Twitter thought crackdown? Crusade against ‘Russian bots’ used as cover ‘to deflect criticism’

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Twitter’s crusade against so-called “Russian bots” is being used to discredit and even silence views that challenge corporate narratives, the editor of BSNews told RT amid reports of a massive account purge on the platform.

A crackdown on bot spam or dissent?

“The whole meme of the bots, especially the ‘Russian bots,’ is actually being used as a kind of defensive mechanism,” said Mike Raddie. “Whenever people criticize the corporate media in the West – we’ve done it with the Guardian – they come back and say, ‘oh, you’re part of a Russian bot army,’ or a typical question is, ‘what’s the weather like in St. Petersburg? Is it snowing in Moscow yet?’ So it’s a very useful meme for corporate journalists to deflect any kind of criticism, especially over hot topics such as Syria, Ukraine – things like this.”

A number of Twitter accounts are said to have been flagged over the past few days, in what many have speculated is part of the company’s efforts to clamp down on the much-touted army of Russian-controlled automated accounts, or “bots.” However, Twitter has yet to elaborate on the reported mass purge, which allegedly also targeted users with right-wing views – raising concerns of political censorship on the popular social media platform. The hashtag #TwitterLockOut began trending on the site shortly after the suspensions.

“If Twitter has begun this campaign of eliminating or blocking people that have different ideas than the company wants to portray or the message that they want to get out, I think it’s very harming to democracy and freedom of speech,” Christian Mancera, a lawyer and 2018 congressional candidate, told RT. “We have to keep every single channel of communication open, and just because a person has a conservative view doesn’t make that person an enemy, or make that person politically incorrect. So I hope that Twitter comes forward and clarifies.”

Although his own outlet’s Twitter account recently received a 12-hour suspension, allegedly for “criticizing a multi-billionaire,” Raddie suggested that most users who get hit with the ban hammer are likely victims of the company’s “crude algorithm,” and not singled out by an actual Twitter employee. However, he said the company’s recent behavior suggests that when Twitter “sees challenges, serious challenges, to the status quo, they’re likely to limit activity or even block accounts or delete accounts.”

Hunting for ‘Russian links’

Dragged in front of the US Senate last year as part of efforts to expose “Russian influence” in the 2016 presidential elections, Twitter initially revealed that it had identified 201 “Russia-linked” accounts operating on its platform. After Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) expressed disappointment in the anticlimactic findings, Twitter raised its figure to 36,746.

As part of its autumn crackdown, Twitter banned an account owned by an African-American political activist from Atlanta – allegedly for her “links” to Russia. “This whole suppression of voices in using this Russian scare tactic is just way too far,” Charlie Peach, who has absolutely no ties to Russia, told RT back in October.

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The Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee holds a hearing on

“In my lifetime I’ve never seen anything like this. I don’t remember the McCarthyism era, obviously, because I’m not that old, but my parents talked to me about it and things that were occurring at the time,” Peach told RT. “It ensures that the 1 percent continues to have a narrative and that anyone who opposes that are no longer allowed to speak. You look at CNN, MSNBC ‒ they gave us the Iraq War. This is what they do. The main media houses that run everything are the ones that continue to push the propaganda and make sure we’re shut down.”

In January, the US Senate Intelligence Committee published answers provided by Twitter, Facebook and Google in response to questions concerning Russia’s alleged use of social media to meddle with American democracy. In its written response, Twitter disclosed that it had identified nine accounts as being “potentially linked to Russia that promoted election-related, English-language content.” Of these nine nefarious accounts “potentially linked” to Russia, “the most significant use of advertising was by @RT_com and @RT_America. Those two accounts collectively ran 44 different ad campaigns, accounting for nearly all of the relevant advertising we reviewed,” according to Twitter. Conspicuously absent from Twitter’s written statement was the fact that the American tech giant traveled to Moscow to pitch a proposal for RT to spend huge sums on advertising for the US presidential election – an offer which RT declined.

A faulty algorithm – or premeditated censorship?

More recently, in January, conservative journalism watchdog Project Veritas released undercover footage of current and former Twitter staff who appear to admit to silencing conservative voices using “shadow bans” – which block a user or their content from reaching a wider audience without their knowledge.

“We’re giving away an awful lot to these companies, but when they come out and publicly say they want to be the public forum for free speech, yet they’re censoring free speech and they are slanting what free speech can or cannot be heard, then there’s a problem,” Project Veritas executive director Russell Verney told RT.

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Going Underground: Russia 2018 World Cup City Guide Part 2 – Moscow Metro (VIDEO)

By ethan / February 22, 2018

RT Sport’s World Cup City Guide Vlog continues to cut through the red tape to bring you authentic content from the city’s streets, squares and stadiums, with the latest vlog installment exploring the Moscow Metro.

Danny Armstrong goes underground to get acquainted with the specially designed Russia 2018 metro trains that will shuttle football fans from match to match in Moscow from the opening game to the final.

Built in 1935, the Moscow Metro serves residents of the Russian capital and its surrounding areas. In November last year, Russia 2018 trains were unveiled before the World Cup Final Draw and feature decorations dedicated to the tournament.

RT Sport takes a tour of the metro trains that diverge from its typical artistry and feature a Ballon d’Or winner and Soviet goalkeeping icon, the Hand of God, and our favorite footballing wolf.

READ MORE: Russia 2018 World Cup: RT Sport City Guide Vlog Part 1 – Moscow

And for fans fretting about navigating their away across the capital – don’t worry. Metro station announcements are also read out in English…

Follow @DannyWArmstrong & @RTSportNews for updates 

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Angry Birds game-maker hit by worst stock sell-off since going public

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Shares in Rovio Entertainment, best known for creating the ‘Angry Birds’ franchise, have plummeted. The dive wiped more than a third off the company’s stock price, after reporting lower-than-expected profits for 2018.

The stock dropped nearly 40 percent during trading in Helsinki, marking the company’s worst share plunge since its initial public offering in September. The Finnish software developer said revenue would decline this year with adjusted profit expected to total up to only 11 percent of sales against 10.6 percent in 2017.

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© Tuomas Forsell

The Espoo-based firm expects sales of €260-300 million (US$ 320-370 million) compared to €297 million last year. The numbers are far below the analysts’ projection of a margin of 14.5 percent and sales of €336 million, according to Thomson Reuters’ data.

The outlook is “hugely disappointing,” according to a Malta-based FIMBank, as quoted by Bloomberg. Rovio blamed expanded marketing costs and other necessary investments for the lower profit outlook.

The company scored a success with the launch of the original ‘Angry Birds’ game in 2009, but in 2015 Rovio had to slash a third of its staff after a significant operating loss. The decline was triggered by an intense competition and global shift to games available for free.

Rovio’s shares were down 43 percent to €5.63 at 10:24 GMT. In November, its shares declined by nearly 20 percent after Rovio’s first interim report as a listed company.

“Competition in the mobile game industry is very tough and user acquisition has become more expensive for the companies,” Atte Riikola, analyst at Inderes Equity Research told Reuters.

User acquisition costs in the fourth quarter more than doubled, and were reportedly equal to 24 percent of the company’s games unit revenue. Income from plush toys and other use of its brand dropped over 50 percent and accounted for some 10 percent of total sales.

Fourth-quarter operating profit at Rovio doubled to €10.4 million on revenue up 17 percent to €73.9 million. The company will reveal its full interim results on March 2.

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Britain's Trump? Twitterati slam ‘undemocratic’ Rees-Mogg Brexit tirade

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been bashed by tweeters describing him as a “Trump-like” politician as he launched a tirade on the government over its leaked Brexit transition strategy. Rees-Mogg branded it a “perversion of democracy.”

The comparison with the US President follows news of the Tory MP meeting Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon. The London meeting took place two months ago, where the two reportedly discussed how right-wingers can keep power in the UK and US.

Editor of Breitbart London Raheem Kassam, who organized the meeting, said about the discussions: “Brexit and the election of President Trump were inextricably linked, so the discussions focused on how we move forward with winning for the conservative movements on both sides of the pond.”

The Conservative backbencher and bookies’ favorite to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader, launched a scathing attack on the government’s Brexit transition plans. Rees-Mogg focused on the open-ended transition period after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

The North Somerset MP branded the strategy a “perversion of democracy,” in a column penned for the Telegraph. Rees-Mogg suggests the transition period still subjects the UK to EU red tape.

The leaked document read: “The UK believes the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future relationship.

“The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date.”

Rees-Mogg wrote: “Transition must be time limited, the European Union itself has suggested twenty-one months to the end of the multiannual financial framework.

“It is, therefore, peculiar that the leak reveals Whitehall proposing the exact opposite.

“It reads: ‘the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes’: This translates from bureaucratese into English: ‘We must remain.’”

Under the EU’s current framework, the UK would not be allowed to sign any deal during a transition period. Rees-Mogg suggested this must be challenged in order to ensure the UK effectively drops out of the EU.

“To avoid the perversion of democracy that BRINO (Brexit in Name Only) would be it is essential that we are able to sign trade deals in the fixed transition period even if they are implemented when it is over. Anyone can negotiate, but for deals to be real they must be capable of being signed.”

The Tory backbencher then reiterated the UK should not become a “vassal state” once it withdraws from the bloc next year. He said: “When we leave the EU on 29th March next year we need not continue to behave as if we were still a member.

“That would make us a vassal state and there have been no vassals in this country since the era of the Plantagenets.

“We want what our Irish friends have had for a century: the freedom to follow our own star. Our choice is to go. Our friends should respect our choices as we respect theirs.”

His attempt to save British democracy, however, was ridiculed on social media. It was not long before people flocked to Twitter to point out the Old Etonian himself is subverting democracy as he holds the PM to “ransom” in a bid to secure a hard Brexit.

Since the document leak, in a bid to quell the fury of Conservative Brexiteers, Downing Street has sought to dismiss suggestions it is planning an open-ended transition deal. A Downing Street spokesperson said: “There will be an end-date included in the agreement.”

A cabinet minister told the Guardian any suggestion otherwise was “just paranoid or wishful thinking.”

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New South African president wants to seize land from white farmers without compensation

By ethan / February 22, 2018

South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has pledged to return the lands owned by white farmers since the 1600s to the black citizens of the country.

Ramaphosa called this “original sin,” and said he wants “the return of the land to the people from whom it was taken… to heal the divisions of the past.”

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Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe © Philimon Bulawayo

The lands will be seized from white owners, who will not receive compensation, according to Ramaphosa. The new leader was sworn in on Thursday after his predecessor Jacob Zuma resigned.

“The expropriation of land without compensation is envisaged as one of the measures that we will use to accelerate the redistribution of land to black South Africans,” Ramaphosa said.

The South African president said such a drastic move would not damage the country’s agriculture or economy.

“We will handle it with responsibility. We will handle it in a way that will not damage our economy, that is not going to damage agricultural production,” he said.

A similar program of land redistribution was already carried out by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in the late 1990s-early 2000s. Thousands of white farmers were forced from their lands.

However, food production plummeted without the experienced farmers’ contribution, and Zimbabwe’s economy suffered a major slowdown. In 2010, the Guardian reported that Mugabe – who has since been ousted – used land reform to reward his allies rather than ordinary black Zimbabweans. In 2016, Mugabe signed a decree that foreign companies would face closure unless they sold or gave up 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans.

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Russia to bar US monitors from March presidential election – deputy FM

By ethan / February 22, 2018

US diplomats and staff of various American organizations will not be allowed to monitor the upcoming Russian presidential election, in reply to a similar ban issued by the US in 2016, the Russian deputy foreign minister has said.

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© Brendan McDermid

As for the American diplomats and workers of the offices of various US organizations in Russia, they will not be permitted to participate in this process [poll monitoring], considering the fact that during the 2016 elections in the US the staff of Russian organizations in the US were denied such an opportunity,” Sergey Ryabkov was quoted as saying on Thursday by Interfax.

The deputy minister also added that this would not apply to US citizens who work for the monitoring mission of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

In December 2017, Ryabkov told reporters that Russia had officially informed the US Department of State that, after considering the refusal to accept monitors from Russian diplomatic offices in the US, Moscow had decided to take reciprocal measures.

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FILE PHOTO: A man casts his ballot during presidential elections at a polling station in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia © Yuri Maltsev

The Russian presidential election is scheduled for March 18. Eight candidates are taking part, including incumbent President Vladimir Putin, who is currently leading the popularity ratings by a wide margin. According to a study conducted by the state-run All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTSIOM) in mid-February, 69.5 percent of voters said they would support Putin if the election was held on the nearest weekend. Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin was second with 7.5 percent, Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the populist nationalist party LDPR was third with 5.3 percent, and Grigory Yavlinsky of the liberal party Yabloko came in fourth with 1.4 percent. Other contenders can count on the support of less than 1 percent of voters, according to the research.

In the same study, VTSIOM experts attempted to forecast the turnout level in the forthcoming election. They found that 81.1 percent of respondents declared their intention to participate in the polls, while 7.3 percent of respondents said they had no such plans and 10.6 percent told researchers that they had not yet decided on the issue.

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Ready for war with Russia? UK defense chief could restructure entire army over ‘state threat’

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Terrorists have taken lives on the streets of London and blown up children’s concerts in Manchester – but Britain’s chief of defense thinks the UK should focus on other “threats.”

The governmental obsession with Russia took a new, giant leap this week when the hapless head of Britain’s three military arms outlined what he – as a former businessman – has decided is the biggest threat to UK security.

Naturally, it’s Russia.

The same Russia which has seen bombings and attacks on public transport by the same enemy Britain is facing.

Williamson’s declaration could spark a significant shift in security policy which will focus on the Kremlin over proven killers.

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Britain's Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson © Toby Melville

The secretary put Moscow in the same boat as Pyongyang, North Korea – equating unfounded fears over Russia with a nation which has genuinely threatened, almost weekly, to unleash nuclear war.

“We would highlight state-based threats as the top priority and . . . the speed with which they are escalating. But within a hair[‘s breadth] it is followed by the terrorism threat,” he told the Defence Select Committee. “We have probably all got to look at how we have got to invest more to deal with this threat that we have not had to deal with for the last 25 years.”

Mark Francois, a Conservative member of the select committee and a former defence minister, spotted the staggering change and questioned Williamson on his willingness to change the focus of the military. He said the move puts the forces at readiness for war.

“Yes it does,” Williamson replied.

The cabinet chief said Britain had been “caught napping” and insisted state-on-state conflict is something the military must invest in.

The latest pang of paranoia from Williamson, who was catapulted into limelight from the shadows of the chief whip’s office, follows on from ramblings on Russia in January, when he bizarrely claimed it would take out deep-sea communications cables.

Apparently viewing Moscow as a self-mutilating monster, Williamson decided the order would be given to cut Britain’s electricity interconnectors to Europe, damaging international relations irrevocably.

Now, as part of a defense review, former potter Williamson is focusing hard on state-led threat. But he has at least backed up his notions.

Due to the Russians’ presence in the Mediterranean region and the Kremlin’s “increased assertiveness,” it is time Britain gets stronger, he said.

This comes just a week after Britain ordered ships to pass the disputed South China Sea, much closer to the Chinese coast than the white cliffs of Dover. In a move which naturally caused international tensions.

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Theresa May and Gavin Williamson © Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

The government appears to be bringing back the Rule Britannia mentality, but God forbid another nation should bolster its own international security arrangements. That, according to Williamson, is almost an outright declaration of war.

Williamson has been playing soldier since he took the office with zero military knowledge and is starting to turn things around.

“But then you are seeing new nations that are starting to play a greater role in the world, such as China. You are seeing the challenges that we face in terms of North Korea,” he told the committee.

“If you do not respond to these threats you are leaving our country a lot less safe than it should be.”

Interestingly there is another nation doing exactly the same. The USA.

Washington has been directly threatened by North Korea and has listed state tensions as being a priority – naturally.

Williamson’s hawkish rhetoric comes coincidently at a time when the military must plug an estimated £30 billion (US$ 41.7 billion) funding gap.

There are currently plans to scrap marines, warships and postpone war tech projects to save the cash – although the Ministry of Defence (MoD) isn’t exactly admitting it.

An internal defense review, born from outraged calls for one from the Whitehall-wide review of security capability, will consider the future shape and size of the navy, army, air force and Joint Forces Command. Most of whose manpower is dropping to record lows.

By Zoie O’Brien, RT

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British lawmakers launch inquiry into cryptocurrencies

By ethan / February 22, 2018

UK’s Treasury Committee says it wants to study digital currencies and the blockchain technology behind them to understand the risks and benefits of cryptos and their rising popularity.

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© Reuters / Global Look Press

“People are becoming increasingly aware of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, but they may not be aware that they are currently unregulated in the UK, and that there is no protection for individual investors,” said committee Chair Nicky Morgan.

According to the committee’s statement, it will consider whether the government is striking the right balance between protecting customers and businesses without stifling innovation.

“We will also examine the potential benefits of cryptocurrencies and the technology underpinning them, how they can create innovative opportunities, and to what extent they could disrupt the economy and replace traditional means of payment.”

Governments and regulators across the world have lately been calling for a crackdown on cryptocurrencies. Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said on Monday that bitcoin has “pretty much failed” as a currency measured by standard benchmarks, and is neither a store of value nor a useful way to buy things.

The French and German finance ministers said digital coins “could pose substantial risks for investors” and potentially long-term financial stability.

Warnings have also been voiced by regulators and watchdogs from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the European Central Bank (ECB), and Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission.

According to the head of BIS Agustin Carstens, bitcoin is “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster.” He called on central banks to clamp down on virtual currencies to stop them “piggybacking” on mainstream institutions and becoming a “threat to financial stability.”

The world’s most popular cryptocurrency, bitcoin, lost over half its value earlier this year after surging more than 1,300 percent. It was trading at $ 10,670 on Thursday, down by more than 5 percent.

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Kidnap was ‘to make her famous’: Herba attacks Chloe Ayling as doubts arise over his sanity

By ethan / February 22, 2018

A glamor model desperate to become rich and famous wrote her own ransom note and faked her own kidnapping, an Italian court heard yesterday, as the Chloe Ayling case approaches its climax.

Lukasz Herba, 30, told the judge that he was helping Ayling to get in the limelight by pretending to snatch her. Ayling was found in a suitcase outside the British embassy in Milan last July.

An astonishing story emerged, in which Ayling claimed to have been told that she would be taking part in a photo shoot in Italy, but was kidnapped by dark-web gangsters when she left her home in the UK. The kidnappers allegedly planned to sell the model as a sex slave.

Ayling, 20, said the only reason she was freed is because Herba took pity when she revealed she had a child. However, Herba, a Polish citizen who lived in Britain, claims Ayling was in on the plot all along, with a view to exploiting the events to help overcome financial difficulties.

Judge Ilio Mannucci Pacini said he would consider ordering Herba to undergo psychiatric tests. “You can see he is not well,” Paolo Storari, the prosecutor, said. “He’s dangerous and no one will believe him after he changed versions constantly.”

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© Fotogramma/Ropi

Conflicting statements from Herba have concerned the court. Originally, he said Romanian members of the Black Death crime group had roped him into the plot.

Then, he claimed to have invented the group himself to give the kidnap credibility, and set up a website on which he said he was a former CIA agent who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The court has heard how Ayling was drugged and kept in a farmhouse near Turin for six days.

“During my first questioning, I said lots of things which were not true,” Herba told the Milan court.

However, doubts have also been raised about Ayling’s version of events. The mother-of-one from Surrey said she was drugged and held at the farmhouse, but witnesses said that she had shopped for shoes with Herba. They were also seen holding hands on CCTV.

“Chloe said we could split the money and go out together,” Herba said. “It was a plan to help Chloe get publicity. The idea was to make up the kidnap to make her famous.”

Herba also said that Ayling wore handcuffs for just a few moments to stage a photo, but the prosecutor pointed out that she still had marks on her wrists days later. “He said one thing then said another,” said Francesco Pesce, Ayling’s lawyer. “I don’t know if he even realizes he’s lying. He is probably disconnected from reality and I agree we need psychiatric tests.”

A ruling on whether or not Herba needs a psychiatric evaluation will be made on March 14. He faces 25 years in prison if he is convicted of kidnapping Chloe Ayling.

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Russian curlers Krushelnitsky and Bryzgalova stripped of Olympic bronze medals – CAS

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Russian curlers Alexander Krushelnitsky and Anastasia Bryzgalova, representing the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) team, have been stripped of their medals, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reported on Thursday.

“(Krushelnitsky) is disqualified from the mixed doubles curling event at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and the results obtained by the team OAR at the same event are disqualified with all resulting consequences,” says the statement, published on the organization’s website.

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© Vladimir Pesnya

“The athlete has accepted a provisional suspension beyond the period of the Games and reserved his rights to seek the elimination or reduction of any period of ineligibility based on ‘no fault or negligence’ following the conclusion of the Games.”

Krushelnitsky, whose A sample was declared positive for meldonium on Monday, released a statement on Wednesday saying that he would accept the punishment, while denying conscious use of the banned substance.

“I have never broken any sporting laws and have never taken doping,” the 25-year-old said. “We got to the Olympic bronze medal through hard work and constant training. From my point of view, I admit the fact of a formal violation of the current anti-doping legislation.

“It is silly to deny it, when the presence [of a] banned substance is confirmed by two doping tests. The probes were taken during the Olympic Games, and I am prepared for the corresponding verdict, which is predictable in such situations.”

The curler added that he has decided against appealing to CAS, as in his words he believes a hearing would “not make sense.”

“Having weighed up the pros and cons, I have decided against a hearing in the Court of Arbitration for Sport regarding my situation. I believe it to be pointless and [to] not make sense within the confines of the current rules,” the athlete said.

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) statement, which was published on Tuesday, also addressed the issue on behalf of the OAR delegation in PyeongChang to express regret over the incident.

“We express our sincere regret over this incident,” the statement reads.

“Along with this, the circumstances of the incident do not now answer the questions of how and when meldonium got into the athlete’s body.

“It is well known that the effect of meldonium is achieved by its regular usage, and metabolites are fixed in the human body about nine months after the end of the drug’s intake. The concentration of meldonium found in the sample indicates a single use of the drug, which is not used in medical practice, is absolutely meaningless from the point of view of achieving any therapeutic effect on the human body,” it continued.

“The test taken from Alexander Krushelnitsky before the start of the Olympic Games on January 22 – as well as all the previous ones – was negative. Thus, the fact of conscious or systematic use of a prohibited substance is not confirmed.”

The athlete himself has also pointed out the senselessness of a single use of the banned drug.

“It is a huge blow to my reputation and to my career. Not to mention the fact that only someone with a complete absence of common sense could use doping in any form, especially meldonium, in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, where testing is of the highest level.”

 

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