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- 02/16/18--01:22: _Turkey proposes the...
- 02/16/18--01:57: _Kremlin rejects US ...
- 02/16/18--08:17: _Pentagon releases v...
- 02/20/18--01:33: _As ISIS loses groun...
- 02/20/18--02:29: _Turkey's Erdogan sa...
- 02/20/18--04:28: _Opposition figure s...
- 02/20/18--05:28: _Trump goes on tweet...
- 02/20/18--08:08: _Moscow warns the US...
- 02/21/18--00:49: _Syrians 'wait to di...
- 02/21/18--01:29: _Japan is reportedly...
- 02/21/18--04:52: _North Korea falls i...
- 02/21/18--04:55: _Kremlin says Russia...
- 02/21/18--08:29: _The Florida shootin...
- 02/22/18--00:57: _North Korea plans t...
- 02/22/18--03:18: _Heartbreaking video...
- 02/22/18--04:28: _Russia appears to h...
- 02/23/18--07:42: _Russian oligarch in...
- 02/23/18--09:12: _US announces massiv...
- 02/26/18--05:49: _These are the 25 mo...
- 02/26/18--07:49: _'They beat our a--e...
- Turkey reportedly proposed the US and Kurdish YPG fighters withdraw to east of the Euphrates river in Syria and that Turkish and US troops be stationed together in the country's Manbij area.
- Turkey has threatened to move its troops into Manbij, where there is already a US presence.
- The US military has released a video of an airstrike it says came from a battle last week between US-backed forces and a force said to include mostly Russian contract fighters.
- Foreign Islamic State fighters forced out of Syria and Iraq have been arriving in the Philippines with the intent of recruiting, and they have plans to attack, a Muslim rebel group leader said.
- More than 1,100 people were killed last year when pro-Islamic State militants attacked and held the Philippine city of Marawi for five months.
- The fighting could continue if the Philippines does not allow the Muslim areas to have greater autonomy, according to a Muslim separatist.
- President Donald Trump is attacking former President Barack Obama over the Obama administration's response to Russia's meddling in the US's 2016 presidential election.
- A senior Obama administration official has been quoted as saying the administration "choked" when dealing with Russia.
- Trump has been largely conciliatory toward Russia, but he has dealt decisively against the country in a few key areas that Obama did not.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the US not to "play with fire" in Syria after the US reportedly killed up to 300 Russian nationals in a a massive battle.
- The fighting in Syria has increased on all sides, with allegations of human rights violations being thrown at Syria and Turkey.
- It's not clear what Lavrov meant by "play with fire," but the US has announced its intentions to shut down Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran's influence in the country, and signaled its willing to use force.
- Residents of Syria's eastern Ghouta said they were "waiting their turn to die" during one of the heaviest bombardments in seven years of war that has killed at least 250 people in 48 hours, a war monitor said.
- "We are waiting our turn to die. This is the only thing I can say," said Bilal Abu Salah, 22, whose wife is five months pregnant with their first child in the biggest eastern Ghouta town Douma.
- The United Nations has decried the assault on eastern Ghouta, where hospitals and other civilian infrastructure have been hit, as unacceptable, warning that the bombings may constitute war crimes.
- Japan plans to buy at least 20 additional F-35A stealth fighters over the next six years, sources say.
- Japan will pay about $100 million per plane, and will get over 60 of the jets in total.
- Japanese military planners are also considering buying F-35Bs, the vertical takeoff and landing model which they could operate from their helicopter carriers.
- New economic data shows North Korea operating at a $1.7 billion trade deficit with China.
- It somehow always operates at deficit, suggesting some hidden commerce.
- North Korea is under the heaviest sanctions on earth, so its trade is fiercely monitored, but it still manages to make money.
- China may be lying about how much it trades with North Korea, or North Korea's hacking activities in the crypto markets may be paying off.
- The suspect in last week's shooting at a Florida high school has said he has an $800,000 trust fund, the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday.
- Nikolas Cruz, 19, told a family he was living with that he set to receive the money after turning 22. But a judge will determine whether he can access the money now to hire a defense attorney, the Herald report says.
- Cruz's court proceedings could become expensive if prosecutors pursue the death penalty, and his hiring an attorney rather than using a public defender could let Broward County taxpayers off the hook.
- North Korea will send the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
- The latest visit by officials from the normally reclusive North will coincide with a U.S. delegation led by President Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka, though no mutual meeting is expected.
- South Korea spent around 240 million won ($223,237) on Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un's sister, and her entourage during their three-day visit, a government official said on Thursday.
- A heartbreaking video shows the aftermath of Syrian airstrikes on a Damascus suburb, leaving a distraught man holding the body of a lifeless child.
- Syria and its Russian backers have intensified airstrikes on what they call terrorists, but mounting evidence shows their targets are civilians and hospitals.
- In recent days, at least 250 have been reported dead in the airstrikes, and the international community has run out of words to describe the suffering.
- Russia appears to have deployed its most advanced fighter jet to Syria.
- An expert told Business Insider that it could be used to spy on the US's F-22 stealth fighter.
- Russia often uses Syria as a showroom for new hardware, and it most likely wants to market the Su-57, which is still a prototype, as having been combat-tested.
- But the Su-57 isn't ready for combat, and Russia has only 12 of the jets on order as it seeks funding to expand the program.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch, was in contact with Kremlin and Syrian officials before Russian mercenaries he's thought to control attacked US forces in Syria, The Washington Post reported.
- Russian mercenaries fighting on behalf of the Syrian government attacked US forces in a massive battle earlier this month.
- Prigozhin was charged last week by the special counsel Robert Mueller's office with playing a role in "information warfare" against the US before the 2016 election.
- A Reuters report last week cited sources as saying the purpose of the attack was to test the US's response, which was immediate and overwhelming.
- President Donald Trump's White House on Friday announced what it called the largest single tranche of sanctions against North Korea ever and revealed a glimpse of the intense level of surveillance and intelligence around Pyongyang's illegal trade.
- The US's new sanctions target one person, 27 entities, and 28 vessels located, registered, or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and the Comoros.
- Trump has pushed harder sanctions on North Korea than any president before him, and Friday's wave of sanctions heavily warns against anyone doing business with Pyongyang.
- Leaked audio recordings said to be of Russian mercenaries in Syria capture expressions of lament and humiliation over a battle in early February involving US forces and Russian nationals.
- The audio tapes were published by Polygraph.info, a fact-checking website produced by news organizations that receive funding from the US government.
- The voices in the audio — which appears to corroborate reports from Reuters and Bloomberg that say hundreds of Russians died in a mismatched battle — also lament Russia's denying the clash and contradict statements from Russia's Foreign Ministry.
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has proposed to the United States that Kurdish YPG fighters withdraw to east of the Euphrates river in Syria and that Turkish and U.S. troops be stationed together in the country's Manbij area, a Turkish official said on Friday.
The official, who declined to be identified because the information had not been made public, said the United States was considering the proposal, which was made to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his two-day visit to Ankara.
Tillerson arrived in Turkey on Thursday for two days of what officials have said would likely be uncomfortable discussions between the allies, whose relations have frayed over a number of issues, particularly U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, seen as terrorists by Turkey.
He and President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday had a "productive and open" discussion on improving ties, a U.S. State Department spokesman traveling with Tillerson said, following weeks of anti-American rhetoric from Ankara.
Turkey launched an air and ground assault last month in Syria's northwest Afrin region to drive the YPG from the area south of its border. Ankara considers the YPG to be an arm of the PKK, a banned group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
Ankara has long called for YPG forces to move east of the Euphrates river in Syria. It has also previously threatened to push its troops to the town of Manbij, some 100 km (60 miles) east of the Afrin region. U.S. troops are already stationed near Manbij.
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday he denies Russia was responsible for the 'NotPetya' cyber attack last year, after the White House on Thursday joined the British government in accusing Moscow of the attack.
In response to a question about the attack, he said he reiterated comments made on Thursday, when he said that the allegations by a British official about 'NotPetya' attack were groundless and part of a "Russophobic" campaign being conducted in some Western countries.
The virus, which the White House said was launched in June 2017 by the Russian military, crippled parts of Ukraine's infrastructure and damaged computers in countries across the globe.
The US military has released footage it says came from a massive battle that reports have indicated took place between Russian military contractors and the US and its Syrian allies last week.
The battle, wherein as many as 500 or so combatants loyal to the Syrian government were said to have advanced toward a known US position in western Syria and fired with tanks and artillery, reportedly ended with up to 300 attackers killed by US airpower and artillery.
The Pentagon says the video it shared showed the US responding to an "unprovoked attack." News reports indicated the attacking force included mostly Russian nationals, potentially making this one of the deadliest clashes between US and Russian fighters in decades.
The Russian military has denied having a large ground presence in Syria and has sought to distance itself from those it describes as independent contractors. According to Reuters, Russia said only five of its citizens may have been killed in the battle last week.
The US said it called the Russian military to inform it of the strike before letting loose what multiple reports called a significant air offensive. Sources later told Reuters that Apache helicopters cleaned up what was left of the advance after an initial wave of airstrikes.
Watch the strike footage below:
MANILA (Reuters) - Foreign Islamic State fighters forced out of Syria and Iraq have been arriving in the Philippines with the intent of recruiting, and they have plans to attack two Philippine towns, the head of the country's largest Muslim rebel group said on Tuesday.
More than 1,100 people were killed last year when pro-Islamic State militants attacked and held the Philippine city of Marawi for five months, leading to massive destruction across the scenic lakeside town.
That could happen in other cities if Congress fails to pass a law to allow Muslims in the southern Philippines to run their own affairs, according to Ebrahim Murad, leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group which signed a peace deal with the government in return for greater autonomy.
"Based on our own intelligence information, foreign fighters who were displaced from the Middle East continued to enter into our porous borders and may be planning to take two southern cities - Iligan and Cotabato," Murad said.
The two cities are 38 km (24 miles) and 265 km (165 miles) respectively from Marawi.
Murad said fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Middle East were known to have entered the Philippines, including a Middle Eastern man holding a Canadian passport.
That man went to a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, notorious for kidnapping and piracy, Murad said.
Murad said militants had been recruiting fighters in remote Muslim communities, exploiting delays in the passage of legislation aimed at addressing long-standing Muslim grievances, the Bangsamoro Basic law (BBL).
"These extremists are going into madrasas, teaching young Muslims their own version of the Koran, and some enter local universities to influence students, planting the seeds of hatred and violence," he said.
Such a scenario would be a major headache for the military, which is fighting on multiple fronts on the southern island of Mindanao to defeat home-grown Islamic State loyalists, bandits and communist insurgents.
Mindanao is under martial law.
The military has said remnants of the militant alliance that occupied Marawi were trying to regroup and were using cash and gold looted from Marawi to recruit.
Murad's statement echoed those of President Rodrigo Duterte, who last month urged lawmakers to pass the BBL, or face re-igniting war with separatists after two decades of peace.
"We cannot decisively win the war against extremism if we cannot win the peace in the halls of Congress," Murad said.
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey-led forces will begin besieging the Syrian town of Afrin in the coming days as part of Turkey's operation to drive the Kurdish YPG militia out of the region in northwest Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
Turkey began an operation last month with allied Syrian rebels against the YPG, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group and an extension of the militant PKK which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.
A top Syrian opposition figure says government forces along with Iran and Russia are committing a new "Holocaust" in rebel-held suburbs of the capital Damascus.
Mohammed Alloush of the Army of Islam told The Associated Press Tuesday that the United Nations is also to blame "because of its bankruptcy and lies about protecting security and peace in the world."
Alloush's comments came after opposition activists and paramedics said that more than 100 people have been killed since Monday in the worst daily death toll in the eastern suburbs, also known as eastern Ghouta, in three years.
Alloush, whose militant group is the strongest in eastern Ghouta, described the government and its backers Russia and Iran as a "Satanic alliance" that is "unprecedented since World War II."
Alloush added that "a new Holocaust is being committed by the dirtiest regime on earth."
President Donald Trump has responded to the news that the special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three entities over meddling in the 2016 US election by hammering former President Barack Obama.
"Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn't he do something about Russian meddling?" Trump tweeted on Monday.
Mueller's indictments lay out evidence of a coordinated Russian information offensive that began in 2014.
In August 2016, the CIA told the White House that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally ordered intelligence agencies to interfere in the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump, The Washington Post reported.
Obama said nothing to the US public of the interference until October 2016, weeks before the election. A later report from The Post quoted a senior Obama administration official as saying the response to Russia's hacking "is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," adding, "I feel like we sort of choked."
In October 2016, Obama addressed Trump's frequent claims that the election was or would be rigged against him, essentially telling him to stop complaining.
"There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America's elections — there's no evidence that that has happened in the past or that it will happen this time, and so I'd invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and make his case to get votes," Obama said.
Trump tweeted that quote on Tuesday morning and responded to it by saying: "That's because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn't want to 'rock the boat.' When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems."
The Post's report also indicated that Obama may not have acted strongly because he, and every major polling firm, thought the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, would win the election.
How do Trump and Obama's records on Russia compare?
While Obama's administration failed to deter a Russian hacking campaign aimed at influencing the election, and responded in a way that leads experts to believe that Russia will do it again, Trump has faced criticism for his posture toward Putin.
Obama began his presidency in 2009 by having his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton at the time, press a "reset" button with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Obama also never moved to provide Ukraine with weapons during the Russian-backed insurgency in the country.
In 2014, Russia invaded and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region to a muted US and NATO response. The next year, Russia entered the Syrian civil war with air support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, who immediately began bombing US allies.
Trump frequently expresses a desire to make friends with Putin, and he recently declined to impose new sanctions on Russia, instead saying new regulations to foreign military sales would undercut Russia's revenue. Military sales represent a considerable slice of Russia's trade with the world, and Trump has moved to loosen restrictions on the sale of US military equipment.
Trump has also repeatedly denied Russia meddled in the election, only recently acknowledging some interference.
But in other cases, Trump has seemed more willing to confront Russia and its allies. Trump did authorize the sale of lethal military aide to Ukraine. Under Trump, the US military reportedly got into its largest fight with Russian nationals in perhaps 50 years.
Trump also authorized a strike on a Syrian air base that US intelligence sources believed was involved in chemical-weapons attacks on civilians. The Trump administration blamed Russia for the presence of chemical weapons in Syria, citing a 2013 agreement between Putin and Obama that said Moscow would step in and remove such weapons.
Additionally, Trump has taken on Russia's ally Iran with an explicit strategy to counter its influence in Syria, while Obama was seen as largely tolerant of Iran's agenda in Syria as he pursued the Iran nuclear deal.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the US not to "play with fire" in Syria after a massive escalation in violence took place on all sides of the multi-faceted conflict earlier this month.
"The US should stop playing very dangerous games which could lead to the dismemberment of the Syrian state," Lavrov said at a Middle East conference in Moscow on Monday, according to Bloomberg.
The US has already announced plans to keep Syria divided until UN-sanctioned elections can take place across Syria, and it's made it clear it will respond with force when Russian, Iranian, or Syrian forces threaten that goal.
On February 7, a group of pro-government fighters, who were reportedly majority Russian military contractors, launched what the US called an "unprovoked attack" on one of its positions in eastern Syria. The US responded with airstrikes and shelling killing between 100 and 300, according to a variety of reports.
US not going anywhere as hellish fighting ramps up on all sides
Lavrov also spoke of another front in the Syrian conflict, saying that he and his allies in Iran and Syria "are seeing attempts to exploit the Kurds' aspirations," a reference to the US's support for Kurdish militias in northern Syria, who aspire to a state all their own.
Turkey views the Kurdish milita as part of a terror group and there is strong popular support in the country for an operation to clear the Kurds off its borders. Allegations of human rights abuses and shocking videos depicting violence against captured, unarmed Kurds have come out of the conflict in northern Syria as the US stands by its Kurdish ally, whom they credit for defeating ISIS in the region.
Turkey has announced its intentions to start shelling the Kurdish town of Afrin in the coming days.
Also during mid-February, Israel launched a massive air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria and lost an F-16 to Syrian air defenses. Syria and Russia now stand accused by an opposition figure of launching a "new holocaust" in rebel-held pockets of Syria, where some 98 people, including women and children, were reported killed on Monday.
"No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones," UNICEF's regional director Geert Cappalaere began a release on the Syrian government's recent bombing campaign. UNICEF left part of the statement blank to express its frustration.
It's unclear what "fire" Lavrov referenced in Syria, as the country has been in conflict for seven years.
What is clear is that the US has a new foreign policy direction in the country, and it isn't afraid of fighting Iran, Syria, and Russia to keep Assad and Tehran out of power in the besieged country.
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Residents of Syria's eastern Ghouta said they were "waiting their turn to die" early on Wednesday, after more pro-government rockets and barrel bombs fell on the besieged rebel enclave.
Five died and over 200 were injured early on Wednesday in the area, hammered by one of the heaviest bombardments in seven years of war that has killed at least 250 people in 48 hours, a war monitor said.
The pace of the pace of the bombardment appeared to slacken overnight, but its intensity resumed later on Wednesday morning said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It followed a massive escalation in strikes that began late on Sunday. The enclave is home to 400,000 people.
Pro-government forces fired rockets and dropped barrel bombs from helicopters on the towns and villages of the rural district just outside Damascus, where rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad have their last big redoubt near the capital, it added.
"We are waiting our turn to die. This is the only thing I can say," said Bilal Abu Salah, 22, whose wife is five months pregnant with their first child in the biggest eastern Ghouta town Douma.
They fear the terror of the bombardment will bring her into labour early, he said.
"Nearly all people living here live in shelters now. There are five or six families in one home. There is no food, no markets," he said.
The United Nations has decried the assault on eastern Ghouta, where hospitals and other civilian infrastructure have been hit, as unacceptable, warning that the bombings may constitute war crimes.
The Syrian government and its ally Russia, which has backed Assad with air power since 2015, say they do not target civilians. They also deny using the inaccurate explosive barrel bombs dropped from helicopters whose use has been condemned by the U.N.
Conditions in eastern Ghouta, besieged since 2013, had increasingly alarmed aid agencies even before the latest assault, as shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities caused suffering and illness.
Rebels have also been firing mortars on the districts of Damascus near eastern Ghouta, wounding two people on Wednesday, state media reported. Rebel mortars killed at least six people on Tuesday.
"Today, residential areas, Damascus hotels, as well as Russia’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation, received massive bombardment by illegal armed groups from Eastern Ghouta," Russia's Defense Ministry said late on Tuesday.
Eastern Ghouta is one of the "de-escalation zones" agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey as part of their diplomatic efforts. But a former al Qaeda affiliate is not included in the truces and it has a small presence there.
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan plans to buy at least 20 additional F-35A stealth fighters over the next six years, some or all of which it may purchase directly from Lockheed Martin Corp <LMT.N> in the United States rather than assemble locally, three sources said.
"In view of budgets and production schedules a new acquisition of around 25 planes is appropriate," said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan. The sources asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The sources said buying complete aircraft from the United States, at about $100 million each, will save Japan about $30 million per airframe.
The purchase will add to an earlier order for 42 of the fighters, most of which are being constructed at a "final assembly and check out" plant in Japan operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries <7011.T>, the country's leading defense contractor.
That plant is one of only two such factories outside the United States. The other, in Italy, is operated by Leonardo Spa <LDOF.MI>.
As China fields ever more advanced aircraft, including stealth planes, and as North Korea pushes ahead with its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, adding F-35s will further increaseJapan's reliance on U.S. military technology to give it an edge over potential foes in East Asia.
Japanese military planners are also considering buying F-35Bs, the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) version of the aircraft. Those models can operate from small islands skirting the East China Sea or from ships such as the Izumo-class helicopter carriers.
"We have not yet made any plan and we are evaluating what fighter aircraft we need," Itsunori Onodera said at a news briefing on Tuesday when asked whether Japan planned to buy more F-35s.
Onodera's ministry will release two defense reviews by the end of the year that will outlineJapan's security goals and military procurement plans for the five years beginning in April 2019.
The first of the 42 F-35As ordered by Japan's Air Self Defence Force (ASDF) are being deployed to Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. Japanese government officials and Lockheed Martin executives are set to attend a ceremony there on Saturday to mark the entry of the first Japanese F-35 into service.
The F-35 accounts for about a quarter of Lockheed Martin's total revenue. The company is hiring 1,800 workers for its Fort Worth, Texas, factory to build a fleet that is expected to grow to more than 3,000 jets worldwide. Lockheed Martin is scheduled to nearly triple annual production to more than 160 jets by 2023.
The first Japanese F-35s will replace aging F-4 Phantom fighters that date back to 1960s. The next batch will allow Japan to retire some of the aging 200 F-15s flown by the ASDF that are the main interceptor workhorse of the nation's air defenses.
Japan also wants to build its own stealth fighter, dubbed the F-3, although the high cost of military aircraft development means it will probably need to find foreign partners to share the expense.
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New economic data shows North Korea buying more and selling less to its biggest trade partner, China — and it likely indicates that a US-led wave of sanctions are starting to bite.
North Korea spent $3.3 billion on Chinese imports in 2017, an uptick from last year, but only exported $1.6 billion in goods over the last twelve months, according to an NK News review of data from China’s General Administration of Customs.
North Korea's 2017 exports represent a dive from 2013, when it shipped out almost $3 billion in goods to China. The dip follows a year where the US led an international push to put "maximum pressure" on North Korea by cracking down on its trade. Besides commerce with China, the US has also persuaded a raft of African countries to cut ties with Pyongyang.
UN restrictions on the buying of coal, iron, gold, silver, titanium, vanadium, nickel, copper, zinc, and rare earth minerals from North Korea appear to account for much of the drop in trade.
But as NK News points out, North Korea has always spent more than it appears to make from trade with China, which suggests that some alternative source of funding also exists. Countries that operate consistently at trade deficits, like the US, usually have foreign investment or foreign ownership of debt. The UN prohibits both activities in regard to North Korea.
The gap in cash in and outflows suggest both that North Korea is evading sanctions and finding ways to make money that defy international law, or that China isn't accurately reporting the numbers.
North Korea's secret business
China's opaque government has long manipulated economic data to suit its narrative.
"When it comes to North Korean sanctions, Chinese behavior is consistently designed to move a negative spotlight off of the Chinese for perceived nonseriousness for faithfully implementing sanctions," Andrea Berger, an expert on North Korean sanctions at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies told Business Insider.
Berger characterized Chinese President Xi Jinping as "very conscious of China’s image" and hating the US's insistence that China isn't doing its part to restrain North Korea.
With the international community coming together to shut out Pyongyang, the spotlight increasingly focuses on China, which Berger says Xi is uncomfortable with.
But with North Korea increasing its cyber offensives and reportedly becoming adept at stealing money from the booming crypto market, it could be that just as China has looked to cut off Pyongyang's funding, its revenues have become more diverse.
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Wednesday that "everything is fine" in the Russian defense sector, responding to an assertion by the U.S. State Department that sanctions had cost Russia $3 billion in lost defense contracts.
"I can just say that everything is fine, everything is fine," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a phone call with reporters on Wednesday.
Peskov said Russia was "trying to hedge risks related to instances of unfair competition on the part of the United States in the market of military-technical cooperation."
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Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspect in last week's shooting at a Florida high school, appears set to inherit what he has said is $800,000 that would be used to hire an attorney.
Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day.
Though Cruz filled out paperwork after his arrest saying he was too poor to afford a lawyer, his public defenders asked a judge on Tuesday to determine whether Cruz needs them or whether he can pay for a defense attorney, the Miami Herald reported.
Cruz told a family he was living with that he was barred from receiving $800,000 until he turned 22, the Herald report says. But Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer could order Cruz to use it to hire a private attorney, leaving taxpayers off the hook for what could become an expensive case, especially if prosecutors seek the death penalty.
Cruz's public defenders could also charge him for reimbursement whenever he "comes into money," even if the case is over, Scott Silverman, a retired Miami-Dade circuit judge, told the Herald.
Both of Cruz's adoptive parents have died: Lynda Cruz of respiratory illness late last year, and Roger Cruz of heart failure in 2004.
Lynda Cruz in 2008 settled a medical malpractice suit against a doctor and a clinic over her husband's medical treatment before his death, the Herald reported. A court-appointed attorney recommended the couple's two adoptive children, Nikolas Cruz and his brother, Zachary Cruz, receive $175,000 to be kept in a trust fund until adulthood, the report says.
Lynda Cruz also sold her Parkland home last year for $575,000, the Herald reported, citing Broward County property records.
The family Nikolas Cruz stayed with after his mother's death, Kimberly and James Snead, have said he told them he had an $800,000 inheritance. They told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel they recently saw paperwork that they believe shows he was set to be financially comfortable.
"The kid was not hurting for money at any point," Jim Lewis, the Sneads' attorney, told the Herald. "Everyone knows about it. The question is if it's available now."
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea will send another high-level delegation to South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics closing ceremony, officials said on Thursday, including the man blamed for the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.
The latest visit by officials from the normally reclusive North will coincide with a U.S. delegation led by President Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka.
The North Korean delegation will be led by Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Party Central Committee, and will stay for three days from Sunday, South Korea's Ministry of Unification said in a statement.
Kim Yong Chol is in charge of inter-Korean affairs in the North. He was also chief of the North's Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top military intelligence body, which Seoul blamed for the deadly sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy corvette, in 2010.
The United States and South Korea blacklisted Kim Yong Chol for supporting the North's nuclear and missile programs in 2010 and 2016 respectively. However, South Korea decided to accept the North's Olympics delegations for the good of the Games, a presidential official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity.
The official said South Korea had informed the United States of the pending visit and they were in talks about Kim Yong Chol's entry into the South.
Ri Son Gwon will travel with Kim Yong Chol for the Games closing ceremony. Ri, also involved in inter-Korean affairs, accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister on her visit for the Games opening ceremony this month.
The eight-member delegation, including six staffers, will travel by road and will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their visit, the Blue House official said, without specifying when.
Ivanka Trump will dine with Moon at the Blue House on Friday night and she has no plans to meet North Korean officials, a senior U.S. administration official said.
"There is no official opportunity for them to meet," the official said.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence attended the Games opening ceremony and had been scheduled to meet Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, before the North Koreans canceled at the last minute, U.S. officials said.
Costly North Korean visit
South Korea spent around 240 million won ($223,237) on Kim Yo Jong and her entourage during their three-day visit, a government official said on Thursday.
The money was mostly spent on accommodation, transport and food for the four delegation officials and their 18 staff members, an official at South Korea's Ministry of Unification said on condition of anonymity.
Kim Yo Jong and her entourage stayed at the Walkerhill Hotel, a five-star riverside hotel in eastern Seoul. The unification ministry in Seoul did not specify where Kim Yong Chol's delegation would stay.
The International Olympic Committee paid roughly $50,000 to for the training and preparation of North Korea's 22 Olympic athletes, or about $2,300 each.
That amount is a fraction of the spending on the rest of the poor, heavily sanctioned North's main delegation to the Winter Olympics, which included 229 cheerleaders and a 137-strong orchestra.
South Korea's military contributed to Moon's efforts for detente months before the delegation visited by dropping Kim Jong Un's name from propaganda broadcasts blasted across the border into the North, a defense official said.
Kim Yo Jong and the North's nominal head of state were the most senior officials to visit the South in more than a decade.
The decision to stop using Kim Jong Un's name in the broadcasts was made by the South's military late last year out of concern "it could bring about negative sentiment among North Korean citizens", said an aide to Kim Hack-yong, the head of parliament's national defense committee.
The broadcasts have since criticized the North's leadership in a more roundabout way, the aide said, with comments such as: "Too much money being spent on missile launches is leading to difficulties for the people."
North and South Korea have for years used large loudspeakers to barrage each other with music, news and propaganda, although they are turned off when relations improve.
North Korea has cut the volume of its loudspeaker broadcasts since the Olympics' opening ceremony on Feb. 9, a South Korean military official stationed at the border said this month.
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A heartbreaking video, purporting to show a father holding and mourning a dead child, has surfaced after another wave of airstrikes from Syria's government and its Russian backers drew international condemnation.
In the video, a man picks up a child's body off the back of a flatbed truck, where six other small bodies lie. The man and the observers weep as he appears to say his final goodbye.
Children in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, have had their lives ravaged by years of civil war which has recently and sharply turned its focus to their town.
Over just a few days, at least 290 have been reported dead in what the UN described as "hell on earth." Hospitals are among the locations reported as hit. Often in Syria, after years of Russian and Syrian government strikes targeting hospitals, medical care is administered underground.
Russia and Syria maintain they bomb only terrorist targets, but outside assessments routinely prove their targets are often civilian, and allege use of chemical weapons in the attacks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a growing chorus of world leaders on Thursday in saying the targets were not terrorists, and were instead ordinary Syrian citizens being massacred.
A Syrian opposition figure called the campaign to crush resistance to Syrian President Bashar Assad's government a new "holocaust." The UN's children's fund issued a statement on the bombing, saying there were"no words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers, and their loved ones."
In the video below, the suffering of one of those Syrians has been captured in heart-wrenching detail:
Heart shattering. One by one, covered bodies lay on a flatbed truck. A father walks over and picks up his dead child for the final embrace. #HowManyMore? #EasternGhouta#Syriapic.twitter.com/yzzCDPT56d— Bint Idlib (@itsmenanice) February 21, 2018
Videos on social media appear to show Russia's Su-57, a prototype of a new, fifth-generation fighter jet, operating in Syria — and it could be a direct threat to US stealth aircraft like the F-22.
Justin Bronk, a combat aircraft expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that initial attempts to geolocate Su-57s shown in the video indicated the deployment may be authentic.
He also said any deployment could be a cynical move to boost Russia's military sales while gaining valuable intelligence on the F-22.
"Russia has deployed pretty much everything in its arsenal in Syria, whether they’re prototypes or heavy strategic bombers in absurdly inefficient strike paths all around Western Europe and through the Mediterranean" to strike targets in Syria, Bronk said.
Indeed, Russia often uses Syria as a showroom for its military exports.
It has deployed advanced, complicated systems like submarine-launched cruise missiles, which are designed for high-end naval warfighting, against unsophisticated, basically defenseless targets in Syria.
On more regular bomb runs, Russia simply drops unguided munitions from Cold War-era fighter jets, which are frequently accused of killing civilians in places like hospitals.
Bronk assessed that Russia wanted to boost its position in the export market and that by deploying the Su-57, a prototype without its proper engines or stealth configuration, it could advertise the platform as "combat-proven."
Though Bronk said the Su-57 was "certainly not combat-proven in the sense of showing it can take on Western fighters," which is its intended purpose, the plane technically will have participated in combat.
But while the Su-57 poses no real air-to-air threat to Western fighters in its current, unrefined state, it has a diverse array of powerful radars Russia could use to perfect anti-stealth techniques and battle plans against the US's F-22.
The Su-57 can't yet fight, but it can spy
According to Bronk, one of the main challenges for the Su-57 is integrating the plane's "really quite innovative radar arrangement." He said it would be a great opportunity to test the configuration in Syria, where a large number of F-22 stealth jets operate.
"The skies over Iraq and specifically Syria have really just been a treasure trove for them to see how we operate," Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson said at an Air Force Association briefing hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in January.
"Our adversaries are watching us — they're learning from us,"Jamieson said. With the apparent deployment of the Su-57, Russia may be teaching its best pilots in its newest plane how to stalk and fight F-22s, which would rely on stealth as their major advantage in combat with more maneuverable Russian jets.
But Bronk said deploying Su-57s in Syria would be a "double-edged sword" for Russia. That, Bronk said, is because not only would Russia be able to scope out the US's stealth fighters, but their presence in Syria would "give the US a chance to see how the F-22s respond" to Russia's new jet and "allow Western aircraft time to collect signals intelligence on what those radars are doings."
Marketing ploy for a prestige plane?
Overall, if Russia does have Su-57s in Syria, it's most likely a marketing ploy to increase exports as Russia's economy flags under weak oil prices. Though Russia often hypes the Su-57, it has ordered only 12 of them for its own use and "desperately" needs an investment from India to bump up production, Bronk said.
"They’re ordering 12 of them," Bronk said. "How can you sustain a genuine program when your order book is so tiny? In a state that has huge budget problems and a massive military bill," the Su-57 functions as a prestige item, Bronk said.
So while the Syrian civil war rages on, and hundreds of civilians fall victim to airstrikes from the Russian-allied Syrian government, Moscow may be using the opportunity to show off shiny new hardware and gain a military edge against its US competitor.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch, reportedly spoke to Kremlin and Syrian officials before a group of Russian mercenaries he's thought to control attacked US forces earlier this month in Syria.
Citing intercepted communications in US intelligence reports, The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Prigozhin told a senior Syrian official he had "secured permission" from a Russian minister to carry out a "fast and strong" initiative in early February.
On February 7, a column of some 500 forces loyal to the Syrian government — forces the Kremlin has acknowledged included at least some Russian nationals — advanced on a well-known headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which the US trains, equips, and stations within Syria.
How the battle went down
The purpose of the attack — which saw 122mm howitzers, tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems get close to the US-backed position in Syria — was to test the US's response, Reuters reported last week.
The US-led coalition responded with "AC-130 gunships, F-15s, F-22s, Army Apache helicopter gunships, and Marine Corps artillery,"according to Lucas Tomlinson, a Fox News reporter. CNN also reported that Himars and MQ-9 drones were used in the attack.
Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was one of 13 Russians charged last week by the special counsel Robert Mueller's office with conducting "information warfare" against the US before the 2016 election.
The Post report says US intelligence believes Prigozhin is "almost certainly" in control of the Russian mercenaries in Syria.
The clash between US forces and Russian mercenaries has met with less fanfare than perhaps expected for a major battle involving nuclear-armed Cold War foes.
"It's striking how the Russians themselves have been quick to distance themselves," a senior administration official told The Post, adding that the Russians most likely "realize just how damaging it could be to any further cooperation."
But Russia may have its reasons to conceal the fighting. Experts have speculated that by using military contractors instead of its official military, as it has in Ukraine, Russia can hide the true body count of its campaign in Syria and continue to sell the conflict to Russian citizens as a low-cost engagement.
Russia's military stood by as the US stomped the mercenaries
Immediately after the battle, Russia denied any involvement. Later, it said five Russian citizens may have died.
The Post reported that Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that "several dozen" Russians were killed or wounded in the battle and that some had been "provided assistance to return to Russia ... where they are undergoing medical treatment at a number of hospitals."
The Pentagon told Business Insider it warned the Russian military before launching a counterattack on the pro-Syrian-government forces. Russia's official military, which has considerable airpower nearby, did nothing during the fighting.
The evacuation of Russian fighters back to Russia appears to bolster the Reuters report that said Russian-led forces launched the attack to test the US's response.
President Donald Trump's White House on Friday announced what it called the largest single tranche of sanctions against North Korea ever while revealing the intense level of surveillance and intelligence it has gathered on Pyongyang's illegal trade.
The US's new sanctions target one person, 27 entities, and 28 vessels located, registered, or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and the Comoros.
Rather than focus only on those already linked to illegal trade with North Korea, trade that often takes place via risky ship-to-ship transfers on the high seas, the US also used Friday's announcement as an opportunity to warn the public of a "significant sanctions risks to those continuing to enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea."
"The North Korean shipping industry is a primary means by which North Korea evades sanctions to fund its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs," a US public advisory said. "As such, the United States will continue targeting persons, wherever located, who facilitate North Korea’s illicit shipping practices."
The Treasury's press release included pictures of individual ships it said had conducted trade with North Korean vessels. The images were not taken from a satellite and suggest extensive surveillance of North Korean activity.
Part of 'maximum pressure'
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US was "aggressively targeting" illicit trade and evasion of sanctions by "taking decisive action to block the vessels, shipping companies, and entities across the globe that work on North Korea's behalf."
"We're going to do everything to stop ship-to-ship transfers," Mnuchin said at a White House press conference, adding that the sanctions targeted "virtually all the ships" North Korea was using.
Mnuchin said the steps "will significantly hinder the Kim regime's capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters." He added that the advisory was intended as a warning to companies that any business they conducted with North Korea would be "at their own peril."
Mnuchin framed the sanctions push as part of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Pyongyang, which is designed to ramp up economic, diplomatic, and military pressure on Kim Jong Un's government and force the country to denuclearize.
'More stupid than waiting for the sea water to dry'
So far the Trump administration has targeted North Korea's economic lifelines like no other before it. In response to increased North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile tests, the White House has had unprecedented success in getting a raft of countries to cut ties with the country.
But North Korea appears as committed as ever to sticking to its guns. Before the sanctions announcement, CNN's Will Ripley reported that North Korean state media said "nuclear weapons of North Korea are a strong sword of peace that can cope with any nuclear threat and intimidation ... The desire for our republic to give up nuclear weapons is more stupid than waiting for the sea water to dry."
Though it's impossible to know exactly what goes on in the coffers of the world's most shadowy country, informed analysis from the American news site NK News indicates that sanctions are indeed beginning to bite. The increased sanctions may also have slowed North Korea's military.
On Friday, Trump's daughter Ivanka arrived in South Korea to a presidential welcome. Though it's unlikely she'll meet with North Koreans during her trip, South Korea saw Pyongyang's rhetoric soften around the Olympics, and now talks between the warring sides seem more likely than any time in recent history.
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President Donald Trump has emphasized military might during his first year in office, but the US is not the only country seeking to expand its battlefield capacities. Between 2012 and 2016, more weapons were delivered than during any five-year period since 1990.
Arms sales indicate who is beefing up their armed forces, but head-to-head military comparisons are harder to come by. Global Firepower's 2017 Military Strength Ranking tries to fill that void by drawing on more than 50 factors to assign a Power Index score to 133 countries.
The ranking assesses the diversity of weapons held by each country and pays particular attention to the manpower available. The geography, logistical capacity, available natural resources, and the status of local industry are also taken into account.
While recognized nuclear powers receive a bonus, the nuclear stockpiles are not factored into the score.
Moreover, countries that are landlocked are not docked points for lacking a navy, though they are penalized for not having a merchant marine force.
Countries with navies are penalized if there is a lack of diversity in their naval assets.
NATO countries get a slight bonus because the alliance would theoretically share resources, but in general, a country's current political and military leadership was not considered.
"Balance is the key — a large, strong fighting force across land, sea and air backed by a resilient economy and defensible territory along with an efficient infrastructure — such qualities are those used to round out a particular nation's total fighting strength on paper," the ranking states.
Below, you can see the 25 most powerful militaries in the world:
Power Index rating: 0.4366
Total population: 40,263,711
Total military personnel: 792,350
Total aircraft strength: 502
Fighter aircraft: 89
Combat tanks: 2,405
Total naval assets: 85
Defense budget: $10.6 billion
24. Saudi Arabia
Power Index rating: 0.4302
Total population: 28,160,273
Total military personnel: 256,000
Total aircraft strength: 790
Fighter aircraft: 177
Combat tanks: 1,142
Total naval assets: 55
Defense budget: $56.7 billion
23. North Korea
Power Index rating: 0.4218
Total population: 25,115,311
Total military personnel: 6,445,000
Total aircraft strength: 944
Fighter aircraft: 458
Combat tanks: 5,025
Total naval assets: 967
Defense budget: $7.5 billion
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Leaked audio recordings said to be of Russian mercenaries in Syria capture expressions of lament and humiliation over a battle in early February involving US forces and Russian nationals.
Published by Polygraph.info — a fact-checking website produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, news organizations that receive funding from the US government — the audio recordings paint a picture of Russian mercenaries essentially sent to die in an ill-conceived advance on a US-held position in Syria. Polygraph says the audio recordings are from a source close to the Kremlin.
The Pentagon has described the attack as "unprovoked" and started by forces loyal to the Syrian government that crossed over the Euphrates River, which functions as a border between US-backed troops and Russian-backed ones.
The Pentagon says that about 500 men began to fire on the position and that the US responded with air power and artillery strikes. The audio from Polygraph seems to confirm that while giving some insight into the feelings of the defeated forces.
Also apparent in the audio is displeasure with how Russia has responded to the situation.
Initially, Russia denied that its citizens took part in the clash. Later, a representative said five may have died. Last week, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the fight left "several dozen wounded" and that some had died. The voices heard in the audio recordings report losing about 200 men "right away."
The Washington Post has reported that US intelligence reports with intercepted communications show that a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin told a senior Syrian official he "secured permission" from the Kremlin before the advance on the US forces. Russia is thought to use military contractors in Syria rather than its military — experts speculate it's to maintain deniability for acts of war and conceal the true cost of fighting from the Russian people.
The audio recordings appear to back up reports from Reuters, Bloomberg, and the Pentagon that roughly 100 — if not more — Russians died in the fight. Reuters has cited sources as saying the advance's purpose was to test the US's response.
The accounts in the audio also align with reports of how the battle went down, depicting an unprepared column of troops meeting an overwhelming air response before helicopter gunships strafed the remaining ones.
Here are the translated transcripts from Polygraph:
"The reports that are on TV about ... well, you know, about Syria and the 25 people that are wounded there from the Syrian f--- army and — well ... to make it short, we've had our asses f--- kicked. So one squadron f--- lost 200 people ... right away, another one lost 10 people ... and I don't know about the third squadron, but it got torn up pretty badly, too ... So three squadrons took a beating ... The Yankees attacked ... first they blasted the f--- out of us by artillery, and then they took four helicopters up and pushed us in a f--- merry-go-round with heavy caliber machine guns ... They were all shelling the holy f--- out of it, and our guys didn't have anything besides the assault rifles ... nothing at all, not even mentioning shoulder-fired SAMs or anything like that ... So they tore us to pieces for sure, put us through hell, and the Yankees knew for sure that the Russians were coming, that it was us, f--- Russians ... Our guys were going to commandeer an oil refinery, and the Yankees were holding it ... We got our f--- asses beat rough, my men called me ... They're there drinking now ... many have gone missing ... it's a total f--- up, it sucks, another takedown ... Everybody, you know, treats us like pieces of s--- ... They beat our asses like we were little pieces of s--- ... but our f--- government will go in reverse now, and nobody will respond or anything, and nobody will punish anyone for this ... So these are our casualties."
"Out of all vehicles, only one tank survived and one BRDM [armored reconnaissance vehicle] after the attack, all other BRDMs and tanks were destroyed in the first minutes of the fight, right away."
"Just had a call with a guy — so they basically formed a convoy, but did not get to their f--- positions by some 300 meters. One unit moved forward, the convoy remained in place, about 300 meters from the others. The others raised the American f--- flag, and their artillery started f--- ours really hard. Then their f--- choppers flew in and started f--- everybody. Ours just running around. Just got a call from a pal, so there are about 215 f--- killed. They simply rolled ours out f--- hard. Made their point. What the f--- ours were hoping for in there?! That they will f--- run away themselves? Hoped to f--- scare them away? Lots of people f--- so bad [they] can't be f--- ID'd. There was no foot soldiers [on the American side]; they simply f--- our convoy with artillery."