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Assessing Lavrov’s visit to Washington

Sergey Lavrov’s trip to Washington confirms progress in reconstructing relations between the US and Russia after the damage done by the Obama administration

Alexander Mercouris

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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov over the course of his two day visit to Washington gave a lengthy news conference in which he provided some information concerning his talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US President Donald Trump.

Lavrov’s mood at the news conference was upbeat, and this reflects the Russian media’s overall view of the talks.  There is no euphoria and Lavrov himself said that the task of repairing US-Russian relations is a huge one.  However he placed the blame for their present wretched state firmly on the previous Obama administration

We discussed the state of our bilateral relations, which is not encouraging. We are well aware why relations are where they are now. Unfortunately, previous US administration did everything to undermine the foundations of our relations. Now, we have to work almost from the ground up. We perfectly understand that Russian and US citizens want to live in peace and be able to interact normally. I think that the politicians should make sure that all artificial obstacles that lie in our way should be removed.

In this respect Lavrov made a pointed contrast in the differing personalities of the foreign teams of the Trump and Obama administrations

The dialogue between Russia and the US is now free from the ideology that characterised it under the Barack Obama Administration. US President Donald Trump, his Administration, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson  are the kind of people who want to maintain a dialogue not as a means of demonstrating what they can achieve in the area of ideological preferences, but rather as a means of solving particular issues which have great bearing on the nation’s progress, peoples’ well-being and settling conflicts in different areas.

The key difference is that Trump and Tillerson are former businessmen, whereas Obama’s team was made up heavily of lawyers and academics (Obama of course was both).  Unsurprisingly the lawyers and academics are far more ideological than the business people.  There is no doubt which of the two Lavrov prefers.

It is always better for relations when people do business rather than try to promote their ideological preferences or engage in propaganda. This forms the basis for our expectations.

Lavrov admitted that the actual results of the meeting were modest.  Given the early stage of the dialogue between Russia and the Trump administration, it could not be otherwise.

However two interesting facts came out of Lavrov’s visit.

The first is that the concept of de-escalation zones in Syria stems from an idea Tillerson took with him when he came to Moscow in April.  Lavrov was quite clear about this

As to Syria, we first of all focused on the ideas that had been discussed during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow when he shared his thoughts regarding de-escalation and safety. This was the initiative US President Donald Trump mentioned during his telephone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State Tillerson later presented it in more detail in Moscow. The initiative is now being materialised in agreements concluded in Astana, where four de-escalation zones were proposed, including in the south, since the USA is particularly interested in stabilising the situation on Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel. We are ready to cooperate on the issue…….

Question: You have mentioned Russia’s interest in US involvement in the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria. Can you provide more details on this? Did President Trump or Secretary Tillerson say that the United States would cooperate with Russia, one way or another, to create these zones?

Sergey Lavrov: To begin with, the idea was initiated by US officials – President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. We used the Astana venue to promote its practical implementation. We will welcome any US contribution. This issue must be entrusted to those who are dealing with the situation on the ground professionally, and who have the information. We can facilitate this process both in Astana and in Geneva. We have reached an agreement that we, as active participants in the common efforts towards a Syrian settlement, should maintain these contacts with the other key players, primarily regional countries.

In other words at the very time that Britain’s clownish Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was trying to mobilize the G7 to threaten Russia with sanctions and was calling off his visit to Moscow supposedly in order to make it possible for Tillerson to present to the Russians with an ultimatum demanding they agree to get President Assad to go and commit to pulling their troops out of Syria, Tillerson was actually going to Moscow with a completely different proposal to de-escalate the conflict there.

As to the fate of President Assad, Lavrov made it perfectly clear that the Russian position in relation to him is unchanged

Someone asked me about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In Iraq and Libya, the international community did its utmost to overthrow Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. We can see what this has resulted in. As regards the settlement of the Syrian crisis, let us draw conclusions from our past mistakes and opt not for replacing the leader but for rooting out the evil of terrorism. President Donald Trump has reaffirmed today that the main goal for the United States in Syria is to defeat terrorism. We fully agree on this.

As for Russia quitting Syria, Lavrov was equally clear and rather crisper

We don’t have an exit strategy. All of us must fulfil our agreements, as UN Security Council resolutions say. Agreements must be honoured and terrorism must be rooted out in Syria, which must not become a seat of extremism and instability as it happened in Iraq and Libya.

(bold italics added)

Indeed with hindsight the negotiations between Tillerson and the Russians both in Moscow and Washington have gone so completely differently from what Boris Johnson expected that the unavoidable conclusion has to be that Tillerson decided it would be wiser not to take Boris Johnson into his confidence.  There can be no more withering testimony to the low regard in which Boris Johnson is held than that.

In any event it is now clear that for the first time since the start of the Syrian crisis the US and Russia are genuinely starting to coordinate their positions in Syria, though it is far too early to say that they are actually working together.  The difference between the negotiations the Russians are having with Tillerson and the abortive negotiations they had previously with Tillerson’s predecessor Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry, is that Tillerson unlike Kerry seems to have the President’s unequivocal support backing.  Whether this will be enough to lead to a peace settlement in Syria remains to be seen.

The other interesting fact that came out of Lavrov’s visit is that the Russians seem to have genuine hopes of regaining possession of the diplomatic premises the Obama administration seized in its last days under the pretext of the Russiagate scandal.  This is what Lavrov had to say about that

Sanctions are a unilateral action against us, and so resolving that is not our problem.

The issue of state property holds a special place in our talks. Property rights are affirmed by legal documents issued in the USA. The Obama Administration in its last days in power resorted to petty actions against both our property and our diplomats who were ordered to leave the United States within twenty-four hours. Everyone, in particular the Trump Administration, is aware that those actions were illegal. When those decisions were announced, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said that we are completely entitled to respond reciprocally. The US side knows what that would look like. Yet we are not going to follow those who are trying to destroy our relations. Our US colleagues know about our stance. I hope we will be able to resolve the situation without our relations deteriorating.

The Russians must know that at the present time, with the Russiagate scandal still on fire, it is politically impossible for the Trump administration to return this property irrespective of whether or not its seizure by the Obama administration was illegal.  It is difficult to avoid the impression that the Russians are bringing this issue up in order to emphasize the utter falsity of the claims of interference in the US election which have been made against them, and as a marker that they will want this property returned when the falsity of these charges is finally proved.

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Tape recorded evidence of Clinton-Ukraine meddling in US election surfaces (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a look at new evidence to surface from Ukraine that exposes a plot by the US Embassy in Kiev and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to leak Paul Manafort’s corrupt dealings in the country, all for the benefit of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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Via Zerohedge


Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Hill’s John Solomon, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko

“Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko said last week, according to The Hill

Lutsenko is probing a claim from a member of the Ukrainian parliament that the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Artem Sytnyk, attempted to the benefit of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

A State Department spokesman told Hill.TV that officials aware of news reports regarding Sytnyk. –The Hill

“According to the member of parliament of Ukraine, he got the court decision that the NABU official conducted an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” said Lutsenko, speaking with The Hill’s John Solomon about the anti-corruption bureau chief, Artem Sytnyk.

“It means that we think Mr. Sytnyk, the NABU director, officially talked about criminal investigation with Mr. [Paul] Manafort, and at the same time, Mr. Sytnyk stressed that in such a way, he wanted to assist the campaign of Ms. Clinton,” Lutsenko continued.

Solomon asked Lutsenko about reports that a member of Ukraine’s parliament obtained a tape of the current head of the NABU saying that he was attempting to help Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, as well as connections that helped release the black-ledger files that exposed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort‘s wrongdoing in Ukraine.

“This member of parliament even attached the audio tape where several men, one of which had a voice similar to the voice of Mr. Sytnyk, discussed the matter.” –The Hill

What The Hill doesn’t mention is that Sytnyk released Manafort’s Black Book with Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko – discussed in great length by former Breitbart investigator Lee Stranahan, who has been closely monitoring this case.

Serhiy Leshchenko

T]he main spokesman for these accusations was Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian politician and journalist who works closely with both top Hillary Clinton donors George Soros and Victor Pinchuk, as well as to the US Embassy in Kyiv.

James Comey should be asked about this source that Leshchenko would not identify. Was the source someone connected to US government, either the State Department or the Department of Justice?

The New York Times should also explain why they didn’t mention that Leshchenko had direct connections to two of Hillary Clinton biggest financial backers. Victor Pinchuk, the largest donor to the Clinton Foundation at a staggering $8.6 million also happened to have paid for Leshchenko’s expenses to go to international conferences. George Soros, whose also founded the International Renaissance Foundationthat worked closely with Hillary Clinton’s State Department in Ukraine, also contributed at least $8 million to Hillary affiliated super PACs in the 2016 campaign cycle. –Lee Stranahan via Medium

Meanwhile, according to former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, Leshchenko was a source for opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

Nellie Ohr, a former contractor for the Washington, D.C.-based Fusion GPS, testified on Oct. 19 that Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist turned Ukrainian lawmaker, was a source for Fusion GPS during the 2016 campaign.

“I recall … they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian,” Ohr said when asked who Fusion GPS’s sources were, according to portions of Ohr’s testimony confirmed by The Daily Caller News Foundation. –Daily Caller

Also absent from The Hill report is the fact that Leshchenko was convicted in December by a Kiev court of interfering in the 2016 US election.

A Kyiv court said that a Ukrainian lawmaker and a top anticorruption official’s decision in 2016 to publish documents linked to President Donald Trump’s then-campaign chairman amounted to interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The December 11 finding came in response to a complaint filed by another Ukrainian lawmaker, who alleged that Serhiy Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk illegally released the documents in August 2016, showing payments by a Ukrainian political party to Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The documents, excerpts from a secret ledger of payments by the Party of Regions, led to Manafort being fired by Trump’s election campaign.

The Kyiv court said that the documents published by Leshchenko and Sytnyk were part of an ongoing pretrial investigation in Ukraine into the operations of the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The party’s head had been President Viktor Yanukovych until he fled the country amid mass protests two years earlier.

-RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty (funded by the US govt.).

So while Lutsenko – Solomon’s guest and Ukrainian Prosecutor is currently going after Artem Sytnyk, it should be noted that Leshchenko was already found to have meddled in the 2016 US election.

Watch:

Meanwhile, you can also check out Stranahan’s take on Leshchenko being left out of the loop.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Via RT


Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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