#AceNewsDesk says that wildfires are raging across a cold area of Yakutia, Siberia, threatening a power plant and disrupting transport as Russianplanes are seeding clouds to make it rain as blaze gets closer …..Reuters Wires on Telegram reports …
Fires have flared across Russia amid a heatwave, tearing through over 1.5 million hectares of land in Yakutia, which is the worst-hit region.
Officials told people to stay indoors and to keep windows shut due to the smoke at the weekend.
The regional capital Yakutsk, one of the coldest cities on the planet, was forced to suspend flights at its airport due to bad visibility, and transport on the river Lena that carves through Siberia was also interrupted.
Fires flare across Russian forest land annually, but they have become more intense in recent years amid unusually high temperatures across the northern Siberian tundra.
Yakutia is itself in the grips of a heatwave.
In less than two months, fires in the region have spewed out around 150 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent — close to the 2017 annual fossil fuel emissions of Venezuela, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), part of an European Union observation programme.
On Monday, a Beriev Be-200 amphibious plane flown in from another Siberian region joined a massive effort to contain the blaze involving more than 2,000 firefighters on the ground.
Firefighters took special care to contain one fire covering 41,300 hectares, it said.
“There’s a natural water barrier from the river Vilyuy, but the fire is potentially dangerous for the … Svetlinskaya hydroelectric power station,” it said.
Smaller-scale fires have continued to burn in less remote parts of the country.
#AceNewsReport – June.21: Local news reports said Serou was last seen on Tuesday after getting into a car. Her mother, Beccy Serou, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, told NPR that her daughter had last texted her: “In a car with a stranger. I hope I’m not being abducted.”
US student, ex-Marine found dead in Russia after cryptic text: ‘I hope I’m not being abducted: The body of Catherine Serou, a 34-year-old law student and veteran from California, was found Saturday morning according to Fox News
A female former U.S. Marine has turned up dead in Russia after catching a ride with a stranger and nervously texting her mom, “I hope I’m not being abducted,’’ according to reports.
The body of Catherine Serou, a 34-year-old law student and veteran from California, was found Saturday morning in a forest outside the Bor suburb where she lived in western Russia — about an hour after a 44-year-old man was arrested in her disappearance, said the Moscow Times and NPR.
Serou had gone missing Tuesday evening as she was headed back to a business to try to quickly clear up a payment issue, her mom told NPR.
The Afghanistan war vet may have gotten into a passing car for a lift rather than wait for her Uber, said her mom, Beccy Serou, of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
“In a car with a stranger. I hope I’m not being abducted,’’ Catherine wrote her mother in her last text.
The mom told NPR she has no idea what happened to her daughter next but, “I think that when she saw that the person wasn’t driving to the clinic but instead was driving into a forest, she panicked.
“Her telephone last pinged off a cell tower in that forest,’’ the mom said.
A surveillance photo reportedly shows Catherine looking out an open passenger-side window of a silver car around when she vanished.
More than 100 volunteers scoured local forests last week for any sign of the law student — before her suspected killer was cuffed, authorities said. The accused man was not identified, but he has prior convictions and is cooperating, they said, according to the Moscow outlet.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it is “closely monitoring” the probe into Catherine’s death.
The student was in Russia to begin studying law while learning the language so she could return to the States and work as an immigration attorney, reports said.
She had sat for a videotaped interview posted on a Russian Web site last year in which she laughed about the cultural differences between the U.S. and Russia.
Catherine was enrolled at Lobachevsky University about 250 miles east of Moscow studying in its master’s law program, after having gotten a bachelor’s degree in design and master’s in art history from the University of California at Davis, reports said.
YWN Reports: US Student Found Killed In Russia, Suspect Arrested: The body of Catherine Serou, 34, was found in a wooded area near the city of Bor, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow, the reports said.
June 20, 2021 8:00 am:
Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that a woman’s body was found in Bor and that a suspect with a record of serious crimes had been arrested, but did not give names. The cause of death was not specified.
Catherine Serou moved from California to Russia in 2019 to study law at a university in Nizhny Novgorod, a major city adjacent to Bor, news reports said.
Beccy Serou told NPR that her daughter was in a hurry to get to a clinic Tuesday and may have gotten into a passing car.
“I think that when she saw that the person wasn’t driving to the clinic, but instead was driving into a forest, she panicked,” Beccy Serou said.
#AceNewsReport – June.17: According to court documents and evidence introduced at trial, Oleg Koshkin, 41, formerly of Estonia, operated the websites “Crypt4U.com,” “fud.bz” and others.
The FBI’s New Haven Division investigated the case through its Connecticut Cyber Task Force: Russian National Convicted of Charges Relating to Kelihos Botnet: The websites promised to render malicious software fully undetectable by nearly every major provider of antivirus software. Koshkin and his co-conspirators claimed that their services could be used for malware such as botnets, remote-access trojans, keyloggers, credential stealers and cryptocurrency miners.
“The defendant designed and operated a service that was an essential tool for some of the world’s most destructive cybercriminals, including ransomware attackers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The verdict should serve as a warning to those who provide infrastructure to cybercriminals: the Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners consider you to be just as culpable as the hackers whose crimes you enable — and we will work tirelessly to bring you to justice.”
In particular, Koshkin worked with Peter Levashov, the operator of the Kelihos botnet, to develop a system that would allow Levashov to crypt the Kelihos malware multiple times each day. Koshkin provided Levashov with a custom, high-volume crypting service that enabled Levashov to distribute Kelihos through multiple criminal affiliates. Levashov used the Kelihos botnet to send spam, harvest account credentials, conduct denial of service attacks, and distribute ransomware and other malicious software. At the time it was dismantled by the FBI, the Kelihos botnet was known to include at least 50,000 compromised computers around the world.
“By operating a website that was intended to hide malware from antivirus programs, Koshkin provided a critical service that enabled other cyber criminals to infect thousands of computers around the world,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Leonard C. Boyle for the District of Connecticut. “We will investigate and prosecute the individuals who aid and abet cyber criminals as vigorously as we do the ones who actually hit the ‘send’ button on viruses and other malicious software.”
“Koshkin and his associates knowingly provided crypting services designed to help malicious software bypass anti-virus software,” said Special Agent in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI’s New Haven Division. “The criminal nature of the Crypt4U service was a clear threat to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of computer systems everywhere. We at the FBI will never stop pursuing those like Koshkin for perpetrating cyber crimes and threats to the public at large.”
Koshkin was arrested in California in September 2019 and has been detained since his arrest. He faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 20.
Koshkin’s co-defendant, Pavel Tsurkan, is charged with conspiring to cause damage to 10 or more protected computers, and aiding and abetting Levashov in causing damage to 10 or more protected computers.
Levashov was arrested by the Spanish National Police in April 2017 and extradited to the United States. In September 2018, he pleaded guilty to one count of causing intentional damage to a protected computer, one count of conspiracy, one count of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Chang of District of Connecticut, and Senior Counsel Ryan K.J. Dickey of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section are prosecuting the case with assistance from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs. The Estonian Police and Border Guard Board also provided significant assistance.
This case is part of the Department of Justice’s Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force, which was created to combat the growing number of ransomware and digital extortion attacks. As part of the Task Force, the Criminal Division, working with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, prioritizes the disruption, investigation, and prosecution of ransomware and digital extortion activity by tracking and dismantling the development and deployment of malware, identifying the cybercriminals responsible, and holding those individuals accountable for their crimes. The department, through the Task Force, also strategically targets the ransomware criminal ecosystem as a whole and collaborates with domestic and foreign government agencies as well as private sector partners to combat this significant criminal threat.
#AceNewsReport – June.01: This story repeats itself every year,” said one source in the oil industry in Khanty-Mansi, a western Siberian region that is home to some of Russia’s biggest oil fields. The source spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fears of retribution from officials for discussing the matter:
RFE/RL Investigation: How Russian Oil Companies Illegally Dump Massive Amounts Of Toxic Waste: The investigation by RFE/RL’s Russian Service found that regulations overseeing the disposal of drilling waste are routinely flouted, with bribes being paid to inspectors, data being omitted from required paperwork, and major oil companies pressuring regulators to effectively look the other way.
Even when government inspectors uncover violations, they regularly issue toothless orders for the companies to adhere to the law — but don’t compel them to clean up the sites.
“Inspectors come from Moscow, leave with suitcases of money, and issue orders like this: They don’t demand that you eliminate violations, remove the waste, or reclaim the polluted tundra. They say, ‘Write that you buried your shit, and continue to bury it in the same way,'” the oil-industry source told RFE/RL’s Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda.
Illegal waste dumps on state oil giant Rosneft’s fields in the Khanty-Mansi region alone could do more than $8 billion in environmental damage, according to one of three reports commissioned by the Russian Health Ministry and obtained by Radio Svoboda, which is releasing them to the public in their entirety for the first time.
Drillers use specialized fluids that include oil, water, and other chemicaladditives, depending on the soil type. The average well depth is 3,100 meters, though many are 5 kilometers or deeper.
On average, drilling produces around 560 tons of waste per 1,000 meters, according to oil-industry sources. According to data from Russia’s Energy Ministry, 28.5 million meters were drilled in Russia in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.
That would translate into almost 16 million tons of waste, according to the estimated average given by oil-industry sources. But according to Russia’s environmental regulator, Rosprirodnadzor, only 5 million tons of this waste was generated in 2019 — a discrepancy that suggests more than 10 million tons may have been disposed of illegally.
Environmental regulations require toxic drilling waste to be either processed or disposed of at special landfills that are designed to keep the toxins from leaching into the groundwater.
At many wells across Russia, the waste is stored nearby in temporary trenches known as holding ponds or “sludge barns.”Sludge residue in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District in 2012 (Source: Regional branch of Rosprirodnadzor in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District)
In southern regions, the sludge barns are usually 4 to 5 meters in depth. In the north, however, where oil fields are located in swampy tundra and in permafrost zones, above-ground sludge barns are built and surrounded by earthen berms that can be up to 4 meters in height.
Depending on the size and depth of a well, multiple holding ponds for a single installation can occupy a combined area of up to 2,500 square meters.
According to regulations, the walls and the bottom of the sludge pits are supposed to be insulated to prevent toxic substances from leaching into groundwater and soil. But no regulatory agency, either on the regional or the federal level, inspects the integrity of the ponds or the insulation materials.
“There is very little data on the study of drilling waste,” said Ivan Blokov, director of the Department for Programs, Research, and Expertise at Greenpeace Russia. ”But there is clear data on how the oil is poured out. Salinization of soils, oppression of plants, changes in the species composition of flora and fauna.”
“If it were one sludge barn, there would be nothing terrible about it. The trouble is that there are a lot of them,” Blokov told RFE/RL. “And we can see how much oil the northern rivers carry into the Arctic Ocean.”
Soviet oil drillers tried to incorporate Western technologies in the 1980s, but they were expensive, said Oleg Mitvol, a former deputy chief of Rosprirodnadzor. Instead, sludge was buried next to the wells.
In 1998, Russia adopted a law requiring waste to be processed and neutralized, or stored at special landfills.
According to Yevgenia Kiselyova, who worked in the Khanty-Mansi regional division of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, some oil companies, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos, built properly designed holding ponds in the late 1990s; some of them are still functioning.
However, she said, “the rest of the landfills were just imitations, provided there were operating permits.”
As of 2015, Kiselyova said, there were an estimated 10,000 holding ponds in the Khanty-Mansi region and 300 new ones appeared every year.
One official in the region’s oil sector, who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said oil companies frequently undercount their drilling sites and sludge barns. That assertion is supported by a 2017 inspection of Rosneft by Rosprirodnadzor, which found that on just one of the state oil giant’s fields, it operated 34 well pads without the necessary permissions.
An oil-industry source who works in the Khanty-Mansi region told Radio Svoboda on condition of anonymity that there was no regulation whatsoever of illegally constructed well pads.
WATCH: A drilling-waste processing facility around 50 kilometers from the city of Nizhnevartovsk in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District. (Source: Radio Svoboda)
Other oil-producing countries try to minimize environmental damage from drilling waste by separating the soil from the hazardous liquids. A common technique is to burn off the flammable components of the drilling waste. But that is energy intensive and releases polluting emissions into the atmosphere.
Sludge is burned in Russia as well, but mostly that happens with waste collected from oil spills.
Other technologies in use include a German-designed process that uses low pressures to evaporate liquids, and results in relatively harmless output. Another, developed in Norway, is “thermal decomposition,” in which oil products are separated from the sludge and can even be processed further into fuel oil.
Fictitious Waste Disposal
The massive and systematic burial of drilling waste in Russia is also carried out under the guise of recycling.
Since 2000, Russian drillers have been allowed to use other “mixed technologies” to mitigate the environmental damage from drilling waste.
In theory, the waste is mixed with sand, cement, and a specialized foam product to create a “building material” that supposedly can be used for construction or other industrial purposes. The process involves simply mixing the ingredients together in a trench to “lock up” the toxic materials into an inert form that prevents them from leaching into the environment.
In reality, however, this technique exists largely on paper.
Drillers just cover the waste with soil, costing them a comparative pittance — 2,600 to 3,000 rubles ($35-$40) per cubic meter of sludge.
WATCH: Sludge barns near the shores of the Vakh River in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District in western Siberia. (Source: Radio Svoboda)
Even if drillers were using the “mixed technologies” process instead of just covering drilling waste with dirt, the resulting compound would not meet environmental standards.
In May 2010, recycled building material known by the commercial name “burolit” failed testing standards imposed by another regulator responsible for industrial quality-control, Rostekhnadzor.
The tests determined that oil products were found in the material at concentrations 12 times higher than permissible for the general environment, and some of the ingredients used turned out to be carcinogens.
Rostekhnadzor experts also concluded in 2010 that “burolit” was unusable for road construction, and that it was not even suitable to help construct new sludge barns.
Despite that fact, Rostekhnadzor later gave a one-year approval for the substance; in 2015, that approval was granted a second time.
In the early 2000s, there were attempts — on paper, at least — to recycle drilling waste into bricks for use in construction. In the Khanty-Mansi region, about 2,800 kilometers northeast of Moscow, Radio Svoboda visited one of the largest oil fields in the western Siberian region, where a facility supposedly producing these bricks was to have been installed.
Instead, however, the toxic waste was simply buried at the site.
Legal documents obtained by RFE/RL showed ownership of the plot, which dated back to a 2005 lease, was hidden behind a series of shell companies.WATCH: Sludge barns on the territory of Rosneft-controlled Priobskoye oil field, where a facility recycling drilling waste into bricks was supposedly to be built.
After several inspections, Rosprirodnadzor won a series of court cases ordering the companies to remove the buried waste. However, the murky ownership of the land allowed the owners to drag out the legal process for nearly a decade. Last year, an arbitration court ordered one of the companies to pay a 3.6 billion ruble ($49 million) fine.
However, that company and the two others affiliated with it have all declared bankruptcy.
The sludge dumps at issue in those cases are located on Rosneft’s 5,400-square-kilometer Priobskoye oil field. A court ruled that only the bankrupt companies — not Rosneft — were liable for the pollution.Sludge barns on the territory of Rosneft-controlled Priobskoye oil field, where a facility recycling drilling waste into bricks was supposedly to be built.
Meanwhile, the buried waste remains in the ground, approximately 3.5 kilometers from the Ob, one of the world’s longest rivers, which drains into the Arctic Ocean.
In northern Russia, nearly all oil production takes place in protected watersheds, which are set up to keep pollutants out of waterways.
A 2019 report by the national meteorological monitoring agency, Rosgidromet, found that as much as 17,500 tons of petroleum products flowed from the Ob into the Kara Sea, an extension of the Arctic Ocean, that year. One federally commissioned report found that as many as 90 percent of fish in the Ob Basin have deformations and chronic dysfunctions of the body, which lead to mutation and extinction of species.
In Russia, the process for mitigating environmental damage from toxic drilling waste also includes a system for reclaiming land that has been used temporarily, and then theoretically cleaned up and returned to its natural state. Drillers are obliged by law to carry out reclamation.
In Khanty-Mansi, however, a commission appointed by local authorities oversees the approval process for accepting and then redistributing the reclaimed land to, for example, timber farmers; in Yamalo-Nenets, further north, reindeer herders are frequently given such land.
Beginning in 2010, these commissions were required to involve the participation of Rosprirodnadzor, a nod to rising concerns about the growth of unregulated sludge barns and improper drilling-waste disposal. Kiselyova’s department stopped signing land permits, and an increased number of fines and administrative violations were handed out for environmental violations.
In 2011, the regional natural resources agency appealed to the region’s governor, as well as federal agencies, saying the situation with drilling waste in the region was catastrophic and asking for support in developing better legal and regulatory measures.
The following year, however, the CEOs of some of Russia’s most powerful oil and gas companies co-signed a letter to then-Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, complaining that the excessive regulations on sludge and disposal would result in a slowdown in production — and, they asserted, social turmoil.
Later that year, the regional branch of Rosprirodnadzor, the environmental regulator, began to actively impede the work of Kiselyova’s department, she said.
She said her superiors began to close administrative cases her department had opened against oil and drilling companies. They also began to conduct inspections targeting Kiselyova herself and her subordinates for alleged impropriety, she said.
Kiselyova wrote a letter to President Vladimir Putin in 2014 stating that the reclamation process was regularly abused or ignored.
“No one has actually seen any results of such forest reclamation, forest restoration, or forest ecosystem in its diversity,” she wrote.
She took one company subsidiary to court to force it to comply with anti-sludge-dumping regulations, after which she said her car was shot up with an air gun and her tires slashed. She was subsequently fired.
Kiselyova fought her firing three times; three times a court upheld her dismissal.
Tatyana Kuznetsova, the head of Rosprirodnadzor’s department overseeing waste disposal, told Radio Svoboda that the agency was no longer involved in the land-reclamation commissions.
Buried Report On Buried Waste
In the spring of 2018, a scandal bubbled up in the Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets regions after the Russian media outlet RBK obtained a letter from a Russian Health Ministry analytical center about the storage and disposal of drilling waste in the two regions.
The letter, addressed to the then-head of Rosprirodnadzor, Artyom Sidorov, discussed illegal dumps of supposedly recycled drilling waste that had been discovered in both regions on fields operated by Rosneft, LUKoil, and other oil companies. It was sent by the then-acting head of the Health Ministry’s Center for Strategic Planning and Management of Biological Risks, which had conducted three separate studies over a two-year period at the ministry’s behest.
On Rosneft oil fields in the Khanty-Mansi region alone these dumps totaled 20 million cubic meters, with estimated ecological damage that could total more than $8 billion, according to the letter.
The head of Rosprirodnadzor’s regional branch in Khanty-Mansi was subsequently fired, as was Sidorov, the agency’s federal chief. But the scandal largely fizzled out.
Rosneft told RBK that the analytical center did not have the authority to conduct inspections and that the company adhered to environmental laws in its disposal of drilling waste. LUKoil told the newspaper that it worked with licensed contractors that dispose of drilling waste in line with government regulations.
And the analytical center’s full studies were never released to the public — until now.
Radio Svoboda has obtained copies of the three reports — totaling 630 pages that are not available online — and is releasing them in their entirety as part of this investigation. Radio Svoboda managed to review the reports on a computer terminal and photograph each individual page, as it was not permitted to print them out or download them.
Below are several key takeaways from the reports, based on this review:
Almost without exception, rivers and other bodies of water in the Khanty-Mansi and Yamal-Nenets regions are polluted. In some, the content of petroleum products is between five and 10 times above the maximum allowable limit, while the level of phenolic compounds is between 10 and 18 times the limit.
While the main environmental damage from oil-production is linked to emissions, drilling waste has a damaging effect on the demographic situation and the health of the population in Russia’s oil-producing regions, the authors of one report wrote. “The incidence of neoplasms, congenital malformations, and diseases of the blood and the immune system among the population living in oil-producing regions is 1.5 to five times higher than those in areas where there are no oil-production facilities,” they wrote.
Not a single technology for drilling-sludge processing was given a positive assessment by state environmental experts, one of the reports states. Surgutneftegaz, Russia’s fourth-largest oil producer, had used the “burolit mix” technique in the seven years prior to the report “despite the fact that the method…received a negative assessment” from state environmental experts, it states.
The processing of drilling sludge is conducted not by the oil companies themselves but by subcontractors. “There are so many inconsistencies in the legislation that today it is virtually impossible to bring claims against oil-producing companies,” one report states, referring to the part of the Rosneft field where drilling waste was supposedly to be recycled into bricks.
The recycled drilling-waste product known by the name burolit loses its commercial properties almost immediately, making it essentially waste but in a much larger volume than before the start of the process. “The disposal sites for this waste are becoming unauthorized dumps,” the authors wrote.
The reclamation of sludge barns is a “nominal event,” one report states, suggesting it is something that does not actually take place, and adding that “oil companies are extremely inattentive to this part of their activities.”
Reached by Radio Svoboda for comment, the Russian Health Ministry directed inquiries to the Center for Strategic Planning and Management of Biological Risks, which compiled the reports. The center said it was no longer conducting such studies, while the Health Ministry did not respond to a follow-up inquiry.
Kuznetsova, the head of Rosprirodnadzor’s waste-disposal department, told Radio Svoboda that she was not aware of the Health Ministry studies and therefore could not comment.
Asked about the discrepancy between the official figure of 5 million tons of drilling waste in 2019 and the estimated 16 million tons based on Radio Svoboda’s discussions with oil-industry sources, Kuznetsova suggested the official figure is more accurate.
She confirmed, however, that the responsibility of monitoring and reporting the disposal of drilling waste lies with the oil companies themselves, which should determine the toxicity classification with the help of private laboratories and carry out the disposal based on the results.
Only spot inspections can reveal whether oil companies are following this protocol.
Rosneft, LUKoil, and Surgutneftegaz did not respond to requests for comment.
Adapted and translated from the original Russian by Mike Eckel and Carl Schreck
Sergei Khazov-Cassia is a correspondent in Moscow for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
#AceNewsReport – May.07: From the time Eduard Shmonin was a young man, he always wanted to be a gangster: The business model he adopted involved digging up dirt on officials and industry players — and then publishing it or withholding it, depending on the bidder:
SIBERIA: A Siberian Muckraker Exposed Massive Oil Theft: Now Russia Wants To Imprison Him For 11 Years: ‘But disillusionment with Russia’s criminal world came quickly for the Sverdlovsk region native after he served two years in prison for burglary in the 1990s. Shmonin, now 50, instead decided to get into journalism — a profession that he quickly determined was inextricable from local battles over money, resources, and influence’ I understood at the time that the job of a journalist is to get paid for what he doesn’t write,” Shmonin told RFE/RL’s Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, last year.
May 04, 2021 12:01 GMT
Now prosecutors have asked a court to sentence Shmonin to 11 years in prison on charges of blackmail and distributing pornography — allegations linked to media operations he ran in Russia’s oil-rich Khanti-Mansi Autonomous District in western Siberia.
A verdict in Shmonin’s trial in Surgut, in western Siberia, which has been closed to the public, is expected next week.
And while Shmonin has never denied trafficking in “kompromat,” or compromising information, he believes he was targeted for an entirely different reason: a documentary he released exposing evidence of massive oil theft in the Khanti-Mansi region with the complicity of corrupt law enforcement officials.
An archive of materials gathered by Shmonin for the exposé and a planned sequel that never aired served as a pillar of an independent investigation by Radio Svoboda in March exposing the central role that Federal Security Service (FSB) and Interior Ministry officials play in the industrial-scale theft of oil from Russia’s network of pipelines.
Radio Svoboda was able to independently corroborate numerous details of this illicit business, which, according to a 2013 estimate by state-owned investment bank VTB Capital, costs Russian oil companies $1.8 billion to $3.5 billion annually and the Russian budget $632 million to $1.2 billion.
Shmonin released his documentary, Criminal Oil, in November 2016 and was arrested the following April on not only the blackmail and pornography charges, but also for suspected libel based on a complaint by four individuals mentioned in the film — all of whom worked in security for a subsidiary of Rosneft, the state oil giant whose CEO, Igor Sechin, is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
One of the plaintiffs was a retired FSB general, and the other was a former FSB officer who has since been arrested and charged with oil theft.
Shmonin was held for nearly a year in pretrial detention, while his muckraking website and his TV channel, Yugra Public Television, ceased operations. He claims that, during his detention, he was tortured by FSB officers who tried to force him to reveal who financed the Criminal Oil documentary.
“They said, ‘You have three options to get out of here: You can be carried out of here feet first; you can eat the charges, we’ll release you on bail, and you leave the country; or you reveal who is behind you and we will classify you as a witness,’” Shmonin told Radio Svoboda, adding that he told investigators the documentary was made on his own initiative.Shmonin protesting in 2010 in defense of his kompromat-filled website. His sign reads: “Corrupt cops: Fight corruption, not the media.”
Shmonin claimed his interrogators then wrapped a plastic bag over his head and tased him, though Radio Svoboda was unable to independently corroborate his torture claims. The FSB did not respond to requests for comment sent in March.
A funny thing happened on the way to the verdict in Shmonin’s case: A trove of evidence went missing or was damaged, including hard drives, computers, mobile phones, and flash drives that authorities had confiscated. And the libel charges related to his Criminal Oil documentary were ultimately dropped.
Of the 13 original charges Shmonin faced, only two remain: blackmail and illegal distribution of pornography.
The blackmail charge relates to Shmonin’s alleged demand for money from Yevgeny Vostrikov, a lawmaker in the Khanti-Mansi city of Nefteyugansk, in exchange for withholding release of a film in which he was accused, among other things, of domestic abuse and trafficking in drugs. (Many of these allegations had already appeared on Shmonin’s websites prior to the film’s eventual release.)
The pornography charge relates to a secretly recorded video showing a sexual encounter between a lawmaker in the city of Nizhnevartovsk and another man. Shmonin has denied releasing the video.
He insists that the evidence that went missing in his case includes alibis that would exonerate him.
All of these developments have taken place behind closed doors. The trial was closed to the public, formally because of the intimate nature of the video related to the pornography charge.
Shmonin, who has been out on bail since 2018 pending a verdict in the trial, is barred by law from discussing the case with the media.
Meanwhile, the trial of Roman Chernogor — the former FSB officer who filed a libel complaint against Shmonin over his Criminal Oil film — continues.
Chernogor has been charged with illegally tapping into oil pipelines. His co-defendant, former FSB officer Vladimir Chernakov, was also implicated in oil-theft schemes in Shmonin’s film.
Written by Carl Schreck based on reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Sergei Khazov-Cassia.
Sergei Khazov-Cassia is a correspondent in Moscow for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
#AceNewsReport – May.02: The joint convoy covered a distance of more than 100 km in the first operation of its kind by the forces of the two countries in Syria, and included 10 towns that are not under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Russian and Turkish forces carry out record long patrol in northeast Syria: ‘The commander of the Russian forces convoy, Brigadier General Andrei Titov, said: Today a new joint Russian-Turkish patrol was carried out from the Sharq crossing. The peculiarity of this patrol is the long distance of the route, as it included a large number of towns.” Video footage of alleged Russian strikes on HTS training camp
Titov added, “The patrol took place in an orderly manner, and the combination of troops and military equipment succeeded in carrying out the mission. The local residents in most of the towns welcomed the convoy.”
60 soldiers from the forces of both countries and more than ten of military vehicles participated in the patrol, accompanied by helicopters of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
Turkey has extended its control over an area that extends about 30 kilometers south from the Turkish-Syrian border in northeastern Syria, since the launch of its military operation “Peace Spring” on October 9, 2019, against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which Ankara considers a terrorist and an arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
#AceNewsReport – Apr.05: Korshunov worked for Russian state-owned aviation company United Engine Corporation (UEC), while also serving as an intelligence officer with Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), the FBI said:
U.S. Adds Russian To FBI Most-Wanted List For Alleged Theft Of Industrial Secrets: The FBI said on April 2 on Twitter it is seeking the arrest of Aleksandr Korshunov, 58, saying he is suspected of conspiring to steal trade secrets from the company to benefit Russia.
UEC appointed Korshunov in 2009 as its director of marketing and sales, the U.S. law enforcement agency said in a statement accompanying the tweet that includes a photo of Korshunov.
Korshunov’s job was to encourage Western aviation companies to work with UEC to advance Russia’s aviation technology, the FBI said.
“It is alleged that, between 2013 and 2018, Korshunov conspired and attempted to steal trade secrets from an American aviation company, the FBI said. “He hired engineers employed by a subsidiary of a large United States aviation company to consult on the redesign of the Russian PD-14 aero engine.”
Korshunov was able to acquire the company’s confidential, protected, and unique engineering patterns, plans, and procedures “for the benefit of Russia,” the FBI said.
But his lawyer told TASS that he returned to Moscow in the summer of 2020 “accompanied by Russian law enforcement under arrest.”
Russian authorities said Korshunov was wanted in Russia to face charges of embezzlement and fraud, TASS said.
He was extradited to Russia “under the decision of the Italian Justice Ministry and in accordance with the relevant request,” which Italy’s judiciary had approved before the U.S. sought extradition, the report said.
The original U.S. complaint accused Korshunov and Maurizio Bianchi, the former director of an Italian division of General Electric (GE) Aviation, of hiring former GE employees to prepare a technical report on jet engine accessories using the U.S. company’s intellectual property.
GE Aviation is one of the world’s largest suppliers of civilian and military aircraft engines and has a factory in Cincinnati. It completed the acquisition of an Italian manufacturer of aviation components in 2013.
The Russian Embassy in Washington said its diplomats protested Korshunov’s detention after it was announced in 2019, calling it “illegitimate.”
Foreign Nationals Sentenced for Roles in Transnational Cybercrime Enterprise: ‘They were engaged in the mass acquisition and sale of fraud-related goods and services, including stolen identities, compromised credit card data, computer malware, and other contraband & the Infraud Organization victimized millions of people in all 50 states and caused more than $568 million in financial losses’
Sergey Medvedev, aka “Stells,” “segmed,” and “serjbear,” 33, of Russia, pleaded guilty in the District of Nevada to one count of racketeering conspiracy in June 2020 and was sentenced today to 10 years in prison. According to court documents, Medvedev was a co-founder of Infraud along with Syvatoslav Bondarenko of Ukraine. From November 2010 until Infraud was taken down by law enforcement in February 2018, Medvedev was an active participant in the Infraud online forum, operating an “escrow” service to facilitate illegal transactions among Infraud members. For several years, Medvedev served as Infraud’s administrator, handling day-to-day management, deciding membership, and meting out discipline to those who violated the enterprise’s rules.
Marko Leopard, aka “Leopardmk,” 31, of North Macedonia, pleaded guilty in the District of Nevada to one count of racketeering conspiracy in November 2019 and was sentenced today to five years in prison. According to court documents, Leopard joined Infraud in June 2011, offering his services as an “abuse immunity” web hoster to Infraud members who wished to create websites to sell contraband. Unlike a legitimate host, Leopard would knowingly cater to websites offering illegal goods and services, ignoring any abuse reports from internet users. He hosted a number of sites for Infraud members in this fashion, providing the infrastructure that allowed his co-conspirators to profit off of their criminal activities.
“Dismantling a cybercrime organization like Infraud requires aggressive pursuit of not only those who steal, sell, and use personal data, but also those who provide the infrastructure that allows cybercrime organizations to operate,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s sentences should serve as a warning to any web host who willingly looks the other way for a quick buck — and that the United States will hold these bad actors accountable, even when they operate behind a computer screen halfway across the world.”
“While criminal operators lurk in the deepest corners of the internet, they ultimately do not escape the reach of law enforcement,” said Special Agent in Charge Francisco Burrola of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Las Vegas. “We will continue to aggressively investigate, disrupt, and dismantle hidden illegal networks that pose a threat in cyberspace. HSI and our partners are at the forefront of combating cyber financial crimes and illicit activities spread by online criminals looking for financial gain.”
Infraud was a criminal enterprise that existed to enrich its members and associates through a myriad of criminal acts of identity theft and financial fraud. Infraud facilitated the sale of contraband by its members, including counterfeit documents, stolen bank account and credit account information, and stolen personal identifying information. Members and associates of Infraud operated throughout the world and the United States, to include Las Vegas. The enterprise, which boasted over 10,000 members at its peak and operated for more than seven years under the slogan “In Fraud We Trust,” is among the largest ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
Infraud was responsible for the sale and/or purchase of over 4 million compromised credit and debit card numbers. The actual loss associated with Infraud was in excess of $568 million USD.
HSI Las Vegas and the Police Department of Henderson, Nevada, investigated the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in securing the defendant’s extradition from Croatia.
Deputy Chief Kelly Pearson and Trial Attorneys Chad McHenry and Alexander Gottfried of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Gang Section prosecuted the case.
#AceNewsServices – October 19 – Nazi Inspired Beauty Pageant being dubbed “Miss Hitler 2014” is calling for attractive women to participate in the contest held on the Russian equivalent to Facebook.
‘ Miss Hitler 2014 on VKontakte ‘
Participants are requested to submit Nazi-themed “selfies” to the competition organized by a neo-Nazi group on VKontakte – Russia’s largest social networking service – along with a caption describing why they “love and revere the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler,” the UK-basedDaily Mail reported.
At least 14 females from Russian and Eastern Europe have entered the contest that celebrates the glorification of Nazi Germany and the fascist totalitarian government ruled by Adolf Hitler that was responsible for the Holocaust and the genocide of nearly six million Jews.
The winner of the contest is determined by the highest number of “likes” from members of a page on VKontakte that claims more than 7,000 Hitler-revering followers.
Jewelry adorned with Nazi symbolism is offered as the prize for the contest, officially-titled “Miss Ostland 2014,” named in reference to the Nazi-occupied portion of north-eastern Europe where more than a million Jews were killed.
The Internet media site Vocative republished a selfie allegedly submitted by Belorussian contestant Katya Shkredova donning a Nazi hat, and citing her “adoration” of Hitler because he was willing to “experiment on people.”
A suit claiming Memorial liquidation was lodged with Russia’s Supreme Court by the Ministry of Justice over violations exposed in the society’s activity in late 2012. Thus, according to the claim, the organization “lacks a nationwide status and it has no documented proof of statutory activity.”
Moreover, it allegedly does not observe its own charter.
Human Rights Work of “Memorial”
The Ministry of Justice twice demanded the organization should remedy breaches but it has failed to do that.
The Supreme Court will consider the claim on November 13. The ministry says however that Memorial still has time to correct deficiencies.
Jagland’s press service said he had telephoned to Russian Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov to call on him to use every possibility in order to find a legal solution to that problem to let this organization continue its work.
Memorial’s liquidation will be a shock to many Russians and will pose a threat of undermining Russia’s reputation on the global arena, he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Russia’s chief human rights champion Mikhail Fedotov said he hoped the Memorial human rights society would not be wound up.
“We must not allow Memorial to be closed due to formal reasons.
#AceNewsServices – MOSCOW – October 12. /TASS/. Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Alexander Zakharchenko does not exclude possible economic cooperation with the Ukrainian authorities, the press service of the DPR Supreme Council /parliament/ said on Sunday.
“We are always glad to be friends with all who does not come here with weapons in the hands.
If they make rational offers in the economy, in trade or in the area of other partner relations.
We are ready to speak with all, even with the government, which is currently ruling Ukraine,” he said.
He said that the key task for the Supreme Council and himself as the prime minister was to create conditions for expanding relations with Russia “so that we could secure our economy from impacts from outside, including from Ukraine.”
“The economy will be completely, if possible, oriented towards the Russian market. We consider Russia our strategic partner,” he stressed.
Earlier, Zakharchenko said that the DPR authorities were looking at creating a multi-currency zone to use both the rouble (Russia’s currency unit) and the hryvnia (Ukraine’s currency unit).
The DPR Council of Minister also said it had passed a decision to set up a national bank in the republic.
AceNewsServices – UKRAINE (Kiev) – October 07. /TASS/. Five statues of Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin have been toppled over the past 24 hours in Ukraine’s north-eastern Kharkiv region, a report posted on the website of the regional chief police department says.
‘ Vladimir Lennin Statues Damaged or Toppled ‘
In one of the developments, the head of a statue was broken off in a local settlement of the region, where half of the population see Russian as their mother-tongue.
In another incident, a statue was toppled in the settlement of Dobrovolskoye, it said.
One monument was damaged by hammers in the settlement of Berestovo.
Statues of Lenin were also toppled on Tuesday in two districts of the regional centre Kharkiv.
Police were summoned to the site, and law enforcement officers are investigating the case, the website of the Kharkiv city council reports.
#AceNewsServices – October 06 – An alleged policy plan of the Islamic State outlines some chilling, if unrealistic, plots of the would-be terrorist state, including bribing Russia with access to oilfields in exchange for nuclear technology, and digging a canal across the UAE.
ISIS grand plan: Bribe Putin for Iran’s nuclear secrets Isis militants have plans to establish bases across ‘Arab lands’ (AP)
The document reported by Britain’s Sunday Times is believed to have been written by Abdullah Ahmed Meshedani, a member of the highly secretive six-man war cabinet of the terrorist group, which wants to build an Islamist state, or caliphate, in parts of Iraq and Syria.
It was captured by Iraqi special forces during a March raid on the home of a senior Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) member and confirmed as authentic by Western security officials.
The 70-point plan provides an insight into the grandiose, if somewhat far-fetched, strategy aimed at undermining Shiites in the Arab world and Iran as that branch of Islam’s powerhouse nation.
One of the goals listed in the documents is to offer Russia access to oilfields in Iraq’s Anbar province in exchange for Moscow severing ties with Tehran and sharing secret nuclear technology known to Iran with the IS.
The bribe is also meant to convince the Russian government to stop supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and ally with Sunni states of the Arab Gulf in their confrontation with Iran and Syria.
A security source familiar with the document told the newspaper, “Nothing shocks Western governments these days in relation to ISIS and its fanatical aspirations.
“We have known and feared for some time that they want to obtain chemical and nuclear weapons… So when you place their future aspirations against their current achievements, this document which purports to be the group’s manifesto does stop and make you think.”
Another bizarre plan to undermine Iran’s power-base involves building a canal across the United Arab Emirates “like the Panama Canal in America’s hands,” which would allow oil tankers travel to and from the Persian Gulf, bypassing the Iran-controlled Strait of Hormuz, the newspaper reports.
#AceWorldNews – LANDERNEAU – September 29 – Around 130 tractors blocked the RN12 highway for over two hours in Landerneau on Wednesday in the latest farmer protest against the Russian ban on EU food imports that was prompted by EU sanctions over Ukraine.
‘ Burning an Efigy of Guillotine – Francis Hollande ‘
Farmers set fire to potatoes, cauliflower, tyres and hay among other items, and displayed an effigy of French President Francois Hollande in a guillotine.
#AceNewsServices – UKRAINE – September 27 – NATO has recently provided the photographs that allegedly proved the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.
However, the accuracy of the report was quickly compared to widely ridiculed studies of infamous “British scientists.” The provided photos lack such important details as the time and the location of the shooting.
It can be possible that the photos were made on the Russian territory during military maneuvers.
“When the Russian Defence Ministry provided satellite images of the crash site of the Malaysian Boeing, the photos contained the following character attributes: date, time and coordinates of the area.
On those data, specialists easily established what kind of satellites were used to make the photos, and it was confirmed that Russian satellites were staying above the area, when the tragedy occurred.
In case of the American photos that NATO exposed, there was nothing on them. There was no time, no coordinates, no recognizable features of the surface. The location of the shooting was mentioned only in the photo caption. Therefore, it is impossible to prove that the photos and its text characteristics correspond to each other.”
Igor Lisov, editor, columnist of “News of Cosmonautics”
#AceWorldNews – UKRAINE – September 26 – Observers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have no serious proof of “Russian servicemen” in Ukraine, Russian permanent representative to the OSCE Andrey Kelin said Friday.
‘ OSCE No Proof of Russian Servicemen ‘
“No serious proof was found. OSCE observers tell the Western press that there is no proof of the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine,” ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying during the ‘Moscow-Vienna’ video conference.
He added Russia is ready to discuss possible issues in this aspect at corresponding forums.
#AceNewsServices (Opinion) – September 21 – Russia, which has criticized U.S. plans to launch strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria, could soon become a victim of the militant group, whose members include extremists from Chechnya.
Courtesy of DAHBOO77
The Soufan Group, a New York-based intelligence firm, estimated in June that some 200 Chechen fighterswere involved in the Syrian conflict.
Earlier this month, ISIS jihadists released a video threatening Russia shortly after they captured an air base in Raqqa, eastern Syria, and seized Russian-made fighter jets.
In the video, a militant said: “This message is addressed to you, oh Vladimir Putin. These are your aircraft which you sent to [Syrian President] Bashar [al-Assad], and with the help of Allah we’ll send them back to you. Remember this. And with the permission of Allah, we’ll liberate Chechnya and all the Caucasus.”
Marvin Kalb, a senior adviser to the Washington-based Pulitzer Center, told Al Arabiya News: “Putin worries constantly about local insurgents getting field training in Syria, or now in ISIS, and then returning to Russia to implement their new skills.
“Putin doesn’t want them back in Russia, and this is a chronic nightmare for him.”
Alex Melikishvili, a senior analyst at U.S.-based research giant IHS, said it is “entirely conceivable” that returning ISIS fighters would wage war against Russia, just as Chechen insurgents have done over the last two decades.
“The longer it takes to destroy ISIS, the higher the likelihood that some of its battle-hardened militants will make their way to the North Caucasus,” Melikishvili told Al Arabiya News.
#AceWorldNews UNITED NATIONS September 20. /ITAR-TASS/. Iran and the P5+1 group (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany) are working in different formats, having raised the level of security, an informed diplomatic source said on Saturday.
The sides are working on a bilateral basis as well but no plenary meeting is expected on Saturday, the source told ITAR-TASS.
The sides have agreed not to disclose the details of the negotiations and to limit their contacts with the media.
The source said the process was fragile and needed to be handled carefully as the sides were looking for compromises.
Political directors from Iran and the P5+1 group met in New York on Friday, beginning a new round of talks on the Iranian nuclear programme.
The head of the Russian delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov sa said Russia would “continue to work with its partners in order to lay the groundwork for compromises”.
“The recent contacts, including bilateral ones, with the Iranians were quite promising and showed that the Iranian delegation is preparing for the upcoming round most fundamentally,” Ryabkov said, adding that the six world powers were preparing as well.
“We will continue working towards the result,” Ryabkov said.