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Bitcoin kingpin Alexander Vinnick, in Thessaloniki. (AP / Giannis Papanikos)

The United States has carried out a largely unheralded roundup of big Russian hackers over the last year, grabbing them on vacation in Barcelona, Prague and Greece, per the AP.

  • The arrests come as Russia's security services have struck a strategic agreement with the country's cyber criminals, allowing them to work as long as they also conduct state-ordered missions, experts tell Axios.
  • By the AP's count, at least five Russian hackers have been arrested, including Alexander Vinnick, the operator of one of the world's largest bitcoin exchanges, who was picked up July 25 while vacationing with his family in northern Greece on charges of allegedly helped criminal syndicates launder money.
  • Why it matters: None of those picked up has any publicly known connection to the most notorious of Russia's cyber-led hybrid war — the hacking of the U.S. and European elections over the last 18 months. But the arrests are intended as a U.S. message that Russia's increasingly intelligent cyberwar cannot be carried out with impunity, Jim Lewis, of the Center for Strategic and International Relations, told Axios.

The culmination of three years of investigation: Lewis said that starting in 2014, the U.S. began to comb its various threads of intelligence for clues as to who was responsible for the wave of cyber attacks, visible most conspicuously at the time in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • The U.S. and private cyber consultants concluded that the cyber attacks were carried out largely by private hackers, but were coordinated through Russia's security services, Robert Morgus, a cyber specialist at the New America Foundation, told Axios.

Lewis said the big question for U.S. law enforcement was "how do you deal with a state when they are a proxy for a criminal?" So emerged the arrest plan. "We are still not really good at it," he said. "But one tactic that works is snatching Russians when they are dopey enough to take a vacation."

Go deeper

Senate Democrats reach deal on extending unemployment insurance

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Democrats struck a deal Friday evening to extend unemployment insurance in President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package after deliberating and halting other action for roughly nine hours, per a Senate aide.

Why it matters: The Senate can now resume voting on other amendments to the broader rescue bill.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.

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