What in the World is Happening in Russia?

4 October 2020

Russian editor dies after setting herself on fire today

A Russian news editor has died after setting herself on fire in front of an interior ministry office in the city of Nizhniy Novgorod.

Irina Slavina earlier wrote on Facebook: “I ask you to blame the Russian Federation for my death.”

She was editor-in-chief of the small Koza Press news website. Its motto is “news and analytics” and “no censorship”. Its website went down on Friday, as news of her death was confirmed.

Last year, she was fined for “disrespecting authorities” in one of her articles.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, she said that on that day 12 people forced their way into her family’s flat and seized flash drives, her laptop and her daughter’s laptop as well as phones belonging to both her and her husband.

The investigative committee insisted that Slavina was only a witness in their case – “and neither a suspect, nor accused, in the investigation of the criminal case”, a spokesperson told Ria Novosti.

Ms Gryaznevich told the BBC that Open Russia had taken part in a “Free People” forum in April 2019 in Nizhny Novgorod which Irina Slavinia had attended as a journalist. Neither the man being investigated nor Slavina herself were part of Open Russia, she stressed.

She said the journalist had been fined 5,000 roubles (£50) because of her coverage of the event. The authorities had decided that the event she covered was connected to an “undesirable organisation”, according to Ms Gryaznevich.

Flames Of Protest: The History Of Self-Immolation

17 September 2020

Aleksei Navalny Was Poisoned at His Hotel, His Team Says

Immediately after Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, showed symptoms of poisoning last month, members of his team rushed to the Siberian hotel where he had been staying and grabbed anything that could possibly be used as evidence — including a water bottle that tests showed was tainted with a highly toxic nerve agent.

Even as Russia maintains that it played no role in the poisoning of Mr. Navalny, the new details — released on Thursday in a post on Mr. Navalny’s Instagram account — underscore his team’s deep concerns for his well-being and their fears that he could fall victim to the kind of attacks directed at other Kremlin critics.

“The attempted assassination of Navalny was part of a systemic effort to silence dissident voices in Russia,” a statement by the European Parliament said.

2 September 2020

Aleksei Navalny Was Poisoned With Novichok, Germany Says

The German government said that toxicology tests showed the Russian opposition leader was poisoned with a nerve agent from the same class used in a 2018 attack in Britain on an ex-Soviet spy.

Why Would Vladimir Putin Want to Get Rid of Aleksei Navalny Now?

22 May 2007

Third Man in Russian Poisoning Case

Trump – Putin Relations

12 September 2020

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He gets along with Putin. That’s a terrible thing. No, it’s a good thing if I get along. That’s good. He likes me. I like him. Not so bad.

MARTIN: We thought it would be helpful to pull all this together, so we asked NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre to walk us through what happened and why it matters.

Greg, welcome. Thank you so much for talking to us.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: All right. Let’s start with that report from Microsoft, the software giant. What did they have to say about Russia and the election?

MYRE: Well, Microsoft says it’s seeing a ton of Russian online activity. And the report they put out reads a lot like a CIA document.

You’ll recall that hackers with Russian military intelligence who’ve been nicknamed Fancy Bear got ahold of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails back in 2016. So Microsoft is saying the same group has been ramping up their efforts this past year, and they’re much more sophisticated this time around. It’s harder to track them. So they are targeting both presidential campaigns, political parties, political consultants, think tanks. It appears there’ve been thousands and thousands of attacks, but according to Microsoft, so far, no signs of success.

MARTIN: Well, you know, tech companies got a lot of flak for not recognizing how they facilitated disinformation in 2016 – not telling the public more about it, not doing anything about it. It does seem like they’re being more active this time. Why is that?

MYRE: There’s certainly self-interest involved here. The tech companies don’t want to be blamed again. And Facebook and Twitter – we’ve heard them announce that they’re taking down fake accounts. And the intelligence community says there has been a dramatic shift in the past few years. There are good lines of communications, regular contact between the government and the tech companies.

And in the past, you might have thought something like this, election security, would be considered the exclusive domain of the government. But tech companies see hacking and intrusion and breaches in their networks that the government doesn’t see and vice versa. So there is now this strong sense that the government and tech companies need to work together, that it’s in everyone’s interest to have multiple players inside and outside the government looking for bad actors.

But we should also note that this comes at a time when the Democrats are complaining that the Trump administration is not sharing enough information about potential threats.

MARTIN: Yes, exactly. We’ve been reporting on that as well. So that brings us to this whistleblower report. An official at the Department of Homeland Security filed a formal complaint this week saying Trump political appointees told him to stop reporting on Russian interference in the election. How significant is this?

MYRE: It’s significant. So the official we’re talking about is named Brian Murphy, and he ran the intelligence branch at Homeland Security until he was demoted at the end of July. Now, he says he was told twice by the acting head of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, to withhold any reports about Russian interference.

And he’s making some additional allegations. He said he was told to emphasize danger from China and Iran. And when looking at domestic threats, he says he was instructed to make sure it was in line with the president’s public comments. And Murphy said he was told that these instructions were coming straight from the White House.

The White House, Homeland Security – they deny this, and they describe Murphy as a disgruntled employee. But Democrats are saying there’s a larger point here, and that’s a pattern of the Trump administration putting loyalists in key intelligence positions and politicizing intelligence, particularly Russian intelligence.

MARTIN: So, Greg, before we let you go, you know, a couple of big books came out this week. One is by journalist Bob Woodward, called “Rage,” the other by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, called “Disloyal.” And another is by the former FBI agent Peter Strzok. It’s called “Compromised.”

Now, you know, obviously these books all have different points that they want to make about, you know, Trump’s behavior internally, how he treats people – you know, his history and so forth. But there is a throughline to all of them, and they all touch on Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia in one form or another. So just focusing on that, what did we find out?

MYRE: Well, Bob Woodward had something interesting tucked in his book. He writes about Dan Coats, who was Trump’s handpicked director of National Intelligence. And Coats found this praise of Vladimir Putin and his refusal to criticize him inexplicable. Coats couldn’t seem to quite shake the feeling that Putin had something on Trump.

Now, we should stress there’s no indication he found anything. But also in this book, former defense secretary Jim Mattis is quoted as calling Trump dangerous and unfit. And we certainly heard the same from others. Former national security adviser John Bolton had a book of his own that came out recently almost entirely critical of Trump’s handling of national security.

MARTIN: And while, of course, Bob Woodward has a deep background in reporting on national security issues, as, you know, Peter Strzok certainly has a background in national security, Michael Cohen doesn’t. I mean, obviously, Michael Cohen was an intimate of President Trump’s before he got to the White House. But does he have something to say about this as well?

MYRE: Yeah. He seems to sort of get Trump at a gut level. And Cohen says, look – it’s not that complicated. Trump sees Russia as a business opportunity, not as a national security threat. But Cohen says Trump didn’t even expect to win in 2016 but did see it as a great way to promote the Trump brand. And that’s why he was sent – Cohen – to Russia to work on a possible Trump Tower in Moscow.

And he said Trump wanted to give Putin the top floor of this tower. And he said, why? Because that would make all the lower floors worth that much more money. So Cohen’s message is, stop overthinking this. It’s simple. It’s all about money and real estate.

MARTIN: That is NPR’s Greg Myre.

Greg, thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

MYRE: My pleasure.

3 June 2020

What does this mean for the US?

Authoritarian behavior is being accepted and excused.

Trump alleged, falsely, that the nation was in the grip of organizers of terror – professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others – who deserved lengthy prison sentences. He promised to dispatch the U.S. military if governors did not deploy the National Guard in their states. In Washington, D.C., where Trump does not have to wait for a governor to act, he deployed thousands of heavily armed military personnel. To cap off his militarized reaction to both peaceful protests and acts of civil disobedience, Trump said he put Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “in charge” of the administration’s response.

These may be the actions of a man fearful of looking weak to the world, but they are also redolent of how authoritarian regimes in countries the world over have responded to protest movements.

First, it shifts focus away from the governance failures that led to civil unrest and assigns blame to a boogeyman.

Second, it is intended to discredit not only the protest movement itself, but also the political opposition.

Third, securitizing the crisis creates an excuse for Trump and his close advisors to justify state violence and other tools of repression.

Trump has pledged to designate ANTIFA a domestic terrorist organization. The facts that such a designation is not possible under current U.S. law and that there is insufficient evidence of its involvement in terrorist activity is cold comfort if the threat of designation is sufficient for reinforcing the case for violent repression.

Bellingcat — an independent international collective of researchers, investigators, and citizen journalists — collected nearly 100 examples of police targeting journalists with violence over the last few days. This assault on the free press is hardly a surprise after three years of rhetorical attack by the president. If this is how law enforcement is treating journalists who can report on the abuse they suffer, ordinary citizens are at higher risk of abuse.

Republican Representative Matt Gaetz took to Twitter with a threat of his own, writing, “Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?”

America is not in danger of becoming ruled by an authoritarian regime over night, but the slope we are on has gotten a lot more slippery. The conditions that sparked protests – a lack of racial justice and an increasingly militarized environment in the country – persist, and the president has done nothing to ameliorate them.

His actions over the past few days have already caused immense pain to everyday Americans and the American way of life. They set a dangerous precedent.

Voter Suppression in 2020

What else is there?

President Trump’s Tax Records Show Avoidance

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