Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Goodbye, America: Russia sanctions could hit US medical, tech industries

April 17, 2018

Rare earth metals, medication and software: Russia’s strongest response yet to United States sanctions is taking shape. Now, Washington and its Western allies are in the crosshairs.

Moskau Duma Parlament Gebäude (Imago/Russian Look)

The cult 1985 song, “Goodbye, America,” by the Soviet rock band, Nautilus Pompilius, was a melancholic tune from the pro-Western Perestroika generation that cast off American mythology: “Your worn jeans have become too small for me. We’ve been taught for so long to love your forbidden fruit.”

These lyrics could describe the draft legislation that has come before an emergency meeting of Russia’s upper house of parliament. In a show of solidarity, the draft was introduced last week by Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin along with the heads of the parliament’s four factions.

Read moreRussia suffering under new US sanctions

It serves as Russia’s answer to US sanctions from April 6, which are the most severe since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Targeting top Russian companies and public officials, the sanctions take aim at Russia’s stock and currency exchanges for what the US calls Russia’s “malicious activities” around the world, including in Ukraine and Syria.

Russian pharmacy in Moscow (DW/E. Samedowa)Russia’s potential sanctions could target pharmaceutical imports from the US

Tree bark for medication?

Russia’s reaction forms a legal basis for tit-for-tat sanctions, stemming from the US Congress’s passing of CAATSA (Countering Americas’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) in the summer of 2017. US-Russia trade is not particularly large: $24 billion (€19 billion) in 2017, according to Russian state news agency RIA, with $17 billion of Russian goods and services sold to the US and $7 billion sold to Russia. That makes it difficult for Russia to hurt the US with sanctions.

Read moreRussia: ‘Market slump won’t last long’

The draft legislation proposes restrictions on US agricultural, food, alcohol, tobacco and medical imports. Medication for which there is no Russian replacement would be exempt. A Russian parliamentarian caused a stir when he suggested on a talk show that Russians try tree bark or shrubbery as an alternative to US-produced medicine. It was meant to be a joke, he said.

Boeing and Microsoft likely to be impacted

The sanctions bill also threatens to end US-Russian cooperation in the fields of atomic energy, aircraft production and rocket systems. That could affect Boeing, which imports titanium from Russia. An end to sales of rare earth metals could cause trouble for private US space companies, such as United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. ULA’s Atlas V rocket uses the Russian RD-180 engine. The US Congress has already that requested the country’s aerospace sector stop buying Russian-made engines following the Crimea annexation, but lacking alternatives, sales continued.

Putin speaks in the Duma (Getty Images/AFP/N. Kolesnikova)The bill is scheduled for its first reading in the Duma on May 15

Russian lawmakers also want to limit the use of US software in government agencies, such as Microsoft products installed on many Russian computers.

Read moreWhy Syria is not the Cuban missile crisis of 2018

The draft legislation could make travel to, and business in, Russia more difficult for US citizens. US airlines may encounter additional fees for use of Russian airports, for example.

Push to move quickly

The bill is scheduled for its first reading on May 15 and there is a push to get it passed by the Duma and signed by President Vladimir Putin quickly so it can come into force as soon as possible. Putin will be inaugurated again and his new government formed early next month, after which the law could be implemented. Based on the initial draft, it’s not just the US that is being targted — its allies that are part of or that support the sanctions against Russia may also be affected.

http://www.dw.com/en/goodbye-america-russia-sanctions-could-hit-us-medical-tech-industries/a-43413219

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‘Trust but Verify’ Applies to the FBI

April 15, 2018

America’s premiere law enforcement agency suffers the consequences of self inflicted wrongdoing and failures….

We refute tyranny when we hold law enforcement accountable.

‘Trust but Verify’ Applies to the FBI
PHOTO: MANDEL NGAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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Federal law enforcement did not cover itself in glory—again—in the just-concluded trial of Noor Salman, wife of the Pulse nightclub mass murderer in Orlando, Fla.

A judge scolded prosecutors during the trial for withholding exculpatory evidence. At her original bail hearing, the FBI had relied on a confession, extracted from Ms. Salman in an 11-hour interrogation, that she had helped Omar Mateen scope out the gay nightclub in advance of the shooting. As was subsequently revealed, the FBI was already in possession of cellphone location data that contradicted her claim. Other evidence also cast doubt on the confession, which the FBI failed to record or sustain with circumstantial proof. Ms. Salman was acquitted.

Happily, the malpractice here was less consequential than in the thrown-out corruption conviction of the late Sen. Ted Stevens. It was less brazen than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s manufacture of fake statistical evidence of racial bias in auto lending or the questionable federal and state asset seizures that keep coming to light.

The Noor outcome may not be flattering to the FBI, but it should be flattering to America. Holding law enforcement accountable is the best refutation of the authoritarian temptation, with its mocking of our insistence on due process, elections and respect for individual rights.

At the same time, not every culpable police action is motivated by careerism or dishonesty of purpose. Murders are down in New York City. Policing is a reason. Yet two of the city’s most productive detectives were recently charged with manufacturing evidence to support an otherwise legitimate seizure of an illegal gun. Now under way is a spreading crackdown on police “testilying” in court.

So skepticism, leavened with a certain understanding, is required in the clash between individual rights and the police. This is about to become especially true in the mother of all cases, the FBI’s role in the 2016 election.

We’ve already learned a few unsettling things. Trump associates Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos were treated in unforgiving fashion for lies that may not have been lies, whereas the FBI practically conspired with Hillary Clinton and her aides to make sure their truth-shading was overlooked. The FBI’s use of evidence to win a Carter Page surveillance order appears to have been every bit as disingenuous as that used by prosecutors in the Noor Salman bail hearing.

Political bias or simply toadying to the party in power may turn out to have been a factor, but we are likely to hear a great deal about what top law-enforcement officials believed, rather than knew, about Donald Trump.

The autobiography of FBI chief James Comey is due next week. The chances are nil that it will deal honestly and completely with the 2016 race, especially the role of U.S. intelligence agencies in influencing some of the FBI’s actions. But as leaks already reveal, the book is accurately redolent of the contempt and distrust top officials felt for Candidate Trump, leading to actions that are hard to defend in hindsight.

Coming next will be a Justice Department inspector general’s report on Mr. Comey’s anomalous exculpation of Mr. Trump’s Democratic rival in the 2016 race. If, as we suspect, Robert Mueller is framing his own investigation partly to justify the pre-election actions of the FBI, then we will doubly need the recently launched investigation by U.S. Attorney John Huber, which doesn’t start from the assumption that the one thing that doesn’t need investigating is the investigators.

Then there’s the Stormy Daniels matter, in which a seamy but not illegal payment might, in theory, be illegal under campaign-finance rules.

At least efforts at suppressing Mr. Trump’s sexual history are a gentlemanly improvement on those of the Bill Clinton campaign 24 years earlier. If Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made an “in-kind” donation by paying off Ms. Daniels, didn’t Ms. Daniels make an in-kind donation when she agreed not to speak? Weren’t those Clinton women who didn’t come forward because they didn’t want to be savaged by the Clinton machine making in-kind contributions to the Clinton campaign?

The questions are absurd because the law is absurd. What should be a personal and political embarrassment for Mr. Trump has become another superfluous legal jeopardy for the man 46% of American voters wanted for their president. When we metastasize laws for criminalizing politics, we become more like Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not less so. Witness the liberal group Common Cause, which can’t get enough campaign regulation, rushing out Stormy-related federal complaints against the Trump campaign on Thursday.

But another lesson also applies in such a world. All presidents face opponents who seek to make sure they deliver as little as possible even when delivering would be good for the country. Mr. Trump came to the presidency with too much baggage that his opposition could use against him. That’s something Mr. Trump’s voters and party should have thought about before nominating him.

Appeared in the April 14, 2018, print edition.

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

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

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.

https://www.rt.com/business/424108-russia-rostec-swift-alternative/

US, UK, France launch strikes on Syrian chemical weapons capabilities

April 14, 2018

In retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Douma, US President Donald Trump has said the US military launched strikes on Syrian chemical weapons capabilities. Russia has warned of “consequences” for the strikes.

US military strike on Damascus
  • The US, UK and France have launched precision airstrikes on military and chemical research sites in Syria in retaliation for the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians last week.
  • Both the Syrian government and its ally Russia have condemned the attack as a violation of international law.
  • The US has said that any future strikes would depend on whether or not further chemical attacks are carried out but that the country does not seek an “indefinite presence” in Syria.

President Donald Trump announced on Friday that the United States, United Kingdom and France had launched precision strikes on Syrian military sites believed to be housing chemical weapons facilities following last week’s chemical weapons attack in Douma, which the US said was carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

“The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air,” Trump said of the attack. “These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.”

Read more: Syria: US claims it has proof Assad regime behind Douma chemical attack

Reports of loud blasts were heard in the Syrian capital of Damascus during Trump’s speech. The airstrikes began around 4 a.m. local time in Syria (0100 UTC), turning the sky over eastern Damascus orange. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, the strikes struck a number of military bases and a scientific research center.

Department of State

@StateDept

Tonight, @POTUS Donald J. Trump addressed the nation to announce a combined operation- with the and – of precision strikes against sites associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of the regime in .

Russia’s ambassador the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said “such actions will not be left without consequences” and that “all responsibility for them rests upon Washington, London and Paris.”

Russia in USA 🇷🇺

@RusEmbUSA

Statement by the Ambassador Antonov on the strikes on :
A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.
All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.

The Russian Foreign Affairs Committee also added that the Syria strikes were an attempt to block a probe by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was scheduled Saturday to begin looking into the alleged poison gas attack. Moscow also condemned the airstrikes as a violation of international law.

Read more: What does the chemical weapons watchdog OPCW do?

Syrian state media slammed the strikes as a “flagrant violation of international law” and “doomed to fail.” It added that three civilians had been injured during the attack on the military base in Homs, while another strike on a scientific research center was restricted to material losses.

Over the last few days, Trump had met with military advisers and conversed with allies to decide how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in the eastern Ghouta city of Douma outside of the capital.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said, adding that he did not want to maintain an “indefinite” US presence in the region.

“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

May: ‘No alternative’

Following Trump’s announcement, British Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement saying the UK had “no alternative” but to use force in Syria. “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized — within Syria, on the streets of the UK, or anywhere else in our world,” the statement read.

May said the strikes were specifically aimed at destroying Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, and that the three-way coalition did not intend to intervene in the Syrian civil war or force regime change.

Read more: Macron: Assad regime used chemical weapons on Syria’s Douma

Macron: Assad has crossed ‘red line’

French President Emmanuel Macron said the joint operation would target the Syrian government’s “clandestine chemical arsenal.”

Last week’s attack on Douma had “crossed a red line for France,” Macron added. “We cannot tolerate the trivialization of the use of chemical weapons which presents an immediate danger to the Syrian people and to our collective security.”

Emmanuel Macron

@EmmanuelMacron

Dozens of men, women and children were massacred using chemical weapons in Douma on Saturday, 7 April.
The red line has been crossed.
I have therefore ordered the French armed forces to intervene.http://www.elysee.fr/communiques-de-presse/article/press-statement-by-the-president-of-the-french-republic-on-the-intervention-of-the-french-armed-forces-in-response-to-the-use-of-chemical-weapons-in-syria/ 

All three Western allies had said this week that they had evidence Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for last Saturday’s attack and that the regime would have to pay a price for using chemical weapons.

The Syrian regime and Russia have denied any use of banned weapons.

Read more: The German stance on Syria: Ready to help, but not militarily

70-minute air strikes a ‘one-time shot’

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a Pentagon press briefing that Friday night’s targets were hit harder than last year’s single hit on a Syrian airfield, which is estimated to have wiped out around 20 percent of the Assad regime’s air power. He added that the time had come for “civilized nations” to unite to end the Syrian war.

Mattis said forces used around the double amount the missiles in the latest attack, compared to last year. In all, three main Syrian military sites were targeted — a research facility in Damascus connected to the production of weapons, a chemical weapons storage facility in Homs, and a weapons storage and command post near Homs.

Dana W. White – DoD

@ChiefPentSpox

This evening’s statement by Mattis on from the : http://go.usa.gov/xQbe2 

Statement by Secretary James N. Mattis on Syria

Good evening. As the world knows, the Syrian people have suffered terribly under the prolonged brutality of the Assad regime.On April 7th, the regime decided to again defy the norms of civilized

defense.gov

Unlike the president, US military officials said the current wave of strikes were over after just 70 minutes and that any future strikes would depend on whether the Assad regime conducts any future chemical attacks. “Right now this is a one-time shot,” Mattis said.

US Joints Chief of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford said he had not been aware of any response from the Assad regime in terms Syrian air defense.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that none of the strikes in Syria had hit areas near its naval and air bases, though news agencies reported that the Syrian government had responded to the air attack with surface-to-air-missiles. Syrian state television reported that the regime’s air defense managed to shoot down around 13 missiles over Damascus..

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

Trump addresses Russia and Iran

Trump also used his speech to directly address Assad’s key backers, Russia and Iran.

“What kind of a nation wants to be associated with a mass murderer of innocent men, women and children?” the president said, adding that “nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.”

Trump also accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of failing to keep his promise to see that the Syrian regime destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons.

Ahead of the western allies’ strikes on Syria, several officials raised concerns over the prospect of a broader conflict in the region between the world’s powers. However, Dunford said that the Russian military had been told in advance of the incoming airstrikes, but not where the targets were. The targeted sites were also chosen to limit the loss of life and avoid hitting Russian forces altogether, Dunford added.

cmb,dm/jlw (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

Includes videos:

http://www.dw.com/en/us-uk-france-launch-strikes-on-syrian-chemical-weapons-capabilities/a-43384179

Israel is determined to stop Iran from establishing bases in Syria

April 13, 2018

The conflict between the two powers is escalating

IN THE early hours of April 9th Israeli fighter jets crossed into Lebanese airspace and fired a salvo of cruise missiles eastward. Their target was the T-4 military airbase in central Syria (see map on previous page), not far from the ancient city of Palmyra. More specifically, the missiles were aimed at a hangar in a secluded compound on the west side of the airfield. The building was used by Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force, the foreign wing of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Russia and Syria both claimed that they detected the Israeli aircraft and the incoming missiles, and that at least some of them were intercepted. But enough of them got through to cause significant damage and kill at least seven Iranian officers, including a colonel. The Israeli government has not publicly acknowledged that it was behind the attack.

Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, Israel has carried out at least 100 cross-border strikes. Most were aimed at weapons convoys and depots belonging to Hizbullah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shia movement. The latest strike is only the third in which Iranian personnel were directly targeted. The last time Israel hit them was two months earlier, at the same base, after an Iranian drone breached Israel’s airspace. But this strike appeared to be pre-emptive, not reactive.

For decades Israel has fought a shadow war with Iran, which funds Lebanese and Palestinian proxies that attack the Jewish state. In recent months, though, the war has escalated: Israel and Iran have come into direct confrontation on Syrian soil, where the IRGC is determined to establish permanent bases. To do so, it must find a way to limit Israel’s freedom to carry out air strikes there. Its officers at T-4 were working to build up an air-defence capability meant to threaten Israeli aircraft—which is why they were targeted.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister (pictured right), has placed great stock in his personal relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin (left). They meet and talk frequently. But Israel’s security chiefs are coming to realise that the Kremlin will not exert itself to limit Iran’s role in Syria. Mr Putin has committed himself to the survival of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. His air force provides it with overwhelming firepower, though for domestic political reasons he is reluctant to put Russian boots on the ground.

Instead the Assad regime has turned to Shia militias, often made up of Afghans drafted and organised by Iran, as cannon fodder. Some of the toughest battles in Syria were fought by Hizbullah. “Putin respects Netanyahu and Israel’s military power, and would prefer to be co-ordinated with Israel,” says an Israeli spook. “But to safeguard his interests in Syria, he needs Iran more right now.”

Russia and Israel have a military “deconfliction” process that, over the last two and a half years, has kept the countries’ aircraft from clashing over Syria. Russia has turned a blind eye to Israel’s frequent air strikes. But after the latest attack, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow was summoned to explain it.

In the past Israel has assured Russia that it does not seek to harm the Assad regime, as long as its own strategic interests in Syria are not jeopardised. That line is starting to change. Yoav Galant, the housing minister and a former general, has made a round of interviews calling for Mr Assad’s removal. While this is not yet official Israeli policy, Mr Galant is close to Mr Netanyahu. It is hard not to interpret this as a message to Moscow. Israel is determined to prevent Iran from expanding its foothold in Syria, even if it means threatening Russia’s client in Damascus in the process.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline”Heating up”
The Economist
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In Holocaust Memorial Speech, Netanyahu Threatens Iran: Don’t Test Israel’s Resolve

April 11, 2018

Netanyahu ripped into the landmark nuclear accord between Iran and world powers, and noted recent chemical attack in Syria: ‘Murderous evil that is not stood up against spreads rapidly’

.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018. Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at Iran in a speech commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial Wednesday, saying the country and its leadership is intent on destroying Israel.

On Thursday, a nationwide siren and minute of silence will take place in memory of the 6 million Jews systematically killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.

>> Holocaust Remembrance Day: Distorted memories of the past: Israeli discovers who really saved him from the Nazis ■ Warsaw Ghetto orphanage head’s letters made public ■ Holocaust movies: 18 of the best beyond Schindler’s List

Netanyahu ripped into the landmark nuclear accord reached between Tehran and world powers and said: “I have a message for the leaders of Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve.” To the Iranian people, he said: “The regime is oppressing you and when this regime disappears off the face of the earth then our two peoples can live together once more in coexistence,” he said.

Netanyahu also raised the recent chemical attack in Syria. “We saw Syrian children that were slaughtered by chemical weapons. One great lesson that has been with us since the Holocaust: Murderous evil that is not stood up against spreads rapidly and gradually, and threatens all of humanity.”

“The leaders of the free world wanted to prevent war and led to the conquest of all of Europe,” continued Netanyahu. “Their unwillingness to pay the price to curb aggression early on, led to humanity paying the price.”

As Netanyahu took the stage, Russia said that President Vladimir Putin spoke with Netanyahu and urged Israel not to take action in Syria and to threaten its security. The news of the telephone call between Netanyahu and Putin appeared in a statement on the website of the Kremlin, which specified that Putin insisted it is “important” to maintain Syria’s sovereignty.

.President Reuven Rivlin speaking at a Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018.

President Reuven Rivlin speaking at a Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018.

Speaking at the ceremony prior, President Reuven Rivlin told the audience that there are still Holocaust deniers out there and Europe must help Israel reveal the truth.

“There was a Holocaust and there are those who try to forget and deny the Holocaust, and the difference between the two is the truth itself,” Rivlin said. “We will never lend a hand to those who deny the truth – not by individuals, nor organizations, nor the heads of parties or even by the heads of states,” said Rivlin.

“We do not expect justice in Europe to mend the past, justice cannot grow on the land that saw the destruction of our brothers and sisters. But we do expect to find real partners, who together with us will invest in education, think tanks, and will deal in commemoration and  remembering. Only if we learn together can we make good on the promise of ‘never again.’

“Anti-Semitism will not disappear and has not disappeared, but we have changed and we are now strong and secure.”

Israel is on high alert for any Iranian retaliation after Tehran’s direct threat Tuesday, as well as any possible U.S. strike against Syria’s Assad regime in retaliation to the chemical attack at Douma.

In Call to Netanyahu, Putin Urges Israel Not to Take Action in Syria — Netanyahu told Putin: Israel will not permit Iran to set up military presence in Syria

April 11, 2018

Netanyahu told Putin: Israel will not permit Iran to set up military presence in Syria ■ Israel is on high alert for any Iranian retaliation after direct threat from Iran ■ Trump warns Syria of possible attack ■ Russia to Trump: We don’t do Twitter diplomacy

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018. Eastern Orthodox churches, which observe the ancient Julian calendar, usually celebrate Easter later than Western churches. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018. Eastern Orthodox churches, which observe the ancient JuliAlexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday, and the Russian leader urged Israel not to take action in Syria and to threaten its security. Israeli officials confirmed the call took place and said that Netanyahu told Putin that Israel will not permit Iran to set up a military presence in Syria.

The news of the telephone call between Netanyahu and Putin appeared as Netanyahu took the stage in Israel’s main Holocaust memorial event and issued a threat to Iran not to “test Israel’s resolve.” The Russians announced the call in statement on the website of the Kremlin, which specified that Putin insisted it is “important” to maintain Syria’s sovereignty.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Holocaust memorial event in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018. Emil Salman

Israel is on high alert for any Iranian retaliation after Tehran’s direct threat Tuesday, as well as any possible U.S. strike against Syria’s Assad regime in retaliation to the chemical attack at Douma.

Netanyahu lashed out at Iran during his Holocaust memorial speech, saying it was still intent on destroying Israel. Netanyahu also ripped into the landmark nuclear accord reached between Teheran and world powers and said: “I have a message for the leaders of Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve.”

Netanyahu also took the opportunity to condemn the Syrian regime and the recent chemical attack in Syria, saying that “murderous evil that is not stood up against spreads rapidly.”

>> This is not a drill: Syria showdown could spark Israeli-Iranian and U.S.-Russian clashes ■ Revenge by Iran could push Israel to terminate its Syrian presence

President Donald Trump appears to be closer to taking action in Syria after Saturday’s deadly chemical attack, for which he vowed “animal Assad” would “pay a heavy price.”

Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning, “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

>> Israel on high alert, prepares for possible Iranian retaliation after strike on Syrian base ■ Revealed: The Iranian compound targeted by the ‘Israeli strike’ in Syria

Trump followed that tweet with an assessment of U.S.-Russia relations, writing, “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

The Kremlin took a jab at Trump in response, saying it did not engage in “Twitter diplomacy”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying that care should be taken not to aggravate the situation in Syria.

“We do not participate in Twitter diplomacy,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax. “We support serious approaches. We continue to believe that it is important not to take steps that could harm an already fragile situation.”

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to Trump’s tweet, saying that “smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not a legal government,” adding that it could be a U.S. attempt to destroy evidence of the alleged chemical attack on the ground.

As Trump ramped up his threats, the Syrian military has repositioned some air assets to avoid the fallout from potential missile strikes, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

The officials declined further comment and it was not clear whether the Syrian moves would impact U.S. military planning for potential action against Syria over a suspected poison gas attack.

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/in-call-to-netanyahu-putin-urges-israel-not-to-take-action-in-syria-1.5992415

Russian Olagarch Oleg Deripaska — Pursued one of the few things he couldn’t buy: American acceptance — Now faces financial meltdown

April 11, 2018

By Stephanie Baker

Oleg DeripaskaPhotographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

For two decades, Oleg Deripaska pursued one of the few things he couldn’t buy—American acceptance—with all the tenacity you’d expect from a man who built what was once the world’s ninth-largest fortune.

The Russian billionaire hired Wall Street lawyers and K Street lobbyists, bought a Washington mansion on Embassy Row and even offered to help find a missing American spy in Iran. But each attempt to obtain a basic U.S. travel visa was ultimately rejected over his alleged brutality in amassing the wealth that opened so many doors elsewhere, including to Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

The U.S. on Friday hit Deripaska with what may end up being the most costly sanctions ever imposed on a businessman and his publicly traded companies. He was singled out probably because he tried to get a visa so many times that U.S. officials have investigated him more deeply than any other Russian tycoon, according to Anders Aslund, a senior fellow who studies the Russian economy at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

“He had too high a profile,” Aslund said. “The higher your profile, the more likely you are to get caught in the crossfire.”

The measures imposed amount to what Treasury officials refer to privately as the nuclear option—shutting Deripaska and his companies out of the dollar economy, which halved the market value of his aluminum giant United Co. Rusal overnight. The sanctions were a response to Putin’s “malign activity” in general and Deripaska’s alleged crimes specifically, Treasury said.

Deripaska’s ties to Putin and dealings with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was indicted for money laundering as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into election meddling, only add to concerns about the billionaire’s actions and intentions, according to Dan Fried, sanctions coordinator at the State Department during the Obama administration.

“Deripaska had it coming,” Fried said. “It wasn’t only the long-standing corruption allegations. It felt like he was messing with our system too much.”

Donald Trump
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

While the Obama administration considered adding Deripaska, 50, to the first round of Russian sanctions, imposed over Ukraine in 2014, it opted to squeeze individuals and entities more directly tied to the government or personally to Putin. Now, though, President Donald Trump, whose relations with Russia are being scrutinized by Mueller, has political reasons to turn the Putin ally into a pariah.

The penalties slapped on Rusal and other Deripaska companies effectively ban aluminum imports from Russia, which account for 14 percent of U.S. consumption. The move comes as Trump introduces tariffs on aluminum and other products from abroad to honor protectionist pledges. Alcoa Corp., Rusal’s largest U.S. competitor, jumped 6.7 percent Monday, the most in a year.

Fried said “some knowledgeable people” in the Trump administration are referring to the decision to punish both a close Putin associate and the largest aluminum supplier outside of China as a “twofer.” Aslund said it’s clear that the drafters of the sanctions at Treasury knew they’d be “taking out” Rusal and therefore about 7 percent of the world’s aluminum production.

While the U.S. included six other so-called oligarchs in the latest round of penalties, it reserved its harshest words for Deripaska. A former Red Army conscript with a physics degree, he got his start in business scooping up newly issued worker shares in Siberian smelters in the 1990s and emerged victorious from the bloody and gangster-ridden aluminum wars.

“Deripaska has been investigated for money laundering and has been accused of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official and taking part in extortion and racketeering,” Treasury said. “There are allegations that Deripaska bribed a government official, ordered the murder of a businessman, and had links to a Russian organized crime group.”

Deripaska said the allegations were “groundless, ridiculous and absurd.” In an interview with Bloomberg in Moscow in 2011, he spoke with pride of centralizing the bulk of the Soviet Union’s aluminum sector. “Rusal is not a company, it’s an industry in Russia,” he said at the time.

Other Russians added to the list include Kirill Shamalov, who married Putin’s youngest daughter about five years ago, and Viktor Vekselberg, a minority Rusal shareholder who attended Trump’s inauguration, but those penalties pale in comparison, according to Adam Smith, a former Treasury official who’s now a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Washington.

“It’s pretty rare” to blacklist two public companies—Hong Kong-listed Rusal and EN+, which trades in London, Smith said. “This is an escalation that’s important to recognize.”

David Kramer, a State Department official under President George W. Bush, said he was surprised by the exclusion of two billionaires close to Putin in particular—Alisher Usmanov, who controls Russia’s largest iron ore producer, and Roman Abramovich, the largest shareholder in steelmaker Evraz.

Oleg Deripaska with Alisher Usmanov in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013.
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

“Still, it was a great list that took some swings at oligarchs close to Putin,” said Kramer, now a senior fellow at Florida International University in Miami. “They clearly wanted to leave room for adding more names.”

Abramovich, a former Deripaska partner, told a London court in 2011 that the aluminum wars were a bloody chapter in corporate Russian history in which “every three days, someone was being murdered.”

Deripaska has admitted in court documents to paying $254 million in protection money back then to a man he alleged was part of a criminal group that extorted money. The events of that period continued to be cited as reasons for rejecting Deripaska’s visa overtures in the U.S. more than a decade later.

The FBI angered the State Department in 2009 by allowing Deripaska to enter the U.S. twice after he offered to help locate a retired agent, Robert Levinson, who had disappeared in Iran. The FBI ended the special arrangement after concluding that Deripaska was bluffing, further eroding his relations with U.S. officials, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Even an unusually personal request to help Deripaska from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was rejected in 2010. Since then, Deripaska has entered the U.S. almost a dozen times on a Russian diplomatic passport, court filings show. He’s also acquired citizenship in Cyprus, a European Union member.

Last year, Deripaska offered to testify to congressional panels investigating Russian election interference about his relationship with Manafort in exchange for immunity—and a visa.

Paul Manafort exits court in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 30, 2017.
Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

His ties to Manafort are still being scrutinized by Mueller. The former partners had a falling out over $18.9 million that Deripaska invested with Manafort in a Ukrainian company in 2007. After years of squabbling, Deripaska filed a lawsuit in January in New York, claiming Manafort defrauded him.

Manafort offered through an intermediary to provide briefings on the Trump campaign to Deripaska in an effort to resolve their dispute. Both men deny the briefings ever occurred.

What matters now from the U.S. perspective is that Deripaska is made to suffer financially to demonstrate resolve and reach, according to George Voloshin, who runs the Paris office of Aperio Intelligence Ltd., a financial crimes and business intelligence firm.

“The ultimate goal is to strike his empire and wreak havoc,” Voloshin said. “It sends a signal to other oligarchs that they could be next.”

— With assistance by Alan Katz, and Yuliya Fedorinova

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-11/deripaska-s-two-decade-wooing-of-u-s-ends-in-financial-meltdown

Russia Says US ‘refusing to face reality’ on alleged Syria attack — dismissed footage of attack victims as “yet another fake”

April 10, 2018

AFP

© AFP | An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows unidentified volunteers giving aid to children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018

MOSCOW (AFP) – The Kremlin on Tuesday accused Washington of refusing to face up to reality over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria, for which Moscow insists there is no evidence.”You see the unconstructive position that some countries including the US have taken. They are a priori refusing to face reality,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

He added that “none of them is talking about the need for an unbiased investigation” and said that this limited the diplomatic options for Russia, but that it would continue “active work on the diplomatic front.”

Peskov spoke after US President Donald Trump on Monday said the apparent chemical weapons attack would be “met forcefully” and indicated a decision on military action was hours away.

The Kremlin spokesman said that there was as yet no agreement on the date for a proposed meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s UN ambassador on Monday warned that the use of military force against Syria could have “grave repercussions.”

The Russian defence ministry dismissed footage of attack victims as “yet another fake,” following Moscow’s practice of suggesting that rebels are staging attacks to discredit President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which Russia supports militarily.

The defence ministry said its specialists visited hospitals in Douma, the largest town in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, but found no evidence of a chemical attack.

Deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov on Tuesday said that “fabrications and false stories are being used to find some pretext for the use of military force,” RIA Novosti news agency reported.

“We consider this absolutely unacceptable and extremely dangerous,” Bogdanov said.

Glencore CEO quits Russian company Rusal board after US sanctions

April 10, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Glencore’s shares dipped Monday but inched back up Tuesday
ZURICH (AFP) – Swiss mining mammoth Glencore said Tuesday its chief Ivan Glasenberg had resigned from the board of Russian aluminium giant Rusal after it was hit with US sanctions and saw its share price collapse.Glencore also said in a statement it was “still evaluating” its contracts with the Russian company, but it announced it would now not be going through with a planned deal with EN+, which owns a controlling stake in Rusal.

“Mr Glasenberg has resigned from his position as a director of Rusal,” the statement said.

The decisions came a day after Rusal saw its share price fall over 50 percent Monday on the Hong Kong stock exchange, where it is listed. It fell an additional 8.7 percent Tuesday.

Glencore also saw its shares dip 3.4 percent Monday on the London FTSE stock exchange, though its shares were back up 2.0 percent Tuesday.

The moves came after the United States on Friday announced a slew of sanctions targeting Russian oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.

Among the business magnates hit by the punitive measures is Oleg Deripaska, who controls Rusal and EN+.

The sanctions follow a diplomatic crisis sparked by the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal.

Tensions between Russia and the West are also soaring over Moscow’s intervention in the Syrian conflict, and over an alleged chemical attack targeting a rebel-held area near Damascus.

Russian central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina said Tuesday that the country’s economy could withstand the latest US sanctions, even as the ruble continued its spectacular plunge against the dollar and the euro.

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