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U.S. intel agencies may change how they monitor social media, chatrooms after failing to catch leaked documents

The Biden administration is looking at expanding how it monitors social media sites and chatrooms after U.S. intelligence agencies failed to spot classified Pentagon documents circulating online for weeks, according to a senior administration official and a congressional official briefed on the matter. 

The possible change in the intelligence-gathering process is just one potential shift as officials scramble to determine not only how the documents leaked but also how to prevent another damaging incident.

President Joe Biden and other officials were dismayed when they learned the documents had been online for at least a month. Some documents may have appeared as early as January, according to Bellingcat, the open-source investigative group.

Read the full report here.

— NBC News

Pentagon is further restricting access to sensitive information, White House says

Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017.

Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

The Department of Defense is moving to further restrict access to sensitive information following a massive intelligence leak that’s disclosed classified U.S. government planning and assessments on Ukraine and a number of other countries.

“The Department of Defense say they have taken steps to further restrict access to sensitive information,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in response to reporting from the Washington Post that the leaks were disseminated in an online chat platform.

“Look, we are certainly reviewing the national security implications of the disclosure and I can add that to mitigate the impact the release of these documents have on our U.S. national security and also on our allies and partners as well, so this is something we are taking very seriously,” she said. “There is an ongoing investigation. DOD has taken steps to restrict access to these documents and definitely don’t want don’t want to get ahead of what is happening.”

— Natasha Turak

Leaker of secret Pentagon documents worked on U.S. military base, Washington Post reports

The source behind the trove of classified documents leaked to social media that have become the biggest U.S. intelligence breach since Edward Snowden worked on a U.S. military base, according to reporting by the Washington Post.

NBC has not independently verified the report, whose main source is a minor who was granted anonymity by the Washington Post. The Post said it also reviewed approximately 300 photos of classified documents, most of which have not been made public. 

The minor communicated with the leaker for years on an invite-only group chat on the online gaming platform Discord, whose members, the Post wrote, were “united by their mutual love of guns, military gear and God.”

The Post reports that the leaker shared “what appeared to be near-verbatim transcripts of classified intelligence documents that [he] indicated he had brought home from his job on a ‘military base’,” the location of which he did not disclose.

The White House responded to the reporting, saying the Department of Defense has taken steps to further restrict access to sensitive information and that an investigation is ongoing.

— Natasha Turak

Russian inflation falls to 3.5% in March

Wholesale food market in Moscow.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Russia’s headline inflation fell to 3.5% in March, down by 7.5% from the previous year, with the large contrast mainly due to Russia’s post invasion inflation spike in March of 2022, Goldman Sachs said.

Last month’s figure is below the Russian central bank’s long-run target of 4%, but Goldman analysts believe this level is temporary and will rise to approach 7% by the end of 2023.

“Looking forward, we think inflation is near its trough and that it will remain near 4% in Q2-2023. However, we expect base effects to slowly fade going forward … Adding to this are exchange rate pressures stemming from the weakening of the Ruble since November, which has depreciated more than 10% against the USD and around 12% vis-à-vis the RMB year-to-date,” Goldman wrote in a note Thursday.

“We forecast the weaker Ruble to eventually pass-through consumer prices, specifically the mostly imported non-food goods in Russia. From H2-2023 on, therefore, we forecast inflation to re-rise and stand close to 7% by year-end.”

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine’s Naftogaz says Russia is ordered to pay it $5 billion in compensation over Crimea losses

Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz said Russia has been ordered to pay it $5 billion in compensation for illegally seizing its assets in Crimea in 2014. The order came from The Hague’s Arbitration Tribunal in the Netherlands.

The ruling is a “key victory on the energy front,” Naftogaz CEO Oleksiy Chernyshov said of the news. He added that he expects more wins for Ukraine. Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.

“Despite Russia’s attempts to obstruct justice, the Arbitration Tribunal ordered Russia to compensate Naftogaz for losses of $5 billion,” Naftogaz said in a statement. “Russia must now comply with this decision in accordance with its obligations under international law.”

It’s not clear how Russia’s payment will be enforced, and the Russian government did not immediately respond to the ruling. But if Russia refuses to pay, Naftogaz said it could launch a “process of recognition and admission to enforce the award in the territory of those states where assets of the Russian Federation are located.”

— Natasha Turak

Russian oil price cap unlikely to change soon, despite disagreement over its effectiveness

Russia announced that it would cut oil production by 500,000 barrels per day in March after the West slapped price caps on Russian oil and oil products.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

The Group of Seven advanced economies is not expected to update its price cap on Russian oil in the coming weeks amid contrasting views on whether the policy is truly denting the Kremlin’s revenues.

The G-7, alongside the European Union and Australia, decided late last year to impose a cap of $60 a barrel on Russian oil in an effort to ratchet up the pressure on Moscow. As part of the agreement, they said they would review this cap in mid-March.

However, despite calls to do so from several countries in Europe, the threshold was not revised last month even as oil prices fell from the levels seen in the two months prior to mid-March. If a revision had taken place, the $60 barrel level would likely have been reduced.

Read the full story here.

— Silvia Amaro

Ukraine’s GDP dropped 29.1% in 2022 during Russia’s invasion

The grain harvester collects wheat on the field near the village of Zgurivka in the Kyiv region, while Russia continues the war against Ukraine. August 9, 2022.

Maxym Marusenko | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Ukraine’s gross domestic product dropped by nearly a third in 2022, which was dominated by Russia’s full-scale invasion that began on Feb. 24 of that year.

The GDP of the war-battered country fell by 29.1%, Ukraine’s state statistics service reported, although this was just slightly better than the government’s forecast of a 30% drop.

More than 8 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees, amounting to around 20% of the country’s population. Russia’s war has killed tens of thousands of people, devastated industries and destroyed and damaged vital energy infrastructure around the country.

Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has also throttled the majority of Ukraine’s vital grain and produce exports, which comprise a significant portion of the world’s supply of soft commodities such as grain, corn, and sunflower seeds. Exports as a whole were down 35% in 2022 from the year before, Ukraine’s economy ministry said.

Still, Kyiv says GDP may grow 1% in 2023 due to improvements in the retail, transportation and construction sectors.

— Natasha Turak

EU’s economic chief says hardest part is over in transition from Russian gas

The European Commissioner for the economy, Paolo Gentiloni, has hailed the EU’s swift transition away from its dependency on Russian gas and said next winter will be less challenging.

“We were expecting a terrible winter, a winter of recession and problems with energy supplies, blackouts,” he told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “We didn’t have recession and we were able to go out from dependency from Russian gas in eight months. I think, amazing results.”

Asked whether he believed the energy crisis was over, he said: “I think it will be a challenge also for next winter, maybe a less dramatic challenge than it has been in the past winter, because we should remember we had a more than 40% dependency from Russian fossil fuels, and this is now down around 7%.”

He said the EU would be refiling storage from the end of April without Russian gas and said it was important to diversify pipelines, noting increased Chinese demand following its lockdown reopening may bring liquefied gas prices up.

“More optimistically, the big, big challenge was last winter, next winter will also be challenging but we already know we were able to do something amazing,” Gentiloni said.

— Jenni Reid

Ukraine secures $200 million World Bank grant for restoration of energy sector

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal attends a news conference, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 3, 2023. 

Stringer | Reuters

Ukraine secured a $200 million World Bank grant to fund the restoration of its energy sector.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the funds will go toward rebuilding the power grid and heat supply systems in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Sumy and cities in the Chernihiv region.

Russia has targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in waves of air strikes, causing power outages for millions of people.

“Energy infrastructure has suffered $11 billion in damages over the last year and is one of the most critical areas where Ukraine needs urgent support,” World Bank Managing Director of Operations Anna Bjerde said in a statement. “We are grateful for strong partnership with Ukraine and development partners to support this critical sector and act fast.”

Shmyhal previously named energy as one of Ukraine’s key sectors for rebuilding the economy.

He added that Ukraine and the World Bank will intensify three projects in energy, transport infrastructure and health care as part of reconstruction.

Separately, Shmyhal also estimated Ukraine will need $14 billion this year for rapid reconstruction projects.

Audrey Wan

Kremlin passes laws to digitize military draft registry and crack down on draft dodgers

The Kremlin passed legislation to improve its military mobilization efforts and crack down on draft dodgers, in a move that will harvest more of Russians’ data and intensify control over the population, a U.S.-based think tank reported.

The Russian State Duma adopted a bill in its third reading on April 11 to create a digital unified register of Russian citizens eligible for military service,” the Institute for the Study of War wrote in its daily update.

“The unified register harvests Russian citizens’ personal identification information — including medical, educational, and residence history, foreign citizenship status, and insurance and tax data — from multiple Russian legal entities,” it said. 

Those summoned cannot leave Russia and must show up at a military recruitment office within 20 days of their summons.

The new legislation “bans summoned individuals who are 20 days delinquent for reporting from driving vehicles, buying or selling real estate, and taking out loans,” the ISW wrote.

Many Russian lawmakers and military bloggers have been pushing for more aggressive mobilization efforts and enforcement for some time.

ISW wrote that it “previously forecasted that the Kremlin would marry Soviet-style societal control measures with big data and 21st-century information technology to intensify control over the Russian population after Russia used facial recognition, QR codes, and mobile device geo-tracking technology to enforce a draconian Covid-19 quarantine in 2020.”

— Natasha Turak

Sens. Joe Manchin, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Kelly and country star Brad Paisley visit Kyiv

U.S. Senators Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., and country star Brad Paisley attended a news conference in front of destroyed Russian military equipment at the Mikhailovsky Square in Kyiv.

Paisley, who is an ambassador for Ukraine’s United24 fundraising campaign, performed acoustic versions of his own Ukraine-themed single “Same Here”, which he released in February on the war’s one-year anniversary, and a Ukrainian-language folk song.

Sen. Manchin said in a statement: “The level of patriotism, professionalism and sheer endurance of the Ukrainian people is inspiring. After this visit, I am even more convinced that defeating Vladimir Putin and ending his ruthless war against the Ukrainian people must remain our top priority.” 

(L to R) U.S. senators Democrat Mark Kelly of Arizona, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and U.S. country star Brad Paisley attend a news conference in front of destroyed Russian military equipment at the Mikhailovsky Square in Kyiv on April 12, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona attends a news conference in front of destroyed Russian military equipment at the Mikhailovsky Square in Kyiv on April 12, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

US country star Brad Paisley performs in front of destroyed Russian military equipment at the Mikhailovsky Square in Kyiv on April 12, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

— Natasha Turak, Dimitar Dilkoff | AFP | Getty Images

International finance ministers reaffirm ‘unwavering support’ for Ukraine

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (C) speaks during a Multilateral Development Bank Evolution Roundtable at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters during the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2023.

Stefani Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Governors of international central banks, along with G-7 finance ministers, reiterated their support for Ukraine after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy virtually gave opening remarks before a Multilateral Development Bank roundtable meeting.

“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine continues to cause immense human suffering and exacerbate global economic challenges including through adding to inflationary pressures, disrupting supply chains and heightening food and energy insecurity,” the finance leaders said in a joint statement. “We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine and unity in our condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression.”

The leaders also praised efforts to hamper Russia’s ability to continue invading Ukraine through sanctions and other economic measures. They vowed to strengthen enforcement and take further actions, as needed.

—Chelsey Cox

Ukraine’s prosecutor general alleges Russia has committed more than 77,000 war crimes

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin told the Washington Post that the country has registered more than 77,000 alleged war crimes committed by Russia.

According to Kostin, there are 150 indictments and 30 convictions “with regard to Russian War criminals [who] committed war crimes on Ukrainian lands.” Kostin told the newspaper that 305 alleged perpetrators have been notified of suspicion.

The alleged crimes “include not only murder … not only humiliation and rape, they also include the destroying of private property. They include forced deportation. They include forced detention of Ukrainians on occupied territories. They include looting on massive scale on the occupied territories,” Kostin said.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify these claims.

Audrey Wan

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