Category Archives: Russia

(Economist) The missing middle of the Trump-Putin meeting

(Economist) The summit offered up a graphic reaffirmation of what was already known

THE story of the meeting between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has a beginning and an end, but no middle.

It began with a statement from the American president. The lowly state of Russo-American relations, he tweeted, was not the fault of the Russian government for seizing Crimea, shooting down a passenger airliner, interfering in America’s presidential election or using a banned nerve agent to kill citizens of a close ally on its own soil. No, it was the fault “of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt”.

It ended with a joint press conference that John McCain, a Republican senator, described as, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

In the middle was a void, in which the two presidents met with nobody else in the room but their interpreters. For those who watch Mr Trump daily and have observed his habit of being confrontational with other people when at a safe distance and then seeking to please them when face-to-face, this encounter seemed freighted with risk. Would he give away Crimea by mistake? Would he commit to some Russian-led military initiative in Syria? In fact this part seems to have gone relatively well. Both presidents reported that they talked about nuclear weapons, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) which covers short- and medium-range nuclear missiles. The chances of them signing an extension to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) are perhaps greater now than they were before the meeting. That is not nothing.

Yet it is hard to pinpoint a decisive change in American foreign policy that came out of the Helsinki meeting. What it offered instead was a reaffirmation of things that America already knew about its president. Mr Trump thinks that the world benefits when America and Russia have close relations, and that “the United States has been foolish” on this point. He takes the judgment of America’s intelligence services that Russia intervened in the 2016 election campaign to be a personal insult, an accusation that he needed outside help to beat Hillary Clinton. He will readily believe the word of a former KGB agent over the views of the CIA or FBI on this point. Americans who question this are liable to be described by their president as enemies of the people. The probe run by Robert Mueller is “a disaster for our country”. It was jarring to see Mr Trump say these things standing on a podium next to Mr Putin, but they are all things he has said before, countless times. This is not a performance. He really means it.

One part, near the end of the press conference, is worth quoting at length to give an unmediated sample of the president’s thinking:

REPORTER, Associated Press: President Trump, you first. Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is: who do you believe? My second question is: would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you want him to never do it again?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? 

I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying? 

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. 

My people came to me, Dan Coats [director of national intelligence], came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.

 I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server but I have, I have confidence in both parties.

 I really believe that this will probably go on for a while but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? 

Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails? 33,000 e-mails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. 

I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 e-mails.

 I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer. 

He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people [GRU officers indicted by the Department of Justice]. I think that’s an incredible offer. OK? Thank you.

For readers who are rubbing their eyes at this point, it is important not to lose sight of a few things that will endure once this summit is over. Mr Mueller’s probe has gathered so much detail about the activities of the GRU that its future activities would seem to be compromised. Russia’s economy is weak, and American sanctions will not be lifted by the Senate anytime soon. Some of America’s institutions are not doing their job. But some of them quietly are.

(BBC) Trump-Putin summit: US seeks better ties with Russia

(BBC)

Media captionThe moment President Trump meets counterpart Vladimir Putin.

US President Donald Trump has said getting on with Russia is “a good thing, not a bad thing” at the start of his first summit with Vladimir Putin.

Mr Trump said he hoped for an “extraordinary relationship” as the two presidents met in Helsinki, Finland.

Earlier Mr Trump denounced his predecessors’ “stupidity” for tensions.

US-Russia relations have been strained by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and by claims that the Kremlin helped Mr Trump win the 2016 election.

Some US politicians had called for the summit to be cancelled after 12 Russian military intelligence agents were charged on Friday with hacking the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

But in his tweet, Mr Trump put the blame for the deterioration in relations with Russia on “years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt”.

In response, Russia’s foreign affairs ministry tweeted: “We agree.”

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says Mr Trump’s tweet is likely to alarm White House advisers, already nervous about the risks of giving too much ground to the Russian leader during the talks.

Many in the West have criticised Moscow for what they regard as its destabilising activities in Ukraine. The US, among others, has imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea.

The summit – in which the two leaders are being joined only by their interpreters – comes after a tumultuous European tour that saw Mr Trump criticise allies of the US over trade and military spending.

Media captionTrump: I have low expectations for Putin meeting

What are the main sources of tension with Russia?

Russia has been criticised in the US because of its military support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria as well as its actions in Ukraine.

Tensions also are high as a result of accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election. The allegations are being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mr Trump has consistently denounced the inquiry as a “witch hunt”.

The 12 Russians indicted on Friday were targeted as part of Mr Mueller’s investigation.

Helsinki protestImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionProtesters in Finland have been urging Mr Trump to focus on human rights ahead of his visit.

Top Democrats including party chairman Tom Perez have urged Mr Trump to cancel the talks, saying Mr Putin was “not a friend of the United States”.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain said the summit “should not move forward” unless the president “is prepared to hold Putin accountable”.

Russia denies the hacking allegations, and says it is looking forward to the talks as a vehicle for improving relations.

What is being discussed at the summit?

US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said that both sides have agreed the meeting will have no set agenda.

But he said he found it “hard to believe” Mr Putin did not know about the alleged election hacking and the subject would be mentioned.

“That’s what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it,” he told ABC News.

A sentence reading The Whole World is Watching is projected on the presidential palace on the eve of a summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 15, 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe two leaders will meet at the presidential palace in Helsinki

Mr Trump has also been urged to raise the poisoning of two people in the UKwho came into contact with the nerve agent Novichok on 30 June. Investigators believe the incident is linked to the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in March.

Mr Trump elaborated on what would be discussed at the summit during a joint press conference with UK Prime Minister Theresa May last week.

“We’ll be talking about Syria,” he said. “We’ll be talking about other parts of the Middle East. I will be talking about nuclear proliferation.”

Why Helsinki?

This is not the first time US and Russian leaders have met in Helsinki.

Finland remained politically and militarily neutral after World War Two, as US and Soviet Union went headlong into the Cold War, making it an attractive meeting spot for the two superpowers.

The city saw the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which are credited for improving relations between the Soviet Union and Western countries.

Helsinki remained a destination in the post-Soviet era, and the Trump-Putin summit is the fourth such meeting in the city.

What has Mr Trump been doing so far in Europe?

His tour has included a Nato summit in Belgium and a visit to the UK. Neither passed without controversy.

Following the Nato summit, Mr Trump said the allies had pledged to “substantially” raise their defence budgets but other leaders cast doubt on this claim.

The UK visit also had its ups and downs after Mr Trump told a newspaper the US would probably not give the UK a trade deal under the terms of Mrs May’s Brexit plans – and then later appeared to backtrack on this position.

He also said Europe was “losing its character” because of immigration from Africa and the Middle East.

On Sunday, just before he departed for Helsinki, Mr Trump described the European Union as a foe on trade.

He told CBS News that European countries were taking advantage of the US and not paying their Nato bills.

(BBG) Putin Is a ‘Competitor,’ Not a Foe, Trump Says Ahead of Summit

(BBG) U.S. President Donald Trump declined to brand his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as friend or foe ahead of the first full-fledged one-on-one summit between the two in Helsinki next week.

“I really can’t say right now. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a competitor,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a European tour that will also include potentially tense meetings with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his first visit to the U.K. as president.

Amid criticism that the president has been harsher toward the U.S.’s NATO allies than toward the Kremlin — even in the face of evidence of attempted Russian election meddling — Trump defended his stance toward Moscow.

“I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, and getting along with others is a good thing,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not a bad thing.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Tuesday he has heavy reservations about Trump’s meeting with Putin.

“When the president met with President Xi, when the president met with Kim Jong Un, they took him to the cleaners, it seems, and got what they wanted and we didn’t get much of what we wanted,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol. “It’s even worse for him to meet with a very, very clever out-for-himself man like President Putin alone. And I am very much afraid what he would give away without any advisers to keep him in check.”

Also on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 10 senators introduced a resolution condemning the Russian annexation and continued occupation of Crimea, and stating that U.S. policy should remain that Crimea is part of Ukraine. The lead sponsors of the resolution are Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Trump told the assembled journalists that meeting with Putin may be the “easiest” leg of his trip and reiterated his demand that NATO countries shoulder a larger share of the alliance’s budget.

He also observed that the U.K. — and its embattled Prime Minister Theresa May — was in “somewhat turmoil” and was noticeably less effusive about May than he was about Boris Johnson, who resigned Monday over opposition to May’s plans to leave the European Union.

(Haaretz) Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich Reportedly Immigrating to Israel

(Haaretz) Following Britain’s refusal to extend his visa, the Russian-Jewish billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich is seeking Israeli citizenship. Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption claims it has no such information

רומן אברמוביץ'
 Toby Melville/רויטרס

Following Britain’s refusal to extend his visa, the Russian-Jewish billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich is seeking Israeli citizenship, an Israeli daily reported.

Abramovich, who owns the British Chelsea Football Club, landed Thursday in Israel to finalize his aliyah, or immigration to Israel. However, a spokeswoman at Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption told Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news agency that she had no such information.

Abramovich’s British visa expired last month, according to the Israel Hayom daily. His previous visa was granted before more rigorous regulations were instituted in April 2015.

Abramovich will have to explain the source of his wealth to receive the new visa, according to reports. There is no evidence that Abramovich has done anything wrong, but the United Kingdom has scrutinized Russian businesspeople and diplomats more carefully since the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, in March. Several Russian diplomats were expelled following the incident.

Abramovich missed Chelsea’s Football Association Cup final victory over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in London on Saturday night. He has owned the team since 2003 and has been present at nearly every game, until his visa problems began, The Jerusalem Post reported.

+++ (BBG) Putin Praises `Donald’ for Business Skills Amid Sanctions Threat

(BBG) Even when Donald Trump is threatening sanctions against a vital Russian energy project, President Vladimir Putin still has nothing but praise for his American counterpart.

“Donald isn’t just president of the United States, he’s also a good and strong entrepreneur,” Putin said at talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Russia’s Sochi on Friday. “He’s also promoting the interests of his business to ensure sales in the European market of liquified American gas” by opposing the Nord Stream 2 gas-pipeline project linking Russia and Germany, Putin said.

The U.S. stepped up longstanding opposition to Nord Stream 2 this week by warning that the pipeline raises security concerns, including the prospect that Russia could install undersea surveillance equipment in the Baltic Sea. It threatened sanctions, saying the project would increase Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies and damage neighboring Ukraine, which would be bypassed and lose gas-transit revenue.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BASF SE’s Wintershall unit, Uniper SE, OMV AG and Engie SA have agreed to provide Russia’s Gazprom PJSC with financing for the project.

White House opposition to the pipeline is a rare example of continuity of policy between the Trump administration and that of former President Barack Obama, Putin said. It’s an “exclusively economic” project and Russia’s willing to talk about continuing to supply gas via Ukraine if it makes sense, he said.

While Germany regards Nord Stream 2 as a business project, “it has other implications” including the “strategic significance” of Ukraine’s transit role, Merkel said. “So we need to discuss the question of what sort of guarantees can be offered to Ukraine in this context.”

While he understands that Trump’s protecting U.S. business interests to seek adva

(GUA) Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is without a UK visa

(GUA) Russian billionaire’s visa ran out weeks ago and it is unclear whether he will get a new one

Roman Abramovich was not at Wembley to see his team win the FA Cup.
 Roman Abramovich was not at Wembley to see his team win the FA Cup. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Roman Abramovich’s UK visa has expired and British authorities have not yet issued him with a new one, according to Russian media reports and people who know the businessman.

The Russian oligarch and owner of Chelsea football club, who is the 13th richest person in Britain with a net worth of £9.3bn, according to the Sunday Times, held an entrepreneurial visa to the UK that expired several weeks ago. He has filed for a new visa, but has not yet been granted one, and it is not clear if or when he will be.

Abramovich was not seen at Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley, which ended in a 1-0 victory for Chelsea over Manchester United.

A person who knows Abramovich said he had not been denied a visa, but that it was taking longer than usual to renew and it was unclear why.

A representative for Abramovich declined to comment on the reports, calling it a personal matter.

Anglo-Russian relations have been strained since the double poisoning of the former Russian secret agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March. The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the country in March, leading to a tit-for-tat expulsion by Russia later that month.

Russia shut down the activities of the British Council, which promotes cultural programmes between the two countries, and Britain’s consulate-general in St Petersburg. The prime minister, Theresa May, also said the government would look more closely at Russian investments in the UK.

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said in March that the government would look retrospectively at Tier 1 visas, those given to applicants who want to open businesses in Britain and have at least £50,000 in investment funds, like the one Abramovich held. Nearly 700 Russians came to Britain between 2008 and 2015 on such visas.

The delay in Abramovich’s visa was first reported by the Russian news agency the Bell, which wrote on Sunday that it had expired three weeks ago and that his private Boeing 767 last travelled to London on 1 April. The report cited three people who know Abramovich.

A second person who knows him told the Guardian the report “looked correct”, but emphasised that the Russian businessman had not yet received a firm answer from British authorities.

The UK security minister Ben Wallace said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and has helped bankroll the club during a period of unprecedented success, including five league titles. He regularly attends the club’s matches at Wembley and was seen at previous cup finals.

Once considered Russia’s richest man, he said in a British court in 2011 that he had an extravagant lifestyle, including properties in London and France and the luxury 533ft super-yacht Eclipse.

The Russian, who does not hold UK residency, owns a £90m home in Kensington Palace Gardens, nicknamed Billionaires’ Row.

He owns Evraz, Russia’s largest steelmaker, and the metals producer Norilsk Nickel. He made his fortune in the 1990s in oil and gas in a period when state assets were privatised and sold off to a number of businessmen who made fantastic fortunes.

Abramovich sold his stake in the oil firm Sibneft to the state-controlled gas group Gazprom for £7.4bn in 2005, increasing the Kremlin’s control over the country’s energy assets.

His stake in the company became the subject of a £2bn lawsuit in a British court. Boris Berezovsky, a once-powerful businessman who lived in self-imposed exile under Putin, sued Abramovich in 2008 over claims that he was forced to sell his shares in Sibneft under the threat of violence. Berezovsky lost the case in 2012.

While Berezovsky fell foul of the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin, Abramovich has maintained good relations with the Russian government. He served as governor, and then as the chair of the legislature in the remote Russian region of Chukotka. He helped build infrastructure at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that became an important prestige project for the Kremlin.

A judge in the Berezovsky lawsuit ruling said that while Abramovich “enjoyed very good relations with Putin and others in power at the Kremlin”, he did not have enough influence to “pull the presidential strings”.

He was named on a list of Russian oligarchs supposedly linked to Putin released by the US Treasury Department earlier this year. But the list was ridiculed as a carbon copy of the Forbes list of all Russians worth more than $1bn.

+++ (JN) Putin avisa que mais ataques na Síria trarão o “caos” às relações internacionais

(JNO presidente russo afirma que a intervenção dos Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido na Síria diminuiu as hipóteses de se chegar a uma solução política para o conflito naquele país.

O presidente russo Vladimir Putin avisou este domingo, 15 de Abril, que mais ataques do Ocidente na Síria trarão o “caos” às relações internacionais.

Segundo a Reuters, Putin deixou o alerta numa conversa telefónica com o seu homólogo iraniano Hassan Rouhani depois de os Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido terem realizado, no sábado, uma série de ataques com mísseis contra três alvos associados à produção e armazenamento de armas químicas na Síria.

Um comunicado do Kremlin informou que Putin e Rouhani concordaram que os ataques ocidentais diminuíram as hipóteses de se chegar a uma solução política para o conflito que dura há sete anos e que já matou pelo menos meio milhão de pessoas.

“Vladimir Putin, em particular, enfatizou que, se tais acções cometidas em violação da Carta da ONU continuarem, isso inevitavelmente levará ao caos nas relações internacionais”, refere o comunicado do Kremlin, citado pela agência noticiosa.

Os ataques levados a cabo pelos Estados Unidos, França e Reino Unido atingiram o coração do programa de armas químicas da Síria, disse Washington, em resposta a um ataque com armas químicas realizado há uma semana. Os três participantes insistiram que a sua resposta não teve como objectivo derrubar o presidente Bashar al-Assad ou intervir no conflito.

Os bombardeamentos, descritos pelo presidente dos EUA Donald Trump como um sucesso, mas denunciados por Damasco e seus aliados como um acto de agressão, marcaram a maior intervenção dos países ocidentais contra Assad e a Rússia.

As palavras de Putin foram divulgadas pouco tempo depois de o ministro-adjunto dos Negócios Estrangeiros da Rússia, Sergei Ryabkov, ter feito uma nota mais conciliatória dizendo que Moscovo faria todos os esforços para melhorar as relações políticas com o Ocidente.

Questionado sobre se a Rússia estava preparada para trabalhar com as propostas dos países ocidentais nas Nações Unidas, Ryabkov disse à agência de notícias TASS: “Agora a situação política é extremamente tensa, por isso não farei nenhuma previsão”.

“Trabalharemos com calma, de forma metódica e profissional, aproveitando todas as oportunidades para que a situação saia deste pico político extremamente perigoso”, afirmou.

(Reuters) Threat of U.S.-Russia clash hangs over Syria

(Reuters) The prospect of Western military action in Syria that could lead to confrontation with Russia hung over the Middle East on Friday but there was no clear sign that a U.S.-led attack was imminent.

International chemical weapons experts were travelling to Syria to investigate an alleged gas attack by government forces on the town of Douma which killed dozens of people. Two days ago U.S. President Donald Trump warned that missiles “will be coming” in response to that attack.

The allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were eager on Friday to lay blame for the crisis not with him but with Trump.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said international relations should not depend on one person’s morning mood, in apparent reference to Trump’s tweets.

“We cannot depend on what someone on the other side of the ocean takes into his head in the morning. We cannot take such risks,” said Dvorkovich, speaking at a forum.

Russia has warned the West against attacking Assad, who is also supported by Iran, and says there is no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma, a town near Damascus which had been held by rebels until this month.

Vassily Nebenzia, Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he “cannot exclude” war between the United States and Russia.

“The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war,” he told reporters. “We hope there will be no point of no return.”

Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria: “The conditions do not point to a total war happening…unless Trump and (Israeli leader Benjamin) Netanyahu completely lose their minds.”

U.S. allies have offered strong words of support for Washington but no clear military plans have yet emerged.

British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers on Thursday to take unspecified action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria.

Trump was also expected to speak with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said on Thursday France had proof the Syrian government carried out the Douma attack and would decide whether to strike back when all necessary information had been gathered.

For a graphic on an overview of chemical warfare, click tmsnrt.rs/2CnTeQh

A bus carries rebels and their families who left Douma, at the entrance of the Wafideen camp in Damascus, Syria April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

ASSAD TIGHTENS GRIP

Trump himself appeared on Thursday to cast doubt on at least the timing of any U.S.-led military action, tweeting: “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”

He met his national security team on the situation in Syria later in the day and “no final decision has been made,” the White House said in a statement.

“We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” it said.

A team of experts from the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was travelling to Syria and will start its investigations into the Douma incident on Saturday, the Netherlands-based agency said.

The capture of Douma has clinched a major victory for Assad, crushing what was once a centre of the insurgency near Damascus, and underlines his unassailable position in the war.

He has cemented his control over most of the western, more heavily populated, part of the country, with rebels and jihadist insurgents largely contained to two areas on Syria’s northern and southern borders.

They still control the northwestern province of Idlib, near Turkey, and a southern region around Deraa, on the border with Jordan. Turkish forces and rebel allies control territory in northern Syria, while U.S.-backed Kurdish forces hold wide areas of the northeast, and pockets of Islamic State fighters remain.

But none of those any longer directly threaten Assad’s grip on power, which has been reinforced by Russian air power and Iran-backed fighters on the ground.

(ZH) Trump Warns Russia “Missiles Are Coming” At Syria After Moscow Vows To Shoot Them Down

(ZH) A shooting war between the US and Russia appears imminent.

Following overnight speculation that the US may launch an airstrike on Syria at any moment, this morning, in his latest fiery tweetstorm, after slamming the failing New York Times and again lashing out at the Russia collusion probe and Cohen’s office raid, Trump tweeted that “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia,  because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

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

The tweet prompted several observers to point out the following Trumps statement from the historical archives:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

@walaa_3ssaf No, dopey, I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools.

In any case, Trump’s comment came in response to a statement by the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin who said overnight that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria will be shot down and their launch sites targeted in response to Trump promise of a forceful response to an alleged chemical attack on a rebel enclave near Damascus.

“If there is a strike by the Americans, then we refer to the statements of President [Vladimir] Putin and the chief of staff that the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.

Nasser Atta@nasseratta5

ambassdor in beirut : “If there is a strike by the Americans on , then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic.

In response, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that US “smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not a legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory” and sarcastically noted that the US “smart missiles” could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the alleged “chemical attack” on the ground in Syria.

Jennifer Jacobs

@JenniferJJacobs

RUSSIA RESPONDS TO Trump missiles-are-coming tweet.

Foreign Ministry’s Maria Zakharova: “Missiles must fly towards terrorists, not a legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism in its territory for several years.”

And missiles would “destroy evidence.”

Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia “categorically” disagrees that a chemical attack took place in Syria. “I still want to hope that all parties will avoid any steps, which in reality aren’t provoked by anything, that can destabilize the already fragile situation in the region.”

Peskov also said that Putin has no plans so far for phone talks with Donald Trump, while adding that Russian market volatility is partly emotional, partly speculative; Russian economy has sufficient durability, Peskov says

Meanwhile, indicating that a US strike on Syria is imminent, on Tuesday Trump canceled a trip to Latin America to focus on the Syria incident, the White House said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also canceled plans to travel to California in the coming days, as Trump told reporters all options were on the table regarding Syria.

As we reported on Monday, the USS Donald Cook, a Navy destroyer, left a port in Cyprus on Monday. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were used a year ago after an alleged sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians.

Also overnight, Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control agency, warned airlines Tuesday to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to possible airstrikes in the next 72 hours.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst, warned that any U.S. strike on Syria would likely require manned aircraft and characterized it as a “high-risk operation.”

“Last year was about sending a signal,” Stavridis said, referring to the April 2017 strike ordered by Trump. “This year its about destroying actual Syrian capability.”

Of course, if Russia is serious and it intends to shoot down not only US missiles but their sources – including ships and fighter jets – what happens in the next several hours could unleash World War III. Which would be bizarre if the only purpose for that is for Trump to prove to Mueller that he is not, in fact, a Russian puppet, even as the Military Industrial Complex enjoys its final victory.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, futures did not like the news that war between the US and Russia may be coming, and slumped to session lows.

 

+++(BN) Russian Markets Tumble After Sanctions Leave Kremlin Scrambling

(BBG) The most punitive U.S. sanctions yet to descend on Russian companies and oligarchs are battering the nation’s assets as the Kremlin scrambles to contain the damage.

In the first trading day since dozens of Russian tycoons and companies were slapped with penalties, Moscow-traded stocks headed for the biggest drop in four years, the currency slid the most in the world and the nation’s credit risk soared.

Among those named by sanctions were Oleg Deripaska, who owns aluminum giant United Co. Rusal. Revealing the potential ripple effect of being cut off from its western clients, Rusal said on Monday it was highly likely to default on debt. Its shares tumbled 28 percent in Moscow.

“We haven’t seen such a united, mass retreat from Russian assets for a long time,” Kirill Tremasov, director of the analysis department at investment company Loko-Invest in Moscow. “The situation is ever more reminiscent of 2014,” he said, referring to a market crash that year following President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent slump in oil.

While Russian companies have faced a slew of sanctions since the conflict with Ukraine sparked the worst standoff with the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War, the latest penalties are markedly more devastating. For the first time, major publicly traded Russian companies with global clients are on the black list.

Even the Kremlin’s attempt to assuage concerns by promising to protect billionaires couldn’t slow the investor flight. The benchmark MOEX Russia Index sank 8.6 percent, the most since March 2014 at the height of the Crimea conflict. The ruble weakened 3.1 percent by 4:26 p.m. in Moscow, crossing 60 per dollar for the first time since November.

Fearful Investors

The tables have turned against Russia quickly in the past few weeks since the U.K., accused the country of poisoning an ex-spy on British soil. In retaliation, the U.K. and its allies have announced a slew of measures — including coordinated expulsions of more than 150 Russian diplomats last month.

The new sanctions also coincide with a worsening of tensions between Russia and the U.S. over the war in Syria after an alleged chemical attack outside Damascus April 7. U.S. President Donald Trump warned of a “big price to pay,” pointing the finger at Putin and Iran as being “responsible for backing Animal Assad.”

“Investors finally realized how badly things are turning out for Russia,” said Vadim Bit-Avragim, a money manager at Kapital Asset Management LLC in Moscow, who’s selling Russian shares today. “Investors are afraid that now any Russian company is at risk of sanctions. Traders are closing limits on Russian shares because they’re seen as toxic assets.”

In addition to Deripaska, billionaire Viktor Vekselberg was named under American sanctions. Vekselberg is the chairman of an investment group called Renova that owns a stake in Rusal. He also holds a majority interest in Swiss industrial pump manufacturer Sulzer AG, which Renova said on Monday would be lowered to insulate the company from the penalties.

Russian Reaction

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered his cabinet to come up with ways to assist the affected companies and draft possible retaliatory measures, but provided no details.

The Kremlin needs time to assess “the scale of the real damage” from the new sanctions and formulate a response, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “These sanctions are a rather new phenomenon,” he said.

The reaction of investment banks was swift. Morgan Stanley, for one, closed its long ruble recommendation, citing the likelihood of of foreign investors fleeing the country.

Rusal led the declines among all but one shares in Moscow. The company asked its customers to stop payments as it investigates the consequences of the sanctions.

Hands Tied

Deripaska’s energy holding En+ Group Plc, meanwhile, fell as much as 23 percent. The company had about $13 billion gross debt at the end of 2017, including Rusal’s — with Russian lender Sberbank PJSC among its biggest creditors.

More than half of Rusal’s debt is dollar denominated, making default on its bonds “the most likely scenario,” according to analysts at Raiffeisen Capital. They expect a halt on dollar settlements and disruptions in aluminum sales.

Part of the worry is that Putin’s hands will be tied on how much he can help out targeted companies. Even state-controlled banks may not be willing to take the risk of continuing to do business with the industrial giants targeted by the U.S. for fear of repercussions.

Russian five-year credit-default swaps — contracts that insure against potential default — climbed 15 basis points, or 12 percent, on Monday, the most since December 2014 when Russia was facing a currency crisis.

“The Kremlin will apply the ‘we do not give up our guys’ rule in response to American sanctions and will try to help Deripaska’s business to survive,” said Kirill Chuyko, chief of research in BCS Global Markets. “But that will be difficult to do as even state banks can’t really help Rusal or En+ or they may be sanctioned in return.”

+++ (BBG) Putin’s Stealth Economic Weapon Loses Punch as Recovery Falters

(BBG) Russia’s pullback on military spending is becoming a drag on the economy after its record arms buildup helped the country through the worst of a recession three years ago.

The recovery is unsteady now that the peak of defense outlays is over. In the fourth quarter, annual growth in gross domestic product more than halved from the previous three months, according to data released this week. While Russia’s military statistics are classified, the Economy Ministry has partly blamed a decrease in arms spending for swinging industrial output into a surprise contraction during the final two months of 2017.

“The contribution of the military industry to output growth was negative last year,” said Vasily Zatsepin, head of the department for military economics at Gaidar Institute in Moscow. “It will remain negative in 2018-2019.”

While Russia’s 20 trillion-ruble ($347 billion) defense program — the largest rearmament push since the Soviet breakup — has already left a geopolitical mark from Ukraine to Syria, its economic footprint is shrinking. That’s depriving President Vladimir Putin of a stealth stimulus to the economy just as growth stagnates and fiscal policy remains tight. Defense was the federal budget’s second-biggest ticket item last year, creating a multiplier effect as a factor in key areas such as high-value-added manufacturing.

Since the army’s “cycle of saturation” with new types of weapons is past its peak, defense spending as a share of GDP will be on the decline, the Kremlin’s economic aide, Andrey Belousov, said last month. A new defense procurement program through 2027 means military expenditure will also make up a smaller proportion of the budget’s earmarks, according to Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

As an unreported component of industrial production, defense output has become a part of what VTB Capital calls the “dark matter” of manufacturing, “hindering any meaningful interpretation and creating an uncomfortable sense that the aggregates are being moved by powerful yet invisible forces.”

The challenge in assessing the economic impact of defense production is that its details remain a closely guarded secret. The Federal Statistics Service releases neither raw data on output related to the military nor production indexes for the defense industry as a whole.

Many Unknowns

Instead, to account for its output, the state agency makes an internal adjustment to production sub-indexes for sectors affected by the military, according to VTB Capital. The exact parameters of the adjustment, and even the list of the sectors involved, aren’t made public, its economists said in a report.

The Federal Statistics Service didn’t comment in response to questions about the defense sector’s contribution to GDP and industrial output and whether official data reflect its performance.

ING Groep NV says two components of manufacturing data — “other transport and equipment” and “fabricated metal products, excluding machinery and equipment” — provide perhaps the best clue. Last year, a significant decline in Russia’s output of “other transport and equipment” went almost hand-in-hand with a broader industrial slowdown or a contraction.

Excluding payments on loans, the state procurement program fell by 40 percent last year in nominal terms, Gaidar Institute’s Zatsepin said. GDP rose 0.9 percent in the last three months of 2017 from a year earlier, compared with an upwardly revised gain of 2.2 percent for the third quarter. After an annual pickup to 1.9 percent in January, the Economy Ministry estimates that GDP growth slowed again to 1.5 percent in February.

The lack of detailed data makes it difficult to assess the defense industry’s broader impact on the economy, according to Dmitry Polevoy, an economist at ING in Moscow. Still, “the military’s contribution may decrease gradually,” he said.

(JN) NATO expulsa sete diplomatas russos e rejeita três pedidos de acreditação

…Well done…

(JN) NATO decidiu expulsar sete diplomatas da missão da Rússia junto daquela organização, na sequência do envenenamento do ex-espião russo Serguei Skripal.

O secretário-geral da NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, indicou ainda que a Aliança Atlântica rejeitou os pedidos de acreditação para outros três elementos da missão da Rússia, que não é membro da aliança atlântica.

“Retirei hoje as acreditações a sete membros da missão russa junto da NATO. Também rejeitei três pedidos de acreditação”, afirmou Stoltenberg, numa declaração à imprensa na sede da Aliança Atlântica em Bruxelas.

Segundo o secretário-geral da NATO, tais medidas enviam “uma mensagem clara à Rússia de que existem custos e consequências face a um padrão de comportamento inaceitável e perigoso”.

E também surgem perante “a ausência de uma resposta construtiva da Rússia” sobre o caso Skripal.

Apesar destas expulsões, Stoltenberg destacou que a Rússia ainda terá uma missão diplomática com 20 pessoas junto da NATO na sede da Aliança Atlântica, na capital belga, o que permitirá a Moscovo manter contactos essenciais com os 28 Estados-membros que compõem aquela organização.

“A decisão de hoje não altera a política da NATO em relação à Rússia. A NATO continua empenhada na abordagem a duas vertentes de uma defesa forte e de uma abertura ao diálogo, incluindo a preparação para a próxima reunião do Conselho NATO-Rússia”, frisou.

Os Estados Unidos e cerca de vinte outros países, entre os quais 16 da União Europeia (UE), anunciaram segunda-feira a expulsão, no conjunto, de quase uma centena de diplomatas russos dos seus territórios, em apoio ao Reino Unido.

Na semana passada, Londres expulsou 23 funcionários russos como represália pelo alegado envenenamento com um gás neurotóxico do ex-espião russo.

Em 4 de março, Skripal e a sua filha foram encontrados inconscientes num parque de Salisbury (sul de Inglaterra) após terem sido expostos a uma substância química que, segundo Londres, foi desenvolvida na Rússia.

O Governo do Presidente Vladimir Putin tem desmentido todas as acusações e exigido provas concretas sobre esta alegação.

O Kremlin considerou as medidas um “gesto provocador”, prometendo responder à altura.

“A Rússia nada tem a ver com essa questão”, insistiu Moscovo.

Decisão de Portugal defenderá interesses nacional, europeu e da NATO

A decisão do Governo português sobre o “caso Skripal” está “em curso” e rege-se pela defesa dos interesses “nacional, europeu e da Aliança Atlântica”, mas também pela “autonomia, prudência e firmeza”, disse à Lusa o ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros.

“A medida que em cada momento se revelar mais conforme aos interesses nacionais portugueses, aos interesses europeus e aos interesses da Aliança Atlântica, essa será a medida que nós tomaremos, porque são esses os três critérios: o nosso interesse nacional, enquanto país que fala com toda a gente no mundo e que tem uma enorme facilidade de contacto com todas as grandes regiões do mundo, e os interesses europeu e da Aliança Atlântica”, afirmou hoje, em declarações à Lusa, Augusto Santos Silva.

Assim, as medidas que o Governo português decidir “sem precipitação, com autonomia, com prudência, mas também com firmeza”, sublinhou o governante, “são as que melhor respondam a estes três critérios”, acrescentou.

MNE russo diz que expulsões devem-se a “pressões colossais” dos EUA

O chefe da diplomacia russa afirmou hoje que a ação concertada de duas dezenas de países de ocidentais de expulsão de diplomatas russos em resposta ao caso Skripal é “o resultado de pressões colossais” dos Estados Unidos.

“Quando se pede a um ou dois diplomatas para abandonarem este ou aquele país, ao mesmo tempo que se murmuram desculpas ao ouvido, sabemos precisamente que é o resultado de pressões colossais, de uma chantagem colossal que é, infelizmente, a principal arma de Washington na cena internacional”, disse Serguei Lavrov numa conferência de imprensa em Tashkent transmitida pela televisão russa.

China pede “tranquilidade” face a vaga de expulsão de diplomatas russos

China apelou hoje à “tranquilidade” e ao “abandono da mentalidade da Guerra Fria” após a expulsão de diplomatas russos por países em todo o mundo, na sequência do envenenamento do ex-espião russo Sergei Skripal no Reino Unido.

“Os países implicados deviam obedecer à lei internacional e às normas básicas das relações diplomáticas, visando evitar uma maior escalada das confrontações”, disse a porta-voz do ministério chinês dos Negócios Estrangeiros, Hua Chunying.

A porta-voz reagia assim à decisão dos Estados Unidos e cerca de vinte outros países de expulsar, no conjunto, quase uma centena de diplomatas russos dos seus territórios, em apoio ao Reino Unido.

Imprensa russa denuncia nova “Guerra Fria”

A imprensa russa considerou hoje que as expulsões coordenadas de diplomatas russos de 23 países após o envenenamento de um ex-espião russo mergulharam as relações entre Moscovo e o Ocidente num novo “período de Guerra Fria”.

O diário Izvestia titula “encenação russofóbica”, enquanto o jornal Nezavissimaia Gazeta lembra que “há muito que não se registam expulsões coordenadas”.

“A relação entre a Rússia e o Ocidente entra num período de ‘Guerra Fria'”, resumiu o analista Fiodor Loukianov nas páginas do diário Vedomosti, considerando que as expulsões “são particularmente destrutivas para as relações russo-americanas”.

“Está claro que ainda não se chegou ao fim desta escalada, pois é claro que vai ser agravada. Esperam-se medidas ainda mais severas do que as sanções económicas contra a Rússia”, previu.

Para o diário Kommersant, as “medidas, de uma gravidade sem precedentes (…), não são mais do que um novo agravamento das relações” entre a Rússia e o Ocidente.

Em sentido contrário, a rádio independente Ekho Moskvy defendeu que toda a política da Rússia “concentra a energia na autodestruição desde 2014”, ano da anexação da península ucraniana da Crimeia, seguida por uma série de sanções ocidentais.

ONU evita comentar decisão de expulsão mas confirma ter sido notificada

A ONU disse hoje ter sido notificada pelos Estados Unidos sobre a expulsão de um grupo de diplomatas russos, que preferiu não contabilizar, acreditados na missão da Rússia junto daquela organização, mas escusou-se a comentar a decisão.

Um porta-voz da ONU confirmou que a organização internacional recebeu a notificação de Washington mas que, “dada a sensibilidade” da matéria, só podia confirmar que o secretário-geral das Nações Unidas, António Guterres, estava “a seguir atentamente” o assunto.

Na conferência de imprensa diária, o porta-voz de Guterres, Farhan Haq, evitou comentar a decisão de Washington, nem sequer quis precisar o número de funcionários visados pela medida, a respetiva identidade e os procedimentos que se seguem.

Farhan Haq afirmou que as “ações” adotadas pelos Estados Unidos estão sustentadas na secção 13B do acordo firmado em 1947 entre Washington e a ONU, texto que regulamentou o funcionamento da sede da organização na cidade norte-americana de Nova Iorque.

A secção mencionada por Farhan Haq, que o próprio leu parcialmente na conferência de imprensa, estabelece que os diplomatas designados para as missões junto da ONU não podem abusar dos respetivos privilégios para poder residir no país com “atividades não relacionadas com o respetivo caráter oficial”.

Esses privilégios, definidos no artigo 11.º do mesmo acordo, estabelecem, entre outros aspetos, que as autoridades norte-americanas não podem dificultar a entrada e saída da zona onde fica localizada a sede da ONU aos membros das respetivas missões, aos peritos com funções atribuídas pela organização internacional, convidados e representantes de organizações não-governamentais reconhecidas.

Bulgária convoca para consultas embaixador em Moscovo

O Governo búlgaro convocou hoje o seu embaixador na Rússia, Boiko Kotsev, devido ao caso do envenenamento no Reino Unido do ex-espião Serguei Skripal e de sua filha Yulia com um agente químico.

“O primeiro-ministro [Boiko] Borisov ordenou ao embaixador que regresse a Sófia para manter consultas com o Governo”, informou o Executivo em comunicado.

A Bulgária, que assume este semestre a presidência rotativa da União Europeia, é um dos 11 países do bloco comunitário que não decidiram, na segunda-feira, expulsar qualquer diplomata russo devido ao caso Skripal.

Na semana passada, Borisov declarou em Bruxelas que a Bulgária não tencionava expulsar diplomatas russos pelo facto de não existirem “provas firmes” contra Moscovo.

A Bulgária, que integra a NATO, mantém tradicionalmente boas relações com a Rússia.

Moldávia expulsa três diplomatas russos

A Moldávia anunciou esta terça-feira que também vai expulsar três diplomatas russos, no âmbito da ação internacional coordenada de resposta ao envenenamento do ex-espião russo Serguei Skripal no Reino Unido, anunciou o Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros moldavo.

O embaixador russo em Chisinau, Farit Muhametshin, foi informado da decisão.

A Moldávia, afirma o MNE num comunicado, considera o ataque a Skripal “uma ameaça à segurança coletiva e à lei internacional”.

(HP) EU Leaders Blame Russia For Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack

(HPBoost for Prime Minister in diplomatic stand-off with Putin.

Theresa May has urged EU leaders gathered in Brussels to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the UK in the wake of the Salisbury spy poisoning.

The Prime Minister made an appeal for European solidarity at the EU Council in Brussels amid a diplomatic stand-off with Vladimir Putin over the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Donald Tusk, the EU Council President, said the 28 leaders agree it is “highly likely” the Russian state is responsible for the attack as there is “no other plausible explanation”, but it remains unclear if the bloc will back joint action.

In a further development it emerged the European Union was recalling its ambassador to Moscow “for consultations”, although the move was not a formal sanction.

The leaders issued a joint text backing Britain, saying: “The European Council condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent attack in Salisbury, expresses its deepest sympathies to all whose lives have been threatened and lends its support to the ongoing investigation.

“It agrees with the United Kingdom Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation. We stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security.

agrees with UK government that highly likely Russia is responsible for and that there is no other plausible explanation.

“The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals as weapons under any circumstances, is completely unacceptable, must be systematically and rigorously condemned and constitutes a security threat to us all.”

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were briefed by the Prime Minister on evidence uncovered by the British investigation, which points the finger at Vladimir Putin’s regime.

May said: “The challenge of Russia is one that will endure for years to come. As a European democracy, the UK will stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU and with Nato to face these threats together.

“United, we will succeed.”

German Chancellor Merkel told reporters in Brussels: “I have already assured Theresa May of my solidarity and our support.”

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, hinted her country may follow the UK’s lead and expel suspected Russian spies.

Grybauskaite, whose nation borders Russia, said: “We fully support the UK in this situation and we support the measures the UK is applying, and all of us are considering such measures – the same as I am doing as president of Lithuania.”

LUDOVIC MARIN VIA GETTY IMAGES
Theresa May speaks to the press as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker greets her as they arrive on the first day of a summit of European Union.

The show of European solidarity comes after Donald Trump appeared to snub May’s plea for support.

The US President failed to raise the attack during a phone call with Vladimir Putin earlier this week and instead congratulated the Russian President on his re-election.

But EU support for May did not appear to be universal.

Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission President, was asked whether he regretted writing a letter to Putin congratulating him on his re-election as Russian president without mentioning the Skripal case.

He simply told journalists that Angela Merkel had done the same.

“I wrote the same letter as Mrs Merkel,” he said. “Ask Mrs Merkel.”

The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, stressed leaders would view the Russian threat as an entirely separate issue to Brexit.

She said: “We will obviously express our strongest possible solidarity with the UK after the attack in Salisbury, as we have done already with the foreign ministers on Monday.

″(We will be) expressing clear solidarity and deciding to stay focused on that together, because the strongest political sign we can give is unity, unity and unity – including at the moment we move forward in the negotiations on Brexit.

“This (Brexit) doesn’t mean anything in terms of diminishing our solidarity. On the contrary, we stand together.”

ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the European leaders summit at the European Council in Brussels.

A Downing Street spokesman said on Thursday night: “The Prime Minister provided the President and Chancellor with a detailed update on the investigation into the reckless use of a military nerve agent, of a type produced by Russia, on the streets of Salisbury.

“She said there had been a positive identification of the chemical used as part of the Novichok group of nerve agents by our world-leading scientists at Porton Down.

“The Prime Minister also outlined our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations.

“The UK, Germany and France reaffirmed that there is no plausible explanation other than that the Russian state was responsible.

“The leaders agreed on the importance of sending a strong European message in response to Russia’s actions and agreed to remain in close contact in coming days.”

ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini speaks to media ahead of the European leaders summit at the European Council in Brussels.

No10 was also forced to underline that May had full confidence in her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, after he compared Russia hosting the World Cup to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics.

Asked if Johnson’s language had made it more difficult for the Prime Minister to build a European alliance, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We will continue our work with allies on a co-ordinated response.”

Fans travelling to the World Cup were urged to follow Foreign Office advice.

“We want to ensure that our citizens are safe wherever they are in the world, as the Foreign Secretary said yesterday it’s for the Russian authorities to ensure the safety of visitors and we will be working with them on that,” the spokesman said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, said a “robust dialogue” was needed with Russia after he was questioned about the issue back in the UK.

“As I said, what happened in Salisbury was totally, absolutely wrong,” he said.

“But there has to be a robust, a very serious and robust dialogue with Russia.

“We live in one continent. We have to have a process where differences can be dealt with. Where we challenge human rights abuses, as I do and will and always do whoever the head of government is, whatever state it is, and we have that dialogue.

“I think at the end of the Council of Ministers summit, there will be an agreement, I hope, to condemn what happened in Salisbury. To demand the chemical weapons inspectors have access to all sites, in all parts of the world, including Russia and that we have that serious and robust dialogue with Russia.”

Corbyn said some views expressed by ministers were not “particularly helpful or sensible.”

He added: “I don’t have any problem with the people of Russia, I don’t have a problem with people of any country. Do we have a problem with people who abuse human rights? Yeh, sure we do.”

(BBG) Leaders Are Treading Carefully on Russia: EU Summit Update

(Bloomberg) — It’s a big day in Brussels with lots on the
table for European Union leaders gathered for a two-day summit.
Has the 28-nation bloc succeeded in getting exemptions from the
U.S. on planned tariffs? Looks like it.
Will Theresa May make a compelling enough case that Russia
carried out a chemical attack on British soil and that she needs
more than just words of support from them? There is also the
Facebook Inc. scandal over data privacy inviting regulatory
scrutiny. With all this, Brexit has been a bit pushed aside.
Leaders will be at various political meetings before
arriving at the Justus Lipsius building for talks expected to
drag into the small hours. We are following developments as they
unfold. Time stamps are Brussels time.

Another Nation Strikes Cautious Note on Russia (12:22 p.m.)

On Russia, it’s clear May has her work cut out for her.
Lots of solidarity that is falling short of commitments to
action. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel had this to say:
“I want to listen, don’t ask me to say if there is evidence or
not.”
On Facebook, Bettel pointed out “we don’t have regulation
on data protection.” In fact, that is not strictly true. From
May 25, powerful regulation will come into effect that could
address some of these concerns.
Read about how the long arm of Europe’s Data Law is about
to get even longer

Finns Need More Information from May on Russia (12:13 p.m.)

May needs to convince a few countries tonight about just
how damning the evidence is against Russia and its alleged use
of a nerve agent to poison a former spy outside London. Greece
and Hungary are still skeptical, and it seems so is Finland.
Speaking exclusively to Raine Tiessalo, Prime Minister Juha
Sipila said that the “information we’ve got so far is not enough
to make decisions, this kind of decisions need to be assessed
through careful processes.”
Question: Have you received any formal request to expel
Russian diplomats?
Answer: “If she has this kind of thoughts she will probably
present them when we’ ll meet today.”
In fact, British officials say May will make a strong case
after dinner.

Banks Want EU to Know About Financial Stakes (11:46 a.m.)

A lot of people are competing for the attention of European
leaders. Among them, the City of London, John Glover and
Alexander Weber write.
Britain’s banks and regulators have raised the alarm about
26 trillion pounds ($37 trillion) of derivative contracts and 36
million insurance policy holders that could be affected when the
U.K. drops out of the single market. The problem is that firms
could lose the authorizations they need to service these
contracts in a hard Brexit with no trade deal, leaving their
clients in the lurch. This is something the EU needs to factor
in, they argue.

EU to Trump: Don’t Pick a Trade War with Us (11:24 a.m.)

In an interview with Bloomberg Television, European
Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen warned of the risk of a
“retaliation spiral” if the EU doesn’t get an exemption.
Here’s more exclusive soundbites:
* “We cannot accept that some countries or some companies in
some countries are treated better than the others, because it
would destroy our internal market”
* “That’s why the EU must be treated as a trading bloc”
* “In trade wars there are not winners, only losers”

The Lobbying Paid Off, EU Clinches Exemption? (10:27 a.m.)

After two days of talks in Washington, European Trade
Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom returns with a potential win for
the EU: exemption from import duties of 25 percent on steel and
10 percent on aluminum, three EU officials said Thursday on the
condition of anonymity.
To be sure, nothing is certain. U.S. President Donald Trump
could shoot the whole thing down with a late-night tweet. Read
more here about how the EU believes it’s dodged a trade bullet.
Earlier:
May Is Said to Tell Allies to Beware Russia, Expel Putin’s Spies
Facebook May Dodge EU Bullet as New Data Rules Come Too Late
Brexit Bulletin: Already Looking to June
Coming Up:
12 p.m. European political party groups meet before summit
2 p.m. French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at sustainable
finance conference
2 p.m. Leaders start arriving, brief reporters on way in
3:30 p.m. Summit begins
7 p.m. EU Council President Donald Tusk, Commission President
Jean-Claude Juncker give news conference; leaders then give
briefings

(BBG) May Is Said to Tell Allies to Beware Russia, Expel Putin’s Spies

(Bloomberg) — The U.K. is sharing secret intelligence
about the nerve agent attack on a former spy with key allies, in
an effort to persuade them to expel Russian diplomats across
Europe, people familiar with the matter said.
Prime Minister Theresa May ordered 23 Russian operatives —
who she said were undeclared spies — to leave Britain last week
in retaliation for the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in
Salisbury, England. Now she wants other countries to follow
Britain’s example, condemning Russia and taking action against
Kremlin agents, according to the people, who asked not to be
named discussing sensitive security matters.
Whether or not May succeeds is being seen as a key test of
her ability to influence the EU and demonstrate that the U.K.
can still count on its international friends after Brexit. So
far, however, EU governments have only agreed on a relatively
mild statement and have stopped short of joining May in blaming
the Kremlin, with Greece said to be among the countries seeking
further proof of Russian involvement.

‘Challenge of Russia’

“The Skripal affair is proving to be the first big foreign
policy test for the U.K. after Brexit,” said Mujtaba Rahman, a
Europe analyst at Eurasia Group. “This week’s mild statement by
EU foreign ministers shows the limits of the U.K.’s influence in
the EU after Brexit.”
May will deliver a hard-hitting warning over the threat
posed to the whole of Europe by Vladimir Putin’s government
during a dinner with fellow leaders at the EU summit in Brussels
on Thursday, a senior British official told reporters.
“The challenge of Russia is one that will endure for years
to come,” according to extracts released in advance by her
office, May will tell the leaders.
Can the World Do Anything to Stop Chemical Weapons?:
QuickTake
The premier is hoping to persuade her EU counterparts to
show solidarity by stepping up their criticism of Putin to
ensure that they lay the blame squarely at Russia’s door. She
wants them to act.
British officials say the world — including the EU — must
show Russia that the first use of nerve agent on European soil
since the end of World War II will not go unpunished. One option
being discussed between the U.K. and its allies is a wide wave
of expulsions of Russian diplomats from embassies across the
West.
Russia denies that it is behind the nerve agent attack. The
U.S., France, and Germany are among the countries to have
publicly supported the U.K.’s findings that Russia is culpable.

‘Main Obstacle’

In particular, the U.K. is in constant contact with
skeptical countries such as Greece in an attempt to persuade
them of the evidence against Putin, the people said.
A QuickTake: Novichok, the Russian Nerve Agent Spooking
Britain
“The Skripal case may also prompt remaining EU states to
consider their preparedness for the threat posed by Russia,”
said Rahman in an email Wednesday. “The main obstacle to a
stronger reaction is the presence of Russia-friendly member
states, not Brexit. This said, Brexit has made it harder for the
U.K. to counter this opposition and push the EU27 to go the
extra mile.”
The U.K. says there is no doubt that the nerve agent used
in the attack was of the type known as Novichok, which is
manufactured in Russia. Officials have said it is likely Putin
himself ordered the attempted assassination of Skripal, who had
worked as a double agent for British intelligence.
Investigators in the U.K. now know exactly what type of
nerve agent in the Novichok family was used, and precisely where
in Russia it was made.

‘United We Will Succeed’

May has drawn up a package of measures in response. These
include freezing Russian state assets “wherever we have the
evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property
of U.K. nationals or residents.” Police will also target
“corrupt elites” because “there is no place for these people —
or their money” in the U.K., May told Parliament last week.
In a tit-for-tat move, Putin expelled 23 British diplomats
from Russia. May has so far not responded publicly to the act,
but her officials have drawn up a menu of options for stepping
up the pressure on the Kremlin.
May’s office believes the removal of the 23 Russian spies
will effectively wind up Putin’s espionage capability in the
U.K. If British intelligence identifies other secret Russian
agents, they will also be ejected from the country.
When she addresses the summit dinner, May will argue that
Russia is a strategic enemy, not a strategic partner, saying it
poses a long-term national security threat to all EU countries.
The attack happened to take place in England but could have
occurred in any European country, she will say, according to a
U.K. official.
“As a European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand
shoulder to shoulder with the European Union and with NATO to
face these threats together,” May will tell the leaders. United
we will succeed.”

The Power of Putin – Documentary 2018, BBC Documentary

 

The Power of Putin – Documentary 2017, BBC Documentary Putin has created what he calls a “vertical of power,” something unlike any we see in other great nations. As the Russian chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov — himself a harsh critic of Putin — has noted, the entire structure of Russian political power rests on one man. When the czar died, you knew the structure that would endure and the process by which his successor, his son, would be elevated. When the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party died, the Standing Committee and the Politburo would select his successor. But when Putin dies, what will happen? No one knows.

Putin’s Secret Riches

Vladimir Putin has been accused of corruption on a breathtaking scale. His critics say he’s used his power to amass a secret fortune, so is the Russian president really one of the richest people in the world? Reporter Richard Bilton meets former Kremlin insiders who say they know how Putin’s riches are hidden.

(ZH) Vladimir Putin’s Mysterious Fortune

(ZH) Vladimir Putin just secured himself another six-year term in power following Russian elections Sunday, and now is a good time to revisit just how much secretive wealth is propping up the Russian strongman.

Putin’s riches are buried in a complex web of proxies – and that’s no surprise for a former KGB agent.

In February, ahead of presidential elections, the Russian Central Election Commission released its ‘official’ disclosures of Putin’s wealth, saying he earned roughly $673,000 between 2011 and 2016, based on his average yearly salary of around $112,000.

Boosting this modest income was a declared $241,000 in 13 banks accounts, an 800-square-foot apartment in St. Petersburg, 230 shares in Bank Saint Petersburg and two Soviet-era sports cars. They even disclosed a 2009 Lada, for good measure.

Critics beg to differ, of course, and insist that a few big-ticket items have been left off the disclosure list.

Former Russia fund manager Bill Browder says Putin is worth $200 billion. If that’s true, it would mean that Putin is the richest man in the world – worth more than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, combined.

Browder, the former CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July last year, as a key element of the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

Browder had hired Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky to investigate official corruption, but Magnitsky died in Russian custody in 2009, leading to the U.S. Magnitsky Act sanctions in 2012.

According to Browderwith the arrest of Russia’s then more powerful oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in July 2003, Putin became the “biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world, and my anti-corruption activities would no longer be tolerated.

“After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin’s answer was, ‘Fifty percent’. He wasn’t saying 50 percent for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50 percent for Vladimir Putin personally,” Browder told the Senate.

Browder told the senate that Magnitsky was murdered to cover up the theft of $230 billion from the Russian treasury of which Putin was a beneficiary—but that’s only the fluff of a much larger fortune, he said.

“Recent revelations from the Panama Papers have shown that Putin’s closest childhood friend, Sergei Roldugin, a famous cellist, received $2 billion of funds from Russian oligarchs and the Russian state. I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power. He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions,” Browder said.

Another key figure to have put a number on Putin’s estimated wealth was Stanislav Belkovsky, a former mid-level Kremlin advisor who claimed in 2007that Putin was worth at least $40 billion. That wouldn’t make him the richest man in the world, but it would have put him in the Forbes top 10 at the time.

In 2013, Belkovsky estimated Putin’s wealth at $70 billion.

As Putin takes his seat for another six years, no one can verify his financial assets, still—and anyone who tries will hit a roadblock, or worse. But the Russian president displays more wealth than a Lada and $112,000 allow for. In other words, his suits cost more than his salary, and that’s just the beginning.

The list of alleged assets is along one, but here are the highlights:

A $1-billion palace on the Black Sea, built with state money, according to the BBC:

 

Also on the alleged list is a $500-million yacht, plus three others, along with 60 planes – none of which have been officially photographed.

+++V.V.I.(BN) U.K. Awaits Putin’s Move as Tension Over Spy Poisoning Escalates

(Bloomberg) — Britain steeled itself for President
Vladimir Putin’s reaction Thursday after Prime Minister Theresa
May threw out 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the
poisoning of a former spy and his daughter on U.K. soil.
Russia is likely to, at the very least, expel a similar
number of British diplomats. A statement from the country’s
Foreign Ministry suggested it would go further.
“By investigating this incident in a unilateral, non-
transparent way, the British government is again seeking to
launch a groundless anti-Russian campaign,” it said. “Needless
to say, our response measures will not be long in coming.”
May told Parliament Wednesday that the U.K. will also move
to freeze Russian state assets in response to what she called an
“unlawful use of force” involving a weapons-grade nerve agent.
More steps will be taken in secret, she said, a hint that
Britain could launch cyber-attacks on Kremlin interests.
Other wide-ranging responses, such as financial sanctions or
preventing Russian banks from using the SWIFT international
payments messaging system, require multilateral support and
time.
The crisis is a test for May’s authority at a critical time
in the country’s history. As she navigates the U.K.’s exit from
the European Union, May is trying to maintain close security
ties with the bloc while also preserving British influence
around the world. The degree of support from the premier’s
international counterparts will be a sign how they value
relations with the U.K.

‘Defining Moment’

In the past days, she’s sought support from international
allies and has spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump, German
Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley blistered Russia on Wednesday
at the UN Security Council, saying the U.S. “believes Russia is
responsible for the attack.” She cast the UN’s response to the
attack as a “defining moment — the credibility of this Council
will not survive if we fail to hold Russia accountable.”
Later in the day, the White House said in a statement that
the U.S. shares the U.K.’s “assessment that Russia is
responsible for the reckless nerve agent attack on a British
citizen and his daughter” and so viewed the diplomats’ expulsion
“as a just response.”
Yet, it remains to be seen if words of support from
Britain’s allies will translate into multilateral action. May
will find out in the days and weeks ahead if when it comes to
security matters the EU will have the U.K.’s back or if the
country is on its own as it pushes ahead with Brexit.
Read more about Novichok, the Russian nerve agent spooking
Britain
At home, the confrontation with Russia serves as a backdrop
to what will be a major speech by Defence Secretary Gavin
Williamson, where he’s expected to outline how the U.K. must
modernize its military in face of growing threats.
The situation has also created problems for Jeremy Corbyn,
leader of the opposition Labour Party, after his spokesman
questioned whether Russia was behind the attack. Corbyn himself
didn’t offer a view on Russia’s culpability when he addressed
Parliament, reviving tensions with his own lawmakers. They were
greeted with loud cheers from the governing Conservatives as
they stood to offer May their support.
The first use of a nerve agent on European soil since World
War II is a direct challenge to the Western alliance, days
before elections are almost certain to give Putin a fourth term
as president. Russia refused to recognize May’s deadline of
midnight Tuesday to provide an explanation for the attack on
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in southwest England. The
pair remain in a critical condition.

‘Sarcasm, Contempt’

“They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent
in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance,” May said. “There
is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state
was culpable.”
She gave the 23 officials one week’s notice to leave the
U.K. The expulsion of “undeclared intelligence officers” based
in London would “dismantle the Russian espionage network in the
U.K.,” she added.
Other steps May announced include:
* New powers for security services to detain individuals
suspected of “hostile state activity” at the British border,
with further measures considered to stop foreign agents
operating in the U.K.
* Increased checks on private flights, customs and freight
* Freezing Russian state assets “wherever we have the evidence
that they may be used to threaten the life or property of U.K.
nationals or residents”
* Police to target “serious criminals and corrupt elites.” May
said: “There is no place for these people — or their money —
in our country.” This was the closest May came to threatening
the wealth of London-based oligarchs — some of whom are Putin’s
enemies while others are close to him
* High-level boycott of this year’s soccer World Cup in Russia –
– U.K. ministers and members of the British royal family will
not attend

+++ V.I. (Independent) Russian spy incident: Theresa May moves to dismantle Russian spy ‘network’ expelling 23 diplomats

(Independent) Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson will announce new investment in chemical weapons facilities in the wake of the Salisbury attack.

Theresa May has moved to dismantle a Russian spy “network” in the UK with major diplomatic expulsion.

Theresa May has moved to dismantle a Russian spy “network” in the UK, expelling 23 embassy officials in the biggest number of diplomatic expulsions since the Cold War.

The dramatic decision to remove “undeclared intelligence officers” came alongside measures to freeze Russian assets, cut off high-level communication with Moscow, pass new anti-espionage powers and isolate Vladimir Putin at the UN.

It is believed that the Government has already drawn up a “B-list” of further Russian officials to be expelled if the reaction from Moscow to the measures announced by Ms May are deemed to be “disproportionate”.

British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is also set to announce a new £48m chemical weapons facility at the Porton Down laboratory in Wiltshire and confirm that all UK troops will receive an anthrax jab.

It comes 11 days after an attack involving a Russian-made military-grade nerve agent left the former spy and double agent Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and a British police officer in hospital in Salisbury, sparking outrage among the UK and its allies.

Within minutes of the Prime Minister making her announcement in the House of Commons, Moscow denounced it as an “unprecedentedly crude provocation” and vowed “our response will not be long in coming”.

Ms May told MPs that following Russia’s failure to explain how its nerve agent came to be used in the Salisbury incident, there was now no alternative account other than that the Russian state was culpable.

She said: “This morning I chaired a further meeting of the National Security Council where we agreed immediate actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK.”

Russian Ambassador to the UK says the British Government response to Salisbury is ‘absolutely unacceptable and we consider this a provocation’

Diplomats identified as spies have been given a week to leave in what constitutes the largest mass expulsion since 31 were ordered out in 1985 following the defection of double agent Oleg Gordievsky.

The Prime Minister told MPs the expulsions would “fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come”.

We will not tolerate the threat to life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian Government. Nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations

Prime Minister Theresa May

She said: “If they seek to rebuild it, we will prevent them from doing so.”

Ms May also promised measures that she said “cannot be shared publicly for reasons of national security”.

She told MPs the Government will also develop new powers to “harden our defences” at borders, including tightening checks on those who may endanger UK security.

Currently security forces only have the power to detain people suspected of terrorist activity, but Ms May wants to expand the scope of powers to those suspected of the broader “hostile activity”.

Russian MP compares Britain to Hitler over the Salisbury nerve agent attack

Ms May also announced a “Magnitsky” amendment to legislation already going through Parliament to create powers that would allow the Government to seize assets of those responsible for human rights violations.

Steps to suspend all planned high-level contacts between the UK and the Russian Federation would be taken, including the cancelling of a visit by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Prime Minister also confirmed members of the Royal family will not attend the World Cup in Russia this summer.

She said: “Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship and it is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.

“But we will not tolerate the threat to life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian Government.

“Nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations.”

On Wednesday evening Britain’s deputy ambassador to the UN told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that the Salisbury attack was a “reckless act carried out by people who disregard the sanctity of human life”.

Jonathan Allen said the attackers were “indifferent” about harming innocent civilians. “A weapon so horrific that it is banned in war was used in a peaceful city in my country,” he said.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, accused Russia of a “crime” worthy of action by the UN Security Council, as she backed Britain’s attempts to punish Moscow for the poisoning in Salisbury.

Ms Haley told the Security Council meeting that the US believes “Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent”.

“Alone, Russia’s crime is worthy of this Council’s action, but this not an isolated incident, it is part of an alarming increase in the use of chemical weapons,” she said, citing the assassination of the brother of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

“A growing concern in all of this dangerous and destabilising activity is Russia,” she added.

Speaking about the relationship with the UK, Ms Haley said: “No two nations enjoy a stronger bond than that of the United States and the United Kingdom. Ours is truly a special relationship. When our friends in Great Britain face a challenge, the United States will always be there for them. Always.”

Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, repeated Moscow’s denial that it had anything to do with the poisoning and called for proof of its involvement.

“We demand that material proof be provided of allegedly found Russian trace,” Mr Nebenzia said.

Following Ms May’s announcement, Moscow’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs promised a swift like-for-like response. Mr Lavrov accused the UK of “conceit”, while the country’s London embassy put out a statement branding Ms May’s announcement “unjustified and shortsighted”.

Mr Williamson will double down on the tough rhetoric as he makes his first major keynote speech as Defence Secretary on Thursday.

Speaking in Bristol he will announce £48m for a new Chemical Weapons Defence Centre at Porton Down to “ensure we maintain our cutting edge in chemical analysis and defence”.

He will add: “If we doubted the threat Russia poses to our citizens, we only have to look at the shocking example of their reckless attack in Salisbury.”

The Defence Secretary will also announce that thousands of troops held at high readiness will be vaccinated against anthrax in response to a growing chemical and biological weapons threat.