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Russian Firm Ran Extensive Disinformation Campaign in Sudan

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  • A Russian company linked to an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin launched an extensive campaign to spread misinformation and encourage violence against anti-government protestors in Sudan.
  • Russia has economic and military interests in Sudan, which is a key foothold for them in Africa.
  • The Kremlin also had close ties to former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was overthrown by a military coup on April 11.

Sudan Protest Timeline

A Russian company connected to an oligarch with ties to the Kremlin developed a strategy to stop anti-government protests in Sudan through disseminating disinformation and advocating for violence, according to documents reviewed by CNN.

In December, anti-government protests broke out all across Sudan over steep price hikes and shortages. The demonstrators initially called for economic reforms, but quickly shifted to calls for the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for 30 years, to step down.

The protests continued over the next few months. In response, security forces launched a violent crackdown that killed dozens of people and led to thousands of arrests.

Then, towards the end of February, al-Bashir escalated these efforts. He declared a state of emergency and banned all unauthorized gathering. He also dissolved the federal and provincial governments to install security forces, essentially giving them a blank check to end the protests at all costs. After the state of emergency was declared, the protests slowed, but they did not stop.

However, the protests gained momentum again in April after the Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had held power for 20 years, resigned following similar demonstrations in his country. The Sudanese protests reached a tipping point on April 6, when demonstrators staged a huge multi-day protest outside the military’s headquarters, which is near the presidential residence in the capital city Khartoum.

Again, these protestors were met with violence and arrests from security forces, but the sit-in at military headquarters worked.

On April 11, al-Bashir was removed from power by a military coup and arrested. A military council was installed to oversee a transition of power that the military says will last at most two years. Demonstrators have demanded that the military ruler hand over power to a civilian-led government immediately.

The Russian Campaign

The documents reviewed by CNN shed light on the extent of Russian involvement in al-Bashir’s violent crackdown.

CNN reported that they received the documents from a London-based firm called the Dossier Center and that they included several thousand letters and internal company communications. The documents originate from a Russian-based company called M-Invest that has an office in Khartoum.

According to those documents, M-Invest drew up plans to “discredit and suppress” the protests in Sudan as part of an effort to keep al-Bashir in power. This effort included: “spreading misinformation on social media, blaming Israel for fomenting the unrest, and even carrying out public executions to make an example of ‘looters,’” according to CNN.

CNN stated that the documents were credible and consistent with witnesses who have said they saw Russian “observers” at recent protests. They also said that multiple government and military sources in Khartoum have confirmed to CNN that al-Bashir’s government had received the plans and began to act on them before he was ousted.

One document from January suggested creating fake evidence “of arson by protesters against mosques, hospitals and nurseries, [and] stealing grain from the public store.”  It also proposed portraying the demonstrators as “enemies of Islam and traditional values”— which is the majority religion in Sundan– by planting LGBT flags around them.

Source: CNN

Other recommendations from M-Invest found in the documents included arresting protest leaders the day before demonstrations were set to occur, creating social media teams and accounts to attack the protests, and spreading disinformation saying that demonstrators were being paid to protest.

M-Invest even went as far as advocating for “public executions of looters and other spectacular events to distract the protest-minded audience.”

Ties to Putin & The Russian Government

The documents did not find that Russian security agencies were directly involved in the campaign, but the implicit connections between M-Invest and the Russian government are significant.

The Russian oligarch tied to M-Invest, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is known as “Putin’s Chef” because he held catering contracts with the Krelim. It is unclear exactly how Prigozhin is tied to M-Invest, with some reports saying he is the founder, while others have said the company represents his interests.

What is clear is his involvement in the campaign against the protests. CNN specifically referenced two letters from Prigozhin regarding the protests. The first letter, from March 17, stated that the Sudanese government’s “inaction” to stop the protests had “provoked the intensification of the crisis.”

Source: CNN

In the second letter, from April 6, praised Prigozhin praised al-Bashir as a “wise and far-sighted leader.”

Additionally, M-Invest’s relationship with Sudan goes back farther than just the protests. According to CNN, a letter from June 2018 written by M-Invest on behalf of Sudan’s Military Industrial Corporation to push closer military links with Russia was sent to the chief of the Russian armed forces.

Source: CNN

CNN also saw a contract between M-Invest and the Russian Defense Ministry for the use of transport aircraft. One of those planes was known to have been used by al-Bashir.

In addition to his ties to Sudan, Prigozhin was one of 13 Russians charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. Prigozhin has been accused of financing and directing efforts by the Russian firm Internet Research Agency, which was one of the main Russian firms that used fake social media accounts to spread disinformation in an attempt to influence the 2016 election. He has denied any involvement in the election or any connection to the Internet Research Agency.

Why Did Russia Do It?

Russia’s keen interest in Sudan stems from its geographic location. Sudan is a key place for Russia to spread its influence in Africa. Russia currently has a mix of private and state interests in Sudan that benefit both oligarchs and the Russian government. These interests give Russia a strategic foothold in the region.

Additionally, Russia has been considering developing a naval base at Port Sudan in order to counter recent efforts by both the United States and China to establish a military presence in the region– another fact that was confirmed in the Dossier documents.

Over the years, al-Bashir pursued a close relationship with the Kremlin. He first visited Moscow in 2017, and Russia also supplied fighter jets to Sudan right before that meeting.

Russia has placed a big bet on al-Bashir, which meant they had a vested interest in keeping him installed as the president. When anti-regime protests started gaining momentum, Russia’s foothold and interests in the country, and thus in the region as a whole, were threatened.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)

International

UK Prime Minister Theresa May Announces Resignation

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  • Theresa May announced her resignation as Prime Minister in a statement Friday.
  • May’s announcement comes after repeated failures to pass a Brexit deal, which prompted factions in her Conservative Party to push for her resignation and threaten a vote of no confidence.
  • May stated her resignation will be effective June 7, though she will remain as a caretaker prime minister until a new leader is appointed.

May’s Announcement

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced Friday that she will resign effective June 7.

May became prime minister in 2016 after U.K. voters decided to leave the European Union. Since then, she has been tasked with leading the Brexit process, a task that has largely defined her three-year-long tenure as Prime Minister.

“I negotiated the terms of our exit and a new relationship with our closest neighbors that protects jobs, our security and our union,” May said. “I have done everything I can to convince M.P.s to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so. I tried three times.”

“But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort,” she continued. May also said the process to elect a new leader will begin as early as next week, adding that she will remain as prime minister until that undertaking is completed.

However, the full election process will likely take several weeks, meaning that May will remain as a sort of caretaker prime minister until a new leader is inaugurated. She will stay on as a Member of Parliament after she steps down as prime minister, according to reports.

“It is, and will always remain, a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit,” said May. “It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honors the result of the referendum.”

Lead-Up to Resignation

May’s resignation is not unexpected. Members of Parliament in her own Conservative Party have been pushing her to step down.

Her announcement followed a meeting with Graham Brady, a powerful backbench Conservative leader, who informed her she would face a second no-confidence vote if she did not resign. May survived a separate vote of no confidence in December, but many still considered the vote the beginning of the end.

May has repeatedly failed to create unity on a Brexit deal, both within her own party and with the opposition Labour Party.

After more than two years of negotiations, May first put a Brexit deal before Parliament in January, but MPs voted against the deal by a 230 vote margin – the biggest defeat in Parliament’s history.

She proposed a second deal in March, but that deal was again defeated, though with a smaller margin of 149 votes. After the second deal failed, May tried a new tactic: she promised that if the deal passed, she would resign.

While this option seemed to appeal to the factions in her Conservative Party that favored her resignation, she still did not get enough votes to pass the third iteration of the deal. May tried for a final time to reach a deal last week, telling Conservative MPs that she would set a date for her resignation after Parliament approved a fourth Brexit deal.

The final straw came earlier this week when May’s “new” deal failed to satisfy both parties yet again. May later backed down after it became clear that the fourth deal, like the three before it, was inevitably doomed.

What Next?

May’s resignation will now usher in the race for a new Prime Minister.

Already, a number of Conservative candidates are vying to take May’s spot as prime minister. Some even campaigned for the position before May formally announced her departure. The current front-runner for the position is former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who lead the Brexit campaign in 2016.

Others are expected to run, and the timeframe for the election process depends on how many people put their hats into the ring.

Candidates must be nominated by two other MPs to run. In the case of only one candidate, that person automatically becomes the new leader. If there are more than two candidates, lawmakers vote to choose two candidates.

Once the two candidates are selected, all 120,000 Conservative Party members cast their vote for the next prime minister.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said in a statement that MPs would begin the voting process on June 10. He also said that the new leader is to take office before Parliament’s summer recess, which usually begins in late July.

Until then, May will remain in office. The new leader will now be tasked with negotiating and passing a successful Brexit deal before the deadline on October 31. That deadline has already been extended twice from its original March 29 date.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Vox) (BBC)

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Narendra Modi Re-Elected as Prime Minister of India

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  • India’s incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi won re-election in a surprising landslide victory.
  • The election, which was the biggest in the history of the world, was viewed as a referendum on Modi, who many feel has not fulfilled his campaign promises from 2014.
  • Modi campaigned on Hindu nationalism and national security this election and now is faced with impending economic problems, religious divisions, and increased tensions with Pakistan.

Election 2019

After six weeks of voting, the largest election in the history of the world has come to a close with incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi winning his re-elected by a landslide.

With almost all of the votes counted, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won 303 seats in India’s 543-seat Parliament, which is much more than the 272 seats required for a majority.

Source: Google

The vote count is expected to wrap up later today, but Modi has already declared victory, writing  “India wins yet again!” in a tweet before appearing on stage to give a formal victory speech a few hours later.

Modi’s opponent, Rahul Gandhi, who is the leader of the opposition Congress Party, formally conceded the election in a news conference. “I said during the campaign that the people were the masters, and today they have given their verdict,” he said. “We concede in this election that Narendra Modi and the BJP have won.”

Gandhi also took to Twitter to congratulate Modi.

Narendra Modi

Modi may have won by a landslide, but his huge victory came as a surprise.

Before the election, the majority of analysts had predicted that the BJP would lose seats in Parliament. Now, it looks like the BJP is actually set to win more seats than they had before.

Many viewed this election as a sort of referendum on Modi, who is a strong Hindu nationalist. Modi and the BJP were first elected back in 2014 and they were extremely popular. In fact, they were so popular that the BJP became the first political party to win an outright Parliament majority in 30 years.

Modi is considered a hard-working, charismatic leader, with humble roots as a tea-seller. In 2014, he campaigned on improving India’s economy and cracking down on corruption. However, those promises have been largely unfulfilled.

Modi has not delivered nearly as many jobs as he has promised. Unemployment in India has also grown to 7.2 percent in the last year alone and the unemployment rate is currently the highest it has been in 45 years.

Modi also promised to double the income of farmers, who played a large role in electing him in 2014. However, in the last few years, India has seen the continued trend of farmers’ operating costs going up while incomes have gone down.

In fact, some of Modi’s economic and anti-corruption policies have also gone horribly wrong. In 2016, he instituted a sweeping demonetization policy that involved pulling 86 percent of India’s cash from circulation.

He argued that it would crack down on money that had not been taxed and fake currency that was being used to fund terrorist organizations, but India’s economy is largely cash-based, so the move ultimately hurt businesses and the poor.

Experts have said the policy did not actually hit the kind of money it targetted.

2019 Election

One campaign promise Modi did fulfill while in office was pushing and implementing Hindu nationalist policies.

As a result, in the 2019 election, he campaigned on Hindu nationalism and national security, telling voters that he was the only one who would protect India’s security and combat terrorism. In that regard, India’s recent conflict with their main rival and neighbor Pakistan seems to have helped him.

In February, a militant group attacked an Indian-controlled region of Kashmir, killing dozens of soldiers. Modi responded by promising forceful retaliation and later claimed his government had struck a major terrorist training camp in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, killing “a very large number” of militants.

While Pakistan has denied that a camp was hit, Modi’s approval rating still skyrocketed from 32 percent to 63 percent.

What Now?

Modi’s strong brand of nationalism and his national security platform seemed to have propelled him to Thursday’s huge win, but despite his success, Modi’s troubles are far from over.

Now, Modi and the BJP will have more pressure to address India’s economic problems. In addition to growing unemployment, many fear that India’s economy is slowing and that the country could be heading into a recession. That will be exacerbated as Modi faces demands to provide jobs for the millions of young people who are now entering the workforce.

Modi’s win is also expected to widen religious divisions in the country. His brand of staunch Hindu nationalism is appealing to large swaths of India’s population.

While India is about 80 percent Hindu, it is also home to a number of other religions, and India’s religious minorities have said they have felt increasingly afraid and marginalized.

Since Modi took power, there has been a dramatic rise in hate crimes. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 44 people were killed between May 2015 and December 2018, and most of those people were Muslim.

India’s Muslim population is considerable, with around 200 million people that make up nearly 15 percent of the country. Now, Muslims in India are worried the BJP’s rise will disempower them, especially as the number of seats Muslim parties hold in Parliament is expected to fall to an all-time low.

Of course, there is also the question of Pakistan. Once it became clear that Modi was set to win the election, Pakistan’s military announced that it had successfully fired and tested a ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

At the same time, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulated Modi on Twitter, and said that he will “look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Vox) (BBC)

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Canada Hires Company to Remove Its Trash After the Philippines Announced Plans to Send It Back at Its Own Expense

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  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered his government to ship tons of trash back to Canada that he says was illegally dumped in the Philippines.
  • However, shortly after this announcement, Canada said that it would hire a shipping company to remove the trash by the end of June.
  • The trash was originally sent to the Philippians between 2013 and 2014 by Chronic Plastics, Inc., a private Canadian company.

Trash War

The Philippines announced Wednesday plans to ship tons of trash that it says was illegally dumped in Manila, back to Canada after years of waiting for something to be done.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to take 69 containers of trash back. “The government of the Philippines will shoulder all expenses. And we do not mind,” said Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

“If Canada will not accept their trash, we will leave the same within its territorial waters or 12 nautical miles out to sea from the baseline of any of their country’s shores.”

“The president’s stance is as principled as it is uncompromising: The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by other foreign nations. We hope this message resonates well with the other countries of the world.”

Between 2013 and 2014, the approximately 2,450 tons of trash was sent to the Philippines by Chronic Plastics Inc., a private Canadian company, under the guise of being recyclables. Once it arrived in Manila, inspectors found that the containers were filled with “non-recyclable plastics, household wastes, and adult diapers,” according to the Philippine News Agency.

Canada’s Response

After Duterte’s announcement, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said that the government had hired Bolloré Logistics Canada to remove the trash by the end of June.

McKenna also said that all the costs associated with the preparation, transfer, shipment, and disposal of the waste will be covered by the Canadian government.

As of now it is unclear which country’s plan will be implemented.

Past Moves

Over the years Canada and the Philippines have been in multiple talks to find a solution for the trash. Last month, Duterte threatened to go to war over the trash.

We’ll declare war against them,” Duterte said, “I will advise Canada that your garbage is on the way. Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to.”

Check out our past coverage on the trash war.

Earlier this month, Canada missed a May 15th deadline to repatriate the trash and the Philippines removed top diplomats from the country. This trash issue is not the only conflict the two countries have had. Last year the Philippines canceled a multimillion-dollar agreement for 16 helicopters after Canada questioned their intended use.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CBC) (CNN Philippines)

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