Russian diplomats keep dying unexpectedly - Axios
Top Stories
Featured

Russian diplomats keep dying unexpectedly

Ivan Sekretarev / AP

Russia's ambassador to Sudan was found dead Wednesday in Khartoum. That's the seventh Russian diplomat to have died since November last year, in addition to an aide to a former deputy prime minister, a lawyer for a Putin-foe, and a former Russian MP. All but two died on foreign soil. Some were shot, while other causes of death are unknown. Note that a few deaths have been labeled "heart attacks" or "brief illnesses." Here's what you need to know:

  1. You probably remember Russia's Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov — he was assassinated by a police officer at a photo exhibit in Ankara on December 19.
  2. On the same day, another diplomat, Peter Polshikov, was shot dead in his Moscow apartment. The gun was found under the bathroom sink but the circumstances of the death were under investigation. Polshikov served as a senior figure in the Latin American department of the Foreign Ministry.
  3. Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died in New York this past week. Churkin was rushed to the hospital from his office at Russia's UN mission. Initial reports said he suffered a heart attack, and the medical examiner is investigating the death, according to CBS.
  4. Russia's Ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, died after a "brief illness" January 27, which The Hindu said he had been suffering from for a few weeks.
  5. Russian Consul in Athens, Greece, Andrei Malanin, was found dead in his apartment January 9. A Greek police official said there was "no evidence of a break-in." But Malanin lived on a heavily guarded street. The cause of death needed further investigation, per an AFP report. Malanin served during a time of easing relations between Greece and Russia when Greece was increasingly critiqued by the EU and NATO.
  6. On the morning of U.S. Election Day, Russian diplomat Sergei Krivov was found unconscious at the Russian Consulate in New York and died on the scene. Initial reports said Krivov fell from the roof and had blunt force injuries, but Russian officials said he died from a heart attack. BuzzFeed reports Krivov may have been a Consular Duty Commander, which would have put him in charge of preventing sabotage or espionage.
  7. Ex-KGB chief Oleg Erovinkin, who was suspected of helping draft the Trump dossier, was found dead in the back of his car December 26, according to The Telegraph. Erovinkin also was an aide to former deputy prime minister Igor Sechin, who now heads up state-owned Rosneft.
  8. A lawyer for a Putin-foe, Nikolai Gorokhov, was reportedly thrown from a window March 21 in Moscow. However, press outlets with ties to Russian security forces reported Gorkohov fell while trying to move a bathtub into his apartment. Gorokhov was set to testify as a U.S. government witness in a money laundering case in New York.
  9. A former Russian MP, Denis Voronenkov, was shot dead in Kiev March 23, according to the BBC. Voronenkov was to testify against deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and had ruffled feathers in Russia for calling the Crimean annexation illegal. Kiev police said it was likely a contract killing but the Kremlin rejected the remarks as "absurd."
  10. Russia's ambassador to Sudan, Mirgayas Shirinsky was found dead at his Khartoum home August 23. Per AFP he was found dead in the residence's swimming pool, although Sudanese police said he had died of natural causes. Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said embassy staff called an ambulance but he "could not be saved."

Some history: In November 2015, a senior adviser to Putin, Mikhail Lesin, who was also the founder of the media company RT, was found dead in a Washington hotel room according to the NYT. The Russian media said it was a "heart attack," but the medical examiner said it was "blunt force injuries."

Two cases that are a little clearer: In 2006, former KGB officer and whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium. Six years later, whistleblower Alexander Perepilichny died from a toxin while jogging in England, per the NYT report.

Go deeper: BuzzFeed News has a team investigating a series of Russian-linked deaths (including Lesin, Litvinenko, and Perepilichny) well worth the read. Start with Part 1: "Poison in the System," here.

Featured

A read on Trump's new court names

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A year and a half ago, as a candidate for president, Trump broke precedent and named a list of people from whom he'd promise to pick Supreme Court justices. He fulfilled the promise by nominating Neil Gorsuch; and today announced five new names.

Here's a read on the names from Leonard Leo, an influential figure in the conservative legal community and an outside adviser to President Trump on judicial selections:

  • Brett Kavanaugh (judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals): "The president obviously shied away from D.C. personalities when he was running for office, but he's now, almost a year into his office, in a much better position to have a more geographically diverse list." Leo has made no secret of his enthusiasm to see Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and says he has "one of the deepest and widest judicial records."
  • Britt Grant and Patrick Wyrick (state Supreme Court justices) : "The president likes the whole state Supreme Court justice angle ... because they're people who have to make final decisions and like a CEO, when you have to make a final decision, you own it. So that requires you to have a degree of strength." Leo added that these two state Supreme Court justices, in their prior careers as state solicitor generals, had been "very important architects of efforts to challenge overreach in Washington during the Obama administration, on behalf of the states."
  • Amy Coney Barrett and Kevin Newsom (recent appointments): Having recently been picked for the Federal bench they "could have potential going forward."

Behind the selections: Trump consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn, who led the process; and they sought advice from conservative legal thinkers. But they didn't need to do much vetting. The five they selected are well known in the conservative legal community.

Featured

Peter Thiel has parted ways with Y Combinator

Peter Thiel. Photo: Kevin Moloney / Fortune Brainstorm Tech

Famed investor Peter Thiel, who publicly supported Donald Trump during his candidacy and as president, is no longer affiliated with startup accelerator program Y Combinator, as BuzzFeed first reported and a blog post update confirms.

Be smart: Thiel isn't the only one departing the program. Y Combinator has shuttered its entire part-time partner program in which Thiel participated, according to BuzzFeed. So it's not quite the symbolic move many wanted YC to make last year.

  • The organization has been experimenting with various ways to involve alumni entrepreneurs who want to advise new startups, such as having "visiting partners" for a 6-month run.
  • And as a venture capitalist with close ties to the startup community and friendships with some of YC's executives, it's hard to believe that Thiel won't continue to meet with and invest in the accelerator program's startups.
Featured

Report: War on ISIS killing 31 times more civilians than claimed

Airstrikes target ISIS positions on the edge of the Old City a day after Iraq's prime minister declared "total victory" in Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Felipe Dana / AP

The U.S.-led war against ISIS is claiming civilian lives at a rate 31 times higher than was previously acknowledged by the coalition, according to Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, NYT reporters who conducted an 18-month investigation in northern Iraq.

Why it matters: This staggering number of deaths "is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history," per NYT. It also raises questions about civilian casualties in neighboring Syria, and how far this reporting problem reaches around the world.

What they did, per the NYT: The reporters went to roughly 150 airstrike sites in northern Iraq to interview witnesses and local officials, photograph bomb fragments, search local records and news sources, and map out the destruction through satellite imagery. They visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition is based and interviewed coalition officials and advisers. They provided coalition analysts with coordinates and date ranges of 103 air strikes to examine and compare their responses.

What they found, per the NYT: The coalition claims 1 civilian is killed in every 157 airstrikes but their on-the-ground analysis shows 1 civilian is killed in every 5 airstrikes. They added the coalition is doing a poor job of investigating claims or even to keep proper records to make investigation possible.

"While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants," according to Khan and Gopal.

Featured

White House on sexual allegations: Franken admitted wrongdoing, Trump hasn't

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a press briefing at the White House. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday that the allegations of sexual misconduct against Sen. Al Franken are different from those against President Trump because, "Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the president hasn't. That's a very big distinction."

Key quote: When asked why allegations against Franken merit an investigation but those against Trump don't, Sanders replied "The American people spoke very loud and clear when they elected the president."

More from Sanders:

  • Is it the WH position that Trump's accusers are lying? "The president has denied those allegations."
  • Does Trump believe the women who accused Roy Moore? "The president certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling ... and he feels it's up to [Alabama] ... to make a determination."

Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, joined Sanders to discuss the latest on tax reform:

  • Trickle-down economics: "There's nothing about that's controversial."
  • Difficulty of passing tax reform in the Senate: "I'm hopeful that people can work it out, and that everybody, even Democrats, will end up wanting to vote for it."
  • Temporary tax cuts: Hassett said he hopes future congresses won't let them expire.
Featured

Florida Democratic Chair resigns after sexual harassment claims

Stephen Bittel apologized to the women who felt uncomfortable. Screengrab via YouTube

Stephen Bittel, Florida's Democratic Party chairman since last January, resigned today after several women accused him of making inappropriate comments toward them, according to Politico's interviews with six women.

Key quote: "There was a lot of boob stuff in his office," one woman, a former fundraiser for Bittel, told Politico. "I was told by other women not to go into his bathroom. I was warned."

Why it matters: Bittel is another Democrat after Franken who has faced allegations of sexual harassment, and he's likely not going to be the last. His resignation is one example of some of the consequences these men will face in the wake of these revelations.

His statements:

  • To Politico on Thursday, before his official resignation: "Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry. I have much to learn, but my goal is and has always been to make sure every member of our party has a safe environment in which to succeed. It seems I've not been successful in that goal, and I will do better."
  • On the day of his resignation: "When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside. I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable under my tenure at the Democratic Party. I am working with our leadership to elect my successor."
One more quote: "He's just so f----ng creepy," a former party staffer told Politico. "He just leers at you, and stares. I don't know if you know what that feels like, but he just leers at you. I don't know how to describe the feeling."
Featured

Report: Trump administration plans to halt work permits for H-1B spouses

Computer information specialist and immigrant from India, Santosh Pala, right, carries his three-month-old son Hemang during a prayer procession at the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple in Frisco, Texas, in 2015. Photo: LM Otero / AP.

The Trump administration plans to halt work permits for the spouses of H-1B visa holders, which would discourage H-1B visa applicants from staying in the country and would revoke the ability to work for thousands of visa holders' spouses, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Why it matters: It's another move by the Trump administration to make it more difficult for foreign workers to come to America in its larger effort to safeguard American jobs.

  • Approximately 100,000 spouses and children of H-1B visa holders come to the U.S. every year on a visa known as H-4.
  • These workers were not able to work in the U.S. before 2015, when President Barack Obama created a work permit for some H-4 holders.
  • Silicon Valley will be disproportionately affected, since many high-tech employers employ H-1B workers. Because of the region's high cost of living, It is difficult for a family to survive on one salary and, as a result, may not be able to stay in the country.
  • A decision on the H-4 work authorization will likely come soon, immigration attorneys told The Chronicle.

Other efforts: Earlier this week, a House committee advanced Rep. Darrell Issa's bill to increase restrictions on how "H-1B dependent" companies can obtain the work permits for employees. Find details of Issa's bill here, and the Indian firms' lobbying efforts against crack downs on H-1B visas here.

Featured

Franken's former female staffers defend him amid allegations

Jim Mone / AP

Amid a firestorm of criticism for his alleged sexual misconduct, eight of Sen. Al Franken's former female staffers issued a joint statement obtained by the Star Tribune Friday saying the senator treated them "with the utmost respect" and "was a champion for women both in the legislation he supported and in promoting women to leadership roles in our offices."

Franken's former chief of staff, Casey Aden-Wansbury, also told ABC News that during the eight years she had known him, "he has always worked hard to create a respectful environment for his staff." She added that "the inappropriate behavior reported today does not live up to the values I know he holds."

Featured

Spotify acquires yet another startup as it prepares to go public

Illustration: Sam Jayne / Axios

Spotify has acquired Swedish collaborative music-making startup Soundtrap, the latter said on its website. Spotify paid at least $30 million, according to Breakit.

The big picture: As Spotify eyes a public listing of its stock next year (as it has been reported and sources tell Axios), the company has to keep growing its music business beyond streaming existing tracks. This way, it can provide more services, such as music collaboration tools to artists.

Featured

White House requests 3rd disaster relief package

Volunteers sort supplies for those affected by Hurricane Maria. Photo: Carlos Giusti / AP

The White House requested an additional $44 billion from Congress on Friday for disaster recovery, which if approved would bring the total to almost $100 billion for Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Politico reports.

Go deeper: The latest on Puerto Rico recovery, per Puerto Rico's government site and FEMA:

  • Almost 82% of the island has water.
  • Nearly 45% of the island has electricity.
  • There are 15,000 civilian/military personnel assisting in recovery, plus 2,800 FEMA personnel.
  • 84% of gas stations are up and running.
  • Almost 89% of supermarkets are running.
  • There are 1,822 people taking shelter in 50 shelters.
Featured

Kayla Moore says her husband will not step down

Roy Moore's wife, Kayla, said that he will not step down from the U.S. senate race in the face of sexual harassment allegations.

Moore also said the "liberal press" and others who have attacked President Trump are now attacking them and taking spotlight away from the Russia investigation: "To the President, I would say now is a good time to get some things done in Congress."