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Nord Stream 2 Could Sever Transatlantic Ties

03.07.2020 4:19

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- U.S. President Donald Trump is furious at Germany for many reasons, not all of them fathomable. In phone conversations with Angela Merkel, he’s allegedly called the German chancellor “stupid” and denigrated her in “near-sadistic” tones. Though this be madness, as the Bard might say, there is — on rare occasions — method in it. One such case is Nord Stream 2.It is an almost-finished gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany, running right next to the original Nord Stream, which has been in operation since 2011. “We’re supposed to protect Germany from Russia, but Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for energy coming from a pipeline,” Trump roared at a recent campaign rally. “Excuse me, how does that work?”As is his wont, the president thereby conflated many things. One of his grievances is that Germany has long been scrimping on its military spending, in effect free-riding on U.S. protection, for which he wants to punish his “delinquent” ally. Another is that the European Union, which he considers Germany’s marionette, allegedly takes advantage of the U.S. in business. Trump also wants to sell Europe more American liquefied natural gas (LNG).But Trump isn’t the only American trying to stop Nord Stream 2. In December, Congress aimed sanctions at a Swiss company that supplied the ships to lower the pipes into the water. This delayed the pipeline’s launch. Then Russia sent another vessel to finish the job. So this week a bipartisan group of Senators moved to widen the sanctions in order to kill Nord Stream 2 altogether.The problem is that if this new round becomes law, it will amount to an all-out economic assault on Europe. It could hit individuals and companies from many countries that are only tangential to the project — by underwriting insurance for the pipeline, say, or providing port services to the ships involved.Considering this an instance of illegal American extraterritoriality, the German government now plans to make the EU retaliate against the U.S. Trump, in the heat of America’s “silly season” leading up to November, could then strike back with new tariffs on German cars or a full-blown trade war. The transatlantic alliance, which was already frayed, is close to tearing.To me, this situation increasingly resembles “chicken,” a classic in game theory. The question is whether both sides are merely feigning recklessness (as the game assumes) or are already too far gone. And that applies just as much to the Germans. They like to play the reasonable side in transatlantic fights but deserve just as much blame as Trump and Congress for causing this mess.If Russia were a normal country, the German rationale for this pipeline might make sense. Europe will need more gas, especially to replace much dirtier coal and to supplement renewable sources of energy on the way to becoming carbon-neutral. And to get that gas, it makes sense to diversify — between Norwegian imports, American LNG or any other sort, including the Russian stuff. And piping it into Europe along the shortest route — through the Baltic — is efficient.But Russia is far from a normal country. It has for years been waging hybrid warfare in Europe, ranging from disinformation campaigns to aggression in Ukraine. At Germany’s urging, Russia recently extended a contract with Kiev to keep piping gas through Ukraine for several more years. But in the longer term, the new pipeline gives Russia dangerous geopolitical and strategic options.With two pipelines through the Baltic and another big one through the Black Sea, Russia could in the future cut all central and eastern European countries out of billions in transit fees. The country already controls almost 40% of the EU’s gas market even without Nord Stream 2. Once that goes online, the rest of Europe may become too dependent and therefore vulnerable to blackmail. When Trump calls Germany “a captive to Russia,” he has half a point.This is why Poland and the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia also oppose Nord Stream 2. As NATO’s eastern front line and former victims of invasion and aggression, they fear Russia more viscerally than Germans do nowadays. Psychologically, the Poles distrust any deal between Germany and Russia over their heads, because it reminds them of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, which carved up their region between Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence.My question to the Germans, then, is why they have for years been deaf to these strategic concerns by their partners in NATO and the European Union, while coddling their own pro-Russian business lobbies and, of course, the Kremlin.German intransigence looks even more unsavory when considering who within Germany is most passionately in favor of the pipeline. Support for it skews sharply to the left, with its long tradition of anti-American and pro-Russian leanings. The most egregious example is Gerhard Schroeder, a Social Democrat who was Angela Merkel’s predecessor as chancellor. He’s always been buddies with Russian President Vladimir Putin. These days he also chairs the supervisory board of Nord Stream AG, which is owned by Gazprom PJSC and thus controlled by the Kremlin, as well as the board of Rosneft Oil Co PJSC, a Russian oil giant.This week, Schroeder testified to the Bundestag that Germany and Europe should prepare tough countermeasures against U.S. sanctions. He won support from The Left, a party that descends from the former regime in East Germany.Nord Stream 2 was and is a terrible idea. It’s a geopolitical project disguised as a private business deal. It has shown Germany to be an insensitive and naïve ally, and the U.S. to be a truculent one. It is now rending what little remains of their former relationship. If there is any way to leave these pipes buried and forgotten under the sea, all involved should discreetly and diplomatically search for it. Otherwise, this game of chicken will end the way it’s not supposed to.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Andreas Kluth is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global and a writer for the Economist. He's the author of "Hannibal and Me." For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Trump Admin Mulls Keeping Putin From G7 Summit in Response to Russian Bounties on Americans’ Heads

02.07.2020 19:02

You pay to kill our troops—we won’t invite you to our meeting of world leaders.That’s the scenario being mulled by senior officials in the upper echelons of the Trump administration, who are scrambling for a way to respond to Russia after news broke that Moscow paid bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. forces. One idea these officials have raised with President Donald Trump in recent days: not inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin from attending the G7 summit of global powers later this year.President Trump told reporters in late May that he wanted to invite Russia to the meeting (which used to be known as the G8, until Russia was suspended for annexing Crimea and invading Ukraine). And that following Monday, Trump spoke with Putin on the phone to discuss, among other things, the G7 gathering and the possibility that Russia would attend.But over the last several days, senior officials in the White House, including National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, have recommended to Trump that he not formally extend that invitation in the wake of the recent reports about the Russian bounties. (That’s according to two U.S. officials and a third source familiar with the matter.) While President Trump has not made a final decision on whether to officially invite Russia to the G7, officials say the administration is also considering inviting India and Australia to the meeting.Trump Gives Putin a Pass on Bounties So He Can Target Leakers Instead When government officials have briefed the president in the past week on the bounty intel and the G7, as well as the way forward on messaging and possible policy moves, they have encountered a familiar problem: holding Trump’s attention. In at least two instances in recent days when officials or aides have discussed the option of rescinding his offer to Putin, Trump responded by not committing one way or the other. According to two sources familiar with the matter, he instead quickly pivoted to bashing the media, particularly The New York Times, which broke the news of the bounties. The discussions about the G7 highlight the extent to which the administration is concerned about the optics of Trump embracing Russia in the middle of an uproar over its military intelligence service paying the Taliban to kill American troops. It also shows how constrained administration officials believe their options to be, given the president’s long-documented admiration for Putin.  Trump “has made it perfectly clear that he wants to do Russia's bidding,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).The White House did not respond to a request for comment.Since the Times broke the news about the bounties, officials have grappled with how to defend the integrity of what’s been called an ongoing investigation into the Russian payoffs while also protecting Trump himself. The administration’s top intelligence and national security officials have all claimed that the president was not verbally briefed on the intelligence because there was a lack of consensus over the validity of the bounty evidence. Yet the information was deemed solid enough to make it into the President’s Daily Brief. But as The Daily Beast previously reported, a classified U.S. intelligence report makes it clear that Russia is supporting the Taliban materially and financially, and that there is serious evidence pointing to the fact that it is also paying bounties. So far, though, the administration has not made any moves to publicly address the issue, though senior administration officials said the Pentagon had issued warnings about the bounties to troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Backing away from offering Putin an invitation to the G7 could be a way for the president to take a public stand against Russia while at the same time preserving the goodwill between the two countries, an official familiar with the administration’s G7 conversations said. And maybe, if worded right, it might not piss off Trump.GOP Deny, Downplay Questions About Russian Bounty Scandal On Capitol Hill, where the intelligence report has circulated in recent days, Democrats are calling on the White House to address the Russian bounties. Some suggested issuing additional sanctions. Others said the president should demand that Putin put a stop to the bounty program.Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a member of the Armed Services Committee and an Iraq War veteran, expressed exasperation on Thursday with what she said was an inadequate briefing on the Russia bounty question from the Defense Department. She has yet to hear from Afghanistan war commander Gen. Scott Miller, CIA Director Gina Haspel or Gen. Paul Nakasone, director of the NSA.While Duckworth cautioned that she has not been fully briefed, she said the administration ought to do “much more” than not inviting Putin to attend the forthcoming G7 summit. “Obviously, we can have sanctions, obviously the president should be reaching out to the Russians saying ‘you will not do this, you will cease and end this,’” she said.But Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested on Wednesday that, at this point, there’s little Congress can do to rein in the president’s clearly pro-Moscow instincts.“I think it's impossible for Congress to override the president’s Russia policy. The President sets foreign policy…  Congress can pass additional sanctions, but if the President continues to try to bring them into the G7, if he withdraws troops from Germany, there's nothing we can do that counteracts the administration's policy,” Murphy said. “I don't think Russia cares too much about congressional sanctions if the president is cheering them back into the G7 and withdrawing troops from NATO countries.”—with additional reporting by Spencer Ackerman and Sam BrodeyRead more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

Democratic senator blocks 1,123 military promotions over impeachment witness

02.07.2020 14:14

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who was an expert of Ukraine at the National Security Council, is expected to be promoted to full colonel.

From: feeds.cbsnews.com

Sweden: Iran to compensate Ukraine plane crash victims

02.07.2020 12:14

Iran has agreed to compensate the families’ of the foreign victims of a Ukrainian passenger plane that was shot down by Iranian forces outside Tehran in January, Sweden’s foreign minister said on Thursday. “We have signed an agreement of mutual understanding that we will now negotiate together with Iran about amends, compensation to the victims’ next of kin,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde told Swedish news agency TT. Iran had denied for days its involvement in the plane crash but then announced that its military had mistakenly and unintentionally shot down the Ukrainian jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines.

From: news.yahoo.com

Slotkin, Former Intelligence Briefer, Presses White House on Russia Reports

02.07.2020 8:08

WASHINGTON -- From the moment President Donald Trump publicly denied knowledge of intelligence that suggested that Russia had offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, something seemed off to Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.Slotkin, a former White House national security aide and intelligence briefer whose tasks included ensuring that previous presidents were made aware of such potentially momentous reports, began calling around to some of her former colleagues from the George W. Bush administration. Check me on this, she said. What would we have done?The answer was clear, Slotkin said in an interview. They would have alerted superiors to make sure the president learned of the assessment."If I had been at the National Security Council under either Bush or Obama, and this had come in, I would have slapped a cover note on top of it, sent it up the chain to the national security adviser and said, 'Sir, I want to flag this,'" Slotkin said. "'There's some conflicting views. But it's important -- I think we should flag it for the president ahead of his calls.'"The emergence of the disturbing reports and Trump's responses -- a combination of denial, claims of ignorance, and attacks on leakers and the news media -- have raised broader questions about how the president and his White House handle intelligence matters. And based on her personal experience, Slotkin has taken a lead role in demanding answers.Slotkin, 43, is a first-term member of the House, where she is one of a tight-knit circle of moderate female lawmakers with deep experience on national security and was part of a small group of Democrats who went to the White House this week to be briefed about the Russian bounties.More than a decade ago she was a young analyst at the CIA, where Slotkin described her role as being a "human sifter" of the most important intelligence information filtering in about Iraq.After her team's daily 6:15 a.m. briefing, she would comb through new intelligence and foreign media reports and State Department cables to see what needed further examination and what needed to reach Bush in the memo she wrote every night. At times during her intelligence career, she would personally provide briefings to Bush and other senior administration officials, alongside other senior intelligence officials.So for Slotkin, the White House's explanation for Trump's ignorance of the intelligence -- that it was too uncertain to share with the president -- made no sense."When a piece of information like this comes in that, allegedly, the Russians are paying a bounty for the deaths of American soldiers, and I hear that his senior staff doesn't take that information to him -- even though he's on the phone with Putin five times -- it just, for me, fits into a bigger narrative about this president," Slotkin said."It's deeply concerning to me," she added.Since arriving in Washington last year, Slotkin, who served in Iraq as a CIA analyst and in President Barack Obama's Defense Department before running for Congress in 2018, has drawn heavily on her national security experience. She resisted the push to impeach Trump until an intelligence whistleblower came forward to reveal that the president had tried to enlist a foreign power, Ukraine, to investigate his political rivals in a way that could affect a future election. During the inquiry that followed, Slotkin later told The New York Times, she identified personally with the national security officials who came forward to testify, drawing attacks from Trump.Now she is reliving her own government experience once again as one of a large number of lawmakers in both parties who are demanding formation from the administration about its handling of the Russian intelligence."It's been surprising how much I've toggled between my old life and my current life," Slotkin said in an interview. "It sometimes pulls me in different directions."This week, after all, was finally supposed to be infrastructure week in the House, a few months before her first attempt to win reelection in a district that Trump won by 7 points. Slotkin had spent last week preparing to celebrate the pipeline-safety and water-quality projects she fought to include in the House's sweeping, trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that passed Wednesday.But on Friday, as The Times reported that the administration had intelligence that indicated that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill American and allied troops, Slotkin found herself drawn back into her former life. She has spent hours explaining to colleagues the granular procedure of filtering intelligence information, and she pressured White House officials to explain what would have been unthinkable in a different administration -- that the president could have been unaware of such an explosive assessment.Democratic leaders have capitalized on Slotkin's expertise, along with that of Reps. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former CIA operations officer, and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, a former Navy helicopter pilot, putting them out front as they raise questions about the intelligence and Trump's handling of it. The three freshmen were chosen to accompany senior Democrats to a classified briefing at the White House on Tuesday.Afterward, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, made a point of singling out their expertise, noting at a news conference that "all of them have experience or particular responsibilities in the intel and national security sphere.""We can ask questions about the way things might be written or the way information might be caveated or what's not being said," Spanberger said. "It's sort of a natural mode to go into and say, 'I hear you talking about one element of this larger discussion, but I'm going to need formation.'"For Slotkin, the visit was her first return to the White House for a briefing as a member of Congress."New carpets," Slotkin observed afterward, adding that she recognized some personnel in the Situation Room. "New ways to secure your phone."But like her colleagues, she walked away with unanswered questions about how the intelligence was conveyed to the president and frustrated at the absence of the intelligence officials she knew would have been responsible for corroborating and conveying the reports.Since the briefing, Slotkin has convened some of her colleagues to outline the typical trajectory for intelligence once it reaches the United States, as well as the significance of the escalation between the two countries.Slotkin first gravitated toward national security work after the Sept. 11 attacks, eager to help prevent another assault on American security. The CIA recruited her as a Middle East analyst, and she ultimately served three tours in Iraq.In 2007, she moved to the National Security Council, where she specialized on Iraq under both Bush and Obama. During the Obama administration, she moved to the Pentagon, where she eventually became acting assistant secretary of defense. There, she managed diplomatic and defense relationships in Europe and the Middle East, directly confronting Russian military officials after Russian jets struck Syria in 2015 and negotiating directly with top Russian generals over the airspace in Syria.In an interview, she recalled flying to Moscow and having intelligence exchanges before Russia invaded Ukraine, all while knowing they would not always be truthful."I don't believe that the president's policy reflects the very complicated relationship with the Russians," she said.Asked about the possibility that Trump had been informed of the intelligence about Russian bounties, which intelligence officials have said was included in his intelligence briefings as early as this February, Slotkin paused."I can only go by what he says and then what his senior staff says," she said. "And to be honest, I don't like thinking about the fact that he may have been aware of this.""I don't want to think about a commander in chief who doesn't have the back of U.S. forces," she added, reflecting on her husband, a retired Army colonel, and her stepdaughter, an active-duty Army officer. "But if he knew, and just didn't care, it might have been worse."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

Ukraine's central bank chief quits over 'systematic political pressure'

02.07.2020 3:14


Tags: UK, Ukraine
From: feedproxy.google.com

Trump Is Testing Putin’s Campaign Strategy

01.07.2020 9:00

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- So here we are again, back where this presidency began: Trump and Russia. Russia and Trump.News that Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying bounties for killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and that President Donald Trump was briefed about it and took no action, is the latest shocking/unsurprising twist in a long and sordid saga. Some day, perhaps, the American people will learn why Trump is so subservient to Putin. Meanwhile, another important question is how far Putin is willing to go to help Trump get re-elected.It’s perplexing that, four years after Trump was privately pleading for Kremlin approval to build a tower in Moscow while publicly insisting that he had no business dealings in Russia, the exact nature of his Russian passion remains  a mystery. American intelligence agents are said to know a great deal about Putin’s hidden wealth. It beggars belief that they don’t know quite a bit about Trump’s, too. Even Trump’s astonishing humiliation before Putin in Helsinki in 2018 did not shake the details of his subjugation loose from some knowledgeable quarter. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” said the late John McCain in a candid assessment.Whatever Trump so desperately needs from Putin, he needs far more of it now. Trump’s re-election campaign is a travesty on par with his shambolic 2016 effort. (His campaign was both boorish and victorious.) This time, however, the political context is less cooperative. His peculiar incompetence is killing tens of thousands of Americans while keeping the economy in suspended animation.Trump’s crude instincts are no different than in 2016. But he is proving incapable of adapting to new political realities, just as his lies are failing to fool a virus. Meanwhile, he faces a candidate less easily caricatured than his 2016 opponent.Polls are dismal. Without a dramatic turnaround, Trump will need serious help to win. Attorney General William Barr has made it clear that he won’t sound an alarm if Putin pulls another electoral burglary. In a rare appearance before Congress last year, Barr refused to commit to defend the election even if North Korea intervened. In case Putin is hard of hearing, on Tuesday Senate Republicans blocked a provision to require campaigns to report offers of foreign assistance.So what does Putin do this time? The context is different for him as well. On the one hand, his preferred candidate is flailing. If Putin goes all in for Trump and Democrats win the White House, Russia, and Putin personally, may face a blistering blowback from the new administration. On the other, having Trump in the Oval Office is a strategic asset of incalculable value. How far is Putin willing to go to secure it?It’s difficult to mitigate risks to an election when the greatest risk is the incumbent in the White House and a party that accepts foreign interference and views voting as a threat to its power. Likewise, the perils of foreign sabotage go far beyond Russian hacking and coordination with the bumblers in the Trump campaign.In his book “Election Meltdown,” election law expert Richard Hasen raises the harrowing possibility of targeted electrical outages on Election Day. It’s easy to imagine: Russia targets the power in Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia (you can add Miami too, if you like). Chaos ensues. Large numbers of Democrats concentrated in those cities are unable to vote. Trump wins those states. Barr’s Justice Department and the Supreme Court refuse to act. The tainted vote stands. Trump is re-elected.After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017, the FBI opened an inquiry into whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia. It was a glaringly obvious question then. In the years since, Trump’s haphazard foreign policy — damaging NATO, acceding to Russia in Syria and Kurdistan, promoting oil and attacking green technology, undermining Ukraine, advocating Russian membership in the G-7 — has included an uncanny litany of Kremlin victories.Over the next four months, Americans will find out what Putin is prepared to do to sustain his winning streak. What we are unlikely to learn, in a systemic political failure unparalleled in American history, is why Trump is so very keen to enable it.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Trump's New Russia Problem: Unread Intelligence and Missing Strategy

01.07.2020 8:12

The intelligence finding that Russia was most likely paying a bounty for the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan has evoked a strange silence from President Donald Trump and his top national security officials.He insists he never saw the intelligence, though it was part of the President's Daily Brief just days before a peace deal was signed with the Taliban in February.The White House says it was not even appropriate for him to be briefed because the president only sees "verified" intelligence -- prompting derision from officials who have spent years working on the daily brief and say it is most valuable when filled with dissenting interpretations and alternative explanations.But it does not require a high-level clearance for the government's most classified information to see that the list of Russian aggressions in recent weeks rivals some of the worst days of the Cold War.There have been new cyberattacks on Americans working from home to exploit vulnerabilities in their corporate systems and continued concern about new playbooks for Russian actors seeking to influence the November election. Off the coast of Alaska, Russian jets have been testing U.S. air defenses, sending U.S. warplanes scrambling to intercept them.It is all part of what Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, said Monday was "the latest in a series of escalations from Putin's regime."Yet missing from all this is a strategy for pushing back -- old-fashioned deterrence, to pluck a phrase from the depths of the Cold War -- that could be employed from Afghanistan to Ukraine, from the deserts of Libya to the vulnerable voter registration rolls in battleground states.Officially, in Trump's national security strategy, Russia is described as a "revisionist power" whose efforts to peel away NATO allies and push the United States out of the Middle East have to be countered. But the paper strategy differs significantly from the reality.There are at least two Russia strategies in this divided administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, usually so attuned to Trump, speaks for the hawkish wing: He came to the State Department podium a few weeks ago to declare that Crimea, annexed by Russia six years ago, will never be recognized as Russian territory.Then there is the president, who "repeatedly objected to criticizing Russia and pressed us not to be so critical of Russia publicly," his former national security adviser, John Bolton, notes in his recent memoir. A parade of other former national security aides have emerged, bruised, with similar reports.Yet the nature of intelligence -- always incomplete and not always definitive -- gives Trump an opening to dismiss anything that challenges his worldview."By definition, intelligence means looking at pieces of a puzzle," said Glenn S. Gerstell, who retired this year as general counsel of the National Security Agency, before the Russian bounty issue was front and center. "It's not unusual to have inconsistencies. And the President's Daily Brief, not infrequently, would say that there is no unanimity in the intelligence community, and would explain the dissenting views or the lack of corroboration."That absence of clarity has not slowed Trump when it comes to placing new sanctions on China and Iran, who pose very different kinds of challenges to U.S. power.Yet the president made no apparent effort to sort through evidence on Russia, even before his most recent call with President Vladimir Putin, when he invited the Russian leader to a Group of 7 meeting planned for September in Washington. Russia has been banned from the group since the Crimea invasion, and Trump was essentially restoring it to the G-8 over the objection of many of America's closest allies.The White House will not say whether he would have acted differently had he been aware of the Russian bounty for American lives."If you're going to be on the phone with Vladimir Putin, this is something you ought to know," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who managed the impeachment trial against Trump. "This is something you ought to know if you're inviting Russia back into the G-8."It is just the latest example of how, in Trump's "America First" approach, he rarely talks about Russia strategy other than to say it would be good to be friends. He relies on his gut and talks about his "good relationship" with Putin, echoing a line he often uses about Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator.So it is little surprise that after 3 1/2 years, there is often hesitation to bring Trump damning intelligence about Russia.And in this case, there was another element: concern inside the White House about any intelligence findings that might interfere with the administration's announcement of a peace deal with the Taliban.After months of broken-off negotiations, Trump was intent on announcing the accord in February, as a prelude to declaring that he was getting Americans out of Afghanistan. As one senior official described it, the evidence about Russia could have threatened that deal because it suggested that after 18 years of war, Trump was letting Russia chase the last U.S. troops out of the country.The warning to Trump appeared in the president's briefing book -- which Bolton said almost always went unread -- in late February. On Feb. 28, the president issued a statement that a signing ceremony for the Afghan deal was imminent."When I ran for office," Trump said in the statement, "I promised the American people I would begin to bring our troops home and see to end this war. We are making substantial progress on that promise."He dispatched Pompeo to witness the signing with the Taliban. And as Trump noted in a tweet over the weekend, there have been no major attacks on U.S. troops since. (Instead, the attacks have focused on Afghan troops and civilians.)Russia's complicity in the bounty plot came into sharper focus Tuesday as The New York Times reported that U.S. officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia's military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, according to officials familiar with the intelligence.The United States has accused Russia of providing general support to the Taliban before. But the newly revealed information about financial transfers bolstered other evidence of the plot, including detainee interrogations, and helped reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees.Lawmakers on Tuesday emerged from closed briefings on the matter to challenge why Trump and his advisers failed to recognize the seriousness of the intelligence assessment."I'm concerned they didn't pursue it as aggressively or comprehensively as they should have," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who heads the House Armed Services Committee. "Clearly there was evidence that Russia was paying the bounties."The oddity, of course, is that despite Trump's deference to the Russians, relations between Moscow and Washington under the Trump administration have nose-dived.That was clear in the stiff sentence handed down recently in Moscow against Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, after his conviction on espionage charges in what the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, called a "mockery of justice."Even Russian state television now regularly mocks Trump as a buffoon, very different from its gushing tone during the 2016 presidential election.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company

Hunt for Biden tapes in Ukraine by Trump allies revives prospect of foreign interference

30.06.2020 16:33

The recent release in Ukraine of audio clips of Biden suggests a new push by foreign forces to sway U.S. voters ahead of the 2020 election, one welcomed by President Trump’s personal lawyer.

From: www.washingtonpost.com

Trump's ties to Putin under fresh scrutiny in wake of Russia bounty reports

30.06.2020 13:41

* Russia allegedly paid bounties for deaths of US soldiers * Democrats ask: what did the president know – and when? * US politics – live coverageDonald Trump is facing renewed questions over his relationship with Vladimir Putin after reports that he was briefed in writing in February that Russia paid bounties for the deaths of US soldiers in Afghanistan.After a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Democratic members of Congress insisted the president must at least have been aware of the allegation against Moscow, yet failed to act.“Based on what we heard today, it was information that a) the president should have known about and b) based on what we were told today, he did,” Adam Smith, chairman of the House armed services committee, told reporters.Classified US reports suggested a Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill US and allied forces in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported last week.The April 2019 killing of three US marines after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their vehicles as they returned to Bagram airfield, Afghanistan is seen as one possible result of the programme, which the Kremlin has denied.The damning allegations have revived familiar questions from American political scandals: what did the president know and when did he know it?Trump has long faced scrutiny for his warm relationship with Putin, including a refusal to accept his own intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow intervened on his behalf in the 2016 presidential election; calls for Russia to rejoin the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrial nations; and the dispatch of ventilators to Russia to combat the coronavirus pandemic.Trump and Putin spoke by phone six times between 30 March and 1 June – an unusually high number – apparently without the Afghanistan issue being mentioned.On Monday, the Times reported that information on the bounties was included in a daily written report delivered to the president in late February, with one unnamed official specifying 27 February – a date on which Trump hosted controversial celebrity supporters Diamond and Silk at the White House.Separately, the Associated Press said senior officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of the intelligence, and the assessment was included in at least one of Trump’s written daily briefings at the time. John Bolton, then national security adviser, told colleagues at the time he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019, the AP added.Trump said on Sunday he was not told of the allegations because the information was not “credible”. The White House has claimed there was no consensus among intelligence agencies. The administration is yet to address whether Trump received a written report or if he read it.At Monday’s White House briefing, the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, was asked if the information was contained in the president’s daily brief, a summary of high-level information and analysis on national security issues. She replied, carefully: “He was not personally briefed on the matter.”White House officials briefed Democrats only after sharing information with Republicans on Monday, prompting criticism that the Trump administration was playing politics over what should be a non-partisan issue.After Tuesday’s meeting, Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, told reporters: “As we look at these allegations, number one the president of the United States should not be inviting Russia into the G7 or G8. We should be considering what sanctions are appropriate to further deter Russia’s malign activities.”Schiff, who prosecuted the impeachment case against Trump over a quid pro quo with Ukraine, added: “There may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear and that may be more true with respect to Putin and Putin’s Russia than with respect to any other subject matter. Many of us do not understand his affinity for that autocratic ruler who means our nation ill.”Ruben Gallego, a member of the armed services committee, told MSNBC: “It is clear that this president has warped the information stream. Because of his love of Putin and Russia, it has made it more difficult, in my opinion, for briefers and people that inform the president of what is happening to keep him up to date on Russian activity, and that has caused a lot of problems.”Critics charge that though Trump is notorious for watching cable news instead of reading his briefings, that is no excuse. Tammy Duckworth, a Democratic senator from Illinois who lost her legs while flying a combat mission over Iraq, said: “Ignorance isn’t exculpatory.”Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state beaten by Trump in 2016, tweeted on Tuesday: “Either he knew and chose to do nothing, or he didn’t know because he couldn’t be bothered to do his job.”Trump’s handling of diplomatic relations took another hit on Monday when Carl Bernstein, a veteran journalist who reported on the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, published a devastating story on CNN’s website.“In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state,” Bernstein wrote, citing as sources unnamed White House and intelligence officials, Trump “was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and so abusive to leaders of America’s principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials … that the president himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States”.

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