Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Russia defiant stance in face of more tough EU and US sanctions — Russia accuses “aggressor countries”

July 30, 2014
Russian officials say focus will shift to domestic market production, but analysts say defence and oil industries will suffer

theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 05.59 EDT

Vladimir Putin and deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, left

Vladimir Putin and Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin. Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky/AP

As the US and the European Union adopted tougher economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine and downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russian officials struck a defiant note, promising that Russia would localise production and emerge stronger than before. But analysts in sectors that could be affected by the sanctions – finance, defence and energy – predicted that they would suffer in isolation from the west.

The EU reached a deal on Tuesday evening to cut off Russian state-owned banks from European capital markets and was quickly joined by the US, which denied the state-owned banks VTB Bank OAO, Bank of Moscow and the Russian Agricultural Bank access to the US economy.

In addition, the EU banned any trade in arms or “related material” with Russia, and the US prohibited transactions with Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corp, which it classified as a defence company.

Both the EU and the US will also ban technology exports to Russia for deep-water, Arctic or shale oil drilling. The sanctions imposed by the EU, which does far more trade with Russia than the US, will be reviewed in three months.

Shares in VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank, dropped by 3% at the start of trading on Wednesday but later regained most of that. The Russian stock market on the whole grew, with the MICEX and RTS indices rising by about 2%.

The Bank of Moscow said in a statement it was focused on its domestic market, and its business “wouldn’t suffer at all from the imposed sanctions”. Russia’s central bank promised to prop up banks hit by sanctions. “If necessary, appropriate measures will be taken to support these organisations in order to protect the interests of their customers, depositors and creditors,” it said in a statement.

But the measures are likely to raise the cost of credit in Russia and likely take their toll on the economy. Andrei Klepach, the deputy chairman of the state-owned bank VEB, said on Russian television on Tuesday that sanctions could halt economic growth or even lead to a recession in the country. Previously, Russia has forecast a 1% growth in gross domestic product this year – although the IMF this month downgraded its forecast to 0.2%, citing capital flight and falling investment amid western economic pressure.

Reacting to the sanctions on Wednesday, Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, who is in charge of Russia’s defence and space industries, wrote on Twitter: “Obama’s decision to impose sanctions against the United Shipbuilding Corporation is a clear sign that Russian military shipbuilding is becoming a problem for Russia’s enemies.” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, tweeted: “Obama won’t go into history as a peacemaker – everyone has already forgotten about his Nobel peace prize – but as the US president who started a new cold war.”

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said on Monday about the expected sanctions that Russia for now would not “fall into hysterics” or take retaliatory measures. “I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength,” Lavrov said.

But despite Lavrov’s statement, a group of ruling party lawmakers said on Tuesday they would introduce legislation to ban auditing and consulting companies from “aggressor countries”, including the big four auditing firms Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In addition, Russia’s consumer watchdog, which has been known to wield import bans for political purposes, placed a ban on some fruits and vegetables from EU member Poland.

Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at BCS Financial Group, said that such measures against “aggressor countries” is not likely to pass because it would have little impact on western economies but would be disastrous for traded Russian companies, which are all audited by international firms. Instead, Russia could adopt asymmetric measures to ban foreign companies or cut off its export, Tikhomirov said.

In response to sanctions, Russian state-owned banks will probably try to sell more debt on the domestic and Asian markets, but will nonetheless have to increase the cost at which they lend money, Tikhomirov added.

For now, Russian banks are not taking steps to ward off the effects of sanctions, because they expect the situation to be short-lived.

“It will be a burden on Russia’s central bank and sovereign fund,” he said. “The issue for Russian banks and the market in general is not catastrophic, but macroeconomic pressure will increase, as will growth of inflation and of cost of credit.”

State-owned banks Sberbank and VTB declined to comment for this story.

In one example of the import substitution sought by the Kremlin, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, said at a meeting with representatives of Russia’s military-industrial complex on Monday night that the country would replace imported components for its arms production, and the impending “technological difficulties” would in the end be beneficial for the country.

“Our task is to insure ourselves against the risk of our foreign partners not fulfilling contracts, and this includes political risks,” Putin said. “We need to provide for the reliable and on-time delivery of vital parts and components and carefully keep track of their quality.”

The remarks appeared directed toward the effects of the expected western sanctions, as well as the end of cooperation with Ukraine, which has been a major manufacturing base for arms components, especially engines for aircraft and ships. In addition, Russia has a large arms trade with France, having ordered not only two Mistral warships from the country but also licensing to produce thermal imagery devices and electronics for its Su-30 fighter jet. Although the Mistral warship contract will go through, new trade in arms components with Europe will be halted. In light of sanctions Russia will likely turn towards the Asian market to supply such components, Igor Korotchenko, editor of the National Defence journal, told the newspaper Izvestia.

But independent defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said that despite Putin’s optimism, replacing many of the foreign-sourced components was a “sheer impossibility”. He said 90% of defence-industry electronics were produced in the west, arguing that even intercontinental ballistic missiles are not fully Russian-made.

“Self-dependence and doing everything on your own soil, that didn’t work even in medieval times, and right now practically all Russian weapons systems use foreign components or materials,” he said.

The restrictions placed by the EU on the oil industry are also likely to be painful but not crippling. BP, which owns nearly 20% of Russia’s state-owned oil major Rosneft and has been cooperating with it to explore Arctic deposits, said further sanctions “could have a material adverse impact on our relationship with and investment in Rosneft, our business and strategic objectives in Russia, and our financial position and results of operations”.

A drilling rig that ExxonMobil and Rosneft will operate as part of its exploration project in the Arctic Ocean left port in Norway two days after MH17 was downed. But further Arctic exploration projects will be put into doubt.

Ildar Davletshin, an oil analyst at Renaissance Capital, said western technologies to drill in the Arctic would not be needed until conventional reserves begin to dry up by 2020, he added.

In response to sanctions, Rosneft is will probably seek to divest from non-core assets and decrease its participation in projects in Venezuela and other countries, he said.

“It’s a very connected industry, [high-technology] components could be produced in Russia or China but it will take time to re-orient,” he said.

Can Putin Be Stopped? More Sanctions Go Into Effect

July 30, 2014

Washington (CNN) — More Russian aggression in Ukraine. More U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Moscow.

What seems like diplomatic tail-chasing so many months into the Ukraine conflict invites questions about how Western powers can defuse the worsening conflict in Eastern Europe.

U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union raised the stakes on Tuesday, announcing long-threatened sanctions that target Russia’s state-owned banks, weapons makers and oil companies, along with top cronies of President Vladimir Putin.

Critics are saying that President Vladimir V. Putin overreached by suggesting that Russia could thrive without the West. Credit Pool photo by Mikhail Klimentyev

They want Putin to stop arming pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukraine government and instead support a political process that entrenches President Petro Poroshenko’s elected leadership.

A deeper concern is that Putin may be planning to grab more territory from the former Soviet satellite following Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year.

Russia denies such ambitions and criticizes sanctions as unproductive toward the goal of finding a diplomatic solution.

Here is a look at the latest sanctions and what might come next.

How did we get here?

The Ukraine crisis developed from huge protests in Kiev late last year that led to the February ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In the ensuing political chaos, the pro-West Poroshenko got elected while Russia grabbed control of Crimea, an ethnic-Russian territory home to its Black Sea fleet.

U.S., EU hit Russia with more sanctions as Ukraine fighting continues

Russia denies such ambitions and criticizes sanctions as unproductive toward the goal of finding a diplomatic solution.

Here is a look at the latest sanctions and what might come next.

How did we get here?

The Ukraine crisis developed from huge protests in Kiev late last year that led to the February ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In the ensuing political chaos, the pro-West Poroshenko got elected while Russia grabbed control of Crimea, an ethnic-Russian territory home to its Black Sea fleet.

U.S., EU hit Russia with more sanctions as Ukraine fighting continues

Watch this video

Expert: No Cold War, but temps dropping

Obama and U.S. allies protested by suspending Putin from the G8 summit and imposing a series of limited sanctions, warning of tougher measures targeting specific economic sectors if Russia’s aggression continued. It did, with the separatists armed and trained by Moscow rebelling in eastern Ukraine.

In response, Obama announced expanded U.S. sanctions on July 16 that targeted two Russian state-owned banks, two energy companies, eight weapons makers, along with some Putin associates and separatist leaders.

Europe’s major economic ties with Russia — about $500 billion in trade and investment per year — caused the European Union to balk at joining Washington then.

The next day, a missile fired from separatist-held territory downed a Malaysia Airlines jet in the conflict zone, killing all 298 people aboard.

Now the separatists are hindering access to the crash site amid fighting in the area, and Russia is sending heavy weaponry to them while deploying troops along the Ukraine border.

MH17 crash: Investigators must have full access, Malaysian PM says

What the European Union did

Almost two weeks after Obama initially expanded the U.S. sanctions, European leaders agreed Tuesday to coordinate similar steps.

In a major expansion signaling new resolve, they went after eight of Putin’s top associates, along with Russia’s finance, energy and weapons industries.

The new EU sanctions will restrict Russian state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets, and stop or slow the export of oil-related equipment and technology to Russia.

They also will stop new contracts for arms imports and exports between the European Union and Russia, and prohibit the export of goods and technology that can be used for both military and civilian purposes.

“It is meant as a strong warning: Illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country cannot be accepted in 21st century Europe,” the EU said in a statement.

To punish Russia, Europe must be prepared to suffer

What Obama announced

Two hours later, Obama told reporters that the United States expanded its July 16 sanctions to include three more state-owned banks and another weapons company, while also targeting technology for deep-water, Arctic and shale oil production.

While expanding on the earlier moves, the latest sanctions include limits.

They don’t affect Russia’s current oil production, instead targeting the ability to develop new areas, senior administration officials told reporters on a background call. The European sanctions on weapons trade only involves future transactions, allowing France to complete an existing helicopter deal with Moscow.

However, Obama cited the joint action as significant, saying that “because we are closely coordinating our actions with Europe, the sanctions we are announcing today will have an even bigger bite.”

“If Russia continues on its current path, the cost on Russia will continue to grow,” he added, calling the moves “a reminder that the United States means what it says, and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world.”

What is the impact?

The senior administration officials said the expanded sanctions prevent Russia’s state-owned banks, which have all or most of their debt in U.S. dollars, from getting more medium- and long-term financing in America.

They noted the sanctions already have contributed to a downturn in the Russian economy, a flight of foreign capital and weakening of the ruble currency.

“Russia is not a very good bet right now for international investors,” one of the officials said.

On Tuesday, shares in British oil giant BP fell by 2.5% after the company warned that it would suffer from the tougher EU sanctions. BP owns a significant stake in Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil company, which no longer can access long-term financing from U.S. sources.

Meanwhile, shares in French automotive manufacturer Renault slumped by 4.5% as the company warned about a sharp slowdown in emerging markets, including Russia. Russia is Renault’s third largest market, based on sales.

Geopolitically, Obama denied that a new Cold War with Russia had started, but Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, told CNN that “the temperature in the room has just dropped a few degrees.”

“The fact that the Europeans have now finally recognized what they need to do and that the administration has been able to bring them on board” was a “positive development,” Rose said.

Map: Europe’s thirst for Russian gas

Will it matter to Putin?

To the U.S. officials, the sanctions announced Tuesday are “the most significant tool we have to shape Russian decision-making.”

Watch this video

Analysts questioned whether economic hardship would change Putin’s thinking.

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine now with the Brookings Institution, told a congressional committee last month that Putin could use sanctions “as a scapegoat and attempt to put all the blame on the West for Russia’s poor economic performance.”

To fellow Brookings analysts Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes, Russia’s economy can absorb the shocks of sanctions without deteriorating to the point of forcing Putin to change his overall goals and policies.

“For that, sanctions would have to reduce Russia to its condition of the 1990s, when it was simply too weak and dependent on the West to oppose the international order created by the West after the Cold War,” they wrote in an article on the Brookings website. “It is clear to us that no feasible actions by the West today can recreate the weak and compliant Russia of the 1990s.”

One reason: such a move would seriously harm the global economy, too, a step Washington and the European Union won’t take, the pair said.

Opinion: Putin, just evil enough

Where do things stand?

Obama and EU leaders made clear that Putin could avoid the increasing international isolation Russia faces by working with Poroshenko’s government in Ukraine, instead of helping the separatists fight against it.

The senior administration officials listed four conditions for getting sanctions eased: recognize Poroshenko’s government as legitimately elected; stop arming the separatists; stop massing Russian forces at the border; and influence the separatists to enter an inclusive political process in Ukraine.

“It didn’t have to come to this. It does not have to be this way,” Obama said. “This is a choice that Russia and President Putin in particular has made.”

The European statement specifically cited the annexation of Crimea as another grievance, while the U.S. officials did not mention it.

However, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Tuesday against any further expansionist ideas by Putin, such as invading eastern Ukraine.

“That would be taken, needless to say, as not just a violation of all notions of international law, but an exceedingly dangerous action which would wind up with, you know, the most severe possible kinds of isolation and sanctions possible,” Kerry told reporters. “And Germany, France, other countries in Europe, would clearly join into that in ways that would have a profound, profound impact on the Russian economy.”

Sanctions: Top 10 Russian targets

What if the sanctions don’t work?

Obama and European leaders have repeatedly said the Ukraine crisis requires a diplomatic solution, which rules out military intervention — at least for now.

Beyond sanctions, another idea floated by some European officials would be to move the 2018 soccer World Cup planned for Russia to somewhere else.

Such a move, considered premature at this point by major soccer nations and organizations, would deliver a bitter blow to Putin following Russia’s successful hosting of the Sochi Olympics earlier this year.

Things to know about Russia and sanctions

http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/29/politics/us-eu-russia-sanctions/

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See also: The New York Times
As Sanctions Pile Up, Russians’ Alarm Grows Over Putin’s Tactics

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/30/world/europe/as-sanctions-pile-up-russians-alarm-grows-over-putin-tactics.html?_r=0

Jeff Sessions: House Border Bill Is a ‘Surrender To a Lawless President’

July 30, 2014

Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) denounced the House Republican border bill as a “surrender to a lawless president” because the legislation does not include any language to prevent President Obama from expanding his unilateral legalization of illegal immigrants.

Here’s the statement:

The Obama Administration has openly declared its plan to implement a unilateral executive amnesty for 5–6 million more illegal immigrants. This unlawful amnesty—urged on by congressional Democrats—would include work permits, taking jobs directly from millions of struggling American citizens.

Any action Congress might consider to address the current border crisis would be futile should the President go forward with these lawless actions. Congress must speak out and fight against them. It must use its spending power to stop the President’s executive amnesty.

That the House leaders’ border package includes no language on executive actions is surrender to a lawless President. And it is a submission to the subordination of congressional power.

After years of falling wages and rising joblessness, American workers are pleading for someone to hear them. How can it be that our President is brazenly advertising that he will nullify and strip away American workers’ immigration protections, and their own elected leaders will not rise to their defense? Or to the defense of our laws and our Constitutional order?

There are other grave concerns with the Granger package as well: because it does not fix our asylum rules and loopholes, the end result of the additional judges and hearings will be more illegal immigrants gaining asylum and access to U.S. welfare. It is a plan for expedited asylum, not expedited removal.

Nor will this package make our rogue President actively enforce anything, coming nowhere close to the kinds of reasonable enforcement activities needed to restore the interior application of our immigration laws.

And finally, a package that is silent on blocking amnesty creates an opportunity for Senate Democrats to add elements of their party’s open borders and mass immigration agenda.

This legislation is unworthy of support.

On Russia: Putin is Such A Liar He Deserves No Trust

July 29, 2014

On Russia: British ambassador to the United States Sir Peter Westmacott says West’s increasingly firm response to Russia over Ukraine and the downing of Flight MH17 is beginning to have an impact on the Kremlin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin

Backlash: Vladimir Putin’s behaviour over Ukraine has been described as ‘thuggish, dishonest and reckless’ by Britain’s ambassador to the US Photo: AFP/GETTY

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is a “thug” and a “liar”, one of Britain’s most senior ambassadors has said, as the EU prepares to approve tough new sanctions against Moscow.

Sir Peter Westmacott said the West’s increasingly firm response to Russia was beginning to have an impact on the Kremlin.

The British ambassador to the United States said Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine was starting to look like “the wrong call”.

He spoke as the Ministry of Defence announced that a battle group of 1,350 troops and armoured vehicles, including Challenger tanks, would join Nato exercises in Poland.

The Government said Exercise Black Eagle in south-west Poland would see Britain’s biggest deployment to Eastern Europe since 2008.

The exercises were designed to reassure Nato’s eastern members that the alliance would shield them from Russian aggression.

Sir Peter said Mr Putin’s behaviour in Ukraine had been “thuggish, dishonest and reckless” and he “thought he’d done pretty well after he stole Crimea”.

“It doesn’t look so good now,” he said on the US cable channel MSNBC, part of the NBC group. “It’s starting to look like this was the wrong call. This is a defining moment for what is going on in Ukraine.

“We’ve had some very bad behaviour from the Russian side for a long time now, and now we’ve had this terrible atrocity — the shooting down of the aircraft. We have to change the cost/benefit analysis for Putin, for the Russian people, for the government that they have elected there.”

Nato has stepped up manoeuvres in Eastern Europe since the annexation of Crimea with generals believing the alliance needs to reset its stance towards a more aggressive Kremlin.

Exercise Black Eagle is the latest Nato war game to be bolstered at short notice in the area.

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Military sources said the exercise at Poland’s Zagan training area had been long planned, but significantly beefed up in recent weeks.

Polish forces and other Nato nations are expected to join the exercise. The bulk of the British forces are expected to come from the King’s Royal Hussars, though Army sources said a final decision had not yet been made.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said the exercise showed Britain’s “sustained and substantial support to Nato’s eastern border”. Britain was not ruling out “further enhancements”, he said.

The confrontation over Ukraine is also likely to dominate a Nato summit in Wales in September. Mr Fallon said: “We have a strong opportunity at the Nato summit to discuss how we will continue our response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.”

The sending of an armoured battle group is by far Britain’s largest show of military backing to Eastern Europe since the crisis in Ukraine began.

Four RAF Typhoon fighter jets were sent to Lithuania earlier in the year to reinforce Nato air patrols over the Baltic nations and British troops have also joined smaller military manoeuvres.

Nato generals are calling for the alliance to pour military resources into Eastern Europe and build up a deterrent against Russia after years in which alliance members have cut spending and focused on conflicts elsewhere.

Gen Philip Breedlove, Nato’s top commander in Europe, said last week he wanted to transform a military base in Eastern Europe into a staging post stocked with weapons, ammunition and ration packs in case Nato troops had to rush to the area in the event of a crisis.

Western leaders are concerned that the Kremlin has chosen to escalate the conflict in Ukraine, even after the downing of MH17, by carrying out cross border artillery strikes and by sending more equipment to separatists.

Tony Blinken, a national security adviser to Barak Obama, said existing sanctions did not appear to have forced Mr Putin to back off. He said: “We’ve seen convoys of tanks, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, and armoured vehicles. There’s evidence it’s preparing to deliver even more powerful multiple rocket launchers.”

Dutch and Australian investigators were once again prevented from reaching the site of the Malaysia Airlines crash as fighting continued nearby.

Ukraine forces advanced on Donetsk, the pro-Russian separatist capital, from the east and there was fighting close to the site near the town of Torez.

Later on Monday, Igor Girkin, the rebels’ military chief, denied his troops had a Buk surface-to-air missile as he refused to be blamed for the downing of the jet.

Obama, Kerry Have Never Impressed Israel With Their Commitment, Resolve

July 28, 2014

We here at Peace and Freedom have been unapologetic supporters of Israel for many year. Israel’s peace and security — in fact it’s very nationhood, has always been assured and secured by the United States.

Israel is surrounded by peoples and nations that have openly express a desire and intention to kill all Jews and rid the world of the “Zionist State.”

Each conflict for Israel is a potentially existential event.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have need seemed to back Israel the way their American forefather have dine back to the Truman Administration. Naturally, this is of grave concern to Israel and all Israelis.

With an avowed terrorist organization, Hamas, now a part of the coalition with the Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu and his cabinet in Israel believe the time to act had come.  To Israel, it is unacceptable that Hamas is allowed to sent Iranian supplied rockets raining down on the Israel people while Iran negotiated with the U.S. on its nuclear program.

Don’t forget, not too long ago Iran said its purpose was to wipe Israel from the map.

We at peace and freedom support Israel and the Israeli people, and we see no proof in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq or other places that the Kerry-Obama team can be relied upon to protect American allies and respect decades long American commitments.

Related:

See video:

http://www.newsmax.com/newswidget/kerry-pinpoint-operation-israeli/2014/07/20/id/583764/?promo_code=125BD-1&utm_source=125BDTelegraph_Media_Group&utm_medium=nmwidget&utm_campaign=widgetphase1

Related:

U.S. Secretary of State john Kerry appeared on all five major American TV Sunday talk shows on July 20, 2014.

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By MATTHEW LEE and JULIE PACE

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

“It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as more favorable to Hamas.

“Israel has no better friend, no stronger defender than John Kerry,” said Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser. He said the criticism of Kerry was based on “people leaking things that are either misinformed or attempting to misinform.”

The coordinated pushback came amid growing U.S. frustration with the number of Palestinian civilian casualties as Israel wages an air and ground war in the Gaza Strip. Obama and Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.

The U.S. has made little progress in achieving that objective. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech Monday that his country must be ready for “a prolonged campaign” against Hamas in Gaza.

As Kerry returned from the region over the weekend, Israeli media commentators leveled almost nonstop criticism of his attempts to bring Qatar and Turkey — two countries viewed by Israel as strong Hamas supporters — into the cease-fire negotiations. Kerry was also accused of abandoning some of Israel’s key demands during the negotiations, including demilitarizing Gaza.

In trying to implement the cease-fire over the weekend, “U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything,” wrote columnist Ari Shavit in Monday’s Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper. “Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a ‘strategic terrorist attack.'”

U.S. officials disputed the notion that Kerry had formally presented a proposal and cast the document in question as a draft given to the Israelis as part of an effort to gain their input in seeking a weeklong cessation of hostilities. Officials said the draft was based on an earlier Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted but Hamas had rejected.

Psaki said the U.S. was “surprised and obviously disappointed” to see the draft proposal made public. She also argued that there was a difference between the characterization of Kerry’s handling of the negotiations by Israeli media and what government officials were telling the U.S. privately.

“No one is calling to complain about the secretary’s handling of the situation,” Psaki said.

Kerry did not directly mention the criticism during brief remarks on Monday. However, he did seek to debunk the notion that the U.S. had backed away from its support for the demilitarization of Gaza, which has been a top priority for Israel.

“Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups,” Kerry said.

While the Obama administration maintains that it supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, officials have grown increasingly concerned about the civilian casualties in Gaza. The White House said Obama spoke with Netanyahu Sunday and expressed “serious and growing concern” about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past three weeks, Palestinian health officials say. According to the United Nations, about three-fourths of them were civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers and two civilians, as well as a Thai worker.

On Monday, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people, nine of them children. Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack as fighting in the Gaza war raged on despite a major Muslim holiday.

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Associated Press writer Peter Enav in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Follow Matthew Lee at http://twitter.com/APDiploWriter and Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Barack Obama has already retired as U.S. President — “Phoning it in”

July 27, 2014

United States: The degree to which Barack Obama is now phoning it in – sleepwalking perfunctorily through his second term, amid golf rounds and dinner parties – is astonishing

US President Barack Obama enjoys a round of golf in Hawaii, January 2014

US President Barack Obama enjoys a round of golf in Hawaii Photo: EPA

President Obama has emotionally checked out of his job a couple of years early, it seems. How can one tell?

Candidates for president who brazenly assume they are the inevitable victor are sometimes accused of “measuring the drapes” for the White House.

Obama, conversely, seems to be prematurely packing his bags in hopes for an early departure.


Top priority? Barack Obama greets people in Delaware (AFP/Getty)

Just last week, for example, the Los Angeles Times reported that “The First Family is believed to be in escrow on a contemporary home in a gated community where entertainers Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby once maintained estates”.

George Santayana observed that “Americans don’t solve problems, they leave them behind”. Perhaps the president is taking this to heart.

For rumours to catch fire, an element of truth must typically be involved.

The fact that the press would find relevance in speculating on Obama’s post-White House residence – and identify California as the kind of scene the future ex-president would want to hang out in when he leaves office – is perhaps telling.

And, indeed, this comes on the heels of multiple reports from outlets such as The New York Times and Politico, detailing how Obama has increasingly been spending his time at trendy restaurants and fancy, late-night dinner parties with celebrities and various intellectuals.

Rubbing elbows with the rich and elite is fine enough. Unfortunately, the work suffers. The degree to which he is now phoning it in – sleepwalking perfunctorily through his second term – is astonishing.

And based on his recent handling of situations much more serious than a possible post-presidential move to sunny California, it seems as if “No Drama Obama” is no longer even worried about keeping up appearances; he doesn’t care enough to fake it.

Consider this: In recent days, a) Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, apparently by Russian separatists in Ukraine, b) In the Gaza strip, the numbers killed continued to mount as Israelis and Palestinians exchange rocket fire, c) a huge influx of children fleeing Central American poverty and gang warfare swamped America’s southern border, creating a humanitarian crisis. And, oh yeah, d) Christians living in Mosul were given the choice to either convert to Islam or flee the area they have inhabited for nearly two thousand years.

You know what else has happened during this time? a) Obama played many rounds of golf, b) he attended numerous fund-raisers, c) he dined on barbecue in Texas and burgers in Delaware, and d) he almost appeared on the comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night television show in Hollywood.

I say “almost” because the White House finally relented. “We ultimately elected not to have the president do that interview over the course of this trip,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, conceded. “And that is at least in part related to the challenges of doing a comedy show in the midst of some of these other more serious matters that the president’s dealing with in the international scene.”

The irony is that Obama won election in 2008, partly based on his ability to demonstrate leadership (at least, rhetorically).

And, despite a less-than-perfect first term, the public believed enough in his “hope and change” mantra to return him to office – a move reminiscent of Samuel Johnson’s observation about second marriages being “a triumph of hope over experience”.

But today, one wonders if Obama even has the energy left to summon some of the old magic that got him elected. A souffle, as they say, doesn’t rise twice.

While we tend to think of them as polar opposites, Obama’s predecessor had been similarly excoriated for similarly botching a few big moments where he should have been on the job. For President George W Bush, the images of Hurricane Katrina continue to haunt his legacy. He later regretted not going to there immediately after the hurricane hit.

“I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor, and walked out and said, ‘I hear you. We understand. And we’re going to help the state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed’,” he confessed in 2010.

Woody Allen famously said, 80 per cent of life is just showing up. He wasn’t wrong. But, in lieu of showing up, there is an even easier way to avoid looking quite so out of touch. If Obama were worried about bad optics – about appearing out of touch – he might play a bit less golf (another lesson he could have learned from his predecessor).

During one unfortunate event caught on tape, and featured in the Fahrenheit 9/11 film trailer, the then President Bush was unfortunately filmed saying: “I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you.” Then, holding up a golf club, he added: “Now, watch this drive.”

This was a brutal blow. Fair or not, playing golf has a way of making one look simultaneously elitist and aloof. Obama tends to dismiss such cautionary tales.

For example, the suggestion that while in Texas he should have gone to the border and addressed the growing humanitarian crisis (instead of attending fund-raisers) was dismissed as the suggestion he do a theatrical “photo-op”.

This is at best unromantic, and, at worst, cynical. Words matter.

Showing up matters. Was it a “photo-op” when Ronald Reagan spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate and declared: “Tear down this wall!”?

I suppose one could have made that argument.

Obama’s not dumb, and he’s clearly capable of marshalling an effective propaganda campaign when he wants to. So what explains this series of bad optics, which might be described by PR professionals as political malpractice?

The only thing that makes sense is that he is exhausted and, perhaps, has checked out of the job early.

If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, then Obama is dining out, golfing, and raising money while the world collapses.

Matt K Lewis is a senior contributor at The Daily Caller website in Washington, DC

Radical Islamist Group ISIS: “Full-blown army” — “Worse than al-Qaida” in its doctrine, ambition and, increasingly, in its threat to U.S. interests

July 25, 2014

By Andrea Billups
NewsMax

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Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.REUTERS/Stringer

Militant Islamist ISIS fighters on a tank in northern Raqqa province, Iraq,  June 30, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Stringer

The radical Islamist group terrorizing Iraq and ousting Christians there has threatened President Barack Obama, U.S. sources revealed.

“We’re coming for you, Barack Obama,” the group threatened, according to Elissa Slotkin, acting principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in a story published by The Hill.

The group’s insurgence inside the country has drawn the attention of U.S. officials who have called it “worse than al-Qaida.”

“It is al-Qaida in its doctrine, ambition and, increasingly, in its threat to U.S. interests,”  Brett McGurk, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said in testimony during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

McGurk was blunt in outlining the group’s intent, calling it “no longer a terrorist organization. It is a full-blown army,” the Hill reported.

Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge also signaled the strength of the group and its capacity to create terror, adding that ISIS’s threats had been on the intelligence community’s radar for a long time with the ability to enter the United States unnoticed.

“They’ve got a lot of fighters who are from European countries that are visa waiver countries, which means all they have to do is shave their beards and look like normal, responsible civilians and walk into the United States of America without a visa,” Ridge said. “It’s a real challenge for our intelligence community to identify them and get their names on a watch list.”

Known as ISIL or ISIS, short for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the group has powered throughout Iraq in recent weeks, commandeering the police force and entering homes where residents have gone missing at the hands of marauding posses. Whole towns are under siege by ISIS forces, and the group has suggested it will overtake Baghdad, a threat that led Obama to deploy about 750 troops to the war-torn nation, The Washington Times reported.

Christians are under particular assault by the Sunni terrorists, being told to convert or die, Al Jazeera reported. They have also been pressured to pay a tax, and those who have fled have been robbed at checkpoints by insurgents.

“There is not a single Christian family left in Mosul,” Bashar Nasih Behnam, 52, told The Guardian.

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Read Latest Breaking News from Newsmax.com http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/ISIS-Obama-Iraq-Syria/2014/07/24/id/584748#ixzz38T9fZOrW

Where Did President Obama Go? — First Option is To Do Nothing

July 25, 2014

By Charles Krauthammer

The president’s demeanor is worrying a lot of people. From the immigration crisis on the Mexican border to the Islamic State rising in Mesopotamia, Barack Obama seems totally detached from the world’s convulsions. When he does interrupt his endless rounds of golf, fundraising and photo ops, it’s for some affectless, mechanical, almost forced public statement.

Regarding Ukraine, his detachment — the rote, impassive voice — borders on dissociation. His U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, delivers an impassioned denunciation of Russia. Obama cautions that we not “get out ahead of the facts,” as if the facts of this case — Vladimir Putin’s proxies shooting down a civilian airliner — are in doubt.

The preferred explanation for the president’s detachment is psychological. He’s checked out. Given up. Let down and disappointed by the world, he is in withdrawal.

But I’d propose an alternate theory, less psychological than intellectual, that gives him more credit: Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it . He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Obama in June 2009 (and many times since) regarding the Green Revolution in Iran.

Ultimately, injustice and aggression don’t pay. The Soviets saw their 20th-century empire dissolve. More proximally, U.S. gains in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in time, liquidated. Ozymandias lies forever buried and forgotten in desert sands.

Remember when, at the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, Obama tried to construct for Putin “an offramp” from Crimea? Absurd as this idea was, I think Obama was sincere. He actually imagined that he’d be saving Putin from himself, that Crimea could only redound against Russia in the long run.

If you really believe this, then there is no need for forceful, potentially risky U.S. counteractions. Which explains everything since: Obama’s pinprick sanctions; his failure to rally a craven Europe; his refusal to supply Ukraine with the weapons it has been begging for.

The shooting down of a civilian airliner seemed to validate Obama’s passivity. “Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences,” explained Obama. See. You play with fire, it will blow up in your face. Just as I warned. Now world opinion will turn against Putin.

To which I say: So what? World opinion, by itself, is useless: malleable, ephemeral and, unless mobilized by leadership, powerless. History doesn’t act autonomously. It needs agency.

Germany’s Angela Merkel still doesn’t want to jeopardize trade with Russia. France’s François Hollande will proceed with delivery of a Mistral-class attack-helicopter carrier to Russia. And Obama speaks of future “costs” if Russia persists — a broken record since Crimea, carrying zero credibility.

Or did Obama think Putin — a KGB thug who rose to power by turning Chechnya to rubble — would be shamed into regret and restraint by the blood of 298 innocents? On the contrary. Putin’s response has been brazen defiance: denying everything and unleashing a massive campaign of lies, fabrications and conspiracy theories blaming it all on Ukraine and the United States.

Putin doesn’t give a damn about world opinion. He cares about domestic opinion, which has soared to more than 80 percent approval since Crimea. If anything, he’s been emboldened. On Wednesday, his proxies shot down two more jets — a finger to the world and a declaration that his campaign continues.

A real U.S. president would give Kiev the weapons it needs, impose devastating sectoral sanctions on Moscow, reinstate our Central European missile- defense system and make a Reaganesque speech explaining why.

Obama has done none of these things. Why should he? He’s on the right side of history.

Of course, in the long run nothing lasts. But history is lived in the here and now. The Soviets had only 70 years, Hitler a mere 12. Yet it was enough to murder millions and rain ruin on entire continents. Bashar al-Assad, too, will one day go. But not before having killed at least 100,000 people.

All domination must end. But after how much devastation? And if you leave it to the forces of history to repel aggression and redeem injustice, what’s the point of politics, of leadership, in the first place?

The world is aflame and our leader is on the 14th green. The arc of history may indeed bend toward justice, Mr. President. But, as you say, the arc is long. The job of a leader is to shorten it, to intervene on behalf of “the fierce urgency of now.” Otherwise, why do we need a president? And why did you seek to become ours?

Read more from Charles Krauthammer’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

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Barack Obama

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Eugene Robinson: The downside of giving weapons to rebels in Ukraine or Syria

J. Dionne: Will Flight 17 sober us up?

Anne Applebaum: The Malaysia Airlines crash is the end of Russia’s fairy tale

A letter to Obama

July 25, 2014

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By Ben Caspit

An address to the US president on the situation in the Middle East, Hamas and the UN Human Rights Council.

US President Barack Obama. Photo: REUTERS

Dear President Barack Obama,

You are the leader of the free world. Here in the Middle East, where we live, freedom is running out.

Countries and entire regions are falling into the hands of brain-washed, hate-filled extremists, who slaughter anyone who doesn’t think the same way they think or agree with all their religious beliefs. Look at what’s happening in Syria, Iraq, in the Sinai Desert and many other places.

You know full well, Mr. President, that in its war against Hamas, Israel embodies the forces of light, and Hamas the forces of darkness.

A veritable Gunfight at the OK Corral, where the good guy takes on the bad guy.

But let’s put politics aside for a moment, ignore the background noise and the failed peace process. Let’s not mention Binyamin Netanyahu.

Most of the Israeli public genuinely supports peace, and I am one of a large number willing to make painful concessions to achieve peace, with a  forces of darkness state alongside the State of Israel.

Let’s not forget that the most popular person in Israel, way ahead of any others, is our former president, Shimon Peres (whose term in office ended on Thursday).

The ultimate prophet of peace.

All this must now be pushed to the sidelines. At the moment we are in a war for our lives against an adversary that calls for our destruction and holds this mission as holy religious project.

Hamas is not willing to conduct negotiations, doesn’t recognize existing arrangements, openly supports the annihilation of Israel and calls for throwing the citizens of Israel into the sea. At the same time, Hamas oppresses an entire population, treats women as inferior objects, and persecutes Christians while building an empire of terror and an army of fighters dedicated to holy war.

You know, Mr. President, that I am not depending on a list of slogans here. Hard facts are being revealed to us daily.

On Wednesday, Mr. President, we learned that the United Nations Human Rights Committee ordered the establishment of a commission of inquiry to study “war crimes” committed by Israel in Gaza. The last time this happened was when the Goldstone Committee dealt Israel’s reputation a worldwide blow that was no less than disastrous. Eventually, Richard Goldstone himself regretted the report that bore his name, but it was too late to make a difference.

Today, Mr. President, it is happening again. And it mustn’t be allowed.

Actually, several things have happened since Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, which brought us Goldstone. New organizations have come into being, such as the Islamic State group that is currently terrorizing Syrians, Iraqis and Jordanians. The Sunni Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra front is making its presence felt.

Al-Qaida is rearing its head. Hezbollah is still spoiling for war.

The enlightened world has begun to understand that what we have here is not a war for an independent Palestinian state, but a war of destruction. A war of cultures.

Yes, we all know that the UN Human Rights Council is a flyby- night body with an automatic majority against Israel. It is dumb and unintelligent and motivated mainly by hate, perhaps even anti-Semitism. Which doesn’t mean we have to put up with all this. We appeal to you, Mr. President to make your voice heard as leader of the free world. To defend us. To stand up for sanity, against the forces of evil. To distinguish between the good guys and the bad. Between human beings and wild animals.

As a journalist, Mr. President, I spend a lot of time in the field.

This week I saw a 14-year-old Palestinian girl from Gaza being evacuated in an IDF tank to a hospital in Israel. Yesterday, she and her mother were interviewed by Israeli TV, from inside the safety of an Israeli hospital. They spoke of the fair treatment, the excellent care and devotion they received, and described the soldiers who had saved them as “brave and fair.” Their faces were covered, for fear of being harmed when they return to their homes in Gaza and into the arms of Hamas. Our hospitals are full of wounded Palestinians.

By the way, it is not this way only during wartime. Palestinian babies and children receive life-saving treatment in Israel on a daily basis. That never deters Hamas, which even fires at the power station that supplies Gaza with electricity. Even the fact that the only border crossing between Gaza and the outside world is in Israel and that even today, all the provisions, food, medicines and equipment needed in Gaza come via Israel, does not confuse Hamas, which continues with its plan to annihilate Israel.

Yesterday, Hamas fired on the field hospital Israel established in Shejaia, a facility which only treats wounded Palestinians. Hamas did this in retaliation for the IDF’s attack on Wafa Hospital in the same neighborhood. The only, small difference is that Wafa Hospital is a launching pad for missiles and anti-tank rockets aimed at us. We have it on film. Just like the footage we have of them concealing missiles in schools belonging to UNRWA. Just as they place launch sites and rocket arsenals next to homes, parks and schools. They hide behind their civilians.

In recent years they have not built so much as a single bomb shelter in Gaza, shelters that could save the lives of many civilians.

Instead, they built dozens of underground tunnels from which to attack Israel and try to destroy it.

During the first 10 days of this war, the IDF lost 10 soldiers. In American terms, this is equivalent to 1,600 dead US servicemen.

Some of them, like the three paratroopers killed Wednesday, dead because the Israeli Air Force refused to attack a specific target for fear of hurting civilians.

Instead, the paratroopers entered a booby-trapped house and were blown up.

You no doubt know, Mr. President, of other Western armies that would have used different means to solve situations such as these.

But we are Jews and Israelis, Mr. President, and we are denied such measures. Our hands are bound by phony moral excuses, and we are obliged to continue sacrificing our soldiers.

You are aware, Mr. President, that Israel withdrew from every last inch of Gaza in 2005. Israel gave peace a chance. Instead of peace, we got war and war again.

You know that Hamas refused to join any cease-fire Israel agreed to. We agreed to a cease fire even though, under the current circumstances, this would have been tantamount to an Israeli defeat.

Hamas seeks to wreak death, to terrorize, to continue to brainwash those whose brains are not already drenched with uncompromising hatred.

Mr. President, Hamas must be stopped. For this to happen, the UN Human Rights Council must be stopped first. Someone has to stand up and tell the world the truth. That someone, Mr. President, ought to be you. Only you.

Because you are the only one they’ll believe.

Translated from Hebrew by Ora Cummings.

After Paying Almost No Price For the MH17 Shoot Down, Putin Apparently Orders Russian Military to Get More Involved in Ukraine War

July 24, 2014

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A pro-Russian separatist from the Vostok (East) battalion stands in front of T-64 tanks in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Associated Press

The Obama administration on Thursday accused Russia of firing artillery from its territory into Ukraine to hit Ukrainian military sites and asserted that Moscow is boosting its supply of weaponry to pro-Russian separatists.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to separatist forces in Ukraine and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russian to attack Ukrainian military positions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. She said the evidence derived from “some intelligence information” but declined to elaborate, saying it would compromise sources and methods of intelligence collection.

The allegations come amid an increasingly bitter war of words between Washington and Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine and conflicting claims over the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over eastern Ukraine last week. The U.S. has repeatedly accused Russia of stoking the Ukraine rebellion and has said it believes separatists shot down the Malaysian plane, killing nearly 300 people, with a Russian provided surface-to-air missile.

Harf said Wednesday the ultimate responsibility for the downing of the plane rests with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

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Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

The Russian military fired artillery rounds into eastern Ukraine on Thursday, a “clear escalation” of hostilities there, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

Russia has about 12,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, Warren said. Russian tanks, artillery and rocket launchers have crossed into Ukraine to support separatists there.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has not spoken to his Russian counterpart about the artillery attack and has no plans to, Warren said.

“This is a clear escalation,” Warren said.

The Russians have conducted artillery attacks on Ukraine military targets for the last several days, Warren said.

The State Department also said Thursday they had evidence of the Russian attack.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to separatist forces in Ukraine and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russian to attack Ukrainian military positions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

The allegations come a day after two Ukrainian attack planes were shot down over rebel-held territory. Ukraine’s government said the missiles were fired from Russia. U.S. defense and intelligence officials said they could not verify the claim.

Contributing: Jim Michaels

Russian D-30 Howitzer

Russian BM-21 Grad

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‘Evidence’ Moscow firing on Ukraine troops

United States has evidence Russian troops are firing artillery from inside Russia on Ukrainian military positions, a US official says.Moscow is also planning to ‘deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers’ to the pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine, US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.The evidence was based on ‘intelligence information’ that since the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner with the loss of 298 lives arms were ‘continuing to flow across the border’ into Ukraine, Harf said, but she refused to reveal US sources or give further information.

See more at: http://www.skynews.com.au/news/world/europe/2014/07/25/-evidence–moscow-firing-on-ukraine-troops.html#sthash.k01WyiJH.dpuf

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Washington Raises Pressure on Moscow, More Closely Examines Russian Activities in Ukraine

By Julian E. Barnes and William Mauldin
The Wall Street Journal

The Obama administration is accusing Russia of firing artillery to hit Ukrainian military sites and planning to send pro-Russian separatists more lethal weaponry. Janine Davidson, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for defense studies, offer analysis on the News Hub with Sara Murray. Photo: Getty Images.

WASHINGTON—The U.S. believes Russia is firing artillery across its border at Ukrainian military positions, the State Department said on Thursday, an assertion that Moscow is playing a more direct role in the Ukrainian conflict.

The latest accusations show U.S. officials raising pressure on Moscow and more closely examining Russian activities near the rebel-held portions of eastern Ukraine since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which Washington blames on pro-Russian separatist fighters.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also said the U.S. has evidence that Russia intends to deliver powerful rocket systems to the pro-Russia fighters in Ukraine, but declined to provide details about the systems or about how officials came to that conclusion.

More Coverage

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” Ms. Harf told reporters at a news briefing, calling the findings “some pieces of info I’ve been able to get from our intelligence friends.”

Russia has repeatedly denied supporting the separatist fighters. Moscow denounced as fantasy previous charges by Kiev that missiles fired from Russia brought down two Ukrainian military planes on Wednesday.

Defense officials said the U.S. still hasn’t determined what brought down the two Ukrainian fighter planes. Rebels have claimed to have downed the plans with man-portable, shoulder-fired missiles, known as manpads, and U.S. officials have said that is possible.

Russia has been firing across the border into Ukraine for “several days,” according to a senior U.S. defense official. The U.S. has confirmed these strikes only within the last two days.

“For several days the Russians have been firing artillery into Ukraine,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. “This is clearly a military escalation.”

The senior defense official said the U.S. doesn’t have complete battle damage assessments, but said the strikes for the most part appear intended to harass Ukrainian forces.

Nonetheless, the official said the attacks show Russia’s intent to provide broader support to the separatists. “It demonstrates direct Russian involvement in Ukraine,” said the official. “It does up the ante.”

Another defense official said the artillery fire began “about the same time” the Malaysian airliner was shot down. So far, the fire has all come from tube artillery and the U.S. doesn’t have conclusive intelligence that Russia has fired anti-aircraft rockets into Ukraine.

Although used mainly to harass Ukrainian forces, U.S. officials remain worried that a sustained artillery barrage by Russian forces eventually could counter recent Ukrainian advances.

“Historically, artillery has been the biggest killer on the battlefield,” said the second defense official. “If used effectively, artillery can have a noticeable impact.”

U.S. officials say the escalation by Russia is a risk and represents a sign that Moscow is worried about the Ukrainian government’s counteroffensive against the separatists. Moscow, U.S. officials say, is worried that if the separatists don’t turn back the Ukrainian government’s advances, the separatist cause could be severely damaged or even lost.

Russia has between 15,000 and 18,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, but officials said there hasn’t been a significant buildup of firepower since the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner. Russian motorized infantry units all have artillery and rocket launchers assigned to them.

The strikes, officials said, are a sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t going to back down in his support for the separatists, even in the wake of the shootdown of the Malaysian airliner.

Last week, the U.S. imposed a new type of sanctions targeting the financing activities of some of Russia’s biggest companies, including Kremlin-controlled oil giant OAO Rosneft.

Since the Malaysia Airlines disaster, which killed scores of Dutch nationals and other Europeans, leaders in the European Union have also increasingly backed more serious sanctions against Moscow. EU officials on Thursday were considering sharp restrictions on Russian access to European financial markets and exports of militarily sensitive goods to Russia, and officials were also expected to impose sanctions on Russian individuals and entities.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com and William Mauldin at william.mauldin@wsj.com


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