Enjoy good journalism?
… then let us make a small request. The COVID crisis has slashed advertising rates, and we need your help. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and legal efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. And unlike other news outlets, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.
Raw Story is independent. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.
We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click to donate by check.
Value Raw Story?
… then let us make a small request. The COVID crisis has slashed advertising rates, and we need your help. Like you, we believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We need your support to do what we do.
Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.
The Czech Republic accused on Saturday the GRU – Russia's military intelligence agency – of being behind a deadly explosion at an ammunition depot in 2014. They pointed the finger at a specific section of the organisation – Unit 29155 – which has attracted an increasing amount of notoriety over recent years.
If it was remembered at all abroad, the explosion of a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 was hitherto thought of as a nasty accident that cost two people their lives. But it took centre stage in EU-Russia tensions on April 17, when Prague announced it was expelling 18 Russian diplomats over suspicions that GRU Unit 29155 had been responsible.
Russia disputed the charges the following day; in recompense it sent packing 20 staff at the Czech embassy in Moscow. All 27 EU member states risked being drawn into this dispute ahead of Prague presenting evidence to the other countries' foreign ministers.
The Czech Republic claims that the Russian spies who were at work on its territory were the same ones involved in the poisoning and attempted assassination of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018 – a scandal that further poisoned relations between Russia on the one hand and the UK and its Western allies on the other.
Since the Skripal affair put the GRU in the world's headlines, Western intelligence agencies and media such as the British open-source investigation outlet Bellingcat and the German weekly Der Spiegel have linked several events to unit 29155.
This section is suspected of organising a political destabilisation campaign in Moldova in 2016, of participating in a pro-Serbian coup attempt in Montenegro the same year, and of trying to poison an arms dealer twice in Bulgaria in 2015. Spanish intelligence agencies even spotted unit 29155 agents during the 2017 Catalonian independence demonstrations.
They even established a "rear base" in France's rural Alpine Savoie region, according to a 2019 Le Monde investigation.
All this gives the impression of a highly mobile special forces cell, capable of striking at any place or time on Moscow's command. The New York Times described them in 2019 as an "elite force".
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference the same year, then MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger said that "you can see there is a concerted program of activity – and, yes, it does often involve the same people", pointing to the Skripal assassination attempt and Montenegro attempted coup. "We assess there is a standing threat from the GRU and the other Russian intelligence services and that very little is off limits," Younger continued.
Nevertheless, it has since emerged that this spectre of an all-powerful Russian unit lurking in Europe's shadows to hunt down the country's enemies could well overestimate the threat. The GRU's most illustrious moments were during the Chechen Wars and the 2014 invasion of parts of Ukraine.
"They are of course very well-trained special force fighters who've all gone through the famous Spetsnaz training," said Mark Galeotti, a British expert on Russian intelligence agencies and director of Mayak Intelligence, a consulting firm on security issues relating to Russia.
Unit 29155 is very small. "Ever since it was founded in 2018 it's probably only had around 20 agents," said Gerhard Mangott, a specialist in Russian security issues at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Galeotti made the same assessment: "They don't have many people compared to the other branches of Russian intelligence."
"They're not these super-agents who can do anything – as some have suggested," Galeotti continued. A better way of thinking about Unit 29155, he continued, is as a team "specialising in sabotage and assassination – the dirty work".
Consequently, Moscow only deploys them when "the ends matter more than the means", Galeotti said. Unlike agents in the FSB – the internal agency and main successor to the KGB – or the SVR – the external intelligence organisation – who are renowned for their discretion, unit 29155 members "don't show the same degree of finesse; they'll do everything it takes to achieve their objectives, even if it means using an unsubtle modus operandi", Galeotti explained.
That's why their failures – including their failure to kill Skripal and the abortive coup attempt in Montenegro – "can appear unprofessional, leaving traces that allow us to trace the perpetrators".
But in the end, these failures mean little to Moscow. Firstly because we "don't know how many other missions have been completed successfully", Mangott said. Furthermore, even if these missions fail they allow Russia to send a signal to other European powers. "It's a way of showing that they can act on their soil," Galeotti said.
This article was translated from the original in French.
Steve Scalise: Maxine Waters encouraging protests is worse than Trump 'peacefully' inciting an insurrection
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) on Tuesday blasted Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she said that protesters in Minnesota should become more "confrontational" if former police officer Derek Chauvin is not found guilty of the death of George Floyd.
At a Republican House Leadership press conference, a reporter suggested that the Republican effort to expel or censure Waters was hypocritical because they refused to support a similar effort against Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who encouraged pro-Trump protesters minutes before they violently stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
For his part, Scalise sidestepped the question about Brooks and used the opportunity to attack Waters.
"I've been very clear in speaking out against any kind of political rhetoric that incites violence," he said. "The fact that Speaker Pelosi covered for her -- she was trying to incite violence and, in fact, there is violence going on right now in Minnesota because of her actions."
"I would like to see Maxine Water apologize for the inflammatory comments that she's made inciting violence," he continued. "It's a powder keg down there. The last thing you want to do is make it worse."
Scalise declined to say whether Brooks should also apologize for his role in the failed insurrection.
A reporter then asked Scalise if Waters' remarks are "on par with the comments of former President Trump made prior to Jan. 6."
"No!" Scalise said emphatically. "In fact, President Trump used the words peaceful when he talked about the statements that he made. I haven't heard Maxine saying anything about peacefully protesting. She's talked about violence, she's talked about -- I think the word is, 'Get more confrontational in the streets' if the verdict goes the wrong way. There's nothing peaceful about that."
Scalise did not address Trump's more incendiary remarks -- like "fight like hell" -- at the Jan. 6 rally that prompted his followers to storm the Capitol.
Watch the video below from C-SPAN.
Vaccine skeptics are pushing the idea on social media that coronavirus inoculations threatens humanity on a fundamental level.
Anti-vaxxers have been sharing memes and other promoting bizarre claims about COVID-19 vaccinations cause genetic modifications, mostly on misinformation channels such as Telegram but also on more popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, reported The Daily Beast.
"People who are vaccinated will have modified DNA," reads one meme, which compares getting the shots to breeding with sheep. "No one discusses that DNA is passed onto the next generation. The risk that your children will marry into other cultures is possibly now shadowed by the fact that your children may marry into a COVID vaxed gene group potentially shortening their lives and that of others."
One prominent Telegram user who shared that meme made even more lurid claims about vaccine recipients.
"They are now genetically modified humans," that user posted in a community chat last month. "They are not even technically human anymore. Vaccinated people are honestly a threat to humanity as a whole."
The claims have been circulating since late last year, when the vaccines began receiving approval for use, and are rooted in the earliest fears from the 19th Century about injecting scientist-created materials in the human body and mistrust in experiments on human DNA at the end of the last century.
"Only vaccinated people will marry each other while non vaccinated will also get married," one Redditor wrote earlier this year. "[It] will split the human race into a fake race. The Vaccinated Race."
The vaccines use genetically engineered components to trigger an immune response that can later help fight potential COVID-19 infections, but none of them interacts with or changes human DNA.
"I don't see any way the vaccines could even unintentionally cause genetic changes," said Paul Knoepfler, a cell biologist and genetics researcher at the University of California, Davis. "It's just not going to happen."
Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.
$95 / year — Just $7.91/month
I want to Support More
$14.99 per month