A huge underground cryptocurrency mining operation has been busted by Ukraine police for allegedly stealing electricity from the grid.
Police said they’d seized 5,000 computers and 3,800 games consoles that were being used in the illegal mine, the largest discovered in the country.
The mine, in the city of Vinnytsia, near Kyiv, stole as much as $259,300 in electricity each month, the Security Service of Ukraine said. To conceal the theft, the operators of the mine used electricity meters that did not reflect their actual energy consumption, officials said.
“Such illegal activity could lead to power surges and left people without electricity,” the security service said.
Police said that criminal proceedings had begun over the theft of water, electricity, and thermal energy. The mine was run by residents of Kyiv and Vinnytsia, a city about three hours outside the capital, police said.
Photos released by state investigators show a cavernous room filled wall-to-wall with metal racks of neatly lined-up computers and Sony Playstation consoles.
Along with the computers and consoles, officials said they also seized more than 500 graphic cards, 50 processors, and documentation on the site’s electricity consumption. They also took notebooks, phones, and flash drives, according to the press statement.
In 2020, Blackwater founder Erik Prince pitched plans to hire Ukrainian combat veterans and buy into the country’s military-industrial complex in order to create a $10 billion private army, according to a new Time investigation.
The former Navy SEAL created a “roadmap” detailing his goals to acquire factories in Ukraine that make engines for fighter jets and helicopters as well as build munitions factories in the country and combine Ukraine’s top aerospace and aviation firms in order to compete with Boeing and Airbus, the outlet reported.
Prince’s full plan, obtained by Time, dates back to June 2020 and is one of his most ambitious ventures in a long career of pursuing and creating controversial defense infrastructure, according to the magazine. Documents obtained by the outlet reveal Prince’s coveted venture would have given him a pivotal role in Ukraine’s military industry amid it’s continuous conflict with neighboring Russia.
Several of the proposals required approval from the Ukrainian government, including one that would create a new private military company staffed by veterans of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to the magazine.
But the businessman’s Ukraine-centric efforts stalled after former President Donald Trump left office, as the Ukrainian government began stimulating more competition for Prince’s desired assets.
“Had it been another four years of Trump, Erik would probably be closing the deal,” Igor Novikov, a former top adviser to Ukraine’s president, told the magazine.
Even before Trump’s departure, Ukrainian officials reportedly had reservations about working with Prince because of his connection to people tied to Russia. Two other Prince associates are now under investigation in New York. The inquiry is said to be focused on whether the men were involved in a possible Russian plot to affect the 2020 presidential election, according to The New York Times.
“We had to wonder: Is this the best sort of partnership we can get from the Americans? This group of shady characters working for a close ally of Trump?” Novikov told TIME. “It felt like the worst America had to offer.”
The former aide said concerns among Ukrainians heightened even more so after one of Prince’s associates drafted a “participation offer” that Novikov believed was a bribe.
Prince has dealt with controversy in the past. After his time as a Navy SEAL, he founded private military company Blackwater, which came under intense scrutiny in 2007 after company employees opened fire on Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, killing 17 in what became known as the Nisour Square Massacre. Prince, who was not on the ground during the incident, resisted claims that Blackwater guards were responsible. A US court found four employees guilty of manslaughter or first-degree murder in 2014.
Prince is also the brother of Betsy DeVos, former Secretary of Education under Trump.
Prince did not respond to TIME’s numerous requests for comment, the outlet said.
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, who served as a House impeachment manager in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, said that the former president was masterful in pushing “very smart people” to “overthink how to handle him.”
Before Trump was eventually impeached for the first time over his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate political rival and now-President Joe Biden, Swalwell said that the former president’s litany of distractions “avoided letting the public focus on one clear outrage for long.”
“The Ukraine shakedown scheme pierced through the fog,” he wrote. “Finally, we’d cut to Gordian knot of endless overthinking on our side. The overthinkers, trying to jump four steps ahead in a game of chess, worried that impeaching Trump could give him fodder to enflame his base and be a net political win for him.”
Swalwell continued with his analysis of Trump, articulating that the former president’s biggest critics often made decisions that helped him.
“Trump had achieved brilliant success in getting even very smart people to overthink how to handle him, to tie themselves up in confusion to the point where they made choices that ultimately benefited him,” he wrote. “Think back to the 2016 election. Trump kept insisting the election would be ‘rigged.’ He said this again and again and again, all the while knowing that the Russians were actually truing to rig the election in his favor.”
He added: “President Obama overthought the situation, loath to play into Trump’s hand and lend indirect support to his wild claims of election issues. The end result was that the Obama administration never came down hard on the Russians or even alerted the public to what was going on. Trump benefited.”
Andrii Beshta, the Ukrainian ambassador to Thailand, died suddenly early Sunday while vacationing with his son in the Thai island of Koh Lipe.
Beshta, 45, was found dead in his hotel room at 5:30 a.m. local time. He was appointed as the Ukrainian ambassador to Thailand in 2016, according to the Agence France-Presse. He first began working in Thailand in 2007 as a diplomat, the report said.
Beshta’s son, Ostap, who was traveling with him, told authorities his father had gone to bed around 11 p.m. Saturday but woke up around 4:30 a.m. Sunday and began to vomit before he fell unconscious.
Beshta and his son had arrived at the Koh Lipe resort hotel for a vacation on Friday, according to the Bangkok Post.
“Preliminary investigations showed no signs of him being attacked, no signs of a raid or violence,” said Kissana Phathanacharoen, a police spokesperson, according to multiple reports.
According to Satun governor Ekkarat Leesen, a preliminary autopsy conducted at the Satun Hospital where his body was transported early Sunday found he died of a heart attack. Ekkarat said Beshta tested negative for COVID-19 and the disease was not involved in his death, according to the report.
Beshta’s body was transported to the Police General Hospital for a complete autopsy, the Bangkok Post reported.
Federal investigators are now looking into whether current and former Ukrainian government officials – some appearing to act on behalf of Russian state interests – used former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney to spread disinformation ahead of the 2020 election, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn are examining whether the officials passed false corruption claims involving President Joe Biden to Rudy Giuliani, who is himself the subject of a separate federal criminal probe from prosecutors in Manhattan.
Giuliani traveled to Ukraine in 2019, where he allegedly helped orchestrate the firing of US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. The FBI is currently looking into whether the former New York City mayor broke any laws by working with Ukrainian officials on that effort.
One subject of the newly reported investigation, according to The Times, is Andriy Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s parliament. The Trump administration had been warned by US intelligence officials that Derkach “was seeking to spread disinformation,” The Times reported.
In September 2020, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach for intervening in the 2020 election, declaring that he “has been an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services.”
Federal prosecutors could bring charges that Ukrainian officials failed to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires disclosing efforts to lobby in the United States on behalf of a foreign government.
Federal investigators seized 18 electronic devices in an April raid of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s apartment and office, a new court filing revealed Thursday.
Federal prosecutors raided Giuliani’s Manhattan home and office of Giuliani Partners LLC in April in connection with a criminal probe into Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine.
According to the court filing dated April 29, which became public on Thursday, prosecutors seized 18 electronic devices, including phones and computers, belonging to Giuliani as well as “certain employees” of his firm. Giuliani’s attorney Robert Costello told Reuters in April that a desktop computer belonging to Giuliani’s ex-wife and a work laptop belonging to Giuliani’s assistant were among the electronics that were seized
“Technical specialists with the FBI have begun to extract materials from the seized devices, but the review of those materials has not begun,” according to the filing, which was obtained by CNN.
In an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson following the raid of his home, Giuliani said investigators took “seven or eight electronic items of mine,” but claimed they did not take the hard drives purportedly belonging to Hunter Biden.
Biden was under GOP scrutiny following a disputed article by The New York Post about a laptop purportedly belonging to him, as well as his role on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Intelligence experts said they believed The Post story has “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
In October 2019, prosecutors accused two of Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, of helping dig up dirt on Hunter Biden and his father, Joe Biden, ahead of the 2020 election. Parnas and Fruman were both arrested on charges of campaign finance violations as part of a conspiracy to funnel foreign money into US elections.
A federal criminal investigation into Giuliani resumed in March, and the Justice Department approved the search warrant against Giuliani following Merrick Garland’s confirmation as attorney general.
Nuclear reactions are smoldering again in uranium fuel masses deep inside an unreachable basement room of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, LiveScience reported.
A rising number of neutrons can signal new fission reactions. Researchers at the catastrophic 1986 explosion site have recently detected a steady spike in neutron numbers in an underground room called 305/2, LiveScience said.
The radioactive waste is smoldering “like the embers in a barbecue pit,” Neil Hyatt, a professor of nuclear materials science and engineering at the University of Sheffield, told Science magazine.
And it’s possible, according to scientists, that the embers could fully ignite and result in another explosion. “There are many uncertainties,” Maxim Saveliev, a senior researcher with the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv, Ukraine, told Science. “But we can’t rule out the possibility of [an] accident.”
A potential explosion is unlikely to be as deadly as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster that killed around 50 people and resulted in thousands of radiation-related deaths. A $1.8bn protective confinement shelter, the New Safe Confinement (NCS), was built in 2019 to prevent the release of radioactive contamination.
The shelter was also expected to keep neutron counts low, Science magazine said. While this has worked in most areas covered by the NCS, Room 305/2 has seen neutron levels rising for four consecutive years. This could continue for several more years without causing an accident and it might eventually resolve itself, Saveliev said.
But scientists will have to step in if the numbers continue to spike, Saveliev warned.
Ukraine hopes to present a detailed plan for doing this and work towards removing Chernobyl’s nuclear waste by September, Science reported.
Washington is “actively looking at strengthening even further our security cooperation and our security assistance,” Blinken said, adding that while most of the Russian troops deployed to the border had been withdrawn, “significant forces remain.”
“We are monitoring the situation very, very closely,” Blinken said alongside Zelenskiy, according to Reuters. “And I can tell you, Mr. President, that we stand strongly with you, partners do as well. I heard the same thing when I was at NATO a couple of weeks ago and we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions.”
Blinken’s visit to Ukraine is no doubt a calculated response by the Biden administration to Russia’s deployment of nearly 100,000 troops along the shared border last month.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to unwind that deployment a few weeks later, it drew international rebuke and led to weeks of uncertainty and heightened tensions worldwide.
It’s this tension that led President Joe Biden to send the seasoned diplomat to Kiev.
Blinken, who was deputy national security advisor from 2013 to 2015 and deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017, is no stranger to Putin’s antics. He played an important role in the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution in early 2014.
But putting the secretary of state on the ground also sends a clear message to Putin and the Kremlin.
Many have dismissed Russia’s moves as mere saber-rattling. But after more than two decades of autocratic rule, Putin’s political arsenal is growing thin. Growing domestic opposition led by the unwavering Alexei Navalny, a slumping economy, and a mismanaged coronavirus pandemic response has turned up the heat for Putin and his cabal of loyalists.
As a result, Putin is pulling the levers in his propaganda machine in the hopes of quelling any challenge to his grip on power.
Putin took the opportunity to spin up some of his hits, lacing his remarks with anti-Western rhetoric – including thinly veiled threats and ultimatums – in hopes of ginning up Russian distaste for Europe and the US. He warned the West not to cross Moscow’s “red lines.”
But glaringly absent was any mention of Navalny or the opposition, despite protests and arrests before, during, and after the speech.
According to The New York Times, Russian authorities arrested “dozens of opposition activists” prior to Putin’s speech, including Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, and Lyubov Sobol, a high-ranking member in his political organization.
Navalny, who ended a dramatic 24-day hunger strike in late April, is still sitting in a Russian jail, despite a massive outpouring of public support.
Several cities across Russia saw demonstrations for the imprisoned opposition leader during and after Putin’s speech. And while the opposition’s campaign has always enjoyed support from younger, progressive Russians, scattered reports show expanding support for Navalny.
That support will continue to grow as Putin exerts more pressure. The BBC reported that a prosecutor has ordered all of the support offices for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to close.
The report also suggested that the Kremlin may designate FBK a terrorist organization, which would allow Putin to jail supporters and freeze assets with impunity.
The added pressure on Navalny is telling. His poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok in August 2020 – almost certainly carried out by Kremlin assassins – failed to kill him and backfired for Putin, putting the Russian leader in hot water internationally while inadvertently fanning the flames at home.
Since then, Putin’s footing is increasingly unstable. And like the good soldier that he is, Putin tends to go on the offensive when he’s backed into a corner.
At present, the majority of Russian military equipment from the April operation is still staged at the border. While the number of troops there has fallen sharply, it would be easy for Russia to deploy them quickly and rumble over the border.
The US has responded to Russia’s display of military strength (and Putin’s propensity to unleash it on the region).
According to the State Department, the US has sent $3.7 billion in support to Ukraine since 2014, alongside another $3 billion in sovereign loan guarantees. This support has included “technical assistance, training, and equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and security services,” such as lethal weaponry, though there are restrictions on its use.
Blinken’s visit is a potent reminder to Putin that the US is heavily invested in Ukraine and will, according to Blinken, “stand strongly” with Ukraine against Russia’s “reckless and aggressive actions.”
J.W. Sotak is a defense and foreign-policy reporter who focuses on the Middle East and Africa. He is a 10-year veteran of the US Army and served as part of a Army Civil Affairs Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. His reports have been published on SOFREP and The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JWSotak.
It read: “Correction: An earlier version of this story, published Thursday, incorrectly reported that One America News was warned by the FBI that it was the target of a Russian influence operation. That version also said the FBI had provided a similar warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani, which he has since disputed. This version has been corrected to remove assertions that OAN and Giuliani received the warnings.”
The New York Times and NBC News have withdrawn similar claims.
“An earlier version of this article misstated whether Rudolph W. Giuliani received a formal warning from the F.B.I. about Russian disinformation. Mr. Giuliani did not receive such a so-called defensive briefing,” reads the correction in the Times.
The reports all focussed on FBI raids on Giuliani’s office and apartment in Manhattan last week, in which agents seized computers and other devices belonging to Giuliani.
Investigators are reportedly probing whether Giuliani was acting on behalf of Ukrainian officials during his search for damaging information about Joe Biden, then Democratic presidential nominee, and his son, Hunter, in Ukraine in 2019.
The Times reported that Giuliani’s communications with the Trump administration over the firing of the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, in May 2019 were being scrutinised the federal agents.
Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing.
“I’ve never represented a Ukrainian national or official before the United States government,” Giuliani said in an interview on Fox News on Thursday in the wake of the raids.
The FBI warned former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in late 2019 that the Russian government was using him to spread disinformation about the Biden family ahead of the 2020 election, The Washington Post reported.
Giuliani was a fixture on conservative airwaves in the months leading up to the election, where he repeatedly amplified bogus conspiracy theories accusing then candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, of having corrupt ties to Ukraine. He also pushed the lie that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election, a talking point that can be traced back to Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
The former mayor serves as former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, and his actions were so alarming to US officials that they warned the White House and Trump after Giuliani traveled to Kiev in December 2019 that Russia was using him to funnel disinformation to US audiences before the 2020 election.
Four former officials familiar with the matter told The Post the warnings were based on several sources, including intercepted communications. The intercepts are said to have shown that Giuliani communicated with multiple people who had ties to Russian intelligence during the Ukraine trip.
He specifically made the trip as part of his effort to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden related to his work for the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings. One of the people he met with was the Ukrainian politician Andriy Derkach. The US government has since sanctioned Derkach and described him as an “active Russian agent.”
The Post reported that the intercepted communications raised red flags with US officials who worried that Russian officials were using Giuliani as a conduit to feed disinformation to Trump. After the White House was warned about the possibility, the report said, the national security advisor Robert O’Brien told the president to approach any information Giuliani gave him with caution.
Trump shrugged off the warnings, according to The Post. On Wednesday, the FBI raided Giuliani’s apartment and office in Manhattan and seized his electronic devices, as well as a computer belonging to his personal assistant, Jo Ann Zafonte. Zafonte was served with a grand jury subpoena, and The New York Times reported that the feds also raided the Washington, DC, home of one of Giuliani’s associates and a fellow attorney, Victoria Toensing.
The raids mark an aggressive new phase in a long-running criminal investigation into whether Giuliani broke foreign lobbying laws through his dealings with Ukraine. The Times later reported that at least one of the search warrants sought evidence about the abrupt firing of Marie Yovanovitch, the US’s former ambassador to Ukraine.
Specifically, prosecutors are said to be examining whether Giuliani was working on behalf of the Ukrainian prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, while pushing for Yovanovitch’s dismissal.
Yovannovitch appeared for a nine-hour, closed-door deposition on Capitol Hill related to the first impeachment inquiry into Trump. In her opening statement, she said that then-Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told her she “had done nothing wrong” but that there was a “concerted campaign’ to remove her, and that the department had been “under pressure from the President to remove [her] since Summer of 2018.”
Giuliani and his lawyer have denied any wrongdoing, and his attorney described the FBI’s raids as “legal thuggery.” The former New York mayor also a statement saying he was targeted because of a “corrupt double standard” and alleging that investigators were ignoring purported illicit activities on the part of Hunter Biden.