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Wednesday
Aug082018

The Parker Solar Probe will give NASA its closest look ever at the sun

NASA(NEW YORK) -- NASA is launching a mission to get closer than its ever gotten before to the sun, its corona and solar wind. The mission, called Parker Solar Probe, will launch Saturday.

Here is what you need to know about the Parker Solar Probe.

What is Parker Solar Probe (PSP)?

PSP is the only NASA mission, scientific probe to study the sun’s corona and solar wind. The mission is named for Dr. Eugene Parker, a physicist at the University of Chicago who proposed the existence of solar wind. It is the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher.

This mission is the brainchild of Parker, who long ago predicted the turbulence of solar energy and its impact on our planet. At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises."

How does the probe work?

It will be the fastest human-made object with speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour, able to survive million degree temperatures, orbiting the sun just 4 million miles from its surface, after a 90 million mile trip, to get the first measurements of the sun's energy.

What are the challenges in this mission?


The temperature near the sun's corona can be viewed as an obstacle, according to Geoffrey Brown, a public affair officer with the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

“The spacecraft must operate in the sun’s corona, where temperatures can reach millions of degrees," Brown told ABC News via email. "To protect itself, the spacecraft has a thermal protection system, or heat shield, that will provide a shadow in which the spacecraft will 'hide' to perform its scientific data gathering. The outer sun-facing side of the shield will reach 2,500 Fahrenheit at closest approach to the sun."

What does Parker Solar Probe mean for humanity?

“The mission will unlock mysteries of the corona, including why it’s so much hotter than the surface of the sun which is about 10,000 Farenheit,” Brown said.

How close can you get to the sun without being burned?

Parker Solar Probe will find out if its cutting edge heat shields will work -- this death-defying spacecraft will fly daringly close to the sun -- closer than any spacecraft before it. Just imagine how sizzling hot it is even without the advanced heat protection that will keep this tiny space probe from burning to a crisp.

Why is the mission important?

This mission is exciting because never before have we had the opportunity to get this close to the sun. Solar weather isn’t something most of us are aware of -- not like approaching thunderstorms or blizzards or tornadoes -- but it impacts our technology, our satellites, the electric grid and our communications networks.

Also, astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi says this is one of NASA’s most exciting missions.

“We need to get an up-close view to see this solar processes, to improve our understanding of how the sun works," Oluseyi said. "This will help us understand how stars interact with [the] planets that orbit them and may give rise to new technologies."

David Rice, director of Rice University’s Space Program, says you cannot overestimate the importance of this mission.

"It will help us understand a fundamental aspect of the sun-earth interaction, the solar wind," Rice said.

When will the Parker Solar Probe be launched?

The launch is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 11 at 3:48 a.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It will be launched on a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The Parker Solar Probe launch has been delayed several times already, but must launch by Aug. 19 to line up flyby of venus, which will act as a slingshot to get PSP into the right trajectory away from earth toward the sun, for its seven-year mission, orbiting the sun seven times.

How long will the whole mission last?

“The mission is slated for a seven-year primary mission,” Brown said.

What is Johns Hopkins’ role in the Parker Solar Probe?

“The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) designed, built, and will manage the mission for NASA," Brown said. "APL will operate the spacecraft from a mission operations center on APL’s campus in Laurel, Maryland."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Aug082018

South Koreans eat 'bingsu' shaved ice to beat record heat

ABC News(CHIANG RAI, Thailand) -- It's been a record hot summer in South Korea and locals are turning to a sweet treat to beat the heat: "bingsu," or shaved ice.

There are so many varieties of bingsu and most contain sweet red beans and sweetened milk.

Last year Tiravento in Seoul invented a string-like milk ice bingsu that's made with a secret beverage base powder.

Local Gina Kim tried the store's green tea bingsu ice and said it "was out of this world."

“I like the idea of using a knife and fork to eat this Bingsu and the way the thick milky ice melts in my mouth,” she told ABC News.

Pure Arena café introduced a bingsu for adults only. It's served with Kahlua liquor and vodka-soaked gummy bears on the side.

“Compared to last year, bingsu sales increased by a great deal,” Pure Arena’s manager, Jang Dae-han, told ABC News. “Customers come for our 19-rated bingsu because of its uniqueness.”

Seochon Lab café serves its bingsu in a real coconut bowl. The banana-flavored ice cream becomes a mouthwatering delight when mixed with an espresso topping. Only 20 coconut bingsus are prepared each day.

The Reverse Brothers puts its bingsu in watermelon, pineapple and honeydew. The small, family-run business is always overflowing with customers.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Aug082018

Thailand grants citizenship to some of the boys and coach rescued from cave 

Linh Pham/Getty Images(CHIANG RAI, Thailand) -- Three of the boys and a soccer coach rescued from a cave in Thailand last month have been granted citizenship, Thailand’s foreign ministry told ABC News Wednesday.

All four had previously been stateless, but had applied for Thai citizenship before they became trapped in the cave.

The three players -- Adul Sam-on, Mongkol Boonpiam and Pornchai Kamluang -- and their coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, were rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand after they were found trapped along with nine other young soccer players. Divers mounted a daring mission to get them out, captivating people worldwide.

Thailand is home to ethnic minorities and tribes with roots in neighboring countries, including Myanmar, Laos and China, who are considered stateless. The cave is located close to the border of Myanmar.

The three boys and coach were born in Thailand, according to the Associated Press, but did not have citizenship, which deprived them of some benefits and rights like the ability to travel outside the region.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Aug082018

US to hit Russia with new sanctions after poisoning of former Russian double agent and daughter

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration has determined Russia violated a law prohibiting the use of chemical or biological weapons and is imposing mandatory sanctions in response to the assassination attempt by nerve agent on UK citizens Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Russia will be denied the export of any national security-sensitive goods or technology. Previously, national security-sensitive goods were exported to Russia only on a case-by-case basis.

The new sanctions effect goods such as gas turbine engines, electronic devices and equipment, circuits and calibration equipment. A senior State Department official estimated the sanctions could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in trade with Russia.

The Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 outlines the criteria Russia must meet to avoid a second, more punishing round of sanctions that could be imposed in 90 days. Those additional sanctions include a restriction on flights from Moscow Aeroflot airlines to the United States, restrictions on U.S. bank loans, more export and import restrictions, including gas and petroleum, and even a downgrade of diplomatic relations.

To avoid the sanctions, Russia would need to prove it is not and will not in the future use chemical or biological weapons, and allow impartial observers to verify compliance.

A senior State Department official said Russia was notified of the decision this afternoon, but would not characterize any response from Russia.

Russia has denied responsibility for the attack.

The response comes a little more than five months after Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter, were poisoned in Salisbury, England with a nerve agent called Novichok, and left in critical condition.

British intelligence accused Russia of an assassination attempt, and shortly after, President Trump signed a joint statement with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany saying Russia was likely responsible for the attack. Trump also ordered 60 Russians expelled from the U.S. and shuttered the Russian consulate in Seattle.

Russia responded by closing the American consulate in St. Petersburg and expelling western diplomats.

Some exceptions to the sanctions required under law, or “carve-outs,” are being made. Among the exceptions are sanctions related to space flight activity due to United States dependence on the Russian federation in several ongoing space projects, and sale of commercial passenger aviation safety equipment. Foreign assistance to Russia will also continue as a “tool of power and influence,” according to a senior State Department official.

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Tuesday
Aug072018

US declines to take sides in heated Saudi, Canadian fight over human rights

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. is declining to take sides between Saudi Arabia and Canada after the Middle Eastern nation's extraordinary reaction to Canada's condemnation of the arrest of a Saudi Arabian human rights activist.

Saudi officials reacted with fury to the criticism: expelling Canada’s ambassador and withdrawing their own ambassador from Canada, suspending flights from Saudi Arabia to Canada, halting all new Saudi business and investments in Canada, and issuing what to many Canadians appeared to be a veiled threat of terrorist violence.

To critics, the diplomatic dispute over freedom of speech and human rights has underscored how the U.S. at times stays quiet on human rights issues in certain friendly countries.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the U.S. raises such issues privately with Saudi Arabia -- and that it is up to the Saudis and Canadians to work this out, but she declined to condemn the activist's arrest.

The activist is Samar Badawi, a noted women's rights advocate who was honored as an International Women of Courage Award Winner by the U.S. State Department in 2012.

Badawi was the first woman to sue her father to block him from preventing her from marrying the man she wanted to, and the first woman to sue the government to demand the right to vote, according to the State Department.

She was arrested last week after years of punishment by Saudi authorities, including a 2014 travel ban and a 2016 arrest.

But she's also one of as many as a dozen women arrested in recent months, even as the kingdom's young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has tried to improve the country's image and taken steps to grant women more freedoms -- including drivers' licenses.

After pushing to grant women that right -- Saudi Arabia was the last country on the globe to do so -- MBS, as he is known, appears be punishing the very women who led the charge for it.

Badawi is also the sister of famed blogger Raif Badawi, who has been jailed since 2012 for his writings that were critical of the government and sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes. Raif's wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children moved to Canada and became Canadian citizens earlier this year.

With that connection, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland took to Twitter to express her alarm and call for both Samar and Raif Badawi's release.

Furious at foreign condemnation, Saudi Arabia immediately took steps to strike back at Canada for Freeland's criticism.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry called the criticism "a major, unacceptable affront," "a violation of the Kingdom’s sovereignty," and "a blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocols," according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The Foreign Ministry also withdrew the Saudi ambassador to Canada and declared the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia "persona non grata," expelling him.

"The Kingdom will put on hold all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action," the Saudi Press Agency added as well.

Saudi Airlines reportedly suspended flights to Canada, and some 12,000 Saudi citizens studying at Canadian universities were being moved to "programs in other countries with similar education systems, such as the United Kingdom," according to the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail.

But the harsh response didn't end there. A Saudi government-linked account tweeted an image of a plane flying toward the Toronto skyline, with the warning, "He who interferes with what doesn't concern him finds what doesn't please him."

The post was later deleted, and the Saudi Ministry of Media, which oversees the account, said the account had been suspended pending an investigation.

The Canadians expressed outrage at the overwhelming response from the Saudis, with Freeland issuing a statement saying Canadian "deeply concerned."

"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, including women's rights and freedom of expression around the world. We will never hesitate to promote these values, and we believe that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy," she said.

While Canada is one of the U.S.'s treaty allies and shares values like women's rights and free civil society, Saudi Arabia has traditionally been referred to as a "partner," given the close economic and security ties, despite differences on issues like freedom of expression and religion. But the Trump administration is not taking a side in this fight.

A State Department spokesperson described both nations as "partners" to ABC News Tuesday.

"We are aware of Government of Saudi Arabia’s statement recalling the Saudi ambassador to Canada and expelling Canada’s ambassador," the spokesperson said. "Canada and Saudi Arabia are both close partners of the United States. I refer you to the Canadian and Saudi Ministries of Foreign Affairs for further information."

Spokesperson Heather Nauert added during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday that the U.S. has raised similar issues with Saudi Arabia.

"We would encourage the government of Saudi Arabia overall to address and respect due process and also publicize information on some of its legal cases."

Yet when asked to condemn Badawi's arrest, she declined.

"Some of these issues we choose to discuss privately with our friends, with our partners, with our allies," Nauert said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Aug072018

US officials to dodge Iraqi import laws by sending painkillers in diplomatic mail

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. government has apparently resorted to packing powerful painkillers in diplomatic pouches usually reserved for sensitive documents in order to circumvent import laws in Iraq and ensure paramilitary medics are well-stocked in case of emergency, according to a new government report.

The disclosure came in a State Department Inspector General report published online Monday that said for more than a year contract medics on protective detail for U.S. officials in the Middle Eastern nation have gone without required medication like Ketamine, Diazepam, Midazolam, Morphine, and Oxycodone.

"Although [State Department medical departments] cleared these controlled medications in [defense contractor] Triple Canopy’s paramedic clinical protocols, the Government of Iraq subsequently denied the company the license to import the controlled medications," the report says. "These medications are needed to manage the pain of any severely injured personnel."

The report says U.S. officials initially tried to work with Triple Canopy, which provides “protective movement security services” for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and the Iraqi government to settle the issue, but State Department officials ultimately came up with a more creative solution: sending the drugs in diplomatic mail.

Diplomatic mail is more associated with the ferrying of official communications and other sensitive documents, and are generally protected from scrutiny in foreign countries by the Vienna Convention.

Steve Ganyard, a former State Department official and current ABC News contributor, said he'd "never heard of anything like this," but said the use of the diplomatic mail "sounds like a good work around."

"Barring any issues, [State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security] expects the first shipment of medicines to be sent to Baghdad in July 2018," says the report, which indicates it was written in June.

Officials at the State Department have not responded to questions about whether the drugs made the trip. An official at the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C. has not responded to an off-hours request for comment for this report.

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Tuesday
Aug072018

Europe battles wildfires amid massive heat wave

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Europe is still experiencing a major heat wave, but forecasters promise some respite over the next 24 hours as rain in Scandinavia and thunderstorms across the United Kingdom help bring temperatures down.

In Portugal, an oppressive four-day wildfire in the south of the country flared up again Tuesday, a day after the Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said firefighters had contained some 95 percent of the blaze.

France is still in the midst of a heat wave, with temperatures in Paris hitting 97 degrees. French publication The Local dubbed the day "Terrible Tuesday" as temperatures in some parts of the country were expected to hit 99 degrees. The Local reports traffic is being curbed in both Lyon and Paris to try to reduce air pollution.

France's national weather service said this heat wave could be among the "top three" hottest on record.

In Spain, more than 2,000 people have been evacuated in the Valencia region due to almost a dozen separate wildfires.

Wildfires in Sweden are finally under control after rainstorms Monday night. And in Finland, one Helsinki supermarket opened its doors last weekend to customers seeking refuge from the heat, according to a video posted to the store's Facebook page. On Saturday night, 100 people slept in the cool aisles next to the frozen vegetables.

In Ireland, wildfires have revealed a World War II-era "Eire" signal, under the charred brush, designed to signal to air crews that they were over neutral Irish territory. The word Eire means Ireland in the Irish language. The Defense Forces Air Corps noticed the landmark while helping fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in England, people are eagerly awaiting the thunderstorms forecast for Tuesday evening to help cool things off.

The Met Office, the U.K.'s national weather service, issued a yellow alert for the southeast of the country, warning that "frequent lightning may occur, along with heavy rain."

The weather agency added that "large hail and sudden strong gusts of wind" are also likely to hit eastern England.

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Monday
Aug062018

Pilot daughter makes her flight attendant mom's dream come true

Ashrrita Chinchankar(MUMBAI, India) -- When Ashrrita Chinchankar’s mother, Pooja, first started working as a flight attendant for Air India, she would look at the few female pilots she saw around her and feel awe at their air of command and the respect they were accorded.

This was 1980, when women in positions of power in India were few and far between, despite a female prime minister leading the country.

"She would look at the airline captains and always think - how cool would it be to have a daughter one day who became like them," Ashrrita told ABC News.

And that is why, nearly four decades later, no flight was more momentous for a mother and daughter than the one they took from Bengaluru to Mumbai last week.

After all, it was Pooja's last flight as a flight attendant, the culmination of a 38-year long career, and at the helm of the plane was her daughter, the pilot.

"I was excited, but my mother was on top of the world," Ashrrita said.

They weren't the only ones. Not long after landing, Ashrrita posted a message about the special flight -- and her tweet went viral.

"So happy and honoured to be able to pilot the one flight that mattered. It was my mom’s dream to have me pilot her last flight as an Air Hostess with @airindiain :) As she retires after her glorious 38 years of service, I will be carrying on with her legacy?? #grateful #proud," she wrote.

Before she knew it, the tweet had garnered thousands of likes and retweets. News organizations and radio stations from across the world asked to profile the mother and daughter. And hundreds of people, from strangers on Twitter to far-off relatives in Dubai, were congratulating the two and sharing their own heartwarming stories of love and legacy.

Even India's government-run national carrier, Air India, joined in on the praise.

"Our heartfelt wishes to your mother and you for this special flight when she passes the baton on to you to have the privilege of serving our passengers with dedication. The legacy lives on," the airline tweeted.

So how was it for Ashrrita to fly her own mother?

"Awkward," she laughs. "It was strange to have to refer to my mother as 'ma’am' and her call me 'captain'. And she kept teasing me, asking me, 'So captain, how do you like your coffee?' even though she knew very well how I like my coffee."

Nevertheless, she says, it was also great fun. The significance of what they were sharing never escaped them.

Ashrrita later posted a video of her mother being applauded by passengers on the flight. In the video, the main captain of the flight (Ashrrita was the first officer) announced Pooja's achievement, and she walked down the aisle of the plane to applause and hugs from the other cabin crew.

The story of the Chinchankars is especially remarkable in a country starved of gender diversity in its workforce. The Economist recently published a damning series of reports based on International Monetary Fund statistics that showed that the participation of women in India's labor market was among the lowest in the world, and had actually fallen from 35% in 2005 to just 26% now.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Aug062018

Defense Department bans geolocation features on tech devices due to security risk

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Fitbit(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Defense is prohibiting personnel from using geolocation features on their devices while serving in certain locations after concerns that the information transmitted from such devices was jeopardizing the security of American forces around the world, including those deployed in classified or sensitive areas.

The new policy, which is effective immediately, follows reports from earlier this year that some wearable electronic devices, like the popular Fitbit, can convey users' GPS coordinates in the form of publicly available online maps that display the most frequently trafficked routes of users who allowed their location to be shared.

"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally," the department said in a statement on Monday. "These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of Department personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission."

In January, a 20-year old Australian student named Nathan Ruser was exploring the online maps from Strava's Global Heatmap when he found the location of U.S. troops inside Syria.

"The biggest concerns with the data is firstly it allows an unprecedented look at the geographic build of a lot of these bases," Ruser told ABC News in January. "You can see the supply lines, you can see the patrol routes in some cases, and you can see the infrastructure within the bases. But more than that, one of the most important and disturbing elements of the map is that it’s possible to establish an understanding of how the base works."

Journalists quickly started using the Global Heatmap to identify what they believed to be the locations of other U.S. personnel, including a suspected CIA base near Mogadishu, Somalia, and U.S. troops operating in the Sahel region of Africa.

At the time, the Pentagon insisted that the classified or sensitive locations of U.S. service members had not been compromised by the data. But Defense Secretary James Mattis immediately ordered a review of the Pentagon's policies to see if there needed to be additional guidance or a new policy altogether.

The ban, announced on Monday, prohibits Department of Defense personnel "from using geolocation features and functionality on government and non-government-issued devices, applications, and services while in locations designated as operational areas."

Operational areas mostly consist of sensitive overseas locations where U.S. personnel are deployed.

Applicable devices include fitness trackers, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and related software applications, according to a copy of the policy memo sent from Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to top DoD leadership last week. Shanahan's memo also gave the military's combatant commanders guidance on how to seek authorization for the use of geolocation features should they deem it necessary.

Notably, the policy's language allows service members to continue tracking their workouts on a device like a Fitbit, as long as the geolocation feature is turned off.

Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning told reporters on Monday that the new policy ensures "we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage," while at the same time "keeping pace with technology."

"It's a necessary evolution," he added.

Those who violate the ban on geolocation features will be dealt with on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the infraction, Manning said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Aug062018

Russia makes action star Steven Seagal a special humanitarian envoy to the US

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- It's one of the oddest, if not the toughest, roles he has ever played.

Steven Seagal, the 1990s action movie star, has been enlisted as a special envoy by Russia’s foreign ministry to help promote “cultural and humanitarian links” between the country and the United States.

Russia’s foreign ministry announced the appointment in a post on its Facebook account, saying Seagal would now serve as Special Representative for Russia-US Cultural Links, Cultural and Historical Heritage. The ministry said that Seagal's role would be to implement bilateral projects in education, the arts, science and sports, as well as preserving historical sites in the U.S. connected to both countries. “We appreciate Mr. Seagal’s willingness to use his experience and authority for promotion of the Russia-US public, cultural and humanitarian links as well as for building a more positive atmosphere in bilateral affairs. We wish him every success in this capacity,” said the post, which featured a photograph of Seagal in a red kimono and orange glasses.

The ministry said that Seagal’s role would be in a voluntary capacity, and that he would receive no remuneration for it. His task, the post said, would be “strengthening direct contacts, mutual understanding and trust between the Russian and American peoples.”

Seagal greeted the appointment on Twitter, writing in a post that he was “deeply humbled and honoured [sic].”

“I hope we can strive for peace, harmony and positive results in the world," he wrote. "I take this honour very seriously."

Seagal's appointment, though surprising, does not come out of the blue. In fact, it's just the latest in a series of roles he has played for Russia in recent years.

Made famous by films such as the 1992 hit, "Under Siege" -- and "Hard to Kill" in the twilight of his career -- Seagal has recast himself as a Buddhist guru, a purveyor of peace, and the face of an eclectic assortment of brands and products.

Declared a reincarnated lama by a Buddhist master in 1997, he also has another formal role as reserve deputy sheriff in Jefferson, Louisiana, for his reality show "Steven Seagal: Lawman."

Seagal has increasingly become a fixture in Russia -- where he says his grandmother was born -- and the former Soviet Union. For the past five years, Seagal has become a sort of wandering court entertainment for leaders in former Soviet countries. He was photographed in 2016 eating a carrot with Belarus’ president Aleksander Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe’s last dictator. Last year, he appeared at the Nomad Games competition held in Kyrgyzstan, riding a horse in a full suit of armor.

But it is in Russia and with president Vladimir Putin that he has cultivated his most significant relationship. The two have regularly appeared together, making a public show of bonding around martial arts. Seagal has heaped praise on the Russian president, calling him “one of the greatest leaders in the world.”

Seagal’s love affair with Russia has also benefited him. A frequent guest at elite Russian events, he has also become friendly with other senior Russian officials, including Dmitry Rogozin, a former deputy prime minister who has overseen that nation's arms industry.

In 2013, Rogozin invited Seagal to be a business envoy for Russia's largest arms factor.

Seagal has also adopted the Kremlin’s views on many issues. He has rejected allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. 2016 election, telling a British television show it was “stupid” to think so. He has embraced Putin’s position on Crimea too, calling Russia’s seizure of the peninsula from Ukraine “very reasonable’ and performing there with his blues band. Those comments helped get him banned from Ukraine in 2014.

In 2016, Seagal was given Russian citizenship, handed his passport personally by Putin.

The idea that Seagal could act as an intermediary between the U.S. and Russia occurred to the Kremlin some years ago, according to Buzzfeed News. The news site has reported that during a meeting on the sidelines of a G-8 summit in Northern Ireland in 2013, Putin himself had suggested to then-president Barack Obama that Seagal become an honorary consul to Russia in California and Arizona and thus a possible bridge between the White House and the Kremlin.

The Americans turned down the idea, according to Buzzfeed.

“Our reaction was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” a U.S. official who was present at the meeting told the site.

Seagal is not the only star that has been pulled into Putin's orbit. The Russian president has collected something of a strange menagerie of aging foreign celebrities over the years -- in an attempt, perhaps, to burnish his own strongman image.

French actor Gerard Depardieu received Russian citizenship during a tax dispute in 2013. So did Jeff Monson, the mixed martial arts star in May, following the former World Heavyweight Boxing champion, Roy Jones Jr. in 2015.

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