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Australia to withdraw last 80 troops from Afghanistan
Australia would complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in September in line with the United States and other allies, the prime minister said Thursday. Australia’s contribution to the NATO-led mission had once exceeded 15,000 personnel, but only 80 remain. “In line with the United States and other allies and partners, the last remaining Australian troops will depart Afghanistan in September,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, without nominating a day.
U.S. says Manafort associate passed sensitive polling data to Russian intelligence
The U.S. government has sanctioned Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian political consultant indicted in the Mueller investigation in 2018, for carrying out election influence operations on behalf of Russian intelligence services.The big picture: The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on 2016 Russian election interference assessed that Kilimnik, who worked with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort as a lobbyist for the pro-Russia president of Ukraine, is a Russian intelligence officer.Get market news worthy of your time with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free.The investigation found that on numerous occasions, Manafort sought to pass sensitive internal polling data and campaign strategy to Kilimnik. The committee was unable to determine why or what Kilimnik did with that information, in part due to the pair’s use of encrypted messaging apps.The committee did obtain “some information” suggesting Kilimnik “may have been connected” to Russia’s hacking and leaking of Democratic emails. The section detailing these findings is largely redacted, however.The intrigue: The U.S. government stated for the first time Thursday that Kilimnik provided Russian intelligence “with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” during the 2016 election — filling a key link that had been left unanswered by both special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee.The Treasury Department also noted that Kilimnik, who is wanted by the FBI on charges of obstruction of justice, sought to promote the false narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.He also sought to orchestrate a plan to return former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to power, according to Treasury. Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014 after being ousted in the Ukrainian Revolution.Go deeper: U.S. imposes sweeping sanctions targeting Russian economyMore from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free
The Daily Beast
Gym That Defied Lockdown Linked to at Least 419 Infections And One Death
Cameron SmithCity officials are trying to figure out how a single Quebec City gym that refused to obey lockdown orders could have been linked to the infection of at least 419 people including one 40-year-old man who died after contracting COVID.Health authorities told CBC that the Mega Fitness Gym had broken at least three public health orders before it was forced to shut down on March 31, just as the city was placed under another lockdown amid surging infection rates. The outbreak has prompted local health authorities to conduct an epidemiological investigation into how the virus was able to spread so rapidly, and whether the infections were caused by the deadly U.K. variant.The gym owner, Daniel Morino, had protested government-mandated business closures by reopening his facility in the middle of a province-wide lockdown last summer. According to CBC, the gym owner had shared social media posts that downplayed the seriousness of the virus and cast doubt over the necessity of wearing face masks.In June, police showed up at Morino’s gym after receiving a complaint that he had hosted a 5 am “grand re-opening” of his family business. Morino told a local daily newspaper that, after touring the business, the police officers left without imposing any fines or ordering him to shut the gym doors.“I was not surprised by the presence of the police and I told them to do their job as I did mine,” Marino told Le Journal de Québec, adding that he had taken the necessary precautions to keep his clients safe.“My biggest fear is going bankrupt… I have nothing to lose. If I am fined $50,000, I will add it to my debts. Either way, it won’t make a difference since I’m going to go bankrupt. I have invested 25 years of my life in this business and I don’t want to go out of business without doing anything. I would regret it all my life. I’m not the people’s savior, but I’m just trying to save my business.”Although Marino maintained that he had been adhering to social distancing measures after defying lockdown mandates, Quebec City’s public health director said that, based on the latest inspection, it was clear that the gym had not been taking proper safety precautions.According to the director’s statement, which was reported by CTV, gym-goers were not being screened for symptoms, employees were not wearing proper personal protection gear, and clients were not physically distancing themselves from each other.Morino finally closed the Mega Fitness Gym doors to the public on March 31. But at that point, it was too late. With hundreds infected, one gym client dead, and more casualties likely to come—the outbreak has spiraled into one of Canada’s biggest superspreader events.Addressing Quebec City’s latest lockdown amid Canada’s lagging vaccine rates and staggering third COVID wave, Mayor Régis Labeaume had some choice words aimed directly at Dan Marino.“Bravo, champion,” he said. “Everyone has nice biceps but now people are sick.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
Son, father appear in court for hearing in 1996 killing
A former California college student charged with murder in the 1996 disappearance of classmate Kristin Smart and the defendant’s father, who is accused of helping hide the young woman’s body, made their first court appearance Thursday but did not enter pleas. Paul Flores, 44, was charged with first-degree murder for the killing that allegedly happened as he tried to rape Smart in his dorm room at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo after an off-campus party. Witnesses said Smart was intoxicated and Flores had said he would walk her home.
SNP-run council accused of ordering cleaners to tidy streets in Sturgeon’s constituency ahead of Anas Sarwar visit
Anas Sarwar has accused an SNP-run council of dispatching cleaners to tidy the streets of Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency shortly before an election photocall he held on Thursday to highlight their dirty condition. The Scottish Labour leader claimed that cleansing workers in Glasgow Southside, which is the First Minister’s constituency, told him they were ordered to do a clean up operation ahead of his visit to the Govanhill area. The Daily Telegraph photographed three bin lorries and street cleaners that turned up shortly before Mr Sarwar’s election stop. Local residents said it was not the normal day for the refuse collections to occur. Ms Sturgeon has faced repeated accusations throughout the Holyrood election campaign of dropping the ball in her own backyard, with cleansing, poverty and housing being huge issues in Glasgow Southside. “I met cleansing workers there who were telling me about the huge cuts they’ve seen, not just in terms of staff but also in terms of the investment they’ve had,” he said.
Exclusive: EU agrees to sanction two companies close to Myanmar military, diplomats say
The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the Feb. 1 coup in Myanmar and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said. The measures, which the diplomats said could take effect next week, would target two companies that generate revenue for the Myanmar Armed Forces. While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target two companies is the most significant response so far for the bloc since the coup that ousted an elected government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
U.S. imposes sanctions targeting Russian economy over SolarWinds hack, election interference
The Biden administration announced it will sanction dozens of Russian officials and entities, expel 10 diplomats from the U.S., and set new restrictions on buying Russian sovereign debt in response to the massive SolarWinds hack of federal agencies and interference in the 2020 election.Why it matters: The sweeping acts of retaliation are aimed at imposing heavy economic costs on Russia, after years of sanctions that have failed to deter an increasingly aggressive and authoritarian President Vladimir Putin.Get market news worthy of your time with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free.Details: The administration formally accused Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) of carrying out the SolarWinds hack, which Microsoft President Brad Smith has called “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.” The intelligence community said it has “high confidence” in the assessment.The package of sanctions will bar U.S. banks from buying Russian government bonds directly from the the country’s central bank, sovereign wealth fund and ministry of finance beginning June 14, complicating Russia’s ability to raise money in international capital markets.A senior administration official told reporters the move would create a “broader chilling effect” that will weaken the ruble and have negative implications for inflation and economic growth.Six Russian technology companies will be sanctioned for providing support for Russian intelligence’s cyber activities, while 32 entities and individuals will be designated for their role in the Kremlin’s election interference campaign.Ten Russian officials will also be expelled from the U.S. A senior administration official said their activities in the U.S. had been “inconsistent” with their diplomatic status, in a signal that they were suspected spies.Another senior administration official noted that the U.S. was taking additional steps which would “remain unseen.”In partnership with the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada, the U.S. will also sanction eight individuals and entities for their role in Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea.Thursday’s sanctions will not be tied to allegations that Russia paid Afghan militants to attack U.S. troops. A senior administration official said U.S. intelligence had only “low to moderate confidence” that Russia had made such payments because of the “challenging operating environment” in Afghanistan.The administration said that “given the sensitivity of the matter,” it would be “handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.”The big picture: On his second day in office, Biden ordered the intelligence community to conduct a review into Russia’s “reckless and adversarial actions” spanning four areas: election interference, the SolarWinds hack, the poisoning and jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and reports of Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.The U.S. sanctioned seven senior Russian officials in March after assessing “with high confidence” that Federal Security Service (FSB) officers poisoned Navalny using the nerve agent Novichok.Two weeks later, U.S. intelligence released a report assessing that Putin authorized election influence operations aimed at denigrating Biden’s candidacy.Driving the news: The announcement comes two days after President Biden held a phone call with Putin and proposed a summit “in a third country in the coming months.”Biden also warned Putin against further “cyber intrusions and election interference” and raised concerns over Russia’s massing of forces on the border with eastern Ukraine, which CIA Director William Burns said Wednesday is now large enough for a “limited military incursion.”A senior administration official said it was unclear whether Putin would accept Biden’s summit proposal, but that it was “vital” for the two to meet in the coming months “to find a stable and predictable way forward.” “We have no desire to be in an escalatory cycle with Russia,” the official said, while adding that the U.S. reserved the right to respond to any Russian reaction to Thursday’s moves.The other side: “We condemn any sanction aspirations. We believe they are illegal. In any case, the principle of reciprocity applies in this case. Reciprocity will meet our interests in the best possible way,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing Thursday.Worth noting: Despite the fact that the U.S. is itself highly active in cyber espionage, a senior administration official said it was appropriate to respond to the SolarWinds attack because of its “broad scope and scale,” the possibility that networks could be degraded “in the blink of an eye,” and because the burden fell largely on the private sector.More from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free
Bjork, Sabres spoil Backstrom’s 1,000th game, beat Capitals
Anders Bjork scored his first goal with his new team and added an assist, helping Buffalo spoil Nicklas Backstrom’s 1,000th game as the Sabres beat the Washington Capitals 5-2 on Thursday night. Sam Reinhart scored his 15th goal and Victor Olofsson added his 12th for Buffalo, which has won five of its last nine following an 18-game winless streak. Casey Middlestadt added the first short-handed goal of his career during the Sabres’ three-goal second period.
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