The co-founder of Microsoft, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, has given a passionate defense of foreign aid and voiced fears that the political climate in the US and Britain could see aid budgets cut. In a speech in London this week, he warned that withdrawing aid would create a ‘leadership vacuum that others will fill.’ Henry Ridgwell reports.
The son of a Russian lawmaker was sentenced Friday by a U.S. federal court to 27 years in prison after being convicted of a cyber assault on thousands of U.S. businesses, marking the longest hacking-related sentence in the United States.
Roman Seleznev, 32, was found guilty last year by a jury in Seattle of perpetrating a scheme that prosecutors said involved hacking into point-of-sale computers to steal credit card numbers and caused $169 million in losses to U.S. firms.
The Russian government has maintained that his arrest in 2014 in the Maldives was illegal. It issued a statement Friday criticizing the sentence and said it believed Seleznev’s lawyer planned to appeal.
“We continue to believe that the arrest of the Russian citizen Roman Seleznev, who de facto was kidnapped on the territory of a third country, is unlawful,” the Russian Embassy in Washington said in a post on its Facebook page.
Seleznev is the son of Valery Seleznev, a member of the Russian parliament.
The sentence, imposed by Judge Richard A. Jones of the Western District of Washington, followed a decade-long investigation by the U.S. Secret Service.
In a handwritten statement provided by his lawyer, Seleznev said he believed the harsh sentence was a way for the United States government to send a message to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
“This message the United States sent today is not the right way to show Vladimir Putin, Russia or any other government in this world how justice works in a democracy,” Seleznev wrote in the statement.
Prosecutors said that from October 2009 to October 2013, Seleznev stole credit card numbers from more than 500 U.S. businesses, transferred the data to servers in Virginia, Russia and the Ukraine and eventually sold the information on criminal “carding” websites.
Seleznev faces separate charges pending in federal courts in Nevada and Georgia.
A federal grand jury in Connecticut returned an eight-count indictment charging a Russian national who was arrested earlier this month with operating the Kelihos botnet, a global network of tens of thousands of infected computers, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday.
The United States will not make an exception for American companies, including oil major Exxon Mobil Corp, seeking to drill in areas prohibited by U.S. sanctions on Russia, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday.
“In consultation with President Donald J. Trump, the Treasury Department will not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions,” Mnuchin said in a statement.
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers had no immediate comment on the statement. The company this week declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that it is seeking permission from the U.S. government to drill in several areas of the Black Sea banned by U.S. sanctions on Russia.
The United States and European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Crimea region in 2014 and role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Texas-based Exxon, the world’s largest publicly traded oil producer, wound down drilling in Russia’s Arctic in 2014 after those sanctions were imposed. Exxon was allowed to finish some drilling projects as the sanctions took effect.
Serbian officials warned on Friday of another war in the Balkans if Albanians try to form a joint state with Kosovo in the war-weary European region and the West does not reject such a plan.
The angry reactions from the Serbs came after Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said an interview with Politico journal that a union between Albania and ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo cannot be ruled out if European Union membership prospects for the Western Balkans fade.
Serbian government minister Aleksandar Vulin said he expects the EU and NATO to denounce such statements, otherwise there could be another war in the Balkans.
Vulin said that a new war in the Balkans would also include Macedonia and Montenegro which have large ethnic-Albanian populations.
Most of the Balkan wars were over attempts to create joint ethnically pure states, such as “Greater Serbia,” or “Greater Albania.” It is traditional desire by nationalists on all sides.
Serbia’s former province of Kosovo declared independence in 2008, which Serbia and its Slavic ally Russia do not recognize. NATO bombarded Serbia in 1999 to stop its crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.
The Balkans saw bloody clashes in the 1990s that left tens of thousands dead and millions homeless, mostly because of Serb nationalists’ demands to create a new state that would comprise all Serb-populated lands in former Yugoslavia.
Serbian officials hinted that in case of an all-Albanian state in the Balkans, Serbia could try to form a union with a Serb mini-state in neighboring Bosnia _ something that would be against a U.S.-sponsored peace plan that ended the war there in 1995.
Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist turned pro-EU reformer, said that the unification between Albania and Kosovo “will remain only wishful thinking” and called on the EU to react.
“If I said that all Serbs should live in one state, I would be hanged from a flagpole in Brussels,” Vucic said.
Both Serbia and Albanian have declared desire to be part of the EU amid its struggle with its internal problems.
Serbs have throughout history speculated that Albania wants to form a joint state embracing all Albanians in Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece.
Likewise, Serbia has been accused of wanting to create “greater Serbia” comprising territories in Kosovo, Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro where Serbs live.
Russian has become the “second language” taught in Syrian schools, and President Bashar al-Assad’s children are studying Russian, Syria’s ambassador to Russia was quoted as saying Friday.
“The decision by Assad that the Russian language become the country’s second language is a sign of gratitude to the Russian people for their support of the Syrians,” Russia’s TASS state news agency quoted Syria’s Ambassador Riyad Haddad as saying.
“Also as a mark of that gratitude, many families are even naming their sons Putin,” Haddad added.
“It is no secret if I say that the children of the president [Bashar al-Assad] are now learning Russian,” Interfax news agency quoted the ambassador as saying.
According to Haddad, Russian-language instruction in Syria’s schools starts in the seventh grade, and Russian language departments have been opened in all of Syria’s universities.
Russian news agencies also quoted the ambassador as saying Syria’s president has donated a plot of land near Damascus for the construction of a Russian school.
Mali restored interim authorities to its northern cities of Timbuktu and Menaka Thursday, ending a standoff with armed Tuareg factions that had prevented the transfer of power.
The return of state authority is meant to fill a power vacuum that has turned northern Mali into a launch pad for jihadi attacks across a vast region on the Sahara Desert.
Most government posts have been unfilled since ethnic Tuareg separatists and desert jihadists took over northern Mali in 2012, before French forces intervened to push them back. A peace deal signed in 2015 was meant to enable authorities to return.
Pro- and anti-government Tuareg-dominated factions finally agreed in February how this would happen, after months of arguments over how the authorities should be constituted.
They returned to Gao and Kidal two weeks later, but some armed groups prevented them from setting up in Timbuktu and Menaka at the beginning of March.
State TV announced the impasse was over. A spokesman for the anti-government Tuaregs, Iyad Ag Mohamed, confirmed by telephone that the authorities had been allowed in.
“Everyone feels that a big step has been made and thinks that peace will now come,” Timbuktu resident Moulaye Haidara told Reuters by telephone.
Despite such encouraging moves towards peace, Mali mains plagued by banditry and deadly Islamist attacks.
The embalmed corpse of Vladimir Lenin has lain in a mausoleum on Red Square since his death in 1924 but now, a century after the revolution he spearheaded, legislation designed to bury him has been introduced into the Russian parliament.
The communist party, which ruled the country until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, called any such move “a provocation” that could lead to mass unrest if pursued.
Polls favor burial
But the draft law’s authors — four lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party and two from a pro-Kremlin nationalist party — cited polls showing a majority opposed the presence of the corpse in the heart of the Russian capital.
Lenin’s body was originally laid out in a wooden mausoleum, but it was later replaced by a granite structure, the seat of a powerful cult of personality from which generations of Soviet leaders presided over parades. The corpse, laid out in three-piece suit, is still viewed by the faithful and by curious tourists, but queues are now shorter than in Soviet times.
Previous attempts to remove it have foundered amid warnings it would split society. The legislation introduced Thursday would enforce no immediate action but remove legal impediments to reburial when authorities judged the time right.
Aware that the issue has the potential to stir up strong feelings, among communist supporters and those who saw him as a ruthless dictator, the legislators said they were not acting for political reasons; but critics noted they had introduced the law two days before Lenin’s birthday, April 22, and a century after the 1917 revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power.
“[We are] not suggesting that a historical analysis of the events associated with the burial of Lenin be conducted or trying to argue for the necessity of reburying the remains because of an assessment of his role in state history,” the lawmakers wrote in a note explaining the legislation.
Lenin died of a stroke in 1924 and is said to have wanted to be buried alongside his mother in St Petersburg’s Volkovskoye Cemetery, resting place of writers, intellectuals and academics.
The Serbian government made budget savings of around 480 million euros ($515.95 million) in the first quarter of 2017 and wants to inject nearly 10 percent of that sum into the defense industry, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Thursday.
Vucic also said Serbia’s exports of weapons and military equipment was expected to reach 550 million euros in 2017, up from an estimated 449 million euros last year.
“We agreed to give big money to the defense industry. … When you have a market that is secured for a decade or so, then you invest in production,” Vucic told a news conference after meeting top executives from the sector.
He said the funds would be used to develop new factories and overhaul existing ones, based on increased demand in the global weapons market.
Serbia exports small arms, artillery systems, missiles, ammunition and various equipment through 173 licensed companies to dozens of countries, including the United States, Israel, Canada, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia.
In February, Assistant Defence Minister Nenad Miloradovic said the United Arab Emirates remains a key market for Serbia’s defense industry, where it has “active contracts” worth some $220 million, the B92 news portal reported.
The budget savings have been generated by structural reforms and improved tax collection. Serbia’s budget deficit is seen at around 1.2 percent of GDP this year, down from 2.1 percent at the end of 2016, and economic growth is put at around 3 percent.
Vucic said Serbia’s own 28,000-strong armed forces also needed new weaponry and modernization.
Belgrade has recently procured six MiG-29 jets, 30 tanks and armored personnel carriers from Russia as well as nine helicopters from Airbus.
Serbia’s military budget for 2017 accounts for 1.39 percent of GDP, or around $503 million. The country is militarily neutral and tries to balance between NATO and Russia, its traditional Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally.
Oil giant ExxonMobil has asked the Trump administration for an exemption from U.S. sanctions against Russia, so it can resume drilling around the Black Sea with a Russian partner, according to U.S. news reports Wednesday.
The request likely will receive extra scrutiny from U.S. officials because the deal between Exxon and Rosneft, the Russian state-owned energy company, was negotiated by the company’s former chief executive officer, Rex Tillerson, now the U.S. secretary of state.
Tillerson forged a landmark joint-venture deal with Rosneft worth hundreds of billions of dollars in direct talks five years ago with Russian officials including the Kremlin leader, President Vladimir Putin.
Drilling in Arctic
The Rosneft-Exxon team had begun drilling in the Arctic’s Kara Sea, but that work stopped when former President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Moscow in 2014, following the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The energy group also had agreed to look for shale oil in western Siberia and in the deep waters of the Black Sea, the area where Exxon is now seeking a waiver from sanctions.
Neither the Treasury Department nor Exxon would comment on the company’s request, first reported by The Wall Street Journal. A State Department spokesman said Tillerson pledged to recuse himself from any matters involving Exxon for two years after he took his Cabinet-level position, and added that the secretary is not involved with any decision by any government agency affecting Exxon.
Tillerson retired from Exxon late last year, after it became known that Trump would name him to head the State Department.
The Associated Press reported that ExxonMobil, which is based in Irving, Texas, filed documents in 2015 and 2016 disclosing that it had received three licenses from the Treasury Department, through its Office of Foreign Assets Control, authorizing the company to conduct “limited administrative actions” with Rosneft.
Exxon has said that it and its investment properties in Russia comply with all aspects of the U.S. sanctions program. The original Exxon-Rosneft drilling project in the Arctic was halted by a U.S. order prohibiting American companies from transferring advanced technology used to drill offshore and in shale formations.
The head of Rosneft, Exxon’s partner, also was personally blacklisted by the U.S. action.
Exxon estimated in 2015 that its potential losses from the Rosneft venture could amount to $1 billion. In his corporate role, Tillerson spoke out against the U.S. sanctions in 2014, declaring such tactics are usually ineffective and warning they could cause “very broad collateral damage.”
Tillerson and Russia
A year earlier, before Russia annexed Crimea and the United States responded with sanctions, Putin personally honored Tillerson by naming him a member of Russia’s Order of Friendship. After the 2016 election, when the Trump team first considered Tillerson for the top U.S. diplomatic post, Capitol Hill lawmakers including Republican Senator Marco Rubio began questioning whether Tillerson was too close to Putin to serve effectively as secretary of state.
Amid the continuing controversy over Russia’s involvement in last year’s political campaign, as reported by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies, Tillerson became the first senior member of the Trump administration to visit Moscow. He traveled there last week for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and with Putin. The meetings were reported to have been dominated by U.S-Russian tensions over Syria.
The environmentalist organization Greenpeace USA reacted quickly, calling on the Trump administration to reject Exxon’s request.
“If the Trump administration allows Exxon to move forward with extreme offshore oil drilling in Russia despite sanctions, the United States Congress must resist. Removing barriers to Exxon drilling in the Russian Black Sea with a state-controlled company like Rosneft would not only jeopardize global progress on climate change and provide momentum for a similar waiver in the Russian Arctic, it would also send a message to Russia that it can intervene in any country, including the United States, with no consequences. Members of Congress must stand up for the separation of oil and state.”
“We are extremely concerned that Rosneft’s control of a major U.S. energy supplier could pose a grave threat to American energy security,” the six senators wrote in an April 4 letter to the U.S. Treasury secretary.
Billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates is urging British leaders not to back down from their commitment to foreign aid, saying it could cost lives in Africa.
Gates on Wednesday was in London, where campaigning has started for early elections called by Prime Minister Teresa May.
May has so far declined to say whether she will heed calls by fellow Conservatives to slash British foreign aid as part of her party platform.
Gates told the Guardian newspaper Wednesday that a British refusal to commit itself to targeted spending on foreign aid could hurt efforts to wipe out malaria in Africa.
“The big aid givers now are the U.S., Britain and Germany … and if those three back off, a lot of ambitious things going on with malaria, agriculture and reproductive health simply would not get done,” he said.
Gates said British funding has made an “absolute phenomenal difference” in eradicating tropical diseases that affect more than 1 billion people.
Many conservatives want the government to spend more money at home to combat domestic crises. Some also contend that foreign aid money is frequently squandered.
Gates said as a business executive who spends $5 billion a year helping developing nations, he hates wasting money. But he told an audience of British politicians and diplomats that no country can “build a wall to hold back the next global epidemic,” and that foreign aid combats socioeconomic problems “at the source.”