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New accusations against #Russia on hacker attacks and meddling

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Most recently, America, Canada and the United Kingdom have made loud statements, saying that Russian hackers are involved in attempts to break into the computers of laboratories that are developing a vaccine to fight COVID-19. These accusations were repeated by the head of the UK Foreign Office Dominic Raab.

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said the hackers "almost certainly" operated as "part of Russian intelligence services".

Similar statements were made by the relevant services in Canada and the United States. There were also comments from analysts that behind the attack stands a well-known group of hackers in the West, Cozy Bear, allegedly closely associated with the Russian security services.

In Russia, all this information was categorically rejected. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "We do not have information about who could have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research centers in the UK. We can say one thing-Russia has nothing to do with these attempts”.

The head of the international Affairs Committee of the Russian State Duma Leonid Slutsky was even more categorical in his reaction to the accusations against Moscow. “This is a complete nonsense. I am sorry, but I have no other words to describe these charges. In Russia, we have the most powerful virologists in the world. The vaccine that is being developed in our country is at the final stage of testing, it is purely Russian know-how”, said Slutsky.

A few days ago, the Russian Ambassador to London, Andrey Kelin, in a conversation with a BBC journalist again rejected accusations of hacking into the computers of pharmaceutical companies.

"I don't believe in this story at all, there is no sense in it», said Russian diplomat. At the same time, he confirmed that one of the Russian companies is already working with the largest pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca to start production of the Covid 19 vaccine.

Despite the harsh statements from London, they emphasize that the hacker attacks are unlikely to have caused any damage to the development of the vaccine.

It is noteworthy that along with claims about hacker attacks on computers of Imperial College in London and Oxford University, British officials are developing the idea of Russian interference in the parliamentary elections in 2019. In this case, as usual, no facts or evidence are provided.

Well-known phrases are once again being heard, Russia allegedly “almost certainly” tried to interfere in the British elections in 2019 and a criminal investigation has been opened into this "fact". However, the Kremlin has already advised London to study the experience of the United States in the investigation of "Russian meddling".

Andrey Kortunov, General Director of the Russian international Affairs Council, believes that “now Russia will be a suspect regardless of what evidence base British politicians have”. According to his conclusions, “it is very difficult to prove Moscow's innocence in this case, especially when there is a presumption of guilt, which we observe».

In the same conversation with the BBC, Russian Ambassador Kelin rejected the accusations of potential interference in the elections in Britain, stressing that "this makes no sense”. Russia, he said, is ready to interact with both Tory and Labour. Regardless of which of the two parties will be in power, «we will try to settle relations and to establish better relations than now”.

There is no doubt that this kind of propaganda stuffing into international relations carries destructive elements and will complicate the atmosphere in relations between Russia and the West. In Moscow, it seems, such a mood is perceived calmly and without hysteria.

The question is, will the Western world be able to overcome its fears, phobias and prejudices and offer a new agenda, instead of returning to confrontation and hostility? At a time when Europe and the rest of the world are looking for the best ways out of the gloom of the Covid 19 pandemic, it is better to look for means to cooperate and join forces, rather than engage in questionable investigations.

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Amid France-Turkey row, UK calls on NATO allies to defend free speech

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called on NATO allies to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on values of tolerance and free speech, in a veiled rebuke to Turkey which has been calling for a boycott of French goods, writes Estelle Shirbon.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has urged Turks to stop buying French goods and has accused France of pursuing an anti-Islam agenda. Britain, France and Turkey are all NATO members.

Erdogan is one of several leaders in the Muslim world angry with France over its response to the murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad as part of a lesson on free speech.

“The UK stands in solidarity with France and the French people in the wake of the appalling murder of Samuel Paty,” Raab said in a statement. “Terrorism can never and should never be justified.

“NATO allies and the wider international community must stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the fundamental values of tolerance and free speech, and we should never give terrorists the gift of dividing us.”

Paty, a teacher at a state-run school in the far outskirts of Paris, was beheaded on 16 October by a man of Chechen origin. The teacher had been criticised by some in the local community for showing his pupils the cartoons because Muslims view images of the prophet as blasphemous.

The French government, backed by large numbers of citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on free speech and said they would defend the right to display the cartoons.

President Emmanuel Macron called Paty a hero and pledged to fight what he described as Islamic separatism, saying it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France.

The reaction to Paty’s murder has caused widespread anger in Muslim countries, where there have been anti-French demonstrations and calls for boycott. France has warned its citizens in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions.

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Customs Union: Commission proposes new ‘Single Window' to modernize and streamline customs controls, facilitate trade and improve co-operation

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The European Commission has proposed a new initiative that will make it easier for different authorities involved in goods clearance to exchange electronic information submitted by traders, who will be able to submit the information required for import or export of goods only once. The so-called 'EU Single Window Environment for Customs' aims to enhance co-operation and co-ordination between different authorities, in order to facilitate the automatic verification of non-customs formalities for goods entering or leaving the EU.

The Single Window aims to digitalize and streamline processes, so that businesses will ultimately no longer have to submit documents to several authorities through different portals. The proposal is the first concrete deliverable of the recently adopted Action Plan on taking the Customs Union to the next level.

It launches an ambitious project to modernize border controls over the coming decade, in order to facilitate trade, improve safety and compliance checks, and reduce the administrative burden for companies. Economy Comissioner Paolo Gentiloni said: “Digitalization, globalization and the changing nature of trade present both risks and opportunities when it comes to goods crossing the EU's borders.

"To rise to these challenges, customs and other competent authorities must act as one, with a more holistic approach to the many checks and procedures needed for smooth and safe trade. Today's proposal is the first step towards a fully paperless and integrated customs environment and better cooperation between all authorities at our external borders. I urge all member states to play their part in making it a true success story.”

The proposal, the press release, the Q&A and the factsheet are available online.

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coronavirus

Merkel plans circuit-break lockdown as German virus cases surge

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Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed regional leaders on Wednesday (28 October) to agree to a partial lockdown in Germany which would see restaurants and bars closed but keep schools open, a draft document seen by Reuters said, write and

The drastic measures, to take effect from 4 November, are aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in Europe’s biggest economy as the number of new cases hit a record high.

Under the planned new restrictions people would only be able to go out with members of their own and one other household. Fitness studios, discos and cinemas would close, as would theatres, opera houses and concert venues.

Restaurants would only be allowed to offer takeaways, the document said. Shops could remain open if they implement hygiene measures and limit customer numbers.

Merkel will hold a virtual conference with the country’s 16 state premiers later to try to agree the nationwide rules and ditch a confusing patchwork of regional measures.

Almost all regions of Germany face an exponential increase in infection rates, said the document to be discussed, and local health authorities can no longer trace all infections.

“The aim is to interrupt the dynamic of the infection fast so no far-reaching limits on personal contact and economic activity are needed over the Christmas period,” it said.

Germany was widely praised for keeping infection and death rates below those of many of its neighbours in the first phase of the crisis but is now in the midst of a second wave. Cases rose by 14,964 to 464,239 in the last 24 hours, the Robert Koch institute for infectious diseases said on Wednesday.

Deaths jumped by 85 to 10,183, fuelling fears about the health system after Merkel warned on Tuesday it could hit breaking point if infections continue to spiral.

“If we wait until intensive care is full, it is too late,” Health Minister Jens Spahn, who last week tested positive for the virus, told broadcaster SWR.

The government has long insisted it wants to avoid a second blanket lockdown after an initial one this year hit economic growth, with the economy shrinking by a record 9.7% in the second quarter.

While economists expect a rebound for the July-Sept period, they warn that a further lockdown could wipe out growth in the last quarter. Third quarter data is due on 30 October.

Under the plans, the government aims to provide aid to firms hit by closures, including the cultural event sectors.

Only necessary overnight stays would be allowed, according to the document. Brothels, swimming pools, beauty and tattoo studios would close but physiotherapists and hairdressers could stay open. The steps would run until the end of November but are subject to review.

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