Russian agent Butina begs U.S. judge for mercy, gets 18 months in prison

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Admitted Russian agent Maria Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Friday after the Siberia native, her voice breaking with emotion, begged a judge for mercy and expressed remorse for conspiring with a Russian official to infiltrate a gun rights group and influence U.S. conservative activists and Republicans.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan imposed a sentence that matched the prison term prosecutors requested and also agreed to have Butina, 30, deported back to Russia after she completes her incarceration. The sentence included the nine months Butina already has served in jail since her July arrest, meaning she has about nine more months behind bars.

Lawyers for Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who publicly advocated for gun rights, had asked Chutkan to impose a sentence of time served and let her return to Russia.

Clad in a green prison jumpsuit, Butina implored Chutkan for leniency, calling her “dear judge.”

“For all the international scandal my arrest has caused, I feel ashamed and embarrassed. My parents taught me the virtue of higher education, how to live life lawfully, and how to be good and kind to others,” Butina said.

“I have three degrees, but now I’m a convicted felon with no job, no money, and no freedom,” Butina added.

Butina pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. The case marked another irritant in fraught U.S.-Russian relations.

“This was no simple misunderstanding by an over-eager foreign student,” Chutkan said before imposing the sentence.

Butina admitted to conspiring with a Russian official and two Americans from 2015 until her arrest to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, a group closely aligned with U.S. conservatives and Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and create unofficial lines of communication to try to shape Washington’s policy towards Moscow.

By coincidence, Trump addressed the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis about an hour after Butina’s sentencing, drawing enthusiastic cheers by announcing the United States would abandon an international treaty regulating conventional arms sales.

In Moscow, Russia’s foreign ministry called Butina’s sentence “politically motivated,” saying in a statement: “Our countrywoman was sentenced only because she is a citizen of Russia.”

Prosecutors said while Butina did not engage in “traditional” spycraft, she worked behind the scenes to make inroads in conservative political circles and promote warmer U.S.-Russian relations. She arranged dinners in Washington and New York and attended events to meet prominent politicians.

Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, was the Russian official mentioned in the case. Torshin was not charged.

Butina’s case was separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, which detailed numerous contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Her activities, though, occurred during the same period as the contacts investigated by Mueller.

‘I AM RESPONSIBLE’

Until Friday, Butina had made no major public comments since her arrest. Her remarks ran counter to the Kremlin’s account of Butina being forced by the United States to falsely confess to the “ridiculous” charge of being a Russian agent.

“I destroyed my own life,” Butina told the judge.

“While I know I am not this evil person who has been depicted in the media, I am responsible for these consequences,” Butina added.

“Now I beg for mercy, for the chance to go home and restart my life,” she said.

Her lawyers downplayed her crime as a simple failure to notify the Justice Department of her activities on Russia’s behalf.

“If I had known to register as a foreign agent, I would have done so without delay,” Butina told the judge. “I just didn’t register because I didn’t know to.”

Prosecutor Erik Kenerson told the court Butina’s activities were more serious.

“This is not a registration offense,” Kenerson said. “This is a case where the defendant acted in the United States as an agent of the Russian government.”

Chutkan said determining Butina’s sentence was “far more complicated” than most cases. The 18 months recommended by prosecutors were less than they could have sought, reflecting Butina’s cooperation after her guilty plea that included her speaking to a congressional committee, the FBI and federal prosecutors.

Reuters previously reported Butina was a public Trump supporter who bragged at Washington parties she could use her political connections to help people land jobs in his administration.

One of the two Americans referenced by prosecutors was conservative political activist Paul Erickson, Butina’s then-boyfriend. He was not charged in Butina’s case but faces wire fraud and money laundering charges in a separate prosecution in South Dakota.

Many of Butina’s meetings were documented on her social media pages, with photos of her at NRA conferences, a high-profile annual prayer breakfast in Washington, and with dignitaries including Republican former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a 2016 presidential candidate.

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Nadal to face Thiem in Barcelona Open semifinals

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BARCELONA, Spain — Rafael Nadal will meet Dominic Thiem in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open after the defending champion brushed off a challenge from German Jan-Lennard Struff to win 7-5, 7-5 on Friday.

The top-seeded Nadal broke Struff’s serve in the final game of each set to stay on course for a record-extending 12th title on the outdoor clay courts at Barcelona.

He next faces the third-seeded Thiem, who beat Guido Pella 7-5, 6-2.

“I am getting better and better as the tournament goes on,” Nadal said. “These are two consecutive weeks that I will at least have reached semifinals on clay.”

Nadal lost in the semifinals in Monte Carlo last week and then needed three sets to get past Leonard Mayer in his opening match in Barcelona. He saw off David Ferrer in straight sets on Thursday.

Struff, who beat last year’s runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round, fought back from an early break to make a match of it.

Nadal avoided the first-set tiebreaker by pushing Struff into a 0-40 hole on his final service game. He closed out the set when Struff could only stab his passing shot off the court.

Nadal then finished the match by chasing down a ball and landing a backhand return just inside the opposing corner, improving his record in Barcelona to 61-3.

Nadal is 8-3 against Thiem, including a win in 2017 final in Barcelona. But the Austrian is the only player to have beaten him on clay in each of the past two seasons.

Nadal said that Thiem “is a candidate to win any tournament on clay.”

While Nadal has won 57 clay-court titles, eight of Thiem’s 12 titles have come on the surface.

Kei Nishikori, who won here in 2014 and 2015, also advanced to the final four after beating Roberto Carballes 6-4, 7-5.

The fourth-seeded Nishikori will play Daniil Medvedev, after the Russian hit five aces in defeating Nicolas Jarry 6-3, 6-4.

Joe Biden Raises $6.3 Million in 24 Hours After Campaign Announcement

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The campaign noted in a statement that $65,000 of the donations were raised outside of existing email lists and that 97 percent of online donations were under $200.

Biden’s campaign haul is the most raised in just 24 hours after a Democrat 2020 presidential announcement. Beto O’Rourke raised $6.1 million in 24 hours.

“Folks, it’s proof we are running a truly grassroots campaign,” Biden wrote in an email to his supporters.

Prior to his campaign announcement, Biden was reportedly organizing fundraising efforts to make a big splash late in the presidential race.

He kicked off his race by attending a high-dollar fundraiser in Pennsylvania, co-hosted by union-busting attorney Steve Cozen and Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen.

The Biden campaign did not detail what percentage of its $6.3 billion was from online donors.

Turkey Rejects US Sanctions Against Cuba, Venezuela and Iran

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Havana, Apr 26 (Prensa Latina) Turkey’s ambassador in Havana, Berris Ekinci, expressed today the rejection of her country to the US sanctions against Cuba and others such as Venezuela and Iran.

 

In response to a question from Prensa Latina, Ekinci assured that Turkey is opposed to all types of unilateral and extraterritorial measures, especially the application of the Helms-Burton Law against Cuba.

Recently, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that the administration of Donald Trump will apply, from May 2, the Title III of that regulation, approved in 1996, which will intensify the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed for almost 60 years to this nation.

This section allows US citizens to bring to court persons or companies from third countries that invest in Cuban territory on nationalized properties after the triumph of the Revolution on January 1, 1959.

So far, Trump’s predecessors, since William Clinton (1993-2001), avoided its implementation with suspensions that were extended every six months.

The head of the Turkish diplomatic mission in Havana recalled that most of the States worldwide are in disagreement with such White House’s decision, which is reflected in statements issued by various governments.

Ekinci also expressed Ankara’s condemnation of the US onslaught on Iranian oil exports, which greatly affects her country.

‘We prefer Iranian oil for many reasons, especially because of the technical characteristics of our refineries. In addition, we maintain very good relations with Tehran. We believe that these sanctions are harming the peoples,’ she pointed out.

On the other hand, she reiterated Turkey’s condemnation of US interference in Venezuela and advocated respect for the sovereignty and political independence of that South American State.

We recognize Nicolas Maduro as the legitimate President of Venezuela, she affirmed and stressed the importance of a peaceful solution to the situation in that country.

Likewise, she let clear the willingness of Ankara to contribute to such purpose.

‘We think that using methods to exclude dialogue and negotiation will have dangerous consequences for Venezuela and the entire region. Any initiative must be carried out in an inclusive manner, involving the Venezuelan government in the process,’ she underscored.

In addition, she urged to avoid acts of intervention and imposition and to seek ‘a sustainable solution, based on the Constitution and Venezuelan laws.’

The Turkish ambassador also criticized Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the supposed sovereignty of that nation over the Golan Heights, a Syrian territory occupied since 1967.

‘That last decision is completely null and void in Turkey. Both measures represent a clear violation of International Law and the resolutions of the United Nations Organization,’ she concluded.

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Turquía rechaza sanciones de EE.UU. contra Cuba, Venezuela e Irán

La Habana, 26 abr (Prensa Latina) La embajadora de Turquía en La Habana, Berris Ekinci, expresó hoy el rechazo de su país a las sanciones impuestas por Estados Unidos a Cuba y a otras como Venezuela e Irán.

En respuesta a una pregunta de Prensa Latina, Ekinci aseguró que Turquía se opone a todo tipo de medidas unilaterales y de carácter extraterritorial, en especial, a la aplicación de la Ley Helms-Burton contra Cuba.

Recientemente, el secretario norteamericano de Estado, Mike Pompeo, comunicó que la administración de Donald Trump aplicará por completo a partir del 2 de mayo el Título III de esa normativa, aprobada en 1996, con lo cual se agudiza el bloqueo económico, comercial y financiero impuesto desde hace casi 60 años a esta nación.

Dicho apartado permite a nacionales de Estados Unidos llevar a los tribunales a personas o empresas de terceros países que invierten en el territorio cubano en propiedades nacionalizadas tras el triunfo de la Revolución, el 1 de enero de 1959.

Hasta el momento, los predecesores de Trump, desde William Clinton (1993-2001), evitaron su puesta en práctica con suspensiones que se prorrogaban cada seis meses.

La jefa de la misión diplomática turca en La Habana recordó que la mayoría de los Estados del mundo están en descuerdo con esa decisión de la Casa Blanca, lo cual se refleja en comunicados emitidos por diversos gobiernos.

Ekinci también expresó la condena de Ankara a la arremetida de Estados Unidos contra las exportaciones de petróleo iraní, lo cual afecta considerablemente a su país.

‘Preferimos el petróleo iraní por muchas razones, en especial, por las características técnicas de nuestras refinerías. Además, mantenemos muy buenas relaciones con Teherán. Creemos que estas sanciones están dañando a los pueblos’, afirmó.

Por otra parte, reiteró la condena de Turquía a la injerencia en Venezuela y abogó por el respeto a la soberanía y la independencia política de ese Estado suramericano.

Reconocemos a Nicolás Maduro como presidente legítimo de Venezuela, aseveró y destacó la importancia de una solución pacífica a la situación existente en esa nación.

Asimismo, manifestó la voluntad de Ankara de contribuir a ese propósito.

‘Creemos que los métodos que excluyen el diálogo y la negociación tendrán consecuencias peligrosas para Venezuela y para toda la región. Cualquier iniciativa debe llevarse a cabo de manera inclusiva, involucrando al gobierno de Venezuela en el proceso’, afirmó.

Además, instó a evitar actos de intervención e imposición y a buscar ‘una solución sostenible, sobre la base de la Constitución y las leyes venezolanas’.

La embajadora turca criticó también el reconocimiento por Washington de Jerusalén como la capital de Israel y de la supuesta soberanía de esa nación sobre los Altos del Golán, territorio sirio ocupado desde 1967.

‘Esa última decisión es completamente nula y sin valor en Turquía. Ambas medidas representan una clara violación del Derecho Internacional y de las resoluciones de la Organización de Naciones Unidas’, afirmó.

The Phoenix: ‘Lighter-than-air’ aircraft ‘rises like a balloon’ in the first test flight

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An innovative aircraft that turns into a “lighter-than-air” balloon to propel itself forward has been flown for the first time.

The Phoenix is designed to repeatedly switch between being lighter and heavier than air to generate thrust and allow it to stay in the skies indefinitely.

Officially known as an “ultra-long endurance autonomous aircraft,” it was developed by scientists in Scotland and flown over a distance of 120 metres during its first test flight in March.

The Phoenix is similar in design to a blimp. (U. of the Highlands and Islands)

The blimp-like aircraft, which is 15 metres long and has a wingspan of 10.5 metres, has been designed for businesses and scientific use, and its creators hope it will revolutionise the telecommunications industry.

“The Phoenix spends half its time as a heavier-than-air aeroplane, the other as a lighter-than-air balloon,” explains Andrew Rae, professor of engineering at the University of the Highlands and Islands Perth College, who was involved in the project.

“The repeated transition between these states provides the sole source of propulsion.

“This system allows the Phoenix to be completely self-sufficient.

“Vehicles based on this technology could be used as pseudo satellites and would provide a much cheaper option for telecommunication activities.”

The team behind the aircraft also believe it could be used to provide Wi-Fi coverage to remote areas.

The vehicle’s fuselage contains helium, allowing it to ascend, as well as an airbag that inhales and compresses air, enabling it to descend.

It also features solar cells on its wings and tail, which charge the battery that powers its valves and pumps.

Gas-filled dirigible-style aircraft have been making a return to the skies in recent years.

The Airlander 10, a massive helium-filled airship claimed as the world’s biggest aircraft is hoping to make its commercial debut in the next few years.

Kim warns of a return to tension, blames US ‘bad faith’

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told Russian President Vladimir Putin peace and security on the Korean peninsula depended on the United States, warning that a state of hostility could easily return, North Korean media said on Friday.

Kim’s remarks, at talks with Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday, will likely add to pressure on the United States to be more flexible on a North Korean demand for an easing of international sanctions.

A second summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February collapsed with no progress on a US demand that the North give up its nuclear programme and a North Korean demand for an easing of sanctions.

The North Korean leader has said he would wait until the end of the year for the United States to be more flexible.

“The situation on the Korean peninsula and the region is now at a standstill and has reached a critical point where it may return to its original state as the US took a unilateral attitude in bad faith at the recent second DPRK-US summit talks,” North Korea’s KCNA reported Kim as saying.

Kim looks on after attending a wreath-laying ceremony at a Navy memorial in Vladivostok, Russia, on Friday. Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

 

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is North Korea’s official name.

“The DPRK will gird itself for every possible situation.” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

William Hagerty, the US ambassador to Japan, told a Washington think-tank that Kim’s contact with Russia and China was part of an effort to seek relief from international sanctions.

“The fact you see Kim Jong Un meeting with Vladimir Putin underscores the fact that the sanctions are working and the sanctions are putting extreme economic pressure on the North Korean regime,” Hagerty said.

“What we see is an outreach to try to find a way to deal with it. There is a much simpler way to deal with it and that is to denuclearise,” he said.

He said it was important the international community enforced UN sanctions against North Korea that were imposed because of its nuclear and missile programmes.

SECURITY GUARANTEES

On Friday, Kim joined officials to lay a wreath at a Navy memorial at Vladivostok bay.

The first face-to-face talks between Putin and Kim held on an island off the Russian Pacific city, did not appear to yield any major breakthrough.

The two discussed ways to promote strategic communication and tactical collaboration in the course of ensuring peace and security on the Korean peninsula and beyond, KCNA said.

Putin said he thought a deal on North Korea’s nuclear programme was possible and the way to achieve it was to move forward step by step to build trust.

But any US security guarantees to North Korea might need to be supported by other nations involved in previous six-way talks on the issue, Putin said.

Russia was for years a participant in six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear programme. The talks, which included the two Koreas, the United States, China, and Japan, have not been held since 2009.

“They only need guarantees about their security. That’s it. All of us together need to think about this,” Putin told reporters after talks with Kim, referring to North Korea.

Such guarantees would have to be international, legally binding, and vouch for North Korea’s sovereignty, Putin said.

Russia and North Korea agreed to increase cooperation in various areas and Kim invited Putin to visit North Korea, and he accepted, KCNA said. No date was announced.

“North Korea seems to be trying to expand its negotiating position with the US,” said South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-Je, according to the Yonhap news agency.

“The US continues to send a message to North Korea through channels at every level that it is open to dialogue … The expectation seems to be that the North may respond once the Chairman Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic schedule is completed.”

Iranian Ayatollah Defies U.S. Sanctions: ‘We Will Export Our Oil as Much as We Need’

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U.S.’s efforts to boycott the sale of Iran’s oil won’t get them anywhere. We will export our oil as much as we need and we intend. They should know that their hostile measure won’t be left without a response. Iranian nation does not sit idle in the face of animosities.

Khamenei.ir@khamenei_ir

U.S.’s efforts to boycott the sale of Iran’s oil won’t get them anywhere. We will export our oil as much as we need and we intend. They should know that their hostile measure won’t be left without a response. Iranian nation does not sit idle in the face of animosities.

257 people are talking about this

Khamenei.ir@khamenei_ir

They wishfully think they have blocked Iran oil sales, but our vigorous nation and vigilant officials, if they work hard, will open many blockades. The less we rely on such form of oil sales, the more will be appreciative and this will be better for us.

Khamenei.ir@khamenei_ir

Enemies have repeatedly, in vain, taken action against our great nation, revolution & IR who voice support for justice across world. In economic issues, they say they want to bring Iranian nation to its knees; but they must know Iranians won’t give in.http://english.khamenei.ir/news/6655/ 

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Iran’s state-run Press TV notes that Khamenei made those remarks while speaking to a large group of domestic workers on Wednesday. He reportedly downplayed the U.S. decision to end the exemptions from oil sanctions during his speech.

Acknowledging that the U.S. sanctions “have caused problems” in Iran, Khamenei called for “collective efforts to reduce domestic dependence on oil,” Press TV points out.

He went on to argue that Iran could benefit from the sanctions if they are dealt with “correctly and logically.”

“Sanctions lead to reliance on domestic power, capacity, and initiatives,” he said.

His comments came days after the White House announced the end to the waivers on Monday, urging Iranian oil consumers to stop purchases by May 1 or face sanctions.

When U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal last year, he restored restrictions on Tehran’s oil industry as part of a wave of sanctions.

In November 2018, his administration granted waivers to the Islamic Republic’s eight biggest buyers of crude: China, India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan, and Turkey.

Most of the waiver beneficiaries have already reduced their purchases of Iranian oil, including three – Greece, Italy, and Taiwan – that brought their imports down to zero.

Citing analysts from the Eurasia Group, CNBC notes that China and India, which heavily rely on Iranian oil, will “likely remain defiant” despite the threat of U.S. sanctions.

The analysts did predict that both countries will likely reduce their Iranian oil consumption, but not down to zero as demanded by the Trump administration.

China is considered Iran’s top crude oil customer.

In response to the restrictions on Iran’s oil industry, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared in December 2018 that Iran would ensure that “no oil” is exported from the Persian Gulf region, according to the regime-aligned Fars News Agency.

Rouhani explicitly threatened to blockade the Persian Gulf if the United States moved to suspend the waivers and tries to prevent Tehran from exporting its crude oil, stressing that Washington will not be able to do so.

It is unclear whether the Islamic Republic still maintains that position.

In November 2018, the Iranian president reportedly argued the waivers are a testament to America’s incapability to stop Iran’s crude oil sales.

On Wednesday, Ayatollah Khamenei repeated those assertions, indicating that the U.S. has “recurrently failed in their attempts to bring the Iranian nation to its knees,” Press TV reports.

“They (enemies) imagine they’ve blocked [our] way, but our vigorous nation and vigilant authorities will overcome the dead-ends if they put their efforts into this,” he reportedly added.

Iranian leaders have repeatedly said the United States will not be able to stop the Islamic Republic from selling oil.