Posts Tagged ‘Crimea’

Crimea: Mysterious chemical incident evokes memories of Chernobyl disaster

September 6, 2018

People in Crimea are experiencing unusual symptoms after reports of an incident at a titanium plant. Authorities claim there is no threat to public health on the peninsula, but children have nonetheless been evacuated.

    
Children wear face masks in Crimea (picture-alliance/dpa/TASS/S. Malgavko)

It could be the biggest environmental disaster to hit the Crimea in years. Some two weeks after initial reports of a possible incident at a titanium plant in the north of the peninsula, authorities evacuated all the children from the nearby city of Armyansk.

The children are to be accommodated in sanatoriums and preschool children will be accompanied by their parents. The evacuation is purely a “preventive measure,” Sergei Aksyonov, head of the internationally disputed Republic of Crimea, said on Tuesday. Local authorities continue to insist that there is no danger to public health on the peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

On Wednesday, photos of buses taking children out of the city circulated on social media. The images, along with the slow release of official explanations, have evoked memories of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Oily deposits on cars and roofs

Since August 24, citizens on both sides of the de facto border between Crimea and the Ukrainian mainland have been complaining of an oily, rust-colored coating settling on cars, roofs and other metallic objects such as cookware and jewelry. Leaves on the trees are said to have quickly withered and fallen off. Some people even claim to have seen a noxious cloud.

A sign at the entrance to Armyansk (picture-alliance/dpa/TASS/S. Malgavko)Children have been evacuated from the city of Armyansk

On Wednesday morning, residents of the village of Preobrazhenka gathered on the Ukrainian side of the border in front of a local ambulance as they waited for the latest advisory from the Ministry of Health in Kyiv regarding the incident. “Many people are experiencing respiratory difficulties, discomfort in their throat and allergic reactions,” said one doctor.

“This has been going on for over a week,” said Andriy, a Ukrainian border guard who arrived on the scene in civilian clothes Wednesday.

“Breathing masks have been distributed, but they don’t help much,” he added. “At night, when the humidity rises, your skin burns.”

Summer heat to blame?

Within the first few days, suspicion was directed toward the Krimsky Titan plant, one of the largest producers of titanium dioxide on the European continent. It is located in Russian-controlled Crimea, a few kilometers from the border. The plant is owned, through a network of various companies, by the Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

The Krimsky Titan plant (DW/I. Burdyga)Blame has been directed at the Krimsky Titan plant, near the de facto border separating Crimea and Ukraine

Titanium dioxide is a white substance commonly used in the manufacturing of paint, plastics, paper and sunscreen, among other things. Initially, the Krimsky Titan plant denied a possible incident.

In late August, local Crimean leader Aksyonov said that there was no reason to stop production at the plant. Then, on Tuesday, he announced that the titanium facility would be shut down after all, for two weeks. Aksyonov said a high concentration of sulfur dioxide had been detected in the air. He added that Russian authorities would soon investigate the incident.

The company’s reservoir of sulphuric acid is reportedly a possible cause, with the unusually long summer heat wave contributing to the partial evaporation of the protective water layer that covers it.

Efforts have begun to pump more water into the reservoir, but it remains a challenging undertaking. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian authorities stopped supplying it with fresh water, which was already lacking on the peninsula.

https://www.dw.com/en/crimea-mysterious-chemical-incident-evokes-memories-of-chernobyl-disaster/a-45376308

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Ukraine: On the front line of Europe’s forgotten war

September 6, 2018

After four years, and 10,000 deaths, the conflict with Russia in the east of the country has slipped off the west’s political agenda

By David Bond and Roman Olearchyk in Avdiivka, Ukraine

Staring straight ahead, Anton Akastyolov describes what it feels like to be fighting on the frontline of Russia’s proxy war with the west. “Every day you think about death,” the 23-year-old Ukrainian private says, standing in a shattered residential block on the edge of the eastern city of Avdiivka.

This is Europe’s forgotten war, a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives, almost one-third of them civilians, during the past four years, making it the bloodiest in Europe since the Balkans in the 1990s and one of the longest-running in almost a century.

Western powers blame Russian president Vladimir Putin for starting the conflict by illegally annexing Crimea in 2014 — the first appropriation of European territory since the second world war — providing the catalyst for Russian-backed separatists to seize the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

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Anton Akastyolov in Avdiivka © Charlie Bibby/FT

While Mr Putin says Crimea has always been part of Russia, his actions in Ukraine are seen as part of a growing charge sheet that includes US election meddling, military intervention to back the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent in the British cathedral city of Salisbury.

“In their hope to recreate what they view is a great Russia again, they are pushing forward west into Europe,” says Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev, the commander of Ukraine’s joint forces. “Russia has no interest in bringing down the temperature, not with the western world, not with Ukraine.”

So while the war has reached stalemate, it still smoulders.

Bound by the terms of the 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreements, both sides are barred from using air strikes, tanks and heavy weaponry. This has created the conditions for an attritional land war which marks a throwback to another age, where soldiers fight in trenches with shells, grenades and sniper fire. Consequently, the death toll continues to rise. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitors the conflict, in August said that a total of 160 people had been killed on both sides so far this year.

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Lyubov Kolesova holds a portrait of her missing son Igor Grizenko at their home in Avdiivka

There are no signs of a resolution in sight. The war was barely on the agenda at the Helsinki summit between US president Donald Trump and Mr Putin in July. And despite attempts by the US and its allies to modernise and arm Ukraine’s 200,000-strong military forces, people in Avdiivka feel abandoned by the west.

“They don’t care,” says Lyubov Kolesova, a resident whose 28-year-old son went missing in the early days of the war. “If you don’t live here, you won’t understand.”

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Sunflower fields along Ukraine’s highway 20

Ukraine’s highway 20 cuts through seemingly endless fields of sunflowers, making it feel more like the south of France than Europe’s borderlands with Russia. Before the war, this road was one of the symbols of Ukrainian economic progress, built primarily for the 2012 European football championships.

Now it forms part of the front line. As the highway nears Avdiivka, about 20km from the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, it becomes too treacherous to continue. Access to the city can only be made via bumpy back roads.

Yet daytime in Avdiivka can be deceptively calm. Parents stroll the streets with young children while a group of pensioners has set up an impromptu market in the centre, selling milk and other produce.

But the war is never far away.

In the distance, occasional gunfire can be heard along with the deep boom of shelling. At the entrance to their Soviet-built flats on Semashko Street, Galya, 51, asks: “How much longer must we endure this? It’s been five years already. Will this continue another 20 years?”

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Pavel, a 45-year-old Ukrainian soldier, says the nature of the war has changed

Much of the fighting in Avdiivka takes place in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city, where troops on both sides are well dug in. Pavel, a bearded and battle-hardened 45-year-old Ukrainian soldier, says the nature of the war has changed.

“Instead of the heavy weaponry we have snipers, which can be even more dangerous because you relax a bit,” he says. “Then a bullet hits your head.”

Clutching his Kalashnikov rifle, which looks like a relic from the 1970s, his comrade Artur adds: “The faster you move, the longer you live.”

“The shortest distance between our positions is 70m to 80m,” he adds. “You can see their eyes.”

Sometimes, he says, they are so close to the enemy he can hear the distinct accents of opponents from “Russia, South Ossetia and Chechnya”.

His account backs claims — denied by Moscow — that Ukraine’s army is facing a hybrid force of Russian soldiers and local separatist militants under command from the Kremlin. “They created the military forces . . . [do] not make any mistake about it, the forces in the east are 100 per cent commanded by Russia,” says Kurt Volker, the US special envoy to Ukraine.

Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the 20,000-strong Donetsk-based separatist forces, denies the claim. “Imagine if the Russian army were here. I think that the war would unfold differently,” he says. “Those that talk about this don’t provide facts to uphold them.”

Getting a clear picture of life on the other side of the war is difficult. Officials from the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic — which is not internationally recognised — declined access to the Financial Times to report from the territory, but people from the DPR regularly cross the front line.

At a civilian crossing point at Maiorska near the separatist-held city of Horlivka, a dozen cars are queueing to cross into the DPR. The International Committee of the Red Cross said 1m crossings take place at points like this every month, which close periodically when fighting flares up.

Waiting in her car, Horlivka resident Svetlana explained that she often makes the journey to the Ukrainian-controlled side with her father, Nikolay, to collect his pension and buy produce, some of which is cheaper there.

“Everyone there on that side also wants this war to end,” Svetlana says, gesturing towards the Russian-backed territories. Her father adds: “We lived in peace and understanding before. Everything was fine.”

Underscoring dangers in the region that extend far from the front lines, Alexander Zakharchenko, self-declared leader of the DPR-based separatist militants, was last week killed by an improvised explosive at a Donetsk café. Russia rushed to blame Ukraine for orchestrating the “terrorist act”, while officials in the capital Kiev denied involvement, insisting turf wars and infighting within what they describe as the “Russian-occupied” region was to blame.

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Ukrainian soldiers visit a kindergarten near the town of Ivanivske as part of a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign © Charlie Bibby/FT

Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor of the OSCE mission to Ukraine, who visited Donetsk in early August, says: “If you go to districts in Donetsk, close to the contact line or the destroyed airport, life is very difficult. Living standards are bad, infrastructure is heavily damaged. Gas, electricity and water are hard to come by.”

For his part, Mr Basurin, the separatist commander, blames a Ukrainian blockade for these economic woes. “We are trying to revive the economy,” he says.

In Ukrainian-controlled areas, the authorities are not only trying to repel a Russian-backed enemy, they are also having to win the hearts and minds of Russian speakers. With this in mind, the army and other state institutions have blocked Russian television, and they visit kindergartens and schools to promote “patriotic teachings”.

“Battling with Russia is difficult as objectively it’s a bigger country with more military might,” says Major General Oleksandr Golodnyuk, visiting a kindergarten in the village of Ivanivske. “But winning the minds of our people is a battle within our grasp that must be won.”

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Lieutenant General Serhiy Nayev arrives at a training exercise in Pokrovsk, eastern Ukraine

In the opening phases of the war, Ukrainian forces were hampered by a lack of combat training and rusting Soviet equipment. They were also paralysed by another throwback to the cold war era: a top down command structure which caused the army’s middle ranks to freeze when their opponents used electronic warfare to jam communications.

Since then, the US and other western powers have been working to modernise Ukraine’s forces — including more than $1bn in financial support and the Trump administration’s move in March to provide 210 tank-busting Javelin missiles.

The weapons are seen by military analysts as a game-changer in the event of an all-out assault by Russian-backed forces. Lt Gen Nayev says western backing is necessary if Ukraine is to resist the Russian threat on Europe’s doorstep, but added that his own troops have already been transformed.

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Ukrainian soldiers are put through their paces in training exercises © Charlie Bibby/FT

The general, an imposing figure who commanded troops in the bloody battle for Donetsk airport in 2014, has come to a military training ground near the eastern city of Pokrovsk to watch soldiers test Ukraine’s homemade answer to the Javelin — the Stugna.

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Donetsk airport in 2014

He says Ukraine’s forces are now “not only capable but ready” to repel Russian-backed separatists, which he claims have [over] 400 tanks — more than the UK. Before testing the Stugnas, troops launched a series of Soviet-era weapons including Shturm and Fagot missiles, demonstrating clearly the handicaps they faced in the initial stages of the conflict.

Some rockets failed to launch. One fell off the side of an armoured vehicle while another misfired, smashing into the ground and leaving a training trench in flames. If this was a deliberate display of ineptitude, it felt a dangerous one. The Stugnas, meanwhile, hit the target four times out of four, prompting a howl of delight from Lt Gen Nayev. “Yes! You see . . . Ukraine made,” he shouted.

Newer equipment is filtering through, but some on the front line still complain of having to fight with Kalashnikovs older than themselves. One soldier revealed he and his fellow fighters had made a Javelin copy out of wood to fool the enemy.

For Ukraine’s western partners, the hope is that such improvisation will soon be a thing of the past, with its armed forces set to meet Nato standards on everything from governance to training and equipment.

To help Kiev achieve this, a group of more than 200 US trainers is based at Yavoriv, a vast military complex near Ukraine’s border with Poland. Here senior US soldiers, such as Staff Sergeant Jamah Figaro, instruct Ukrainian officers on how to train their troops. “They are very motivated,” Sgt Figaro says. “It’s their country. They are trying to get their land back.”

Sgt Figaro says the US is also learning from their Ukrainian counterparts.

“The US army was [used to] operating in contingencies like Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says, referring to offensive wars in which the US dominated the airspace. “[It’s] nothing similar to what the Ukrainians are facing, this [trench warfare] is like a more near-peer fight they are fighting.

“We haven’t seen something like that since world war two,” he adds.

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A couple say goodbye on the train platform in Kiev as the train departs for eastern Ukraine © Charlie Bibby/FT

In Kiev, more than 700km from the eastern war zone, Stanislav Fedorchuk raises his hand and places it tenderly on a picture of his friend Yuriy Matushcak. Nicknamed “the wind”, Matushcak died at the battle of Ilovaisk, a big defeat for Ukrainian forces, in August 2014.

His face is now one of hundreds on the outer wall of St Michael’s monastery in the capital, a reminder to those passing by on a balmy Sunday evening that this is a country at war.

“We were waiting one year to know if he had died or not. We had no body,” says Mr Fedorchuk, adding that his remains were later found and buried with other fallen soldiers. Mr Fedorchuk fled Donetsk in 2014 and is one of an estimated 1.5m people displaced by the conflict.

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Stanislav Fedorchuk at a memorial wall outside St Michael’s monastery in Kiev dedicated to those who have died in the conflict © Charlie Bibby/FT

As the war rumbles into its fifth year, the prospect of a military or diplomatic solution looks remote. The US and other western powers want Russian forces to leave Ukraine, but Mr Putin shows no sign of changing his approach. The US national security adviser John Bolton recently declared that when it comes to Ukraine, Washington and Moscow are going to “have to agree to disagree”.

The US has stepped up sanctions and the UK is pushing for more diplomatic action. Still, Lt Gen Nayev urges the west to wake up to the threat from Russia and even draws comparisons with 1930s appeasement. “We saw how this shameful appeasement brought upon world war two,” he says.

Back in Avdiivka, private Akastyolov struggles to find the words to sum up the future he and his country face. “Tell them we will win,” an army press officer prompts.

The young private rolls his eyes, saying, after a few seconds: “I don’t know if we will win.”

https://www.ft.com/content/5adbd298-a056-11e8-85da-eeb7a9ce36e4

Thousands protest in Russia against plans to hike pension age

September 3, 2018

Vladimir Putin has called the reform a financial necessity as Communist party leader brands move ‘cannibalistic’

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Russian communists take part in a protest rally against pension reform. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

Thousands of people across Russia joined protests on Sunday against government plans to raise the pension age, despite recent promises by President Vladimir Putin to soften the unpopular measure.

The protests show that the proposed policy remains a politically sensitive issue for the government despite concessions offered by Putin in a televised address on Wednesday. During the speech, Putin took personal responsibility for the reform for the first time and described it as a financial necessity.

About 9,000 people gathered about a mile and a half from the Kremlin, according to White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies. Moscow police put the numbers at 6,000.

Many carried the red flags and banners of the principal organiser of the protest, the KPRF Communist party.

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 A protest taking place in Russia over proposed pension reforms. Photograph: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

A large banner reading “We do not trust United Russia”, Putin’s ruling party, was held up by the crowd and featured a drawing of a red fist punching the white polar bear logo of Putin’s party.

“Today we are holding an all-Russia protest against this cannibalistic reform,” veteran Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov said, addressing the crowd.

A separate gathering in the city, organised by the Just Russia party, attracted a further 1,500 people protesting against the pension reforms, Moscow police said.

In his address on Wednesday, Putin watered down the original draft pension reform legislation, introduced by the government on 14 June, which opinion polls showed was opposed by 90% of Russians and which has provoked a string of protests in recent weeks.

Polls by the Levada Centre show Putin’s personal approval rating has fallen around 10 percentage points since the pension reforms were proposed, although it still stands at around 70%.

Putin offered to cut the proposed retirement age for women to 60, from a retirement age of 63 first proposed by the government. Russian women currently retire at 55. Putin said that the proposal to raise the pension age for men from 60 to 65 would remain unchanged.

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 Putin’s personal approval rating has dropped since the reform plans were announced, according to polls. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

In St Petersburg, the Fontanka newspaper said that around 1,500 people gathered to protest, while the Interfax news agency said 1,200 joined a protest in Novosibirsk and 250 in Vladivostok.

In Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains, around 450 people took part in a demonstration entitled the ‘Regiment of Shame’, during which protesters held portraits of politicians who have voiced their support for pension reform, local newspaper Nasha Gazeta said.

In Russia’s south, there were protests in the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, Astrakhan, Rostov-on-Don and in the capitals of the Caucasus republics of Karachay-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria, according to Interfax.

People also took to the streets in the town of Simferopol in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, Interfax added.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/02/thousands-protest-in-russia-against-plans-to-hike-retirement-age

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Putin Is Sneaking Up on Europe From the South

September 1, 2018

The Kremlin understands that the best way to undermine the West is through its soft underbelly—the Middle East.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) and Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Korolev (L) watch a terrestrial globe while visiting Russia’s Navy Headquarters during Navy Day in Saint Petersburg on July 30, 2017. (ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

The first big battles between the U.S. military and the Wehrmacht during World War II were not actually in Europe. Between Nov. 8 and Nov. 10, 1942, the United States and allied forces landed in Algeria and Morocco. After defeating Vichy French forces, the armies proceeded east to Tunisia to take on the German forces in that country. Why North Africa? Allied military planners had determined that an invasion of France in 1942 was doomed to fail, so plans were made to attack Germany from—as Winston Churchill reportedly remarked—the “soft belly of the Mediterranean.” It was from Tunisia that the invasion of Italy and the long, bloody march to Berlin began.

Perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin is a student of history, or maybe he likes maps, but whatever his hobby, he seems to understand geography quite well. The character of Moscow’s influence differs greatly from the old Soviet days when it was collecting client states (except for Russia’s ongoing deployment of force in Syria). But it has been effective—or effective enough—in drawing important allies away from the United States while presenting Russia as a competent, nonideological partner that shares interests with the regional players. Therein lies the central logic to Russia’s Middle East-Europe strategy: establish influence at Washington’s expense, weakening the U.S. position in the region, and in the process apply pressure on Europe via its weak underbelly—in this case to the south and southeast of the European Union.

Draw a line on a map from Moscow to Damascus and from the Syrian capital to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Everyone knows what happened in Syria: The Russians entered the conflict there to save an ally and have helped him prosecute a war that has produced millions of refugees, many of whom have made their way to Europe and left others banging on its gates. The effects on European politics have been profound, galvanizing a populist, nativist, and pro-Russian right at the expense of Europe’s postwar liberal consensus. While Syria is a well-known story, only a few in Washington seem to have noticed that since 2017, Russia has reportedly invested $4 billion in the Kurdish oil and gas sector. From Erbil extends the line of Russian influence and power to the east from Iraqi Kurdistan to Iran.

That Moscow-Damascus-Erbil-Tehran line represents an important axis of Russian influence. But other Russia-dominated geographic lines are even more relevant for Europe.

One line starts in the Russian capital and proceeds due south to the Turkish capital, Ankara. Moscow has not exactly turned Turkey, but the combination of Syria, where Putin is the powerbroker; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s worldview; and the still changing nature of international politics after the Cold War, has made a Turkey-Russia partnership of sorts possible. The Turks are scheduled to receive Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense system in July 2019, Turkey’s volume of trade with Russia is bigger than with the United States, and Erdogan recently identified Moscow—along with Beijing and Tehran—as an alternative to Washington. All of this has stoked (mostly overblown) fears within the Washington policy community about “losing Turkey,” but for the Europeans who are connected to Ankara through the flow of goods and services and who regard Anatolia as a buffer between them and Moscow, burgeoning Turkey-Russia ties are a problem.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book is False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East. @stevenacook

Start again, but this time cross the Mediterranean and stop at Cairo, make a sharp left and extend the line to Benghazi. That is the third axis. The Russians, with their uncompromising position regarding the threat of Islamism, offer high-tech weaponry—and a no-questions-asked policy on human rights—and for Egypt’s leaders that’s an appealing alternative to the United States. Egypt has been a critical component of the existing regional political order, which has favored the exercise of U.S. power in the Middle East for at least three decades.

Rather than reversing Henry Kissinger’s 1970s-era Westward flip of the Egyptians, Moscow has pushed and pulled in places where Americans and Egyptians have been at loggerheads. This can’t make European leaders very comfortable. About 10 percent of world trade—much of it going to and from Europe—passes through the Suez Canal. Egypt’s ties to Russia also raise the prospect that for the first time in a long time, U.S. and European navies may not be able to operate totally unimpeded in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Libya is the most intriguing and revealing of all of Moscow’s plays in the region. It is unclear how deeply involved they are in the eastern part of the country, but the Russians are certainly aligned with the Egyptians and Emiratis in opposition to any political settlement that includes an Islamist component to a new government in Tripoli. The would-be Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar has met with Russian officials several times, and in 2017 Putin (not coincidentally) deployed a small Russian force to an air base in western Egypt about 60 miles from the Libyan border. Publicly, the Russians have counseled compromise among Libyan political forces, but the Europeans suspect that Moscow supports Haftar.

Libya might seem a stretch for Putin, who, it is often said, has limited resources to expend on foreign policy. Why bother? Well, underneath eastern Libya is one of the world’s largest reserves of light, sweet crude oil and the fifth-largest reserves of natural gas in Africa. The bulk of Libya’s oil and gas exports go to Europe. It would be strategically remiss of Putin not to become involved in Libya, a place from which Russia can potentially influence energy supplies to Europe. It seems to be a pretty good bet that this has crossed the Russian president’s mind.

Only last year, Russia experts were dismissing the country’s intervention in Syria, its information campaign in Europe, and the annexation of Crimea as little more than a nuisance. It should be clear by now, however, that Moscow’s return to the Middle East beyond Syria is about something much bigger—just take a look at the map.

Foreign Policy:https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/08/31/putin-is-sneaking-up-on-europe-from-the-south/

Russia to hold biggest war games in nearly four decades

August 28, 2018

Russia will next month hold its biggest war games in nearly four decades, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday, a massive military exercise that will also involve the Chinese and Mongolian armies.

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FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Commander of Western military district Colonel-General Andrei Kartapolov attend the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, Russia July 29, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klementyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

The exercise, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018), will take place in central and eastern Russian military districts and involve almost 300,000 troops, over 1,000 military aircraft, two of Russia’s naval fleets, and all its airborne units, Shoigu said in a statement.

The maneuvers will take place at a time of heightened tension between the West and Russia, which is concerned about what it says is an unjustified build-up of the NATO military alliance on its western flank.

NATO says it has beefed up its forces in eastern Europe to deter potential Russian military action after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and backed a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine.

The war games, which will take place from Sept. 11-15, are likely to displease Japan which has already complained about what it says is a Russian military build-up in the Far East.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to attend a forum in Vladivostok over the same period, and a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said on Tuesday Tokyo always paid attention to shifts in Russian-Chinese military cooperation.

Shoigu said the war games would be the biggest since a Soviet military exercise, Zapad-81 (West-81) in 1981.

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“In some ways they will repeat aspects of Zapad-81, but in other ways the scale will be bigger,” Shoigu told reporters, while visiting the Russian region of Khakassia.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has said that Chinese and Mongolian military units will also take part in the exercise.

“A MORE ASSERTIVE RUSSIA”

When asked if the cost of holding such a massive military exercise was justified at a time when Russia is faced with higher social spending demands, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such war games were essential.

“The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is often aggressive and unfriendly towards our country, means (the exercise) is justified,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

When asked if China’s involvement meant Moscow and Beijing were moving towards an alliance, Peskov said it showed that the two allies were cooperating in all areas.

China and Russia have taken part in joint military drills before but not on such a large scale.

NATO spokesman Dylan White said that Russia had briefed the alliance on the planned exercise in May and that NATO planned to monitor it. Russia had invited military attaches from NATO countries based in Moscow to observe the war games, an offer he said was under consideration.

“All nations have the right to exercise their armed forces, but it is essential that this is done in a transparent and predictable manner,” White said in an emailed statement.

“Vostok demonstrates Russia’s focus on exercising large-scale conflict. It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time: a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.”

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Shoigu this month announced the start of snap combat readiness checks in central and eastern military districts ahead of the planned exercise.

“Imagine 36,000 armored vehicles – tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored infantry vehicles – moving and working simultaneously, and that all this, naturally, is being tested in conditions as close as possible to military ones,” Shoigu said on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova and Andrey Kuzmin in Moscow, Robin Emmott in Brussels and Elaine Lies in Tokyo; Editing by Alison Williams

Reuters

Russian military maneuver Sapad 2017 (picture alliance/AP Photo/Vayar Military Agency)

 

Why World Worries About Russia’s Natural Gas Pipeline

August 27, 2018

A planned new natural-gas pipeline into Europe from Russia is shaking up geopolitics. Nord Stream 2, as it’s called, worries leaders in Eastern Europe, has stirred the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump and has put German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the hot seat.

Work has begun on the undersea pipeline shaking up geopolitics. PHOTOGRAPHER: SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES

1. What is Nord Stream 2?

It’s a planned new 1,230-kilometer (764-mile) undersea pipeline that will carry natural gas from fields in Russia to the EU network at Germany’s Baltic coast. It will double the capacity of an existing undersea route — the original Nord Stream — that opened in 2011. Russia’s Gazprom PJSC owns the project, with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and four other investors including Germany’s Uniper SE and Wintershall AG providing half of the 9.5 billion-euro ($11 billion) in cost.

The 1,230 kilometer (764-mile) Nord Stream 2 undersea link to Germany initiated by Russia in 2015.

SOURCE: GAZPROM

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2. How close is it to being built?

A Swiss unit of Gazprom, Nord Stream 2 AG, has received environmental and construction permits from Germany, Finland and Sweden but has had trouble getting similar approvals from Denmark. (The pipeline would cross the economic zones of those four nations, plus Russia’s.) The company may reroute the line away from Danish waters, eliminating the final legal hurdle. Dredging work has already started, and the company plans to begin putting sections of pipe on the seabed in the next few weeks. It’s due to be complete in late 2019, a target that looks “optimistic,” according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Rob Barnett and Elchin Mammadov.

3. What’s the point?

Before Nord Stream, Russia was sending about two-thirds of its natural gas exports to Europe through pipelines in Ukraine, a nation with which it has had tense relations since the Soviet Union collapsed. That left Gazprom exposed to disruptions, such as the pricing dispute with Ukraine that prompted Russian leaders to halt gas flows for 13 days in 2009. Since then, relations between the two countries have worsened, culminating in the Ukrainian popular revolt that kicked out their pro-Russian president and led to Russia seizing the Crimean Peninsula. The Nord Stream projects are just one part of Gazprom’s decades-long efforts to diversify its export options to Europe. Russia expects European gas demand to increase as some nations move away from nuclear and coal power and as their domestic gas production decreases.

Image result for Merkel and Putin, Photos

4. What’s the worry?

Countries that sit between Russia and Germany collect transit fees on the natural gas that flows through their territories. Those nations include Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia. They’re worried both that they will lose revenue and that Nord Stream 2 gives Russia the ability to bypass them completely in times of political friction. Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said her nation has always viewed Nord Stream 2 “as geopolitical, politically motivated, having no economic justification and also binding hands for some European countries to pursue a free energy policy.” This all comes as Europe’s relations with Russia are at their lowest point in decades, with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin accused of meddling in elections in the U.S. and Europe and carrying out assassinations and attempted hits in Britain.

5. Why is the U.S. involved?

A group of 39 U.S. senators said in March that Nord Stream 2 would make American allies “more susceptible to Moscow’s coercion and malign influence.” On July 11, before a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump said Germany had made itself “captive to Russia” by “getting so much of its energy” from there. After a subsequent meeting with Putin, Trump vowed to compete for Europe’s gas market. Nine days later, after striking an in-person deal with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker over threatened tariffs, Trump said the EU would become a “massive buyer” of U.S. LNG.

 

6. Could the U.S. really compete with Russia for the EU market?

That would be a stretch. Gas from the U.S. must be chilled into a liquid and shipped in tankers at a great cost. Russia’s supplies mostly arrive in Europe through a network of pipelines that have been in place for decades — and at a much lower price. U.S. gas is more likely to end up in Latin America, which is closer, or in Asia, where prices are higher (though China’s planned 25 percent tariff on U.S. LNG may close that avenue).

7. Does Germany rely on Russia’s energy too much?

It’s true that Germany is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuel, and one of its other sources of gas — the Netherlands — is drying up fast. Russia supplied roughly 46 percent of Germany’s gas and 59 percent of its oil in 2017, according to Bloomberg calculations based on customs data from Moscow. (Those numbers don’t take into account trades between EU countries of oil and gas that originated in Russia.) Trump may be exaggerating when he says Germany could rely on Russia for up to 70 percent of its energy once Nord Stream 2 is operational. But he’s right that Germany spends billions on Russia’s energy. Last year, that amounted to almost $22 billion, according to Russian customs.

Image result for American liquefied natural gas, ships, photos

8. How do Russia and Germany respond to the criticism?

Putin has said Trump’s complaints are motivated by his wish to promote “the interests of his business” to sell American liquefied natural gas to Europe. Merkel has defended the “economic aspects” of Nord Stream 2 and says she’s determined to make sure Ukraine isn’t “fully cut off from transit traffic.” After Trump’s comments at the NATO meeting, Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen responded in a BBC interview, “We have an independent energy supply, we are an independent country, we are just diversifying.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-27/why-world-worries-about-russia-s-natural-gas-pipeline-quicktake

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin tackle tough global topics

August 19, 2018

Chancellor Angela Merkel has received Russian President Vladimir Putin on his first bilateral visit to Germany since 2014. Their agenda listed Ukraine, Syria and piped gas for Europe but she dampened expectations.

    
Merkel and Putin speaking to reporters before a private meeting (Reuters/A. Schmidt)

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday she expected “no special” outcomes from her largely private “working meeting” with Putin at Meseberg Palace, a German state guest house an hour’s drive north of Berlin.

“Controversy” was likely, Merkel said, adding her main goal was to maintain a “permanent dialogue” with Russia, despite “very serious conflicts worldwide.”

Read moreGerman troops to spearhead NATO exercise in Norway

The two leaders had last met in Sochi in southern Russia in May.

Putin on arrival in Meseberg called on Europe to assist with refugee returns and reconstruction in war-scarred Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad.

Merkel responded that Syria needed constitutional reform and elections.

Next topic – Ukraine

The German chancellor said she favored the stationing of UN peacekeepers to oversee ceasefire bids in eastern Ukraine under German and French mediation.

But, according to Putin, there had been “absolutely no progress” for the region where Russia backs Ukrainian separatists, and in 2014 annexed Crimea.

Michaela Kuefner@MKuefner

She says global „responsibility” and means return of migrants to more stable – he says “economic co-operation” and means he won’t guarantee ’s role als gas transit country in times of . and have that and a lot more to talk about tonight.

Winter fuel for Europe

On Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe, Putin said he did not exclude the possibility that Ukraine could still earn from existing transit pipes once a new Baltic Sea project was completed next year.

“The main thing is that this transit through Ukraine, which has tradition, meets economic requirements,” Putin said.

Nordstream 2will carry Russia gas along the seabed direct to Germany, but Washington has warned that Europe will be too dependent on Russia.

Merkel said, from her point of view, Ukraine must still play a role in gas transits to Europe “even when Nordstream 2 exists.”

EU-sanctions ineffective?

Putin, without referring to EU sanctions – like similar American clamps – on Russia, said Germany remained a “leading” trade partner and had some 5,000 firms, providing 270,000 jobs in Russia.

He claimed bilateral Russian-German trade volume had grown by 22 percent over the past year, with German investments in Russia amounting to €18 billion ($20.5 billion).

ipj/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Germany, France call for ‘European solution’ to migration — But in Italy, many think Angela Merkel is the problem, not the solution

August 18, 2018

Almost half of Germans want Merkel to resign as Italy warns survival of EU is at stake over migration crisis 

Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron stressed the need for a “coordinated European solution” to migrant arrivals from the Mediterranean. They also voiced concern for the humanitarian situation in Syria.

    
People on a SOS Mediterranee ship (Reuters/D. Zammit Lupi)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke via telephone about the issue of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, the Elysee Palace said on Friday.

The conversation comes after the NGO ship Aquarius was denied entry by multiple coastal European states. It instead docked in Malta after five EU members — France, Germany Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg — offered to take the 141 refugees on board who were rescued off the coast of Libya.

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Aquarius

Both Merkel and Macron called for a “coordinated European solution” in regards to the intake of rescue ships and an approach to smugglers, the Elysee Palace said.

Italy has refused to allow private ships docking rights at its ports, saying that the rescue ships need to dock in Libya or other EU member states. In June, the country turned away the Aquarius, which forced the rescue ship, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), to travel 1,500 kilometers (810 nautical miles) before docking in Spain.

Italy has accused private rescue ships of encouraging smugglers to pack migrants into shoddy boats, knowing that the ships will rescue them. Prosecutors in Sicily are currently investigating more than 20 rescue workers for assisting with illegal immigration, including 10 crew members of the impounded ship Iuventa belonging to German NGO Jugend Rettet.

Concern over Idlib

Merkel and Macron also discussed Ukraine and the war in Syria in their telephone conversation, specifically the growing humanitarian crisis in the rebel-controlled Idlib province in Syria.

Idlib, located in northern Syria, is shaping up to be the next battleground in the country’s seven-year civil war as government forces have stepped up their bombardment of rebel positions in recent days.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is keen on retaking control of the northern province, the biggest area still under rebel control. Last week, government helicopters dropped paper fliers over towns in Idlib demanding people to surrender.

The two European leaders agreed the “humanitarian risks” in the region are “very high” and said there is a need for an “inclusive political process to allow lasting peace in the region,” the French government said.

In addition to Syria, Merkel and Macron also conversed about Ukraine ahead of the German chancellor’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Meseberg Palace outside Berlin on Saturday.

Read more: War and fuel: Angela Merkel’s headaches in Russia talks

Germany and France want UN troops deployed in all areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists, including along the Russia-Ukraine border. Russia is opposed to the idea.

Speaking on Friday, Merkel warned against expectations that her meeting with Putin will produce a breakthrough, saying the meeting is a product of necessity rather than choice.

“It’s a working meeting from which no specific results are expected. But the number of problems that occupy us — from Ukraine and Syria to the issue of economic cooperation — is so big that it is justified to be in a permanent dialogue,” said Merkel, who last met with Putin in Sochi in May.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, increasing tensions between the two countries and sparking a conflict between separatists and Ukrainian forces.

dv/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

https://www.dw.com/en/germany-france-call-for-european-solution-to-migration/a-45126499

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Almost half of Germans want Merkel to resign as Italy warns survival of EU is at stake over migration crisis 

lmost half of Germans want Angela Merkel to resign as their country’s leader, a new poll has shown, as the German chancellor comes under renewed pressure over her handling of the immigration issue.

A YouGov survey showed that 43 per cent of Germans now want her to leave office, compared with 42 per cent who want her to remain – 15 per cent did not express an opinion.

Even in her own CDU-CSU coalition, 27 per cent want to see her quit.

The survey demonstrates Mrs Merkel’s increasingly perilous position as she fights an internal battle with her coalition partner, the Bavarian CSU, over imposing border controls that Mrs Merkel believes risk undermining the Schengen free movement zone.

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Mrs Merkel will attend an emergency summit in Brussels on Sunday in a bid to try and create a “European solution” to the migration crisis which has exposed deep divisions in the bloc over how to hand African and Middle Eastern migration.

Migrants wave from aboard the Lifeline ship operated by the German NGO Mission Lifeline. Italy’s interior minister says Malta should accept it because the ship is now in Maltese waters CREDIT: MISSION LIFELINE

No breakthrough is expected at the summit, where Italy is demanding Europe reform the Dublin asylum rules and share the burden of Mediterranean migration, while eastern states like Hungary and Poland resolutely refuse to accept migrant quotas.

The summit comes as Italy’s new populist government continues to ratchet up the pressure on the rest of Europe by refusing to allow NGO ships carrying rescued migrants to dock at Italian ports.

Italy warned that the survival of the EU was at stake yesterday as it signalled it would block another ship, the  Dutch-registered MV Lifeline, which is carrying 224 asylum seekers rescued off the coast of Libya this week.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s hardline interior minister and the head of The League party, said the ship was in Maltese waters and should head for a Maltese port, where it should be impounded and its crew arrested for allegedly aiding “clandestine migration”.

“We cannot take in one more person,” Mr Salvini, who wants to expel half a million unauthorised migrants from Italy, told the German weekly Der Spiegel. “On the contrary: we want to send away a few.”

Just two days before an EU mini-summit on the migrant issue in Brussels, Mr Salvini, who is also deputy minister, warned that the very future of the bloc was at stake.

“Within a year it will be decided whether there will still be a united Europe or not,” he told Der Spiegel.

As the EU prepares for budget talks and next year’s European Parliament elections, it would become clear “whether the whole thing has become meaningless”, he said.

“Italian ports are no longer at the disposal of traffickers. Open the Maltese ports! Open the French ports,” Mr Salvini said on a visit to Siena, Tuscany, to bolster League candidates ahead of a local election on Sunday.

On Thursday he pledged that “foreign NGO boats will never touch Italian soil again.”

Last week he closed Italian ports to another NGO ship, the Aquarius, which eventually disembarked 630 migrants and refugees in the Spanish port of Valencia after permission was given by Madrid.

“The lawless ship Lifeline is now in Maltese waters with its load of migrants. For the safety of its crew and passengers we have asked Malta to open its ports. It is clear that the ship should then be seized and its crew arrested,” Mr Salvini tweeted on Friday.

But the Dutch said the ship was not their responsibility because it is operated by a German NGO, Mission Lifeline.

Danilo Toninelli, the Italian transport minister, also fired a broadside against the NGO vessel, claiming it was operating “outside international law.”

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Migrants in a rubber dinghy as they are rescued by the crew of the Lifeline ship in the central Mediterranean CREDIT: REUTERS

“The nearest safe port is Valletta. We’re talking about a 32-metre-long ship that can transport 50 people at most, yet they have 224 on board.”

Mission Lifeline denied that it was operating outside the law, saying its ship was the closest to the imperiled migrants, who travel on rubber dinghies that are often at risk of sinking.

The charity said the migrants had been rescued “in line with international law” and called for its ship to be allowed to proceed to a “port of safety”.

Meanwhile, Brussels called on the rest of the EU to help frontline states such as Italy and Greece.

“I think that the whole of Europe must show solidarity towards those who are most affected, the Greeks, Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain, to ease their burden and to reimburse and honour a part of their costs and efforts,” said European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/06/22/italy-heading-new-showdown-mediterranean-ngo-ship-rescues-220/

Russian navy in show of strength with 26 new ships this year

July 29, 2018

Russia’s navy will deploy a total of 26 new ships this year including four carrying Kalibr cruise missiles, President Vladimir Putin said Sunday as the country celebrated Navy Day with a show of strength.

“In total in 2018 the navy should get 26 new warships, motor boats and vessels including four warships with Kalibr cruise missiles,” Putin said in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, Interfax news agency reported.

© AFP | Russian warships sail on the Neva river during the Navy Day parade in Saint Petersburg on July 29, 2018

Kalibr missiles fired from Russian ships in the Mediterranean and the Caspian have been used as part of Moscow’s military intervention in the conflict in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad

FILE PHOTO: The Russian Navy’s frigate Admiral Essen sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The navy has already this year taken in eight new ships, Putin added.

The commander of the Black Sea fleet, which is based in Crimea’s port of Sevastopol, Vice-Admiral Alexander Moiseyev said six new vessels including missile ships would be inducted by the end of the year, Interfax added.

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Kalibr cruise missiles are launched by a Russian Navy ship in the eastern Mediterranean, June 23, 2017. AP photo

Putin reviewed a spectacular annual naval display on the Neva River in Saint Petersburg with 39 warships carrying out manoeuvres.

He told the 4,000 servicemen taking part that the navy “is making a weighty contribution to the fight with international terrorism.

“Of course we will continue measures aimed at strengthening and developing the navy, boosting equipment,” Putin said.

The Navy Day celebrations also included a parade in Russia’s Syrian base of Tartus in the Mediterranean for the second time, involving five ships and the Kolpino diesel submarine, the defence ministry said on Facebook.

Image result for Kolpino diesel submarine, photos

In Senate Hearing, Pompeo Defends Trump’s Russia Policy — Talks North Korea, Syria, Crimea

July 26, 2018

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, told skeptical senators on Wednesday that the Trump administration has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow as “proof” it is tough on Russia as the White House walked back an invitation for President Vladimir V. Putin to visit Washington this fall.

Yet during a combative three-hour Senate hearing, Mr. Pompeo repeatedly declined to provide specifics about a one-on-one meeting between President Trump and Mr. Putin last week in Helsinki, Finland — including the possibility of relaxing sanctions on Moscow, military cooperation in Syria or the future of Crimea.

Mr. Pompeo angrily dismissed questions about the deep gulf between the administration’s tough policies on Russia and Mr. Trump’s own warm statements about Mr. Putin.

“You somehow disconnect the administration’s activities from the president’s actions,” Mr. Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “They’re one and the same.”

By 

The New York Times

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 25, 2018. Credit Camille Fine/USA TODAY

And for the first time, Mr. Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear fuel for its weapons program, even as the administration claims progress toward the goal of denuclearization.

“Yes, they continue to produce fissile material,” he told the committee, using the term for nuclear material that can be used in a bomb.

His testimony amounted to an elaborate cleanup effort by the United States’ top diplomat for Mr. Trump’s performance in Helsinki, during which he cast doubt on his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The meeting with Mr. Putin was followed by a week of halfhearted walk-backs and position shifts that have left many lawmakers questioning Mr. Trump’s ability to be tough with Russia.

Under blistering pressure for details of the talks, Mr. Pompeo shot back: “Presidents are entitled to have private meetings.”

At times, he dismissed Democratic senators’ attempts to elicit answers as politically motivated. “I understand the game that you’re playing,” he told Senator Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, the panel’s top Democrat.

“If President Obama did what President Trump did in Helsinki, I’d be peeling you off the Capitol ceiling,” Mr. Menendez said later.

The criticism came from both parties. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the committee, opened the session by saying that Mr. Trump had been “submissive and deferential” to Mr. Putin in Helsinki, and derided the administration’s foreign policy as an incoherent “ready, fire, aim” approach.

“We are antagonizing our friends and placating those who clearly wish us ill,” Mr. Corker said. “It’s the president’s actions that create tremendous distrust in our nation, among our allies — it’s palpable.”

When Mr. Corker pressed him on what motivates the president to “purposely create distrust in these institutions” by questioning his commitment to NATO or whether Russia attacked the 2016 election, Mr. Pompeo took exception.

“Some of the statements achieve important policy outcomes for the United States,” he said.

“And some,” Mr. Corker replied, “are very damaging.”

In an apparent attempt to accomplish what the president’s own statements had not, Mr. Pompeo came armed with a formal declaration refusing to recognize Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. He insisted to a packed hearing room that the president was “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” and had taken “a staggering number of actions to protect our interests,” calling them “proof” that Mr. Trump was willing to hold Moscow to account.

In one testy exchange with Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, who asked whether Mr. Trump’s financial ties with Russia could be driving foreign policy, Mr. Pompeo began reciting a litany of actions the administration has taken against Moscow, offering to send a full list to the committee — including imposing sanctions, expelling diplomats, closing a consulate and providing weapons to Ukraine, where the military is fighting Russia-backed separatists.

“We’ll back a truck up and get it on in here,” Mr. Pompeo said with a glare.

Just before the hearing began, the White House announced it was delaying an invitation to Mr. Putin to meet with Mr. Trump this fall in Washington. A statement by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, said the follow-up meeting between the two presidents should take place at the conclusion of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference — “after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year.”

Russian officials had not yet committed to the invitation.

In his testimony, Mr. Pompeo sought but fell short of assuring senators that the United States would never acknowledge Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He did not directly answer whether sanctions to punish Russia for seizing the Ukrainian peninsula would remain in place in perpetuity.

Instead, Mr. Pompeo repeatedly restated United States policy, saying that after the Helsinki summit meeting, the stance on sanctions “remains completely unchanged,” and that “no commitment has been made to change those policies.” But he did not speak to whether Mr. Trump had signaled any willingness to reconsider or modify them.

Mr. Menendez told Mr. Pompeo that American citizens and their elected officials have heard more about what happened in the closed-door Helsinki meeting from Moscow than from their own president.

“We don’t know what the truth is because nobody else was in the room where it happened,” Mr. Menendez said.

On the election interference in particular, Mr. Pompeo told the committee that the president accepts the findings that the Russian cyberattacks took place and that he “has a complete and proper understanding of what happened.”

“I know — I briefed him on it for over a year,” Mr. Pompeo said, referring to his time as C.I.A. director.

He insisted that Mr. Trump deeply respects the work of the intelligence community — a notion the president left in doubt in Helsinki when he said he had to weigh its assertions about election interference against Mr. Putin’s strong denials that it took place.

Mr. Pompeo spent much of the hearing attempting to convince senators it that it was the Trump administration’s policies — not the president’s own words — that mattered. At times, under questioning from the lawmakers, that meant the secretary of state contradicted Mr. Trump.

That was the case when it came to Mr. Trump’s frequent complaints that NATO allies have been delinquent in paying their bills to the United States — a mischaracterization that Mr. Corker called out.

“That’s a misnomer, is it not?” Mr. Corker said. “These NATO countries are not not paying bills to the United States, as sometimes is projected.”

Mr. Pompeo agreed. “That’s correct,” he said.

At another point, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, asked whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had discussed scaling back American military presence in Syria. Mr. Pompeo repeated that “there’s been no change to U.S. policy.”

“That’s not exactly the question,” Ms. Shaheen responded.

“It’s what matters,” Mr. Pompeo answered back testily. “What matters is what President Trump has directed us to do following his meeting.”

But he later conceded that Mr. Trump’s words reflect United States policy.

“It is the case that the president calls the ball,” Mr. Pompeo said. “His statements are, in fact, policy.”

Mr. Pompeo’s decision to concede that American intelligence agencies believe North Korea is still producing nuclear fuel was significant.

It runs counter to the narrative that Mr. Trump has been pressing, one in which the North is making good progress on its promises to him in the June summit meeting in Singapore. The acknowledgment of continued nuclear production suggests that even as the negotiations inch forward, the magnitude of the problem is increasing.

For Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, the continued production of nuclear material may be a pressure tactic. The C.I.A. — which Mr. Pompeo headed last year — believes that Mr. Kim will never give up all of his nuclear ability, but may negotiate a reduction in parts of it.