Two Years on, the Stakes of Russia’s War in Syria Are Piling (Op-ed)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

Two years ago, on Sept. 30, 2015, Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes in Syria, plunging Russia into a civil war that had already been festering for four years.

Moscow intervened in Syria vowing to fight Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, terrorist groups banned in Russia. Its objective was to transform its relationship with Washington and Brussels by disarming an imminent threat to the West after it had hit Russia with sanctions for the Kremlin’s “adventures in Ukraine.”

Days before the airstrikes began, Putin delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a united front against international terrorism, framing it as the modern equivalent of World War II’s coalition against Hitler.

But two years later, Russia’s hopes of winning concessions in Ukraine for its campaign against Islamic State have come to very little. Putin’s strategic alliance with the United States never materialized.

Russia, however, has met two less lofty goals. One was to rescue the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally, from the inevitable defeat at the hands of an armed Sunni rebellion.

Moscow leveraged its ties with Iran, another regime ally, to deploy Shia militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the Syrian rebels. This allowed Moscow to send a modest ground force to Syria — artillery and some special operations forces — without a large footprint.

Russia helped Assad recast the civil war and the popular uprising against his regime as a fight against jihadi terrorists by focusing its airstrikes over the last two years on moderate Syrian rebel groups, while paying little attention to Islamic State.

This rendered the conflict black and white — a binary choice between Assad and jihadists. It allowed Moscow to sell its intervention as support for Syria’s sovereignty against anarchy and terrorism. Russia made clear that it saw the path to stability in the Middle East as helping friendly autocrats suppress popular uprisings with force.

At home, the Kremlin sold its Syrian gambit as a way of defeating terrorism before it reached Russian soil. Russia, after all, needed to prevent Russians and Central Asians who joined Islamic State from returning home to wreck havoc at home soil.

Moscow was also able to use Syria as a lab for its newest weaponry.

By workshopping newly-acquired precision cruise-missile strikes, Russia joined the United States in an exclusive arms club. Showcasing military prowess, while keeping casualties figures low — some 40 Russia servicemen died in Syria — it was able to win public support at home for the intervention.

But perhaps most importantly, the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria has reaffirmed Russia’s status as a global superpower which is capable of projecting force far from its own borders.

Andrei Luzik / Russian Navy Northern Fleet Press Office / TASS

While Moscow may have been offended by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s dismissive description of Russia as a “regional power,” it impressed Arab leaders with its unwavering support for Assad, which was important at a time when U.S. commitment to allies’ security and the stability in the region was in doubt.

Moscow’s backing of Assad ensured it had channels with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, despite their support for Syrian rebels. It was even able to convince the Gulf to wind down its support for the opposition as a Russia-led victory for the regime became inevitable.

Russia’s alliances with Jordan and Egypt proved useful in setting up direct lines to armed opposition groups to reach de-escalation agreements. And even as it fights alongside Shia Iran, Moscow has avoided being drawn into a sectarian proxy war with Sunni Arab states.

Russia’s most stunning diplomatic coup was to change Turkey’s calculus in the war from a proxy adversary into a major partner in securing the decisive victory in Aleppo. Through the Astana process, Russia alongside Turkey wound down fighting with moderate rebels.

Russia’s victory in Syria was helped by Washington’s decision not to immerse itself into Syria and a war by proxy with Russia. Instead, the U.S. focused its military operations on defeating Islamic State in eastern Syria.

Now, with de-escalation in western Syria, regime forces and Russian airpower are turned to defeating Islamic State, which has brought them into contact with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advancing from the northeast as part of their offensive to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State.

The potential for a U.S.-Russia kinetic collision in Syria with unpredictable consequences is escalating. This highlights the looming endgame in Syria and the choices Moscow and Washington will have to make moving forward.

Washington needs to decide whether it wants to stay in Syria for counterinsurgency operations to prevent the re-emergence of Islamic State. It may also decide to block Iran from establishing the “Shia land bridge” from the Iraqi border to the Mediterranean.

But this entails supporting the SDF and helping them control sizeable real estate northeast of the Euphrates river and blocking regime forces and Russia from advancing east.

Moscow needs to decide whether it wants to be dragged into Assad and Iran’s strategy of ensuring a complete military victory in Syria and preventing the opposition from exercising any autonomous self-rule. That could see Russia pulled into a nasty proxy fight with the Americans.

Two years after Russia intervened in Syria, the war may be winding down. But the stakes for Moscow and Washington are stacking.

The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

Related

President Putin Offered A Plan For Full And Immediate Normalization Ties With The U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

(CNN)Russia offered a plan to the United States for a full and immediate move toward normalization — or a restoration of diplomatic ties — in the opening weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, the Kremlin confirmed Wednesday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that “of course” Russia floated proposals such as this one to the US.
“Moscow systematically advocated for a resumption of the dialogue, for an exchange of opinion and for attempts at finding joint solutions,” Peskov said. “But, unfortunately, it saw no reciprocity.”
Peskov said Russia’s proposals had come through in parts and a summary of the offer went through diplomatic channels.
News of the plan first came to light in a BuzzFeed News report after the outlet obtained a document which outlined the proposal a top Russian diplomat made directly to the US State Department.
close dialog
Tell us where to send you The Point with Chris Cillizza
CNN’s Chris Cillizza cuts through the political spin and tells you what you need to know
Activate The Point with Chris Cillizza
By subscribing you agree to our
privacy policy.
Asked about the report, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert would neither confirm nor deny its accuracy. Nauert said in general terms that the US and Russia share the goal of improving diplomatic relations between the countries.
A Russian official confirmed to CNN that the document was authentic.
“We are sorry to hear that documents keep leaking from the (Trump) administration, though it shows that Russia keeps doing its best to normalize relations‎,” the official said.
Earlier Tuesday, Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon met with his Russian counterpart in Finland. The meeting was their third of the year to discuss so-called “irritants” in the relationship. Nauert said the meeting provided an opportunity to “raise questions or concerns,” but did not say if the two had resolved anything.
The proposal, BuzzFeed wrote, called for the US to restore all channels — diplomatic, military and intelligence — that had been cut following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and intervention in Syria.
In the coming months, the proposal called for Russia and the US to collaborate on information security, Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine, North Korea and eventually a full face-to-face meeting between the top national security officials of the two nations.
Relations between the United States and Russia have soured considerably since the opening of the Trump administration, when many expected Trump might bring the nations closer together as he said repeatedly was his goal during the campaign.
Russian military involvement in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an attempt to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election, has cast a shadow on the US side over the potential rapprochement.
The US under then-President Barack Obama increased sanctions on Russia following the country’s alleged election interference, and moved to shutter some of the Kremlin’s facilities in the US.
Trump met with Putin face-to-face in a scheduled meeting at the G20 summit in July then spoke again during an unannounced conversation at a dinner for world leaders during the summit. Trump went on to propose a joint US-Russia cyber effort, then after sustained criticism of the proposal, Trump said he knew “it can’t” happen.
Russia responded in kind to the US’ sanctions after several months delay and ordered large cutsin the US diplomatic staff in Russia. Around the same time, Trump signed a bill putting more sanctions on Russia and restricting his ability to lift them.
He also thanked Putin for forcing the US to reduce its diplomatic staff in a comment the White House later described as sarcastic. Before Moscow’s deadline for the US to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia, the US ordered the closure of three Russian facilities in the US.

The North Korean spies Ukraine caught stealing missile plans

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

The North Korean spies Ukraine caught stealing missile plans

Updated 4:50 PM ET, Thu August 24, 2017

Zhytomyr, Ukraine (CNN) The images are a little grainy, but in the half-light of a dusty Ukrainian garage, you can sense the unbridled enthusiasm of the two North Korean spies who are photographing what they think are top-secret missile designs.

In a rare window into the opaque, deadly and secretive world of missile technology espionage, Ukrainian security services have given CNN surveillance footage and details of an elaborate sting operation they carried out to snare two North Korean spies in 2011.
The revelations are aimed at dispelling claims that a recent leap forward in Pyongyang’s intercontinental missile technology may have been achieved by using designs stolen or originating from Ukraine.

Video from North Korean state media purports to show the launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The claims are made in a report released by analysts at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) on August 14 which says technology, possibly from Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye Design Office in Dnipro, was used in recent North Korean missile tests.
In July, North Korea successfully tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles(ICBMs) — the KN-14 or Hwasong-14. At the time, Pyongyang claimed they were capable of carrying a “large-sized heavy nuclear warhead” as far as the US mainland.
Ukraine has denied any link to North Korea’s long-range missiles, and said Russia may instead have provided Pyongyang with the improved missile designs. Russia has denied supporting North Korea’s arms program.
An officer with Ukraine’s security service, who worked on the 2011 case of the two North Koreans and who we granted anonymity because of his operational role, insisted it was “impossible” North Korea had obtained any missile technology, as he was sure their espionage attempts had all been intercepted.
He said that in 2011 two other North Koreans — who traveled to Ukraine from the country’s Moscow Embassy — were deported after they were caught trying to obtain “missile munitions, homing missile devices in particular for air-to-air class missiles.” A third North Korean, tasked with transporting the actual devices out of Ukraine, was also deported.
And as recently as 2015, five North Koreans were deported for “assisting North Korea’s intelligence work in Ukraine,” the officer said, without providing further details.
He said, apart from the two in jail, there were no North Koreans left in Ukraine, as those not deported by Ukraine had been voluntarily withdrawn — many working in alternative medicine centers.

The hallway to the cell where X5 is serving out his 8-year sentence in Ukraine.

North Koreans guilty of espionage

The two North Korean spies seen on the grainy surveillance footage are currently serving eight-year prison sentences for espionage in the Ukrainian town of Zhytomyr, 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of Kiev.
Ukrainian officials allowed CNN inside the prison facilities to see if they would grant interviews under guard supervision.
The elder inmate is a man in his fifties from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang who is known in court documents as X5. He is gaunt, compared to the fuller frame he had in the surveillance videos, and speaks lightly-accented Russian.
His younger accomplice is a technical expert known as X32.
They are the only such spies in Ukrainian custody, although officials say they have on several occasions intercepted North Korean attempts to access their missile secrets, and as a result in 2016 effectively barred all North Koreans from the country.

The door to a cell where X5 is serving his prison term.

The sting

The grainy surveillance video provided to CNN was filmed on July 27, 2011, on a hidden camera set up within a garage to capture the end of a sting operation that was months in the planning.
The two suspects can be seen moments before Ukrainian security service agents burst in and arrest them.

How 2 North Korean spies were caught

How 2 North Korean spies were caught 03:37
The Ukrainian missile experts they had been courting in the weeks before had informed on them to Ukrainian counter-intelligence agents.
As a result, authorities had detailed knowledge of the information they sought — “ballistic missiles, missile systems, missile construction, spacecraft engines, solar batteries, fast-emptying fuel tanks, mobile launch containers, powder accumulators and military government standards,” according to the court papers from their 2012 trial.
Some of the information related to the SS-24 Scalpel intercontinental ballistic missile, the court papers add. The SS-24 Scalpel, also known as the RT-23, is a solid-fueled missile capable of carrying up to 10 warheads that was launched via missile silos or railroad cars.
Why North Korea wants nukes and missiles

North Korea has long maintained it wants nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in order to deter the United States from attempting to overthrow the regime of Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang looks at states like Iraq — where former dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the United States, and Libya — the country’s late leader, Moammar Gaddafi, gave up his nuclear ambitions for sanctions relief and aid, only to be toppled and killed after the US intervened in the country’s civil unrest — and believes that only being able to threaten the US homeland with a retaliatory nuclear strike can stop American military intervention.

The mobile rail missile SS-24 system was banned in the late 1990s under the START-II treaty between the US and Russia, however the ban never came into effect. The design and production of the missile system was most recently held by Ukraine but, according to GlobalSecurity.org, the country ended production of the missile in 1995.
The Ukraine security footage gives a rare window into the elaborate and shadowy world of North Korea’s bid to improve its ability to hit the United States and other adversaries with long-range missiles.
The court documents also reveal startlingly human moments during the operation.
The two nervous men continually whisper to each other the material they seek is “secret,” and worry the flash batteries may run out on their PowerShot and Coolpix cameras as they photograph the dummy designs.
Speaking briefly to CNN in the jail where he now makes cement railings and iron rods to pass prison time, X5 confirmed he had “partially” admitted his guilt.

'X5' is seen working at a prison near Zhytomyr, Ukraine.

The court papers say he insisted his job, as a trade representative in the North Korean embassy in neighboring Belarus, was merely to arrange training in missile technology for North Korean experts — information he didn’t think was classified. He even tried to get one expert, the papers allege, to travel to North Korea and teach there.
Dressed in dark blue overalls and a cloth cap, mixing cement, X5 said he “of course” wanted to return to North Korea, and had not spoken to his family or anyone there since his arrest.
“I am serving my term of punishment. They feed us well here, we work… I don’t want to give an interview for the preservation of my safety and that of my family.”
He shares a well-lit cell with a TV with eight other convicts, and sleeps in a double bunk bed, with pots of vitamins and toiletries his only obvious possessions.

X5 shares a cell with 8 other convicts, and sleeps in a double bunk bed.

The second convict, X32, agreed to meet CNN, but immediately declined to be interviewed, covering the camera lens with his hand and walking away.
He has not admitted his guilt and is held in a more relaxed facility where he makes furniture to pass the time.
Denys Chernyshov, Ukraine’s deputy minister for justice, said the men had been met once by two officials from North Korea’s Moscow embassy, but otherwise had no contact at all with their relatives or North Korea.
“They have asked Ukrainian authorities to be extradited to North Korea to continue their sentence,” he said. “But because they are held for spying for North Korea, we obviously declined their request.”
Chernyshov added the pair were well-trained.
“To be isolated in another country and culture, with different food even, that brings about a particular stress,” he said. “So it is clear these are well prepared, strong people.”
However, he added North Korea may not turn out to be that welcoming when they likely travel home in September 2018, at the end of their sentences.
“That their task was unsuccessful, they cannot expect much of a hero’s welcome on their return.”

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.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

More Posts – Twitter – Facebook – Google Plus – YouTube

This Is The Week President Trump Meets President Putin Face To Face In Germany At G-20 Summit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ABC NEWS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will demand the return of two diplomatic compounds seized by the United States when he meets in Germany this week with President Trump for the first time, the Kremlin said, as a senior Russian official warned that Moscow’s patience on the issue was running out.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said his government showed “unusual flexibility” by not retaliating in December when then-President Obama confiscated the two compounds, in New York state and Maryland, and expelled 35 Russian diplomats as punishment for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Ushakov urged Washington to “free Russia from the need to take retaliatory moves,” according to The Associated Press.

The White House has reportedly been mulling returning the compounds in an effort to improve relations with Moscow, and in recent days Russian officials have warned that retaliatory measures have been drawn up if the compounds are not returned. They were nominally used by the Russian Embassy as recreational facilities, but U.S. intelligence has long argued they were bases for espionage.

In a separate statement released today, the Kremlin said Putin would raise the issue with Trump when the two meet in Hamburg, Germany, where the G-20 summit is being held Saturday. The statement said that the Kremlin expected Putin would convey the need to find the “most rapid resolution” on the issue, which it described as an “irritant” in Russian-U.S. relations.

The two leaders’ first meeting is highly anticipated, coming as investigations continue into possible collusion between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials and as relations between Moscow and Washington are being described as at their worst since the Cold War.

There has been intense speculation for months over when the two presidents might come face to face. Since confirming the meeting

last week, the White House has been light on details about what they will discuss.

“There’s no specific agenda. It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about,” Trump’s national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told reporters last week.

McMaster said administration officials had been tasked with drawing up options to confront Russia over “destabilizing behavior,” including cyber threats and political subversion, as well as looking for ways to cooperate on issues such as Syria and North Korea.

Today the Kremlin was more specific, issuing a broad list of areas where it said it believed it could cooperate with the United States. The top issues listed for discussion were Russia’s dissatisfaction with U.S. sanctions, its desire to cooperate on international terrorism, the Syria crisis and improving efforts around nuclear arms control.

Most of the issues resembled those the Kremlin frequently raised with the Obama administration, and the statement emphasized Moscow’s desire for a return to normal relations.

There is “significant potential for coordinating efforts,” the Kremlin statement said. “Our countries can do much together in resolving regional crises,” including Ukraine, Libya and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The statement also said Russia was eager to restore business links with the United States.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday told the news agency Interfax he hoped the meeting would lend clarity to the relationship and warned that not seeking to normalize relations would be a “huge mistake.”

In reality, however, it’s unclear that, beyond the return of the diplomatic compounds, there is much Putin and Trump will be able to ask of each other. In many areas, U.S. and Russian interests have little overlap, and that has not appeared to change under Trump.

On Syria the two have clashed, and last month a U.S. fighter shot down a war plane belonging to Russia’s ally President Bashar al-Assad. The White House has said sanctions will not be lifted on Russia until it withdraws from Crimea, and in the Senate both parties are drawing up more sanctions to punish Russia for its alleged election meddling.

“I don’t think we should expect any kind of breakthrough,” said Maria Lipman, a veteran political analyst in Moscow. “I don’t think we should expect any significant results from this meeting. Not even the beginning of solutions to the major issues.”

During the presidential campaign and after the election, some Russian officials and state media expressed optimism that Trump would mean better relations with the United States. But such hopes have so far largely not materialized.

Lipman said she believes there is a growing realization in the Kremlin of Trump’s severely restricted ability to alter U.S. policy toward Moscow, given the intensity of the scandal around the Russia investigations.

U.S. Senate Votes Near Unanimously (98-2) For Russia, Iran Sanctions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

U.S. Senate votes near unanimously for Russia, Iran sanctions

By Patricia Zengerle | WASHINGTON

The U.S. Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday for legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to get Congress’ approval before easing any existing sanctions on Russia.

In a move that could complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow, the Senate backed the measure by 98-2. Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two “no” votes.

The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syria’s government in the six-year-long civil war.

If passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law by Trump, it would put into law sanctions previously established via former President Barack Obama’s executive orders, including some on Russian energy projects. The legislation also allows new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways and targets Russians guilty of conducting cyber attacks or supplying weapons to Syria’s government.

“The legislation sends a very, very strong signal to Russia, the nefarious activities they’ve been involved in,” Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said as lawmakers debated the measure.

If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.

The legislation sets up a review process that would require Trump to get Congress’ approval before taking any action to ease, suspend or lift any sanctions on Russia.

National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017.REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Trump was especially effusive about Russian president Vladimir Putin during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, though his openness to closer ties to Moscow has tempered somewhat, with his administration on the defensive over investigations into Russian meddling in the election.

Putin dismissed the proposed sanctions, saying they reflected an internal political struggle in the United States, and that Washington’s policy of imposing sanctions on Moscow had always been to try to contain Russia.

The bill also includes new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and other activities not related to the international nuclear agreement reached with the United States and other world powers.

UNCERTAIN PATH IN HOUSE

To become law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. House aides said they expected the chamber would begin to debate the measure in coming weeks.

However, they could not predict if it would come up for a final vote before lawmakers leave Washington at the end of July for their summer recess.

Senior aides told Reuters they expected some sanctions package would eventually pass, but they expected the measure would be changed in the House. The Trump administration has pushed back against the bill, and his fellow Republicans hold a commanding 238- to 193-seat majority in the chamber.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the legislation on Wednesday, urging Congress to ensure that any sanctions package “allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”

Previously, U.S. energy sanctions had only targeted Russia’s future high-tech energy projects, such as drilling for oil in the Arctic, fracking and offshore drilling. They blocked U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil, where Tillerson was chairman, from investing in such projects.

The new bill would slap sanctions on companies in other countries looking to invest in those projects in the absence of U.S. companies, a practice known as backfilling.

Also included for the first time are discretionary measures the Trump administration could impose on investments by companies in Western countries on Russia energy export pipelines to Europe.

The Senate also voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to add provisions to the bill allowing the U.S. space agency NASA to continue using Russian-made rocket engines and the 100 senators voted unanimously for an amendment reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gardner; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Brown)

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?

CIA: Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

“If there ever was any effort by Russians to influence me, I was unaware, and they would have failed,” Mr. Manafort said in a statement. “I did not collude with the Russians to influence the elections.”

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment. Mr. Flynn’s lawyer did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it.

Last week, CNN reported about intercepted phone calls during which Russian officials were bragging about ties to Mr. Flynn and discussing ways to wield influence over him.

In his congressional testimony, Mr. Brennan discussed the broad outlines of the intelligence, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials.

“I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive,” Mr. Brennan said. Still, he said, even at the end of the Obama administration he had “unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

Mr. Brennan’s testimony offered the fullest public account to date of how American intelligence agencies first came to fear that Mr. Trump’s campaign might be aiding Russia’s attack on the election.

By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans — foreign spies had hacked previous campaigns, and the United States does the same in elections around the world, officials said. The view on the inside was that collecting information, even through hacking, is what spies do.

But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.

An unclassified report by American intelligence agencies released in January stated that Mr. Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

Before taking the helm of the Trump campaign last May, Mr. Manafort worked for more than a decade for Russian-leaning political organizations and people in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych, the former president. Mr. Yanukovych was a close ally of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Manafort’s links to Ukraine led to his departure from the Trump campaign in August, after his name surfaced in secret ledgers showing millions in undisclosed payments from Mr. Yanukovych’s political party.

Russia views Ukraine as a buffer against the eastward expansion of NATO, and has supported separatists in their years long fight against the struggling democratic government in Kiev.

Mr. Flynn’s ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.

But in private life, Mr. Flynn cultivated even closer ties to Russia. In 2015, he earned more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia, including a cargo airline implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations, and an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

The biggest payment, though, came from RT, the Kremlin-financed news network. It paid Mr. Flynn $45,000 to give a speech in Moscow, where he also attended the network’s lavish anniversary dinner. There, he was photographed sitting next to Mr. Putin.

A senior lawmaker said on Monday that Mr. Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about how he was paid for the Moscow trip. He also failed to disclose the source of that income on a security form he was required to complete before joining the White House, according to congressional investigators.

American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.

But after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of the calls, Mr. Flynn was fired as national security adviser after a tumultuous 25 days in office.

Putin’s Russia Is Crumbling From The Inside

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council site.

At first glance, Russian actions since the 2014 annexation of Crimea appear to signal a resurgence of power in the international system. Increases in military spending, forays into the Middle East and a foreign policy punching above its weight have all served to remind the world that Russia maintains influence on the global stage.

However, behind the Cold War-levels of military activity and violations of international laws are fundamental issues which will plague Russia going forward.

Demographic struggles have stricken the state since World War II, commodity price fluctuations and sanctions have crippled economic output and the current defense spending trends are unsustainable. Against the backdrop of harsh economic reality, the illusion of Russian resurgence can only be maintained for so long, and NATO policymakers should take note.

An increased NATO presence in the Baltics and more robust defense measures are all necessary and proportional steps towards creating a formidable deterrent to protect the United States’s more vulnerable allies in Russia’s neighborhood.

Russia, however, is not the existential threat to Europe that the Soviet Union once was, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Time is not on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side, and he can only ignore fundamental flaws in the socioeconomic landscape of Russian society for so long.

Building submarines and nuclear weapons will not reinvigorate the Russian economy and could eventually degrade what progress has been made to re-establish Russian prominence on the world stage.

Related: Nolan Peterson: The Syria strike deals Putin a double blow

The inertial nature of demographic pressure makes it an exceedingly difficult problem to address but also allows nations to forecast more easily. By nearly all calculations, Russia’s projected population growth appears stagnant at best. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the population of Russia (despite upward of 9 million immigrants) declined each year until 2013.

04_14_Putin_Vulnerable_01Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 11. Jacob Sharpe writes that the war in Ukraine, once popular among Russians, is now hurting morale and draw attention to the economic malaise at home.SERGEI CHIRIKOV/REUTERS

The combination of a decreased standard of living, a decline in the number of women aged 20 to 30 and an increased mortality rate have all damaged the prospects for growth in Russia. Rosstat, the Russian state statistical agency, estimated that the population will decline 20 percent in the next 35 years if current trends continue. This decline has been halted and even reversed to a minor extent in recent years, but reversing long-term trends will be difficult.

The economic outlook for Russia offers similarly bleak prospects, yet there are some signs of a slight turnaround. When compared to a negative 3 percent growth over the past two years, even the small 1.2 percent growth projected by the Russian finance minister (as well as the World Bank) is something to celebrate. Moscow has made some spending adjustments to reflect current oil prices, and Standard & Poor’s has upgraded its credit rating to stable.

The Russian people, however, are still in dire straits. In 2016, one-quarter of Russian companies cut salaries. Overall, the average Russian wage dropped 8 percent last year and 9.5 percent the year before. International sanctions imposed on Russia continue to cause problems, and energy prices have not recovered to previous highs.

Even as some Russians celebrated the election of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who has expressed a desire for better relations with Russia and suggested that sanctions may be at least partially lifted, the potential for the removal of sanctions could lead to a speculative capital rush, creating more uncertainty in an already fractured economy.

Worsening the economic downturn is the Kremlin’s spending to modernize and expand its military capabilities amidst declining revenue and depleted reserves.

In a recent defense industry meeting, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that “funding has already been set aside for the coming years and that amount won’t be changed.” That statement doesn’t appear to be entirely correct, as defense spending is set to decrease by 7 percent, but it is telling when other federal departments were dealt 10 percent reductions.

For the time being, it seems this plan has won Putin praise at home and power abroad, but in the long-term it could place him on unsteady ground.  As early as 2015, Russia had begun tapping into its “rainy day fund ” (generally regarded as an emergency measure to address economic slowdowns), and the minor economic recovery is not enough to make up for these shortfalls.

Related: Putin’s Flirtation with Le Pen is likely to backfire

A continuation of this spending behavior combined with budgetary constraints could force Putin to make politically risky fiscal adjustments. He may have convinced his admirers that a bit of budgetary belt-tightening is necessary to ensure Russian security and stature, but economic backpedaling is only digestible for so long.

Even the Ukrainian conflict, once a source of popularity among the Russian people, has begun to hurt morale and highlights the economic malaise at home.

However, Vladimir Putin is not a man to be underestimated, and Russia will remain a threat. It still possesses one of the most powerful militaries in the world, a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons and a reinvigorated willingness to use its political muscle to influence the international system.

Yet while a cursory examination of approval ratings may show an unassailably popular leader, Putin’s power structure is more fragile than it first appears. Financial strain will continue to pressure state-dependent segments of the Russian populace, which have historically been the bedrock of Putin’s support.

It seems Putin’s Russia won’t perish in a Manichean clash in the Fulda Gap, but like the Soviet Union before it, today’s Russia will crumble under the weight of its own mismanagement and economic failure. Perhaps history does repeat itself.

Jacob Sharpe is an intern with the Transatlantic Security Initiative in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.

Trump Officials Demand That Russia (Putin) Stop Supporting Mass Murderer Assad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the United States.

Signaling the focus of talks that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to have in Moscow this week, officials said that Russia, in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bears at least partial responsibility for Wednesday’s chemical attack on villagers in Idlib province.

“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Although officials acknowledged that they have seen no evidence directly linking Russia to the attacks, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that Russia should be pressed to answer what it knew ahead of the chemical attack since it has positioned warplanes and air defense systems with associated troops in Syria since 2015.

“I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?” McMaster said on Fox News.

The timing of the comments, with Tillerson heading soon to Moscow, signaled the administration’s intent to pressure Russia to step away from Assad, who is supported by the Kremlin with military aid and diplomatic cover.

The fallout from the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, plus the U.S. missile strike that came in retaliation for it, adds strain to a rocky relationship that is at its lowest point in decades. A host of issues are responsible, topped by Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine, and have prompted U.S. and European sanctions. These topics have now been overshadowed by last week’s missile strike.

The Russians had hoped that relations with the United States might improve under President Trump, who expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. Tillerson’s nomination and ­confirmation as secretary of state also raised prospects. given the former ExxonMobil executive’s experience negotiating a major deal with Rosneft, the state-controlled oil giant.

But 11 weeks into Trump’s presidency, expectations have been substantially lowered.

“This is a big cold shower,” said Samuel Charap, a Russia analyst with the Rand Corp. “Even if behind closed doors they might engage on other issues in a more pragmatic manner, the public posture is going to be one of emphasizing how they disagree about [Syria]. Putin is not going to want to be seen as chummy with the U.S. secretary of state.”

On Sunday, both Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, cast doubts on Assad’s legitimacy as Syria’s leader. Haley said that eventually the unrest in Syria cannot end if Assad remains in power.

“In no way do we see peace in that area with Russia covering up for Assad,” Haley said. “And in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”

Tillerson noted other instances when Syrian forces deployed chemical weapons, and other attacks on civilians involving barrel bombs and conventional weapons.

“I think the issue of how Bashar al-Assad’s leadership is sustained, or how he departs, is something that we’ll be working [on] with allies and others in the coalition,” said Tillerson, who after weeks of keeping a low profile was making his debut on the Sunday morning talk shows. “But I think with each of those actions, he really undermines his own legitimacy.”

Neither suggested that Assad’s demise was imminent.

“Once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” Tillerson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State militant group.

The U.S. missile strike in Syria carries the implicit threat of a larger U.S. role in the conflict. Tillerson said Sunday that the strike functioned as a warning to any country acting outside of international norms, in an apparent reference to North Korea.

“At least in the short run, it will further complicate efforts to improve the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, which seemed to be Tillerson’s objective in going to Moscow,” said Jeffrey Mankoff, a Russia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In the longer term, the threat of further U.S. intervention is a card that the U.S. can play to get the Russians to tighten the screws on Assad — on both the chemical weapons and possibly on accepting a political deal with the opposition.”

Tillerson departed around dawn Sunday for Italy to attend a meeting of the G-7 nations, a bloc of industrialized democracies. He is due to arrive late Tuesday in Russia for his first visit as secretary of state.

He and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet, but it is not known if the secretary of state will also speak with Putin, who personally bestowed the Order of Friendship on Tillerson in 2012.

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said the Russians still hold out hope for a breakthrough, but that depends on whether Putin and Trump hit it off, not on anything Tillerson and Lavrov say.

“Things will only happen as a result of direct personal, sustained contact between Putin and Trump,” McFaul said. “That’s the way things work with Putin.”

But closer ties with Russia also carry political risks for Trump. Should the Trump administration ease sanctions ­imposed over Ukraine, for instance, critics would label it payback for Russia’s ­pre-election hacks targeting Democrats.

Several analysts said that Assad has humiliated Putin by using chemical weapons despite Russia’s guarantee that Syria’s stockpiles would be whisked away. Moscow’s interest in getting sanctions eased is greater than its loyalty to Assad. And that could provide maneuvering room for Tillerson.

That appears to be Tillerson’s calculation, too.

“I do not believe that the Russians want to have worsening relationships with the U.S.,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But it’s going to take a lot of discussion and a lot of dialogue to better understand what is the relationship that Russia wishes to have with the U.S.”

Mike DeBonis and Abby Philip contributed to this report.

This blog, trouthtroubles.com is owned, written, and operated by oldpoet56. All articles, posts, and materials found here, except for those that I have pressed here from someone else’s blog for the purpose of showing off their work, are under copyright and this website must be credited if my articles are re-blogged, pressed, or shared.

—Thank You, oldpoet56, T.R.S.

The Budding Flower

An aspiring artist in search of a path that reflects her strength

Red Letters

Following Jesus, Loving life

bienvenido

El mundo es un libro y aquellos que no viajan, solo leen una página.

Syeda Maham Riaz

Art - Fashion - Beauty - Travel - Lifestyle - Books - DIY - Food

Tales from the Conspiratum

Warning: This site may contain conspiracies

MyYellowFeather

Your guide to style! 💛

tonnie6

instagram @tonnie_ke

%d bloggers like this: