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US releases list of oligarchs and politicians linked to Putin

The US Treasury report, published shortly before a midnight deadline, listed every senior member of ..

The US Treasury report, published shortly before a midnight deadline, listed every senior member of the political administration at the Kremlin, and every Russian oligarch with a net worth of $1 billion or more.Some of those named are already subject to US sanctions. But the administration stopped short of imposing any new punishments, saying the legislation was already doing its job. The report was "not a sanctions list," it said.Instead, the Treasury report resembled an exercise in naming and shaming — putting individuals on notice that they may be subject to sanctions in the future.The list includes:

  • 114 senior political figures with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including his chief spokesman, Dimitry Peskov, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev.
  • 96 oligarchs with a net worth of $1 billion or more, including the aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich and the media and tech magnate Alisher Usmanov.
  • The Treasury said the list was "based on objective criteria drawn from publicly available sources." The oligarchs' names matched exactly a list of 96 Russian billionaires compiled by Forbes magazine last year.

Kremlin criticizes US over list

Addressing supporters in Moscow on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that although he hadn't yet seen the list, the sheer number of top officials included on it was tantamount to a US condemnation of the whole country. "What's the point of this? I don't understand," Putin said. "But this is of course an unfriendly act. It complicates already complicated Russia-US relations and harms international relations in general. Those who engage in this are basically engaged in their own domestic politics. They are trying to attack their elected president." However, he added that "we have heard about some other secret list, containing other names, so we need to look and see what is going to happen."Aleksey Chepa, deputy chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee, described the release of the list as "another step, which, obviously, leads to further escalation of tensions," reported news agency RIA Novosti. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, said the US had merely "copied out the Kremlin phonebook" in its attempts to prove it had "dirt" on Russian elites.Leading business figures in Moscow were reported to have been anxiously awaiting the report, dubbed the "Putin list." They feared that even if it did not impose further sanctions, it would have a chilling effect on their businesses.But critics of the Trump administration in the US were furious that it did not take the opportunity to ratchet up measures on Russia.

Why was the list published?

The Trump administration was required to publish the list by the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAASTA), which was meant to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 US election, as well as alleged human rights violations, the annexation of Crimea and ongoing military operations in eastern Ukraine.It was supported by Democrats and Republicans who wanted to try and prevent President Trump from watering down US sanctions on Russia. The President described it as "seriously flawed" when he signed it into law in August.Earlier Monday, the Trump administration declined to impose sanctions against companies and foreign countries doing business with blacklisted Russian defense and intelligence entities, a consideration required by CAASTA."Sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent," a State Department official said. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the legislation had already deterred Russian defense sales. "Since the enactment of the CAATSA legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions," she said in a statement.The agency noted that it also provided an additional classified report to Congress that may have included other individuals not listed in the public portion. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on the report Monday morning, CNN understands.The reports were released on a day when the ongoing FBI investigation into President Donald Trump's potential campaign ties to Moscow during the 2016 election once again dominated the news, and once again raised questions about policy decisions his administration is making on Russia. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, long the target of Trump's ire toward the FBI over its investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia, stepped down in a surprise move Monday. Trump's allies have recently intensified their campaign against the investigation, alleging FBI abuses of a surveillance law.

What has the reaction been?

Critics of the Trump administration were outraged."I'm fed up waiting for this administration to protect our country and our elections," Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "They've now shown us they won't act, so it's time for Congress to do more.""The Trump administration had a decision to make whether they would follow the law and crack down on those responsible for attacking American democracy in 2016," Engel said. "They chose instead to let Russia off the hook yet again."Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was more measured, thanking the administration for engaging with Congress. But he added: "The US should be prepared to impose sanctions when the law is clearly violated," Cardin said. "The administration should not rest in these efforts and I expect a frequent and regular dialogue on this issue."Moscow had warned the US not go ahead with publication. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was "a direct and obvious attempt" by the US to interfere in Russia's upcoming presidential vote in March. Alex Brideau, director of the program covering Russia, Eurasia and Ukraine at the Eurasia Group, said wealthy Russians were worried about the impact of the report. "Wealthy Russians are reported to be lobbying heavily in Washington, seeking legal advice regarding their foreign investments and trying to distance themselves from the Kremlin," Brideau said in a report before the US list was published .

What's the background?

CAASTA was one of the first pieces of major legislation that Congress sent to Trump, who has refused to acknowledge fully Russia's interference in the 2016 US elections and has cast doubt on the consensus opinion of US intelligence agencies that Moscow did so.The act passed with broad bipartisan support, clearing the Senate by 98-2, though Trump signed it into law reluctantly. Among other things, the law limits the President's ability to remove sanctions on Russia without lawmakers' approval. It also set two deadlines.Russia accuses US of meddling in its electionsAfter the first missed deadline on October 1, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came under sharp criticism from lawmakers from both parties, who questioned why the Trump administration was almost a month late in meeting the deadline and whether the delay reflected reluctance from the White House to further sanction Moscow. In an unclassified letter Monday to Rep. Ed Royce, the California Republican who's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tillerson wrote that he had instructed "all diplomatic posts" to reach out to their host nations and make "clear that we intended to robustly implement the law, that transactions determined to be significant were sanctionable, and that we would re-engage where necessary with more specific outreach."Editor's note: The story has been updated to include the US Treasury Department list and Russian reaction.

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Europe

Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Europe

Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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Europe

‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions

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