A WSJ story pasted below describes growing U.S. frustration with Russian interference in Libya, which is leading U.S. officials to consider sanctioning Russian ally (and Russian citizen) Khalifa Haftar. Haftar owns over $500k in assets in the U.S., which makes him more vulnerable to sanctions than, say, Chinese or Venezuelan officials with no plans to ever set foot in the U.S.
Hundreds of religious and human rights groups are calling on the U.S. Dept. of Justice to name the Chinese Communist Party a “transnational criminal organization” for its role in spying on U.S. citizens and businesses and its failure to stop fentanyl production in China from fueling the opioid crisis in the U.S. The Party has 92 million members, so any action the DoJ takes against it would certainly be limited to its elite leadership.
New Zealand became the latest country to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over China’s new security law for the territory.
Central and southern China continue to see the worst flooding in decades, presenting a tough test for China’s intricate system of dams. The Three Gorges Dam is at 522 ft—far over its warning level of 476 ft and climbing towards its height of 594 ft. Officials insist there’s no danger of it collapsing.
Russian officials said the Federal Security Service (FSB) shot and killed a Central Asian man with links to Syrian militant groups who was planning an attack in Russia.
New reports say the re-defector who North Korea accused of bringing coronavirus into the country was fleeing sex assault allegations in South Korea, which would at least explain why he returned to the North. South Korean officials still insist he was not infected with coronavirus and was not in contact with anybody who was.
Kim Jong Un made a grand speech celebrating the 67th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War (although Kim would say the war is still on), and in the speech he cheered North Korea’s nuclear arsenal as a deterrent: “there will be no more war on this earth, and our country’s safety and future will be secured forever.” That’s concerning because the more important Kim believes his nukes to be, the less likely he is to give them up.
A magnetic mine blast killed at least one person in Badam Bagh, Kabul this morning. No group has claimed the attack yet.
Moderna began phase three testing of its COVID-19 vaccine on 30,000 volunteers yesterday. Moderna expects results by Thanksgiving, and if they’re positive the FDA may issue an interim approval for use on high-risk populations as it ponders full approval. Moderna’s vaccine is one of several that the U.S. is funding as part of Operation Warp Speed, which aims to create over 300 million vaccine doses by Jan. 2021.
Hezbollah denied carrying out an attack on the border between the Golan Heights and Israel, even though Israel said it had repelled one by Hezbollah there.
Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak was found guilty of all seven charges in a corruption trial. Mr. Najib allegedly cashed out hundreds of millions of dollars from state investment fund 1MDB.
Russian Oil Grab in Libya Fuels U.S.-Kremlin Tensions in Mideast (WSJ)
Washington threatens sanctions against Moscow allies in key energy region
Military contractors linked to the Kremlin have seized control of two of Libya’s largest oil facilities in recent weeks, heightening tensions between Russia and the U.S. over Moscow’s growing footprint in the turbulent North African nation.
Since June, armed fighters from the Wagner Group, a Russian firm with ties to the Russian government, have moved in to secure Libya’s largest oil field and its most important oil-exporting port, Es Sider. The advance has helped Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar maintain a blockade of the country’s petroleum exports in defiance of U.S. pressure to restart them, according to Libyan and Western officials.
Moscow’s moves show how Libya has become a key front in a struggle between the U.S. and Russia for influence in the Middle East and access to strategic assets. The two nations have also locked horns in Syria, where Russian and American troops patrolling near oil fields in eastern Deir Ezzor province have engaged in roadside confrontations.
“The Russians are doing things that are bolder and bolder,” said Jason Pack, president of U.S.-based consulting firm Libya-Analysis LLC.
The recent Russian oil grab in Libya triggered a stern reaction by the U.S. The Treasury Department cited Russian involvement in Libya in a new round of sanctions applied in July to a Russian businessman with ties to President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. is also seeking to counter the Kremlin’s influence by threatening sanctions against their local Libyan ally, Mr. Haftar.
In addition, the U.S. Africa Command has taken the unusual step of revealing Russian mercenary deployments in Libya through a series of public statements accompanied by satellite photos and other imagery.
This July 13 satellite image released by the U.S. Africa Command reportedly shows equipment at Libya’s Al-Khadim Airfield being supplied by Russia to mercenaries, including military cargo aircraft, air-defense equipment and jet fighters.
Russian military contractors arrived in Libya in 2019, backing Mr. Haftar’s forces as he waged war on Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli. His campaign collapsed in June after being driven back by a government counterattack supported by Turkey.
Now, U.S. officials are concerned that the Russian mercenaries have shifted their focus to taking control of Libya’s oil industry. After Wagner Group gunmen moved into the Sharara oil field in the country’s south, the U.S. Embassy to Libya in June criticized what it called “an unprecedented foreign-backed campaign to undermine Libya’s energy sector and prevent the resumption of oil production” at the site.
On July 12, Wagner, a company controlled by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Mr. Putin, set up camp in Es Sider, Libya’s National Oil Corporation said.
On July 15, the U.S. Treasury expanded its sanctions on entities owned by Mr. Prigozhin, citing in part their involvement in the conflict in Libya. “Our intelligence reflects continued and unhelpful involvement by Russia and the Wagner Group,” Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, Africom’s director of intelligence, wrote on Twitter.
While the Kremlin says the private military contractors operate independently of its control, European security officials say intercepted communications show they report to Russian military intelligence in Libya. And the Russian government publicly backs the demands of Mr. Haftar, who has blocked most Libya’s oil production since January as he seeks more revenue from the central government in Tripoli for the East Libyan region he controls.
“Each of the country’s three historical provinces has the right to equal opportunities to receive income from the use of oil resources,” a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry tweeted Tuesday.
The Kremlin didn’t respond to a request for comment on the Russian fighters’ presence in Libya and the takeover of oil installations.
In another sign of Russia’s rising clout in Libya, the Kremlin on Wednesday agreed with Turkey—which backs the opposite side in the conflict—to continue joint efforts to create conditions for a lasting and sustainable cease-fire in Libya by creating a permanent, joint working group.
Wagner’s Russian mercenaries now hold sway on key export flows to Europe and assets partly owned by major Western oil companies. Sharara is run by Spain’s Repsol SA while Es Sider is the international gateway for nearby fields partly owned by U.S. companies Hess Corp. and ConocoPhillips Co.
The companies didn’t return requests for comment.
A State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. was incensed at international interference in favor of Libya’s oil blockade. “Now is the time for all responsible parties to reject attempts to militarize the energy sector, divide Libya’s economic institutions and subjugate critical infrastructure to foreign interests,” she said.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, which reports to the Pentagon, has been investigating the deepening connections between Mr. Haftar and Russian mercenaries, U.S. officials say. The warlord’s faction is “one of the groups we keep close track of because of their association with Russian military and Russian intelligence,” one U.S. defense official said.
To counter Russian involvement in the strategic North African nation, Washington is also targeting Mr. Haftar.
A spokesman for Mr. Haftar’s forces didn’t respond to a request for comment on the situation. Mr. Haftar didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
While the U.S. recognizes the central government in Tripoli, some Trump administration officials previously viewed the commander as a potential ally against radical Islamists in Libya. President Trump endorsed Mr. Haftar in April 2019, discussing what the White House termed a “shared vision” with the commander during a phone call.
But U.S. officials say Washington threatened Mr. Haftar with sanctions over his refusal to reopen oil exports, a decision made under Russian influence. The warlord initially let ports reopen but changed his mind when Wagner Group forces moved to the Es Sider terminal, say Libyan and European officials.
The State Department communicated the threat of sanctions to Mr. Haftar because he was being “ridiculous and uncompromising” with oil installations in eastern Libya, said one U.S. official.
Without naming anyone, the U.S. Embassy in Libya tweeted July 13 that “those who undermine Libya’s economy and cling to military escalation will face isolation and risk of sanctions.”
U.S. officials hope sanctions could force Mr. Haftar, a U.S. citizen and one-time Central Intelligence Agency asset who used to live in exile in Virginia, to find an understanding with his Tripoli rivals and sever his ties with Russia. According to U.S. property records, Mr. Haftar owns a $185,000 ranch and a $364,000 condo in Virginia, making him vulnerable to U.S. sanctions.