Tag Archives: Russia

Trump Denies Sanction Waiver to Exxon to Drill in Russia

Well, that’s going to make cabinet meetings awkward.

“The Treasury Department will not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said in a statement Friday. Mnuchin said he consulted with President Trump on the decision.

Exxon had applied for a waiver from sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in a bid to resume its lucrative joint venture with Russian state oil giant PAO Rosneft.

In a statement, Exxon said “we understand” the decision by the Treasury Department. Exxon explained that its application for a license was aimed at meeting the company’s “contractual obligations” in Russia, where competitors are allowed to drill under European sanctions.

Russia Slams UK for Canceled Meeting

Ouch.

Russia has criticised Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap a planned trip to Moscow after discussions with the US.

The move showed the UK has no “real influence” over world events, Russia’s foreign ministry said.

Mr Johnson said events in Syria had “changed the situation fundamentally” and he would go to G7 talks instead.

Russia Escalates

Something to watch.

Russia has said it is suspending a deal with the US to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to US air strikes on a Syrian air base.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said following Donald Trump’s decision to fire 59 cruise missiles at a military target in Syria on Thursday, Moscow was suspending a memorandum with the US that prevented incidents and ensured flight safety.

Under the memorandum, signed after Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015, Russia and the US had exchanged information about their flights to avoid incidents in the crowded skies over Syria — where Russia has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air-defence missiles.

Putin’s Enemies Dropping Like Flies

He learned from the best.

An outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was shot dead in broad daylight in Kiev Thursday, just two days after a lawyer for the family of a slain Russian whistleblower was injured in a mysterious fall from his fourth-story apartment near Moscow.

Denis Voronenkov was a former Russian Communist Party member who’d become increasingly critical of Putin’s policies after fleeing to Ukraine in 2016. In light of his murder, which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an “act of state terrorism by Russia,” the Washington Post’s Moscow Bureau Chief David Filipov compiled a list of nine other Putin critics “who died violently or in suspicious ways.”

As it has after similar incidents, the Kremlin swiftly rejected any suggestion it was involved in Voronenkov’s murder. Still, Filipov argued, the people on his list had more in common than simply disapproving of the president.

US Reiterates Demand that Russia Vacate Crimea

Good.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula following a military intervention and a hastily organized referendum, which was rejected by the international community.

“The United States does not recognize Russia’s ‘referendum’ of March 16, 2014, nor its attempted annexation of Crimea and continued violation of international law,” said Toner.

“We once again reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In the statement the US also called on Russia to “cease its attempts to suppress freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion” among Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainian activists and journalists.

Russia! Russia! Russia!

Of course, I trust Putin’s mouthpiece about as far as I can throw him, but he’s right in the fact that it’s the JOB of an ambassador to talk to people and build multilateral relationships.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said in an interview Sunday that the Russian ambassador who met with Trump campaign officials also met with “people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary.”

“Well, if you look at some people connected with Hillary Clinton during her campaign, you would probably see that he had lots of meetings of that kind,” Dmitry Peskov told CNN “GPS” host Fareed Zakaria. “There are lots of specialists in politology, people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary.”

Peskov said it is the job of Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to meet with officials on both sides to talk about “bilateral relations.”

Putin Critic Sentenced for Embezzlement

How convenient for Putin.

Russia’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, has been found guilty of embezzlement, local media report.

A judge was still reading the verdict in the city of Kirov, but news agencies said it was clear in his remarks that Mr Navalny had been convicted.

Even a suspended sentence would bar him from running for president next year.

An outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, Mr Navalny has denied the accusations, saying the case is politically motivated.

Pro-Russian Rebels Launch Attacks in Ukraine

It looks like Putin is probing to see what kind of response he gets.

(CNN)Fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian armed forces is escalating, officials have warned.

A higher number of ceasefire violations were reported between Sunday and Monday evenings, compared with the previous 24 hours, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said Monday.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said eight Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Donbass region in two days.
“Russian occupation forces carried out massive attacks across the contact line using all available weapons, including (artillery, mortars and tanks) — all prohibited by the Minsk agreements — and small arms,” the ministry said. At least 26 troops were wounded.

Russia Decriminalizes Domestic Abuse

Yikes.

But not in Russia, where the Duma (parliament) voted this week to decriminalise domestic violence against family members unless it is a repeat offence or causes serious medical damage. The change is part of a state-sponsored turn to traditionalism during Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term. It has exposed deep fault lines. Many Russians now embrace the liberal notion of individual rights, but others are moving in the opposite direction.

Activists warn that decriminalisation will legitimise abuse. “The overall message to Russian citizens is that domestic violence isn’t a crime,” says Andrei Sinelnikov of the Anna Centre, a violence-prevention charity.

U.S. Deploys Troops to Poland

President Obama sure is making a lot of dramatic, far-reaching foreign policy moves right before he leaves office. If you think this move isn’t motivated by Obama’s selfish political calculations, just think… would he have done this (or slap Israel; or change Cuba policy; etc.) if Hillary had won?

U.S. and other Western nations have carried out exercises on NATO’s eastern flank in past years, but the new deployment – which includes some 3,500 U.S. troops – marks the first-ever continuous deployment to the region by a NATO ally.

It is part of a larger commitment by President Barack Obama to protect a region that grew deeply nervous when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then began backing separatist rebels in Ukraine’s east.

If we were going to do this, we should have done it in 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine. It might have had a deterrent effect to stem Russia’s advance at that time. It’s too late now. All it does is set up political landmines for the incoming president.

Here’s how this will go down… Trump will pull back these troops because their deployment to Poland serves no purpose and aggravates Russia for no gain. Then the Democrats and media will jump on Trump and accuse him of being pro-Russia, a puppet for Putin, etc. Domestic political posturing ensues.

Russia Brokers Syrian Ceasefire

As our Secretary of State was blathering about how he can’t stand by while Jews in Israel build communities for themselves on their land, a lot was happening next door in Syria as he stood by.

(CNN)Call it a pop-up alliance. After spending much of this year berating each other after Turkey shot down a Russian jet over the Syrian-Turkish border, the two governments are suddenly the “honest brokers” of a ceasefire in Syria — one that is designed to lead to political negotiations. The United States, which has long championed the stuttering diplomatic process on resolving the Syrian conflict, is nowhere to be seen.

The ceasefire — negotiated between Russia, Turkey and the Syrian government as well as Iran and Syrian rebel groups supported by Turkey — explicitly excludes factions deemed by the United Nations Security Council as “terrorists.” This rules out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda affiliate in Syria that used to be known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the ceasefire was only the first step, with other documents signed on enforcing the truce and beginning peace talks. The Syrian military promised to cease operations nationwide at midnight Thursday.

Obama Sanctions Russia

You know, for all of the bluster and bustle, I’ve yet to see what the specific accusations are or any evidence to support them.

(CNN)President Barack Obama took unprecedented steps Thursday in issuing an executive order against six Russian individuals and five Russian entities in relation to what the Treasury Department said was to address “Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities.”

This is the first time the names of Russian officials involved in the hacking have become public on the sanctions list.
Obama also said in a separate statement that 35 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the country, and 2 Russian compounds are being closed under Thursday’s actions.
A White House statement described the consensus from the Intelligence Community that Russia’s meddling in US elections via cyberhacking as “unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
“Russia’s cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government,” the statement said. “These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The only accusation that I’ve seen was that Russia may have been involved in hacking the DNC, but the government has not presented any evidence of that for public scrutiny. But let us assume that that is true and Russia was involved… the DNC is a private organization. It is not a public entity, nor does it administer our elections. So at the very most, you could say that Russia hacked a private entity and dumped that information in an effort to influence the election.
OK, so that wouldn’t be cool, if it were true, but does that warrant the knee-jerk diplomatic break that Obama launched? And if it were true, would it be any less effective for Obama to leave it to the incoming administration to handle since they are the ones who will be tasked with managing it?
No, this was a crass political move by Obama designed to undermine the legitimacy of Trump’s electoral victory. Obama is doing more to, “erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government” than Russia did.

Assad and Russia’s Victory in Aleppo

And the world is a worse place for it.

The emptying of Aleppo winds down a four year standoff between opposition forces and those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That standoff has grown increasingly deadly in recent months, with an indiscriminate and relentless bombing campaign led by Assad and supported by Russia that targeted civilians and medical facilities, and allegedly involved the use of cluster munitions and chemical weapons.

But the retaking of Aleppo will count as a victory for Assad, and a sort of victory for his allies as well. A meeting on Tuesday between Iranian, Russian, and Turkish defense ministers produced a “joint declaration” to find a solution in Syria, despite the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Tuesday.

The United States has been notably absent from the movement in recent days, with Secretary of State John Kerry making diplomatic overtures that often went ignored.

Red Scare

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

Years after President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit the “reset” button with Russia, the Bear has rampaged through the United States’ presidential election. Or has it?

The claim being made by the Democrats and President Obama is that the Russians directly intervened in our presidential election in favor of Donald Trump by supporting hackers who perpetrated the damaging DNC hacks and perhaps even hacking various election machines. The problem with that claim is that there is very little evidence to support it and the reasoning behind it is irrevocably flawed.

As evidence, the Democrats offer the fact that the vile people at Wikileaks divulged mountains of emails from the DNC and Clinton lackey John Podesta that proved very damaging to the Clinton campaign while not doing the same against Trump. They also claim that Russia supported Wikileaks in this endeavor, which Wikileaks denies. The Democrats conveniently overlook the fact that the damaging information about Clinton corruption was true, which is why it was damaging. If the lack of balance in attacks is evidence of election tampering, then the entire American media should be on trial after their rabid support of Clinton in this election cycle.

The Democrats also cite leaks (ironic, no?) and comments from the CIA accusing Russia of tampering with the election. But the CIA will not publically divulge any of their evidence, will not brief Congress and will not go on the record with their accusations. The real travesty is that after eight years of Obama radically politicizing every federal agency he needed to like the FBI, IRS, ICE, DOJ, EPA, etc., nobody can believe the CIA at face value anymore. Given the history of this administration, it is not only possible, but probable, that the CIA is being used for the political agenda of the Democratic Party.

Taking a step back from the specific allegations, one must evaluate what might be really going on through the haze of disinformation. Is Russia trying to hack our election and, if so, to what end?

Simple logic would lead one to conclude that Russia is undoubtedly trying to influence our elections. For the last 10 years or more, Russia has been actively trying to regain the power they once had as the Soviet Union. They have acted without conscience, morals or reserve. This is the same nation that invaded Ukraine, blew a civilian jet out of the sky, supports Syria, traded nuclear material to Iran and much more. They also have a recent history of actively meddling in the elections and politics of smaller nations in order to destabilize them for Russia’s advantage.

If we concede that Russia would not have any scruples about subverting America’s election and that they have some means to do so, then we must only ask if it is in their interests to do so. The answer is probably yes, but not to sway the election one way or the other. Rather, to delegitimize the process and subsequent administration. An American government that has the appearance of illegitimacy and an American public that has lost its confidence in our electoral process is a powerful ally in Russia’s campaign to gain world supremacy.

While it is reasonable to conclude that Russia did try to interfere with our election, it is also reasonable to conclude that they were unsuccessful in determining the outcome, but that was likely not their objective. The Russians want a weaker America irrespective of who the president is. In any case, given Russia’s rapid rise under the feckless foreign policy of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, it is difficult to fathom why they would have tried to act on behalf of Trump anyway.

Strangely, we are at the point that the goals of the Democratic Party and Russia are in alignment. The Democrats are seizing on the possibility of Russian meddling as a way to delegitimize Trump’s administration. Having lost the presidency and the Congress, the Democrats want to weaken Trump in order to advance their domestic political agenda. In particular, President Obama, who is famously cool about everything from Syrian genocide to crushing regulations, has been animated over this issue. The Russians also want a weak American government and are encouraging the discord.

What are we to do about all of this? First, we must diligently and vigorously investigate if and how any foreign power might have attempted to undermine our election. When the investigation is complete and the evidence known, then we can make educated policy decisions about how to respond.

Second, we must recognize that one of the greatest bulwarks against any successful hacking of our election is the decentralized way we conduct elections. It is infinitely more difficult to hack an election in which different states, counties, and precincts use different methodologies, machines, etc. than it is to hack a centralized, integrated election. Measures that centralize and automate our electoral process are convenient, but they increase the risk of fraud.

Third, we must do what Americans have done since President John Adams was sworn into office and support a peaceful transition of presidential power. President Trump was legitimately elected by the American people and serves by the consent of the governed. Period.

 

Disagreement Over Russian Meddling in Election

We have a lot more to learn.

The disagreement between some Republicans and Democrats on Russia’s intentions in hacking the election rests partially on the lack of agreement between intelligence agencies and the FBI about the conclusiveness of the evidence, officials explained this weekend.

The US intelligence community is increasingly confident that Russian meddling in the American election was intended to steer the election toward Donald Trump, multiple sources have said. That revelation, first reported by CNN a week ago, went beyond the October statement by the 17 intelligence agencies that only said that Russia was seeking to undermine the election, but did not go as far as to say it was to benefit Trump.

The New York Times reported this weekend that part of the reason for the change is that the CIA believes the Russians hacked not only Democratic organizations but Republican groups too, but that they only published documents from Democrats.

The FBI hasn’t concluded that the RNC itself was directly breached, a law enforcement official said Sunday. FBI investigators did find that a breach of a third-party entity that held data belonging to the RNC. But the data appears to have been outdated and of little value to the hackers. The FBI also found that some conservative groups and pundits were hacked. The FBI also hasn’t found conclusive evidence to show that it was done to help Trump.

“At this point, there appears to have been a combination of motivations,” one US law enforcement official said. “They wanted to sow discord and undermine our systems. It’s clear not even the Russians thought he would win.”

Few thoughts…

First, it is not surprising that the Russians might have been meddling in our elections. Russia under Putin has proven to be a state whose ambition to return to super power status is unbridled by scruples. Given that Russia has a vested interest in the outcome of the election, or, at least, has a vested interested in undermining the legitimacy of the United States government, we would be fools to think that they would sit idly by. It is unclear if Russia was angling for a particular outcome, but it is increasingly clear that they were sowing discord.

Second, the fact that Russia was probably meddling does not deligitimize our election unless we think that they were able to actually change the result. At this point, there isn’t any indication that the outcome would have been different had Russia stayed away. The Democrats are using this as a fig leaf to cover their electoral failure. The problem is that if they really believe that they lost because of Russia, they will not take the steps necessary to win future elections.

Third, the fact that so many people distrust the statements by our various intelligence agencies, myself included, is because the Obama administration has so politicized federal agencies. After the scandals at the DOJ, IRS, ICE, HHS, HUD, FBI, EPA, FEMA, and even at the State Department, it is little wonder that many Americans have lost faith in the notion that our federal agencies can operate without political bias.

What is clear is that we need to do a lot more investigation.

FBI: No Link Between Russia and Trump

Frankly, if Russia were trying to push Trump, I think they would be better at it.

FBI officials said their investigations have yet to find a connection between the GOP presidential nominee and Russia.

The bureau has been investigating the Russian government’s role in the U.S. presidential election. But the FBI believes that the country was likely trying to disrupt the overall race, and not trying boost Trump’s chance of getting elected.

The problem with many folks is that they think in a very limited scope. Putin doesn’t really care who the U.S. president is – especially in this case where both major candidates are likely to be friendly and incompetent in dealing with him. But disrupting the campaign as a whole makes a lot of sense for Russia.

First, it undermines the notion that a representative government is a legitimate government. For a man who has been consolidating power into his own hands for years, this helps with his opponents within Russia.

Second, Putin is a Cold Warrior. He wants to see Russia’s power increase in terms of being able to influence or outright control other countries. He has seen Russia’s power grow under a tepid and incompetent Obama (and Clinton) foreign policy. When other countries perceive America to be divided, chaotic, and weak, they are more likely to turn to Russia for support and protection.

I have no doubt that Russia has been instigating chaos in America for years. Such disruption has been a reliable and effective tool of the Communists for years. Why would they stop now?

Next President to Inherit Obama’s Failed Russia Policy

Like I said earlier, there are some real issues out there that are being intentionally ignored during this election. Remember that it was Clinton who was Obama’s Secretary of State during the “reset” with Russia. Well, it worked. We’ve reset it to about 1961.

The next U.S. president will inherit an increasingly fraught relationship with Russia in which Washington’s attempts to deter Putin have mostly failed. Moscow’s decision this month to pull out of a landmark agreement on disposing tons of weapons-grade plutonium, coupled with reports last week that Russia deployed new nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, underscore how Putin is flexing Russia’s power in new and often unpredictable ways.

U.S. and European officials are increasingly alarmed over Putin’s willingness to risk military confrontation and threaten to use his country’s nuclear arsenal over issues the West sees as unrelated and separate. That makes it devilishly difficult for the United States and its European allies to find an effective response to Putin’s audacious tactics that in recent years range from Russia’s annexation of Crimea, to its air war in support of the Syrian regime, to Moscow’s suspected hacking of America’s presidential election.

“It very much feels like we are entering a very troubled and dangerous phase in this bilateral relationship,“ said Julianne Smith, a former senior Pentagon official who oversaw NATO policy and a former senior advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. “The next president will face some big strategic choices,” said Smith, who now advises Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Europe and Russia.

President Barack Obama’s successor will have to choose from a range of unpleasant and risky options when it comes to handling a resurgent Russia, current and former officials said. A more conciliatory stance, aimed at cutting a grand bargain with Russia focused on Ukraine, would defuse tensions in the short term but at the cost of ultimately emboldening Putin. A more hawkish line — like the one championed by Clinton, who is leading nationwide polls — would risk escalation, with the chance of a military showdown in Syria or the Baltics.

 

The Bear Growls

It’s been a few decades since Russia rattled the nuclear saber this much.

Critics call him the “Kremlin’s chief propagandist”. And like many other top Russian officials, he is on the Western sanctions blacklist.

But the warning he delivered to Washington in last night’s edition of his show News of the Week was, even for him, particularly dramatic. “Impudent behaviour” towards Russia may have “nuclear” consequences, he said.

“A Russian takes a long time to harness a horse, but then rides fast,” said the news anchor, quoting a famous Russian saying.

By “riding fast”, Kiselyov was referring to a string of recent Russian military deployments:

  • Last week, Moscow sent three warships from the Black Sea Fleet to the Mediterranean: on board, cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads

  • Russia deployed nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles into the Kaliningrad region bordering Poland

  • The Russians announced they would send 5,000 paratroopers to Egypt for military exercises

  • Moscow also suspended three nuclear agreements with the United States

My understanding is that SoS Kerry will respond with a sternly worded letter.

Russian Relationship Deteriorates

In Syria.

The US has said it is suspending talks with Russia over Syria, accusing Moscow of having “failed to live up” to its commitments under a ceasefire deal.

Washington blamed Russia and the Syrian government for intensifying their attacks against civilians.

And elsewhere.

Russia has suspended an agreement with the US on the disposal of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, the latest sign of worsening bilateral relations.

In a decree, President Vladimir Putin accused the US of creating “a threat to strategic stability, as a result of unfriendly actions” towards Russia.

Moscow also set pre-conditions for the US for the deal to be resumed.

Under the 2000 deal, each side is supposed to get rid of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning it in reactors.

America is much, much weaker on the world stage coming out of the Obama presidency.

U.S. Outmaneuvered By Russia in Middle East

Russia is playing chess while Obama and Kerry play tiddlywinks.

“Unlike Syria and Iran, Russia has no interest in fighting for territory,” he says.

“Moscow had sought to steadily destroy the moderate Syrian opposition on the battlefield, leaving only jihadist forces in play, and lock the US into a political framework of negotiations that would serve beyond the shelf-life of this administration.

“In both respects, it has been successful.

“Ultimately, the Russian goal is to lock in gains for Syria via ceasefires, while slow-rolling the negotiations to the point that true opposition to the Syrian regime expires on the battlefield, leaving no viable alternatives for the West in this conflict come 2017.

“Russia’s intervention, seeks to minimise losses, relying largely on the ground power of other actors to do most of the fighting, with its officers embedded in order to glue the military effort together and coordinate air strikes.”