Archive for the ‘Putin and Trump’ category

Assess This

July 15, 2017

Assess This, Power LineScott Johnson, July 15, 2017

Even this “eyes only” document must have left ambiguity about Putin’s “audacious objectives.” There is a rather big difference between the objective of damaging Hillary Clinton and the objective of defeating her. Given the unidentified sources of the leaks behind this revelation, however, one would have to be a fool to take the contents of the report or the validity of its assessments on faith.

One should think that the credibility of former government officials who betray their oaths to leak such information would be in question. Color me cynical. For whatever reason, however, the Post expresses no reservations regarding the credibility of these officials.

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Did Putin prefer Trump in the presidential election of 2016? According to the intelligence report dated January 6, 2017, Putin not only preferred Trump to Clinton. He mounted a so-called influence campaign to put him over. The report is posted online here.

Issued under the auspices of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the report is based on the intelligence and assessments of the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The report as released constitutes the “declassified version of a highly classified assessment that has been provided to the President and to recipients approved by the President.”

The authors of the declassified version of the report state that their conclusions “are all reflected in the classified assessment,” although “the declassified report does not and cannot include the full supporting information, including specific intelligence and sources and methods.” Our own ability to evaluate the report is necessarily limited by what has been disclosed to the public.

The report conforms to the line put out by Hillary Clinton’s communications team in the immediate aftermath of Clinton’s shocking loss. Perhaps that is a coincidence, or perhaps the Clintonistas were on to something.

The report also comports with the line peddled by former Obama administration officials who frequently retailed politicized “narratives” manufactured to support counterintuitive administration policies. See, for example, the long Washington Post article “Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault.”

The former Obama administration officials feeding the Post feel free to blow such highly classified information as the administration’s putative cyber efforts against Russia. Trump administration officials decried the leaks to Adam Kredo for his Washington Free Beacon article on the subject.

The Washington Post article contains hints of the “highly classified” information that was omitted from the declassified version of the report. According to the Post, in August 2016 the CIA hand delivered an “eyes only” report “drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.”

The Post continued: “The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump” (emphasis added).

Even this “eyes only” document must have left ambiguity about Putin’s “audacious objectives.” There is a rather big difference between the objective of damaging Hillary Clinton and the objective of defeating her. Given the unidentified sources of the leaks behind this revelation, however, one would have to be a fool to take the contents of the report or the validity of its assessments on faith.

One should think that the credibility of former government officials who betray their oaths to leak such information would be in question. Color me cynical. For whatever reason, however, the Post expresses no reservations regarding the credibility of these officials.

The Post’s long article reminded me of the dialogue Woody Allen wrote for his voiceover spy parody What’s Up, Tiger Lilly? at the point where one character shows spy hero Phil Moscowitz a printed floor plan and explains: “This is Shepherd Wong’s home.” Moscowitz asks: “He lives in that piece of paper?” In the Post story, the lowdown on Putin lives in the piece of paper stuffed into the envelope transmitted by courier from the CIA to President Obama under extraordinary handling restrictions.

If we turn back to the declassified report to arrive at our own conclusions, we are underwhelmed by the presentation. It is, shall we say, thin.

Referring to the agencies’ finding that Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to help Trump win the election — a finding the agencies say they hold “with high confidence” — the Russian American journalist Masha Gessen (no friend of Trump) put it this way in her hilariously derisive account posted on January 9 at the site of the New York Review of Books:

A close reading of the report shows that it barely supports such a conclusion. Indeed, it barely supports any conclusion. There is not much to read: the declassified version is twenty-five pages, of which two are blank, four are decorative, one contains an explanation of terms, one a table of contents, and seven are a previously published unclassified report by the CIA’s Open Source division. There is even less to process: the report adds hardly anything to what we already knew. The strongest allegations—including about the nature of the DNC hacking—had already been spelled out in much greater detail in earlier media reports.

But the real problems come with the findings themselves….

The report is so poorly written that it makes for painful reading. Gessen makes this point and advances her analysis as well:

Despite its brevity, the report makes many repetitive statements remarkable for their misplaced modifiers, mangled assertions, and missing words. This is not just bad English: this is muddled thinking and vague or entirely absent argument. Take, for example, this phrase: “Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity.” I think, though I cannot be sure, that the authors of the report are speculating that Moscow gave the products of its hacking operation to WikiLeaks because WikiLeaks is known as a reliable source. The next line, however, makes this speculation unnecessary: “Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”

Or consider this: “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.” Did Putin’s desire to discredit Clinton stem from his own public statements, or are the intelligence agencies basing their appraisal of Putin’s motives on his public statements? Logic suggests the latter, but grammar indicates the former. The fog is not coincidental: if the report’s vague assertions were clarified and its circular logic straightened out, nothing would be left.

Gessen observes at one point: “That is the entirety of the evidence the report offers to support its estimation of Putin’s motives for allegedly working to elect Trump: conjecture based on other politicians in other periods, on other continents—and also on misreported or mistranslated public statements.”

Along with disparaging comments on Trump, Gessen concludes that the report “suggests that the US intelligence agencies’ Russia expertise is weak and throws into question their ability to process and present information[.]” I won’t try to summarize Gessen’s devastating assessment of the report. You really have to read the whole thing.

Power Line readers are probably already familiar with Andy McCarthy’s invaluable assessment of the report in his NRO column “Missing from the intelligence report: The word ‘Podesta.’” It too is necessary reading.

Trump-Putin call focuses on Syria, security zones

May 3, 2017

Trump-Putin call focuses on Syria, security zones, DEBKAfile, May 2, 2017

Clearly, Putin was making the point that, just as the US deals with the Syrian issue in alignment with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, Russia coordinates its actions with Iran and Turkey. Since both presidents are similarly weighed down by their allies, the road to a consensus between Washington and Moscow is destined to be long with many convolutions. Therefore, the tension on the Israeli and Jordanian borders of southern Syria will continue to escalate before it abates.

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One of the most consequential exchanges on the disposition of Syria’s border lands with Israel and Jordan – and the future of the Syrian conflict at large – took place between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Tuesday, May 2. The call took place when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was visiting Putin at his Black Sea residence in Sochi.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that the two presidents focused strongly on an effort to agree on how de-escalate the Syrian conflict now in its sixth year and bring it to an end. The Russian leader proposed drawing armistice lines between the warring sides under the guarantee of a special Russian military mechanism. The Americans have not released any ideas, but they are believed to be contemplating establishing safety zones barred to the Syrian air force. One of those zones would be marked out in the south on Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.

The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, the Iranian military-political command and Hizballah are resisting US feelers for the introduction of these safe zones, regarding the plan as a ploy hatched by the Saudis, Israelis and Jordanians to take control of South Syria by engaging local Syrian rebel groups as their vehicle. Damascus, Tehran and Beirut believe that if they allow the scheme to go forward without resistance, it will be the start of similar off-limits enclaves in other parts of Syria, and the country will quickly fall apart into self-ruling segments.

That is why late last month, Syrian army units, the Shiite militias under Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers’ command and Hizballah combined their resources to push against the local Syrian rebels of the South in the regions of the borders with Israel and Jordan.

It is doubtful whether Trump and Putin were able to work out something tangible in their first phone conversation since the US fired Tomahawk cruise missiles against the Syrian Shayrat air base on April 7. The Russian president used the shock of that event to cultivate closer ties with the Syrian ruler and strengthen his missile defenses, in case of an American repeat attack or Israeli air strikes on military targets in Syria.

At the same time, Putin becamed more careful about infringing on parts of Syria deemed to be under American influence, especially the Kurdish enclaves.

The US president was also careful not to direct personal attacks on Putin or criticize Russia’s military involvement in Syria, merely expressing the hope that at some point the two powers could reach an understanding to end the vicious conflict.

When reporters in Sochi asked the Russian president if he thought he could sell his plan to Assad, he replied: “A ceasefire is the first priority and cooperation with Washington is critical.”

At the same time, Russia operates in tandem with Turkey and Iran and was trying to “create the conditions for political cooperation on all sides,” he said.

Clearly, Putin was making the point that, just as the US deals with the Syrian issue in alignment with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, Russia coordinates its actions with Iran and Turkey. Since both presidents are similarly weighed down by their allies, the road to a consensus between Washington and Moscow is destined to be long with many convolutions. Therefore, the tension on the Israeli and Jordanian borders of southern Syria will continue to escalate before it abates.

Tillerson says US-Russia relations at ‘low point,’ calls for improving ties after Putin meeting

April 12, 2017

Tillerson says US-Russia relations at ‘low point,’ calls for improving ties after Putin meeting, Fox News, April 12, 2017

(Please see also, The Real Winner in the Russia Investigations Is Iran.

The best interests of the United States would be to woo Russia away from these maniacs — and we very well could have.  We are, at least for now, still the world’s biggest GNP and control a great deal of the global economy.  Greedy despots like Putin know that as well as anybody.  They may not feel good about it, but to some degree they might play with us.  And if they wanted to enough, if we sweetened the pot enough, they’d even disengage from the mullahs, leaving them with no ally of value, no substantial defender.

Trump — or some people close to him — may have had this in mind when they started speaking with the Russians way back in the Paleolithic Era of the transition days.  They’d have been fools not to.  They wouldn’t have been doing their duty to the United States or to the civilized world for that matter.

Now Trump or his people can no longer even consider making such inroads. They would be accused immediately of treason or something close. The possibility of separating the Russians from Iran has been destroyed by these investigations — first by the House, now by the Senate, and always by the media.

— DM)

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a hastily arranged meeting in Moscow late Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he worked to ease tensions with the country over Syria and other global crises – even as he and President Trump, from afar, continued to pressure Putin over his alliance with Bashar Assad. 

Tillerson, speaking frankly during a joint press conference in Moscow alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said U.S.-Russia relations have hit a “low point,” while stressing the need to improve ties.

“There is a low level of trust between our two countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship,” Tillerson said.

Those tensions have mounted since Trump ordered a missile strike on an airbase controlled by the Assad government last week, in response to a chemical weapons attack.

Tillerson and Lavrov spoke after Tillerson met in private with Putin at the Kremlin for nearly two hours.

Tillerson, the first Trump Cabinet official to visit Russia, originally was only slated to meet with Lavrov but spoke with Putin after first sitting down with his Russian counterpart.

Tillerson traveled to Moscow just days after the Trump administration launched missile strikes on an airbase in Syria, angering Bashar al-Assad’s allies in Moscow. The strike was in response to a chemical weapons attack earlier last week.

Tillerson ratcheted up his rhetoric en route to Moscow earlier this week, saying “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end” and challenging Russia to reconsider its alliance with the government in Damascus.

Trump also told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that Putin is backing “an evil person” in Syria, and it’s “very bad for Russia.”

At the same time, Trump made clear he’s pushing for peace in Syria. He said, “we’re not going into Syria,” but said pressure will be on Russia to ensure peace.

“If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal, you wouldn’t have a problem right now,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, during a forum at The Newseum in Washington, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about what could be on the table at a Putin-Tillerson meeting. He spoke to their common interests.

“I think there is a shared interest in defeating ISIS in the region that we have a national security concern that should align with their national security concern,” he said.

Spicer had tough words for Russia’s alliance with Assad, however.

“Russia right now is an island,” he said. “It’s Russia, North Korea and Iran … Russia is among that group the only non-failed state.” He said Russia is “isolating” itself by standing by Assad.

Russia ‘furious’ with Assad over gas attack

April 11, 2017

Russia ‘furious’ with Assad over gas attack, Al Monitor,

(From the for “whatever it’s worth” department.– DM)

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 5, 2017. (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Privately, Russian officials are furious with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected April 4 chemical weapons attack in Idlib province that killed over 80 people, Russia analysts said. They see it as threatening to sabotage the potential for US-Russia rapprochement ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first visit to Moscow this week.

But Russia is also confused by what it perceives as contradictory statements from various top Trump Cabinet officials on whether US policy is shifting to demand Assad’s ouster, to what degree does the United States think Russia is culpable for Assad’s behavior, and more broadly, who from the administration speaks for Donald Trump, they said.

“Assad committed suicide here,” Michael Kofman, a Russia military expert with the Kennan Institute, told Al-Monitor in an interview April 10. Russia “will never forgive him for this.”

The suspected April 4 nerve gas attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun that killed over 80 people, many of them children, “is a complete disaster” for Russia, Kofman said. “It destroyed the legacy of the 2013 deal [to remove Syria’s chemical weapons] that both countries [the United States and Russia] certified. So it made liars of both of us.”

He noted, “It provided all the ammunition to sabotage rapprochement between the United States and Russia. Look at the atmospherics. It caused public embarrassment. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has to swallow US cruise missile strikes. Notice he has not defended Assad. It looks bad for Russia.”

Kofman added, “It demonstrates … in terms of Putin being a power broker … that the Russian role is very aspirational. It prevented him from doing this.”

“The Russians weren’t happy about what happened,” Nikolas Gvosdev, a Russia expert and professor at the US Naval War College, told Al-Monitor, referring to the April 4 chemical weapons attack. “They don’t like unpredictability … when things happen that throw what they are planning off course.”

“The Russians don’t like to be surprised,” Gvosdev added. “They don’t like … [to be made to] look like they can’t enforce agreements or don’t have as much influence over Assad as they were suggesting.”

Trump discussed Syria during a phone call with British Prime Minister Theresa May on April 10, and according to the British readout, the two leaders said they saw an opportunity to press Russia to break its alliance with Assad.

May and Trump “agreed that a window of opportunity now exists in which to persuade Russia that its alliance with Assad is no longer in its strategic interest,” a Downing Street spokesman said in a press release.

While US officials have said the US cruise missile strikes on the Shayrat air base on April 6 were to punish and deter Syria’s use of chemical weapons, there has been some confusion caused by statements from different Trump Cabinet officials on whether US policy is creeping toward regime change. US officials, including US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, have also suggested Russia was either complicit or incompetent for Assad’s chemical weapons attack. They have expressed anger that Russia has, in their opinion, tried to publicly sow disinformation about it.

“You know the interesting thing, Chuck, is when this chemical weapons murder happened to so many people, Russia’s reaction was not ‘oh how horrible’ or ‘how could they do this to innocent children’ or ‘how awful is that,’” Haley told Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 9. “Their initial reaction was Assad didn’t do it, the Syrian government didn’t do it.”

“Why were they that defensive that quick?” Haley continued. “The first priority for them was to cover for Assad. So what we knew from intelligence, that the Syrian regime had done this again, as they had done so many times before. We had evidence they had done it. It’s obviously classified, so I’m not the one that would release the information, but it was enough that the president knew.”

Even while pressuring Russia because of its diplomatic and military support to Assad, McMaster reiterated that the United States is still looking for a political resolution to end Syria’s civil war.

“What we really need to do, and what everyone who’s involved in this conflict needs to do, is to do everything they can to resolve this civil war,” McMaster told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace April 9.

“What’s required is some kind of a political solution to that very complex problem, and … it’s very difficult to understand how a political solution could result from the continuation [of] the Assad regime,” McMaster said. “Now we’re not saying that we are the ones who are going to affect that change. What we are saying is, other countries have to ask themselves some hard questions. Russia should ask themselves, what are we doing here? Why are we supporting this murderous regime that is committing mass murder of its own population and using the most heinous weapons available?”

Tillerson, who is scheduled to meet with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow April 12, expressed disappointment at Russia’s public criticism of the US airstrikes, but he said he did not conclude Russia was complicit in the Syrian regime’s suspected chemical weapons attack.

“I’m not seeing any hard evidence that connects the Russians directly to the planning or execution of this particular chemical weapons attack, and indeed, that’s why we’ve been trying to be very clear that the Russians were never targeted in this strike,” Tillerson told George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” on April 9.

“Why Russia has not been able to achieve that [removal of Syria’s residual chemical weapons] is unclear to me,” Tillerson said. “I don’t draw conclusions of complicity at all; but clearly, they’ve been incompetent, and perhaps they’ve just simply been outmaneuvered by the Syrians.

But Tillerson said he still holds out hope for productive talks with the Russians when he travels there this week, and he hopes Russia can press Assad to never use chemical weapons again.

“I’m hopeful that we can have constructive talks with the Russian government, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and have Russia be supportive of a process that will lead to a stable Syria,” Tillerson said. “Clearly, they … have the greatest influence on Bashar al-Assad and certainly his decisions to use chemical weapons. They should have the greatest influence on him to cause him to no longer use those. I hope that Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer in to some level of responsibility.”

The changing US calculus on Assad and Russia is making it harder to see what Russia and the United States would be negotiating when Tillerson meets Lavrov April 12, Gvosdev said.

“The ask and the give are harder to ascertain,” Gvosdev said. “Two weeks ago, it was how do we move this [Syria] political process along.”

But now Tillerson is likely to tell the Russians that domestic politics in the United States is playing a bigger role in this, and “I can offer you less upfront,” Gvosdev speculated. “At a time when the Russian establishment very much … wants certain things upfront.”

“We are no longer talking about sanctions relief, [but how to] prevent new sanctions from being imposed,” Gvosdev said.

Assad’s actions have upended what was an important foreign policy priority for Putin — exploring the potential for cooperation with the United States on Syria and a possible rapprochement — and have seemingly taken sanctions relief off the table for discussion for now, and Russia will not forgive him, Kofman said.

“They are furious; it is very clear,” Kofman said, noting that there has been “no actual statement from Putin in support of Assad.”

“That is why I am saying he has signed his own political death warrant,” Kofman said of Assad. “They [the Russians] will never forgive him. They will wait. The time will come when Syria is stabilized, and they can actually have a change of power at the top. And then come for him.”

 

Russian Reactions To Flynn’s Resignation

February 21, 2017

Russian Reactions To Flynn’s Resignation, MEMRI, February 21, 2017

(Please see also, Is a Trump-Putin Detente Dead? — DM)

While part of Russian officialdom dodged comment on Michael Flynn’s resignation from the post of national security adviser or downplayed its importance, the consensus view was that this represented a negative signal for Russia. Russia would have to retrench its hopes for improved Russia-US relations under President Trump as the new president was finding it difficult to exercise control over an anti-Russian establishment. Some commentators believed that an anti-Russia cabal was behind Flynn’s ouster and that Flynn was merely the appetizer with Trump being the main course. These rogue officials backed by the media would not rest till they had ousted Trump and set back Russian-American relations.

We present a sampling of official and press reactions to the Flynn resignation.

trumpandflynn1Source: Gazeta.ru)

Senator Pushkov’s Tweetstorm

Senator Alexey Pushkov, a member of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on International Affairs and an avid tweeter, took to Twitter to present his categorical assessment of the forces behind the resignation and their motivation:

“Flynn ‘was forced out’ not due to his missteps, but due to a vast aggressive campaign. “Russian –get out ” clamored the newspapers. This is paranoia and witch hunt.”

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, February 14, 2017)

“Flynn leaves, but the Russian problem at Trump’s White House persists” – his enemies write. Flynn’s banishment was only the first act. Now – Trump is the target.”

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, February 13, 2017)

“Flynn’s departure is probably the earliest resignation of a US National Security Advisor in history. Yet, Flynn was not the target, relations with Russia were.”

(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, February 13, 2017)

“It’s not going to end  with Flynn’s resignation. Trump’s enemies with the help of the security special services and media will eradicate him ( Trump) until the impeachment. Trump himself is now the objective.”

impeach(Twitter.com, February 14, 2017)

“Lots of money invested in the new cold war against Russia. Those who oppose the war are at high risk. Flynn’s massacre is clear evidence.”

(Twitter.com, February 14, 2017)

push-shove(Alexey Pushkov, Source: Pravda-tv.ru)

Senator Kosachev: ‘Russophobia Has Already Engulfed The New Administration From Top To Bottom’

Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on International Affairs, wrote on his Facebook page: “Dismissing the national security adviser for contacts with Russia’s ambassador (ordinary diplomatic practice) is not just paranoia, but something much worse.” He then added: “Either Trump has not gained the desired independence and he is being consistently (and not unsuccessfully) pushed into a corner, or Russophobia has already engulfed the new administration from top to bottom.”

(Tass.com, February 14, 2017)

kosKonstantin Kosachev (Source: Rt.com)

Valery Garbuzov, Director of the Institute for US and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Russian news agency TASS: “I believe the Russian issue is one of the most difficult for the U.S. administration in the sense that it has not yet developed recipes for tackling the Russian issue in general and in particular. These are the issues of sanctions, the issue of Ukraine, Crimea and so on.” He then said: “The U.S. president’s national security adviser is a significant figure who, along with the US secretary of state, takes part in shaping the country’s foreign policy. Flynn’s resignation indicates that internal contradictions, perhaps, internal struggles, begin to appear in the emerging US administration. Flynn’s resignation was a manifestation of this struggle. He was considered if not a pro-Russian member of Trump’s team, then a person who was committed to resuming pragmatic dialogue with Russia.”

(Tass.com, February 14, 2017)

The Deputy Chair of the Duma’s International Affairs committee, Alexey Chepa: “Flynn has just begun working, he did not have an opportunity build himself a reputation. Before the inauguration he’d had some consultations with our ambassador Kislyak. I don’t know to what extent he informed his superiors regarding the consultations. I don’t know either how it could lead to a possible blackmailing… In general, there was not enough time to arrange improved contacts, so I think this [resignation] won’t strongly affect [our relations with the US]”

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

Presidential spokesperson Dmitri Peskov declined comment on Flynn’s resignation: “We do not want to comment on it in any manner. It’s America’s internal affair, the Trump administration’s internal affair. It’s not our business.”

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

The Resignation Reduces Russia’s Confidence In The Trump Administration

According to Leonid Slutsky, chair of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee: “The situation regarding the resignation of national security advisor Michael Flynn, bears a provocative character. This is a form of negative signal concerning the building of a Russia-US dialog. It’s obvious that Flynn was forced to write the resignation announcement under pressure. Trump received this resignation. The excuse, which was chosen, is contacts with the Russian ambassador, though it’s common diplomatic practice.  In these circumstances, the conclusion arises that the Russia-US relations were the set target. This erodes confidence in the US administration”.

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

The TASS agency quotes Slutsky a bit differently: “Flynn’s resignation might be a provocation – it could well be that he will pop up again in US public administration. At the moment, it looks like a thrust and a sort of  negative signal towards Russia, implying that we had discussed something improper with the US national security advisor, for which he paid for with his job … It’s an incredible assumption that Flynn, a very experienced person, divulged some state secrets”. According to Slutsky, “the whole buzz is aimed at Russia’s positioning as a strategic opponent amongst the American establishment”.

(Tass.ru, February 14, 2017)

slutLeonid Slutsky (Source: Polytika.ru)

According to Vladimir Batyuk, head of the Center for Military-Political Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ US and Canada Institute and professor of world politics at the Higher School of Economics :

“Flynn’s resignation is a powerful blow to the US administration. Flynn, as a national security advisor, was one of the key figures. Given that this man turned out to be undisciplined and incompetent, it’s a definite blow to the administration’s authority and to US-Russia relations. Moscow, from now on, will have far less confidence in the new administration and its ability to conduct confidential negotiations on delicate international matters and problems of bilateral relations. It will have negative consequences for the future Russo-American dialog.”  Representatives of the Russian Federation will now fear approaching Trump administration officials. “When Ambassador Kislyak communicated with Flynn he was completely sure that he was talking to the Trump’s representative, rather than to private person, Mr. Flynn. Now, it’s not the case as it turns out and this is a blow to Moscow’s trust in the new administration. This trust usually carries high importance in diplomacy.”

(Ria.ru, February 14, 2017)

The Russian government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta published an article by Igor Dunaevsky, where the author assumes that Flynn’s resignation was initiated by the secret services:

“It can’t be excluded that Flynn was “taken out” by the secret services. His Russian connections presented themselves as an excuse and were not the real reason. According to local media publications, Flynn, who headed MOD intelligence department in the Obama administration, was not popular in the American intelligence community and he reciprocated this attitude.  Flynn’s resignation will not extensively affect White House’s approaches towards a dialog with Russia, but rather it will prove instrumental for those who want to impede that process.”

(Rg.ru, February 14, 2017)

US-Russian steps vs Iran await new NSC chief

February 14, 2017

US-Russian steps vs Iran await new NSC chief, DEBKAfile, February 14, 2016

flynnout_eng_480

Michael Flynn’s abrupt resignation as National Security Adviser Monday night, Feb. 13, was a crippling blow to Donald Trump’s foreign policy strategy, less than a month after he entered the White House. Flynn was the architect and prime mover of the president’s plans for close cooperation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was brought down by misinforming Vice President Mike Pence – and very likely the president too – on the content of the conversation he held with the Russian ambassador before Trump’s inauguration.

Although retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg takes over as acting NSA, the White House is urgently considering a permanent replacement to fill Flynn’s large shoes. Former CIA Director David Petraeus’ name has come up, but his indiscretions over state secrets still count against him. Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, is a strong contender, although more may emerge.

Even before picking his next national security adviser, Trump will need to determine how to proceed with his détente with Putin, the highly sensitive details of which were managed personally and confidentially by Mike Flynn as the centerpiece of the new administration’s foreign policy.

His contacts with Moscow were under heavy fire from the president’s friends and foes alike, both before and after the November election. It was defended stalwartly by Trump himself, Pence and Flynn. However, neither the president nor the vice president can tell exactly what Flynn promised the Russians and to what deals he committed them. Therefore, his successor will be required to start building Washington’s ties with Moscow from scratch.

While Flynn’s departure has caused havoc in the Trump administration, it is a catastrophe for the Middle East, because a core objective of the US-Russian partnership, which he shaped as a model for other regions, was to have been to clip Iran’s wings and cut down its standing down as premier Middle East power conferred by Barack Obama.

(How the Flynn mechanism was to work plus detailed analysis of the fallout from his departure will be covered exclusively in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out next Friday).

Flynn alone was privy to arrangements concluded with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh, Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman, President Putin in Moscow, Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisis in Cairo and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Some of his output began taking shape on the day he stepped down, when Syrian rebel groups led by Jordanian special operations officers attacked Syrian army positions in the southern town of Daraa. This was the start of an operation to drive Syrian government forces and their Iranian and Hizballah allies from the lands bordering on Jordan and Israel.

In Cairo, too, President Michel Aoun of Lebanon and his host, El-Sisi were hashing out a plan for the Egyptian army and Gulf forces to go into action against Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon.

Wednesday, Feb. 15, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to visit the White House for his first meeting with Trump as president. They too were scheduled to discuss US operations against Hizballah and the role Israel would play.

In the coming hours, Trump will have to decide whether to go ahead with these initiatives in the absence of Flynn and his detailed knowledge of how they should go forward, or simply put them on hold until his successor is in place and has time for a full study of their complicated ins and outs. At the same time, a different national security adviser in the White house might have different plans to those laid out by his predecessor.

Pro-Kremlin Pravda.ru: ‘ Iran Is Becoming A Major Problem, First And Foremost For Russia’s Interests’

February 13, 2017

Pro-Kremlin Pravda.ru: ‘ Iran Is Becoming A Major Problem, First And Foremost For Russia’s Interests’, MEMRI

On January 22, 2017, the Russian media outlet Pravda.ru published an analysis on Russia-Iran relations. According to the article’s author, Dmitri Nersesov, Iran is becoming a problem for Russian interests. Nersesov also added that Iran wants Russia to choose between Iran and Washington. “Iran wants Russia to recognize that Teheran holds the key to the regulation of the Syrian crisis. Should Russia decide that the real strategy is built on the cooperation between Moscow and Washington, rather than Moscow and Teheran; the Islamic Republic will be extremely disappointed,” Nersesov wrote.

Below are excerpts from Pravda.ru’s article:[1]

putrou(Source: Islam.ru)

‘Observers Testify That Iranian Internal Propaganda Blames Russia For The Rise Of Iranian Military Losses In Syria’

“After the strange story of the Russian ACF [Air-Cosmos Force – in 2015, the Military Air Force and the Cosmos Defense were united] usage of the Iranian Hamadan military airbase, it became absolutely clear that Tehran cannot be fully trusted.[2] Events of the last several days only strengthen that feeling. Russian-Iranian contradictions appear not only in the vicinity of Syria, but also start influence the Russian-U.S. relations. And that is very serious…

“The point is that Moscow intended the Astana negotiations to become the initial platform for establishing a practical dialogue with the new American administration. That is what the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov sought to convey at his press-conference. Lavrov said: ‘We consider it right to invite the representatives of the UN and the new U.S. administration to this meeting. We expect that new American administration can accept this invitation and will be represented by its experts of any possible level’… The fact that inviting the Americans was coordinated with Ankara must not be ignored.

“What about Tehran?

“The following was stated there: ‘We did not invite them, we are against their presence’. These words by the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are cited by the news agencies. Thus Iran had publicly rejected its allies’ initiative… It seems like that this position of the Iranian leadership does not specifically relate to Syria’s problems. Zarif’s words are a message to Moscow and Washington. We shall try to decipher it.

“The Iranians want Moscow to clearly understand that they intend to control as strictly as possible the implementation of its strategy in Syria, and in the long term– in the Middle East generally. Tehran is able to create problems in fulfilling the combat tasks (by blocking access to the Hamadan airbase), in reaching ceasefire and humanitarian pauses (frequently the pro-Iran Shi’ite units have frustrated these initiatives), and renewing Russia-U.S. contacts on Syria.

“Simultaneously, Tehran’s demarche seemingly forces Moscow to make a choice: between us [Iran], or Ankara define your choice Russians! You can definitely negotiate with the Turks the ceasefire between the Syrian [factions], you can even conduct joint airstrikes against terrorists, but without us, the Iranians, you will not attain any practical goals. Take into account that today Turkey is weak, and it will stay like this indefinitely. And Iran is only getting stronger, as the sanctions against it had been removed, and you will compete with Western corporations for the right to participate in strengthening Iran!

“The Iranians present Moscow with a similar choice regarding the relations with Washington: will Iran or remain Russia’s leading partner in Syria and in the region generally or [will it be] Washington? If Moscow does not fully and decisively acknowledge that the keys to managing the Middle East are in Tehran, and only the intimate team work with Iran makes possible to promote the Russian interests here; if Moscow will ‘suddenly’ decide that the ‘real strategy’ is built not along the Tehran-Moscow axis, but along the Moscow-Washington one – the Islamic Republic will be very disappointed. And will find – definitely find! – the means to punish the ‘arrogant Russians’.

“In this context one should note that during the recent funeral of Hashemi Rafsanjani…was accompanied by the chanting of anti-Russian slogans. Observers testify that Iranian internal propaganda blames Russia precisely for the rise of Iranian military losses in Syria. This should not come as a surprise, because the Russian ACF were kicked out of the Hamadan [military airbase] for ‘ungentlemanly behavior’ and ‘arrogance’. Iran quite willingly believes that any foreigner only thinks about showing them his ‘arrogance’, and they do not forgive this sin. All the more so when it is Russia – the ‘small Satan’ for those who inherited Imam Khomeini’s set of values…

‘It Depends On The U.S. When Iran Will Become A Full-Fledged Nuclear Power’

“Washington? What message did Tehran send to the new president Trump?

“The main thesis is the same: Iran is the leading player in the regional arena, it has the capacity to exert a critical influence on Russia’s position and actions even with regards to Russian-American contacts. In a language resembling Trump’s, it sounds something like this: Tehran is the blocking shareholder in Syria and in the Middle East. Draw your conclusions, Mr. President!

“To talk this way with great powers, Iran must hold strong trump cards. It has them. The main one is the notorious ‘nuclear program’ and the famous deal about it.

“What is the heart of the matter? Ten years of struggle (since Bush-junior) against Iran getting the nuclear missiles brought Iran to the threshold of owning such a weapon. It has the carriers. The warheads which it ostensibly does not have (yet?) can be almost surely made within 15 years, when the limitations imposed as part of the ‘deal’ expire.

“That ‘deal’ was Obama’s favorite baby, his fundamental foreign policy achievement (by his own admission). This achievement means that now it depends on the U.S. when Iran will become a full-fledged nuclear power. For Tehran, just after signing the ‘deal’ (the full text of which no one has seen) had promptly warned everybody: any act which the Iranians will consider to be its violation will mean the abnegation of agreements, and then the Islamic Republic of Iran  will consider itself free to implement its nuclear program.

“Of all the ‘deal’ participants (the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany, Iran), only the U.S. is interested and capable of provoking Iran to such a step, for even under Obama, Washington did not lift all the sanctions imposed on Iran. And Trump even claims the intent to renege on Iran’s nuclear program agreement. And if he will really do it, Tehran will have carte blanche to continue the work the result of which may become (with intolerably high probability) the appearance of her nuclear weapon.

“In view of this logic, Iran’s message to Trump is: ‘Mr. President! Upon your first signal, we shall do what your predecessors had steadily led us to! To build our blocking shares into controlling ones we need only a nuclear truncheon. When we get it depends on your decision’.

“Against this background, it is desirable to note a significant detail: several weeks ago, Iran announced the beginning of a program for building a nuclear navy. This means its transformation in the near future into an ocean power capable of ‘force projection’ in the Persian Gulf, in the Indian Ocean, and in the Red and Mediterranean Seas.

“It appears that all this suffices to understand: Iran is becoming a major problem, first and foremost for Russia’s interests. Surely, much can be explained by the upcoming May presidential elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nevertheless, it would be useful to find a way of making Tehran politicians understand that their behavior is becoming too provocative.

“Perhaps the launch of cruise missiles from the Caspian flotilla bears repetition?”

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[1] Pravda.ru, January 22, 2017.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6577, Russian Strategic Bombers Deployed To Iran; Russian Senator Says Nuclear Weapons, Heavy Bombers Will Not Be Permanently Deployed In Syria, August 16, 2016.

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6589, Russia This Week – August 22-29, 2016, August 28, 2016.

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6582, Russia This Week – August 15 – 22, 2016, August 21, 2016.