Russian Military Chief Lays Out the Kremlin’s High-Tech War Plans –

asymmetricd--The U.S. military isn’t alone in its plans to pour money into drones, ground robots, and artificially intelligent assistants for command and control. Russia, too, will be increasing investment in these areas, as well as space and information warfare, Russian Army Gen. Valery Gerasimov told members of the Russian Military Academy of the General Staff last Saturday. In the event of war, Russia would consider economic and non-military government targets fair game, he said.
The comments are yet another sign that the militaries of the United States and Russia are coming more and more to resemble one another in key ways — at least in terms of hyping future capabilities. The chief of the General Staff said the Russian military is already developing new drones that could perform strike as well as reconnaissance missions. On the defensive side, the military is investing in counter-drone tech and electromagnetic warfare kits for individual troops.
The Russians are building an “automated reconnaissance and strike system,” he said, describing an AI-drive system that sounds a bit like the Maven and Data to Decision projects that the United States Air Force is pursuing. The goal, according to Gerasimov, was to cut down on the time between reconnaissance for target collection and strike by a factor of 2.5, and to improve the accuracy of strike by a factor of two. The Russian government is developing new, high-precision strike weapons for the same purpose. “In the future, precision weapons, including advanced hypersonics, will allow for the transfer the fundamental parts of strategic deterrence to non-nuclear weapons,” he said.
Sam Bendett, a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, says the moves signal that the Russian military is trying to push fighting further away from its borders, thus growing the area to which it can deny access, or at least appear to do so. “Russia’s current force composition is aiming at short-range, short-duration conflict where its forces can overwhelm the adversary close to Russian borders. The new technology Gerasimov discusses would allow Russia to conduct deep-strikes within enemy territory, thus ‘pushing’ the actual fighting far from Russian borders and Russian vulnerability to Western precision-guided weapons,” he said.
Says Bendett, “the use of such technologies is especially important given the type of war Moscow intends to fight. Gerasimov stated that potential adversary’s economic targets, as well as government’s ability to govern, will be fair game. Striking deep into enemy territory can be accomplished more easily by unmanned systems—whether armed with EW, various sensors or strike components … All this also depends on the Russian military-industrial complex’s ability to properly marshal the needed resources in an organized fashion in order to field this technology.”
One other explanation for the tough talk: Russia is hardly an even match for the United States in terms of either military spending or capability. The recently announced $61 billion increase in the U.S. military budget over last year’s budget (bringing the total to $700 billion) is greater than the entire Russian military budget, which sits around $46 billion. That number represents about 2.86 percent of Russian GDP. In December, Putin said that the government would “reduce” future expenditures.
“Gerasimov is, like anyone in a senior military post, a lobbyist as much as a soldier, and at a time when the Russian defense budget is going to continue to shrink, he is doing what he can both to maintain it as high as possible and also to tilt procurement away from older-fashioned metalwork — which is really a way for the Kremlin to subsidise the defence industries rather than what the military want — and towards advanced communications, reconnaissance and targeting capabilities,” said Mark Galeotti, the head of the Center for European Security at UMV, the Institute of International Relations, Prague.
According to Bendett, Russian government leaders are “hedging against impending geopolitical and economic uncertainty by trying to keep their military budget within certain parameters. The [Ministry of Defense] has been talking repeatedly about the rising share of new military tech in service of the Russian military, slowly phasing out older systems in favor of new ones. So the high-tech approach that Gerasimov outlined — space-based weapons, ‘military robots’ — is the next evolutionary stage in Russian military’s evolution to a more high-tech, sophisticated forces capable of rapid strike.”
Gerasimov also took a moment to denounce what he claimed were Western attempts to destabilize the Russian government through information and influence warfare and other subtle tactics. The charge may strike Western audiences as brazenly hypocritical given the Kremlin’s on-going attempts to sow misinformation to global audiences through social media, email theft and propaganda campaigns. But it’s an old talking point for Gerasimov.
Said UMV’s Galeotti: “At a time when the Kremlin is demonstrably worried about what it sees as Western ‘gibridnaya voina‘ [or hybrid war] being waged against it — we don’t have to accept their premises to acknowledge that the Russians genuinely believe this — he is staking out the military’s claims to being relevant in this age. And his answer, as in his infamous 2013 article, and as played out in the first stage of Zapad [the major wargame Russia executed in Belarus last summer] is that the military will deploy massive firepower to smash any foreign incursions meant to instigate risings against Moscow.”
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hat Comes Next?

via “BRAINWASHED” KIDS…What Comes Next?

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Al Fitrah Islamic pre school presentation

AL-FITRAH islamic preschool kalikkadavu 2017

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Guccifer 2.0 Claims Responsibility for Purported DNC Network Hack

Kim LaCapria–On 14 June 2016, multiple news outlets reported that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and security firm Crowdstrike had confirmed a DNC computer network security breach for which they maintained unspecified Russian operatives were responsible:

Russian hackers penetrated the Democratic National Committee’s computer network, compromising a a raft of information including research on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, officials confirmed.

“The security of our system is critical to our operation and to the confidence of the campaigns and state parties we work with,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the DNC chairwoman. “When we discovered the intrusion, we treated this like the serious incident it is and reached out to CrowdStrike immediately. Our team moved as quickly as possible to kick out the intruders and secure our network.”

CrowdStrike, a cyber security firm, also confirmed the hack Tuesday, saying that its origins pointed to the Russian government.

The DNC and CrowdStrike both suggested that the security breach had occurred over the course of “months,” and that “a raft of information including research on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump” had been compromised. The story remained one of largely technology-centric interest until additional information of indeterminate provenance appeared the following day.

The day after the DNC and CrowdStrike admitted the breach and pegged Russian spies as the culprits, a purported hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0 (not to be confused with a separate hacker known as Guccifer) set up a single-post WordPress blog. In that 2016 blog, Guccifer 2.0 tauntingly claimed responsibility for the DNC network breach:

Worldwide known cyber security company CrowdStrike announced that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers had been hacked by “sophisticated” hacker groups.

I’m very pleased the company appreciated my skills so highly))) But in fact, it was easy, very easy.

Guccifer may have been the first one who penetrated Hillary Clinton’s and other Democrats’ mail servers. But he certainly wasn’t the last. No wonder any other hacker could easily get access to the DNC’s servers.

Shame on CrowdStrike: Do you think I’ve been in the DNC’s networks for almost a year and saved only 2 documents? Do you really believe it?

Here are just a few docs from many thousands I extracted when hacking into DNC’s network.

By way of proof, Guccifer 2.0 published a smattering of purported DNC documents obtained in the breach while promising that a far larger cache had been turned over to the notorious WikiLeaks web site. That claim coincided with statements made by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a few days earlier in an interview about Hillary Clinton-related e-mail leaks:

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has said his organisation is preparing to publish more emails Hillary Clinton sent and received while US secretary of state.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is under FBI investigation to determine whether she broke federal law by using her private email in sending classified information. A new WikiLeaks release of Clinton emails is likely to fan a controversy that has bedevilled her campaign and provide further ammunition for Donald Trump, her Republican presidential rival, who has used the issue to attack her.

Assange’s comments came in an interview on ITV’s Peston. “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton … We have emails pending publication, that is correct,” Assange said. He did not specify when or how many emails would be published.

Among the donor lists and other documents purportedly grabbed by Gucci 2.0 was material that struck a chord among supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders by suggesting that the DNC had strategized to collude with the news media in promoting Sanders’ rival, Hillary Clinton, long before the nomination process was completed:

DNC media collusion
DNC media collusion 2
DNC media collusion 3

New York Daily News columnist Shaun King, a Sanders supporter, called the documents “disturbing” if authentic, citing portions of the strategy that outlined utilizing news outlets “to drive a message …with no fingerprints”:

The DNC is supposed to be an unbiased arbiter of the campaign and this memo suggests anything but that. Furthermore, the memo gives strategies for they can best position her for general election. One of those strategies says they aim to, “Use specific hits to muddy the water around ethics, transparency, and campaign finance attacks on HRC.”

How ugly is that? Muddying the water? What a mess.

Another memo claims that they “will utilize reporters to drive a message” but do so “with no fingerprints” on the process so that the public believes the messages are coming from the reporters and not the campaign.

This is exactly what many of us have suspected was going on for the past year.

Well before Julian Assange’s comments, the DNC’s confirmation, or Guccifer 2.0’s claims, Daily Beast journalist Olivia Nuzzi had referenced one such “no fingerprints” pitch she said she had received:

Gawker also reported that additional related information had been released exclusively to them and that they had authenticated some of it:

According to the metadata associated with the file, the Trump dossier was last saved by someone named (in Cyrillic letters) “Felix Edmundovich.” This could be a reference to the historical Soviet figure known as “Iron Felix,” and is likely an alias. The hackers were able to access opposition files and may have been able to read email and chat traffic, but did not touch any financial, donor, or personal information, the DNC said. However, the user who sent the files to Gawker refuted that claim, writing, “DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said no financial documents were compromised. Nonsense! Just look through the Democratic Party lists of donors! They say there were no secret docs! Lies again! Also I have some secret documents from Hillary’s PC she worked with as the Secretary of State.” Among the files sent to Gawker are what appear to be several lists of donors, including email addresses and donation amounts, grouped by wealth and specific fundraising events. Gawker has not yet been able to verify that the Trump file was produced by the DNC, but we have been able to independently verify that the financial documents were produced by people or groups affiliated with the Democratic Party.

The Trump campaign responded to the news with an entirely separate theory, speculating that the DNC themselves had staged the “hack”:

Ars Technica culled information suggesting that if the breach didn’t originate in Russia, then whoever was responsible tinkered with metadata to create that impression:

Exhibit A in the case is this document created and later edited in the ubiquitous Microsoft Word format. Metadata left inside the file shows it was last edited by someone using the computer name “Феликс Эдмундович.” That means the computer was configured to use the Russian language and that it was connected to a Russian-language keyboard. More intriguing still, “Феликс Эдмундович” is the colloquial name that translates to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the 20th Century Russian statesman who is best known for founding the Soviet secret police. (The metadata also shows that the purported DNC strategy memo was originally created by someone named Warren Flood, which happens to be the name of a LinkedIn user claiming to provide strategy and data analytics services to Democratic candidates.) Exhibit B is this opposition research document on Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Exhibit B is also written in Word. Several of the Web links in it are broken and contain the error message “Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.” But in a PDF-formatted copy of the same document published by Gawker a few hours before Guccifer 2.0’s post went live, the error messages with roughly the same meaning appear in Russian … The other piece of evidence is more circumstantial, but it still strengthens the case that the person publishing the documents intentionally or unintentionally left Russian—or at least Eastern European—fingerprints on the leak. It’s the use of “)))” in the accompanying blog post. That’s a common way people in Eastern Europe and Russia denote a smiley in text.

All three pieces of evidence were teased out of the documents and noted on Twitter by an independent security researcher who goes by the handle PwnAllTheThings. The theory is also consistent with everything previously published by CrowdStrike, the security firm the DNC hired to investigate its suspicions that its servers had been breached. CrowdStrike researchers said they quickly determined that the servers had been infiltrated by two separate Russian hacking groups. In response to Wednesday’s leak, CrowdStrike raised the possibility that the leak was part of a Russian Intelligence disinformation campaign. Company officials declined to comment on Thursday for this post. “There’s also the fact that the hacker is publishing documents at all, which rules out lots of nation-states,” the PwnAllTheThings researcher told Ars in a private message. “China, for example, would happily spy on the DNC to try and get the Trump oppo [opposition] research to support their foreign policy objectives, but they wouldn’t publish the documents to influence the election.” Dave Aitel, CEO of Immunity Security, a firm that provides advanced hacking tools to security professionals, agreed with the researcher’s theory. “I think his analysis is very believable when you look at what CrowdStrike is saying and when you look at what other people are not saying,” Aitel told Ars. “You don’t have the FBI or DHS coming out and saying: ‘Hey we don’t think it’s Russia.’ If it is Russia, a nation state, it’s a pretty big deal. Otherwise the FBI would say: ‘We’re conducting an investigation.’ But they’re not saying that.” Of course, it’s still possible that the Russian fingerprints were left intentionally by someone who has no connection to Russia, or by a Russian-speaking person with no connection to the Russian government, or any number of other scenarios. The abundance of plausible competing theories underscores just how hard it is to accurately attribute attacks online and how perilous it is to reach summary conclusions.

Jordan Chariton of The Young Turks pursued the DNC for a denial of the documents’ authenticity, receiving first what he described as a “vague” response and no other comment:

By 17 June 2016, the only update to the initial confirmation of the hack provided by the DNC and CrowdStrike were unverified claims released by a hacker going by the name of Guccifer 2.0. The DNC has so far declined to comment on the authenticity of the documents leaked on 15 June 2016, and no one has definitively identified any parties responsible for the hack. And WikiLeaks hasn’t published any additional information since Julian Assange’s 12 June 2016 statement about an impending document dump of Hillary Clinton e-mails.



Sources:Biddle, Sam and Gabrielle Bluestone.   “This Looks Like the DNC’s Hacked Trump Oppo File.”
Gawker.   15 June 2016.

Goodin, Dan.   “‘Guccifer’ Leak of DNC Trump Research Has a Russian’s Fingerprints on It.”
Ars Technica.   16 June 2016.

Johnson, Kevin and Erin Kelly.   “Russia Hacks Democratic National Committee, Trump Info Compromised.”
USA Today.   14 June 2016.

King, Shaun.   “Hacked DNC Documents May Show Ugly Connections Between the Party and Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign .”
[New York] Daily News.   16 June 2016.

Tran, Mark.   “WikiLeaks to Publish More Hillary Clinton Emails.”
The Guardian.   12 June 2016.

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How Fake Data Can Help the Pentagon Track Rogue Weapons

“Today’s terrorist networks move operatives, money and material across borders and through the crevices of the global economy, making tracking such adversaries a daunting challenge.”

via How Fake Data Can Help the Pentagon Track Rogue Weapons

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How Fake Data Can Help the Pentagon Track Rogue Weapons

 Jack Corrigan

                       The Pentagon is investing in software that uses big data to help intelligence officers keep terrorists from getting their hands on biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.


The Air Force Research Laboratory in January announced a $4.6 million contract with the software company IvySys to model different ways state and non- state actors could obtain and deploy “weapons of mass terror” around the world.

The contract supports an ongoing effort by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to build tools to spot groups who are potentially stockpiling materials for
such weapons.

“Reports of chemical weapons use around the world raises serious concerns about non-state actors’ access to weapons of mass terror and reinforces fears of a possible terrorist attack with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons in the West,” DARPA and IvySys said in a statement.

“Today’s terrorist networks move operatives, money and material across borders and through the crevices of the global economy, making tracking such adversaries a daunting challenge.”

The technology would generate fictional but realistic datasets of bank transactions, emails and inventory transfers, and embed them with indicators of suspicious activities, like a shipment of toxic chemicals getting intercepted or a banker doing business with terrorist- connected client. Agencies could then use the software to train algorithms and machine learning tools to pick up on threatening behavior buried within massive datasets.

IvySys Founder and Chief Executive Officer James DeBardelaben compared the process to repeatedly finding a needle in a haystack, but making both the needle and haystack look different every time. Using real-world data, agencies can only train algorithms to spot threats that already exist, he said, but constantly evolving synthetic datasets can train tools to spot patterns that have yet
to occur.

The software will eventually generate massive datasets containing 10 billion variable nodes and 1 trillion individual transactions. It will also allow users to make threat patterns easier or harder to find.

“It’s an enabling technology that allows [agencies] to build robust threat detection software tools,” DeBardelaben told Nextgov. “It gives them data to train against and it allows them to vary the threats that their tool can detect.”

IvySys began working on the project in September 2017, he said, and the DARPA contract will run for four years.

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Iraqi Nun Testifies About Suffering of Christians and Other Religious Minorities:

Liveleak–Sister Diana Momeka, OP Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Mosul, Iraq appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today to testify about ancient communities under attack: ISIS’s war on religious minorities. Her visit to the United States was sponsored by two Washington-area organizations, the Institute for Global Engagement and 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.Following her testimony, which appears below, Sister Diana noted that “The situation for my people and my country is grave, but not without hope. I believe that the international community, and especially the good people of the United States, want to see my government fulfill its responsibility to protect defend, and promote the welfare of all of its citizens. I call on all Americans to raise your voices on our behalf so that diplomacy and not genocide, social well-being and not weapons, and the desire for justice, not selfish interests determine the future for Iraq and all of her children.”

Sister Diana Momeka’s Testimony:
Thank you Chairman Royce and distinguished Members of the Committee, for inviting me today to share my views on Ancient Communities Under Attack: ISIS’s War on Religious Minorities. I am Sister Diana Momeka of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Mosul, Iraq. I’d like to request that my complete testimony be entered in to the Record.In November 2009, a bomb was detonated at our convent in Mosul. Five sisters were in the building at the time and they were lucky to have escaped unharmed. Our Prioress, Sister Maria Hanna, asked for protection from local civilian authorities but the pleas went unanswered. As such, she had no choice but to move us to Qaraqosh.

Then on June 10, 2014, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS, invaded the Nineveh Plain, which is where Qaraqosh is located. Starting with the city of Mosul, ISIS overran one city and town after another, giving the Christians of the region three choices: 1.) convert to Islam, 2.) pay a tribute (Al-Jizya) to ISIS or 3.) leave their cities (like Mosul) with nothing more than the clothes on their back.

As this horror spread throughout the Nineveh Plain, by August 6, 2014, Nineveh was emptied of Christians, and sadly, for the first time since the seventh century AD, no church bells rang for Mass in the Plain of Nineveh.

From June 2014 forward, more than a hundred and twenty thousand (120,000+) people found themselves displaced and homeless in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, leaving behind their heritage and all they had worked for over the centuries. This uprooting, this theft of everything that the Christians owned, displaced them body and soul, stripping away their humanity and dignity.

To add insult to injury, the initiatives and actions of both the Iraqi and Kurdish governments were at best modest and slow. Apart from allowing Christians to enter their region, the Kurdish government did not offer any aid either financial or material. I understand the great strain that these events have placed on Baghdad and Erbil however, it has been almost a year and Christian Iraqi citizens are still in dire need of help. Many people spent days and weeks in the streets before they found shelter in tents, schools and halls. Thankfully, the Church in the Kurdistan region stepped forward and cared for the displaced Christians, doing her very best to handle the disaster. Church buildings were opened to accommodate the people; food and non-food items were provided to meet the immediate needs of the people; and medical health services were also provided. Moreover, the Church put out a call and many humanitarian organizations answered with aid for the thousands of people in need.

Presently, we are grateful for what has been done, with most people now sheltered in small prefabricated containers or some homes. Though better than living on the street or in an abandoned building, these small units are few in number and are crowded with three families, each with multiple people, often accommodated in one unit. This of course increases tensions and conflict, even within the same family.

There are many who say “Why don’t the Christians just leave Iraq and move to another country and be done with it?” To this question we would respond, “Why should we leave our country — what have we done?”

The Christians of Iraq are the first people of the land. You read about us in the Old Testament of the Bible. Christianity came to Iraq from the very earliest days through the preaching and witness of St Thomas and others of the Apostles and Church Elders.

While our ancestors experienced all kinds of persecution, they stayed in their land, building a culture that has served humanity for the ages. We, as Christians, do not want, or deserve to leave or be forced out of our country any more than you would want to leave or be forced out of yours.

But the current persecution that our community is facing is the most brutal in our history. Not only have we been robbed of our homes, property and land, but our heritage is being destroyed as well. ISIS has been and continues to demolish and bomb our churches, cultural artifacts and sacred places like Mar Behnam and Sara, a fourth century monastery and St. Georges Monastery in Mosul.

Uprooted and forcefully displaced, we have realized that ISIS’ plan is to evacuate the land of Christians and wipe the earth clean of any evidence that we ever existed. This is cultural and human genocide. The only Christians that remain in the Plain of Nineveh are those who are held as hostages.

The loss of the Christian Community from the Plain of Nineveh has placed the whole region on the edge of a terrible catastrophe. Christians have for centuries been the bridge that connects Eastern and Western cultures. Destroying this bridge will leave an isolated, inculturated conflict zone emptied of cultural and religious diversity. Through our presence as Christians, we’re called to be a force for good, for peace, for connection between cultures.

To restore, repair and rebuild the Christian community in Iraq, the following needs are urgent:

[list=1]Liberating our homes from ISIS and helping us return. Coordinating an effort to rebuild what was destroyed — roads, water and electrical supplies, and buildings, including our churches and monasteries. Encouraging enterprises that contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq and inter-religious dialogue. This could be through schools, academics and pedagogical projects.[/list]I am but one, small person — a victim myself of ISIS and all of its brutality. Coming here has been difficult for me — as a religious sister I am not comfortable with the media and so much attention. But I am here, and I am here to ask you, to implore you for the sake of our common humanity, to help us. Stand with us as we, as Christians, have stood with all the people of the world and help us. We want nothing more than to go back to our lives; we want nothing more than to go home.

Thank you and God bless you

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Foundations Sponsoring Putin’s Re-Election

This is the first time Putin’s election has been funded in this way. When he last ran for reelection in 2012, a significant portion of the funds were provided by businesses and private individuals.

The actual source of the foundations’ funding is not clear — so the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project decided to try to find out who was behind them.

Reporters found a number of insiders, including Gennady Timchenko, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen; relatives of Andrey Vorobyev, governor of the Moscow region; and Irina Shoigu, the wife of the minister of defense. Furthermore, some of the foundations have, in the recent past, received support from the state and from state-controlled companies.

The approach is a novel way to finance a presidential race.

“It’s a headache, since the scheme isn’t transparent. Before we were able to at least see and legally identify those individuals who were officially and directly contributing funds to Putin’s electoral campaign,” said Stanislav Andreychuk, coordinator of Golos, a movement that protects voters’ rights. “Now, thanks to these foundations, we don’t even know who stands behind these … donations.”

Indeed, the foundations have not revealed who sponsors them, and they don’t like to talk about themselves. Reporters were not able to find a single website with any financial accounting. And attempts to find out more by telephone twice ended with the same demand — to end the conversation.

“There’s no website. All the accounting can be found at the ministry of justice and tax inspectorate. We’re not a public company,” snapped one representative of a foundation located at United Russia’s Moscow address. “Let’s end this discussion. Anyway, your calls are getting a little exhausting.”

“Independent” Foundations

The central foundation behind Putin’s reelection campaign is the National Foundation for the Support of Regional Cooperation and Development (NFPR in Russian). It is the founder of 20 regional foundations, all using similar names, which contributed to the pre-electoral race.

Many of these are registered at the addresses of regional United Russia party offices, and until 2015 all of them — including the NFPR — used the words “United Russia Party Support Foundation” in their names.

Oleg Polozov is the NFPR’s president. Portraits of President Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hang in his Moscow office at 3 Banniy Alley — which he shares with United Russia’s Central Executive Committee.

Nevertheless, Polozov assured OCCRP that the foundations are independent of the political party, and that though they were founded in the early 2000s to provide it with financial support, it exercises no direct control over them.

After 2014, a legal change meant that the foundations were no longer able to collect money for the party directly. But they could support its social projects — planting trees, holding sporting events and so on, said Polozov. He isn’t himself a member of United Russia, but said that he “sympathizes with its projects.”

So how did these foundations become the sole sponsors of Putin’s presidential campaign?

“There was no order from on high about it. The initiative came from the foundations themselves. As the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm,” said Polozov. “We got together, discussed everything, and in a few days got all the money together for a special pre-election account [for Putin] with Sberbank.”

A person who worked for the United Russia party confirmed to OCCRP that there had been no official order for the foundations to play such a role. Nevertheless, the source said, their initiative was discussed informally at the highest political levels and there appear to have been no objections.

None of the foundations are public and transparent about their finances. Though they are legally required to publish their reports on an annual basis, they have yet to do so.

“Is that necessary?” asked Polozov in response to questions about the foundations’ transparency.

“In many traditions it’s not acceptable to shout from every corner that you’re doing a good deed. Furthermore, there are different organizational cultures. In one of them, one needs … publicity to attract sponsors. In the other, the circle of sponsors has already formed, and it’s no longer necessary to advertise oneself. If the goals and tasks of the foundation are being realized, then why does it need a website?” said Polozov.

The Importance of Keeping in Touch

The ties that bind: shared telephone numbers and addresses link the ostensibly independent foundations donating to Putin’s election campaign to a number of high-profile Russian businessmen, politicians, and their families. Photo: Edin Pasovic / OCCRP

The NFPR and its associated foundations were founded in the early 2000s, around the same time that the United Russia party itself was formed. When reporters investigated their registration documents, they found that some of them, including the NFPR, shared their Moscow address and telephone number with businesses connected to prominent officials, their relatives, and people known to the president.

This use of the shared telephone number, which appeared in the foundations’ registration documents as recently as January 2018, is unusual, experts pointed out, except in cases when a general number for a building, accountants’, or lawyers’ office is used. That is not the case here, however.

“This could be one of several signs that these organizations are connected with one other,” confirms Alexander Zakharov, a former Russian tax ministry assistant and partner of Paragon Advice Group.

Fishy Relations

One of the connected firms is the Russian Fish Company, once a major fish supplier in the Russian market. The company was once owned by Andrey Vorobyev, the current governor of the Moscow Region and an old acquaintance of one of the founders of United Russia — Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu. Vorobyev’s father had worked with Shoigu for many years.

In early 2000, Andrey Vorobyev left the business to begin a career in politics, first becoming an advisor to Shoigu during the latter’s brief tenure as deputy prime minister. Vorobyev then headed the United Russia Support Foundation (the NFPR’s name before 2015).

After Vorobyev’s transition to politics, he transferred the seafood company to his brother Maxim, according to Forbes. As the publication reported, the company’s fortunes grew alongside Vorobyev’s political successes in the 2000s. This was when the Russian Fish Company, which later became a subsidiary of the Russian Sea Group, became one of the leading suppliers of salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, and smelt to the Russian market.

In 2011, Maxim Vorobyev found a new, powerful partner — Gennady Timchenko, a friend of the president, became a co-owner in the seafood business.

The Ministry of Emergency Investments

The seafood business is not the only connection between the foundations, Timchenko, and Vorobyev. Some of the foundations own businesses themselves — and these were connected to the same men.

According to the Russian company register, the NFPR once owned a significant share (60 percent) of a firm called Arleya Palatium, also originally registered at United Russia’s address in Moscow. Judging by telephone directories, Arleya Palatium used the same telephone number as the party foundation and the fish company.

Among Arleya Palatium’s owners was an offshore firm based in Cyprus that also owned a share of Vorobyevs’ and Timchenko’s seafood company.

It’s also curious that the phone number indicated by Arleya Palatium in its registration document was used by Kordex, a Timchenko company which owns a 12.5 percent share in SOGAZ, the insurer of Russian state gas giant Gazprom. In 2013, the value of this share was estimated at approximately six billion rubles ($185 million). Following the introduction of sanctions against him, Timchenko transferred Kordex to his daughter.

The company has an illustrious pedigree — it was previously owned by a company that helped finance the construction of the elaborate mansion known as “Putin’s Palace” in Gelendzhik, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, which is allegedly owned by the Russian president.

The Matviyenko Connection 
An organization called “Culture and Law,” founded by the NFPR, once owned 40 percent of Arleyia Palatium and shared the foundation’s telephone number.
 Culture and Law was also registered to the same address as the Grand Land Group of Companies, which belongs to Lyudmila Vorobyeva, the mother of Maxim and Andrey Vorobyev. The group offers real estate development services in the Moscow region. Among its partners were Irina and Ksenia Shoigu, wife and daughter of the Minister of Defense, as well as Sergey Matviyenko, son of the chairman of Russia’s Federation Council,Valentina Matviyenko.
An assistant to the director of Grand Land stressed that neither the company nor Maxim or Lyudmila Vorobyeva were in any way connected with the party foundations and Arleyia Palatium, had neither business nor financial relationships with them and never sponsored them. The assistant added that the company neither participates nor has ever participated in any electoral campaigns.
Neither Timchenko nor Vorobyev explained these connections, nor did they answer questions as to whether these companies supported United Russia’s party foundation.

Enter Shoigu

Arleya Palatium also connects the foundation to the family of Russian Defense Minister Shoigu.

Though the company was a complete unknown, and had been founded just months before, it was named by the Ministry of Emergency Situations — which was then headed by Shoigu — as an investor in the construction of a rehabilitation center for firefighters and emergency workers just 300 meters from Josef Stalin’s dacha in Moscow’s Matveyevsky forest. Soon after the building was finished, Arleya Palatium moved in.

Sometime later, a diagnostic laboratory owned by the Russian firm Rekapmed appeared in the same office. This firm is majority owned by Irina Shoigu, wife of Russia’s Minister of Defense, and by Yekaterina Zhukova, wife of the first deputy chairman of Russia’s State Duma.

Contacted by reporters, Rekapmed said that the firm was founded to research eastern medicine, and that it does not collaborate with the other organizations registered at the same location. The firm also said that Irina Shoigu had only been the firm’s “temporary founder” until February 2015, and that Yekaterina Zhukova was the founder until May 2015. Nevertheless, according to state registry documents, the two women are still the company’s co-owners. Sergey Shoigu did not respond to requests for comment.

Whose money?

The case of the secretive foundations exemplifies the interrelated nature of politics and business in Russia, say observers.

A former employee of the presidential administration said that some of the people connected to the foundations — Andrey and Maxim Vorobyev, Sergey Shoigu, and Gennady Timchenko — are a fairly close-knit group who enjoy the trust of the president himself. While there are no records available to prove how much money, if any, the trio have provided to the Putin campaign, they have certainly provided it with the necessary infrastructure to collect money.

Polozov, the head of the NFPR, says that, at least since 2013, the foundation has not worked with Maxim Vorobyev and Timchenko’s businesses in any way, has never received any funds from them, and does not do so today. Polozov calls “ridiculous” the idea that the 22 foundations were made sponsors of Putin’s election campaign in order to hide the identity of the real donors.

“If somebody wanted to hide it away, they’d just hide anyway,” said Polozov.

The NFPR head said that the foundations serve the purpose of making sure donations are vetted and improper donations are quickly removed.

Polozov told reporters that many people wanted to contribute to the president’s reelection campaign, and the idea was not to single anybody out. “The foundations solved that problem,” he concluded. He assured reporters that the NFPR, at the request of regional foundations, thoroughly examines the “cleanliness” of all donations, and that the Ministry of Justice knows the donors and has thoroughly checked them.

Once again, Polozov would not disclose who exactly donates to the foundations.

It’s not even clear whether they currently receive money from state-owned companies and state institutions — but at least some of them have in the past.

In 2015, Omskenergo, a state-controlled energy company, decided to provide financial assistance to the Omsk Foundation for Regional Cooperation and Development. One year later, the Yugra Territorial Energy Company, also controlled by the state, provided charitable support to one of the local foundations (as the company’s press release says). And in 2017, the Voronezh City Council decided to grant the use of a municipal building to the Voronezh Foundation for Regional Cooperation and Development for five years, free of charge. Meanwhile, the Samara Foundation is hosted by Samara’s municipal center for communal services.

Deep pockets

The secrecy of the foundations sponsoring Vladimir Putin’s electoral campaign is not the only issue which raises questions. The financial accounting of these foundations shows that not all of them had always been wealthy enough to donate substantial sums to the presidential race. In fact, for the entirety of 2016, several earned less money than they’re currently donating to the campaign.

According to their tax filings, the Kaluga Foundation for Regional Cooperation and Development collected a little over half a million rubles ($7,600) in 2016, but donated a single sum of 15 million rubles ($227,000) to the campaign. The Volgograd Foundation, which collected five million rubles ($76,000), has mustered a one-off payment of 10 million ($152,000). The Pskov Cooperation Foundation, which scraped together 840,000 rubles ($12,700), gave three times that number to the presidential race. Meanwhile the Kemerovo Foundation, which had collected 20.9 million rubles ($315,000), poured 25 million ($380,000) into the campaign, according to the Central Electoral Commission. And all the while, all these foundations still spend money throughout the year on events and the maintenance of their organizations.

NFPR president Polozov explained that the larger sums of money being donated by the foundations can be explained because their own donors made contributions specifically for Putin’s electoral campaign. In Polozov’s words, while the foundations did not publicly announce that they are collecting funds for the presidential race, their permanent sponsors had been informed.

The Generosity of Future Generations

The list of donors to the presidential campaign includes two wealthy foundations which both gave a minimum of two million rubles ($30,300) each. These are the People’s Projects and Civic Initiatives Foundation and the Foundation for the Support of Future Generations, which are both also registered at the United Russia address in Moscow (the latter of which also uses the same telephone number). In 2016, donors gave them nearly one billion rubles.

A multi-sided transformable board, which advertises the campaign of Vladimir Putin ahead of the upcoming presidential election,  on display in a street in Moscow, January 2018. Photo (c): REUTERS/Sergei KarpukhinA multi-sided transformable board, which advertises the campaign of Vladimir Putin ahead of the upcoming presidential election, on display in a street in Moscow, January 2018. Photo (c): REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Nobody could explain exactly which “people’s projects” or “future generations” these foundations support, nor how they came by such sums of money. But it is known that they have supported the electoral campaigns of United Russia’s parliamentarians and regional governors. Neither foundation has a website. And people listed as their directors or founders on the state registry did not want to answer questions, or assured reporters that they hadn’t had anything to do with the foundations for a long time.

The President of the People’s Projects and Civic Initiatives Foundation, Olga Tomenko, asked reporters to call back, and then stopped answering her phone altogether. Yury Puzynya, one of the co-founders of both foundations, asserted that he hadn’t had anything to do with them for over two years.

“I haven’t worked for United Russia since 2015, I passed everything onto… Let’s stop this conversation,” said another of the co-founders, Olga Shabalina.

Unusually, a representative of United Russia told reporters that the party knows nothing about its two wealthy benefactors.

Why Now?

The reason behind the change from individual support to Putin, as has been done in the past, to the new wall of opaque foundations, is unclear.

Some experts believe one possible reason could be to “not spoil the whole picture of donations to Putin’s election with companies and individuals,” since in previous years some donations to his campaign had to be returned for various reasons. The process of screening undesirable donors and casting them aside had taken a lot of time and energy.

It’s also possible that this method of financing was chosen so that sponsors would not be put off by foreign sanctions.

“Some sponsors might be disturbed by the risk of suddenly appearing in a sanctions list due to their supporting Putin. Others, it’s possible, are already under sanctions and do not want their names and the names of their companies publicly listed among the donors to the presidential electoral campaign,” suggests Golos coordinator Andreychuk.


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Iran bans US dollar



via Iran bans US dollar

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Iran bans US dollar

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The government of Iran imposed new restrictions on the use of the US dollar in the country. The use of the US dollar for import operations in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been banned from February 28, Forbes reports with reference to Iranian media. – Peak Oil

Starting from February 28, any supply orders or other import declarations where US dollars are used will not be processed by the Iranian customs authorities.

According to Mehdi Kasraipur, the director of Foreign Exchange Operations and Policy Department of the Central Bank of Iran, the new rules should not affect current trading operations much, given that the use of the American currency in Iran was already limited. Iranian banks could not conduct operations in US dollars because of US sanctions.

“Given that the use of the dollar in Iran is already prohibited, traders use alternative currencies in their transactions. Therefore, there is no longer any reason to quote prices in dollars in invoices,” the official said.

It is worthy of note that the Iranian national currency, the rial, has dropped vs. the US dollar by eight percent this year. Specialists believe that most of Iran’s foreign trade transactions will be carried out in euros.

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