Posts Tagged ‘Crimea’

G7 united against Russia’s ‘malign activities’, concerned about Iran nuclear deal

April 23, 2018

“There was G7 unity on opposing Russia’s malign behavior” 

© Lars Hagberg, AFP | Top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attend the G7 Foreign Minister meeting Toronto, Canada, on April 22, 2018


Latest update : 2018-04-23

The Group of Seven industrialized nations presented a stern common front against Russian aggression Sunday at their foreign ministers conference in Toronto.

But for all the talk of resisting the “malign activities” of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, Washington’s European partners are still concerned that President Donald Trump will tear up the Iran nuclear deal.

And all the G7 partners remain anxious for clues as to how the unpredictable US leader will handle a planned disarmament summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

“There was G7 unity on opposing Russia’s malign behavior,” a senior US official told reporters, citing Moscow’s failure to prevent Syrian forces from using chemical weapons and interference in Western elections.

The final joint statement from the talks will not be released until Monday, but officials from other nations confirmed that the ministers had taken a tough line on Russia’s alleged crimes.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who begins a series of meetings with Trump on Monday, said in an interview that the West must stand up to Putin’s attacks on western democracy, including the spreading of “fake news.”

“He’s strong and smart. But don’t be naive. He’s obsessed by interference in our democracies,” Macron told “Fox News Sunday” before setting off for Washington.

“That’s why I do believe that we should never be weak with President Putin. When you are weak, he uses it.”

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland hosted the meeting and invited her G7 colleagues plus the European Union’s representative to a working lunch to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels have seized an eastern region.

Later, she said G7 members had “reaffirmed our unity in support of Ukraine and a rules-based international order where state sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected by all.”

Deadly nerve agent

G7 capitals are also worried about Russia’s support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime in his country’s brutal civil war and alleged attempt to kill a defector with a nerve agent on British soil.

The senior US official stressed that this month’s joint US, French and British air strikes against Assad’s chemical sites were “not a one-off but was part of a sustained allied campaign to reestablish the deterrent against chemical weapons, and that includes using military means again if necessary.”

But, while the Western allies appeared united in their resolve to face down Russia, the European partners remain concerned that Trump may tear up the 2015 Iran nuclear deal next month.

Trump has threatened to abandon the accord unless European capitals agree to supplement it with tougher controls on Iran’s missile program and future ability to enrich nuclear fuel.

His partners maintain that the implementation of the agreement under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) represents the best way to prevent Tehran from seeking the atomic bomb.

“We’ve been negotiating with the Europeans,” a senior US official accompanying Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan told reporters. “We’ve made a great deal of progress but we’re not there yet.”

During a day-long series of talks, Sullivan stepped aside for a brief bilateral meeting with BritishForeign Secretary Boris Johnson.

As the pair sat down in the office of the chancellor of the University of Toronto, Johnson was heard telling his US counterpart “one of the things we are concerned about now is the JCPOA and where that is headed.”

A French diplomatic source told AFP that: “Several G7 ministers, led by the French, made a strong appeal to the United States… As it stands, we must not throw the JCPOA out with the bath water.”

The Europeans are willing to work on a supplement to the deal which would not abrogate it, and would toughen controls on Iran’s missile program but “not give Iran a pretext to pull out, which would have disastrous consequences.”

The ministers also discussed North Korea.

Last month, in one of the most surprising twists in world affairs for decades, Trump accepted an invitation from Pyongyang’s autocrat to a summit to discuss his nuclear disarmament.

Tougher nuclear controls

The G7 members, including frontline state Japan, support efforts to convince Kim to end his efforts to develop a strategic nuclear missile arsenal, but are also keen to hear more from the US side.

Kim is sure to make wide demands of the West, and allies are keen to ensure that Trump does not give too much away to secure a historic deal.

After the foreign affairs meeting, the ministers will be joined on Monday by their domestic security counterparts and discussions will be widened to encompass counterterrorism and cyber security.




Russia Not Likely To Be Invited To Return to G7 Soon — Ukraine seeking World Cup boycott

April 23, 2018

G7 not inclined to allow Russia to return soon… Foreign ministers from the G7 met ahead of a leaders’ summit in June

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Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said it’s far too early to discuss Russia returning to a group of the world’s most powerful economies.

Maas on Sunday said Russia had not done enough to address the concerns of G7 countries over issues such as support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

“So far, the conditions have not been met for there to be another change,” said Maas, who was in Toronto for a two-day meeting of G7 foreign ministers.

Russia, which once had a seat at the table, has been sidelined from the group of leading world economies which was then reformatted to from the G8 to the G7 in 2014. Russia was suspended after the Russian annexation of Crimea, as well as Moscow’s perceived support of militants in eastern Ukraine. An array of sanctions were also imposed on Moscow.

Read more: Who are the allies of Vladmir Putin and Russia in Germany?

Russian return

German politicians from the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Left (Linke) party have said Russia should be invited to a meeting of G7 leaders in Canada that has been slated for June. G7 members such as Italy and Japan have said that Russia should be allowed to return, to help solve issues in the Middle East and prevent a permanent return of the atmosphere of the Cold War.

Flags of G7 members (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Ota)Some G7 countries, such as Italy and Japan, are particularly keen to engage with Russia and become the G8 again

But Maas made clear there would be no return for Russia until the reasons for its exclusion were fully addressed. “This is purely and solely down to Russia itself,” Maas said. “At the moment, it really isn’t an issue.”

Russia has also been criticized for its role in Syria, where it has been supporting President Bashar Assad in the country’s devastating seven-year war. Maas on Saturday called for “constructive contributions” from Russia on both Ukraine and Syria.

The G7 comprises the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the US. Russia last year said it was planning a permanent exit from the larger G8 group.

Macron’s appraisal

In addition to Russia and Syria, the ministers were expected to review other recent events in the Middle East, as well as the Korean peninsula and Venezuela. The talks, set to end on Monday, are intended to pave the way for a G7 leaders’ summit in Canada in early June.

Read more: Ukraine foreign minister urges tougher Russia action, World Cup boycott

French President Emmanuel Macron gave his own frank appraisal of relations with Russia on Sunday, in an interview ahead of a state visit to the US.

Macron said that, while he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was also important to show strength.

“I do believe that we should never be weak with President Putin. When you are weak, he uses it,” Macron said in the English-language interview with the US network Fox News.

rc/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Russia’s Terrorism Sponsorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Weapons Suppliers To Stop Using International Banking System SWIFT — Russia suspects SWIFT helps enforce sancions, stop money laundering and illegal activity

April 15, 2018

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Ka-52 Alligator helicopter. © Vitaliy Ankov – Sputnik

Russia Today (RT)

Russian state tech giant Rostec will use Russia’s analogue of SWIFT interbank cash transfer services, the company said in a press release.

The tech firm will connect to the Russian system for transfer of financial messages (SPFS) to make its payments safer. “The digital infrastructure will help to exchange data in encrypted mode, which reduces the risk of external intrusion into the system and the likelihood of hacker attacks,” Rostec said.

Rostec was established in late 2007 to consolidate strategically important Russian companies. It has divisions in aircraft, electronics, and armaments. It unites companies like Russian Helicopters, Kalashnikov Concern, and Rosoboronexport.

The head of Rostec, Igor Zavyalov, said that the transition to a new system will reduce dependence on foreign services and will provide an opportunity to transfer information without using the capacities of foreign providers.

Last month, another Russian state-owned firm, global oil giant Rosneft, announced it had tested the SPFS in December with the help of the country’s third largest lender, Gazprombank.

The potential exclusion of Russia from SWIFT has worried the country’s banks since 2014, when the EU and the US introduced the first round of international sanctions against Moscow over alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis and the reunification with Crimea. However, SWIFT itself has fended off such talks.

In 2017, the head of the Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina, said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that Russia is ready for disconnection from SWIFT.

will use Russia’s analogue of SWIFT interbank cash transfer services, the company said in a press release.

The tech firm will connect to the Russian system for transfer of financial messages (SPFS) to make its payments safer. “The digital infrastructure will help to exchange data in encrypted mode, which reduces the risk of external intrusion into the system and the likelihood of hacker attacks,” Rostec said.

Rostec was established in late 2007 to consolidate strategically important Russian companies. It has divisions in aircraft, electronics, and armaments. It unites companies like Russian Helicopters, Kalashnikov Concern, and Rosoboronexport.

The head of Rostec, Igor Zavyalov, said that the transition to a new system will reduce dependence on foreign services and will provide an opportunity to transfer information without using the capacities of foreign providers.

Last month, another Russian state-owned firm, global oil giant Rosneft, announced it had tested the SPFS in December with the help of the country’s third largest lender, Gazprombank.

The potential exclusion of Russia from SWIFT has worried the country’s banks since 2014, when the EU and the US introduced the first round of international sanctions against Moscow over alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis and the reunification with Crimea. However, SWIFT itself has fended off such talks.

In 2017, the head of the Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina, said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that Russia is ready for disconnection from SWIFT.

Russia suffering under new US sanctions

April 11, 2018

Black Monday was followed by an even blacker Tuesday. The Russian market crash, sparked by new US sanctions, looks unlikely to end soon. What does it mean for everyday citizens in the country?

Televised Putin speech in Sevastopol (picture-alliance /dpa/EPA/A. Pedko)

Sanctions? Our nuclear missiles are laughing themselves silly. In 2014, when the Western economic pressure over Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula began to mount, many Russians could be seen wearing T-shirts bearing such sarcastic slogans. Initially, sanctions were applied cautiously and were very limited in scope.

Russia adjusted to the “new economic reality,” a Moscow euphemism for its confrontation with the West. In 2017, the economy began to grow once again. It is questionable that the same will happenafter this latest round of sanctions.

Billions in losses

New punitive measures introduced by the United States on April 6, the first since the annexation of Crimea, have led to a massive crash on Russia’s stock and currency markets. Russian media reports claim that new US sanctions on seven oligarchs, 17 top officials and 12 companies led to tens of billions of dollars in losses on Russian markets within just a few hours on Monday.

Read morePutin, Kremlin were unprepared for a US-EU assault

The slide continued on Tuesday and there is no end in sight. Pressure exerted on Russian bonds and the Russian currency; the ruble, increased as well due to the threat of further US sanctions currently being discussed in response to the poisoning of former Russian-British double agent Sergei Skripal. A proposal currently making the rounds in the US Congress would expand sanctions to target Russian sovereign debt.

Should that happen, it would be “economic warfare,” warned Alexander Shoshin, chairman of the Russian business association RSPP.

But targeted individuals and their companies are not the only ones suffering from the latest US sanctions, other corporations and banks are feeling the heat as well. Stock losses, for instance, are hitting Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. Meanwhile, the government has said the situation is under control and has promised financial assistance.

 Image result for Sberbank, photos

A business empire fighting for survival

The 50-year-old businessman Oleg Deripaska will need that assistance more than anybody. In Washington’s eyes, Deripaska is very closely connected to the Kremlin, which is why he was singled out with some of the toughest sanctions. His business empire Basic Element was a main target.

Basic Element is said to have more than 150,000 employees worldwide. The company website claims that 15 percent of Russia’s population is “directly or indirectly” linked to the firm. Among those connected to Basic Element are Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer, and the conglomerate Russian Machines, which has a number of subsidiaries in the automobile, aircraft and railway technology sectors.

Oleg Deripaska (picture-alliance/AP/A. Zemlianichenko)Deripaska was singled out by the US for some of the toughest sanctions

One rather symbolic detail: The automobile manufacturer GAZ from Nizhny Novgorod also belongs to Russian Machines. It is a traditional Russian company, and it was in front of GAZ’s workers that Vladimir Putin announced he would run for a fourth presidential term in December 2017. He was re-elected in March of this year.

It remains unclear whether jobs will be directly threatened at Deripaska’s companies as a result of US sanctions. Although the US is an important market for Russian aluminum, the lion’s share of Basic Element’s production is destined for the domestic market.

Read more: Vladimir Putin: How a spy rose to power and held on to it

The bigger problem would seem to be the company’s foreign debt. Because of sanctions rules, that debt can only be serviced by the state. Observers say the Deripaska empire could eventually fall under state control as a result.

Many losers, some winners

Although most Russians have felt the effects of Western sanctions, these have not been all that dramatic. The currency market suffered a similar crash in late 2014, yet the cause then was a drop in global oil prices — Russia’s most important export product and its largest source of foreign currency.

Currently, there is much discussion about the fact that a devaluation of the ruble will hit those Russians traveling abroad the hardest. Last year the number of Russians vacationing abroad declined.

Read moreWestern sanctions on Russia make lots of noise and little impact

Many Russians will likely feel the first consequences of a devaluation of the ruble as a result of sanctions when purchasing electronic goods. The business magazine Vedmosti reports that prices for products such as smartphones and laptops are expected to rise by 5 to 10 percent.

Still, there are those who are profiting from the current situation — above all the Russian tourism industry. For instance, Russians forgoing trips to Turkey due to the increased expense could save money by vacationing on the Crimean peninsula instead.


US imposes sanctions on Putin’s oligarch allies — “Response to Russia’s continued attacks to subvert western democracies.”

April 6, 2018


© AFP/File / by Dave Clark | Those hit by the new US sanctions include metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, described as operating for the Russian government

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on seven Russian oligarchs accused of supporting and profiting from President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine western democracies.Senior US officials described the wealthy international businessmen as members of Putin’s “inner circle” and said that any assets they hold in areas under US jurisdiction can be frozen.

Those hit by sanctions include metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, described as operating for the Russian government, as well as Alexei Miller, director of state-owned energy giant Gazprom.

In all, President Donald Trump’s administration targeted seven oligarchs, 12 companies they own or control, 17 senior Russian officials and a state-owned arms export company.

“The United States is taking these actions in response to the totality of the Russian government’s ongoing and increasingly brazen pattern of malign activity across the world,” one official said.

“This included their occupation of Crimea, instigation of violence in eastern Ukraine, support for the Assad regime in Syria … and ongoing malicious cyber-activity,” the official said.

“But most importantly this is a response to Russia’s continued attacks to subvert western democracies.”

The measures were taken under a US law passed to punish Russia for its alleged bid to interfere in the 106 US presidential election, engage in cyber-warfare and intervene in Ukraine and Syria.

But Friday’s announcement also came as Washington and its allies face a new diplomatic crisis with the Kremlin over the attempted poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil.

Trump begrudgingly signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) into law in August last year, despite arguing that its terms were “seriously flawed.”

The president had long disputed the idea that Russia’s alleged cyber-espionage and propaganda efforts had sped him to victory in the election and long sought better relations with Putin.

But Congress, backed by evidence from US intelligence agencies persisted, and in March the administration finally imposed sanctions on 19 Russian entities for “malicious cyber attacks.”

In parallel, and to Trump’s fury, former FBI chief Robert Mueller has been empowered as a special prosecutor to investigate claims of collusion between the president’s campaign and Russia.

So far Mueller has indicted 19 people, including 13 Russian nationals, and reports suggest he is close to asking to interview Trump himself.

US officials confirmed that their action against the oligarchs was in part related to Russia’s interference in US politics, but stressed the broader nature of their concerns.

“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

“Russian oligarchs and elites who profit from this corrupt system will no longer be insulated from the consequences of their government’s destabilizing activities.”

by Dave Clark

© 2018 AFP


Oleg Deripaska reportedly raised an estimated £1bn through his energy firm EN+

Oleg Deripaska reportedly raised an estimated £1bn through his energy firm EN+

U.S. plans to sanction Russian oligarchs this week

April 5, 2018


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to sanction Russian oligarchs this week under a law targeting Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday, in what could be the most aggressive move so far against Russia’s business elite.

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The action, which could affect people close to President Vladimir Putin, reflects Washington’s desire to hold Russia to account for allegedly interfering in the election – which Moscow denies – even as U.S. President Donald Trump holds out hope for good relations with Putin.

Trump has faced fierce criticism for doing too little to punish Russia for the election meddling and other actions, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether his campaign colluded with the Russians, an allegation the president denies.

The sanctions, which two sources said would be announced as early as Thursday, would follow the March 15 U.S. decision to sanction 19 people and five entities, including Russian intelligence services, for cyber attacks stretching back at least two years.

While the steps were the most significant taken against Moscow since Trump took office in January 2017, his decision at the time not to target oligarchs and government officials close to Putin drew criticism from U.S. lawmakers in both parties.

This week’s actions will include sanctions against Russian oligarchs, including some with ties to Putin as well as to the Russian government, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the deliberations.

Four sources said the sanctions would be imposed under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, also known as CAATSA, which was passed by Republicans and Democrats seeking to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, involvement in the Syrian civil war and meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

U.S.-Russian ties have worsened with allegations, which Moscow denies, that Russia was responsible for a March 4 nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain. On March 26, the United States and several European states announced plans to expel more than 100 Russian diplomats in response.

The White House and Treasury declined comment on whether they planned to impose sanctions this week. When asked about the issue, a senior U.S. official said:

“The administration is committed to implementing the CAATSA law as we have said many times. We published an oligarch designation recently and the secretary of the Treasury said further action would be taken. But at this time we don’t have anything specific to announce.”

Complying with the law, the Trump administration on Jan. 30 published a list of the heads of Russian state-owned companies and “oligarchs,” including such prominent figures as Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Gazprom, and Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Rosneft.

Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Arshad Mohammed, Lesley Wroughton, Patricia Zengerle and Phil Stewart; Writing By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mary Milliken, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

Trump Invited Vladimir Putin to the White House, Says Kremlin

April 2, 2018


President Trump has reportedly invited Vladimir Putin to the White House for a visit, according to a statement from the Kremlin. Putin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters Monday that during a March 20 phone conversation, Trump “suggested that the first meeting could be held in Washington” between the two leaders. “If everything goes well, I hope that the American side would not refuse its proposal to discuss the possibility of organizing the summit talks.” According to an Agence France-Presse reporter, a senior U.S. official did “not deny” that Trump “floated the idea of a White House summit,” noting that “no planning has begun as yet.” According to a TASS state media report, Ushakov told journalists that since the U.S. and Russia has expelled their respective diplomats from their countries, “there have been no specific discussions of a possible meeting.” He also said Russia “would like to believe that preparations for such a meeting will begin.” The news follows reports Trump congratulated Putin on his re-election over the phone on that call after his staff told him explicitly not to—as well as a suspected poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil and amid special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia in the 2016 presidential election.

‘We will all end up paying for this’: Russians resent ‘diplomats’ expelled — Those ‘Spyish looking’ people ‘not spies’

March 29, 2018

By Nick Miller
Sydney Morning Herald

London: It may be fair, but it feels cruel.

With more than 100 Russian “diplomats” getting the shove from 27 embassies around the world, many ordinary Russians are furious at, and bewildered by, the world’s governments turning against them.

They say they don’t believe Russia poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal.

This is clearly wishful thinking, or evidence of omission, disinformation or distortion by Russian media. The case against Russia, as set out by the UK’s Foreign Office, is convincing, if circumstantial.

Just overnight, experts found strong traces of the Novichok nerve agent on Skripal’s front door.

But the Russian people don’t see it. They say they’ve been shown no evidence: no pictures, no documents, no independent analysis. Such big accusations and retaliations require more than just UK officials’ say-so. True or not, without an independent verdict it feels like aggression, they say.

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British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has gone on the offensive about Russia.Photo: Bloomberg

So Putin may end up the winner – again – with another chance to stoke the “NATO belligerence” narrative that props up his authoritarian, nationalistic rule.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the UK’s chief diplomat not known for his diplomacy, twisted the knife on Wednesday.

He boasted that the lightsaber (the Star Wars prop, made in the UK since 1977) was a more powerful weapon than Novichok. He even quoted Russia’s culture against them, saying Russia’s denial and obfuscation on the Skripal case were “rather like the beginning of [Dostoevsky’s] Crime and Punishment, in the sense that we are all confident of the culprit and the only question is whether he will confess or be caught”.

Police officers and riot police officers stand outside the Russian embassy in Paris, after France expelled diplomats in a coordinated action.Photo: AP

Through the wave of diplomatic expulsions the world was saying “enough” to Russian provocations not just in Salisbury but in Syria, Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Montenegro, to cyber attacks and election interference, Johnson said.

But a Russian professional working in London said ordinary Russians felt the diplomatic action against them this week was cruelly timed.

On Sunday evening a horrific fire in a Siberian shopping centre killed at least 64 people – 41 of them children.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with local officials after visiting a memorial for the victims of a fire in a multi-storey shopping centre in the Siberian city of Kemerovo.Photo: AP

Normally a tragedy of this scale would generate international sympathy. Instead, the next day 18 countries announced the biggest expulsion of diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

Veteran London-based Russian journalist Mikhail Ozerov said the majority of ordinary Russians are sure that their government is not responsible for Skripal’s death.

“They think that it is the beginning of the Cold War that some western countries, first of all America and the UK, have started,” he said. “Many people even call the attack on Skripals ‘the provocation’. And the expulsion of Russian diplomats is just one more step in escalation of today’s situation.”

Other Russians who spoke to Fairfax Media – smart, informed Russians – were also unimpressed.

“I am for balanced and fair relations,” said one. “Why, without any proof, are you making these accusations? You’re sure, but you can’t prove it? … I am not defending our authorities but I am for a proper investigation.”

Said another: “The only explanation I can find for myself is that it’s the reaction of Western countries to Putin’s election. They don’t say it directly but show it in this way. Otherwise, it looks more than strange.”

A third complained it had boosted Putin’s support at last week’s election: “You should have seen what went on at the polling stations. People were taking selfies with portraits of the ‘tsar’. And that was in Moscow. There’s even more support for him in the regions. We will all end up paying for this.”

Just 5 per cent of Russians find the UK’s accusations plausible, according to a survey conducted last week by Russia’s state-run pollster, VTsIOM.

Almost two in five surveyed said the most likely explanation for the Skripal poisoning was “an attempted assassination by opponents of the current Russian leadership”.

Of the rest, 17 per cent believed it a “criminal incident not connected with politics”, 9 per cent thought it an “accident” and just 3 per cent agreed it was a “murder committed by Russian special services”. One third did not know.

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Russia’s ambassador to Australia, Grigory Logvinov.Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

These numbers help explain the apparently bizarre performance of Grigory Lovinov, Russia’s ambassador to Australia, at a marathon press conference on Wednesday.

Lovinov is a veteran of Russian diplomacy but he moves with the times.

As NATO’s Stratcom taskforce explained last week, Russian propaganda tactics now are to “react as fast as possible to regain the initiative (and) put the most professional players into the field”.

Stratcom’s experts publish a “weekly update on pro-Kremlin disinformation” and they say they have seen, in the last week, “the Russian Foreign Ministry, embassies, top-level diplomats, main state-controlled TV channels and global companies like Russia Today and Sputnik … all involved in delivering multiple theories on the [Skripal] poisoning”.

The Kremlin’s aim is confusion, Stratcom says.

“[They are] busy playing for time. The starting point – Russia denying its involvement in the poisoning but having no solid arguments to back its claim – is a weak one. But by distracting the audience, the disinformation campaign is falling back on familiar tactics and trying hard to turn a weakness into an asset.”

Expect to hear more from Russia’s ambassador.

He is speaking for his country, in more ways than one.

– with Helen Womack

See also:

Russian Ambassador to Australia — ‘Spyish looking’ people in Russian embassy photos ‘not spies’

Opinion: Despite Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic catastrophe — He won’t stop — Retreat would signify defeat

March 28, 2018

The Kremlin will continue fighting the West without rules, and a diplomatic boycott will not stop it, writes Russian journalist Konstantin Eggert. Retreat would signify defeat, as far as Moscow is concerned.

A Russian flag waves behind barbed wire

“I don’t believe it!” This was what Konstantin Stanislavsky, the father of modern Russian theater, told actors when he was not satisfied with their performance. The United Kingdom and its two dozen allies around the world spoke on March 26 as a collective Stanislavsky.

“You are lying!” This is the message behind an unprecedented expulsion of Russian diplomats by countries of the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia. This demarche will now be included in all textbooks on the history of international relations. Even Saddam Hussein and the Kim dynasty in North Korea were spared such public humiliation. This is a serious political and diplomatic victory for British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Two elements of this drama drew my attention. Tiny Iceland once challenged the mighty Soviet Union when it was the first to recognize the restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990. On Monday, Reykjavik announced a political and diplomatic boycott of Moscow, although Iceland is not a member of the EU and has no special relationship with Britain, unlike, say, Canada, Australia and the United States. Secondly, the Kremlin’s “best friend,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, decided to expel one Russian diplomat. The EU-bashing populist leader, known for his good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, showed where his real priorities lie.

Konstantin Eggert


Russian journalist Konstantin Eggert

And this may not be the end of the affair. European Council President Donald Tusk said that EU member countries could take additional steps. That is, those who have not yet expelled Russian diplomatic personnel, like Slovakia or Portugal, can still do so. Experts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are analyzing the substance that was used to poison former British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. If they conclude that the substance was of Russian origin this could spur more expulsions. Tokyo is also biding its time. The Japanese foreign ministry says it is monitoring the situation closely but avoids answering the question whether Washington’s main Asian ally would support the British and American position.

Kremlin puppets respond with mockery

In a normal democracy, such a large-scale and public diplomatic disaster would have led to the resignation of top brass at the foreign ministry and special services as well as immediate parliamentary inquiry. It would have also greatly undermined the standing of the executive.

But Russia is not a democracy. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday defiantly went to play football with veterans of FC Spartak. The Russian embassy in Washington responded to the expulsion of 60 Russian operatives from the US with a Twitter joke. It asked its followers to choose online which of the three US consulates in Russia Moscow should close in response to the shutdown of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

Read more: UK-Russia relations: Crisis or melodrama?

The Kremlin’s puppet deputies in the Duma and its puppet “experts” on state television networks had a field day mocking the Europeans and pushing conspiracy theories. The chemical attack in Salisbury is a British-American provocation, they argue. “Russia has risen, and the envious US want to cut it down to size. Washington forced its lackeys to join the diplomatic boycott” — this version of events is being rammed down the throats of the Russian TV audience. You see, great Russia can only have great enemies, not some kind of mini-foes like Romania or Finland. Many would believe these delusional explanations.

I have no doubt that the Kremlin will respond to the expulsions: kick out diplomatic personnel, close one more American consulate. The BBC bureau in Moscow may also be shut down if OFCOM, the UK broadcasting regulator, suspends the license of RT, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel.

UK could do more

Apart from this, Moscow’s standard political and diplomatic options are limited. While the UK has quite a few more: impounding “suspicious property” — in other words, the assets of Russian oligarchs in the UK — stripping them and their family members of British citizenship, inclusion of Russian officials in the British version of the “Magnitsky list.” One cannot even rule out a full-scale boycott of the World Cup by the UK, if the investigation reveals significant new evidence of Russian state involvement in the Salisbury attack.

Read more: Boris Johnson: Russia’s position in Skripal case is ‘increasingly bizarre’

Moscow lied many times before the Salisbury incident: about former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko having been poisoned by Boris Berezovsky, about “Georgian aggression” against South Ossetia, about “Ukrainian fascists” in Crimea, about the absence of Russian troops in the Donbass, and about the fake air traffic controller who saw a fake Ukrainian fighter jet shoot down a Malaysian airliner. Now this long string of lies has led to a diplomatic disaster.

But the Kremlin will not relent. It perceives any retreat as a defeat. I am sure that Moscow is already thinking about the so-called “asymmetric response” to the West. For this there are hackers, propagandists and, if need be, the Russian armed forces. The Cold War once resembled a boxing match. It had rules. In its new confrontation with the global West, there will be none. Putin’s Russia chooses mixed martial arts.