4 Oct 18Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionModernisation of the GRU headquarters in Moscow was completed in 2006

Gen Korobov was described by Russia’s defence ministry on Wednesday as “a wonderful person, a faithful son of Russia and a patriot of his homeland,” Reuters news agency reported.

The ministry did not provide any further details about his death. The GRU is highly secretive – its total staff is not known, nor is its organisational structure known in detail.

The GRU was involved in undercover operations in Ukraine – including Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 – and allegedly in the computer hacking during the 2016 US presidential election.

The GRU includes Spetsnaz special forces – crack military units – who have fought in the Syrian war, helping President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, and against separatist rebels in Chechnya. In the Soviet period they fought against Western-backed guerrillas in Afghanistan.

In 2015 President Putin admitted that GRU units had been deployed in Crimea shortly before the peninsula was annexed.

Vladimir Putin at GRU, Nov 06Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPresident Putin (3rd R) visited the new GRU HQ in November 2006

Among the GRU’s tasks are: agent-running, sabotage, hi-tech eavesdropping and reconnaissance, the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported.

The Spetsnaz logo is a black bat with wings spread out across the globe.

According to the Russian news website Meduza, GRU officers get three years of specialist training, which includes cybernetics, foreign languages, geopolitics, use of codes and other elements of espionage.

(Haaterz) EU, China, Russia Seek to Bypass U.S. Sanctions on Iran With New Payment Channels

(Haaterz) After a meeting between the countries, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia announced their commitment to assisting Iran’s exports and continuing trade despite U.S. sanctions

President Hassan Rohani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, August 6, 2018.
Iranian Presidency Office/AP

The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal on Monday agreed to keep working to maintain trade with Tehran despite skepticism this is possible as U.S. sanctions to choke off Iranian oil sales resume in November.

U.S. President Donald Trump decided in May to abandon the pact and to restore economic sanctions on Iran, including those that seek to force the OPEC member’s major oil customers to stop buying Iranian crude. 

In a statement after a meeting of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran, the group said they were determined to develop payment mechanisms to continue trade with Iran despite skepticism by many diplomats that this will be possible.

“Mindful of the urgency and the need for tangible results, the participants welcomed practical proposals to maintain and develop payment channels notably the initiative to establish a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate payments related to Iran’s exports, including oil,” the group said in a joint statement issued after the statement.

Several European diplomats said the SPV idea was to create a barter system, similar to one used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, to exchange Iranian oil for European goods without money changing hands.

The idea is to circumvent U.S. sanctions due to be restored in November under which Washington can cut off from the U.S. financial system any bank that facilitates an oil transaction with Iran.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the decision to set up such a vehicle had already been taken and that technical experts would meet again to flesh out the details.

“In practical terms this will mean that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran and this will allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran in accordance with European Union law and could be open to other partners in the world,” she said.

Many diplomats and analysts, however, are skeptical such a vehicle could ultimately thwart U.S. sanctions given that the United States could amend its sanctions laws to prohibit such barter transactions.

“The key is to keep all possibilities open so that we can signal to the Iranians that the door isn’t closing,” said a senior French diplomat.
The European Union, has so far failed to devise a workable legal framework to shield its companies from U.S. sanctions that go into effect in November and that, among other things, seek to choke off Iran’s oil sales, diplomats said.

Highlighting how difficult it will be for the Europeans to come up with concrete solutions, French state-owned bank Bpifrance on Monday abandoned a plan to set up a financial mechanism to aid French firms trading with Iran.

The crux of the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated over almost two years by the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, was that Iran would restrain its nuclear program in return for the relaxation of sanctions that had crippled its economy.

Trump considered it flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s ballistic missiles program or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

The impending return of U.S. sanctions has contributed to a slide in Iran’s currency. The rial has lost about two-thirds of its value this year, hitting a record low against the U.S. dollar this month.

(EUobserver) Danish bank CEO resigns in Russia scandal

(EUobserver) Thomas Borgen, the Norwegian CEO of Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest lender, resigned Wednesday over allegations it laundered billions of illicit Russian money. “I really regret it … I have lived up to legal obligations, [but] I think it is best for all parties that I stop,” he said in a stock exchange notice. The bank published the “unpleasant” results of its internal probe into the affair on Wednesday.

(NYT) From Mountain of CCTV Footage, Pay Dirt: 2 Russians Are Named in Spy Poisoning

(NYT) LONDON — In March, when British detectives began their investigation into the poisoning of Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian spy, they had little to work with but mounds of CCTV footage. Heads bent over their desktop computers, they began the unglamorous work of poring through it, looking for an assassin.

Britain is one of the most heavily surveilled nations on earth, with an estimated one surveillance camera per 11 citizens. It has cutting-edge technology for visually identifying criminals, and software so sensitive it can scan an airport for a tattoo or a pinkie ring. And then there is that team of genetically gifted humans known as “super-recognizers.”

On Wednesday, the authorities announced that the effort had paid off: Two Russian intelligence officers had been charged with attempted murder, the first criminal charges in a case that has driven a deep wedge between Russia and the West.

Investigators released a cache of evidence, including security camera images that captured the progress of the two men from an Aeroflot flight to the scene of the crime, and from there back to Moscow. They also released photographs of the delicate perfume bottle that was used to carry a weapons-grade nerve agent, known as Novichok, to the quiet English city of Salisbury where the attack took place.

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In the days leading up to the March 4 poisoning, the same two Russian men kept popping up on cameras.

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The British authorities have identified these two men as suspects in the poisonings. In early March, they were videotaped walking on Fisherton Road in Salisbury.CreditMetroplitan Police, via Reuters

“It’s almost impossible in this country to hide, almost impossible,” said John Bayliss, who retired from the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s electronic intelligence agency, in 2010. “And with the new software they have, you can tell the person by the way they walk, or a ring they wear, or a watch they wear. It becomes even harder.”

The investigation into the Skripal poisoning, known as Operation Wedana, will stand as a high-profile test of an investigative technique Britain has pioneered: accumulating mounds of visual data and sifting through it.

Neil Basu, Britain’s top counterterrorism police official, broke months of silence in a hastily convened Scotland Yard news conference on Wednesday, taking the unusual step of stripping journalists of their electronic devices to keep the news under wraps until arrest warrants for the two men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, had been issued. Two hours later, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that British intelligence services had identified the men as officers in the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence service.

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Russian officials responded witheringly, declaring in a Foreign Ministry statement that “we decisively reject these insinuations.”

“It is impossible to ignore the fact that both British and American colleagues act according to the same scheme: Without bothering themselves to produce any evidence, they announce a list of some ‘Russian agents’ in order to justify London and Washington’s witch hunt,” said Maria Zakharova, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

Mr. Bayliss said that all along, investigators have been acutely aware that the suspects would be protected in Russia and never tried, though Interpol red notices and domestic and European arrest warrants were issued.

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On Wednesday, police officers stood outside the City Stay Hotel in East London. The authorities say the suspects stayed there.CreditToby Melville/Reuters

“There are a lot of people who would sort of give up on it, because what’s the point?” he said. “They’re in Russia, we’re not going to get them back. But the thing is, once you’ve got it to that point, that means those people can’t leave Russia.”

Beyond that, Mr. Bayliss said, “there is a satisfaction of getting to the truth, to be able to prove to the Western world that the Russians did this.”

The day of the attack, Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found barely conscious on a bench beside the Avon River. (They both recovered, but months later, two Britons, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, fell ill after being exposed to the poison. Ms. Sturgess died.)

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In the days that followed the Skripal attack, investigators began by collecting 11,000 hours of video from ports, train stations, shop windows, car dashboards and the roadways around Mr. Skripal’s house.

Before searching for a needle, investigators said wryly, they first had to build their own haystack.

The investigation drew on some of Scotland Yard’s most storied assets, like its Super-Recognizer Unit. Its officers are selected for their superior ability to remember faces — the opposite of prosopagnosia, also known as “face-blindness.”

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Sergei V. Skripal at a court hearing in Moscow in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap with Western countries.CreditMoscow District Military Court, via Getty Images

“They don’t concentrate on the obvious: the graying hair or the mustache or the glasses,” the unit’s founder, Mick Neville, told Sky News last week. “They look at the eyes, the mouth, the ears — the things that don’t change. They can recognize a face from the tiniest glimpse of part of it.”

In cases such as the Skripal investigation, which begin with an enormous pool of potential suspects, super-recognizers can help by singling out people who seem to move suspiciously, experts say. Local police officers are often brought in to help them eliminate bystanders, like small-time drug dealers, who may also appear suspicious.

Those results were then overlaid with passport data for Russians who left the country shortly after the poisoning, bringing the pool of suspects down to a manageable number. The police were able to cross-reference suspects in other ways, mapping mobile phone and bank card use, for example.

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“It’s a bit like a funnel, the top of the funnel has a vast amount going in, and by the time the liquid comes out at the bottom, it narrows down to a tiny stream,” Mr. Bayliss said.

Investigators had one bit of luck: Heavy snow fell through the weekend of the attack, reducing the number of people on the streets.

A big breakthrough took place nearly two months after the Skripals were poisoned, when the police arrived at the City Stay Hotel in East London, where the two suspects had spent the two nights before the attack. Officers took samples from the room where the two men had stayed, and sent them for laboratory testing. Two of them showed trace contamination for the nerve agent used in the attack.

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A police barrier in July outside Mr. Skripal’s home in Salisbury.CreditHannah Mckay/Reuters

On Wednesday, as news of the charges spread, neighbors peered curiously at the building, which had smeared windows and dingy artificial grass.

“I just got a shiver, a cold shiver,” said Debbie Weekes, 47, who lives nearby. “It’s just shocking, I’m at a loss for words. You never know who’s around.”

Some wondered why they had not received a warning in May, when the police found the nerve agent traces in the hotel.

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“Obviously we don’t feel safe,” said Shehan Ravindranath, 43, the manager of a supermarket across the street. “We can only take protection if we know about it.”

In Salisbury, though, the announcement about the charges was greeted with relief. Matthew Dean, the head of Salisbury’s City Council and owner of a local pub, the Duke of York, said he hoped it would put to rest conspiracy theories circulating about the crime.

“This is a piece of closure,” he said.

Ceri Hurford-Jones, the managing director of Salisbury’s local radio station, saluted investigators for their “sheer skill in getting a grip on this, and finding out who these people were.”

It may not have been the stuff of action films, but Mr. Hurford-Jones did see something impressive about the whole thing.

“It’s methodical, plodding,” he said. “But, you know, that’s the only way you can do these things. There is a bit of Englishness in it.”

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of a headline and a summary with this article misstated the status of the two Russian suspects in the nerve agent attack on British soil. While Interpol red notices and warrants have been issued, the men have not been arrested.

(Economist) America’s escalating Russian sanctions

(Economist) Despite Donald Trump, Russia is being hit harder and harder

BARELY a week seems to pass without news of fresh Western sanctions against Russia. Sergei Elkin, one of Russia’s most popular cartoonists, recently captured the mood with a caricature of a hapless-looking Vladimir Putin holding a cell phone to his ear. “To hear more information about new sanctions, press one,” read the caption.

In August alone, America has slapped penalties on Russian shipping firms accused of trading oil with North Korea; imposed restrictions on the arms trade in connection with the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury; and begun congressional hearings on two new pieces of legislation designed to punish Russia for its interference in elections. Further Skripal-linked measures may follow in three months’ time.

Markets have been scrambling to digest their impact. The greatest threat to Russia’s economy comes from the two proposed bills, the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines Act of 2018 (DETER) and the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA). Senator Lindsey Graham, one of DASKA’s six bipartisan co-sponsors, called it the “sanctions bill from Hell”. When details of its contents made their way into the Russian press in early August, the rouble slid to two-year lows (see chart) and the share prices of Russian state banks began falling.

Investors see several reasons to worry. Chief among them are proposed bans on trading new Russian government debt and limits on the operations of state banks. With state-owned lenders accounting for over 60% of the sector, bans on just a few could force a “restructuring of the financial system,” argues Natalia Orlova, chief economist of Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest private lender. This would be painful, but stop short of the abyss: America cannot impose Iranian-style sanctions—such as banning the purchase of Russian oil and gas—without harmful effects on the global economy.

The Russian authorities, meanwhile, have been taking prudent steps to prepare. “They have both insulated and isolated the economy,” says Chris Weafer of Macro-Advisory, a consultancy. The Russian central bank has dumped or disguised ownership of four-fifths of its holdings of American government debt, following sanctions imposed in April. The government has been funnelling extra revenues from rising oil prices into refilling its National Welfare Fund and building up reserves. And a weaker rouble actually helps exporters, though at the cost of higher inflation.

Yet no policy moves, short of withdrawing Russian forces from eastern Ukraine, can lift the sanctions-created uncertainty that dampens investment and messes up budget planning. Compared with a year earlier, foreign direct investment fell by more than 50% in the first half of 2018. “When the risk is debt, you can build scenarios,” says Ms Orlova. “But when the risk is sanctions, it’s impossible to know.” Many see the peril increasing as America’s midterm elections approach.

The irony is that the risk of new sanctions now emanates not only from Mr Putin, but from Mr Trump as well. His subservience to Mr Putin at a July summit in Helsinki spurred senators to draft the DASKA bill, says Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “[The bills] are born out of a deep distrust of the president when it comes to Russia,” a senior senate aide concurs. Even if Russia behaves this autumn, tweets from Mr Trump could well spur their passage.

(Reuters) Rouble slides towards 2-year low on U.S. sanctions ‘bill from hell’

(Reuters)

MOSCOW, Aug 8 (Reuters) – The rouble slid towards its lowest level in nearly two years on Wednesday and investors sold off bonds and stocks after the Kommersant daily published what it said was the full text of a draft U.S. law detailing possible penalties against Russia.

Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced the draft legislation last week, the latest effort by lawmakers to punish Moscow for its alleged interference in U.S. elections and its activities in Syria and Ukraine.

Russian market reaction was muted at the time, however, and jitters only set in on Wednesday after Kommersant’s publication of the sanctions which cited potential curbs on the operations of several state-owned Russian banks in the United States and restrictions on holding Russian sovereign debt.

The rouble weakened beyond the psychological thresholds of 65 versus the dollar and 75 against the euro, briefly touching levels against the dollar last seen in April and within a few kopecks of a low last seen in November 2016.

“The rouble is hit by the sanctions theme. Even though there will be no real action until September, the signal is already there,” a dealer at a major Western bank in Moscow said.

As of 1255 GMT, the rouble was 2.2 percent weaker at 64.90 against the dollar. Versus the euro, the rouble was 2.1 percent weaker at 75.18.

Russia’s five-year credit default swaps (CDS), which reflect the cost of insuring Russian debt against default, rose to their late June high of 145, up from 133-134 earlier this week.

“There are a lot of geopolitical concerns investors have and that’s being reflected in a higher risk premium on Russian assets,” said Phoenix Kalen, director of emerging markets strategy, at Societe Generale in London.

“The probabilities are such that this bill is still relatively unlikely to become law and with that assumption in mind then I wouldn’t expect the rouble to sell off significantly from here,” Kalen added.

The U.S. measure’s prospects are unclear. It would have to pass both the Senate and House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

“But even so, the document clearly shows the determination to go further than before in order to cause damage for Russia,” Barclays said in a note.

The jitters also sparked a sell-off in Russian treasury bonds, known as OFZs, sending their prices lower and lifting their yields. Yields in 10-year OFZ bonds jumped to 8.12 percent, their highest since mid-March 2017.

“The sanctions story will be one that resurfaces from time to time, especially with Republicans trying to figure out how to position themselves ahead of the mid-term elections in contrast to President Trump’s position, so it is likely that we will see these bursts of pressure on Russian assets,” said Societe Generale’s Kalen.

STOCKS BATTERED

Shares in Russia’s largest lender Sberbank dropped to 192.50 roubles on the Kommersant report, losing more than 4 percent on the day and hovering at their lowest since mid-April.

Shares in Russia’s second-largest bank VTB were also down – by 2.1 percent – underperforming the benchmark stock index MOEX which declined 0.9 percent to 2,290.5.

Russian business conglomerate Sistema saw its shares tumble by 3.6 percent, hit by the threat of targeted sanctions after Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said on her Twitter account on Tuesday that an investigation was underway into Sistema’s chairman Vladimir Yevtushenkov for “operations in illegally annexed Crimea.”

Sistema’s spokesman said the company had no investments in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

(EUobserver) Spanish fighter jet accidentally fires missile in Estonia

(EUobserver) “Thank God without human casualties, but it is nevertheless extremely regrettable”, Estonia’s president Jueri Ratas commented after a Spanish fighter jet accidentally fired an air-to-air missile over Estonia on Tuesday during a routine Nato training mission. Estonia’s military is now searching the area around where it was fired, as it is potentially still armed, while the Spanish defence ministry has opened an investigation into the matter.

(Ekathimerini) Moscow expels Greek diplomats, Athens warns of ‘proportionate’ response

(Ekathimerini)

Greece Monday said it would respond “in an appropriate and proportionate manner” after Russia announced it was kicking two Greek diplomats out of the country in a retaliatory move over a decision by Athens to expel two Russian envoys.

Earlier in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Greek Ambassador Andreas Friganas and handed him a diplomatic note informing him of “tit-for-tat measures” taken by Moscow.

Two Greek Embassy staff as well as the director of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias’s political bureau, Giorgos Sakellariou, were ordered to leave, Kathimerini understands.

Speaking to Kathimerini on condition of anonymity, diplomatic sources described the Russian response as “asymmetric.”

They said the Greek decision was made on the basis of clear evidence that specific individuals from inside the Russian Embassy in Athens were engaged in activities intruding into Greece’s domestic affairs.

The same sources added that Greece will respond in “an appropriate and proportionate manner.”

In July, Athens expelled two diplomats based at the Russian Embassy in Athens and barred two more from entering Greece after evidence showed they tried to foment opposition to a name deal between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) which opened the path to the Balkan state’s EU and NATO membership.

Russian officials had at the time described the Greek move as “unjustified” and warned of an “in-kind” response.

(WSJ) Russian Hackers Reach U.S. Utility Control Rooms, Homeland Security Officials Say

(WSJBlackouts could have been caused after the networks of trusted vendors were easily penetrated

Officials of the Department of Homeland Security said hackers have reached the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities.
Officials of the Department of Homeland Security said hackers have reached the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities. PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities where they could have caused blackouts, federal officials said. They said the campaign likely is continuing.

The Russian hackers, who worked for a shadowy state-sponsored group previously identified as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, broke into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies, said officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

“They got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and disrupted power flows, said Jonathan Homer, chief of industrial-control-system analysis for DHS.

DHS has been warning utility executives with security clearances about the Russian group’s threat to critical infrastructure since 2014. But the briefing on Monday was the first time that DHS has given out information in an unclassified setting with as much detail. It continues to withhold the names of victims but now says there were hundreds of victims, not a few dozen as had been said previously.

It also said some companies still may not know they have been compromised, because the attacks used credentials of actual employees to get inside utility networks, potentially making the intrusions more difficult to detect.

Mueller Probe Indicts 12 Russians for 2016 Election Hacking

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced charges Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic organizations and the Clinton campaign and distributing information intended to influence the 2016 presidential election. Photo: AP

Experts have been warning about the Russian threat for some time.

“They’ve been intruding into our networks and are positioning themselves for a limited or widespread attack,” said Michael Carpenter, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, who now is a senior director at the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “They are waging a covert war on the West.”

Russia has denied targeting critical infrastructure.

Mr. Homer said the cyberattack, which surfaced in the U.S. in the spring of 2016 and continued throughout 2017, exploited relationships that utilities have with vendors who have special access to update software, run diagnostics on equipment and perform other services that are needed to keep millions of pieces of gear in working order.

The attackers began by using conventional tools—spear-phishing emails and watering-hole attacks, which trick victims into entering their passwords on spoofed websites—to compromise the corporate networks of suppliers, many of whom were smaller companies without big budgets for cybersecurity.

Once inside the vendor networks, they pivoted to their real focus: the utilities. It was a relatively easy process, in many cases, for them to steal credentials from vendors and gain direct access to utility networks.

Then they began stealing confidential information. For example, the hackers vacuumed up information showing how utility networks were configured, what equipment was in use and how it was controlled. They also familiarized themselves with how the facilities were supposed to work, because attackers “have to learn how to take the normal and make it abnormal” to cause disruptions, said Mr. Homer.

Their goal, he said: to disguise themselves as “the people who touch these systems on a daily basis.”

DHS is conducting the briefings—four are planned—hoping for more industry cooperation. One thing the agency is trying to learn is whether there are new infections, and whether the Russians have figured out ways to defeat security enhancements like multifactor authentication.

In addition, DHS is looking for evidence that the Russians are automating their attacks, which investigators worry could presage a large increase in hacking efforts. “To scale, they’re eventually going to have to automate,” Mr. Homer said.

“You’re seeing an uptick in the way government is sharing threats and vulnerabilities,” said Scott Aaronson, a cybersecurity expert for Edison Electric Institute, the utility industry trade group. He said information sharing and penetration detection have gotten much better since the Dragonfly attacks began.

It isn’t yet clear whether the hackers used their access to prepare the battlefield for some future, devastating blow, investigators said. For example, many experts fear that a skilled technician could use unfettered access to change some equipment’s settings. That could make them unreliable in unexpected ways, causing utility engineers to do things that would result in extensive damage and potentially lengthy blackouts.

(Times) Trump confounds with double negatives – Niall Ferguson

(Times) While the president stokes outrage, his government is remaking America.

I have many friends who hate Donald Trump. Most are liberal, academic types who hate him the way their parents or grandparents once hated Richard Nixon. Their hate is tempered by the fact that Trump is not currently bombing or invading a foreign country. Remember, it was the anti-Vietnam movement that elevated hating Nixon above the realm of party politics. (Even though Nixon insisted he was trying to end a war that Democrats had started, they never believed him.)

Far more visceral in their hatred of Trump are the “Never Trump” Republicans. Many of them are or were neoconservatives, so pacifism is not one of their defining characteristics. Indeed, I sometimes think that if Trump declared war on someone — ideally Russia, but they’d settle for Iran or Syria — they’d forgive him everything.

Never-Trumpers hate Trump for very different reasons from my liberal friends. Liberals hate Trump because they think he’s a sexist, a racist, a crook and a buffoon. Never-Trumpers don’t much like those things about him either, but they hate him because of his foreign policy. They believe in free trade. He’s a protectionist. They want to spread democracy. He likes authoritarians. In particular, he likes Vladimir Putin. Having come of age in the Cold War, Never-Trumpers loathe the former KGB agent Putin. In 2016 it was neocons, not liberals, who were the first to spot that something fishy was going on between Trump’s campaign and the Russians.

One of my Never-Trump friends frequently emails me articles from the publications he reads. They all say essentially the same thing: that Trump is the worst president in the history of the US.

Last week, in the aftermath of Trump’s meeting with Putin, his email subject lines said it all. “The moment called for Trump to stand up for America. He chose to bow — The Washington Post.” This was followed by: “What hold does Putin have on Trump? — The Atlantic.” Next came: “After Helsinki, any responsible member of Trump’s national security team must resign — Slate.” And: “Trump summit betrays his country for Russia in plain sight — New York magazine.”

For the first time in my life, I began to feel sorry for my poor, pummelled inbox: “The most bizarre part of Trump’s disastrous press conference was his deference to Putin — Slate”; “Trump is a sad, embarrassing wreck of a man — The Washington Post”; “Is this Trump’s most ridiculous denial yet? — The Washington Post”.

Finally, the coup de grâce: “The stench from Trump’s execrable performance grows ever more putrid — The Washington Post”.

Not since Jane Austen has a truth been so universally acknowledged: the Helsinki summit was an utter, unmitigated disaster. Even Newt Gingrich had to admit that Trump’s comments in Helsinki were “the most serious mistake of his presidency”.

It would certainly take the hide of a rhinoceros and a neck of solid brass to defend the president’s declaration in Helsinki on Monday that he was more inclined to believe Putin than his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, on the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election. But why bother doing so? By Tuesday, “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia]” had been amended to “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia”. Cue fresh outrage from liberals and Never-Trumpers alike.

How much outrage do people have left? I predict they will run out of outrage before Trump runs out of double negatives. They forget that this kind of utter, unmitigated disaster is a key part of Trump’s modus operandi. Remember Charlottesville? The statement that seemed to play down the role of white supremacists? The grudgingly contrite statement taking the original statement back? The statement undermining the contrite statement? That was 11 months ago. Remember Access Hollywood? Remember all the other utter, unmitigated disasters of 2016 that somehow didn’t prevent this man from becoming president?

Having no shame means that you don’t mind saying outrageous things and then contradicting yourself, and then contradicting yourself again. It’s one of Trump’s tried-and-tested techniques for maintaining his total dominance of the global news cycle. This is so complete now that there is almost no other political news. We are all Thai boys, trapped in a cave called Trump. The difference is, there are no rescue divers coming.

As long as the media accept that he alone is the story, the following two things are true. First, no one pays any attention to what any other branch of government does. The Supreme Court? The Federal Reserve? The Department of Defence? Does anyone actually know or care what these bodies have been doing in the past week?

Second, if no one pays any attention to the rest of the government, it can quietly get on with the substantive judicial, economic and strategic change for which the Trump presidency will eventually be remembered. While you were all obsessing about Trump, the Supreme Court was moving decisively to the right, the Fed was trying to cool down a galloping economy and the Pentagon was getting a complete overhaul under James Mattis, the defence secretary.

Future historians will mention Helsinki, but — if they are any good — the question they will ask is: what did Trump and Putin actually discuss in private, with only interpreters present? If I know Putin, it will have been the big-picture geopolitical stuff. Let me hazard a guess at what was said.

VP: What is the point of our constantly being at odds, Donald?

DT: Beats me.

VP: These sanctions are the work of your corrupt Congress. They are pointless. I am not giving back Crimea, and you know it.

DT: That’s a fact.

VP: True, I occasionally try to liquidate my political opponents, sometimes in foreign locations such as Salisbury, sometimes unsuccessfully, but your CIA has been doing that kind of wet job since time immemorial.

DT: There’s no denying it.

VP: Who are our real enemies?

DT: The Chinese. The Iranians. I’m kind of sick of the Germans too.

VP: You’re talking my language. I don’t much like those guys either. Here’s the way I see it. If you and I can work together, I can help you and you can help me. We cut a deal in the Middle East. We screw the Iranians — I don’t need them any more in Syria. We put the squeeze on the Chinese before they take over the world, including my back yard in central Asia. And we remind the Germans how much they fear us and need you.

DT: I like it.

VP: But just one thing, Donald.

DT: What’s that?

VP: No one must find out what we just agreed. So when we do the press conference, make sure you play your usual game with the press.

DT: Leave it to me.

VP: You know what the historians will call you and me one day, Donald?

DT: No — what?

VP: The Double Negatives.

DT: I don’t see why they wouldn’t!

Niall Ferguson is the Milbank Family senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford

(Economist) The missing middle of the Trump-Putin meeting

(Economist) The summit offered up a graphic reaffirmation of what was already known

THE story of the meeting between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has a beginning and an end, but no middle.

It began with a statement from the American president. The lowly state of Russo-American relations, he tweeted, was not the fault of the Russian government for seizing Crimea, shooting down a passenger airliner, interfering in America’s presidential election or using a banned nerve agent to kill citizens of a close ally on its own soil. No, it was the fault “of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt”.

It ended with a joint press conference that John McCain, a Republican senator, described as, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

In the middle was a void, in which the two presidents met with nobody else in the room but their interpreters. For those who watch Mr Trump daily and have observed his habit of being confrontational with other people when at a safe distance and then seeking to please them when face-to-face, this encounter seemed freighted with risk. Would he give away Crimea by mistake? Would he commit to some Russian-led military initiative in Syria? In fact this part seems to have gone relatively well. Both presidents reported that they talked about nuclear weapons, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) which covers short- and medium-range nuclear missiles. The chances of them signing an extension to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) are perhaps greater now than they were before the meeting. That is not nothing.

Yet it is hard to pinpoint a decisive change in American foreign policy that came out of the Helsinki meeting. What it offered instead was a reaffirmation of things that America already knew about its president. Mr Trump thinks that the world benefits when America and Russia have close relations, and that “the United States has been foolish” on this point. He takes the judgment of America’s intelligence services that Russia intervened in the 2016 election campaign to be a personal insult, an accusation that he needed outside help to beat Hillary Clinton. He will readily believe the word of a former KGB agent over the views of the CIA or FBI on this point. Americans who question this are liable to be described by their president as enemies of the people. The probe run by Robert Mueller is “a disaster for our country”. It was jarring to see Mr Trump say these things standing on a podium next to Mr Putin, but they are all things he has said before, countless times. This is not a performance. He really means it.

One part, near the end of the press conference, is worth quoting at length to give an unmediated sample of the president’s thinking:

REPORTER, Associated Press: President Trump, you first. Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is: who do you believe? My second question is: would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you want him to never do it again?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? 

I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying? 

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. 

My people came to me, Dan Coats [director of national intelligence], came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.

 I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have, I have confidence in both parties.

 I really believe that this will probably go on for a while but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? 

Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails? 33,000 e-mails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. 

I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 e-mails.

 I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer. 

He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people [GRU officers indicted by the Department of Justice]. I think that’s an incredible offer. OK? Thank you.

For readers who are rubbing their eyes at this point, it is important not to lose sight of a few things that will endure once this summit is over. Mr Mueller’s probe has gathered so much detail about the activities of the GRU that its future activities would seem to be compromised. Russia’s economy is weak, and American sanctions will not be lifted by the Senate anytime soon. Some of America’s institutions are not doing their job. But some of them quietly are.

(BBC) Trump-Putin summit: US seeks better ties with Russia

(BBC)

Media captionThe moment President Trump meets counterpart Vladimir Putin.

US President Donald Trump has said getting on with Russia is “a good thing, not a bad thing” at the start of his first summit with Vladimir Putin.

Mr Trump said he hoped for an “extraordinary relationship” as the two presidents met in Helsinki, Finland.

Earlier Mr Trump denounced his predecessors’ “stupidity” for tensions.

US-Russia relations have been strained by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and by claims that the Kremlin helped Mr Trump win the 2016 election.

Some US politicians had called for the summit to be cancelled after 12 Russian military intelligence agents were charged on Friday with hacking the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

But in his tweet, Mr Trump put the blame for the deterioration in relations with Russia on “years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt”.

In response, Russia’s foreign affairs ministry tweeted: “We agree.”

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says Mr Trump’s tweet is likely to alarm White House advisers, already nervous about the risks of giving too much ground to the Russian leader during the talks.

Many in the West have criticised Moscow for what they regard as its destabilising activities in Ukraine. The US, among others, has imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea.

The summit – in which the two leaders are being joined only by their interpreters – comes after a tumultuous European tour that saw Mr Trump criticise allies of the US over trade and military spending.

Media captionTrump: I have low expectations for Putin meeting

What are the main sources of tension with Russia?

Russia has been criticised in the US because of its military support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria as well as its actions in Ukraine.

Tensions also are high as a result of accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election. The allegations are being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mr Trump has consistently denounced the inquiry as a “witch hunt”.

The 12 Russians indicted on Friday were targeted as part of Mr Mueller’s investigation.

Helsinki protestImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionProtesters in Finland have been urging Mr Trump to focus on human rights ahead of his visit.

Top Democrats including party chairman Tom Perez have urged Mr Trump to cancel the talks, saying Mr Putin was “not a friend of the United States”.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain said the summit “should not move forward” unless the president “is prepared to hold Putin accountable”.

Russia denies the hacking allegations, and says it is looking forward to the talks as a vehicle for improving relations.

What is being discussed at the summit?

US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said that both sides have agreed the meeting will have no set agenda.

But he said he found it “hard to believe” Mr Putin did not know about the alleged election hacking and the subject would be mentioned.

“That’s what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it,” he told ABC News.

A sentence reading The Whole World is Watching is projected on the presidential palace on the eve of a summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 15, 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe two leaders will meet at the presidential palace in Helsinki

Mr Trump has also been urged to raise the poisoning of two people in the UKwho came into contact with the nerve agent Novichok on 30 June. Investigators believe the incident is linked to the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in March.

Mr Trump elaborated on what would be discussed at the summit during a joint press conference with UK Prime Minister Theresa May last week.

“We’ll be talking about Syria,” he said. “We’ll be talking about other parts of the Middle East. I will be talking about nuclear proliferation.”

Why Helsinki?

This is not the first time US and Russian leaders have met in Helsinki.

Finland remained politically and militarily neutral after World War Two, as US and Soviet Union went headlong into the Cold War, making it an attractive meeting spot for the two superpowers.

The city saw the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which are credited for improving relations between the Soviet Union and Western countries.

Helsinki remained a destination in the post-Soviet era, and the Trump-Putin summit is the fourth such meeting in the city.

What has Mr Trump been doing so far in Europe?

His tour has included a Nato summit in Belgium and a visit to the UK. Neither passed without controversy.

Following the Nato summit, Mr Trump said the allies had pledged to “substantially” raise their defence budgets but other leaders cast doubt on this claim.

The UK visit also had its ups and downs after Mr Trump told a newspaper the US would probably not give the UK a trade deal under the terms of Mrs May’s Brexit plans – and then later appeared to backtrack on this position.

He also said Europe was “losing its character” because of immigration from Africa and the Middle East.

On Sunday, just before he departed for Helsinki, Mr Trump described the European Union as a foe on trade.

He told CBS News that European countries were taking advantage of the US and not paying their Nato bills.

(BBG) Putin Is a ‘Competitor,’ Not a Foe, Trump Says Ahead of Summit

(BBG) U.S. President Donald Trump declined to brand his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as friend or foe ahead of the first full-fledged one-on-one summit between the two in Helsinki next week.

“I really can’t say right now. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a competitor,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a European tour that will also include potentially tense meetings with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his first visit to the U.K. as president.

Amid criticism that the president has been harsher toward the U.S.’s NATO allies than toward the Kremlin — even in the face of evidence of attempted Russian election meddling — Trump defended his stance toward Moscow.

“I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, and getting along with others is a good thing,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not a bad thing.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Tuesday he has heavy reservations about Trump’s meeting with Putin.

“When the president met with President Xi, when the president met with Kim Jong Un, they took him to the cleaners, it seems, and got what they wanted and we didn’t get much of what we wanted,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol. “It’s even worse for him to meet with a very, very clever out-for-himself man like President Putin alone. And I am very much afraid what he would give away without any advisers to keep him in check.”

Also on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 10 senators introduced a resolution condemning the Russian annexation and continued occupation of Crimea, and stating that U.S. policy should remain that Crimea is part of Ukraine. The lead sponsors of the resolution are Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Trump told the assembled journalists that meeting with Putin may be the “easiest” leg of his trip and reiterated his demand that NATO countries shoulder a larger share of the alliance’s budget.

He also observed that the U.K. — and its embattled Prime Minister Theresa May — was in “somewhat turmoil” and was noticeably less effusive about May than he was about Boris Johnson, who resigned Monday over opposition to May’s plans to leave the European Union.