Moscow might have nukes in Crimea, hacked EU cables warn

Hacked EU cables released this week warn that Russia may already have nuclear weapons in Crimea. The private diplomatic messages describe annexed area of Ukraine as a ‘hot zone,’ and Donald Trump as a ‘bully.’ Read the rest

McKinsey, the standard-bearer for autocrats, looters and torturers

In a deeply researched longread, New York Times investigative reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe document in fine detail the role played by the ubiquitous McKinsey and Company in legitimizing, coordinating, and supercharging the world's most notorious human-rights-abusing regimes, from Saudi Arabia to China to Russia. Read the rest

Kickstarting a game where you pilot mini tank-drones around a scale model of Pripyat

Isotopium is a "remote reality" game that challenges players to pilot real miniature tank-drones around a massive, super-detailed scale model of Pripyat, the Ukrainian ghost-town created by the meltdown of the nearby Chernobyl reactor. Read the rest

Britain is a money-launderer's paradise, Part LXII

Paul Manafort's money-laundering conviction makes a convenient peg to hang Buzzfeed's investigation into shell companies in the UK off of; and what their excellent reporting reveals is a playground for money-launderers who operate in the most brazen way, using a complex system of shell companies all over the world, but using the UK as the the lynchpin for their schemes. Read the rest

The true story of Notpetya: a Russian cyberweapon that escaped and did $10B in worldwide damage

Andy Greenberg (previously) is a veteran Wired security reporter who has chronicled the frightening and chaotic world of cyberwar since its earliest days; in a forthcoming book called "Sandworm," Greenberg tells the fascinating and terrible tale of Notpetya (previously), a Russian cyberweapon (built on leaked NSA cyberweapons!) that disguised itself as criminal ransomware, but which was designed to identify and destroy key Ukrainian computer systems and networks. Read the rest

Russia buffs strategic Baltic nuclear bunker

As President Trump continues his campaign to piss off anyone who’s not a Nazi or the leader of an oppressive dictatorship, CNN is reporting that Russia may have dropped some serious coin to modernize a strategically-placed nuclear weapons storage facility. The facility is located in Kaliningrad – a wee bit of Russia all jammed up between Poland and the Baltics.

From CNN:

On Monday, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) published aerial photographs that the group says show the facility in the Baltic outpost has been under major renovation since 2016.

FAS said the images document refurbishments at the site back in 2016, when one of three underground bunkers at the location was excavated and deepened before it appeared to have been covered over in recent months, "presumably to return (to) operational status soon."

Now, here’s the fun part. Despite the fact that the bunker is designed for the secure storage and deployment of nuclear weapons for use by the Russian Air Force and Naval dual-capable forces, there’s no knowing whether it has ever stored nuclear weapons in the past or whether it will do so in the future: just because a military installation comes packing mission capabilities doesn’t mean that it has to use them. It’s the world’s shittiest shell game!

Even without the atomic weapons being packed into the Kaliningrad bunker, the joint still serves a purpose. The installation is one of the most westerly located in Russia. Upgrading it, in a manner that’s observable via areal photography or satellite imagery, provides an unspoken political message: The Russia that’s currently hosting the World Cup is the same one that invaded Ukraine in 2014, vandalized Georgia in 2008 and continues to giddily weaponize the baltic region, prompting a tactical response from NATO. Read the rest

"Journalism Jesus" rises from the grave to tweak the nose of Russian intelligence officials

I’m starting a petition to have Arkady Babchenko henceforth referred to as "Journalism Jesus," Because holy shit, he just returned from the grave.

Less than 24 hours after it was reported that the vehemently anti-Putin journalist had died on the way to hospital after being shot in the back outside of his apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, Babchenko strolled into a press conference being thrown by the Ukrainian government, like a boss of all bosses. It seems that a hitman, hired by the Russian government to permanently silence Babchenko for the sum of $40,000, decided that instead of pulling a trigger on the contract, he’d let Ukraine’s security intelligence people in on what was supposed to be happening.

I say "supposed to," because things definitely did not go down the way that Mother Russia allegedly wanted them to.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Babchenko created a sensation in Kiev on Wednesday by appearing at a news conference, billed as a police briefing about his assassination, at which he was greeted by whoops of surprise and scattered applause. It came less than 24 hours after his wife said she had found him bleeding to death on the floor of their apartment, shot in the back.

“First of all, I would like to apologize that all of you had to live through this, because I know the horrible feeling when you have to bury your colleagues,” Mr. Babchenko, 41, told the stunned room. “Separately, I want to apologize to my wife for all the hell she had to go through.”

Holy crap. Read the rest

Chernobyl pups find forever homes

Hey, remember a few months back when we told you about the dogs of Chernobyl? If not, long story short: when the nuclear power plant lost its shit back in the 1980s, everyone was evacuated so quickly that they were forced to leave their pets behind. The dogs living in the area were irradiated, but continued to breed. They went feral. Their numbers grew. But, when crews returned to the power plant with plans to clean the joint up, the dogs remembered that people were mostly OK. As such, the pooches decided to hang out. There was talk of a cull, but the workers at the plant refused to participate. A charity stepped in to keep and care foe the dogs. They’re currently living the best life many of them will have ever known.

For a handful of the wild pups, things just got even better.

According to Meduza, Ukraine State officials are planning on taking up to 200 of the dogs out of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. After holding them in medical quarantine for 45 days, the puppers, provided will be flown to the United States, where they’ll be put up for adoption. Provided they’re deemed to be free of radiation poisoning or any other weirdness, the first 12 dogs will be flown to the United States for adoption this June. There’s no word on where the dogs will be put up for adoption, but maybe that’s just as well: the dogs should be adopted because they’ll be lovable, loyal companions and not because of their irradiated pedigree. Read the rest

There's a notorious Nazi concentration camp guard living in New York City and ICE won't deport him

Jakiw Palij is a convicted Nazi war-criminal who helped train the force charged with murdering every Jew in Poland, guarded the Trawniki forced labor camp -- where 6,000 prisoners were murdered in a single day -- and was present at the "liquidation" of the Warsaw Ghetto. He's lived in the USA since 1949, when he entered the country and lied about his Nazi past. Read the rest

Ukrainian war hero detained for maybe trying to start a coup

Nadiya Savchenko's worn a lot of hats (including furry ones) over the past few years. She was military pilot in the Ukraine Air Force and a training officer for a volunteer Ukrainian infantry unit during the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. Captured by enemy forces in the early days of that conflict, she became an illegal detainee and eventually a  prisoner of war. After being set free as part of a prisoner swap agreement set up between Russia and Ukraine, she became a war hero and was awarded the Star of the Hero of Ukraine. Soon after, she left the military behind to join the Ukraine government as a lawmaker.

Now, according to Reuters, she's been detained by the country that she served so honorably over allegations that she may have been planning a coup. Savchenko, who's been pretty vocal about her displeasure with corruption in the current Ukraine government, hasn't denied the charges being leveled against her.

During a session of the Ukraine parliament earlier this week, she was detained after her governmental colleagues voted to remove her parliamentary immunity to prosecution. The vote came in light of some pretty damning evidence that suggests that she was planning a violent overthrown of the country's government, including undercover video footage of her trying to persuade Ukrainian military personnel to join her cause. Instead of responding to the allegations, Savchenko accused the Ukraine government of betraying the spirit and ideals of Ukraine's 2013/2014 pro-western European uprising:

If the status quo remains unchanged, “then the danger in parliament won’t be me, your danger will be your people”, she said.

Read the rest

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl

In 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located near the Ukrainian town of Pripyat, lost its shit. Flaws in the reactor's design caused a steam explosion, resulting in a fire that spewed plumes of radioactive material into the atmosphere. The Soviet government mobilized its armed forces to evacuate  the area surrounding the accident site where the risk to human life was the greatest. Families were forced on to buses and military transports with little more than the clothes on their backs. Without exception, the evacuees were forced to leave the pets behind. There was simply no time, or space, to include them in the rescue. Later the same year, Soviet troops were sent into the 30-mile wide Chernobyl exclusion zone to cull what animals they could find left still alive. Live stock, wildlife and deserted family pets were eliminated.

But they didn't get them all.

Largely free of people for over three decades, the exclusion zone has become something of a haven to a thriving (albeit, irradiated, in some cases) miscellany of wild animals. Most heartening of all, the dogs who survived the '86 cull, bred, increased their numbers exponentially and survived. As work began on a new, permanent include to house the still radioactive ruins of Chernobyl's number four reactor, many of the descendants of the abandoned, domesticated pooches began showing up at the construction site, looking for scraps and refuge from the wolves and other predators that pray on them in the wild. The workers at the Chernobyl site began making a habit to save scraps from their meals for the dogs. Read the rest

Documentary on the DRM-breaking farmers who just want to fix their tractors, even if they have to download bootleg Ukrainian firmware to do it

Motherboard's short documentary, "Tractor Hacking: The Farmers Breaking Big Tech's Repair Monopoly" is an excellent look at the absurd situation created by John Deere's position that you can't own your tractor because you only license the software inside it, meaning that only Deere can fix Deere's tractors, and the centuries-old tradition of farmers fixing their agricultural equipment should end because Deere's shareholders would prefer it that way. Read the rest

Scotland is still a financial secrecy exporter, laundering billions for Russia's crime-bosses and oligarchs

If you're an oligarch in the former Soviet Union, chances are you owe your billions to corruption and even overt criminal activity, and your ability to hang onto that money is entirely contingent on the sufferance of the even-more-corrupt strongmen at the top, like Vladimir Putin -- one wrong move and you may find yourself stripped of your assets (or even assassinated in broad daylight). Read the rest

That "ransomware" attack was really a cyberattack on Ukraine

According to Kaspersky, the Petya ransomware that raced around the world this week wasn't ransomware at all, and there is no way to get back your files after it does its work (that's why it was so easy to shut down the email address the ransomware used to negotiate payments and decryption with victims whose computers had been taken over). Read the rest

Ukraine is Russia's testbed for launching devastating cyberwar attacks with total impunity

Ever since the Ukrainian "Maidan" revolution, the country has been subjected to waves of punishing cyberwar attacks, targeting its power grids, finance ministry, TV networks, election officials, and other critical systems. Read the rest

"Hole Roll": blackout curtains with trompe l'oeil cityscapes cut into them

Hole Roll is (was? the post dates from 2014 and their website is down) a Ukrainian blind company that published some early designs for blackout curtains cut into intricate nighttime cityscapes that let you create the illusion of being in a skyscraper penthouse after dark in the middle of the day in a suburban tract home. (via Colossal) Read the rest

Spill Zone: fast-paced, spooky YA comic about the haunted ruins of Poughkeepsie

In Spill Zone, YA superstar Scott "Uglies" Westerfeld and artist Alex Puvilland tell the spooky, action-packed tale of Addison, one of the few survivors of the mysterious events that destroyed Poughkeepsie, New York, turning it into a spooky, Night-Vale-ish place where mutant animals, floating living corpses, and people trapped in two-dimensional planes live amid strange permanent winds that create funnels of old electronics and medical waste.

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