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Video: White House imposes sanctions on Russia over naval poisoning

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White House imposes sanctions on Russia over naval poisoning

The White House on Tuesday announced sanctions against Russian officials for orchestrating the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny and placing the opposition leader in jail.

The Biden-Harris administration announces the main findings of an intelligence community assessment of Aleksei Navalny’s poisoning, as well as steps to hold Russia accountable for this action. The intelligence community believes with great confidence that agents of the Russian Federal Security Service used a nerve agent to poison Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny on August 20, 2020. The use of any chemical weapon directly violates obligations international legal and civilized standards of conduct. And our actions today fall into a number of categories and reflect a response from across government. Today the United States announces sanctions against seven top Russian government leaders, an extension of sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Elimination of War Act, new restrictions on the export on items that could be used for the production of biological and chemical agents and visa. restrictions. We also reiterate our call on the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny.

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Biden’s plan to tie arms to Europe against Russia and China is not that simple

WASHINGTON – Two weeks after President Biden’s inauguration, French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken publicly about the importance of dialogue with Moscow, saying Russia is part of Europe that cannot simply be avoided and that l ‘Europe must be strong enough to defend its own interests.

On December 30, just weeks before the inauguration, the European Union concluded a major investment agreement with China, days after a tweet by Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, calling for “early consultations” with Europe on China and appearing to warn of a quick deal.

So even as the United States resets under the new White House leadership, Europe is charting its own course on Russia and China in a way that doesn’t necessarily align with Mr. Biden’s goals, this which poses a challenge as the new US president sets out to rebuild a post. -Trump alliance with the continent.

On Friday, Biden will address the Munich Security Conference, a gathering of leaders and diplomats from Europe and the United States he has attended for decades and which has helped solidify his reputation as a champion of transatlantic solidarity.

Speaking at the conference two years ago, Biden lamented the damage the Trump administration had inflicted on the once strong post-war relationship between Washington and major European capitals. “That too will pass,” Biden said. “We will be back.” He pledged that the United States would “take up our leadership responsibility again.”

The president’s remarks on Friday are sure to repeat that promise and highlight his now familiar call for a more unified Western front against undemocratic threats posed by Russia and China. In many ways, such a speech will surely be received as a warm massage by European leaders tense and shocked by four years of mercurial and often contemptuous diplomacy from President Donald J. Trump.

But if by ‘leadership’ Mr Biden means a return to the traditional American hypothesis – we decide and you follow – many Europeans feel that this world is gone and that Europe should not behave like the young American winger in the fights defined by Washington.

Demonstrated by the European Union’s trade deal with China and by the conciliatory talks on Moscow of leaders like Mr. Macron and the next German Chancellor Armin Laschet, Europe has its own interests and ideas on how to handle the two main rivals of the United States. , those that will complicate Mr. Biden’s diplomacy.

“Biden signals an incredibly hawkish approach by Russia, joining it with China and defining a new global cold war against authoritarianism,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

This makes many European leaders nervous, he said. And other regional experts said they saw fewer signs of overt enthusiasm from the continent than officials in the Biden administration might have hoped for.

“There was always a clear recognition that we weren’t going to just be able to show up and say, ‘Hey guys, we’re back!’” Said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who was in line to become the National Security Council director for Russia but who did not accept the post for personal reasons.

“But even with all of this, I think there was optimism that it would be easier than it looks,” said Ms. Kendall-Taylor, director of the transatlantic security program at the Center. for a New American Security. .

Ulrich Speck, senior researcher at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, added: “After the freeze in relations under Trump, I expected more warming. I don’t see it yet.

Mr. Biden quickly took many of the easiest steps towards reconciliation and unity with Europe, including the return of the Paris climate agreement, the renewed emphasis on multilateralism and human rights and the pledge to join the disintegrating 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

But lining up against Russia and China will be much more difficult.

China may be a rival to the United States, but it has long been a vital trading partner for Europe. And while European leaders see Beijing as a rival and a systemic competitor, they also see it as a partner and hardly see it as an enemy.

And Russia remains a nuclear-weapon neighbor, as earthy as it is, and has its own financial and emotional resources.

Since Mr. Biden was last in the White House, as Vice President under the Obama administration, Britain, historically the most trusted diplomatic partner of the United States, has left the European Union and now coordinates foreign policy less effectively with its continental allies.

“This sophisticated British view of the world is missing,” said Nicholas Burns, former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to NATO in the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t think the United States is still linked to Europe, diplomatically and strategically,” he added.

This week’s security conference is not led by the German government, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be speaking at it, along with Mr Biden, Mr Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And Germany itself illustrates some of the problems the Biden administration will face in its efforts to lock the guns against Moscow.

Ms Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Party has chosen Mr Laschet as their leader, and he is their likely candidate to succeed him in the fall elections. But Mr. Laschet is more sympathetic than Mr. Biden to both Russia and China. He cast doubt on the scale of Russia’s political disinformation and hacking operations and publicly criticized “marketable anti-Putin populism.” He has also been a strong supporter of Germany’s export-oriented economy, which relies heavily on China.

Germany still intends to commission the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a 746 mile natural gas artery that runs under the Baltic Sea from northern Russia to Germany. The paired pipelines belong to Gazprom, which is owned by Russia. Work on the project was halted last year – with 94% of the pipes laid – after the US Congress imposed new sanctions on the project on the grounds that it had helped fund the Kremlin, damaged Ukraine and donated to Russia the potential to manipulate Europe’s energy supply.

Last year, German politicians responded to threats of economic punishment from Republican US senators by citing “blackmail”, “economic war” and “neo-imperialism”. Many want to complete the pipeline project, but on Tuesday White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Mr Biden opposed it as a “bad deal” that divided Europe and made it more vulnerable to Russian betrayal.

Despite the sanctions, the Russian ships have renewed the laying of the pipes and Merkel defends the project as a commercial enterprise and not as a geopolitical declaration. The Germans argue that European Union energy regulations and new pipeline configurations reduce Russia’s ability to manipulate supplies and that Russia is more dependent on revenue than Europe is on gas.

There are signs that, as with the China deal, the Biden administration wants to move forward and negotiate a solution with Germany, to remove a major irritant with a crucial ally. This could include, some suggest, take-back sanctions if Moscow diverts supplies or interrupts transit charges to Ukraine.

In France, Mr. Macron has long sought to develop a more positive dialogue with Mr. Putin, but his “reset” efforts have come to naught. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles attempted something similar this month with embarrassing results when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov humiliated him during a press conference and called the European Union an “unreliable partner”.

With the attempted assassination and then imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, Mr Borrell’s treatment means Brussels is likely to impose further sanctions on Russia, but not before month’s end of March, and will be more open. to Mr. Biden’s suggestions for a tougher line.

Biden administration officials say coordinating with a shattered Europe has never been easy, and its leaders welcome the reestablishment of US leadership – especially over a more apparent Chinese threat to Europe than five years ago. years.

On China and the investment deal, after seven years of difficult talks, European officials have championed it as an effort to gain the same access to the Chinese market for their companies that US companies had obtained in the part of Mr. Trump’s deal with China last year.

“There is no reason for us to suffer from an uneven playing field, including vis-à-vis the United States,” Sabine Weyand, EU trade director general, said in a forum virtual in early February. “Why should we stay seated?”

Ms. Weyand said the deal sets high standards for Chinese business practices, which would ultimately put the United States and Europe “in a stronger position to have a more assertive policy together on China.”

The deal, however, needs to be ratified by the European Parliament, which has criticized its failure to guarantee more workers’ rights, and is unlikely to end up in a vote much later this year. And, again, officials in the Biden administration seem keen to move forward, given the importance of cooperation with Europe on China.

“The deal could potentially complicate transatlantic cooperation on China,” said Wendy Cutler, former US trade negotiator and vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, “but I don’t think that’s going to prevent it.”

Michael crowley reported from Washington, and Steven erlanger from Brussels. Ana Swanson contributed to the Washington report.

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Declaring democracy will not be overthrown, Biden calls on Russia, Myanmar to reverse course

And State Department officials admitted on Tuesday that four of the top generals who staged the coup were already under sanction. Needless to say, these sanctions did not deter them from reversing a ten-year progressive movement towards democracy. (It also doesn’t help that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the fallen civilian leader, saw her reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize irreparably tarnished by her defense of an army that has committed atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.)

Threatening Russian President Vladimir V. Putin will be even more difficult.

Mr. Biden took part in the Obama administration’s debate in 2014 over whether the United States should impose its toughest sanctions to date on Russia for its invasion of eastern Ukraine, and if they should sponsor a combination of physical and virtual warfare in this country. More than six years later, this sanctions regime has failed in its sole purpose: to force Mr. Putin to reverse his course, withdraw his forces and stop harassing a former sovereign Soviet state.

So, when the United States condemned the conviction of Mr. Navalny, the activist whose poisoning and arrest led people across Russia to protest – more than 10,000 whose authorities rounded up – the main Mr. collaborators in the words of one of them, that when it comes to the Kremlin, “We are punished enough”.

Mr Biden’s aides say the difference now is that they will work hard to coordinate pressure with the allies, which Mr Trump has largely ignored for the past four years, as he reached for his phone to tweet the commands new penalties or tariffs. (These tweets were rarely prompted by human rights violations.)

Mr. Putin, of course, likes nothing more than to portray Mr. Navalny and the protesters as instruments of the United States, which seeks to destabilize the country. The last time the United States sued him so directly for suppressing democratic instincts in Moscow was nearly a decade ago, when then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said called his efforts to rig a parliamentary election.

Mr Putin accused her of sending “a signal” to “certain players in our country,” and US intelligence analysts later concluded that Russia’s actions to steal emails from Democrats and release them for embarrassing him in the 2016 presidential election was direct retribution.

But inside Biden’s White House, there is hope that the thousands of Russians who have taken to the streets to protest, electrified by the story of how the government attempted to kill Mr. Navalny, could give the United States an opportunity. If executed skillfully and with the help of European allies, officials in the Biden administration said, many ordinary Russians could welcome the sanctions as a sign that the United States is on their side.

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Declaring democracy will not be overthrown, Biden calls on Russia, Myanmar to reverse course

And State Department officials admitted on Tuesday that four of the top generals who staged the coup were already under sanction. Needless to say, these sanctions did not deter them from reversing a ten-year progressive movement towards democracy. (It also doesn’t help that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the fallen civilian leader, saw her reputation as a Nobel Peace Prize irreparably tarnished by her defense of an army that has committed atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.)

Threatening Russian President Vladimir V. Putin will be even more difficult.

Mr. Biden took part in the Obama administration’s debate in 2014 over whether the United States should impose its toughest sanctions to date on Russia for its invasion of eastern Ukraine, and if they should sponsor a combination of physical and virtual warfare in this country. More than six years later, this sanctions regime has failed in its sole purpose: to force Mr. Putin to reverse his course, withdraw his forces and stop harassing a former sovereign Soviet state.

So, when the United States condemned the conviction of Mr. Navalny, the activist whose poisoning and arrest led people across Russia to protest – more than 10,000 whose authorities rounded up – the main Mr. collaborators in the words of one of them, that when it comes to the Kremlin, “We are punished enough”.

Mr Biden’s aides say the difference now is that they will work hard to coordinate pressure with the allies, which Mr Trump has largely ignored for the past four years, as he reached for his phone to tweet the commands new penalties or tariffs. (These tweets were rarely prompted by human rights violations.)

Mr. Putin, of course, likes nothing more than to portray Mr. Navalny and the protesters as instruments of the United States, which seeks to destabilize the country. The last time the United States sued him so directly for suppressing democratic instincts in Moscow was nearly a decade ago, when then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said called his efforts to rig a parliamentary election.

Mr Putin accused her of sending “a signal” to “certain players in our country,” and US intelligence analysts later concluded that Russia’s actions to steal emails from Democrats and release them for embarrassing him in the 2016 presidential election was direct retribution.

But inside Biden’s White House, there is hope that the thousands of Russians who have taken to the streets to protest, electrified by the story of how the government attempted to kill Mr. Navalny, could give the United States an opportunity. If executed skillfully and with the help of European allies, officials in the Biden administration said, many ordinary Russians could welcome the sanctions as a sign that the United States is on their side.

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Former FBI Lawyer Who Changed Email In Russia Case Sentenced To Probation

Former FBI lawyer who altered his email in Russia is sentenced to probation Judge rejected prosecutors’ request to impose jail time on Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted to treating an email used to help authorize eavesdropping on a former Trump campaign aide.

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Hack ‘likely’ came from Russia, says US in late official statement on major intrusion

US intelligence agencies have officially named Russia as the “likely” source of the large-scale US government and private enterprise hacking, and said the operation was “underway” nearly a month after its discovery.

The statement issued jointly on Tuesday by four government agencies was a clear rebuke of President Trump’s efforts, in Twitter posts, to suggest that China was behind the hack. But within intelligence agencies, there is little doubt about Russia’s responsibility. No information has been gathered indicating China, according to people briefed on the material.

The statement also highlighted how U.S. intelligence agencies continue to catch up, after being alerted in mid-December by private security firms to the widest and deepest penetration of U.S. computer networks of times. modern. Intelligence agencies concluded with a high degree of confidence that Russia was responsible for the hacking, according to people briefed on the analysis.

This statement is as final a blame on Russia as the United States has made, and echoes early statements of 2016 about the Kremlin’s interference in the elections. It took months in this case to link the attacks to the orders given by President Vladimir V. Putin.

Mr. Putin and his main intelligence agency, the SVR, were not mentioned in the statement released on Tuesday. But the general conclusion that Russia was the likely source of the penetration of American systems had already been announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then Attorney General William P. Barr.

Tuesday’s statement was carefully crafted, in a nod to Mr. Trump’s personal skepticism of Russian guilt.

But whatever its wording, the formal conclusion opens the way for retaliation, likely from President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. after taking office. Mr. Biden, unlike Mr. Trump, said whoever was behind the operation would pay a high price.

According to the statement, an as yet unidentified cyber actor, possibly of Russian origin, is responsible for most or all of the recently discovered and ongoing cyber compromises of government and non-government networks.

He added: “At the moment, we believe it was, and continues to be, an intelligence-gathering effort. We are taking all necessary steps to understand the full scope of this campaign and respond accordingly. “

The characterization of the intrusion as an “intelligence gathering effort” is significant because it shows that there is no indication yet that the Russians have implanted malware in American systems intended to disrupt power grids or modify data. government or private databases.

But in interviews over the past two weeks, government and private officials have said they are still discovering the scope of the intrusions, and it may take months to determine whether Russia or others could do so. more malicious use of the “back doors” they have placed. in systems.

The statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security seemed very similar in wording to the one the White House was set to release nearly two weeks ago. But it was pulled after Mr Trump erupted against his intelligence officials and said they had no evidence to link the action to Russia.

The various agencies have already created ad hoc working groups to deal with hacking, but the formal creation of a new working group is a reflection of the fact that bringing the full extent of the huge Russian piracy under control will take time. and is beyond the capacity of a single government agency.

While the computers of many agencies were infected with the backdoor providing access, Russian intelligence agencies were shrewd in which of those doors they opened and what information they stole, complicating the investigation of the material that had been taken.

The establishment of the task force will help the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the National Security Agency share information better and faster, according to government officials.

In addition to trying to better understand what the Russian spies have taken, the task force will also examine what is needed to repair existing computer networks and ensure that no further vulnerabilities remain in government networks created by them. Russian hackers.

Members of the task force will also start trying to put in place new procedures to try to prevent similar future vulnerabilities from being exploited by conflicting powers.

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Biden plans to resume nuclear talks with Russia while punishing Kremlin, adviser says

So far, there have been no talks between Mr Biden’s representatives and the Russians about the treaty, transition officials said, due to what Mr Sullivan called a tradition. one president at a time ”.

Conversations four years ago between the Russian Ambassador to the United States and Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s senior national security adviser, led to the first inquiries into the administration’s relationship with Russia. Mr Biden’s team said they scrupulously avoided contact with outsiders on any matter of importance until the afternoon of January 20.

The idea of ​​moving forward with a separate missile deal with Iran is not new, but Mr. Trump has made no effort to negotiate limits after withdrawing the United States from it. nuclear deal in mid-2018.

Mr. Sullivan and Daniel Benaim, who was Mr. Biden’s Middle East adviser when he was vice president, argued in a Foreign Affairs article in May that the United States should, under a new president, “Immediately re-establish nuclear diplomacy with Iran and save what it can from the 2015 nuclear deal”, then work with its allies and Iran “to negotiate a follow-up deal.” At the same time, the United States would support what it called a “regional track” of negotiations that would include Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main rival in the region, and one of the main targets of its agenda. missiles.

Any effort to resuscitate the deal with Iran will undoubtedly usher in another rift with Republicans, who have previously argued Mr Biden is linked to a flawed nuclear deal. But the deal was never a treaty – it was an executive deal, which Mr. Trump declared by declaration – and its restoration could also be done by executive order.

The key question is whether the Iranians are ready to revert to the old deal. She was largely unpopular in the country, where many believed the United States never intended to allow Tehran to reap its economic benefits. And Iran is about to embark on a presidential election of its own, in which an uncompromising air force officer from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is one of the main candidates. Going back within the bounds of the existing deal, without extracting some sort of redress from the United States for Mr. Trump’s decision to reimpose the sanctions, may be politically impossible before the election.

Pressed by his interviewer, Fareed Zakaria, on why the 2015 deal did not bring about an easing of tensions and new cooperation with Iran, Sullivan rejected the idea that the Obama administration had. expectations beyond the limitation of the nuclear program.

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Trump forgives two figures in Russia investigation and Blackwater guards

In a daring round of pre-Christmas pardons, President Trump granted pardon on Tuesday to two people convicted in the Special Council’s Russia inquiry, four Blackwater guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, and to three corrupt former Republican members of Congress.

It was a remarkable assertion of power of grace by a president who challenged his loss in the election and could be just the start of more to come in the final weeks before he leaves office on January 20. .

Mr Trump has further overturned the legal consequences of an investigation into his 2016 campaign that he has long called a hoax. He granted clemency to entrepreneurs whose actions in Iraq sparked international outcry and helped to further distract public opinion from war. And he pardoned three members of his party who had become examples of public corruption.

Among those pardoned was George Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016 and who pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to federal officials in connection with the investigation by the special advocate, Robert S. Mueller III.

Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who pleaded guilty to the same charge in 2018 as part of the special counsel’s investigation, has also been pardoned. Both men served short prison terms.

The pardons linked to Mueller are yet another signal to come for those involved in the investigation, according to people close to the president.

Mr Trump recently pardoned his former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who has twice pleaded guilty to charges including lying to the FBI in connection with the investigation into the implication of Russia in the elections. The president commuted in July the sentence of Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime adviser who was convicted of a series of charges related to the investigation. Both men have maintained their innocence.

Mr. Trump’s pardon list also included four former U.S. service members who were convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians while working as contractors in 2007.

One of them, Nicholas Slatten, was sentenced to life in prison after the Justice Department went to great lengths to prosecute him. Mr Slatten was a contractor for the private company Blackwater and was convicted of his role in the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad – a massacre which left one of the most enduring spots of the war in the United States . Among those dead were 10 men, two women and two boys, aged 8 and 11.

The three former members of Congress pardoned by Mr. Trump were Duncan D. Hunter of California, Chris Collins of New York and Steve Stockman of Texas.

Mr. Hunter was due to start serving an 11-month sentence next month. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to one charge of misuse of campaign funds.

Mr Collins, one of Mr Trump’s earliest supporters, is serving a 26-month sentence after pleading guilty in 2019 to charges of making false statements to the FBI and conspiring to commit securities fraud.

Mr Stockman was convicted in 2018 of fraud and money laundering charges and was serving a 10-year sentence.

The president also granted full pardons to two former border patrol agents whose sentences for their roles in the shooting of an alleged drug trafficker had already been commuted by President George W. Bush.

The pardons are unlikely to be the last until Mr. Trump steps down on January 20, and they will no doubt fuel the idea that he has used his power of forgiveness aggressively for personal and political gain. The founders gave the president the power to serve as the ultimate emergency brake on the criminal justice system to right the wrongs of those who deserve grace in mercy.

A chart by Professor Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School found that of the 45 pardons or commutations Mr. Trump had granted until Tuesday, 88% were helping someone with a personal connection to the president or pursuing his political goals.

And by overturning the legal consequences of the convictions in the Russia inquiry, Mr. Trump has stepped up a long campaign, aided by his outgoing Attorney General, William P. Barr, to effectively quash Mr. Mueller’s investigation, discredit them. resulting prosecutions and punish them. that prompted him in the first place.

The White House continued to undermine the legacy of the Mueller investigation in a statement released Tuesday night. The statement pointed out that the Mueller investigation “found no evidence of collusion in relation to Russia’s attempts to intervene in the elections” and called Mr. Papadopoulos’ crime “process-related” disdain. .

Mr Papadopoulos, 33, served 12 days in prison for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential race. He then published a book describing himself as a victim of a conspiracy ” of deep state ”aimed at“ bringing down President Trump ”. In an interview last month, he praised the possibility of grace.

“Of course, I would be honored to be pardoned,” Papadopoulos said.

Mr van der Zwaan was sentenced in April 2018 to 30 days in prison for lying to investigators in the Special Counsel’s office about his contacts with a business associate, allegedly a Russian intelligence officer, who worked closely with the former campaign chairman of Mr. Trump. , Paul Manafort.

Mr Manafort was convicted in 2018 on a range of charges, including tax and bank fraud. He was ordered to serve a combined sentence of seven years in prison. This year, Mr Manafort has been confined to home amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus in prisons.

Mr. Manafort had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to some of the charges against him, but prosecutors later accused him of misleading them and not being used in the investigation. Mr. Manafort’s allies hope Mr. Trump will forgive him.

Two other prominent figures convicted in the Russia probe, Mr. Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates, and President’s former personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen, are seen as unlikely candidates for a pardon from Mr. Trump . The two men cooperated in the investigation of the president.

Peter Baker contributed reporting.

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US to close last two consulates in Russia

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has informed members of Congress of its intention to close the last two remaining U.S. consulates in Russia.

In a letter dated December 10, the State Department announced its intention to close the consulate in Vladivostok, a major port city in Russia’s far east, and temporarily suspend operations at the Yekaterinburg consulate, east of the Ural Mountains.

Closing these consulates would leave the United States with a remaining diplomatic outpost in Russia – the Embassy in Moscow – amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

The State Department notification was sent days before there were reports of a suspected Russian cyberattack on numerous federal agencies and companies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that “we can say quite clearly that it was the Russians who engaged in this activity.”

According to the notification to Congress, consulates are closed due to caps imposed by Russian authorities in 2017 on the number of US diplomats allowed to work in the country.

A State Department spokeswoman said Pompeo, in consultation with US Ambassador to Russia John J. Sullivan, has decided to close the two US consulates in Russia to ensure the safety and security of the US diplomatic mission in the country, as well as to streamline the work of US diplomats.

Ten diplomats assigned to consulates will be reassigned to the embassy in Moscow, according to the State Department’s notification. Thirty-three staff who are locally employed will be made redundant.

The Vladivostok consulate has been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Its final closure is expected to save $ 3.2 million per year, according to State Department estimates.

The consulate closures, reported earlier by the Associated Press, are likely to cause major inconvenience for American travelers and Russians in the country’s far eastern region. All planned consular services – including visa applications and other travel assistance for Americans in the country – will now be managed from Moscow.

In 2018, Russian officials ordered the closure of the US consulate in St. Petersburg. This was in retaliation for the US decision to shut down a Russian consulate in Seattle for the country’s reported involvement in the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in Britain.

The exact timing of the closures has not been disclosed and it is not known whether they will occur until President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office on January 20.

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Pompeo says Russia was behind cyberattack on US

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday it was clear Russia was behind the widespread hacking of government systems that officials this week called a “serious risk” to the United States.

Mr Pompeo is the first member of the Trump administration to publicly link the Kremlin to the cyberattack, which used a variety of sophisticated tools to infiltrate dozens of government and private systems, including nuclear laboratories and Pentagon departments , Treasury and Commerce.

“I think this is the case that now we can say quite clearly that it was the Russians who engaged in this activity,” Pompeo said in an interview on the Mark Levin Show.

“It was a very significant effort,” he said, adding that “we are still unpacking precisely what it is.”

President Trump has yet to address the attack, which has been ongoing since the spring and was detected by the private sector only a few weeks ago. Until Friday, Mr Pompeo had played down the episode as one of many daily attacks on the federal government.

But intelligence agencies told Congress they believe it was done by the SVR, an elite Russian intelligence agency.

As evidence of the scope of the attack accumulated this week, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency sent an urgent warning on Thursday that hackers had “demonstrated an ability to exploit software supply chains and showed an significant knowledge of Windows networks.

The agency added that it was likely that some of the attackers’ tactics, techniques and procedures had “not yet been discovered”. Investigators say it could take months to determine to what extent U.S. networks and the tech supply chain have been compromised.

Microsoft said it had identified 40 companies, government agencies and think tanks that hackers had infiltrated. Nearly half are private tech companies, Microsoft said, many of which are cybersecurity firms, like FireEye, tasked with securing large sections of the public and private sector.

“There are more non-government casualties than government casualties, with a big focus on IT companies, especially in the security industry,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, in an interview Thursday.

FireEye was the first to inform the government that hackers had infected periodic software updates released by a company called SolarWinds since at least March. SolarWinds manufactures critical network monitoring software used by government, hundreds of Fortune 500 companies, and companies that oversee critical infrastructure, including the power grid.

National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien cut short a trip to the Middle East and Europe on Tuesday and returned to Washington to hold crisis meetings to assess the situation. The FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence formed an emergency response group, the Cyber ​​Unified Coordination Group, to coordinate government responses to what the agencies called a “Significant and ongoing cybersecurity campaign”.

The Russians have denied any involvement. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly I. Antonov said on Wednesday that there had been “unsubstantiated attempts by the American media to blame Russia” for the recent cyber attacks.

According to a person briefed on the attack, SVR hackers sought to hide their tracks by using US Internet addresses that allowed them to carry out attacks from computers in the very city – or appear to be – in which their victims were based. They created special pieces of code intended to avoid detection by American warning systems and timed their intrusions so as not to arouse suspicion.

The attacks, the person briefed on the matter said, show that the weak spot in the US government’s computer networks remains administrative systems, especially those that have a number of private companies working under contract.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Thursday his administration would impose “substantial costs” on officials.

“A good defense is not enough; we need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking major cyber attacks in the first place, ”Biden said, adding:“ I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber attacks on our nation. “

Investigators and other officials say they believe the aim of the Russian attack was traditional espionage, the kind the National Security Agency and other agencies regularly conduct on foreign networks. But the scale and depth of the hack raises fears that hackers may ultimately use their access to U.S. shutdown systems, corrupt or destroy data, or gain control of computer systems running industrial processes. So far, however, there has been no evidence that this is happening.

In federal agencies, the private sector and the utility companies that oversee the power grid, forensic investigators were still trying to unravel the extent of the compromise. But security teams say relief for some that they hadn’t used the compromised systems turned into panic on Thursday as they learned that other third-party apps may have been compromised.

Within federal agencies and the private sector, investigators say they have been blocked by classifications and a siled approach to information sharing.

“We have forgotten the lessons of September 11,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s not been a great week for information sharing and it turns companies like Microsoft into a sheepdog trying to bring these federal agencies together in one place and share what they know.”

Reporting was provided by David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, Eric Schmitt and Julian Barnes.