US, Germany sending battle tanks to aid Ukraine war effort

US, Germany sending battle tanks to aid Ukraine war effort
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke with key European allies about supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion. (AP)
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Updated 26 January 2023

US, Germany sending battle tanks to aid Ukraine war effort

US, Germany sending battle tanks to aid Ukraine war effort
  • Biden discussed "our close coordination on support for Ukraine" with European allies

BERLIN: Germany and the United States announced Wednesday that they will send battle tanks to Ukraine, the first stage of a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of the heavy weapons to help Kyiv break combat stalemates as Russia’s invasion enters its 12th month.
American President Joe Biden said the US will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, reversing months of persistent arguments by Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The US decision followed Germany’s agreement to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the US put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the US making a similar commitment.
“This is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international partners,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German lawmakers. “It was right, and it is important that we didn’t let ourselves be driven” into the decision.

 

Biden said European allies have agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions, or a total of 62 tanks.
“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter-offenses,” Biden said. “To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term.”
Several European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2 tanks, and Germany’s announcement means they can give some of their stocks to Ukraine.

“German main battle tanks, further broadening of defense support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter. “Sincerely grateful to the chancellor and all our friends in (Germany).”
Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines said the decision comes at a critical point.
“Tanks will help reduce casualties among our soldiers … then gain new results and win this war quicker,” said Oleksander Syrotiuk, commander of a company in the 17th Tank Brigade deployed in Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers and experts said Ukrainian forces are running low on spare parts to repair old Soviet-era tanks and the specific ammunition they require while enduring relentless barrages of Russian artillery. An expected springtime Russian offensive is also looming.
Though it will take months before their debut, the tanks will enable Ukraine’s forces to launch counter-offensives and reduce casualties, three military commanders, including two in the army’s tank division, told The Associated Press.
“Without the new tanks, we cannot win this war,” said Maksim Butolin, chief sergeant of the 54th Brigade’s Tank Division. He spoke to the AP by phone earlier this week from near the Bakhmut front.
Ukrainian forces have had to preserve ammunition and deal with frequent breakdowns and maintenance issues, Syrotiuk said.
“The main problem we have with our tanks is they are old,” he said.
Expressing a preference for the Leopard 2, which he said was more suitable for Ukraine’s terrain, Syrotiuk said the modern tanks had more precise targeting systems, better armor and equipment to allow nighttime operations.
Gian Gentile, a US Army veteran and senior historian with the Rand think tank, said the M1 Abrams and the Leopards will give Ukraine a “mechanized armored punching force.”
The Abrams tanks can hit a moving target up to 2,000 meters (1.25 miles) away while rolling across rough terrain, he said.

Scholz spoke by phone Wednesday with Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, the German chancellery said in a statement. All five leaders agreed to continue military support to Ukraine in close Euro-Atlantic coordination.
The $400 million package announced Wednesday by the US also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles — tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.
Altogether, France, the UK, the US, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will send hundreds of tanks and heavy armored vehicles to fortify Ukraine as it enters a new phase of the war and attempts to break through entrenched Russian lines.
While Ukraine’s supporters previously have supplied tanks, they were Soviet models in the stockpiles of countries that once were in Moscow’s sphere of influence but are now aligned with the West. Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials insisted their forces need more modern Western-designed tanks.


Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechayev, called Berlin’s decision “extremely dangerous,” saying it “shifts the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about their reluctance to get involved in it.”
Scholz had insisted that any decision to provide Ukraine with the powerful tanks would need to be taken in conjunction with Germany’s allies, chiefly the US By getting Washington to commit some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of any backlash from Russia.
Ekkehard Brose, head of the German military’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, noted the deeper historical significance of the decision.
“German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more,” he said, adding that this was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes seriously its responsibility for the horrors of World War II.
“And yet it is the right decision,” Brose said, arguing that it was up to Western democracies to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius cautioned that it would take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed in Ukraine. He described the Leopard 2 as “the best battle tank in the world.”
The German government said it planned to swiftly begin training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany. The package being put together would also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described German and US intentions as a “a rather disastrous plan.”

“Simply because of technological aspects, this is a rather disastrous plan. The main thing is, this is a completely obvious overestimation of the potential (the supply of tanks) would add to the armed forces of Ukraine,” Peskov said. “It is yet another fallacy, a rather profound one.”
Peskov predicted “these tanks will burn down just like all the other ones. ... Except they cost a lot, and this will fall on the shoulders of European taxpayers.” he added.
John Herbst, who was US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, questioned the timeline for delivery of the American tanks.
“Under this schedule Ukraine would be lucky to receive them this calendar year,” said Herbst, who is now senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
Ahead of Scholz’s official announcement, members of his three-party coalition government welcomed the Cabinet’s agreement to supply the domestically made tanks.
“The Leopard’s freed!” German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker, said.
However, two smaller opposition parties criticized the move. The far-right Alternative for Germany, which has friendly ties to Russia, called the decision “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“Germany risks being drawn directly into the war as a result,” party co-leader Tino Chrupalla said.
Scholz sought to reassure people in his country who were concerned about the implications of sending tanks to Ukraine.
“Trust me, trust the government,” he said. “By acting in an internationally coordinated manner, we will ensure that this support is possible without the risks to our country growing in the wrong direction.”
Other European nations, such as Finland and Spain, indicated a willingness Wednesday to part with their own Leopard or similar battle tanks as part of a larger coalition.


Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
Updated 27 January 2023

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
  • Tahir Zarif, 31, will serve a minimum of 30 years for the killing of Akhtar Javeed, 56
  • Zarif and 3 others attempted to rob Javeed in 2016; killer hid in Pakistan to escape justice

LONDON: A man has been jailed for life in the UK after murdering another man in a botched robbery and then fleeing to Pakistan to escape justice.
Tahir Zarif, 31, from Derby, shot Akhtar Javeed, 56, in 2016 while he and three others — Suraj Misty, 26; Lamar Wali, 23; and Sander van Aalten, 54 — attempted to rob Javeed’s food warehouse in Birmingham.
One of the four had previously worked at the warehouse, with knowledge of its layout. Employees at the site were tied up, and Javeed was dragged to his safe, where Zarif shot him in the leg to force him to open it.
Javeed then managed to free himself but was shot again by Zarif in the throat and chest as he tried to escape, stumbling out of the warehouse and into a street before collapsing.
Five days later, Zarif left the UK for Pakistan. He was arrested in Mirpur in 2018 and extradited two years later.
Video footage later emerged of Zarif firing a machine gun while on the run in Pakistan, and further footage showed him smiling when formally arrested on board his extradition flight to London by UK police.
Zarif claimed the murder of Javeed was accidental, but his “clear willingness to use the gun” and “intention to kill” saw him jailed for a minimum of 30 years at Coventry Crown Court.
His fellow robbers were convicted and sentenced in 2016. Misty was jailed for 23 years for manslaughter, while Wali and Van Aalten were both convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery and jailed for seven years and six years, eight months, respectively.
Javeed’s daughter, who requested anonymity, told the press following Zarif’s sentencing: “It’s been six years and nine months since my father’s life was taken by Tahir Zarif.
“My father has been in our thoughts every day since. As I have said before, my father was an honorable gentleman.
“Another man’s greed led to my father’s unlawful death. We are grateful to West Midlands Police for their hard work in ensuring justice is served.”


Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau
Updated 27 January 2023

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

MONTREAL: Canada on Thursday appointed its first special representative on combatting Islamophobia, a position created following several recent attacks on Muslims in the country.
Journalist and activist Amira Elghawaby will fill the post to “serve as a champion, adviser, expert and representative to support and enhance the federal government’s efforts in the fight against Islamophobia, systemic racism, racial discrimination and religious intolerance,” a statement by the prime minister’s office said.
An active human rights campaigner, Elghawaby is the communications head for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and a columnist for the Toronto Star newspaper, having previously worked for more than a decade at public broadcaster CBC.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Elghawaby’s appointment as “an important step in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms.”
“Diversity truly is one of Canada’s greatest strengths, but for many Muslims, Islamophobia is all too familiar,” he added.
Over the past few years, a series of deadly attacks have targeted Canada’s Muslim community.
In June 2021, four members of a Muslim family were killed when a man ran them over with his truck in London, Ontario.
Four years earlier, six Muslims died and five were injured in an attack on a Quebec City mosque.
In a series of tweets Thursday, Elghawaby listed the names of those killed in the recent attacks, adding: “We must never forget.”
The creation of the new job had been recommended by a national summit on Islamophobia organized by the federal government in June 2021 in response to the attacks.


Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation

Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation
Updated 27 January 2023

Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation

Blasts near Ukraine nuclear plant, says UN watchdog; Russia calls it provocation
  • IAEA chief Rafael Grossi says the explosions suggest Moscow could not uphold nuclear safety
  • Russian forces seized the plant in early March, soon after invading neighboring Ukraine

The UN’s nuclear watchdog on Thursday reported powerful explosions near Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station and renewed calls for a security zone around the plant.
A Russian official dismissed the comments by Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), saying they suggested Moscow could not uphold nuclear safety.
Russian forces seized the plant in early March, soon after invading neighboring Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of firing around it near the front lines, prompting the IAEA to place experts at all of Ukraine’s five nuclear stations.
Grossi, who visited Ukraine last week, said IAEA monitors routinely reported explosions near the plant.
“Yesterday, eight strong detonations were heard at around 10 a.m. local time, causing office windows at the plant to vibrate, and more were audible today,” he said in a statement.
But Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of Rosenergoatom, the company operating Russia’s nuclear plants, said Grossi’s comments were unfounded.
“I can only describe this as a provocation. Before you provide such information you need to check it and establish that it is not based on rumor,” Tass quoted him as saying.
“On the one hand, they want to show that they are doing something useful. On the other, they are again sowing doubt in Western public opinion that somehow Russia cannot cope with upholding nuclear safety.”
Karchaa’s acerbic tone was somewhat unusual. Russian officials have sought to ensure Western countries that they are maintaining safety standards and continue to work with the IAEA.
In his statement, Grossi said he had discussed the proposed zone with the European Union in Brussels this week and would have new talks with Moscow. 

 


US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’
Updated 27 January 2023

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’

US infiltrates big ransomware gang: ‘We hacked the hackers’
  • Gang identified as Hive among the world’s top five ransomware networks and has heavily targeted health care
  • Hive, working with German and other partners, was estimated to have victimized some 1,300 companies globally

WASHINGTON: The FBI and international partners have at least temporarily disrupted the network of a prolific ransomware gang they infiltrated last year, saving victims including hospitals and school districts a potential $130 million in ransom payments, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other US officials announced Thursday.
“Simply put, using lawful means we hacked the hackers,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a news conference.
Officials said the targeted syndicate, known as Hive, is among the world’s top five ransomware networks and has heavily targeted health care. The FBI quietly accessed its control panel in July and was able to obtain software keys it used with German and other partners to decrypt networks of some 1,300 victims globally, said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
How the takedown will affect Hive’s long-term operations is unclear. Officials announced no arrests but said, to pursue prosecutions, they were building a map of the administrators who manage the software and the affiliates who infect targets and negotiate with victims.
“I think anyone involved with Hive should be concerned because this investigation is ongoing,” Wray said.
On Wednesday night, FBI agents seized computer servers in Los Angeles used to support the network. Two Hive dark web sites were seized: one used for leaking data of non-paying victims, the other for negotiating extortion payments.
“Cybercrime is a constantly evolving threat, but as I have said before, the Justice Department will spare no resource to bring to justice anyone anywhere that targets the United States with a ransomware attack,” Garland said.

 

He said the infiltration, led by the FBI’s Tampa office, allowed agents in one instance to disrupt a Hive attack against a Texas school district, stopping it from making a $5 million payment.
It’s a big win for the Justice Department. Ransomware is the world’s biggest cybercrime headache with everything from Britain’s postal service and Ireland’s national health network to Costa Rica’s government crippled by Russian-speaking syndicates that enjoy Kremlin protection.
The criminals lock up, or encrypt, victims’ networks, steal sensitive data and demand large sums. Their extortion has evolve to where data is pilfered before ransomware is activated, then effectively held hostage. Pay up in cryptocurrency or it is released publicly.
As an example of a Hive sting, Garland said it kept one Midwestern hospital in 2021 from accepting new patients at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The online takedown notice, alternating in English and Russian, mentions Europol and German law enforcement partners. The German news agency dpa quoted prosecutors in Stuttgart as saying cyber specialists in the southwestern town of Esslingen were decisive in penetrating Hive’s criminal IT infrastructure after a local company was victimized.
In a statement, Europol said companies in more than 80 countries, including oil multinationals, have been compromised by Hive and that law enforcement from 13 countries was in on the infiltration.
A US government advisory last year said Hive ransomware actors victimized over 1,300 companies worldwide from June 2021 through November 2022, netting about $100 million in payments. Criminals using Hive’s ransomware-as-a-service tools targeted a wide range of businesses and critical infrastructure, including government, manufacturing and especially health care.
Though the FBI offered decryption keys to some 1,300 victims globally, Wray said only about 20 percent reported potential issues to law enforcement.
“Here, fortunately, we were still able to identify and help many victims who didn’t report. But that is not always the case,” Wray said. “When victims report attacks to us, we can help them and others, too.”
Victims sometimes quietly pay ransoms without notifying authorities — even if they’ve quickly restored networks — because the data stolen from them could be extremely damaging to them if leaked online. Identity theft is among the risks.
John Hultquist, the head of threat intelligence at the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said the Hive disruption won’t cause a major drop in overall ransomware activity but is nonetheless “a blow to a dangerous group.”
“Unfortunately, the criminal marketplace at the heart of the ransomware problem ensures a Hive competitor will be standing by to offer a similar service in their absence, but they may think twice before allowing their ransomware to be used to target hospitals,” Hultquist said.
But analyst Brett Callow with the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft said the operation is apt to lessen ransomware crooks’ confidence in what has been a very high reward-low risk business. “The information collected may point to affiliates, launderers and others involved in the ransomware supply chain.”
Allan Liska, an analyst with Recorded Future, another cybersecurity outfit, predicted indictments, if not actual arrests, in the next few months.
There are few positive indicators in the global fight against ransomware, but here’s one: An analysis of cryptocurrency transactions by the firm Chainalysis found ransomware extortion payments were down last year. It tracked payments of at least $456.8 million, down from $765.6 million in 2021. While Chainalysis said the true totals are certainly much higher, payments were clearly down. That suggests more victims are refusing to pay.
The Biden administration got serious about ransomware at its highest levels two years ago after a series of high-profile attacks threatened critical infrastructure and global industry. In May 2021, for instance, hackers targeted the nation’s largest fuel pipeline, causing the operators to briefly shut it down and make a multimillion-dollar ransom payment, which the US government later largely recovered.
A global task force involving 37 nations began work this week. It is led by Australia, which has been particularly hard-hit by ransomware, including a major medical insurer and telecom. Conventional law enforcement measures such as arrests and prosecutions have done little to frustrate the criminals. Australia’s interior minister, Clare O’Neil, said in November that her government was going on the offense, using cyber-intelligence and police agents to ” find these people, hunt them down and debilitate them before they can attack our country.”
The FBI has obtained access to decryption keys before. It did so in the case of a major 2021 ransomware attack on Kaseya, a company whose software runs hundreds of websites. It took some heat, however, for waiting several weeks to help victims unlock afflicted networks.


Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh

Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh
Updated 27 January 2023

Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh

Shamima Begum talks to BBC about her family’s reaction after she joined Daesh
  • Begum suggested her family was partly to blame for the media storm that erupted when her actions were revealed
  • BBC says its podcast is ‘not a platform for Shamima Begum to give her unchallenged story’ but a ‘robust, public-interest investigation’

LONDON: Shamima Begum has spoken of the first time she talked to her mother after leaving the UK in 2015, at the age of 15, to join Daesh in Syria.

“The first time I called my mum she was just crying. I felt like she was trying to make me feel guilty,” she told journalist Joshua Baker during an interview for the second series of the BBC podcast “I’m Not A Monster,” which began this month.

“I don’t know, maybe it was just emotions but I just didn’t say anything to her, I let her cry. I just kept telling her I was OK.”

Baker asked her what she had said when her mother pleaded with her to come home, to which she replied she “just said no.”

Begum, now 23, added that although she had not yet fully committed to her decision to join the extremist group at that point, she did not want to give her mother false hope because she did not know whether she would be able to leave.

Baker then asked Begum how she felt when she heard her sister publicly beg her to leave Daesh.

“I couldn't believe it,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that my sister would travel all the way to Turkey thinking that she could save me.”

Begum even suggested her family were “responsible” for the media storm that erupted around her when her journey to Syria was revealed, because of their emotional pleas for her return.

“But I don’t think they knew how far it would go and how big it would become,” she added. “I blame the media for obsessing over my friends and I so much.”

The podcast series, new episodes of which are released each Wednesday, also revealed information about people smuggler Mohammed Al-Rasheed, who helped Begum travel to Syria while he was also working as an agent for Canadian intelligence services.

The BBC has faced a public outcry this month over the podcast series, which focuses on Begum’s case and in which she defends her actions. The UK’s public service broadcaster responded by saying the series is “not a platform for Shamima Begum to give her unchallenged story” but rather a “robust, public-interest investigation” into her case.

Begum was born in the UK to parents of Bangladeshi origin and citizenship. She was living with her family in the Bethnal Green area of London when she left for Syria. Shortly after arriving in the war-torn country she married Dutch-born Yago Riedijk. In the years that followed, she gave birth to three children, all of whom died young. In 2019, she was discovered living in a refugee camp in northern Syria. The UK government revoked her British citizenship and said she would not be allowed to return to the country.