Monday, September 26, 2022

BREAKING: Russia grants Snowden citizenship

Sept 26 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday granting Russian citizenship to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden, 39, fled the United States and was given asylum in Russia after leaking secret files in 2013 that revealed vast domestic and international surveillance operations carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency where he was a contractor.

U.S. authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.

Snowden was already allowed to travel freely in the country as part of his residency permit, but citizenship will give him added benefits.

The whistleblower has served as a constant critic of the U.S. government in exile through social media as well as several media appearances.

Putin, a former Russian spy chief, said in 2017 that Snowden, who keeps a low profile while living in Russia, was wrong to leak U.S. secrets but was not a traitor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

USAF B-21 to be unveiled in December

The US Air Force is set to lift the veil of secrecy around the B-21 Raider, its highly-classified, next-generation stealth bomber, with a formal rollout planned for the first week in December.

The timing of the rollout was announced today by Air Force acquisition executive Andrew Hunter during a roundtable with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference.

The service has not cemented a final date for the event, which will take place at Northrop Grumman’s facilities in Palmdale, Calif., where the B-21 is in production. “We are still working to nail down all the plans,” Hunter said.

In a news release, Northrop Grumman stated that the event would be “invitation only” and provide an “exclusive view” of the B-21 — hinting that those so lucky to see the new bomber in person may only be able to view it from a specific angle, allowing the Air Force and company to prevent any secret information about its design to be gleaned by onlookers.

“The B-21 is the most advanced military aircraft ever built and is a product of pioneering innovation and technological excellence,” Doug Young, Northrop’s sector vice president for aeronautics, said in the release. “The Raider showcases the dedication and skills of the thousands of people working every day to deliver this aircraft.”

The B-21 contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman in 2015, which beat out a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team. So far, Northrop has disclosed that it has six B-21s in production, with the first flight scheduled for 2023.

In March, then-Rapid Capabilities Office Director Randall Walden told Air Force Magazine that the first B-21 bomber had moved off the production line and into a calibration facility, where it will undergo testing to ensure the structure of the aircraft meets the Air Force’s requirements.

“It’s got landing gear. … It’s got wheels on it. … It’s got the wings on it. It really looks like a bomber,” Walden told the magazine.

The Air Force requested $5 billion for B-21 in fiscal 2023, including $1.7 billion in procurement funding, although the service will not disclose how many bombers that will buy. Overall, the Air Force plans on buying at least 100 B-21s. Each B-21 is projected to cost approximately $550 million in FY10 dollars.

Earlier this year, Air Force security officials told Breaking Defense that there had been an upswing of strange security incidents at the Air Force’s Plant 42 — the Palmdale-based facility where Northrop is building B-21 and where numerous other defense contractors work on black programs.

UPDATED: Putin's latest rant - accuses the West of risking "nuclear catastrophe." Biden reacts

LONDON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia's first mobilization since World War Two and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he'd be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.

In the biggest escalation of the Ukraine war since Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion, Putin explicitly raised the spectre of a nuclear conflict, approved a plan to annex a chunk of Ukraine the size of Hungary, and called up 300,000 reservists.

"If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people - this is not a bluff," Putin said in a televised address to the nation.

Citing NATO expansion towards Russia's borders, Putin said the West was plotting to destroy his country, engaging in "nuclear blackmail" by allegedly discussing the potential use of nuclear weapons against Moscow, and accused the United States, the European Union and Britain of encouraging Ukraine to push military operations into Russia itself.

"If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people - this is not a bluff," Putin said in a televised address to the nation.

Citing NATO expansion towards Russia's borders, Putin said the West was plotting to destroy his country, engaging in "nuclear blackmail" by allegedly discussing the potential use of nuclear weapons against Moscow, and accused the United States, the European Union and Britain of encouraging Ukraine to push military operations into Russia itself.

"In its aggressive anti-Russian policy, the West has crossed every line," Putin said. "This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them."

The address, which followed a critical Russian battlefield defeat in northeastern Ukraine, fueled speculation about the course of the war, the 69-year-old Kremlin chief's own future, and showed Putin was doubling down on what he calls his "special military operation" in Ukraine.

In essence, Putin is betting that by increasing the risk of a direct confrontation between the U.S.-led NATO military alliance and Russia -- a step towards World War Three -- the West will blink over its support for Ukraine, something it has shown no sign of doing so far.

Putin's war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, unleashed an inflationary wave through the global economy and triggered the worst confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when many feared nuclear war imminent.

MOBILISATION Putin signed a decree on partially mobilizing Russia's reserves, arguing that Russian soldiers were effectively facing the full force of the "collective West" which has been supplying Kyiv's forces with advanced weapons, training and intelligence.

Speaking shortly after Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia would draft some 300,000 additional personnel out of some 25 million potential fighters at Moscow's disposal.

The mobilization, the first since the Soviet Union battled Nazi Germany in World War Two, begins immediately.

Such a move is risky for Putin, who has so far tried to preserve a semblance of peace in the capital and other major cities where support for the war is lower than in the provinces.

Ever since Putin was handed the nuclear briefcase by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, his overriding priority has been to restore at least some of the great power status which Moscow lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Putin has repeatedly railed against the United States for driving NATO's eastward expansion, especially its courting of ex-Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia which Russia regards as part of its own sphere of influence, an idea both nations reject.

Putin said that top government officials in several unnamed "leading" NATO countries had spoken of potentially using nuclear weapons against Russia.

He also accused the West of risking "nuclear catastrophe," by allowing Ukraine to shell the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which is under Russian control, something Kyiv has denied.

Putin gave his explicit support to referendums that will be held in coming days in swathes of Ukraine controlled by Russian troops -- the first step to formal annexation of a chunk of Ukraine the size of Hungary.

The self-styled Donetsk (DPR) and the Luhansk People's Republics (LPR), which Putin recognized as independent just before the invasion, and Russian-installed officials in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions have asked for votes.

"We will support the decision on their future, which will be made by the majority of residents in the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson," Putin said.

"We cannot, have no moral right to hand over people close to us to the executioners, we cannot but respond to their sincere desire to determine their own fate."

That paves the way for the formal annexation of about 15% of Ukrainian territory.

The West and Ukraine have condemned the referendum plan as an illegal sham and vowed never to accept its results. French President Emmanuel Macron said the plans were "a parody." Kyiv has denied persecuting ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers.

But by formally annexing Ukrainian territories, Putin is giving himself the potential pretext to use nuclear weapons from Russia's arsenal, the largest in the world.

Russia's nuclear doctrine allows the use of such weapons if weapons of mass destruction are used against it or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons.

"It is in our historical tradition, in the fate of our people, to stop those striving for world domination, who threaten the dismemberment and enslavement of our Motherland, our Fatherland," Putin said.

"We will do it now, and it will be so," said Putin. "I believe in your support."


Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, President Joe Biden on Wednesday cast the defining conflict facing global leaders as a duel between democracy and autocracy, directly responding to new threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate the war in Ukraine.

The speech is Biden's first at the forum since Russia's invasion, offering him the opportunity to condemn the Kremlin in front of an audience of fellow heads of state.

Biden opened his remarks with a strong rebuke of Putin after he earlier Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia and raised the specter of using nuclear weapons after a retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

"Let us speak plainly, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase the sovereign state from the map," Biden said. "Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenants of the United Nations Charter."

"Just today, President Putin has made overt nuclear threats against Europe and reckless disregard of the responsibilities of a nonproliferation regime," Biden continued. "Now, Russia is calling, calling up more soldiers to join the fight and the Kremlin is organizing a sham referendum to try to annex parts of Ukraine, an extremely significant violation of the U.N. Charter. The world should see these outrageous acts for what they are."

Friday, September 16, 2022

Ukraine: mass burial sites found in wake or Russian retreat ...

Izium, Ukraine

Complied from various sources:

Even the heavy rainfall couldn’t erase the smell of death in the pine forest in Izium on Friday afternoon, as Ukrainian investigators worked their way through a mass burial site found in the eastern Ukrainian city after its recapture from Russian forces.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said at least 440 “unmarked” graves were found in the city in recent days. The country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that some of the bodies found in Izium showed “signs of torture,” blaming Russia for what he called “cruelty and terrorism.”

Izium was subject to intense Russian artillery attacks in April. The city, which sits near the border between the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, became an important hub for the invading military during five months of occupation. Ukrainian forces took back control of the city on Saturday, delivering a strategic blow to Russia’s military assault in the east.

Wooden crosses, most of them marked with numbers, were discovered in a forest outside the city by advancing Ukrainian forces.

Authorities said they would start exhuming some of the graves on Friday.


It is not yet clear what happened to the victims.
Speaking on Friday, the head of Ukraine's national police service said most of the bodies belonged to civilians.

Ihor Klymenko told a news conference that although soldiers were also believed to be buried there, there was so far no confirmation. Earlier, Ukrainian authorities told the BBC more than 400 bodies were thought to be buried at the site.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, that "many places of mass burials" had been discovered in some liberated areas.

"We saw many places where people were tortured," Mr Podolyak said. "We saw wildly frightened people who were kept without light, without food, without water, and without the right to justice. Because there was no authority there, there were only people with weapons."

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Russian energy magnate "falls" from hospital window after criticizing war in Ukraine

The chairman of Russian energy firm Lukoil has died after "falling" from a hospital window in Moscow, state media has reported.

Ravil Maganov, 67, was pronounced dead after plunging from ward on the sixth floor of the Central Clinical Hospital where he was receiving treatment, according to Russian state news agency Interfax.

Lukoil confirmed Maganov's death in a press release on Thursday, but said only that it came "after a serious illness."

But Maganov is now the latest in a series of Russian business executives who have died in unusual circumstances this year, amid speculation that murders of top businessmen are being staged to look like suicides.

In March, Lukoil's board of directors issued a statement expressing "its deepest concerns about the tragic events in Ukraine."

It said: "Calling for the soonest termination of the armed conflict, we express our sincere empathy for all victims, who are affected by this tragedy. We strongly support a lasting ceasefire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy."

Billionaire Alexander Subbotin, the former top manager at Lukoil, was one of the oligarchs who died in strange circumstances this year.


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