GRU acts with impunity in Easter Europe because Russia’s secret organizations are not secret anymore, it seems they don’t care. What has become clear is that to expect the Kremlin or its secret services to be embarrassed when they are unmasked is to miscalculate greatly.
Security Services in Bulgaria and Czech Republic are connecting the dots to a string of sabotage activities and assassinates, dating back since 2011. This month Bulgarian prosecutors stated that they are looking at whether four explosions at weapons depots over the past decade are part of a Russian effort to disrupt the flow of arms from Eastern Europe to battlefields in Ukraine and Georgia. The investigations into the explosions, which took place between 2011 and 2020, are part of wider probes in Europe linked to suspected Russian military intelligence agents.
Bulgaria’s announcement followed claims by Czech authorities last week that they suspect two agents from Unit 29155 in Russia’s GRU intelligence agency were linked to blasts at an arms warehouse in the Czech Republic in 2014. The agents they named were the same suspects as those British authorities linked to the 2018 poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018 in Salisbury, Britain. Both Czech and Bulgarian authorities have linked consignments of arms in the targeted warehouses to the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, who survived a 2015 poisoning in which Bulgaria had initially charged three Russian agents. Two other Bulgarians, including Gebrev’s son, were hospitalised after presenting symptoms consistent with Novichok poisoning. Prosecutors are pointing to his arms deals at a time when Russia had interests in preventing weapons flowing to its adversaries in Europe. At the time Gebrev was poisoned, Russia was in the thick of its war with Ukraine. Therefore, on April 17, Prague announced that 18 diplomats would be expelled over the scandal, and Moscow retaliated by expelling 20. Saying the retaliation was stronger than expected, Prague then announced that it would expel dozens more Russian diplomats to bring the staffing at both embassies in line. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania have all expelled diplomats in an expression of solidarity with Prague, with Russia announcing more expulsions in return. Also relevant is this month counterintelligence operation in Sofia were 8 of its security services officers were arrested after they were caught spying for the Russians.
When Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012, his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was determined to get the GRU back on its feet. For that, the GRU needed more people, but where to get these new people from? The only source of recruits available was the special forces. These were tough guys, brutal, brave and ready to kill, but by no means intelligence operatives. It was these kinds of operatives who were assigned to the operation in Easter Europe, and they changed the modus operandi of Russian intelligence. They get caught red-handed, but they are not afraid of that, and that provided the Kremlin with a sort of protection from the new world of transparency.
Unlike traditional spies, this lot are not afraid of being exposed, or expelled from the country. They have no diplomatic positions in an embassy to fear losing. They don’t ask questions about the operation because they live in a world with no difference between war and peace, so no questions about collateral damage either. The training for this kind of operative is cheap, and the supply of potential recruits plentiful. Putin, an intelligence officer by training, understands this well. Besides, if you are dealing with a country already accused of so many things, from downing a civilian plane to invading a neighbouring country, another accusation won’t change much and could have a liberating effect.
The accusations might be even used for internal purposes to paint the country as a besieged fortress facing an incessant information offensive from hostile foreign powers. Thus, the GRU has come full circle since the Soviet times. Despite moving into ultra-modern headquarters fully equipped with a helipad, the GRU remains staffed by people who view the world through a 1950s lens and indulge a Stalinist appetite for liquidating traitors.
Lebanon is currently experiencing a multilayer crisis economically, politically, and socially, with a paralyzed government and institutions in disarray, which has intensified public frustration, effectively transforming the country into a fertile ground for criminal activity. Crime incidents have spiked considerably during the 2020-2021 period, as organized groups take advantage of this pervading insecurity across the nation and as some locals resort to crime in order to secure their basic needs. The failing economy has also resulted in a series of protests, which hit a record in March 2021, against a flawed political system that fails to meet its peoples’ needs, dragging them into excessive poverty instead. The political leadership, which is largely viewed as incompetent in coming up with a rescue plan, now finds itself under increasing pressure to prevent the country from total collapse.
Political instability and security concerns in Lebanon have been a reality for many decades now, but mass anti-government demonstrations have been taking place periodically, since October 17, 2019, when the government announced a slew of new taxes, which further worsened economic stability. Eighteen months later, the economic conditions in the country are only deteriorating, affecting the citizens who cannot afford goods and services. Currently, some basic commodities, such as fuel, medicines and food are subsidised but the Central Bank has repeatedly warned that supplies may become increasingly scarce in the short-run. Along with the deteriorating economy, the value of the Lebanese Pound has recently fallen rapidly against the US Dollar. On 2nd of March, the Lebanese currency hit a record low, reaching about 10,000 pounds against the dollar on the black market, leading to a sharp increase in prices. This is better illustrated by the fact that according to the World Food Program, since May 2020 the price of subsidised bread has risen by 91.5%, while the price of a basket of key survival items such as rice, pasta and cooking oil has almost tripled since October 2019. The latest drop was logged two weeks later, with the currency trading in the black market at 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the U.S dollar, which demonstrates a devaluation of national currency of more than 20% within two weeks. Overall, the national currency has lost around 90% of its value against the U.S dollar, while inflation has driven some 55% of the population below the poverty line, the country has defaulted on its debts, and banks have locked most depositors out of their savings. A recent report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Hunger Hotspots, clearly stated that a background of food price increases and the lack of economic growth and rising unemployment, civil unrest and violent clashes are likely to become more frequent. In addition to that, the free-fall of the Lebanese currency has led to delays in the arrival of fuel shipments, leading to more extended power cuts around the country, in some areas reaching more than 12 hours a day.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that demonstrations in Lebanon throughout March could be better described as a commonplace. Being fed up with all the dire straits they have been experiencing over the last months, protesters pour into the streets across Lebanon more and more often, demanding an end to the economic crisis that has prevailed for more than a year and a half of political paralysis. The riots are centredmainly on Beirut and Tripoli, particularly outside governmental buildings, but have also occurred at various locations across the country, such as in the Beqaa Valley and Saida. Αs an expression of their outrage, people blocked many major roads with burning tires, torched garbage bins in many Lebanese cities, and carried banners demanding housing services, education and healthcare services. Violent confrontations were frequently reported during these incidents between protesters and security forces, often resulting in injuries from both sides. However, not even under these severe circumstances, did political parties managed to agree on a national rescue plan and form a government, putting their demands aside on Lebanese people’s account. President Michael Aoun, representing Christians, and the caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, representing the Sunni, are the main rivals in this political deadlock, accusing one another for acting deliberately, without taking into account the nation’s welfare. Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim party, traditionally an ally of Aoun, has repeatedly urged cabinet formation in order for reforms to be implemented and foreign aid to be unlocked.
The ongoing crisis has fueled insecurity across the country, offering criminality the chance to flourish. A crime spike has emerged in Lebanon and the primary cause is the country’s ongoing political and socio-economic crisis. Taking advantage of this turmoil, organized gangs carry out armed robberies, burglaries, and thefts. Car theft gangs, in particular, are prevalent and have increased by nearly 50% in recent months. Due to the lack of confidence in the banking sector, a considerable portion of Lebanese have opted for storing money in their homes, which is why criminals are increasingly targeting people’s houses. Desperate people resorting to crime, constituted another case in Lebanon, which could become widespread, if the current crisis is not effectively handled. Desperation might force someone to commit a crime in order to find some food, rather than opportunistic criminal activity. Meanwhile, being overburdened with tackling anti-government unrest and enforcing various Covid-19 restrictions, Lebanese security forces have been drained and unable to fulfil their duties. Data collected from the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and other authoritative sources indicate that theft crimes increased by 144% during January and February 2021 compared to the same period last year, while homicides have also increased sharply by 45.5% during the same period. Therefore, the landscape seems to have become quite insecure for Lebanese, mainly in large cities such as Beirut and Tripoli. It is remarkable that despite the Covid-10 pandemic and the consequent restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus across the country, crime scenes are not decreasing, compared to last year, when the outbreak of the pandemic in April played a significant role in the decline of crime. Experts also confirmed that robbery of shops and pharmacies has become more common in recent months, since the value of robbing pharmacies today is extremely high and their security levels are low.
That being said, it becomes apparent that the freefalling economy of Lebanon is a primary driver behind the sudden spike in crime, since early 2020. Citizens have long been fighting with dire economic conditions and a caretaker government, which has failed to provide the essentials to its people. Although the population has expressed its outrage through demonstrations, damages and daily confrontations with security forces, no significant changes have been made, pushing Lebanon to the edge. In addition to that, criminal gangs have taken advantage of this crisis, increasing insecurity even more. Consequently, as long as economic crisis deepens and as the various political figures do not allow the formation of a fully empowered government, it is highly likely that crime rates will be higher in the future and social cohesion will be further eroded, posing a serious threat of a civil conflict.
An armed group named regionally as al-Shaabab attacked Palma on 24 March in what appeared to be a coordinated assault from several directions. According to the Human Rights Watch, attackers shot people in their homes and on the streets indiscriminately. Witnesses reported seeing bodies in the streets, some of which had been beheaded.
Since October 2017, attacks by the armed group have increased significantly in the Cabo Delgado province. They are thought to be affiliated with the Islamic State and are a separate organisation from the Somali Al Shabaab. Little is known about the group, but it is believed that figures from Tanzania and Mozambique are likely to be at the helm of the insurgency. The US claims to have “assessed with a high degree of confidence” that the group is led by a single person, Abu Yasir Hassan (a Tanzanian national). Before the conflict, a religious figure by that name had lived in Cabo Delgado, however, Tanzanian police say he is dead. The origin of the conflict is thought to be linked to a local community that hasn’t reaped the benefits of the region’s natural resource boom, local elite feuds, and drug trafficking, as well as the ISIL links.
Palma is a northern town at the heart of Mozambique’s vast oil and natural gas prospects and a key port in the province of Cabo Delgado in north-eastern Mozambique, near Tanzania. Cabo Delgado’s value to the government, as well as a source of local resentment, stems from the rich offshore natural gas reserves being explored in partnership with multinational energy firms.
While the province has long been unstable, an insurgency led by Islamist militants exacerbated the instability. The fighters have pillaged towns and taken hold of major highways. They have kidnapped and beheaded people, including young women and children. They demolished infrastructure and have extended their sphere of influence into Tanzania to the north. They have had possession of the important Mozambican port town of Mocímboa da Praia since August 2020. Cumulatively, the group has killed 2,500 people and displaced nearly 700,000 people.
In the first week of this current conflict, and according to the Mozambican government, hundreds of civilians were killed in an assault, including seven people whose convoy of vehicles was attacked as they tried to escape. The government stated that the Palma attack also killed many foreigners, but that the town was reclaimed in the second week of March after a “significant” amount of insurgents were killed.
Mozambican news sources have reported that many residents fled the violence by escaping into the thick tropical forests that surrounded the area. However, hundreds of foreign workers from South Africa, the United Kingdom, and France gathered at hotels that were easily targeted by the rebels. Specifically at the Hotel Amarula, it is estimated that there were 200 foreign workers. According to local sources, a number of them in vehicles rode together on 27 March [Saturday] to try to reach the beach, where they hoped to reach safety and be rescued, however their convoy came under heavy fire from the militants.
This attack presented further challenges for the French energy giant Total, as Palma is close to the multibillion-dollar Afungi gas project, in which the company is investing. Palma is inside the 25-kilometer security zone set up to secure the project. Total had just announced that it was resuming operations after an insurgent assault in January, and had just announced that it was resuming operations when the attack on Palma occurred. Afungi remains untouched and well-protected by government forces. The government units tasked with protecting Afungi are well-equipped and receive additional training, which includes the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights initiative.
The takeover in Palma prompted international – and especially regional – pressure to put an end to the violence. The new dramatic offensive has shone a harsh light on al-Shabaab’s violent tactics, prompting Mozambique’s government to appeal to the international community for help in combating the extremist group’s insurgency.
The assault on Palma demonstrates the insurgents’ growing capabilities as well as a security failure by Mozambique’s poorly trained and equipped security forces. The government has promised to retake Palma, but how much it will depend on its own forces is uncertain.
Analysts have long expressed concern that Mozambique’s security forces are unprepared to deal with the escalating crisis. In the past, it has used mercenary helicopters to fight wars. In a sign of improved coordination, President Filipe Nyusi recently gave the army more control over policy. Soldiers, on the other hand, are often sent into combat with antiquated AK-47s and low morale.
The assault has placed significant pressure on the Mozambican government to accept support from Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Western powers. However, the Mozambican government is very protective of its sovereignty; it does not want foreign troops on the ground in the country, and it wants to maintain authority and command over all other interventions, whether military or humanitarian. Foreign intervention could exacerbate the situation, similar to international interference in other parts of the world.
Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a senior analyst at the Institute for Security Studies, said analysts also believe that the government does not want international powers to intervene in Cabo Delgado because “then all eyes will be on the scale of illicit trafficking” that occurs in the province, and a lot of other problems will come to light.
Following a special summit in Maputo on April 8, SADC, which is currently chaired by Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi, called for an urgent deployment to Mozambique. The deployment’s specifics were not available immediately. However, the change is seen as signalling a shift in what has been a sort of security stalemate between Mozambique, regional and Western governments.
Prior to the attack on Palma, the US declared a two-month training mission of US Special Operations Forces to “support Mozambique’s efforts to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism”. Mozambique made the decision shortly after accepting training from their former colonial power, Portugal, and following an increase in Western official visits to the country in December 2020. More preparation and intelligence assistance from the US and Portugal, the former colonial force, seem to be on the cards, but this is yet to be started. Given the threat to gas projects and the possibility that the insurgency will spread beyond its borders, Mozambique has no shortage of offers.
However, it seems to be encouraging to see them agree to even this minimal training from two separate partners. It appeared to be an acknowledgment that their security forces are not up to the challenge, and that they would need some help going forward. This could just be Mozambique testing the waters, however with time it will become apparent as to how far the government is willing to go in securing foreign help.
This report will analyse the impacts of the Pandemic but also the President of North Korea’s actions in affecting and causing the famine in the country that we are seeing today. The past year has created isolated cities all around the world, with people in every country being affected. However, how has one of the most isolated countries in the world even before the pandemic coped? Kim Jong Un the Supreme Leader of North Korea has stated that no one has the coronavirus and has ever had it in his country. Arguably, this statement should be questioned due to the country being situated next to China, where the pandemic first took place and despite almost every country around the world being impacted by the virus. Additionally, the North Korea leader isn’t known for his honesty and reliability. In fact, North Korea seems to be heavily impacted by the pandemic as much and if not worse than other countries.
North Korea relies heavily on imports, especially from China. This is due to the geography of the country. It is heavily mountainous meaning it doesn’t have vast spaces of land, with fertile soil. Thus, making it dependent on foreign imports. Additionally, last summer the country was hit by two major storms, which caused vast floods that damaged the few crops the country had and exacerbated the shortages. However, due to the global pandemic imports have decreased for the country due to high demand but small supplies. This has created a famine in parts of North Korea. Due to small amounts of import still coming in, the prices of commodities have sky rocketed. Some prices of items are 7 times higher than what they were in October 2020. An example is sugar. For the majority of North Koreans, the supply is so low that even if they do manage to find products they need, a lot of the time they are too expensive for them to buy. However, it is not just supply and demand because North Korea has rejected and continues to reject aid from the international community and many of its external aids within the country have been forced to leave and quit. In fact reports suggest that North Korea restricted imports of staple foods from China from as long ago as last August and then cut off all trade, including food and medicine in October.
It is a dire situation and on 8 April, Kim warned the party conference that the citizens should prepare for hard times ahead and warns of a famine similar to the 1990’s, which left millions dead. The previous famine was due to the fall of the Soviet Union and experts believe around 3 million people died. “It is not unusual for Kim Jong-un to talk about difficulties and hardship but this time the language is quite stark and that’s different,” Colin Zwirko, North Korea analyst at NK News, told the BBC. “Last October for instance, he gave a speech where he said that he himself failed to bring about enough changes. But mentioning explicitly that he’s decided to carry out a new Arduous March is not something he has said before.”
The warnings of the crisis have been apparent for months now. A month ago, the UN warned of a “serious food crisis” in the country, that had already caused malnourishment and starvation. Additionally, there have been countless incidences of hardship at the Chinese border where food smuggling has been recorded. However, Kim has upped the punishments of smuggling describing it as “anti-socialist” and “enemy” behavior. Despite this the smuggling of food and resources across the border is still occurring due to the North Koreans being desperate.
Kim Jong Un has been very provocative in recent years with his nuclear weapons. Just last month the Supreme Leader fired two short range missiles, which both South Korea and Japan felt. This has increased tensions between the countries, the US, and the UN. Kim Jong Un’s pride needs to be put aside and accept international aid if he wants to protect his country and people from both the pandemic and famine. However, the North Korean leader could currently pin more of the blame of the country’s economic dire state on the Covid-19 pandemic and the strict economic sanctions designed by the UN to curb his nuclear weapons programme. This could be used as an example to the North Koreans as an excuse for his non diplomatic actions. However of course both of these actions play a part in the country’s suffering, but it still doesn’t excuse North Korea’s provocative stance in recent years and months with nuclear weapons and why Kim has rejected international aid and trade. In fact, last year trade with China dropped 80%, despite its reliability. Overall, Kim needs to take a more diplomatic stance with the international community in order to receive aid and support for the people of his country.
Cases of COVID-19 are increasing in Brazil as the more transmissible P1 variant spreads across the country.In Brazil, the federal government has attempted to gain herd immunity by contagion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, this has resulted in the untimely deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian president, led the strategy to encourage COVID-19 to spread. Brazil has since descended into an unparalleled health disaster, as predicted.
Brazil accounted for almost one-third of all daily COVID-19 deaths in the world last week, despite accounting for just 2.7 percent of the global population. There were 12.8 million cases and over 325 thousand deaths on April 2nd. The week of March 21-27 saw a regular 0.8 percent increase in cases and a 1.9 percent increase in deaths; lethality has increased from 2% to 3.3 percent since late 2020. The new variants circulating in Brazil have caused grave concern in neighbouring countries.
Most of the concern is being applied to the P1 version, related to the Brazilian Amazon. If Brazil cannot regulate its high transmission rate, analysts fear the country’s healthcare disaster could endanger the world. If the virus is left to spread naturally, it may provide the perfect breeding ground for new and even more lethal strains.
Brazil’s neighbours have sealed their borders to the country in a futile effort to deter new variants from spreading into the rest of the continent and harming vaccine efficacy. Even in the pandemic’s darkest times, the far-right leader appears to ignore warnings from health authorities for a nationwide lockdown, criticises the use of masks, ignores evidence, suggests unproven treatments and minimises Brazil’s soaring death toll. He still upholds a false opposition between the economy and health, claiming that lockdown measures would cause starvation, unemployment, and social chaos.
Bolsonaro continues hosting public conferences, encouraging science denialism, and defending the early use of unsuccessful medications against covid-19. The so-called “Covid kit,” marketed by the federal government, contains hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, ivermectin, which are anticoagulants, and can induce haemorrhage, renal failure, and arrhythmias. In Sao Paulo, at least five patients who were prescribed the “early treatment” have joined the liver transplant line and three have died from hepatitis.
Experts also confirm that a shortage of social distancing steps has provided the perfect condition for variants to mutate. Since June 2020, Brazil’s infections and fatalities reached a constant rate of nearly 1,000 deaths a day, causing many to believe the worst was over. For months, Brazilians commuted on crowded public transport and filled its beaches, bars and nightclubs. As Brazilians tended to ignore containment procedures, the P1 mutant hatched, and it is thought to have appeared in the Brazilian Amazon at the end of 2020. In just a few weeks, Manaus’ health-care system has all but failed. According to the Fiocruz research institute, the P1 version now accounts for more than 80% of cases in the two most populated states of Rio de Janeiro and So Paulo. It was 0 percent three months ago.
By late March, an alleged “self-coup” attempt by Bolsonaro failed against the resistance of Armed Forces, which have opposed the President’s intention to militarily intervene in the states adopting quarantine measures. Nevertheless, the President still engages in an all-out war against governors and mayors, whom he labels as “dictators” who violate citizens’ rights and harm the economy.
The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) announced that the P1 variant has been found to be leading the second wave in at least 15 countries in the Americas. Experts contend that closing their boundaries would have no impact now variants of risk have entered.
According to the international criminal jurisprudence, the extensive and systemic use of coercion to force the public to act a certain way, according to a preconceived strategy, which implements substantial public and private means, may detail an assault on the civilian population. The fact stands that, if the decision to attempt herd immunity from COVID-19 by encouraging contagion to propagate unregulated remains unpunished, it is likely to become an extraordinary way for potential rulers to injure marginalised people by ignoring public health interventions.