The last few days of June were hectic across the broad expanse of Russia as demonstrations and protest marches filled the streets of cities and towns in a demonstration of the dissatisfaction of the Russian public, primarily the young, with the levels of corruption in the Russian political and economic systems. There had been extended demonstrations and protests against corruption earlier across Russia in May 2017.
These were a reaction to the airing of a documentary on the subject which highlighted the corrupt gains of Prime Minister Medvedev. The documentary was created by Russian opposition politician and 2018 presidential candidate Alexei Navalny and his Fund for the Fight Against Corruption.
On March 2, Navalny released his most recent and explosive report, exposing in damning detail prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s expansive estates and extravagant sneaker collection. The 45-minute film profiled the lifestyle excesses of the diminutive prime minister and revealed his hidden and presumably stolen wealth compared to Medvedev’s declared annual income of $132,144. The video version of the report has now been viewed more than 22 million times.
In late March, Navalny was able to bring thousands of people into the streets in anti-corruption protests. And then he called for even larger protests on the June 12 anniversary.
These protests by ordinary citizens are relatively new but the corruption in Russia is not new at all. The current level of corruption is a direct product of the system which preceded it. It is the result of continuity, not decline. The protests are becoming more political as the 2018 elections approach but the system of domestic crowd control inherited and improved on by Putin make the creation of a ‘coloured’ revolution in Russia unlikely. The protests of the young and the dissatisfied democrats in Russia are serious, but the ability of the United Russia repressive system to manage dissent, with increasing brutality, seems unlikely to be dislodged by protests.
However, there are two groups in Russia which Putin and his associates fear more than the youthful protestors; two groups who are able to threaten real changes in the system. It is the rising conflict in Russia between the state and the Russian labour movement and the continued unrest in the Russian military which strikes fear in the councils of state. Both derive from the increasingly parlous state of the Russian economy and the absence of liquidity which does not allow Russia to pay its internal obligations.
The Difficulties in the Russian Economy
The last three years have been very difficult for the Russian economy. As the price of oil dropped to below thirty dollars a barrel in a very short period, and natural gas prices with it, the Russian economy lost the revenue from its overwhelmingly dominant part of its national income. Even now, with prices up by a small margin, the squeeze on Russia’s economy by low energy prices continues to constrain its revenues. Beyond the fall in the market price for energy Russia also suffered the blow of economic and technological sanctions from the U.S. and Europe as a result of its attack on Ukraine and the seizure of Crimea. The value of the national currency sank like a stone making it much more expensive to import goods. Recently the currency has picked up slightly.
In 2015, the estimated number of Russians living below the subsistence poverty line was calculated to be 20 million — a sharp increase of 2 million since 2014. Countersanctions imposed by Russia, especially on agricultural products, meant that the domestic prices of goods rose even faster, leading to a further decrease in consumer demand. By 2016 the GDP had fallen by around by 3.7 percent and the value of the rouble falling about 127 percent; all components of the domestic demand continues to shrink, and the economy continues to be in recession.
The federal government has already agreed to freeze total spending for three years. To reach an economic-growth target of 4 per cent, authorities need to reallocate funds and raise expenditure by a total of 3 percent of GDP for education, health care and infrastructure. In an attempt to keep the deficit within limits, the government froze wages and pensions, and is cutting investment and current expenditure. As it is prevented by sanctions from borrowing sufficient funds in the international financial markets, and unwilling to embrace privatization, the government is now heavily reliant on its “reserve fund,” which may be soon depleted as soon as the first half of 2017.
Under current conditions, the main reserve fund will disappear in a couple of quarters. In early January 2016, the government ordered all Russian ministries to submit plans for a 10 percent reduction in their expenses. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov warned that without such steps, one of the country’s major reserve funds, which currently has a balance of $59 billion, would soon be empty.
Russia has a second emergency fund, which will allow the deficit to be financed for another 1-1.5 years, that is, providing budget expenditures are stable. No reform program currently implemented is likely to boost economic growth to 4-5 percent next year. That means the federal budget will be short of funds in the next 2.5-3 years at the very least.
The Russian government has little flexibility in adopting an economic program to address the demands made on it. Not only does it have a shrinking economy, a stagnant oil price, a haemorrhage of funds flowing out of its reserves, but a daily bill of about three million dollars a day in its posturing and aggression in the Donbas and Crimea plus another four million dollars a day in the Syrian campaign.
When the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union had a total population of nearly 290 million, and a Gross National Product estimated at about $2.5 trillion. At that time, the United States had a total population of nearly 250 million, with a Gross Domestic Product of about $5.2 trillion. That is, the population of the United States was smaller than that of the Soviet Union, with an economy that was only twice that of the Soviet Union. Two decades later, Russia’s population is about 140 million, with a GDP of about $1.3 trillion, while the population of the United States is over 300 million, with a GDP of $13 trillion. Today, the population of the United States is twice that of Russia, and the US economy is ten times as large.
Global tables of male life expectancy put Russia in about the 160th place, below Bangladesh. Russia has the highest rate of absolute population loss in the world. According to a recent paper by Kudrin and Gurvich for the Economic Expert Group, the Russian population is aging, and Russia remains in the throes of a catastrophic demographic collapse despite the Kremlin’s decision to throw money at the problem. The population posted 14 years of decline before rising by 23,300 to 141.9 million in 2009. However, it is expected to fall to 139 million by 2031 and could shrink 34 per cent to 107 million by 2050.
Eight out of ten elderly people in residential care have relatives who could support them. Nevertheless, they are sent off to care homes. Between two and five million kids live on the streets (after World War Two the figure was around 700,000). Eighty per cent of children in care in Russia have living parents, but they are being looked after by the state.
Drug use in Russia exploded after the fall of the Soviet Union, though heroin addiction had already begun to grow among soldiers returning from Moscow’s ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan, currently the world’s largest producer of opium. Today, Russian officials estimate there are more than a million heroin users, though experts say the true number could be double, if not higher. HIV rates have kept pace.
In addition to axing spending, the government has targeted the pension system. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that preparations were underway to raise the retirement age, citing the fact that the country’s lifespan had risen to 71. In 2016 payments to retirees were raised by just four percent, well below the rate of inflation and three times lower than in 2015, resulting in a cut in their real value. Rising costs for food, medicine and utilities, along with pension arrears, are driving Russia’s elderly population into destitution.
The average monthly retirement income for 2016 was just 13,132 roubles, or $166 (about $50 more than the official poverty line for a single person). It was lower, however, for pensioners who continued to work, as their retirement payments are not indexed to inflation at all. In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, pensioners who went to the post office in January to collect their monthly check were notified that due to “underfunding” and “cash flow” problems, they would not be able to collect their payments at all. Wage arrears have also become widespread. According to official statistics, 2016 began with 3.89 billion roubles in unpaid wages nationwide, а number that has been steadily growing since June 2012. It is still growing.
Corruption is the rule in Russia. Practically every interaction between the citizen and the state (bureaucracy, police, tax bureau, banks, etc.) involve some form of extra-legal payment for what should be a free or regulated service. It is not a surprise that a new wave of labour militancy has exploded across Russia as people have run out of money, pensioners have seen long delays in receiving their pensions, prices have continued to rise and the government seems unwilling or unable to take the kind of action which would relieve these tensions.
These problems which affect individuals in Russia are compounded by the need for the government to deal with the massive commercial debt owed by Russia’s regions. The list of regions with burdensome debt has not changed since last year. There are 12 regions which hold debt equalling 80 to 100 percent of their revenue, seven hold debt totalling 100 to 120 percent of revenue, Moldova’s debt equals 185 percent of revenues.
The cost to the regions for servicing their debt to the state has doubled over the last three years, and the cost of paying down the debt has risen 360 percent to 2.3 trillion roubles. That total is almost equivalent to the size of the debt itself. The regions are operating with a “cash gap,”. The regions have already received 220 billion roubles, or 70 percent of the 310 billion roubles in cheap federal loans that Moscow had promised them for 2016, according to Finance Ministry data but that enables them to stand still, not to reduce their debts. The fundamental problem is that their nominal incomes rose by only 2.7 percent, whereas expenses grew by 5.7 percent. There only a shrinking or disappearing tax revenue base of income taxes, corporate taxes and property taxes due to the deflation of the economy and there is no place they can go to raise the region’s income.
One of the key areas of social concern has been the shrinkage of the hospital care system which has led to massive hospital closures and a decrease in the quality of medicine in Russia. By 2021–2022, the number of hospitals in the country is likely to drop to the level of the Russian Empire. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of hospitals in Russia halved, dropping from 10,700 to 5,400, according to the Center for Economic and Political Reform (CEPR), based on data from Rosstat. In a report entitled “Burying Healthcare: Optimization of the Russian Healthcare System in Action,” CEPR analysts note that if the authorities continue to shutter hospitals at the current pace (353 a year), the number of hospitals nationwide will have dropped to 3,000 by 2021–2022, which was the number of hospitals in the Russian Empire in 1913.
It is not only the hospital closings which have affected Russian lives, the number of hospital beds also decreased during the fifteen-year period: on average by 27.5%, down to 1.2 million, according to the CEPR’s calculations. In the countryside, the reduction of hospital beds has been more crushing: the numbers there have been reduced by nearly 40%. This is not because there have been alternative health care provisions made; even out-patient clinics have ben closing. During the period from 2000 to 2015, their numbers decreased by 12.7%, down to 18,600 facilities, while their workload increased from 166 patients a day to 208 patients.
The CEPR’s analysts write that the lack of medicines in hospitals reflects another problem in Russian healthcare: its underfunding. The Mandatory Medical Insurance Fund has seen its actual expenditures falling by 6% in 2017 terms of 2015 prices. Compounding these shortfalls of hospitals, clinics and medicines is the suppression of wages among medical professionals. Taking into account all overtime pay, physicians make 140 roubles [approx. 2.30 euros- $2.43] an hour, while mid-level and lower-level medical staff make 82 and 72 roubles [approx. 1.36 euros $1.43 and 1.18 euros $1.25] an hour, respectively. The report continues, “A physician’s hourly salary is comparable, for example, to the hourly pay of a rank-and-file worker at the McDonald’s fast food chain (approx. 138 roubles an hour). A store manager in the chain makes around 160 roubles an hour, meaning more than a credentialed, highly educated doctor” According to a survey of 7,500 physicians in 84 regions of Russia, done in February 2017 by the Health Independent Monitoring Foundation, around half of the doctors earn less than 20,000 roubles [approx. 330 euros $349] a month per position.
Despite the compulsory health insurance scheme by the government, compulsory medical insurance rates do not cover actual medical care costs, which means that patients have to supplement the insurance coverage with cash. The report cites the fact that a basic blood test costs around 300 roubles, whereas outpatient clinics are only reimbursed 70 to 100 roubles on average for the tests under the compulsory medical insurance. Hence the growing number of paid services. Thus, the amount paid for such a shortfall grew between 2005 and 2014 from 109.8 billion roubles to 474.4 billion roubles.
There is the additional dimension of wealth inequality in Russia. A recent Credit Suisse report showed that 10% of Russians own some 89% of total household wealth in the country. Over the past year this figure has increased by 2%, and is significantly higher in countries such as the United States and China (78% and 73%, respectively). Moreover, 70% of Russia’s adult population is among the poorer half of the global population, with a quarter in the poorest 20%. The average Russian adult has some $10,344 in net assets: roughly $2,000 in financial assets, $10,000 in non-financial assets, and $2,000 in debt. On average for 2016, the wealth of Russians shrunk by 14.5%, due primarily to the devaluation of the rouble.
The Russian government has little flexibility in adopting an economic program to address the demands made on it. Not only does it have a shrinking economy, a stagnant oil price, a haemorrhage of funds flowing out of its reserves, but a daily bill of about three million dollars a day in its posturing and aggression in the Donbas and Crimea plus another four million dollars a day in the Syrian campaign.
The Failure of the Russian Business Model
One of the key aspects of Russia’s inability to address its economic problems comes from the unique business model it has created. Its business structure is seriously flawed. Despite the notion that Communism died with the fall of the Soviet Union, the state, its agencies and its companies are populated by the Undead; the unreconstructed nomenklatura of the failed communist system.
In his book, Capital, Marx wrote that ‘capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour’. He coined the term ‘Vampire Capitalism”; of corporations whose exploitations ‘only slightly quenches the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour’, and that ‘the vampire will not let go while there remains a single muscle, sinew or drop of blood to be exploited’. What Putin has created is a society of Vampire Communism where the Undead suck the life blood from private corporations and government agencies; leaving drained and powerless structures behind them.
The new and powerful people in charge of these new companies and agencies (the ‘siloviki’) have been almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the ‘Chekists’. A ‘Chekist’ is a general, if pejorative, term for those who are or once were employed in the security operations of the Soviet state – KGB, GRU, MVD, FSB etc. (the ‘Organs’) Dzerzhinsky’s original agency was the Cheka.
Under Putin, these new ‘siloviki’ have been firmly installed in the corridors of power. Under Putin, the Chekists, primarily the St. Petersburg flavour of Chekist, openly took power as ministers, government advisors, governors, bankers and politicians. There may be as many as six thousand of these Chekists in powerful positions in the Russian state. They are not a united force, nor do they follow a single ‘party line’. There are more factions of siloviki than there were factions of the Trotskyites. They are oligarchs in epaulettes.
What is important about the siloviki is that they have created a system of parastatal corporations in Russia; semi-private corporations controlled by state-appointed directors. Theoretically these state-owned companies are the responsibility of a board of directors and management appointed by the state, but their retained capital and cash-flows are controlled outside of the company structure. This effectively removes the linkage between the individual performances of a private company, a parastal or an industry from the funds it generates. Because of the configuration of the siloviki economy the profits from the various producing entities and service industries are not kept in the name of the generating company or service but effectively put into a central pot (like the ‘obschak’ of the Russian Mafia) for distribution by the political leadership.
This divorce from a direct line between earnings and capital accumulation makes corporate planning a subject of political discussion and debate. This is inimical to the notion of ploughing back profits towards R&D, maintenance and the renewal of plant and equipment. This is the central weakness of the Russian economy and a powerful reason for the stranglehold of the siloviki on the direction of the economy.
This has proved useful when the state wishes to purchase more shares in companies. The state uses mirrors and smoke and fake transfers to acquire companies like Yukos; pretending that these funds have been made available to Rosneft or Gazprom. There are enormous amounts of funds transferring around the Russian economy for share purchases; but no cash. The state can acquire companies this way, but they cannot make them work. Work requires investment in capital equipment; cash for repairs and maintenance; money for research and development, etc. The re-nationalised companies are all competing for the small cash reserves of the state and are dependent on which group of competing siloviki has the ear of the keepers of the purse string.
Many of the previous ‘oligarchs’ are still in business but they have virtually no political power. Russian businessmen and siloviki have been pulling their money out of Russia as fast as they can. Russian flight capital is of epic proportions.
What Putin has created is a society of Vampire Communism where the Undead suck the life blood from private corporations and government agencies; leaving drained and powerless structures behind them.
On-Going Strikes and The Growing Strength of the Independent Labour Unions
This system has made the role of trades unions very difficult. It has always been difficult to be a working-class man in Russia; now it is even worse.
In the Soviet and other communist systems, trade unions played a different role than those in the West. Soviet trade unions had a distinctive relationship to the state. They were government organized, state-controlled bodies which performed “dual functions.” They had management and administrative functions and were also charged to protect and defend workers’ interests. They were designed both to represent the workers and to increase workers’ production. Trade unions controlled housing, day care, health care, access to vacation spots, recreation and cultural areas and, most importantly, social security funds and pensions.
The Soviet working class had made a tacit agreement to trade social security for political compliance, a “social contract.” In this contract, the regime promised full and secure employment, low and stable prices on necessities, a wide range of free social services (day cares, hospitals, schools, etc.) and egalitarian wage policies. In exchange for economic and social security, workers accepted the monopoly of the Party on interest representation, agreed to the centrally planned economy and to the dictates of the authoritarian system. The erosion of the social contract during the late Soviet period led to a system in which there were fewer shared values. The lack of consensus or tradition of discussion on what a society or government should or should not do led to a dramatic rise in labour unrest and political activism.
Unions were organized on an industrial as opposed to a craft basis. There were fifteen industrial unions affiliated to the central union organisation the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (AUCCTU). The unions had a state-granted monopoly in their respective industries. This type of organization allowed for maximum Party control and also precluded any choice on the part of union members. The AUCCTU was led by high level Party functionaries; Alexander Shelepin, the former head of the KGB, became the head of the AUCCTU. The labour movement was a key part of the Party’s control of the government and the economy.
The one major labour impact of the post-Soviet political turmoil was the transformation of the state-run unions in 1990 from a constellation of plant level unions into ‘independent’ trades unions. These essentially took over the assets of some of the Soviet labour unions and maintained them for the workers affiliated to these unions. These unions formed the Federation of Independent Trades Unions (FNPR in Russian) in 1990. They included in the bargaining unit both white collar as well as blue collar workers plus middle management.
Since the formation of the Soviet labour system in 1920 there has always been the distinction between the narrow, ‘bread and butter’ unionism best known as the US model and the broader, more political unionism of party, unions and social organizations encompassed in the term ‘professional associations’. In Russian, the pejorative term ‘tred unionizm’ has always referred to narrow economic unionism as opposed to the Soviet term ’profsoiuz’ which covers a far broader spectrum.
The state unions are still operative in Russia but there are also a wide variety of independent unions which have developed which have taken on the role of labour militancy for economic, social and legal rights for Russian workers. Their militancy has posed serious and immediate problems for Putin.
Despite heavy-handed tactics by the government there is a nationwide truck strike in Russia. More than a million truckers have gone on strike across the country. The latest strike started on 28 March 2017 and is continuing despite a showdown on April 15 when even higher charges on the trucking industry took effect. The origins of the protest were the unilateral imposition of a new tax on trucking by the government in 2015. This system (known as the ‘Platon’ system) was introduced to offset what the government said was ‘wear and tear’ on the nation’s road which is so dependent on trucks. The Platon tax applies to all trucks over 12 tons. This is in addition to all the other taxes paid by the truckers. The truckers have resisted paying this tax because they see the revenues earned going, not to repair of the roads, but directly to the pocket of Putin’s closest friend (and judo partner) the billionaire Arkady Rotenberg whose son owns the Platon system.
The current protest was sparked following a government decision to double the Platon fee to over 3 roubles per kilometre ($0.05) starting in mid-April. However, Medvedev was forced to reduce the hike after protests. Drivers argue that the taxes are constraining their incomes and the situation is set to get worse. On April 15, the tax increased from 1.53 roubles per kilometre ($0.027) to 1.91 roubles ($0.033). The government initially planned to increase the rate to 3.06 roubles ($0.05), but has since abandoned the idea. Russia’s transport ministry said the Platon system could gather 23 billion roubles ($406 million) in 2017.
On March 27, the truckers began the rollout of the strike. The police responded with violence and jailing of the leaders. Andrei Bazhutin, chair of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) and the duly elected leader of the long-haul truckers opposed to the Plato road tolls payment system, was subject to the harshest crackdown. On March 27, he was put under arrest for 14 days. He spent five of them in a jail before he was released, but during that time the authorities nearly removed his four children from their home and almost caused his pregnant wife to have a miscarriage. On April 5, Rustam Mallamagomedov, leader of the Dagestani truckers, was detained in Moscow.
According to Bazhutin, Dagestan is a particular hotbed of protest. “In Dagestan, 90% of the drivers are private carriers. The republic is small, and so the strike is in everyone’s face. We have strikers spread across the entire country, but Russia is so vast that it’s not so noticeable, although a huge number of people are on strike.” Across Russia the roads are filled with truckers blocking lanes. They are stopping traffic in many of the cities by stopping their trucks in the roads. They have filled all the parking lots with trucks. Despite this there is poor coverage in the state-controlled press and media but it is obvious to anyone in the country who drives. Meanwhile there are shortages of goods and produce across Russia.
There are strikes all over Russia, primarily among workers who haven’t been paid their wages for months at a time. This has been going on for over five years; including doctors, construction workers, teachers, car workers, and factory workers. There was a desperate strike in the pizzeria restaurants who are on a hunger strike in Moscow. It is a good example of the problem, where workers have not been paid for a long period and management refuses to deal with the problem constructively. The workers are desperate because they do not know how to get their hard-earned money. They have been kicked out of rented flats and have no way to pay back their debts, and there is no one and nowhere they can borrow any more money.
Instead of doing everything they can to pay the money they owe their workers, the real employers have been hiding behind “strange” managers, straw men who have been installed as the notional ownership of the restaurants. Practically speaking, there is no one with whom workers can negotiate. The union says it wants to negotiate with the new owners who say that back wages are not their responsibility. In the meantime, strikes continue across Russia.
The inability of the Russian State to fund its internal obligations has become obvious even in Moscow where the medical doctors have been on extended strike (more like a work-to-rule). The Moscow health care reform launched last year shook the city’s medical community to the core. Leaked plans showing that City Hall intended to shut down 28 hospitals in Moscow and the Moscow region, laying off more than 7,000 medical staff, sparked massive street protests by doctors and nurses in November 2014. The strike began on March 24, 2015. It was the first strike in Moscow’s hospitals since the ambulance strike in 1993. It continues largely unresolved.
The traditional solution to labour shortages has always been the employment of migrant labour, but the millions of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks who power Moscow’s huge economy are leaving in droves. There are many migrant workers working in Moscow. They man the construction sites, shovel snow and drive the hordes of “gypsy cabs” that take Muscovites home at night. More than a million of these workers are officially registered in the city, most from the former Soviet Union, and the actual number is likely much higher. In countries like Tajikistan, a major source of labour for Moscow, more than half the GDP is remittances sent home from Russia.
Immigrant life is hard. Wages are low, and workers face discrimination and are poorly integrated into Russian society. Times have recently got more difficult than ever. The rouble has plummeted, and with falling oil prices and western sanctions, Russia is in recession. Added to that are strict new regulations that cut further into migrant labourers’ earnings, leaving workers rethinking their future. “Everyone’s leaving. Wages are small and many places are cutting salaries. Other workplaces are cutting jobs.” Citizens of former Soviet republics (besides the Baltics, Georgia and Turkmenistan) can enter Russia without a visa. But a new system that came into effect on 1 January requires migrant workers to get a “patent,” or work permit, for which they must take a medical exam against contagious diseases, get medical insurance and present Russian ID. They also must pass a test on Russian language, culture and history.
Employers often employ migrant workers under the table, but the new system shifts the onus to pay tax largely on to the workers. A monthly fee – essentially an advance tax – must be paid to keep the permit open. In Moscow, it costs 4,000 roubles a month. For a migrant worker making 20,000 to 25,000 roubles a month, that’s a lot. The permit cost has worsened an already tough situation for migrant workers, who often face discrimination and persecution by crooked employers, officials and landlords. A quick search of rental announcements in Moscow will reveal that most listings are for Russian or “Slavic” people only.
The downtick in workers has put pressure on Moscow’s economy. Industries involving cleaning, selling fast-moving consumer goods and construction are especially reliant on migrant labour. As the population ages, there will be fewer people to work, and few Russians want the kinds of jobs migrants typically do. There’s a contraction of labour resources in general. If you look at immigrants who do construction, finding replacements quickly is hard. Local estimates are that almost 40% of these migrants have gone home.
As these nationwide strikes expand and involve many more people, the independent unions of Russia are gathering their collective strengths to pose a real threat to the existing political system. The police and military may club and beat young protestors and put them in jail or hospital but they can’t club a worker into working anymore; still less a thousand workers. If wages are not being paid by employers or delayed indefinitely, the workers have nothing to lose. They can be militant by doing nothing. Putin hasn’t developed a response to that. Russian independent labour unions pose a real threat to Putin’s control.
Putin may think he can beat and bludgeon the youthful followers of Navalny but it is very unlikely that he can beat down the pressure of an organised work force in the independent unions and the might of the Russian Army. The unions have the ability to shut things down; the military have the weapons and the training.
The Military Threat To The Putin Regime
By far the greatest threat to Putin and his unique system of governance is the growing dissatisfaction in the Russian military with the charade of investments in new equipment and budgets promised by Putin.
One of the most important goads to military dissent is the practice of installing political ‘hangers-on’ into the highest ranks of the service and giving them military ranks. The structure of the Russian military establishment is that it is run by people who have had virtually no contact with actual soldiering. They are politicians; apparatchiki who have worked their way up the political ladder to be entrusted with high military office. They call themselves ‘generals’ but were originally mayors, heads of political parties and hangers-on in the Russian equivalent of Tammany Hall. This is true for many in the highest ranks in the Army. The KGB has always been staffed by people who give themselves military rank by decree. Virtually none of the top leaders had any personal military experience.
The FSB is no different. When the post-war soldiers died out and retired they were replaced by ‘careerists’. The current Minister of Defence, Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoygu is one of those. Very much like the “Perfumed Princes of the Pentagon” in Washington their backgrounds and tasks are administrative and far removed from war-fighting.
The Russian military has been underfunded since the end of the Warsaw Pact. For years after the end of the USSR and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact forces the Russian Government failed to provide adequately for the returning soldiers. When the Wall collapsed, the third largest army in the world, the East German, was out of business. Massive quantities of East German (e.g. ex-Russian) military supplies were being offered at cut prices to the world as the re-unifying German state moved to change over to NATO equipment. One of the Soviet Union’s major industries, the arms industry, had the bottom fall out of its market. This was coupled with the enforced withdrawal of Soviet forces stationed in bases across Eastern and Central Europe. The Warsaw Pact disappeared; the COMECON disappeared and there was not enough money in the reserves to keep paying, unilaterally, the costs of keeping Russian troops outside of Russia.
The soldiers were never paid much to begin with but the fall of the Soviet Union meant that they had very little indeed. These soldiers sold, with the connivance of their commanding officers, anything that wasn’t nailed down. They sold it for food and they sold it for trophies that they would carry home as they were demobilised. Most importantly there was no place in the physical Russian military establishment where these troops could be stationed. There were not enough bases inside Russia where the returning troops could be housed. There were no jobs for thousands of trained officers and NCOs. The offset costs for the Soviet Occupation paid by their former ‘satellites’ were no longer forthcoming. There were too many mouths to feed and too few bases in which they could be sheltered.
No one was sure what to do but everyone recognised the danger of a disgruntled army full of people with grievances and with nothing to do. The answer was to keep the numbers down and to keep them poor, weak and demotivated. There was no money or market for new planes and ships; no money for maintenance and very little money for food and shelter.
After the fall of the Soviet Union the military was kept in a state of dereliction and constraint. Russia had suffered greatly as a result of the Afghan War. By the time of Gorbachev’s accession to power the war in Afghanistan had deteriorated badly. Resources were draining from the USSR budget and military progress had stopped and containment was the policy. Gorbachev told the military that they had a year to sort things out. They embarked on a policy of creating an Afghan Army which would notionally take over from Soviet troops, who would then be free to return home. This did not work so, at the end of 1986, they prepared to bring their troops home. The first contingent returned to the USSR from May to August 1988 and the rest from November 1988 to February 1989. It was an expensive and humiliating experience.
After the war ended, the Soviet Union published figures of dead Soviet soldiers: the initial total was 13,836 men, an average of 1,537 men a year. According to updated figures, the Soviet army lost 14,427, the KGB lost 576, with 28 people dead and missing. Material losses included: 118 aircraft; 333 helicopters; 147 tanks; 1,314 IFV/APCs; 433 artillery guns and mortars; 1,138 radio sets and command vehicles; 510 engineering vehicles; 11,369 trucks and petrol tankers. It was a very costly business. Not only was it costly, there was no budget to rebuild the armed forces.
The armed forces had been forced to leave their bases in Eastern Europe to return home. Russia’s most immediate neighbours, those who had been part of the Warsaw Pact, were nervously testing their degrees of freedom from the Soviet embrace. The invasions by Soviet tanks of the East Germans in 1953, the Hungarians in 1956, the Czechs in 1968 and the long history of Polish – Soviet conflict were too recent for these countries to forget.
When Putin came into office he cut the military budget even more. What little remained was devoted to Putin’s new thrust into Chechnya which used up a substantial part of the military budget. Since then Putin has been promising new funds for the military but only small quantities of these funds have arrived. One reason they haven’t arrived is that Russian military prosecutors have found that about 20 per cent of Russian defence spending is stolen by corrupt officers and officials. This should surprise no one as the only way that the officers could maintain their lifestyles was to steal money to do so. They saw what the politicians were stealing so felt little inhibitions.
The anti-corruption campaign in the military has been going on for several years. A large part of the effort is directed at firms that manufacture weapons whose prices to the government are disparate with the market. Last year, this led to a curious confrontation which resulted in Russian shipyards refusing to build submarines for the Russian Navy. The Russian shipyards were in such bad shape that the government tried to buy four Mistral class vessels from France.
On 8 May 2015, the former Defence Ministry official Yevgenia Vasilyeva was sentenced to five years in a penal colony Vasliyeva, who worked as an aide to former Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, was found guilty on eight charges including fraud, money laundering and exceeding and abusing her authority. Four others who worked with her at the state-run Oboronservis holding, where she controlled the sale of Defence Ministry property also received prison sentences, the most severe of which was four years and three months. The group had faced allegations that Oboronservis sold off property cheaply, often to well-connected insiders, depriving the state of 3 billion roubles ($60 million).
Vasilyeva and her accomplices were also convicted of conspiracy to commit the crimes and deceive Serdyukov, who was fired from his post as defence minister in November 2012 and suspected of negligence in using government funds for a private road. Serdyukov was one of President Vladimir Putin’s most loyal courtiers and was granted an amnesty. There have been several other cases in which the politically-connected were let off and the military and defence civil servants were fined or jailed (or both)
Efforts to purge the forces of over 100,000 unneeded (and not very effective) officers ran into stiff resistance. The senior generals and admirals wanted to at least let these men remain until they reach retirement age, and leave with dignity, rather than being, in effect, fired.
Most of the submarine fleet is scrap and unusable. Tanks are no better. Except for the new Armata Tank, only a very few of which have been produced, the most modern tank Russia has is the T-90, which entered service in the early 1990s. Most of the 20,000 tanks (72 per cent of them in storage) in the Russian army are T-72s and T-80s. Russia planned to replace most of those T-72s and T-80s with T-90s and a new design, the T-95, by 2025 but the money ran out. On March 25, 2012 Major-General Alexander Shevchenko announced the massive scrapping of Russia’s tanks, APC and trucks, including T-80, T-64, T-55, tanks as well as a number of army trucks. Similar schemes were scheduled for the Russian air force.
The problems of supply are not just quantitative; the biggest problem is quality. Arms manufacturers are in no position to use the funds even if they get them. Take, for example, Uralvagonzavod, the country’s only tank manufacturer. Putin himself bowed to pressure to place an order for 2,300 tanks to be built over the next 10 years despite a statement by General Staff head Nikolai Makarov that the military would not be purchasing any tanks in the next five years due to their substandard quality. In an article in RIA Novosti on 15 March 2012, Ground Forces Chief Col. Gen. Alexander Postnikov said that the most advanced weapon systems manufactured for Russia’s ground forces are below NATO and even Chinese standards and are expensive; “The weapon models that are manufactured by our industry, including armour, artillery and small arms and light weapons, fail to meet the standards that exist in NATO and even China,” He said that Russia’s most advanced tank (at that time), the T-90, is in fact a modification of the Soviet-era T-72 tank [entered production in 1971] but costs 118 million rubbles (over $4 million) per unit. “It would be easier for us to buy three Leopards [Germany’s main battle tanks] with this money,” Postnikov said.
More importantly, it has invested very little in military R&D or at least an R&D with a workable product. The industry has faltered from lack of funding, a lack of R&D and the disappearance of a substantial portion of its skilled labour force. An overwhelming fraction of the defence workforce drifted away some time ago, in search of better career opportunities, and those who remain are generally older workers contemplating retirement. Increasingly elderly design and production facilities are suited for legacy weapons, rather than world standard designs. The emerging Russian Rust Belt cannot sustain a world class machine tool industry, which would be the foundation on which a Russian arms industry might be revived.
Ironically the most developed facilities for military production were in the Ukraine. The military-industrial complex of Ukraine is the most advanced and developed branch of the state’s sector of economy. It includes about 85 scientific organizations which are specialized in the development of armaments and military equipment for different usage. The air and space complex consists of 18 design bureaus and 64 enterprises. In order to design and build ships and armaments for the Ukrainian Navy, 15 research and development institutes, 40 design bureaus and 67 plants have been brought together. This complex is tasked to design heavy cruisers, build missile cruisers and big antisubmarine warfare (ASW) cruisers, and develop small ASW ships. Rocketry and missilery equipment, rockets, missiles, projectiles, and other munitions are designed and made at 6 design bureaus and 28 plants.
Ukraine has certain scientific, technical and industrial basis for the indigenous research, development and production of small arms. A number of scientific-industrial corporations have started R&D and production of small arms. The armour equipment is designed and manufactured at 3 design bureaus and 27 plants. The scientific and industrial potential of Ukraine makes it possible to create and produce modern technical means of military communications and automated control systems at 2 scientific-research institutes and 13 plants. A total of 2 scientific-research institutes and 53 plants produce power supply batteries; 3 scientific-research institutes and 6 plants manufacture intelligence and radio-electronic warfare equipment; 4 design bureaus and 27 plants make engineer equipment and materiel.
Perhaps the best example is the company Motor Sich. It has been the sole producer of engines for the MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. It produces these engines for the Russian helicopter industry and a wide range of other military components. The air firm Antonov is based in the Ukraine and is one of the major suppliers of aircraft for the Russian Air Force and for Russian arms exports.
The ability of the Russian industry to fill its own needs is compounded by the fact that it needs Ukrainian parts and subassemblies for its exports. Losing control of the Eastern Ukraine has jeopardised Moscow’s ability to fulfil multibillion-dollar international contracts without Ukrainian inputs. It also supplies the engines for the jointly-produced AN-148 planes. Ukraine and Russia had plans to produce 150 planes of this type worth $4.5 billion. Other exporters to Russia include Mykolayiv-based Zorya-Mashproekt, which sells several types of turbines to Russia, including those installed on military ships. Another is Kharkiv-based Hartron, which supplies the control systems for Russian missiles.
The Yuzhmash plant in Dnipropetrovsk was the only service provider for Satan missiles that Russia uses. The Ukrainians are also the main supplier of spare parts which its armed forces desperately need. Russia is scrambling to supply domestic factories with the technology needed to produce these components inside Russia. However, much of the higher inputs of technology, especially in the electromechanical area, are sourced in France, Germany, Britain and the U.S.; now effectively closed off to Russia by sanctions. Despite efforts by the Russian troops in the Eastern Ukraine many of the existing plants were attacked and damaged by the rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk. Additionally, the skill set of the Russian factories has been degraded by the demographic crisis of Russia and the ageing population. Now Ukraine has re-engineered its military and analogous plants to provide weapons, aircraft and electronic systems to the West.
One of the biggest problem for the Russian military, however, is manpower. A problem in relying on conscript soldiers is their term of service. At the beginning of 2014 the services were only 82% manned – a shortage of nearly 200,00 personnel. This was exacerbated by the reduction in 2013 of the term of conscription to one year of service as opposed to the previous three years. Since these terms of service are so short, military adventures have to be timed with the availability of soldiers in their cycle of enlistment. More importantly these conscripts are untrained which has meant that they do not have the experience or training to fill the important jobs of operating and maintaining the sophisticated weapons systems used by the special forces units like the Air Assault Troops (VDV) and other elite forces. There is a deep deficit in Russian Reserve units which are used to carry out the training of conscripts despite the establishment of a new Reserve Command in 2013. There has been a reduction in the numbers of conscripts successfully evading the draft; a frequent Russian problem.
However, there is another manpower problem which is even more difficult to handle. Putin has been firing large numbers of the Russian military leadership. On the 29th of June 2016 Putin’s Ministry of Defence suddenly announced it was firing 50 naval officers, including Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk and chief of staff Rear Admiral Sergei Popov. They were both fired for ‘cause’, as were several other unnamed senior officials from their posts in the Baltic Fleet. This came as a great shock to the country as such a purge of serving top commanders had not been seen since the days of Stalin, during the Yezhovshchina of 1936-38. Earlier, Admiral Viktor Chirkov had been removed in November 2015 officially because of ‘health concerns’. Chirkov, who had been Kravchuk’s patron in the navy for many years, was rumoured to have also been removed due to complaints about inadequate readiness in some units.
In late 2014 there had been a smaller purge of the Russian military when Putin dismissed twenty generals from their posts. In February 2014 Putin had dismissed six other generals. These generals were dismissed by a presidential decree announced through the Gazette and without fanfare. The officers dismissed included the lieutenant general of police, Sergey Lavrov, as well as the head of media relations in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Andrei Pilipchuk. Another was the first deputy commander of the central regional military command, Vladimir Padalko. Some other lower-rank officers were dismissed as well at the time.
The top Russian military leadership has not bene afraid of complaining about Putin and the political interference in the military, despite the exaggerated promises of an expanded budget, new equipment, and the modernisation of the Russian military might; very little of which the economy can afford. It soon became apparent to the military that they had been sold a kukla (in Russian slang kukla is a roll of paper with large denomination bills on the outside to suggest a wad of real money. Inside this roll of bills is only scrap paper).
Even more importantly the Russian military has a history of defiance of political controls when it has become a clash of principles. They said it was wrong to use Russian troops against Russian people. The Russian military did not want to fight the war in Chechnya under Yeltsin, Gorbachev and Putin. Yeltsin’s adviser on nationality affairs, Emil Pain, and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence, Boris Gromov, both resigned in protest at the invasion, as did Gen. Boris Poliakov. More than 800 professional soldiers and officers refused to take part in the operation; of these, 83 were convicted by military courts and the rest were discharged. Later Gen. Lev Rokhlin also refused to be decorated as a Hero of Russia for his part in the war. This is why, under Yeltsin, the war in Chechnya was fought almost entirely by the military forces of the MVD (Ministry of the Interior) not the Army.
This is important in today’s battles in that the conflict between the Russian Army and the MVD has become institutionalised. In April 2016 President Putin announced the creation of the National Guard, (‘Rosgvardia’) a powerful structure that includes more than 180,000 interior ministry troops plus special police units. Putin’s shakeup creates a military and police force of up to 400,000 well-trained servicemen loyal to him personally. The newly appointed commander is one of Putin’s most trusted men, a former undercover KGB agent named Victor Zolotov. Putin has created a vast Praetorian guard, loyal only to him. He has announced that the Rosgvardia is superior to the military and its needs take precedence over any military body; indeed, it can investigate and prosecute the military without judicial review.
The only comparison to the role of the Rosgvardia is the introduction of the Oprichnina by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in Russia between 1565 and 1572; a policy of secret police, mass repressions, public executions, and confiscation of lands. There was terror in the land at the presence of the Oprichniki (see the opera of that name by Tchaikovsky). There is no guarantee that the Russian military will demonstrate the same fear and every chance that they will continue their policy of opposing the MVD and Praetorian Guards.
So, Putin may think he can beat and bludgeon the youthful followers of Navalny but it is very unlikely that he can beat down the pressure of an organised work force in the independent unions and the might of the Russian Army. The unions have the ability to shut things down; the military have the weapons and the training.
Dr. Gary K. Busch, for Lima Charlie News
Dr. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting professor at several universities. He was the head of research in international affairs for a major U.S. trade union and Assistant General Secretary of an international union federation. His articles have appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit, Wall Street Journal, WPROST, Pravda and several other news journals. He is the editor and publisher of the web-based news journal of international relations www.ocnus.net.
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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http://ow.ly/6QK230dftFwPutin’s struggle amid a Russia in the throes of change
Russian President Vladimir Putin has his hands full battling a shrinking economy, a hemorrhage of funds, an organized work force, and a restless…
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, on May 29. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)
ALTHOUGH PRESIDENT TRUMP likes to rely on his instincts, this week’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany, calls for careful preparation and straight talk. Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters that “we have no specific agenda” and “it’s whatever the president wants to talk about.” This is far too casual and risky.
While Mr. Putin’s actions at home and abroad are often objectionable, an exchange in person with him can help avoid mistrust and misperceptions, of which there are plenty. Mr. Trump should set aside his stated admiration for Mr. Putin’s strongman tendencies and instead confront the Russian president with difficult questions. This meeting is not about being friends but about urgent business. The agenda is rather full.
Mr. Trump simply cannot fail to admonish Mr. Putin for Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. He must make clear the United States will not tolerate it, period. Naturally, this is a difficult issue for Mr. Trump, who reaped the benefit of Russia’s intervention and now faces a special counsel’s investigation, but nonetheless, in his first session with Mr. Putin, the president must not hesitate to be blunt. He should not be overeager to give back the two Russian compounds used for espionage that were seized by the United States in December in President Barack Obama’s belated response to the election meddling.
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On Ukraine, Mr. Trump must also display determination. Russia fomented an armed uprising and seized Crimea in violation of international norms, and it continues to instigate violence in the Donbas.Mr. Trump ought to make it unmistakably clear to Mr. Putin that the United States will not retreat from the sanctions imposed over Ukraine until the conditions of peace agreements are met.
The leaders ought to discuss the Syrian conflict with an eye toward avoiding direct hostilities, even as Washington and Moscow pursue dramatically different military goals. Mr. Trump should at least try to persuade Mr. Putin to acknowledge the need for a government not headed by Bashar al-Assad and a region not dominated by Iran. Mr. Trump might also fruitfully bring up an idea floated recently by former Democratic senator Sam Nunn and former Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, among others, to restart broader Russian-American military-to-military communication. It would also be in the interest of both countries to resume cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and to resolve the standoff over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union communicated with each other, and the need is no less today. A meeting will probably satisfy Mr. Putin’s desire to be seen as a global leader, and he will be probing Mr. Trump for signs of weakness. Mr. Putin suffers from long-standing misunderstandings about the West and the United States, and it can only help to speak to him directly, if the message is carefully prepared.
Still, the “Baby Driver” results are modest by summer standards. Why should studios invest in originality when sequels like “Despicable Me 3” (Illumination/Universal) usually make more money?
“It keeps our business vital,” said Josh Greenstein, Sony’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution. “When something original, surprising and new comes out of nowhere, it’s a big win for everyone.”
Modi Wiczyk, a co-founder of the TV and film studio Media Rights Capital, added: “When very special artists come together to make something like this and a studio like Sony fully embraces it, our currency with global audiences is refreshed. All of today’s great franchises were yesterday’s great originals.” Sony and Media Rights Capital spent $34 million to make “Baby Driver,” after factoring in rebates. The soundtrack was the No. 3 album on iTunes on Sunday.
A new comedy called “The House,” co-starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, also offered insight into what ticket buyers want — or don’t want: “The House” (New Line/Warner Bros.) flopped with about $9 million in ticket sales, joining “Baywatch,” “Snatched,” “Rough Night,” “CHIPS” and “Fist Fight” in a parade of studio comedy misfires.
Some studio executives are blaming Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site that has become an indispensable tool for many ticket buyers. According to Rotten Tomatoes, “The House,” which cost about $40 million to make, received reviews that were only 17 percent positive. No live-action studio comedy has received a score above 50 percent so far this year.
All of these comedies have been rated R. Perhaps people have had all the crude humor they can take? Some analysts wonder whether younger audiences are getting more of their comedy online; Netflix has notably been scoring with Adam Sandler films.
Among the other theories: Studios are relying too heavily on aging stars (Mr. Ferrell, Ice Cube, Goldie Hawn); the comedic setups have gotten too outlandish (“The House” finds a couple opening a casino in their basement); or perhaps the comedic marketing of Warner, where most of these failed comedies have come from, is not strong.
Whatever the reason, there are two more studio comedies arriving this summer, “Girls Trip” and “Logan Lucky,” that will either add to concerns or vanquish them. Until then, Hollywood can take some comfort from the indie comedy “The Big Sick” (Lionsgate/Amazon), which took in $1.7 million in 71 locations, for a new total of $2.2 million.
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Intelligence officials and lawmakers are concerned that the State Department is dragging its feet in implementing a crackdown on Russian diplomats’ travel within the U.S., despite evidence that Moscow is using lax restrictions to conduct intelligence operations.
The frustration comes amid bipartisan concern that the Trump administration is trying to slow down other congressional efforts to get tough on Russia. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a House committee last week that a new Senate sanctions package designed to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election would limit Trump’s “flexibility” and impede possible U.S. “dialogue” with Moscow.
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At issue separately is a provision already signed into law, as part of Congress’ annual Intelligence Authorization Act, approved in May, which requires the State Department to more rigorously enforce travel rules for Russian diplomats inside the U.S. The Kremlin’s U.S.-based diplomatic corps, according to several U.S. intelligence sources, has been known to skip notification rules and use the lax restrictions to roam around the country, likely engaging in surveillance activities.
The law includes a requirement that the State Department work with the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to ensure that Russian diplomats notify the State Department of their travel plans and actually go where they say they’re going.
But intelligence officials say there are early indications that the State Department, which is trying to avoid an escalation in tensions with Russia that might prevent friendly dialogue, is resisting the new measure, which formally goes into effect on Aug. 2. The officials wouldn’t give specifics, but said there has been little forward progress on actually implementing the new policy, which also includes notifications between the State Department and Congress, and is relatively easy to put into place.
While the State Department still has time before the deadline, much of the officials’ frustration comes from months of perceived inaction by State as Russian diplomats traveled freely throughout the last year and a half, and there’s little optimism that will change.
The State Department said it is taking the new requirement seriously.
“The Department is aware of the mandate in Section 502 of the Intelligence Authorization Act and is discussing it internally and with other U.S. government agencies,” A State Department official said. “The Department understands the importance of strict enforcement of travel protocols and procedures applicable to Russia’s accredited diplomatic and consular personnel.”
Russia hawks in Congress are already publicly voicing concern that the State Department is not doing enough ahead of the deadline to start cracking down on Russian diplomats’ movements inside the U.S.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) pressed the FBI on the subject at a recent open hearing, and asked whether the State Department was being more cooperative with the agency, which also plays a role in tracking foreign diplomats’ whereabouts.
“I’d rather not comment on that here,” Bill Priestap, the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division said. “We’re still working through the implementation.”
The new restrictions were proposed in Congress last summer after it was found that the Kremlin’s diplomatic corps frequently waited until the last possible moment to notify the State Department of their travel plans, as required by law, if they notified the State Department at all. Often, the diplomats wound up in places they hadn’t disclosed they were going.
Priestap declined to discuss specifics of the travel notification issue, but said the notion of Russian diplomats wandering around the country unchecked would be a concern for the bureau.
“If that were to happen, that would absolutely complicate our efforts,” Priestap said, declining to comment on the existence of the problem.
But U.S. intelligence officials tell POLITICO that the burgeoning issue has absolutely affected U.S. counterintelligence efforts at home. And there is tangible frustration that the State Department is fighting implementation of an overall easy fix of ensuring the Russians adhere to basic travel guidelines.
One frustrated U.S. official complained the State Department has mistakenly assumed its mandate is to keep foreign governments happy. “That’s not their job,” the official said, adding that the State Department is too worried about “rocking the boat.”
The new requirements aren’t stringent, nor completely new — instead, they underscore procedures that are already supposed to be in force. For example, Russian diplomats are allowed to travel with appropriate notification. Rules require that diplomats notify the State Department 48 hours before they travel, if they intend to travel more than 25 miles outside their posting. The State Department is then supposed to notify the FBI.
Still, intelligence officials say the State Department has shown little appetite for actively cracking down on Russian personnel, fearing backlash from Moscow.
With the departure of former Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama’s State Department ranks, there was guarded optimism among the intelligence community that new leadership might be more willing to crack down where Kerry — hopeful for counterterrorism cooperation with the Russians — wouldn’t. But Tillerson’s comments and State’s apparent lack of interest in enforcing the travel restrictions has effectively muted that.
For years, there has been tangible frustration among intelligence officials and even some foreign service officers at the Obama administration’s reluctance to undertake aggressive counterespionage methods at home, especially as the Kremlin aggressively goes after U.S. diplomats based in Russia. In a well-publicized incident last year, Russia’s internal security agency, the FSB, beat up a CIA officer returning to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, hurting him so badly he was immediately flown from the country for medical treatment.
By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The U.S. Senate recently passed additional sanctions targeting Russia for their alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Though the bill has yet to pass the House of Representatives, it is already receiving criticism not only from Russia – as one would expect – but from Germany and Austria as well.
Current Russian sanctions are in response to Moscow’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and the downing of a civilian airliner by pro-Russian militants. Germany and Austria are both highly dependent on Russian natural gas and receive a substantial amount via the Nord Stream pipeline.
Under the proposed sanctions, a penalty would be imposed on both nations for using a Russian product. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern claim that the sanctions are nothing more than an attempt by Washington to replace Russia as the primary source of energy to the European market.
Germany Now Pursing National Interests More Strongly
This claim is essentially nonsense. However, it represents the shift in German thinking over the past two decades. The Cold War is over, Germany has been reunified and Germany is a “normal country,” in the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In referring to Germany is a “normal country,” Merkel is stating that Germany must pursue its national interests. At times, that will mean Berlin will be at odds with Washington.
This issue with sanctions and energy is an example. Germany is heavily dependent on Russian energy. But the Nord Stream pipeline and the future Nord Stream 2 bypass the Baltic States and Poland to deliver natural gas.
Washington is at odds with this deal. The deal allows Russia to disrupt natural gas deliveries to former Soviet states and influence countries currently aligned with Washington without interfering with deliveries to Western Europe.
Moscow Trying to Regain Influence in Nearby Countries
Russia has done this type of deal for decades, but the disruptions also affected Western Europe. Now, Moscow is primarily concerned with regaining its lost influence in the former Soviet states.
The Nord Stream projects allow Russia to pursue economic relations with other nations such as Germany, but retain a lever to influence those nations unfortunate enough to be in Russia’s vicinity. Unsurprisingly, Poland and the Baltic States vehemently opposed the Nord Stream project because of this issue.
Trump and Obama May Have Inspired Germany’s Move to Assert Itself
It is only in the last few years that Germany has asserted itself in its national pursuits. Some experts have chalked this up to U.S. President Donald Trump pushing NATO to meet the agreed-upon spending threshold.
Trump is hardly alone, however. Former President Barack Obama made a similar push shortly after his first election.
German Chancellor Merkel Tells NATO That Europe Can’t Rely on Allies
Germany’s current trajectory is merely the functioning of an independent state. Merkel’s response following the recent NATO summit in Brussels is telling in this regard.
Chancellor Merkel stated, “The times in which we could rely fully on others – they are somewhat over. This is what I experienced in the last few days. We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.”
Merkel made her pitch to Europe at large, but the interests of NATO members are diverging quite dramatically, regardless of the U.S. position. Merkel sees Germany as the economic leader of Europe and is positioning her nation to expand that leadership into defense as well.
It’s wishful thinking. Berlin can align the interests of Europe, but it cannot supplant U.S. leadership in NATO.
What Is Germany’s Place in Europe?
Before Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck unified Germany into a modern nation-state in 1871, the Germanic people lived in various duchies in the dysfunctional German Confederation. Some contemporary accounts referred to these duchies as the Germanies; they were part of a larger, ever- shifting empire.
The German Question originated during the revolution of 1848. It referred to the debate over where the borders of the future German state should lie. However, the topic of what a unified Germany would mean to Europe was less discussed and likely of greater importance.
If place informs behavior, then it follows that the question of German borders is also the question of Germany’s role in Europe. This question still hasn’t been answered, despite two world wars and a 50-year Cold War.
Other Countries Financially Dependent on Germany
Today, Germany is the de facto leader of the European Union. Its economy is dependent on the E.U. continuing to function as it has since the late 1990s.
This is why Merkel refers to the future of Germany and Europe synonymously. Germany is so plugged into the success of the E.U. that it has bankrolled several bailouts for other countries. When some of these troubled European countries need cash or austerity relief, they go to Berlin instead of Brussels.
Germany’s Actions during 2008 Recession Caused Other Nations to Question German Leadership
Since its reunification in 1990, Germany has done quite well economically. This financial prowess was growing unchecked until the financial crisis of 2008.
German banks were engaged in risky lending across the Eurozone and helped contribute to that crisis. However, Germany didn’t own up to its role in the recession.
Instead, Germany forced numerous EU members to enact austerity measures to stabilize some of their economies. This event caused many of these nations to question German leadership and led to the rise in formerly fringe Euroskeptic political parties that gained power via a continent-wide populism movement.
Germany’s Economic Dependence on US and France
Germany has tempered much of this behavior, much to its credit, but it is facing a more profound problem. Germany needs energy from Russia, but its export-oriented economy is heavily dependent on buyers in the U.S. market.
Berlin floated the idea of taking retaliatory measures against the U.S. for levying sanctions on Russia, but half of Germany’s GDP is exports and the majority of those go to the U.S. and France. Germany is in a bad position and finding its balance will not be easy.
German Government Trying to Maintain Its EU Leadership
Germany must find balance in its foreign policy and economic interests if it is to be truly independent. Currently, Berlin has courted Russia extensively while it tries to hold onto the reins of the E.U.
Holding on to the E.U. is problematic because of the natural skepticism that arises from a close German-Russian relationship, not to mention the strong U.S. support for nations like Poland. For this continued leadership gambit to work, Berlin must reorient its economy away from its export dependence and offer some security guarantees to the former Soviet states. This action, by extension, would help to assuage Washington.
This is easier said than done, however. But if any nation on the planet can pull off an economic remodel in short order, it is Germany.
Furthermore, Russia may accept some German influence in its vicinity if it helps to keep the Americans at bay. There are numerous moving parts in Berlin’s attempt to satisfy the question of Germany’s place in the world and it has never been successful in finding the necessary balance.
Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany has done something that none of her predecessors managed to do since the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Basically, the Chancellor has taken on the role of European leader without firing a shot.
Germany will continue to struggle with this role, however. The failures of Germany’s past occurred for good reason. Nothing in Europe is easy.
Like US, Germany Growing Less Dependent on Electrical Power
The U.S. is set to be a net energy exporter in the next one to two years. There has been a boom in shale production, but another factor to consider is that U.S. now uses less electricity because of a demographic shift. As people age, they tend to use less energy. Currently, the U.S. has more citizens over the age of 65 than under the age of five.
Germany is also using less electricity for the same demographic reasons, though Germany’s demographics are in worse shape. Germany is also concerned about energy, but some of this concern is a matter of choice.
Germany Relies on Coal Power Plants, Despite Solar Energy Use
A few years ago, Germany began taking its nuclear power plants offline and investing more money in solar energy. It looked like a great move on paper, but several factors have led the ostensibly green Germans to rely more on coal-fired power plants.
Most of Germany sits north of the 50th parallel, which is further north than most major Canadian cities. The result is shorter daylight hours during much of the year and less solar power to be harvested.
Germany Still Needs Russian Natural Gas as Short-Term Energy Source
Germany has enough solar panels in place to generate nearly all of its electricity needs (about 40 gigawatts). But these panels only supply 6% of Germany’s current electrical usage.
Ultimately, Germany will still rely heavily on Russian natural gas to replace coal-fired plants in the short term. That dependence will require Germany to exercise caution in its diplomatic relations with Russia, the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Donald Trump’s plans for his first 100 days in office are raising eyebrows around the world, but of all the items on his agenda it is the reopening of the 9/11 investigation that will provide the greatest earthquake for the establishment.
Trump believes that 9/11 has not been properly investigated and he plans to get to the bottom of it. “First of all, the original 9/11 investigation is a total mess and has to be reopened,” Trump said.
The election of Donald Trump has rocked the establishment and things are only going to get rockier for them during his first term. There is a reason George W. Bush didn’t vote for Trump in the election, leaving the presidential line blank and voting Republican down-ballot. Trump has pledged to investigate 9/11 in a way it has not been investigated before.
For the first time 9/11 will be investigated by someone who isn’t part of the establishment, with skin in the game and plenty to lose.
“First of all, the original 9/11 investigation is a total mess and has to be reopened” Trump announced to supporters. “How do two planes take out three buildings in the same day? I never got my head around the fact that nothing is mentioned about the destruction of Building 7 in the 585 page document,” he explained, talking about World Trade Center 7 which also collapsed – inexplicably – during the September 11 attacks.
Donald Trump has also taken cracks at former president George W. Bush. There will be no covering up for former presidents on Trump’s watch.
“The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush,” he said in a February debate. “He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe.”
“Why did the administration at the time not take legal means against Saudi Arabia? Weren’t 19 of the high-jackers from Saudi Arabia? Americans deserve answers and I will definitely request a new investigation so that this horrible tragedy never happens again.”
Donald Trump and the 9/11 Truth movement
While Trump might be railing against the establishment in reopening the 9/11 investigation, he has received support on this issue from a number of public personalities who have demanded the case be revisited – and not behind closed doors.
Former Senator Bob Graham has been demanding a new, transparent investigation “For years I have been campaigning for the release of the 2002 Joint Congressional Intelligence Committee 9/11 Inquiry’s report, to no avail” explains the former Governor of Florida. “These missing pages point to the direct involvement of the government of Saudi Arabia. Why are these being kept secret? Who has to gain from these games of secrecy?” he asks.
“I have read these documents myself and if the American public knew what was in these documents, there would be a revolution tomorrow in the streets of America” he acknowledged during a radio interview. “Americans deserve to know the truth” he concluded, visibly angered by the whole affair.
Since 2002, the release of a number of 9/11 Commission Report documents is hindered because they are congressional records, hence they are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The long withheld 28 pages were partially released to the public this year – heavily redacted – and the Saudi government claimed the release proved they were not responsible for supporting or financing the attacks. But it’s not as simple as that. There are direct ties to the Saudi hierarchy in the 28 pages. There are a lot of questions that need answering, and they were never going to be addressed under a Clinton presidency with all her ties to Saudi Arabia.
But with President Trump’s executive powers, everything has changed. The establishment are on edge. More than half the country doesn’t believe the official version of what happened that day. There is now a renewed belief that this biggest of lies and cover ups is about to be dismantled.
The establishment did all it could to destroy Trump the outsider’s election chances at election. Now they are on edge.
The Maryland Democrat wants to create an 11-member commission made up of mostly physicians and psychiatrists — more formally called the “
The panel would carry out a medical examination and determine whether the President was physically or mentally able to do the job.
Two of the commission’s members would also be former high ranking officials, such as presidents, vice presidents, attorneys general or secretaries of state.
It’s a provocative and long-shot effort, but Raskin is citing as his legal backup the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which was adopted in 1967 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to establish procedure in the case a president is incapacitated. About two dozen Democrats have signed on to the effort as of Thursday.
Raskin is zeroing in on one section of that constitutional amendment, which allows the vice president to assume powers if either the majority of the Cabinet or “such other body as Congress” finds that the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of office.” (The vice president would also have to agree to the assessment of the President’s abilities.) Raskin is proposing his commission to serve as that “body.”
The President could appeal the decision, and a whopping two-thirds of both the House and the Senate would then need to agree with the commission’s assessment in order to keep the President out of office. If two-thirds fail to agree, then the President would be allowed to resume the powers and duties of the office.
CNN reached out to the White House for comment on the proposal and has not yet received a response.
Raskin, a former professor of constitutional law, first introduced the bill in April and before this week it had 20 co-sponsors (all Democrats). Another three Democrats joined as of Thursday, according to Raskin’s office.
The two co-hosts, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, frequently questioned the President’s emotional and mental state.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued Thursday the President was merely trying to fight “fire with fire,” reiterating that he often hits back when attacked.
Raskin took to Twitter himself on Friday to raise the specter of the 25th Amendment once again.
Trump’s “incapacity must be seriously addressed,” he wrote, also posting a screenshot of his bill.
“The President should take a break from watching TV and read the #25thAmendment to the Constitution. There are ways out of this,”
along with a screenshot of more of the President’s tweets.
Friday that Raskin also sent out an email to his colleagues Thursday, just hours after the President’s tweets, trying to collect more support for his bill.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.
Russians line up to see Saint Nick’s rib
In Moscow, believers flock to Christ the Savior Cathedral to be in the presence of what is thought to be a revered saint’s rib. In Moscow, believers flock to Christ the Savior Cathedral to be in the presence of what is thought to be a revered saint’s rib. (David Filipov, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
(David Filipov,Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
They have come to pray for the health of loved ones. They have come to ask for help to pass a tough exam or just to get by in hard times. But mostly, they have come to be part of a once-in-a-millennium spiritual event: Saint Nicholas has come to town.
Since relics of Russia’s most beloved saint were brought to Moscow on May 21, more than a millionpeople have waited in line as long as 10 hours to spend just an instant at the gilded ark that holds one of his ribs.
This mass act of devotion provides a snapshot of how important the Orthodox Church has becometo Russians’ contemporary sense of identity.
Lines to see the saint Russians call “the miracle worker” have stretched up to five miles from the giant, onion-domed Christ the Savior Cathedral, a reconstruction of a cathedral demolished by the Soviets in 1931.
Some waited to ask for a miracle from Saint Nicholas, whose life inspired the legend of Santa Claus. But for many, the arrival of the relics, on loan for the first time from the Italian city where they rested for 930 years, is in itself a miracle worth witnessing.
“It’s important to be close to the grace of Saint Nicholas,” said Denis Knyazyev, 32, who drove four hours from his home west of Moscow to stand in line for Saint Nicholas last week. “All saints are special, but this is the one most dear to us.”
What they see at the ark is an icon of Saint Nicholas, under a panel of bulletproof glass, with a crescent-shaped opening in the middle through which a bone is visible. As priests and burly security guards look on, a choir chants a harmonious prayer that echoes through the cavernous, ornate cathedral. But the music is drowned out by the stentorian instructions of volunteers in fluorescent-green vests.
They warn worshipers to cross themselves before they reach the ark and to have their prayers ready, to avoid backing up the line. As soon as the faithful bend to kiss the glass, a volunteer grabs them by the shoulders and nudges them, usually lightly, toward the exit. Those who linger get a special shove and an order to move on. Another volunteer wipes the glass with a cloth.
But if this brusque treatment bothered anyone, it did not show. People coming out of the cathedral on a recent Friday expressed something resembling a combination of bliss over what they had seen and relief that they had survived the ordeal.
“We were so afraid we wouldn’t make it,” a pregnant woman said through tears, as her husband comforted her.
Danila, a 14-year-old Muscovite, said he had “a magical feeling.” His mother, who like many of the people visiting the relics did not give her name to an American reporter, added that “it was like God had heard me.”
More than 70 percent of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, more than double the number at the time of the 1991 Soviet collapse. President Vladimir Putin, who has aligned his vision for his country as a bastion of conservative values with that of the Russian Orthodox Church, visited the relics the day they arrived in Moscow.
But many Russians consider themselves only “partially religious,” said Natalya Zorkaya, a researcher for the Levada Center, Russia’s independent pollster. “The interest in the relics represents a desire to become part of the process, to participate in an event organized not just by the Orthodox Church but also by the state.”
Russia is slowly starting to come out of a recession, and people frustrated by low living standards or corruption-ridden government are always looking for somewhere to turn. About 2 million wrote to Putin for his annual “Direct Line” call-in show in June to ask for things such as higher salaries, better roads and improved health care.
But people go to see Saint Nicholas not just because they are frustrated and hoping for a miracle that Putin can’t give them. The experience really appears to make them feel like they are part of something bigger.
Zorkaya agreed, saying, “This is a manifestation of a certain state identity with religious coloring.”
VTsIOM, a government-linked polling agency, found that only 10 percent of visitors to the relics ask for something more specific than good health for themselves and loved ones. One of those was Ruslan, 20, a law student who said that he had come because “I’m in the middle of exams and I hope it goes well.” Another woman who rushed by quickly said that she was praying “to get by in times like these.”
Russians have stood in lines by the hundreds of thousands before to witness religious relics. When a belt thought to have belonged to the Virgin Mary came to Russia in 2011, more than 3 million people saw it.
But Saint Nicholas is special, said Maria Korovina, head of the Orthodox Church’s media center for special events, because of the role he plays in Russians’ lives — and the way these relics got here.
“For 930 years, no one has seen them,” she said. “This is as though Saint Nicholas himself has come to Moscow.”
Nicholas, who died in A.D. 343, was the bishop of Myra, which is now in southern Turkey. One legendary attribute that led to the story of Santa Claus was his habit of giving gifts in secret.
Believers say his remains produce a liquid called manna, or myrrh, said to have healing powers. In 1087, Italian sailors spirited the bones to Bari, Italy, where the remains have been kept in a crypt ever since.
The decision to remove a rib and send it to Russia was a result of a historic meeting last year between Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill — the first such encounter since the 11th-century Great Schism that divided Christianity.
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The remains will be taken to St. Petersburg on July 12 and returned to Italy at the end of the month.
On a recent Sunday evening, as the line meandered along a fenced-off sidewalk on the Moscow River embankment, through well-guarded police checkpoints and past well-stocked food kiosks and portable toilets, people wrote down prayers for the health of their loved ones as they whiled away the hours.
Some fretted over whether they would get in before the cathedral closed for the night. But there was no need to pray for a miracle. The doors stay open until the last worshiper in line has made it inside.
Natalya Abbakumova contributed to this report.
For two decades, a vast amount of Russian money has been spent to undermine Western democracies and create corrupt business ties.
NBC4 Washington–3 hours ago
New York’s PIX11 / WPIX-TV–2 hours ago
Highly Cited–New York Times–1 hour ago
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Live Updating–CBS News–3 hours ago
TwitterDr. Henry Bello.
Dr. Henry Bello, a physician who resigned after facing termination, was named as the gunman who opened fire on other doctors at Bronx’s Lebanon Hospital after hiding a rifle under a white lab coat.
Fox 5 New York confirmed the name of the ex-employee who had worked in family medicine before he opened fire with an M16 semiautomatic rifle on five floors of the hospital. At least one person, believed to be a female doctor, has died and as many as six people were shot.
Other news stories reported the name as Henry Bellow, but he’s listed as Dr. Henry Bello on the hospital’s website.
Police responded to the reports of multiple doctors shot by an active shooter wearing a doctor’s coatand carrying a rifle around 3 p.m. at Lebanon Hospital. The hospital is located in the Bronx in New York.
The mass shooting unfolded at 173rd Street and Grand Concourse in the Mt. Eden section of the Bronx hospital, which is one of New York’s busiest.
A graphic photo has emerged of Bello lying dead on the hospital floor. You can see it below, but be aware that it’s disturbing.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Bello Was Previously Arrested for Sexual Abuse & Police Followed a Trail of Blood
There were major warning signs in Dr. Bello’s life before the mass shooting, which spanned multiple floors as the physician opened fire on hospital employees, including, some reports said, other doctors.
According to Pix11, Dr. Bello had three prior arrests, including one for sexual abuse. The New York Post reported that Bello was arrested in August 2004 in Manhattan “following an incident in which a 23-year-old woman said an assailant grabbed her crotch, held her arms, lifted her up and carried her off, saying, ‘You’re coming with me.’”
Bello was “charged with sex abuse and unlawful imprisonment, sources said. The disposition of the case was unclear,” reported The Post, which added that records against Bello in a 2009 case are sealed.
Bello’s medical license was suspended.
New York records list his medical permit as “expired.” However, although he was listed as a doctor on the hospital’s website, “he wasn’t licensed to practice medicine in New York, according to databases maintained by the state Health and Education Departments,” reported The New York Post.
In 2002, Bello was listed as a respondent in a California divorce that listed minor children.
According to The New York Daily News, police followed a trail of blood at the scene of the shooting, which is being investigated by police as a workplace violence incident, not terrorism.
“Due to reports of a shooting incident at Bronx Lebanon Hospital, avoid the area of 1650 Grand Concourse,” NYPD tweeted. The ATF tweeted that it was responding to the scene to assist the NYPD. According to a tweet from NBC News, “Officials say the shooter in the Bronx, attempted to start a fire on the 16th floor of the hospital. Sprinklers knocked it down.”
One woman posted a photo on Instagram showing her barricaded in a room at the hospital.
According to NBC 4, the shooter was wearing doctor’s attire. He “was dressed in a white doctor’s-type coat,” reported the television station.
“At least one doctor was being treated by people inside the hospital who had tied an emergency fire hose as a tourniquet,” according to The New York Times, which added that “police had described the gunman as a tall, thin man wearing a blue shirt and white lab coat. A police official said he had a long gun.”
2. The Shooter Is Believed to Be a Family Physician Who Resigned Before Being Terminated
The shooter was described as an “ex-employee using an M-16 type rifle,” reported The New York Daily News.
According to NBC, Bello “resigned from the hospital in 2015 in lieu of termination.”
Bello was listed as a family physician on the hospital website. However, despite the fact that Bello is listed as a doctor on the hospital website, The New York Post reported that “there are no state records of a Henry Bello with a medical license.”
A Dr. Henry Bello comes up as a “student in an Organized Health Care Education/Training Program” in the National Provider Identifier Database.
“I heard two doctors got shot 20 times, both of them,” said Jasmine Mercado, 24, to The New York Daily News. “They said the person was going from the ninth floor to the eighth floor shooting.” The New York newspaper reported that two of the victims were women, and at least one was dead.
3. Up to Six People Were Shot by the Gunman Clad All in Black Under a Lab Coat
Bello was dressed all in black under the lab coat.
News reporters tweeted that police said at the scene that numerous people had been shot. The New York Post reported that those shot were doctors and that as many as three people were shot. CNN reported that “six people were wounded on the 16th floor, and five of those are in serious condition from gunshot wounds.”
The New York Times reported that those shot were doctors, and their condition was not known. PIX 11 later reported that one of the victims has died.
4. Doctors and Nurses Hid Inside the Hospital & a Woman’s Body Was Found Near the Shooter
According to CBS, there were reports that doctors and nurses had barricaded themselves inside the hospital as the gunfire broke out.
There were also reports that the suspect had barricaded himself inside the hospital with a rifle. However, police then confirmed that the suspect was down.
According to CNN, the suspect had ID on him, and “shot himself on the 16th floor.”
“The body of a woman who was shot was found near the body of the shooting suspect,” CNN reported.
“One shooter is deceased at the hospital,” a police spokesman confirmed on Twitter.
Police said that the shooter used an M-16 type rifle.
“Active shooting in Bronx Lebanon Hospital… Man dressed all in black. Smoke from the 16th floor,” the NYPD Special Operations Division tweeted.
5. The Shooter Died at the Scene as Panicked People Posted to Social Media From Inside the Hospital
There were reports that the shooter was loose, but then police confirmed that he was down at the scene. The shooter is dead, police confirmed.
One person trapped at the hospital posted a video to Instagram in Spanish, saying, “just a guy stuck in a room in the hospital.”
According to PIX 11, “The 120-year-old hospital claims nearly 1,000 beds spread across multiple units. Its emergency room is among the busiest in New York City,” and it’s located near Yankee Stadium.
“I was in the middle of getting an X-ray when security alerted us to the active shooter situation and locked us in,” patient Felix Puno told the Daily News. “Police are here doing a floor-by-floor sweep.”
Krystal Rivera, 23, a hospital patient, told CNN she heard gunshots.
“I barricaded the door with an IV machine, two chairs and my whole bed,” Rivera said to CNN, which described her as seeing a man wearing “a white lab coat” with a rifle.
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A disgruntled former hospital worker armed with a rifle barged into the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center Friday and opened fire, wounding six people, one fatally, before he killed himself, according to the NYPD.
The suspect, identified as 45-year-old Henry Bello, was found dead on the 17th floor of the facility, New York City police officials told NBC News.
“This would appear, preliminarily, to be a former employee dressed in a hospital jacket similar to what you would see a doctor wearing, who is familiar with the hospital, which makes the situation a lot more problematic,” former NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told MSNBC as the drama was developing.
Multiple senior NYPD officials said the suspect had a rifle, possibly an AR-15 type assault rifle, and had previously worked at hospital.
Just before 4 p.m., J. Peter Donald, assistant commissioner for communication for the NYPD, announced the search for the suspect was over.
“One shooter is deceased at the hospital,” he said.
Before killing himself, Bello tried to start a fire on the 16th floor that was doused by the hospital’s sprinkler system, a senior official with direct knowledge of the incident told NBC News.
The FBI announced in a tweet a little over an hour later that “there is no nexus to terrorism.”
CBS New York–5 minutes ago
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Acting FBI boss Andrew McCabe faces pressure, probes, uncertain future
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is under mounting scrutiny and increasing calls for him to step aside amid allegations of politicized leadership, conflicts of interest and significant investigative missteps at the nation’s top law enforcement agency …and more »
FBI politicization – Google News
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is under mounting scrutiny and increasing calls for him to step aside amid allegations of politicized leadership, conflicts of interest and significant investigative missteps at the nation’s top law enforcement agency.
McCabe’s close alliance with Trump nemesis and former director James Comey, the well-chronicled fact his wife took a huge campaign donation from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and a general suspicion of the Obama intelligence community brass are all leading to pressure on FBI Director-Nominee Christopher Wray to not keep him around, according to former FBI insiders.
The latest challenge is coming from a former FBI agent who told Fox News that McCabe has created an overly politicized environment at the bureau, and her career suffered because of it.
“There is no way McCabe can survive. I’d be surprised.”
– Former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom
“McCabe is vicious to anyone who either stands up to him or is a threat to his ‘power’ and [he] is a screamer,” said former Supervisory Special Agent Robyn Gritz, who lost her job after 16 years with the FBI investigating some of the most high profile terrorist incidents in recent history, after getting tangled up with her superiors, who pushed her out and pulled her security clearance.
One of those superiors was McCabe.
“He saw me as a real threat to his climb because I knew my stuff and had been close to John Pistole, the prior deputy director. Andy resented that big time,” Gritz told Fox News.
According to Circa News, Gritz’s sexual discrimination and retaliation complaint is one of three such administrative inquiries faced by McCabe.
Perhaps more damning, former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom said McCabe, who President Trump interviewed for the top job after firing Comey, may not have the bureau’s rank and file behind him.
“McCabe is where he’s at because he’s very good at relating up the chain of command, but not down the chain of command, and that’s very typical of bureaucracies,” Kallstrom said. “McCabe told Congress FBI morale is high. I have not heard one person from the bureau tell me the FBI is happy because the investigative unit was thrown in front of the bus.”
Kallstrom was referring to McCabe’s reported role in several controversial probes during the 2016 election. According to the Wall Street Journal, it was McCabe who told lower-level FBI investigators to “stand down” in their inquiry into whether illegal influence-peddling or financial crimes were being committed at the Clinton Foundation. Meanwhile, McCabe did not recuse himself from the investigation into presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails, despite an apparent conflict of interest involving his wife.
Jill McCabe’s losing campaign for a Virginia state Senate seat reportedly received $700,000 from Clinton allies at the same time that McCabe was second-in-command at the FBI during the investigation into her use of a personal email server for State Department business and alleged mishandling of classified information.
Comey declined to bring charges after determining that Clinton “lacked criminal intent.” Comey’s handling of the case was sharply criticized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the memo outlining the rationale for firing Comey earlier this year. Kallstrom believes McCabe should have recused himself from any decisions involving the Clinton probe.
“I’ve talked to numerous agents that have some knowledge of what’s going on inside the FBI,” said Kallstrom. “The appearance of conflict of interest is substantial, and you can’t have a high position in the bureau and have even the apparent conflict of interest.”
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, believes McCabe also has a conflict of interest in the ongoing probe into alleged Trump collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. The probe already cost retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn his job as Trump’s national security adviser.
But even before the FBI eyed Flynn, he and McCabe had a history together, at the center of which was Gritz.
“McCabe wrote false and nasty comments on numerous documents about me when he had not one bit of proof of any lack of performance,” Gritz told Fox News, “I was always rated in the top two ratings.”
Flynn spoke out in her defense at the time, since the two had worked together when he led the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“I thought she was a real pro,” Flynn told NPR. Flynn was one of several top generals, including Stanley McChrystal and Keith Alexander, who wrote commendations for her counter-terrorism work, said Gritz.
In a June 29 letter addressed to Rosenstein, Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked why McCabe did not recuse himself from the probe into Flynn’s connections to Russia. Justice Department protocol advises employees to recuse themselves from investigations if their involvement creates even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
With Flynn a potential witness for Gritz, Grassley wondered in his letter if McCabe “had any retaliatory motive against Flynn for being an adverse witness to him in a pending proceeding.”
The FBI, DOJ and the government’s Office of Special Counsel would not comment for this report.
With all of the various controversies swirling and President Trump under pressure to “drain the swamp” and fight back against the so-called “deep state,” Kallstrom is not betting on McCabe lasting much longer at the bureau. Wray, who was formally advanced by the White House this week, is expected to be confirmed when the Senate takes up his nomination.
“There is no way McCabe can survive,” Kallstrom said. “I’d be surprised.”
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As Donald Trump’s Russia scandal has evolved, one of the key questions is whether the Republican presidential campaign cooperated in some way with our adversary’s attack on the American election. It is, of course, a matter of ongoing investigation.
The Rachel Maddow Show, 6/29/17, 9:00 PM ET
GOP operative sought Russian hacker help against Clinton: WSJ
Shane Harris, national security reporter for the Wall Street Journal, talks with Rachel Maddow about his new reporting about Peter Smith, a Republican activist who sought the help of Russian hackers who may have found Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and…
at the top of last night’s show, this line of inquiry took an important turn with
thisWall Street Journal
Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.
In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.
So, what we have here is a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who assembled a team in the hopes of obtaining Hillary Clinton’s emails. Smith and his team reached out to people they believed to be Russian hackers, affiliated with Russia’s government, because Smith and his cohorts thought these hackers may have stolen the materials.
The point, of course, was to then use the stolen documents in the United States, exploiting materials from Russia to affect the American election. In other words, we’re talking about a group of folks who, in a rather literal sense, tried to collude with Russia as part of the country’s attack on our election.
There is nothing to suggest that Smith was officially part of Trump’s presidential campaign. That said, Smith told multiple people at multiple times that this project was coordinated with Michael Flynn – who at the time was a senior adviser to Trump, and who went on to become the White House National Security Advisor in the Trump administration.
In fact, the WSJ article added that Smith reportedly told a computer expert he was “in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son” while the project was ongoing.
Trump World’s reaction to the report seemed especially notable: “A Trump campaign official said that Mr. Smith didn’t work for the campaign, and that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual.”
As for the broader political landscape, in recent weeks, several White House allies in conservative media have begun pushing the line, with increasing vigor, that even if the Trump campaign colluded in some capacity with Russia, that wouldn’t be a crime.
It’s a curious response to the allegations. For one thing, such cooperation could, in fact, be illegal. For another, have you noticed the rhetorical trajectory?
1. Russia didn’t intervene in the election to help put Donald Trump in power.
2, Well, OK, maybe Russia did intervene in the election to help put Trump in power, but no one from Team Trump was in communications with Putin’s government during Russia’s attack.
3. Well, OK, maybe people from Team Trump were in communications with Putin’s government during Russia’s attack, but no one associated with the campaign colluded with the attackers.
This does not inspire confidence.
The expansive investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion with Trump associates has grown so vast that no fewer than nine congressional committees and federal agencies are now examining some offshoot of the controversy.
And despite the inquiries to date having produced no indictments or hard evidence of collusion between the president’s men and a foreign power, even more officials and entities are looking to bite off a piece of the probe.
“The main problem is that after months and months of multiple investigations, no one has found any evidence of collusion,” a congressional source told Fox News. “So the Democrats are trying to shift the focus from collusion to obstruction, and since it doesn’t look like that will pan out for them either, they surely have some new accusation ready to put out there. It’s in their political interest to drag out these investigations as long as possible.”
Proponents of the probes warn nothing less than democracy is at stake — but the frustration in Trump World is palpable.
Anthony Scaramucci, the former Trump adviser who was the subject of a since-retracted <a href=”http://CNN.com” rel=”nofollow”>CNN.com</a> story on Russia, on Thursday called the narrative a “bunch of nonsense.”
The investigation, though, shows no sign of abating, amid a steady drip-drip of news reports on questionable Russia contacts that only feed the curiosity in Washington.
The furthest-reaching of all the investigations would be the special counsel probe led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, appointed in May to examine any connections between Trump associates and Russian officials in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s crew, which immediately absorbed several high-powered lawyers, joined eight other investigative bodies examining aspects of the Russia controversy.
- Treasury Department
- Department of Defense inspector general
- Senate Intelligence Committee
- Senate Judiciary Committee
- House Intelligence Committee
- House Oversight Committee
- Senate Armed Services Committee
Other groups are looking to get in on the action.
Democrats on the financial services committee have requested bank records in an effort to tie Trump to Russian interests. Trump’s own Election Integrity Commission is facing calls from New Hampshire’s and Maine’s secretaries of state to examine Russian interference. Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub wants to find out if Russia pushed anti-Hillary Clinton ads on social media.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our democracy,” Weintraub, a Democrat, wrote.
Several congressional probes are bipartisan in nature, though the focus of Republicans and Democrats on those committees varies. Members of both parties are concerned about Russian meddling, but the collusion claims are being pursued more aggressively by Democrats.
The DOJ, specifically, is looking into any links or coordination between Team Trump and Russia – but also has leeway to investigate any matters that might arise from that investigation. That means, by the end of Mueller’s term, charges could materialize that have little to do with Russia or the presidential election (a not uncommon outcome to which former President Bill Clinton and former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby can attest).
The CIA, meanwhile, is focused on the foreign aspect and actors involved in the alleged Russian plot to meddle in the election. The Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit is scrutinizing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and the Department of Defense’s inspector general is examining payments from Russia and Turkey made to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
In the Senate, the intelligence committee is trying to broadly analyze exactly what Russia did to influence the election. Some on the judiciary committee, in the wake of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony, wants to know if former Attorney General Loretta Lynch interfered in the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the armed services committee is inquiring about how to improve cybersecurity and defend against future hacking attempts, such as the type allegedly perpetrated by Russia.
The House intelligence committee wants to answer: What did Russia do, did it have links to political campaigns, what was the U.S. government response and how/why has classified information about the meddling been released? At the same time, the oversight committee is looking into Flynn. The intelligence committee may be the most controversial of the congressional probes due to Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., temporarily recusing himself over ethics violations accusations. Nunes, who denies the charges, also made news after a source showed him classified documents which Nunes said bolstered Trump’s contention that Obama administration officials leaked damaging information to the press about the Trump team.
The plethora of probes has not only led to a never-ending news cycle in which some committee or department is questioning some witness or having some information leaked to the press, but the investigations have also battled for access to the same witnesses at times, never mind the same information.
“The jurisdiction’s pretty fragmented, and that’s kind of a problem,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told BuzzFeed in February.
Case in point: Comey testified before the Senate intelligence panel on June 8, but rejected a request to appear in front of the judiciary committee. The judiciary panel also lost out to intelligence on testimony from Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“The Judiciary Committee has primary responsibility for FBI oversight,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in May. “If former Director Comey testifies, he should do so before both the intelligence and judiciary committees.”
But, to Trump supporters, the biggest danger of the investigative maelstrom is the inevitability of some charges being filed – even if they don’t have anything to do with collusion.
“This is like watching an old-fashioned Western movie. This is an Indian hunting party,” Trump ally and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on “Hannity” earlier this month. “They’re out looking for a couple scalps, and they’re not going to go home until they get some.”
Officials describe the investigation into the Chelsea bombing as a template for how the F.B.I. and the New York Police Department have learned to temper big egos and manage chain-of-command quandaries. It was also the product, in part, of Mr. Fernandez’s two decades’ experience courting foreign dignitaries and swaying his counterparts in American law enforcement and intelligence agencies while he investigated attacks by Al Qaeda beginning in the late 1990s.
He will retire from the F.B.I. on Friday as leader of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, in what amounts to a one-man exodus of operational know-how. Only a small number of counterterrorism agents involved in early Qaeda cases remain at the bureau. The New York task force, composed of about 500 investigators from dozens of local and federal agencies, is the oldest and largest such unit and handles cases in Canada, Western Europe and Africa.
“He was able to build relationships and build trust,” said Ali Soufan, who, as lead investigator of the bombing of the naval guided-missile destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000, supervised Mr. Fernandez. “I think he was able to do something many other F.B.I. bosses for the J.T.T.F. were not able to accomplish to the level he did.”
Mr. Fernandez, 50, investigated two decades of major attacks, from the bombings of United States Embassies in East Africa in 1998 to the Paris attacks in 2015.
And he passed an unofficial test that agents who know the challenges of working in underdeveloped countries often use to judge their bosses: Did they take much Cipro, the antibiotic often used to treat intestinal infections? “He took a lot of Cipro in his life,” Mr. Soufan said.
Mr. Fernandez started his career on cases impeded by the wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I. and ends his tenure at the bureau with connections across government, among them to the former C.I.A. director John O. Brennan, whom he met regularly as a top F.B.I. official assigned to the intelligence agency.
In Afghanistan around 2004, a Marine colonel several times declined the help of Mr. Fernandez and a colleague, Jeffrey Ringel, in interrogating people. But a casual comment by Mr. Fernandez about a Marine vehicle nearby ignited a conversation about the two agents’ service in the Marines. Eventually the colonel invited them on missions.
Mr. Ringel and Mr. Fernandez mentored Marines on how, instead of rounding up military-age men, they could use evidence and careful questioning to tie a few people to an attack.
“What he learned from his early days in Yemen is you can’t do this alone, you have to work as a team,” Mr. Ringel said. “And that’s what he did.”
Turf battles in New York could also be treacherous. As leader of the local terrorism task force, Mr. Fernandez was charged with further tightening bonds once badly frayed by the Police Department’s expanding counterterrorism mission after Sept. 11.
He sent emails to police colleagues starting at 3 a.m. and sped up information-sharing, said John Miller, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism.
After the Chelsea bombing, Mr. Fernandez had F.B.I. technicians work alongside the city bomb squad, and the F.B.I.’s evidence team worked alongside the city’s crime-scene unit.
J. Peter Donald, a Police Department spokesman, said Mr. Fernandez had endeared himself to colleagues by working long hours with them.
“You can have all the memorandums of understanding in the world, and they really don’t mean anything if people don’t like you,” said Don Borelli, a former assistant special agent in charge of the international counterterrorism branch in New York.
Mr. Fernandez brought back senior agents for a lecture series to pass on institutional memory. He credits his approach to what he learned from Mr. Soufan; James K. Kallstrom, the former F.B.I. assistant director; and John P. O’Neill, who led major investigations into Osama bin Laden and was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I certainly didn’t want our people to repeat the same mistakes that were made in the past,” he said in an interview this week.
Mr. Fernandez, who recently became eligible to retire, said that though he would have liked to see the Chelsea bombing case through, he chose to take an attractive offer in the private sector. He will become chief security officer at the entertainment conglomerate Viacom.
Mr. Fernandez said the experience of his parents in Cuba before they fled around the time of the revolution colored his commitment to handling investigations in the courts. “Hearing about my family members just being unilaterally arrested by the government without due process certainly had an impact on me and wanting to join the bureau,” he said.
Mr. Soufan said Mr. Fernandez had an easy manner with sources and refused to let a mission keep him from helping someone. In Yemen, not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, the pair received word that an American child about 10 years old had been kidnapped and was in the country. With no other agents on the ground, they put aside the terrorism case they were working, recovered the child and found a judge to sign paperwork they needed to fly him out of the country.
That the judge’s chambers were on the same block as a Qaeda outpost, Mr. Soufan said, did not deter Mr. Fernandez.
The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province left more than 90 people dead, including women and children, and sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.
“I strongly condemn this atrocity, which wholly contradicts the norms enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement. “The perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes.”The investigation did not apportion blame. Its findings will be used by a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation team to assess who was responsible.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement issued Thursday night after the report was circulated to OPCW member states that “The facts reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.”
The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter launches a Tomahawk missile in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. The United States blasted a Syrian airfield with a barrage of cruise missiles in retaliation for this week’s chemical weapons attack against Khan Sheikhoun.
President Donald Trump cited images of the aftermath of the Khan Sheikhoun attack when he launched a punitive strike days later, firing cruise missiles on a Syrian government-controlled air base from where U.S. officials said the Syrian military had launched the chemical attack.
It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president months before.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied using chemical weapons. His staunch ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said earlier this month that he believed the attack was “a provocation” staged “by people who wanted to blame him (Assad) for that.”
Both the U.S. and the OPCW were at pains to defend the probe’s methodology. Investigators did not visit the scene of the attack, deeming it too dangerous, but analyzed samples from victims and survivors as well as interviewing witnesses.
The Syrian government joined the OPCW in 2013 after it was blamed for a deadly poison gas attack in a Damascus suburb. As it joined, Assad’s government declared about 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and precursor chemicals, which were subsequently destroyed in an unprecedented international operation.
However, the organization has unanswered questions about the completeness of Syria’s initial declaration, meaning that it has never conclusively been able to confirm that the country has no more chemical weapons.
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I recently published a timeline called, “ Russian Provocations and Dangerous Acts since January 20, 2017.”
Below is a new timeline of publicly reported events of Donald J. Trump’s acts of accommodation toward Russia since the U.S. presidential election.
Some readers may view several of these steps as acts of rapprochement to try to develop a more cooperative relationship with Russia, for example, to fight common enemies and avoid dangerous escalation.
Other readers may view several of these steps as incriminating evidence of quid pro quo or a dangerous appeasement to an adversary who attacked and will likely attack again the U.S. democratic system.
November 8-May 9: May 9 marks the final day that FBI Director James Comey serves in office. In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey is later asked (by Senator Joe Manchin) whether President Trump showed “any concern or interest or curiosity about what the Russians were doing.” Comey responds that he does not recall any conversations with Trump about Russian election interference during the former FBI Director’s time in office.
Comey is also asked (by Senator Martin Heinrich): “Did the President in any of those interactions that you’ve shared with us today ask you what you should be doing or what our government should be doing or the intelligence community to protect America against Russian interference in our election system?” Comey says he does not recall any conversation like that–“never.” ( Politico – full transcript of testimony )
November 14: In their first official phone call, President-Elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree on the “absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations” between Russia and the U.S., and the two leaders agree to meet at some point in the future. ( New York Times )
November 18: President-Elect Trump names retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor, stirring controversy in part because of Flynn’s ties to Russia. ( Washington Post )
In 2015, Flynn accepted payment from RT – a Russian propaganda channel – to attend the station’s gala event in Moscow. President Putin also attended the gala, and RT later publishes photos of the two dining next to each other.
Donald Trump speaks alongside White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner during a meeting with manufacturing CEOs in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC, February 23, 2017. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty
Early-December: Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak meets with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Trump Senior Advisor Jared Kushner in Trump Tower. The meeting is not disclosed to the public until March 2017.
According to the White House in March, its purpose was to “establish a line of communication.” ( New York Times ). It is later revealed that in the meeting, Kushner suggested setting up a secure channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, to be hosted at the Russian embassy or consulate. ( Washington Post )
December 12: President-Elect Trump officially nominates Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, drawing some controversy around Tillerson’s close relationship with Russia, having previously engaged in joint ventures with Rosneft, a state-backed Russian oil company, while CEO of Exxon-Mobil, and having received the Order of Friendship from Russia in 2013. ( New York Times )
Mid-December (possibly the 13th or 14th, according to flight data reviewed by the Washington Post ): Senior Trump Advisor Jared Kushner meets with Sergey Gorkov, chairman of Russia’s government-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB) and a close ally of President Putin, at Russian Ambassador Kislyak’s request. The bank was placed on the sanctions list following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. ( New York Times )
December 29: Shortly after the White House notifies Russia of sanctions that the Obama administration will impose for election interference, Michael Flynn speaks with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. During the phone call, Flynn discusses the sanctions.
According to several current and former officials who read transcripts of the call, Flynn told Kislyak that Russia should not overreact to impending sanctions for election interference because the Trump administration would be in a position to revisit the sanctions and change policy toward Russia. (Washington Post )
December 29: Within four hours of the Obama White House’s announced sanctions against Russia for election interference, President-Elect Trump issues a written statement saying “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” ( Fox News Politics )
December 30: Following Russia’s surprise turnaround decision not to respond to the U.S. sanctions in kind, President-Elect Trump tweets: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” ( Twitter )
Putin’s decision came as a surprise in part because Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had earlier said in televised remarks, “Of course, we cannot leave these sanctions unanswered … Reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and international relations.” ( ABC News ).
January 11: The United Arab Emirates helps set up a secret meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and a Trump supporter (and brother of Betsy DeVos), and a Russian official close to President Putin whose identity is not disclosed. The apparent purpose of the meeting is reportedly to test Russia’s commitment to Iran and to set up a communication channel between President-Elect Trump and Moscow.
Both the White House and Blackwater later deny that the meeting had a diplomatic purpose. (Washington Post )
January 11: At a news conference, President-Elect Trump says he “think[s] it was Russia” that hacked the 2016 U.S. election but diminishes its significance, adding “but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” drawing comparisons to other incidents of hacking that have drawn less news coverage, and suggests that the DNC left itself open to hacking and deserves some blame. (CNBC )
Post-January 20: In the “early weeks” of the administration, “top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions,” until their efforts were blocked by State Department officials and members of Congress ( Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff reporting with source on-the-record)
January 20-early February: National Security Advisor Michael Flynn advocates for closer military communication with Russia to fight ISIS. According to several current and former Pentagon sources, Flynn suggested that a military communications channel established to prevent in-air collisions be expanded for other purposes. Both the Pentagon and CentCom oppose Flynn’s idea. ( Daily Beast )
January 26-February 13: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates meets personally with White House Counsel Don McGahn about National Security Advisor Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December. Yates warns the White House Counsel that Flynn’s saying that he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian Ambassador is untrue and that in her view Flynn is accordingly vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia. Yates is fired on January 30 for refusing to enforce the immigration ban. ( ABC News ).
February 14: The New York Times reports that Russia has deployed a cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty between the two countries. In congressional testimony, Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff states, “We believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.”
The administration does not issue a public statement rebuking Russia. When President Trump is asked about the violation in a February 24 interview with Reuters, he says, “To me, it’s a big deal” and that he “would bring it up” with President Putin “if and when we meet.” ( New York Times ; Reuters )
March 17: German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the White House for a meeting with President Trump. At the meeting, following a reporter’s request that they shake hands, Merkel asked Trump if he wanted to oblige the reporter for a handshake, but he ignores her. ( BBC) Trump later tweets that it was a “GREAT” meeting, but reiterates that Germany has to invest more in NATO. ( Twitter )
March 21: The State Department announces that Secretary Rex Tillerson will not attend his first NATO meeting in Brussels on April 5-6, and will instead stay in the U.S. to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. During the same announcement, the State Department notes that Tillerson will travel to Russia in April, drawing criticism that the administration is prioritizing Russia over historical allies and the NATO alliance. ( Reuters )
Subsequently, the State Department offers new dates to reschedule the NATO meeting so that Tillerson can attend. ( Reuters )
March 31: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with NATO leaders in Brussels. In his remarks, Tillerson says: “As President Trump has made clear, it is no longer sustainable for the U.S. to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures. Allies must increase defense spending.” (Washington Post )
April 2-27 Response to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
- April 2: In an interview, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says: “Certainly I think Russia was involved in the U.S. election.” ( Bloomberg )
- April 5: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley criticizes Russia for obstructing UN action on Syria and for supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. She says Russia made an “unconscionable choice” by opposing a resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons, and rhetorically asks “how many more children have to die before Russia cares?” ( Fox News Politics )
- April 24: During a working lunch with UN Security Council ambassadorsincluding UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, President Trump jests, “Now, does everybody like Nikki? Because if you don’t … Otherwise, she can easily be replaced.” ( Washington Post )
- April 27: Secretary of State Tillerson sends UN Ambassador Haley an email instructing her that from then on her comments should be “re-cleared with Washington if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue.” ( New York Times )
April 23: In an Associated Press interview, President Trump expresses strong support for far right candidate Marine Le Pen in upcoming French elections; Le Pen is supported by President Putin and promises to remove France from the EU, a long-term goal for Putin. Le Pen had also visited Trump Tower in January. [ AP ; Politico ]
May 10: Secretary of State Tillerson meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak and says the US would no longer require Russia to unfreeze the construction of an American consulate in St. Petersburg before it considered handing back seized Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York as part of the Obama sanctions for election interference – a reversal of the position staked out two days prior by Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon. ( Washington Post )
On May 10: during the Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak, President Trump:
- tells the Russian officials that he had fired the “nut job” FBI director (James Comey) who was investigating Russian election interference. Trump also says he had faced “great pressure” because of Russia, which had now been relieved. ( New York Times )
- discloses highly classified information to the Russian officials. The intelligence was provided by Israel which had not authorized the U.S. to share it. ( Washington Post ) It is later revealed that the intelligence centered on Syrian extremist bomb-making plans, which was obtained in part through highly classified cyberoperations, the disclosure of which “infuriated” Israeli officials ( New York Times ) Israel subsequently changes its intelligence sharing protocols with the United States ( New York Times; Voice of America )
- does not allow any US press into the Oval Office, but does allow TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency ( Washington Post )
- does not disclose to press that Kislyak attends the meeting until TASS publishes photographs showing him in the room ( NBC News ); the White House release following the meeting only mentions Lavrov
- apparently avoids the issue of Russian election interference (in an interview afterwards, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster refuses to confirm that Russian interference was discussed, even when asked directly about it) ( ABC News ).
May 10: Following the meeting with President Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov tells TASS: “At present, our dialogue is not as politicized as it used to be during Obama’s presidency. The Trump administration, including the President himself and the Secretary of State, are people of action who are willing to negotiate.” ( TASS )
May 25-26: Arriving in Europe with President Trump, White House economic advisor Gary Cohn tells reporters the U.S. is “looking at” the future of sanctions on Russia. When pressed on what the U.S. position currently is, he says: “Right now we don’t have a position.” ( ABC News ) The following day, Cohn counters that position, saying the U.S. will not lower sanctions on Russia and, “if anything, we would probably look to get tougher.” ( Politico )
May 25: In Europe, President Trump chastises NATO leaders for their “chronic underpayments” to the alliance and does not reaffirm U.S. commitment to Article 5 – the collective defense clause of the NATO agreement – promising only “never [to] forsake the friends that stood by our side” in the wake of September 11 (a statement later labelled by the administration as an affirmation of Article 5).
According to Politico, several Trump advisors, including National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, were surprised by the omission, having endeavored to include language supporting Article 5 in Trump’s remarks prior to the summit. (Politico ).
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton says Russia was not discussed in a larger meeting between American and European officials, but that he could not speak for a meeting involving just President Trump, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
Tusk later says he is “not 100 percent sure” he and Trump share a “common position, common opinion, about Russia.” ( New York Times )
May 26: At a political rally the day after the Brussels meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says: “The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over. This is what I experienced in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” implying that Europe could no longer rely on a close alliance with the U.S. ( New York Times )
May 30: In a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is asked about President Trump’s reaction to Angela Merkel’s comments implying Europe could no longer rely on the U.S. He responds that Europe, “working in friendship with the U.S., the U.K., Russia, and other partners,” is precisely “what the President called for.” ( May 30 press briefing ).
Trump reacts to Merkel’s comments on Twitter: “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.” ( Twitter)
June 5-7: On June 7, U.S. officials sent by the FBI to Doha to assist Qatar say they believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news story to instigate tensions between Qatar and Arab states, after which several Arab countries cut ties with the emirate. ( CNN )
The news story in question, posted June 5, said that Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Hamad Al Thani praised Iran as an “Islamic power” and criticized U.S. policy; the story coincided with increased accusations that Qatar is financing terrorism. ( CNN )
June 6: Reacting to the news of Arab states cutting ties with Qatar, President Trump tweets: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” ( Twitter ).
The same day, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert appears to take a more conciliatory stance, saying the U.S. is “grateful” to Qatar its long support of an American presence in the country, and adding: “We have no plans to change our posture in Qatar.” ( June 6 briefing )
June 13: While testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Tillerson suggests that the Trump administration may not support a bipartisan bill that issues new, stronger sanctions against Russia for interference in the 2016 election.
Tillerson notes that the administration has communication channels open with Russia and does not want to close those channels off with “something new,” signalling that the White House would prefer a softer version of the bill – a sentiment echoed by a senior administration official who suggest that the administration would work with House Republicans to “defang” the bill should it pass the Senate. The bill passes 98-2 on June 15th. ( Politico )
June 13: While testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that although the intelligence community “appears” to agree that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, he “never received any detailed briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaign.”
Senator King followed up by asking, “You never sought any information about this rather dramatic attack on our country?” Sessions replied that he never did. ( Politico – transcript )
June 20: The Senate bill issuing new sanctions against Russia stalls in the House on ground that it may not adhere to a constitutional requirement that any legislation raising revenues must originate in the House, not the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) releases a statement shortly thereafter, saying that what House Republicans are “really doing” is “covering for a president who has been far too soft on Russia.” ( Politico )
June 24: Several government officials report that the Trump administration has not taken any significant steps to prevent future election interference, although experts suggest it is likely to recur in 2018. The officials point to President Trump’s lack of interest in the issue, his redirection of focus to the Obama administration’s actions, his failure to fill certain positions at the Department of Homeland Security, and a lack of funding to upgrade “critical [technological] infrastructure” as the root cause of their concerns. In addition, “dozens of state officials told NBC News they have received little direction from Washington about election security.” ( NBC News )
June 26: The Associated Press reports that President Trump’s is “eager” to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, when both leaders are attending a multinational summit in Germany.
According to the AP, President Trump and some officials are pushing for a full bilateral diplomatic meeting, while other administration officials support a more cautious approach to Russia, especially while the investigation into Russian election meddling is ongoing. ( AP )
Ryan Goodman is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security. Ryan is the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. He served as Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-16).
Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins will not seek a capital prosecution at the proposed war crimes trial against Indonesian al-Qaeda leader Riduan Isamuddin,the Miami Herald reports. Isamuddin, commonly called Hambali, is accused of directing three simultaneous bombings in Bali in 2002 and of coordinating an attack in 2003 against the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta. The attacks collectively caused more than 200 deaths. After holding him at a CIA black site from 2003 to 2006, the government later transferred Hambali to Guantanamo. The Senate Torture Report states that the CIA subjected Hambali to enhanced interrogation techniques. Pentagon prosecutors announced charges against Hambali on June 21, meaning Hambali is the first Guantanamo detainee charged in a military commission during the Trump administration. Pentagon Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof must now decide whether to proceed with charges.
The New York Times reports on a growing concern that the NSA cannot stop the spread of cyber weapons stolen from the agency in the aftermath of the NotPetya attack earlier this week. NotPetya, the second cyberattack in the past month believed to implement stolen NSA tools, first targeted systems in Ukraine on Tuesday before spreading to more than 60 countries, Reuters reports. Security experts believe that the attack was designed to disable key Ukrainian computer systems rather than to extort funds, according to the Times. The NSA has not acknowledged responsibility for developing the weapons used in this or prior attacks.
The State Department issued enforcement guidelines for President Trump’s immigration executive order after the Supreme Court partially lifted a lower-court injunction. The Court barred enforcement of the ban on those with a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The guidelines limit bona fide relationships to close family, including “a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, [and] sibling, whether whole or half,” including step relationships. Notably, the guidelines exclude extended family members and relationships that are not legally formalized, such as fiancés.
NATO members will increase defense spending by 4.3 percent in 2017, according to an announcement yesterday by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The pledge is consistent with the alliance’s progressive increases in defense spending since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, when members committed to raising annual defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024. Five NATO member states currently meet this commitment (the U.S., the U.K., Poland, Estonia, and Greece).NATO members characterize the increase in defense spending as a response to security needs rather than as motivated by pressure from the Trump administration, which is unpopular with European constituencies. By contrast, Stoltenberg has pointed to the pledge as an express demonstration of the alliance’s commitment to taking on a greater share of defense spending in light of the Trump administration’s concerns.
Wednesday’s helicopter attack on the Supreme Court building in Venezuela has raised concerns that Venezuela may descend into civil war. Anti-government protests erupted in March following a Supreme Court ruling that weakened the opposition-dominated National Assembly. President Nicolas Maduro has called for a July 30 referendum on whether to create a new Constituent Assembly to replace the National Assembly and rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. The opposition criticized the proposed vote as a ploy to delay the presidential elections scheduled for October 2018 and announced its intention to boycott the vote.
North Korea issued a statement calling for the assassination of former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and former director of the National Intelligence Service Lee Byung-ho nearly two months after accusing the pair of colluding with the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Relations between the North and South have strained in recent months after the North’s successive ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
Recent attacks on a district in northern Afghanistan by Islamic State fighters and former Taliban groups now aligned with the Islamic State suggest the group has expanded into a new geographical front, The New York Times reports. Fighters assaulted the Darzab district in the remote Jowzjan province and displaced the Taliban from its position of control. The Afghan government has deployed troops to the area to avoid losing control of the territory to the Islamic State.
The Senate Intelligence Committee seeks to complete its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election by year’s end and to conclude witness interviews of approximately 90 congressmen before the August recess. Chairman Richard Burr made the announcement yesterday shortly after the committee concluded a hearing on Russian interference in European elections. The committee’s accelerated timeline contrasts with the approach taken by the House Intelligence Committee, which has not put forth a target end date for its investigation.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived today in Hong Kong in advance of the twentieth anniversary of the territory’s return to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997. Xi is expected to reaffirm China’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” framework that has provided for the city’s relative autonomy from Beijing following its handover from the British. His visit comes at a time of growing popular support for greater independence from the mainland.
ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare
Daniel Byman posted part II of his analysis of Al Qaeda’s record, outlining the factors contributing to the group’s decline.
Lawfare editors announced the July 12 Hoover Book Soiree, featuring Jack Goldsmith in conversation with Graham Allison on Allison’s new book, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?
Matthew Kahn posted a statement released by Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins in connection with military commissions hearings occurring this week in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.
Trey Herr analyzed the latest ransomware attacks and evaluated possible policy responses to limit future malware attacks.
Bruce Reidel considered whether Saudi King Salman will abdicate the throne and hand power to heir apparent Muhammad bin Salman.
Benjamin Wittes and Jonathan Rauch highlighted their recently coauthored Brookings report that featured a section on the intelligence oversight system. The full report, “More Professionalism, Less Populism: How Voting Makes Us Stupid and What to Do About It,” is available here. An interview with the authors on the Brookings podcast, Intersections, can be found here.
Ron Cheng advocated the use of financial sanctions and penalties as a regulatory method for combatting cybercrime.
Nicholas Weaver deconstructed the recent NotPetya ransomware and considered possible perpetrators and motives behind the attack.
Matthew and Alex Potcovaru flagged the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing yesterday on Russian meddling in European elections.
Matthew summarized materials contained in disclosure forms filed retroactively on Tuesday by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.
Lawfare – Hard National Security Choices
“Kremlin Believes U.S. Wants Regime Change In Russia” – M.N.: What’s the big news?! Kremlin believes this for about the last 100 years… — Mike Nova (@mikenov) June 29, 2017 Pentagon Report: Kremlin Believes U.S. Wants Regime Change In Russia https://t.co/e9PoZ9Q0VO — Mike Nova (@mikenov) June 29, 2017
The World Web Times – Home Page – wwtimes.com
WASHINGTON — Kremlin leaders believe the United States wants regime change in Russia, a worry that is feeding rising tensions between the two former Cold War foes, a U.S. defense intelligence report says.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, which was released on June 28, says Moscow has a “deep and abiding distrust of U.S. efforts to promote democracy around the world and what it perceives as a U.S. campaign to impose a single set of global values.”
Despite Russia’s largely successful military modernization since the Cold War, the report says “Moscow worries that U.S. attempts to dictate a set of acceptable international norms threatens the foundations of Kremlin power by giving license for foreign meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.”
“The Kremlin is convinced the United States is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia, a conviction further reinforced by the events in Ukraine,” the report says, noting that President Vladimir Putin’s government has accused the United States of engineering the popular uprising that ousted Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, in February 2014.
Russia responded by illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and by supporting a separatist war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April that year. Moscow’s actions in Ukraine led to rapidly deteriorating relations with the United States and its NATO allies, which imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation.
While the report does not forecast a new, global ideological struggle akin to the Cold War, it cautions that Moscow “intends to use its military to promote stability on its own terms.”
The 116-page intelligence document, titled Russia Military Power: Building A Military To Support Great Power Aspirations, offers a comprehensive assessment of Russian military power, saying the Kremlin has methodically and successfully rebuilt Russia’s army, navy, and air force since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The Russian military today is on the rise — not as the same Soviet force that faced the West in the Cold War, dependent on large units with heavy equipment,” the report says. It describes Russia’s new military “as a smaller, more mobile, balanced force rapidly becoming capable of conducting the full range of modern warfare.”
Speaking on June 28 at a graduation ceremony for military and police academy graduates in Moscow, Putin said that the Russian Army has become “significantly stronger” in recent years.
“Officers have become more professional. This was proven in the operations against terrorists in Syria,” he said. “We are intending to be growing further the potential of our army and fleet, provide balanced and effective ground for development of all kinds of military units based on long-term plans and programs, improve the quality and intensity of military education.
“Only modern, powerful, and mobile armed forces can provide sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country and protect us and our allies from any potential aggressor, from pressure and blackmailing from the side of those who don’t like a strong, independent, and sovereign Russia,” Putin said.
The DIA report portrays Russia’s intervention in Syria since 2015 as largely successful at “changing the entire dynamic of the conflict, bolstering [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s] regime, and ensuring that no resolution to the conflict is possible without Moscow’s agreement.”
Besides boosting Assad’s fortunes in his six-year civil war against Syrian rebels, the report says the Syria intervention was intended to eliminate Islamic extremist elements that originated on the former Soviet Union’s territory to prevent them from returning home and threatening Russia.
As Russia continues to modernize and encounter military success, “within the next decade, an even more confident and capable Russia could emerge,” the intelligence agency’s director, Marine Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, said in the report’s preface.
The report was prepared before the election of President Donald Trump and reflects the Pentagon’s view of the global security picture shifting after nearly two decades of heavy American focus on countering terrorism and fighting small-scale wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With its focus on the modernized Russian army and Russian insecurities about U.S. intentions, the report is sure to fuel debate over how to deal with Putin in Congress.
With reporting by AP
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