Russia has sent two modernized submarines equipped with advanced stealth technologies to the Mediterranean Sea as part of efforts to reinforce naval presence off the Syrian coast.
“The Black Sea fleet’s new large diesel and electric submarines, Kolpino and Veliky Novgorod … have arrived in the Mediterranean,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website on Aug. 28.
The ministry added that the two stealth submarines were fitted with new navigation systems, fully automatized control systems, high-precision missiles, and powerful torpedo equipment.
The submarines, classified by NATO as “Improved Kilo” class, were built in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg and are designed for anti-ship and anti-submarine operations in mid-depth waters. They are capable of holding a crew of 50 and have a top underwater speed of 20 knots and a cruising range of 400 miles.
A Improved Kilo-class submarine. Photo from Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.
Part of Russia’s Black Sea fleet is engaged in the battle against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in Syria.
Moscow launched its campaign against Daesh and other terror outfits in Syria at the Damascus government’s request in September 2015. Its airstrikes have helped Syrian forces advance against militant groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Syria has been fighting different foreign-sponsored militant and terrorist groups since March 2011.
Damascus blames the deadly militancy on some Western states and their regional allies.
Though “saintly” is a term quite often used to describe the virtuous actions of American troops in combat zones — from providing humanitarian aid and medicine to those in need, to placing themselves between civilians and the line of fire — it could have a very literal meaning in the near future when describing two deceased military chaplains.
Decades after their passing, Catholic priests Fr. Emil Kapaun, and Fr. Vincent Capodanno, are currently undergoing the process for canonization with the Roman Catholic Church, which could see these two Medal of Honor recipients become the first official saints to have served with the US military.
Emil Kapaun was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the US Army in 1944, seeing service as a chaplain in the Burma Theater towards the end of World War II. Briefly leaving the Army at the war’s conclusion to pursue graduate studies, he returned to active duty soon afterwards and was stationed in Japan with a cavalry unit.
The young priest, respected among his peers and often sought out as a source of advice and friendship by the soldiers he ministered to, was sent back to a combat zone during the onset of the Korean War. Using the hood of a jeep as his altar, Kapaun led prayer services and Catholic Masses in the midst of combat for soldiers who requested it, sometimes even while under withering enemy fire that would see his jeep lit up with machine gun rounds by Chinese and North Korean forces.
The chaplain was taken prisoner, along with a number of others from his unit during the Battle of Unsan, and was force-marched to a Chinese prison camp where he and his fellow prisoners of war would undergo harsh treatment at the hands of their captors. Kapaun developed a quick reputation for stealing food and medicine from Chinese storage sites at the camp to feed the malnourished and aid the sick POWs.
He would also go without his meager rations for considerable periods of time, having volunteered them to others who he felt needed it more than he did. Above that, Kapaun incurred the wrath of his Chinese guards for halting the executions of wounded American troops by tackling or shoving the soldiers lined up to commit the dastardly act.
Still ministering to his fellow POWs as best as he could, Kapaun died in captivity. His body was thrown in a mass grave by his Chinese captors along with the remains of many other deceased American POWs. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2013 by former President Barack Obama.
Lieutenant Vincent R. Capodanno was another military chaplain similarly decorated for bravery like Kapaun, who lost his life in war. After joining the Catholic priesthood and completing his studies in a seminary, the freshly-ordained reverend from New York was commissioned an officer in the Navy upon hearing of a need for chaplains to minister to Marines and sailors.
Though he could have requested to stay away from the front lines, Capodanno felt that he was called to a deployment overseas in Vietnam, ministering to infantry Marines embroiled in a brutal fight against the Communist North Vietnamese forces. In 1966, Capodanno’s request was granted and he was sent to South Vietnam to serve with the 7th Marine Regiment.
Liked unanimously by the Marines he ministered to, Capodanno was affectionately referred to as “The Grunt Padre” for his willingness to go into combat and assist corpsmen in administering aid to casualties sustained in battle. Capodanno extended his tour in Vietnam for another year, this time with 5th Marine Regiment.
It was during this last tour in 1967, that the Navy chaplain would lose his life. In the onslaught of an outnumbered fight, where small elements of Marines were pitted against an overwhelming force of NVA troops and irregulars, Capodanno ran into battle repeatedly to pull fallen Marines away from danger, sustaining critical wounds himself.
Refusing to be evacuated, the Grunt Padre continued onward, giving Last Rites to the dying while tending to the wounded with combat medical aid. A burst of machine gun fire finally cut down Capodanno as he attempted to shield a fallen Marine from enemy fire with his own body.
The Navy chaplain’s heroism and valor under fire was witnessed by every Marine and corpsman on the field of battle that day, and the following year, Capodanno’s family was notified that he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor as a result.
In the years after their passing, Kapaun and Capodanno have generated huge followings, especially among soldiers, Marines and sailors alike, a number of whom devoted time to praying for their spiritual intercession. And interestingly enough, a number of miraculous events have occurred in the time since, apparently attributed to the assistance these two chaplains have supposedly provided from even beyond the grave, still serving faithfully.
According to the Catholic Church, a series of verified miracles attributed to a candidate for sainthood are required before someone can be confirmed through a process called the “cause for canonization.” Currently, the miracles ascribed to Capodanno and Kapaun’s intercession are under procedural investigation by the Church, and should they be approved, these two former servicemen who gave their lives for their brothers in arms could very well find themselves canonized the first American military saints in history.
The Syrian military said it has taken an enclave in Damascus from Islamic State (IS) militants that gives it full control of the capital for the first time since the civil war began in 2011.
The recapture of IS-held pockets in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk and the nearby Hajar al-Aswad district in southern Damascus on May 21, 2018, came after a massive bombing campaign that decimated the remains of the residential area where about 200,000 Palestinian refugees used to live.
The camp has been largely deserted following years of attacks and the last push on the Yarmuk camp came after civilians were evacuated overnight.
State TV showed troops waving the Syrian flag atop wrecked buildings in a destroyed neighborhood.
The gains by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces also allowed allied militia groups to secure areas outside the city near the border with Israel.
The Iranian-backed militias, including the Lebanese group Hezbollah, have been key — along with Russian air power — in aiding Syrian government forces to recapture huge areas around Damascus and in the country’s northern and central areas.
Iranian officials have pledged to remain in Syria despite calls by the United States, Israel, and others for it to remove its fighters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Assad at a meeting in Sochi in May 2018, that a political settlement in Syria should encourage foreign countries to withdraw their troops from Syria.
Putin’s envoy to Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentyev, said Putin was referring to, among others, Iranian forces.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened Iran on May 21, 2018, with the “strongest sanctions in history” if Tehran doesn’t change course and end its military involvement in other Middle East countries.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters shortly before Pompeo spoke that Iran’s presence “in Syria has been based on a request by the Syrian government and Iran will continue its support as long as the Syrian government wants.”
Seventy-one years ago on June 6, 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in history began. It was known as D-Day.
The climactic World War II battle featured waves of amphibious landings on the beaches, airborne drops behind enemy lines, and an incredible group of American Rangers who scaled cliffs at Point Du Hoc. On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan told their story, and it’s a speech that everyone should hear.
Standing on top of that same cliff on the northern coast of France, Reagan detailed the story of the Rangers, who had to climb a rock wall as Germans fired on them with machine-guns and cut their ropes.
“When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again,” Reagan said, to an audience of world leaders and veterans of D-Day at the Ranger Monument there. “They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.”
Roughly four miles from Omaha Beach, where soldiers were also landing on June 6, 1944, Pointe Du Hoc was vital to the American effort, as the Germans had placed heavy artillery at the position that could rain fire down on the beaches.
“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan continued, looking toward the Rangers from that campaign sitting before him. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Now 31 years after Reagan finished his speech, and 71 years from that terrible day in World War II, his closing remarks still ring true:
“Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”
In July, 2017, Politico writer Zach Dorfman wrote an in-depth piece on Chinese intelligence gathering in the Silicon Valley area of California. The piece was focused on China’s acquisition of modern tech, but a small blurb in the middle of the piece noted that one of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staffers reported to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, China’s foreign intelligence agency.
California State Senator Dianne Feinstein, take a group photo with Sailors and Marines from California at Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Blankenship)
Politico’s sources were only referred to as “noted former intelligence officials.” The San Francisco Chronicle took the opportunity to investigate further. The newspaper’s source was an unnamed local who confirmed the FBI showed up at the Senator’s office in Washington in 2013 to address the incident. The FBI alleged the Senator’s driver was recruited by Chinese MSS and reported back to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.
The Chronicle noted that the driver was only her driver in San Francisco, but he did attend functions for her at the Chinese consulate. The FBI apparently concluded that the driver didn’t have access to anything of substance and couldn’t have revealed anything to the Chinese. The newspaper says Feinstein forced the driver to retire and that was the end of it.
President Trump, joined by, from left to right, U.S. Senators John Cornyn, Dianne Feinstein, and Marco Rubio, February 28, 2018, in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, D.C.
(White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
This all happened five years ago.
Feinstein’s communist spy story is reemerging this week due to a Twitter exchange between the Senator and President Trump, who mocked Senator Feinstein for a two-year investigation about the spy.
San Francisco’s local CBS affiliate KPIX talked to former FBI agent and security analyst Jeff Harp about the incident. Harp was running counter-espionage activities in the city, saying Chinese spies would be interested in everything from business, research, and politics to diplomatic secrets. He says politicians are trained what to say and what not to say around people who don’t have security clearances, but noted that 20 years is a long time to be around someone day in, and day out — and slip-ups are possible.
“Think about Dianne Feinstein and what she had access to,” said Harp. “One, she had access to the Chinese community here in San Francisco; great amount of political influence. Two, correct me if I’m wrong, Dianne Feinstein still has very close ties to the intelligence committees there in Washington, D.C.”
With the influx of COVID-19 patients, hospitals across the country are critically short of personal protective equipment. Doctors have equated the dire situation to being at war with no ammo; walking into rooms knowing their skillsets are necessary and yet completely vulnerable.
A nurse who asked not to be named shared the horror story of wearing the same disposable mask all day, soaked with condensation from her own breath, knowing that it very well was likely rendered useless after only a short time on her overnight shift. “It’s borderline criminal,” she said. “We are being asked to walk into the fire without basic PPE. You see full hazmat suits on the news overseas, and we can’t even get the basics. This is the United States of America and our supply rooms look like that of a third world country.”
Now, they’re begging for your help.
In World War II, citizens were asked to pitch in for the war effort. Women became Rosies, children collected scrap metal and held tin drives, families grew Victory Gardens.
Our current war on COVID-19 is certainly different. The enemy wears no uniform, takes no sides and is invisible to the eye. But the collective efforts needed from our country to step up remains the same. First, stay home. We’ve heard it over and over again but the importance of physical and social distancing in order to flatten the curve will protect these medical workers and facilities from being overwhelmed with patients at the same time.
Second, hospitals are asking that if you can sew, to make masks. While homemade masks are nowhere near the standards and protections offered by medical grade masks, something is certainly better than nothing. This document put together by UC Berkeley School of Public Health lists hospitals that are currently accepting masks, standards that they’re using and how to drop off. This list is ever-growing, but not exhaustive. If you don’t see your local hospital on the list, reach out to them via social media or call them to see if they’re accepting masks.
No misconduct was involved in the decision by personnel in the American-lead Combined Air Operations Center to carry out an air strike that killed a number of Syrian-government aligned forces on Sept. 17.
That is the central finding of an investigation by Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Coe.
“In my opinion, these were a number of people all doing their best to do a good job,” Coe said of the personnel on duty when the incident happened, according to an official report released Nov. 29.
The strike took place near Dayr Az Zawr. A release from Combined Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve for that day noted the incident, stating that one strike “believed to have engaged an ISIL fighting position, may have mistakenly struck a Syrian military unit and destroyed Syrian military vehicles.”
While “friendly fire” is nothing new — in the War on Terror, coalition forces had over three dozen such incidents — the question is always the same: How did such a mistake happen?
Well, that’s been asked over the years after other incidents, like when Stonewall Jackson was shot by Confederate soldiers on a picket line, or when Allied ships off Sicily opened fire on C-47 transports carrying elements of the 82nd Airborne Division in 1943, downing 23 transports.
The report reveals a few of the causes. First, the Syrian forces were not exactly in uniform when they were first detected by an unmanned aerial vehicle. Yet they were packing a lot of firepower, and were near tunnels and other fighting positions.
This lead planners to believe they’d spotted an ISIS unit out in the open. It was a classic case of mistaken identity, compounded by a misunderstanding (the United States personnel used the wrong reference point when informing the Syrian allied Russians of the strike).
And it was made worse by some good old-fashioned Russian paranoia.
According to the report, when the Russians called on a de-confliction hotline, they waited 27 minutes for their normal point of contact to arrive before passing on the news that Syrian forces were being hit. During that time, 15 of the 37 attack sorties were carried out.
Coe’s report not only recommended that in the future both sides not only pass critical information immediately, but also that the entire Flight Safety Memorandum of Understanding that helps keep Syrian and Russian targets from being struck by coalition air power be reviewed and updated.
Top CENTCOM commander Lt. Gen. Jeff Harrigian has ordered Coe’s recommendations be implemented, saying, “In this instance, we did not rise to the high standard we hold ourselves to, and we must do better than this each and every time.”
While the changes recommended will hopefully lessen the chance of friendly fire incidents in the future, friendly fire will still always be a risk on a complex battlefield.
When Elinor and Arty Nakis brought home the body of their 19-year-old son who had died during a transport mission while deployed with the Army National Guard in Mosul, Iraq, in 2003, an eagle soared over their Sedro-Woolley home.
Another eagle flew overhead on the way to Nathan Nakis’ memorial service, Elinor Nakis recalled.
And in 2008, when the Nakis family helped install indoor climbing and bouldering walls in honor of their son at the Camp Black Mountain Boy Scout camp in Whatcom County, an eagle was there, too.
That’s why Elinor wasn’t surprised to see a young eagle soar overhead Saturday morning during the dedication of the bouldering wall at its new home near Cascade Middle and Evergreen Elementary schools in Sedro-Woolley.
“(Nathan) would be so proud,” she said.
After spending years in storage at a Janicki Industries facility in Hamilton, the bouldering wall formerly housed in Whatcom County is ready to carry on Nathan Nakis’ memory in the community he grew up in.
“We expect this thing to get a lot of use,” Arty Nakis said. “We took the protective covering off last night and it’s already getting used.”
Nathan, a 2002 Sedro-Woolley High School graduate who started in school at Evergreen, was heavily involved with the Boy Scouts, his mother said.
As an adult, the Eagle Scout volunteered and worked at Camp Black Mountain and helped build the camp’s first rope climbing course, Elinor Nakis said.
When the course would close for days at a time due to inclement weather, Nathan would tell his mother how much he hoped to see a covered climbing facility for the Scouts to use. The wall located between the Evergreen and Cascade campuses is covered by a roof.
After his death, the Nakis’ could think of no better way to honor their son.
“Elinor and I have always felt that it took the help of our community to raise our sons,” Arty Nakis said at the dedication. “When we lost Nathan, we felt the support and love of this community stronger than ever.”
When the Boy Scout camp closed in 2012, the climbing wall built in Nathan’s honor couldn’t be salvaged, Arty Nakis said, but the bouldering wall was removed so it could one day find a new home for more to enjoy.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman said. “It’s an honor to have ‘Nathan’s Boulder’ on our campus. Our kids look forward to playing on this.”
The wall is set to be used not only by students attending the schools, but also by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Skagit County’sSedro-Woolley club that shares the same property.
“This is perfect,” Arty Nakis said. “I couldn’t imagine a more perfect spot.”
The district’s special needs students will also utilize the wall for hands-on learning experiences, something that Elinor, a 21-year employee of the Sedro-Woolley School District, is glad to see happen.
“(Whether) it’s Scouting or through the schools, you’ve got to get (kids) out of their comfort zone,” Arty Nakis said. “It builds confidence and trust in each other.”
For Rotary International of Sedro-Woolley President David Bricka, the project took on a special meaning as he remembered his nephew Brian Gurney, who died in December as a result of injuries sustained during a 2014 hiking accident at Pilchuck Falls. Gurney was 19 at the time of the accident.
“(Brian and Nathan) were two great young men that had such an impact,” Bricka said. “They both had 19 years of actively living.”
Sedro-Woolley Mayor Keith Wagoner, a veteran himself with a son currently enlisted, thought the bouldering wall was a perfect fit for the community.
“I have so many friends that went and didn’t come back,” Wagoner said. “Literally thousands of hands have touched this thing. It’s not a monument you stand back and look at.”
Alec Giess, who served with Nathan Nakis and was in the vehicle with him the day Nakis died, drove up for the dedication from Cannon Beach, Oregon.
Giess has become part of the family, Arty Nakis said.
“It was a combat mission on a crummy day,” Giess said. “Everybody liked (Nathan). (Nathan’s story) won’t end now. It’ll keep going.”
Last week the U.S. Air Force tweeted to the world that it needs help naming its newest bomber, the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber. (What could possibly go wrong?) Well … we discuss the possibilities and provide examples where crowdsourcing failed. We also discuss the OV-10 Bronco’s comeback and what it means in the fight against ISIS. And on a lighter note, we talk about which service branch we’d join knowing what we know about the military today.
There’s a chill settling in over Moscow, and it’s not just the arctic temperatures that typically smother the Russian capital in January.
As U.S. officials put the finishing touches on new financial and travel sanctions against Russia, expectations that the punitive measures will target an expanded list of secondary companies, as well as Kremlin-connected insiders and business leaders, are causing consternation.
Unlike previous rounds, when Washington tried to punish Russia for its actions in Crimea and Syria by targeting big fish like major state-run firms and government agencies, the focus is shifting. The new wave to be announced by month’s end is expected to be broader, focusing on companies that do business with previously sanctioned entities, closing loopholes that allowed Russia to skirt punishment, and identifying — and potentially going after — the Kremlin’s inner circle of smaller fish.
Moscow appears to be on edge. One official has accused the United States of trying to influence the upcoming presidential election. An influential Russian newspaper has reported that as many as 300 people close to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle could be identified. And financial institutions are taking steps to minimize their risk.
“It is true that the Russians have been freaking out over this for more than a month now,” said Daniel Fried, who was formerly the chief sanctions coordinator at the U.S. State Department.
Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political analyst now based in Washington, D.C., echoes that assessment. “The expectations are very gloomy” in Moscow, he said, “because for the first time, it will bring personal pain to those closest to Putin.”
The new measures, expected to be rolled out beginning Jan. 29, stem from a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer and signed reluctantly into law by President Donald Trump in August.
Known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the law firstly provides for “secondary sanctions” that broaden the restrictions against people or companies doing business with Russians hit earlier.
The earlier measures were imposed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama not only for Russia’s Crimea annexation in 2014 but also for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military campaign in Syria, and other things.
In October, in the first indication of whom the new law would be targeting, the State Department put three dozen major Russian defense companies and intelligence agencies on notice, indicating that other companies, Russian or foreign, who do “significant” business with them could face restrictions.
In theory, this meant that a foreign bank that provided credit to a company supplying a previously sanctioned Russian state-controlled company could be targeted for doing business with listed companies. That might include state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport or the legendary weapons-maker Kalashnikov.
The law also ordered the Treasury Department, in coordination with intelligence agencies, to provide Congress with a list of prominent Russians and their family members who would potentially face direct restrictions. Known as Section 241, the instruction includes identifying oligarchs according to “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”
This, in theory, could target the daughter of a high-ranking Russian official who owns property in the United States, or the head of a major industrial corporation with holdings in the West.
Around Washington, close observers of the sanctions process are calling it “the oligarchs list.”
“This will hit people because it shows they are not safe; that the U.S. is willing to go after this class of people and Putin cannot protect them… that there will be consequences for Russians who seem to be in Putin’s corrupt inner circle and [are] aiding and abetting his corrupt activities,” Fried told RFE/RL.
Those included will not immediately face financial or travel restrictions, but experts say it would be a clear signal of what may soon come and, more immediately, would have a major psychological effect on those listed and those who do business with them.
It could also foreshadow a public record of some wealthy Russians’ sources of income and assets in the United States.
“For some people, it’s very personal. For others, it will be very political,” said Olga Oliker of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The question is: What’s the signal that is being sent by the administration and how will it be received in Moscow?”
For the moment, the potential nominees for the “oligarchs’ list” is a closely held secret by both members of Congress and administration officials. But sanctions experts, Russian opposition activists, and Western lawyers and business groups have been trying to guess. Some wealthy Russians have also stepped up quiet lobbying campaigns in Washington, trying to persuade Congress or administration officials to keep them off the list, according to several observers.
On Jan. 12, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, citing its own sources in Washington, said as many as 300 people could end up being listed, a number that includes both officials themselves, but also their relatives.
In December, a group of Russian opposition activists with backing from chess master and outspoken Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov met in Lithuania to compile their own sanctions list. The compilation features more than 200 names, including prominent business tycoons who have so far avoided restrictions, including Aleksei Mordashov, owner of the steelmaking giant Severstal, and German Gref, chief executive of Russia’s largest state bank, Sberbank.
Several prominent Russians included in the opposition group’s list were already on earlier U.S. sanctions lists, including Sergei Ivanov, an ex-defense minister and President Putin’s former chief of staff; Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, head of Russian military intelligence; and Gennady Timchenko, an oil trader hailing from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg.
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to queries about its upcoming list.
One indication of how the Kremlin has sought to get ahead of the new measures came in November. The business newspaper Vedomosti reported that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had signed a decree that would exempt Russian state companies from the requirement to disclose the names of their contractors.
Already there are signs that financial markets, in and out of Russia, are factoring the likelihood of sanctions into predictions for 2018. But among bond traders, equity dealers, and other portfolio managers, the measure that has prompted most worry is a possible restriction on buying Russian government debt.
That measure is seen as an attempt to close a loophole that allowed Russia to skirt sanctions imposed in 2014 that cut certain companies close to or controlled by the state from international credit markets.
The Kremlin ended up bailing out those companies to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and was still able to raise capital on its own. In 2016, for example, Russia sold around $3 billion in new Eurobonds.
The Countering Adversaries law includes the possibility that U.S. citizens could be barred from buying ruble-denominated, Russian government bonds. It’s unclear how much of Russia’s overall sovereign debt is held by Americans, but Central Bank data from October showed that foreigners held about $38 billion of it.
That decision won’t be handed down for some months, but still, analysts predict a ban would put severe pressure on the Russian ruble, which plummeted in 2014 after the Crimea sanctions and amid low world oil prices and has yet to fully recover. In the medium term, that would drive up inflation, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch said in a research note in December.
Some Russian financial institutions have also given indications that whatever the measures are that end up being issued by Washington, they will ripple through the country’s economy.
For example, Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private commercial lender, said it was cutting back its exposure to the country’s formidable defense industry.
“This does not mean that we have severed relations with it overnight,” Oleg Sysuyev, a deputy chairman of the bank’s board of directors, told Ekho Moskvy radio. “But we are just trying to minimize risks.”
In the short term, that could pose a direct challenge to Putin, who will run for another term as president in the election scheduled for March, a month after the new measures are unveiled.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov alluded to this on Jan. 13 when, in comments to the state news agency TASS, he charged that the U.S. measures were an attempt to influence the vote.
Piontkovsky, a longtime critic of the Kremlin, predicted that the U.S. move to target more individuals could help undermine the broad support that Putin has enjoyed for years.
“It means he is losing his meaning for the elites, his function was to protect them, and their assets in Russia and the West, to ensure their security. And now, on the contrary, he is becoming toxic,” he said.
The question now, according to Oliker, who directs the CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program, is whether the new sanctions will, in fact, affect Kremlin policies.
For example, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine grinding into its fourth year, dragging on Russia’s economy and losing popularity among Russians, there’s good reason for Russia to pull back on its support for separatist fighters.
However, it would be virtually impossible for Putin to pull back if it appeared he was giving in to the pressures from U.S. sanctions, she said.
Depending on who or what is targeted, the problem is that the new measures could reinforce the perception — encouraged by the Kremlin — that Washington only wants to damage Russia, Oliker said.
“In Russia, the pervasive narrative is that all the sanctions are merely to punish Russia — [that] they’re punitive, it’s not a matter of attaining actual policy goals,” she said. Many think “it’s just those nasty Americans trying to get us.”
A lost photo may shed new light on the mysterious death of famous aviator Amelia Earhart.
The photo, which will be featured in a new History channel special called “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” was discovered in the National Archives more than 80 years after her death. In it, a woman who appears to be Earhart sits on a dock in the Marshall Islands near to a man who resembles her navigator Fred Noonan.
Photo from US National Archives
After becoming the first female pilot to fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart set off to circumnavigate the globe in July 1937. Her plane vanished without a trace during the flight and, by 1939, both Earhart and Noonan were declared dead.
But the new photo, which shows figures that appear like Earhart and Noonan, could challenge the common theory that the plane crashed somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Photo from US National Archives
Shawn Henry, former executive assistant director for the FBI, told NBC News that he’s confident the photo is legitimate and pictures Earhart sitting on the dock.
“When you pull out, and when you see the analysis that’s been done, I think it leaves no doubt to the viewers that that’s Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan,” said Henry. Her plane appears to be on a barge in the background being towed by a large ship.
Photo from US National Archives
According to NBC News, the team that uncovered the photo believes that the photo demonstrates that Earhart and Noonan were blown off course. The latest photo could suggest that Earhart was captured by the Japanese military, experts told NBC News.
While current Japanese authorities told the news outlet that they had no record of Earhart ever being in their custody, American investigators insisted that the photo strongly suggests that Earhart survived the crash and was taken into captivity.
“We believe that the Koshu took her to Saipan [the Mariana Islands], and that she died there under the custody of the Japanese,” said Gary Tarpinian, the executive producer behind the History project.
Israel has begun construction on a massive underwater barrier with the Gaza Strip which it is calling “impenetrable.”
Israel and the Gaza Strip are both located along the Mediterranean Sea, and are separated by several land borders. But no barrier has ever been erected at sea.
Israel’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that building of the “impenetrable” barrier has begun at Gaza’s northern border, along the beach of a small agricultural community, or kibbutz, called Zikim. The barrier is designed to withstand harsh sea conditions for many years, according to the ministry.
A defense official said the massive barrier will consist of three security layers, which include a layer below sea level, a layer of armored stone, and a top layer of barbed wire. An additional fence will surround the entire area.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the “one-of-a-kind” security project will “effectively block any possibility of infiltrating Israel by sea.”
Leiberman added that the barrier serves to limit militant group Hamas’ strategic capabilities as tensions continue to flare along the border. At least 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 injured during violent clashes with Israeli soldiers early May 2018. On May 29, 2018, more than 27 rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza into Israel.
The decision to build the barrier was prompted by a thwarted attack by Hamas militants at sea in July 2014, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Four Hamas naval operatives, referred to as frogmen, swam ashore at Zikim beach and attempted to cross into Israeli territory. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the men were armed with automatic weapons and explosives, and sought to carry out a terror attack. The four men were later killed in combined sea, air, and land attacks by the IDF.
The IDF posted aerial footage of the thwarted attack:
To oust a dictator as terrible as Liberia’s Charles Taylor, some warlords committed even more heinous crimes. Taylor is now serving a 50-year sentence in the UK after being convicted of 11 war crimes in the Hague in 2013.
Joshua Milton Blahyi went by a different name when he controlled the streets of Liberia’s capital of Monrovia during its 14-year civil war. Going into urban combat wearing nothing but sneakers and a crazed look, he earned the title “General Butt Naked.”
Warlords in the streets of Liberia from 1989-2003 were given names based in popular culture. It spawned such nicknames as “General Bin Laden” and “General Rambo.”
While “General Butt Naked” may sound laughable as a nom de guerre, the warlord’s methods were anything but funny. Of the 250,000-some Liberians killed in the conflict, Blahyi estimates he is responsible for at least 20,000.
The crimes he freely admits to don’t stop there. He recruited children to act as his street enforcers, teaching them that killings and mutilations were all part of a game. And so they would also fight naked in the streets of Monrovia. Blahyi himself was a teenager when the conflict broke out.
Anecdotal evidence of the atrocities committed by “General Butt Naked” is numerous and graphic.
When Taylor was finally ousted in 2003, the man once known as “General Butt Naked” began a new life as a pastor. These days, when he isn’t preaching, he visits the families of his victims and begs for forgiveness — complete forgiveness. He doesn’t want lip service; he wants the biblical forgiveness that comes from the victim’s heart.
Those victims don’t want any part of it. Only 19 of the 76 families he has visited heard him out. The remainder goes about as well as one might expect.
At least one former soldier will attest to the work of Blahyi’s NGO, “Journeys Against Violence.” Luke Barren told Reuters that he earned his job as a mason because of Blahyi’s effort. Other say Blahyi’s whole enterprise is a farce combined with a cash grab.
The former warlord walks free where Taylor is imprisoned because of jurisdictional rules in The Hague. The court can only prosecute war crimes committed after its founding in 2002. There was never a special tribunal for prosecuting war crimes in Liberia, as there was from Rwanda, Cambodia, and the former Yugoslavia.