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by Paolo Cappelli

12 August 2021

A summer spystory re-proposes Cold War scenarios in the not-so-simple relations of the West with Russia while the rapid advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan forces Washington to intensify diplomatic efforts to avoid the worst.

The shadow of those helicopters over the Saigon embassy that marked the failure of the Vietnam war reappear in American newspapers reporting on Afghan developments.

Daily Telegraph

Embassy security fears after spy arrest.

A security guard working at the British Embassy in Berlin was arrested on suspicion of passing state secrets to Russia, which required an urgent review of the government's use of private contractors. The Karlsrhue federal prosecutor says that a British citizen, David Smith, 57, is "strongly suspected" of having worked for the Russians since at least last November.

MI5 and German intelligence are believed to have been keeping an eye on Smith for months as he allegedly passed sensitive anti-terror documents to his Russian handlers in exchange for cash bribes. He was arrested during a raid on his apartment in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, on Tuesday afternoon.

Sources in Whitehall said Smith was hired locally by a private contractor who provides security for the British embassy and enjoys no diplomatic immunity. This all comes after a private contractor working at the Department of Health leaked footage of security cameras from Matt Hancock's office showing his relationship with assistant Gina Coladangelo last June. This led to Hancock's resignation as health secretary. MPs and senior defense officials said Smith's arrest raises serious questions about security oversight for private contractors in British embassies. Last night, Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chairman of the Select Committee on Defense to the Commons,he described what happened as a "disturbing return to the days of the Cold War".

Daily Mirror

A Russian spy was selling secret

Echoes of the Cold War after the arrest of a contractor in Berlin in a coordinated operation with Mi5. The confidential documents passed to Moscow concerned anti-terrorism

Daily Mail

A British spy sold secret information on terrorism to Putin.

The paper says the British embassy guard in Berlin is alleged to have "received a bundle of money" as a reward for providing state secrets to a Kremlin agent. The information included protocols in the event of an attack on the Berlin embassy, ​​the Mail said. 

Relations between Moscow and London have deteriorated since March 2018 with the Skripal case, the former intelligence agent poisoned with his daughter Julija in Salisbury. accusations against Moscow of having "interfered in the British elections of 2019".  The tension for an English destroyer in the Black Sea ...

Le Figaro

Why Putin declared war on champagne

At the beginning of July, the Russian president promulgated a law that reserves the name 'champagne' for Russian wines and downgrades French-made bottles to 'sparkling wines'.

The French producers have decided to stop exports to Moscow, the government has activated diplomatically to obtain the suspension of this law which, according to several Russian sources, favoring Russian labels would bring benefits to entrepreneurs close to the Kremlin  


The gas so difficult

Another small cut in Russian gas supplies has pushed prices in Europe to a new all-time high of $ 570 per thousand cubic meters. Gazprom assures that it is complying with its contractual export obligations. To do this, however, the company chooses gas from its European deposits in a larger volume than the new one. This situation scares the protagonists of the European market: in October, the injection season ends, and gas becomes a winter resource. According to the interlocutors of "Kommersant", after a factory accident at the new Urengoy plant, Gazprom is concentrating on filling its warehouses in Russia. A new increase in supplies in Europe is possible in the middle of autumn, but to pump it will be necessary to put the first section of "Nord Stream-2" into operation.


Back to dark times

Terror in Afghanistan as the West leaves the country in the hands of the Taliban.

Tens of thousands of civilians fleeing the militiamen, who proceed with summary executions and conquer one city after another.

Die Presse 

The US fears a rapid fall of Kabul.

The forecasts of the Pentagon and the American secret services are devastating: originally, the US military had assumed that the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, would be invaded within a year by extremists.

Now we are talking about months, indeed weeks in the worst case scenario.


Taliban plan to take Kabul

Pictured: Taliban fighters on guard yesterday at a checkpoint in Farah, a city in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran.

Insurgents said they captured three other provincial capitals in Afghanistan, bringing the total under their control to nine out of 34. In Farah, the Taliban occupied the governor's house, a prison and other locations. Diplomatic sources say the Taliban's strategy is to surround Kabul and besiege Afghan forces in the capital to push President Ashraf Ghani's government to surrender. Joe Biden reiterated his plan to withdraw all American troops by the end of this month, arguing that it is up to the Afghans to defend themselves.


The speed of the Taliban advance surprises the US and alarms its allies

When President Biden announced the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in the spring, his administration expected the Afghan military to defend key cities and force the Taliban into to a stalemate.

Prior to the current Taliban offensive, US officials said they did not expect any provincial capitals to fall until the fall. Instead, a carefully planned strategy carried out by the Taliban has produced rapid progress on the battlefield, allowing the insurgents to take a series of provincial capitals since Friday. Three more fell yesterday, bringing the total to nine, including several major cities. The latest U.S. intelligence assessment said Kabul could fall to militants within a month, officials said, who now worry that Afghan civilians, soldiers and others flee the city before an assault. Taliban.

The rapid collapse of Afghan regular forces alarms allies, including those who contributed troops to the US-led coalition, and has reignited concerns about US commitments abroad. India closed a consulate and sent a plane to retrieve its citizens this week. The US military and the State Department this week accelerated plans to evacuate the US embassy if the situation in Kabul required it, US officials told the WSJ.


Germany suspends expulsions of refugees to Afghanistan

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has decided to suspend deportations to Afghanistan for the time being. He cited current developments in the security situation in the country as a reason. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas welcomed the decision. About 200 Afghans and family members who worked for the Germans are hiding in two so-called safe houses in Kabul. Now they fear the bloody revenge of the Taliban.


The Federal Interior Minister


away from his hard line on the deportation of Afghans yesterday. If he did so, to suspend the deportations, he did so because he was hit by the dramatic deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan.

The residency law excludes expulsions to states where the life or freedom of the expelled person is threatened. However, deportation is permitted if the person constitutes "a serious threat to security" or "a threat to the population".

Now, not only is the deportation of Afghans, whose asylum applications have been rejected and who are therefore forced to leave the country, suspended, but also that of individuals with criminal convictions. Prior to the Federal Minister of Interior's decision, EU ambassadors in Kabul and many human rights organizations spoke out in favor of halting the deportations. One thing must be clear: for Afghans who have already left their country or are planning to leave Germany, this announcement will make Germany even more attractive.

The Hill

Biden is losing its geopolitical Olympics 


Taliban Advance Could Become Political Risk for Biden

When President Biden announced his plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, the policy seemed relatively straightforward - many polls showed Americans backing an end to nearly 20-year involvement of the country in a war whose objectives had become obscure.

But four months later, with the Taliban invading the country much faster and more ruthlessly than expected, new political risks are facing Mr. Biden, who hoped to get credit for ending what he called one of the " forever "American wars. . "

Now US officials are rushing to evacuate Afghans who assisted the US military and could face Taliban reprisals, and are contemplating the prospect of hastily evacuating 4,000 Americans to the US embassy in the capital Kabul.

The threat of a Taliban takeover and the new risks to US personnel and allies in the country could cause Americans who had paid little attention to Afghanistan in recent years to reconsider their views, particularly if Republicans amplify a message of failure and American capitulation.

"Everyone is concerned about the repetition of Saigon images," said Brian Katulis, a foreign policy expert at the Liberal Center for American Progress, referring to the chaotic April 1975 evacuation of the US embassy in the South Vietnamese capital. Desperate Vietnamese clung to the masts of departing helicopters as the city was captured by Communist forces.

Americans remain focused on domestic issues like the coronavirus and the economy, and it's unlikely to matter much that the Taliban captured unknown cities like Kunduz, said Katulis, who has studied public opinion on foreign policy.

"But that could change," he added.

"If a parade of horrible things continues to unfold in Afghanistan, it could penetrate public consciousness as Iraq did in 2013 and 2014" when the Islamic State raided that country after US troops withdrew.


What Russia, China and Iran want in Afghanistan after US troops are gone

All three seek to ensure stability in Afghanistan and its periphery, while securing their own interests as friendly ties with Kabul are tested by a desire to engage with the powerful Taliban movement that has reconquered much of the country.