Kremlin Caught Stealth Editing Awkward Putin Video
Allison Quinn – March 21, 2023
The Kremlin has shifted to damage control mode after Vladimir Putin’s latest PR stunt was derailed by a public show of disgust for him.
The Russian leader made a show of his alleged visit to Ukraine’s Mariupol over the weekend, in which people identified by the Kremlin as local residents treated him as their savior, thanking him for Russia’s “help” and calling their new home a “little piece of heaven.”
In a brief part of the video that had apparently been overlooked by Putin’s team, however, a woman was heard shouting, “It’s all untrue, it’s all for show!” just as the Russian leader began reading his lines. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin could be seen grinning uncomfortably as Putin’s security team set off to track down the lone protester.
Two days after the off-script comments were noticed in the video released by the Kremlin, that version was replaced on the official Kremlin website with a version in which the party crasher had been edited out, the independent outlet Mozhem Obyasnit noted Tuesday.
Putin’s alleged visit to the city—his first trip to Ukrainian territory since the start of his war—was the closest to the frontline he’d ever set foot. And despite the glowing testimonials from supposed local residents broadcast by Russian state television, many locals apparently saw right through the propaganda.
“Nobody fucking needs us here. Everything is done for a picture on TV, so that people in Russia will watch,” one resident wrote in a Telegram channel devoted to local news.
Others questioned why Putin didn’t visit the parts of the city decimated by his own military.
“And why take him there, he was only taken to places that were preserved and new buildings. Nobody will show him the empty pits under the foundations of destroyed houses.”
Anton Gerashchenko, a senior adviser to the Ukrainian government, seemed to suggest on Monday that Putin may have sent a body double to Mariupol.
Questions like: Why is Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment relating to Stormy Daniels likely to be the first for the former president and not one related to Jan. 6? Is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in love with Trump or afraid of him? And, this big one: Will we see Trump do a perp walk?
Starting with the perp walk question, The New Abnormal political podcast co-host Andy Levy shares why he isn’t so hopeful with co-host Danielle Moodie on this all-Trump episode.
“I’ve seen supposedly serious people make this comment that we need to be worried about them charging Trump, because it may lead to riots in the streets. You already did that, first of all, [and] no, you don’t get a heckler’s veto if you break the law. If you break the law, you break the law,” says Andy. “That stuff cannot factor into charging someone, [but], it can factor into how you arrest them.”
“Trump was tweeting in all-caps about that they were debating whether to have him do a perp walk in handcuffs. That’s never gonna happen. We are never gonna see that, honestly, as much as I would enjoy it. We don’t really need that,” he adds, to Danielle’s dismay.
“I kind of do,” she jokes.
Then MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang joins the show and gives Danielle insight into the “why this case?” question. According to Phang, a Trump indictment for something a while ago and not Jan. 6-related is still important.
“We need to appreciate the prosecution of the former President of the United States. Even if it’s for jaywalking. Why? Because you and I would be prosecuted for that crime.
“And so I am glad that even though this is an ‘old event,’ the payoff to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet, to influence the outcome of the 2016 election may have been years ago, you know, damn it. I am glad. If he’s kicking his dog, he should be arrested and prosecuted. I believe this is the beginning of the fall of dominoes.”
Plus, Phang shares the indictment that she thinks will really “break the dam.”
Then, Jeff Sharlet, author of The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, tells Andy what he learned while writing about the post-Trump world—like how right-wing grandmas have nasty things to say about Hillary Clinton—and why he doesn’t actually care about Trump like other Trump-era writers.
A Sandwich Shop, a Tent City and an American Crisis
Eli Saslow – March 19, 2023
PHOENIX — He had been coming into work at the same sandwich shop every weekday morning for the past four decades, but now Joe Faillace, 69, pulled up to Old Station Subs with no idea what to expect. He parked on a street lined with three dozen tents, grabbed his Mace and unlocked the door to his restaurant. He picked up the phone and dialed his wife and business partner, Debbie Faillace, 60.
“All clear,” he said. “Everything looks good.”
“You’re sure? No issues?” she asked. “What’s going on with the neighbors?”
He looked out the window toward Madison Street, which had become the center of one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, with as many as 1,100 people sleeping outdoors. On this February morning, he could see a half-dozen men pressed around a roaring fire. A young woman was lying in the street. A man was weaving down the sidewalk in the direction of Joe’s restaurant with a saw, muttering to himself and then stopping to urinate.
“It’s the usual chaos and suffering,” he told Debbie. “But the restaurant’s still standing.”
That had seemed to them like an open question each morning for the past three years, as an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness began to overwhelm Phoenix and many other major American downtowns. Cities across the West had been transformed by a housing crisis, a mental health crisis and an opioid epidemic, all of which landed at the doorsteps of small businesses already reaching a breaking point because of the pandemic. In Phoenix, where the number of people living on the streets had more than tripled since 2016, businesses had begun hiring private security firms to guard their property and lawyers to file a lawsuit against the city for failing to manage “a great humanitarian crisis.”
The Faillaces had signed onto the lawsuit as plaintiffs along with about a dozen other nearby property owners. They also bought an extra mop to clean up the daily flow of human waste, replaced eight shattered windows with plexiglass, installed a wrought-iron fence around their property and continued opening their doors at exactly 8 each morning to greet the first customer of the day.
Debbie arrived to help with the lunch rush, and she greeted customers at the register while Joe prepared tomato sauce and weighed out turkey for chef’s salads. Their margins had always been tight, but they saved on labor costs by both going into work every day. They remodeled the kitchen to make room for a nursery when their children were born and then expanded into catering to help those children pay for college. They kept making sandwiches for a loyal group of regulars even as the city transformed around them — its population growing by about 25,000 each year, housing costs soaring at a record pace, until it seemed that there was nowhere left for people to go except onto sidewalks, into tents, into broken-down cars, and increasingly into the air-conditioned relief of Old Station Subs.
Their restaurant was located in an industrial neighborhood that had always attracted a small number of transients. Over the years, Joe and Debbie came to know many by name and listened to their stories of eviction, medical debt, mental illness and addiction, and together they agreed that it was their job to offer not only compassion but help.
They had given out water, opened their bathroom to the public and cashed unemployment and disability checks at no extra cost. They hired a sandwich maker who was homeless and had lost his teeth after years of addiction; a dishwasher who lived in the women’s shelter and first came to the restaurant for lunch with her parole officer; a cleaner who slept a few blocks away on a wooden pallet and washed up in the bathroom before her shift.
But the homeless population in Phoenix continued to grow. Soon there were hundreds of people sleeping within a few blocks of Old Station, most of them with mental illness or substance abuse issues. They slept on Joe and Debbie’s outdoor tables, defecated behind their back porch, smoked methamphetamine in their parking lot, washed clothes in their bathroom sink, pilfered bread from their delivery trucks, had sex on their patio, masturbated within view of their employees and lit fires that burned down trees and scared away customers. Finally, Joe and Debbie could think of nothing else to do but to start calling police.
Within a half-mile of their restaurant, police had been called to an average of eight incidents a day in 2022. There were at least 1,097 calls for emergency medical help, 573 fights or assaults, 236 incidents of trespassing, 185 fires, 140 thefts, 125 armed robberies, 13 sexual assaults and four homicides. The remains of a 20- to 24-week-old fetus were burned and left next to a dumpster in November. Two people were stabbed to death in their tents. Sixteen others were found dead from overdoses, suicides, hypothermia or excessive heat. The city had tried to begin more extensive cleaning of the encampment, but advocates for people without housing protested that it was inhumane and in December the American Civil Liberties Union successfully filed a federal lawsuit to keep people on the street from being “terrorized” and “displaced.”
Shina Sepulveda had been living in the encampment for a few weeks or maybe for a few months. It was hard to know for sure, she said, because she had been experiencing delusions. What she remembered was escaping from a cult in Mesa, Arizona, building the first internet search engine, losing billions of dollars to a government conspiracy, cutting wiretaps out of her brain, retaking her dynastic name of Espy Rockefeller and then moving onto a sidewalk across the street from Old Station Subs.
For as long as she had been homeless, she tried to nap during the relative safety of the day and stay up late at night to help look over her small corner of the encampment. She put on makeup and sat down at a plywood desk, where a handwritten nameplate introduced her as “Doctor, Poet, Psychologist, Partner at Law,” and where in reality she was now the 47-year-old caretaker of a half-dozen people — because, even if many of her stories were fantastical, she had earned a reputation for being generous and kind and for knowing a bit about everything.
“Hey, Espy, can you help me?” Brandon Mack said as he walked over from his nearby tent. He lifted his shirt to reveal two stab wounds from a few days earlier. He had fought with a neighbor over a coveted corner spot on the sidewalk, walked to the emergency room, gotten 18 stitches and then returned to recover on a molding mattress in a partly burned tent.
Espy took out a pair of scissors, scrubbed them with hand sanitizer and started to cut away a few of his stitches. She wiped away the pus and blood with napkins, tossing them into the street. Then she turned her attention to the next person in need of help. Cecilia wanted soap, so Espy handed her a bar she had scavenged from the nearby shelter. C.J. was drunk and needed help getting into the street to go to the bathroom. A man known as K.D. was moving his tent down the sidewalk because he’d gotten into an argument with a neighbor who insulted his pit bull. “Nobody talks down to Dots,” K.D. said. “I’m ready to go off. I’m armed and dangerous.”
“I was a police officer,” Espy told him. “If you really have to shoot, don’t aim to kill. Just fire a warning shot.”
Joe came into work the next morning and saw a bag of drugs in the road, human waste on the sidewalk, a pit bull wandering the street and blood-soaked napkins blowing toward his restaurant patio, where he and Debbie were scheduled to meet with a real estate agent about the future of Old Station. Debbie still insisted that she was ready to be done with the restaurant. Joe didn’t want to run it without her, but he also didn’t want to walk away with nothing. They had spent the past several months exploring a compromise, seeing if they could sell the business and retire together.
“Are we getting any bites?” Joe asked the agent, Mike Gaida.
“Oh, yeah. I get calls every week,” Mike said, and he explained that at least 25 potential buyers had looked over the financials and recognized a strong family business for the reasonable price of $165,000. Several bailed once Mike mentioned the encampment, but at least a dozen potential buyers secretly came to check out the property. “Most of the time, they don’t call back,” Mike said. “If I track them down, it’s like, ‘God bless those people for staying in business, because I couldn’t do it.’”
“It’s taken years off my life,” Debbie said.
“For her it’s, ‘Get me out. We’ve got to sell, sell, sell,’” Joe said. “But we refused an offer for $250,000 eight years ago, and it keeps dropping. I don’t want to give this place away.”
“I get it,” Mike said. “If you were a half-mile in another direction, you’d be sitting on a million bucks. Instead, it’s, How can you dispose of it?”
A few days later, Joe arrived for work to the sound of a gunshot coming from across the street and a bullet pinging off a nearby fence. He hurried inside and called police. “Yeah, it’s Joe again, over at Old Station,” he said, and a few minutes later two police officers were walking the perimeter of his restaurant, searching for the bullet. Soon Debbie would be waking up and getting ready for work.
“What the heck am I going to tell her to keep her from losing it?” Joe wondered, and he began to rehearse the possibilities in his head. It was only one bullet. Nobody had gotten hurt. Police had come right away. The shooter wasn’t targeting the restaurant. The gunshot was random. It could have happened anywhere.
Joe went outside to get some air. K.D. was ranting on the sidewalk, banging his hand against a fence, contorting his fingers into the shape of a gun and then firing it off at the sky.
“This could be the last straw for her,” Joe said, and then he saw Debbie driving toward the parking lot, steering around K.D. and hurrying through the gate.
“Wow. Tough morning?” she asked.
He took her inside the restaurant while he tried to come up with the right words. It was only one shot. The restaurant was still standing. They’d run Old Station together for 37 years, and maybe they could hang on for a while longer. But instead Joe told her the only thing that felt true.
“The whole thing’s a disaster,” he said. “I get it. It’s OK. I understand why you’re done.”
Donald Trump claims he will be arrested Tuesday in Manhattan probe, calls for protests
Ella Lee, Josh Meyer, David Jackson and Kevin Johnson – March 18, 2023
Former President Donald Trump said he expects to be arrested Tuesday in connection with a Manhattan district attorney investigation and called on his supporters to protest, even as uncertainty remained about whether any legal action was actually imminent.
Trump’s advisers Tuesday made clear they had no specific knowledge of the timing of any possible indictment, even as the former president made the comments on Truth Social, the social media network he founded.
An indictment of Trump would send the U.S. political world into unprecedented territory – not just the first indictment of a former president, but one who is in the midst of again running for the White House. And his calls for protest also echoed similar statements by the former president ahead of Jan. 6.
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina confirmed that Trump’s reference to the timing of any possible charge is not based on any contact from Manhattan district attorney’s office.
“No one tells us anything, which is very frustrating,” Tacopina said in an email to USA Today. “President Trump is basing his response on press reports, and the fact that this is a political prosecution and the DA leaks things to the press instead of communicating to the lawyers as they should.”
Danielle Filson, a spokesperson for Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office, declined to comment on the former president’s statement.
Testimony from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who arranged for the payment and already has been convicted and served prison time, could help bring the first charges in history against a former president.
On Truth Social Saturday, Trump urged his supporters to “Protest, take our nation back!”
“The far & away leading Republican candidate & former president of the United States of America, will be arrested on Tuesday of next week,” he wrote in all caps.
A Trump spokesperson speaking on background told USA TODAY that there has been “no notification” of a possible Trump indictment other than news media reports and “leaks from the Justice Dept. and the DA’s office.”
Laurence Tribe, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, said Trump’s looming indictment in New York is uncharted waters.
“There really is no precedent for indicting a former president,” Tribe said. “It’s anyone’s guess exactly what would happen.”
Experts say Trump arrest unlikely
Trump says he’ll still run for president again if he’s indicted in any of the current investigations into his conduct. His first rally of the 2024 presidential race is scheduled for March 25 in Waco, Texas.
An indictment is not the same as an arrest; it’s a formal charge of a crime, while an arrest is when a person is taken into custody. An arrest of Trump is not likely, said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
“Typically defendants are not arrested in cases like this one when they’re represented by counsel,” he said.
Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and University of Michigan law professor, said a self-surrender is more likely in cases like Trump’s.
“Unless he is a risk of flight or danger to the community, self surrender seems typical in this kind of case,” she said. “He would be booked and have his fingerprints and mugshot taken, and then likely released on bond.”
Tribe said it’s likely that Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg will offer Trump a more anonymous way to turn himself in, though it’s unlikely the former president would accept such routes.
“I’m sure he wishes there were an escalator he could descend in order to self-surrender,” he said. “It’s his standard technique to turn everything into publicity, and they will undoubtedly raise a lot of money surrounding his self-surrender.”
Trump’s call for protests raise concerns
While Trump’s spokesperson acknowledged there has been “no notification” related to the timing of possible criminal charges, the former president’s call for protests drew the concern of law enforcement involved in preparing for such an event.
The appeal for demonstrations, said one official familiar with the arrangements, may immediately require a larger security footprint in New York and more agents assigned to shadow the movements of the former president.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly on the matter, also was not aware of a definitive time for any possible prosecution announcement.
“Donald’s post is eerily similar to his battle cry prior to the January 6th insurrection; including calling for protest,” Cohen told USA TODAY. “By doing so, Donald is hoping to rile his base, witness another violent clash on his behalf and profit from it by soliciting contributions.”
With Trump facing possible criminal charges, W. Ralph Basham, a former Secret Service director, said the prospect raises unprecedented questions for the Secret Service and the boundaries of the agency’s obligation to provide lifetime protection for the former president. Basham, who served during the George H.W. Bush administration, said he was unaware of any provision that would allow the agency to drop its protection obligation, even if a protectee was sentenced to a prison term. “We are in uncharted territory here,” Basham said. “I’m sure the attorneys are scrambling to find answers to those questions.”
“I’m not aware of anything… that would preclude them (Secret Service agents) from escorting a former president to a detention center in the event of a conviction and prison sentence,” Basham said, adding that the agency would then have to consider “establishing a presence” at a detention center for the duration of any sentence. “I just don’t know,” he said. “The lawyers are going to have to figure this out.”
While a future Trump indictment would be historic, perhaps even greater in significance is that the justice system is working as it should, Tribe said.
“He’s being treated the way he should be treated, like an ordinary citizen,” he said. “Having a mugshot being fingerprinted, having to stand in front of a judge and answer, ‘Do you plead guilty or not guilty?’
“The same thing happens to other ordinary citizens,” he continued.
U.S. grapples with forces unleashed by Iraq invasion 20 years later
Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay – March 16, 2023
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – From an empowered Iran and eroded U.S. influence to the cost of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria to combat Islamic State fighters, the United States still contends with the consequences of invading Iraq 20 years ago, current and former officials say.
Then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 decision to oust Saddam Hussein by force, the way limited U.S. troop numbers enabled ethnic strife and the eventual 2011 U.S. pullout have all greatly complicated U.S. policy in the Middle East, they said.
The end of Saddam’s minority Sunni rule and replacement with a Shi’ite majority government in Iraq freed Iran to deepen its influence across the Levant, especially in Syria, where Iranian forces and Shi’ite militias helped Bashar al-Assad crush a Sunni uprising and stay in power.
The 2011 withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Iraq left a vacuum that Islamic State (ISIS) militants filled, seizing roughly a third of Iraq and Syria and fanning fears among Gulf Arab states that they could not rely on the United States.
Having withdrawn, former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014 sent troops back to Iraq, where about 2,500 remain, and in 2015 he deployed to Syria, where about 900 troops are on the ground. U.S. forces in both countries combat Islamic State militants, who are also active from North Africa to Afghanistan.
“Our inability, unwillingness, to put the hammer down in terms of security in the country allowed chaos to ensue, which gave rise to ISIS,” said former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, faulting the U.S. failure to secure Iraq.
Armitage, who served under Republican Bush when the United States invaded Iraq, said the U.S. invasion “might be as big a strategic error” as Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, which helped bring about Germany’s World War Two defeat.
The costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria are massive.
According to estimates published this week by the “Costs of War” project at Brown University, the U.S. price tag to date for the wars in Iraq and Syria comes to $1.79 trillion, including Pentagon and State Department spending, veterans’ care and the interest on debt financing the conflicts. Including projected veterans’ care through 2050, this rises to $2.89 trillion.
The project puts U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Syria over the past 20 years at 4,599 and estimates total deaths, including Iraqi and Syrian civilians, military, police, opposition fighters, media and others at 550,000 to 584,000. This includes only those killed as a direct result of war but not estimated indirect deaths from disease, displacement or starvation.
U.S. credibility also suffered from Bush’s decision to invade based on bogus, exaggerated and ultimately erroneous intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
John Bolton, a war advocate who served under Bush, said even though Washington made mistakes – by failing to deploy enough troops and administering Iraq instead of quickly handing over to Iraqis – he believed removing Saddam justified the costs.
“It was worth it because the decision was not simply: ‘Does Saddam pose a WMD threat in 2003?'” he said. “Another question was: ‘Would he pose a WMD threat five years later?’ To which I think the answer clearly was ‘yes.'”
“The worst mistake made after the overthrow of Saddam … was withdrawing in 2011,” he added, saying he believed Obama wanted to pull out and used the inability to get guarantees of immunity for U.S. forces from Iraq’s parliament “as an excuse.”
‘ALARM BELLS RINGING … IN THE GULF’
Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador in Iraq, said the 2003 invasion did not immediately undermine U.S. influence in the Gulf but the 2011 withdrawal helped push Arab states to start hedging their bets.
In the latest example of waning U.S. influence, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to re-establish relations after years of hostility in a deal brokered by China.
“We just decided we didn’t want to do this stuff anymore,” Crocker said, referring to the U.S. unwillingness to keep spending blood and treasure securing Iraq. “That began … with President Obama declaring … he was going to pull all forces out.”
“These were U.S. decisions not forced by a collapsing economy, not forced by demonstrators in the street,” he said. “Our leadership just decided we didn’t want to do it any more. And that started the alarm bells ringing … in the Gulf.”
Jim Steinberg, a deputy secretary of state under Obama, said the war raised deep questions about Washington’s willingness to act unilaterally and its steadfastness as a partner.
“The net result … has been bad for U.S. leverage, bad for U.S. influence, bad for our ability to partner with countries in the region,” he said.
A debate still rages among former officials over Obama’s decision to withdraw, tracking a timeline laid out by the Bush administration and reflecting a U.S. inability to secure immunities for U.S. troops backed by the Iraqi parliament.
Bolton’s belief that removing Saddam was worth the eventual cost is not held by many current and former officials.
Asked the first word that came to mind about the invasion and its aftermath, Armitage replied “FUBAR,” a military acronym which, politely, stands for “Fouled up beyond all recognition.”
“Disaster,” said Larry Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff.
“Unnecessary,” said Steinberg.
(This story has been refiled to fix the spelling of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s name in paragraph 5)
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by William Maclean)
Russia wants to recover debris of US drone from Black Sea
Elena Becatoros and Darlene Superville – March 15, 2023
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia wants to recover the fragments of a U.S. surveillance drone that American forces brought down in the Black Sea after an encounter with a Russian fighter jet, a Russian security official said Wednesday.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, claimed in televised remarks that Tuesday’s incident was “another confirmation” of direct U.S. involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. He said Russia planned to search for the drone’s debris.
“I don’t know if we can recover them or not, but we will certainly have to do that, and we will deal with it,” Patrushev said. “I certainly hope for success.”
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the drone was flying in international airspace and over international waters when a Russian fighter jet struck the propeller of the MQ-Reaper drone.
U.S. officials accused Russia of attempting to intercept the unmanned aerial vehicle, although its presence over the Black Sea was not an uncommon occurrence.
“It is also not uncommon for the Russians to try to intercept them,” Kirby said, adding that such an encounter “does increase the risk of miscalculations, misunderstandings.”
Kirby said the drone had not yet been recovered and it was unclear whether it would be, but the U.S. “took steps to protect the information and to protect, to minimize any effort by anybody else to exploit that drone for useful content.”
“It is also not uncommon for the Russians to try to intercept them,” Kirby said, adding that such an encounter “does increase the risk of miscalculations, misunderstandings.”
Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said Russia has the technological capability to recover the drone’s fragments from deep in the Black Sea.
Earlier Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated the Russian Defense Ministry’s statement that Russian jets didn’t use their weapons or impact the U.S. drone.
Peskov described U.S.-Russia relations as being at their lowest point but added that “Russia has never rejected a constructive dialogue, and it’s not rejecting it now.”
At the Pentagon, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the intercept by the Russian jet was part of a “pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.” He said Russia must operate its aircraft in a safe manner.
“Make no mistake, the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows,” Austin said in opening remarks before a virtual meeting of a U.S.-led effort to coordinate Western military support for Ukraine.
While encounters between Russian and NATO aircraft are not unusual — before the invasion of Ukraine, NATO planes were involved in an annual average of 400 intercepts with Russian planes — the war has heightened the significance and potential hazards of such incidents.
“The last thing that we want, certainly the last thing that anybody should want, is for this war in Ukraine to escalate to become something between the United States and Russia, to have this actually … expand beyond that,” Kirby said, speaking Wednesday on CNN.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, tweeted Wednesday that the drone incident was “a signal from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that he is ready to expand the conflict zone, with drawing other parties in.”
Separately, the U.K. defense ministry said British and German air force fighter jets were scrambled Tuesday to intercept a Russian aircraft flying close to Estonian airspace. The U.K. and Germany are conducting joint air policing missions in Estonia as part of NATO’s bolstering of its eastern flank.
The defense ministry said the Typhoon jets responded after a Russian air-to-air refueling aircraft failed to communicate with Estonian air traffic control. The Russian plane did not enter the airspace of Estonia, a NATO member.
On the ground in Ukraine, the fighting ground on. At least three civilians were killed and another 23 wounded in the country by Russian strikes over the previous 24 hours, Ukraine’s presidential office said Wednesday morning.
In eastern Ukraine’s partially occupied Donetsk province, where much of the heaviest fighting has been concentrated, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said a total of 14 cities and villages were shelled. That included Kramatorsk, a city where some of Ukraine’s military forces are based.
In embattled Bakhmut, where Russian forces have pressed a months-long assault to capture the city, Ukrainian forces have successfully fought for northern parts of the city, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said.
“There are certain and significant successes of the armed forces of Ukraine who were able to achieve something in the north of the city,” Maliar told Ukrainian television. “Bakhmut is the epicenter (of fighting in the Donestk region), the Russian occupiers are tryng to encircle and seize the city.”
In the northeastern Kharkiv region, one person was killed and another was wounded in Vovchansk, a city near the border with Russia that is regularly shelled. Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said Russian forces also hit a civilian area of Kharkiv itself, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
“There is no military or infrastructure facility in the vicinity of the place of the strike,” Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. “Only residential buildings and urban infrastructure.”
Speaking on Ukrainian television, Terekhov said a boarding school, where only employees were present, had been damaged, as well as an apartment building. No casualties were immediately reported.
In the south, Russian forces shelled the city of Kherson seven times in the last 24 hours, hitting an infrastructure facility and residential buildings and wounding four people. In Dnipropetrovsk province, Russian forces shelled Nikopol and Marhanets, towns located across a river from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
Exclusive-Ukraine accuses Russian snipers of abusing child, gang raping mother
Stefaniia Bern and Anthony Deutsch – March 14, 2023
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine has accused two Russian soldiers of sexually assaulting a four-year-old girl and gang raping her mother at gunpoint in front of her father, as part of widespread allegations of abuse during the more than one-year-long invasion.
According to Ukrainian prosecution files seen by Reuters, the incidents were among a spree of sex crimes Russian soldiers of the 15th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade committed in four homes of Brovary district near the capital Kyiv in March 2022.
Russia’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Phone numbers listed for the brigade were out of order. Two officials at the Samara Garrison, of which the brigade is a part, said they were unable to give contacts for the unit when contacted by Reuters, with one saying they were classified.
During Moscow’s failed push to capture Kyiv after its Feb. 24 invasion, soldiers entered Brovary a few days later, looting and using sexual violence as a deliberate tactic to terrorise the population, the Ukrainian prosecutors said.
“They singled out the women beforehand, coordinated their actions and their roles,” said the prosecutors, whose 2022 documents were based on interviews with witnesses and survivors.
Most of the alleged atrocities took place on March 13, when soldiers “in a state of alcoholic intoxication, broke into the yard of the house where a young family lived,” the prosecutors alleged.
The father was beaten with a metal pot then forced to kneel while his wife was gang raped. One of the soldiers told the four-year-old girl he “will make her a woman” before she was abused, the documents said.
The family survived, though prosecutors said they are investigating additional crimes in the area including murders during the same period.
President Vladimir Putin’s government, which says it is fighting Western-backed “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine, has repeatedly denied allegations of atrocities. It has also denied that its military commanders are aware of sexual violence by soldiers.
The soldiers were both snipers, aged 32 and 28, the files said, adding that the former had died while the younger, named as Yevgeniy Chernoknizhniy, returned to Russia.
When Reuters asked for the identities of both soldiers, prosecutors provided only the name of the younger man. When Reuters called a number in online databases for him, a person saying he was Chernoknizhniy’s brother said he was deceased.
“He died. There’s no way you can get hold of him,” said the man, crying. “That’s all that I can say.”
Reuters was unable to independently confirm his assertion.
The two snipers were among six suspects accused in the Brovary assaults, which prosecutors say is one of the most extensive investigations of sexual abuse since the invasion.
After the alleged attack on the girl and her parents, the two soldiers entered the house of an elderly couple next door, where they beat them, prosecutors said, also raping a 41-year-old pregnant woman and a 17-year-old girl.
At another location where several families lived, the soldiers forced everyone into the kitchen and gang raped a 15-year-old girl and her mother, they said.
All the victims survived, prosecutors said, and were receiving psychological and medical assistance.
A pre-trial investigation is ongoing into the possible role of superior officials in the Brovary attacks, prosecutors said, in a case adding to growing allegations of systematic sexual abuse by Russian soldiers.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office says it is investigating more than 71,000 reports of war crimes received since Russia sent tens of thousands of troops over the border.
Ukrainian investigators know the probability of finding and punishing suspects is low and potential trials would be mainly in absentia, but there are also international efforts to prosecute war crimes including by the International Criminal Court.
While suspects are unlikely to be surrendered by Moscow, anyone convicted in absentia may be placed on international watchlists, which would make it difficult to travel.
Russia has also accused Ukrainian forces of war crimes, including the execution of 10 prisoners of war.
A U.N. human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine has said that most of the dozens of sexual violence accusations pointed at the Russian military.
So far, Ukrainian prosecutors have convicted 26 Russians of war crimes – some prisoners of war, some in absentia – of which one was for rape.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Stefaniia Bern in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Anton Zverev and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)
Russia’s economy holds up, but growing challenges test Putin
David McHugh – March 13, 2023
Western sanctions have hit Russian banks, wealthy individuals and technology imports. But after a year of far-reaching restrictions aimed at degrading Moscow’s war chest, economic life for ordinary Russians doesn’t look all that different than it did before the invasion of Ukraine.
There’s no mass unemployment, no plunging currency, no lines in front of failing banks. The assortment at the supermarket is little changed, with international brands still available or local substitutes taking their place.
“Economically, nothing has changed,” said Vladimir Zharov, 53, who works in television. “I work as I used to work, I go shopping as I used to. Well, maybe the prices have risen a little bit, but not in such a way that it is very noticeable.”
Economists say sanctions on Russian fossil fuels only now taking full effect — such as a price cap on oil — should eat into earnings that fund the military’s attacks on Ukraine. Some analysts predict signs of trouble — strained government finances or a sinking currency — could emerge in the coming months.
“It will have enough money under any kind of reasonable scenario,” Chris Weafer, CEO and Russian economy analyst at the consulting firm Macro-Advisory, said in a recent online discussion held by bne IntelliNews.
Apple has stopped selling products in Russia, but Wildberries, the country’s biggest online retailer, offers the iPhone 14 for about the same price as in Europe. Online retailer Svaznoy lists Apple AirPods Pro.
Furniture and home goods remaining after IKEA exited Russia are being sold off on the Yandex website. Nespresso coffee capsules have run short after Swiss-based Nestle stopped shipping them, but knockoffs are available.
Labels on cans of Budweiser and Leffe beer on sale in Moscow indicate they were brewed by ABInBev’s local partner — even though the company wrote off a stake in its Russian joint venture and put it up for sale. Coke bottled in Poland is still available; local “colas,” too.
ABInBev says it’s no longer getting money from the venture and that Leffe production has been halted. Wildberries and Svyaznoy didn’t answer emails asking about their sourcing.
But it’s clear goods are skirting sanctions through imports from third countries that aren’t penalizing Russia. For example, Armenia’s exports to Russia jumped 49% in the first half of 2022. Chinese smartphones and vehicles are increasingly available.
The auto industry is facing bigger hurdles to adapt. Western automakers, including Renault, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, have halted production, with sales plunging 63% and local entities taking over some factories and bidding for others.
Foreign cars are still available but far fewer of them and for higher prices, said Andrei Olkhovsky, CEO of Avtodom, which has 36 dealerships in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Krasnodar.
“Shipments of the Porsche brand, as for those of other manufacturers, aren’t possible through official channels,” he said. “Whatever is on the market is scattered offerings of cars that were imported by individual persons or through friendly countries by official channels.”
While 191 foreign companies have left Russia and 1,169 are working to do so, some 1,223 are staying and 496 are taking a wait-and-see approach, according to a database compiled by the Kyiv School of Economics.
“Maybe it hasn’t affected me yet,” 63-year-old retiree Alexander Yeryomenko said. “I think that we will endure everything.”
Dmitry, a 33-year-old who declined to give his last name, said only clothing brands had changed.
“We have had even worse periods of time in history, and we coped,” he said, but added that “we need to develop our own production and not to depend on the import of products.”
One big reason for Russia’s resilience: record fossil fuel earnings of $325 billion last year as prices spiked. The surging costs stemmed from fears that the war would mean a severe loss of energy from the world’s third-largest oil producer.
That revenue, coupled with a collapse in what Russia could import because of sanctions, pushed the country into a record trade surplus — meaning what Russia earned from sales to other countries far outweighed its purchases abroad.
The Kremlin already had taken steps to sanctions-proof the economy after facing some penalties for annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014. Companies began sourcing parts and food at home and the government built up huge piles of cash from selling oil and natural gas. About half of that money has been frozen, however, because it was held overseas.
Those measures helped blunt predictions of a 11% to 15% collapse in economic output. The economy shrank 2.1% last year, Russia’s statistics agency said. The International Monetary Fund predicts 0.3% growth this year — not great, but hardly disastrous.
Estimates differ on how hard those measures will hit. Experts at the Kyiv School of Economics say Russia’s economy will face a “turning point” this year as oil and gas revenue falls by 50% and the trade surplus plunges to $80 billion from $257 billion last year.
They say it’s already happening: Oil tax revenue fell 48% in January from a year earlier, according to the International Energy Agency.
Other economists are skeptical of a breaking point this year.
Moscow could likely weather even a short-term plunge in oil earnings, said Janis Kluge, a Russian economy expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
Even cutting Russian oil revenue by a third “would be a severe hit to GDP, but it would not bankrupt the state and it would not lead to a crash,” he said. “I think from now on, we are talking about gradual changes to the economy.”
He said the real impact will be long term. The loss of Western technology such as advanced computer chips means an economy permanently stuck in low gear.
Russia may have successfully restarted factories after the Western exodus, “but the business case for producing something sophisticated in Russia is gone, and it’s not coming back,” Kluge said.
A Florida mother and daughter bought a house, 2 cars with a dementia patient’s $542,000
David J. Neal – March 13, 2023
Two Southwest Florida women hired to care for a 92-year-old woman with dementia instead cared only for the $542,760 they could steal from her financial accounts over two years. With that money, they bought a five-bedroom, four-bathroom house, two cars, paid off student loans and made credit card payments.
That’s all in the plea agreements of Cape Coral’s Diane Durbon, 58, and daughter Brittany Lukasik, 29, each of whom pleaded guilty in Fort Myers federal court to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Lukasik also pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return because, as generations of criminals back to Al Capone have learned, the IRS still counts criminal income as income to be reported.
Mother and daughter each are free on $50,000 bond, have handed over their passports and can’t leave the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida before sentencing.
What follows comes from Durbon and Lukasik’s plea agreements.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-10-1/html/r-sf-flx.html
Just before Lukasik became a licensed registered nurse in 2016, they were hired by a woman to take care of her aunt “T.H.,” a 92-year-old with dementia. Durbon and Lukasik would get a combined $2,400 a month to stop by T.H.’s North Fort Myers home daily, make sure she ate and “provide … social interaction.”
In October 2017, Durbon put T.H. on the phone with Vanguard as part of a plan to get into T.H.’s Vanguard investment accounts.
“A review of interior surveillance video footage from cameras Durbon had installed inside of T.H.’s home showed Durbon putting a script that contained the answers to the Vanguard security questions in front of T.H. before and during each phone call,” Durbon’s plea agreement says. “Additionally, before some of the calls, Durbon was captured on surveillance pointing to different portions of the script to prepare T.H. for the call.”
After coaching T.H. into authorizing Durbon as her spokesperson, Durbon moved money from the investment accounts to a prime market money account. That checking account powers allowed Durbon to order many checks (using the excuse that T.H. didn’t like to be out of checks) and write checks worth $1,000 to $9,600 to Lukasik. In this manner, the fraudulent family stole $231,659 from T.H. between November 2017 and July 2019.
During that time, in November 2018, Durbon got into T.H.’s TransAmerica annuity policy, using a similar coaching-and-phone call method to get T.H. to cash out the annuity. When TransAmerica questioned Durbon about her actions, she said T.H. was her aunt.
Durbon’s fraud induced TransAmerica to issue a $244,521 check to T.H. That check got put in T.H.’s Wells Fargo account, from which 92 checks totaling $372,092 were issued to Lukasik between February 2019 and March 2020.
What fraud on the Florida family plan bought
With the stolen money, Lukasik paid off $29,000 in student loans and made $100,000 of credit card payments. She spent $17,735 to pay off her 2016 Nissan Rogue and bought mom a 2018 Nissan Rogue for $26,354. In March 2019, she bought a five-bedroom, four-bathroom duplex at 544/546 SE Fifth Ave. in Cape Coral, then spent $100,000 on electronics, furnishings and remodeling.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Secret Service and the IRS-Criminal Investigation unit investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Trent Reichling handled the prosecution.
Dating back to 1935, the park was first used by members of a traveling circus, some say, and baseball great Babe Ruth once owned a home at 402 Church Ave., that later burned down, the Bradenton Herald reported in 1990.
It’s a tight-knit group of residents, some full-time, but many seasonal. The park bumps up against Sarasota Bay. Bridge Street and Bay Drive both run through it. Visitors often walk through, taking in the local color of one of Anna Maria Island’s last two trailer parks.
It’s a throwback to the Florida of yore.
Bradenton Beach City Hall sits a few blocks to the west.
“It’s sad. We are extremely hopeful residents will be able to work out a deal with the property owner,” Mayor John Chappie said. “The Pines is really a community within a community.”
Trailer park residents respond
Pines Trailer Park and Sandpiper Mobile Resort, 2601 Gulf Drive N., also in Bradenton Beach, are the last remaining trailer parks on Anna Maria Island.
For some of the residents of Pines Trailer Park, it is the only home they have, said Linda Maerker, president of the tenant’s association.
She worries for them.
“You know the price of real estate. It’s sad,” she said.
Maerker and her husband have wintered in Pines Trailer Park for 15 years.
“This place is so important to so many people,” she said. “It’s a family. We have become very close.”
Maerker calls the park her healing place after some tragedies in her life.
Ranae Ratajczak has lived in the park for 13 years, spending six months a year there.
“It’s our happy place, our piece of paradise,” Ratajczak said.
“Our hope is to become owners of the park. There is a lot of history here. We want to keep it as it is, as a mobile home park,” she said.
History of Pines Trailer Park
This is not the first time that park owners have offered to sell the park to residents.
In 2002, the owners also offered residents a chance to buy the park, according to records filed with the Manatee County Clerk of Court’s Office.
George and Grace Bagley started Pines Mobile Home Park — named after the Australian pine trees in the area — in 1935 and the park has had many owners over the years, according to Jonathan Torkos, historical resources librarian for the clerk’s office.
At its opening in 1935, the Bradenton Herald reported that it was a “new and strictly modern tourist camp” with a community hall, dance hall, restaurant and laundry. Budweiser was offered on draft, according to a newspaper advertisement.
In 1936, thieves entered the washroom of the park and stole all the plumbing, the Bradenton Herald reported.
In 1948, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hively sold the park to Mr. and Mrs. James Ashby for $25,400.
One of the subsequent owners, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Fifer, sold the park in 1956 for $55,000 to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bisbee.
In 1962, Bradenton Beach’s then-mayor Victor Reinel sold the park to Mildred Henri and Forrest J. and Elizabeth Lincoln for $150,000, the Bradenton Herald reported.
Jackson Partnership has been the owner of the trailer park since 1976.