Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned

Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned
Ukraine’s Military Intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov and his wife Marianna attend a memorial ceremony for Ukrainian interior minister and officials who died in helicopter crash near Ukrainian, on Jan, 21, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned

Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned
  • “Yes, I can confirm the information, unfortunately, it is true,” GUR spokesperson Andriy Yusov told Reuters
  • The 37-year-old has himself been the target of several attempts on his life, including a botched car bombing

KYIV: The wife of Ukraine’s military spy chief has been poisoned with heavy metals and is undergoing treatment in a hospital, a spokesperson for the agency said on Tuesday.
Marianna Budanova is the wife of Kyrylo Budanov, who heads Ukrainian military intelligence agency GUR, which has been prominently involved in clandestine operations against Russian forces since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
“Yes, I can confirm the information, unfortunately, it is true,” GUR spokesperson Andriy Yusov told Reuters, without clarifying when the poisoning took place.
The BBC’s Ukrainian service cited Yusov as saying that several GUR officials had also experienced milder symptoms of poisoning.
Budanov’s public profile has risen in Ukraine and the West, where he is portrayed as a behind-the-scenes mastermind of operations to strike back at Russia. In Russian media he is a hate figure.
The 37-year-old has himself been the target of several attempts on his life, including a botched car bombing.
If confirmed as deliberate, the purported poisoning of his wife would represent the most serious targeting of a high-profile Ukrainian leadership figure’s family member during the 21-month-long war.
The poisoning was first reported by Ukrainian media outlets.
One publication, Babel, cited an unidentified source who said Budanova had been in hospital, and was finishing a course of treatment for the effects of the poisoning.
Another outlet, Ukrainska Pravda, cited an unidentified source who said the poison was likely administered through food.
Moscow has previously blamed Ukrainian secret services for the murders of a pro-war Russian blogger and a pro-war journalist on Russian soil. Ukraine denies involvement in those deaths.
Separately, Russian media has reported that a court in Moscow had arrested Budanov in absentia in April on terrorism charges.


Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker

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Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker

Pre-election stress tests cause Internet outages in Russia -lawmaker
MOSCOW: Telegram, the most popular messaging app used in Russia, suffered a temporary outage on Tuesday as security services conducted stress tests on online resources to eliminate possible vulnerabilities, a lawmaker said.
President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s paramount leader for over 20 years, is expected to easily win another six-year term in power at next month’s election.
Telegram and other sites were affected, while some previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia.
The monitoring center for Russia’s public communications network said on Tuesday its specialists had recorded a “massive failure” of Telegram, without providing a reason. Telegram did not reply to a request for comment.
“The work of Telegram messenger and a number of other services in Russia is already being restored,” Russia’s digital ministry said in a statement, adding that there had also been failures of the app outside Russia.
“We are working to establish the cause of the incident,” it said. “As for Russian telecom operators, their networks are operating normally.”
But Andrei Svintsov, a deputy head of the State Duma parliamentary committee on information policy told gazeta.ru that the outages were due to pre-election work.
“These outages are due to the fact that on the eve of the presidential election, our special services are checking the operability of all systems inside Russia related to the Internet and cybersecurity infrastructure,” gazeta.ru quoted Svintsov as saying.
“Banned sites, banned resources, banned social networks will have access restricted once again,” Svintsov added.
Reuters correspondents in Moscow noted outages of Telegram, YouTube and Vkontakte for around 90 minutes.
Soon after the outage, several previously blocked social media apps including Instagram and Facebook suddenly became available in Russia on Tuesday, according to Reuters reporters in Moscow.
Reuters reporters were able to browse Instagram without requiring a virtual private network (VPN) for the first time since blocks were imposed shortly after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
Communications regulator Roskomnadzor has moved to block some foreign tech companies including Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Instagram.
Moscow has long sought to improve its domestic Internet infrastructure, or Runet, even disconnecting itself from the global Internet for tests.
Anton Gorelkin, another member of the same parliamentary committee as Svintsov, said it was unclear what had caused the Telegram outages, but that immediately blaming the Russian state was a mistake, noting “conspiracy theories” that Russia was trying to block foreign resources prior to the election.
“There have been, and will be, such incidents for a variety of reasons: from human error to hacker attack,” he said.
“Much more important is how long it takes to eliminate the failure; the scale of damage to the Russian economy depends on this.”

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest
Updated 12 min 52 sec ago
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Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest

Hamas says US airman ‘immortal’ for self-immolation Gaza protest
  • The militant group said it was “an expression of the growing state of anger among the American people” over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza
  • The airman “will remain immortal in the memory of our Palestinian people and the free people of the world,” Hamas said

JERUSALEM: Hamas on Tuesday said a US airman who died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington would “remain immortal” for his shocking anti-war protest.
Footage of the self-immolation was widely shared online, and the militant group said it was “an expression of the growing state of anger among the American people” over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The war was sparked by the Palestinian militant group’s surprise October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the death of 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Israel’s military launched a devastating response, aimed at destroying Hamas, that in less than five months has killed nearly 30,000 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
The airman “will remain immortal in the memory of our Palestinian people and the free people of the world, and a symbol of the spirit of global human solidarity with our people and their just cause,” Hamas said in a statement issued in English.
In the footage of Sunday’s protest, the military fatigues-wearing man declares he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid, lighting himself on fire and yelling “Free Palestine!” until he collapses.
His death was announced on Monday.
Some members of US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party are attempting to press him on his support for Israel, with Arab American voters in Michigan pledging to vote “uncommitted” or write in “Free Palestine” on their ballots in the state’s primary on Tuesday.
The White House has tried to assuage Arab and Muslim voters’ concerns in part by portraying the president as frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.


US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House
Updated 27 February 2024
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US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House

US ‘will not send troops to fight in Ukraine’: White House
  • Biden believes the “path to victory” is for Congress to pass blocked military aid

WASHINGTON: The White House said Tuesday that the United States would not send troops to fight in Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron refused to rule out the dispatch of Western forces.
“President Biden has been clear that the US will not send troops to fight in Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
Biden believes the “path to victory” is for Congress to pass blocked military aid “so Ukrainian troops have the weapons and ammunition they need to defend themselves” against Russian invasion, Watson added.


Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court
Updated 27 February 2024
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Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court

Four charged with transporting Iranian-made weapons face detention hearings in US court
  • The man who captained the unflagged vessel, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt
  • “Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated

VIRGINIA, USA: Four crew members from an unflagged ship that US officials say was carrying Iranian-made missile components to Houthis in Yemen are scheduled to appear Tuesday in federal court in Virginia, where prosecutors are expected to argue they should be held without bond while they await trial.
US Navy SEALs and the US Coast Guard boarded the vessel in January in the Arabian Sea in the wake of continued Houthi attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Two Navy SEALs drowned during the Jan. 11 operation. US officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft.
As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened. The SEAL who jumped in after the other operator in a rescue attempt was following protocol, according to court documents.
Efforts to find and rescue the two SEALs were unsuccessful. They were later declared dead by the US Navy.
The man who captained the unflagged vessel, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt and “shouted for the crew to burn the boat before the Navy could board it,” according to court documents filed in the federal court in Richmond.
The ship was described in court documents as a dhow.
“Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated. “In fact, Pahlawan tried to make the dhow go faster. Finally, another crewmember, not Pahlawan, stepped up to the engine and stopped the boat.”
During a search of the ship, US forces found and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The agent said the items found are consistent with weaponry used by Houthi forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and US military ships.
The affidavit quoted US Central Command, which stated that it was the first seizure of “Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons” to the Houthis since their strikes began in November.
“Initial analysis indicates these same weapons have been employed by the Houthis to threaten and attack innocent mariners,” the FBI agent wrote, quoting Central Command.
The Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperilling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.
The four crew members scheduled to appear Tuesday in US District Court were all carrying Pakistani identification cards, according to court documents.
Pahlawan, the alleged captain, is charged with attempting to smuggle advanced missile components, including a warhead he is accused of knowing would be used by the Houthis against commercial and naval vessels. He is also charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers during the boarding of the vessel.
Pahlawan’s codefendants — Mohammad Mazhar, Ghufran Ullah and Izhar Muhammad — were also charged with providing false information.
Specifically, the men lied about Pahlawan’s identity as captain, the weapons on board and the ship’s departure from Iran, court documents stated. The men had claimed their voyage’s origin was Pakistan.
Their attorneys have declined to comment.
Another 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”
The FBI affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.


‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
Updated 27 February 2024
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‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen

‘Urgent’ for G7 to seize Russian profits for Ukraine: Yellen
  • Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine
  • Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo: “There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward”

SAO PAULO, Brazil: US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Tuesday it was urgent for G7 nations to jointly seize profits from frozen Russian assets and redirect them to Ukraine, as the group prepared to meet on the issue.
Calls have been mounting in the United States and Europe to set up a fund for Ukraine using billions of dollars in bank accounts, investments and other assets frozen by the West over Russia’s 2022 invasion.
“It is necessary and urgent for our coalition to find a way to unlock the value of these immobilized assets to support Ukraine’s continued resistance and long-term reconstruction,” Yellen told journalists in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she will attend a meeting of G20 finance ministers Wednesday and Thursday.
“There is a strong international-law, economic and moral case for moving forward. This would be a decisive response to Russia’s unprecedented threat to global stability. It would make clear that Russia cannot win by prolonging the war and would incentivize it to come to the table to negotiate a just peace with Ukraine.”
Yellen urged joint action by the Group of Seven — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, plus the European Union — after evaluating the risks, which include triggering financial instability.
“The G7 should work together to explore a number of approaches: seizing the assets themselves, using them as collateral to borrow from global markets,” she said.
G7 officials say the group is due to meet on the sidelines of the Sao Paulo gathering to discuss support for Ukraine, as its grueling fight against Russia enters its third year.
Ukraine has warned it desperately needs more military and financial assistance, as a fresh $60 billion US package remains stalled in Congress.
That has cast a spotlight on the estimated $397 billion in Russian assets frozen by the West, ranging from central bank assets to yachts, real estate and other property from oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.
But there are risks involved, including likely Russian legal action and the potential for scaring other countries, such as China, into reducing their own investments in the West, fearing similar action.
Yellen said a risk to financial stability would arise “if there were a massive shift away from currencies” of Western countries in response to seizing Russian funds. But she said the risk was minimal if the G7 acted together.
“I think (financial instability) is extremely unlikely, especially given the uniqueness of this situation, where Russia is brazenly violating international norms and a group of countries representing half the global economy... have the capacity to work together,” she said.
“Realistically, there are not alternatives” to the dollar, euro and other G7 currencies on international markets, she said.
“There are risks,” she acknowledged. “We’re working to evaluate and outline options for consideration.”
The US Congress is currently weighing a bill that would authorize the confiscation and disposition of Russian sovereign assets.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called Sunday for “bolder” action on the issue, writing in an opinion piece in the Sunday Times that the West should start by taking interest from Russian assets before finding “lawful ways to seize the assets themselves.”
And Greece’s special envoy on Ukraine, Spiros Lampridis, told AFP Monday the EU is close to seizing Russian profits, saying it was “a question of months.”
However, he added that the estimated 50 billion to 60 billion euros the move would yield was a “trifle” compared with the roughly 500 billion euros or more needed for Ukraine’s reconstruction.