Central Command confirms ISIL operating U.S. armored personnel carriers in Iraq

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — The United States has acknowledged that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was operating an advanced armored personnel carrier captured in Iraq.

U.S. Central Command cited the Mine Resistant-Ambush Protected vehicle, manufactured by Oshkosh Defense and deemed the leading wheeled armored platform for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq.

U.S. MRAP captured by ISIL

U.S. MRAP captured by ISIL

“U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Iraq today, with a mix of fighter and remotely piloted aircraft successfully conducting airstrikes on two ISIL-armed vehicles and an ISIL-operated mine-resistant ambush-protected [MRAP] vehicle northeast of Irbil,” Centcom said on Aug. 14.

Centcom said U.S. fighter-jets struck an MRAP during a series of sorties in Kurdistan. The statement said the fighter-jets required two air strikes to eliminate the platform, designed to protect against a range of improvised explosive devices.

“At approximately 11:40 a.m. EDT, U.S. aircraft struck an MRAP, located near the site of the previous strikes against the two armed vehicles,” Centcom said. “After initial assessment, U.S. aircraft returned at approximately 12:55 p.m. EDT and destroyed the MRAP.”

This marked the first time the U.S. military reported the ISIL capture of MRAPs. Officials said the vehicles, protected by Israeli-origin armor, were included among thousands of combat ground platforms seized by ISIL during its sweep of northern Iraq in June 2014.

ISIL has also been operating the U.S.-origin Humvee combat vehicle as well as artillery batteries. Officials said armored Humvees were transported to Syria for attacks on Sunni rebels in the northern province of Dir Al Zour.

Officials said ISIL was using an undetermined number of MRAPs in the battle for Kurdistan. The Kurdish Regional Government has pleaded for weapons and vehicles to stop the ISIL advance.

“Kurdish forces are in an asymmetrical war against an organized and well-armed terrorist group,” Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to KRG President Massoud Barzani, told the European Union on Aug. 15. “With no doubt, rapid equipping of peshmerga forces with heavy and sophisticated weapons will change the equation in the battlefield in favor of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.”

Source Article from http://www.worldtribune.com/2014/08/18/u-s-confirms-air-strike-destroyed-u-s-origin-armored-vehicle-operated-isil/

UN IDs leading ISIL commanders, operatives

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — The United Nations has identified leading members of Al Qaida’s network in Iraq and Syria.

The UN Security Council designated six Al Qaida operatives for international sanctions, imposing a travel ban and freezing any assets.

Abu Mohammed Al Adani

Abu Mohammed Al Adani

The six included leading members of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as well as the Nusra Front for the Defense of Levant.

“They cannot survive independent of the outside world and if that support from the outside world can been choked off then this organization will not have the resources to continue its activities,” council president Mark Grant, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, said.

The operatives blacklisted on Aug. 15 included Abu Mohammed Al Adani, an Iraqi deemed a leading aide to ISIL commander Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

Diplomats said Al Adani held the rank of “emir,” or prince, usually reserved for a regional chief.

The others on the list were all identified with Nusra. Said Arif, an alleged senior operative of Nusra. Arif was described as a former Algerian Army officer who escaped France in 2013 and fled to Syria.

Abdullah Al Charekh was identified as a Saudi national and “leading terrorist Internet propagandist.”

Diplomats said Al Charekh was the commander for Nusra in the Latakia province of Syria. Another Saudi on the list was Abdul Rahman Al Jahani, responsible for the foreign fighters’ contingent of Nusra.

The resolution also cited two Kuwaiti nationals, Hamid Al Ali and Hajaj Al Ajmi. Both were cited by the United States and identified as leading financiers of Nusra.

“The threat posed by them was growing and had undermined security of the people in Iraq and Syria and in the region,” Grant said.

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Assad regime unleashes ‘intensive’ air strikes on ISIL forces in Syria

Special to WorldTribune.com

NICOSIA — The Syrian Air Force has conducted one of the most punishing air strikes on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.

The Syrian Air Force attacked ISIL facilities in the northern city of Raqqa. The Syrian opposition said fighter-jets and helicopters conducted repeated sorties and killed dozens of ISIL fighters.

Syrian war plane.  /Reuters

Syrian war plane. /Reuters

Opposition sources said the air strikes reflected the strategy of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. They said Assad allowed ISIL to destroy rebel strongholds while preventing the movement from retaining crude oil fields in the northern province of Dir Al Zour.

“The regime carried out 13 raids on the city of Raqqa and 11 on the town of Tabqa in Raqqa province, killing at least 31 militants and wounding dozens of them,” the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syrian Observatory said the attacks took place on Aug. 17 and marked the “most intensive” air operations on ISIL. Until June 2014, the Syrian military avoided ISIL as the Al Qaida movement targeted Sunni rebels in northern Syria.

“The regime strikes ISIL where it is strong,” Syrian Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahman said. “In regions where the group is confronted by rebels, it doesn’t intervene so that the two enemies weaken each other.”

The latest air strikes came amid ISIL’s sweep of rebel strongholds in the Aleppo province. The sources said ISIL was moving toward the city of Aleppo, about 20 percent of which remains in rebel hands.

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Some advice for poor Hillary, whose poll numbers are headed South

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Grace Vuoto

The summer of 2014 has been difficult for the 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In just a few months, she is losing her commanding lead over the possible Republican nominees. While still ahead, the gap is narrowing.

How did this happen? Quite simply, she started talking extemporaneously again.

Hillary Clinton “does well to be seen but not really heard.�

Hillary Clinton “does well to be seen but not really heard.�

Clinton tends to fare better when she is visible in the public eye but not communicating beyond a preset, boring policy speech that interests only the political chattering classes. She does well to be seen but not really heard.

That is how she rose to national prominence. While she was First Lady in the 1990s, she tried to stand in her own right by reforming healthcare, but her poll numbers dropped. She then gained the public’s esteem by foreign travels — in other words, getting out of the way. She also won sympathy during her husband’s affair in the White House with a young intern, Monica Lewinsky. Amid the humiliating Lewinsky ordeal, she famously blamed her husband’s troubles on a “vast right wing conspiracy� but then remained largely silent. At that point, her poll numbers began to climb. She was able to parlay her victim status into a Senate seat.

During her years as senator from New York, she was again visible but largely silent outside of her wonky work.

She was known for her diligence, none of it resulting in any notable policy achievements. Her relative quietude in those years earned her the status of the “inevitable candidate� for the Democratic nomination of 2008 — until, she opened her mouth again. As she began to debate the neophyte, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, her character came shining though. It became apparent that she craves power for its own sake, rather than because she champions a set of core convictions.

She lost the 2008 primary campaign mostly because Obama presented himself as a principled spokesperson for the ideals of the Democratic base; she instead came across as a pragmatist — an opportunist who had not stood against the Iraq war and did not have a vision for America’s future.

While Obama was full of vigor and feeling, Clinton was unable to convey emotion; she was disconnected form the plight of the working and middle class. There was one tearful moment preceding the New Hampshire primary where she expressed her deep care for the nation. That glimpse of sensitivity led to victory — but it was fleeting. Ultimately, the Democratic Party chose one who was more eloquent, more passionate and more idealistic. Hillary’s words fell flat.

During her years as Secretary of State, her poll numbers rose again. This, too, was because she was mostly seen but not heard. She was photographed and filmed traveling from country to country, largely acting more as a goodwill ambassador than as secretary of state. Again, she had no achievements and as long as she remained quiet, there were no major gaffes. When she tried to be funny, with the Russian reset, for example, the reset button she presented to the Russian foreign minister had misspelled the word. The laugh was on her.

Yet, despite her feel-good trips to foreign nations, by the tail end of her tenure, her incompetence was stark.

Four Americans died in a compound in Benghazi, including the American Ambassador Chris Stevens. Despite their pleas for help, she had not ensured their safety. Also, she conspired with Obama to convince the public that an anti-Muslim YouTube video was responsible for the calamity when the evidence soon revealed that the compound was attacked by an al-Qaeda affiliate: they had launched a terrorist strike on the anniversary of 9/11, following meticulous planning. In other words, the attack was foreseeable and preventable.

Her words betrayed her callous character once again. During congressional hearings on Benghazi, she famously quipped: “What difference does it make?� Instead of appearing to be compassionate and in step with the national outcry for justice, she sounded like a mercenary, willing to bury the deaths of four Americans to advance her political interests.

Nonetheless, early this summer, the press was once again referring to her as the “inevitable candidate.� Had they forgotten 2008 already? While promoting her memoir, Hard Choices, she sought to appear sympathetic to the struggling masses. She declared in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer that she and Bill were “dead broke� when they left the White House. This led to widespread ridicule for it was widely known that the first couple had lived in the lap of luxury and were scheduled to reap millions in forthcoming book deals and speaking engagements. They were not “dead broke� but filthy rich.

Once again, Clinton was unmasked: an opportunist willing to deceive to court public affection.

Furthermore, as Obama’s foreign policy has come undone, Clinton seeks to distance herself. In an extended Aug. 10 interview in the Atlantic, she lambasted the president’s policy in Syria, insisting that she beseeched him to arm the rebels against the Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. Obama’s failure to do so led to a power vacuum that was filled by the barbaric ISIS, the terrorist group that currently occupies large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

Clinton also said that great nations “need organizing principles� and Obama’s dictum ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is “not an organizing principle.� This time, her comments have outraged members of the Democratic Party and leftist organizations such as MoveOn.org; they argue she should not be advocating the same policies of America’s “right-wing war hawks.�

To the general public, Clinton appears to want to have it both ways. Following the end of her tenure as Secretary of State, she sat pretty and smiling with the president in a Jan. 27, 2013 60 Minute interview: it was nothing short of a contrived love-fest. She did not state then that she had profound policy disagreements with Obama. At that time, she was still basking in his popularity. Yet, now that Obama’s foreign policy has been repudiated by a majority of the American people, Clinton is ready to kick him, especially in a desperate attempt to salvage her own reputation.

However, this kind of pandering does not work. There are rumblings within the Democratic Party that she must be challenged – perhaps by another fresh and principal spokesperson for the party’s ideals like the populist Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It is now dawning on members of the party that Clinton is too gaffe-prone to simply sail through another primary campaign; and, should she become the Democratic nominee, she will be intricately tied to Obama’s foreign policy failures in Benghazi, Russia and the Middle East. Clinton cannot reset that record, no matter how hard she tries.

As the long summer of 2014 winds down, we can see with hindsight that Obama was not ready to be commander in chief when he came to office. And his Secretary of State, who backed his foreign policy, was also not ready. In addition, spending so much time overseas has not been helpful to her: Clinton has returned to America clumsy and tone deaf.

To salvage this crumbling candidacy, she must do the only thing that works for her: get her picture taken and keep her mouth shut.

Grace Vuoto is the Editor of Politics and Culture at WorldTribune, host of American Heartland with Dr. Grace on WTSB Radio and is the founder of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.

Source Article from http://www.worldtribune.com/2014/08/18/advice-poor-hillary-whose-poll-numbers-headed-south/

Domestic U.S. gas production boom allows sharp cuts in LNG imports from Qatar

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — The United States has significantly reduced liquefied natural gas exports from Qatar.

web4The U.S. Energy Information Administration said both the United States and the European Union have recorded a significant decrease in Qatari LNG.

In a report said U.S. imports of Qatari LNG dropped by 63 percent in 2012 and 78 percent in 2013.

“The changes reflect growing domestic natural gas production in the United States, a decrease in LNG demand in some European countries, and strong competition for LNG in the global market,” the report, titled “Egypt Energy Profile,” said.

Qatar has been deemed a leading U.S. ally in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The report said the decline in Qatari LNG exports to the West reduced traffic through Egypt’s Suez Canal.

Source Article from http://www.worldtribune.com/2014/08/18/domestic-boom-allows-u-s-drastically-cut-lng-imports-qatar/

Google considering YouTube, Gmail accounts for kids: reports

(Reuters) – Google Inc is considering allowing online accounts for children under the age of 13 and give their parents control over how the service is used, according to media reports.

Google has been working on a version of YouTube, its video-sharing site, for youngsters and is considering other child-friendly accounts such as its Gmail system, the Financial Times reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. (http://on.ft.com/1pXMWYF)

Internet companies such as Google and Facebook Inc do not offer their services to children under 13, but it is tough to catch users who sign up by providing false information.

A U.S. law called Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, imposes strict controls on the collection and use of information about children under 13.

Google’s effort is partly driven by the fact that some parents are already trying to create accounts for their children and the company wants to make the process easier and compliant with the rules, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the effort. (http://on.wsj.com/VAUdml)

Google’s move was first reported by technology news website The Information. (http://bit.ly/1leEgOZ)

Google spokesman Peter Barron declined to comment on what he called “rumors and speculation”.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore and Eric Auchard in Vienna; Editing by Savio D’Souza)

Source Article from http://news.yahoo.com/google-considering-youtube-gmail-accounts-kids-reports-134216927–finance.html

Child friendly Instagram rival plans aggressive U.S. market push

OSLO (Reuters) – Kuddle, a Norwegian picture sharing app designed for children and billing itself as a rival to Instagram could have one million users by the end of the year and plans an aggressive push into the U.S. market, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Kuddle, which raised $2 million in funding recently and is in the process of raising another $8 million, is now hiring staff in Silicon Valley and has already rolled out the app in 9 languages with further versions in the works to meet unexpectedly strong demand, it said.

Kuddle, which launched this month, lets parents monitor what their children publish and keeps access to content restricted, preventing strangers from seeing and sharing pictures. There are no hashtags or comments to prevent online bullying and “likes” are anonymous.

Most of the app’s users are based in Norway and the U.S. but the firm has also recorded significant growth in countries like India and Saudi Arabia, prompting developers to speed up work on new language versions.

“We are very happy with the growth so far. We have had an average daily growth of 10 to 15 percent and the uptake has been great,” founder and chairwoman Kathryn Baker told Reuters.

Kuddle itself is free and the company expects to generate revenue from an upcoming in-app store, selling safe mobile devices from some of the leading global brands, combined with child friendly data packages from mobile phone operators.

“We are in negotiations with two major international device producers right now and we are also in talks with several major European operators for a safe Kuddle mobile phone subscription where parents have more control over their children’s data usage,” CEO Ole Vidar Hestaas said.

The firm’s investors include Norwegian golfer Suzann Pettersen and the firm has also recorded interest from some major U.S. and European venture capital funds.

(Reporting by Joachim Dagenborg; Editing by Balazs Koranyi)

Source Article from http://news.yahoo.com/child-friendly-instagram-rival-plans-aggressive-u-market-114309566.html

Microsoft cloud service Azure restored after partial outage

(Reuters) – Microsoft said it resolved an outage on its Azure cloud computing service, which occurred across multiple regions.

Partial disruptions began as of 1.40 p.m. ET on Aug. 18, the company said on the Azure website. (http://bit.ly/VAqCJV)

Microsoft Azure is a cloud-based platform for creating, deploying and maintaining online applications and services such as websites and web-hosted applications. The service, which is used by governments and corporations around the world, supports various programming languages, tools and frameworks.

The company said Azure services such as virtual machines, cloud services, mobile services, service bus, site recovery, HDInsight, websites and Storsimple were down due to interruptions in multiple centers.

The core platform components were working properly throughout and only a small subset of customers were affected by the outage, Microsoft said.

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta in Bangalore; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Source Article from http://news.yahoo.com/microsoft-cloud-azure-restored-partial-outage-000029493–finance.html

Community Health says data stolen in cyber attack from China

By Jim Finkle and Caroline Humer

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Community Health Systems Inc , one of the biggest U.S. hospital groups, said on Monday it was the victim of a cyber attack from China, resulting in the theft of Social Security numbers and other personal data belonging to 4.5 million patients.

Security experts said the hacking group, known as “APT 18,” may have links to the Chinese government.

“APT 18″ typically targets companies in the aerospace and defense, construction and engineering, technology, financial services and healthcare industry, said Charles Carmakal, managing director with FireEye Inc’s (FEYE.O) Mandiant forensics unit, which led the investigation of the attack on Community Health in April and June.

“They have fairly advanced techniques for breaking into organizations as well as maintaining access for fairly long periods of times without getting detected,” he said.

The information stolen from Community Health included patient names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers of people who were referred or received services from doctors affiliated with the hospital group in the last five years, the company said in a regulatory filing.

The stolen data did not include medical or clinical information, credit card numbers, or any intellectual property such as data on medical device development, said Community Health, which has 206 hospitals in 29 states.

The attack is the largest of its type involving patient information since a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website started tracking such breaches in 2009. The previous record, an attack on a Montana Department of Public Health server, was disclosed in June and affected about 1 million people.

Chinese hacking groups are known for seeking intellectual property, such as product design, or information that might be of use in business or political negotiations.

Social Security numbers and other personal data are typically stolen by cybercriminals to sell on underground exchanges for use by others in identity theft.

Over the past six months Mandiant has seen a spike in cyber attacks on healthcare providers, although this was the first case it had seen in which a sophisticated Chinese group has stolen personal data, according to Carmakal. Mandiant monitors about 20 hacking groups in China.

NEW SCRUTINY

Cybersecurity has come under increased scrutiny at healthcare providers this year, both by law enforcement and attackers.

The FBI warned the industry in April that its protections were lax compared with other sectors, making it vulnerable to hackers looking for details that could be used to access bank accounts or obtain prescriptions.

Mandiant has tracked “APT 18″ for four years. When asked if the hackers were linked to the Chinese government, Carmakal said it was “a possibility” but declined to elaborate.

Another cybersecurity firm, CrowdStrike, which has also been monitoring “APT 18″ for about four years, said it believes the hackers are either backed by Beijing or work directly for the government, based on the targets they have chosen.

CrowdStrike Chief Technology Officer Dmitri Alperovitch said his firm has seen “APT 18″ targeting human rights groups and chemical companies.

“They are of above average skill” among Chinese hackers, said Alperovitch, whose company dubbed the group “Dynamite Panda.”

The issue of Chinese state-sponsored hacking is highly sensitive. Tensions between Washington and Beijing have grown since May, when a U.S. grand jury indicted five Chinese military officers on charges they hacked into American companies for sensitive manufacturing secrets. China has denied the charges.

FBI spokesman Joshua Campbell said his agency was investigating the Community Health case, but declined to elaborate.

The Department of Homeland Security said it believed the incident was isolated, although it shared technical details about the attack with other healthcare providers. An agency official told Reuters it was too soon to say who was behind the attack.

Community Health said it has removed malicious software used by the attackers from its systems and completed other remediation steps. It is now notifying patients and regulatory agencies, as required by law.

The company said it is insured against such losses and does not at this time expect a material adverse effect on financial results. Community Health’s stock rose 66 cents, or 1.3 percent, to close at $51.66 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer, Jim Finkle and Shailesh Kuber; Editing by Dan Grebler and Tiffany Wu)

Source Article from http://news.yahoo.com/community-health-systems-says-personal-data-stolen-cyber-131149978–finance.html

Putin pours billions into Russia’s World Cup

As soccer’s World Cup draws to a close in Brazil, Russia is about to spend billions on hosting the next tournament – expenditure that economists say could give Vladimir Putin an economic headache and leave his country with numerous taxpayer-funded “white elephant” stadiums.

Putin reportedly plans to spend $20 billion on Russia’s hosting of the 2018 competition. His ambitious plan will see stadiums and infrastructure built over an area stretching 1,500 miles from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Ural Mountains that form the gateway to Asia.

The event is expected to follow the economic blueprint of this year’s Sochi Winter Games – the most expensive Olympics in history with estimated overall price tag of $51 billion.

Professor Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Massachusetts-based Smith College, is one of the leading experts in the economics of the World Cup and Olympic Games. He is unambiguous when issuing a report card for Sochi and predicting what that might mean for Russia’s World Cup.

“Sochi was an economic disaster for Russia,” said Zimbalist, author of books including “Circus Maximus: The Economics of Hosting the Olympics and World Cup,” which is due to be published later this year.

Landmark sporting events are rarely good value for money for the taxpayer, he argues. Infrastructure improvements, such as glamorous subway systems connecting venues and hotels, often benefit short-term visitors rather than the long-term needs of residents. More than 15 million Russians live under the poverty line, according to World Bank figures.

While success stories can be found in the Olympics of Los Angeles in 1984 and Barcelona in 1992 where spending was smart and tight, Zimbalist said Sochi was one of the most egregious examples of waste.

“They’ve got a lot of white elephants on their hands in Sochi that they don’t know what to do with,” he said. “All the hotel firms there are currently trying to get the state to buy them out. It’s not the right climate, and wealthy Russians would rather go to Davos [in Switzerland] or somewhere else in the Alps.”

“Many Russians feel the country needs these big events to regain its prestige”

Governments often try to justify the big public-money spends that come with major tournaments by saying that the events get dormant projects off the backburner. But according to Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, these claims are almost impossible to prove. “In fact, I am very skeptical,” he said.

This does not bode well for Russia’s 11 World Cup host cities, each of which will have at least one stadium built to the high-level requirements of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body.

Not only do these stadiums cost a lot of money – usually between $200 million and $800 million – but critics question how much they’ll be used after the tournament ends. While modern venues may be warranted in soccer-crazy Moscow and St. Petersburg, the justification for the planned expansion of the stadium in the eastern city of Yekaterinburg is less obvious.

Proposed Stadiums Of The Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup BidRussia 2018 via Getty Images

To comply with FIFA regulations, the city is increasing its 27,000-capacity stadium to more than 43,000 seats. For fans who venture to the city – which lies as far east as Pakistan and as far north as Latvia – these facilities will no doubt be welcome for one month in 2018. But with an average attendance of 13,188 for local soccer team Ural Yekaterinburg last season, there might be more than a few empty seats at future games.

Similar criticism was leveled at FIFA and the organizers of Brazil 2014 after the construction of projects such as the Arena da Amazônia, a stadium in the Brazilian city of Manaus. This over-budget, $220 million venue in the middle of the Amazon jungle hosted just four World Cup games – and now the city is left with a 41,000-seat stadium despite having no established soccer team.

However, research suggests that many Russians may not care about what it costs to have a global sporting spectacle on their own doorstep.

Szymanski has conducted research at the London School of Economics, measuring the happiness index of cities before and after they have hosted major events. “There is undoubtedly a spike in the feel-good factor during these events and the World Cup is the jackpot,” he said. “Although it is quite ephemeral and does not last long, Russians will be delighted to have the tournament.”

Putin certainly tapped into the emotive idea of Russia’s people rising to the challenge when he spoke about his hometown of Leningrad being bombed in World War II after the country’s successful bid was announced. “There was no electricity, no heat and no food during winter, but there was football,” he recalled.

Orysia Lutsevych, a Russia expert at the London think tank Chatham House, agrees. “Many Russians feel the country needs these big events to regain its prestige,” she said. “Of course you can find some expert who picks holes in these things, but this does not reflect the views of most people.”

Following his annexation of Crimea in March, Putin’s popularity has scarcely been higher. And eyeing presidential reelection in 2018 he may see the World Cup as an opportunity to increase his reputation as rebuilder of the Russian Empire and warrior against perceived historical injustices.

“After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia is trying to reinstate itself as a true global leader and this makes the case for hosting these big events,” Lutsevych said. “The country is quite outward looking in terms of caring what other countries think about it, despite what the West might think.”

Close behind the Russian leader in terms of the tournament’s main beneficiaries are likely to be his private-sector allies in construction, insurance, and investment banking industry who will oversee the country’s transformation into a World Cup-ready state.

Corporations have had close and often shady ties to Russian politics since the carve-up of the Soviet Union. According to a report by Transparency International, firms with strong political connections make up a “staggering” 80 percent of Russia’s publicly traded companies, compared to 40 percent in the United Kingdom.

Out of 177 countries globally, Transparency International ranks Russia at a dire 127th in terms of positive perceptions of corruption – far worse than the U.S. at 19th and putting it in the same boat as countries like Pakistan and Lebanon.

And there will be ample opportunity to make money over the next four years in Russia.

“The World Cup is basically the product of private-sector interests that have a great deal of political power, and it will be the same story in Russia,” Zimbalist said.

Others, like veteran investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, say Russia’s disregard for transparency made it the perfect setting to host the tournament from FIFA’s perspective.

The controversial governing body is currently under investigation for bribery allegations relating to its widely-maligned decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a country which the International Trade Union Confederation has called a “slave state.” Qatar’s soccer culture is almost non-existent and summer temperatures hit 110 degrees. Despite calling itself a non-profit organization, FIFA currently has more than $1.4 billion in the bank and has been criticized for its demands that any country hosting a World Cup give tax exemption to itself and its sponsors.

“When you look at what FIFA is demanding for this tournament it is clear why they did not give it to somewhere in the European Union or the United States,” Jennings said. “Legally, with the tax breaks and suspension of labor laws they are calling for it just would not happen – there is just too much scrutiny in America.”

Image: Sepp BlatterKivrin Golovanov / AP, file

Others, like Szymanski, say corruption is no more prevalent in football than in other industries where state ties to construction firms are well known. But he does describe FIFA and the International Olympic Committee [IOC] as “the villains of the piece,” because they pit developing nations against each other, encouraging them to spend above their means and offer tax exemptions in their desperation to host tournaments.

“You do not want to get into a situation where you say only rich countries can host these tournaments, but the correct way to it is to follow the example of Los Angeles and not go overboard on spending,” he said.

If Sochi was anything to go by, such restraint looks unlikely in Russia.

“World Cups are the biggest events in the world in terms of what people want to think about, but in GDP and nuts and bolts they are not big at all,” Szymanski said. “Although Russia’s economy is stagnating, the World Cup is a drop in the bucket compared to something like its oil and gas industry.”



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