Archive for July 12, 2017

Report: Iran Building Long-Range Ballistic Missiles in Syria

July 12, 2017

Report: Iran Building Long-Range Ballistic Missiles in Syria, Washinton Free Beacon , July 12, 2017

A long-range Qadr ballistic missile is launched in the Alborz mountain range in northern Iran on March 9, 2016. AFP / TASNIM NEWS / Mahmood Hosseini (Photo credit should read MAHMOOD HOSSEINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran is said to be building new long-range ballistic missiles at a Syrian weapons factory identified by the United States as developing non-conventional weaponry, according to regional reports alleging that Russia and North Korea are aiding in the endeavor.

The Syrian opposition news website Zamanalwsl.net recently published multiple reports and pictures of a weapons factory in Syria that it claims is under direct control of Iran.

The reports appear to confirm other recent news articles indicating that Iran has begun manufacturing advanced missile technology in Syria with permission from embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

The reports claim that Iran is constructing long-range ballistic missiles in a factory operating under the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which the United States had identified as the key government agency behind the country’s contested non-conventional weapons work, including chemical weapons.

Assad is reported to have visited the Iranian factory recently, where he met with Iranian and Syrian weapons experts, according to a translation of the articles conducted by the Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI.

“The facility is producing long-range missiles as well as M600 ballistic missiles, which are a Syrian version of the Iranian Fateh 110 missile,” according to MEMRI’s readout of the report. “This facility has a branch in western Hama province for producing chemicals, and that that there is a Russian military base in the region, where North Korean officers once served.”

The facility is said to be shrouded in secrecy, despite evidence that agents from Russia, North Korea, and Iran are freely moving around the site.

Apologists Gear Up for Rasmieh Odeh’s Last Hurrah

July 12, 2017

Apologists Gear Up for Rasmieh Odeh’s Last Hurrah, Investigative Project on Terrorism, July 12, 2017

Her followers appear to have no second thoughts about whether their hero is an honest person, let alone an unrepentant killer. While it’s one last hurrah for Odeh, the Aug. 12 event offers yet another example proving that, for Israel haters, facts really aren’t important.

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Palestinian terrorist Rasmieh Odeh likely will be deported shortly after a federal judge formally sentences her next month for naturalization fraud. Her supporters are planning one final bash in her honor featuring radical political activist Angela Davis.

A promotion for the Aug. 12 event in Chicago notes it costs $5 – $6.17 with service fees – and promises “a night of music, poetry, and struggle.”

Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner

Odeh pleaded guilty in April, admitting that she failed to disclose her arrest, conviction and 10 years spent in an Israeli prison after being convicted in connection to two 1969 Jerusalem bombings. One bombing targeted a grocery store, killing college students Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner.

Her plea agreement with federal prosecutors calls for no additional jail time, but it includes a stipulationstripping Odeh of her American citizenship and says “she will not be allowed to remain in the United States” and can never return.

Her supporter blindly accept Odeh’s claim that her Israeli conviction resulted from weeks of vicious torture, even though the only evidence to support this claim is Odeh’s word. A Red Cross monitor declared her Israeli trial fair, and her father was in contact with U.S. diplomats at the time and reported no such abuse.

Further, her sworn plea agreement included language that renders the torture claims moot:

“At the time she made the false statements, [Odeh] knew the statements were false,” the plea agreement says. She “also admits that all of these false statements were material … She made the false statements intentionally and not as a result of any mistake, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or any other psychological issue or condition or for any innocent reason, and not withstanding any other statement or testimony Defendant Odeh may have made at any other time regarding those answers.”

Nevertheless, Odeh stood by her story days later, calling the government’s case “a phony immigration charge” and blasting “the racist nature of the justice system in this country.”

Her followers appear to have no second thoughts about whether their hero is an honest person, let alone an unrepentant killer. While it’s one last hurrah for Odeh, the Aug. 12 event offers yet another example proving that, for Israel haters, facts really aren’t important.

OPINION: Is the US Secretary of State on Qatar’s side?

July 12, 2017

OPINION: Is the US Secretary of State on Qatar’s side? Al ArabiyaAbdulrahman al-Rashed, July 12, 2017

(Al Arabiya is a Saudi site, but I too have occasionally wondered whose side Secretary Tillerson is on. — DM)

Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani (R) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson following a joint news conference in Doha, Qatar, July 11, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTX3B2A2

The four boycotting countries are not the only ones that want to deter Qatar as most of the region’s countries and other countries support this goal and believe Doha is responsible for chaos, extremism and terrorism. The US secretary of state can save Qatar from itself before it suffers the consequences of its malicious actions.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet the angry foreign ministers of the four countries which boycotted Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, in Jeddah on Wednesday. He will be confronting governments that made up their minds as they believe Doha is behind the dangerous unrest. We do not expect these countries to retreat after they made promises and took public measures to hold Doha’s authorities accountable by boycotting them.

Statements and hints made by Tillerson at the press conference in Doha do not reflect optimism as he rather simplified the problem by summing up the solution with signing an agreement in which Doha’s government pledges to fight terrorism. What an accomplishment!

Manipulation

The Qataris tried to manipulate him by confusing the real reasons behind the dispute and protesting over formal points such as revealing the secrets of their commitments in the Riyadh agreement and its annexes. They were embarrassed after they were leaked to CNN because this exposed that everything Qatar said in the international media contradicted its secret commitments. Qatar is of course to blame because it’s the one which began this war of leaks when it revealed the secrets of the four governments’ message pertaining to the Kuwaiti mediation that included 13 demands. Qatar revealed these secrets out of its desire to embarrass these four governments.

What makes Jeddah’s meeting difficult today is that Tillerson seemed inclined to Qatar. What increased suspicions is how he rushed to concluding that Qatar’s demands are reasonable before he even listened to the other involved parties. This raised eyebrows! The secretary of state can be inclined to the Qatari position, if he wants to, but he must realize that this complicates the problem, which is already complicated, and prolongs the crisis. The four boycotting countries have been harmed on the financial, political, media and security levels due to Qatar’s activities and practices, and they have made up their minds especially after recent developments that they think directly target their regimes.

Tillerson cannot impose a reconciliation. However he can narrow distances among the different parties as they are all his allies instead of being biased to one party against another, especially that Qatar is the one which made pledges several times but violated them.

Refusing to change

Tensions will rise as long as Doha’s authorities refuse to change. We know how Doha thinks and deceives others and we’re aware that it does not intend to change amid ordinary circumstances. The four boycotting countries will not back down because they believe they’re defending their existence in a region dominated by chaos, and it does not make sense to fight Iran while letting Qatar’s government threatens their existence and backstabs them. The crisis has clear goals which are deterring Qatar and eliminating its project of change. These four countries will jeopardize their existence and stability if they do not meet these goals. Egypt is launching the biggest war against terrorism in its modern history and it views Qatar as an efficient party which through its secret funding and propaganda via its media channels justifies these terrorist groups’ actions and incites people to rebel against the regime. Saudi Arabia is confronting similar threats and Qatar’s involvement has been proven. The UAE shares the same stance and it addressed this at early stages when it adopted policies that have zero tolerance with extremist groups and their ideology. Bahrain suffered more and it was all due to Qatar. How can Tillerson convince the four countries which are fighting survival wars to reconcile with the responsible party? How long will intentions be tested after Qatar failed so many times?

The four boycotting countries are not the only ones that want to deter Qatar as most of the region’s countries and other countries support this goal and believe Doha is responsible for chaos, extremism and terrorism. The US secretary of state can save Qatar from itself before it suffers the consequences of its malicious actions.

The G20 Hangover The Humbug From Hamburg

July 12, 2017

The G20 Hangover The Humbug From Hamburg, Power LineSteven Hayward, July 12, 2017

Does any sentient human being actually read the complete communiques that these splashy G20 summits produce every year? I doubt it. Still, it is kind of fun to take in two paragraphs about global warming climate change that appear in the most recent declaration from the meeting in Hamburg last week.  Note the difference between these two paragraphs:

We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution and affirms its strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs. The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally- determined contributions.

The Leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances and, to this end, we agree to the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth as set out in the Annex. (Emphasis added.)

That first paragraph is what you get when you have State Department leadership that is actually on the side of the United States, and follows the direction of the president. You can tell that we wrote the first paragraph, and the Euroweenies wrote the second one.

However, The Australian newspaper (behind a paywall alas) has uncovered the true G20 communique, and has published it as follows:

“We, the leaders of the G20 (and thousands of hangers-on), met in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7-8, at cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of euros.

“We remain amazed and grateful that the world’s media continues to cover this luxurious circus, unrivalled in production of inanities, year after year. We, as the world’s premier body for economic discussion, are proud of our record in lifting waffle to levels of sophistication unimaginable in an earlier era.

“The media and the political class can achieve more together than by acting alone.

“We once again met at a time of profound change amid sustained continuity. We are determined to calibrate and co-ordinate our policy frameworks to foster economic growth that is confident, strong and nice. Growth has been too wonky and lopsided, with an insufficient level of sharing.

“We undertake to consult often, widely and effectively, via landline and mobile telephone, Facebook messenger, WeChat (in China), including through use of GIFs where appropriate.

“We have come together as one to make totally unverifiable undertakings in support of three appealing nouns that we agreed at last year’s Hangzhou summit in China: resilience, sustainability, and fun. In the interests of avoiding international awkwardness we have resolved never to raise, discuss or even allude to the rationale for, or outcome of, the British general election earlier this year in front of the British Prime Minister Theresa May.

“We acknowledge that Ivanka is amazing. She is so amazing. She is absolutely terrific. We also fully support the aspirations of women and girls and applaud in particular Saudi Arabia’s undertaking to make women’s issues the centrepiece of its summit in 2020.

“We condemn actions by North Korea that risk impairing global harmony. Sad!

“We have secured the services of distinguished diplomat Hans Blix, who will spearhead a cross-country delegation charged with conveying our sentiments to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. We indicate in the strongest terms our determination to defend western, eastern, southern and northern values.

“We extend an invitation to South Australia’s Premier Jay Weatherill, and his 17 media advisers, to update the G20 on the success of his government’s bold climate saving initiatives at the 2018 summit in Buenos Aires, where, inspired by practice at APEC, we will dress up as lithium batteries for an official photograph to signal our support.

“We acknowledge differences of opinion among members on the efficacy of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and now strenuously undertake to limit global temperature increase to no more than 2.16 degrees Celsius by 2104…

“As part of our new Partnership with Africa we urge Africa to consider new ways to be less poor as part of our global efforts to reduce terrorism and the flow of refugees into G20 countries.

“We also welcome establishment of the Kleptomania Mitigation Taskforce, which will examine innovative ways to curb inappropriate use of foreign aid, to be spearheaded by Rwanda and Congo as part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Trump Jr.’s Emails Undermine Collusion Conspiracy Theory

July 12, 2017

Trump Jr.’s Emails Undermine Collusion Conspiracy Theory, Front Pae MagazineMatthew Vadum, July 12, 2017

No matter what happens the Left will keep attacking President Trump and his family members and campaign staff because that’s what they do.

In the Left’s rolling coup attempt against President Trump facts are irrelevant.

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Donald Trump Jr. fought back yesterday against the increasingly desperate shrieking from the tinfoil-hat Left by publishing online the emails that led to his innocuous campaign-season meeting a year ago with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

By releasing the chain of emails leading to the much ballyhooed but brief get-together at the Trump Tower in Manhattan, Donald Jr. is hoping to dispel any notion that the Trump campaign somehow colluded with the Russian government to affect the outcome of the November 2016 election. (I wrote about the Trump Jr. meeting story yesterday here at FrontPage before the emails became available.)

The emails do not indicate any knowledge of Russian government wrongdoing, such as hacking, or Trump campaign involvement in such activities. Yet the mainstream media is going berserk, hyping the overheated ravings of leftist idiots like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) whose disastrous performance in the vice presidential debate against Republican Mike Pence may have helped to sink the Democrat ticket last year.

Kaine accused Donald Trump Jr. of committing treason by agreeing to meet with Veselnitskaya. “We are now beyond obstruction of justice,” Kaine said Tuesday. “This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.”

Of course, Kaine is no stranger to treason. He himself may have engaged in seditious activity in late January when he said Democrats would have to “fight in the streets” against the Trump administration.

And how quickly the Left forgets that the Ukrainian government took action to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign with nary a peep from left-wingers. As one media outlet reported:

The actions taken by government officials included disseminating “documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers.”

Meanwhile, the Left is trying to stigmatize and de-normalize everything Trump’s father does as president, pretending opposition research is something new and shady when it has been part of the electoral process ever since elections began. Nor is it illegal, immoral, or somehow unethical to “collude,” by which the Left means, communicate, with foreign nationals in conducting opposition research in connection with an election. The U.S. does have the First Amendment, after all. But all of this nonsense and misdirection is part of the Left’s campaign to delegitimize the Trump administration.

But honest left-wing law professor Jonathan Turley trashed an ethics lawyer for claiming that the Trump Jr.-Veselnitskaya meeting “borders on treason.”

“There is not a clear criminal act in such a meeting based on the information that we have,” Turley writes. “Moreover, it is not necessarily unprecedented.”

The president’s oldest son said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel show yesterday that he didn’t bother his busy father with the particulars of what turned out to be a pointless meeting with Veselnitskaya.

“It was just a nothing,” the younger Donald said. “There was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn’t have even remembered it until you started scouring through this stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.”

Yesterday morning, Donald Jr. published what appears to be the complete email chain on Twitter through his @DonaldJTrumpJr account. He released a statement alongside the email chain, which reads:

To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the chain of my emails with Rob Goldstone about the meeting on June 9, 2016. The first email on June 3, 2016 was from Rob, who was relating a request from Emin, a person I know from the 2013 Ms. Universe Pageant near Moscow. Emin and his father have a very highly respected company in Moscow. The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research. I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting. The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official. And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act. To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue. As Rob Goldstone said just today in the press, the entire meeting was “the most inane nonsense I ever heard. And I was actually agitated by it.”

According to the BBC, Goldstone is a Manchester, England-born former journalist who now heads Oui 2 Entertainment, which has worked with the Miss Universe competition that used to be owned by President Trump.

Using the subject line “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential[,]” the initial email from Goldstone to Donald Trump Jr. time-stamped June 3, 2016, 10:36 a.m., states:

Good morning[.]

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some officials [sic] documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and hear [sic] dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Goldstone’s assertion that the “very high level and sensitive information” comes as a result of the Russian government’s purported “support for Mr. Trump” is merely an unsubstantiated claim at this point. And even if it had been true that the Russian government was trying to help the Trump campaign, there is still no evidence that its efforts had any impact on the election, or that the campaign in any way collaborated with the Kremlin.

In the email, “Emin” refers to Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, an Azerbaijani singer-songwriter and businessman popular in Russia. Emin’s father is billionaire businessman Aras Agalarov. “Rhona” seems to refer Donald Sr.’s longtime assistant, Rhona Graff.

Russia is a not a monarchy so there is no such position as “Crown prosecutor” in that country. Crown prosecutors may be found representing the government in criminal trials in the United Kingdom, Canada, and other parts of the (British) Commonwealth of Nations. The expression in the email is likely a botched translation of the Russian words for the post of prosecutor-general of the Russian Federation, or more simply, attorney general. The current prosecutor-general of the Russian Federation is Yury Chaika, a position he has held since 2006.

Young Trump replies at 10:53 a.m., signing the email as “Don.”

Thanks Rob[.] I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I [should] just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?

Three days later, at 12:40 p.m. on June 6, Goldstone emails Donald Jr., writing:

Let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info – you had mentioned early this week so wanted to try to schedule a time and day[.] Best to you and family[.] Rob Goldstone[.]

There are then five banal emails discussing times for the meeting, along with future telephone calls. Then, at 4:20 p.m. on June 7, Goldstone emails Trump Jr.:

Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday. I believe you area [sic] aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you? I assume it would be at your office.

Then at 5:16 p.m. Donald Jr. replies with, “How about 3 at our offices? Thanks[,] rob[.] [I] appreciate you helping set it up.”

Three minutes later Goldstone replies:

Perfect…I won’t sit in on the meeting, but will bring them at 3pm and introduce you etc. I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today.

At 6:14 p.m. Donald Jr. writes back to Goldstone, saying, “Great. It will likely be Paul Manafort[,] my brother in law and me. 725 Fifth Ave 25th floor.”

A few more emails are exchanged and the meeting time on Thursday, June 9 is changed to 4 p.m.

On June 8, 2016, at 12:03 p.m., Trump Jr. emails then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, advising them that the “[m] eeting got moved to 4 tomorrow at my offices.”

The Hill newspaper described the disclosed documents as a “stunning chain of emails,” which no doubt it is to greenhorn journalists who don’t understand retail politics in this country. Moreover, Hillary Clinton was already under criminal investigation in the United States, so why would it be so hard to believe she was also under some kind investigation in Russia where the Clintons have had so many shady dealings?

To refuse the meeting would have been crazy, reckless, and irresponsible.

And it now appears that Goldstone was either fibbing about the information Natalia Veselnitskaya had in her possession or perhaps embellishing a bit to get her the meeting with Trump staffers.

Veselnitskaya told NBC News she had no connection to the Kremlin and met with Donald Trump Jr. to chat about Russian-American relations, not to divulge dirt on Hillary Clinton.

“I never had any damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton,” she said. “It was never my intention to have that.”

When asked why the Trump campaign seemed to believe she had damaging information about Democrats, Veselnitskaya took a wild guess.

“It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

She explained that she put together a package of information for one of her clients about a business run by a former citizen of the United States. She added the concern failed to pay taxes either in Russia or the U.S. and may have also given money to the Democratic National Committee.

Veselnitskaya said at the meeting Donald Jr. asked only one question.

“The question that I was asked was as follows: whether I had any financial records which might prove that the funds used to sponsor the DNC were coming from inappropriate sources.”

She said she had no such records and that “it was never my intention to collect any financial records to that end.” She added she wanted to let people know about “the real circumstances behind the Magnitsky Act,” and was hoping to testify about the sanctions statute before Congress.

“I never asked anybody for a particular meeting with Mr. Donald Trump Jr., or with anybody else,” she said.

Trump Jr.’s new attorney, Alan Futerfas, said Monday “that Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed” in the meeting and called news reports “much ado about nothing.” He noted that Veselnitskaya, who had been a prosecutor 16 years ago, was no longer a government official.

No matter what happens the Left will keep attacking President Trump and his family members and campaign staff because that’s what they do.

In the Left’s rolling coup attempt against President Trump facts are irrelevant.

Russians enter Daraa, Syrians/Hizballah move out

July 12, 2017

Russians enter Daraa, Syrians/Hizballah move out, DEBKAfile, July 12, 2017

Israel has so far objected to any Russian military presence along its borders with Syria, even in the capacity of ceasefire monitors, preferring Americans to police the truce in the Qunetra region. If that proved unfeasible, then Israel would leave the Syrian rebels controlling this area in place.

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Russian troops stepped into southern Syria for the first time Wednesday, July 13, when they entered the embattled town of Daraa to start enforcing the partial ceasefire agreed by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Hamburg on July 7.  DEBKAfile’s military sources report this exclusively.

The Russians, including military police and Chechen paratroopers, were sighted getting out of the vehicles of their convoy and taking up positions in the center of Daraa. As they moved into the town, our sources report that tank units of the pro-regime Syrian army’s 5th Armored Division were seen driving out, along with Hizballah.

Their withdrawal cut short the Syrian military’s Operation Big Dawn against the Syrian rebels in Daraa, which breached the ceasefire Monday, July 11 – less then 24 hours after it went into force.

The Russian deployment in a southern Syrian border town Wednesday was the first step in their posting along Syria’s Israeli and Jordanian borders, as agreed between Washington and Moscow. President Trump had assented to this arrangement to bolster the first stage of the Syrian ceasefire going into effect in the de-confliction zone of the southwest.

Jordan also assented, in the interests of de-escalating tensions on its border with Syria.

The Russian troops and Chechens in Russian military police uniforms were armed only with light weapons. On July 5, Putin’s special envoy for Syrian affairs, Alexander Levrentiev, said that the Russian troops deployed in Syrian ceasefire zones would be lightly armed for self-defense. Most would consist of Russian military police. This description was intended to cover the presence of Chechen paratroops, who were seconded to the Russian police force for this mission.

Israel has so far objected to any Russian military presence along its borders with Syria, even in the capacity of ceasefire monitors, preferring Americans to police the truce in the Qunetra region. If that proved unfeasible, then Israel would leave the Syrian rebels controlling this area in place.

But our sources predict that, after the arrival of Russian troops in Daraa to preserve the ceasefire, both Washington and Moscow will lean hard on Jerusalem to accept Russian troops at Quneitra too, that is, opposite the Golan.

NATO Vows Support For Ukraine Against Russia’s “Aggressive Actions”

July 12, 2017

Source: NATO Vows Support For Ukraine Against Russia’s “Aggressive Actions” | Zero Hedge

Just a few short days after President Trump’s ‘relative’ rapprochement with Russian President Putin, his ‘allies’ in NATO have stepped up the rhetoric in a very sensitive area for Putin, as NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg pledged support for Ukraine during a visit to Kiev on Monday.

As Military.com reports, Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of smuggling weapons and troops across the porous border in support of the separatists, a charge has repeatedly denied.

“Russia has maintained its aggressive actions against Ukraine, but NATO and NATO allies stand by Ukraine and stand on your side,” Stoltenberg said at the NATO-Ukraine Commission session in Kiev.

“Russia must withdraw its thousands of soldiers from Ukraine and stop supporting the militants,” he added during a press conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 have driven ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

“We are also here to demonstrate NATO’s solidarity with Ukraine and our firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of your country,” Stoltenberg said.

“NATO allies do not and will not recognize Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.”

The NATO chief’s trip came a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a maiden visit to Kiev and urged Moscow to take the “first step” to ease the conflict in Ukraine’s east.

Ukraine sees NATO accession as a way to bolster its defenses against former master Moscow. In June, Ukraine’s parliament voted to back attempts by the nation to seek membership of the 29-member bloc. It approved legal amendments enshrining membership in NATO as a foreign policy priority.

 Poroshenko explained that embattled Ukraine was eager to join the bloc, but painful political and economic reforms need to be implemented before the country was ready to lay out its claims on membership.

“We are determined to reforms… to meet the membership criteria,” Poroshenko told journalists.

“NATO will continue to support Ukraine on the path towards closer relationships with NATO,” Stoltenberg added.

But the Kremlin has long been angered by NATO expansion into what Moscow views as its sphere of influence in the former Soviet region.

 “It (Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO) will not contribute to the strengthening of stability and security on the European continent,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

However, Kiev has yet to officially apply to start the lengthy and politically challenging process of joining the US-led alliance.