Venezuela’s Maduro Hikes Minimum Wage Amid Rising Protests

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hiked wages and handed out hundreds of free homes Sunday amid his efforts to counter a strengthening protest movement seeking his removal.


On his regular Sunday television show, Maduro ordered a 60 percent increase in the country’s minimum wage starting Monday. It was the third pay increase the socialist leader has ordered this year and the 15th since he became president in 2013.


It is small solace to workers who seen the buying power of their earnings eroded by a sinking currency and the world’s highest inflation – forecast to accelerate to 2,000 percent next year, according to the International Monetary Fund.


With the latest wage increase and mandatory food subsidies, the minimum take home pay for millions of Venezuelans now stands at 200,000 bolivars a month – or less than $50 at the widely used black market rate.


“We’re here to take care of the workers, those who are most humble, and not the privileges of the oligarchs,” Maduro said.


In addition to the pay hike, he announced a special “economic war” bonus to retirees to make up for what he says are attempts by the opposition to sabotage the economy.


The president also watched as officials in several states handed over the keys to hundreds of new apartments, some built with Chinese funding, bringing to 1.6 million the number of public housing units built by a program started by the late president Hugo Chavez.  


The announcements came as government supporters and Maduro’s opponents prepared for rival marches to commemorate May Day on Monday.


Twenty people have been killed, hundreds injured and more than 1,300 arrested during a month of protests that are the bloodiest to hit Venezuela since anti-government unrest in 2014 resulted in more than 40 dead.


Fears of dictatorship

Protesters accuse Maduro of taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, unrest triggered by the government-stacked Supreme Court stripping Congress of its last vestiges of power. They are demanding early elections and freedom for dozens of political prisoners as a way out of the stalemate.


The opposition blames the recent deaths on security forces and pro-government militias. The government has complained of what it considers biased media coverage that will pave the way for some sort of foreign intervention in Venezuela.


On Saturday, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez met with foreign correspondents for a second straight week to present the government’s case.


Rodriguez sought to “completely disprove” the opposition’s claim that security forces fired a tear gas canister which hit the chest of 20-year-old college student and killed him died during a protest in Caracas last week. She said there were strong indications that the youth, Juan Pablo Pernalete, might have been killed with a cattle stun gun used against him by fellow protesters.


As political tensions have mounted, Maduro, a former bus driver, has worked hard to reinforce his everyman image. In recent days he has appeared on state TV tossing a baseball around with aides, rapping with a hip-hop group and taking first lady Cilia Flores on a popular tourist gondola to the top of Avila Mountain overlooking Caracas.


But the campaign to project business as usual has sometimes backfired.


For example, last week he posted to his more than 3 million followers on Twitter a video showing him driving a car at night through a neighborhood that hours earlier experienced street clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces. It didn’t take long before someone noticed that passing by the open passenger window was a large graffiti scribbled on a wall that read “Maduro: Assassin of students.”

Guy in Gorilla Costume Finishes London Marathon After 6 Days

An English policeman wearing a gorilla costume while crawling the London Marathon has finally finished the race, almost a week after starting.


Metropolitan Police officer Tom Harrison, who goes by the name “Mr. Gorilla,” raised a reported 26,000 pounds ($33,650) for the Gorilla Organization, which is dedicated to conserving gorillas in countries including Rwanda and Uganda.


The 41-year-old Londoner started the 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) route last Sunday and crossed the finish line on Saturday.

Harrison slept at friends’ houses in the evenings after completing around 10 to 12 hours and 4.5 miles per day. He has swapped between crawling on his hands and knees and up on his hands and feet to save his blistered knees.

He crossed the finish line in central London flanked by his two sons – and beating his chest.

Wary of Trump, EU Courts Iran to Boost Moderates Before Polls

Wary of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough talk on Iran, the European Union is courting Tehran to show Iranians preparing to vote in a May 19 presidential poll that it is committed to a nuclear deal and they stand to benefit, EU diplomats say.

Europe’s energy commissioner is leading more than 50 European firms in a business forum in Tehran over the weekend — the latest bid to foster new ties in the 16 months since Iran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Of the six major powers who engineered the deal — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — EU nations bore the brunt of the oil embargo on Iran and stand to gain the most from a thaw they view as a victory for European diplomacy.

Meeting with Iran’s atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi, Commissioner Miguel Arias-Canete echoed the EU’s mantra that it is “fully committed” to the 2015 deal and expects the same from all other parties.

But the bloc’s leverage remains limited — particularly if it is not able to shield European firms from the risk of remaining U.S. sanctions and encourage big banks to reverse over a decade of Iran’s exclusion from the international financial system.

The latter was a theme of another big conference in Tehran on Saturday attended by Germany and Iran’s central banks.

Some Western companies have returned — planemakers Airbus and Boeing and carmakers Peugeot-Citroen and Renault — but many more have hung back, fearing Trump will tighten the screws on an already complex set of rules for engaging with Iran.

The pace and scale of Western investment is at the heart of a challenge by hardline rivals of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking re-election in May.

Iran’s ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his loyalists have criticized Rouhani’s policy of rapprochement with the West, arguing the 2015 nuclear accord had not yielded the benefits he promised.

“He needs more time… He has to be given a chance,” Iran’s vice president, Masoumeh Ebtekar, told Reuters in an interview.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm about working with Iran now and … I hope that the American administration wakes up to these realities,” she added.

The Trump administration said on April 18 it was launching an inter-agency review of whether the lifting of sanctions against Iran was in the United States’ national security interests, while acknowledging that Tehran was complying with the deal to rein in its nuclear program.

Confrontation risk

EU diplomats voiced concern that a more confrontational stance by the Trump administration could empower Iran’s hardliners ahead of the elections – although there is no sign the United States intends to walk away from the deal.

EU diplomats say they share U.S. concerns over Iran’s human rights record, its ballistic missiles tests, its funding of blacklisted militant groups and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“We disagree that we have to address these issues by  ditching the [nuclear] deal,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

“This will only empower those [in Iran] with a more confrontational stance — bring out the worst in the system.”

For now, Iranian leaders have kept their cool, with Salehi saying Iran will only take “reciprocal action” if the U.S. is found in breach of the deal — leaving EU diplomats caught in a balancing act between the two long-time rivals.

In recent months, European leaders have been frequent visitors to Tehran with businessmen in tow — in an effort to keep alive the 2015 accord, which also has the support of Russia and China, rivals for influence in the Islamic Republic.

The bloc’s trade with Iran has partially recovered – much of that due to oil exports from Iran in what one EU official called “a direct incentive to stick to the deal.”

The International Monetary Fund this year applauded Iran’s “impressive recovery”, with growth expected over 6 percent for the last 12 months and low inflation — a record that Rouhani has been keen to defend.

But the hoped-for a boom since the EU and United Nations sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program were lifted a year ago has been hampered by separate U.S. measures in place over Iran’s missile program.

“The Europeans want to at least create the optical impression they are politically invested in this deal working,” said Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Even if from a commercial perspective, companies are essentially on hold.”

The risk of falling afoul of U.S. measures has been enough to persuade major Western banks to stay away from Iran, and Tehran accuses Washington of undermining the nuclear deal by scaring investors away from Iran.

While acknowledging domestic criticism, Salehi told reporters Tehran will remain committed to the deal regardless of the outcome of next month’s vote.

There are also signs that the EU’s firm stance has given U.S. officials pause, with senators saying they delayed a bill to slap new sanctions on Iran due to worries over how the bloc would react and the Iranian presidential elections.

British PM May Braces for Difficult Brexit Negotiations

British Prime Minister Theresa May expects divorce talks with the European Union to be difficult, she said on Sunday in response to the tough stance taken by EU leaders over the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

EU leaders endorsed stiff divorce terms for Britain at a Brussels summit on Saturday, warning Britons to have “no illusions” about swiftly securing a new relationship to retain access to EU markets and to be prepared for the complexity of issues such as residency rights for EU citizens.

“What this shows, and what some of the other comments we’ve seen coming from European leaders shows, is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough,” May told the BBC.

Brussels is concerned about the British government’s state of preparation for enormously complicated negotiations and over the degree of understanding in London of what kind of compromises it will have to make to clinch any kind of deal.

EU officials said that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s talks with May in London on Wednesday did nothing to ease that concern.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, repeating a comment she made after Juncker’s meeting with May, said she was still worried by “illusions” in Britain about the Brexit talks.

May reaffirmed her position that she would be prepared to walk away from talks without a deal if she did not like what was on offer from Brussels.

‘Strong hand crucial’

“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t believe that,” May said in a separate interview with ITV television. “What I also believe is that, with the right strong hand in negotiations, we can get a good deal for the UK.”

May, who came to power after Britons decided last year to leave the EU, has called a national election in an attempt to win a public mandate and a bigger majority in parliament to help to execute her plan to leave the EU’s single market and pursue a free trade deal with the bloc.

Many of her European counterparts question whether May really is prepared to take Britain into legal limbo on March 30, 2019, if there is no deal. European Council President Donald Tusk has argued repeatedly that while such a move would be bad for the EU, it would be much costlier for Britain.

Nonetheless, leaders stated in their negotiating guidelines, approved within minutes at Saturday’s summit, that they would be prepared to deal with a situation in which talks collapse.   

The Belgian prime minister warned colleagues against falling into a “trap” set by British negotiators trying to divide them, while others cautioned May that it was in Britain’s interests, too, to ensure the other 27 stick together.

Noting the unusually harmonious mood of the summit, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told reporters: “When the negotiations start and detailed, more complex discussions have to take place, obviously some countries will assign bigger priorities to different issues.

Merkel’s Conservatives Widen Lead 5 Months Before German Vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats have opened a seven-point lead over the center-left Social Democrats five months ahead of the Sept. 24 election, according to a poll on Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The Emnid institute survey found the Christian Democrats and their Christian Social Union allies winning 36 percent of the vote if the election were held on Sunday, unchanged from a similar Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag taken a week ago.

But the Social Democrats (SPD), led by their chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, continued to slide and lost two percentage points in the week to 29 percent. The CDU/CSU long held a comfortable lead in polls until Schulz was nominated in early 2017 and lifted the SPD to the same levels as the CDU/CSU.

The latest poll, taken just one week before an important state election in Schleswig-Holstein, also showed the CDU/CSU’s preferred coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), rising one point to 6 percent in the last week.

The center-right alliance would still be well short of winning a majority in parliament with 42 percent.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) would win 9 percent, unchanged over the week. All parties have said they will not join forces with the AfD, making it more difficult to form the next government.

The SPD’s preferred partner, the Greens, rose 1 point to 7 percent in the last week. The far-left Linke party would win an unchanged 9 percent, according to the latest Emnid poll. The so-called “red-red-green” alliance of SPD, Linke and Greens would also fall short of a majority with 45 percent.

The CDU/CSU and SPD currently lead Germany in a grand coalition government. Both parties have said they do not want to continue that arrangement after the Sept. 24 election.

FIFA Official Sheikh Ahmad Resigning Amid Bribery Claims

FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC [Asian Football Confederation] and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator [hash]2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator [hash]3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.

Pope Pushes Human Rights, End to Violence in Venezuela

Pope Francis called on Sunday for the respect of human rights and an end to violence in Venezuela, where nearly 30 people were killed in unrest this month.

Francis, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, decried a “grave humanitarian, social , political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution …,” he said.

Supporters say Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed head of the hardline opposition Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners whose arrests symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down.

Francis told reporters on the plane returning from Cairo on Saturday that “very clear conditions” were necessary for the talks to resume.

For Russia and US, Uneasy Cooperation on Cybercrime Is Now a Mess 

Agents from the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service showed up in Moscow in May 2009 with a specific mission: to nab one of the world’s most notorious hackers. But to do that, the Americans needed Russia’s help.

They turned to the Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s main intelligence agency, and shared operational information with officers from its computer-crimes unit, the Center for Information Security.

The hacker, Roman Seleznyov, shut down his operations a month later in a move prompted, the U.S. believes, by a leak from the FSB. The credit-card fraudster, it turns out, had bragged in conversations intercepted a year earlier about his protection from the computer-crimes unit.

US court

The incident, detailed in the legal filings that resulted in a U.S. federal court recently sentencing Seleznyov to 27 years in prison, exposes an unintended consequence of Washington’s cybercrime cooperation with Russia: the United States finds itself indicting some of the top-level Russian security officials it worked with. 

At least one of those officials is a former hacker who worked with the FSB — an agency accused of involvement in the hacking of U.S. political parties’ computers in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that one of those very FSB officers has himself been charged in Russia with high treason.

In short, the Russians were recruiting hackers while the Americans sought to work with the FSB to thwart cybercriminals. Now the Americans are indicting — and in Seleznyov’s case, sentencing — hackers tied in some way to the FSB. The Russians, meanwhile, are charging some of those same individuals with treason.

“Russia sees those who cooperated as traitors,” explained Pavel Vrublevsky, a prominent e-payment entrepreneur who was imprisoned in Russia for ordering a cyberattack against a competitor. “Now America sees the very same people as cybercriminals themselves.”

Seleznyov is not the first Russian to have been caught up in a widening U.S. dragnet that has snagged cybercriminals from around the world. Others include Aleksandr Panin, convicted in a federal court in Atlanta in 2016 for creating a computer program that infected millions of computers and drained bank accounts in multiple countries.

WATCH: Czech Police Arrest Yevgeny Nikulin In Prague

There’s also Yevgeny Nikulin, who has sat in a Czech jail following his October arrest while Moscow and Washington both fight for his extradition. And the same day that Seleznyov was sentenced, U.S. prosecutors announced the indictment of another Russian, Pyotr Levashov, arrested in Spain, accusing him of masterminding a “bot net” of infected computers to steal money from bank accounts.

Seleznyov, the son of a Russian lawmaker, raked in $170 million selling stolen credit-card information online beginning in 2007, according to U.S. officials. By 2009, his operation was one of the largest providers of such stolen data in the world.

The determination that Seleznyov was behind the scheme was what led U.S. investigators to seek the FSB’s help in 2009, according to material submitted by prosecutors in a U.S. federal court.

In Moscow, they met with officials from the agency’s Center for Information Security, including deputy chief Sergei Mikhailov and his subordinate, Dmitry Dokuchayev, current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the case told RFE/RL.



Unfortunately for the Americans, news of the meetings apparently leaked. Seleznyov shut down his so-called carding operations a month later.

As U.S. prosecutors noted in court documents, Seleznyov had been recorded telling a colleague in 2008 that he had “obtained protection through the law-enforcement contacts in the computer-crimes squad of the FSB.”

Seleznyov eventually resurfaced using a different alias, but was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2011 and arrested by U.S. agents while vacationing in the Maldives in 2014. A federal jury convicted him on 38 counts in 2016, and he was sentenced on April 21 to 27 years in prison.

“Never before has a criminal engaged in computer fraud of this magnitude been identified, captured, and convicted by an American jury,” prosecutors wrote in their court filings.

In from the cold

The 2009 Moscow discussion was just one of many between U.S. and Russian officials as they sought to work together in investigating international computer crimes. 

The effort was largely ad hoc, and U.S. officials sought over the following years to a build a more formal arrangement, according to David Hickton, a former U.S. prosecutor involved in several high-profile criminal investigations of alleged Russian hackers. 

They include the 2014 indictment of Yevgeny Bogachev, who is accused by the FBI of helping to build a network of infected computers around the world using software known as GameOver ZeuS, and using it to steal money from online bank accounts.

Competing legal systems, differences of opinion, and distrust proved to be formidable obstacles to cooperation.

“They tried to develop a dialogue that would lead to cybernorms and some understanding of [what the] rules of the road would be and how we would navigate our adversarial relationship,” Hickton said of the Russians. “And that broke down.”

Luke Dembosky, who was the resident legal adviser for the Justice Department in Moscow between 2010 and 2013, told RFE/RL that “it was never easy working these kinds of cases with Russia. There were different systems, different laws, different interests.”

To really make an international cybercase work, Dembosky explained, “you need some alignment of interests and political will, and you need some commonality of law and capabilities.”

More than anything, he said, “you need some modicum of trust.”

A troubled relationship

As U.S.-Russian cooperation stumbled, the FSB’s computer-crimes unit was growing in clout and notoriety, thanks in part to one officer’s previous work as a hacker.

Dokuchayev, with whom the Americans met with during their 2009 meetings in Moscow, was once well-known in cybercircles under the nickname Forb.

He worked with other FSB officers, including one named Igor Sushchin, to recruit hackers to cooperate with the Russian agency on cyberactivities. Among the recruits was Aleksei Belan, who has been wanted by the FBI since 2012 for alleged hacking and computer fraud. 

Officials from the FSB’s Center for Information Security were also involved in the investigation of IT entrepreneur Vrublevsky, the founder of a successful online payment system called ChronoPay.

He was convicted in 2013 of orchestrating an attack on a ticketing system used by the airline Aeroflot. Mikhailov, Dokuchayev’s superior in the computer-crimes unit, testified against Vrublevsky during the trial.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the hackers who broke into email accounts and computer servers belonging to the Democratic and Republican parties during last year’s election campaign did so with authorization from top-level Russian officials.

The declassified summary of a report released on behalf of the intelligence community in January pointed the finger at the FSB’s security rival, the military intelligence agency known as GRU. There was no mention of the FSB, or its computer-crimes unit.

But the previous month, then-President Barack Obama announced new economic sanctions and other punitive measures in response to alleged Russian hacking during the U.S. election campaign.

The list of those targeted included both the GRU and the FSB, as well as Belan and Bogachev.

High treason

Just prior to Obama’s announcement, Russian security officials moved to arrest FSB computer-crimes unit officers Mikhailov and Dokuchayev. That news became public when the Russian newspapers Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta reported in January that the two had been charged with high treason for giving classified information to Western intelligence, including possibly the CIA.

In a dramatic twist, according to Kommersant, Mikhailov was detained during an FSB meeting and taken from the room with a bag over his head.

There has been no comment on Mikhailov’s or Dokuchayev’s arrests from the FSB or Russian prosecutors; the only confirmation of their incarceration came from the lawyer for another computer expert also caught up in the arrests.

The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to a phone message or e-mail seeking comment.

In March, Dokuchayev’s name surfaced again when the U.S. Justice Department announced his indictment, and that of FSB officer Sushchin, in connection with the massive data breach at the Internet company Yahoo. Mikhailov’s name does not appear in the indictments, although cyberexperts believe someone identified only as “FSB Officer 3” is, in fact, Mikhailov.

Sushchin, according to the indictment, worked as an undercover officer at the investment bank Renaissance Capital.

That indictment also named Belan, who U.S. officials said could have been arrested by the FSB at the behest of the FBI any time after being named a top wanted cybercriminal in 2012.

Instead, “the FSB officers used him,” according to the indictment. “They also provided him with sensitive FSB law-enforcement and intelligence information that would have helped him avoid detection by law enforcement, including information regarding FSB investigations of computer hacking and FSB techniques for identifying criminal hackers.”

Gray zone

First and foremost, the arrests and criminal charges in both Russia and the United States highlight what experts say is the blurry line between Russian law-enforcement and security agencies and criminal networks, in cybercrime or otherwise.

“Moscow still depends, to a considerable extent, on recruiting cybercriminals, or simply calling on them from time to time, in return for their continued freedom,” Mark Galeotti, a Prague-based expert on Russian intelligence agencies, wrote in a report published on April 18.

It’s a gray zone that poses substantial danger for Russia itself, according to one of the other Russians charged with treason stemming from the December arrests: Ruslan Stoyanov, a former Interior Ministry investigator.

In a letter published by the Dozhd TV channel, Stoyanov, who worked for the Moscow-based computer security company Kaspersky Lab, warned that cooperating with cybercriminals would only embolden them.

“The worst scenario would be to give cybercriminals immunity from punishment for stealing money in other countries in exchange for intelligence. If this happens, an entire layer of ‘patriotic thieves’ will appear, violating the principles of the rule of law and the inevitability of punishment,” he wrote. “We will see a new wave of crime in Russia.”

Former U.S. prosecutor Hickton, who now heads the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, said Russia could have easily arrested Bogachev after he was indicted in 2014 but there is no extradition treaty between the two countries.

Moreover, according to the research firm Fox-IT, the infected computers believed to have been used by Bogachev were also allegedly used to search for information about top-secret government files in places such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey. That suggests the involvement of someone who was more than a mere criminal hacker — perhaps an operative working on behalf of an intelligence agency.

But the arrests also represent another facet of the collapsed relationship between Moscow and Washington.

Hickton said the Bogachev indictment may have been one factor in why U.S.-Russian cooperation in cybercrimes deteriorated. Or it may have merely been a casualty of other points of conflict between Washington and Moscow, such as Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in Ukraine’s east. 

“This all — this all is a mess,” Vrublevsky told RFE/RL. “And it’s a mess to be dealt with in both countries. The sooner the better.”

Crash of Cuban Military Plane Kills 8

Eight troops were killed Saturday when a Cuban military plane crashed, a statement from the military said.

The Soviet-made AN-26 aircraft took off from Playa Baracoa airport near Havana early Saturday and crashed into a hillside near Candelaria, in Artemisa province, about 65 kilometers southwest of the capital, the statement said.

No other information was released.