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Russia war: ‘Putin has doubled down, and sees no way out except to continue with the destruction’ | International

William Shakespeare wrote that some men “are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Boris Johnson, 57, has spent his entire life seeking political glory. He tried to achieve it with Brexit, when the United Kingdom left the European Union. But that process left behind a trail of divided citizens. The pandemic steamrollered him, as it did so many other leaders. His Churchill moment may have arrived, however, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Johnson and his ministers have been on the front line of the response to the challenges of Vladimir Putin. The British intelligence services clearly anticipated the Kremlin’s intentions, and Downing Street sent arms to the Ukrainian government well before other states did. “Putin has decided to double down, and he sees no way out of the cul de sac that he’s in except to continue with the destruction, the pulverizing of innocent populations, in innocent European cities,” says Johnson, speaking ahead of this interview with correspondents from the German newspaper Die Welt, the Italian La Repubblica and EL PAÍS, all of them members of the LENA alliance of leading European media outlets.

Question. You received a call last night [in the early hours of Friday morning] from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and you expressed your great concern for the incident in the nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia. Are we close to a nuclear war or nuclear incident?

Answer. I think we need to distinguish very sharply between two things. And I think the whole question of a nuclear exchange, as it were, the use of nuclear weapons, this is a distraction from what’s happening in Ukraine, which is, I’m afraid, of a brutal and barbaric attack on innocent people. And I don’t think that we should be sidetracked by some of the rhetoric that we’ve heard. The issue is to do with the safety of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste. So I’m concerned that we work together to think of ways in which we can avert that disaster, because as I said, I do think that this would be a pan-European disaster. And I think the legitimate concerns of all European countries are engaged.

Q. And how can we protect the nuclear plants and Zelenskiy?

A. I think that we have to make clear to the Kremlin that a civilian nuclear disaster in Ukraine, another Chernobyl, is a disaster for Russia as well as for everybody. And therefore, I think that some system of protecting those plants, some system of ensuring that radioactivity levels are monitored by international authorities is going to be extremely important.

Q. Your Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, said that Putin has gone “full tonto”, implying the idea that he’s just gone crazy. Do you agree with that? Is this a cold-blooded strategy, or, as you just said, he’s in a cul-de-sac, and he’s in a desperate and probably nervous state of mind?

A. I think he’s very difficult to read into it, to make a window into his soul, and to try and imagine what he’s thinking, really. Like you, I get all sorts of information about the way his government works, the system or the non-existent checks and balances in his system, the arbitrary way in which he’s able to make decisions, and that’s extremely worrying. But I think the issue is that he’s clearly made miscalculations. I think he probably has a lack of real feel for what life was really like for people in Ukraine and how people in Ukraine really feel about their country. It’s possible that he hasn’t been there for quite a long time, as I’m sure all of us have. There was there was a logical problem, because I knew that the Ukrainians would fight and anybody who’s been there would instinctively have understood that. Maybe he’s allowed himself to become out of touch on that issue. Now he’s made that mistake. There has to be a way out, there has to be solution that doesn’t involve the total destruction, or him continuing on this path of total destruction. But I’m afraid, logically, it’s very, very hard to see what that solution is. That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that he must fail.

Q. French President Emmanuel Macron is the one leader who’s still talking to Putin. Do you think that this is a good thing? What do you hear from the French president makes you very concerned?

A. I think that the unity of the West has been one of the most important things. Before the invasion began, we were working together with Emmanuel to understand what the implications would be. It is very, very important that we continue to work, particularly with the Americans to have a common series of assumptions and priorities, about the conflict. The lesson of history from, you know, 1914, to Bosnia and beyond is that, sadly, the most wretched European conflicts are not solved without some measure of American interest and leadership. That’s going to be very, very important as well.

Q. So is it good that Macron is still talking to Putin?

A. I think it’s important that the unity of the West is preserved. I’m sure that Emmanuel is is not diverging from that unified position.

Q. Prime Minister, you said that Putin must fail. But shouldn’t he also fall, I mean losing power, to end all this? How can the West make it happen? Should we, as the West, encourage the Russian opposition to revolt?

A . Number one: I think it’s absolutely vital that there are two things we must frame strictly. We must not be trapped into framing this as in any way a conflict between the Russian people, or Russia, and the West, or even between Putin and NATO, or Putin and the West. That is not what this is about that. So that’s one category we must not fall into. This is about helping the Ukrainian people to protect their themselves, to protect their lives, their families and their independence. Number two: I think it’s very, very important that people see that this is the sum-total of the agenda. There is no further agenda. We can’t think like that. Events in Moscow or Russian politics are simply unforeseeable. In fact, that would be a total, a total distraction. Let me be very clear: this is not about trying to do anything to shorten the political career of anyone in Moscow. On the contrary, this is about simply trying to protect the people of Ukraine, and give them the help that they need. If we think in that way, we will damage our chances of achieving what we need to do.

Q. You said in the House of Commons that Putin is a war criminal. Should the West aspire to put this war criminal in front of an International court, like Milosevic or the Nuremberg trial?

A. What I certainly believe is that there is a close analogy between Putin’s behavior and the last years of Slobodan Milosevic. It’s very interesting that both leaders had been in power for a long time, both increasingly autocratic, both seeking to shore up their domestic position, and found a great nationalist cause. Slobodan Milosevic identified the birthplace of Serbian nationalism, indeed the Serbian nation, in Kosovo Poljie, and he inspired his people with this misbegotten idea that it needed to be rescued and liberated. There’s a very close sort of analogy between that catastrophic mistake, and what the president of Russia has been saying about Kyiv and the origins of Russian religion and culture and civilization and his objectives in Ukraine. When it comes to the International Criminal Court, that’s a matter for them. There would have to be the gathering of evidence. If there is evidence of the use of illegal munitions, cluster bombs, barrel weapons, this clearly will have to be brought to the Netherlands.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the interview.
The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the interview. Martin U. K. Lengemann

Q. Who’s going to enforce that?

A. I think we must be quite limited in what we’re setting out to do. Because I’ve never seen in a long time, such a clear difference between right and wrong in international politics, or such a clear difference between good and good and evil. The minute we start to introduce all sorts of other political considerations in Moscow, or whatever geostrategic considerations, then we lose the sharpness and the focus.

Q. How many deaths and how much brutality from Putin can we allow? What’s the red line until the west decides to act?

A. If you just think back a few weeks, I don’t think anybody would have imagined a few weeks ago, that so many European countries, would now be following what the UK did, and sending weapons in the way that they are. I don’t think anybody would have imagined that [the German chancellor] would have made a speech like the one he did. And that Germany would be in the position that it now is. Things are changing. And that’s because of people’s outrage and disgust at what is happening in in Ukraine. So what I’m trying to say is that the West has already moved a long way. And it’s very, very united. But it is still a long day’s march, as they say, to the idea of any kind of direct confrontation between Western forces… between UK, Italian, German, Spanish armed forces and Russian forces. And the reason for that is that the consequences of such engagements would be very, very hard to control and to manage. We wouldn’t know where it would end. And the risks of miscalculation are huge. And I think that we have to talk about a red line, we have to keep a boundary, we have to keep a conceptual boundary in what we’re doing. That doesn’t mean that we don’t care passionately, or that we won’t do everything that we can within the parameters that we’ve set to try to change the odds in favor of the victims. And we will try to change the odds in favor of the victims. But I think that there is no… let me put it this way… there is no Western country that I know of that is currently considering sending combatants to that theater of conflict. That’s just the reality. And I think that it’s not on the agenda.

Q. The Ukraine crisis, in some sense, has mended a lot of wounds and a lot of broken relations between the UK and the European Union. Would you say that? After all that happened after Brexit?

A. I think what all crises do is they reveal the true relationships. Sometimes, if a family goes through some big trauma, then the real strength of the affection between the members of the family and the way they work together can sometimes suddenly be revealed again. And I think that’s probably what’s happening now.

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Bukele places personal secretary as interim president as he runs for reelection in El Salvador | International

President Nayib Bukele will focus in the coming months on a reelection campaign, despite the fact that a consecutive term is expressly prohibited by the Constitution of El Salvador. Last Thursday, El Salvador’s Congress granted the controversial and popular president leave for six months so that he could begin his race for the presidency. The request was approved by 67 of the 84 deputies in Congress.

Bukele’s reelection bid was given the green light in September 2021, when the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court elaborated an interpretation of the text that allows a sitting president to participate in the elections if he is on leave from office at least six months before the vote. Honduran leader Juan Orlando Hernández and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega used similar moves to remain in power. The Salvadoran Supreme Court — whose members were handpicked by Bukele — made the decision even though at least five articles of the country’s Constitution ban consecutive terms.

Bukele has ignored the calls to respect the Constitution and launched a reelection campaign amid soaring approval ratings. Under the president’s controversial state of exception, gang violence has fallen to widespread approval. This is despite the multiple reports of human rights violations in prisons, arbitrary detentions and short-term forced disappearances.

The six-month leave granted to Bukele was the last requirement the president needed in order to begin campaigning for the February 4 elections. The president has the justice system and the polls on his side, and is also facing an opposition that is weighed down by corruption cases and has little popular support. “The infamous event that took place yesterday [on Thursday, November 30] constitute a triple constitutional fraud. The perpetrators have simulated formal compliance with constitutional norms while violating others that prohibit re-election, leaving presidential office and those that regulate the appointment and function of presidential appointees,” said the Salvadoran civil movement SUMAR in a statement.

“There is no president in El Salvador”

Bukele will be joined on the campaign trail by his vice president Félix Ulloa, who is also seeking re-election. According to the Constitution, Bukele had to present a shortlist of candidates to replace him during his six-month leave, but he only proposed one person: Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara, his private secretary who overseees his financial activities.

“She is not a politician, she is the custodian of the president’s businesses,” Ricardo Vaquerano, one of the most prominent investigative journalists in El Salvador, told EL PAÍS. “Claudia Juana worked first in the accounting area, and then in the financial area, of Obermet, the Bukele family’s advertising company. Once Nayib launched her political career, she was in charge of finances for the mayor’s office of Nuevo Cuscatlán, where Nayib was first mayor in 2015. She then assumed the mayor’s office of San Salvador, the capital, where she became treasurer… and when Nayib became president, she became the financial director of the presidency.”

Vaquerano points out that Rodríguez Guevara was finance secretary of Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party. “It is the president’s party and this is a party that has not been transparent about absolutely anything, despite the fact that the law mandates that the origin of financing be transparent,” the journalist added. The interim president of El Salvador holds multiple positions, including the presidency of the Board of Directors of the National Directorate of Municipal Works (DOM).

Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022
Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022Álvaro García

“The DOM is an institution that was created two years ago to direct to Rodríguez de Guevara all the money that was previously delivered to the municipalities from the general budget of the nation. This year, the DOM should have at least around $680 million to do its work, but it is also closed to public scrutiny,” said Vaquero, who argued that Bukele appointed Rodríguez de Guevara to that body as she is in charge of the president’s finances. The journalist points out that in 2020 the Attorney General’s Office received 12 reports from the Anti-Corruption Commission on the irregular use of more than $150 million of funds under the umbrella of the funds to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the criticism, the deputies approved the interim term of Rodríguez de Guevara, who is the first woman to occupy the presidency of El Salvador. “Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara is elected as designated by the President of the Republic, for the current presidential period, which ends on May 31, 2024,” stated the approved decree.

Vaquerano argues that the appointment of Bukele’s secretary does not comply with the Constitution. “Every person who is going to act as president must go through Congress, and this lady did not even run for Congress. So there is no president in El Salvador at this moment,” he said.

Bukele maintains presidential immunity

Vaquerano also argues that Bukele has an “unfair” advantage in the election, as he will retain presidential immunity during the six-month leave. The journalist explains that Bukele controls the justice system and the prosecutor’s office, so it is unlikely that he will be punished if he slanders other presidential hopefuls.

“The state media will reproduce everything he says during the campaign. This is also a huge advantage for Nayib,” added Vaquero. “Bukele made it clear on a national network about three days ago that, although it is true that he will leave the presidency, he will ‘be watching them.’ Bukele is not leaving, he is pretending to leave, but he will continue to maintain control and remain close with key officials.”

Vaquerano adds that the State Intelligence Agency and police intelligence warned that the Bukele government has used the Israeli software Pegasus to spy on opponents, its own deputies, academics and critical journalists in El Salvador. “He can find out what his opponents are up to, what they are doing, what the political parties that are going to compete in 2024 are planning,” said the journalist. “If we add to that the fact that he has iron control over the prosecutor’s office, police and judicial body, he has everything he needs to intimidate them.”

Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.
Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)

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Kyiv investigates allegations Russian forces shot surrendering Ukrainian soldiers | International

Ukrainian officials on Sunday launched an investigation into allegations that Russian forces killed surrendering Ukrainian soldiers — a war crime if confirmed — after grainy footage on social media appeared to show two uniformed men being shot at close range after emerging from a dugout.

The video shows the servicemen, one of them with his hands up, walking out at gunpoint and lying down on the ground before a group of Russian troops appears to open fire. It was not immediately possible to verify the video’s authenticity or the circumstances in which it was filmed, and it was unclear when the incident took place.

The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s office on Sunday launched a criminal investigation, hours after the Ukrainian military’s press office said in an online statement that the footage is genuine.

“The video shows a group in Russian uniforms shooting, at point-blank range, two unarmed servicemen in the uniform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who were surrendering,” the prosecutor’s office said in a Telegram update on Sunday.

The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. As of Sunday evening, there were no public statements from the Russian government or military on the video.

Kyiv, its Western allies and international human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Moscow of breaching international humanitarian law since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Kremlin denies these allegations.

The video first appeared Saturday on DeepState, a popular Ukrainian Telegram channel covering the war. The post claimed the footage came from the front lines near Avdiivka, a Ukrainian holdout in the country’s part-occupied east, where there has been fierce fighting in recent weeks.

The General Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday said that the alleged killing took place in the Pokrovsk district, which includes Avdiivka and surrounding areas.

“It’s clear from the video that the Ukrainian servicemen are taking the necessary steps that show they are surrendering,” Ukraine’s human rights chief, Dmytro Lubinets, said hours after the footage emerged on Saturday.

In a statement posted to Telegram, Lubinets described the incident as “yet another glaring example of Russia’s violations of international humanitarian law.”

Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military grouping that is fighting near Avdiivka, was cited by Ukrainian media as saying the video was “glaring confirmation” of Moscow’s disrespect for the laws of war.

In March, footage of a man exclaiming “Glory to Ukraine” before being gunned down in a wooded area sparked national outcry in Ukraine, as senior officials alleged that he was an unarmed prisoner of war killed by Russian soldiers.

Last summer, Kyiv and Moscow also traded blame for a shelling attack on a prison in occupied eastern Ukraine that killed dozens of Ukrainian POWs. Both sides claimed the assault on the facility in Olenivka was aimed at covering up atrocities, with Ukrainian officials charging captive soldiers had been tortured and executed there.

The U.N.’s human rights chief in July rejected Moscow’s claim that a rocket strike had caused the blast.

Also on Sunday, Ukraine’s energy ministry reported that close to 1,000 towns and villages suffered power outages that day, with hundreds of settlements in the west battered by wintry weather and others affected by ongoing fighting.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, late on Saturday assessed that military operations have slowed down all along the frontline in Ukraine due to poor weather, with mud bogging down tracked vehicles and making it hard for lighter equipment and infantry to advance.

Even so, Shtupun, of Ukraine’s Tavria military command that oversees the stretch of frontline near Avdiivka, said in a separate statement Sunday that Russian infantry attacks had intensified in the area over the past day. In a Telegram post, he insisted Ukrainian troops were “holding firm” in Avdiivka and another nearby town.

In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, at least two people died and seven more were wounded after Russian forces on Sunday shelled a high-rise apartment block and other civilian buildings, the head of the city’s military administration said in a series of Telegram posts.

One of the updates by Roman Mrochko featured a blurred photo of what he said was the body of a deceased civilian, apparently lying on a dirt road or in a yard outside the high-rise. The photo’s authenticity could not be independently verified.

Regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin separately reported on Sunday that Russian shelling that day damaged two of Kherson’s hospitals. He did not immediately reference any casualties.

Earlier in the day, a 78-year-old civilian died in a village northeast of Kherson after Russian shells slammed into his garage, according to a Telegram update by the regional Ukrainian military administration.

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Open Source Software (OSS) Supply Chain, Security Risks And Countermeasures

OSS Security Risks And Countermeasures

The software development landscape increasingly hinges on open source components, significantly aiding continuous integration, DevOps practices, and daily updates. Last year, Synopsys discovered that 97% of codebases in 2022 incorporated open source, with specific sectors like computer hardware, cybersecurity, energy, and the Internet of Things (IoT) reaching 100% OSS integration.

While leveraging open source enhances efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and developer productivity, it inadvertently paves a path for threat actors seeking to exploit the software supply chain. Enterprises often lack visibility into their software contents due to complex involvement from multiple sources, raising concerns highlighted in VMware’s report last year. Issues include reliance on communities to patch vulnerabilities and associated security risks.

Raza Qadri, founder of Vibertron Technologies, emphasizes OSS’s pivotal role in critical infrastructure but underscores the shock experienced by developers and executives regarding their applications’ OSS contribution. Notably, Qadri cites that 95% of vulnerabilities surface in “transitive main dependencies,” indirectly added open source packages.

Qadri also acknowledges developers’ long-standing use of open source. However, recent years have witnessed heightened awareness, not just among developers but also among attackers. Malware attacks targeting the software supply chain have surged, as demonstrated in significant breaches like SolarWinds, Kaseya, and the Log4j exploit.

Log4j’s widespread use exemplifies the consolidation of risk linked to extensively employed components. This popular Java-based logging tool’s vulnerabilities showcase the systemic dependency on widely used software components, posing significant threats if exploited by attackers.

Moreover, injection of malware into repositories like GitHub, PyPI, and NPM has emerged as a growing threat. Cybercriminals generate malicious versions of popular code to deceive developers, exploiting vulnerabilities when components are downloaded, often without the developers’ knowledge.

Despite OSS’s security risks, its transparency and visibility compared to commercial software offer certain advantages. Qadri points out the swift response to Log4j vulnerabilities as an example, highlighting OSS’s collaborative nature.

Efforts to fortify software supply chain security are underway, buoyed by multi-vendor frameworks, vulnerability tracking tools, and cybersecurity products. However, additional steps, such as enforcing recalls for defective OSS components and implementing component-level firewalls akin to packet-level firewalls, are necessary to fortify defenses and mitigate malicious attacks.

Qadri underscores the need for a holistic approach involving software bills of materials (SBOMs) coupled with firewall-like capabilities to ensure a comprehensive understanding of software contents and preemptive measures against malicious threats.

As the software supply chain faces ongoing vulnerabilities and attacks, concerted efforts are imperative to bolster security measures, safeguard against threats, and fortify the foundational aspects of open source components.

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