Top stories I'm keeping an eye on
Russia-linked individuals working to trigger insurrection against Moldovan government, US believes
The US intelligence community believes that individuals with ties to Russian intelligence are planning to stage protests in Moldova to try to foment a manufactured insurrection against the Moldovan government, with the ultimate goal of seeing a more pro-Russia administration installed there, White House officials said Friday.
The US believes that Russia is working to weaken the Moldovan government which is seeking closer ties with the European Union, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said, The US is also seeing signs that Russian government-linked actors could provide training to anti-government demonstrators in Moldova. The country’s capital, Chisinau, has been rocked by anti-government protests in recent weeks, largely organized by Moldova’s Russia-friendly Shor Party.
The Biden administration also believes that Moscow is working to sow disinformation about Moldova’s overall stability. One example was the Russian Ministry of Defense’s claim last month that Ukraine has been planning to invade Transnistria, Moldova’s Moscow-backed separatist region. US officials said those allegations are “unfounded, false, and create baseless alarm.”
Background on Moldova
Russia's Planned Coup in Moldova Reminds Us Why Ukraine Must Win This War
Russia’s plot to violently overthrow the Moldovan leadership echoes its illegal annexation of Crimea and occupation of eastern Ukraine in 2014, when the so-called "little green men" — a mixture of Russian special forces, intel operatives, and mercenaries — violently seized the Ukrainian government buildings in an operation all too familiar to Russia.
Lukashenka called up officers for military service from the reserve
Lukashenko called up 250 officers from the reserve. The order signed by him is published on the website of the President of Belarus.
The head of state drafted 230 men over 27 years old into the army, who did not complete military service but studied at the reserve officer training program. Another 20 officers were called from the reserve to the border service.
The President instructed the Ministry of Defense and the State Border Committee to ensure the appointment of drafted officers to military positions and provide them with access to state secrets in a prescribed manner.
This is a planned conscription of officers from the reserve. The Armed Forces of Belarus conduct it every year, the website says.
“The implementation of this decree will make it possible to increase the level of staffing of the primary military positions of officers in the Armed Forces, to ensure high-quality training of the mobilization reserve,” the report says.
At the end of February, a Russian airborne early warning and control aircraft A-50 was blown up at the airport in Minsk. This was reported by the Belarusian opposition initiative BYPOL. Lukashenka called the incident a terrorist attack and blamed the Ukrainian and American intelligence services for the attack, but ruled out drawing Belarus into the war.
“If they are counting (I know that they want to draw us into the war at the command of the Americans) ... If you think that by throwing this challenge you will drag us into the war tomorrow, which is already going on all over Europe today, you are mistaken,” the president said.
At the same time, from the very beginning of the war, Russia has been inflicting air and missile strikes on Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. In October last year, Moscow and Minsk also agreed to deploy a regional group of troops "in connection with the aggravation on the western borders of the Union State." After that, Russian military units were transferred to the territory of Belarus.
Ukraine denied Lukashenka's accusations of organizing the attack. Mikhail Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, recommended that the President of Belarus "decide on the wording."
“A terrorist attack is when missiles are launched from the territory of Belarus at Ukrainian cities. Sabotage is when DRGs [sabotage and reconnaissance groups] enter from the Belarusian border. The strike on the A-50 spotter aircraft is an anti-terrorist act, carried out, by the way, by local partisans,” Podolyak stressed.
Ukraine war latest: Ukraine holds onto Bakhmut as the country mourns legendary soldier killed near the ruined city
Ukraine's Defense Ministry acknowledged on March 10 that the battle for Bakhmut is becoming more difficult as Russia keeps up its offensive and continues trying to "break through the defenses of our troops."
The Ukrainian military said that 57 attacks were recorded on the Bakhmut sector in the northern Donetsk Oblast over the past day.
Recent satellite images of Bakhmut – a city nearly emptied of its 70,000 residents – captured by American private satellite company Maxar Technologies published on March 10 showed an apocalyptic-looking city with damaged buildings and a railroad bridge.
Mourning the fallen hero
More than 600 kilometers west of Bakhmut, thousands of Ukrainians gathered in central Kyiv to say their last goodbyes to the fallen soldier Dmytro Kotsiubailo, killed in action near Bakhmut on March 7.
The 27-year-old battalion commander, better known as "Da Vinci," was from the 67th Separate Mechanized Brigade and had been fighting in the war for nine years.
Kotsiubailo was severely wounded by a Russian tank in Donetsk Oblast back in 2014 but immediately returned to the front line after three months of recovery. He has fought Russia ever since.
Kotsiubailo was among the most decorated Ukrainian soldiers, being awarded the Hero of Ukraine national title in 2021.
The Central Bank announced the shortage of dollars in Russia
The inflow of foreign currency into Russia continues to decline rapidly, along with income from the export of raw materials.
In February, the largest exporting companies sold only $7.8 billion of foreign exchange earnings on the Moscow Exchange, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation reported in its Financial Markets Risk Review.
Compared to January ($10 billion), sales fell by 22% and compared to December ($15 billion), they more than doubled.
The influx of the world's main currencies - the dollar and the euro - collapsed even more. If before the start of the war, 87% of settlements for exports took place in them, then by February - only 48%. Almost half of the transactions of Russian exporters are carried out in Chinese yuan and Russian rubles, according to the Central Bank.
Foreign exchange earnings of the Russian economy are falling due to lower oil and gas prices, as well as the transition of "oil companies to new supply and settlement schemes", which leads to an "increase in costs," the central bank explains.
According to him, in January-February, the trade surplus - that is, the difference between export earnings and import spending - more than tripled. It amounted to $15.3 billion against $43.5 billion in the first two months of 2022.
As a result: at the end of February, a “temporary shortage of dollar liquidity” appeared on the foreign exchange market, the Central Bank writes in a review. “Partly this was also caused by the tightening of compliance procedures on the part of foreign counterparty banks,” the regulator explains: the market was waiting for a new package of EU sanctions, under which large private banks, Rosbank, Alfa-Bank, and Tinkoff, were disconnected from SWIFT.
China brokers Iran-Saudi Arabia detente, raising eyebrows in Washington
China’s successful brokering of a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia on Friday forced the United States into the awkward position of applauding a major Middle East accord secured by its main geopolitical rival.
“We support any effort to de-escalate tensions there,” White House spokesman John Kirby said of the agreement, which reestablishes diplomatic relations between the arch-nemeses for the first time in seven years and reopens their respective embassies.
The agreement was the result of talks that began Monday as part of an initiative by Chinese President Xi Jinping aimed at “developing good neighborly relations” between Tehran and Riyadh, the three countries said in a joint statement. But the signing of the accord in Beijing — which the Biden administration considers its No. 1 geostrategic threat — represents the latest effort by Xi to stake out a larger political presence in the Middle East, where the United States has been the dominant outside power brokering agreements since the end of the Cold War, waging wars and exerting influence in an oil-rich region vital to the world’s energy security.
Last month, China hosted Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, as the two nations cemented a “strategic cooperation” pact. In December, Xi traveled to Saudi Arabia for a state visit.
How a Montenegrin Gang Used Open-Source Intelligence to Kill
Hitmen working for a criminal group active in Montenegro and Serbia used open-source intelligence techniques, poring over apartment listing sites, satellite images, and tourist photos posted online, to track down and kill the leader of a rival clan as he hid out in Greece.
Montenegrin crime boss Alan Kožar had taken great pains to stay alive, as a war with a rival clan left a trail of blood across Europe. But in the end, a simple sunburn helped get him killed.
Kožar was hiding out on the Greek island of Corfu in the summer of 2020, using an encrypted text messaging app to keep in touch with his crew.
Gazprom: Russia's state corruption giant
A money-laundering scheme and a luxury hotel in Montenegro may be tied to the mysterious death of a top Gazprom manager.
Numerous top managers of Russian oil and gas companies died one after another over the course of 2022 under suspicious circumstances. Alexander Tyulyakov, deputy director general for corporate security at Gazprom's Unified Processing Centre, allegedly committed suicide in late February 2022. His body was found in a garage located in Gazprom's guarded corporate settlement near St. Petersburg. Petersburg and a suicide note was placed next to the body.
Two months later, the dead body of Vladislav Avaev, 51, vice president of Gazprombank, was found lying near the dead bodies of his wife and underage daughter in their apartment in Moscow. TASS reported, citing its sources, that the investigators' theory was that Avaev had murdered his wife and daughter, and then committed suicide.
Even a year after the events, there is still no certainty about what caused these deaths. There has not been any progress in the investigation, nor has there been any reaction from the state companies. Novaya Gazeta Europe and Transparency International Russia have found out that these top managers used to work at entities that we assume to have been involved in accounting fraud connected with multi-billion contracts with Gazprom. The beneficiaries of these contracts include the family of Gazprom's deputy chairman of the board and his friends, former security and military officers.