Ukraine UAV targets Russia Black Sea Fleet HQ in Sevastopol – Mehr News Agency


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TEHRAN, Jul. 31 (MNA) – Ukrainian forces carried out an attack against the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol early on Sunday, Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev announced in a social media post.

According to Razvozhayev, the attack was carried out via an unidentified object – presumably a UAV – that flew into the headquarters’ courtyard.

The attack left five members of the headquarters’ staff injured, but no one was killed, according to the governor of Sevastopol, Sputnik reported. 

The last Sunday of July is observed annually in Russia as Navy Day, and Razvozhayev suggested that “Ukrainian Nazis” launched this attack to ruin the holiday for the Russian people.

The governor also declared that all Navy Day festivities in the city have been cancelled due to security concerns and urged people to stay home if possible while the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) investigates the attack.

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Russian hackers target Williams sisters in Olympic drug use leak


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from Russian hackers target Williams sisters in Olympic drug use leak.

Russian hackers broke into a World Anti-Doping Agency database and posted confidential medical data of prominent American athletes online.

WADA said Tuesday the attack — which targeted some female members of the United States team that competed at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics — was carried out by a “Russian cyber espionage group” called Fancy Bears.

The hackers revealed records of “Therapeutic Use Exemptions,” which allow athletes to use substances that are banned if there is a verified medical need.

The group’s website said it had information about a number of American athletes, including tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams as well as multiple gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles and basketball star Elena Delle Donne.

“We will start with the U.S. team which has disgraced its name by tainted victories,” the group said, adding that more revelations about other teams were forthcoming.

Speaking on behalf of the Williams sisters, the International Tennis Federation said the players had been given permission to use the drugs.

Venus Williams wrote in a statement: “The applications for TUEs under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program require a strict process for approval which I have adhered to when serious medical conditions have occurred. The exemptions posted in the hacked report are reviewed by an anonymous, independent group of doctors, and approved for legitimate group of doctors.”

USA Gymnastics said in a statement that Biles, who won four gold medals in Rio, obtained the proper permission to take prescription medicine on the WADA banned list. Biles wrote on Twitter she takes medication for ADHD.

“By virtue of the TUE, Biles has not broken any drug-testing regulations, including at the Olympic Games in Rio,” the organization said. “Simone and everyone at USA Gymnastics believe in the importance of a level playing field for all athletes.”

The breach was decried as an illegal invasion of privacy and an attempt to discredit anti-doping authorities.

“These criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia,” World Anti-Doping Agency director general Olivier Niggli said in a statement.

WADA said it “extended its investigation with the relevant law enforcement authorities.”

WADA previously warned of cyberattacks after its investigators published reports into Russian state-sponsored doping.

Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying any possible Russian government or secret service participation in the hacking was “out of question.”

Last month, hackers obtained a database password for Russian runner Yuliya Stepanova, a whistleblower and key witness for the WADA investigations. She and her husband, a former official with the Russian national anti-doping agency, are now living at an undisclosed location in north America.

The International Olympic Committee said it “strongly condemns such methods which clearly aim at tarnishing the reputation of clean athletes.”

“The IOC can confirm however that the athletes mentioned did not violate any anti-doping rules during the Olympic Games Rio 2016,” the Olympic body said.

Niggli said: “WADA deeply regrets this situation and is very conscious of the threat that it represents to athletes whose confidential information has been divulged through this criminal act. We are reaching out to stakeholders … regarding the specific athletes impacted.”

Those behind the breach have adopted the name “Fancy Bears,” an apparently tongue-in-cheek reference to a collection of hackers which many security researchers have long associated with Russia.

In a statement posted to its website early Tuesday, the group proclaimed its allegiance to Anonymous, the loose-knit movement of online mischief-makers, and said it hacked WADA to show the world “how Olympic medals are won.”

Internet records suggest Fancy Bears’ data dump has been in the works for at least two weeks; their website was registered on Sept. 1 and their Twitter account was created on Sept. 6. Messages left with the group were not immediately returned.

With AP and Reuters

History of Simone Biles’ mental health issues


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from Jane Ridley | New York Post.

Simone Biles is the golden girl, interrupted, of the Tokyo Olympics.

America’s beloved gymnast announced July 27 that she was withdrawing from the team competition following a “stunning breakdown” at the long-delayed 2020 Olympics, citing mental health issues — and not an injury — that were exacerbated by the pressure to be “head star” at the Summer Games.

After her unexpected departure, the USA women’s gymnastics team ended up taking home the silver medal without 24-year-old Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist.

However, the decision to focus on competing for her own well-being instead of medals — while jarring to many US fans — wasn’t a complete shock to some diehard Biles followers.

After a fraught performance at Tokyo prelims on July 26, Biles already seemed to be hinting at a struggle. She opened up on Instagram, saying: “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world upon my shoulders at times.”

She continued, “I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but sometimes it’s hard, hahaha! The Olympics is no joke.”

And at a press conference after her teammates’ silver medal win on July 27, Biles hinted at a more serious weight on her shoulders.

“Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out. I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being,” she said.

“We have to protect our body and our mind … It just sucks when you’re fighting with your own head.”

But Biles clearly hid the full inner turmoil she was experiencing — a private agony that bubbled to the surface on July 27 when she formally withdrew from the team competition.

“There’s more to life than just gymnastics,” Biles told reporters at a press conference alongside her teammates. “It’s very unfortunate that it happened at this stage, because I definitely wanted it to go a little bit better. [I will] take it one day at a time and we’re gonna see how the rest goes.”

USA Gymnastics released a statement July 27 declaring that Biles’ withdrawal following her vault rotation was due to an unspecified “medical issue” and she would “be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”

Biles countered that her only injury was “just a little to my pride … physically, I feel good, I’m in shape,” she told NBC’s Hoda Kotb. “Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and the moment.”

The gymnast also said her main inspiration to “focus on my well-being” was tennis ace Naomi Osaka, who shocked fans by pulling out of this year’s French Open and skipping Wimbledon due to stress, triggered by the mandatory press conferences after each match.

Biles also follows in the footsteps of 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, who revealed in 2018 that he suffers from depression and crippling anxiety.

Her path to Olympic glory has been a challenging one. Here is a look back at all the times Biles has been open about her mental health struggles, including her childhood experiences, living with ADHD and the abuse she suffered at the hands of disgraced gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar.


She was in foster care as a child

Biles was traumatized during her early childhood in Spring, Texas, when her birth mother, Shannon Biles, became unable to care for her and her three siblings. The foursome went in and out of foster care, but Biles was adopted in 2003 by her loving maternal grandfather and his wife. The pair have long encouraged her passion for gymnastics. In her 2016 memoir, “Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance,” the sportswoman discussed the disruption to her formative years, writing: “my biological mom was suffering from drug and alcohol abuse and she was in and out of jail, I never had mom to run to.”

Her high school peers were bullies

As a teen whose intense training schedule led to peak fitness, she developed somewhat bulky muscles. As a result, Biles was bullied at school. In an appearance on the “Today” show four years ago, she recalled that classmates would make derogatory comments about her athletic figure.

“People would say mean things to me all the time,” she said. “They used to call me a ‘swoldier,’ which didn’t make me feel the best. I wore sweaters or jackets all year to cover my arms.”

She was treated by a sports psychologist at 16

After a poor performance at the 2013 US Classic, Biles’ confidence plummeted. She consulted Houston-based sports psychologist Robert B. Andrews, who helped her manage her nerves and use her excitement to improve her skills.

“After working with Robert, I was able to recover and get my confidence back,” she said in a joint interview with Andrews in 2014. The expert also taught her ways to “calm down” after competing. “I found that I was getting too intense,” Biles admitted. “Working with Robert also helped ease my fears and I found more confidence.”

Her ADHD diagnosis was made public by hackers

In 2016, hackers managed to access Biles’ health records and released unauthorized, previously unknown details about her mental health. They exposed her as having ADHD, a condition for which she was prescribed medication.

Biles came out fighting, taking to Twitter to explain she was not cowed by the diagnosis. She defiantly posted: “Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that I’m afraid to let people know.”

Discussing the disorder in an NPR interview, Biles said: “At a very young age, I didn’t realize what the diagnosis was. But it was a very good outing for me to get some energy out and then come home tired, do some homework and go to bed easier.” She added that she never saw it as a disability: “Other kids have it as well. And it’s just we’re more active and hyper than them, and I never think of that as a downfall. If anything, I see it as a cool thing ’cause, like, we have more energy.”

She revealed she was abused by Larry Nassar

In 2018, Biles revealed she was one of the more than 100 female gymnasts who accused team doctor Larry Nassar of molestation.

Besides saying the abuse brought about suicidal thoughts, she released a lengthy statement on her social media platforms. It was posted the day before a sentencing hearing at which Vassar heard victim impact statements.

“Most of you know me as a happy, giggly and energetic girl. But lately … I’ve felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams,” Biles wrote.

Her brother almost went to jail

If 2018 wasn’t bad enough, Biles endured another family crisis. Tevin Biles Thomas, the golden girl’s older brother, was charged in the fatal shooting of three people at a New Year’s Eve party in Cleveland, Ohio. He was ultimately acquitted this spring after a judge agreed with defense lawyers that there was insufficient evidence to justify a guilty verdict.

The pandemic put her ambitions on hold

Like many athletes with their hearts set on competing in the 2020 Olympics, Biles’ dreams were dashed when the country locked down in March 2020.

In an interview with Glamour, Biles “sat idle” for seven weeks and became depressed and thought of quitting.

“I wanted to give up,” Biles told the mag. “But it would have been dumb because I’ve worked way too hard.”

Is The FBI A Racketeering Organization?


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from Injustice Department.

Now that the trial of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger is grinding to its conclusion, the morally bankrupt dealings of the Boston branch of the FBI and its favorite local informants are once again making front-page news. Bulger is facing federal racketeering charges based on his alleged loansharking, extortion, distribution of illegal drugs, shakedowns of local drug dealers and at least 19 murders.

Bulger’s alleged crimes violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, passed by Congress in 1970 to aid the FBI in taking down criminal organizations such as the Mafia and corrupt labor unions. The law defines a RICO as any organization that participates in, among other things, “any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance or listed chemical.” The evidence produced so far at the Bulger trial clearly implicates Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang in racketeering acts. But that same evidence also shows that the FBI, built almost singlehandedly by the widely reviled J. Edgar Hoover (whose name still adorns the Bureau’s Washington, DC, headquarters – indicating that revilement of Hoover is far from universal), easily qualifies as a RICO.

The FBI’s culpability comes from its agreement to protect Bulger and his associates from local, state and other federal agencies’ investigations into their moneymaking schemes and murders. In exchange for this protection, Bulger passed along tips that helped the FBI take down the once-powerful Boston branch of the Patriarca New England Mafia crime family, led by the Angiulo family with headquarters in Boston’s North End. FBI handlers also passed tips to Bulger about his rivals and enemies, many of whom ended up in shallow graves around the Boston area not long after. As a result of this corrupt partnership – one might even call it a conspiracy – the FBI received widespread adulation for eliminating the Boston Mafia, while Bulger and his Winter Hill gang eliminated the competition for their lucrative rackets. (One could argue, we suppose, that the FBI and its partner Bulger conspired to violate anti-trust laws, but for current purposes we’ll stick to the anti-racketeering statute.)

When the game was up and Massachusetts prosecutors were about to issue an indictment against Bulger, Bulger’s FBI handler John Connolly, currently serving a 40-year state-imposed sentence in Florida for murder, tipped him off (for which Connolly served an earlier federal sentence). Bulger escaped and spent the next sixteen years on the lam. You read that correctly: in exchange for his help in taking down the Italian mob, the FBI helped Bulger avoid answering for the savage crimes that made him king of the Boston underworld. It was a match made in Heaven (or Hell, if one prefers). And, in fact, the match may well involve not just the Boston FBI, but the Massachusetts United States Attorney’s office as well. Bulger claims that a high official in the New England Organized Crime Strike Force (a collaborative effort spearheaded by the FBI and Boston US Attorney’s office) promised Bulger immunity for any crime, including murders committed in the future, that he might perpetrate during his cooperation with the feds in bringing down the Mafia. But we’ll likely never learn the whole truth about this, since federal District Judge Denise Casper, herself a former prosecutor, denied Bulger’s motion to present the jury with evidence to support his immunity claim. Even so, the evidence thus far adduced in the Bulger trial gives ample indication of the close relationship between the Winter Hill mob and the Boston FBI office.

If the Bulger saga were the only example of such unsavory conduct by the FBI, one could argue that this level of corruption was not sufficiently embedded and widespread to constitute the kind of racketeering enterprise that the RICO statute targets. But the FBI’s lawless, or at least highly dubious, activity goes well beyond this.

There are the historical outrages, like the FBI’s spying on homosexuals to create rap sheets that J. Edgar Hoover could use against his political enemies, or the FBI’s round-the-clock surveillance of the highest levels of the civil rights movement (a Memphis undercover cop who was a regular FBI informant was present during the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.). Even earlier in the organization’s history, when it was still known as the Bureau of Investigations, an ascendant Hoover earned his chops overseeing the trumped up prosecutions of leftists, foreigners and other such “undesirables” in cases so egregious that they led concerned citizens to form the ACLU. During the McCarthy era, Hoover and his agents passed information to McCarthy’s staff, helping McCarthy destroy the lives of those who came in his sights.

More recently, the FBI has come under deserved scrutiny for the fatal shooting of Ibragim Todashev by an FBI agent. Todashev was under investigation as an alleged accomplice to Boston Marathon Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in a 2011 triple homicide and had undergone several earlier FBI interrogations apparently without incident. The official FBI story so far is that Todashev, on the verge of signing a confession, suddenly went crazy and lunged at the FBI agent, who then shot him. In early accounts, Todashev was armed with a knife, in later accounts he was unarmed. Official accounts also claim that two Massachusetts state troopers who had accompanied the FBI agent to Todashev’s apartment were conveniently out of the room when the shooting occurred, leaving no living witnesses except the FBI agent who pulled the trigger.

The Todashev shooting is not a fluke. According to the New York Times, FBI agents fatally shot 70 people and wounded another 80 between 1993 and 2011. While some may be shocked to discover that internal FBI investigators have deemed every single one of those shootings appropriate, those of us who see the FBI as a racketeering organization know that such self-justification is par for the course among such groups. Just ask John Martorano, the unrepentant Winter Hill Gang enforcer who confessed to twenty murders, all perpetrated while Bulger was under FBI protection, and served only twelve years after cutting a rather favorable deal with the feds.

The FBI can get away with this slew of supposedly justified killings because, like any good racketeering organization, the FBI hates conducting its business on the record. Its official rules ban the recording of interrogations and witness interviews, which are instead typically conducted by two agents, one of whom asks questions and the other of whom takes the notes that will eventually become the official report of the interview. Any witness or defendant who dares contradict this official report is subject to prosecution under a statute that provides for a five-year sentence for lying to a federal agent. This scheme of extorting (or, more politely, creating) testimony that aligns with what the FBI wants to hear largely explains the fact that a staggering 97% of federal cases end in guilty pleas.

Examples like these could fill this space a dozen times over, leading us to suspect that racketeering activity is so deeply ingrained in the agency’s culture that the FBI qualifies as a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization under any reasonable reading of the RICO Act. Perhaps it’s time to shut down the organization, take Hoover’s name off the building, and start over. And when the job of either reforming or dismantling the FBI is done, perhaps we might focus our efforts on any of the other federal law enforcement agencies that have run off the rails, such as those that enforce the drug laws. Now there’s a fertile field just waiting to be plowed.

Silverglate’s research assistant, Zachary Bloom, who resides in Somerville, MA, co-authored this piece.

The Olympic gymnasts scandal looks more and more as the deliberate distraction, cooked up for political purposes via the whipped up, ridiculous mass hysteria designed to deflect attention from other issues. | F.B.I. Indicates It’s Willing to Settle Nassar Lawsuits – NYTimes | Tweets and Selected Articles – 7:07 AM 7/29/2022


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In a letter to the lawyers of the women who have sued the F.B.I., the bureau said it was “interested in considering all options to reach a resolution, including settlement discussions.”

There are potentially hundreds of (class action and mass action) lawsuits against the FBI in the cases of: 

  • COINTELPRO, 
  • Illegal Surveillance (80,000 between 2008 and 2011), 
  • GAY Bashing, 
  • and many other violations, known and still unknown to us.

The Olympic gymnasts scandal looks more and more as the deliberate distraction, cooked up for political purposes via the whipped up, ridiculous mass hysteria designed to deflect attention from other issues. 

Reinvestigate Larry Nassar case, there are a lot of open questions about it. 

Investigate the Counterintelligence aspects of the Olympic gymnasts scandal, including the roles played in it by: 

Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff, and Douglas Leff of the FBI. 

Address the real issues and bring up the well founded accusations against the FBI from the groups listed above. 

The Senate and the House: 

INVESTIGATE THE FBI IN DEPTH! 

Investigate the FBI lies and crimes! 

There cannot be any doubt that the FBI is deeply criminal and corrupt organization, in addition to being incompetent, inept, and treacherous.  

Save America! 

Michael Novakhov | 7:07 AM 7/29/2022 – Post Link

Omicron has shattered what we know about reinfections.


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Initially, enduring COVID had one redeeming quality: It gave you some short-term immunity from getting infected again.

But the new omicron subvariants are shattering that trend. BA.5, which now makes up 66% of COVID cases in Florida, has caused more people to catch COVID for the second or third time than previous strains.

BA.5 is known for having a structure that is maximized to evade immunity and for transmitting from person-to-person more easily than other subvariants in the omicron family.

Here’s what you need to know about reinfections.

Emerging research shows the percentage of reinfections is rising.

Helix, which sequences COVID-19 tests to surveil variants, found out of nearly 300,000 infections since March 2021, the share that was reinfections almost doubled to 6.4% during the BA.5 wave in July from 3.6% during the BA.2 wave in May.

The Helix data shows that most reinfections in July occurred in people who had COVID in 2021.

Experts expect the rate of reinfections to continue to climb for two main reasons: BA.5 is highly contagious, and the majority of the country — and Florida — has already contracted COVID-19 at least once.

Early in the pandemic, strains like delta weren’t replaced as fast by new variants and people who had COVID had some protection against reinfection for several months. But now, new strains are sweeping through the country one after the other.

Just since April, BA.2, BA.2.12.1 and now BA.5, have had turns at being the dominant strain. So Floridians who got an earlier variation of omicron in spring could be vulnerable to reinfection from a different strain circulating this summer or fall.

As a nation, no one knows the true magnitude of reinfections because people are testing at home or they aren’t testing at all.

However, researchers feel confident chances are higher of getting COVID again if you had the virus or your most recent vaccine dose prior to 2022. Shishi Luo, associate director of bioinformatics and infectious disease at Helix, said her data shows on average, people who are getting reinfected now were last infected about nine months ago.

So does that mean if you had COVID-19 in the last few months, you likely won’t get it again this summer or fall?

That answer differs depending on who you ask.

A new study backs up the notion that a previous omicron infection could offer some protection from BA.5., the newest strain. When analyzing COVID-19 cases recorded in Qatar between May 7 this year — when BA.4 and BA.5 first entered the country — and July 4, researchers found prior infection with omicron was 79.7% effective at preventing BA.4 and BA.5 reinfection and 76.1% effective at preventing symptomatic reinfection.

“Basically you have a seven times greater chance of being reinfected if your previous infection was before omicron,” said Dr. Michael Daignault, an emergency physician at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif. “The immunity from a previous omicron infection actually protects you from other omicron sub-lineages to some extent, but nothing is 100%.”

Daignault also referenced a new Danish pre-print paper released this week that shows high protection against BA.5 in people who are triple vaccinated and had a prior omicron infection. Daignault said he had COVID-19 for the first time in June and doesn’t worry about reinfection — at least for now. “I am a young healthy guy who is triple vaccinated and recently infected. I feel well protected.”

Many experts, however, believe reinfection risk varies by individual. In some parts of the country, cases are being reported of reinfections in as early as one month.

Some of Florida’s seniors may find themselves in that situation, said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist with Florida International University.

“Your chances of reinfection can depend on whether you have been vaccinated and are up to date on your booster, what your previous infection was like and how far away it was, since immune defenses tend to wane over time,” she said. “It also could depend on your age and underlying health conditions.”

Trepka said even with immunity from a recent infection, the circumstances play a role in whether you catch COVID again. “If you have a fleeting encounter with someone outdoors, you would be exposed to a smaller viral load than if you are living with someone infected who has a higher viral load.”

RELATED: The latest COVID strain is hard to avoid. Here’s everything you should do to battle BA.5 in Florida. ]

Doctors see evidence that symptoms tend to be milder and shorter if you get COVID-19 a second or third time, but it’s hard to firmly say that this will be the case for everyone. You may still run a fever and experience exhaustion, a sore throat, brain fog and other symptoms.

Dr. O’Neill J. Pyke, chief medical officer at Jackson North Medical Center, said he contracted the original strain of COVID-19 in 2020. He could barely breathe, lost 20 pounds and missed 45 days of work.

Pyke caught another case of COVID-19 last month. By now he had been vaccinated and had a booster shot seven months earlier. This time he had a horrible headache and fatigue.

“It was just a bad three days,” he said. After six days, he was able to go back to work.

In looking at Jackson’s COVID hospitalizations, Pyke says it is possible that people who are highly vulnerable to the virus and got really sick during an earlier infection may experience severe symptoms during reinfection. It also is possible, he said, that someone healthy, vaccinated and recently infected could have symptoms so mild they don’t know they have COVID unless they are tested for work or other reasons.

Experts still don’t have the full picture of what kind of health risks come from having COVID over and over, but a new study aims to offer some insight.

Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University and chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, used the health records of 5.7 million American veterans to gauge reinfection risk. He discovered that every time you contract COVID, your chance of getting really sick with something such as clotting or lung damage seems to go up. The risks remained whether or not people were fully vaccinated.

“It is also possible that the first infection may have weakened some organ systems and made people more vulnerable to health risks when they get a second or a third infection,” Al-Aly told WebMD.

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The latest health news, fitness science and nutritional updates to help you live longer and better.

The results of his research were published online June 17 as a pre-print study, which means it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

RELATED: COVID-19 update: Here are the latest statistics for Florida ]

COVID fatigue has set in, masks are off and crowds are gathering indoors again, just as BA.5 has come along and is highly contagious.

Getting vaccinated or boosted is a good way to keep your immunity levels high and ward off severe disease. You only need to wait a few weeks after an infection to get a shot, the CDC says.

Dr. Cory Harow, an emergency physician at West Boca Medical Center, says staying up to date with shots “really does make a difference, especially in people who are older.”

“With more COVID in the community, more and more people are becoming ill enough to require admission to a hospital,” he said.

Harow said if you have an upcoming event or travel and want to avoid reinfection, even if you have had omicron, wear a mask in crowded places and make sure to get boosted. “If you want to lower your chances, it’s something to consider.”

Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at <a href=”mailto:cgoodman@sunsentinel.com”>cgoodman@sunsentinel.com</a>.

Why Zelensky is purging the security services of Ukraine


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Could a general of the SBU, the security service of Ukraine, really have helped Russia take the city of Kherson? Could a colonel have tipped off the Russians as to where the Ukrainians had lain mines north of Crimea?

The Ukrainian government certainly appears to believe that fifth columnists within the SBU have been Moscow’s secret weapon in this war – this week Volodymyr Zelensky fired the head of the agency (and his childhood friend) Ivan Bakanov, along with the country’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova. A total of 651 alleged treason and collaboration cases have now been opened against prosecutorial and law enforcement officials, and more than 60 officials from Bakanov and Venediktova’s agencies have been accused of working against Ukraine in Russian-occupied territories.

Zelenksy’s purge of the SBU did not come out of the blue. For years there have been deep-seated concerns about the agency, which has been dogged with allegations of corruption, abuses of power and Russian penetration.

Back in 2020, I asked a Ukrainian think tanker what he thought the biggest threat to his country was, expecting him to say Russia. Instead, he immediately answered, ‘the SBU, because only we Ukrainians can break our own revolution.’

Formed out of the Ukrainian division of the Soviet KGB in 1991, the SBU managed to avoid serious reform for decades. It remains a huge agency with more than 35,000 staff, close to the size of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and eight times as big as MI5.

Since the 2014 ‘Revolution of Dignity’ there has been progress in bringing greater transparency, professionalism and honesty to the agency though. One US intelligence officer was fulsome in praising the work done by a unit he worked with from 2019 to 2021, before pausing and reluctantly adding ‘but there are still some people and whole departments that really wouldn’t be out of place in the KGB.’

From my own experiences, I have met tremendously impressive SBU officers, genuinely committed not just to defending their country from foreign threats and domestic challenges, but doing so in a way that is transparent and follows the law. Yet at the same time – despite the fact that I have been blacklisted by the Kremlin – the closest I have come to being arrested by any security agency in the region was by a bunch of thuggish SBU heavies who were looking either for a payoff or some fun at a foreigner’s expense.

The fear that the SBU could be a serious threat to genuine political reform helps explain why, in 2019, Zelensky appointed as the SBU’s director not a career intelligence professional but his childhood friend and the manager of his election campaign headquarters.

It was controversial at the time, but reflected the new president’s clear mistrust of the existing power structures inside the agency. He thought an outsider like Bakanov had the best chance of being able to bring about real change. Bakanov has had successes to be sure, helped by considerable western assistance. While the British, American and other intelligence communities focused on practical capacity-building, EUAM, the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform, pushed for proper legal oversight.

This led to what one American intelligence veteran called the ‘two SBUs.’ There were departments in which predominantly younger officers had embraced the reforms, and others where cabals of old-style spooks resolutely resisted it. Sometimes it was simply because they were corrupt and had no intention of trimming their lifestyles to match their salaries. General Andriy Naumov, for example, fled Ukraine just before the Russian invasion and was subsequently arrested in Serbia, in the company of an alleged German smuggler, and in possession of a collection of emeralds and more than £600,000 in dollars and euros. He was the head of the SBU’s internal affairs department.

In other cases, though, there has been a perverse resistance to change from conservatives who feel that all this new-fangled transparency and accountability gets in the way of defending Ukraine from Russian espionage and subversion. This is not a simple story of corrupt officers suborned by Russia pitted against liberals and reformists, fighting for the soul of the SBU.

Of course, many corrupt officers were targets for Moscow’s recruitment. However, one of the many reasons why Russia’s initial attack in Ukraine failed was that Putin believed there was a trove of Ukrainians, including corrupt officers paid by Moscow, ready to welcome the invasion. But while many officials, oligarchs and officers gladly took Russian money, when the invasion arrived they had no real intention of helping Putin’s forces.

In fact, many of the old hands inside the SBU resisting reform consider themselves true loyalists. Before the war transfigured Zelensky into a cross between Churchill and Che Guevara, nationalists regarded him as weak, untrustworthy, and possibly even unpatriotic – including many within the SBU.

A US officer, for example, recounted a bibulous retirement party for one SBU veteran at which the mere mention of the president’s name was enough to trigger a torrent of vitriolic (and anti-Semitic) abuse from what he described as ‘real hard-core patriots,’ one of whom has since been killed running weapons to guerrillas behind Russian lines.

These hard-core elements of the agency arguably meant that Bakanov was bound to fail. And now that Ukraine is in a full-scale war, any talk of reform of the SBU has been shelved indefinitely.

The agency will continue to be one of the fiercest and most dedicated guarantors of Ukraine’s sovereignty and also one of the most serious potential threats to the vision of a democratic, law-based nation that was at the heart of the ‘Revolution of Dignity.’ Of such paradoxes and complexities, after all, modern Ukraine is made.

Putin bets on an ancient weapon in Ukraine: time


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London – Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting on an ancient weapon more powerful than any of the missiles now being supplied by the United States and its European allies to Ukraine: time.

Nearly five months since Putin ordered the Feb. 24 invasion that has devastated parts of Ukraine, Russia is hoping that Western resolve will be sapped by alarm over surging global energy and food prices that the war has helped to stoke.

Russian officials and state television openly gloat about the fall of British and Italian prime ministers Boris Johnson and Mario Draghi, depicting their resignations as a result of the “self-harming” sanctions the West imposed on Russia.

Who in the West, they ask, will be the next leader to fall?

Putin, who turns 70 in October, told the West this month he was just getting started in Ukraine and dared the United States — which enjoys economic and conventional military superiority over Russia — to try to defeat Moscow. It would, he said, fail.

“Putin’s bet is that he can succeed in a grinding war of attrition,” CIA Director William Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, told the Aspen Security Forum this week.

The former KGB spy is betting he can “strangle the Ukrainian economy, and wear down the European publics and leaderships, and he can wear down the United States because in Putin’s view Americans always suffer from attention deficit disorder and will, you know, get distracted by something else,” Burns said.

Burns, who was sent by U.S. President Joe Biden to Moscow last November to warn Putin of the consequences of invading Ukraine, said he thought the Russian leader’s bet would fail.

But the Kremlin shows no sign of backing down, saying Russia will achieve all of its aims in Ukraine.

Putin’s foreign minister of 18 years, Sergey Lavrov, said on Wednesday Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine now went far beyond the eastern Donbas region to include a swathe of territory in the south and “a number of other territories”.

Annexation

The U.S. National Security Council said on Tuesday it had intelligence that Russia was preparing to annex all of Donbas as well as land along Ukraine’s southern coastline, including Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

This would formalize Russian control over more than 18% of Ukrainian territory in addition to around 4.5% that Moscow took in 2014 by annexing Crimea.

If the West supplies more longer-range weapons to Ukraine, such as high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), Lavrov said, Russia’s territorial appetite will grow further.

“The rhetorical message Lavrov seems to be sending to the West is: the longer the war lasts, the more we claim,” said Vladislav Zubok, professor of international history at the London School of Economics.

“It could be pure bluff but I would not be surprised if Russia wanted to keep the southern territories.”

The United States, which has provided more than $8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, will send four more HIMARS to Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

So how does it end in Ukraine?

“My best guess is that this ends with a stalemate close to the current battle lines, perhaps an ugly armistice,” said Barry R. Posen, Ford International Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“You’re headed for an ugly period of political-military experimentation followed by an uncomfortable and un-legitimated settlement into a frozen conflict.”

Great power?

Ever since Putin was handed the nuclear briefcase by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, his overriding priority has been to restore at least some of the great power status which Moscow lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Putin has repeatedly railed against the United States for driving NATO’s eastward expansion, especially its courting of ex-Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia that Russia regards as part of its own sphere of influence.

Putin has suggested such moves are aimed at deliberately weakening and even destroying Russia. He has given a variety of justifications for his invasion of Ukraine but increasingly casts it as an existential battle with the West whose outcome will reshape the global political order.

With Russia still exporting its vast natural resource wealth and with crucial backing from China, Putin is gambling that Russia can slowly constrict Ukraine while being able to endure more pain than a West that he sees as decadent.

The costs of that gamble in blood and treasure are immense.

U.S. intelligence estimates that some 15,000 Russians have been killed so far in Ukraine — equal to the total Soviet death toll during Moscow’s occupation of Afghanistan in 1979-1989.

Ukrainian losses are probably a little less than that, U.S. intelligence believes, Burns said. Neither Ukraine nor Russia has given detailed estimates of their own losses.

“(Putin) really is an apostle of payback,” Burns said. “He is convinced that his destiny … is to restore Russia as a great power.”

Only time will tell if the most perilous bet of Putin’s 22-year rule will pay off.

Opening Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Fourth Ukraine Defense Contact Group (As Delivered)


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Thank you, Secretary Wallander. Good morning. It’s great to see everyone on-screen today. Welcome to our fourth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

We’re meeting as Ukraine is about to enter the sixth month in its fight against Russia’s cruel and unprovoked invasion. And it’s an important forum for discussing the urgent requirements that Ukraine needs to defend itself, its citizens, and its sovereign territory. 

Our assistance is making a real difference on the ground. But let’s start by taking a step back and remembering how we got to this point—six months into a war of choice that the Kremlin thought would be over in days.

On 24 February, Russia deployed a massive invasion force to conquer the entire country of Ukraine. And they failed.

Russia poured its troops and steel into taking Kyiv. And they failed.

Russia tried to topple the democratically elected government of Ukraine. And they failed.

And then Russia retooled and thought it could easily seize the Donbas. And they failed.

And throughout, Russia tried to crush the spirit of the free people of Ukraine. And they failed.

And as we have seen time and again over these past months of war, Ukrainian forces are frustrating Moscow’s combat objectives. And they are defending their democracy and their homeland with bravery, resolve, and valor.

We’re all here because we understand the grave threat that Ukraine still faces. But let’s also remember that Putin has consistently overestimated Russia’s military prowess. And he has consistently underestimated the power of a free people fighting to defend their homeland and the will of the international community to stand with them.

And so as this fight rages on, the Contact Group will keep finding innovative ways to sustain our long-term support for the brave men and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And we will tailor our assistance to ensure that Ukraine has the technology, the ammunition, and the sheer firepower to defend itself.

You know, this is a critical phase of the conflict. And so our collective support for Ukraine is vital—and urgent.

Russia thinks that it can outlast Ukraine—and outlast us. But that’s just the latest in Russia’s string of miscalculations.

We stand united in our support. We stand firm in our commitment. And we will rise to this occasion.

Now, one month ago, in Brussels, this group met in person to reaffirm our dedication to Ukraine’s self-defense. And we heard from many countries undertaking important new initiatives. More than 30 countries have now sent lethal military assistance to Ukraine in its hour of crisis. 

And we continue to make important headway. And we’re seeing the results on the ground.

From our meeting in Brussels until now, the United States has committed more than $2.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. Our assistance includes a total of 12 HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems to further strengthen Ukraine’s long-range fires capability. And I want to underscore the impact that they’ve made.

We have also committed two NASAMS air-defense systems to help Ukraine protect its forces and its civilians against Russian missile attacks. 

The United States has also committed to sending more HIMARS munitions, precision-guided artillery ammunition, tactical vehicles, and other urgently needed support. 

We’ll continue to provide historic levels of security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself. And later this week, we’ll roll out our next presidential drawdown package of weapons, ammunition, and equipment for Ukraine.

It will be our sixteenth drawdown of equipment from DOD inventories since August 2021. It will include four more HIMARS advanced rocket systems, which the Ukrainians have been using so effectively and which have made such a difference on the battlefield. And it will include more rounds of MLRS and artillery ammunition.

And other countries have continued to step up their support as well, including in the important area of long-range fires.  The U.K.’s M270 MLRS systems are now in the fight, and Germany’s systems will soon be on the battlefield as well. 

Poland has also recently transferred three battalions of 155-millimeter self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, which are already making a difference on the front lines.

And I want to especially thank Norway for its close cooperation with the United States on our NASAMS transfer. 

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have repeatedly demonstrated their skill in operating HIMARS, M270s, and 155-millimeter howitzers. And those capabilities have been crucial in the Donbas fight.

Ukraine has also made real gains on the ground with other equipment that members of this Contact Group have provided. For example, Ukraine has deftly employed donated Harpoon systems against Russia’s navy in the Black Sea. And those systems helped Ukraine reclaim Snake Island.

So I look forward to today’s discussion on how we can continue to rush Ukraine more critical capabilities and urgently needed ammunition.

And here to help us understand those critical requirements are my close friends and colleagues, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov and Deputy Chief of Defense, Lieutenant General Moisiuk.

Minister Reznikov and I have been in close and ongoing touch about Ukraine’s combat requirements and progress since our last in-person meeting in Brussels. 

Gentlemen, I want to thank you and your teams for joining us in today’s meeting. We deeply admire your tireless commitment to your country’s defense, and we deeply appreciate your close cooperation over these past few months. 

I’m also honored to be joined again by ministers and chiefs of defense from some 50 countries.

The Contact Group continues to make a real difference in real time. And that’s a testament to our collective resolve to stand up to Russia’s assault on democracy, sovereignty, and the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure.

So let me thank everyone for joining us. And now, we’ll say goodbye to our friends from the media—and following the departure of the media, I’ll turn the microphone over to my dear friend, Minister Reznikov.

Thank you very much.

Alongside Biden, Abbas ‘extends hand’ to Israel to restart peace talks; says Palestinians ‘are not terrorists’


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At a press conference in Bethlehem with US President Joe Biden, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calls for a two-state solution and greater efforts to establish a Palestinian state.

“We have expressed the importance of re-establishing the foundations of what the peace process was based on, the two-state solution on the 1967 borders,” Abbas says in Arabic simultaneously translated into English.

“After 74 of nakba, displacement and occupation, isn’t it time for the occupation to end, and for our steadfast people to again gain their freedom and independence?” Abbas asks, urging an end to “the Israeli occupation of our land — the land of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The “key to securing peace in our region begins with the recognition of the State of Palestine,” Abbas adds.

Abbas says the Palestinians “want the US consulate to be reopened in East Jerusalem,” as well as the US to remove the PLO from the US terrorist list — “We are not terrorists,” he says — and to reopen the PLO office in Washington. “We are ready to work in a framework of partnership and cooperation to achieve that.”

Abbas protests what he says is Israel’s “racial discrimination and apartheid against our people,” urges an end to settlements and settler violence, and cites Israeli expulsion of Palestinians, demolitions of homes and “storming of cities.” He also calls on Israel to “respect the historical situation in the Islamic and Christian holy sites and the Hashemite custodianship.”

He also references the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and calls for Israel to be “held accountable.”

Only with the establishment of a Palestinian state, he says, will “Israel be accepted to live in peace, security and good neighborhood with the countries of the region.”

“The opportunity for a two-state solution on the 1967 borders may only be available today, we don’t know what will happen in the future,” Abbas says. “I take this opportunity to say I extend my hand to the leaders of Israel to make peace,” on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.

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