Scandal shocks Austria, leads to resignation of vice chancellor

Video recordings of Austria’s Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache were released showing him asking a woman posing as a daughter of a Russian oligarch for political help. The scandal has shocked Austria and led to Strache’s resignation. The leader of the far-right party Freedom Party, Strache, promised the woman posing as the daughter of the Russian oligarch contracts in exchange for media coverage and funding.

MAGA Country was targeted by Russian hackers

A small county in the Florida panhandle that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump is one of two that were penetrated by the GRU, Russia’s spy agency, in 2016. The hackers accessed the voter registration database of Washington County, a 25,000-person county where Trump garnered 77.4% of the vote. The news highlights the urgent need for increased election security ahead of 2020.

Thousands protest cathedral in Russia

Several thousand people rallied on Wednesday in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg to protest plans to a build a new cathedral in a local park. Opponents of the cathedral, which is promoted by authorities and funded by the owners of two major local industrial giants, say the construction project, smack in the city center, would take away green and recreational space needed by residents of a city with 1.5 million people.

Pompeo confronts Russia on election meddling

Unlike his boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called out Russia on its interference in the 2016 election while meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday. “If the Russians were to engage in that in 2020, it would put our relationship in an even worse place than it has been,” he said, adding he would “encourage them not to do that, we would not tolerate that. Our elections are important and sacred and they must be kept free and fair and with no outside country interfering in those elections.” Way to go, Pompeo.

Putin praises Mueller report

“On the whole [Robert Mueller] had a very objective investigation, and he confirmed that there are no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incumbent administration, which we said was absolutely fake,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Sochi on Tuesday. Well thank goodness Putin is happy.

Florida gov says Russians hacked two counties

Two Florida counties were hacked by Russians prior to the 2016 elections, but there was no “manipulation” of voting results, Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters on Tuesday. DeSantis said the FBI recently briefed the governor and other members of his administration on what he called an “intrusion” into the two unidentified counties. “There was no manipulation, or anything, but there was voter data that was able to be got,” DeSantis said. “It did not affect any voting, or anything like that.”

Russian agents met with Treasury, Fed

Alexander Torshin, then a Russian central banker, brought his protégée, Maria Butina, for meetings with senior officials from the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve in 2015. Torshin has since been sanctioned by the U.S. and cannot return, while Butina pleaded guilty to conspiring to serve as a Russian agent and is serving a prison sentence.

Are Americans losing faith in our elections?

Is Vladimir Putin succeeding? Polls show that Americans are losing faith in our electoral system and in the media that reports on our elections. “This is Vladimir Putin’s game plan — sow distrust, discord, disillusionment, and division,” says Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “There’s a real danger to such distrust in the integrity of our election system that has lasting damage,” he warns.

Anti-Putin journalist dies in mysterious motorbike accident

One of Russia’s most outspoken independent journalists has died in a mysterious incident on his motorcycle – soon after an attack on the authorities over Sunday’s fatal Sukhoi SuperJet inferno in Moscow. He was pronounced dead on the scene with reports in the state media rapidly stating he had suffered ‘major heart failure’ and died of ‘natural causes.’

Amy Klobuchar: How to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference

“Currently, political ads sold on TV and radio are required to disclose the organizations that paid for them. This is a simple requirement that the Supreme Court — including the late Justice Antonin Scalia — upheld. But right now, the same rules don’t apply to ads sold online. This leaves a huge loophole in the law — especially because online ads have become more popular than ever.”

Putin’s ‘iron-cyber curtain’ may backfire

Putin signed off on a bill which would allow Russia to more easily monitor cyberspace and potentially protect Russia from foreign online threats. The move is seen as an attempt to monitor Russian citizens more easily. It has prompted protest, it is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and may actually leave Russia less protected from cyber threats.

Russian and Syrian forces hammer Idlib

Russian forces together with Assad’s Syrian forces began escalating their attack on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria. While Putin says a full-on attack on Idlib is “impractical”, an increased number of air strikes is meant to weaken the rebels’ resolve and to put pressure on Turkey to stop supporting the rebels.

Morgan Stanley says ‘dasvidaniya’ to Russia

The American investment bank Morgan Stanley is officially leaving Russia, closing banking operations during the first quarter of 2020. Russia’s actions in Ukraine led to heavy sanctions, which made it hard for a bank like Morgan Stanley to operate in Russia. Russia’s seizing of Ukrainian territory is still negatively impacting the country and will likely do so for years.

Pompeo cancels Berlin trip at last minute, will travel to Russia instead

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has canceled a planned visit to Berlin on Tuesday, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said, citing scheduling reasons. “Unfortunately, we must reschedule the Berlin meetings due to pressing issues. We look forward to rescheduling this important set of meetings. The Secretary looks forward to being in Berlin soon,” the U.S. Embassy said.

With ‘friends’ like these, you don’t need enemies

Be careful who you friend on Facebook. The company said Monday that it had removed a network of 21 fake Russian accounts that were “engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts to join Groups, impersonate other users, and to amplify allegations about a public figure working on behalf of intelligence services.” A sample post shared by one of the fake accounts was about a conspiracy theory about the Democratic Party.

Paul Waldman: Trump welcomes future Russian interference

“Like his father, Donald Trump Jr. will escape prosecution over the Russia scandal. To the Trumps, that’s proof that they can do it all again. And even as intelligence agencies warn that Russian attacks on our election system are an ongoing threat, the president himself is unconcerned. Asked whether he told Putin not to meddle in the 2020 election, he replied, ‘We didn’t discuss that.’ And why would they? They both know the score. What actually happened — the Kremlin working to help Trump win the election — is almost certain to happen again in 2020. Trump doesn’t mind, and he won’t object. In fact, he’s counting on it.”

Venezuela: Rising tensions between US and Russia

Russia’s foreign minister urged the United States to abandon its “irresponsible” plan to topple Nicolas Maduro while his US counterpart, Mike Pompeo slammed Russian meddling in the South American country. Just two days earlier, President Trump had spoken with Vladimir Putin over the phone. Putin told him he wasn’t looking to get involved in Venezuela at all, which Trump seemed to be entirely convinced by.

Jet engulfed in flames lands in Moscow

A Sukhoi Superjet, a commercial Russian plane, made a dramatic landing with its engines engulfed in flames on Sunday. At least 41 passengers and crew — more than half of the total number of people on board — were killed.

Turkey says it will not bow to US sanctions

Turkey will never bow to U.S. sanctions over its agreement to purchase Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense systems, says Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay regarding a deal that has strained ties between the NATO allies. The U.S. has warned of possible sanctions if Ankara goes on with the Russian deal.

Dozens killed in air attacks in Syria

Syrian government forces and their Russian allies intensified their air offensive on Saturday in the rebel-held city of Idlib and the neighbouring province of Hama. The widening campaign killed and wounded dozens and forced thousands to flee their homes. The UN humanitarian coordinator said schools, health facilities, and residential areas have been hit and the government forces are employing the worst barrel bombing in at least 15 months.

Chris Cillizza: Of course Trump didn’t mention interference to Putin

“The simple fact is this: Trump remains — despite all available evidence — a skeptic about both Russia’s past attempts at interference in the 2016 election and, therefore, the country’s attempts to target future elections. That skepticism could have far reaching consequences when it comes to just how much (or little) the administration prioritizes dealing with these threats from foreign powers heading into the 2020 election. And that is a truly scary reality.”

Trump and Putin have hour-long phone call

President Trump spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than an hour this morning. They talked about trade with China, conflict in Venezuela, North Korean nukes, the usual stuff. Oh…and they caught up on the Mueller report, too. Yes, Trump talked about a U.S. criminal investigation with the very foreign adversary it accuses of cyberwarfare. Press Sec. Sarah Sanders said, “Both leaders knew there was no collusion.” Uh huh.

Clint Watts: What should America do about its white nationalist problem?

“Small, simple steps can help stem the rising tide of white nationalist terrorism, but one thing above all could dramatically reduce domestic extremism: leadership. Offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ via tweets accomplishes nothing. Elected leaders must acknowledge white nationalist terrorism now, publicly refute the divisive ideology, and affirm their commitment to protect all Americans against threats foreign and domestic.”

Eli Lake: What is Vladimir Putin afraid of?

“It’s extraordinary to think that today, nearly 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia holds almost twice as many [political prisoners]. … Putin may project strength and daring, but he doesn’t trust his people enough to let them hear any of his critics.”

Spy gal unhappy with sentence

While speaking with Russian reporters by phone, convicted Russian agent Maria Butina called her 18-month sentence a “disgrace” and said that she did not expect such a “severe punishment.” Butina pleaded guilty for failing to register as a foreign agent of Russia.

11 years later: Russia still holds 20% of Georgia

Georgian President Salome Zourabishvili stands defiant to Russia and says that despite the prolonged occupation of Georgian territory, the national will of the Georgian people will not be broken. Zourabishvili went on to say that she believes the Russian occupation is aimed at weakening Georgia’s resolve to join EU and NATO.

124 days: Paul Whelan is still detained in Russia

American Paul Whelan has been detained in Russia on dubious charges for 124 days. Russia is denying basic consular services to Whelan. They do not allow letters from Whelan’s family to be read, nor the signing over of powers of attorney, and they limit all other discussion. These restrictions render the consular visits nearly meaningless.