У Мінекономрозвику Росії підрахували вартість заборонених товарів з України

Імпорт заборонених до ввозу в Росію українських товарів оцінюється приблизно у 510 мільйонів доларів. Про це повідомили у прес-службі міністерства економічного розвитку Росії.

Як зазначили у відомстві, загальний імпорт товарів з України у Росії минулого року склав понад 4,9 мільярда доларів.

29 грудня Росія запровадила ембарго на ввезення в країну промислових і сільськогосподарських товарів, а також сировини і продовольства, вироблених в Україні або переміщуваних через її територію. 

Раніше цього тижня уряд Росії розширив список фізичних і юридичних осіб України, щодо яких запроваджені санкції. Дмитро Медведєв заявив, що це зроблено для захисту інтересів російської держави, компаній і громадян. Тепер в списку санкцій 567 фізичних та 75 юридичних осіб.

Київ у відповідь заявив про підготовку нових санкцій щодо Москви.

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Farmers Risk Loss of Federal Payments, Loans, From Shutdown

The end of 2018 seemed to signal good things to come for America’s farmers. Fresh off the passage of the farm bill, which reauthorized agriculture, conservation and safety net programs, the Agriculture Department last week announced a second round of direct payments to growers hardest hit by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.

Then parts of the government shut down.

The USDA in a statement issued last week assured farmers that checks would continue to go out during the first week of the shutdown. But direct payments for farmers who haven’t certified production, as well as farm loans and disaster assistance programs, will be put on hold beginning next week, and won’t start up again until the government reopens.

There is little chance of the government shutdown ending soon. Trump and Congress are no closer to reaching a deal over his demand for border wall money, and both sides say the impasse could drag well into January.

Although certain vital USDA programs will remain operational in the short term, that could change if the shutdown lasts for more than a few weeks.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, helps feed roughly 40 million Americans. According to the USDA, eligible recipients are guaranteed benefits through January. Other feeding programs, including WIC, which provides food aid and nutrition counseling for pregnant women, new mothers and children, and food distribution programs on Indian reservations, will continue on a local level, but additional federal funding won’t be provided. School lunch programs will continue through February.

USDA has earmarked about $9.5 billion in direct payments for growers of soybeans, corn, wheat, sorghum and other commodities most affected by tariffs. The first round of payments went out in September. The deadline to sign up for the second round of payments is January 15.

The impact of the shutdown, which began shortly before most federal workers were scheduled for a holiday break, started coming into focus by midweek.

About 420,000 employees are working without pay, while 380,000 are being forced to stay home. In the past, federal employees have been paid retroactively. But government contractors won’t get paid for hours they’ll lose staying home, causing problems for those who rely on hourly wages.

In anticipation of the financial bind many federal workers and contractors may soon find themselves in, the Office of Personnel Management offered some advice: haggle with landlords, creditors and mortgage companies for lower payments until the shutdown is over.

The shutdown also is affecting national parks, although unevenly: Some remain accessible with bare-bones staffing levels, some are operating with money from states or charitable groups, while others are locked off.

 

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Hong Kong Economy Caught in US-China Trade Crossfire

The storm winds of the recent trade war between the United States and China have settled in a truce for now, but the weeks of agitation — of rising tariffs and counter duties — battered one economy close to Beijing: Hong Kong’s.

In December, Hong Kong government economist Andrew Au said he anticipated near-term troubles for the territory’s economic forecast. GDP growth — a year after a record high of 341.5 billion — slowed significantly, from 4.6 percent growth in the first quarter to 2.9 percent in the third.

The government says the impact of the trade war can be seen in consumer prices, slower spending and lighter trade. Consumer price inflation ticked up 2.8 percent in the third quarter. The government warned that inflation could head upward as local costs rise along with residential rental rates.

Kelvin Ho-Por Lam, a former economist with HSBC based in Hong Kong, predicted another problem for Hong Kong from overseas.

Double whammy

“It’s not just the trade war, it’s facing a double whammy at the moment,” Lam said. “The trade war impacts on this economy, which is showing up in this Hong Kong GDP over the last two quarters. The second impact is from rising interest rates in the U.S.” The Federal Reserve raised rates four times in 12 months. A slower U.S. economy means less buying from China.

Adding to the impact is great unease. 

“It poses uncertainty on the economic agents in society. Businesses are more concerned going ahead with their investment plans,” Lam said. “They’re shelving their investments and therefore they are not investing in capacity in Hong Kong or in China.”

Trade and logistics — the apparatus to move the shoes and dresses and smartphones from Chinese factories to markets worldwide — are central to Hong Kong’s economy. The sector accounts for nearly one-fifth of the city’s GDP, higher than the substantial financial and banking industry here. When tariffs hit, goods cost more to sell in the United States, which means companies decrease stock and consumers buy less.

China’s economic growth weakened in the third quarter from a year earlier, its lowest expansion since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Consumers wary

Clearly consumers are wary. Retail sales in Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, grew in September at their slowest pace in 15 months. Also hurting the city was substantial damage from typhoon Mangkhut.

Favorite shops of mainland tourists — Sa Sa International, Chow Tai Food Jewelry, and Luk Fook Holdings, all posted slowed sales in the third quarter.

Hong Kong also saw its economy lag for local reasons. Home prices in what is often called the world’s least affordable market chilled this year as interest rates rose. The number of residential property transactions fell by 24 percent from 18,900 in the second quarter to 14,400 in the third quarter, according to the government.

Property sellers saw the slowdown in sales set in this summer, after the residential property market had churned hard for 28 consecutive months. Median home prices dropped by as much as 5 percent from June, agents told the South China Morning Post in October. The city’s rating and valuation Index, which tracks prices of older homes, in August marked the first monthly decline in more than two years. Even the government offered discounts. A 97,300-square-foot plot of the former Kai Tak airport in the city’s Kowloon district sold for $1.03 billion to a unit of China Overseas Land & Investment, nearly 13 percent lower than another Kai Tak sale in November.

The market chill began in August after Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, introduced a tax to compel developers to create more housing. Meanwhile, banks raised mortgage rates for the first time in 12 years.

That means mortgage holders have less extra money to spend, Kelvin Lam said. He forecast that there will be fewer tourists visiting Hong Kong, perhaps because of the volatility in China.

“The Hong Kong economy is very sensitive to these things,” he said. “It will reduce people spending for their own personal consumption.”

​Folded into China’s economy

Hong Kong produces very little domestically, Kelvin Lam pointed out. Lam said because the territory’s economy is so entwined with China’s, and because the range of products and services are so narrow, the impact of the extra tariffs will be felt on whatever the city acquires from China and re-exports.

Hong Kong is likely to suffer more during China’s downturns as the former British colony is folded into China’s economy and as the government plans for a massive technology hub to be rooted in nearby Shenzhen.

Andrew Sheng, a distinguished fellow at the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong, wrote in an email that he didn’t think the city would encounter much inflation, despite the downward pressure coming from lower property prices and a slowing global economy.

“The Hong Kong economy will suffer from the trade conflict,” said the former central banker and financial regulator in Asia. “Although it is very resilient to overseas shocks.”

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Social Media’s Year of Falling From Grace

Silicon Valley has enjoyed years of popularity and growing markets.

But 2018 has been rocky for the industry.

Data breaches, controversies over offensive speech and misinformation — as well as reports of foreign operatives’ use of their services — have left many people skeptical about the benefits of social media, experts say.

Worries about social media in Congress meant tech executives had to testify before committees several times this year.

“2018 has been a challenging year for tech companies and consumers alike,” said Pantas Sutardja, chief executive of LatticeWork Inc., a data storage firm. “Company CEOs being called to Congress for hearings and promising profusely to fix the problems of data breach but still cannot do it.”

 

WATCH: Social Media’s Year of Falling From Grace

An apology tour

Facebook drew the most scrutiny. The social networking giant endured criticism after revelations that its lax oversight allowed a political consulting firm to exploit millions of its users’ data.

In the spring, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, went on what was dubbed “an apology tour” to tell users that the company would do a better job of protecting their data.

The California firm faced other problems when data breaches at the site compromised user information. Other sharp criticism hit Facebook when false reports on its site sparked violence in places like Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

​Using social media to sow division

“Are America’s technology companies serving as instruments of freedom?” asked Kevin McCarthy, R-California and the House Majority Leader during a congressional hearing. “Or are they serving as instruments of manipulation used by powerful interests and foreign governments to rob the people of their power, agency, and dignity?”

Adding to concerns, the year saw new revelations of foreign operatives using social media to secretly spread divisive and often bogus messages in the U.S. and worldwide.

“It doesn’t matter to whose benefit they were operating,” said Walt Mossberg, a former tech columnist with the Wall Street Journal. “What bothers people here is that a foreign country, using our social networks, digital products and services that we have come to feel comfortable in … has come in and used that against us.”

​Tech workers stand up

In addition to data privacy and misinformation, online speech became a big issue this year. Under pressure, social media companies like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook’s Instagram tightened restrictions on the kinds of speech they tolerate on their sites.

Tech workers pressed managers about their company’s government contracts, and Google workers staged a worldwide walkout over the treatment of female colleagues.

The issue of user data has led some companies such as LatticeWork, a data storage firm, to create new ways for users to protect their data and themselves. Playing off people’s concerns about data, LatticeWorks markets its products as a way to “bring your data home.”

#DeleteFacebook?

What’s unclear however is whether concerns about personal data and tech company decisions will spur users to leave these services. Facebook revelations prompted some like Mossberg to give up Facebook and its other services such as Instagram. He wants federal law to limit U.S. internet firms collection and use of user data.

“Governments and citizens of countries around the world need the right to regulate them without closing down free speech,” he said. “And that’s tricky.”

Some congressional members have vowed to pass a federal data privacy bill in the coming year, something that tech firms say they support.

But whether new regulations build trust in digital services remains to be seen.

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Lampert Makes $4.4 Billion Bid to Keep Sears Alive

Sears Holdings Corp. Chairman Eddie Lampert submitted a $4.4 billion takeover bid for the bankrupt U.S. retailer, representing its only chance of escaping liquidation and laying off tens of thousands of workers, a spokesman for the billionaire’s hedge fund said Friday.

Lampert’s bid is backed in part by $1.3 billion in financing from three different financial institutions, the spokesman for his hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc., said. It would preserve about 425 stores that Sears has yet to close and secure the jobs of up to 50,000 workers out of the 68,000 employed by the retailer. An affiliate of ESL, Transform Holdco LLC, submitted the bid, the spokesman said.

​People familiar with the matter said the financing comes from Sears’ existing lenders Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc, as well Royal Bank of Canada, which was not previously a lender, which together agreed to provide a $950 million asset-based loan and a $350 million revolving credit line.

Some of Lampert’s bid relies on $1.8 billion of Sears debt that ESL already holds and plans to forgive to back the offer, the sources said. The bid also includes about $400 million in financing from non-bank lenders, the sources said.

The bid contemplates assuming protection agreements Sears has previously sold to reassure customers who have bought appliances, televisions, lawn tractors and other big-ticket items, the ESL spokesman said.

“Factoring for all considerations, we believe that our going concern bid provides the best path forward for the company, the best option to save tens of thousands of jobs and is superior for all of Sears’ stakeholders to the alternative of a complete liquidation,” the ESL spokesman said. “Much work remains and there is no assurance our proposal will be completed.”

Next move is Sears’

Sears will now evaluate the bid to determine whether it is viable, and there remains a possibility the company could reject it, some of the sources said.

A Sears spokeswoman declined to comment. Bank representatives either had no immediate comment or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A U.S. bankruptcy court judge must approve any sale of Sears. The judge will weigh the opinions of other stakeholders, including unsecured creditors who have argued they could recover more of their investment if the department store operator winds down.

Without the financing or another buyer, Sears faces the prospect of closing its doors for good and putting roughly 68,000 people out of work.

​125-year-old retailer

The 125-year-old retailer filed for bankruptcy Oct. 15 and developed plans to restructure around the sale of 500 stores and businesses including Kenmore, DieHard and the company’s home services division. Only Lampert’s ESL offered to buy the entire company.

The only other bids Sears has received are from suitors interested in pieces of the company and liquidators prepared to run going-out-of-business sales at stores and shut down the retailer.

Sears dates back to the late 1880s. Its mail-order catalogs with merchandise ranging from toys, medicine and gramophones to automobiles, kit houses and tombstones made it the Amazon.com Inc. of its time.

But the iconic retailer gradually lost its shine as consumers increasingly favored brick-and-mortar rivals such as Walmart Inc and Target Corp and e-commerce.

Lampert, who through ESL is Sears’ biggest shareholder and creditor, formed Sears Holdings in 2005 by acquiring Sears Roebuck in an $11 billion deal and combining it with discount chain Kmart, which he had also taken over.

Lampert had pledged to restore Sears to its glory days, when it owned the Sears Tower in Chicago, then the world’s tallest building, and companies that included a radio station and Allstate insurance. But the company stopped turning a profit in 2011, and it gradually started to sell assets, such as its legendary Craftsman brand and many of its properties, to stay afloat.

Sears Holdings listed $6.9 billion in assets and $11.3 billion in liabilities in documents filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York.

The largest U.S. toy retailer, Toys ‘R’ Us, tried to emerge from its 2017 bankruptcy filing but was forced to liquidate six months later after creditors lost confidence in its turnaround plan.

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Strong Week, Yet Horrible Month for Wall Street

Wall Street capped a week of volatile trading Friday with an uneven finish and the market’s first weekly gain since November. 

 

Losses in technology, energy and industrial stocks outweighed gains in retailers and other consumer-focused companies. Stocks spent much of the day wavering between small gains and losses, ultimately unable to maintain the momentum from a two-day winning streak. 

 

Even so, the major stock indexes closed with their first weekly gain in what’s been an otherwise painful last month of the year. The Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 rose more than 2 percent for the week, while the Nasdaq added nearly 4 percent. The indexes are still all down around 10 percent for the month and on track for their worst December since 1931. 

 

“It seems like convulsions in either direction have been the real norm for much of December and that’s certainly been the case this week,” said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager for Private Wealth Management at U.S. Bank. “The initial push higher and then seeing it subside a little bit is perhaps getting back to a little bit more of a normal environment, reflecting the reality that we have still a number of issues overhanging the market.” 

 

The market’s sharp downturn since October has intensified this month, erasing all its 2018 gains and nudging the S&P 500 closer to its worst year since 2008. 

 

Investors have grown worried that the testy U.S.-China trade dispute and higher interest rates would slow the economy, hurting corporate profits. This week, with trading volumes lower than usual because of the Christmas holiday, served up some pronounced swings in the market. 

 

A steep sell-off during the shortened trading session on Christmas Eve left the major indexes down more than 2 percent. On Wednesday, stocks mounted a stunning rebound, posting the market’s best day in 10 years as the Dow shot up more than 1,000 points for its biggest single-day point gain ever. 

Late reversal

 

The market appeared ready to give much of those gains back on Thursday, before a late-afternoon reversal that erased a 600-point drop in the Dow left the market with a two-day winning streak. 

 

“The market was so oversold and then Wednesday and Thursday were key reversal days, but also stronger closes than opens,” said Janet Johnston, portfolio manager at TrimTabs Asset Management. 

 

“The market was starting to price in the worst-case scenario: a recession,” Johnston said 

 

Still, the market’s downturn has left stocks substantially less expensive than they were heading into the fourth quarter, Johnston noted. 

 

“And that sets up a good buying opportunity,” she said. 

 

On Friday, the S&P 500 index fell 3.09 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,485.74. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 76.42 points, or 0.3 percent, to 23,062.40. The average had briefly climbed to 243 points. 

 

The Nasdaq added 5.03 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,584.52. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks climbed 6.11 points, or 0.5 percent, to  1,337.92. 

 

Technology companies, a big driver of the market’s gains before things deteriorated in October, were among the big decliners. Alliance Data Systems dropped 1.4 percent to $149.82. 

 

Oil prices recovered after wavering in midmorning trading. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 1.6 percent to settle at $45.33 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, inched up 0.1 percent to close at $52.20 a barrel in London. 

 

Despite the rise in oil prices, energy sector stocks declined. Cabot Oil & Gas slid 3.5 percent to $22.95, while Hess lost 2.8 percent to $40.38. 

 

Retailers and other consumer-focused companies fared better. Amazon rose 1.1 percent to $1,478.02. 

 

Wells Fargo settlement

Wells Fargo rose 0.5 percent to $45.78 on news that the lender has agreed to pay $575 million in a national settlement with state attorneys general over its fake bank accounts scandal. The San Francisco-based bank has acknowledged that its employees opened millions of unauthorized bank accounts for customers in order to meet unrealistic sales goals. 

 

Tesla climbed 5.6 percent to $333.87 after naming two independent directors to its board under an agreement with federal regulators. 

 

Homebuilders fell broadly in the morning after the National Association of Realtors said its pending home sales index fell last month as fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes. Higher mortgage rates and prices are squeezing would-be buyers out of the market, especially in the West. The stocks mostly recovered by midafternoon. William Lyon Homes gained 3.4 percent to $10.81. 

 

Bond prices recovered after a midday dip, sending the yield on the 10-year Treasury down to 2.72 percent from 2.74 percent late Thursday. 

 

The dollar declined to 110.41 yen from Thursday’s 110.74 yen. The euro weakened to $1.1442 from $1.1449. 

 

Gold edged up 0.1 percent to $1,283 an ounce and silver gained 0.8 percent to $15.44 an ounce. Copper rose 0.5 percent to $2.68 a pound. 

 

Overseas, major indexes in Europe closed higher while markets in Asia mostly rose. London’s FTSE 100 gained 2.3 percent, while the Nikkei 225 index fell 0.3 percent.  

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US Army Looks for a Few Good Robots, Sparks Industry Battle

The U.S. Army is looking for a few good robots. Not to fight — not yet, at least — but to help the men and women who do.

These robots aren’t taking up arms, but the companies making them have waged a different kind of battle. At stake is a contract worth almost half a billion dollars for 3,000 backpack-sized robots that can defuse bombs and scout enemy positions. Competition for the work has spilled over into Congress and federal court.

The project and others like it could someday help troops “look around the corner, over the next hillside and let the robot be in harm’s way and let the robot get shot,” said Paul Scharre, a military technology expert at the Center for a New American Security.

 

WATCH: US Army Looks for a Few Good Robots, Sparks Industry Battle

The big fight over small robots opens a window into the intersection of technology and national defense and shows how fear that China could surpass the U.S. drives even small tech startups to play geopolitics to outmaneuver rivals. It also raises questions about whether defense technology should be sourced solely to American companies to avoid the risk of tampering by foreign adversaries.

Regardless of which companies prevail, the competition foreshadows a future in which robots, which are already familiar military tools, become even more common. The Army’s immediate plans alone envision a new fleet of 5,000 ground robots of varying sizes and levels of autonomy. The Marines, Navy and Air Force are making similar investments.

“My personal estimate is that robots will play a significant role in combat inside of a decade or a decade and a half,” the chief of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, said in May at a Senate hearing where he appealed for more money to modernize the force.

Milley warned that adversaries like China and Russia “are investing heavily and very quickly” in the use of aerial, sea and ground robots. And now, he added, “we are doing the same.”

Such a shift will be a “huge game-changer for combat,” said Scharre, who credits Milley’s leadership for the push.

The promise of such big Pentagon investments in robotics has been a boon for U.S. defense contractors and technology startups. But the situation is murkier for firms with foreign ties.

Concerns that popular commercial drones made by Chinese company DJI could be vulnerable to spying led the Army to ban their use by soldiers in 2017. And in August, the Pentagon published a report that said China is conducting espionage to acquire foreign military technologies — sometimes by using students or researchers as “procurement agents and intermediaries.” At a December defense expo in Egypt, some U.S. firms spotted what they viewed as Chinese knock-offs of their robots.

The China fears came to a head in a bitter competition between Israeli firm Roboteam and Massachusetts-based Endeavor Robotics over a series of major contracts to build the Army’s next generation of ground robots. Those machines will be designed to be smarter and easier to deploy than the remote-controlled rovers that have helped troops disable bombs for more than 15 years.

The biggest contract — worth $429 million — calls for mass producing 25-pound robots that are light, easily maneuverable and can be “carried by infantry for long distances without taxing the soldier,” said Bryan McVeigh, project manager for force projection at the Army’s research and contracting center in Warren, Michigan.

Other bulkier prototypes are tank-sized unmanned supply vehicles that have been tested in recent weeks in the rough and wintry terrain outside Fort Drum, New York.

A third $100 million contract — won by Endeavor in late 2017 — is for a midsized reconnaissance and bomb-disabling robot nicknamed the Centaur.

The competition escalated into a legal fight when Roboteam accused Endeavor, a spinoff of iRobot, which makes Roomba vacuum cleaners, of dooming its prospects for those contracts by hiring a lobbying firm that spread false information to politicians about the Israeli firm’s Chinese investors.

A federal judge dismissed Roboteam’s lawsuit in April.

“They alleged that we had somehow defamed them,” said Endeavor CEO Sean Bielat, a former Marine who twice ran for Congress as a Republican. “What we had done was taken publicly available documents and presented them to members of Congress because we think there’s a reason to be concerned about Chinese influence on defense technologies.”

The lobbying firm, Boston-based Sachem Strategies, circulated a memo to members of the House Armed Services Committee. Taking up Endeavor’s cause was Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat — and, like Bielat, a Marine veteran — who wrote a letter to a top military official in December 2016 urging the Army to “examine the evidence of Chinese influence” before awarding the robot contracts.

Six other lawmakers later raised similar concerns.

Roboteam CEO Elad Levy declined to comment on the dispute but said the firm is still “working very closely with U.S. forces,” including the Air Force, and other countries. But it’s no longer in the running for the lucrative Army opportunities.

Endeavor is. Looking something like a miniature forklift on tank treads, its prototype called the Scorpion has been zipping around a test track behind an office park in a Boston suburb.

The only other finalist is just 20 miles away at the former Massachusetts headquarters of Foster-Miller, now a part of British defense contractor Qinetiq. The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The contract is expected to be awarded in early 2019.

Both Endeavor and Qinetiq have strong track records with the U.S. military, having supplied it with its earlier generation of ground robots such as Endeavor’s Packbot and Qinetiq’s Talon and Dragon Runner.

After hiding the Scorpion behind a shroud at a recent Army conference, Bielat and engineers at Endeavor showed it for the first time publicly to The Associated Press in November. Using a touchscreen controller that taps into the machine’s multiple cameras, an engineer navigated it through tunnels, over a playground-like structure and through an icy pool of water, and used its grabber to pick up objects.

It’s a smaller version of its predecessor, the Packbot, which was first used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2002 and later became one of soldiers’ essential tools for safely disabling improvised explosives in Iraq. Bielat said the newer Scorpion and Centaur robots are designed to be easier for the average soldier to use quickly without advanced technical training.

“Their primary job is to be a rifle squad member,” Bielat said. “They don’t have time to mess with the robot. They’re going to demand greater levels of autonomy.”

It will be a while, however, before any of these robots become fully autonomous. The Defense Department is cautious about developing battlefield machines that make their own decisions. That sets the U.S. apart from efforts by China and Russia to design artificially intelligent warfighting arsenals.

A November report from the Congressional Research Service said that despite the Pentagon’s “insistence” that a human must always be in the loop, the military could soon feel compelled to develop fully autonomous systems if rivals do the same. Or, as with drones, humans will still pull the trigger, but a far-away robot will lob the bombs.

Said P.W. Singer, a strategist for the New America Foundation think tank: “China has showed off armed ones. Russia has showed them off. It’s coming.”

 

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