Europe/Americas update: July 3 2017

EUROPE

CYPRUS

The most positive thing you can say about the Cyprus reunification talks currently ongoing in Switzerland is that they’re currently ongoing. I don’t mean that in a negative way–these talks are entering week two without anybody walking away in a huff, and that’s no mean feat. Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have now submitted position papers detailing how they would envision a federal Cyprus working, a big step forward, but the talks are still going to hinge on whether or not the sides can agree on security, and particularly on the role Turkey will play moving forward. On that note, here’s a little more good news: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu say’s he’s skipping the G20 summit to attend these talks instead. I guess he could be attending just to try to scuttle the whole enterprise, but that would be going to a lot of bother for something he could do just as easily from back in Ankara, or in Germany.

UKRAINE

While the emerging consensus is that Russia was behind the Petya cyber attack last week (called “NotPetya” to distinguish it from a different Petya attack in 2016), Marcy Wheeler asks what I think is an important lingering question:

But there are skeptics. Rob Graham suggests this analysis all suffers from survivorship bias. And Jonathan Nichols argues the attack was so easy pretty low level hackers could have pulled it off.

Nichols also raises a point that has been puzzling me. The attack does extra damage if it detects the Kaspersky Antivirus.

Much has been made about the fact that the NotPetya virus appears to have been designed as a wiper, and not as a genuine piece of ransomware. The virus also checks for avp.exe (Kaspersky Antivirus) and then wipes the bootsector of any device with the file present.

[snip]

Further, the specific targeting of Kaspersky Antivirus harkens back to the vindictive nature of low level cyber criminals, such as those which famously write hate messages to Kaspersky and Brian Krebs regularly.

There may be a good reason to do this (such as, if Kaspersky dominates the AV market in Ukraine, it would provide an additional way to target Ukraine specifically, though that would seem to also implicate Russian companies, like Rosneft, that were hit by NotPetya as well). But absent such a reason, why would Russia selectively do more damage to victims running Kaspersky, especially at a moment with the US is so aggressively trying to taint Kaspersky as a Russian front?

The US intelligence community believes it has evidence tying Kaspersky to the Russian intelligence community. Kaspersky seems desperate to prove otherwise. But let’s assume there is a connection–why, then, would Russia write malware designed to target Kaspersky, potentially damaging the company’s position in the antivirus market? Misdirection, maybe, but that’s pure speculation. Also, writing malware that specifically targets a particular antivirus program is amateur-type stuff, not usually the hallmark of a sophisticated nation-state attack. That could be misdirection too. But more investigation seems to be required here.

REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and two of his cabinet ministers have been indicted, and have had their passports confiscated, in connection with the wiretapping scandal that led to his removal from office in January 2016.

FRANCE

His Majesty King President Emmanuel I Macron delivered his big Versailles speech to parliament today, promising to rule France with an iron fist and grind his enemies’ bones to dust disrupt French politics (#DisruptPolitique):

“Until now, we were too often on the wrong track,” said the 39-year-old leader, who won office on a promise of political renewal.

“We preferred procedures to results, rules to initiative, a society where you live off inherited wealth, to a just society.”

He confirmed a plan to implement reform of France’s jaded political system, changes first raised during campaigning.

That would include shrinking the number of lawmakers in both houses of parliament — 577 in the lower house National Assembly and 348 in the Senate — by a third, saying it would have “positive effects on the general quality of parliamentary work”.

Let’s see–cutting the number of legislators centralizes power and dilutes the influence of any one voter, while constantly threatening to go around the elected parliament and demagogue directly at the people undermines the point of having a legislature–maybe this guy really does think he’s the King of France.

UNITED KINGDOM

Northern Ireland’s leading political parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin, have had their deadline extended to reach a new power-sharing arrangement and avoid having their devolved governing powers taken away. One hangup seems to be over language, literally. Sinn Féin is demanding an “Irish Language Act” that would make Gaelic an official language akin to English, while DUP prefers a measure that would also cover unionist groups like Scots speakers.

The Guardian is reporting that Theresa May’s government is stifling a report on the funding of Islamic extremists in the UK. Why, you ask? Well, the answer is two words and it rhymes with “Saudi Arabia”:

A report on the foreign funding of extremism in the UK was given to Downing Street last year but Theresa May is still to decide whether to make its findings published, the prime minister has revealed.

The Green party co-leader, Caroline Lucas, said the delay in publishing the Home Office investigation, believed to focus on the influence of Saudi Arabia, “leaves question marks over whether their decision is influenced by our diplomatic ties”.

Since the beginning of her premiership, May has sought to deepen the UK’s relationship with the Gulf, visiting Saudi Arabia as one of her first trips after triggering the formal Brexit process in March, a highly symbolic move.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Scandal-ridden President Michel Temer just saw another one of his political allies bite the proverbial dust. Former Secretary of Government Geddel Vieira Lima was arrested Monday and charged with trying to obstruct a corruption investigation into the government-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal.

CENTRAL AMERICA

The International Court of Justice at The Hague began hearing arguments Monday in a case involving a border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Historically, Nicaragua is supposed to control the San Juan River while Costa Rica has the right to traffic part of the river for trade purposes. But since the 1990s, the two countries have been an a running feud over precisely what rights Costa Rica has, over Nicaraguan dredging projects in the river, over the precise location of the boundary between the two nations, all sorts of fun stuff. At issue this time is a Nicaraguan military installation on Isla Calero, a largeish island at the mouth of the river, which the ICJ already ruled in 2015 (in a decision Nicaragua has clearly not accepted) is Costa Rican territory.

UNITED STATES

While there are plans for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to meet for the first time in person at the G20 conference later this week, that meeting has yet to actually be scheduled. Assuming they do meet, they’d be expected to talk about Syria, terrorism, whether President Trump can have all remaining copies of the pee tape, and probably the return of the two Russian diplomatic compounds that were seized by the Obama administration after the 2016 election.

President Trump still has no plans to visit the UK anytime soon, in case you were wondering for some reason. If Trump ever does wind up in the UK he’ll have to do it on short notice to try (probably unsuccessfully) to avoid protests.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

One thought

  1. Gruevski: called it. Arresting him was probably unavoidable.

    Con: Arresting your predecessor is never a good look for a democracy, especially a young and fragile one with a long history of authoritarian rule. It could also be the first step on a long road of persecution. And you know that other bad actors like Hungary’s Orban will take this as yet another reason to cling to power forever.

    Pro: There’s no way any sane successor government would let Gruevski run around loose. He’s almost certainly guilty of all sorts of stuff, and it shouldn’t be too hard to prove it. More to the point, he commands the loyalty of large swathes of the security services and the judiciary, and he’ll never ever accept the legitimacy of the new government. Locking him up just makes sense. Also, like most autocrats, he super-centralized power in himself; VMRO doesn’t have a number two who can step up and take over. So removing him instantly cripples and fragments the disloyal opposition.

    Doug M.

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