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Topic: US-Russia (Read 39434 times)
WSJ: Trump looks to drive wedge between Russia and Iran.
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.”
Putin cruisin' with Cruise missiles; so much for the grand bargain?
Reply #201 on:
February 14, 2017, 05:46:47 PM »
PP: Seeing Russia from the White House
Reply #202 on:
February 17, 2017, 12:28:40 PM »
POTH: A Back Channel Plan for Ukraine and Russia, via Trump Associates
Reply #203 on:
February 19, 2017, 10:56:44 PM »
A Back-Channel Plan for Ukraine and Russia, Courtesy of Trump Associates
By MEGAN TWOHEY and SCOTT SHANEFEB. 19, 2017
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.
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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.
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