Ukraine conflict spurs shady US arms trade

The NYT caught Missouri arms dealers fudging the paperwork on weapons from Bosnia and Bulgaria

A Bulgarian-American from Missouri stood to make more than $2 million from brokering an arms deal with Ukraine, until the New York Times ruined it by warning the authorities his paperwork was’t quite right. According to the story published on Thursday, Martin Zlatev sought to sell Kiev weapons and ammunition made in Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which officially do not allow such trade.

After Zlatev’s limousine business in St. Louis was ruined by Covid-19 lockdowns, he partnered with local osteopath Heather Gjorgjievski to profit from the “shadowy market” of private arms deals, according to the Times.

Their company, BMI, made several deals with the Ukrainian government. One involved 2.2 million rounds of US ammunition, worth $25 million. Two more contracts, worth about $5 million, were for 540 RPG anti-tank weapons and 22 mortars coming out of Bosnia, as well as 900 surface-to-air missiles from Bulgaria. All shipments would go through Poland before being taken into Ukraine by truck. 

In order to get around the Bosnian and Bulgarian export bans, BMI planned to tell the governments in Sarajevo and Sofia that Poland was the weapons’ final destination, the Times reported, citing a letter Zlatev sent to Ukrainian procurement officials. 

“The legality of using falsified records is murky, say lawyers and academics who work in the field,” the outlet noted.

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Zlatev and Gjorgjievski were acting as the middleman, using the fact that they had a US government license. President Joe Biden’s administration authorized over $300 million in private weapons contracts to Ukraine in the first four months of 2022. The approval process that normally takes weeks now takes “a matter of hours,” the Times noted. A letter from Zlatev to the Ukrainian defense ministry said they were approved in just seven days, down from the regular 60.

While the Times describes $300 million as “a pittance” compared to the $17.5 billion worth of weapons that the US has sent to Ukraine, the official government aid is supposed to have “stringent tracking requirements” – though Kiev has objected to attempts by some US lawmakers to implement these – while private sales have “less oversight.”

“It’s the Wild West,” Olga Torres, a lawyer who serves on the federal Defense Trade Advisory Group, told the Times. “We are seeing a lot of people who were previously not involved in arms sales getting involved now because they see the opportunity.”

Zlatev and Gjorgjievski, both in their 40s, stood to make more than $2 million off the Ukrainian deal. The Times insinuated they were also gouging Kiev in the process – charging 50% more than other vendors for bullets, and more than double the usual cost of RPGs. The deal, which was almost finalized, fell through when the newspaper contacted the Ukrainian government with questions. 

Back in 2008, a pair of Florida 20-somethings were caught up in an arms trade scandal, after scoring a $298 million Pentagon contract to supply the US-backed regime in Afghanistan with ammunition. AEY Inc. tried to pass off Chinese bullets – sanctioned by the US – as made in Hungary, but got caught and both business partners ended up with federal convictions. Their story was fictionalized in the 2016 movie ‘War Dogs’.

Kremlin accuses Zelensky of trying to start a world war

Putin’s spokesman slams Ukrainian president’s demand for preventive strikes on Russia

The Kremlin has accused Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky of trying to spark a third world war, after he demanded that NATO carry out preventive strikes on Russia to deter the use of nuclear weapons.

Speaking to the Australian Lowy Institute on Thursday, Zelensky stated that NATO must ensure Moscow does not use nukes against Kiev’s forces. To do this, he called on the US-led military bloc and the international community to carry out preventive strikes against Russia so that it “knows what to expect” if it decides to use them.

“What should NATO do? Eliminate the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons,” Zelensky said during the online conference. “I once again appeal to the international community, as it was before February 24: preemptive strikes so that they [Russia] know what will happen to them if they use it, and not the other way around.”

Moscow has slammed Zelensky’s suggestion, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stating that the Ukrainian leader’s comments are nothing short of an attempt to spark a world war, which would lead to “unforeseeable disastrous consequences.”

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Polish President Andrzej Duda addresses troops taking part in NATO drills in Nowogrod.
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German cities overwhelmed with Ukrainian refugees – media

More than a million Ukrainian refugees are now living in Germany, according to the Interior Ministry

German cities and towns have almost reached their accommodation capacities amid a massive influx of Ukrainian refugees, the heads of some two dozen municipalities in the southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg said in an open letter to the Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, Suddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported this week.

Local authorities have exhausted all resources to aid new arrivals, the letter signed by 23 municipal leaders says, in a desperate plea for help. The officials said they were in an “extremely precarious situation” and are running out of space to resettle people.

The municipalities “have their backs against the wall,” the seven-page letter seen by SZ says, adding that they are “at a dangerous tipping point” and calling on federal authorities for support.

The number of Ukrainian refugees living in Germany surpassed the one million mark at the end of September, SZ noted, citing Interior Ministry data. The government now expects those numbers to rise higher over the winter, depending on the trajectory of the war in Ukraine.

The number of migrants arriving to Germany from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey via the so-called ‘Balkan Route’ is also on the rise, the authorities warn.

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Demonstrators hold Ukrainian flags during a rally outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels.
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“We need more coordination between the federal and state governments when it comes to distributing those seeking protection,” Markus Lewe, the head of the Association of German Cities and a mayor of the western German city of Munster, told SZ. He called on federal and regional authorities to provide aid “as promised” and to “adjust their funding to the high number of refugees.”

The federal government, however, appears reluctant to offer help to the struggling municipalities. The issue of accommodation for refugees is something that the regional authorities should be responsible for, Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner said, pointing to the “distribution of powers” between the federal and regional governments.

Interior Minister Faeser admitted the rising number of refugees “worries” her and announced a government meeting on the issue of refugees on October 11. According to SZ, federal authorities plan to allocate €2 billion ($1.96 billion) to the problem this year. Yet, that would hardly be enough, authorities warned.

“Federal states [located] close to the border will soon only be able to cope with the influx of refugees by providing temporary accommodation,” interior minister of the German eastern state of Saxony, Armin Schuster, said.

British boxing grudge match called off after drug-test drama

Conor Benn’s failed drug test has led to the postponement of his blockbuster showdown with Chris Eubank Jr.

Saturday’s hugely-anticipated showdown between British boxing rivals Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr has been postponed a day after it was revealed that Benn had tested positive for a banned substance in a pre-fight screening.

The fight was due to take place almost 30 years after the fighters’ fathers, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, fought for a second time in a longstanding rivalry which defined British boxing in the 1990s.

Benn, 26, was flagged for what his promoters Matchroom Boxing described as an “adverse analytical finding for trace amounts of a fertility drug” called clomifene, which is known to increase testosterone levels in men and is on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of banned substances both in and out of competition. 

The test was administered by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), which adheres to the WADA code. 

VADA was brought in at the request of both Benn and Eubank Jr. to provide additional testing alongside that of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), which is the predominant drug-testing body within British boxing.

It was reported that Benn passed a drug test administered by UKAD.

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The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC), the sanctioning body governing the fight, subsequently withdrew its support after Benn’s positive test and announced in a statement that the contest was “prohibited and not in the interests of boxing.

However, Matchroom Boxing chief Eddie Hearn stated on Wednesday that he was investigating other methods to save the bout and added that Benn’s B sample had not yet been tested, and that his fighter was currently under no type of suspension which would rule him out of the fight.

It was later claimed on Wednesday that both fighters had discussed the issue and were set on pushing forward with the bout.

But that decision was taken out of their hands on Thursday when it was officially confirmed that the fight was off.

After discussions with various parties, we have taken the decision to formally postpone the bout between Chris Eubank Jr. and Conor Benn,” Matchroom Boxing said in a statement published to social media. 

It is undeniable that the British Boxing Board of Control’s decision to withdraw their sanctioning was procedurally flawed and without due process.

That remains a legal issue between the promoters and the Board which we intend to pursue.”

The statement added: “Whilst there are legal routes to facilitate the fight taking place as planned, we do not believe that it is in the fighters’ interests for those to be pursued at such a late stage, or in the wider interests of the sport.

As promoters, we take our obligations and duties very seriously, and a full investigation will now need to take place.”

Hearn is understood to have argued that because the BBBofC doesn’t recognize VADA testing that the fight should have gone ahead as planned, and that both Matchroom Boxing and broadcasters DAZN, who were to screen the fight, are utterly convinced of Benn’s innocence. 

Referencing the scandal, Jane Rumble, UK Anti-Doping Chief Executive, said: “UKAD notes the reporting of a failed VADA test by the boxer Conor Benn with concern.

UKAD acts on all reports of doping and always encourages anyone with information on suspected doping activity to come forward and share that with us.”

Iran protests are ‘beginning of the end’ for regime, exiled activist Alinejad says

FRANCE 24 spoke to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist who is exiled in the US. Iran is currently seeing an unprecedented protest movement ignited by the death of Masah Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in the custody of the morality police after being arrested for improperly wearing her headscarf. Alinejad called the ongoing protest movement “a revolution” and expressed confidence that unlike previous movements, this was “the beginning of the end” of the regime.

Israel puts military on alert after rejecting Lebanon deal

With elections looming, the government has rejected Beirut’s amendments to a US-brokered border agreement

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered troops near the border with Lebanon into high readiness on Thursday, amid reports that the country has rejected Beirut’s amendments to a US-proposed border compromise. The maritime border dispute involves natural gas fields both neighbors seek to exploit.

After consultations with the general staff, Gantz ordered the Israel Defense Forces to “prepare for any scenario in which tensions increase in the northern arena – including defense and offense readiness,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

The order was an indirect confirmation of reports earlier in the day that Israel had rejected Lebanon’s amendments to the agreement, drafted by US envoy Amos Hochstein and presented to both sides last weekend.

According to Al Jazeera, Hochstein’s draft received a “mostly warm preliminary reception” from both sides. Lebanon presented its response on Tuesday, but on Thursday Israel rejected those modifications. While the deal has not been made public, Israeli media said it would have allowed the country to freely explore the Karish gas field. 

The main issue appears to be Lebanon’s reluctance to accept an Israeli-demarcated “buoy line” as a de facto international border, given the two countries are technically still at war.

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, attends a graduation ceremony at the police academy in Tehran, Iran, October 3, 2022
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Caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid rejected the “substantial changes” Lebanon tried to make, an Israeli official told Al Jazeera, adding that “Israel will not compromise on its security and economic interests.”

Hochstein’s original proposal was welcomed by Hezbollah and described as “on the right track to assert Lebanon’s rights over all its waters” by Lebanese PM Najib Mikati earlier this week. Beirut is reportedly still waiting for Israel’s official response to the amendments.

Gantz also argued in favor of the deal, saying it would “harm Iran” and Hezbollah. However, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “surrender agreement” and insisted Israel needs “different leadership.” Israeli elections – the fifth in four years – are scheduled for November 1.

Beirut and Jerusalem are disputing a maritime area approximately 860 square kilometers in size, believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. Negotiations have been ongoing since 2020, complicated by the fact Israel and Lebanon have no official diplomatic relations.

German MEPs call for expulsion of Berlusconi

The European People’s Party is under pressure to kick out Forza Italia if it backs a right-wing government in Italy, Politico reports

Several German MEPs have called on the European Parliament’s main conservative group to kick out Silvio Berlusconi and his party if he chooses to support Giorgia Meloni and her “extreme right-wing” coalition in Italy.

In a letter published by Politico on Wednesday, three German MEPs demanded that Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), which holds the most seats in the European Parliament, eject Forza Italia from the coalition unless its leader and former Italian PM Berlusconi abandons Meloni.

Last month, Meloni and her Brothers of Italy (FI) party led a right-wing bloc – which included Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League parties – to a landslide victory in snap parliamentary elections, securing a majority in both houses of the nation’s parliament. 

Meloni is now set to form Italy’s most right-wing government since World War II and will likely become the country’s first ever female prime minister.

However, some in Brussels have grown concerned by the prospect of a right-wing group coming to power in Italy. “It is not too late to prevent a far-right government of Giorgia Meloni in Italy,” wrote the German MEPs, branding the FI party extremists and insisting that their populist positions are “incompatible with core European values.”

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Leader of the Brothers of Italy party Giorgia Meloni in Milan, Italy, October 1, 2022. Piero Cruciatti / AFP
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The authors of the letter, Daniel Freund of the Greens, Katarina Barley of the Socialists & Democrats and Moritz Korner from the liberal Renew Europe, argue that members of the EPP must not be allowed to bring a “far-right government to power,” and that fundamental EU values should not be sacrificed in order to gain power. 

“The firewall against right-wing enemies of democracy” cannot be allowed to crumble, the MEPs proclaimed.

“We therefore ask you, as president of the European People’s Party, to communicate to your members in Italy that there must be no EPP participation in a far-right government in Italy,” the three parliamentarians urged Weber, stressing that if Forza Italia decides to co-elect Meloni as PM, the party should have “no future” in the EPP.

EPP Secretary General Thanasis Bakolas responded to the letter, calling it “a direct and absolute insult to the democratic will of the Italian people” who he said would be the judges of Meloni’s coalition.

He vowed that the EPP was “absolutely committed” to Forza Italia and “all it is doing to ensure that Italy’s next government serves the best interests of its people.”

Russia and Iran agree to swap supplies of oil and gas – senior official

The deal is a part of an energy alliance and is expected to be signed by end of this year, Russia’s deputy prime-minister has said

Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak announced on Thursday that Moscow and Tehran may agree a swap of supplies, of five million tons of oil and ten billion cubic meters of gas, to be completed by year’s end.

He added that the two countries were currently working out routes and technical arrangements for the exchange of supplies.

“At first stage it will be about five million tons (of oil) a year and ten billion cubic meters of gas,” Novak specified, pointing out that the countries are now focused on “transportation, logistics and price issues.” He said that economists should first work out commercial contracts in detail, adding that the work is underway.

In May, Novak had announced that Moscow and Tehran were in talks over supplies of energy resources to the north of Iran and had discussed possible routes, including transportation by sea, rail and pipeline.

In July, Russia’s state-owned energy major Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) signed a deal to cooperate on the development of two gas deposits and six oil fields in Iran. The document also covers exchange operations with natural gas and oil products, implementing LNG projects, and constructing export gas pipelines.

In late September, Fars News Agency said that the potential cost of the deal could be worth $40 billion.

READ MORE: Middle Eastern state plans major Russian gas purchase

Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Asadzade told RIA Novosti on Thursday that his country expected to sign several agreements with Russia in the oil and gas sector within half a year.

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