UK officially leaves EU after 47 years of European membership – World – TASS

LONDON, February 1. /TASS/. After 47 years of European membership, the United Kingdom officially withdrew from the European Union at 23:00 GMT (2:00 Moscow time on Saturday).

The withdrawal, known as Brexit, was initiated after Britons voted to quit the European Union during the 2016 referendum. The margin was 1.3 million votes (52% versus 48%).

Thousands of Brexit supporters celebrated the withdrawal by gathering in downtown London. Brexiteers have gathered in Parliament Square to celebrate the historic moment, chanting and waving flags. Governmental buildings were illuminated with national flag colors – blue, red and white.

An hour before this turning point in the UK’s political history, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, an ardent Brexit supporter, delivered his address to the nation.

Flag removed

Earlier in the day, the flag of the United Kingdom has been removed from the building of the EU Council. The video of the flag being removed was released via the Council’s official Twitter shortly before midnight.

“The UK flag is removed from the EU Council building in Brussels as the country leaves the EU at midnight,” the EU Council said in a Twitter post.

Premier’s speech

After quitting the European Union, the United Kingdom will finally “rediscover muscles that we have not used for decades,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised address to the nation shortly before Brexit.

“For all its strengths and for all its admirable qualities, the EU has evolved over 50 years in a direction that no longer suits this country. And that is a judgment that you, the people, have now confirmed at the polls,” Johnson said.

“I believe that with every month that goes by we will grow in confidence not just at home but abroad,” he continued. “And in our diplomacy, in our fight against climate change, in our campaigns for human rights or female education or free trade we will rediscover muscles that we have not used for decades.”

According to the premier, in order to achieve those ambitious tasks, the country needs to overcome the differences, generated by the Brexit issue.

“Tonight we are leaving the European Union. For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come. And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss. And then of course there is a third group – perhaps the biggest – who had started to worry that the whole political wrangle would never come to an end,” he said.

The premier went on to say that finding a common ground for all political and social groups was his cabinet’s task.

“I understand all those feelings, and our job as the government – my job – is to bring this country together now and take us forward,” he said. “And the most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning. This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act in our great national drama.”

Johnson expressed hope that constructive dialogue with the European Union would continue.

“We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain,” he said.

After January 31, the UK and the EU enter a transition period meant to maintain the existing state of affairs, particularly on trade and tariffs, while the two sides are negotiating a deal on future trading relations. The transition period is scheduled to end on December 31, 2020. London is also obliged to continue paying membership fees to the EU budget until the end of 2020.

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Patriarch Kirill: Do Not Postpone Religious Upbringing of Children | A Russian Orthodox Church Website

On December 4, the feast day of the Entry of the Holy Theotokos into the Temple, His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, officiated a Divine Liturgy at the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, reported Patriarchia.ru. After the service, the Patriarch delivered a sermon, in which he spoke about religious upbringing of children.

“Sometimes people, including journalists, ask me, ‘When did you feel like a believer?’ ‘When did you start attending a church?’ I reply that I do not remember. Apparently, it happened at an age, when I was not self-aware yet. And I’m grateful to my parents for beginning my upbringing at an early age. Addressing parents, Orthodox people, today I say: do not postpone religious upbringing of your children under any circumstances, do not allude to their age or health! Some people say that a child is too weak to bring him to a church. People should bring their children to church at any time, if it is physically possible. The sooner the religious upbringing of a personality begins, the stronger one’s religiosity becomes. Thus the stronger one’s beliefs become, including moral principles, which form a personality and make it powerful, so that a person is open to good and able to oppose evil. This personality is the one that society considers an ideal. One cannot form such a social ideal without bringing up a child from an early age. Primary, I’m talking about religious education: bringing children closer to church.

“At a certain age, children reach a crucial point and become teenagers. They experience certain feelings that did not exist in their early childhood. A person becomes sensitive to outside influence. This age is called a transition period and is considered very difficult. But it can be completely harmless if a personality was brought up from an early age: a certain viewpoint was formed, and, most importantly, spiritual experience was gained. If a child knows what a church is, what Holy Communion is, if he happily goes to a church service, his view of life won’t change neither at twelve, thirteen, nor at fifteen years of age, his perception of the outside world will stay the same. It is because the main characteristics of a personality have already been formed by the grace of God, which is laid on a child when he attends a church.

“That is why bringing children to a church is one of the main tasks in children’s education. If we want the next generation to be wholesome, of strong spirit, brave, strong, and loving those who surround them, especially and primary loving their parents and the Motherland, we should remember that religious upbringing, attending a church, and the impact of the grace of God are reliable factors that ensure the formation of such personality.

At the end of each divine service, we remember Saints Joachim and Anna, calling them Ancestors of God, precisely because they brought up the Most Holy Theotokos in a way that She was able to become the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. These holy parents give all of us an example of how to spiritually raise our children, so that no temptations of the world and no worries would ever destroy the wholeness of a personality,” said the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

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Trump leaving NATO: dangerous for U.S., nightmare for Israel – Haaretz.com

person

This article was first published on January 17, 2019

When Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the new Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, settled into his office at the Kirya after being sworn in Tuesday, he had a long list of military challenges to plan for: Rockets and tunnels by Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran’s persistent threatening stance against Israel in Syria, Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

One thing he probably never thought he would have to add to that list was planning for the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal from NATO. 

The day is almost over, and no one from the Administration has denied the NYT story about Trump wanting to pull out of NATO. Worse, no one from the Administration would dare say he would never do it. Because they know he might.

— Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro)

But as he learned from the New York Times, the possibility is very much on President Donald Trump’s mind.

It is no small matter for Israel.

In the first instance, Israel benefits from NATO because of the way it broadens U.S. influence. NATO is an alliance, but it also entails its European members willingly accepting the United States’ leadership position on the continent.

U.S. allies outside the alliance benefit from the association. It has helped earn Israel a seat at the table as a NATO partner, has opened doors to cooperation with non-U.S. militaries, and helps prevent escalatory scenarios in moments of tension between Israel and NATO members, notably Turkey. In a post-NATO world, Israel’s alignment would be with an isolated United States that lacks the multiplying effect of broader Western support.

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But the operational effects could be far more challenging. Israel maintains impressive self-defense capabilities, which will be sustained in any scenario, but its security partnership with the United States, another critical pillar of its defense policy, will be forced to adapt in complicated ways.

The day-to-day relationships between the IDF and the U.S. military are conducted via U.S. European Command. U.S. forces based in Germany are the ones who travel to Israel by the thousands to conduct joint exercises, including those that drill bringing Patriot missile batteries to augment Israel’s domestic capabilities and help defend Israel in the case of a major conflict.  

U.S. Navy destroyers, home-ported in Spain and equipped with Aegis missile defense capabilities, are among the Sixth Fleet’s ships that sail regularly in the Eastern Mediterranean (and make port calls in Haifa) to ensure adequate support for Israel’s defense. U.S. Air Force squadrons based in Italy come to Israel to conduct joint air exercises with the Israeli Air Force. Other U.S. troops sit even closer, at Incirlik Air Force Base in Eastern Turkey.

Remove the United States from NATO – and forward-deployed U.S. forces from Europe, which would certainly follow – and the United States’ ability to respond to a Middle East crisis would be diminished.

Could U.S. support for Israel be shifted and coordinated instead through U.S. Central Command, based in the Persian Gulf? It has been proposed before as an efficiency measure. But Israeli generals have always resisted the proposal. Their worry is that they would find it challenging to enjoy the same level of intimacy they currently have with Europe-based U.S. commanders, with commanders who maintain a similar closeness with Arab militaries. 

True, Israel is closer strategically today with the Arab Gulf states than at any time in its history, because of a focus on the common threat of Iran and the lower priority of the Palestinian issue. But those relationships are a long way from being normalized – and could still backslide.

Israeli security planners are, therefore, still most likely to want to maintain separation between their relationships with the U.S. military and with their Arab neighbors. Having observed the intense friendships formed between Israeli military commanders and their U.S. counterparts based in Europe, I can say that these ties will not be easily replaced.

The broader Middle East would also experience the effects of NATO’s demise in the form of further empowerment of Russia. That is happening already, but losing NATO would turbocharge those trends.

Already, Russia’s brutally decisive intervention in Syria, combined with successive U.S. administrations’ preference to reduce active U.S. military engagements in the region, have led many regional states to explore expanded security ties with Russia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets more frequently with Putin than he does with Trump, and the IDF and Russian Air Force deconflict their operations in Syria. The leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all close partners of the United States, have visited Moscow and explored acquiring advanced Russian weapons systems in addition to their American-supplied arsenals.

Should Russia decide to exert leverage, such as by constraining Israeli freedom of action against Iranian military targets in Syria, the United States would be ill-equipped to push back.

A U.S. withdrawal from NATO would unmistakably be understood as a major pullback from the United States’s leadership in global affairs. The effect of expanding Russian influence would be felt far beyond Europe and the Middle East.

Military planners are renowned for imagining, and developing options for, every possible scenario. So General Kochavi and his colleagues will find a way to prepare, and put themselves in a position to adapt. But there are certain anchors that any country hopes to maintain, particularly one facing as many threats, and so tied to its American ally, as Israel.

To avoid having to grapple with the nightmarish set of problems that would result from the U.S. leaving NATO, General Kochavi might consider recommending to his Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he use his influence with President Trump to dissuade him from such a dangerous course.

Daniel B. Shapiro is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa in the Obama Administration. Twitter: @DanielBShapiro

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Russians Praise Trump, Taunt Zelensky, as Ukraine Signs On to Peace-Plan Proposal

Existential dread washed over the face of the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, as he sat next to the American president during their joint press conference on the sidelines of the UN. Donald Trump, as the face of Ukraines most powerful ally in its struggle against Russian aggression, was telling him: I really hope you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem.

Having lost more than 13,000 people in an ongoing conflict with its belligerent neighbor, Ukraine was now being told to make a deal with the aggressor, becauseaccording to President TrumpPresident Putin would like to do something.

During the same conference, Zelensky pleaded with Trump for help with returning the territories occupied and annexed by Russia, and, egged on by Trumpand contrary to the factscomplained that Europe wasnt doing as much as the United States to help Ukraine. In reality, European institutions spent nearly double the amount supplied by the United States: $425.2 million in 2016-2017, as compared to $204.4 million spent by the U.S.

While that disclosure infuriated Ukraines European allies, Trump in the now infamous July 25 phone call with Zelensky blamed Ukraines troubles on the Obama administration, dismissively concluding its just one of those things and directing Zelensky to ask for more help from Europe. Since the calls release, Ukrainians have nicknamed their president Monica Zelensky, as a jab referring to his part in the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Backed into the corner and seeming to stand alone there, Zelensky made a step toward a deal with Putin by officially signing up Ukraine to the Steinmeier Formula. The agreement provides the pathway to a summit that would bring Zelensky face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Russia demanded written codification of the Steinmeier Formula by Ukraine as a key precondition to the next Normandy summit. It interprets the clauses of the Minsk accords (agreements between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists) in line with Russias preferences andtherefore enjoys the Kremlins seal of approval.

We know what happened in the United States. You have nowhere left to go.
Russian TV Host Olga Skabeeva addressing Ukraine

The formula further calls for elections to be conducted under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the territories held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. It was signed on Oct. 1 by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the separatist pseudo-republics of Luhansk and Donetsk (LPR and DPR), and the OSCE in Minsk.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the signing of the Steinmeier Formula agreement as a positive development. Senator Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Councils foreign affairs committee, who is under U.S. sanctions for worldwide malign activity, said the signing represents without a doubt, a victory for common sense and an overall success. In stark contrast to Russias jubilation, hundreds of Ukrainians in Kyiv have protested, demanding no capitulation to the Kremlin and its proxies.

The most controversial aspect of the Steinmeier Formula is that it provides for local elections to take place in the occupied parts of Ukraine before Kyiv has control of the border and prior to the withdrawal of the Russian-backed forces.

This condition doesnt seem to match up with Zelenskys understanding of the agreement. After signing on to the Steinmeier Formula, the Ukrainian president declared during a news conference that the elections would not be held under the barrel of a gun and would take place only when no troops remain in the separatist-held areas.

What Ukraine was so afraid of has happened Zelensky doesnt understand what he signed, concluded Vladimir Soloviev, the host of the nightly The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev on Russian state television.

The heads of Russia-backed separatist pseudo-republics in eastern Ukraine openly proclaimed in a public statement that the Kyiv authorities wont get any control over the border and vowed that LPR and DPR will make decisions about integration with Russia of their own accord. Forget about controlling the border, once and for all, exclaimed political scientist Sergey Kurginyan, appearing on The Evening.

During a panel discussion at the Russian Energy Week forum, Putin said that Zelensky will have to decide how the relations between Ukraine and Donbas will develop, pointedly referring to Ukraines own region as a separate geopolitical entity. Putin opined that Ukraine did much better when it was a part of the Soviet Union, along with Russia.

Appearing on Russias state television program 60 Minutes, Oleg Nilov, member of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, asserted that Ukraine was forced to sign the Steinmeier Formulaand proceeded to threaten the country with the Israeli formula of taking all the land Russia wants, if Kyiv reneges on the deal.

Come back to the Soviet Union, urged Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio, appearing on The Evening. The talk-show host Soloviev concurred and reminded the guests that the USSR was originally formed by a treaty that united the Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Transcaucasian republics.

Trump let Zelensky down. Three times he told him: Go meet with Putin, said Olga Skabeeva, the host of 60 Minutes. During the same program, Nikolai Platoshkin, head of the International Relations Department at Moscow University for the Humanities, predicted that once all the formulas have been exhausted, LPR and DPR will ultimately become a part of the Russian Federation. Skabeeva concurred: The sooner the better.

She surmised: After his triumphant meeting with the American president, Zelensky had no choice but to lie back and enjoy it We know what happened in the United States. You have nowhere left to go.

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Not Even Thoughts and Prayers From NRAJust Boasts About Its Legislative Wins

At times like this, I pay a visit to the NRAs website. If youve never looked at it, do so. As youd expect, its a slick and professionally produced affair, nearly all of it devoted to boasting about the groups successes and legislative wins.

There wasnt a word, Sunday morning, about the weekends carnage in El Paso and Dayton. There was, however, one piece of content that the weekends events turned into a macabre joke. The lead story, so to speak, on the home page was something called A Statement by NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre.

Yes, I was nave enough to think that this was going to be about the weekends shootings. It would be evasive and dishonest, of course, but at least it would acknowledge that these horrors had occurred.

But when I clicked on it and started reading it, I saw that in fact it was a statement to members explaining why the NRA was going to stop producing live television for NRATV. This was not of course the NRAs fault, because nothing is ever the NRAs fault, according to the NRA. Instead, LaPierre pinned the problem on our longtime advertising firm and website vendor, which had failed to deliver upon many contractual obligations. Rest assured though that NRATV would continue to exist, airing exclusive video content. The world cant live without that.

From time to time, I visit the web page of the NRAs Institute for Legislative Action (ILA). This is the dark heart of it, where they brag about how many politicians they own. I nosed around this page on Sunday morning, and lo and behold, the top item Trending Now was about a governor whod just signed 10 pro-Second Amendment bills into law. The governor in question is Greg Abbott, of Texas, who Saturday bemoaned one of the most deadly days in the history of Texas.

Ten laws! One measure prohibits no firearms clauses in future residential leases, which is great, right, because it means that people who rent apartments can build up whatever caches of semi-automatic weapons they want. Another prevents school districts from prohibiting the presence of firearms in private cars on school property. This is great, too, because it allows teachers to come to school armed. Of course, it logically does the same for unstable people who want to shoot up a high school. But the price of liberty is high.

And another strikes the words churches, synagogues, or other places of worship from an existing firearms law, clarifying that these places havethesame right enjoyed by nearly all other controllers ofprivate propertyin the state to decide whether to allowLicenseToCarry holders on their premises. Because packing heat in church is just what Jesus would want.

(Sunday night, long after this essay was posted, the NRA got around to mentioning that Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims of these tragedies, as well as the entire communities of El Paso and Dayton. The statement from LaPierre, however, remained atop its website, with no mention on the homepage of the massacres.)

No one is putting the blame for these shootings directly on the gun group or the politicians in its pocket. We are blaming them for the fact that ours is such a blood-splattered land, completely unlike anyplace else in the world.

Other countries do sensible things. Youll recall that after that mass shooting in New Zealand in March, the countrys parliament banned assault weapons six days later. Six days! New Zealand has not, incidentally, escaped the NRAs notice. The second trending item, under Governor Abbotts heroic efforts, was called Never Enough: New Zealand pushes even more gun control.

Yes, because sane countries do something. Here in the United States, these things happen, and we do nothing. We even watched 20 first graders get slaughtered by a crazy man in Connecticut, and we did nothing. More than 100 pieces of gun legislation have been introduced in Congress since around the time of that Sandy Hook massacre. Not one has passed. Most dont even get voted on. Then, every so often, Moscow Mitch decides its time to go through the charade of giving a gun control bill a vote, and the Republicans all vote no.

And now lets talk about Donald Trump. Where the NRA said nothing about the massacre in El Paso, Donald Trump Saturday at least did tweet to condemn the hateful act. Fine. But remember that he had been in the very same El Paso back in February, where he riled people up and bragged about border patrol agents arresting undocumented immigrants who were guilty of murders, murders, killings, murders (at which point the crowd started chanting build the wall!). The El Paso shooters apparent manifesto mentioned a Hispanic invasion of Texas.

More recently, Trump spoke to the NRA-ILA convention in Indianapolis in April. The right to bear arms is under assault, he said. But not while were here.

He then used the occasion to announce that he was pulling the United States out of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. You know that he revoked U.S. acceptance of the Paris climate accord and the Iran deal. But you probably didnt hear about this one. It regulates international trade in conventional weapons. It entered into force in 2014, and 101 nations have accepted it. Not the United States. The Senate, led by you know who, never ratified it. And it is opposed, of course, by the NRA.

This is what the NRA does, day after day and week after week, largely out of public view. They buy politicians like Abbott (A Rating from the NRA) and state legislatures and even presidents. They dream up laws normal people wouldnt even conceive oflaws that make sure the horrors like those we have just witnessed in El Paso and Dayton happen and will continue to happen. Each new bloodbath should bring us closer to finally acting, but if anything the country is moving in the opposite direction. All in the name of freedom.

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A Battered Professor Leads Moscows Growing Grassroots Protests Against Putin

MOSCOWYulia Galyaminas unraveling life illustrates all too well the risks of opposition politics in Russia, even on a local level.

Police broke her teeth and jaw and gave her a serious concussion in 2017 when she was caught in a violent street protest. She has suffered from pain in her jaw ever since.

Undaunted, Galyamina struggled this summer to take part in a Moscow City Council election scheduled for September. On Tuesday she called The Daily Beast on the phone from a police van driving her away from the Russian capital to jail in the provincial town of Mozhaisk.

Galyamina is a 46-year-old linguistics professor at a prestigious university here and on the phone she sounded almost as if she were lecturing students about the dying Ketsky language. But clearly she had a message she wanted to get out.

I have a few minutes left before they take my phone away and cut me off from all communication with my supporters, she said.

Earlier in the day, a court arrested her and eight other key opposition leaders for calling on protesters to stage a rally in downtown Moscow without government authorization. To support the verdict, the judge read aloud a dozen or so of Galyaminas Facebook posts about opposition demands to allow independent candidates, including herself, to run in September.

Now from the van she told The Daily Beast, Putin and [Moscow Mayor Sergey] Sobyanin must be afraid of responsible citizens and I am not surprised to get arrestedI always knew that criminal prosecution would be the price for my opposition activity.

You are working for a fascist power, for those who rule for money, not for your sake.
Yulia Galyamina berating police last Saturday.

Putins Russia has seen many courageous women fighting against injustice. But instead of embracing their constructive criticism, the Kremlin chose to silence them with police clubs and prison bars. There have also been several brilliant women, including journalist Anna Politkovskaya and activist Natalia Estemirova, who fell victim to assassins. But more women join the demonstrations.

Last weekend, for instance, a 17-year-old protester named Olga Misik sat cross-legged in the street and read articles from the Russian Constitution to riot cops arrayed around her about the right to assemble peacefully, without weapons, hold rallies, meetings, demonstrations and marches. The image already is an icon of protest.

Two years ago I visited Galyamina at the Botkin Hospital in Moscow, where she was recovering from a concussion. She had severe headaches after a Moscow OMON (Special Police) cop smashed her face. Then, too, it was striking to see pale Galyamina on the phone from her hospital bed, calling for her supporters to come out to the next rally.

At the time, crowds of demonstrators had turned out in the center of Moscows to fight against the city halls renovation plan for the displacement of residents from hundreds of apartment blocks slated for demolition. People did not want to move from the central districts to the outskirts of the capital.

Factories closed, leaving millions without jobsbut at least people had their apartments, their property, Galyamina told me at the hospital in 2017. The new law allows the state to deprive thousands of Moscow families of their beloved apartments and move them to wherever officials want.

Last year Galyamina won a seat in the Moscow municipal elections. Residents of Temiryazevsky region, where she sat on the district council, know their candidate well. She led her electorate in battles about fundamental causes in local politics like saving Dubki Park from development and demanding garbage recycling. She was building her political platform on that public support to run for the Moscow City Duma, a regional parliament, in September this year.

The men in power grow fat, while you work for kopecks [pennies]. You beat women, you beat sick people. Do you realize what you are doing?
Yulia Galyamina berating cops last weekend, before her arrest.

We spent last month collecting almost 4,000 signatures from Yulias supporters but authorities rejected hundreds of real voters to ban her from running for the election, Nikolay Kosyan, one of Galyaminas supporters, said. Kosyan was angry, as are many young activists protesting in the streets in support of the arrested leaders. When the mayoral office realized that we had actually collected real signatures and not fake ones, they still decided to shut her up in fear of her powerful spirit.

On Saturday Galyamina became a hero for thousands of protesters. Facing rows of National Guard riot police, she said: You are working for a fascist power, for those who rule for money, not for your sake, she told men covered in body armor. The men in power grow fat, while you work for kopecks [pennies]. You beat women, you beat sick people. Do you realize what you are doing? Galyamina continued in a lecturing tone while the police looked like mischievous, slightly terrified students. (Video here in Russian.)

Galyamina was wearing her usual red dress and a white jacket and was holding a little Russian flag in her hands. I am a woman, I feel ashamed of you, strong men, who beat ordinary peoplethese people came out to the streets, because they strive to have independent institutes of power, which would not rob people like you, the deputy continued. Ten minutes later two policemen grabbed her, twisted her arms behind her back, and dragged her away from the rally.

Back in 2013, the Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny won 27 percent in a mayoral election in Moscow, even without access to state television channels, coming in second after the incumbent from the ruling United Russia party, Sergei Sobyanin. This time, apparently, Sobyanin wants to avoid the mistake of allowing a strong opposition showing. Nine key candidates for September election are currently behind bars. So is Navalny.

Galyamina had been playing by the rules. She collected the necessary number of signatures in her support but authorities turned her candidacy down, claiming signatures were falsified. Police detained up to 1,400 protesters on Saturday, Russian courts opened 200 legal cases against the opposition.

She is stubborn and she is good at creating responsible communities in Moscow, her friend Denis Bilunov, a political scientist, told The Daily Beast. The Kremlin is scared of Galyamina.

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Russia and 2020 Elections

One week after Robert Mueller’s testimony shined a spotlight, once again, on election interference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is feeling the heat. The leader turned heads on the Senate floor Monday as he rose to decry critics who have dubbed him “a Russian asset” and “Moscow Mitch” for stonewalling congressional measures to improve election security. And with momentum building in the House to formally start impeachment proceedings against President Trump, the pressure is unlikely to let up anytime soon.

Focusing on election interference from 2016 is backwards thinking, though, at least according to Virginia Senator Mark Warner. With 2020 just around the corner, he tells WIRED—in an exclusive interview—that the upcoming election is where both parties need to direct their attention right now.

As the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner has long been a vocal proponent of new legislation to strengthen election protections, such as the Honest Ad Act, which would compel Silicon Valley firms to disclose when political ads are paid for by a foreign nation. He’s also behind a bill that would require campaigns to alert federal officials if they’re approached by a foreign operative offering information or other assistance. Both bills have bipartisan support—Senator Susan Collins became the first Republican to cosponsor the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act earlier this week.

Even as GOP leaders try to position election security as a partisan issue, Warner—a former governor of Virginia and a cofounder of the firm that eventually became Nextel—has maintained the respect of his colleagues across the aisle. But his frustration seems to be growing, especially now that Trump has tapped Representative John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to be his next director of national intelligence. Unlike Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has already come out opposed to Ratcliffe, Warner tells WIRED he’s still got some patience left. Even if it’s wearing thin.

This transcript is slightly edited for length and clarity.

WIRED: After Mueller testified, the president and Republicans say case closed. What do you make of that?

Mark Warner: I’m not here to relitigate 2016, or the Mueller testimony, specifically. I would point out, out of the Mueller investigation: 37 indictments, the president’s national security adviser pled guilty. The president’s campaign manager pled guilty. The president’s deputy campaign manager pled guilty. The president’s chief political adviser is coming to trial in the fall, Roger Stone. The attorney general had to resign. There were literally hundreds of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

That’s not normal. And I think the biggest takeaway from the Mueller testimony was that the Russians who attacked us in 2016 are still attacking us and, in Bob Mueller’s words, on a daily basis. You combine that with the warnings from Trump’s own FBI director [Christopher Wray] and Trump’s own director of national intelligence [Dan Coats]. And one of the things that concerns me the greatest is that we’ve not done more to protect the integrity of our election system in 2020.

I was just talking to your [Intelligence Committee] cochair, Senator [Richard] Burr, and he was saying the states in 2018 weathered these attacks, the national infrastructure is good on election security. Basically, case closed, again, not much more is needed.

I think everyone picked up their game in 2018, including the Department of Homeland Security, and our intelligence community was more active as well. But the intelligence community’s own reporting was that Russia didn’t throw its full force of efforts in 2018. Chances are they’ll reserve those for the presidential election. So I think there is some low-hanging fruit that would get 75 votes on the floor of the Senate—if we could get these bills to the floor of the Senate.

I think there ought to be an affirmative obligation that if a foreign government, the Kremlin, offers you campaign help, your obligation ought to be not to say thank you, but to report to the FBI. I think we ought to make sure that every polling station in America has a paper ballot backup, so that if a machine was hacked, you’ve still got ability to protect the integrity of the voting system. And I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t think we need some basic guard rails around the manipulation of Facebook, Twitter, and Google by foreign entities and others. So at least there ought to be the requirement that if somebody advertises on a political basis on Facebook, but in truth it’s a foreign government, they ought to have the same disclosure requirements as somebody who advertises on radio or television.

Isn’t it a little bit ironic that in this highly digital era, we’re going back to paper ballots?

I think we need to make sure that we use the best technology, but if technology, as we see from banks this week, can continue to be hacked into, if voting machines are not as protected as needed, if the private companies who control the voter files could have their information moved around … You don’t need to change votes to cause chaos. I think people’s overall confidence in the system goes up if there is that back check of having a paper ballot backup. Again, this is not saying we wouldn’t still use voting machines, but across the election community everyone believes it’s safer if you have that paper ballot backup that goes along with the voting counting machines.

And now we know we’re getting attacked, cybersecurity is on the top of many minds. And then the president this week announced he’s nominating Representative John Ratcliffe to be DNI, who seems like more of a politician and a Trump supporter than someone from the intel community. Does that worry you?

It worries me greatly. The irony is that Donald Trump’s appointees in the intel world—his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats; his director of the FBI, Chris Wray, his director of the CIA, Gina Haspel—have been pretty good about speaking truth to power, even when Trump did not want to hear the truth. They’ve been very good at not allowing America’s intelligence to get politicized—while I’m going to give Mr. Ratcliffe the courtesy of a meeting, I fear that he is being appointed in the mold of a Bill Barr, the attorney general, who basically is simply a loyalist first to Donald Trump and doesn’t maintain that kind of independence.

If there’s ever been a time when everyone says that Russians and others will be back, when we’ve got as many potential conflict spots around the world, we need to make sure that the head of our national intelligence is not going to politicize the intelligence. That intelligence product goes to our military, it goes to the executive, it goes to us in the Congress. It cannot be a political product. And we’ve got to make sure that the intelligence community is going to be willing to speak truth to power, and that means telling Donald Trump the truth, even if he doesn’t want to hear it. And so far it appears to me that Mr. Ratcliffe, who doesn’t have much experience and who seems—based upon press reports—that his audition was based on questioning Mueller and questioning the legitimacy of the Russian’s intervention in our electoral system, is pretty chilling.

What do you see as the biggest threats—or are there any new threats—facing America in 2020?

So I think there are a couple of new threats. One, Russia in 2016 was surprised at how vulnerable our systems were, our electoral systems. And how easy Facebook and Twitter and YouTube were to be manipulated. So I think that playbook is now out there, they’ve used the same tactics in the Brexit vote [and] the French presidential elections. So my fear is we may not only see Russia, we can see Iran, we could potentially see China, who has a great deal of control over a number of their Chinese tech companies, start to use these tools because they’re cheap and effective. I like to point out that if you add up all Russia spent in the Brexit vote, the French presidential elections, and the 2016 American elections, it’s less than the cost of one new F-35 airplane. So Russia and our adversaries, I think, have decided the way to engage with us in conflict is not through straight up old-school military but through cyber activities, misinformation and disinformation, increasingly trying to weaken and interfere, for example with our space communications, and I think Russia will up their game … and others … [It] means there will be more adversaries in 2020.

Second is, I think in 2016 we saw Russia try to misrepresent—the Russian agents misrepresent themselves as Americans on Facebook and Twitter by simply posting fake messages. The next iteration, the next generation of that will be the so-called “deepfake” technology, where an American may not be able to view what his eyes are telling him, because you’ll see an image of you or me or a political figure that may sound like that person but isn’t that person at all.

Now, if McConnell doesn’t allow some of these bills, like the Honest Ads Act or just broader election security bills, to come up, what do you think the Silicon Valley tech firms can do on their own?

Look, we’ve seen progress made by Facebook, Twitter, some progress made by Google. But I don’t think self-regulation, particularly when a regulation may mean they may not be collecting as much information as they like, or self-regulation may mean they have to go against or limit some of the fake content. It goes against their very business model. So I think Facebook has made progress in particular, but some of the tools they have—for example, the ability to access on an easy basis the campaign ads that they promised, that tool is not effective at all.

So at the end of the day, when we’re talking about something as critical as protecting the integrity of our democracy, when Americans lack faith in so many of our institutions to start with, if we don’t go the extra mile and put in place a set of rules and regulations—and god forbid should Russia or Iran or another foreign enterprise massively interfere again—and we didn’t do our duty, then shame on all of us.

This week, two fairly senior Senate Democrats called for impeachment proceedings to begin. Where are you on that? We started this conversation with you saying you don’t want to relitigate 2016, but it seems like there’s this growing chorus amongst Democrats to impeach.

I actually think Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has navigated that challenge very well. I understand the frustrations with President Trump—his activities and tweets and antics. I think, though, the best way we can show that that’s not who we are as Americans is to defeat him at the ballot box in a free and fair election. And what I worry about is if we don’t guarantee that free and fair election, then we haven’t done our job.


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