Posts Tagged ‘chemical weapons’

Russia’s Terrorism Sponsorship

April 20, 2018
Emergency workers at the site where a former Russian intelligence agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter were poisoned with what the authorities say was a Russian military-grade nerve agent.Credit Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Despite the imposition of unprecedented sanctions against Russia by the Trump administration and Congress over the past year, President Vladimir Putin only seems more intent on causing grievous harm to international peace and stability.

Alongside increased financial sanctions against Mr. Putin and his cronies, there is another arrow in the American quiver that would add diplomatic pressure against Russia: The State Department should consider adding the country to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, alongside its close allies Iran and Syria.

The moral case for such a designation is sound. Russia has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine, it supports the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad and our enemies in Afghanistan, and it is engaged in active information warfare against Western democracies, including meddling in the 2016 United States elections.

This week, the Organization for Prevention of Chemical Weapons announced that the Kremlin had crossed yet another previously unimaginable line, when it confirmed findings by the British government that a Russian military-grade nerve agent, which British authorities identified as Novichok, was used to poison a former Russian intelligence agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. The attack also resulted in the hospitalization of British law enforcement officials who responded to the scene, as well as bystanders.

Russia has denied the charges, but the evidence is overwhelming. So is the attack’s significance: Russia is now officially responsible for a chemical weapons attack against a NATO member state on its own soil — a brazen violation of sovereignty of our closest ally. It requires a serious American response.

This startling confirmation comes on the heels of horrendous chemical weapons attacks by Mr. Assad against his own people in Syria. He is in power only because the Kremlin provides him with extensive diplomatic, military and economic support. The use of chemical weapons against civilians is illegal under international law, particularly the Chemical Weapons Convention. In fact, Syria’s illicit chemical program is part of the reason the United States continues to designate Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism.

There is also evidence that Russia is playing both sides of the conflict in Syria — defending the murderous Assad regime, but also fueling the radical insurgency against it. Reporting by Ukrainian news outlets has shown that Russia has provided material support to the Islamic State, including assistance in recruitment. According to these reports, the Islamic State now counts thousands of Russian-speaking jihadis among its forces.

We also know that Russia is ramping up its support for anti-American insurgents in Afghanistan. On Feb. 9, 2017, Gen. John Nicholson, the American commander in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia has “begun to publicly legitimize the Taliban” as a means “to undermine the United States and NATO.”

Moreover, Russia’s illegal and immoral war against Ukraine shows no signs of ending. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent support for Russian-controlled proxies in the Donbas region, the international community has failed to adequately respond to continued Russian aggression — and there has been a devastating price to pay. More than 10,000 Ukrainians have died in the war and more than 1.7 million have been displaced. On July 17, 2014, Russian proxies shot down a civilian airliner, killing all 298 onboard — including an American.

This is why I plan to introduce legislation that would require the State Department to determine within 90 days whether the Russian Federation meets the criteria to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. If the answer is yes, Russia would face restrictions on American foreign assistance, a ban on American defense exports and sales, limits on American sales of certain items that have both civilian and military uses, and other financial and other restrictions. Many of these penalties are already required under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, and the Trump administration is contemplating others.

Some will argue that applying such a toxic label to a major global power, one with a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, will not get it to back down, and might even further damage American-Russia ties, already at an all-time low. Those are important policy questions, which is why my legislation leaves a final determination to the professionals at the State Department.

However, it is clear that the blame for today’s distrust and tensions between Moscow and Washington lies entirely with the Kremlin and its atrocious behavior. We must take every diplomatic step necessary to protect our allies and our democracy, and to deter a revanchist Russia that is intent on rewriting history and threatening our way of life.

Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Belgium Companies Likely Sold Deady Chemicals To Syria In Violation of Sanctions

April 19, 2018

Knack magazine reported that the companies said they were not aware that export licenses were required for the sale of chemicals to Syria.

BY BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
 APRIL 19, 2018 01:37

 

Jerusalem Post

 

 ‘Imminent’ responses to Syria chemical weapons attack

 ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria would be blessing for Assad, trouble for Israel

Syrian activists inspect bodies of people they say killed by nerve gas in Damascus August 21, 2013

Bodies from Syria chemical weapons attack 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)

The Belgium city of Antwerp’s criminal court opened cases against three Flemish companies for alleged violations

of EU sanctions barring the sale of illegal chemical to the Syrian regime, according to a Wednesday report from the Belgium news weekly Knack.

Knack magazine reported that the Belgian companies — AAE Chemie, Danmar Logistics, and the shut-down Anex Customs — exported the chemicals to Syria’s regime, including isopropanol, a chemical that can be manufactured for the use of sarin nerve gas.

The regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad used sarin gas in a massive chemical attack on civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013, resulting in the deaths of 1,4000 people. According to Knack and the website Syrian Archive, “Belgian companies exported 96 tonnes of isopropanol, a sarin precursor, to Syria between 2014 and 2016.”

The joint media report said “UN Comtrade statistics show that Belgium was the only EU member state that continued to export (iso)propanol to Syria since EU sanctions were imposed in 2013.”

The report showed that Belgium also sold deadly chemicals to Lebanon. The criminal trial in Antwerp involving the companies is slated for May 15. Belgium customs authorities filed the criminal case against the companies. The French wire service APA reported that the Belgium finance ministry said the criminal case involve”making false customs declaration, as the companies had not listed isopropanol on the shipping documents.” Isopropanol can also be used for paint products.

In April, 2017, the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat Air Base site believed to have been used by Assad’s regime for the production of sarin gas in the mass murder of Syrians. According to a UN report, the Syrian regime murdered more than 80 people in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in April 2017.

Knack reported that the companies said they were not aware that export licenses were required for the sale of chemicals to Syria. The companies said the Belgium custom authorities did not bar any of the chemical exports to Syria.

Syrian Archive and Knack said that “According to the summons cited by court press judge Roland Cassiers, 24 shipments of sanctioned chemicals from Belgium to Syria and Lebanon took place between May 2014 and December 2016, in which 165 tonnes of isopropanol (69 tonnes to Lebanon and the remaining shipments to Syria), 219 tonnes of acetone, 77 tonnes of methanol and 21 tonnes of dichloromethane had been exported without the appropriate licenses.”

European companies from France and Germany have played a role in advancing Assad’s chemical warfare. The Germany company Krempel sold material to Iran’s regime that later turned up in Iranian chemical rockets in Ghouta. The Iranian chemical missiles with the “Made in Germany” material resulted resulted in 21 injuries, including many children in January and February.

France announced in January it sanctioned companies and 25 people for aiding Syria’s chemical weapons program. According to the French announcement, the businesspeople and companies sanctioned are based in Paris, Beirut, China and Damascus.

Germany has allowed Krempel to continue to trade with Iran and refused to disclose to The Jerusalem Post the names of dual-use deals and companies trading with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is the Syrian regime’s main military and economic sponsor in the seven year war to wipe out opposition and rebel forces in Syria.

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Belgium-companies-sold-deadly-chemicals-to-Assad-in-violation-of-sanctions-551224

Putin’s Bluff Is Finally Being Called and Russia Is Running Out of Options in Syria

April 18, 2018

After proving powerless to prevent the airstrikes on the Assad regime, how can Putin restore deterrence?

Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Saturday morning’s combined attack by the United States, Great Britain and France on the Assad regime’s chemical warfare bases in Syria may have been, as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis described it, “a one-time shot,” but it also proved an important point.

Russia does not have the military capabilities necessary to prevent the U.S. and its allies from destroying targets that are ostensibly under its protection in Syria.

This should not come as a surprise. The United States Armed Forces – and, to a much smaller extent, those of Britain and France – have long been built to work on a global scale, with the capability to quickly deploy land, sea and air battle forces, backed up by electronic warfare aircraft and aerial tankers.

Russia’s army is still built around defensive-minded Soviet doctrines and is designed to protect the homeland, at the most fighting small local battles on its borders. The Russian force currently based in Syria consists of a couple of dozen bombers and attack helicopters, which can pulverize civilians in rebel-held enclaves but lack the sufficient equipment, or experience, to fight an adversary with cutting-edge capabilities.

Russian and Syrian sources boasted that 70 percent of the missiles fired at regime targets had been shot down by the air defense systems Russia supplied to the regime. Just as they made a similar claim the previous week after the attack on the T4 air base, attributed to Israel. The Pentagon denied these claims and the Syrians have produced no evidence to back them up. They are unlikely to be true.

A satellite image showing the Barzah Research and Development Center after being struck by U.S. and coalition operations in Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018
A satellite image showing the Barzah Research and Development Center after being struck by U.S. and coalition operations in Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018.\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Russia, of course, remains a formidable military power, but that is largely when it is fighting on its own borders. This was the second time in just over two months that its limitations in fighting abroad were exposed. In February, at least 200 Russian “mercenaries” were reported killed in U.S. airstrikes, called in when the Russian force took part in an attack on the U.S.-backed, mainly Kurdish, Syrian Democratic Forces.

That may have been a one-time shot as well, since U.S. President Donald Trump intends to end the U.S. presence in northeast Syria in support of the SDF soon. But the fact that his forces, and those of his Syrian and Iranian allies, are exposed will not have been lost on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Until now, Putin has had one major advantage in Syria: His was the only country, besides Iran, that was prepared to deploy its own significant contingent. In the vacuum left by then-President Barack Obama’s decision not to get involved in the Syrian war, beyond a belated air campaign against the Islamic State, Russia’s intervention was decisive.

But now the bubble in which Russia has been operating has been punctured again and again. When it was only Israel doing so, in pinpoint attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian targets (according to foreign sources), it was one thing. Israel rarely acknowledges its attacks and has an efficient “deconfliction” process with the Russian headquarters at the Khmeimim air base.

Russia’s appearance of omnipotence in the Syrian arena has been shattered. Appearances of power count for a lot in this region.

For now at least, the U.S.-led alliance doesn’t seem to be planning any further attacks on the regime beyond that one-off retaliation to the April 7 Douma chemical weapons attack – Trump after all tweeted “Mission Accomplished!” on Saturday. But Putin will feel he needs to somehow restore Russia’s deterrence.

His options are limited. Russia doesn’t have a military option to restore its deterrence in Syria. Its forces there are insufficient to take on any of the other nations who have operated, and may operate again, in Syria. Working together – and probably also individually – the United States, Britain and France, as well as Israel and Turkey, can all deploy larger and more capable forces to the region much faster than Russia can.

Another option already being exercised is the cyber one. Even the most casual Twitter user following foreign affairs will have noticed the “bots” out in force in recent days, simultaneously claiming that there was no chemical attack in Douma and a chemical attack had been carried out by Western-supported rebels. The Pentagon assessed “a 2,000-percent increase in Russian trolls” within 24 hours.

But after all we’ve learned in the last two years, the effectiveness of trolls – whether fake ones manufactured in Russia, or real far-left and far-right mouthpieces who can be relied upon to parrot the Kremlin’s line – is no longer as devastating as it was during the U.S. presidential election.

A more ominous cyberthreat was contained in the warning issued Monday by the U.S. and British governments of a concerted campaign by Russian hackers to take control of internet routersused by government and critical infrastructure networks. If successful, such a hacking operation could have devastating results, but if linked to Russia – and the warning spoke of “high confidence” that it is – that could lead to a serious escalation of tensions between the West and Russia. But would it make future Western intervention in Syria less likely?

Another possibility is a concerted military push inside Syria against the rebel-held areas near the Turkish border, perhaps with some form of coordination with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the aim of provoking another major flow of refugees through Turkey into Europe. Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov warned last week of such an outcome to the West’s “adventures.”

While this wouldn’t directly threaten the United States, Britain or France, a similar exodus of Syrian refugees through Turkey, and across the Aegean into Greece, to the million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2016 would seriously test the European Union’s members and have wider shock waves. But would Erdogan, who supported Friday’s airstrikes, partner Putin in such a move? The EU has so far succeeded in buying him off and keeping the Aegean floodgates closed. What can Putin offer him to break the deal to keep the Syrian refugees out of Europe?

Two and a half years after Russia deployed its aircraft to Syria, Putin has yet to achieve the sort of leverage he was hoping for. His control of Syria and ostensible partnership with the West in fighting ISIS there hasn’t translated into concessions on sanctions or carte blanche to act in Ukraine. The opposite has happened, with enhanced sanctions.

Another attempt by Russia to exert pressure on the West, by singling out Britain for an assassination attempt on former spy Sergei Skripal using a nerve agent, resulted in a united Western response: the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats. And now the United States, Britain and France have got together to attack the Assad regime.

Putin’s bluff is finally being called. After years of inaction under Obama and despite Trump’s obvious reluctance, the United States and its allies are now challenging him and he’s running out of options.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley Has a Message for Larry Kudlow (and Russia): “I don’t get confused.”

April 18, 2018

Comments follow suggestion by fellow administration official that she suffered ‘momentary confusion’

By Jeremy B White
The Independent

America’s ambassador to the United Nations rebuked a fellow Trump aide’s suggestion that she was “confused” in announcing new sanctions on Russian firms.

“With all due respect, I don’t get confused”, ambassador Nikki Haley told Fox News.

Her comment was a response to National Economic Council chairman Larry Kudlow’s saying earlier in the day that Ms Haley “got ahead of the curve”.

“There might have been some momentary confusion about that,” Mr Kudlow told reporters.

The administration has sent mixed messages about imposing additional sanctions in recent days.

While Ms Haley on Sunday pointed to imminent penalties on Russian businesses connected to Syria’s chemical weapons programme, subsequent reports said Donald Trump had not yet decided whether to sign off on new sanctions.

“The President has been clear that he’s going to be tough on Russia. But at the same time, he’d still like to have a good relationship with them”, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the day after Ms Haley’s initial comment, adding that “we’re continuing to evaluate a number of sanctions”.

US to impose new sanctions on Russia in wake of Syria chemical attack, says UN ambassador Nikki Haley

In announcing joint military strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities with the UK and France, Mr Trump specifically lambasted Russia for its support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, saying “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilised nations as a force for stability and peace”.

But Mr Trump has also repeatedly professed admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin and has cast doubts on intelligence assessments that Mr Putin directed a broad offensive intended to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

Earlier this year the administration delayed imposing congressionally mandated sanctions on Russia for election meddling.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/russia-sanctions-nikki-haley-donald-trump-larry-kudlow-i-dont-get-confused-a8309676.html

Iran Vows to Make, Buy Any Weapons Needed to Defend Against ‘Invading Powers’

April 18, 2018

Fighter jets and bombers fly overhead on National Army Day as Rohani tells Tehran crowd and a live TV audience on Wednesday that Iran’s forces posed no threat to its neighbors

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A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, September 27, 2017.
A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, September 27, 2017.\ Reuters Photographer/ REUTERS

President Hassan Rohani said Iran would make or buy any weapons it needed to defend itself in a region beset by “invading powers,” as the military paraded missiles and soldiers in front of him on National Army Day.

Fighter jets and bombers flew overhead as Rohani told the Tehran crowd and a live TV audience on Wednesday that Iran’s forces posed no threat to its neighbors.

>>Iran’s threat of revenge overshadows Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations | Analysis

“We tell the world that we will produce or acquire any weapons we need, and will not wait for their approval … We tell our neighbouring countries that our weapons are not against you, it’s for deterrence,” Rohani said.

Iran President Hassan Rohani in Tehran, April 9, 2018.
Iran President Hassan Rohani in Tehran, April 9, 2018./AP

“We are not living in a normal region, and we see invading powers have built bases around us. Disregarding the principles of international law, they intervene in regional affairs and invade other countries without UN permission,” Rohani added.

U.S., British and French forces pounded Iran’s ally Syria with airstrikes early on Saturday in retaliation for a suspected April 7 chemical weapons attack, which they blame on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, in a bid to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

Trump has delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories to fix what he saw as the “terrible flaws” of the deal, threatening to refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh “waivers” to suspend them on May 12.

https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/iran/rohani-iran-will-make-weapons-to-defend-against-invading-powers-1.6011743

Erdoğan, Iranian counterpart pledge to maintain alliance with Russia on Syria

April 18, 2018
ISTANBUL
Daily Sabah
emAP File Photo/em

AP File Photo

The presidents of Turkey and Iran on Tuesday vowed to press on with their alliance alongside Russia over Syria, the Turkish presidency said Tuesday, after Ankara backed strikes by the U.S. and its allies against the Assad regime.

“The two leaders emphasized the importance of continuing the joint efforts of Turkey, Iran and Russia… to protect Syrian territorial integrity and find a lasting, peaceful solution to the crisis,” a Turkish presidential source said following telephone talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

The two leaders also discussed bilateral relations, said the source, who refused to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Stating Turkey’s clear stance against the use of chemical weapons, Erdoğan said it is important to not allow tensions to escalate and evaluate the incidents within its context.

The leaders spoke about Syria’s territorial integrity, adding that it was important to continue the joint efforts by Turkey, Iran and Russia for a lasting political solution to the Syrian crisis as part of the Astana peace process.

Also, the leaders expressed their desire to boost bilateral economic relations.

The phone call came after the U.S. in coordination with France and the U.K. conducted on Saturday a series of military strikes targeting the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities in retaliation to a suspected chemical attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, earlier this month.

https://www.dailysabah.com/diplomacy/2018/04/17/erdogan-iranian-counterpart-pledge-to-maintain-alliance-with-russia-on-syria

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Saudi Arabia ready to send troops to Syria — Hopes for a Saudi-backed Islamic military coalition

April 18, 2018

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United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (Arab News photo)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is ready, willing and able to deploy troops in support of any US-led effort to stabilize Syria, Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir reaffirmed on Tuesday.

“We are in discussions with the US, and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, about sending forces into Syria,” Al-Jubeir said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that US President Donald Trump’s administration was seeking to assemble an Arab force, including troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help restore stability in Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s offer of help was “not new,” Al-Jubeir said at a press conference in Riyadh with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres. “We made a proposal to the Obama administration that if the US were to send forces … then Saudi Arabia would consider along with other countries sending forces as part of this contingent.”

Riyadh has suggested that it could help counter-terrorism operations in some other theaters of conflict as part of a wider Muslim alliance. For example, a Saudi-backed Islamic military coalition will provide logistical, intelligence and training to a new West African counter-terrorism force, Al-Jubeir said in December.

Guterres told Arab News there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict. “It is crucial that Syrians find a solution, free of foreign domination,” he said.

On the issue of Palestine, Guterres said there should be a strong mutual commitment to a two-state solution. “There is no Plan B. We need to make sure that Palestinians have that right as well as the Israelis, and the two must live in stability.”

Commenting on the Yemen situation, Al-Jubeir said: “A political solution in Yemen is up to Houthis who have turned Yemen into a base for Iran. This is not a war desired by the Kingdom, but it was imposed on it. The only solution in Yemen is a political one. The reason for not reaching a resolution is the stubbornness of the Houthis because of Iran’s support.

“The Houthis have launched 119 Iranian missiles toward Saudi Arabia. The Houthis are using young children on their missions, laying siege to villages and not allowing aid to come in. They sell this aid to finance their war. Everything they are doing is terrorism.”

Meanwhile international investigators finally entered the Damascus suburb of Douma on Tuesday after days of delay and warnings by Western powers that crucial evidence related to a chemical gas attack had probably been removed.

More than 40 people died in the attack on April 7, and Western powers have blamed the Assad regime. In response, the US, France and Britain launched missile strikes on Saturday targeting the regime’s chemical weapons facilities.

The regime “would try its best to destroy any evidence that might show its involvement in the attack,” Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian opposition, told Arab News.

“Immediately after the attack, we saw on television Russian soldiers and officers visiting the site. I don’t think the Russians would be happy if any evidence were found, especially when they called it fabrication in the UN Security Council. So they have a fundamental interest in destroying any sort of evidence.”

Missile strikes against the sources of the chemical weapons were not enough, he said. “Syrians are being killed not only by chemical weapons. They are being killed by phosphoric bombs, by rockets and airstrikes, and by displacement.”

The world seemed reluctant to call the regime a pariah and an outlaw, and finish the job, Al-Aridi said. “They are also denying the Syrian people any means to defend themselves.”

Arab News

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1286411/saudi-arabia

Trump administration hits brakes on threat of swift, new sanctions for Russia over Syria

April 17, 2018

White House now ‘evaluating’ options after UN representative Nikki Haley said new measures over suspected Syrian chemical-weapons attack were forthcoming

Reuters
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya are seen before the United Nations Security Council meeting on Syria at the U.N. headquarters last Friday.

By Rachel Koning Beals

NEWS EDITOR

The Trump administration said Monday that it is evaluating prospects for new sanctions against Russian entities and companies involved in Syria’s chemical-weapons program, an apparent step back from a pledge just a day earlier by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for swift, new punitive actions.

“We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future,“ White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Monday. ”We’re evaluating, but nothing to announce right now.”

On Sunday, Haley said new sanctions against Russia were imminent as part of the U.S. response to a suspected Syrian chemical-weapons attack earlier this month. She said they would be announced on Monday by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Read: Trump wants Arab allies to send troops to Syria, to replace U.S. forces

“You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down,” Haley said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already. And they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ] and chemical weapons used.”

Democratic lawmakers criticized the administration for not acting immediately, saying the decision appeared to put Trump out of step with his top aides and could give Russia time to relocate assets in anticipation of sanctions.

Read: California says U.S. hasn’t met its conditions for National Guard border deployment

“I am outraged that President Trump pulled back sanctions on Russia for its support of the Assad regime,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said in a statement, reported by The Wall Street Journal. “This sends a message to governments around the world that they can support brutal, criminal behavior without serious consequences.”

Foreign policy analysts said it’s another example of an inconsistent approach to Russia, which in addition to the Syrian involvement sought to influence the 2016 presidential election and has been under the scrutiny of much of the West after the annexation of Crimea and intervention in easter Ukraine. It could also undermine Haley’s credibility at a crucial time, they said.

The sanctions threat came after U.S., French and U.K. forces attacked Syrian alleged chemical-weapons sites over the weekend in response to a suspected Assad-led chemical-weapons attack on civilians. The allied response drew criticism from Moscow, an ally of Assad in a civil war that has spanned seven years. Trump had ramped up criticism of Russia by tweet over the Syrian involvement but has repeatedly expressed his hopes for a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking later with reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump headed to Florida, Sanders added that “the president has been clear that he’s going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he’d still like to have a good relationship with them,” the New York Times reported.

Moscow, reportedly, is readying its own response. State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said parliament is preparing a bill on countermeasures against the U.S. and other countries’ “unfriendly actions,” according to Russian news agency Interfax.

Market watch

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-administration-hits-brakes-on-threat-of-swift-new-sanctions-for-russia-over-syria-2018-04-17?mod=mw_share_facebook

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68 percent of American favor more sanctions on Russia — But Trump says he won’t impose more now

April 17, 2018

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More than two-thirds of Americans support stronger U.S. sanctions on Russia, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday.

According to that survey, 68 percent of respondents said that they would back tougher sanctions. That position largely spans the partisan divide. Seventy-four percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans and independents voiced support for such penalties.

The poll results came a day after President Trump reversed on a plan to sanction Russian companies associated with the Syrian government’s alleged chemical weapons program.

On Friday, Trump authorized military strikes in concert with France and the U.K. on targets in Syria associated with the country’s chemical weapons arsenal. Those strikes were swiftly condemned by Moscow as a flagrant violation of international law.

Despite the broad support for tougher sanctions against Moscow, the Washington Post/ABC News poll also found that more than half of U.S. adults – 52 percent – believe that Trump should invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House in an effort to warm relations between Washington and Moscow.

Another 42 percent said that Trump should not hold such a meeting with Putin, so as not to grant the Russian leader legitimacy.

Nearly half of respondents said that Trump has done too little to criticize Russia. By comparison, 32 percent said that he’s handled the situation properly, while just 4 percent believe that the president has criticized Russia too much.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll found a large partisan divide in perceptions of Trump’s treatment of Russia.

An overwhelming majority of Democrats – 70 percent – said that Trump has not been harsh enough in his criticism of Moscow. Seventy-one percent of Republicans, on the other hand, believe that Trump has handled the situation “about right”.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll was conducted April 8-11, and surveyed 1,002 U.S. adults. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

TAGS DONALD TRUMP VLADIMIR PUTIN RUSSIA SANCTIONS

The Hill

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/383490-poll-large-majority-backs-stronger-russia-sanctions

Merkel’s tougher Russia stance meets resistance in Germany

April 16, 2018

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FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepare to attend a working session at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kai PfaffenbachREUTERS

BERLIN (REUTERS) – Germany’s Europe minister called on Monday for a new policy of easing tensions with Russia, adding to a chorus of voices pressing Chancellor Angela Merkel to moderate her hardened stance towards the Kremlin.

The conservative chancellor swung behind Britain after the poison attack on a former Russian double agent in England last month, expelling four diplomats despite uneasiness among a political class that is wary of confrontation with Germany’s giant eastern neighbor.

Europe Minister Michael Roth, a member of the Social Democrat party (SPD), said that while the European Union needed a united front on Russia, sanctions should aim to bring Moscow to the negotiating table.

“Anti-Russian reflexes are just as dangerous as naively… remaining silent over the nationalist-tinged policies of the current Russian leadership,” he wrote in Die Welt newspaper.

Many Western countries are pushing for a more assertive stance against Moscow over President Vladimir Putin’s backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, accused of using chemical weapons in the country’s civil war.

With extensive business and energy links to Russia, Germany has been cautious in its relations with Moscow, though Merkel’s tone has hardened over the four years since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Roth, whose party is junior partner in Merkel’s coalition, echoed comments from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier – a fellow Social Democrat – that “too much is at stake” for Germany to cast Russia as an enemy.

Opinion in the coalition is not necessarily divided along party lines. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, also a Social Democrat, has appeared to shift away from a conciliatory approach to Moscow while Alexander Dobrindt, a lawmaker for Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, has questioned the effectiveness of the sanctions against Russia.

The sequence of interventions, by Roth and Steinmeier from the SPD, and Dobrindt and former defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on the right, highlight how Merkel’s diminished authority in her fourth and likely final term in office is limiting her room for maneuver.

Guttenberg, once tipped as a potential Merkel successor before his fall from grace in an academic plagiarism scandal, criticized the government for its policy towards intervention in Syria in the face of a cynical Russia.

“We make it easy for ourselves, letting the others do the dirty work,” he said of Merkel’s decision not to participate in missile strikes launched by the United States, Britain and France on Syria last week after its suspected use of chemical weapons.

“It is good that somebody still acts when someone kills children, innocent people,” he told mass-selling Bild newspaper.

Earlier, conservative Economy Minister Peter Altmaier echoed Merkel’s scepticism about the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project which will bring Russian gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine with which Moscow is at odds.

(Reporting by Markus Wacket, writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Paul Carrel and David Stamp)