Topics Covered This Week:
Mariupol’s Last Stand
Russia’s New Phase
Former MSNBC Analyst Joins Ukraine in War
Facebook "Can’t" Halt Russian Disinformation
Russia Claims U.S. is Extending War Timeline
Taiwan Mistakenly Claims China Invaded
North Korean Crypto Hack
Closing in on Peace in Sudan
West Africa Intensifies Battle with Insurgents
History's Mysteries: Dusko Popov
Mariupol's Last Stand:
Things have not been going well for the Ukrainians this week. What is the update there?
The commander of Ukraine’s 36th Separate Marine Brigade spoke of a dire situation in Mariupol this week. He stated that the city has days--if not hours left-- before being taken over by the invading Russian military. The commander said of the Russian military, “The enemy is outnumbering us 10 to one. They have advantage in the air, in artillery, in their forces on land, in equipment and in tanks.”
The Azovstal steel plant has been their last stand. This is where both military personnel and civilians were attempting to push back. Unfortunately, hundreds in the plant have been wounded from Russian strikes. Ukrainian forces also mentioned Russia had dropped heavy bombs to flatten the remains of the steel plant, but they hit a hospital where hundreds were isolating.
Russia's New Phase:
Is the Mariupol offensive part of Russia’s new phase in the war?
That and the entire eastern region of Ukraine. The new phase has Russia attempting to take small victories from the east while increasing troop presence in the entire region. Russia used the peace talks over the last month as a chance to regroup and form a new plan in the invasion of Ukraine. That new plan has cities like Mariupol and other smaller strategic coastal regions overrun by Russian troops.
The assault, moving from northeastern Ukraine to the country’s southeast, comes as Russia adds to its forces and resupplies those troops already inside the country. We spoke of this previously when we saw Russia had decided to cancel the Kyiv offensive. This was in exchange for key victories along the eastern border--especially in the Donbas region. This is an area assumed to be majority pro-Russian. Russians took control of Kreminna this week and made it the first official city lost to Russian forces. Russians leveled this city to the ground and made evacuations impossible.
Russia also tested a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) that Putin had promised in 2018 would be capable of penetrating any country’s missile defense system. However, what I can say right now is that the U.S. had been warned of the test, and it was not unexpected.
Former MSNBC Analyst Joins Ukraine in War:
What can you tell us about the former MSNBC analyst who joined the fight in Ukraine?
Malcolm Nance, a former foreign affairs analyst for MSNBC stated, “The more I saw of the war going on, the more I thought I’m done talking.” He put action to words by joining the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine because of the indiscriminant killings of civilians by Russian forces.
What can you tell us about Malcom Nance?
First, he is 61-years-old and spent 20 years enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an expert in Naval cryptology. Nance is an expert in intelligence operations for the NAVY. He was also a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) instructor helping pilots either evade captivity or escape that captivity in the event they were taken prisoner.
Also, it is not the first time he has run towards danger. He witnessed the plane crash into the Pentagon on his drive into Arlington, Virginia, and he acted as a first responder at the crash site helping organize the rescue and recovery of victims.
He has had some controversy though. He had to delete a tweet seen as insensitive after the attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed 13 US service members.
What did the tweet say?
"20 YEARS- FYI there have been terrorist suicide bombers killing civilians nearly DAILY in Afghanistan. This ain’t new. It’s why we are leaving." He ended the tweet with the hashtag #DealWithIt. While he is not wrong, it is not helpful for a former military person and news analyst to tweet out such stuff immediately after it happens. A little lesson to everyone, you do not need to be first to comment on world affairs.
Facebook "Can't Halt Russian Disinformation:
Alright, let’s shift over to Facebook’s battle with Russia. What is happening on that social media site these days?
Facebook continues to fight to contain pro-Russian and anti-western posts that are contributing to political instability in West Africa. Recently, Facebook has made a big push on the continent of Africa. Now they are making a significant investment in content moderation.
A report by investigators from the Digital Forensic Lab, run by a U.S.-based think tank, showed that pro- Russian Facebook pages in Mali coordinated support for anti-democracy protests and the Russian mercenaries from Wagner group.
What damage has this done on the continent?
First, the network of disinformation trolls were instrumental in getting France to remove forces in the region. Then they promoted the Wagner Group as the continent’s best chance for success. They have also been influential in spreading disinformation leading to the recent coup in Burkina Faso in January this year.
A spokesperson for Meta, the company that owns Facebook, said the company takes the problem very seriously and continues an aggressive approach to fight the spread of misinformation in Africa and elsewhere.
You don’t sound convinced.
Well, after receiving the reports, Facebook declined to take down the pages. They said, though posts were clearly part of a coordinated effort, they did not appear to be a front for unidentified users.
Russia Claims U.S. Extending War Timeline:
So while that is going on in Africa, Russia is also complaining about the U.S. What’s the latest there?
This recent statement has placed Russia’s military failures, not on Putin or his generals, but on the United States. This is because they had the "audacity" to provide Ukraine with defensive and offensive weapons.
To contrast this, Ukrainian president Zelensky stated Ukraine would have completed the repelling of Russian troops with more and better weapons. Let's not forget the No-fly zone that Zelensky states could have prevented thousands of civilian deaths.
Russia continues to promote that the West has the narrative wrong, and that Ukraine is actually the aggressor. According to Russia, the “nazification” of “Russian Regions” of Ukraine are a humanitarian crisis.
Those Russian statements fly in the face of a recent statement by Ireland's foreign affairs minister who told the United Nations Security Council that the town of Bucha, "lies in ruins with the stench of burning buildings and bodies in the air."
Does anyone believe Russia at this point?
There are still some hold outs from the looks of the social media posts on the current state of the war in Ukraine. However, most of those are posts coming from troll farms and not legitimate Russian supporters.
Taiwan Mistakenly Claims That China Invaded:
Did China invade Tawain?
For a brief moment, the population did think the invasion had begun.
During a live news broadcast this week Chinese Television System, a Taiwan government-backed television station, mistakenly showed a news ticker alert about military ships and critical infrastructure near Taipei being hit by Chinese missiles. The station immediately apologized and urged people not to panic.
Other alerts on the ticker stated, "a war could break out." It also said a major train station in Taipei had been set on fire by "Chinese agents." Then Taiwan's president declared a state of emergency.
Why were there alerts in the first place?
The station admitted the alerts were meant for a drill with the fire department in New Taipei City, but were mistakenly displayed this week because of a technical error.
How did the people of Taiwan react?
There was no reporting of panic in Taipei after the alerts were broadcast. Taiwan has raised its alert level since Russia invaded Ukraine because of the threat of China making a similar move. China has never rejected the use of force on Taiwan that would bring it under Chinese control. China has stepped up military activities in the past two years as a show of force. They were hoping the island population would accept Beijing's claims of sovereignty.
North Korean Crypto Hack:
So what is happening in North Korea this week?
This week, authorities in the United States claimed North Korean hackers were involved in the historic $625 million Axie Infinity crypto swindle.
What is the Axie Infinity crypto swindle?
Axie Infinity is a popular play-to-earn game with $4 billion in NFT sales. Ronin, the blockchain protocol linked to Axie Infinity, said two weeks ago hackers stole roughly $625 million in crypto. Now the U.S. is putting the blame on North Korea. This indicates the emergence of a new type of national security threat.
Well, a hack used to mean loss of passwords and usernames. In the age of crypto, it now means the loss of huge swaths of wealth. The hack was not even detected until almost a week after it occurred even though it is one of the biggest heists in the history of crypto.
So, don’t buy into crypto?
I am not going to tell anyone what to do with their money, but I will suggest being extra careful in which crypto they purchase and the ways with which they keep their crypto secure. The crypto sector is still trying to keep up when it comes to cybersecurity, but the slow speed at which they are working makes them vulnerable to hacking.
Closing in on Peace in Sudan:
For two weeks we have discussed the crisis in Sudan. Recently, you did a deep dive into the security situation for a report on the country. Has there been any changes to the conditions in the region?
Sort of. The Eritrean government presented an initiative to the Sudanese government aimed at ending the political strife in the country.
Firstly, it is a border country. It is also a quite stable country when considering Eritrea’s government remains one of the world’s most repressive. Over the last two decades, Eritrea’s G.D.P. has increased more than most nations in the region. Plus, the increase in military coups on the continent has its civilian government wary of its own conflicts with the military. All these actions are forcing the Eritrean government to act in protecting its population from any spillover of conflict in the region.
Has Sudan accepted the initiative from Eritrea?
Still no official word out of Sudan, but Eritrea has been successful in previous peace talks. We will keep an eye on the situation.
West Africa Intensifies Battle with Insurgents:
Did you say there was a major offensive against insurgents in West Africa?
A joint military operation involving Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon announced they had killed more than 100 Islamist insurgents in the past few weeks. This included 10 commanders. This occured as they increased a ground and air offensive in the Lake Chad region.
Boko Haram fighters and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group have battled the Nigerian army for over a decade. The attacks from insurgents have not been isolated to Nigeria. It has poured over to all neighboring countries.
Nigeria has received a boost after the United States approved a $1 billion weapons sale. The U.S. had put a hold on the deal over concerns about possible human rights abuses by the Nigerian government. Nigeria says thousands of Boko Haram fighters and their families have surrendered since last year. Boko Haram has been struggling since their leader Abubakar Shekau, died in a battle in May of 2021.
That sounds like good news for the continent.
If the reports are to be believed--and I have not seen anything to say otherwise-- this is a real win for those countries and the continent as a whole. It could really be used to provide neighboring countries with a best practice in defeating Islamic insurgents.
History's Mysteries: Dusko Popov
What do you have for us this week?
This week, we will discuss the Serbian double agent Dusko Popov. He was born into a wealthy family and became a practicing lawyer at the start of World War II. He held a great aversion to Nazism. In 1940, he infiltrated Germany's Military Intelligence Service, since he was considered a valuable asset due to his business connections in France and the U.K. He had been known as quite the ladies’ man. Some women even going so far as to pointing out his loose, sensual mouth and green bedroom eyes.
Sounds like a famous fictional spy.
Astute observation. Some believe James Bond is somewhat inspired by the actions of Popov.
This is like the second or third time we have talked about inspirations for Bond.
It makes sense because authors tend to draw upon multiple influences for a particular story or character.
Besides being a Bond inspiration, what is he most known for?
First, he admitted in an interview in 1941 to have sent a report warning of a possible attack on the island of Oahu at the U.S. base Pearl Harbor. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover had stated previously he did not trust Popov and refused to send the report up the chain of command. He warned that it was a single piece of intelligence and did not warrant any further actions. As we all know in December of that year, the Japanese carried out the attack which forced the U.S. to join the war effort.
Also, he was a key part of the deception operation codenamed 'Operation Fortitude.' That operation sought to convince German military planners that the Allied invasion of Europe would take place in Calais, not Normandy. Thereby diverting hundreds of thousands of German troops and increasing the likelihood that Operation Overlord, the operation that would become the battle of Normandy, would succeed.
His university friend and close ally Jonny Jebsen was arrested by the gestapo and later killed by the Nazis. This became a profound emotional moment in Popov’s life. This lead to heavy drinking and smoking that would take a toll on his health before he died on 10 August 1981, at the age of 69.
Popov also wrote the book Spy /Counterspy , in which he recounted his wartime exploits. (Link to purchase book from Amazon in book title.)
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