Zelenskiy adviser concedes last eastern Ukraine bastion could fall

KYIV/KONSTYANTYNIVKA, Ukraine, July 3 (Reuters) – Fighting intensified for Lysychansk, Ukraine’s last big bastion in the strategic eastern province of Luhansk, as an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy conceded the city could fall.

Blasts also rocked the Russian city of Belgorod, near the border with Ukraine, the regional governor said early on Sunday.

The explosions set a residential building on fire and three wounded people were taken to a hospital, Vyacheslav Gladkov posted on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia is seeking to drive Ukrainian forces out of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the Donbas, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Kyiv since Russia’s first military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian troops on the eastern front lines describe intense artillery barrages on residential areas, while Kyiv says Moscow has intensified missile attacks on cities far from the main eastern battlefields, accusing Russia of deliberately hitting civilian sites.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and cities levelled since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what Ukraine its Western allies say is an unprovoked war of aggression. Russia denies targeting civilians in what President Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour.

Russian forces seized Lysychansk’s sister city Sievierodonetsk, on the opposite side of the Siverskiy Donets river, last month after some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian television, “Lysychansk has been brought under control,” but added: “Unfortunately, it is not yet liberated.”

Russian media showed video of Luhansk militia parading in Lysychansk streets waving flags and cheering, but Ukraine National Guard spokesman Ruslan Muzychuk told Ukrainian television the city remained in Ukrainian hands.

“Now there are fierce battles near Lysychansk, however, fortunately, the city is not surrounded and is under the control of the Ukrainian army,” Muzychuk said.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield reports.

Zelenskiy adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Russian forces had finally crossed the Siverskiy Donets river and were approaching the city from the north.

“This is indeed a threat. We shall see. I do not rule out any one of a number of outcomes here. Things will become much more clear within a day or two,” he said.

Arestovych said, however, that taking Lysychansk would complicate matters strategically for the Russians as they would have to focus on six major cities in the industrialised eastern Donbas region, spreading their forces more thinly.

He added: “The more Western weapons come to the front, the more the picture changes in favour of Ukraine.” Ukraine has repeatedly appealed for more weapons from the West, saying its forces are heavily outgunned.

‘VERY DIFFICULT PATH’
Far from the eastern fighting, Russia said it had hit army command posts in Mykolaiv near the vital Black Sea port of Odesa, where the mayor on Saturday had reported powerful explosions.

Ukrainian authorities said another missile slammed into an apartment block near Odesa on Friday, killing at least 21 people. A shopping mall was hit on Monday in the central city of Kremenchuk, killing at least 19.

Zelenskiy denounced the strikes on Friday as “conscious, deliberately targeted Russian terror and not some sort of error or a coincidental missile strike.”

In his nightly television address on Saturday, Zelenskiy said it would be a “very difficult path” to victory but Ukrainians must maintain their resolve and inflict losses on the “aggressor … so that every Russian remembers that Ukraine cannot be broken.”

Troops on a break from the fighting in Konstyantynivka, a market town about 115 km (70 miles) west of Lysychansk, said they had managed to keep the supply road to the embattled city open, for now, despite Russian bombardment.

“We still use the road because we have to, but it’s within artillery range of the Russians,” said one soldier as comrades relaxed nearby, munching on sandwiches or eating ice cream.

“The Russian tactic right now is to just shell any building we could locate ourselves at. When they’ve destroyed it, they move on to the next one,” he said.

Reuters reporters saw an unexploded missile lodged in the ground in a residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Donbas city of Kramatorsk on Saturday evening.

The missile fell in a wooded area between residential tower blocks. Outgoing artillery fire and several large explosions were heard in central Kramatorsk earlier in the evening.

Despite being battered in the east, Ukrainian forces have made some advances elsewhere, including forcing Russia to withdraw from Snake Island, a Black Sea outcrop southeast of Odesa that Moscow captured at the start of the war.

Russia had used Snake Island to impose a blockade on Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters and a major producer of seed for vegetable oils. The disruptions have helped fuel a surge in global grain and food prices.

Russia, also a big grain producer, blames the crisis on Western sanctions hurting its exports.

Source: Reuters

U.S. Supreme Court Increases State Power Over Native American Tribes

The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dramatically increased the power of states over Native American tribes and undercut its own 2020 ruling that had expanded tribal authority in Oklahoma, handing a victory to Republican officials in that state. Continue reading “U.S. Supreme Court Increases State Power Over Native American Tribes”

Ukraine arrests ‘Russian agent’ who guided strike that killed 50 troops

KYIV, June 28 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s security service said on Tuesday it arrested a former Soviet KGB agent who helped direct Russian missile strikes that killed over 50 soldiers at a military facility in the country’s west in March.

The suspect sent the locations of targets at the Yavoriv military training centre to contacts in an unspecified Russian agency using the Telegram messaging app, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and local prosecutors said.

“As a result of rocket strikes on the Yavoriv training range over 50 service personnel died, and almost 150 received injuries,” the SBU said on Telegram.

In the aftermath of the missile strike, Ukraine had said that 35 troops were killed at the facility, which lies 15 miles (25 km) from the Polish border. read more

The suspect, a native of the western city of Lviv, is being held in detention and investigated for treason, the prosecutor’s office said.

He could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters.

Source: Reuters

Crypto crash threatens North Korea’s stolen funds as it ramps up weapons tests

SEOUL, June 29 (Reuters) – The nosedive in cryptocurrency markets has wiped out millions of dollars in funds stolen by North Korean hackers, four digital investigators say, threatening a key source of funding for the sanctions-stricken country and its weapons programmes.

North Korea has poured resources into stealing cryptocurrencies in recent years, making it a potent hacking threat and leading to one of the largest cryptocurrency heists on record in March, in which almost $615 million was stolen, according to the U.S. Treasury.

The sudden plunge in crypto values, which started in May amid a broader economic slowdown, complicates Pyongyang’s ability to cash in on that and other heists, and may affect how it plans to fund its weapons programmes, two South Korean government sources said. The sources declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

It comes as North Korea tests a record number of missiles – which the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul estimates have cost as much as $620 million so far this year – and prepares to resume nuclear testing amid an economic crisis.

Old, unlaundered North Korean crypto holdings monitored by the New York-based blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, which include funds stolen in 49 hacks from 2017 to 2021, have decreased in value from $170 million to $65 million since the beginning of the year, the company told Reuters.

One of North Korea’s cryptocurrency caches from a 2021 heist, which had been worth tens of millions of dollars, has lost 80% to 85% of its value in the last few weeks and is now worth less than $10 million, said Nick Carlsen, an analyst with TRM Labs, another U.S.-based blockchain analysis firm.

A person who answered the phone at the North Korean embassy in London said he could not comment on the crash because allegations of cryptocurrency hacking are “totally fake news.”

“We didn’t do anything,” said the person, who would only identify himself as an embassy diplomat. North Korea’s foreign ministry has called such allegations U.S. propaganda.

The $615 million March attack on blockchain project Ronin, which powers the popular online game Axie Infinity, was the work of a North Korean hacking operation dubbed the Lazarus Group, U.S. authorities say.

Carlsen told Reuters that the interconnected price movements of different assets involved in the hack made it difficult to estimate how much North Korea managed to keep from that heist.

If the same attack happened today, the Ether currency stolen would be worth a bit more than $230 million, but North Korea swapped nearly all of that for Bitcoin, which has had separate price movements, he said.

“Needless to say, the North Koreans have lost a lot of value, on paper,” Carlsen said. “But even at depressed prices, this is still a huge haul.”

The United States says Lazarus is controlled by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau. It has been accused of involvement in the “WannaCry” ransomware attacks, hacking of international banks and customer accounts, and the 2014 cyber-attacks on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Analysts are reluctant to provide details about what types of cryptocurrency North Korea holds, which might give away investigation methods. Chainalysis said that Ether, a common cryptocurrency linked to the open-source blockchain platform Ethereum, was 58%, or about $230 million, of the $400 million stolen in 2021.

Chainalysis and TRM Labs use publicly available blockchain data to trace transactions and identify potential crimes. Such work has been cited by sanctions monitors, and according to public contracting records, both firms work with U.S. government agencies, including the IRS, FBI and DEA.

North Korea is under widespread international sanctions over its nuclear programme, giving it limited access to global trade or other sources of income and making crypto heists attractive, the investigators say.

‘FUNDAMENTAL’ to NUCLEAR PROGRAMME

Although cryptocurrencies are estimated to be only a small portion of North Korea’s finances, Eric Penton-Voak, a coordinator of the United Nations panel of experts that monitors sanctions, said at an event in April in Washington, D.C., that cyberattacks have become “absolutely fundamental” to Pyongyang’s ability to evade sanctions and raise money for its nuclear and missile programmes.

In 2019, sanctions monitors reported that North Korea had generated an estimated $2 billion for its weapons of mass destruction programmes using cyberattacks.

One estimate from the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons says North Korea spends about $640 million per year on its nuclear arsenal. The country’s gross domestic product was estimated in 2020 to be around $27.4 billion, according to South Korea’s central bank.

Official sources of revenue for Pyongyang are more limited than ever under self-imposed border lockdowns to combat COVID-19. China – its biggest commercial partner – said in 2021 that it had imported just over $58 million in goods from North Korea, amid some of the lowest level of official bilateral trade in decades. Official numbers do not include smuggling.

North Korea already only gets a fraction of what it steals because it must use brokers willing to convert or buy cryptocurrencies with no questions asked, said Aaron Arnold of the RUSI think-tank in London. A February report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) estimated that in some transactions, North Korea only gets one-third of the value of the currency it has stolen.

After obtaining cryptocurrency in a heist, North Korea sometimes converts it to Bitcoin, then finds brokers who will buy it at a discount in exchange for cash, which is often held outside the country.

“Much like selling a stolen Van Gogh, you’re not going to get fair market value,” Arnold said.

CONVERTING TO CASH
The CNAS report found that North Korean hackers exhibit only “moderate” concern over hiding their role, compared to many other attackers. That allows investigators to sometimes follow digital trails and attribute attacks to North Korea, though rarely in time to recover the stolen funds.

According to Chainalysis, North Korea has turned to sophisticated ways of laundering stolen cryptocurrency, increasing its use of software tools that pool and scramble cryptocurrencies from thousands of electronic addresses – a designator for a digital storage location.

The contents of a given address are often publicly viewable, allowing firms such as Chainalysis or TRM to monitor any that investigations have linked to North Korea.

Attackers have tricked people into giving access or hacked around security to siphon digital funds out of internet-connected wallets into North Korea-controlled addresses, Chainalysis said in a report this year.

The sheer size of recent hacks has strained North Korea’s capacity to convert cryptocurrency to cash as quickly as in the past, Carlsen said. That means some funds have been stuck even as their value drops.

Bitcoin has lost about 54% of its value this year and smaller coins have also been hit hard, mirroring a slide in equities prices linked to investor concerns about rising interest rates and the growing likelihood of a global recession.

“Converting to cash remains a key requirement for North Korea if they want to use the stolen funds,” said Carlsen, who investigated North Korea as an analyst at the FBI. “Most of the commodities or products the North Koreans want to buy are only traded in USD or other fiat, not cryptocurrencies.”

Pyongyang has other, larger sources of funding that it can rely on, Arnold said. U.N. sanctions monitors have said as recently as December 2021 that North Korea continues to smuggle coal – usually to China – and other major exports banned under Security Council resolutions.

VOLATILE CURRENCIES
North Korean hackers sometimes appear to wait out rapid dips in the value or exchange rates before converting to cash, said Jason Bartlett, the author of the CNAS report.

“This sometimes backfires as there is little certainty in predicting when the value of a coin will rapidly increase and there are several cases of highly depreciated crypto funds just sitting in North Korea-linked wallets,” he said.

Sectrio, the cybersecurity division of Indian software firm Subex, said there are signs North Korea has begun ramping up attacks on conventional banks again rather than cryptocurrencies in recent months.

The firm’s banking sector-focused “honeypots” – decoy computer systems intended to attract cyberattacks – have seen an increase in “anomalous activities” since the crypto crash, as well as an increase in “phishing” emails, which try to fool recipients into giving away security information, Sectrio said in a report last week.

But Chainalysis said it had yet to see a major change in North Korea’s crypto behaviour, and few analysts expect North Korea to give up on digital currency heists.

“Pyongyang has added cryptocurrency into its sanctions evasion and money laundering calculus and this will likely remain a permanent target,” Bartlett said.

Source: Reuters

Russia security forces detain mayor of Ukrainian city of Kherson

June 29 (Reuters) – Russia-installed officials in Ukraine’s Kherson region said their security forces had detained Kherson city mayor Ihor Kolykhayev on Tuesday after he refused to follow Moscow’s orders, while a Kherson local official said the mayor was abducted.

Kherson, a port city on the Black Sea, sits just northwest of the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula. It was occupied during the first week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February, and a large part of the local population has left the region.

“I can confirm that Kolykhayev was detained by the commandant’s (military police) office,” Ekaterina Gubareva, the Moscow-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, said on the Telegram messaging app.

Halyna Lyashevska, an adviser to Kolykhayev, said the mayor was abducted after refusing to cooperate with Russian occupiers of the Ukrainian.

“This morning, the mayor of Kherson Ihor Kolykhayev came to one of the utility facilities where the remaining employees of the city council were working,” Lyashevska said on her Facebook page.

“As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by the armed national guards and, most likely, the FSB,” she said, referring to Russia’s Federal Security Services.

Another Moscow-installed deputy in the region, Kirill Stremousov, told the Russian state RIA news agency earlier on Monday that Kolykhayev did “much damage” to Russia’s “denazification process” in Ukraine.

“Finally, he was neutralized,” RIA cited Stremousov as saying.

Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and its allies in the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports of Kolykhayev’s abduction and there was no official confirmation from Ukrainian authorities.

Kolykhayev’s case follows past abductions of Ukrainian officials in territory under Moscow’s control, including Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol, who said he faced hours of “hard” interrogations when abducted in March.

Source: Reuters

Dozens missing after strike on Ukraine mall, Russia presses attacks on east

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine, June 29 (Reuters) – Dozens of people were still missing on Wednesday after a Russian missile strike on a shopping mall in central Ukraine two days ago that killed at least 18, while a regional governor said the situation was “very difficult” in Lysychansk in the east.

Ukraine said Russia had killed civilians deliberately when it pounded the mall in Kremenchuk. Moscow said the mall was empty and it had struck a nearby arms depot.

“Russian missile hit this location precisely. De-li-be-ra-te-ly … It is clear that Russian killers received those exact coordinates,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening video address. “They wanted to kill as many people.”

Authorities said around 36 people were still missing.

Further east in Lysychansk in the Luhansk region, a key battleground in Russia’s assault on the industrial heartland of Donbas, the governor reported increased military action.

“The situation in Lysychansk is very difficult,” Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on television.

“The Russians are using every weapon available to them … and without distinguishing whether targets are military or not – schools, kindergartens, cultural institutions,” he said.

“Everything is being destroyed. This is a scorched-earth policy.”

Russia has denied targeting civilian areas during its four-month offensive against Ukraine. The U.N. says at least 4,700 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, towards the east, Governor Valentyn Reznychenko said Russia had fired six missiles, three of which were shot down. Rescue workers were searching for people under rubble in the city of Dnipro, he added.

Reuters could not verify the account. The Russian Defence Ministry did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Separately, Russia-installed officials said their security forces had detained Kherson city mayor Ihor Kolykhayev on Tuesday after he refused to follow Moscow’s orders. A local official said the mayor was abducted.

Kherson, a port city on the Black Sea, sits just northwest of the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula.

In the past few days, Ukrainians have also described attacks in the southern region of Odesa and Kharkiv in the northeast.

The Russian invasion, the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two, has driven up prices of food and energy worldwide and fuelled global security worries.

Finland and Sweden on Tuesday moved a step closer to joining the Western NATO military alliance, whose members have provided Ukraine with weapons, after Turkey dropped its opposition to their membership.

The development solidifies the alliance’s response to Russia – particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give NATO military superiority.

‘CRUELTY OF THIS WAR’
The Kremenchuk attack drew a wave of global condemnation.

“We have run out of words to describe the senselessness, futility and cruelty of this war,” U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council.

While Kyiv said there was no military target in the area, Russia’s defence ministry said its missiles had struck a nearby arms depot storing Western weapons, which exploded, causing the blaze that spread to the nearby Kremenchuk mall.

Moscow’s assertion the mall was empty was contradicted by wounded survivors such as Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, who said she had been shopping there with her husband when the blast threw her into the air “head first”.

Zelenskiy accused Russia of being a “terrorist state” at the United Nations, urging the Security Council to expel Moscow from the United Nations. Russia accused Zelenskiy of using the address as a “PR campaign” for weapons.

Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, but so far have failed to curtail Moscow’s main source of income: oil and gas export revenue, which has actually increased as the threat of supply disruption has driven up global prices.

At the end of its annual summit, the leaders of the Group of Seven nations announced a new approach – leaving Russian oil on the market while imposing a cap on its price.

The United States also imposed sanctions on more than 100 new targets and banned new imports of Russian gold, acting on commitments made by the G7.

Source: Reuters

Turkey lifts veto on Finland, Sweden joining NATO, clearing path for expansion

MADRID/HELSINKI, June 28 (Reuters) – NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance on Tuesday after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now seen by the U.S.-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary.

It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long-neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection.

“Our foreign ministers signed a trilateral memorandum which confirms that Turkey will … support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO,” Finnish President Niinisto said in a statement.

The steps for Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO will be agreed on in the next two days, Niinisto said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkey’s presidency confirmed the accord in separate statements, after talks between the NATO chief, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto.

“Key memorandum just reached between Sweden, Finland and Türkyie. Paves way for Swedish accession to NATO,” Andersson said in a Twitter post.

RESPONSE TO RUSSIA
The resolution of the deadlock solidifies the alliance’s response to Russia – particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give NATO military superiority.

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, helped overturn decades of Swedish opposition to joining NATO.

U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the deal.

Biden, in a Twitter post, called it a “crucial step towards a NATO invite to Finland and Sweden, which will strengthen our Alliance and bolster our collective security.”

Johnson called it “fantastic news” to start the summit.

Stoltenberg said NATO’s 30 leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO and that they would become official “invitees”. He told reporters: “The door is open – the joining of Finland and Sweden into NATO will take place.”

However, even with a formal invitation granted, NATO’s 30 allied parliaments must ratify the decision by leaders, a process that could take up to a year.

TERMS OF THE DEAL
Turkey’s main demands, which came as a surprise to NATO allies in late May, were for the Nordic countries to stop supporting Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and to lift their bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.

Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests of suspected militants and amending Swedish and Finnish law to toughen their approach to them.

Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.

Turkey has raised serious concerns that Sweden has been harbouring what it says are militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm denies the accusation.

The Turkish presidency statement said the agreement reached on Tuesday meant, “Full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates.”

It also said Sweden and Finland were “demonstrating solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

Biden, in public comments with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe of Spain, stressed the alliance’s unity, saying NATO was “as galvanized as I believe it’s ever been.”

A senior administration official said Washington had pursued a low key approach and insisted that Turkey had not linked its longstanding request for F-16 fighter jets to secure the deal.

Biden will meet Erdogan during the summit. Erdogan said before leaving for Madrid that he would push Biden on an F-16 fighter jet purchase.

He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s procurement of S-400 air defence systems from Russia – which led to U.S. sanctions – as well as modernization kits from Washington and other issues.

Source: Reuters

New U.S. sanctions target Russian gold imports, defense industry

WASHINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on more than 100 targets and banned new imports of Russian gold, acting on commitments made by the Group of Seven leaders this week to further punish Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on 70 entities, many of which it said are critical to Russia’s defense industrial base, as well as 29 people in an effort to hinder Russia’s ability to develop and deploy weapons and technology.

The move freezes any U.S. assets of those designated and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

“Targeting Russia’s defense industry will degrade (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s capabilities and further impede his war against Ukraine, which has already been plagued by poor morale, broken supply chains, and logistical failures,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The U.S. action is the latest in several rafts of sanctions targeting Moscow since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Fresh sanctions were imposed on Rostec, Russia’s state aerospace and defense conglomerate. The Treasury said Rostec’s “management umbrella includes more than 800 entities across a wide range of sectors” and that all entities owned 50% or more, directly or indirectly, by Rostec are blocked.

United Aircraft Corporation (UAC)was sanctioned to “weaken Russia’s ability to continue its aerial assault on Ukraine,” the Treasury said.

UAC makes Russia’s MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets – planes that are also flown by U.S. allies including some NATO members – and is majority-owned by Rostec.

Tupolev, maker of Russian strategic bomber and transport aircraft, was also designated.

PLANES, TRUCKS, GOLD
Irkut Corp, a UAC-affiliated aircraft manufacturer that builds many of the Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets used by Russia in Ukraine, was targeted, as were several of its subsidiaries and other companies in Russia’s aerospace sector.

The Treasury also named some 20 entities that develop, produce and service military electronics gear under the Rostec-owned Ruselectronics electronic company.

The United States slapped sanctions on Russia’s largest truck manufacturer, Kamaz (KMAZ.MM), saying its vehicles have been seen carrying missiles and Russian soldiers throughout the Ukraine conflict. It named nine subsidiaries of Kamaz, a publicly-traded company less than 50% owned by Rostec.

U.S. imports of Russian-origin gold have been banned, with the exception of gold located outside of Russia prior to Tuesday. Russia produces around 10% of the gold mined globally each year and it is the country’s biggest non-energy export.

Gold is a crucial asset for the Russian central bank, which has faced restrictions on accessing some of its assets held abroad because of Western sanctions.

Others designated on Tuesday include people involved in sanctions evasion, the conflict, as well as several current and former officials in the two self-declared breakaway territories in Ukraine’s Donbas region – the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic.

The State Department on Tuesday is also imposing sanctions on 45 entities and 29 people, including Russian military units, the Treasury said. Over 500 Russian military officers will also be hit with visa restrictions, as will other officials.

Source: Reuters

U.S. Capitol riot panel hears former White House aide testify

WASHINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) – A U.S. congressional committee began a hastily called hearing into the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by then- President Donald Trump’s supporters, summoning a former White House aide to testify and promising new evidence.

The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, was set to take testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Mark Meadows, then Trump’s chief of staff.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said new evidence was being presented on Tuesday “dealing with what was going on in the White House on Jan. 6 and the days prior” to the riot at the Capitol.

Thompson praised Hutchinson’s “courage” in coming forth to testify to the committee.

In video testimony during the last hearing last week, Hutchinson told the committee that Republican allies of Trump had sought White House pardons after supporting his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

Testimony at the committee’s five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.

The committee had said last week it would only reconvene publicly in July but announced a change of plans on Monday, a mere 24 hours before the start of Tuesday’s hearing.

British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of interviews he did with Trump and his family.

The committee has said it intends at some point to interview Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden’s victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intends to speak to the panel.

U.S. law enforcement last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false fraud claims.

This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.

Dozens of courts, election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his claims of fraud, including outlandish stories about an Italian security firm and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.

Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, denies wrongdoing and accuses the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believed Trump’s false election fraud claims.

The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.

During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

Source: Reuters

Texas judge blocks enforcement of pre-Roe v. Wade abortion ban

June 28 (Reuters) – A Texas judge on Tuesday blocked officials from enforcing a dormant 1925 abortion ban that the state’s Republican attorney general said was back in effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure nationwide.

The temporary restraining order by Judge Christine Weems in Harris County came in a last-ditch bid by abortion providers to resume services after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed the right of women to obtain abortions.

The order was confirmed by the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented the abortion providers. Abortion up to six weeks of pregnancy can now resume in Texas at some clinics, the legal groups said.

“Every hour that abortion is accessible in Texas is a victory,” Marc Hearron, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Abortion was already severely restricted in Texas after the six-week ban that the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court did not block took effect in September.

A further hearing is scheduled for July 12. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The decision came amid a flurry of litigation by abortion rights groups seeking to slow or halt Republican-backed restrictions on the ability of women to terminate pregnancies that are now taking effect or are poised to do so in 22 states.

Those states include 13 that like Texas enacted so-called “trigger” laws designed to take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.

Paxton in an advisory issued after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled said the state’s 2021 trigger ban, which bars abortions almost entirely, would not take immediate effect. Providers say that could take two months or more.

But Paxton, a conservative Republican, said prosecutors could choose to immediately pursue criminal charges against abortion providers based on a different, old statute that had gone unenforced while Roe v. Wade was on the books but that remained Texas law.

Source: Reuters