Journalist who exposed Russia’s secret mercenaries in Syria mysteriously fell to his death

Maxim Borodin

In February, Russian investigative journalist Maxim Borodin published a series of bombshell reports about the secret, substantial presence of Russian mercenary forces in Syria. On Sunday, he died, following a mysterious fall from his fifth-floor balcony.

Now, a journalists’ advocacy group is calling for an investigation into his “suspicious” death — even though his own editor-in-chief has said there’s not yet any hard evidence of foul play.

Local police said they’re investigating “several versions” of the death of Borodin, 32, who worked for an outlet called Novy Den in the city of Yekaterinburg. The cops said in a statement they “haven’t ruled out that it was an accident.”

Read More at Vice.com

Russia claims its nuclear sub went ‘undetected’ on US coastline

Russia’s nuclear submarine went “undetected” on its approach to the U.S. coastline during an exercise near American military bases, a submarine squadron commander recently told Zveda, Russia’s Defense Ministry’s official broadcaster, RT reported.

The news of the nuclear submarine activity was made in a military television series on Zveda. The episode’s focus was Akula-class Shchuka-B nuclear-powered submarines.

“This mission has been accomplished, the submarines showed up in the set location in the ocean and returned to base,” said submarine squadron commander Sergey Starshinov.

Starshinov said the submarine went “undetected” upon close approach to U.S. shores without violating maritime borders by staying in international waters. The date and location of the undetected activity was not been disclosed.

The U.S. Navy did not respond to a request for comment.

 Russia’s submarine activity is at a post-Cold War high, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti – the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, said Thursday.

“They are deploying more and they are deploying at a higher rate,” he said. “The forces they are deploying are being modernized, particularly with their weapons systems.”

Read more here.

Is Russia Practicing a Dry Run for an Invasion of Belarus?

Russia does military exercises regularly, but this year’s version, underway right now, deserves especially close attention. It’s called Zapad (“West”) and involves thousands of troops doing maneuvers on the borders of the Baltic states and Poland. The motivating scenario is to defend against an imagined invasion of Belarus by foreign-backed extremists. One of the fictional enemy states, “Vesbaria,” seems to be a thinly disguised Lithuania; the other, “Lubenia,” looks a bit like Poland. There will no doubt be the usual low-level provocations, with Russian planes buzzing borders, that will make the whole passive-aggressive show of strength look more like an invasion of the West than the other way around.

One extra element this time, however, is that these are joint exercises with Belarus, and not everyone in Belarus is happy to play host. The exercises are being staged in the northwest of the country, given the name of another fictional state, “Veyshnoria.” This is the historical heartland of real Belarusian nationalism, where Belarusian activists in the early 20th century competed with Poles, Lithuanians, and Jews to claim the old Tsarist administrative region of Vilna. Unfortunately for the Belarusians, much of this became Vilnius, the capital of modern-day Lithuania. But the rest remains in the northwest of modern Belarus, with the division testament to the long-standing love-hate relationship between Baltic peoples and Belarusians. Hence the Baltic-style spelling of Veyshnoria.

But the region also voted for President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s main opponent, the nationalist Zianon Pazniak, the last time Belarus had a real competitive election, back in 1994. So Zapad is directed as much against an “internal enemy” as against NATO powers, namely nationalists backed by the West. And that, worryingly, is the same scenario that Russia claimed to detect in Ukraine in 2014.

Read More at Foreign Policy.

North Korea’s apparent sixth nuke test estimated to have yield of 100 kilotons: lawmaker

North Korea’s apparent sixth nuclear test was estimated to have a yield of up to 100 kilotons, about four to five times stronger than the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, the chief of the parliament’s defense committee said Sunday.

Citing a report from the military authorities, Kim Young-woo said that the explosive power of the apparent nuke tested Sunday appeared to be much stronger than the North’s fifth one estimated to have a yield of 10 kilotons. One kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT.

“(The North’s latest test) is estimated to have a yield of up to 100 kilotons, though it is a provisional report,” Kim of the minor opposition Bareun Party told Yonhap News Agency over the phone. “The test will be a very crucial political and strategic inflexion point.”‘

Read More Here.

Geologic Data Here.

Editor’s Note: The yield of the test has been expanded to at least 120KT according to Japanese press. 

NATO intercepts Russian jets near Estonia as Putin prepares military buildup

Spanish and Finnish fighter jets were sent to intercept three Russian planes flying near Estonian air space on Tuesday, the NATO military alliance said in a statement.

The Russian airplanes were identified as two MiG-31 jets and one Antonov AN-26 transport aircraft, NATO said.

“Two Spanish F-18 jets assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled from Estonia’s Amari Air Base,” NATO said.

“Finnish jets also scrambled to intercept the aircraft.”

Intercepts of Russian aircraft by NATO have increased in recent years amid heightened tensions between the West and Moscow over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia is preparing send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War.

Read More at the Sydney Morning Herald.

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