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The Evolving Stalemate Between Russia and the West

mikenova shared this story .

At the beginning of 2017, it appeared as if the strained relationship between Russia and the West was about to undergo a substantial shift. U.S. President Donald Trump, who had campaigned on a platform of improving relations with Russia, was about to be inaugurated. Upcoming elections in the core European Union states of France and Germany offered the possibility that Euroskeptic parties would rise to power, leading to a major change in those countries’ positions, including on maintaining sanctions against Russia. Furthermore, it appeared as if solidarity within NATO, as well as support for Western-leaning states like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, was in danger of weakening substantially.

But as 2018 approaches, it’s clear that instead of waning, Western pressure against Russia has intensified. In the United States, lawmakers wrested the power to withdraw U.S. sanctions against Russia away from the president, partially as a result of the numerous investigations launched into the extent of Russian interference in U.S. elections. Trump essentially was forced to cede his power to unilaterally lift the penalties in July, and Congress subsequently enacted a stronger sanctions regime against Moscow.

In France, the National Front, a Euroskeptic party, and its pro-Russian presidential candidate Marine Le Pen reached the second round of the country’s presidential election, but Le Pen lost to centrist Emmanuel Macron in the decisive vote. Russia certainly had tried to influence the result in favor of Le Pen, but the exposure of the cyberwarfare and information campaigns it had used to try to influence the outcome of U.S. elections and the revelation that the Kremlin was employing the same techniques in Europe, blunted their effectiveness. The same held true during the German general elections in September, where despite Russian efforts, the anti-establishment Alternative for Germany party did not gain substantial traction, even though it did outperform expectations. After the dust of the European elections settled, the European Union maintained its cohesiveness, and its members voted unanimously to extend sanctions against Russia through the end of 2017.

In the meantime, neither the European Union nor NATO has backed away from the countries on the European/Russian borderland. The United States and the European bloc have been steadfast in their support for Ukraine, and NATO has followed through with the deployment of semipermanent battalions to Poland and the Baltic states. On its side of the border, Russia has built up its forces as well, and while there has been no major confrontation between Russia and NATO, their military standoff has maintained the intensity of past years.

What’s Ahead in 2018?

Several key issues will shape the direction of ties between Russia and the West in 2018. One is the conflict between Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian government in Ukraine’s east, which is entering its fourth year. Following an escalation of violence along the frontlines in the separatist Donbas region shortly after Trump’s inauguration, military activity has decreased in intensity in recent months. The conflict has now taken on the “semi-frozen” nature typical of those in other Russian-backed breakaway territories in the former Soviet space. In the meantime, diplomatic activity between Russia and the West over the Ukrainian separatist conflict picked up after a suggestion by Russian President Vladimir Putin in September that a U.N. peacekeeping force be deployed to Eastern Ukraine.

Putin’s proposal and associated diplomatic efforts have raised the question of whether the end of the Ukrainian conflict could be in sight in 2018. But given the gap between Russia and the West over the nature and parameters of a potential U.N. mission in Donbas, prolonged negotiations are likely before any agreement could be struck. Russia, on one hand, has suggested the deployment of a limited force purely to protect observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on the line of contact between Ukrainian security forces and the separatists. But Ukraine and the United States have both called for a deployment to span all of Donbas, including along the border between the separatist territory and Russia. That option essentially would represent a complete abandonment of Russia’s strategic position in Donbas, given that Moscow is thought to funnel troops and weapons to support the rebels over the border. While Russia can use the peacekeeping proposal to show its willingness to negotiate over the conflict in an effort to stave off additional Western pressure, it does not mean that Russia will capitulate to the Ukrainian-U.S. position. What’s more, Russia could drive an escalation of fighting if it suited its needs.

Depending on what ongoing U.S. investigations over Russian election meddling reveal, the United States could escalate its sanctions regime against Russia. And although Trump does not support it, key members of his administration are openly considering sending lethal weaponry to Ukraine. If the United States decides to take either of those actions, Moscow could choose to respond by escalating the conflict in Eastern Ukraine — or responding elsewhere in an asymmetric fashion.

A longtime driver of tensions between Russia and the West has been the ongoing military buildup by both sides along the European borderlands, which shows no signs of slowing. Russia is expected to permanently deploy Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems to its Kaliningrad enclave on a permanent basis at the beginning of 2018, while NATO will set up new Atlantic and logistics commands, as well as increase coordination efforts on Black Sea patrols and cyberdefense capabilities. The continued buildups could add pressure that would interfere with the resumption of already stalled arms control talks between the United States and Russia.

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mikenova shared this story from Palmer Report.

After a year of largely denying it, even while throwing in the occasional wink, the Russian government is now finally admitting that it rigged the United States presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor. It’s not saying so in exact words. Instead it’s acknowledging through a state-controlled media outlet that it arrested one of its own intel officers for admitting to the U.S. that Russia rigged the election. Rachel Maddow broke this news on her show, but left it an open question as to why Russia is choosing now. I have some thoughts on that.

Keep in mind that just yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he’s “running” for reelection in early 2018 after all. I’m putting “running” in quotes because he’ll rig this election like he always does, and he’ll win automatically. But this announcement is something of a surprise, because just a week ago, someone planted a series of stories in major European newspapers which claimed Putin was considering retiring. These stories had to have been planted by the Russian oligarchs as a warning to Putin: get your act together on this nonsense with Trump and sanctions, or we will put you out of business.

To be clear, even though Putin has total control over his puppet Trump, there is nothing that Putin can do to get Trump to lift U.S. sanctions on Russia. Both political parties are intent on increasing those sanctions, in retaliation for Putin’s decision to rig the election for Trump. There is only one possible way Putin can get those sanctions lifted, even though it may be a long shot, and he’s savvy enough to know it.

The United States will continue to take a defensive and punitive position toward Russia as long as Donald Trump illegitimately remains in power. If Trump is gone, and Russia begins to atone for its sins, then maybe those sanctions get incrementally walked back as a way of encouraging future good behavior. I’m not saying Putin is preparing to oust Trump in the hope of keeping his oligarchs happy. I’m just saying I think he’s testing the waters for ousting Trump by admitting today that he rigged the election. Watch Putin’s next move carefully.

The post Why the Kremlin is suddenly admitting that it rigged the election in Donald Trump’s favorappeared first on Palmer Report.

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Criminals are cashing in on Bitcoins for illegal activity from buying drugs, hiring hitmen and forging passports on the Dark Web
 

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All Tech

A Sun investigation has now proved that Bitcoin is linked to a range of serious crimes on the Dark Web

Exclusive

By Miles Goslett and Nick Pritchard

8th December 2017, 2:03 am

Updated: 8th December 2017, 4:22 am

THE smartly dressed young woman barely attracted a glance as she swept into the second-hand electronics store and approached the Bitcoin machine.

Standing there for half an hour, she peeled off £50 notes from a fat roll and fed them into the slot — until £10,000 in sterling had been converted into the electronic currency that only exists online.

When she came back the next day to do the same, store manager Simao Arinto became suspicious.

“It was £50 after £50 after £50,” said the boss of the CeX store in central London’s Tottenham Court Road.

“She told us she got some kind of insurance that paid out for some kind of disease. What was the truth? Who knows?”

The police, however, believe they do know the truth, warning this week that this fast-growing digital cryptocurrency is being exploited by organised criminals who use Bitcoin cashpoints to launder dirty cash.

Bitcoins were being traded for around $20,000 each yesterday as speculators created the biggest buying rush the world markets have ever seen.

Some exchanges saw the value of the digital currency 52 percent rise at its peak yesterday – with the past seven days seeing a 72 per cent rise.

The astronomical price increases–driven by demand for the coins the numbers of which are limited–are the biggest in the history of modern financial markets, even beating ‘Tulip Mania’, a 17th century financial crash that became known as the first financial ‘bubble’.

Bitcoin’s price has gone up faster in past three years than the price of tulip bulbs did before that bubble burst, according to figures from the New York firm Convoy Investments.

Now a Sun investigation has proved that Bitcoin is also linked to a range of serious crimes thanks to the anonymity it offers.

Within minutes of logging on to the Dark Web — an encrypted corner of the internet that can only be accessed by special browsers — we found organised criminals offering a chilling array of services.

For payment in Bitcoin, we could get a computer hacker to “destroy a business or a person’s life”, buy drugs, passports, cloned credit cards and counterfeit money or even order acid attacks, rape and murder.

Bitcoins only exist as lines of computer code and are created and stored online–and the surge in value means that criminals who had previously been paid in Bitcoin are seeing their wealth rise astronomically.

They can be ‘mined’ by computer users using software that both verifies other people’s transactions and generates a new ‘block’ of code by solving increasingly complex mathematical problems.

They were created in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto — an unknown person or group — but have surged in value by more than 1,400 per cent this year alone.

They hit a peak this week when one unit went from being worth £8,750 on Tuesday to £12,500 Thursday at the time of writing. The value has probably risen again since.

Bitcoin’s rapid rise is fuelled by the fact there is a limited supply — only 21million will ever exist — and that it is completely unregulated by banks and governments, making it attractive for criminals or those who want to keep their transactions secret.

One of the first sites we come across on the Dark Web is Dream Market, where a gram of super-strength cocaine costs 0.00344 of a Bitcoin, the equivalent of £43.

The vendor, called Drugkingz, promises to ship it anywhere in the UK or Ireland.

Another site, called Clone Card Crew, offers cloned credit cards, and boasts: “All cards are skimmed and cloned. They are legal to receive. Using them is a different thing.”

One truly disturbing site is Slayers Hitmen. The online agency claims to have 48 operatives worldwide who will inflict all sorts of physical attacks in return for Bitcoin.

An assassination by shooting costs the Bitcoin equivalent of £11,185. An acid attack is £3,000, rape £1,500 while a “scare” comes in at £750.

The site asks for 50 per cent of the fee to be deposited upfront in an online Bitcoin wallet.

At the UK Guns and Ammo site, you can buy a new 9mm Glock 19 pistol for 0.04 Bitcoins, worth £500. A new 9mm Walther P99 handgun goes for £650.

Yet another site offers “high quality” fake euros that will apparently pass UV and pen tests and work in vending machines.

Thirty bills, worth 600 euros, cost the Bitcoin equivalent of 315 euros.

Cryptocurrency specialist detective inspector Timothy Court, of the Met’s Organised Crime Group, said this week: “We are seeing criminals using Bitcoin to buy drugs and firearms on the Dark Web and also laundering money with it.

“Cash is hard to move for criminals but cryptocurrency is an easy way to move assets across borders.”

He added that it was an “emerging issue” which is being closely monitored by law enforcement agencies.

Julian Dixon, CEO of anti-money laundering and big data specialists Fortytwo Data, said: “I warmly welcome The Sun’s investigation.

“I hope the authorities sit up and take notice of this report, which suggests highly dangerous individuals and criminal organisations are using a cloak of anonymity surrounding Bitcoin to finance crime.

“Regulation of crypto-currencies is long overdue so the funding of these activities by worldwide criminals, in even the darkest region of the web, ceases.”

The Met’s Serious and Organised Crime Command is carrying out a cryptocurrencies training programme to help sharpen its officers’ awareness of the problem.

But they face an uphill battle combatting it, as detective superintendent Nick Stevens explains.

He said: “Cryptocurrencies are not illegal, but they are unregulated, decentralised currencies that can be quickly transferred across borders then converted into the currency of the country where the funds are received.”

He added that his team is currently investigating several major criminals who use Bitcoin and the Dark Web for “the supply of drugs, firearms, modern slavery and child exploitation”.

The CeX store in Tottenham Court Road is more used to customers buying and selling unwanted DVDs than arriving with large sums of cash.

But that could change now it is one of only 98 UK High Street shops to host a Bitcoin terminal.

Boss Mr Arinto told The Sun that the Bitcoin users he sees are a mixed bunch, but one trait unites them: A desire for privacy. This is not surprising.

The terminals offer an easy way for drug dealers and other criminals to launder cash without having to go through any bank checks.

After notes have been converted into Bitcoins, they can be moved anywhere in the world electronically then withdrawn as clean cash.

They are stored in a virtual wallet on a PC or mobile phone app and can then be withdrawn from another Bitcoin machine in the local currency.

This system makes the cash almost impossible to trace. Mr Arinto said: “I see people from all types of backgrounds. Some try to cover their faces and will look around to see if anyone is looking.

“Some of them come in and make the whole shop stink of weed.

“There is a £400 limit on deposits, but there is no limit on how many deposits you can make and no identity checks.

“You want to ask questions but it’s their personal life.”

That might be so, but it is a problem that has the potential to affect us all.

There are more than 1,300 cryptocurrencies in use, with new ones emerging all the time.

Bitcoin’s extraordinary growth has sparked alarm among police and intelligence agencies across the globe, with the Russian mafia in particular known to be capitalising on the phenomenon.

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The Way It Works

BITCOIN is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. It is produced by people running powerful computer programs to solve complex mathematical problems. Here we answer the main questions about it.

What makes it different from a normal currency? There are no physical notes or coins, so no single institution controls it. It exists only as lines of computer code. The value of Bitcoin is highly volatile, which has led people to buy it as a risky speculative investment.

Who created it? An anonymous software developer, or possibly developers, known as Satoshi Nakamoto.

Who prints it? No one. Bitcoin is created digitally by a community of people that anyone can join. Bitcoins are “mined” using computing power to solve puzzles and unlock currency units.
is there a limit on how many Bitcoins can be mined? Only 21million Bitcoins can ever be created by miners. However, these coins

can be divided into smaller parts. The smallest divisible amount is one hundred-millionth of a Bitcoin and is called a Satoshi, after the founder.

Is its use truly anonymous? You can set up a Bitcoin address in seconds – and it does not have to be linked to any name or address. But Bitcoin stores details of every single transaction that has ever happened in a huge version of a ledger, called the blockchain. This blockchain tells all about each purchase by each address linked to each Bitcoin.

Detective chief superintendent Mick Gallagher, head of the Met’s Organised Crime Command, says police have been aware of the threat for around 18 months but “at the moment it feels like there is significant growth”.

This week, the Treasury said that money-laundering regulations should be updated to include virtual currencies.

But while we wait for that to happen, law agencies have their work cut out to stop Bitcoin and its rivals allowing requests for serious crimes to be just a few clicks away.

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More than $70 million stolen in bitcoin hack

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Rachel Maddow Explains Mystery Around Arrests of High-Level Russian Intelligence Officers – AlterNet
 

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Rachel Maddow Explains Mystery Around Arrests of High-Level Russian Intelligence Officers
AlterNet
Well now, from the Russia side, ‘The Bell’ is reporting, based on conversations with acquaintances of the men arrested, that the reason they were arrested is because they were the Russian sources who helped U.S. intelligence services get evidence last  

Rachel Maddow Explains Mystery Around Arrests of High-Level Russian Intelligence Officers
 

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Over the summer, MSNBC reporter Richard Engle went to Russia to investigate a number of 2016 arrests by the government, including one high-ranking intelligence colonel for the FBS. Engle spoke with an attorney representing one person and was threatened live on camera that even asking the questions he was broaching were dangerous.

Rachel Maddow said that her research staff has been monitoring those arrested. The internal department within Russia’s spy agency, the FSB, called it’s cyber-terrorism division the Information Security Department. She recalled that the United States intelligence agencies described the Russian hack involving two different hacker groups: fancy bear and cozy bear. The Information Security Department was the “cozy bear” in the intelligence information.

At the meeting last year with high-ranking FSB officers, men rushed in and put a black bag over the head of the deputy chief of the Information Security Department.

“And he hasn’t been seen since,” Maddow said. His deputy was also arrested that day along with a senior person with Kaspersky Labs, who was charged with treason. She noted that The New York Times described these arrests as the “highest profile arrests of the FSB since the breakup of the Soviet Union.”

“As we’re all watching from the United States, the progress of this American investigation into what Russia did and whether they had help from the [Donald] Trump campaign,” Maddow continued. “We’re watching that investigation indict the Trump campaign chairman and get a guilty plea from the national security advisor. We’re watching the incredibly dramatic investigations, those arrests at that FSB meeting a year ago, those are the closest things we’ve seen to any kind of parallel action happening on the Russian side. Right?”

She noted that the Russians are not likely to be investigating the hack on the United States or any possibly collusion or conspiracy with the Trump campaign. However, they might want to cover it up.

A new outlet in Russia called “The Bell,” published a report that the reason for the black bag being thrown over the man’s head was that he knew Karate and they were concerned he would resist arrest.

“As Americans, the thing we’re most interested in is whether or not those arrests tell us something or prove to us anything about what Russia did in our election,” Maddow said. “In January, The New York Times reported it was possible Russia might have made those arrests to try to stop the flow of information out of Russia about what the Russian government did to hack the U.S. election.”

They cited two U.S. officials saying, “human sources in Russia did play a crucial role in proving to U.S. investigators who was responsible for the DNC hacking.”

“Well now, from the Russia side, ‘The Bell’ is reporting, based on conversations with acquaintances of the men arrested, that the reason they were arrested is because they were the Russian sources who helped U.S. intelligence services get evidence last year,” Maddow said.

Maddow’s research team hired a Russian translator to review the article and explain that “The Bell” reported, “confirmed that the arrest of Sergey Mikhailov and his comrades is connected with the U.S. elections.”

She explained that this website is a new site that has sprung up out of the blue and that her team is trying to seek out confirmation for the story.

“But if, in fact, the news reports are correct and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has locked up his own people who he believes told U.S. investigators about what Russia did in the election last year, including a colonel at the FSB, one of the top cyber spies, if this reporting from Russia bears out, it would prove one important thing for us and raise an important question for us,” she continued.

She explained that it would prove the Russian government is “full of bull-pucky” when they told President Donald Trump that they had nothing to do with the attacks.

“If they hadn’t actually attacked the election they wouldn’t have to lock up people who told the U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had attacked our election,” Maddow explained. “You only lock somebody up if they gave out real information, right?”

She went on to wonder why Russia would be allowing this information to surface now.

“That FSB colonel and those arrested with him have been in jail for a year this week,” she said. “Why would the Russian government allow us to know now the reason they have been in jail all this year, because they helped America figure out Russia hacked our election? Why would it be to Russia’s advantage for us to allowed to know this now?”

Unfortunately, only the intelligence community can answer those questions.

Watch the full commentary below:

Sarah K. Burris writes about politics and technology for Raw Story. 

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Steve Bannon Failed to Disclose That He’s $2 Million in Debt: Report
AlterNet
In a revised filing on Tuesday, former White House adviser and current Breitbart executive Steve Bannon admitted to owing $2 million that he failed to disclose on his government employee financial filings. As the Center for Public Integrity reports  

Russia | The Guardian: Trump-Russia investigation: the key questions answered

Everything you need to know about the inquiry into Russian hacking, alleged collusion and Donald Trump, plus the latest newsContinue reading…

 Russia | The Guardian

The Daily Vertical: Let The Power Games Begin
 

From: rferlonline
Duration: 01:56

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.
Originally published at – https://www.rferl.org/a/daily-vertical-let-power-games-begin/28905016.html

Criminals are cashing in on Bitcoins for illegal activity from buying drugs, hiring hitmen and forging passports on the Dark Web

Source: Criminals are cashing in on Bitcoins for illegal activity from buying drugs, hiring hitmen and forging passports on the Dark Web
Jake Tapper: Trump Attacks FBI Only When His Side Is Threatened

Saved Stories Saved Stories – None Jake Tapper: Trump Attacks FBI Only When His Side Is Threatened Donald Trump: The huge Israel announcement has overshadowed the Russia turmoil at home – ABC Online Judge: Man accused of threatening court unfit to stand trial – Hudson Valley 360 Russian social media executive sought to help Trump … Continue reading“Jake Tapper: Trump Attacks FBI Only When His Side Is Threatened”
California fires: 3 people burned in new blaze – CNN
 


CBS News
California fires: 3 people burned in new blaze
CNN
Carpinteria, California (CNN) Wildfires roared across Southern California for a fifth day Friday, with new blazes leading to additional evacuations as neighborhoods went up in flames in San Diego County. Six large wildfires have scorched 141,000 acres 
Firefighters Battle Intense Wildfires Ravaging Southern CaliforniaU.S. News & World Report
California Struggles To Gain On Fires As New Ones Appear DailyNPR
Some Skirball Fire Evacuees To Be Allowed To Return To Homes TonightDeadline
USA TODAY –Fox News –HuffPost –KABC-TV
all 1,288 news articles »
Two Teens Killed In US School Shooting, Attacker Dead: Police – NDTV
 


NDTV
Two Teens Killed In US School Shooting, Attacker Dead: Police
NDTV
The attack took place at Aztec High School, New Mexico State Police said on Twitter. The school is located in the small town of Aztec some 180 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of Albuquerque in an area close to Navajo tribal lands. World | Agence and more »

Reza Zarrab Recounts Death Threat to Iran Sanctions Jury – New York Times
 


New York Times
Reza Zarrab Recounts Death Threat to Iran Sanctions Jury
New York Times
Reza Zarrab, the chief government witness in a trial involving a billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of United States sanctions on Iran, testified on Thursday that his life had been threatened in a federal detention center in 
Turkish Leader Restarted Iran Laundering Scheme, Witness SaysBloomberg
Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab accused of raping NYC cellmateNBCNews.com
Star witness in Iran sanctions case sexually assaulted his cellmate: suitNew York Post
Daily Mail –Daily Sabah –TRT World –U.S. News & World Report
all 69 news articles »

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