Russia ties embolden North Korea – Pentagon

US defense chief Lloyd Austin has claimed that Pyongyang is made “more confident” by its relationship with Moscow

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has raised the alarm over North Korea’s increasing strategic cooperation with Russia, saying the burgeoning alliance has boosted leader Kim Jong-un’s confidence.

Austin made his comments in testimony to the US House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Ties between Moscow and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have deepened since Kim traveled to Russia last September for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The Russian and North Korean defense chiefs met last July in Pyongyang.

“North Korea, again, it’s becoming more confident because of its affiliation with Putin,” Austin told lawmakers. He also cited expanding cooperation between Russia, North Korea, Iran and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

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“This is very concerning: something that we are going to have to watch, something that we are going to have to make sure that we have the capability and capacity to work with our allies to continue to deter and continue to promote peace and stability in each of the regions,” Austin said. He added, “The growing nexus between the PRC, Russia, the DPRK and Iran is concerning, and this is something that we are watching very closely.”

US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Brown agreed, saying threats posed by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are “interconnected.”

Austin also claimed Russia turned to the DPRK for additional artillery shells and other munitions to replenish its stockpiles in the Ukraine conflict. North Korean and Russian officials have denied accusations of arms transfers from Pyongyang. They have also accused the US and its Northeast Asian allies of worsening tensions in the region by preparing for war with the DPRK.

North Korea has ramped up missile tests since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began in February 2022, and it has ruled out the possibility of reunifying with South Korea. The North Korean Foreign Ministry said increasing cooperation with Russia would help defend the “core interests” of the two countries and help establish a “multi-polarized international order.” 

READ MORE: US troubled by Russia’s ‘complete embrace’ of North Korea – senior diplomat

Pfizergate: Ursula von der Leyen’s shady Covid vaccine deals prove she can get away with anything

Questionable contracts and overspending have left the unelected ‘queen’ of the EU unfazed and eager for a new term

Forget this whole “election” charade and just glue the crown onto her head, already.

Ursula von der Leyen, the unelected European Commission President, is up for job renewal in June. She’d have to be re-nominated by the majority of EU member state leaders and then re-confirmed by members of the newly-elected European Parliament. They’d have to be crazy to dethrone this ultimate incarnation of true EU values, like transparency and foresight (or rather, lack thereof). 

One particular tale about Queen Ursula comes to mind that perfectly illustrates the point. 

During Covid, the European Union rolled out a bloc-wide QR code system as proof of vaccination for travel, leisure, and in some cases a condition of employment – even as reports started raising doubts about how reliable the shot really was when it came to stopping infection, transmission, and death. It’s like there was this interest in Brussels to move fast in getting shots into arms as quickly as possible, and setting up this digital identity system linked to jab status before the scary music stopped or people just tuned it out. Skeptical members of the European Parliament have been demanding to know what kind of deal the bloc’s leadership actually signed with the manufacturers of these injections. We’re talking about 11 contracts, 4.6 billion vaccines, and €71 billion of public money transferred to Big Pharma.

So far, neither the citizens who paid for all of it, nor their elected representatives have been able to get full transparency on those deals. According to research published last year by the French NGO Global Health Advocates, and the UK based health nonprofit, StopAids, the European Commission “agreed to extensive confidentiality requirements with pharmaceutical corporations that may not be fully consistent with EU legislation,” and that of the contracts analyzed with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna, “the Pfizer contract was the most significantly redacted.” Specifically, they noted that the European Commission “redacted the most information about product safety and indemnification in the Pfizer and Moderna contract,” concluding that “it looks like most of the risk was borne by the EU in a desperate attempt to get access to these vaccines.”

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EU prosecutors take up Von der Leyen corruption probe – Politico

The reports also draw attention to the lack of interest on the part of certain Big Pharma CEOs when it comes to accountability towards their customers – their end-clients who received and ultimately paid for the jabs: average EU citizens. “We provided Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna the opportunity to react to the claims… but we did not receive a response,” the NGOs said.

It turns out that Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla is also the same person who was exchanging private text messages with von der Leyen the month before the Pfizer contract was negotiated. How do we know that? Because she said so herself in April of 2021 in a New York Times interview. While she was busy doing that, questions arose over how German defense contracts were being awarded. Politico reported on it in 2019, citing the increased use of consultants during her time in office, and she ultimately copped to “mistakes” having been made. Nor would they be the last of their kind, apparently. 

By 2020, von der Leyen told the New York Times, she was going back and forth with the Pfizer chief via text message for a month at the height of the pandemic, with the result being a “1.9 billion dose order from Pfizer” (to be precise, a 900 million order with another 900 million option that hasn’t been exercised) through 2023, according to the newspaper, with 4.6 billion doses in total ordered from all drug manufacturers. Why so many doses for a EU population of just 448 million? “I am convinced that we are in this for the long haul,” she told the newspaper in April 2021.

Good thing that contracts worth €71 billion euros (in the case of Covid) aren’t based largely on the whims and feelings of freewheeling unelected bureaucrats and involve transparency and open debate and discussion about any terms in an effort to avoid any potential future pitfalls, right? Whoops, too late. By December 2023, von der Leyen’s “long haul” had derailed, dumping doses all over the continent, with about €4 billion in Covid vaccines ending up in landfills across Europe, according to Politico.

More recently, individual EU member states have been left to do the litigation tango with Pfizer themselves, as the company sued them over failing to pay for doses that they didn’t need or want anymore now that they can’t force the jab on anyone or scare people into taking it. The original Pfizer-EU contract was amended last year to reduce the original number of doses purchased, but Brussels told member states that they were still on the hook for having to pay a cancellation fee for each dose they no longer want. And instead of pumping the jabs into arms by 2023 to liquidate the stock, the EU would have three more years to try drumming up continued interest among its citizens.

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Not that anyone has any idea what the original contract even was. Perhaps von der Leyen’s text messages could provide a clue. But they’ve magically vanished, and she doesn’t seem too interested in making an effort to recover them forensically. The New York Times is suing to get a hold of them, and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office has recently taken over from Belgian authorities in investigating criminal allegations of “interference in public functions, destruction of SMS, corruption and conflict of interest.”

European parliamentarians on the bloc’s Covid-19 committee expressed their interest in having von der Leyen answer to their committee on these contract negotiations in person, but she doesn’t share that interest. Nor does Bourla – which led the committee to request that his access privileges to the EU parliament be revoked. Not that he needs them anyway when he has Queen Ursula’s direct line.

It’s important for European democracy to be “safe and secure,” von der Leyen said in February in announcing a desire to remain on her throne after June’s EU parliamentary elections, in which she refused to run in her home country despite being encouraged to do so for petty reasons of democratic legitimacy. “Safe and secure” from what, exactly? Russia, of course. It’s actually kind of surprising that she hasn’t yet accused Moscow of deleting her texts with Bourla, too.

Von der Leyen has proven to be an unstoppable tank when it comes to crushing pesky formalities, rolling right over Pfizergate like a minor speedbump.

Just last month, she was confronted in writing by EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell, Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton, and some of their colleagues over her commission’s selection of the EU’s small and medium-sized business envoy, who just happens to be a fellow German from her own CDU party back home, while also scoring the lowest among the candidates up for the job. EU lawmakers have also lamented the lack of transparency in selecting someone for a position worth €17,000 a month. 

Ursula von der Leyen talks a good game about transparency, despite demonstrating a tenuous personal grasp of the concept. Kind of like the entire EU does on a regular basis. Virtue-signaling democratic values while making a mockery of them is what makes this Queen the perfect reflection of her Kingdom.

US Congress threatens ICC over Israel arrest warrants

Lawmakers have warned of retaliation if the Hague-based court pursues war crimes charges

Republican and Democrat US lawmakers alike have called for retaliating against the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it issues arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over their roles in alleged war crimes against the Palestinians.

Responding to media reports this week that the Hague-based tribunal will soon post warrants for the arrests of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, members of Congress have issued statements warning of consequences for any such step. US Representative Brad Sherman (D-California) is among those insisting that Washington would retaliate for any attempt to arrest Israeli leaders during their ongoing war with Hamas.

“The ICC apparently considers warrants on Israeli leaders for legitimate self-defense,” the 14-term congressman said. Sherman argued that such a move would turn the tribunal into a “kangaroo court,” adding, “President [Joe Biden] must condemn this, and I know Congress will ensure consequences for such an absurd decision.”

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US tells Hamas to accept ‘extraordinarily generous’ deal

The potential arrest warrants are connected to the ICC’s investigation of alleged atrocities by the Israeli military and Palestinian militant groups dating back to 2014. Axios reported on Monday that Netanyahu had asked Biden to stop the ICC from trying to prosecute him or other officials in his government.

Israel and Hamas fought a month-long war in 2014. Their latest conflict began in October, when Hamas fighters launched surprise attacks against southern Israeli villages, killing more than 1,100 people and taking hundreds of hostages back to Gaza. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed since then. The UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling in January saying it was “plausible” that Israeli forces had committed acts of genocide in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Like Sherman, Representative Ritchie Torres (D-New York) has insisted that both Congress and Biden must respond with “strong consequences” if the ICC issues warrants for the Israelis. “The weaponization of law – in the service of terror – cannot be allowed to stand,” he said.

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US accuses Israeli army units of human rights violations

Republicans have issued similar statements. “The ICC is propping up Hamas by attempting to punish the only democracy in the Middle East just for defending itself against barbaric terrorism,” said Representative Elise Stefanik (R-New York). 

Senator John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) said seeking to prosecute Israeli leaders “would be a fatal blow to the judicial and moral standing of the ICC.” He called on Biden to intervene.

The Biden administration on Monday accused Israeli military units of human rights violations for the first time. The incidents in question occurred before the latest war with Hamas, and the administration has no plans to impose sanctions or restrict military aid to Israel.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) insisted that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel. He called the possible warrants “baseless and illegitimate,” adding that they would undermine US national security. 

READ MORE: ‘No evidence of genocide’ in Gaza – Pentagon chief

Although West Jerusalem is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, arrest warrants might deter Israeli leaders from traveling to any of the 124 countries that recognize the court’s authority.