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CONFIRMED: US backs down as Russia targets US aircraft in Syria

As Russia targets US aircraft west of the Euphrates US redeploys aircraft elsewhere allowing Syrian army to capture strategic town of Rusafa.

Alexander Mercouris

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Back in April, in the immediate aftermath of the US cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base, Russia retaliated by switching off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline between the US and Russian militaries in Syria, which enables these militaries to avoid accidental clashes with each other.

The immediate response to this Russian switching off of the ‘de-confliction’ hotline was a dramatic reduction in US air operations in Syria, as the US air force was forced to scale down its air operations rather than risk a confrontation with the powerful air defence system the Russians have established in Syria.

That this was the case was confirmed by an article in The New York Times dated 8th April 2017, which said the following

The American-led task force that is battling the Islamic State has sharply reduced airstrikes against the militants in Syria as commanders assess whether Syrian government forces or their Russian allies plan to respond to the United States’ cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield this past week, American officials said.

The precautionary move, revealed in statistics made public by the command on Saturday, was taken as Russian officials have threatened to suspend the communication line the American and Russian militaries use to notify each other about air operations in Syria.

So far, the Russian military does not appear to have taken any threatening actions, such as directing its battlefield radar or air defense systems to confront the Americans, or carrying out aggressive actions in the skies, United States officials said.

But officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning said the commanders needed time to determine whether the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the Russian military would treat the American cruise missile strike as a one-time operation that they would not respond to militarily. As a precaution, the Pentagon is flying patrols in Syrian skies with F-22 jets, the Air Force’s most advanced air-to-air fighter……

Some American and other Western counterterrorism officials have said the missile strike could………make the fight against the Islamic State in Syria more difficult.

“It seems clear that the strikes will complicate our efforts to pursue our counter-ISIS campaign in Syria,” said Matthew Olsen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “In particular, the ability to carry out U.S. airstrikes in Syria in support of the coalition against ISIS requires some degree of cooperation with Russia, which is now in serious jeopardy.”

Other security experts said that much depended on the Trump administration’s next steps, and how the Assad government and its Russian patrons responded.

“U.S. aircraft operating over Al-Tabqah are already ostensibly in range of the Russian S-400 system at the Humaymin Air Base, and we might see Russia deploy more air defense assets to Syria,” Jeremy Binnie, the Middle East editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, said in an email. “But if the U.S. makes no moves to threaten Assad’s position, then they may well accept the punishment and move on.”

William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse,” offered a similar assessment.

(bold italics added)

The words I have highlighted in this article from 8th April 2017 make clear the difference with the situation today.

After weeks of frantic diplomatic activity the US finally managed to persuade the Russians a few weeks ago to switch the ‘de-confliction’ hotline back on.  In response to yesterday’s US shooting down of the SU-22 the Russians have however now once again switched it off.

However this time the Russians have not only once more switched off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline.  They have also done what they did not do in April by saying that this time they will take “threatening action by directing their battlefield radar or air defense systems to confront the Americans”.

That this is so is explicitly confirmed in the statement made public yesterday by the Russian Defence Ministry

As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the US side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the US command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken.

The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the ministry said.

Russia will regard any flights within the area of its air force group’s operation in Syria as legitimate targets, the ministry stressed.

Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets.

…….the coalition command did not use the existing communication line between the air commands of Al Udeid Air Base (Qatar) and Khmeimim Air Base to prevent incidents in Syria’s airspace.  We consider the actions of the US command as a deliberate default on their obligations under the memorandum on on preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria signed on October 20, 2015.

(bold italics added)

In other words, the Russian response to the shooting down of the Syrian SU-22 fighter near Taqbah has been much stronger than was the Russian response to the US cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base.

This is so even though the attack on Al-Shayrat air base attracted massive international media attention, whilst the US shooting down of the SU-22 has attracted very little.

This time however the Russians have announced that they will do precisely the thing which they did not do in April following the US attack on Al-Shayrat air base – and which the New York Times says is very threatening – which is track US aircraft, treating them as targets if they fly west of the Euphrates.

Why have the Russians taken this extraordinary step?

The US claims yesterday justifying the shooting down of the SU-22 aircraft have unravelled.  Even the strongly anti-Assad British based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has confirmed that the SU-22 was not bombing Kurdish forces as the US claims but was bombing ISIS fighters as the Syrians say.

A regime warplane was targeted and dropped in the skies of the al-Resafa area […] the warplane was shot down over Al-Resafa area of which the regime forces have reached to its frontiers today, and sources suggested to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that warplanes of the International Coalition targeted it during its flight in close proximity to the airspace of the International Coalition’s warplanes, which caused its debris to fall over Resafa city amid an unknown fate of its pilot, the sources confirmed that the warplane did not target the Syria Democratic Forces in their controlled areas located at the contact line with regime forces’ controlled areas in the western countryside of Al-Tabaqa to the road of Al-Raqqah – Resafa.

(bold italics added)

Another thing that may have provoked the Russians is that the US has tried to pass off the downing of the SU-22 as caused by Syrian encroachment of an agreed ‘de-confliction area’.

Ja’Din sits approximately two kilometers north of an established East-West SDF-Syrian Regime de-confliction area.

This uses a term – ‘de-confliction area’ – used to describe certain regions of Syria covered by an international agreement reached by Russia, Iran and Turkey in May.

The area where the SU-22 was shot down is not within any of these regions.  Al-Jazeera has provided details of where these four ‘de-confliction areas’, and none of them is close to the territory where the SU-22 was shot down

Zone 1 : Idlib province, as well as northeastern areas of Latakia province, western areas of Aleppo province and northern areas of Hama province. There are more than one million civilians in this zone and its rebel factions are dominated by an al-Qaeda -linked alliance.

Zone 2: The Rastan and Talbiseh enclave in northern Homs province. There are approximately 180,000 civilians in this zone and its network of rebel groups includes al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

Zone 3 : Eastern Ghouta in the northern Damascus countryside. Controlled by Jaish al-Islam, a powerful rebel faction that is participating in the Astana talks. It is home to about 690,000 civilians. This zone does not include the adjacent, government-besieged area of Qaboun.

Zone 4 : The rebel-controlled south along the border with Jordan that includes parts of Deraa and Quneitra provinces. Up to 800,000 civilians live there.Wh

Whilst it is possible that the term “established East-West SDF-Syrian Regime de-confliction area” refers to a term used in some informal agreement between the US and Russia, it seems more likely that the US is trying to establish unilaterally ‘no-go’ areas for the Syrian army, and is using the term ‘de-escalation areas’ to conceal the fact.

If so the Russians will want to put a stop to this practice and this may partly explain the strength of the Russian reaction.

However the single most important reason for the strong Russian reaction is what caused the US to shoot down the SU-22 down in the first place.

As the report from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights shows, the real reason the SU-22 was shot down was because it was supporting a Syrian army offensive to capture the strategically important town of Rusafa from ISIS.

Rusafa lies south east of Tabqah – the main base of the US backed Kurdish militia in this area – and within striking distance of the main highway between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, the eastern desert city currently besieged by ISIS.

By capturing Rusafa the Syrian army is now in a position to intercept columns of ISIS fighters who might try to flee Raqqa for Deir Ezzor.

The Syrians and the Russians have in recent weeks complained that the US and the Kurds have been doing nothing to prevent ISIS fighters fleeing Raqqa for Deir Ezzor, and in recent days there have even been reports of movements by Kurdish militia to try to block the Syrian army’s offensive to relieve Deir Ezzor.

The shooting down of the Syrian SU-22 fighter appears to have been intended as a warning to stop the Syrian army from capturing Rusafa, so as to block the Syrian army’s attempt to relieve the pressure on Deir Ezzor.

The Russian warning to the US looks in turn to have been intended to make clear to the US that this sort of interference in the Syrian army’s operations to relieve Deir Ezzor is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

The US has heeded the Russian warning.  The various statements made by the US and by various US officials today, though full of the usual bluster about the US defending itself and its allies anywhere and everywhere, in fact clearly signal that the US is backing off.

The key words – as my colleague Adam Garrie has said – are those of Colonel Ryan Dillon, chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.

As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrews given known threats in the battle space.

(bold italics added)

“Prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria to ensure the safety of aircrews given known threats in the battle space” is code for withdrawal of aircraft from air space where they are at risk of being shot down.

That is what is taking place.  Note that Colonel Dillon is careful not to say where the “known threats in the battle space” that are forcing the redeployment of the aircraft are coming from.

The US has no choice.  If the Russian decision to switch off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline in April was enough to force the US to reduce sharply its air activity in Syria, the Russian decision to switch off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline and to threaten to treat as aerial targets US aircraft flying west of the Euphrates is a threat the US cannot afford to disregard.

Not surprisingly, shortly before the Russian warning was made public, but probably after it was communicated to the US, the Syrian army captured Rusafa with no further hindrance from the US.  Latest reports speak of Syrian army reinforcements flooding into the area,

In the meantime the US is frantically signalling to the Russians its urgent wish to de-escalate the situation.  Note for example the markedly conciliatory language of White House spokesman Sean Spicer, and how he repeatedly passed up opportunities to utter words of defiance against Russia or to threaten the Russians with counter-measures during the latest White House press briefing

Q    Thanks, Sean.  How are you responding to this Russian threat to shoot down American planes over Syria?

MR. SPICER:  Well, obviously, we’re going to do what we can to protect our interests.  And this is something that we’re going to continue to work with — keep the lines of communication open.   And ISIS represents a threat to all nations, and so we’ve got to do what we can to work with partners.  And we’re going to continue to keep an open mind of communication with the Russians.

Q    So will the U.S. change its flight patterns or behavior in Syria?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to refer — I mean, I think this is a question more for DOD to answer.  But I think, obviously, it’s important and crucial that we keep lines of communication open to de-conflict potential issues.

Zeke.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Following up on that — and a second one for you, as well — what would the U.S. government’s response be?  Is the White House going to issue a warning to the Russian government if they were to follow through on this threat?  It seems that your statement — would that be a provocation or something worse, potentially?

MR. SPICER:  I mean, I think that the escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn’t help anybody.  And the Syrian regime and others in the regime need to understand that we will retain the right of self-defense, of coalition forces aligned against ISIS.

Ultimately the situation in Syria is the same as it has been since the US-Russian confrontation in October.

The fact that the Russians have installed a powerful air defence system in Syria incorporating advanced S-400 and S-300VM Antey 2500 missiles means that the US is unable to confront the Russians directly unless it is prepared to risk possibly very serious casualties.

That is an option neither the US military nor the civilian officials of the Obama and Trump administrations are prepared to face.  This is because they know the extraordinary dangers such a clash with the armed forces of a nuclear superpower would risk.  They also know US public opinion is strongly opposed to the US becoming drawn into such a clash.

What that means is that though the Russians must act carefully so as not to provoke the US into an unnecessary confrontation which would serve no-one’s interests, ultimately it is the Russians who in Syria have the whip hand.

The chess game in Syria is far from over.  The game of move and counter-move continues.  With the capture of Rusafa the Syrians and the Russians have however just won another important piece.  In the meantime Russia’s warning limits the range of US moves across the Syrian chessboard.

The net result of all these recent moves is that end of the Syrian war may have drawn a little closer.

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Skripal and Khashoggi: A Tale of Two Disappearances

Two disappearances, and two different responses.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Two disappearances, and two very different responses from Western governments, which illustrates their rank hypocrisy.

When former Russian spy Sergei Skripal went missing in England earlier this year, there was almost immediate punitive action by the British government and its NATO allies against Moscow. By contrast, Western governments are straining with restraint towards Saudi Arabia over the more shocking and provable case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The outcry by Western governments and media over the Skripal affair was deafening and resulted in Britain, the US and some 28 other countries expelling dozens of Russian diplomats on the back of unsubstantiated British allegations that the Kremlin tried to assassinate an exiled spy with a deadly nerve agent. The Trump administration has further tightened sanctions citing the Skripal incident.

London’s case against Moscow has been marked by wild speculation and ropey innuendo. No verifiable evidence of what actually happened to Sergei Skripal (67) and his daughter Yulia has been presented by the British authorities. Their claim that President Vladimir Putin sanctioned a hit squad armed with nerve poison relies on sheer conjecture.

All we know for sure is that the Skripals have been disappeared from public contact by the British authorities for more than seven months, since the mysterious incident of alleged poisoning in Salisbury on March 4.

Russian authorities and family relatives have been steadfastly refused any contact by London with the Skripal pair, despite more than 60 official requests from Moscow in accordance with international law and in spite of the fact that Yulia is a citizen of the Russian Federation with consular rights.

It is an outrage that based on such thin ice of “evidence”, the British have built an edifice of censure against Moscow, rallying an international campaign of further sanctions and diplomatic expulsions.

Now contrast that strenuous reaction, indeed hyper over-reaction, with how Britain, the US, France, Canada and other Western governments are ever-so slowly responding to Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case.

After nearly two weeks since Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Saudi regime is this week finally admitting he was killed on their premises – albeit, they claim, in a “botched interrogation”.

Turkish and American intelligence had earlier claimed that Khashoggi was tortured and murdered on the Saudi premises by a 15-member hit squad sent from Riyadh.

Even more grisly, it is claimed that Khashoggi’s body was hacked up with a bone saw by the killers, his remains secreted out of the consulate building in boxes, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on board two private jets connected to the Saudi royal family.

What’s more, the Turks and Americans claim that the whole barbaric plot to murder Khashoggi was on the orders of senior Saudi rulers, implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The latest twist out of Riyadh, is an attempt to scapegoat “rogue killers” and whitewash the House of Saudi from culpability.

The fact that 59-year-old Khashoggi was a legal US resident and a columnist for the Washington Post has no doubt given his case such prominent coverage in Western news media. Thousands of other victims of Saudi vengeance are routinely ignored in the West.

Nevertheless, despite the horrific and damning case against the Saudi monarchy, the response from the Trump administration, Britain and others has been abject.

President Trump has blustered that there “will be severe consequences” for the Saudi regime if it is proven culpable in the murder of Khashoggi. Trump quickly qualified, however, saying that billion-dollar arms deals with the oil-rich kingdom will not be cancelled. Now Trump appears to be joining in a cover-up by spinning the story that the Khashoggi killing was done by “rogue killers”.

Britain, France and Germany this week issued a joint statement calling for “a credible investigation” into the disappearance. But other than “tough-sounding” rhetoric, none of the European states have indicated any specific sanctions, such as weapons contracts being revoked or diplomatic expulsions.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “concerned” by the gruesome claims about Khashoggi’s killing, but he reiterated that Ottawa would not be scrapping a $15 billion sale of combat vehicles to Riyadh.

The Saudi rulers have even threatened retaliatory measures if sanctions are imposed by Western governments.

Saudi denials of official culpability seem to be a brazen flouting of all reason and circumstantial evidence that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in the consulate building on senior Saudi orders.

This week a glitzy international investor conference in Saudi Arabia is being boycotted by top business figures, including the World Bank chief, Jim Yong Kim, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Britain’s venture capitalist Richard Branson. Global firms like Ford and Uber have pulled out, as have various media sponsors, such as CNN, the New York Times and Financial Times. Withdrawal from the event was in response to the Khashoggi affair.

A growing bipartisan chorus of US Senators, including Bob Corker, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Chris Murphy, have called for the cancellation of American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as for an overhaul of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Still, Trump has rebuffed calls for punitive response. He has said that American jobs and profits depend on the Saudi weapons market. Some 20 per cent of all US arms sales are estimated to go to the House of Saud.

The New York Times this week headlined: “In Trump’s Saudi Bargain, the Bottom Line Proudly Stands Out”.

The Trump White House will be represented at the investment conference in Saudi Arabia this week – dubbed “Davos in the Desert” by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He said he was attending in spite of the grave allegations against the Saudi rulers.

Surely the point here is the unseemly indulgence by Western governments of Saudi Arabia and its so-called “reforming” Crown Prince. It is remarkable how much credulity Washington, London, Paris, Ottawa and others are affording the Saudi despots who, most likely, have been caught redhanded in a barbarous murder.

Yet, when it comes to Russia and outlandish, unproven claims that the Kremlin carried out a bizarre poison-assassination plot, all these same Western governments abandon all reason and decorum to pile sanctions on Russia based on lurid, hollow speculation. The blatant hypocrisy demolishes any pretense of integrity or principle.

Here is another connection between the Skripal and Khashoggi affairs. The Saudis no doubt took note of the way Britain’s rulers have shown absolute disregard and contempt for international law in their de facto abduction of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. If the British can get away with that gross violation, then the Saudis probably thought that nobody would care too much if they disappeared Jamal Khashoggi.

Grotesquely, the way things are shaping up in terms of hypocritical lack of action by the Americans, British and others towards the Saudi despots, the latter might just get away with murder. Not so Russia. The Russians are not allowed to get away with even an absurd fantasy.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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