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Estonia's prime minister calls on US and NATO allies to be tougher on Russia

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Estonia's prime minister calls on US and NATO allies to be tougher on Russia

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As continued U.S. support for Ukraine remains in question, European leaders have been ramping up their own defense spending and industry capacity. Leading the charge is Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas who, at 46, is Estonia’s first female prime minister. Kallas is known for being tough on Russia. Some critics joke she even eats them for breakfast. Russia’s interior minister issued a warrant for her arrest earlier this year, for taking down Soviet monuments, but Kallas has not backed down. 

Asked to respond to critics that say she is too tough on Putin, Kallas said, “Can you be tough enough on Putin, considering what he has done?” Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Kallas has become one of Putin’s loudest critics.

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Kallas has been considered to become the next NATO Secretary General, but some of her opponents say she is too hawkish to lead NATO. To that, Kallas said she does not think Putin should have a say in how NATO runs its alliance.

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Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) give a press conference after their meeting in Zhytomyr on April 24, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  (Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images)

“Russia is the biggest threat to NATO security … if we say that, because of our attitudes towards Russia, we are prevented from taking top positions, then we actually give too much power to Putin to decide how we run our alliances,” Kallas said.

Estonia is on the front line of NATO, sharing a 210-mile border with Russia. Estonia spends 3.2% of its annual GDP on defense and 1.35% of that is for Ukraine to fight the Russians, the equivalent to $378 billion a year.

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After the Soviet Union fell in 1991 Estonia became independent, eventually joining NATO in 2004. In 2007 Russia launched massive cyberattacks unlike anything the world had seen. The cyber campaign lasted 22 days targeting Estonia’s parliament, banks and news organizations. Estonia is now the headquarters to NATO’s cyber defense. 

Kallas said the attacks in 2007 are nothing like the attacks that Estonia now prevents every day. “We have invested a lot in cybersecurity so these attacks don’t really go through,” Kallas said. But the cybersecurity of hospitals remains a huge concern. “There could be civilian casualties. So we have to prepare,” Kallas said.

Bakmut fighting

Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 15, 2023. For months, Western allies have shipped billions of dollars worth of weapons systems and ammunition to Ukraine with an urgency to get the supplies to Kyiv in time for an anticipated spring counteroffensive. Now summer is just weeks away. While Russia and Ukraine are focused on an intense battle for Bakhmut, the Ukrainian spring offensive has yet to begin. (AP Photo/Libkos)

These cyberattacks are part of what Kallas calls a shadow war. “While there is a conventional war going on in Ukraine, there’s also a shadow war going on within our societies … What they are really good at is pouring fuel into the fires that are already existing in our societies. So we have to be aware,” Kallas said.

It is not only direct conflict with Russia that Kallas is worried about. She wants to prevent more of a shadow war. It is because of this that Kallas warned against negotiating with Russia to end the war in Ukraine as former President Trump has suggested he will do if elected.

RUSSIA TO CREATE ‘BUFFER ZONE’ IN UKRAINE TO DETER UKRAINIAN ATTACKS

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Putin-Victory

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a concert marking his victory in a presidential election and the 10-year anniversary of Crimea’s annexation by Russia on Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 18, 2024. President Vladimir Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine a decade ago, a move that sent his popularity soaring but was widely denounced as illegal.

“Of course, war is bad and peace is good. But there’s also a difference between peace and peace,” Kallas said. 

Under Joseph Stalin, in 1949 her mother was just six months old. She and her family were sent to a Soviet prison camp in Siberia. These labor camps across Russia were known as the Gulag. They were there for ten years before being released. 

“Just because a war is over does not mean there is peace, Kallas said.

“Peace on Russia’s terms doesn’t mean human suffering will stop. For my country, one fifth of our population was either deported or killed. Our language, our culture was suppressed. All these things happened while we had peace. So, peace under Russian terms does not mean that the human suffering will stop.”

Russia, Putin, Victory Day

Russian Army soldiers stand in a military vehicle rolling during a dress rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, May 7, 2022. The parade will take place at Moscow’s Red Square on May 9 to celebrate 77 years of the victory in WWII. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Kallas warned if Putin wins in Ukraine it will inspire other conflicts around the world. “History rhymes and we have to learn from history,” Kallas said, referencing the 1930s and the lead up to WWII.

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“If aggression pays off somewhere, it serves as an invitation to use it elsewhere. We know the tensions in the South China Sea, Iran, North Korea. So we’re going to have more conflicts around the world because the aggressors or would-be aggressors in the world are carefully taking notes.”

Asked about skeptics who say Ukraine can’t win the war, Kallas said it is Russia’s goal to make the West believe Ukraine can’t win. “No war has been won when you don’t have a victory as a goal,” Kallas said, referencing this is not the time to negotiate.

Kallas called on the U.S. to continue backing Ukraine and for Congress to pass more funding. “If U.S. is not backing Ukraine, then Russia will win. And then Russia’s friends China, Iran, North Korea are the ones who are actually the leaders of the world. And we don’t want that world.”

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Russia sinks space nuke ban at UN amid rumors of Putin's orbital weapon

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Russia sinks space nuke ban at UN amid rumors of Putin's orbital weapon

A U.S.-led resolution that would prevent using nuclear weapons in outer space received dozens of co-sponsors, but Russia vetoed the measure amid reports it has deployed a weapon that can destroy satellites. 

“The detonation of a nuclear weapon in space would destroy satellites that are vital to communications, agriculture, national security, and more worldwide, with grave implications for sustainable development, and other aspects of international peace and security,” the U.S. Mission to the United Nations wrote in a press release prior to the vote. 

“The diverse group of cosponsors of this resolution reflects the strong shared interest in avoiding such an outcome,” the statement read. “We join these Member States in calling on the Security Council to meet this moment today and adopt the resolution unanimously, consistent with its mandate to maintain international peace and security.”

The U.S. and Japan presented the resolution to the U.N. Security Council for a vote on Wednesday, but Russia shot the measure down. Prior to the vote, Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky reported that his country’s initial impression was that the resolution served as “yet another propaganda stunt by Washington” and called it a “very politicized” effort “divorced from reality,” The Associated Press reported. 

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The draft resolution, which received backing from 60 member states, states that “the prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security.” It affirms that countries that ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty must comply with their obligations.

A Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, March 22, 2024. (Getty Images)

The tug-of-war over hypothetical space-based weapons follows claims from the White House in February that Russia had deployed a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon – though no one has yet confirmed the weapon is operational or even in a testing phase. 

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The weapon would allegedly be capable of destroying satellites by creating a massive energy wave when detonated, Foreign Policy reported. The weapon could therefore potentially cripple countless other satellites that serve both commercial and government purposes, including cellphone use and internet access.

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Russia United Nations

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the U.N., attends a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York City on April 14, 2024. (Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Russia at the time argued that it would uphold the international 1967 treaty, which bans the deployment of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” into orbit or the stationing of “weapons in outer space in any other manner.” 

“Our position is quite clear and transparent: we have always been and remain categorically opposed to the deployment of nuclear weapons in space,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in February. “Just the opposite, we are urging everyone to adhere to all the agreements that exist in this sphere.”

US Ambassador Green

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., attends the Security Council meeting to demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza on March 25, 2024, in New York. (Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

However, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu cryptically added at another time that Russia has only developed space capabilities that “other nations, including the U.S., have.” 

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U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres later warned that “geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades.”

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Russian rocket lifts off

Russia’s Soyuz-2.1a, carrying the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft, was successfully launched from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur spaceport on March 23, 2024, according to TASS News Agency. (Roscosmos/Ivan Timoshenko/Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Putin, throughout the conflict with Ukraine, has dangled threats of nuclear weapons. He said that “from a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready,” when asked in March about a potential nuclear war. 

Putin has used the threat of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as a means of preventing more direct intervention from the U.S. and other NATO allies, repeatedly stressing that any deployment of troops or similar more direct moves against Russia would be viewed as intervening in the war. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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What do newly approved anti-money laundering rules cover?

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What do newly approved anti-money laundering rules cover?

EU lawmakers voted in a landslide in favour of new curbs on crypto, football clubs and cash transactions.

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EU lawmakers today voted 482 to 47 to set up a long-promised EU anti-money laundering agency, as part of a package that would also see large cash payments banned across Europe.

The move – taken by MEPs at their last voting session before June elections – means new rules apply for football deals and crypto transactions, as the bloc seeks to repair its reputation after a series of financial-sector scandals.

“Dirty money finances terrible crimes,” EU financial services commissioner Mairead McGuinness said, adding that there was an “absolute imperative to improve significantly on the current situation”.

Those views seemed largely shared across the political divide – including by Damien Carême (France/Greens), one of the MEPs who led negotiations.

Terrorists and fraudsters “exploit the loopholes in European legislation”, Carême told lawmakers. “We have to act decisively to ensure a robust system.”

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What do new EU money-laundering rules do?

New rules include a limit on professional traders accepting or paying cash for any transaction over €10,000 – given that big wads of untraceable banknotes can send alarm bells over financial crime.

Some lawmakers claim that’s an attack on financial freedom.

“Keep your hands off our cash and our digital currencies,” Patrick Breyer of the German Pirate Party told lawmakers. “We Pirates say no to this creeping financial disenfranchisement.”

Yet one of the most touchy subjects of the complex package has been geographical: the question of where to house a new EU anti-money laundering agency.

After a first-of-a-kind 12-hour public hearing, German financial centre Frankfurt won out, from a slate of candidates that also comprised Paris, Rome, Madrid, Vienna, Riga, Vilnius, Brussels and Dublin.

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Its 400-odd staff will directly supervise dirty-money controls at 40 of the bloc’s biggest financial institutions.

Expanded scope of new anti-money laundering laws

EU money laundering laws already apply to big institutions like banks, who are required to verify who their customers are, and report suspicious transactions to the authorities.

Those rules will also apply to high-risk sectors like traders in artwork, jewellery and luxury yachts. They’ll be extended to cover innovative services like cryptocurrency providers—as lawmakers are concerned bitcoin and other, even more anonymous assets can be used for illicit payments.

At MEPs’ insistence, the measures apply to major football clubs and agents – given the large amounts of sometimes dubious money that circulates between them.

More consistent rules

For the first time ever, the EU’s rules are set out in a regulation that will apply more or less consistently across the bloc.

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That means less discretion for each country to tweak rules for the national context – creating discrepancies that make it harder for legitimate businesses to operate across borders, and easier for criminals and terrorists to exploit the system.

A separate money laundering directive, also agreed today, resolves issues over how journalists and activists can trace the financial structures used to hide wealth.

Arrangements were thrown into disarray by a shock 2022 EU court judgment that restricted access to company ownership registers on privacy grounds.

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Why does the EU need new anti-money laundering rules?

Officials hope the new rulebook will help improve the EU’s reputation for dirty money, closing the chapter on a series of scandals.

Two EU members – Croatia and Bulgaria – currently sit on a “grey list” of suspect money laundering jurisdictions compiled by international standard-setter the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and Malta was only recently taken off it.

The region also faced a series of financial-sector scandals involving institutions such as Danske Bank, Latvia’s ABLV, and Malta’s Pilatus bank.

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Danske was fined billions of euros by US and Danish regulators in 2022, after admitting that around €200bn was laundered through its Estonian arm between 2007 and 2015.

EU talks were given extra salience by the need to enforce sanctions imposed on Russia for its war in Ukraine – given fears that ultra-wealthy oligarchs can use shady financial structures to evade curbs.

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When will new EU money laundering rules take effect?

New anti-money laundering controls have been a long time coming, and it’s still not over.

Valdis Dombrovskis berated uneven enforcement and promised to examine a new EU agency in his hearing to become EU financial services commissioner as far back as October 2019.

After several last-minute wrangles, lawmakers and governments announced a tentative deal on the bulk of the law in January 2024.

Once nodded through by national ministers, much of the new regulation kicks in after three years, but there is some flexibility.

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Rules for the football sector will take five years to apply, and the new EU agency could start work later this year – though the law setting it up takes effect formally in July 2025.

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