Blog single

Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Mexico

  • Mexican officials are still insisting that this week’s brutal massacre of Mexican-American women and children could’ve just been a case of mistaken identify amidst a gang war—which is probably politically more palatable than the idea that cartels attacked a religious family that spoke out about them. Authorities are still investigating what actually happened.
  • U.S. legislators are pressing Mexico to aggressively pursue those responsible for the killings, though Senators from both parties are more hesitant than Pres. Trump to mention the possibility of U.S. military support.

Saudi

  • The U.S. DOJ charged two former Twitter employees and a Saudi national for acting as illegal agents of the Saudi government for their work spying on Twitter users who criticized Saudi Arabia, and reporting to Riyadh on them.

Russia

  • Russian activists say that around 500 opposition supporters have recently found their bank accounts blocked, and then suddenly down to a balance of negative 75 million rubles ($1.2 million). That figure is significant, because it’s the amount that Moscow bizarrely accuses opposition leader Alexei Navalny of laundering for Russian mob bosses. Read more in the WSJ article below.

IS

  • Pres. Erdogan of Turkey told reporters that slain IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s “inner circle is mostly targeting our country and…looking for ways to settle in our country.” However, he might be overdramatizing the situation: he also said the number of Baghdadi “inner circle” members in Turkey was “close to reaching double digits”…so maybe eight or nine—and it’s probably mostly females (we know of one sister, one wife, and one daughter caught in Turkey so far who are likely included).

China

  • A spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry said that China and the U.S. mutually agreed to cancel some existing tariffs—not just postpone new ones—under a “phase one” trade agreement.
  • China insists that the tariffs must be reversed in equal value increments, just as they were imposed.
  • We’ll likely see more details soon.

Afghanistan

  • The Taliban assassinated three Paktia appellate judges and a court employee in Logar. (Technically, the Taliban hasn’t claimed—or denied—responsibility yet, but the attack reportedly happened at a Taliban checkpoint, and the Taliban has been known to target judges because it perceives that its members get harsher sentences than other murderers).

DRC

  • The ICC sentenced DRC warlord (and M23 founder) Bosco Ntaganda to 30 years in a prison that’s probably much nicer than where he came from—or would go back to.
  • Nonetheless, it’s the longest sentence the ICC has ever handed down, and for good reason: Ntaganda personally killed a Catholic priest, and presided over brutal war crimes—allegedly leading the killing, rape, and torture in Ituri himself.
  • Ntaganda was also the first suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC—reportedly because he feared the M23 would collapse and he’d be assassinated. He walked into the U.S. Embassy in Kigali to surrender in 2013 (seven years after the ICC issued its first warrant for his arrest).

Sahel

  • Genmen ambushed a five-bus convoy of employees working for the Canadian mining company Semafo in Burkina Faso, killing at least 37 people, and wounding 60 more. Semafo’s Boungou gold mine has been targeted by bandits in the past, but this seems like more than mere bandritry.

DPRK

  • Two North Korean fisherman reportedly killed the other 16 members of their boat crew, and then fled to South Korea to claim asylum. However—given the circumstances—South Korea treated them as national security threats, rather than refugees, and sent them back.

Russia Targets Dissenters—Right in Their Bank Accounts (WSJ)

Activists say hundreds of people suddenly found themselves $1.2 million in debt, the amount Moscow alleges opposition group laundered for crime lords

One morning in September, Andrei Yegorov woke to discover his bank account was frozen and in the red to the tune of 75 million rubles, almost $1.2 million.

Across Russia, opposition activists say hundreds of people have found that they, too, inexplicably are 75 million rubles in the hole—the same amount state investigators allege Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s organization had laundered for underworld crime lords.

Russia’s Investigative Committee opened an investigation into Mr. Navalny’s opposition group in August, a probe he calls a politically motivated attempt to destroy it.

For Mr. Yegorov, a longtime Navalny supporter, the bank-account move sent an unmistakable message: The cost of standing up to President Vladimir Putin is rising to a level few ordinary Russians can withstand.

“It can psychologically break a person knowing you have no access to your cash and you have a debt that you’ll never pay off,” Mr. Yegorov said.

Mr. Navalny, a 43-year-old lawyer who entered the public eye in 2012 when he organized street protests against Mr. Putin, has emerged as Russia’s most effective opposition leader in years. His Anti-Corruption Fund has become the closest thing Russia has to a nationwide opposition movement. His campaign has exposed alleged graft by top officials, including Mr. Putin’s top lieutenant, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has dismissed the claims, calling them fabricated.

While Mr. Putin long ago quashed dissent within the country’s tightly controlled political system, Mr. Navalny and supporters such as Mr. Yegorov have become a growing irritant. Russian authorities have described his group as a tool of the U.S. establishment, intent on toppling Mr. Putin.

The Kremlin for years has used court cases to force independent-minded organizations into bankruptcy or submission, but the measures against Mr. Navalny and other opposition leaders, introduced quietly after the protests ended, have brought the Kremlin’s attempts to quash political activism to a new level.

Denis Volkov, a sociologist for independent pollster Levada Center, said Mr. Navalny’s success in organizing demonstrations and protest voting against the Kremlin has made his group a greater threat to the authorities.

“The authorities see they now have something to lose to the opposition, and so they’ve decided to shut it down,” he said.

Mr. Navalny’s followers and other opposition activists joined forces in Moscow over the summer to rally against what they called arbitrary and unlawful detentions of protesters, the biggest show of dissent against pro-Kremlin authorities in years. He also led efforts to oust pro-Putin city council members in a Moscow municipal vote this September.

The new measures aimed at Mr. Navalny’s group show the danger the Kremlin sees in political activism as Mr. Putin plans to maintain power for at least another five years before his term ends. Mr. Navalny’s followers are personally paying the price in the crackdown.

“I know what I’m facing in opposing the Kremlin, and my family members understand it, too,” Mr. Yegorov said.

Russian authorities for years have pressured Mr. Navalny’s support base and have targeted his anticorruption campaign in particular.

An earlier probe by state investigators accused his organization of laundering 75 million rubles in donations from Russian crime bosses. In October, the anticorruption group was also designated a foreign agent, meaning Mr. Navalny will have to advertise the designation on his website.

Mr. Navalny said the latest crackdown, which included several waves of raids on his offices and those of his supporters across Russia, is retribution for September’s city elections. After many opposition figures were banned from running, he called for supporters to vote for anyone but Mr. Putin’s candidates, a strategy he calls smart voting.

As a result, in the capital, candidates affiliated with the pro-government United Russia party lost around a third of their seats in the Moscow City Council, an embarrassing blow as ordinary Russians showed their unhappiness with falling incomes and higher household debt.

With the latest raids, “they’ve decided to destroy our network before we enlist several million people in a strategy of smart voting,” Mr. Navalny said. “What we’re facing now is intimidation and the destruction of our infrastructure.”

In addition to blocks on around 500 bank accounts held by Navalny supporters, according to the Anti-Corruption Fund, the organization has faced many court cases in connection with Moscow protests. Restaurant Armenia, on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, sued the group in October for nearly 250,000 rubles because of lost business. Mr. Navalny and other opposition leaders are facing other court cases as well, all of which amount to more than 32 million rubles in claims.

None of the supporters has said they have been required to pay interest on the debt.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr. Putin was aware of raids on opposition supporters, but that the president wasn’t familiar with the details.

Olya Guseva, who lives in St. Petersburg and works for Mr. Navalny’s anticorruption campaign, said her account had been blocked and showed she owed the same figure, 75 million rubles.

Another volunteer, in Saratov on the Volga River, posted screenshots on Facebook of two of her accounts. They were both 75 million rubles in the red.

Mr. Yegorov suspects he first drew the attention of Russia’s security forces seven years ago. The stocky information-technology consultant said he recalls police following him and he was sometimes detained at rallies. He said that the first time he was carried away, he was holding a sign saying “No to Fascism.”

Now 35, he said his two-floor home in Moscow’s Western Pskov suburb was one of more than 200 police raided in September. Shortly after officers burst through his door, an SMS message from his bank popped up on his phone. His checking account was 75 million rubles in debt, as was his mother’s.

Mr. Yegorov was stunned. He said he couldn’t understand how it could have happened. He called his bank, which said a Moscow court had ordered the amount to be blocked off and taken from his account, which doesn’t have a credit facility. It didn’t make any sense, he said.

The Wall Street Journal independently reviewed his account statement at Alfa Bank, which also provided the order from a Moscow city court that froze the account, which Mr. Yegorov said had just 2,000 rubles in it. The bank didn’t provide any additional information.

Mr. Yegorov said life 75 million rubles in the red is more difficult than before. He has to rely on friends to provide pocket money here and there to get by.

But he hasn’t changed his decision to support Mr. Navalny’s political movement, he said.

“When you sign up for the opposition, you have to know what you’re getting into,” he said. “You could be saddled with a 75-million-ruble debt, you could be killed. But you’ve decided to fight.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.