By Alexandra Sharp
Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at alleged Russian espionage efforts by Bulgarian nationals in the United Kingdom, currency crises in Russia and Argentina, and another high-profile assassination in Ecuador.
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A Russian flag flies by surveillance cameras at the entrance to the Russian consulate in London on July 21, 2020.Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
British police charged three Bulgarian nationals on Tuesday with possessing false identity documents as part of a larger national security investigation into Russian espionage efforts. Local officials have not yet confirmed evidence of spying, but British Metropolitan Police announced that the suspects were among five people arrested in February for counterterrorism offenses under the Official Secrets Act.
According to the BBC, all three accused individuals first appeared in court in July for working with Russian security services. The suspects—Orlin Roussev, Biser Dzambazov, and Katrin Ivanova—allegedly possessed passports and other identity documents for the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, and Spain. They also are accused of having forged press cards and clothes bearing Discovery Channel and National Geographic TV channel logos to carry out surveillance operations in London as well as Germany and Montenegro.
If that wasn’t enough, Roussev’s LinkedIn said he served as a strategic advisor to the Bulgarian Ministry of Energy before owning a signals and artificial intelligence agency. And Dzambazov and Ivanova worked for electoral commissions in the United Kingdom that helped expatriates vote in Bulgarian elections. (Oh, and locals said the couple brought cakes and pies to their neighbors in a sign of good ol’ British charm.)
No plea has been entered yet, but British police said all three Bulgarian nationals are set to stand trial in January. If convicted under the Identity Documents Act, they could face up to 10 years in prison. If convicted under the Official Secrets Act, that sentence could increase to 14 years.
This is far from London’s first stint in countering Russian espionage attempts. Last month, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak passed a new national security law that toughens criminal proceedings and investigation tools against those accused of spying. Moscow itself was deemed the United Kingdom’s “most acute threat.” And for the first time ever in the U.K., foreign interference was labeled a crime.
More than 400 alleged Russian spies were expelled from Europe in 2022, Britain’s domestic spy chief acknowledged last November. That doesn’t include some of London’s biggest intelligence wins, including charging three Russians with the 2018 attempted murder of former double agent Sergei Skripal.
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Currency chaos. Following a dramatic drop in the ruble on Monday, Russia’s Central Bank hiked interest rates by 350 basis points, to 12 percent, at an emergency meeting on Tuesday. Economists hope the controversial decision will tighten Moscow’s monetary situation and counter fears of skyrocketing inflation. However, experts worry that the weakening ruble, which hit a 16-month low this week, could still further hurt the nation’s already isolated economy.
The Kremlin isn’t the only one spinning its financial wheels in the hopes of finding traction. The shock primary election victory of far-right populist Javier Milei in Argentina on Sunday tanked the nation’s peso by as much as 18 percent on Monday. The Latin American country’s central bank raised interest rates to 118 percent that day to better protect the currency. Milei, who campaigned on libertarian economic policies, has proposed radical fiscal changes to a nation already battling intense levels of poverty.
Ecuador’s latest assassination. Political violence in Ecuador is still on the rise. On Monday, Citizen Revolution Party leader Pedro Briones was assassinated in Esmeraldas province. According to local media, the leftist political figure was shot at his home in San Mateo by two men on a motorcycle. His death marks the third assassination to occur in Ecuador within the last month.
“Ecuador is experiencing its bloodiest era,” wrote Luisa González, the current front-runner for Sunday’s presidential election. Last week, presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was killed in Quito, the capital, following a campaign event at a high school. He was famously known for his tough stance on combatting organized crime and government corruption. And in late July, the mayor of Ecuador’s third-largest city, Agustín Intriago, was shot to death.
Debt for nature. Gabon celebrated a major fiscal win on Tuesday when it clinched the continent’s first debt-for-nature swap. The $500 million deal, organized by Bank of America and insured by the International Development Finance Corporation, gives the Central African country more time to make payments and lowers the interest rate on its debt. In exchange, Gabon vowed to spend at least $125 million on protecting its coastal areas and improving fishing regulations.
The swap is being hailed by conservationists as a new step toward assisting developing nations while also curbing the uneven impacts of climate change. This is the second-largest deal of its kind. However, some economists worry the agreement is an outlier due to its complicated framework and will therefore not work in other countries.
Once upon a time, every major (and even minor) country wanted to manufacture its own combat jets, wrote Richard Aboulafia, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, for Foreign Policy. The United States currently leads that race, providing nearly 79 percent of all global fighter jets this year. However, countries are turning away from Washington’s monopoly and asserting their own control of the market. By the late 2030s, Aboulafia predicts, the United States will need to prioritize the sale of systems and technology that power fighter jets or else risk falling behind.
Sometimes after a wild night out, you just need a place to crash. For two American tourists in Paris, that chosen spot happened to be the Eiffel Tower. French security guards discovered the inebriated men on Monday morning asleep between the structure’s second and third levels, an area usually closed off to the public. Prosecutors said the pair had been trying to evade security when they became stuck on the closed-off tier—and just decided to stay there. Paris, je t’aime.