Let’s talk about planting trees and building community – Beau of the Fifth Column

Mar 29, 2022

Dubai throws open the doors for the rich Russians escaping sanctions

Roman Abramovich said to be among those looking for a luxury base in the UAE, which is unafraid to snub the west

On the tarmac of Dubai airport, half way along its main runway, a small terminal has been doing brisk business this month. Daily flights have disgorged dozens of Russians – many among the wealthiest figures in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Mar 15, 2022: As the US imposes sanctions on Moscow, rich Russians are looking for ways to secure their wealth. Countries like the UK, France, Canada and several others have also followed suit and slapped sanctions on Russia’s rich.

A short VIP welcome and limousine ride later, and the oligarchs are into a world that cares little about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine or the attempts to punish Putin, and has instead willingly embraced his enablers.

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, the oligarchs, and other cashed-up Russians are welcome in Dubai, along with their riches, which are flooding to the United Arab Emirates in unprecedented amounts – often via discreet means.

The UAE has not followed western governments in using sanctions as retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. Bankers, real estate agents, car dealerships and marinas are reporting extraordinary demand for homes, sports cars and mooring space as the influx settles in to an oil-rich monarchy that has charted its own course on Putin’s Russia and is not afraid to expose glaring tensions with the US in doing so.

Transactions, from elite property sales to leases, are largely being conducted using cryptocurrencies, but some have been straight transfers from Russian financial entities linked to sanctioned tycoons, a regional intelligence source told the Observer. Such moves undermine sanctions imposed by the US and EU on the Russian leaders’ allies and are a potent lure for the next rung of Russian businessmen who fear the same fate.

Mar 17, 2022: ‘Live in the mess that Putin has created’: a tour of Russian oligarch-linked properties in London

Real estate agents in Dubai are reporting one of the biggest bull markets ever as Russian investors snap up apartments sight unseen, either buying them outright, or paying a year’s rent in advance. “It’s been unbelievable,” said Alan Pinto, a leasing consultant at Espace Real Estate in Dubai Marina.

“A radical amount of Russian investors are purchasing units. Even tenants; we’ve had a huge amount of calls. They transfer their funds via crypto. They have an intermediary who will do that for them and then the cash is passed to the landlords.”

Rumours are widespread among Dubai realtors that the billionaire and ex-owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich, is in the market for a luxury base on the city’s coveted foreshore. One of his jets has been a regular visitor to the airbase, and a yacht linked to him has been moored in nearby Gulf waters.

Abramovich’s property holdings are being scrutinised around the globe, including in the French territory of St Barts in the Caribbean, where he is a major holder of luxury homes in Gouverneur Bay, near compounds owned by other oligarchs.

Mar 16, 2022: West looks for alternatives to Russian Oil, UK PM Boris Johnson arrives in UAE

He is believed to have financed substantial upgrades to public facilities, including roads and car parking, winning the favour of local authorities.

“It will be the same in Dubai,” said a real estate agent who has sold two luxury properties, valued up to $20m to Russian investors in the past three weeks. “They know how to deal with the local authorities and to make themselves good neighbours.

“A lot of the new investors are very hush-hush,” said Pinto. “They will never purchase directly, they get companies to do it for them.”

While oligarchs’ jets continue to shuttle between Moscow and Dubai, so do commercial flights. There is no sign of the money flow between the two cities slowing down and there has been little local reaction to a move earlier in March by the global financial crimes watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, to put the UAE on its “grey” list, meaning the provenance of some money in the UAE could be considered opaque.

Among bankers, power brokers and global tycoons, the UAE has long been known as a receptive environment for investment that asks few questions. A residency permit and a bank account can be obtained in 30 days following the registration of a company. Permanent residency can be purchased for the price of a luxury villa – about $1.5m.

Employees of leading banks may soon be signing up.

Goldman Sachs was among the first US banks to announce the closure of its Russian business. It had about 80 employees in Moscow prior to the conflict, roughly half of whom are now moving to Dubai. A small number of JP Morgan’s 160-strong Moscow workforce are also relocating, although many employees are still in Russia, unwinding operations there. It is understood the easy availability of Dubai visas has played a role in the choice to relocate.

Private bank Rothschild, whose wealth management unit reportedly decided to stop accepting new Russian clients, is also said to be moving some of its Russia-based staff to the Emirates. The bank did not respond to a request for comment.

The UAE government has claimed to have taken significant measures to regulate the inflow of money. Its ready acceptance of Russian wealth at a time of global scrutiny on Putin’s financial tsars may put that claim to the test. But even more open to challenge is the relationship between the UAE and Washington, as Emirati leaders edge closer towards China, which as well as being a geopolitical rival is emerging as the potential hub of an alternative financial system.

The Chinese cross-border payment system, Cips, is being mooted as a replacement for Swift – a development that could change the nature of global finance and dilute the impact of sanctions on Russia. While such a move does not seem likely – at least in the short term, Emirati leaders have not been shy in showing their displeasure with US president Joe Biden, who they believe has shied away from a longstanding strategic partnership, at a time when Putin has been prepared to embrace them.

Oct 17, 2018: Investigation: As U.S.-Backed War in Yemen Raged, UAE Hired U.S. Mercenaries to Kill Yemeni Leaders

The war in Yemen has widened the rift. In January, Houthi forces claimed responsibility for an apparent drone attack in Abu Dhabi that killed three people and left flames billowing from an oil storage site.

“They have been particularly upset over Yemen, and the fact that they did not get a phone call from Biden after Abu Dhabi was hit by drones and rockets fitted by the Houthis,” said an expatriate in Dubai with knowledge of the government position.

Julien Barnes Dacey, the head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said: “At face value UAE seems they think they can navigate around US sanctions but it may just be too early for them to have internalised what this western anti-Russian sanctions drive really means.

“It’s hard to know how much it fits into the recent sense of Emirati hedging, and whether they are actively looking to send a message to Washington that they’re frustrated with the US position at large and are happy to go their own way moving forward.”

Mar 16, 2022: A Tale of Two Wars: Biden Decries Russian Atrocities in Ukraine While Backing Saudi/UAE War in Yemen

In Dubai, bling is back. Boulevards that were silent during the peak of the pandemic are bustling with the roar of sports cars, some driven by locals, others by young Russians.

Towering over them is the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which sparkles like a giant Disney castle with all manner of light shows. A Russian family are taking photographs of the building at sunset. “It will be red, blue and white soon,” one of the visitors says to his Emirati host, a reference to Russia’s tricolour flag. “I’ll arrange it,” the host replies with laughter.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/26/dubai-throws-open-the-doors-for-the-rich-russians-escaping-sanctions

Esther Byrd, QAnon-adjacent defender of Jan. 6 insurrection, appointed to Florida Board of Education

‘When Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly “Law and Order” is all they can talk about!’

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd to the state’s Board of Education, a move that will almost certainly serve to further politicize that appointed panel.

Mar 25, 2022: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation limiting terms for school board members

A former Marine, Mrs. Byrd is currently the legal assistant and office manager for the Law Office of Cord Byrd, P.A.

Byrd is the wife of Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach. Rep. Byrd, the incumbent in the current HD 11, is one of the House Republicans who sided with the Governor by voting against redistricting maps preserving a minority-access district in North Florida.

“I am excited for the opportunity to serve the students and families of Florida on the Board of Education,” Mrs. Byrd said in a March 14 statement released through the conservative parent group Moms for Liberty.

“Parents are extremely frustrated with being cut off from the decision-making process on issues impacting their children. I will work to amplify their voices, address their concerns, and fight to put children first.”

Esther Byrd is perhaps best known not for her biographical details, but for her staunch advocacy during the Donald Trump administration on behalf of far-right elements.

After the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots, Mrs. Byrd offered a defense of those “peacefully protesting” the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election while alluding to “coming civil wars.”

“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens,” Byrd wrote on her personal Facebook page. “But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly ‘Law and Order’ is all they can talk about! I can’t even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence.”

Those comments came after another incendiary post.

“In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled,” mused Byrd. “Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams… With Us [or] Against Us.”

“We the People will NOT forget!” wrote the person who now sets policy for Florida’s education system

Jan 11, 2021: Florida Rep. Cord Byrd addresses political tweet posted by wife

Rep. Byrd won re-election handily in 2020, but during that campaign, his spouse’s comments that catered to the fringe elements in the GOP came to the fore.

In October, Mrs. Byrd offered an unsolicited defense of the Proud Boys, a group of youngish men who bill themselves as “western chauvinists.”

Trump infamously urged them to “stand back and stand by” when pressed to condemn the alt-right movement.

Jan 4, 2022: Mainstream presence of Proud Boys, other extreme groups creates mass radicalization fears

Mrs. Byrd, a staunch supporter of the former president, subsequently claimed that many of them and their supporters have been thrown in “FB Jail,” a metaphorical lockdown preventing them from posting to Facebook for some period of time.

“Why do you think Facebook is throwing people in FB Jail who share information about Proud Boys? (Side note: I must really have great friends cause a whole bunch have been locked up! 😂) I think it’s because they’ve seen a drastic spike in searches and they are worried that people are educating themselves rather than blindly believing what MSM narrative. Anyone have a better theory?”

Those statements came months after Byrd made comments supportive of QAnon after the couple was photographed on a boat flying a QAnon flag.

Mrs. Byrd asserted on Facebook contemporaneously that the Byrds were in the photograph.

For his part, the Representative claims that his wife shouldn’t be read too literally.

“People use hyperbole all the time,” Byrd told WJXT last year. “The Speaker of the House has said, and I quote, ‘I just don’t know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country.’”

Asked to clarify that statement, Byrd said “people talk about civil wars in the Republican Party.”

“There are factions. People believe different things. It was a figure of speech and that’s how it was intended.”

Byrd’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

How Fascists Are Taking Advantage Of Climate Change – Second Thought

Mar 25, 2022

We all understand that climate change is real, it’s here, and that the consequences of our inaction will be disastrous for our species and countless other forms of life around the world.

But what happens when those in positions of power see climate change as a means to an end?

A way to make truly draconian policies seem rational? In this week’s episode, we’re talking about two distinct forms of climate fascism: Fossil Fascism and Ecofascism.

Let’s talk about Biden’s trip and Putin’s mistakes – Beau of the Fifth Column

Mar 23, 2022

Zelensky accuses Russia of using phosphorus bombs

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia on Thursday of using phosphorus bombs, which are restricted but not entirely banned under international conventions. 

Mar 24, 2022: Zelensky says Russia using phosphorus bombs in Ukraine • FRANCE 24 English

“This morning we had phosphorus bombs from Russia, people were killed, children were killed,” Zelensky told NATO leaders meeting in Brussels for an emergency summit regarding the war, NBC News reported.

White phosphorus ignites on contact with air. It is typically used in wars to mark enemy targets or create a smokescreen to hire troop movements, but can also start fires and kill or maim anyone who comes in contact with it. 

Among the points of discussion at the Brussels meeting is determining what actions Russia could take that would require NATO to get more directly involved in the war, The Wall Street Journal reported.

NATO members have so far supplied military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but have refused sending troops or implement a no fly zone.

The Pentagon said Wednesday it wasn’t able to confirm the use of phosphorus bombs in Ukraine, according to NBC News. 

The accusation by Zelensky comes a day after President Biden again warned of Russia using chemical weapons. 

“I think it’s a real threat,” Biden said when asked about Russia using chemical weapons before he left for Brussels to join the discussions.

Phosphorous is not considered a chemical weapon under international law. 

The U.S. accused Russia of war crimes on Wednesday after Russia has escalated shelling of civilian targets including hospitals, schools and bomb shelters. 

Mar 15, 2022: What are white phosphorus bombs?

The U.N. has confirmed more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, although they say the true total is likely much higher.

https://thehill.com/policy/international/599553-zelensky-accuses-russia-of-using-phosphorus-bombs

Georgia Threatens to Sue Its Own President Over Her Support for Ukraine

Georgia’s ruling party, if not its populace, wants to appease the Kremlin. Georgia’s president does not.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Georgia has been a house divided. That very day, thousands of Georgians gathered in front of the Parliament in Tbilisi to show support and solidarity for Ukraine. They returned night after night to protest the unprovoked Russian invasion and the deliberate slaughter of Ukrainian civilians; the 2008 Russian invasion of their own country remains fresh in the minds of Georgians.

Feb 19, 2022: Georgians rally behind Ukraine against Russia

But the Georgian government, unlike most European countries, has been hesitant to offer much support to Ukraine, drawing the ire of protesters. When Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili refused to join in sanctions against Russia, the Ukraine solidarity rallies became anti-government protests calling for his resignation. When he blocked a plane transporting 60 Georgian volunteer soldiers to Ukraine and claimed that sanctions against Russia would be ineffective, condemnation of the Georgian government became almost synonymous with solidarity with Ukraine.

If the Georgian government has sought a policy of appeasement with the Kremlin, the Georgian people have not. “Indeed, there are times when citizens are not the Government, but better [than] the Government,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted on Feb. 25. But it wasn’t just the Georgian people: Their president would soon follow.

On Feb. 28, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili said in a video address, “No one expects us to take measures that would endanger the country, but everyone expects solidarity from us. … This is why I am in Paris today and will be visiting Brussels tomorrow—to express Georgian solidarity to Ukraine.” 

Mar 1, 2022: Ukraine: ‘Nobody is adding to the escalation except Putin,’ says Georgia’s Zurabishvili

On March 4, as anti-war and anti-government protests continued in Tbilisi, Zelensky gave a direct video address to crowds gathered in cities across Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Georgia. The Georgian president followed Zelenksy’s address by declaring, “I stand with President Zelensky and with Ukraine. … The dignity of the Georgian people means that we stand with our friends when they fight for freedom, for independence, and for a European future.”

The conflict between the president and the ruling party culminated in her March 14 address to Parliament. 

“The public is much more vigilant, conscious, brave, and, most importantly, united than you are,” Zourabichvili told Parliament. In her address, the president took swipes at both the ruling party and the parliamentary opposition. “The [parliamentary] majority, instead of seeking consensus, portrays anyone who disagrees with it as either a traitor or as the party of war.” She then added: “The opposition, instead of seeking consensus, dubs without appeal any statement or decision by the government as pro-Russian.” 

The following day, the ruling party announced that it would sue the president in the Constitutional Court, claiming that she made unauthorized trips to Paris and Brussels “without any prior consultations with the government and informed it only after the trips, which confirms the president violated the Constitution with premeditated intent.”

The president has yet to publicly respond to her own government’s threat to sue her. Those around her insist that she has not been silenced, that her point has been made, and that her message of unity with Ukraine has not changed. 

For a country that has its own memories of Russian invasion, the war in Ukraine is a tricky one to navigate. Russia already grabbed 20 percent of Georgia’s territory in that brief war, and it periodically nibbles away at more. For Georgia’s political opposition, the government’s overt appeasement of Moscow revealed its true “collaborationist” colors.

Aug 8, 2018: Europe’s forgotten war: The Georgia-Russia conflict explained a decade on

“In the last month a cascade of scandalous moves and statements have been made by the Georgian government, starting with the PM’s outrageous silence during Russian buildup, his despicable statements that Ukraine’s government has failed to ‘avert’ the war, and that the security assistance for Ukraine will not do any good,” said Giga Bokeria, a key figure in Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution. In 2017, Bokeria resigned from the United National Movement party, which had been in power from 2003 to 2012and started a pro-Western opposition party.

For the government’s supporters, Georgia’s abandonment of Ukraine is a realist attempt to avoid conflict with an increasingly unpredictable Russia. Russian FSB security operatives, under the guise of forces from the breakaway region South Ossetia, are dangerously close to Georgia’s main east-west highway, which connects its capital to its ports. In one area, the administrative boundary line of Russian-occupied South Ossetia is less than 500 yards from the highway. Russian forces have also seized territory through which the Baku-Supsa pipeline passes. In a matter of hours, Russia could sever both the highway and the pipeline, leaving Georgia in a state of strategic paralysis. 

“We have witnessed years of cultivating fear of confrontation with Russia coupled with the implied message that the only way to avoid it and survive is to accept [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin’s dominance, allowing Russian infiltration in the security apparatus and political system,” Bokeria said. “For nine years there has not been a single case of exposing Russian espionage or any subversive action. Meanwhile, openly pro-Putin groups have flourished, enjoying zero scrutiny and complete impunity for their violence against civil rights groups, media, minorities, and pro-Western political groups.”

A rift had been quietly growing between the Georgian president and the Georgian Dream government that put in her power in 2018 by funding her campaign. Though it publicly claimed that the presidency was an independent office, the Georgian Dream government expected complete loyalty. Her seemingly benign statements of solidarity with Ukraine put the Georgian presidency on a collision course with its own government, resulting in a campaign to silence her that has both highlighted and distracted from the Georgian government’s refusal to support Ukraine. 

“The president has been outspoken in supporting Ukraine and urging all political parties to demonstrate unity around Georgia’s application for EU membership,” said Tamar Chugoshvili, a former first deputy speaker of Parliament and a high-profile defector from Georgia Dream. “She was courageous enough to address Parliament with the claim that all parties fail to prioritize national interests over their partisan agendas.” If Georgia Dream isn’t impeaching Zourabichvili, that’s only because it lacks the parliamentary votes to pull it off, she said.

On Thursday, bombastic former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had been charged and convicted in absentia for corruption and who was recently was arrested for illegally entering the country ahead of 2021 local elections, appeared in court in a bright blue and yellow shirt. (Disclosure: I acted as a media advisor to Saakashvili from 2009 to 2011.) “I am being tried here today for crossing the border [into Georgia],” the former president said. “She is being attacked for crossing the border [out of Georgia].” Saakashvili then invited Zourabichvili to go on hunger strike with him if she is jailed in the same prison. 

The Georgian government has said that it is in fact supportive of Ukraine, despite its apparent stance. The Georgian Embassy in Washington issued a press release stating that Georgia “has used all available international forums to vocalize its support for the embattled country.”  

Yet Georgia’s relationship with Putin is a cautionary tale. For a decade, Georgia’s ruling party has positioned itself as the sole party able to avoid the consequences that the Kremlin threatens. The larger the threat from Russia, the more powerful the government that avoids its wrath; the lack of conflict confirms the success of its leadership.

“Pro-government media has doubled down on the West’s failure to support Ukraine, and they have done so in the context that there is no other way but to accept Putin’s dominance in the region,” Bokeria said.

The unlikely emergence of a figure like Zelensky disrupts that dynamic. A viable alternative to quiet capitulation threatens the Georgian government even more than the enemy to which it has grown accustomed. If resistance is not futile, then why not resist?

“Ukraine’s war is Georgia’s war too,” Chugoshvili said. “This is what the vast majority of Georgians think. Ukraine deserves unambiguous support from us, which the Georgian government failed to provide, fueling public demonstrations.”

Moldova watching pro-Russia breakaway region for any escalation, says minister

Moldova is monitoring its breakaway pro-Russian region of Transdniestria for any sign of escalating tensions following Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said on Tuesday.

Mar 12, 2022: Living with Russian supremacy: Cocieri in the Republic of Moldova | Focus on Europe

Transdniestria is a narrow strip of land held by pro-Russian separatists that runs along the east of Moldova and comes to within about 25 miles (40 km) of the Ukrainian port of Odesa.

Russian troops are stationed there, despite repeated calls by Moldovan President Maia Sandu for them to leave.

Ukraine fears Transdniestria could be used as a new front, putting further pressure on Odesa. read more

“So far the situation is calm. We have not seen any movement towards escalation,” said Popescu said at the European parliament.

“Given what happened in the region before, we as a government cannot rule out any options and must consider the full range of scenarios for the development of events including negative ones.”

Russian peacekeepers appeared in Transdniestria after it fought a brief war with Moldova in 1992 and declared itself an independent state. It remains unrecognised by any country, including Russia.

Mar 12, 2022: Moldova: Inside Transnistria, the pro-Russia enclave on Ukraine’s border

In early February, Russian forces held military drills in Transdniestria against the backdrop of a Russian troop buildup near eastern Ukraine that led to the Feb. 24 invasion. read more

The war has pushed Moldova to speed up a bid to join the European Union and piled huge pressure on its economy by forcing more than 331,000 refugees across the border from Ukraine, of which around 100,000 have remained in the country.

On Tuesday, gas importer Moldovagaz warned that the country also faced a potential energy price crunch that could see what it pays for gas from Russia rise to $1,000 per 1,000 cubic meters in April from the current level of $547 due to a sharp rise in gas prices in Europe.

But the head of Moldovagaz Vadim Cheban told journalists the company:”will not rush to demand an increase in the gas tariff for consumers”.

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/moldova-watching-pro-russia-breakaway-region-any-escalation-says-minister-2022-03-22/

Ukraine crisis: Serbian far-right group holds pro-Russian rally – The Straits Times

Mar 5, 2022

Serbian far-right organization on Friday held a rally in support of Russian people in the capital Belgrade.

The People’s Patrols started out as a group hostile to the migrants and refugees crossing Serbia on route to Europe, claiming that Vladimir Putin is fighting against a ”Nazi and pro-Western government”.

The rally began with a large number of citizens from several right-wing groups. The crowd chanted messages of support for Russia.

Damnjan Knezevic from the People’s Patrol and Mladen Obradovic from Obraz – addressed the protest participants from the stage.

They said that if Serbia imposes sanctions on Russia after the elections, twice as many people will take to the streets.

“Russia, no matter how much they attack us and offer us light, is all a drop in the ocean for one Slavic soul.

There is no Serb who will impose sanctions on Russia and Belarus,” said Knezevic said. Obradovic said that “Russia is freeing the whole world from NATO threats” and that today “Putin has shown who is the strongest and bravest statesman in the world”.

The gathering began with the anthems of Serbia and Russia, the citizens carrying Russian and Serbian flags shouted “Russia, Russia”, “Serbs and Russians are brothers forever”.

The protesters then went for a walk to the Russian embassy.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has led to international outrage, with the EU, US, UK, and others implementing tough financial sanctions on Moscow.

The West is also supplying Kyiv with weapons and humanitarian aid. But Putin says the “special military operation” will last until all goals set were achieved. He started the war on Feb. 24 to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine.

According to the UN Human Rights office, at least 331 civilians have been killed and 675 injured in Ukraine since the start of the war.

More than 1.2 million people have also fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, the UN Refugee Agency said.

Llano Co. librarian fired for not pulling books off shelves – KXAN

Mar 18, 2022

KXAN’s Nabil Remadna reports that a Kingsland librarian lost her job because she refused to pull books off the public library’s shelves because some people thought they were “inappropriate.”

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