Russia Points Missile at China While Holding Military Exercises With Beijing in Europe

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

Russia Points Missile at China While Holding Military Exercises With Beijing in Europe

July 13, 2017, 5:44 pm

Russia and China are joining forces for historic exercises in the Baltic Sea this month, but recent missile deployments along the two countries’ mutual border in the far east may indicate that both powers hold reservations about the other’s military growth.

A fleet of Chinese warships conducted live-fire drills Wednesday in the Mediterranean Sea as they prepared to link up with Russian vessels to conduct joint military maneuvers in the Baltic Sea, according to the Associated Press. The Sino-Russian exercise, known as Joint Sea-2017, has regional countries concerned about the introduction of another major military power on behalf of Russia, which Baltic countries and other allies of U.S.-led NATO accuse of pursuing an aggressive foreign policy.

Russia and China have also taken steps toward aligning their positions toward their mutual neighbor, North Korea. Russia and China have politically backed the reclusive, militarized state since its establishment after World War Two and throughout the Korean War in the 1950s. North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs, however, have drawn condemnation from both Russia and China, among other countries. The U.S., which backs South Korea, has been the foremost opponent of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and, under President Donald Trump, has boosted its military presence in the Asia-Pacific, something that Russia and China deeply oppose.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to discuss closer bilateral cooperation, including on security and regional affairs. After their meeting, Xi said relations between China and Russia were at their “best time in history,” according to Russian media cited by CNBC News. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Yi shared similar remarks, according to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.

China and Russia aren’t entirely getting in bed together, however, As China fired away in the Mediterranean, Russia held electronic missile launches Wednesday night to test its nuclear-capable 9K720 Iskander-M missile system in the far eastern Jewish Autonomous Region, which borders Heilongjiang province in China.

Related: Russian military bombs ‘enemy submarine’ in drills near new U.S. war games

“Upon arrival in the specified area, the squads completed the tasks of deploying the missile systems, determining the data for missile strikes and electronic missile launches,” the region’s press service said in a statement cited by Russia’s Defense Ministry and Interfax News Agency.

Chinese officers from the Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison speak to a crew member (2nd R) of the Russian guided missile cruiser Varyag (011), during a non-official port visit in Hong Kong on June 5, 2017. Russia and China’s armed forces have sought closer cooperation to counter U.S.-led NATO’s moves in Europe, but recent missile deployments may indicate mutual suspicions between the two in Asia. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

Russia’s ground missile forces in the region received their fourth and latest Iskander-M missile system last month, replacing the aging 9K79-1 Tochka-U tactical ballistic missile system, according to The Diplomat. Iskander-M, known to NATO as SS-26 Stone, is a highly mobile, short-range missile platform that has already been deployed to Russia’s militarized, Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, near which this month’s Joint Sea-2017 takes place. The weapons’ appearance in the far east, however, suggests China is the most likely target as major U.S. installations in Japan and South Korea are reportedly out of range for the missiles, which are capable of accurately hitting targets between 250 and 310 miles away.

China, for its own part, has also reportedly brought missiles to the border. A Dongfeng-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was moved to China’s northeastern Heilongjiang Province, according to The Global Times, the nationalist outlet of China’s ruling Communist Party. Dongfeng-41 has a projected range of up to 9,320 miles, making it potentially the longest range missile in the world.

Gregory Kulacki, the China project manager and senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, disputed the claims, which were also carried by international media, that a Dongfeng-41 missile was spotted in northeastern China. He said the missile seen in the video that supposedly corroborated the initial reports, was actually a new, smaller missile that may have an even longer range than the Dongfeng-41. China’s foreign ministry dismissed the claims as baseless rumors.

“According to the information provided by the Ministry of Defense, reports of the so-called military deployment are nothing more than speculation circulated on the Internet,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said January 25 during a regular press briefing. “China highly values and commends the high-level performance of the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.”

Russian servicemen equip an Iskander tactical missile system at the Army-2015 international military-technical forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 17, 2015. Russia has deployed the highly mobile, nuclear-capable weapons on its far eastern border with China, indicating what may be residual distrust at a time of heightened military cooperation with its neighbor. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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Russia Points Missile at China While Holding Military Exercises With Beijing in Europe

Kiev Pledges Reform for NATO Road Map as US Urges Russia to Ease Tensions in Ukraine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

Kiev Pledges Reform for NATO Road Map as US Urges Russia to Ease Tensions in Ukraine

NATO

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko vowed on Monday that his country will carry out reforms for it to meet the necessary standards to be able to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He added that Kiev and NATO will begin discussions on a roadmap to get Ukraine into the alliance by 2020.

His announcement came a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged, during a visit to Kiev, Russia to take the “first steps” in easing the violence in eastern Ukraine.

At loggerheads with Russia and fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine passed a law in June prioritizing NATO membership as a foreign policy goal.

Speaking alongside Poroshenko on a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledged the alliance’s support for Ukraine as it faces a bloody insurgency by pro-Russian separatists in the east.

“Russia has maintained its aggressive actions against Ukraine, but NATO and NATO allies stand by Ukraine and stand on your side,” Stoltenberg said in his opening remarks of the NATO-Ukraine Commission session in Kiev.

Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of smuggling weapons and troops across the porous border, a charge it denies. The US and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia, though Moscow has denied backing the rebels.

“Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and future in the sphere of security,” Poroshenko told reporters.

“Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted with pleasure.”

NATO leaders agreed at a summit in 2008 that Ukraine would one day become a member of the alliance and the country already contributes troops to NATO missions including in Afghanistan.

A formal NATO membership plan for Ukraine would mean meeting targets on political, economic and defense reforms, with national plans submitted annually to show progress.

But there are even larger barriers.

NATO rules state that aspiring members must “settle their international disputes by peaceful means”, meaning Ukraine would need to resolve the Donbass conflict — an insurgency by pro-Russian forces — that has so far killed more than 10,000 people.

Responding to Stoltenberg’s comments, the Kremlin said on Monday that Russia does not have troops in Ukraine.

It added: “Ukraine’s possible NATO membership will not boost stability and security in Europe.”

On Sunday, Tillerson visited Kiev and said Russia must make the first move in staunching the violence in eastern Ukraine.

Russia must take the first steps to de-escalate violence in eastern Ukraine, he said after meeting Poroshenko. He added that Washington’s primary goal is the restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Tillerson’s tough talk clearly pleased Poroshenko, who has long complained about Russian interference in his country’s east and has watched nervously as the Trump administration has sought to improve ties with Moscow.

He thanked Tillerson for the continued US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and expressed deep appreciation for his “symbolic and timely visit immediately after the meetings at the G20 in Hamburg” where US President Donald Trump met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 have driven ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

“We are also here to demonstrate NATO’s solidarity with Ukraine and our firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of your country,” Stoltenberg said.

“NATO allies do not and will not recognize Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.”

Ukraine sees NATO accession as a way to bolster its defenses against former master Moscow.

However, Kiev has yet to officially apply to start the lengthy and politically challenging process of joining the alliance.

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Asharq Al-Awsat English

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RUSSIA AND NATO WAR GAMES IN EUROPE SEE NEW PLAYER: CHINA

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

RUSSIA AND NATO WAR GAMES IN EUROPE SEE NEW PLAYER: CHINA

Russia and China have begun naval exercises in the Baltic Sea, the most significant sign of military cooperation between the two major powers in a region seen as a flashpoint for Moscow’s rivalry with Western military alliance NATO.

Russia’s ambassador to China Andrei Denisov acknowledged Friday that the joint drills conducted by Russian and Chinese armed forces were unique, especially in the increasingly militarized Baltic region, but denied that the nations were “scaring off” rival powers. The Baltics have become a major point of contention between Russia and U.S.-led NATO, which have both devoted extensive military resources toward fortifying the region’s borders. The two factions accuse one another of instigating a European arms race, but Denisov dismissed Western concerns Friday.

Related: America’s new problem? Russia wants to solve the North Korea crisis

“There is a point of novelty, but I haven’t heard anyone expressing much concern over this so-called ‘threat.’ The Baltic States repeat their usual incantations, but at the same time, they take for granted the fact that NATO is deploying large forces on their territory,” Denisov told reporters, according to the state-run TASS Russian News Agency.

“Those who are scared off are inclined to being scared,” he added.

RTSOJ3RA Chinese soldier waves farewell to Russian fleets as the Chinese-Russian joint naval drill concludes in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province, China, September 19, 2016. Russia and China, which trail behind only the U.S. in military power, have sought greater cooperation in recent years and have begun joint naval drills in the highly contested Baltic Sea, where NATO has raised its defenses.STRINGER/REUTERS

The Joint Sea-2017 drills began last week as China deployed a fleet consisting of guided missile destroyer Changsha, mulitpurpose frigate Yuncheng, one comprehensive supply ship, ship-borne helicopters and a number of marines to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, a Baltic exclave of Russia located between Lithuania and Poland, Xinhua News Agency and Reuters reported. Days later, a U.S. spy plan and Russian jet reportedly came within five feet of one other over the Baltic Sea during an incident in which both nations said the other was at fault.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told journalists last week that China’s cooperation with Russia, who he referred as a country that is “not setting an example in the field in real life and by way of actions,” could threaten regional stability, The Baltic Times reported. In response, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement maintaing that the exercises were routine and intended to “strengthen and bolster Russian-Chinese relations regarding overall strategic cooperation,” according to TASS Russian News Agency. Additional drills are scheduled for mid-July.

GettyImages-605476586Chinese and Russian marines take part in the 400-meter sea-crossing and landing training as a par of the China-Russia naval drill ‘Joint Sea-2016’ on September 13, 2016 in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province of China. The two countries have recently signed a road map for greater military cooperation and may also seek to form a united front to counter U.S. pressure on North Korea and its nuclear weapons program. LI JIN/VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES

Denisov’s remarks Friday came one day after Russia and China signed a roadmap for military cooperation and just ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled visit Monday at the invitation of his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. Throughout the two-day visit the pair were expected to “examine the full spectrum of relations within the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China, as well as current international and regional matters,” according to the Kremlin’s official website, which also anticipated that the leaders would sign bilateral agreements.

Observers often rank Russia and China as the world’s second and third strongest military powers, respectively, behind the U.S. The two have frequently teamed up against initiatives led by the West in the U.N.  and Russia has recently entered a political spat involving the U.S. and China over nuclear-armed North Korea in the Asia-Pacific.

Trump: The Result Of An Affluenza Child Now An Affluenza Old Man

 

My commentary this evening was brought on by President Trumps latest immature tweets about the two folks who do a radio program called ‘The Morning Joe’. Like most Americans I wish that our President would be banned from Twitter as long as he is still our President because he does tend to say many things that are beneath the dignity of the Office he holds. Mr. Trump in my opinion has done many things to show his lack of knowledge since he has been in Office like not knowing that his favorite former President had died more than 15 years before the Civil War ever started yet was speaking about how he was distraught about that war. He has shown that he knew basically nothing about issues in the Middle East even though he liked to brag how he knew more than our military Generals knew and he has made it clear that he has no need for morning briefings from our Intelligence Agency Heads. Yet to me the most embarrassing thing he has done yet is how he acted at the group photo at the last NATO Summit. When he pushed the Prime Minister out of the front row center spot that he, Mr. Trump wanted to be in, he actually embarrassed me that he was even an American let alone our President.

 

Most of us probably remember at least a little bit about the young man in California that was nicknamed the ‘affluenza’ brat from a wealthy family who killed 4 people (if I remember correctly) while driving a car while drunk. His lawyer was able to get him off with just probation and no jail time because he had been raised ‘to wealthy’ to know right from wrong. He must have had an amazing lawyer and or an incompetent Judge for that verdict to have happened. You would think that a child who is being raised in a home where the family is in need of nothing would be a very grateful young person and not a menace to society but this is not always the reality. There is also another issue here in America where our legal system does not tolerate parents if they in any way discipline their child and the children know this so many act out like pure spoiled brats. Yet when a child acts out at school the courts then blame the parents for doing a bad job of raising their child when in many cases it is the politicians and courts that are to blame and not the parents.

 

I have always been a person who has been pleased when someone I know accomplishes something like being able to purchase a new car or is able to buy a new house or even be able to purchase a new living room suite or a new lawn mower. I have always been pleased when a person through their hard work or even good luck is able to become quite wealthy, as long as they did it honestly and decently. When a person obtains their wealth through stealing from other people then I have no respect for them.

 

Donald Trump grew up in a very wealthy household and all I can say about that is, good for him. His Dad taught him many things in his childhood years, some good some bad, just like most parents do. Donald Trump was given millions from his Dad when he graduated college and all I can say to that is, good for him. The issue I have with Donald Trump is his pure greed and huge ego as those two issues are an embarrassment to any person whom possesses them. Mr. Trump has bullied and stolen his way into becoming the billionaire that he is on the backs of anyone he felt he could ‘get over’ on. He has proven without any doubt that money is his God and when this is so a person tends to act like an immature habitual liar just as he is today and it appears that he has always been. I will end this commentary with this one thought and hope, for our Nations sake I really hope that somehow Mr. Trump would grow up and act like a responsible adult and quit acting like a little spoiled affluenza child in an old man’s body.

Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(IS TRUMPS HIDING HIS TAX ISSUES BECAUSE HE HIMSELF HAS BEEN THE TRAITOR IN CHIEF WITH PUTIN?)(TRS)

Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat

Story highlights

  • Trump lashes out at Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia
  • Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia

Washington (CNN) As President Donald Trump lashes out at former President Barack Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia for election meddling, Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials.

“I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did
nothing about it,” Trump told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday. “To me — in other words — the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it.”
But the Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the President is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.
“I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.
Top intelligence officials have raised alarm about Russia’s cyberattacks, calling them a “major threat” to the US election system. In public hearings on Capitol Hill and classified briefings behind closed doors, intelligence officials have drawn the same conclusions: Russia launched an unprecedented attack on America’s electoral process during the 2016 presidential campaign and — barring a full-throated response from the US — the Russians are almost certain to do so again.
It’s a warning some fear the White House isn’t taking seriously.
In a recent closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers expressed frustration to lawmakers about his inability to convince the President to accept US intelligence that Russia meddled in the election, according to a congressional source familiar with the meeting.
Another congressional source said Rogers has shared concerns with lawmakers about the lack of White House focus on the continued threat from Russian cyber efforts, particularly relating to US voting systems. In addition, the US intelligence community sees such potential threats not only from Russia but also from China, North Korea and Iran.
One intelligence official said the intelligence community continues to brief Trump on Russia’s meddling in the election as new information comes to light. The source said the President appears no less engaged on issues surrounding Russian election meddling than on any other matters covered in the presidential daily brief. But the official acknowledged that Trump has vented his frustration with officials outside of the briefings about the amount of attention paid to the investigation into Russian election interference.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Trump is taking Russian cyberattacks seriously and said the administration is taking action — albeit quietly.
“The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber activity, and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism,” Spicer said in a statement.
Spicer noted that Trump has upheld the sanctions the Obama administration put in place against Russia, signed a cybersecurity executive order to consolidate responsibility for protecting the government from hackers and created an election commission. That commission has yet to convene in person but met via conference call on Wednesday.
But some in Trump’s own party believe he hasn’t done enough to repudiate Russia’s actions and are pushing him to back a sanctions package Congress is considering.
“We haven’t done anything,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. “We passed a bill through the Senate, and it’s hung up in the House. Tell me what we’ve done?”
Asked what he wants the President to do, the Arizona Republican said he should tell the House “to take up the bill we passed through the Senate. Sign it, get it out there.”
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
The President doesn’t differentiate between investigations into Russian election meddling and investigations into potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia, according to sources that have spoken to Trump about the issues.
The collusion probe is only one element of a larger landscape. The FBI’s counterintelligence team has been trying to piece together exactly how Russia interfered in the election, in order to learn techniques and adapt for the future. This part is less about collusion and more about Russian cyberattacks against US political organizations and attempted hacks of voters’ personal information.
Former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, testifying in front of the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, faulted Obama for failing to take action against Russia more quickly when he was president. But he unleashed his fury at Trump for doing so little to curtail Russian aggression.
“It is his duty, President Trump’s, to be skeptical of Russia. It’s his duty to investigate and defend our country against a cyber offensive because Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today,” said Burns, a career foreign service officer who has served under presidents of both parties. “And if he continues to refuse to act it’s a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.”
At a Senate hearing last week, Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division and a career civil servant, also highlighted the ongoing threat from Russia, saying, “I believe the Russians will absolutely continue to try to conduct influence operations in the US, which will include cyber intrusions.”
But the President’s muted interest in election interference stands in stark contrast to the collusion investigation, which has consumed his attention. Trump takes questions about Russia personally, sources said, because he sees them as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
“He thinks one equates with the other,” one Republican congressional source said. “He can’t admit anything that may taint his election. He is more hung up on how it affected the election outcome than what Russia did.”
In his statement for this story, Spicer also referenced the election outcome, saying, “The ballot boxes were not hacked and the tallies were unaffected. Numerous authorities have confirmed this.”
Another source close to the President says Trump sees everything regarding Russia as being “organized as a challenge to him.”
Trump aired those frustrations this week on Twitter, writing, “There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”
In Trump’s mind “he had nothing to do with Russia,” one source said. “He knows in his own mind there is not one single iota of anything that could implicate him.”
One administration official suggested there wasn’t necessarily a need for Trump to convene briefings on election interference — aside from his daily intelligence briefing — because little has changed since Trump was briefed on the matter in January, before his inauguration.
At that point, the 17 intelligence agencies released a declassified report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 election with the goal of disparaging Hillary Clinton while boosting Trump and undermining the public’s faith in the democratic process.
Since that briefing, there have been major developments on the cyber front. The final days of the French election featured a hack-and-leak attack targeting Emmanuel Macron, now the president of France. And US officials believe Russia hacked Qatari state-run media and planted a fake news story that which helped trigger a diplomatic crisis among critical US allies in the Gulf.

Trump’s skepticism

During the campaign and since taking office, Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Russia was responsible for the election-related cyberattacks. He has blamed the Democratic National Committee, China and “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
Trump has only once stated clearly and in public that Russia was behind the hacks — during a news conference as President-elect on January 11, just days after his briefing from top intelligence officials.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” Trump said.
On Monday, Spicer said the President stands by his assessment from January. The intelligence community has found no evidence that other countries also meddled in the election, an intelligence official said.
A source familiar with the President’s thinking said he views Russia’s action as something that “everybody has been doing to each other for years. Everybody spies,” the source said. “He believes that intel operations hack each other.”
The result: Trump sees the Russian hacking story as “nothing new.” In fact, the source said, Trump views it as “the establishment intelligence community trying to frame a narrative that is startling to the average viewer, but he regards it as business as usual.”
Intelligence experts disagree. They describe Russia’s actions as far from the usual foreign espionage attempts.
John Hultquist, the director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a cyber security and threat intelligence company, said Russia broke the rules in the “gentlemen’s game of espionage” by stealing information, leaking it and using it to try to influence voters and undermine the democratic process.
“In every previous incident, we believed they wouldn’t cross the next red line. They’ve shown us they’re willing to do so,” said Hultquist, who has a military background and is an expert in cyberespionage. “If we fail to respond with resolve they learn that they can get away with it.”
The administration’s inaction is raising alarm with experts like Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a counter-terrorism expert who recently testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee about Russia’s efforts in the 2016 election.
“It’s ridiculous that nothing’s been done,” Watts said. “There is no Russia policy. No one knows if they can work on Russia. No one knows what their assignment is with regards to Russia.”
While Trump may have little concern about Russia’s election aggression, other top officials in the administration have been vocal about the threat.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in May that Russian cyberattacks remain a “major threat” to the United States, especially after Russia showcased its aggressive posture by interfering in the 2016 election. But he acknowledged that the US still hasn’t devised a clear strategy to counter the Kremlin.
“Relative to a grand strategy, I am not aware right now of any — I think we’re still assessing the impact,” Coats told the Senate intelligence committee in early May.
Later that month he reiterated his concerns in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think we’re learning that we do need to take this seriously — which we do,” Coats said. “And shaping a policy and a plan to address this, I think, rises to a top priority.”
But across the government, administration officials appear to be publicly confirming the concerns NSA Director Rogers expressed privately –Russia’s attacks on American democracy aren’t a top priority for Trump.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, testified earlier this month that during his nine private conversations with Trump, the President never asked about Russia’s meddling in the election or what was being done to protect the country against future Russian interference.
“I don’t recall a conversation like that,” Comey told the Senate intelligence committee, shortly after his testimony describing a President who seemed much more interested in making sure that the public knew he wasn’t personally under investigation as part of the Russia probe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified that he had never received a briefing on Russia’s election meddling efforts — even before he officially recused himself from the collusion investigation.

Working around the President

Obama retaliated against Russia’s interference in the election in January with a package of sanctions that included ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the US, closing two Russian compounds and sanctioning two Russian intelligence services.
While the Trump administration has upheld those measures, it has not taken additional steps.
But lawmakers have tried. The Senate passed a bill to slap Russia with new sanctions for its election interference and the legislation has moved to the House, which would also need to pass it before it goes to Trump’s desk. But congressional sources said the Trump administration is hoping to water down the sanctions package, which the White House is eyeing warily.
“I think our main concern overall with sanctions is how they — how will the Congress craft them and any potential erosion of the executive branch’s authority to implement them,” Spicer said Friday.
There are also bipartisan efforts underway in Congress to develop a policy to prevent Russian meddling in future US elections.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, says he is working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, on legislation to create a 9/11-style commission to explore what happened in 2016 on the cyber front.
Graham tells CNN their idea is to create a commission made up of all experts — no politicians. “We want to look at the vulnerabilities on cyber security and get policy recommendations from experts on how to harden our infrastructure,” said Graham.
Meanwhile, top US cybersecurity leaders are taking action on their own to prevent future meddling.
“This is one of our highest priorities,” Jeanette Manfra, one of the Department of Homeland Security’s top officials handling cyber issues and a career civil servant said at a Senate hearing last week. “And I would also note that we’re not just looking ahead to 2018, as election officials remind me, routinely, that elections are conducted on a regular basis. And so — highest priority, sir.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said earlier this month that he would keep in place a decision to designate election systems as “critical infrastructure.”
The designation means that the federal government will put more resources toward protecting election systems and voting machines. They’ll get the same treatment as other “critical infrastructure” that is paramount to national security, like dams and the power grid.
Kelly’s predecessor in the Obama administration, Jeh Johnson, made the change in January shortly before leaving office. Johnson testified last week that he wished he made the decision sooner — before the 2016 election — but that he backed down after resistance from the states.

Russian Defense Minister’s Plane Buzzed Over Baltic By NATO Jet: TASS

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS AND TASS)

Russian defense minister’s plane buzzed over Baltic by NATO jet: TASS

(PRESIDENT PUTIN NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND THAT THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES TO HIS POLICY OF CONSTANT ‘FLY-BY’ IGNORANCE)(TRS) 

A plane carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was buzzed by a NATO F-16 fighter jet as it flew over the Baltic Sea, but was chased away by a Russian military jet, the TASS news agency reported on Wednesday.

TASS said the NATO plane had tried to approach the aircraft carrying the defense minister even though it was flying over neutral waters. It said Shoigu was en route to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad at the time.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Montenegro joins NATO as Russia turns furious

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

Montenegro joins NATO as Russia turns furious

ONCE the Balkan stronghold of pro-Russian sentiments, tiny Montenegro was yesterday silently celebrating its entry into NATO in a historic turn that has made the Kremlin furious.

Despite the Russian anger and a deep split within the nation of some 620,000 people over the issue, Montenegro is formally becoming the 29th member of the Western military alliance at a ceremony in Washington yesterday.

To get there, Montenegro has stood up against its former ally Russia, which has sought to maintain strong historic, political and cultural influence in the Slavic country it considers a special zone of interest.

The US State Department said Montenegro’s membership “will support greater integration, democratic reform, trade, security, and stability with all of its neighbors.”

Russia has threatened economic and political retaliation, including a campaign to undermine the Montenegrin tourism industry, which relies heavily on Russian visitors. An estimated 200,000 Russians visit Montenegro a year and 80,000 Russians own property in the country.

Russia has also banned imports of Montenegrin wine and recently deported a ranking official from a Moscow airport.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova recently warned potential Russian tourists that “there is an anti-Russian hysteria in Montenegro.”

“We do not rule out the possibility of provocations, arrests for suspicious reasons or extradition to third countries” of Russians, Zakharova said.

Montenegro says Moscow was behind a foiled coup attempt in October that allegedly targeted former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who was the driving force behind the country’s NATO bid. Russia denies involvement.

“One of the reasons we are joining NATO is to create greater stability, not only for Montenegrin citizens, but also for foreign investors and tourists,” Djukanovic said. “Therefore, our goal is to bring even more Russian tourists.”

Montenegro has officially become the 29th member of NATO

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

Montenegro officially joins NATO
© Getty Images

Montenegro has officially become the 29th member of NATO after a process that saw a failed coup attempt believed to be supported by Russia, and U.S. senators hurling invective’s.

The tiny Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea officially joined the alliance in a ceremony Monday at the State Department, where officials hailed the strength of the alliance.

“Montenegro’s accession sends a strong message of strength to the region and makes clear to our allies that the United States remains as committed as ever to the principal of collective defense as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty,” Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of State, said at the ceremony.

The growth of NATO comes as President Trump’s commitment to the alliance continues to be called into question.

During his first alliance meeting, Trump chastised allies for not paying enough for their defense. He also did not explicitly endorse Article 5, the mutual defense clause, despite such an affirmation reportedly being part  of his written speech.Administration officials have since said Trump is committed to Article 5, but Trump has yet to say so himself.

Trump also caused a stir when he appeared to push aside the prime minister of Montenegro so that he could be in the front of a photo of NATO leaders.

In March, the Senate approved Montenegro’s bid to join the alliance in a 97-2 vote.

Despite the strong support, the vote caused some turmoil in the chamber. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had earlier blocked a vote on the treaty, arguing that allowing the country into the alliance would add to America’s military burden.

Paul’s move prompted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to lament that his colleague “is now working for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”

Monday’s ceremony is the culmination of seven years of work for Montenegro.

The process endured a coup attempt in October 2016 that Montenegrin and U.S. officials have said was sponsored by Russia.

In Monday’s ceremony, Shannon commended Montenegro for joining the alliance in the face of “concerted foreign pressure.”

He also highlighted Montenegro’s commitment to spending, saying it will spend 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and envisions spending 2 percent by 2024.

Montenegro has also contributed to the wars in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Shannon added.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was at the ceremony, said Montenegro’s accession sends a message to other countries hoping to join the alliance.

“Montenegro’s accession sends a signal to other states that seek membership,” he said, “that if a country truly reforms, if it promotes democracy, strengthens the rule of law, modernizes its armed forces and contributes to our collective defense, it too can join the alliance.”

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Duško Marković thanked the United States for its “staunch and continuous support” for his country’s NATO membership and pledged that his country will be a “strong advocate and partner” for NATO’s efforts in the region.

“I firmly believe that this is a historic day for NATO,” he said at the ceremony. “Facing the new and grave challenges, the alliance’s admitting the 29th member show increasingly that the open-door policy is alive and that it works well as a beacon of hope to all of those who want to share its values and standards.”

Updated at 3:45 p.m.

Trump The Habitual Liar Strikes Again: This Time Too The American People And Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

The United States embassy in Tel Aviv in August 2013. CreditAriel Schalit/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Trump signed an order keeping the American Embassy in Tel Aviv rather than move it to Jerusalem as he promised during last year’s campaign, aides said Thursday, disappointing many Israel supporters in hopes of preserving his chances of negotiating a peace settlement.

Mr. Trump made no mention of his pending decision during a visit to Jerusalem just last week and waited to announce it until almost the last minute he could under law, underscoring the deep political sensitivity of the matter. The order he will sign waives for six months a congressional edict requiring the embassy be located in Jerusalem, after which he will have to consider the matter again.

The decision is the latest shift away from campaign positions upending traditional foreign policy as Mr. Trump spends more time in office and learns more about the trade-offs involved. He has reversed himself on declaring China a currency manipulator, backed off plans to lift sanctions against Russia, declared that NATO is not “obsolete” after all, opted for now not to rip up President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran and ordered a punitive strike against Syria that he previously opposed in similar circumstances.

In this case, Mr. Trump may invite the wrath of powerful supporters like Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and Republican donor who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and owns a newspaper in Israel. Some hard-line Israel backers have privately expressed concern that Mr. Trump has not lived up to his campaign pledges because he has been seduced into thinking he may reach the “ultimate deal” that has eluded every other president.

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Trump began backing away from his promise to move the embassy shortly after taking office when King Abdullah II of Jordan flew to Washington without a White House invitation to buttonhole the new president at a prayer breakfast and explain what he viewed as the consequences. The king warned that a precipitous move would touch off a possibly violent backlash among Arabs, all but quashing any hopes of bringing the two sides together.

Mr. Trump has also urged Mr. Netanyahu to hold off on provocative housing construction in the West Bank pending peace talks, despite appointing David M. Friedman, a staunch supporter of such settlements, as his ambassador to Israel. But the president pleased many in Mr. Netanyahu’s right-leaning coalition by abandoning automatic support for a Palestinian state unless both sides agree.

The embassy question has assumed enormous symbolic significance over the years. The United Nations once proposed that Jerusalem be an international city, but after Israel declared statehood in 1948, it took control of the western portion of the city while Jordan seized the eastern side. During its 1967 war with Arab neighbors, Israel wrested away control of East Jerusalem and annexed it.

Over the 50 years since then, Israel has declared that Jerusalem is its eternal capital and would never be divided again, even as it has built more housing in the eastern parts of the city intended for Jewish residents over the objections of the Palestinians and much of the international community. Most of its main institutions of government are based in Jerusalem.

Like every other country with a diplomatic presence in Israel, the United States has kept its embassy in Tel Aviv to avoid seeming to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital at the expense of Palestinians who also claim it as the capital of a future state of their own. The United States does have a consulate in Jerusalem that mainly deals with Palestinians but could be converted on a temporary basis into an embassy until a permanent site is found and a full-fledged facility constructed.

Like Mr. Trump, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both promised to move the embassy as presidential candidates only to drop the idea once they got into office. In 1995, Congress passed a law requiring the embassy be moved to Jerusalem by 1999 or else the State Department would have its building budget cut in half.

But lawmakers included a provision allowing a president to waive the law for six months if determined to be in the national interest. So every six months since 1999, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama and now Mr. Trump have signed such waivers.

Mr. Trump had promised that he would be different and presented himself as the best friend Israel would ever have in the Oval Office. During the campaign, he said he would move the embassy “fairly quickly” and on the eve of his inauguration reiterated his commitment by telling an Israeli journalist, “You know I’m not a person who breaks promises.”

But he has become enamored of the idea that he, unlike all of his predecessors, could be the one to finally negotiate a permanent peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, and he was persuaded that an embassy move would hinder that. The president has assigned Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, his former personal lawyer, to lead the peace efforts.

Anticipating that Mr. Trump would back off the embassy move, some in Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition hoped that the president at least would say during his trip last week that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, but he did not do that.

Mr. Trump did visit the Western Wall, the holiest Jewish prayer site in the country, becoming the first sitting American president to do so — an act that some interpreted as indirect recognition since the wall is in a part of the city that Israel took control of during the 1967 war.

Perverted Humanitarianism: The Neocon Case for Arming Ukraine

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE RUSSIA INSIDER’) (THIS IS AN INTERESTING READ FROM A RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT POINT OF VIEW)

Perverted Humanitarianism: The Neocon Case for Arming Ukraine

Here in the West, our leaders firmly believe that chaos is theirs to create and control, collateral damage be damned

Sat, Mar 21, 2015 | 2227 24

For Nuland, the more guns the better
For Nuland, the more guns the better

This article originally appeared at Letters from Globistan


Despite the coordinated efforts of Russia, Germany, and France to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has remained steadfast in its opposing policy objectives as it fans the flames of war in the name of humanitarianism and democracy. Since the provision of “non-lethal aid” have failed to defeat the Novorussian rebels, American lawmakers such as John McCain have predictably worked themselves into a lather, contorting words and facts to justify their itch for openly arming Ukraine. Neocon policy wonks acted quickly in lockstep to spin the Ukraine debacle and contain public fallout, and in the process, established a convoluted narrative that polluted the meaning of the vaunted principles they claim to uphold.

The Elusive Nature Of An Alleged Invasion

In her statement to Congress on March 4, 2015, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland stopped beating around the bush and publicly accused Russia of invading Ukraine. However, other officials prefer to be coy with their terminology, opting for vague allegations instead. Pentagon spokesman Major James Bridle has described the crisis as a “serious military escalation” and a “blatant violation of international law”. In contrast, American UN Ambassador Samantha Power resisted the urge to specifically define the crisis, but has cautioned that continued Russian intervention “could be viewed as an invasion”.

Verbal gymnastics aside, the evidence provided for the alleged invasion so far have been less than compelling. Released satellite photos of Russian troops appear grainy, nondescript, and underwhelming, despite the mainstream media’s assertions to the contrary. In Munich, Ukrainian president and oligarch-in-chief Petro Poroshenko presented a handful of Russian passports as “damning” evidence to the international media. Less than impressed with the “bombshell revelations”, the Russian Foreign Ministry requested copies of the passports, which they have yet to receive. In another recent snafu, it was discovered that Senator Jim Inhofe’s “exclusive photographic evidence” of Russian military aggression had been recycled from the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia, Georgia. In an attempt to deflect the embarrassing oversight, Inhofe passed the buck and pointed the finger at the Ukrainian MPs, who in turn denied any wrongdoing or mischaracterization on their part.Regrettably, tortured semantics and flimsy evidence won’t be enough to discredit the government hawks. Fortunately for the warmongers and desktop warriors in power, the absence of proof does not logically confirm the absence of guilt. Given the relative ease in selling the Iraq War to the American public, persuading the masses of Russia’s alleged invasion should be a piece of cake.

Screw Diplomacy! Why Might Is Right No Matter What Those Pantywaists Say

Now that the Neocons have successfully established the “fact” of Russian aggression, the next step is to justify lethal aid to Ukraine by repackaging it as a humanitarian mission. Wesley Clark, retired General of the US Army and NATO commander, penned a criminally dishonest column on USA Today exhorting the public to “remember Rwanda” and to “arm Ukraine”. The column correctly assumes the ignorance of the typical reader, neglecting to mention the true American role behind the Rwandan genocide and the destructive bombing of the former Yugoslavia. In a brazen example of rhetorical misdirection, Clark uses past war atrocities committed in RwandaSerbia, and Bosnia to advocate for the arming of Ukraine, reinforcing the toxic assumption that diplomacy can’t work without using military force:

“In the old days of the post-Cold War world, the U.S. learned the hard way that when we could make a difference, we should. In Rwanda, we didn’t, and 800,000 died. In Bosnia, we tarried, and more than 100,000 died and 2 million were displaced before we acted. It’s time to take those lessons and now act in Ukraine.

“In the Balkans in 1991, we let the Europeans lead with diplomacy to halt Serb aggression disguised as ethnic conflict. Diplomacy failed. We supported the Europeans when they asked for United Nations peacekeepers, from Britain, France, Sweden and even Bangladesh. That also failed. Only when the U.S. took the lead and applied military power to reinforce diplomacy did we halt the conflict. And we did succeed in ending it with minimal expense and without losing a single soldier.” -Wesley ClarkWhy did diplomacy fail? What was the cause of the conflict? When such obvious, underlying questions remain unanswered, it deceptively leads to the conclusion that America could have saved more lives if it weren’t for those pesky international laws and the naïve insistence on diplomacy. Salient details such as institutional hypocrisy, sabotage, and CIA involvement are conveniently edited out, casting America as the reluctant knight in shining armor for the world’s ungrateful victims.

Regime Change Remains A Top Objective

In somewhat refreshing candor, Casey Michel of the New Republic cuts to the chase and lays out the real benefits of escalation, which are raising the financial and human costs for Russia:

“The point of increasing arms to Ukraine is not, as Bloomberg’s editorial board claimed, to simply “escalat[e] a fight that it’s almost certain to lose.” Nor is the aim to deter any form of immediate Russian retreat. The point, rather, is to inflict more casualties than the Russian government is willing to stomach…

“Like the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and the First Chechen War, the Kremlin sparked fighting in Ukraine hoping for a small, victorious war—something to drum up support for a stagnant, morally exhausted regime whose citizens were finally grasping its political bankruptcy. So long as the war remains external, Russians can support it. But when the costs come home—as they will with increased arms support for Ukrainian forces—Russians will turn (italics mine).” -Casey MichelThe possible effects of escalation on the number of Ukrainian casualties aren’t even worthy of mention, as Michel seems overly preoccupied with the perceived costs to Russia’s economy, armed forces, and political stability. Who cares if sending arms results in more dead Ukrainians? If it results in more dead Russians and a revolt against the Putin administration, then of course it’s totally worth it.

Is Military Escalation A Forgone Conclusion?

The Obama Administration continues to be non-committal about providing lethal aid while sending 600 paratroopers to train the Ukrainian military. Meanwhile, the fear mongering in Europe continues unabated: Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, made a serious proposal to create a transnational EU army to defend Europe against Russia. Even with Germany’s support, the idea remains controversial—UK Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed the proposal as redundant, stating that NATO already exists to protect European security. There are also legitimate concerns regarding loss of national autonomy, mismanagement, and budget-busting inefficiency. Still, such considerations are small potatoes compared to the abstract threat of Russian military aggression.

Here in the West, our leaders firmly believe that chaos is theirs to create and control, collateral damage be damned. As Michel correctly observed, war is easy to support as long as it remains external and abstract. But when the illusion of control crumbles, as they always do—once the costs come to our shores, will we finally be the next ones to turn?

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