Putin: We had nothing to do with US elections

The Russian and US delegations led by Putin and Trump met for a working lunch in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018 [PPIO]

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed his summit with US President Donald Trump as a first step to clearing tensions between their two countries and denied any role in the 2016 presidential election.

“Of course, numerous problems persist, and we have failed to clear the backlog in full, it was impossible to do this, but I believe we have made the first important step in that direction,” he told reporters.

He said that the two leaders focused on how to improve relations in the wake of allegations that Russian intelligence meddled in the US elections, and following a grand jury indictment of Russians on charges of hacking email accounts of numerous American lawmakers.

Putin said that both countries could not afford to be on a Cold War footing of confrontation as in the 20th Century.

He said that both countries needed to pool their resources together to combat transnational crime, the spread of radical ideologies and terrorism and together address environmental challenges.

Later, during an exclusive interview with Fox News, Putin reiterated that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 US presidential election.

“Interference with the domestic affairs of the United States … do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?” Putin told Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

The Russian president ridiculed such a notion.

Putin also denied a recent remark made by senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi that Moscow may be blackmailing Trump. He said that Trump was of no interest to Russia until he announced he would run for president.

The Syria quagmire

Putin also highlighted that Russia and the United States could play a large role together to end the conflict there and solving the humanitarian tragedy there. But neither leader provided any details on any agreement regarding Syria.

“Russia and the United States can undoubtedly assume leadership on this issue and organize interaction in overcoming the humanitarian crisis and help refugees return to their homes,” Putin said.

Putin and Trump both committed to securing the border between Israel and Syria as well as the occupied Golan Heights.

“The south of Syria should be brought to the full compliance with the treaty of 1974 about the separation of forces — about separation of forces of Israel and Syria,” said Putin.

“This will bring peace to Golan Heights, and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also to provide security of the State of Israel.”

Read more: Was the summit merely political theater?

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Analysis: Political theater as Putin meets Trump

Putin and Trump met at the 25th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Vietnam in November 2017 [PPIO]

 

Russian president Vladimir Putin met his US counterpart Donald Trump with a slight advantage in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.

That would be a World Cup advantage.

Putin was in attendance at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow where in a dramatic finale to what many agree has been the most successful World Cup in years, France defeated Croatia 4 to 2.

In their opening sit-down in front of the press in Helsinki, Trump reiterated his tweet from the previous evening:

An upbeat Trump then told reporters that he and Putin had a lot to talk about, including their mutual friend President Xi Jinping of China.

“We have not been getting along greatly in the past few years,” Trump said.

“Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. The rest of the world wants to see us getting along – we are the two nuclear powers,” he added.

“Great to be with you,” Trump said as he shook Putin’s hand.

Alienating Europe?

But others in Europe may not be as congratulatory, especially following Trump’s heavy-handed tactics with NATO.

Trump has always maintained that NATO allies need to share more of the burden of protecting Europe – this is something many US presidents have addressed in Brussels.

But none with Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip machismo.

He wants the allies to stick to the NATO-mandated defense spending ratio at two per cent of national budgets.

Europe’s biggest economy Germany spends less than 1.25 per cent of its budget on defense. Spain spends less than one per cent.

The US spends more than 3.5 per cent of its budget on defense.

Which may explain why Trump has had stern words for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He told her and other European allies that the security situation in Europe could change if they don’t cough up the money.

He strongly criticized Merkel for a gas pipeline deal with Russia saying Germany’s dependence on Russian energy sources was “horrific”, particularly when it would be spending billions on the deal.

“It’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia [where] we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” Trump told NATO allies last week.

“We’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries and then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia,” he added.

“Germany is controlled by Russia,” he later said, highlighting German dependence on Russian gas.

Europe caved. Budget defense spending will be increased, the allies told Trump. Germany is rushing to boost its defense spending from 1.24 per cent to 1.5 per cent in this quarter alone.

Is this music to Putin’s ears? Probably.

US political pundits are aghast that Trump would throw the Europeans under the bus and appear to threaten nearly 75 years of American-European alliances.

Democrats have lead the demand for Trump to call off his summit with Putin altogether citing the grand jury indictment of 12 Russians believed to be intelligence officers for meddling in the 2016 US elections.

They have no qualms about claiming that Russia handed Trump the election, all of which makes for grand political theater and increased pressure on the American president.

Russia’s move

The Russians have been largely quiet while Europe takes a Trump bashing.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says that Putin understands Trump’s perspective of placing US national interests as the priority.

While Putin expects the same of Trump, the Russians are hedging their bets. The Kremlin announced on Monday that they expected a tough summit.

But there has been extensive saber-rattling in the Western press, with some fear-mongering to the point of comparing the summit to the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 to carve out Europe.

Peskov dismisses such hysteria.

“Russia and the United States have a special responsibility for maintaining strategic stability and security in the world, our two countries specifically,” Peskov told RT.com.

“European countries, should be interested in the normalization of relations between Moscow and Washington.”

A few hours after landing in Helsinki, Trump Tweeted that ties with Russia had never been worse due to years of US “foolishness and stupidity”.

Trump blames the Obama administration for leaving him with the legacy of failed diplomatic initiatives to resolve the crises in Ukraine and Crimea, as well as Syria.

Trump has twice now publicly said he has low expectations of emerging with anything substantial that could be seen as a US diplomatic win at the summit.

Crimea, Syria, Ukraine … what else?

The Americans and Russians have little common ground; they differ on everything to do with resolving the Syrian crisis to Russia’s alleged involvement in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.

Russia backs Iran and the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal; Trump has already shredded that deal and called for a new one. He has also rejected appeals from European nations doing business with Iran to be exempt from a slew of new sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

“Of course Syria will be discussed by the two presidents,” Peskov told RT.

“We all know what Washington thinks of Iran. But at the same time Iran is a good partner to us in terms of trade, economic cooperation and political dialogue. So this will not be an easy exchange of views,” he admitted.

Russia backs the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also known as the Paris Agreement. Trump walked away from it last year.

With such little agreement, it is a wonder the Helsinki Summit is being held at all.

But negotiations and talks between rivals, or competitors, are never easy. They are meant to find common ground where there is none.

But Putin does not come to the table with the type of domestic pressure facing Trump at the moment.

It’s hard to imagine what will come out of a one-day summit. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will likely handle the bulk of difficult talks with his counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is as seasoned as they come.

US media, which Trump now calls “the foe”, blamed Trump for already handing Putin a symbolic victory for agreeing to the summit in the first place. (The White House has tried to downplay the term summit and wants the media to refer to the whole affair as a meeting)

Trump’s opponents say that the summit is a validation of Russia’s power status, particularly given Russia’s battered image as hacking US networks, allegedly launching a cyber-war and meddling in the US elections.

In the UK, Russia is accused of being behind the Novichok nerve agent poisoning in the Skripal case and breaching the UK’s sovereignty.

Meet me halfway

Putin and Trump may find some thing to agree on in Syria, where President Bashar Al Assad has emerged victorious with his troops routing the last Islamist radical rebel base of operations in Daraa in the southwest of the country.

It is a symbolic victory for Assad since Daraa is where the Islamist insurrection first began.

The country is in shambles and will require hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild; there are some six million refugees scattered in neighboring countries and in Europe, and the human cost has been a staggering 400,000 dead.

Putin and Trump may agree on opening up humanitarian corridors, providing neighboring countries with help to deal with the refugee crisis, and the grandstanding notion that the Syrian people should determine their one destiny.

But whether Assad could remain in power or not – there’s the rub.

The two presidents may decide to get Russia-US relations back on track, ease the tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions to precipitate trust-building and agree on common purpose to fight the Islamic State in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

But with the indictments of Russians in the US gaining media tract, it is difficult to assess how Trump can walk out the summit having gained anything.

Perhaps, Trump can say that this was simply the beginning of a process with Putin and call on his opponents to be patient.

By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post

Putin: Russia to modernize nuclear deterrents

Russia’s modern supersonic and high-altitude weapons will force the West to take it seriously, Putin has said [PPIO]

Russian President Vladimir has said that a global balance of power is a necessity to ensure security and stability around the world.

During a meeting with Armed Forces commanders and defense industry executives on Tuesday, the Russian president lauded his country’s development of new weapons systems as deterrents.

One such new program is the S-500 surface-to-air anti-missile system which builds on the success of the S-400 system currently in use.

The new S-500 is designed to hit targets at super-high altitudes, he said.

He also said that the military should modernize the country’s nuclear deterrents.

“Strategic nuclear forces have key significance for defense and security,” he said on Tuesday.

“In the course of the year, the air part of a nuclear triad will receive modernized missile-carrying bombers TU-95MS and TU-160 armed with modern cruise long-range missiles Kh-101 and Kh-102.”

During his state of the nation address before the Federal Assembly on March 1, Putin said that NATO defenses were “useless and senseless”.

“Russia has created and is upgrading relatively cheap but very efficient systems to overcome missile shields,” Putin said at the time.

The new weapons include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, supersonic weapons capable of breaching NATO defenses and rockets capable of flying below radar which he said were invincible against current anti-missile defense systems deployed by the West.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Russia condemns ‘Kremlin list’ of Putin associates

Putin at a meeting with heads of security and intelligence services of CIS states on 10th July, 2014 at the Kremlin, Moscow [PPIO]

A number of senior Russian political figures have strongly condemned a list drawn up by the US Treasury Department which includes lawmakers and businessmen with close ties to the presidency who may be targeted as part of future sanctions against Moscow.

The list of more than 200 people includes 43 aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

It also includes nearly 100 elite figures in the business and industrial community.

While the list is not a sanctions list, its authors say, it does add pressure on Russia for its alleged involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who is among the Putin aides and advisors on the list, said that Moscow disagrees with the list but also believes it will have no bearing.

“We indeed believe that this is a direct and obvious attempt to coincide some actions with the election in order to influence it,” he said.

The Russian presidential election is scheduled for March 18 to April 1.

Other lawmakers see the list as a result of a serious rift between Moscow and Washington.

“Formally our countries have relations, but including in the sanctions list almost all our country’s leadership means that those relations automatically break down,” Russian Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov told Russian media.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration backed away from a new set of sanctions that were scheduled to begin on Monday because those already in place are already being effective it said.

The new santions, which were passed by Congress last July and designed to as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections, are not necessary for now because the legislation itself has already hurt the Russian defense industry.

“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

Nauert added that the legislation is already working on individuals and organizations who conduct business with the Russian defense industry.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Russia, US agree to Syria ceasefire amid Putin-Trump meeting

Both Putin and Trump wanted to extend their first meeting beyond the 140 minutes, US officials have said on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany [PPIO]

It was meant to last for half an hour but the first face-to-face meaning between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump last for more than two hours.

In a much anticipated meeting which US media had speculated would be a charged, high-stakes face-to-face, the two leaders exchanged pleasantries as if they were two old friends trying to work out a difference between them.

US officials said later that the two presidents appeared to have connected “fairly quickly” and could have continued for hours in engagement and exchange.

“It’s an honor to meet you,” Trump told Putin as they began their 140-minute meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, according to Russian officials.

Bi-partisan voices in Washington had demanded that Trump raise the issue of alleged Russian tampering in the 2016 US elections with his counterpart.

According to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a press briefing following the meeting with Putin, Trump did raise the issue in a “robust” way.

Putin vehemently denied any Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, according to Tillerson.

For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – who also attended the meeting of the two presidents – said the issue of cyber security was prominent during the talks.

“The presidents agreed that this area is becoming more and more risky, if you like, threats are emerging, like the terror threat, threats in other areas of organized crime, as well as threats to the normal way of functioning of societies,” Lavrov told journalists in a separate press briefing according to Russian media reports.

Both Lavrov and Tillerson highlighted the success of the talks, with the latter saying that both countries had different approaches to resolving the same issues, but that they were in agreement about their common goals.

But the bulk of the talks between Putin and Trump focused on Syria, a highly contentious issue since Washington fired cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase after accusing the government of using chemical weapons against civilians two months ago.

The Russians denied that this happened but Washington last week warned that Syrian government forces were about to launch another such attack.

Half-way through the Putin-Trump meeting, the Associated Press announced that it had been informed by Washington officials that Russia and the US had agreed to a ceasefire in southwest Syria beginning noon on July 9.

Later news reports indicated that Jordan would join Russia and the United States in implementing the ceasefire. Lavrov later revealed that the ceasefire implementation would be ensured by all three countries, but that Russian military police would be tasked – in coordination with Jordan and the US – with security.

Tillerson hailed the ceasefire announcement as an indication that both Russia and the United States are capable of working together to deescalate the conflict in Syria.

However, he said that there would be no room in the long-term for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to play a role in the political transition process after hostilities come to an end.

On Ukraine, Tillerson said that the US agreed to a Russian request to appoint an American special envoy on the Ukraine crisis.

Lavrov said that Putin and Trump had agreed to establish a channel of communication on Ukraine and that the steps forward to resolve the crisis there would be based on the Minsk agreements signed two years ago.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies