0624 – Royalty

‘Megbot’ army linked to Russian conspiracy theories tweeting ‘obsessive’ support for Duchess, says report

Suspicious “bot-like” Twitter accounts and handles linked to Russian conspiracy theories have been “obsessively” tweeting about the Duchess of Sussex, an investigation has found. Analysis of accounts interconnected into a “Meghan Markle” Twitter community found around 1,000 “highly-connected” accounts which have tweeted more than two and half million times since September. One account with the second highest number of pro-Meghan followers, which also tweets about US politics from a pro-Democratic perspec-tive, appears to indicate “bot-like activity” while the fourth most shared account frequently tweets from Russia Today and has questioned Sergei Skripal’s near-fatal Novichok poisoning. The research by 89up, the consultancy firm which carried out an analysis of Facebook data for a DCMS select committee report, published last month, found an “unusually high reach” for the narrow interconnected group of Meghan fans. It comes as Meghan joined a panel of female leaders for International Women’s Day on Friday, saying men should embrace the idea they can be both masculine and feminist, declaring: “Hashtags are not enough” to bring about real change. Insisting men must not feel threatened by women walking alongside them as equals, she joked about feeling the “embryonic kicking of feminism” from inside her growing baby bump and said making men including her husband Prince Harry a part of the conversation was the only way to make progress.

Having been announced earlier as the new vice-president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, the duchess spoke at length about the challenges facing women in developing countries and, when asked about extra hurdles faced by women of colour, acknowledged there could be “an added layer of race [or] social demographic” in their treatment. Last week, Kensington Palace published rules for followers of its social media channels on Monday, warning that anyone who posts offensive comments will be blocked or reported to the police in the wake of escalating abuse of both Meghan and the Duchess of Cambridge. On Friday, research by Hope Not Hate and CNN revealed that out of 5,200 abusive tweets directed at Meghan in January and February, 3,600 came from the same small cohort of trolls. Now a new report suggests a similar degree of collusion between some of the duchess’s most “obsessive” champions.

89up, which has previously worked for the pro-Remain Best for Britain group, found a network of 1,103 “highly-connected” Twitter accounts had tweeted 2,555,070 times in the past six months with a potential reach of one billion Twitter impressions.  “This is an unusually high reach for a narrow interconnected group,” said the report by 89up, which used the search terms like “Duchess of Sussex” and #MeghanMarkle” to locate the tweets. While very few of the larger of the Twitter accounts in this community were found to be entirely automated, “many have unusual features, suggesting there could be collusion or automation behind some of the accounts,” said the report. It also found evidence of “coordinated attacks” on royal correspondents who have written negative stories about Meghan, with one journalist targeted with over 7,000 posts. Josh Feldberg, Director of Digital at 89up said: “There is highly suspicious activity on Twitter around search terms linked to the Duchess of Sussex. It is unclear the extent to which this content is automated, but the prevalence of strange Twitter usernames and the overlap between accounts that tweet primarily about politics but also tweet extensively about the duchess, could point to an orchestrated campaign to manipulate public opinion by an organisation or state.

Image result for twitter logo“It is not impossible that there is just a fanatical community of people online who are tweeting all day content about the duchess, but the scale of the community and the amount of content they are sharing should make us suspicious.” 89up undertook an analysis of the network of accounts interconnected into a “Meghan Markle” Twitter community using prominent accounts including ‘PositivelyMegh1′, DuchessOnDuty’ and ‘Sussex__Archive’. The Twitter Image result for twitter logoaccount that has tweeted the most about the Duchess is tvfan00 which has tweeted over 80,000 times in the 3 years since it was set up. The account with the second highest number of followers linked to PositivelyMegh1 is jaydoll51, which also tweets about left wing US politics and predominantly Image result for twitter logo other accounts (an indicator of ‘bot like activity’, according to the report). This account is linked by a follower relationship to other accounts with ‘bot-like characteristics’ that retweet content about Markle consistently. The fourth most shared account tweeting positive posts about the duchess, Lewisno1fan, posted no fewer than 1,596 tweets about Meghan in the last year. In recent weeks, the account has been downplaying the anti-Semitism crisis in the Labour party, defending suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson, as well as sharing tweets from Russia Today and Skripal conspiracy theories.

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Inside the the biggest schism in Orthodox Christianity in 350 years

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Monks have been secluding themselves from the world for more than a millennium in the caves of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, where 120 mummified brothers lie in glass-covered coffins along the low, sloping corridors. Their solitude has been increasingly inter-rupted, however, since the top patriarch in Istanbul said in October he’d recognise a new Ukrainian church independent of Russia, sparking the biggest schism in Orthodox Christianity in 350 years. On December 15, Ukrainian religious leaders will hold a “unification assembly” to lay the groundwork for the new church and choose its leader. But the current Ukrainian Orthodox Church has remained loyal to the Moscow patriarchate even after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed separatists in an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. It controls the Kiev-Pechersk monastery complex, a Unesco world heritage site and the holiest place in Ukraine, as well as 12,000 of the country’s 18,000 churches. Late last month, employees of the culture ministry, which technically owns the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, suddenly came to take an inventory of the holy relics there. The next day, agents of the Ukrainian security service raided the Lavra as well as a residence belonging to the head abbot, charging him with the “incitement of religious hatred”. The pressure came after the justice ministry said it was cancelling the right for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to use another famous monastery complex in Pochayiv. “Monks went to prison for resisting” Soviet crackdowns and would resist this one, abbot Joseph told The Sunday Telegraph as he shuffled through the Kiev-Pechersk caves cupping a candle in his hand. “The monks won’t leave as long as the army doesn’t come.” He called the creation of a new church a political ploy similar to Henry VIII’s break with Catholicism. The seat of power was in Kiev when Prince Vladimir converted from paganism in 988 and brought Orthodox Christianity to much of what is now Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.

Metropolitan Pavel, head abbot of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex, speaks to press after security service officers searched a residence belonging to him

By the 17th century, however, Moscow was in control of Ukrainian lands, and the Constantinople patriarch, the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, gave the Russian patriarch dominion over the church here. That was all reversed by the current Constantinople patriarch Bartholomew’s decision in October, which was lobbied by Ukraine’s pro-Western president Petro Poroshenko and was a blow to Russia’s influence over the former Soviet republic. In response, Vladimir Putin warned that “politicking in such a delicate sphere has always led to heavy consequences”. Declaring Bartholomew’s decision heretical, the Russian Orthodox Church broke off all ties with Constantinople. Besides a few rogue bishops, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has refused to take part in the unification assembly. Patriarch Filaret, the leader of one of two splinter churches in Ukraine, accused this subordinate church of being an agent of the Kremlin. “Without an independent church there won’t be an independent Ukrainian state, and Moscow knows this well,” he told The Sunday Telegraph in. “It’s fighting to keep the Ukrainian church dependent on Moscow.” Many have suspected such ties following reports of Moscow patriarchate priests in eastern Ukraine blessing separatists’ guns or refusing to baptise government soldiers. Former top separatist commander Igor Girkin even claimed his personal guard was formed of monks from the nearby Svyatohirsk Lavra. But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has denied supporting separatism. The priest in charge of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kramatorsk, a city that was once under separatist control, locked out a reporter who asked for commentary, blaming the media for exaggerating the church’s links to Moscow. “We are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It’s you journalists who have decided we are the Moscow patriarchate,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “Why do you lie? Those who lie can get a fist to the face.” The Moscow patriarchate church’s spokesman Archbishop Kliment told The Sunday Telegraph that canonical law, not Kremlin interests, was why it rejects the creation of a new church here. He argued that president Poroshenko, who is in danger of losing re-election in March, was the one using Image result for ukraine populationchurch affairs to political ends. “For more than 300 years, Constantinople didn’t interfere. Now when there’s an election on and the president is using the church issue as a slogan, Constantinople has quickly given autocephaly and interfered in the religious life of our country,” he said. This messy religious dispute could play out for years both in Ukraine and abroad, where the churches of Poland, Serbia and Syria have backed Russia. Thirty-nine per cent of Ukraine’s 30 million Orthodox believers are for the new independent church and 29 per cent are against, while the rest are undecided, a recent poll found. Katya Tokar, a student who was visiting the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra on a recent weekday, said she made a point of praying both there and at St Michael’s monastery, which belongs to a Ukrainian splinter church. “Each church has its own view, each is (politically) dependent on someone. That’s bad but that’s the way it is,” she said. “The main thing is so that people keep coming here.” Several dozen individual churches already left the Moscow patriarchate since war broke out in eastern Ukraine. Whether more cross over may depend on the outcome of the unification assembly. Past attempts to merge the two Ukrainian splinter churches have failed due to squabbles over a new name, among other things. One Moscow patriarchate bishop sympathetic to the new church warned last week that few of his churches would switch allegiances if the outspoken Patriarch Filaret was chosen to lead it. Archbishop German, spokesman for the other Ukrainian splinter church headed by Metropolitan Makariy, said it had asked Constantinople to put forward a “neutral candidate,” perhaps an ethnic Ukrainian from an overseas diocese. “The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “I’m confident that after creation of an independent Ukrainian church, people will demand their pastors join this Ukrainian church.”

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Moscow to expel 23 British diplomats after row over Russian involvement in spy poisoning

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured at a meeting in St Petersburg on FridayRussia is to expel 23 British diplomats, close the British Council in Russia and withdraw permission for Britain to open general consulate in St Petersburg. The response follows the expulsion of 23 Russian ambassadors earlier this week after the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. Russia failed to respond to a deadline set by Theresa May for Moscow to explain whether it was behind the attack. The British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow was summoned for talks with the Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday morning. He was told 23 British diplomats must leave Moscow within a week. On Friday, Scotland Yard launched a murder investigation after announcing that a Russian businessman who was found dead at his south London home, had been strangled, sparking fears of a second Moscow sponsored attack on British soil. Nikolai Glushkov, 68, who was a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, was granted asylum in the UK after fleeing Russia in 2006. A former right-hand man of deceased oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, his death came just over a week after Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury. He was found dead on Monday by his daughter after failing to turn up to a hearing in the commercial courts in London. News of this latest murder investigation will further stoke fears that critics or enemies of Russia and its leader, are no longer safe on British soil. It came as Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, escalated the war of Moscow Kremlinwords with Russia, when he accused Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the nerve agent attack. He said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that the Russian President was behind the attempted murder, a claim described as “unpar-donable” by Mr Putin’s spokesman. Downing Street said the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been invited to come to the UK to take a sample of the nerve agent used in Salisbury and the process is expected to begin “imminently”. A spokesman said the Prime Minister had been “kept informed” of developments but stressed that Mr Glushkov’s death was a police matter and that no direct link had been made with the Salisbury poisoning case. But Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said the murder of Mr Glushkov appeared to “fit into a pattern” of violent deaths of enemies of Mr Putin. He said: “If there is a link between Mr Glushkov’s death and the Kremlin it will be further proof that we are dealing with essentially a rogue state which refuses to abide by international rules and has violated UN laws. “What has been going on is a deliberate attempt to settle Russian scores in the UK.” The former boss of the state airline, Aeroflot, Mr Glushkov had told friends he feared he was on a Kremlin hit-list. A former bodyguard, who worked for Sergei Skripal with his daughter YuliaMr Berezovsky, and knew Mr Glushkov well, said his death had all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored assassi-nation. The France based security expert, who asked to be identified only by his initials, RG, said: “I’m not at all surprised [that a murder investigation has been opened]. “You can easily choke someone in 10 seconds so that they fall into a comatose state and you can then continue strangling them without leaving any other marks on the body. It’s a technique they [the Russians] know well.” Mr Berezovsky was found hanged in the bathroom of his Surrey home in 2013, with the cause of death being put down to suicide. But suspicion has always surrounded the circumstances of his death, with many believing he was one of a number of Putin critics who were deliberately silenced.

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Suitcase spy poisoning plot: nerve agent ‘was planted in luggage of Sergei Skripal’s daughter’

Yulia and Sergei Skripal

The nerve agent that poisoned the Russian spy Sergei Skripalwas planted in his daughter’s suitcase before she left Moscow, intelligence agencies now believe. Senior sources have told the Telegraph they are convinced the Novichok nerve agent was hidden in the luggage of Yulia Skripal, the double agent’s 33-year-old daughter. They are working on the theory that the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or else in a gift that was opened in his house in Salisbury, meaning Miss Skripal was deliberately targeted to get at her father. At a public meeting on Thursday evening Paul Mills, deputy chief Constable of Wiltshire police, revealed 131 people could have potentially come into contact with the deadly nerve agent, and that they were being monitored by health authorities over the phone on a daily basis. He also said 46 people had attended hospital expressing concerns since the incident, and that cordons around areas where traces of the nerve agent had been found or could yet be found may remain in place for months. Col Skripal was convicted of spying for Britain in 2006 but came to the UK in 2010 in a spy swap. Counter terror police and MI5, hunting the would-be assassins, no longer think the Kremlin-backed hit squad ever entered the UK, making it Police guard the home of Det Sgt Nick Baileymuch harder for the UK authorities to pinpoint exactly who carried out the attempted murder of Colonel Skripal, 66, and his daughter. They remain in intensive care, fighting for their lives. Police sources have told the Telegraph that 24 cordons have now been erected in and around Salisbury as authorities race to eradicate any trace of the nerve agent. The latest cordon went up surrounding the home of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who is seriously ill in hospital. In a tour of Salisbury on Thursday, Theresa May launched a withering attack on President Vladimir Putin’s regime as Moscow prepared to expel British diplomats in retaliation for the sending home of 23 Russian suspected spies. The prime minister said: “We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen, brazen act and despicable act, which has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city.” International allies rallied round Mrs May, directly blaming Russia for the attack. In a joint statement Britain, America, France and Germany said there was “no plausible alternative explanation” for the nerve agent attack other than Russian involvement. Det Sgt Nick BaileyDonald Trump said: “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it” while the US administration announced fresh sanctions against the Putin regime for election meddling and cyber attacks, separate to the nerve agent poisoning of Col Skripal and his daughter. The political fallout from the nerve gas attack continued to reverberate with the Det Sgt Bailey’s family criticising Jeremy Corbyn for failing to condemn the Kremlin the previous day. William Pomeroy, the detective’s father-in-law and a life-long Labour voter, said: “I’m very disappointed in Mr Corbyn. He’s said almost nothing about this and came across as very weak on it. “He seems to have been a bit mealy mouthed about Russia’s involvement. It’s disappointing because he should be representing ordinary people like me.” DS Bailey, a 38-year-old father-of-two, was poisoned at Col Skripal’s home rather than at the bench in the city centre where the couple later collapsed, it is understood. That bolsters the belief that the nerve agent was brought into the home inadvertently by Ms Skripal. She arrived in the UK on Saturday March 3 on a flight from Moscow that landed, according to police, at 2.40pm. One source said it was straight forward for the assassins to break into Ms Skripal’s apartment in Moscow and plant the nerve agent in her luggage. Security sources have told The Telegraph that the timings are “hugely significant”. The next day, the pair drove into Salisbury city centre, parking in Yulia and Sergei SkripalSainsbury’s car park at 1.40pm before going to the Bishops Mill pub and on to Zizzi restaurant before collapsing on a bench. Traces of Novichok nerve agent have been found on Col Skripal’s car and in the restaurant and pub. Experts said it was telling that counter terror police have issued no images of possible suspects, given the large number of CCTV cameras in and around Salisbury city centre. The cordon thrown up around Det Sgt Bailey’s family home in the village of Alderholt in Dorset, 14 miles from Salisbury, included the entire cul-de-sac and surrounding streets. Both family cars were removed 11 days after the Wiltshire officer was made ill. Another car was removed from outside a house in married quarters at Larkhill garrison, home of the Royal Artillery, 13 miles north of Salisbury. Troops, trained in chemical warfare, are being deployed to decontaminate all areas which may have come into contact with the ‘persistent’ deadly nerve agent. Officials have drawn up a list of possible affected areas and objects and are working their way through them in order of highest risk. One source said: “You would basically need to decontaminate the whole of Salisbury before you could declare it safe to the public.” Public Health England has insisted there is a “low risk” to the public.

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‘Western plot to discredit Moscow’: How the spy scandal is playing out in Russia

IRussian policemen guard the entrance to the British Embassy in Moscow, where theories abound t has now been over a week since former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.

With echoes of the Litvinenko murder in November 2006, deemed to be ‘probably’ the handiwork of Kremlin agents, the British government has been quick to apportion blame on Russia for the attempted hit. Unsurprisingly, however, a very different narrative is being played out inside Russia.

What the officials say…

While President Vladimir Putin and his foreign secretary have straight-out denied Russin involvement, many officials have gone a step further. Central to some responses is a theory that the attack was, in fact, carried out by none other than UK and US intelligence agencies in a Western plot to discredit Mr Putin ahead of presidential elections on Sunday. Evgenny Primakov Jr, a designated “trusted representative” of Mr Putin, authorised to speak on behalf of his campaign during the Russian presidential election, said: “Frankly, in Moscow we are in shock. The whole thing looks insane. No one here believes this was a Russian attack. “We are absolutely sure, 100 percent sure, that the whole thing is aimed at our elections. In my personal opinion, I’m absolutely sure Sergei Skripal was poisoned by the British or American secret services.” Meanwhile, Russian The headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB in central MoscowMP and former FSB director Nikolai Kovalyov said that it is possible British spies may be involved in not just the latest poisoning, but also the deaths of other agents on British soil. “Considering this and the death of other traitors in England, I have formed the impression that British spies, once they have got full use out of a traitor, are willing to sacrifice them – and then say that it was Russia that did it,” he said. This, he claimed, in the interview with RIA Novosti, benefited the UK, USA and also Ukraine in portraying Russia as an aggressor state. He had another theory: “There is a laboratory in this town [Salisbury]. Look into whether they was a leak from there.” Maria Zakharova, meanwhile, the the foreign ministry spokesperson, is behind a series of fiery Kremlin communiques in which she has called Mrs May’s speeches in the House of Commons a “circus show” and “fairy tales”, and went on to say that the British position “is a political campaign founded on provocation”. In the last week Ms Zakharova has even suggested that the assassination attempt may be sour grapes after Russia beat England in the bid to host this year’s World Cup. In response to Boris Johnson’s threats of boycotting the tournament, Ms Zakharova reminded journalists that it was Britain who had lost out to Russia in the bid . “Announcements like this, made by the head of a government department – it’s just madness really,’ she commented, adding one final sleight to the Foreign Secretary: “What sort of a person … does that?” Theresa May has described many of the official Russian responses as amounting to little more than “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”.

What the press says…

State-owned media outlets like RIA Novosti, Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Tass Ru have been conspicuously quiet on the subject of the Skripal poisoning. Earlier this week, news in Russia has concentrated on the death of actor and director Oleg Tabakov, and on the sacking of Rex Tillerson, which papers have gleefully hailed as signs of White House chaos. The broadcasters, however, have come out all guns blazing in defence of the Kremlin. State television station, Russia 1, ran a story entitled The Death Trap, referring to the number of Russians who have died on British soil under suspicious circumstances, while Pervyj Kanal argued that Skripal was of no danger to Russia and was a “spent The western plot is a perfect chance to discredit Putin ahead of elections, it has been suggestedforce”. Both Russia 1 and  Pervyj Kanal have also implied British complicity in the Skripal attack as a means by which to discredit Russia on an international stage. Russia 1 commented that the poisoning was of use only to “British Russophobes” as well as the USA and possibly Ukraine, with whom Russia is currently involved in a proxy war.  Pervyj Kanal seemingly sought to implicate British secret services in the attempted murder, adding that it was no coincidence that both Litvinenko and Skripal were handled by the same intelligence consultant. RT, previously Russia Today, was also hard at work stirring the pot. When Ms Zakharova angrily objected to Theresa May calling the Russian foreign ministry unfit for his post, it was soon after revealed that the Prime Minister had in fact said no such thing. Who was behind this apocryphal slagging match? None other than RT editor Margarita Simonyan. By comparison, non state-run media, of which there are increasingly few in Russia now, have been leading with the story over the week and have not shied away from laying the blame at the Kremlin’s doorstep. Meduza, which was formed in Riga by Galina Timchenko after being fired from her post as editor of Lenta.ru on the orders of the Kremlin, has been investigating the nerve agent Novichok and quoted its creator, Vil Mirzayanov, as having told The Telegraph that “only Russia could do this”. At the same time, Novaya Gazeta, ran with the chilling headline, ‘No Russian exile is immortal’. Novaya Gazeta is one of the few publications left in Russia that openly criticises the state. Since 2001, six of their journalists have been murdered.

What the commentators say…

Veteran RT commentator Igor Maltsev complained of the absence of any evidence to catch Russia red handed. “Everything surrounding the Skripal case is a mass of facts and counter-facts. Only one thing is for certain – that Russia is guilty of everything, a fact apparently as unshakeable as Westminster Bridge,” he said. This was all the more pressing for Mr Maltsev, whose employer RT, is a potential target for expulsion as part UK sanctions. Russia’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, took to Twitter to suggest expelling oligarchs from London. “The unpleasant scenario for Putin would be if the English finally chuck out from their country dozens of our officials and oligarchs with their families and money,” he wrote. He then cited three key individuals – “Abramovich, Usmanov and Shuvalov” – all of whom live in London and made the wealth in the chaotic years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Abramovich and Usmanov own or part Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich couldbe part of the bargainown Chelsea and Arsenal football clubs respectively. Boris Akunin, one of Russia’s most popular authors, however, said that expelling oligarchs was precisely what Putin wants.  Setting out his theory in a Facebook post on Tuesday, the detective writer said that the Skripal attack was designed to goad the British government into destroying the oligarch community in London, a group which the Kremlin would like to see weakened. “The creation of a situation in which this particular group will be forced back into Kremlin-controlled territory, is useful and advantageous for Putin,” he said. The former sleeper-agent and, now, Russian television personality Anna Chapman labelled Mr Skripal a traitor. Ms Chapman, who was exchanged for Mr Skripal in 2010, said: “As always Russia is guilty by default… despite the fact that traitor Skripal was pardoned by the President and released.”

And what the trolls say…

The so-called troll factories have had their work cut out. A mysterious building on the outskirts of St Petersburg is reputed to house several hundred professional trolls who are employed to spend their days writing pro-Russian doggerel on social media and in the comments section of web articles in the western press.  In the immediate aftermath of the poisoning, many were quick to avert the blame from Russia. One, named ‘Germann Arlington’, commented on an article in The Times: “It sounds like an open and shut case.The investigators did not even start working and the mainstream media (and the commenters) have already assigned the guilt. Does it sound like a proper investigation? Maybe the officers already had all the required answers (from above) and were just ticking boxes?” Fellow commenters were quick to respond. “Good work muddying the waters comrade!,” wrote one. “Nearly as efficient as the FSB,” wrote another. Bravely soldiering on for a few more comments, Germann Arlington eventually succumbed after falling foul of the grammar pedants who were quick to pick up on his wooden use of English. “English teachers in Moscow aren’t what they used to be,” said one pedant, providing the final hammer blow to that exchange.

 

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Russia makes bizarre ‘Sherlock Holmes’ defence over Salisbury spy poisoning

Russia compared the British government to Inspector LeStrade, a “hapless” investigator from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, as it denied responsibility for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. The bizarre comments were made by Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian permanent representative to the UN, who also suggested the UK or others could have tried to kill Mr Skripal in act of “black PR” designed to “tarnish Russia”. He also suggested that the British public were “not well educated” and being “influenced” by their government. In a lengthy address to the UN Security Council Mr Nebenzya said: “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the British classic, famed in his country and very popular in Russia, has a hapless character, Inspector LeStrade from Scotland Yard. “He doesn’t have the methods of deduction, he is not particularly smart. His role is to be the background for the extraordinary deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes. “LeStrade latches on to something that is on the surface of a crime and is in a hurry to prove banal conclusions Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenziaonly to be overturned by Sherlock Holmes, who always finds what is behind the crime and what is the motive for it. “I’m not saying people working at Scotland Yard today are not professional, God guard me from that, but I do think we could all benefit from having a Sherlock Holmes with us today.” He added: “The collective Inspector LeStrades today are high level members of the UK government who are coming up with egregious, superficial and unsupported accusations which have far reaching consequences.” Mr Nebenzya went on: “Is this incident something that benefits Russia on the eve of presidential elections and the world football championships? I can think of a number of countries who would benefit a great deal from this incident and blaming Russia for it.” He said Mr Skripal had no longer been any threat to Russia. “But he is a perfect victim which could justify any unthinkable lie, any kind of dirt or black PR tarnishing Russia,” he said. “We are witnessing that the authorities of the UK are constantly trying to tarnish Russia, stooping to any low. He said: “A hysterical atmosphere is being created by London and they are being completely non-transparent in this. They are trying to influence the public which is very easy to influence and not well educated.” Mr Nebenzya accused the UK of “using the language of the 19th Century and colonialism”. He added: “The ultimatum from London is something we can’t pay attention to and we consider it null and void. We have nothing to fear, we have nothing to hide. “We do not speak the language of ultimatums. We will not allow anyone to speak to us in that language, but we are polite.” On Mrs May’s letter he said it contained “completely irresponsible statements,” adding: “It’s difficult  for me even to comment using diplomatic vocabulary. It contains threats to a sovereign nation. Russia had nothing to do with this incident.”

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Only Moscow could conduct Salisbury attack, says Russian scientist who warned world of nerve agent without cure

The former Russian double agent and his daughter poisoned by a deadly nerve agent will either die or be crippled by their exposure to Novichok, according to the whistleblower who alerted the world to Russia’s secret chemical weapons programme. Vil Mirzayanov, a chemist who worked at the heart of the Soviet programme, said Russia was the only country able to produce and deploy such a powerful nerve agent, and he warned that many more people may fall ill. “It is at least 10 times more powerful than any known nerve agent. Plus practically it is incurable,” he said at his New Jersey home on Monday evening. “These people are gone – the man and his daughter. Even if they survive they Dr Vil Mirzayanov first alerted the world to the danger of Novichok nerve agents in 1992 will not recover. That is the terrible damage it does. I’m afraid many more people were exposed.” He added that he believed the poison used in the Salisbury attack would have been manufactured in Russia as two, harmless components. They would have been brought into the UK and then combined inside a tiny, easily hidden aerosol spray that could be used to deliver a deadly dose and a “deliberate demonstration” to Moscow’s enemies around the world. He spoke hours after Theresa May gave Vladimir Putin until the end of Tuesday to explain the use of Novichok or face retaliation. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia have been in hospital in a critical condition since being found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre on March 4. Mrs May said either Russia carried out the attack or had lost control of its nerve agent. Dr Mirzayanov said even the existence of Novichok, let alone its formulae, had been a closely guarded secret, making it “unthinkable” that another country or terrorist group had been allowed access or help in its manufacture.

“Only Russia could do this,” he said. “They would never give it away.” The Russian scientist, who fled his homeland in 1995 and now lives in New Jersey, revealed the existence of the Novichok family of nerve agents in 1992 but said it was still so little understood that it had never been banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Nor had it ever been declared by Russia. That made it perfect for assassinations, he said, as Russian security forces believed it could not be traced to Moscow. This was the first time it had ever been used, according to Dr Mirzayanov, who added it was most likely weaponised as a spray. “It can be delivered in many ways but it was most probably given Investigators in protective clothingin aerosol can,” he said. “It can be small, just 10 grammes would be a lot. In summer maybe just two grammes would be enough to kill 500 people.” It would almost certainly have been manufactured in Russia, he added. “They can send anywhere through the diplomatic bag,” he said. For 26 years Dr Mirzayanov worked for GOSNIIOKhT (the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology or better known in Russian as “Goodnight”), the Soviet Union’s premier military centre for producing chemical weapons. He headed a counter-intelligence unit which monitored the surrounding area to ensure Novichok – the Russian for “newcomer” – or other nerve agents were not leaking out where they could be detected and analysed by foreign spies. He went public about the programme in 1992 after discovering frightening levels of chemicals outside the facility. Dr Mirzayanov was fired and arrested for treason. The subsequent trial collapsed but not before he managed to copy down 60 secret documents submitted in evidence. They formed the basis of a book detailing Russia’s secret programme written after he was allowed to leave the country. He has lived ever since in New Jersey, where he took a post at Rutgers University. He had no idea his old life was about to intrude when he read about the apparent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury last week. “I never, ever supposed they would use Novichok,” he said. Instead he assumed it was VX – like that used by North Koreans to kill the estranged half brother of Kim Jung-un in Malaysia. “I supposed that there was no necessity to use it. It’s more brutal, more painful,” he said. “But what could be so important that you have to use something this terrible?” “It was a deliberate demonstration by Vladimir Putin of his power against his enemies. This was a brazen and deliberate demonstration.” The agent causes vomiting and convulsions as the central nervous system shuts down, he said. It was developed as part of the Soviet Union’s ongoing quest to refine its arsenal of chemical weapons, as scientists tried to find variants with improved stability, rates of reaction and ability to permeate the skin. Jerry Smith, a former chemical weapons inspector for the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the Novichok agent is “very persistent” and could linger for a “reasonable length of time”. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “To be honest there is very little knowledge in the open source about these agents. There is sort of six or seven elements that the whistleblower put out of certain lightweight detail shall we say, not a huge amount of detail. “But we do know that they can be as you mention binary, we do know that they can be very persistent.

“In fact they can actually be micro pulverised dust so they are called dusty agents rather than being a liquid so they can hang around on surfaces for a reasonable length of time.”

Mr Smith also suggested the agent could have been made by other “advanced countries”.

“I assume that the investigation has found particular pointers for the Prime Minister to make an accusation that actually pointed towards one country because certainly the technology is out there for advanced countries, other countries, to manufacture it,” he said.

 

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DAY 1 VLADIVOSTOK

Arrive at Vladivostok Airport, where you will be met and transferred to the centrally located four-star Hotel Hyundai. We will enjoy a welcome reception dinner at our hotel, whilst you meet your fellow travellers and anticipate the epic 15 day voyage that lies ahead.

DAY 2 VLADIVOSTOK

 Vladivostok is a military port, located on the western shores of the Sea of Japan and is home to the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Due to its military importance, the city was closed to foreigners between 1930 and 1992. Vladivostok (literally translated as ‘Ruler of the East’) offers visitors an interesting opportunity to explore its principal military attractions including a visit to a preserved World War Two submarine. Our city tour will also take us to the iconic suspension bridge over Golden Horn Bay, one of the largest of its kind worldwide, which opened in 2012 for the APEC conference. Following a champagne reception at Vladivostok Railway Station, and with a military band playing on the platform, we will board the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express. After settling into our modern, stylish cabins we enjoy dinner in the restaurant car as our rail adventure westwards begins.

DAY 3 KHABAROVSK

Located 15 miles (25 kilometres) from the border with China, Khabarovsk stretches along the banks of the Amur River. Khabarovsk was founded as a military post in 1858, but the region had been populated by several indigenous peoples of the Far East for many centuries. It is now a busy city with tree-lined streets. Located next to the station we will pass the memorial to Yerofey Pavlovich Khabarov, the Far East explorer the city is named after, and see the impressive World War Two memorial to the fallen soldiers. We will also have time at the Regional Museum where the local history has been well-preserved with a rich collection of artefacts describing the cultural and natural history of the region.

DAY 4 ON BOARD

Our journey today follows the Shilka and Amur rivers, close to the Chinese border. Enjoy Russia at its most beautiful and remote, as the landscape unfolds outside your window. Or you may like to attend one of the absorbing lectures or Russian language lessons.

DAY 5 ON BOARD

Today offers the perfect opportunity to practice your improving Russian or watch a DVD as you watch the world pass by. For those who like to socialise, the Bar Lounge Car is the perfect place to enjoy a chat with your fellow passengers as you listen to our resident musician.

DAY 6 ULAAN BAATAR (MONGOLIA)

Our Trans-Siberian adventure takes us into Mongolia and a visit to its capital, Ulaan Baatar. Mongolia, once the very centre of an enormous empire led by Genghis Khan, is a country of beautiful landscapes, nomadic people and rich in culture and history. Mongolia is famous for its endless green Steppes, grazing livestock and white, nomadic Gers (Yurts) dotted all across the countryside. We start the tour at Gandan Monastery, one of Mongolia’s most important Buddhist Monasteries housing a community of over 500 monks. The full name, Gandantegchinlen, translates as ‘the great place of complete joy’. At Chinggis Square (formerly Sukhbaatar Square) we can see the central monument to Genghis Khan, undoubtedly the most feared and revered Mongol. We then drive out of the city to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park for a unique opportunity to experience a taste of the traditional Naadam Festival, with a spectacular display of horse-riding, wrestling and archery, the three games of the festival, performed by members of the local community. We will meet a nomadic family in a traditional Ger and learn more about their historic culture and customs. Alternatively, there is an option to stay in the city as part of our Freedom of Choice touring. After Gandan Monastery and Chinggis Square we visit the National Museum where we learn about the country’s intriguing history. We will also see Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum, the winter residences of Bogd Khan, the last Mongolian emperor, built between 1893 and 1903. We can also explore the city and have some free time for shopping for Mongolian souvenirs, and their speciality cashmere. We will also enjoy a performance of traditional Mongolian throat singing and contortionists.

DAY 7 ULAN UDE

The ethnic and cultural diversity of Ulan Ude, the capital of the Buryat Republic, offers a unique insight into its heritage. As we tour the area you will notice the different faces of these welcoming Buryat people. During our exploration of the Old Believers’ Village we have the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of these religious people as we are treated to a concert featuring local traditions and folk singing.

DAY 8 LAKE BAIKAL

 Few natural sights can surpass the beauty and grandeur of Lake Baikal and is a major highlight on our Trans-Siberian journey. Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and holds 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater. Also known as the ‘Pearl of Siberia’ it is home to a unique breed of freshwater seal and over 50 species of fish including omul. For five hours we wind our way through tunnels along cliff hugging tracks above the lake with a vista of snow capped peaks along the far shore forming a picture-perfect backdrop. To add to the grandeur of the day our Golden Eagle train will be hauled by a Soviet era steam locomotive on this beautiful section of the line. There will be plenty of opportunities for photographs as the train winds its way along the lake. This will be an unforgettable part of our journey. Weather permitting, we stop in an extremely picturesque location by the lake for photographic opportunities and for the brave hearted there is time for a refreshing swim in the crystal clear and ice-cold waters of Baikal. Travelling onwards to the end of the Baikal branch line, we leave the train and travel by boat on the lake to Listvyanka, a small Baikal settlement nestling at the base of the surrounding hills and visit the Lake Baikal Museum and Aquarium where you can learn about the flora and fauna of the lake. We will enjoy a delicious barbecue, including freshly smoked omul fish, prepared by our own chefs on the shore of Lake Baikal to complete a memorable day. As part of our Freedom of Choice excursion programme you can choose a hiking opportunity that offers some spectacular and panoramic hillside views of the lake below.

DAY 9 IRKUTSK

 Our visit to Irkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’, takes in the most significant sites and museums in this fascinating city, including an exploration of the classic wooden architecture with its intricately carved lace- like decorations that has given many of this region’s buildings such a distinctive and unique appearance. We also visit the Volkonsky House Museum, which is dedicated to the memory of the aristocrats who were exiled to this remote outpost after the failed Decembrists uprising of 1825, and we recreate the atmosphere of that time with a champagne reception and private concert. You could learn to cook some traditional Russian dishes with a local chef and prepare your own lunch with our Freedom of Choice option. Or you might also wish to visit a traditional Russian Dacha (summer house) or an urban apartment to get an insight into the everyday life of an average Russian family.

DAY 10 ON BOARD

A day to unwind and reflect on the many sights and sounds we have experienced on the journey so far. Chat to your fellow passengers, perhaps learn a few more words of Russian or simply enjoy the ever changing landscape outside your window.

DAY 11 NOVOSIBIRSK

A modern ‘Soviet’ city, we experience the life and character of Novosibirsk’s rich culture where the arts and science predominate. The city is located in the heart of Russia and is situated on both banks of the River Ob. Our city tour takes us to Lenin Square where the imposing Opera House is located. An architectural marvel, it houses two permanent ballet and opera companies and is one of the largest opera houses in the world. In front of the Opera House, we visit an impressive statue of Lenin – a marvellous opportunity to have your photograph taken with this iconic political leader. Alternatively, south of the city you could visit Novosibirsk’s excellent Railway Museum on our Freedom of Choice tour. The museum displays locomotives and rolling stock from the late 1800s, including carriages of the Tsars, through to the Soviet era. Or choose to go to the Mineralogical Centre with its fine display of Siberian minerals. For those interested in art there is also the Freedom of Choice option to visit the State Art Museum with an extensive collection including icons, Siberian art and numerous distinctive mountainscapes by celebrated spiritual Russian painter Nicholas Roerich. It also displays temporary art and photography exhibitions by local and international artists.

DAY 12 YEKATERINBURG

Founded in 1723 by Peter the Great, Yekaterinburg, is the capital of the Urals. Known as the Great Divide, the Ural Mountains create the natural border between Europe and Asia so that the cultural and architectural influences of European and Asian civilisations come together in this fascinating and cosmopolitan landscape. Our city tour takes us to the poignant site where the Romanov, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, was executed with his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918 following 78 days of imprisonment. Now a church dedicated to their memory, this site provides us with a powerful insight into the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Our Freedom of Choice programme features a visit to the recently opened Museum of Military Machinery. The museum houses an amazing collection of different types of military hardware including tanks, aircraft, boats and even armoured trains. You will also see a wide range of civilian vehicles (particularly Russian models). The museum is a real treat for anyone with an interest in the Soviet past, unparalleled by anything else along the route.

DAY 13 KAZAN

Situated on the River Volga, the picturesque and historic city of Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan. Here we have the opportunity to see for ourselves its rich tapestry of history and culture. One of the highlights of this city tour is our exploration of the Kremlin Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within the walls of this ancient citadel we will explore its stunning mosque and picture-perfect onion-domed cathedral. As Kazan is the birthplace of one of Russia’s most famous opera singers, Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), we honour his memory with a private concert of his music. You will also have time to wander through the main pedestrian area of Kazan and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the city.

DAY 14 MOSCOW

 Our touring programme of Moscow principally takes us to the grandeur of the Kremlin – the spiritual, historical and political heart of Moscow – and to see the treasures of the Tsars in the Armoury Chamber. We also visit Red Square, an iconic symbol of Russia’s former military and political might with its eclectic mix of fascinating architecture, such as the ornate St Basil’s Cathedral’s magnificent onion-domed spires, the beautiful fac?ade of the world famous GUM department store, constructed in Tsarist times, and the sombre and evocative site of Lenin’s tomb. If you have been to Moscow before we offer included Freedom of Choice touring where we show you other sights of Moscow such as the famous State Tretyakov Gallery (National Museum of Fine Art) or the Space Museum (subject to train schedule). Included in our time spent in Moscow is one night at the luxury five-star Ritz-Carlton. Superbly located in Moscow city centre, and within easy walking distance of Red Square, the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre, this historic hotel offers spacious and luxurious accommodation. The O2 Lounge, a stylish rooftop terrace, features panoramic views over the Red Square and the Kremlin. The spacious ESPA spa centre includes a hot tub, indoor pool, and 14 treatment rooms. Crystal lighting, candles and beautiful facilities create the perfect atmosphere, and a wide variety of spa treatments, as well as the sauna, are available. There is also a fitness centre, and a beauty salon. Our final evening is spent saying our goodbyes to our fellow travelling companions and friends at the Farewell Dinner.

DAY 15 MOSCOW

Following breakfast, any free time can be spent exploring this rapidly evolving city. It is possible that we will visit The Kremlin this morning. At the conclusion of your time here, you will be transferred to Moscow Airport to begin your journey home. Why not extend your stay in Moscow with additional nights to explore more of the city at your leisure or have time to take in a performance at the world-renowned Bolshoi Theatre? Tickets need to be pre-booked and are subject to schedule and availability.

 

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Vladimir Putin has messed up the travel plans of tens Dutch. The decision of the Russian president to close the border with Belarus to residents of third countries was to tour operator OAD reason to remove a new group from the program. OAD director Arjan Koster says he had no choice. ,,We do not want to risk losing an entire bus travelers is established in Belarus.” Travelers who had already booked the trip, offered an alternative or else receive their money back. The “Discovering oadEastern Europe and Russia” was in 2017 twice on the program. Travelers would be brought into Russia by bus from Zeddam through Germa-ny, Poland and Belarus, then to return to the Netherlands by plane. The border blockade Putin, at the site Krasnaya Gorka, meets with incomprehension in the EU. The measure dates back to the autumn. ,,Our citizens are forced to take long detours through neighboring countries”, said Commissioner abroad Federica Mogherini earlier. They suggested not to rest until the blockade is lifted. Russia says it is working on a solution, but according Mogherini can not give a good explanation for the fact that Europeans are stopped. To our knowledge there are no other Dutch travel organizations affected. ,,We are the only ones offering a journey that crosses this border country”, says Koster. ,,Why it is so unfortunate for our travelers. Who booked this trip because it really would be an exclusive experience.”

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Man at minus 12 degrees put naked on the street by girlfriend

 

2In the Russian city of Irkutsk is a man at minus 12 degrees Celsius naked on the streets driven by a female date. The two would have been a fight during a game sex in a guest house, and the woman hid his clothes and put him unceremoniously out the door. The numb to the bone man could, according to a hilarious movie, do nothing than something called the police who then brought in a heated car safety and to calm him. The wintry incident was filmed by an agent involved. The images can be heard calling the shivering man ‘help me, I can hardly feel my legs. ” What exactly happened in the guest house is not entirely clear. According to the man hit his date suddenly and became frightened. The identity of the naked victim is unknown. It is unclear how it goes with him.