Russia arrests two more top defense officials

Russia arrests two more top defense officials
The Kremlin denied it was carrying out a purge of top army officials, but some of Russia’s influential military bloggers welcomed the arrest of a general they hold responsible for battlefield failures in the two-year offensive in Ukraine. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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Russia arrests two more top defense officials

Russia arrests two more top defense officials

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday arrested a general and a high-ranking defense official on corruption and “abuse of power” charges — the latest senior military figures to be put behind bars this month.

The Kremlin denied it was carrying out a purge of top army officials, but some of Russia’s influential military bloggers welcomed the arrest of a general they hold responsible for battlefield failures in the two-year offensive in Ukraine.

Moscow’s powerful Investigative Committee said Vadim Shamarin, deputy head of Russia’s General Staff, had been placed in detention on suspicion of “large-scale bribe taking.”

The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

The committee alleged that Shamarin had been taking bribes for years from a factory in the Urals city of Perm, saying he had received 36 million rubles (364,000 euros) in kickbacks in return for boosting government contracts.

It said he had been placed in pre-trial detention.

Later on Thursday, the committee announced the arrest of Vladimir Verteletsky — an official from the defense ministry’s department for ensuring state orders.

It said Verteletsky had “been charged with the abuse of his official powers” and has also been placed in detention.

Investigators accuse Verteletsky of taking a bribe in relation to a government contract in 2022, the first year of Moscow’s offensive.

It said the alleged offense had cost the state “over 70 million rubles” (706,000 euros).

Critics and opposition figures have for years said Russia’s military is riddled with corruption, although its leaders have rarely faced any serious probe or retribution.

The issue burst to the forefront amid failures in the Ukraine offensive, with Wagner paramilitary head Yevgeny Prigozhin accusing Russia’s military bosses — then-defense minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov — of corruption on an almost daily basis, saying it hobbled Russia’s combat capacity.

Prigozhin died last year in a plane crash just two months after launching a bloody mutiny in a bid to remove the pair.

The arrest of Shamarin, who was head of the General Staff’s communications directorate, is the latest in an apparent crackdown on some of Russia’s top military officials.

But the Kremlin denied it was mounting a purge.

“The fight against corruption is an ongoing effort. It is not a campaign. It is an integral part of the activities of law enforcement agencies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

Putin removed Shoigu earlier this month in a surprise reshuffle, replacing him with economist Andrei Belousov.

A deputy defense minister, Timur Ivanov, and head of the ministry’s personnel, Yuri Kuznetsov, also have been arrested in the last few weeks for bribe-taking.

And Ivan Popov, an ex-commander who was sacked after he criticized Russia’s military leaders for a high casualty rate in Ukraine, was arrested earlier this week.

Some Russian military bloggers welcomed the arrest of Shamarin, saying it was communications breakdowns — caused by a lack of equipment due to corruption — that were behind Russia’s military failures in Ukraine.

“Bribery in the military and security services is state treason,” military blogger Anastasia Kashevarova said in a post on Telegram.

Amid the reshuffle and arrests in Moscow, Russian forces in Ukraine have made their most significant advances on the battlefield in 18 months, with a new major assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region.


Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty in deal with US and return to Australia

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP)
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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty in deal with US and return to Australia

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrivies at Belmarsh Magistrates' Court in London, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP)
  • The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange

WASHINGTON: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange will plead guilty to a felony charge in a deal with the US Justice Department that will resolve a long-running legal saga that spanned multiple continents and centered on the publication of a trove of classified documents, according to court papers filed late Monday.
Assange is scheduled to appear in the federal court in the Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific, to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, the Justice Department said in a letter filed in court.
The guilty plea, which must be approved by a judge, brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the US government’s years-long pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing. Investigators, by contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke laws meant to protect sensitive information and put the country’s national security at risk.
He is expected to return to Australia after his plea and sentencing, which is scheduled for Wednesday morning, local time in Saipan, the largest island in the Mariana Islands. The hearing is taking place there because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia.
The deal ensures that Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him from any additional prison time. He had spent years hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Swedish authorities sought his arrest on rape allegations before being locked up in the United Kingdom.
Prosecutors have agreed to a sentence of the five years Assange has already spent in a high-security British prison while fighting to avoid extradition to the US to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London. Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the US government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.
He is expected to return to Australia after his plea and sentencing, which is scheduled for Wednesday morning, local time in Saipan, the largest island in the Mariana Islands. The hearing is taking place there because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia.
Assange has been heralded by many around the world as a hero who brought to light military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
But his reputation was also tarnished by rape allegations, which he has denied.
The Justice Department’s indictment unsealed in 2019 accused Assange of encouraging and helping US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published in 2010. Prosecutors had accused Assange of damaging national security by publishing documents that harmed the US and its allies and aided its adversaries.
The case was lambasted by press advocates and Assange supporters. Federal prosecutors defended it as targeting conduct that went way beyond that of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents. It was brought even though the Obama administration Justice Department had passed on prosecuting him years earlier.
The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses for leaking classified government and military documents to WikiLeaks. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017, allowing her release after about seven behind bars.
Assange made headlines in 2016 after his website published Democratic emails that prosecutors say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives. He was never charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but the inquiry laid bare in stark detail the role that the hacking operation played in interfering in that year’s election on behalf of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Justice Department officials mulled charges for Assange following the documents’ 2010 publication, but were unsure a case would hold up in court and were concerned it could be hard to justify prosecuting him for acts similar to those of a conventional journalist.
The posture changed in the Trump administration, however, with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 calling Assange’s arrest a priority.
Assange’s family and supporters have said his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, which includes seven years spent inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and was granted political asylum after courts in England ruled he should be extradited to Sweden as part of a rape investigation in the Scandinavian country. He was arrested by British police after Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status in 2019 and then jailed for skipping bail when he first took shelter inside the embassy.
Although Sweden eventually dropped its sex crimes investigation because so much time had elapsed, Assange has remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison during the extradition battle with the US.

 


EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort

EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort
Updated 16 min 39 sec ago
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EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort

EU sanctions 19 Chinese firms over links to Russian war effort
  • These companies are now subject to drastic restrictions over sales of “dual-use goods and technology” that could be used for the “enhancement of Russia’s defense and security sector”

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The European Union Monday imposed sanctions on 19 Chinese companies aimed at punishing what the West believes is Beijing’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A list published in the EU’s Official Journal includes several companies located in Hong Kong as well as two global satellite giants.
The 14th package of sanctions against Russia added 61 new companies to the list of entities accused of directly “supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex” in the war in Ukraine, bringing the total to 675 firms.
These companies are now subject to drastic restrictions over sales of “dual-use goods and technology” that could be used for the “enhancement of Russia’s defense and security sector.”
China denies Western accusations that it is supporting Russia’s military campaign.
Among the newly added companies are two major players in the Chinese satellite industry involved in the sale of satellites and satellite imagery to Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.
In October, an AFP investigation revealed that Wagner in 2022 signed a contract worth more than $30 million with Chinese firm Beijing Yunze Technology Co. Ltd. to acquire two satellites and use their images.
The contract was signed in November 2022, over half a year into Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in which the Wagner group under its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was playing a key role on the battlefield.
The two high-resolution satellites belonged to Chang Guang Satellite Technology, a leading global satellite company which was the unit to be added to the EU’s sanctions list.
Another company named Monday was Head Aerospace Technology, which sells satellite images and was placed on a US sanctions list in 2023 for supplying the Wagner Group.
Even if China does not deliver weapons directly to Russia, the United States and Europe accuse it of selling components and equipment to Moscow’s military industry.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian has dismissed the claims as “false information.”
Russian-based companies make up about half of the 61 entities added to the EU’s list Monday.
In addition to the 19 Chinese companies, it also added nine from Turkiye, two in Kyrgyzstan, one in India, one in Kazakhstan, and one in the United Arab Emirates.
 

 


Police ask Texas prosecutors to treat attempted drowning of 3-year-old child as a hate crime

Police said that as the mother helped her son, Wolf grabbed the woman’s 3-year-old daughter and forced her underwater. (REUTERS)
Police said that as the mother helped her son, Wolf grabbed the woman’s 3-year-old daughter and forced her underwater. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 June 2024
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Police ask Texas prosecutors to treat attempted drowning of 3-year-old child as a hate crime

Police said that as the mother helped her son, Wolf grabbed the woman’s 3-year-old daughter and forced her underwater. (REUTERS)
  • The mother of the children, who wears a hijab, said in a news release from the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations that they are Palestinians who became American citizens

DALLAS: A Texas woman allegedly tried to drown a 3-year-old at an apartment complex pool in suburban Dallas after making racist remarks toward the child’s mother in a case investigators are asking to be treated as a hate crime, a police spokeswoman said Monday.
Elizabeth Wolf, 42, has been charged with attempted capital murder and injury to a child. The child’s mother told officers that Wolf told the mother she wasn’t American, along with other racial statements, police said.
The mother of the children, who wears a hijab, said in a news release from the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations that they are Palestinians who became American citizens. Neither police nor CAIR have released the mother’s name.
Euless police Capt. Brenda Alvarado told The Associated Press that the department has requested that prosecutors in Tarrant County treat the case as a hate crime. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said Monday that they have received the case and are currently reviewing it.
Police said in a statement that when officers arrived to a call about a disturbance between two women on May 19 in Euless, witnesses told officers that a “very intoxicated” Wolf had tried to drown a child and had argued with the child’s mother.
The child’s mother told officers that Wolf had been asking her where she was from and if the two children playing in the pool were hers, police said. The mother told officers that after she answered, Wolf tried to grab the woman’s 6-year-old son but he pulled away from her grasp, causing a scratch on his finger.
Police said that as the mother helped her son, Wolf grabbed the woman’s 3-year-old daughter and forced her underwater. The mother pulled her daughter, who was yelling for help and coughing up water, out of the pool, police said.
Medics evaluated both children, who were cleared.
Wolf has been released on bond. A call to her attorney was not immediately returned Monday.
On Saturday, community leaders came together to denounce the attack on the child and how the woman treated the family.
“The trauma and pain this has caused for the immigrant community broadly and Muslim community more specifically cannot be understated,” said state Rep. Salman Bhojani, whose district includes part of Euless.

 


Kenyan police are leaving for a controversial deployment in Haiti to take on powerful, violent gangs

Kenyan police are leaving for a controversial deployment in Haiti to take on powerful, violent gangs
Updated 25 June 2024
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Kenyan police are leaving for a controversial deployment in Haiti to take on powerful, violent gangs

Kenyan police are leaving for a controversial deployment in Haiti to take on powerful, violent gangs

NAIROBI, Kenya: Hundreds of Kenyan police officers were leaving Monday for Haiti, where they will lead a multinational force against the powerful gangs whose deadly violence spiked this year and helped bring about a change in government.

The deployment is controversial. The government of Kenyan President William Ruto is defying a court’s ruling calling it unconstitutional. And critics have expressed concern about the long history of alleged abuses by police officers.

The 400 police officers are the first of the 1,000 that Kenya expects to send for the United Nations-led force in Haiti. Ruto’s sendoff ceremony on Monday was closed to the media, but his office shared a speech in which he urged the officers to uphold integrity.

“We have mediated many conflicts and are currently engaged in resolving more,” he said. “Don’t let down the confidence the people of Kenya and the international community have in you.”

A court case seeking to block the deployment is pending, but an initial ruling had called the deployment unconstitutional, citing the lack of a reciprocal agreement between Kenya and Haiti.

US President Joe Biden, however, thanked Ruto for Kenya’s leadership of the multinational force during Ruto’s recent state visit to Washington. The United States has agreed to contribute $300 million to the force, but Biden argued that an American troop presence in Haiti would raise “all kinds of questions that can easily be misrepresented.”

More than 2,500 people were killed or injured in the first three months of the year in Haiti. The spike in violence began in late February and has displaced more than half a million people. Gangs now control at least 80 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince and key roads. Trapped outside the country as the international airport was closed, Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to resign.

The most recent allegations by watchdogs against Kenyan police for using excessive force came last week, when two people died during anti-government protests. One protester was shot dead by a suspected plainclothes officer. The other was killed by a tear gas canister thrown by police.

Kenya’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority is looking into police conduct during the protests in which more than 200 other people were injured.


China lunar probe to return to Earth with samples

China lunar probe to return to Earth with samples
Updated 25 June 2024
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China lunar probe to return to Earth with samples

China lunar probe to return to Earth with samples

BEIJING: A Chinese probe carrying samples from the far side of the Moon is expected to return to Earth on Tuesday, capping a technically complex 53-day mission heralded as a world first.

Beijing has not disclosed the spacecraft’s estimated arrival time, but experts say it will likely touch down in a barren expanse of desert in the northern Inner Mongolia region at around midday (0400 GMT).

It comes bearing soil and rocks from the side of the moon that faces away from Earth, a poorly understood region that scientists say holds great research promise because its rugged features are less smoothed over by ancient lava flows than the near side.

That means the materials harvested there may help us to better understand how the Moon formed and how it has evolved over time.

Chang’e-6 blasted off from a space center on the island province of Hainan on May 3 and descended into the Moon’s immense South Pole-Aitken Basin almost exactly a month later.

It used a drill and robotic arm to scoop up samples, snapped some shots of the pockmarked surface and planted a Chinese flag in the grey soil.

On June 4, the probe made the first ever successful launch from the far side in what Chinese state news agency Xinhua called “an unprecedented feat in human lunar exploration history.”

Authorities have been coy about disclosing updates on the probe’s progress since then.

But China’s space agency said in a social media post on Friday that it was “70 percent” of the way back to Earth.

Plans for China’s “space dream” have shifted into high gear under President Xi Jinping.

Beijing has poured huge resources into its space program over the past decade, targeting ambitious undertakings in an effort to catch up to traditional space powers the United States and Russia.

It has built a space station, landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and become only the third country to send astronauts into orbit.

But the United States has warned that China’s space program masks military objectives and an effort to establish dominance in space.

China aims to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030 and plans to eventually build a base on the lunar surface.

The United States also plans to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2026 with its Artemis 3 mission.