MOSCOW, June 18 -- Using Russian equipment and software to manage the country's power grids is necessary to protect the energy system from cyber criminals, the press service of the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Media said on Monday.
The ministry was commenting on the article in The New York Times that claims that "the United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia's electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively." "Informational security of the energy system is one of our priorities. We are constantly working on it together with the Ministry of Energy. Using our own intelligent accounting software, telecommunications equipment, component base and secure protocols provides a guarantee against hacker attacks," spokesman for the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Media Yevgeny Novikov said. Novikov noted that "smart" meters can be used to remotely turn on and off the supply of resources (electricity or gas). "So a hacker attack can, for example, leave a hospital, school, or a whole city, without electricity. In a situation with gas supplies, consequences can be catastrophic," Novikov said.
WASHINGTON, June 18 -- The United States is sending 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East after last week's attacks on the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a statement on Monday.
"In response to a request from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) for additional forces, and with the advice of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in consultation with the White House, I have authorized approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East," Shanahan said. "The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region," he added. "The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests," he noted. "We will continue to monitor the situation dilligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats," Shanahan concluded.
On June 13, two tankers caught fire in the Gulf of Oman after an attack. The crews, with Russian nationals among their members, were evacuated by the Iranian rescue services and taken to the port of Jask. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that Iran is responsible for the attacks. Tehran has denied any involvement in the incident. The Kokuka Courageous tanker, registered in Panama and owned by a Japanese transport company, was carrying methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore. The Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair vessel, owned by Norway's Frontline, was sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Taiwan with petrochemical feedstock.
ANKARA, June 17 -- The supplies of Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems to Ankara will begin in the first half of July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after returning from the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
"We discussed with Russia the S-400 issue, this is a closed chapter. There haven’t been any problems. I think the supplies will begin in the first half of July," Erdogan said, according to the NTV TV channel. Ankara is not planning to give up its S-400 contract, Erdogan stressed. "We have put our signature, we will fulfill what we have started. As part of the loan, Russia gave us various benefits and granted a loan with such interest rates which do not exist on the international market," he explained. Turkey’s National Defense Ministry is preparing a reply to a letter sent by Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Washington’s decision to suspend Turkey’s participation in a program on training Turkish pilots in the US on the F-35 bombers in the wake of the S-400 deal. "Very soon, maybe even this week the letter will be sent to [the US side]," Erdogan said.
The first reports that Russia and Turkey were in talks on the S-400 supplies emerged in November 2016. Moscow confirmed that the contract had been signed in September 2017. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said back then that the deployment of S-400 systems would begin in October 2019. According to Sergei Chemezov, the director general of Russia’s Rostec state corporation, the contract’s price tag is $2.5 bln. Turkey is the first NATO member state to buy these missile systems from Russia. The US has been vigorously trying to stonewall the S-400 deal. Earlier Washington warned Ankara that should the deal with Russia be implemented, the US would not supply its F-35 fighter-bombers to Turkey. The S-400 Triumf is the most advanced long-range air defense missile system that went into service in Russia in 2007. It is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, including medium-range missiles, and can also be used against ground installations. The S-400 can engage targets at a distance of 400 km and at an altitude of up to 30 km.
DUSHANBE, June 15 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has wished Chinese leader Xi Jinping a happy birthday, presenting him with Russian ice cream, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
On June 15, Xi Jinping turned 66. "The president praised Xi Jinping’s role in the development of bilateral relations and pointed to his recent successful visit to Russia," Peskov said. Xi Jinping thanked the Russian president, adding that Putin was very popular in China. A few years ago, Chinese businessmen participating in the Eastern Economic Forum told Putin that the Chinese people were especially fond of Russian ice cream. The Russian leader brought some ice cream as a present for Xi Jinping when he next visited China.
DEN HAAG, June 15 -- Investigators will next week announce criminal proceedings against suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 five years ago, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists.
MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. There were 38 Australians, one New Zealander, 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 12 Indonesians were aboard, as well as 10 British passengers. The other passengers were from Germany, Belgium, the Philippines and Canada.
Dutch prosecutors said yesterday a multinational investigation team would present its latest findings to media and families on June 19. A spokesman for the national Dutch prosecution service declined to specify what would be announced. Citing anonymous sources reported that the public prosecution service had decided to launch a case against several MH17 suspects. Also reported that criminal proceedings will be announced against individual suspects. No suspects were named in the reports.
The Joint Investigation Team, which seeks to try the suspects under Dutch law, has said the missile system came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
Investigators had said their next step would be to identify individual culprits and to attempt to put them on trial.
Dutch officials have said Russia has refused to cooperate. Russia is not expected to surrender any potential suspects who may be on its territory and authorities have said individuals could be tried in absentia. The Joint Investigation Team was formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine to investigate collaboratively. The Netherlands and Australia hold Russia legally responsible. Moscow denies all involvement and maintains that it does not support, financially or with equipment, pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops.
MOSCOW, June 12 -- Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the historic level of pressure from Russian civil society that led to investigative journalist Ivan Golunov’s release yesterday but points out that at least six other journalists are still detained in Russia.
Their profiles are presented below.
Ivan Golunov’s arrest highlighted the complete impunity enjoyed by corrupt police officers ready to bring the most absurd trumped-up charges against troublesome journalists. Their behaviour shocked Moscow but it is quite common in the rest of Russia. A young Chechen journalist, Zhalaudi Geriyev, has just completed a three-year jail sentence on equally fanciful drug charges. At least six other journalists continue to be detained arbitrarily just for doing their job. One of them, Igor Rudnikov, is due to be sentenced on 17 June and is facing up to ten years in a prison camp. “The past few days have shown that it is possible to snatch journalists from censorship’s claws in Russia if the level of support and solidarity is strong enough,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “But the scale of this victory will be limited if we allow Ivan Golunov’s fellow journalists to continue festering in prison. The time has come to mobilize for all the other journalists who are unjustly detained in Russia. I am and we are Igor Rudnikov, Remzi Bekirov, Alexei Nazimov, Roman Sushchenko, Alexander Tolmachev and Alexander Valov.”
A reporter for the alternative news website Grani.ru in Crimea (the Ukrainian region annexed in 2014), Bekirov particularly covered the persecution of the Tatar population and pro-Ukraine activists by the Russian de-facto authorities. He was arrested along with a number of other people in Crimea in March 2019 and is facing a possible life sentence on a charge of being one of the “leaders of a terrorist organization,” Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
The editor of the opposition newspaper Tvoya Gazeta in the Crimean city of Alushta, Nazimov was arrested in October 2016 and was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison for supposedly trying to extort money from the local branch of the ruling United Russia party, which he had criticized in his reporting.
The founder and editor of the leading independent newspaper in Russia’s western enclave of Kaliningrad, Rudnikov is well known for hard-hitting investigative reporting and had been the target of two murder attempts. He was arrested in November 2017 on a charge of trying to extort money from the local head of the special police, who had been the subject of some of his investigative reporting. A verdict is due in his trial on 17 June. His newspaper, Novye Kolesa, has meanwhile been forced to close.
The Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform’s Paris correspondent, Sushchenko was arrested while visiting a friend in Russia in September 2016 and was sentenced to 12 years in a harsh-regime prison camp at the end of a trial held behind closed doors. Most of the indictment was classified as a defence secret.
The editor of two publications in the southwestern Rostov-on-Don region, Upolnomochen Zayavit and Pro Rostov, Tolmachev arrested in December 2011 and was illegally maintained in pre-trial detention for nearly three years despite serious health problems. He was finally sentenced to nine years in a prison camp for allegedly extorting money from people he had criticized in his reporting.
The editor of the BlogSochi news website in the southwestern Sochi region, Valov is well known for criticizing the local authorities. He was arrested in January 2018 on a charge of trying to extort money from a local parliamentarian he had criticized, and was sentenced to six years in prison at the end of a sham trial. BlogSochi has meanwhile been hacked and is no longer accessible.
Russia is ranked 149thout of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
MONACO, June 10 -- The Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations made a decision on Sunday not to restore the membership of All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF), Chairman of the IAAF task force Rune Andersen told reporters.
The issue of ARAF’s reinstatement will be considered after re-checks of doping tests of the Moscow laboratory are carried out, he said. ARAF’s membership in the IAAF was suspended in November 2015 based on the investigation conducted by the WADA commission led by Richard Pound. Later on, the IAAF set up a working group led by Norway’s Rune Andersen, which, together with Russia, is implementing the roadmap to reinstate ARAF. On June 6, President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) Stanislav Pozdnyakov said at a meeting of the committee’s Executive Board that Russia had taken all measures required for the reinstatement.
NUR-SULTAN, June 9 -- The polls at the Kazakhstan presidential election have opened on Sunday at 7:00 am local time.
9,970 polling stations have begun their work in Kazakhstan, with 64 additional stations set to open abroad, including in Russia’s five cities - Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Astrakhan and Omsk. Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Alexey Borodavkin told TASS that Russian observers, along with their colleagues from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Common Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) would monitor the election process in order to ensure an objective result.
"Over 1,000 foreign observers have arrived to monitor the Kazakhstan election. Around 400 of them are Russian," he said. "Russian observers are already working in Kazakhstan within observer missions from the CIS, the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union State, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, as well as on the line of cooperation between regions and central election commissions of our countries." For the first time ever, first president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has not presented his candidacy for the election. Seven candidates are on the ballot, including current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
ANKARA, June 8 -- The Pentagon announced in a letter that it would halt F-35 fighter jet training for Turkish pilots over Ankara's purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Saturday.
In a letter to his Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that all Turkish pilots in the program must leave the country by July 31 and the training for new pilots will be suspended. Turkish Defense Ministry also confirmed the letter in a statement on Saturday, saying that the Pentagon expected to address security concerns over the S-400 deal. Shanahan expressed his expectation to find a solution to the existing problems between the two countries in the framework of the strategic partnership and to maintain comprehensive security cooperation, the ministry said.
The U.S. repeatedly warned that it will cut off Ankara's purchase of F-35 fighter jets if the Turkish government goes ahead with plans to buy Russian S-400 air defense system, triggering a heated dispute between the two NATO allies. Washington has already suspended deliveries of parts and services related to Turkey's receipt of the multi-million-dollar jets. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday reaffirmed his resolve to buy S-400 system despite threatened sanctions from the United States.
ST.PETERSBURG, June 7 -- Russia may increase the number of its military specialists in Venezuela if it sends such a request, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Latin American Department, Alexander Shchetinin, told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
"We have got contracts on maintenance works for what has been supplied to Venezuela. Any works demand a certain involvement of people," the diplomat said, noting: "If more [specialists] are needed, we will send them." "This is an absolutely technical issue related to implementing certain contracts on a particular volume of work," the diplomat said, noting that more specialists could arrive if needed. "Some of them will leave and the others will come." In late March, two planes with Russian servicemen arrived in Venezuela. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later said that the military specialists, who are currently in Venezuela, are repairing the equipment under an agreement on military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Caracas.