Where We Are – 36 Days Out

The New York Times now has Donald Trump’s income tax returns “extending over two decades”. They say that the returns come from a person who had legal access to them. The Times’s first article provides eighteen takeaways. They promise more to come. Each takeaway is a string that other news organizations can pull.

Trump runs through money and then manages to find yet another source to bankroll him. At this point, he owes $421 million to unknown parties. There are hints and guesses about connections to a hotel deal in Azerbaijan that appears to have laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and to Deutsche Bank through Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s son.

Read More

The Poison That Took Navalny Down

The German hospital treating Alexei Navalny says that he was poisoned by a cholinesterase inhibitor. That’s a poison in the same family as nerve agents, but not necessarily a nerve agent. Some insecticides have the same characteristic, and there are other compounds as well. Identifying exactly which it is may be difficult after the time that has elapsed since he was poisoned.

The good news is that they say he is in a medically-induced coma and likely to survive. But cholinesterase inhibitors can damage the body in multiple ways, and nobody knows what damage he will sustain.

So it’s likely another poisoning by the Russian government. Their use of poison seems bizarre, but it’s a reminder to people that the government can reach down very personally to people it doesn’t like.

Read More

Donald Trump’s Nonproliferation Ambitions

Today we have a report that Donald Trump would like to meet with Vladimir Putin before the election to present a new arms control agreement to the world.

The easiest thing for Trump to do would be to extend the New START Treaty, which lapses in early February next year. The treaty is written to allow five-year extensions with a minimum of negotiation, and Putin has said he is willing to extend it.

Trump has been surrounded by treaty-haters, though, particularly but not only John Bolton, who would be happy for New START to lapse. Their strategy is to insist that China be a part of arms control negotiations and spin their wheels doing stunts like adding small Chinese flags to places around the table during US-Russian interactions and then whining that China didn’t show up. As China had said it wouldn’t.

Read More

Those Northern Radiation Observations

Nations to the northwest of Russia reported slightly increased levels of radiation on several days in June. The levels were harmless to human health and the environment.  

The isotopes observed include Cs-134, Cs-137, Ru-103, I-131, and isotopes of cobalt. The possible source region for the June 22 and 23 observations was calculated by the monitoring organization for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO), which has isotope monitoring stations around the world. The tweet doesn’t say this, but that region was probably calculated by considering the winds during that period. (Lassina Zerbo is the director of the CTBTO.)

Iodine-131 was observed at more northerly stations and on different days than the other isotopes. It has a half-life of 8 days and is a fission product, as are the other isotopes except for cobalt. Cobalt is an activation product of the steel containment vessel for a reactor. It seems likely that these observations come from a leaking nuclear reactor, but where?

Russia has reactors in the suspect area, but officials there have said that none of them have leaked.

Last week, a test of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile was thought to be planned for the Kapustin Yar test site, north of the Caspian Sea.

Nothing more than a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was announced by the Russian government, so it’s not clear why this exclusion would have been for Burevestnik in particular. Up until now, Burevestnik tests have been further north. The deadly test of last year was within the area calculated by the CTBTO.

There’s not enough information to conclude anything more than that these emissions were from a reactor. Russia is party to conventions requiring it to provide information on accidents involving the release of radiation. The other nations within the possible source area have been conscientious about their adherence to those conventions. Russia hasn’t.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Follow The Money!

Following the money is difficult and tedious. Each story is detailed, and the stories appear at different times, later overshadowed by the next Trump scandal. In this post, I collect instances of Russian-associated money going into Republican coffers.

There aren’t enough instances to connect into a pattern beyond that theme, although some names occur in more than one example. I hope reporters will see this as a fertile path forward. Foreign money is prohibited in US political campaigns, but there are ways to get around that.

There are probably more – add them in the comments, preferably with a link, if you have them. Read More

Moving Into The New Year With Molotov and Ribbentrop


In 1939, the Soviet Union formally allied with Nazi Germany and agreed on how to split up the countries located between them. Immediately after, Germany invaded Poland. It is generally thought to be the beginning of World War II. Russia did not acknowledge the existence of the secret protocol on dividing Europe until 1989.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is David-Low-Rendezvous.jpg
Cartoon by David Low in the Evening Standard depicting Hitler greeting Stalin after the invasion of Poland, 

But that is not what Vladimir Putin wants you to believe. No, it was dastardly France, United Kingdom, the United States, and others who joined up with Hitler first at Munich, leaving the poor Soviet Union with no choice! Putin has mentioned this in several speeches, and in the last several weeks, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has joined in.

And they’re dissing diplomats who disagree with them.

The nations Russia has accused of starting World War II are pushing back.

Even Germany…

And, of course, a lot more from amateur and professional historians on Twitter. If you ever wanted to learn more about the beginnings of World War II, this is your big chance.

It’s hard to know what is motivating this propaganda storm from Russia. Here’s a person I trust.

That’s a little unclear, but I think the second sentence is intended to say that when Russia wants to use WW2 to gain friends, it usually talks about its sacrifices rather than the war’s origins.

There is speculation, as you see in the Dalsjö tweet, that it’s in preparation for some sort of military action from Russia. I tend to doubt that – Russia doesn’t need that kind of trouble right now. OTOH, Putin has been feeling cocky about his new weapons designed to deter the United States.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Why Ukraine?

As the corruption of the Trump administration is exposed, I keep two questions in mind: Why Ukraine? and Why energy? The simple answer is that they are where the money is. The more extended answers will be more interesting.

Natural gas seems to be the current focus in energy, but Michael Flynn had a bizarre plan to partner with the Russians to sell nuclear reactors in the Middle East and continues today in Rick Perry’s dealings with Saudi Arabia.

Information on Ukraine seems to be coming together now, although we almost certainly don’t have the final word. And energy plays a part. Read More

Nyonoksa/Burevestnik Update

The two barges involved in the August radiation accident in the White Sea are being towed to a radioactive waste storage site on the Kola Peninsula. It is not known whether they hold the reactor responsible for the explosion and short burst of radiation measured in Severodvinsk.

The United States government has concluded that the incident was pretty much as has been speculated, a nuclear accident of some sort as a nuclear-powered missile was being recovered. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas G. DiNanno told a United Nations committee on October 10 that this was the US conclusion, but it was only two sentences.

The United States has determined that the explosion near Nenoksa, Russia, was the result of a nuclear reaction that occurred during the recovery of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile. The missile remained on the bed of the White Sea since its failed test early last year, in close proximity to a major population center.

Nothing to indicate what kind of nuclear reaction or how the United States knows this. The news is that they believe the failed test was in early 2018. The nuclear reaction was most likely a criticality incident, but we still don’t know enough about the reactor to speculate much about that. It’s possible that the government has overhead photos of the test or the recovery, perhaps alerted by someone in Russia who knew the schedules.

Background on the story.

Photo: Submarine reactors stored in canisters at the Saida Bay facility, where the barges are being taken. (Thomas Nilsen)

 

Cross-posted at Balloon Juice

Emergency And Medical Personnel On The Nyonoksa Incident

Two accounts of caring for the victims of the accident at Nyonoksa on August 8 were published Wednesday, August 21, in Meduza (English version) and Novaya Gazeta. The sources are an emergency responder and two doctors. The emergency responder was not on duty that day and relies on the reports of co-workers. The sources want to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

I have questions about these accounts and a Washington Post account that seems to refer to another Novaya Gazeta article without linking. But first, let’s see what can reasonably be gleaned from the accounts. Read More