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Power User
Posts: 39540

« Reply #200 on: February 06, 2017, 09:45:26 PM »

Trump Administration Looks at Driving Wedge Between Russia and Iran
Officials say strategy marries president’s vows to improve relations with Putin and to aggressively challenge Iran’s military presence in Middle East
By Jay Solomon
Feb. 5, 2017 7:47 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is exploring ways to break Russia’s military and diplomatic alliance with Iran in a bid to both end the Syrian conflict and bolster the fight against Islamic State, said senior administration, European and Arab officials involved in the policy discussions.

The emerging strategy seeks to reconcile President Donald Trump’s seemingly contradictory vows to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to aggressively challenge the military presence of Iran—one of Moscow’s most critical allies—in the Middle East, these officials say.

A senior administration official said the White House doesn’t have any illusions about Russia or see Mr. Putin as a “choir boy,” despite further conciliatory statements from Mr. Trump about the Russian leader over the weekend. But the official said that the administration doesn’t view Russia as the same existential threat that the Soviet Union posed to the U.S. during the Cold War and that Mr. Trump was committed to constraining Iran.

“If there’s a wedge to be driven between Russia and Iran, we’re willing to explore that,” the official said.

Such a strategy doesn’t entirely explain the mixed signals Mr. Trump and his circle have sent regarding Moscow, which have unnerved U.S. allies and caught Republican leaders in Congress off guard.

    Russia Open to Pragmatic U.S. Relationship
    U.S. Suggests Path to End Russian Sanctions(Feb. 5)
    White House Issues Perplexing Statement on Whereabouts of Ukraine Conflict (Feb. 5)
    Renewed Fighting in Eastern Ukraine Presents Challenge for Trump’s Plans With Russia(Feb. 3)
    Trump’s Bluntness Unsettles World Leaders(Feb. 3)
    Russia, Turkey and Iran Agree on Syria Truce Monitoring(Jan. 24)

Days after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said a surge in violence in eastern Ukraine demanded “clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions,” Vice President Mike Pence suggested Sunday that Washington could lift sanctions on Moscow soon if it cooperated in the U.S. fight against Islamic State.

Mr. Trump himself spoke again about wanting to mend relations with Mr. Putin in an interview that aired before Sunday’s Super Bowl, saying “it’s better to get along with Russia than not.” After Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said Mr. Putin was a “killer,” the president responded: “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

But those involved in the latest policy discussions argue there is a specific focus on trying to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran.

“There’s daylight between Russia and Iran for sure,” said a senior European official who has held discussions with Mr. Trump’s National Security Council staff in recent weeks. “What’s unclear is what Putin would demand in return for weakening the alliance.”

But persuading Mr. Putin to break with Tehran would be immensely difficult and—a number of Russian experts in Washington say—come at a heavy cost likely to reverberate across America’s alliances with its Western partners. Nor would Mr. Trump be the first U.S. president to pursue the strategy: The Obama administration spent years trying to coax Russia away from Iran, particularly in Syria, only to see the two countries intensify their military operations there to bolster the Damascus regime.

“If the Kremlin is to reduce its arms supplies to Iran, it is likely to expect a significant easing of sanctions,” said Dimitri Simes, a Russia expert and president of the Center for the National Interest in Washington. “The Russians don’t believe in free lunches.”

The Kremlin has said it aims to mend ties with the U.S. under the Trump administration but in recent months has also signaled its intent to continue to build on its cooperation with Iran.

Moscow and Tehran have formed a tight military alliance in Syria in recent years. The Kremlin is a major supplier of weapons systems and nuclear equipment to Iran.

But the Trump administration is seeking to exploit what senior U.S., European and Arab officials see as potential divisions between Russia and Iran over their future strategy in Syria and the broader Mideast.

“The issue is whether Putin is prepared to abandon [Ayatollah] Khamenei,” said Michael Ledeen, an academic who advised National Security Council Advisor Michael Flynn during the transition and co-wrote a book with him last year. “I think that might be possible if he is convinced we will ‘take care’ of Iran. I doubt he believes that today.”

Russia, Iran and Turkey have been leading talks in Kazakhstan in recent weeks to try to end Syria’s six-year war. Participants in the discussions, which have excluded high-level U.S. diplomats, said Russia has appeared significantly more open than the Iranians to discussing a future without President Bashar al-Assad.

A Russian-backed faction in the talks has promoted the creation of a new Syrian constitution and a gradual transition away from Mr. Assad.

Moscow has pressed the Trump administration to join the talks at a high-level, an invitation not extended while President Barack Obama was in office. Last week, the administration sent only a lower-level official, its ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Mr. Putin largely has succeeded in saving the regime of Mr. Assad from collapse through a brutal air war in Syria over the past 18 months. But the Kremlin is interested in fortifying its long-term military presence in Syria and doesn’t necessarily view Mr. Assad as an enduring partner, these officials said.

Iran, conversely, is wholly wedded to Mr. Assad as its primary partner for shipping weapons and funds to Iran’s military proxies in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, including Hezbollah and Hamas. Any future Arab leader in Syria, even one close to Mr. Assad, is unlikely to tie his position so closely to Tehran.

“Russia is fully aware of the corruption and incompetence of the Assad regime…[and] knows that a stable Syria—a country worth having military bases in the long term—is unattainable with Assad at the helm,” said Fred Hof, a former State Department official who oversaw Syria policy during President Obama’s first term.

He added: “Tehran knows there is no Syrian constituency beyond Assad accepting subordination to [Iran].”

The Obama administration also pursued a strategy of trying to woo Russia away from Tehran. During his first term, Mr. Obama succeeded in getting then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to support tough United Nations sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities. Moscow also delayed the delivery of antimissile batteries to Tehran, sparking a diplomatic row between the countries.

In return, the Obama White House rolled back missile-defense deployments in Europe that Russia believed weakened its strategic position.

Tensions between Russia and the U.S. flared, though, after Mr. Putin regained the presidency in 2012 and seized the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014. The U.S. and European Union responded with tough financial sanctions on Mr. Putin’s inner circle.

A number of Russia experts in Washington say they believe Mr. Putin would demand a heavy price now for any move to distance himself from Iran. In addition to easing sanctions, they believe he would want assurances that the U.S. would scale back its criticism of Russia’s military operations in Ukraine and stall further expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership for countries near the Russian border.

Montenegro is scheduled to join NATO this year. The U.S. Senate still needs to vote to approve the bid.

In a report released Friday, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, cautioned that even if Moscow were to distance itself from Tehran, it wouldn’t contain the enormous influence that Iran wields over Syria’s economic, military, and political institutions. “Any U.S. effort to subvert Iran’s posture in Syria through Russia will undoubtedly end in failure,” the assessment said.

Russia delivered its S-300 antimissile system to Iran after Tehran, the U.S. and five other world powers implemented a landmark nuclear agreement a year ago. The Kremlin since has talked of further expanding its military and nuclear cooperation with Tehran.

Mr. Trump, though, campaigned on improving relations with Moscow, a theme that Mr. Putin has publicly embraced. Mr. Trump has suggested he could ease sanctions on Russia if the Kremlin took serious steps to cooperate in fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and addressing other national security threats to the U.S.

Mr. Trump and his advisers have made clear since assuming office that constraining Iran would be among their top priorities. They have also privately acknowledged there is no certainty the Kremlin will cooperate.

Last week, the administration declared Iran “on notice” and the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 25 Iran-linked individuals and entities for their alleged roles in aiding Iran’s ballistic missile program and terrorist activities. The Pentagon also dispatched a naval destroyer, the USS Cole, last week to police the waters around Yemen.

The Trump administration’s show of force has raised concerns that the U.S. and Iran could stumble into a military conflict. But officials close to the Trump administration said they believed the White House could gain the respect of the Kremlin if it showed a commitment to enforcing its warnings to other governments.

“Iran has a continuing operation throughout the region…that is not sustainable, not acceptable, and violates norms and creates instability,” a senior U.S. official said on Friday. “Iran has to determine its response to our actions. Iran has a choice to make.”
Power User
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« Reply #201 on: February 14, 2017, 05:46:47 PM »
Power User
Posts: 39540

« Reply #202 on: February 17, 2017, 12:28:40 PM »
Power User
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« Reply #203 on: February 19, 2017, 10:56:44 PM »

A Back-Channel Plan for Ukraine and Russia, Courtesy of Trump Associates


President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

At a time when Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, and the people connected to him, are under heightened scrutiny — with investigations by American intelligence agencies, the F.B.I. and Congress — some of his associates remain willing and eager to wade into Russia-related efforts behind the scenes.

Mr. Trump has confounded Democrats and Republicans alike with his repeated praise for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and his desire to forge an American-Russian alliance. While there is nothing illegal about such unofficial efforts, a proposal that seems to tip toward Russian interests may set off alarms.
Donald Trump’s Connections in Ukraine

Former Trump campaign manager with pro-Russian political ties in Ukraine now under investigation by the F.B.I.

The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. “Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?” Mr. Cohen asked.

But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.

“A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a U.S. agent, a C.I.A. agent,” Mr. Artemenko said. “But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?”

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Sater said they had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the proposal, and have no experience in foreign policy. Mr. Cohen is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in an F.B.I. counterintelligence examination of links with Russia, according to law enforcement officials; he has denied any illicit connections.

The two others involved in the effort have somewhat questionable pasts: Mr. Sater, 50, a Russian-American, pleaded guilty to a role in a stock manipulation scheme decades ago that involved the Mafia. Mr. Artemenko spent two and a half years in jail in Kiev in the early 2000s on embezzlement charges, later dropped, which he said had been politically motivated.

While it is unclear if the White House will take the proposal seriously, the diplomatic freelancing has infuriated Ukrainian officials. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, said Mr. Artemenko “is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government, including the U.S. administration.”

At a security conference in Munich on Friday, Mr. Poroshenko warned the West against “appeasement” of Russia, and some American experts say offering Russia any alternative to a two-year-old international agreement on Ukraine would be a mistake. The Trump administration has sent mixed signals about the conflict in Ukraine.

But given Mr. Trump’s praise for Mr. Putin, John Herbst, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, said he feared the new president might be too eager to mend relations with Russia at Ukraine’s expense — potentially with a plan like Mr. Artemenko’s.

It was late January when the three men associated with the proposed plan converged on the Loews Regency, a luxury hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan where business deals are made in a lobby furnished with leather couches, over martinis at the restaurant bar and in private conference rooms on upper floors.

Mr. Cohen, 50, lives two blocks up the street, in Trump Park Avenue. A lawyer who joined the Trump Organization in 2007 as special counsel, he has worked on many deals, including a Trump-branded tower in the republic of Georgia and a short-lived mixed martial arts venture starring a Russian fighter. He is considered a loyal lieutenant whom Mr. Trump trusts to fix difficult problems.
Andrii V. Artemenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, at the Women’s March in Washington last month. He said his peace proposal had received encouragement from top aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.

The F.B.I. is reviewing an unverified dossier, compiled by a former British intelligence agent and funded by Mr. Trump’s political opponents, that claims Mr. Cohen met with a Russian representative in Prague during the presidential campaign to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets. But the Russian official named in the report told The New York Times that he had never met Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen insists that he has never visited Prague and that the dossier’s assertions are fabrications. (Mr. Manafort is also under investigation by the F.B.I. for his connections to Russia and Ukraine.)

Mr. Cohen has a personal connection to Ukraine: He is married to a Ukrainian woman and once worked with relatives there to establish an ethanol business.

Mr. Artemenko, tall and burly, arrived at the Manhattan hotel between visits to Washington. (His wife, he said, met the first lady, Melania Trump, years ago during their modeling careers, but he did not try to meet Mr. Trump.) He had attended the inauguration and visited Congress, posting on Facebook his admiration for Mr. Trump and talking up his peace plan in meetings with American lawmakers.

He entered Parliament in 2014, the year that the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Moscow amid protests over his economic alignment with Russia and corruption. Mr. Manafort, who had been instrumental in getting Mr. Yanukovych elected, helped shape a political bloc that sprang up to oppose the new president, Mr. Poroshenko, a wealthy businessman who has taken a far tougher stance toward Russia and accused Mr. Putin of wanting to absorb Ukraine into a new Russian Empire. Mr. Artemenko, 48, emerged from the opposition that Mr. Manafort nurtured. (The two men have never met, Mr. Artemenko said.)

Before entering politics, Mr. Artemenko had business ventures in the Middle East and real estate deals in the Miami area, and had worked as an agent representing top Ukrainian athletes. Some colleagues in Parliament describe him as corrupt, untrustworthy or simply insignificant, but he appears to have amassed considerable wealth.

He has fashioned himself in the image of Mr. Trump, presenting himself as Ukraine’s answer to a rising class of nationalist leaders in the West. He even traveled to Cleveland last summer for the Republican National Convention, seizing on the chance to meet with members of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“It’s time for new leaders, new approaches to the governance of the country, new principles and new negotiators in international politics,” he wrote on Facebook on Jan. 27. “Our time has come!”

Mr. Artemenko said he saw in Mr. Trump an opportunity to advocate a plan for peace in Ukraine — and help advance his own political career. Essentially, his plan would require the withdrawal of all Russian forces from eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian voters would decide in a referendum whether Crimea, the Ukrainian territory seized by Russia in 2014, would be leased to Russia for a term of 50 or 100 years.

The Ukrainian ambassador, Mr. Chaly, rejected a lease of that kind. “It is a gross violation of the Constitution,” he said in written answers to questions from The Times. “Such ideas can be pitched or pushed through only by those openly or covertly representing Russian interests.”

The reaction suggested why Mr. Artemenko’s project also includes the dissemination of “kompromat,” or compromising material, purportedly showing that Mr. Poroshenko and his closest associates are corrupt. Only a new government, presumably one less hostile to Russia, might take up his plan.
President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine in Kiev on Wednesday. Two days later in Munich, he warned the West against “appeasement” of Russia. Credit Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Mr. Sater, a longtime business associate of Mr. Trump’s with connections in Russia, was willing to help Mr. Artemenko’s proposal reach the White House.

Mr. Trump has sought to distance himself from Mr. Sater in recent years. If Mr. Sater “were sitting in the room right now,” Mr. Trump said in a 2013 deposition, “I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

But Mr. Sater worked on real estate development deals with the Trump Organization on and off for at least a decade, even after his role in the stock manipulation scheme came to light.

Mr. Sater, who was born in the Soviet Union and grew up in New York, served as an executive at a firm called Bayrock Group, two floors below the Trump Organization in Trump Tower, and was later a senior adviser to Mr. Trump.

He said he had been working on a plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow with a Russian real estate developer as recently as the fall of 2015, one that he said had come to a halt because of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. (Mr. Cohen said the Trump Organization had received a letter of intent for a project in Moscow from a Russian real estate developer at that time but determined that the project was not feasible.)

Mr. Artemenko said a mutual friend had put him in touch with Mr. Sater. Helping to advance the proposal, Mr. Sater said, made sense.

“I want to stop a war, number one,” he said. “Number two, I absolutely believe that the U.S. and Russia need to be allies, not enemies. If I could achieve both in one stroke, it would be a home run.”

After speaking with Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko in person, Mr. Cohen said he would deliver the plan to the White House.

Mr. Cohen said he did not know who in the Russian government had offered encouragement on it, as Mr. Artemenko claims, but he understood there was a promise of proof of corruption by the Ukrainian president.

“Fraud is never good, right?” Mr. Cohen said.

He said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office.

Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response when Mr. Flynn was forced from his post. Now Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko are hoping a new national security adviser will take up their cause. On Friday the president wrote on Twitter that he had four new candidates for the job.
Correction: February 19, 2017

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article gave an incorrect middle initial for Paul Manafort. It is J., not D.
Power User
Posts: 39540

« Reply #204 on: February 25, 2017, 04:11:34 PM »
Power User
Posts: 39540

« Reply #205 on: February 26, 2017, 01:09:52 PM »

, , ,

In pushing its Manchurian-candidate-Trump narrative, the media fail to mention the much deeper ties of Democratic lobbyists to Russia. Don’t worry, the media seems to say: Even though they are representing Russia, the lobbyists are good upstanding citizens, not like the Trump people. They can be trusted with such delicate matters.

The media targeted former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for consulting for deposed Ukrainian president’s (Yanukovich’s) Party of the Regions. He also worked for billionaire oligarch, Firtash, who stands accused of skimming billions in the Ukraine gas trade in league with Russian oligarchs. The media also singled out Trump’s former national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, for attending a dinner with Putin and appearing on Russia’s foreign propaganda network RT. Trump’s own Russian ties were the subject of intense media coverage of an unverified opposition-research report purportedly prepared by an ex-British spy, who remains in hiding. It seems no enterprising reporter has tried to find him.

The media’s focus on Trump’s Russian connections ignores the much more extensive and lucrative business relationships of top Democrats with Kremlin-associated oligarchs and companies. Thanks to the Panama Papers, we know that the Podesta Group (founded by John Podesta’s brother, Tony) lobbied for Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. “Sberbank is the Kremlin, they don’t do anything major without Putin’s go-ahead, and they don’t tell him ‘no’ either,” explained a retired senior U.S. intelligence official. According to a Reuters report, Tony Podesta was “among the high-profile lobbyists registered to represent organizations backing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.” Among these was the European Center, which paid Podesta $900,000 for his lobbying.
Recommended by Forbes

That’s not all: The busy Podesta Group also represented Uranium One, a uranium company acquired by the Russian government which received approval from Hillary Clinton’s State Department to mine for uranium in the U.S. and gave Russia twenty percent control of US uranium. The New York Times reported Uranium One’s chairman, Frank Guistra, made significant donations to the Clinton Foundation, and Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 for one speech from a Russian investment bank that has “links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.”  Notably, Frank Giustra, the Clinton Foundation’s largest and most controversial donor, does not appear anywhere in Clinton’s “non-private” emails. It is possible that the emails of such key donors were automatically scrubbed to protect the Clinton Foundation.

Let’s not leave out fugitive Ukrainian oligarch, Dymtro Firtash. He is represented by Democratic heavyweight lawyer, Lanny Davis, who accused Trump of “inviting Putin to commit espionage” (Trump’s quip: If Putin has Hillary’s emails, release them) but denies all wrongdoing by Hillary.

That’s still not all: Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) read Kremlin propaganda into the Congressional Record, referring to Ukrainian militia as “repulsive Neo Nazis” in denying Ukrainian forces ManPad weapons. Conyers floor speech was surely a notable success of some Kremlin lobbyist.

Lobbying for Russia is a bi-partisan activity. Gazprombank GPB, a subsidiary of Russia’s third largest bank, Gazprombank, is represented by former Sen. John Breaux, (D., La.), and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.), as main lobbyists on “banking laws and regulations, including applicable sanctions.” The Breaux-Lott client is currently in the Treasury Department list of Russian firms prohibited from debt financing with U.S. banks.

In his February 16 press conference, President Trump declared in response to the intensifying media drumbeat on his Russian connections: “I haven’t done anything for Russia.” K-Street lobbyists, on the other hand, have done a lot to help Russia. They greased the skids for a strategic deal (that required the Secretary of State’s approval) that multiplied the Kremlin’s command of world uranium supplies. They likely prevented the shipment of strategic weapons needed by Ukraine to repulse well-armed pro-Russian forces. A fugitive billionaire who robbed the Ukrainian people of billions is represented by one of the establishment’s most connected lawyers.

Gazprombank GPB hired Breux and Lott to gain repeal of sanctions. That’s perfectly fine in Washington; they are playing according established “swamp rules” in their tailored suits and fine D.C. restaurants. General Flynn lost his job when the subject of sanctions was mentioned by the Russian ambassador in their telephone conversation, but that’s the way the media and Washington play.

No wonder that Trump’s’ “drain the swamp” and anti-media messages resonate so well with mainstream America.
Power User
Posts: 39540

« Reply #206 on: February 28, 2017, 01:55:27 PM »

MOSCOW — The Kremlin, increasingly convinced that President Trump will not fundamentally change relations with Russia, is instead seeking to bolster its global influence by exploiting what it considers weakness in Washington, according to political advisers, diplomats, journalists and other analysts.

Russia has continued to test the United States on the military front, with fighter jets flying close to an American warship in the Black Sea this month and a Russian naval vessel steaming conspicuously in the Atlantic off the coast of Delaware.

“They think he is unstable, that he can be manipulated, that he is authoritarian and a person without a team,” Alexei A. Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, a liberal radio station, said of President Trump.

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, has long sought to crack the liberal Western order, both as a competitor and as a champion of an alternative, illiberal model. To that end, he did what he could to buttress the electoral chances of Mr. Trump, who seemed like a kindred spirit with his harsh denunciations of NATO and the European Union, his endorsement of the British withdrawal from the European Union and his repeated shrugs over Russia’s destabilizing Ukraine.

In this context, Mr. Trump’s election was an unexpected bonus, but the original giddiness has worn off, and Moscow has returned to its tried-and-true formula of creating turmoil and exploiting the resulting opportunities.

“They are all telling each other that this is great, he created this turbulence inside, as we wanted, and now he is focused on his domestic problems and we have more freedom to maneuver,” Mr. Venediktov said. “Let them deal with their own problems. There, not in Ukraine. There, not in the Middle East. There, not in NATO. This is the state of mind right now.”

Sergei A. Markov, a leading analyst friendly to the Kremlin, made much the same point. “Right now the Kremlin is looking for ways that Russia can use the chaos in Washington to pursue its own interests,” said Mr. Markov, a member of the Civic Chamber, a Kremlin advisory group. “The main hope is that the U.S. will be preoccupied with itself and will stop pressuring Russia.”

Any turbulence that Russia foments also gives the Kremlin leverage that it can try to trade in the global arena at a time when it does not have much that others want.

Mr. Venediktov compared the Russian position to an intrusive neighbor who promises to be helpful by avoiding noisy restoration activity at night even though it breaks the apartment building rules in the first place.

Analysts say the Kremlin is aware that the tactic of creating and exploiting disarray can become self-defeating, in that prolonged instability could allow threats like the extremist group Islamic State to flourish.

“It is important for Russia that America does its job in foreign policy,” said Alexey Chesnakov, a periodic Kremlin political adviser and the director of the Center for Current Politics, a trend analysis group in Moscow. “If there is nobody to do that job, it might not be good for us, either.”

The Middle East provides examples of both vectors, analysts say, a moment of chaos to exploit and concerns about achieving stability for the long-term future.

Moscow has begun courting Libya, where Mr. Putin seems to want to prove that the Obama administration and other Western powers made a mistake by working to force Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power in 2011. Russia invited various powerful figures to Moscow and sent the country’s lone aircraft carrier, the somewhat dilapidated Admiral Kuznetsov, on a port call to Libya on its way back from Syria last month. Khalifa Haftar, the military commander in eastern Libya, got a tour. The government invited veteran officials and analysts from around the Arab world this week to discuss the future of Libya and Yemen, among other topics.

Residents at a humanitarian food distribution site in Avdiivka, Ukraine, this month. Some analysts say American attention could be diverted from areas of conflict with Russia, like Ukraine, while President Trump focuses on domestic concerns. Credit Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Syria, on the other hand, underscores the limits to Russian power. In the two months since Russian-backed government forces took back the city of Aleppo, there has been little movement in forging peace.

Not least, Russia can ill afford the billions of dollars needed to rebuild the country. For that it needs Washington to help persuade its allies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who all seek a political transition away from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Like much of the world, nobody in Moscow can figure out who makes Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, never mind what it will be. Since the inauguration, it has become clear that Mr. Trump’s rosy view of Mr. Putin is not shared by the president’s top foreign policy advisers, with the possible exception of Stephen K. Bannon, his chief White House strategist.

“We cannot understand how they will work in concert,” said Igor Yurgens, a Russian economist who is prominent in business and development.

The Kremlin has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Mr. Trump, analysts said, expecting the first meeting with Mr. Putin in Europe sometime this summer to set the course for relations.

Dmitry K. Kiselyov, the anchor of the main state propaganda program “News of the Week,” recently pronounced what seemed to be the new party line on the air. “Let’s not judge too harshly, things are still unsettled in the White House,” he said. “Still not a word from there. Only little words, and that doesn’t amount to a policy.”

Just how unsettled was underscored on Monday, when the White House announced plans to increase military spending by $54 billion, an amount just about equal to what Russia spends in total on its military annually.

While the appearance of such turmoil in the White House has probably been surprising, even gratifying, to the Kremlin, analysts say Russia’s government is worried about having too much of a good thing. “It would be better for us to have a predictable partner,” Mr. Markov said. “An unpredictable one is dangerous.”

The perception of weakness calls into question here in Moscow whether Mr. Trump can ever live up to the many statements he made during the campaign about forging closer ties with Mr. Putin and Russia. “The overwhelming view of the Kremlin is that Trump is not very strong,” said Valeriy Solovey, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. “He might have sympathy toward Russia, but he is contained within the political establishment.”

Russia’s far right regularly predicts Mr. Trump’s assassination at the hands of the American establishment, a view occasionally echoed on state television.

Alexander Dugin, a nationalist Russian philosopher, called Mr. Trump’s inauguration the happiest day of his life because it signified the demise of the liberal international order. Mr. Dugin seemed most eager for Mr. Trump to get on with his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, although he worried about the consequences. “It can kill,” Mr. Dugin said in an interview. “It is not so easy to drain the swamp.”

Since the inauguration, however, enthusiasm for Mr. Trump in official Russia lurched from cool to uncool seemingly overnight. Dmitri S. Peskov, the presidential spokesman, denied that the new skepticism had been ordered from the top. The speed of the change was striking, however.

Russia’s political class marvels at how much time it now spends chewing over the minutiae of the American political system. Some attribute that to the fact that domestic politics are comatose, with Mr. Putin assured of winning another six-year term in 2018.

“Nobody is talking about the Putin election,” said Mr. Chesnakov, the political consultant. “We are discussing relations between Congress and Trump.”
Power User
Posts: 39540

« Reply #207 on: March 06, 2017, 05:16:56 AM »

Very long and very interesting:

Power User
Posts: 39540

« Reply #208 on: March 09, 2017, 10:58:06 AM »

By Mikhail Khodorkovsky
March 8, 2017 6:43 p.m. ET

Russia went glaringly absent from President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress last week. Although Russians expect relations with Washington to change, they are anxiously asking how. Will Mr. Trump confront Moscow with the brash rhetoric he has directed at others? Will he be President Vladimir Putin’s lap dog, as many American critics and Kremlin propagandists predict?

Or will Mr. Trump surprise the world by forging a relationship with Mr. Putin and striking a deal that could help pull my country out of its decline?

Russians wait with both hope and apprehension as they grapple with the uncertainty of Mr. Trump’s message and Mr. Putin’s future. Many expect some kind of deal. In any negotiation, each side must understand the needs and desires of the other. What kind of bargain can Mr. Trump offer, and what can Mr. Putin do in exchange?

Let us break with conventional wisdom for a moment and set aside the expected American preconditions for normalized relations—the difficult matters of Syria, Ukraine, Iran, nuclear weapons and more. These are urgent issues. But no real progress is possible if Americans fail to understand the real, and very different, problems that face Mr. Putin, those around him, and Russia itself.

For today’s regime in Moscow, the overriding goal is to defer the inevitable question of leaving power. Military adventurism, like the police state itself, is a means to that end.

Mr. Putin has been in power for nearly 18 years—like Leonid Brezhnev, whose rule (1964-82) became reviled as the “age of stagnation.” Today, as in the late Brezhnev years, Russia’s economy is languishing and the standard of living is falling. Education, science and health care are decrepit. Russians tell pollsters, whom they assume to be agents of the FSB secret police, that they support the regime. Then they don’t go to vote.

As Brezhnev did in Afghanistan, Mr. Putin has boosted his popularity by creating his own unprovoked war in Ukraine, to make Russians feel that he is defending them from an external threat. The Kremlin insists Mr. Putin’s next presidential term will be his last, and that he would like to retire by 2024. But he cannot do so without taking a huge personal risk.

No Russian leader leaves power willingly. Since the Middle Ages, those who did not die a natural death in office were either assassinated, executed, forced to resign, overthrown or some combination thereof. One slight exception is Boris Yeltsin. In 1999 he transferred power to Mr. Putin, who promptly destroyed any positive legacy Mr. Yeltsin might have had. There were also two pretend departures, in 1560 when Czar Ivan the Terrible left the throne temporarily and put another man in his place before returning, and in 2008 when Mr. Putin installed Dmitry Medvedev as a token president for one term.

Russians today understand that a change of regime is inevitable, and that postponement, especially through Mr. Putin’s methods, only worsens the eventual outcome. He enjoys support not because the people love him or are satisfied with his policies. The people support him because they can’t imagine an alternative.

The regime maintains fear about what comes next by eliminating opponents. Most are simply destroyed politically, but some are physically liquidated. Electoral fraud, repressive laws and constant, paralyzing propaganda reinforce the expectation that the current regime will survive

The situation is an ever-deepening spiral. Russian society is losing its reserves of trust. Nobody can guarantee when today’s leaders will leave, and whether that transition will be peaceful and orderly or violent and bloody. Mr. Putin can’t step aside without such guarantees. He is destroying society to postpone his departure. But a damaged and fearful society is incapable of assuring an orderly departure.

Mr. Trump has an opportunity to begin a businesslike dialogue with Mr. Putin—not about the vital issues in the headlines, but about a far more important problem: how to avoid unnecessary conflicts inside and outside Russia by ensuring a smooth transition of power.

It raises important questions that must be considered now: What does the Kremlin have to do at home and abroad to make this soft landing possible? What reciprocal steps and guarantees can the West offer? It’s time for the world to start contemplating a post-Putin world.

Such guarantees are not merely personal. The dialogue must confront some unpleasant realities. Mr. Putin would like to use international agreements to preserve and formalize the “gains” he has achieved in Europe: his conquest of Crimea and neutral status for Ukraine and other states Mr. Putin considers to be inside Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence.

The desire for such concessions may motivate Mr. Putin to discuss the matter of his stepping down while Mr. Trump is in office. That, in turn, could create an opportunity to remove other problems from the table. But it could also tempt the West to appease and buckle under, or to throw up barriers.

In any other scenario, if Mr. Putin is going to be thinking about how to remain in power, he needs the U.S. for only one thing—to play the role of a “safe enemy.” That allows him to rally the Russian people around him, while knowing America presents no actual danger. To expect any other approach from Mr. Putin is a self-delusion that will carry a high cost in the end.

If concessions offered by Mr. Putin are not to America’s benefit, Washington will need to acknowledge that the only workable policy toward the Kremlin is a Cold War-style containment, with clearly defined parameters.

The window for handling Mr. Putin is very narrow. Mr. Trump’s brashness has stopped at attacking Mr. Putin personally. That atypical restraint horrified many Russia hawks in the West. But it may turn out that Mr. Trump took a better approach. Whether accidentally or by design, he has left the door open for Mr. Putin to make a graceful exit. That would be good for everyone.

Mr. Khodorkovsky is founder of the Open Russia movement and a former CEO of Yukos Oil.
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« Reply #209 on: March 09, 2017, 05:54:53 PM »

The few Russians I knew choose not to speak negatively about Putin.
I have not been able to get a satisfactory reason but I think they see capitalism as the system with lesser evil then the other . 

Anyone else know any Russians?

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« Reply #210 on: March 21, 2017, 02:04:49 PM »

We Built the Russia Sanctions to Last
Europe has stayed united behind them, and now Merkel seems to have brought Trump along.
By Edward Fishman
March 20, 2017 7:00 p.m. ET

Western sanctions on Russia have always seemed on the brink of collapse. Business interests have opposed them, and perspectives on Russia within the European Union—which requires unanimity to make foreign-policy decisions—have been anything but uniform. Skeptics claimed the West has only a passing interest in Ukraine, whereas Ukraine’s geopolitical disposition is of crucial importance to Russia. The implication was that Moscow could surely wait out Washington and Brussels.

Yet here we are: Sanctions remain in place three years after the West first imposed them and two months after the inauguration of President Trump. And there are few signs that is about to change.

In an otherwise awkward press conference last Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump sounded harmonious notes on Ukraine policy. Mr. Trump praised Mrs. Merkel’s “leadership” on conflict resolution in Ukraine, and Mrs. Merkel noted that she was “very gratified to know that the American administration and also the president, personally, commits himself to the Minsk process.” That suggests Mr. Trump assured Mrs. Merkel he will stand by the existing policy of maintaining sanctions until Russia pulls back from eastern Ukraine.

As one of the diplomats involved in creating the sanctions, I am not surprised they have endured. We designed them to be sustainable—to apply meaningful pressure on Russia without risking a short-term economic crisis or overly burdening any one constituency in the U.S. or Europe. And good communication has prevented minor disagreements between Washington and European capitals from snowballing into threats to trans-Atlantic unity.

Why have sanctions proved so resilient? For starters, the EU has shown remarkable leadership and solidarity. Although semiannual decisions on whether to renew sanctions have caused jitters, the outcomes were never seriously in doubt. Despite frequent anti-sanctions rhetoric, no EU leader has challenged them head-on, and the EU’s biggest player—Mrs. Merkel’s Germany—has been a consistent supporter.

Even though any single EU member could veto sanctions, potential spoilers such as Russia-friendly Greece and Hungary have never posed a practical threat. That’s because a motion to break unanimity by a small country could cause a constitutional crisis in the EU. Many EU states might even refuse to implement a veto, undermining the legal and normative solidarity of the union writ large. None of the would-be spoilers are interested in accelerating the deterioration of the EU, so the veto option has never made sense.

Another reason sanctions have endured is that they haven’t harmed the U.S. or European economy in any serious way. Western sanctions on Rosneft, the world’s largest publicly traded oil producer by output, did not push oil prices upward, even as they froze some of the company’s major development projects. The same is true for sanctions against Russia’s six largest banks, which squeezed their finances but did not lead to broader contagion.

Because blowback was so limited, “sanctions fatigue” was turned on its head. Instead of becoming harder to stomach over time, sanctions faced their most intense business opposition in the beginning. As American and European companies have found alternative markets, living with Russia sanctions has become progressively easier for them.

A third reason for the durability of sanctions is that the U.S. and EU quickly settled on criteria for lifting them. In March 2015, all 28 EU leaders agreed that the core economic sanctions were “clearly linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements,” the peace accords to resolve the Ukraine conflict. The Group of Seven leaders echoed the sentiment in June 2015.

This benchmark greatly simplified the EU’s semiannual decisions to renew sanctions. As long as Russia and its proxies continued to control parts of eastern Ukraine, there was no justification to undo sanctions. Only new rollback criteria endorsed by all EU leaders could alter this dynamic.

It is fair to ask whether the rise of Donald Trump has changed this equation. It isn’t far-fetched to assume Mr. Trump might try to cancel sanctions or that his rhetoric will erode cohesion in the EU.

The president does have the authority to end U.S. sanctions unilaterally. Unlike in the Iran context, Congress has been a paper tiger on Russia, frequently denouncing the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine but passing no significant laws that enhance or even codify existing sanctions. And in Europe, Mr. Trump’s “America first” rhetoric will only increase suspicions—hitherto groundless—that the U.S. is using sanctions to strengthen the competitive positions of American companies.

But it now seems doubtful that trans-Atlantic sanctions will end in the way most frequently envisioned: with the EU throwing in the towel. The irony of the present moment is that the EU—so often dismissed as “soft” on Russia—has emerged as the West’s bulwark. Even German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, one of Europe’s most vocal critics of sanctions, is encouraging Washington to hold firm.

Brussels’ unity on this critical issue should stand as a lesson that the EU is hardly feckless; it is a tremendous boon to American foreign policy. It may be frustrating to corral a bloc of more than two dozen European states, but when the EU settles on a policy, it can be a potent and steadfast force.

Mr. Fishman, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, served at the State Department, 2013-17.
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« Reply #211 on: March 26, 2017, 08:24:15 AM »
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