Posts Tagged ‘Crimea’

Russian ambassador: Trump made ‘verbal agreements’ with Putin — Does Russia have Trump by the “reset button”?

July 19, 2018

Russia’s ambassador to the United States on Wednesday said President Trump made “important verbal agreements” with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their private conversation in Helsinki on Monday.

Russian envoy Anatoly Antonov listed cooperation in Syria and arms control as two issues the world leaders had agreed on, according to The Washington Post.

But the Post reported that the highest-level Trump administration officials still do not know what Trump promised Putin during their one-on-one meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Wednesday both listed general topics that the two discussed, but neither provided much detail.

Nauert said the State Department is assessing “three takeaways,” which include a working group of American and Russian business leaders, an expert council with thought leaders from both countries, and follow-up meetings with Russian national security council staff.

“These are certainly all modest proposals,” Nauert said. “The president had said going into this that we wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems in one meeting.”

Sanders was vague as well, telling reporters during Wednesday’s press briefing that Trump and Putin discussed “Syrian ­humanitarian aid, Iran’s nuclear ambition, Israeli security, North Korean denuclearization, Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea, reducing Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals, and of course your favorite topic, Russia’s interference in our elections.”

The Post reported that officials are scrambling to figure out what Trump agreed to.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marina Zakharova said on Wednesday that the Kremlin is already working to implement agreements from the summit, according to the Post.

“A lot of what the president of the Russian Federation talked about is now being worked through,” she said, according to the Post. “Relevant instructions are being carried out, and diplomats are beginning to work on the outcomes.”

Putin during Monday’s controversial press conference said the conflict in Syria could present a starting point for bilateral agreements. He also claimed he and Trump agreed on securing Israel’s border with Syria, eliciting praise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Antonov on Wednesday said Moscow is “a hostage to the domestic political battle” in the U.S.

Image result for Anatoly Antonov, photos

Anatoly Antonov

“When I return from Moscow, I will have the very clear-cut and lucid determination to go knock on every door at the State Department and the National Security Council to understand what we can do together in order to realize the agreements, the ideas, that the two presidents supported,” Antonov said.

“Even in talking with you now, I am afraid to say something positive about the American president,” he said, “because when American journalists or policymakers read my interview, they’ll say Russia is again meddling and helping Donald Trump.”

Lawmakers have raised concerns about what Trump told Putin during their private conversation. Multiple Democrats have called for testimony from the interpreter who was present during the private meeting between the two leaders in order to get details of the conversation.

Nauert said Wednesday that such a proposal is unprecedented, but added, “we always seek to work with Congress.”

http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/397788-russian-ambassador-trump-made-verbal-agreements-with-putin

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At summit, Trump refuses to confront Putin on vote row

July 17, 2018

 President Donald Trump refused to confront Vladimir Putin over meddling in the US election at their first face to face summit, publicly challenging the findings of the US intelligence community and triggering bipartisan outrage at home.

The US and Russian presidents came out of their meeting in Helsinki Monday expressing desire for a fresh start between the world’s leading nuclear powers and more talk on global challenges, after discussing an array of issues from Syria, Ukraine and China to trade tariffs and the size of their nuclear arsenals.

There were indications of an arrangement to work together and with Israel to support a ceasefire in southern Syria, suggesting that the US administration is backing off its demand that Moscow’s ally Bashar al-Assad step down.

If that is anathema to many in Washington, Trump’s apparent concessions to Putin over the election controversy drew stinging condemnation from across the political divide.

Standing alongside the Kremlin boss at a joint news conference, Trump acknowledged that his intelligence chiefs believe Russia hacked and leaked Democrats’ emails containing politically damaging information about his rival Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But, insisting he had won the race fair and square, the wealthy property tycoon said: “I have President Putin, he just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Friday’s US indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence agents exploded with embarrassing timing for Trump as he prepared to meet Putin. On Monday, officials said another Russian agent had been arrested for seeking to influence US politics.

But the US leader insisted that his counterpart had delivered a “powerful” denial of any Russian manipulation, and that the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller was proving a “disaster” for the United States.

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In his own interview with Fox, Trump said he was “fascinated” by an offer from Putin for US agents to indirectly grill the indicted Russians by submitting their questions to Russian officials but said Mueller’s team “probably won’t want to go” to Moscow.

– ‘Never interfered’ –

Trump again denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin, while Putin insisted: “The Russian state has never interfered and is not planning to interfere in the USA’s internal affairs.”

As criticism mounted, Trump tweeted from Air Force One on his way home from Finland that he had “GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people”.

“However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past  as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along.”

Angry criticism of his disavowal of his own intelligence agencies came even from within Trump’s Republican Party.

Senior Republican Senator John McCain was particularly scathing, saying: “Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American presidency.”

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats distanced himself from his boss, issuing a statement saying the US intelligence community’s judgment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election was “clear”.

But the top Democrat in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, tweeted that many Americans can only wonder if “the only possible explanation for this dangerous behaviour is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”

And former CIA director John Brennan said Trump’s behavior at the news conference “rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.”

Putin denied the notion that Russian spy bosses may hold compromising information on Trump, who in his previous business career oversaw the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

“Please get this rubbish out of your heads,” the Russian leader said.

In a post-summit interview with Fox News, Putin said US-Russia relations should not be held “hostage” to “internal political games,” referring to the Mueller probe.

The two leaders appeared relaxed at the Helsinki news conference, smiling on occasion, in contrast to their sombre demeanour at the start of the day.

Trump, bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief despite the election allegations, went into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.

His manner towards Putin was also a contrast to the anger Trump flashed at NATO allies at a combative summit of the alliance in Brussels last week, which critics said would only hearten Putin.

– ‘Only the beginning’ –

A post-NATO trip to Britain, supposedly America’s partner in a “special relationship”, was riddled with controversy as well.

In Helsinki, however, Trump was determined to accentuate the positive, as was Putin.

The two leaders met one-on-one for more than two hours, with just their interpreters present, before they were joined by their national security teams.

Many in Washington were agog at Trump’s decision to sit alone with Putin, worried about what he might give away to the former KGB spymaster, after previously cosying up to the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.

But Trump, convinced his unique brand of diplomacy can win over Putin, pressed ahead and looked forward to “having an extraordinary relationship” as the pair sat down to discuss global hotspots.

– ‘Foolishness and stupidity’ –

Trump began the day by firing a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the election investigation.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

Russia’s foreign ministry tweeted in response: “We agree.”

In a weekend interview with CBS News, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.

AFP

Trump hopes ‘extraordinary relationship’ will result from Putin summit

July 16, 2018

President Donald Trump opened a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday by predicting that their countries will end up having “an extraordinary relationship” but without mentioning Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in his opening remarks.

“Our two countries, frankly, we have not been getting along well,” Trump said as he and Putin sat down at the Presidential Palace in Finland’s capital. “I really think the world wants to see us get along.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

Putin, for his part, said he and Trump have maintained regular contact, including talking by phone and meeting at international events. Speaking through a translator, the Russian leader said “the time has come to have a thorough discussion on various international problems and sensitive issues.”

The summit got underway hours after Trump blamed the United States, and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea, for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations. The drama was playing out against a backdrop of fraying Western alliances, a new peak in the Russia investigation and fears that Moscow’s aggression may go unchallenged.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

The summit, which was being closely monitored by rattled world capitals, was condemned in advance by members of Congress from both parties after the U.S. indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Trump’s presidential campaign. Undeterred, the American president was set to go face to face with Putin, the authoritarian leader for whom he has expressed admiration.

The summit started late because Putin arrived in Helsinki about a half hour behind schedule in another display of the Russian’s leader famous lack of punctuality. Trump seemed to return the favor by waiting until Putin had arrived at the palace before leaving his hotel. Putin has been late for past meetings with the pope and British Queen, among many others.

Trump and his aides have repeatedly tried to lower expectations about what the summit will achieve. He told CBS News that he didn’t “expect anything” from Putin, while his national security adviser said the U.S. wasn’t looking for any “concrete deliverables.” Trump told reporters during a breakfast Monday with Finland’s president that he thought the summit would go “fine.”

Trump said he and Putin would discuss a range of issues, from trade to the military, along with missiles and China. They shared a brief handshake before reporters were ushered out so they could begin their one-on-one talks in the palace’s opulent Gothic Hall.

They’ll continue their discussions with an expanded group of aides and over lunch in the Hall of Mirrors, once the emperor’s throne room. The leaders will conclude by taking questions at a joint news conference.

Observers have raised concerns about the fact that the leaders will be alone during their first meeting, but for a pair of interpreters, meaning there will be no corroborating witnesses to accurately represent what was said during the conversation.

The 72-year-old brash billionaire has been president for 18 months, while the former KGB officer, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.

The meeting comes as questions swirl about whether Trump will sharply and publicly rebuke his Russian counterpart for the election meddling that prompted a special counsel probe that Trump has repeatedly labeled a “witch hunt.”

After the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.

Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.

European Union President Donald Tusk called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to cool the global trade tensions, warning that they could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos.”

After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cozying up to Putin while undermining the alliance.

But, over breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.

Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in the city of Salisbury.

Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite U.S. political opposition — may give up too much ground.

Ahead of the talks, Trump has refused to personally commit to the U.S. refusal to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climb-down linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.

If Washington were to de facto accept Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of U.S. policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.

https://www.dailysabah.com/americas/2018/07/16/trump-hopes-extraordinary-relationship-will-result-from-putin-summit

 

Trump sits down with Putin

July 16, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin arrived at the presidential palace in Finland for a long-awaited summit on Monday after Trump blamed Washington’s own past “foolishness and stupidity” for bad relations.

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US President Donald Trump meets with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The Russian foreign ministry “liked” Trump’s comments on Twitter ahead of the summit, in which Trump denounced the investigation into Russian meddling in American elections as well as previous U.S. policy.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” wrote Trump.

The two leaders were due to start their summit in the Finland capital Helsinki with no one else in the room apart from interpreters. They were scheduled to hold a working lunch accompanied by aides later on Monday before speaking to media.

The Kremlin said it did not expect much from the meeting but hoped it would be a “first step” to resolving a crisis in ties.

“Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along.”

The summit comes at a time when relations between the two superpowers are widely seen on both sides to be at their lowest point since the Cold War. Trump has repeatedly said it would be in the U.S. interest to improve those ties.

Critics and Trump’s own advisers have urged Trump to use the summit to press Putin hard about “malign” activities, from annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula to interfering in Western elections, to poisoning a spy in England, which Moscow denies.

During a breakfast meeting with Finland’s president before the meeting with Putin in the Finnish capital, Trump appeared upbeat. Asked what he would say to Putin, Trump said: “We’ll do just fine, thank you.”

While Trump has been abroad since last week, the special prosecutor investigating allegations that Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 presidential election indicted 12 Russians on Friday for stealing Democratic Party documents.

“WHICH TEAM DO YOU PLAY FOR?”

Trump’s foes at home have been scathing about his apparent refusal to criticize Putin. His 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Great World Cup. Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

Russia denies interfering in the U.S. presidential election. The state RIA news agency quoted a Russian source as saying Moscow was “ready to discuss, ready to undertake mutual obligations of non-intervention into internal matters”.

Trump has said he will raise the election meddling but does not expect to get anywhere. He has repeatedly noted that Putin denies it, while also saying that it is alleged to have taken place before he became president.

For Putin, that the summit is even happening despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies is a geopolitical win.

The countries are expected to discuss the prospect of extending a nuclear disarmament treaty, and the war in Syria, where Russian-backed forces of President Bashar al-Assad have advanced in the south of the country in recent weeks despite a ceasefire brokered by Moscow and Washington under Trump.

The summit caps a trip abroad during which Trump sternly criticized NATO allies for failing to spend enough on their militaries and embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by saying she refused to take his advice about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. He referred to the European Union itself as a “foe” in trade, and repeatedly criticized it.

In some of the strongest words yet reflecting the unease of Washington’s traditional allies, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could not rely on Trump.

“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

Trump has predicted he will be accused of being too soft on Putin no matter how the summit goes.

“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia…I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” he tweeted on Sunday.

Additonal reporting by Steve Holland in Helsinki and by Christian Lowe and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Reuters

Trump Blames U.S. for Poor Relations With Moscow

July 16, 2018

Hours before one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, U.S. president tweets about many years of ‘ and stupidity’

President Donald Trump arrives in Helsinki for his highly anticipated meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
President Donald Trump arrives in Helsinki for his highly anticipated meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. PHOTO: HEIKKI SAUKKOMAA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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HELSINKI—President Donald Trump blamed the U.S. for the state of its relationship with Moscow that he said had “NEVER been worse,” raising the question of how hard he intends to press Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting later Monday on issues including meddling in the U.S. election and Russia’s aggression in Crimea.

Mr. Trump tweeted that “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity” and what he termed the “Rigged Witch Hunt”—referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election—had caused current poor relations.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!

Later in the day, the president will hold a meeting with Mr. Putin that comes amid friction between Moscow and the West. Top aides to Mr. Trump have said the goal is to open a conversation rather than accomplish a reset of U.S.-Russian relations.

The president has denied colluding with Russia, and Moscow has denied election meddling. On Friday, Mr. Mueller charged a dozen Russian intelligence officers with hacking the computers of Democratic organizations and ensuring the pilfered information became public.

The Russian foreign ministry’s Twitter account on Monday “liked” the president’s tweet blaming the U.S. for the state of the relationship. Russian state-owned news agencies prominently featured the president’s tweet. A headline on the Russian news site RIA Novosti read: “Relations with Russia have deteriorated because of the stupidity of the United States, said Trump.”

As he arrived at the Mantyiemi Palace here to meet with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Monday morning, Mr. Trump ignored a shouted question about whether he would tell Mr. Putin that election meddling constituted a “red line.”

He said he would “do just fine” in the Putin meeting, and described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, whose members he clashed with at last week’s summit over military spending and a range of other issues, as “never…more together.”

Mr. Putin landed Monday afternoon in Helsinki behind schedule, less than 20 minutes before his private meeting with Mr. Trump was expected to begin.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

President Obama thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election, so when he was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it. When I won it became a big deal and the Rigged Witch Hunt headed by Strzok!

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin comes after the U.S. president spent much of last week in tense meetings with longstanding U.S. allies at the NATO summit and delivering critical comments about U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May handling of the Brexit process.

Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly blamed his predecessor for Russian interference in recent days, tweeted Monday: “President Obama thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election, so when he was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it. When I won it became a big deal.”

Former President Barack Obama sought a reset of U.S.-Russia relations early in his administration. But the situation soured after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which prompted its expulsion from the former Group of Eight, now the Group of Seven. The U.S. has since heightened sanctions on Moscow and expelled Russian diplomats for its interference in the 2016 election and following the poisoning in the U.K. of a former Russian spy and his daughter, an act that Western countries say was likely carried out by Moscow.

Mr. Obama in September 2016 confronted Mr. Putin about election meddling. Critics have said Mr. Obama could have acted sooner or more decisively.

Mr. Trump in recent days has said he would raise the issue of election meddling with Mr. Putin, but suggested he didn’t plan to press the matter particularly hard. In a CBS interview Sunday, asked whether he would ask Mr. Putin to extradite the Russian officials charged by Mr. Mueller, he said: “I hadn’t thought of that…But I certainly, I’ll be asking about it.”

Mr. Trump’s one-on-one meeting with the Russian leader, joined only by their interpreters, is expected to last roughly an hour and a half. Mr. Trump has been reluctant to include a note taker because he is wary of leaks, said a foreign official briefed on the plans. The two leaders will then be joined by senior officials on both sides, followed by a press conference.

Allies, including the U.K. and Germany, have said they are supportive of the meeting between Messrs. Trump and Putin. But some diplomats and U.S. lawmakers have raised concerns that while the summit offers Mr. Putin an end to the American effort to isolate Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, it is unclear what the U.S. will get in return.

Mr. Trump also alarmed diplomats with his description of the European Union as a “foe” in the CBS interview Sunday, in which he aligned the longstanding U.S. ally with Russia when asked about his biggest global competitors.

“I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,” Mr. Trump said. “Russia is a foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically.”

Of particular concern to NATO allies is whether Mr. Trump might make concessions on Crimea and reverse the longstanding U.S. and NATO position that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. The president has made comments in recent months that appear sympathetic to Russia’s position on the annexation.

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, told NBC Sunday it was “highly unlikely” there would be a change in position on Crimea. But, he said: “The agenda is the president’s. Everything will be his call.”

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-blames-u-s-for-poor-relations-with-moscow-1531732220

Related:

Not Sure Where Trump’s Russia Diplomacy Goes? Yet It Could Easily Eclipse the Barack Obama Diplomacy and Hillary Clinton’s Reset Button and E-Mail Give Away…

July 16, 2018

Many Americans are tired of Putin’s Russia getting the best of the U.S. Russia stole Crimea away while everyone was looking, started a war in Ukraine, Invaded Syria and broke every promise it ever made.

Russia shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 due to ineptitude or just unvarnished meanness.

The Issues for President Trump in Helsinki couldn’t be bigger.

He has tried to downplay expectations.

But like most Americans, out expectations here at Peace and Freedom were very low already.

Related:

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The now famous reset button caper: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after she gave him a device with red knob during a meeting on March 6, 2009 in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images) …. Reset was misspelled to the Russian word for “overcharge.”

Image result for Barack Obama with Putin, photos

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Image result for Barack Obama with Putin, photos

Did Hillary’s email security negligence as U.S. Secretary of State invite Russian cyber meddling?

Hillary Clinton was exonerated for mishandling classified email by:

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And….
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Related:
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Putin’s Aggression Is the Issue in Helsinki

July 16, 2018

Trump shouldn’t make a deal on Syria or Ukraine, or keep silent on Russia’s crimes against the West.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet in Hamburg, July 7, 2017.
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet in Hamburg, July 7, 2017. PHOTO: CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

President Trump arrived Sunday in Helsinki in the manner of most of his predecessors: with little awareness of recent Russian history and in apparent confusion about what a meeting with Vladimir Putin can achieve. Reacting to concerns about Mr. Putin’s career in Russian intelligence, Mr. Trump said at a recent rally: “Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.” According to a news report, White House advisers describe the Trump-Putin meeting “as a chance to reset a tense relationship.”

The tension in U.S.-Russian relations, however, is the result of Mr. Putin’s aggression, not a lack of communication. If the summit leads to formal agreements or informal deals that legitimize recent Russian actions, the aggression will become worse.

Three issues are vitally important to the U.S.: Russia’s aggression in Syria, its occupation of Crimea and support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and its interference in the West, including election meddling and the nerve-gas attack in Britain. In each case, Mr. Putin seeks American acquiescence.

Russia has been fighting in Syria for three years, during which it has completely changed the course of battle in favor of Bashar Assad. Reports on a possible deal, quoting Israeli, European and American experts, suggest the U.S. could accede to Mr. Assad’s remaining in power in exchange for Russian promises to limit Iranian influence.

Such an outcome would not end the Sunni-Shiite split in the Middle East, and Syrian opposition leaders have warned that a U.S. “betrayal” would create the conditions for a jihadist uprising. It would also signal acceptance of Russia’s tactic of attacking civilian targets, including hospitals, to put pressure on rebel groups. If such attacks prove successful and are tacitly accepted by the West, nothing would prevent Moscow from using them in the future.

On Ukraine, Mr. Trump has hinted that he may consider recognizing Russia’s claim to Crimea, which Mr. Putin seized in 2014. This could encourage Russia to reactivate the war in Eastern Ukraine. But the most important consequence would likely be to plunge Ukraine into civil unrest.

The situation already is very tense, the result of corruption, a lack of reform, and the absence of any serious Ukrainian strategy to end the war in the Donbas. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the war zone, and although the conflict is at a stalemate, cease-fires are constantly violated and the death toll rises. Despite an official ban on trade between Ukraine and the separatist areas, long convoys of cars and trucks loaded with alcohol, cigarettes and coal carry on illicit business, angering and bewildering Ukrainian soldiers.

Against this background, far-right groups in Ukraine that have attacked art exhibitions, gay events and antifascist demonstrations seek to exploit Ukrainian veterans’ resentment. Far-right paramilitary groups played a critical role early in the war, and some fear they could turn against the government, particularly if the West endorses Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

In the case of Mr. Putin’s crimes against the West, no deal is necessary. Mr. Trump’s silence is enough. The handful of Republican senators who traveled to Moscow early this month to protest U.S. election interference undercut their message with their presence. The Russians denied interference and changed the subject. If Mr. Trump does not raise the issue with Mr. Putin, the Russians will consider the matter closed.

Mr. Putin also wants Mr. Trump to keep silent about the attempted murder of the Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and the killing of a British civilian, Dawn Sturgess, with Novichok, a Russian nerve agent. Sturgess is believed to have accidentally come into contact with Novichok—a chilling reminder that if Russia is left free to carry out killings in the West, anyone can be a victim.

Most of all, Mr. Putin will want Mr. Trump to be silent about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over Eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. Last year I was asked to be an expert witness in the case against Russia, brought by relatives of the 298 victims, in the European Court of Human Rights. I was prepared to testify that although MH17 might have been downed accidentally by Ukrainian separatists, the Putin regime’s action in providing the irregulars with a weapon like the BUK-M1 missile showed a wanton disregard for human life.

This May, however, the Netherlands and Australia announced that the joint task force investigating the incident had concluded that MH17 was shot down by a BUK-M1 belonging not to separatists but to the Russian 53rd Air Defense Brigade, based in Kursk. Jerry Skinner, the aviation lawyer representing 274 relatives of the victims, determined with the confidential help of a former BUK-M1 field commander that the camera in the launcher from which the missile was fired was capable of obtaining a thermal image of the target. The two engines of a large commercial airliner like the MH17 Boeing 777 could not have been mistaken for the smaller, single engine of a Ukrainian military jet. It was also determined with the help of Ukrainian air-traffic control that no Ukrainian aircraft were in the sky within 30 miles of the Malaysian plane. The evidence suggests that MH-17 or one of three other passenger airliners in the air corridor at that time was targeted deliberately.

Russia behind crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, investigators say

Russia has denied involvement in the downing of MH17, producing more than 60 alternative theories, each of which has been debunked. For the sake of international air travelers everywhere, Mr. Trump needs to raise the evidence of Russian culpability with Mr. Putin.

There are no opportunities for good deals with Russian aggression. Mr. Trump has a chance to make that clear.

Mr. Satter is affiliated with the Hudson Institute and Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is “The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/putins-aggression-is-the-issue-in-helsinki-1531680433

Trump, on Eve of Putin Meeting, Calls E.U. a Trade ‘Foe’

July 16, 2018

President Trump on Sunday spent the eve of his first summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia finding fault with allies, Barack Obama and the news media while refraining from condemning Moscow for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

His comments raised the stakes for the meeting, a closely scrutinized encounter that the White House said would include a 90-minute session in which the two presidents will speak one-on-one, with only their interpreters present.

President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017. Credit Marcellus Stein/Associated Press

The meeting is taking place just days after 12 Russian intelligence agents were indicted by the Justice Department on charges that they sought to thwart American democracy during the election campaign.

And Mr. Trump’s remarks came after a week in which he sowed new doubts about his support for NATO and berated European allies for treating the United States unfairly on trade. That has raised concerns that he might offer concessions behind closed doors to a Russian president who is ready to exploit any hint of fissure within the Western alliance.

As Mr. Trump made his way to Helsinki, Finland’s capital, he said he was looking forward to the meeting, which he has said he hopes will lead to warmer relations with Mr. Putin. He indicated that he did not plan to use his time with the Russian president to press him on the election interference.

Mr. Trump also said it had not occurred to him to demand the extradition of the indicted agents to the United States to face charges. “I hadn’t thought of that,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with CBS, broadcast on Sunday, when asked about the possibility.

Mr. Trump appeared to blame Mr. Obama for allowing the attacks to occur. “Certainly, I’ll be asking about it, but again, this was during the Obama administration,” he said. “They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.”

The agenda for the talks remained murky, although Mr. Trump has said he is eager to speak with Mr. Putin about the war in Syria, the possible extension of a nuclear arms control treaty and Ukraine, among other topics.

He has also signaled a willingness to discuss items on Mr. Putin’s agenda that fly in the face of American policy and alarm European allies, including the lifting of sanctions on Moscow, the recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and halting NATO’s military exercises in the Baltics.

After no end of drama, Trump and Putin take to summit stage

July 15, 2018

 

Before coming to Europe, US President Donald Trump raised eyebrows by predicting that Monday’s historic Helsinki summit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would be the “easiest” stage of his tour.

The rest of his trip, to Brussels and Britain, has indeed crackled with controversy so far.

But new indictments from an investigation into alleged Russian interference in US politics have dropped with embarrassing timing, focusing attention again on whether the Trump campaign may have benefited from Putin’s covert help to win the White House.

And it is far from the only charged issue to loom over the two leaders’ first full-blown encounter.

British accusations that Russia unleashed a deadly nerve agent in an English city, the fears of NATO allies that Trump is not serious about defending the Western alliance, and Putin’s support for the Syrian regime after years of civil war also form part of the crowded backdrop.

© AFP/File | Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with US President Donald Trump in Helsinki on Monday

Putin will head to the Finnish capital on a diplomatic high after presiding over Sunday’s World Cup final in Moscow, basking in the glow of a trouble-free tournament that burnished Russia’s credentials.

Ahead of the leaders’ first one-on-one summit, the Kremlin said it considers Trump a “negotiating partner”.

“The state of bilateral relations is very bad,” Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov said on Friday. “We have to start to set them right.”

Trump meanwhile teed up the summit with a quiet weekend of golf at one of his courses in Scotland, a calm end to his stormy visit to Britain, where he shocked his hosts by attacking Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy for Brexit.

The visit heaped more trouble on the transatlantic alliance after Trump ripped into NATO leaders in Brussels for not spending enough on defence, and rebuked Germany for building an energy pipeline from Russia which he said would leave Europe’s biggest economy beholden to Moscow.

Trump was dogged by protests during his four days in Britain, and more are scheduled in Finland.

But this time Trump will share the opprobrium with Putin, with the biggest rally — dubbed “Helsinki Calling!” — on Sunday to focus on issues that demonstrators say both presidents neglect: human rights, democracy, freedom of expression, inequality and the fate of refugees.

– ‘Mano a mano’ –

All eyes Insight into their relationship will be on offer when Trump and Putin hold a joint news conference on Monday afternoon after their meeting in the Gothic Hall of the Finnish presidential palace.

The talks are set to begin with only their interpreters in the room, before opening up to their delegations over a working lunch.

Allies are nervously waiting to see if Trump sidles up to the canny Russian leader in the same way he has embraced other autocrats such as China’s Xi Jinping, and even North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

“Putin has proven himself to be incredibly savvy at reading personalities and characters,” said Alina Polyakova, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, noting that Putin was trained as a KGB spy.

“He will praise Trump and try to bond with him in sort of a mano-a-mano way. Trump will be responsive to that tack,” she said.

On Friday, Trump said: “I’m not going in with high expectations, but we may come out with very surprising things.”

He also insisted that he had been “far tougher” with Russia than has been recognised by the “dishonest” media, and would “absolutely” bring up the question of election meddling.

– Don’t ‘wing it on your own’ –

Shortly after, news broke of the indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence agents for hacking Democrats during the 2016 elections.

Democratic leaders quickly called for Trump to cancel the summit in light of the indictments.

After that suggestion was rebuffed by the White House, the Democrats said Trump should at least ensure his national security team is alongside him with Putin at all times, “not wing it on your own”.

Some in Washington — along with US allies — are worried about what Trump might bargain away after he used a stormy G7 summit in Canada to ponder whether it was time to readmit Russia to the club and move past sanctions imposed over Moscow’s seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine.

Putin has less reason to cheer from Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on countries including Russia, and from his decision to abandon a nuclear pact with Iran.

Trump also says he intends to pressure Putin over the rapid growth and modernisation of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

But for Putin, merely getting Trump to sit across the table counts as “an informal recognition of Russia as a great power”, political analyst Alexei Malashenko said.

jit-burs/dl/ceb

AFP

With Trump strategy unclear, U.S. allies turn to Moscow to secure their interests in Syria

July 15, 2018

As President Trump began a six-day trip to Europe, due to culminate Monday in a meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, Putin was having some meetings of his own.

In Moscow on Wednesday, he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a frequent visitor, who said he wanted to talk to the Russian leader “without intermediaries.” Hours later, Putin sat down with Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader.

The main subject of the meetings was Syria, also a top item on Trump’s agenda.

Image may contain: 2 people, suit

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting Wednesday, July 11, at the Kremlin to discuss Syria.

“Of course I’m going to bring that up” with Putin, Trump said Friday during a stop in Britain. “I’m not going in with high expectations,” he said, “but we may come out with some surprising things.”

By Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick
The Washington Post

As Trump and Putin prepare to meet in Helsinki, both allies and adversaries in the Middle East are turning to Putin for reassurance and understanding of how such surprises might affect them. For Iran, which has partnered with Russia to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power and decimate his U.S.-backed opposition, keeping Moscow close is a no-brainer.

But for many of America’s allies in the region, who say they have little understanding of Trump’s long-term strategy in Syria, there is growing anxiety about what he is prepared to offer Putin in exchange for help in attaining what he says is his primary goal of expelling Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, shakes hands with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, stands at right, at Novo-Ograyovo outside in Moscow on July 12, 2018. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Among the possibilities raised by senior officials in a number of regional governments, some of which also concern administration officials, are that Trump will agree to a partial or complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria — as both Syria and Russia have demanded — or even to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and drop U.S. sanctions.

Trump signed Wednesday’s NATO communique declaring that it would never accept Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate” takeover of Crimea. If he breaks ranks, it would be his most direct slap yet at the alliance, at a moment when NATO unity already hangs in the balance.

Removing the 2,200-strong U.S. military contingent in Syria, however, is seen as a more realistic possibility. Trump’s suggestion earlier this year that the United States would withdraw troops from Syria “very soon,” widely interpreted to mean six months, continues to create confusion within the U.S. military as well as among Washington’s regional partners.

U.S. military officials see the changing dynamics in southwest Syria, as Assad strengthens his control over remaining rebel-held areas, as disconnected from their ongoing campaign against the Islamic State. But they also see the situation as a signal of Syria’s new reality — one in which Assad will remain in power, aided by Russia and Iran. Although the officials said Friday that they have seen no plans to begin to remove troops, they said they are bracing for such a decision.

Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others, according to senior Middle Eastern officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity of name and country to avoid publicly questioning Trump, agree that such a step would be disastrous, eliminating whatever leverage the United States still has to push for an acceptable outcome in Syria.

In the lead-up to the Trump-Putin summit, Russia has continued to defend Iran’s presence in Syria and demand complete U.S. withdrawal, charging that its military deployments are a sham.

“Let me remind you that they talked about defeating ISIL at first, [and] declared the prevention of ISIL’s rebirth as their goal later,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told an Italian newspaper on Thursday, using an acronym for the Islamic State. Now, he said, the Americans “say [their] presence in Syria should continue to deter the hypothetical ‘Iranian influence.’ ”

President Vladimir Putin with the French leader Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia, in May.CreditPool photo by Dmitri Lovetsky. MAcron is meeting with Putin on Sunday, July 15, 2018.

“If our American colleagues are pursuing any course of action in Syria, it is too contradictory to be called a strategy,” Shoigu said.

U.S. regional allies share the objective of preventing Iran from establishing an unhindered corridor through Syria from Tehran to Beirut. But they worry that Trump may be too willing to accept guarantees that Putin has neither the desire nor ability to deliver.

Security officials in several countries in the region are skeptical that the Russians could force an Iranian withdrawal, even if they wanted to. “Assad owes everything to Iran, and he’s playing a game between the Russians and Iranians,” said one official in the region.

At the same time, another senior official from the region said, “the Russians play good chess. Putin wouldn’t make a move without thinking 10 moves ahead.”

Confused by apparently conflicting administration messages, and doubtful that the United States has a plan for achieving its own long-term goals in Syria, regional allies have reached out to Russia. “For years, there has been a growing disappointment with the U.S. posture in the region,” a third official said. “Countries are beginning to make their own calculations.”

Assad’s recent offensive in southwestern Syria, bordered by Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is a case in point. The area had been largely peaceful since last summer, when Putin and Trump endorsed a cease-fire deal that froze Russian-backed Syrian government forces and U.S.-backed opposition fighters in place along a demarcation line patrolled by Russian police.

Late last month, however, Assad’s forces, aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian-directed militias, began heading south from Damascus for an announced takeover of the area. As the offensive got underway, the administration publicly denounced Russia for violating the cease-fire agreement, even as it privately told regional allies that it would not oppose the move and messaged opposition forces that they would get no assistance and were better off giving up.

The administration apparently asked Russia for nothing in return. As refugees from ground attacks and Russian bombing fled to nearby borders, and humanitarian organizations warned of catastrophe, Israel and Jordan turned to Moscow to ensure that their interests would be protected.

For Jordan, whose foreign minister traveled there shortly after hearing the news from Washington, Russia came through. Early this week at the Naseeb border crossing into Jordan, where days earlier tens of thousands of refugees were crowded in dire conditions against the closed border, only several hundred remained under the watch of Syrian soldiers who had arrived with a small Russian-flagged convoy.

While the Russians kept a discreet presence at the border, their impact has been palpable, and Jordan, despite its not-so-secret support for the rebel groups in the past, welcomed the outcome. “Now, I believe that even within a week, most of the [rebel] groups will agree on terms, and some will be integrated back into their communities,” Brig. Gen. Khaled Massaid, the head of Jordan’s northern military district, said in an interview at his command center a few dozen yards from the crossing.

As Syria’s civil conflict has dragged on for years, Jordan’s economy has come under increasing strain, including the costs of coping with an estimated 1.3 million refugees. “The Naseeb border has reopened, and the regime is in charge again,” Massaid said. “It is better for Jordan if Syria is able to control its own border.”

While Israel, like the United States, continues to demand Iran’s complete withdrawal from Syria, its immediate concern is keeping the Iranians at least 50 miles or more away from its border. Netanyahu left Moscow last week — his third visit in recent months — with what the Israeli media reported was a deal with Russia, both to keep Iran and its militias away from the border area and to continue turning a blind eye to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria — the latest of which occurred last week.

“It’s very clear that Russia and Israel are cooperating on Syria. The Saudis and Russia are cooperating,” said a senior international diplomat closely involved in the conflict, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and described those contacts as a “good thing” to the extent that they “helped cool things down.”

“The Americans,” the diplomat said, now consider “Syria . . . a Russian thing.”

But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong proponent of keeping U.S. troops in Syria and a skeptic of Russia, tweeted a warning to Netanyahu. “To our friends in Israel,” he wrote, “be very careful making agreements with Russia re Syria that affect U.S. interests. I don’t trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria.”

Warrick reported from the Naseeb border crossing in Jordan. Missy Ryan in Washington contributed
to this report.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/with-trump-strategy-unclear-us-allies-turn-to-moscow-to-secure-their-interests-in-syria/2018/07/14/0a2a3b34-8551-11e8-8f6c-46cb43e3f306_story.html?utm_term=.c0d2c32e48ea

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