Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

David Stockman Warns “A Great Big Coup Is On The Way” — Intelligence agencies and political operatives in the Obama White House could have been a party to unconstitutional interference in the election process

June 23, 2017

Submitted by David Stockman via The Daily Reckoning,

So let’s start with an obvious point about the whole Russia fiasco…

Namely, there is no “there, there.” First off, the president has the power to declassify secret documents at will. But in this instance he could also do that without compromising intelligence community (IC) “sources and methods” in the slightest.

That’s because after Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, the whole world was put on notice — and most especially Washington’s adversaries — that it collects every single electronic digit that passes through the worldwide web and related communications grids.

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Special Counsel Overseeing Russia Probe Could Face Ethics Challenge

Washington essentially has universal and omniscient SIGINT (signals intelligence). Acknowledging that fact by publishing the Russia-Trump intercepts would provide new knowledge to exactly no one.

Nor would it jeopardize the lives of any American spy or agent (HUMINT). It would just document the unconstitutional interference in the election process that had been committed by the U.S. intelligence agencies and political operatives in the Obama White House.

That pales compared to whatever noise comes out of Langley (CIA) and Ft. Meade (NSA). And I do mean noise.

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Yes, I can hear the boxes on the CNN screen harrumphing that declassifying the “evidence” would amount to obstruction of justice! That is, since Trump’s “crime” is a given (i.e. his occupancy of the Oval Office), anything that gets in the way of his conviction and removal therefrom amounts to “obstruction.”

Given that he is up against a Deep State/Democratic/Neoconservative/mainstream media prosecution, the Donald has no chance of survival short of an aggressive offensive of the type I just described.

But that’s not happening because the man is clueless about what he is doing in the White House. And he’s being advised by a cacophonous coterie of amateurs and nincompoops. So he has no action plan except to impulsively reach for his Twitter account.

That became more than evident — and more than pathetic, too — when he tweeted out an attack on his own Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. At least Nixon fired Elliot Richardson (his Attorney General) and Bill Ruckelshaus (Deputy AG):

I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.

Alone with his Twitter account, clueless advisors and pulsating rage, the Donald is instead laying the groundwork for his own demise. Were this not the White House, this would normally be the point at which they send in the men in white coats with a straight jacket.

Indeed, that’s essentially what the Donald’s so-called GOP allies on the Hill are actually doing.

RussiaGate is a witch hunt like few others in American political history. Yet as the mainstream cameras and microphones were thrust at one Congressional Republican after another following the Donald’s outburst quoted above, there was nary an echo of agreement.

Even Senator John Thune, an ostensible Swamp-hating conservative, had nothing but praise for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that he would fairly and thoroughly get to the bottom of the matter.

No he won’t!

Mueller is a card-carrying member of the Deep State who was there at the founding of today’s surveillance monster as FBI Director following 9/11. Since the whole $75 billion apparatus that eventually emerged was based on an exaggerated threat of global Islamic terrorism, Russia had to be demonized into order to keep the game going — a transition that Mueller fully subscribed to.

So he will “find” extensive Russian interference in the 2016 election and bring the hammer down on the Donald for seeking to prevent it from coming to light. The clock is now ticking. And his investigatory team is being packed with prosecutorial killers with proven records of thuggery. They’re determined to find crimes that create fame and fortune for prosecutors — even if the crime itself never happened.

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FBI Director Robert Mueller in a 2013 file photo by  J. Scott Applewhite AP

For example, Mueller’s #1 hire was the despicable Andrew Weissmann. This character had led the fraud section of the department’s Criminal Division and served as general counsel to the F.B.I. when Mueller was its director. And more importantly, Weissmann was the driving force behind the Enron task force — the most egregious exercise in prosecutorial abuse and thuggery in 100 years.

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership could not be clearer about what is coming down the pike.

They are not defending Trump with even a hint of the vigor and resolve that I recall from the early days of Tricky Dick Nixon’s ordeal. Of course, Nixon didn’t survive anyway.

Instead, it’s as if Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, et al. have offered to hold his coat, while the Donald pummels himself with a 140-character Twitter Knife that is visible to the entire world.

So there should be no doubt. A Great Big Coup is on the way.

But here’s the irony of the matter: Exactly four years ago in June 2013 no one was seriously demonizing Putin or Russia. In fact, the slicksters of CNN were still snickering about Mitt Romney’s silly claim during the 2012 election campaign that Russia was the greatest security threat facing America.

But then came the Syrian jihadist false flag chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 and the U.S. intelligence community’s flagrant lie that it had proof the villain was Bashar Assad.

To the contrary, it subsequently became evident that the primitive rockets that had carried the deadly sarin gas, which killed upwards of 1500 innocent civilians, could not have been fired from regime held territory. The rockets examined by UN investigators had a range of only a few kilometers, not the 15-20 kilometers from the nearest Syrian base.

In any event, President Obama chose to ignore his own red line and called off the bombers. That in turn paved the way for Vladimir Putin to persuade Assad to give up all of his chemical weapons — a commitment he fully complied with over the course of the next year.

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Needless to say, in the eyes of the neocon War Party, this constructive act of international statesmanship by Putin was the unforgivable sin. It thwarted the next target on their regime change agenda — removal of the Assad government in Syria as a step toward an ultimate attack on its ally, the Shiite regime of Iran.

So it did not take long for the Deep State to retaliate. While Putin was basking in the glory of the 2014 winter Olympics at Sochi, the entire apparatus of Imperial Washington — the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy, the State Department and a long string of Washington funded NGOs — was on the ground in Kiev assisting the putsch that overthrew Ukraine’s constitutionally elected President and Russian ally.

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From there, the Ukrainian civil war and partition of Crimea inexorably followed, as did the escalating campaign against Russia and its leader.

So as it turned out, the War Party could not have planned a better outcome — especially after Russia moved to protect its legitimate interests in its own backyard resulting from the Washington-instigated civil war in Ukraine. That included protecting its 200-year old naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea.

The War Party simply characterized these actions falsely as acts of aggression against Russia’s European neighbors.

There is nothing like a demonized enemy to keep the $700 billion national security budget flowing and the hideous Warfare State opulence of the Imperial City intact. So why not throw in an allegedly “stolen” U.S. election to garnish the case?

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In a word, the Little Putsch in Kiev is now begetting a Great Big Coup in the Imperial City.

This is a history-shattering development, but don’t tell the boys and girls and robo-machines on Wall Street.

Pathetically, they still think it’s game on.

So if there was ever a time to take advantage of the day traders and robo-machines which linger in the casino, now would be the occasion to sell, sell, sell. Once the breakdown starts there will be no respite from the implosion.

 http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-06-22/stockman-warns-great-big-coup-way

Russian Navy Launches Missile Strikes on IS Target in Syria: RIA

June 23, 2017

MOSCOW — Russian naval vessels launched missile strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria’s Hama province, destroying command points and weapon and ammunition stores, RIA news agency cited the Russian defense ministry as saying on Friday.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Christian Lowe)

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Published time: 23 Jun, 2017 05:35
Edited time: 23 Jun, 2017 06:40

Two Russian Navy frigates and a submarine have fired six Kalibr cruise missiles on Islamic State targets in Syria, the Defense Ministry said. Militants who survived the attack were later killed in airstrikes.

© Russian Defence Ministry / Global Look PressRussian frigate & submarine fire 4 cruise missiles at ISIS targets near Palmyra – MoD

The missiles were launched from Russian Navy frigates, the Admiral Essen and the Admiral Grigorovich, as well as a submarine, the Krasnodar, from the eastern Mediterranean, the Defense Ministry said in a Friday statement. The submarine fired its missiles while submerged.

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Russian Navy frigate Admiral Essen

The strikes targeted Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) command and control centers, as well as ammunition depots in the Syrian province of Hama.

Today’s precision strike hit a large IS ammunition depot near the town of Aqerbat, which detonated after receiving a direct hit, the Defense Ministry statement noted.

The remaining targets were destroyed in subsequent airstrikes, the ministry said. Russia warned Turkey and Israel about the attacks via military-to-military hotlines, it added.

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Over the past week, Islamic State militants made numerous attempts to escape the besieged city of Raqqa and head towards Palmyra using a “southern corridor,” according to the Russian military.

The terrorists are moving forces through rugged terrain to the Hama province during the night and setting up command posts and ammunition depots in large buildings there, it added.

The movements of IS militants in the area are being monitored by Russian surveillance assets operating round the clock, the military said, adding that any potential targets detected will be subject to precision strikes by the Air Force.

Earlier in May, the same warships fired four cruise missiles that hit combat vehicles and militants outside the Syrian city of Palmyra.


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According to the Defense Ministry, “[the ships] targeted an area east of Palmyra, where the militants’ heavy weaponry and manpower were located. The militants had moved there from Raqqa. All targets were destroyed,” it said.

The strike was launched after a large Islamic State convoy, comprising 39 vehicles and 120 militants, was spotted outside the city of Raqqa, a Defense Ministry source told RIA Novosti at the time.

“The terrorist convoy of 39 pickup trucks was detected and destroyed by the Air Force on its way to Palmyra,” the source said, adding that the vehicles had been equipped with large-caliber machine guns.

Back in August of last year, the Russian Black Sea Fleet also fired Kalibr cruise missiles over unpopulated areas to destroy a command post and munitions production site of another terrorist group operating in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front, the Russian military said.

https://www.rt.com/news/393667-russian-navy-isis-cruise-missiles/

Trump Denies Obstructing FBI Probe, Says Has No Tapes of Talks With Comey

June 23, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had not obstructed the FBI’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and had not recorded his conversations with former FBI chief James Comey.

Comey was leading the investigation into allegations Russia tried to sway the election towards Trump and the possibility Trump associates colluded with Moscow when the president fired him on May 9, sparking a political firestorm.

“Look there has been no obstruction, there has been no collusion,” Trump told Fox News Channel in an interview set to air on Friday. Fox released a partial transcript of the interview on Thursday.

The former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation testified before a Senate committee that Trump had asked him to drop a probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s alleged ties to Russia.

Earlier on Thursday, Trump said he did not make and does not possess any tapes of his conversations with Comey, after suggesting last month he might have recordings that could undercut Comey’s description of events.

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Then FBI Director James Comey, March 20, 2017

“I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Lawmakers investigating allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election had asked the White House for any such recordings.

Shortly after dismissing Comey, Trump mentioned the possibility of tapes in a Twitter post.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump tweeted on May 12.

Allegations of ties to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s first five months in office, distracting from attempts by his fellow Republicans in Congress to overhaul the U.S. healthcare and tax systems.

Trump has privately told aides that the threat of the existence of tapes forced Comey to tell the truth in his recent testimony, a source familiar with the situation said.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said Trump still had questions to answer about possible tapes.

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Adam Schiff

“If the president had no tapes, why did he suggest otherwise? Did he seek to mislead the public? Was he trying to intimidate or silence James Comey? And if so, did he take other steps to discourage potential witnesses from speaking out?” Schiff said in a statement.

CNN reported on Thursday that two top U.S. intelligence officials told investigators Trump suggested they publicly deny any collusion between his campaign and Russia, but that they did not feel he had ordered them to do so.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers met separately last week with investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

The two officials said they were surprised at Trump’s suggestion and found their interactions with him odd and uncomfortable, but they did not act on the president’s requests, CNN reported, citing sources familiar with their accounts.

Reuters was unable to verify the CNN report.

In his interview with Fox, Trump expressed concern about what he described as the close relationship between Comey and Mueller, who was appointed to take over the investigation after Comey was fired.

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller in a 2013 file photo by
J. Scott Applewhite AP

“Well he’s very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome,” Trump said, according to the Fox transcript.

The Kremlin has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow tried to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, using such means as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Steve Holland, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney and Paul Tait)

EU Leaders to Weigh Terrorism, Defense Ties, Migration

June 22, 2017

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are gathering to weigh measures to tackle terrorism, closer defense ties and migration, convinced that anti-EU sentiment and support for populist parties are waning.

Before the two-day meeting in Brussels starting Thursday, summit chairman Donald Tusk trumpeted the resurgence of the EU, even as Britain launched talks this week on leaving.

Tusk told the leaders in an invitation letter that after a series of election defeats for anti-migrant parties, notably in France, the EU is “slowly turning the corner.”

He said “we are witnessing the return of the EU rather as a solution, not a problem.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to praise the good atmosphere at Monday’s Brexit talks, and explain how to protect the rights of citizens hit by Britain’s departure.

Humbled PM Theresa May hopes to reassure EU leaders at Brussels summit

June 22, 2017

AFP

© Stephane De Sakutin, AFP | Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron talk during the G7 summit in Italy on May 26, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-06-22

Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May will try Thursday to convince European leaders she can still push through Brexit despite being badly weakened by an election bet that turned sour.

The two-day Brussels summit marks the debut of French President Emmanuel Macron, the figurehead of a renewed confidence among the remaining 27 states that Britain’s withdrawal can be a fresh start.

But talks on issues including post-Brexit defence plans risk being overshadowed by concerns that a disastrous election has left May so enfeebled that Brexit negotiations will be hampered.

“There is an enormous insecurity among the Europeans: how long will she last? Has she got the majority to deliver?” a senior EU official said.

In Brussels, security has been stepped up after Tuesday’s bombing at one of the city’s main rail stations by an Islamic State sympathiser, following attacks in Britain and France.

Over dinner, May is expected to fill in some of the blanks for the other EU leaders on Brexit.

It will be their first meeting since her Conservative party unexpectedly lost its majority in a June 8 election, leaving her in charge of a so-called “zombie government“.

Britain’s shock referendum vote to leave the EU was a year ago on Friday, and the country remains in a dark national mood after a string of terror attacks and a deadly tower block blaze.

May citizens offer

“The PM will give an update to the other member states on the UK’s Brexit plans following the beginning of the negotiations this week,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

During the dinner May will “outline some principles of the UK’s paper on citizens rights which will be published at the beginning of next week,” the spokesman said.

The EU has made a priority of the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain, plus a million Britons resident in Europe.

At the first formal Brexit negotiations Monday, Britain accepted the EU’s timetable that the exit bill, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland border be settled before its request for a free trade deal be considered.

EU diplomatic sources said May will try to keep it simple, with no discussion.

“We believe that the warming-up round of last Monday did create a positive atmosphere … I don’t think that May will want to shatter that understanding,” said one EU diplomatic source, who asked not to named.

After her comments, May will leave the room for the remaining 27 EU member states to discuss what she has told them, and the future relocation of key EU agencies from London.

‘Turning the corner’

EU President Donald Tusk said the bloc appeared to have survived the worst of the anti-EU sentiment which drove Britain’s shock vote to leave exactly a year to the day on Friday.

“The current developments on the continent seem to indicate that we are slowly turning the corner,” the former Polish premier wrote in his invitation letter.

His upbeat assessment follows a series of election setbacks for populist and eurosceptic parties, including French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who lost heavily to newcomer Macron in last month’s presidential poll.

Macron has joined forces with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pledging to put a post-Brexit EU back on track to deliver prosperity and security after years of austerity and crisis.

Macron and Merkel are expected to recommend another six-month rollover of tough economic sanctions imposed in 2014 against Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed 10,000 lives.

The French and German leaders will brief their peers on the Minsk ceasefire process, which has seen continued clashes between Kiev forces and Russian-backed rebels.

Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker are also expected to report on recent meetings with US President Donald Trump.

Trump’s “America First” approach and dismissive remarks about the EU and NATO have and bolstered calls for the European Union to take on an increased defence role, while his decision to pull out of the Paris climate pact infuriated Europe.

The EU leaders will also discuss plans to push internet firms to clamp down on online extremism, and Europe’s migration crisis.

Asian Stocks Higher After Oil Prices Drag Down Wall Street

June 22, 2017

BEIJING — Asian financial markets were higher Wednesday after a plunge in oil prices dragged down energy stocks on Wall Street.

KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.8 percent to 3,183.91 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.5 percent to 25,817.79. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 was unchanged at 20,144.78 and Seoul’s Kospi advanced 0.3 percent to 2,364.45. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 added 0.9 percent to 5,719.50 and India’s Sensex gained 0.6 percent to 31,463.02. Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Singapore advanced while Philippines and Indonesia declined.

WALL STREET: Energy stocks dived as oil dropped to its lowest price since last summer. Gains for health care and technology stocks helped reduce losses for broader market indexes. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dipped 0.1 percent to 2,435.61 and the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 percent to 21,410.03. The Nasdaq composite rose 45.92, or 0.7 percent to 6,233.95. Energy stocks in the S&P 500 tumbled 1.6 percent, a day after falling 1.2 percent. They are down nearly 15 percent for the year, when the overall S&P 500 is up 8.8 percent.

OIL PRICES: The price of oil has dropped more than 20 percent this year, breaking into what traders call a bear market. On Wednesday, crude dropped for a third straight day and touched its lowest price since August on expectations supplies will exceed demand. That helps big consumers such as China and other Asian manufacturers but hurts the ability of exporting countries to pay their bills. Accelerating corporate profits have been a big reason for rise in U.S. stock prices this year, and energy companies had been forecast to provide some of the biggest gains.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Falling oil prices continue to dampen sentiment in global macro markets,” said Citigroup in a report. U.S. credit spreads are rising and concern in currency markets is increasing, they said. “Falling oil prices also hurts sentiment towards the higher-yielding emerging markets, but a steep drop in the price of oil usually spreads bearish sentiment more broadly.”

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained 2 cents to $42.55 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped 98 cents on Wednesday to close at $42.53. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 2 cents to $44.80 in London. It plunged $1.20 the previous session.

CURRENCY: The dollar declined to 111.04 yen from Wednesday’s 111.37 yen. The euro gained to $1.1173 from $1.1170.

In Brussels, Weakened May to Outline Guarantees for EU Expats in Britain

June 21, 2017

LONDON/BRUSSELS — Prime Minister Theresa May will outline on Thursday her approach to the “hugely important issue” of reassuring EU expatriates about their futures in Britain, at a summit that is her first Brexit test since an election sapped her authority.

Over coffee at the end of dinner on the first day of the EU summit, May will address the other 27 leaders and describe “principles” of her plan to give early guarantees to some three million people living in Britain who come from other countries in the bloc.

But her wings have been clipped – not only in Britain where voters denied her a majority in parliament, but also in Brussels where EU leaders will try to stop her from discussing Brexit beyond a quick presentation.

Instead, once she has left the room, they will continue their own discussion of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

“My understanding all along is that this is a hugely important issue for Britain and for the 27 that has been clear from the very outset of this process,” a senior British government source said of the question of EU expatriates.

“We want to provide early assurance, and it has always been our position that we want to outline our principles at this dinner and that is what we are going to do.”

The source said Britain was “perfectly content” with the arrangements. Last week, one diplomat said May had tried to “hijack” the summit taking place on Thursday and Friday by drawing other leaders into wider discussions on Brexit. [nL8N1JD4VX]

Another British official said May would offer “new elements” in a paper to be published early next week. There may be sticking points with Brussels, such as the cut-off date for EU citizens in Britain to retain rights under the bloc’s free movement rules.

To show the “goodwill” her aides often refer to, May will have a separate conversation with European Council President Donald Tusk and hopes to have other one-on-one meetings. But it is not clear whether she will make any headway on the Brexit talks, which began in Brussels on Monday.

SOFTER TONE

Weakened by an election she did not need to call, May has watered down her government’s program to try to get it through parliament and set a softer tone in her approach to Brexit.

Yet her aims have held – she wants a clean break from the bloc, leaving the lucrative single market and customs union and so reducing immigration into Britain and removing her country from the jurisdiction of EU courts.

On Monday, her Brexit minister, David Davis, described the first day of Brexit talks to unravel more than 40 years of union as setting a “solid foundation” for future discussions.

But one Western diplomat from a non-EU country said it was hard to see how some members would be open to fruitful discussions.

“Some are still grieving, some are mad and some are just sad,” the diplomat said. “They seem to spend more time complaining about what Britain says rather than cracking on with a deal that will produce a strong Britain and strong EU.”

A senior EU diplomat said the bloc was ready to listen to what May had to say.

“The EU 27 position is clear in terms of what conditions we’d like to see for our citizens there and what we can offer for UK citizens here,” the diplomat said.

May will also aim to show that while still a member of the EU, Britain will contribute to other summit discussions, pressing for more action to encourage social media companies to clamp down on internet extremism and for the EU to roll over sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

She will announce a new 75 million-pound ($95 million) package of aid for migrants and help for them to return to their home countries, in the hope of discouraging people from making the “treacherous journey” to Europe.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald, Robin Emmott, Jan Strupczewski, Elizabeth Miles and Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; editing by Andrew Roche)

Russia cancels US meeting over Ukraine sanctions

June 21, 2017

AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Russia has canceled a meeting with senior US diplomats in the wake of Washington’s decision to reinforce sanctions imposed over its interference in Ukraine and occupation of Crimea.

US Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon had been due in St Petersburg on Friday to mend diplomatic fences with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

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Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. AP photo

But relations between Moscow and Washington are at a low even by the standards of a rivalry that goes back to the Cold War, and Washington’s decision to ramp up its sanctions regime provoked the anger of President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

Shannon had hoped to address “irritants” in the relationship, such as tension over Moscow’s intimidation of US diplomats and the US seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds near Washington and New York.

But even this minor first step towards finding enough common ground to allow the rival nuclear powers to begin to address more fundamental issues — such as Russia’s intervention in Ukraine — has now fallen apart.

“We regret that Russia has decided to turn away from an opportunity to discuss bilateral obstacles that hinder US-Russia relations,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

On Tuesday, the United States added 38 individuals and entities to its sanctions list targeting the Russians and pro-Russian rebels it blames for the fighting in Ukraine.

This appears to have been what triggered Moscow’s decision to cancel the meeting, although US President Donald Trump also met Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday.

But the State Department insisted that the sanctions were not being expanded, merely “maintained,” by adding new targets as Moscow finds ways around the previous embargo.

And Washington insisted the punitive measures would stay in place until Russia honors the Minsk agreement to disengage from eastern Ukraine and returns the annexed Crimea region to Kiev.

“We have regularly updated these sanctions twice a year since they were first imposed,” Nauert explained. “Let’s remember that these sanctions didn’t just come out of nowhere.

“Our targeted sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s ongoing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbor, Ukraine,” she said.

– ‘Not the moment’ –

Russia’s foreign ministry said that, given the new sanctions, it was “not the moment” to hold the Shannon-Ryabkov talks, which Washington had announced on Tuesday.

And, asked whether the meeting could be rescheduled, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “I have no confirmation that these consultations will take place.”

Separately, Ryabkov himself, in a foreign ministry statement, threatened that Moscow would take retaliatory measures.

“This measure will not remain without a reaction — there will be measures in response on our behalf,” he warned.

“We regret that once again the American authorities have allowed themselves to be guided by the frenzied Russophobes in Congress, who will stop at nothing to cause us trouble, and especially to reduce to zero any chance of an improvement in Russian-American ties,” he alleged.

– Putin’s ‘best friend’? –

Ryabkov’s reference to Congress reflects a view in Moscow that Trump’s arrival in the White House might have heralded a new friendship with Putin’s Kremlin were it not for domestic US opposition.

Trump had warm words for Russia during his election campaign — and earlier, such as when he promoted the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Moscow in 2013 and tweeted that he would like to become Putin’s “best friend.”

But since coming to office, Trump has become embroiled in intrigue surrounding the alleged attempt by Moscow’s agents to swing the election in his favor by hacking the emails of his opponents and spreading online propaganda.

Trump has also appointed more orthodox national security officials, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who remain wary of Moscow and see Russia as a strategic opponent.

dc-burs/sst

by Dave Clark
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President Donald Trump (right) shakes hands with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 20. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Georgia race costliest in history as Trump opponents unite behind Democrat — U.S. Voters see Democrats as increasingly holding back U.S. growth, problem solving during “witch hunt”

June 21, 2017

AFP

© Karen Handel (Jessica McGowan, Getty Images North America/AFP) beat Jon Ossoff (Joe Raedle, Getty Images North America/AFP) in a special election for Georgia’s sixth district on Tuesday.

Text by Khatya CHHOR

Latest update : 2017-06-21

Republican Karen Handel won a special election in Georgia on Tuesday that was widely seen as a referendum on Trump, after opponents of the president nationwide mobilised in an attempt to defeat the GOP candidate.

Handel won by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent for Democratic rival Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old political outsider who had sought to wrest a seat away from the Republican majority in Congress.

Trump opponents across the United States mobilised on social media to defeat Handel, 55, in Georgia’s sixth district, which has chosen GOP members of Congress in every election since 1979. As donations for Ossoff flowed in from across the country, the race quickly became the most expensive congressional contest in history, with at least $57 million in estimated spending – almost twice the previous $29.5 million record set by a Florida district in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit government watchdog.

Ossoff’s campaign raised money mainly from small donors while Handel relied on the aid of super PACs (political action committees), receiving twice as much as Ossoff did from these and other outside groups. But her fundraising was no match for Ossoff’s: the Democrat raised $23.6 million through May 31 with almost 65 percent of those funds from donations of $200 or less, according to the Center. Handel raised a mere $4.6 million, only 35 percent of which was from small donors.

The Georgia vote also lured generous funding from out of state – of the 42 groups that donated money to the campaigns, only five were based in Georgia, totalling donations of less than $100,000.

Georgia 6th. The real news is not who won, but how much $$ it cost both sides. America lost this race weeks ago.http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/20/politics/georgia-house-results-ossoff-handel/index.html 

Photo published for Democrats seek first big win of Trump era today in Georgia

Progressives poured $23 million into Jon Ossoff’s campaign. House Democrats’ campaign arm sent a team to Georgia to organize the sixth congressional district months ahead of the special election…

cnn.com

Handel supports Trump’s policy on building a Mexico border wall, is firmly against abortion and calls Obamacare “the single biggest intrusion into the lives of Americans in decades”. She has come under heavy criticism from some quarters for her strong opposition to allowing same-sex marriage and allowing gay couples to adopt.

In a widely shared interview clip, Handel was asked if she opposes gay marriage. “Absolutely,” she says. “Marriage is between one man and one woman, and I’ve been very, very clear about that.”

Ossoff is a former entrepreneur who supports abortion rights as well as gay rights, and had vowed to “fight tirelessly against discrimination, hate speech, or violence against Americans on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or place of birth”.

Ossoff supporters pushed the hashtags #FlipThe6th and #VoteYourOssoff on social media as progressives across the country tried to “flip” the longtime Republican district after Ossoff came close to taking 50 percent of the vote in an April 19 primary.

“Democrats know the importance of flipping a historically red (Republican) district so their thought process is: ‘If they can flip Georgia 6, they can flip anything’,” said Ryan Bakker, associate professor of political science at the University of Georgia, in comments to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For the GOP, losing the sixth district would have sent a clear message that even traditionally conservative areas oppose the Trump administration’s policies, many of which have come under fire from longtime Republicans.

Losing this election would have been a “really hard hit”, Bakker said, adding that it would have highlighted the sharp divisions between Republicans who have rallied behind Trump and those whose support remains lukewarm.

Thank you @FoxNews “Huge win for President Trump and GOP in Georgia Congressional Special Election.”

Despite the loss, Democrats celebrated the fact that they had managed to make the fight for Georgia’s conservative sixth district so competitive. Former representative Tom Price, who vacated the seat to become Trump’s secretary of health and human services, won by a more than 20-point margin.

“We showed the world that, in places where no one thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight,” Ossoff told supporters after the results came in.

The race was one of two special elections Republicans won on Tuesday, the other in South Carolina, both held to replace members of Congress who vacated their seats to join the Trump administration.

Handel’s win does not shift the balance of power in Congress but it offers the Trump administration a win after weeks of high-profile scandals, from the controversial firing of FBI director James Comey to ongoing investigations into whether the Trump team colluded with Russian officials to influence the 2016 election. Trump’s approval rating also continues to slip and is now at a meagre 37 percent, according to a June 19 Reuters/Ipsos poll.

It may also give the Republicans new confidence as they pursue attempts to overhaul the healthcare system and the tax code, both likely to entail protracted and fraught negotiations with Democrats in Congress.

Russian defense minister talks about NATO’s “anti-Russian course”

June 21, 2017

MOSCOW — Russia’s defense minister says the security situation near the nation’s borders has worsened because of NATO’s activities.

Sergei Shoigu, speaking Wednesday on a trip to Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad region, pointed at the alliance’s exercise in the Baltics as an example of NATO’s growing presence in the area.

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Sergei Shoigu

Shoigu added that the large-scale drills reflect NATO’s “anti-Russian course.”

He said the military will form 20 new units along its western frontiers by the year’s end. Later this year, Russia and Belarus will hold the West-2017 war games.

Russian state TV showed the footage of a NATO F-16 fighter jet shadowing Shoigu’s plane as it was approaching Kaliningrad. A Russian Su-27 fighter then edged in between the minister’s plane and NATO’s jet to ward it off.

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