Foreign Press Review (10.04-16.04)

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The most important event of last week was US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, where he met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and then with President Putin. Ahead of the meetings the atmosphere in the media was tense as there were a lot of catchy headlines that Washington had accused Moscow of covering up Syrian government’s role in the recent chemical attack and delivered an ultimatum requiring that Russia make a choice between relations with the US and support for Assad. In practice, no US officials directly blamed the Kremlin for complicity, but by declassifying a four-page report on the attack the White House tried to dispose of the Russian arguments or “refute the false narratives” as it was stated in the document. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin said that the whole situation “strongly resembles” the events in 2003. That year an American representative showed a substance during the UN meeting insisting that it was chemical weapons found in Iraq and then Washington used it as a pretext for a full-scale invasion. Moreover, the Russian President once again called for checking all the facts through a thorough investigation and also claimed that Moscow has information from various sources that similar provocations aimed at undermining legitimacy of the Syrian government are being prepared in other regions of Syria.  Later the week, on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “there is growing evidence that the attack was staged” and drew attention to “inconsistencies” in publications on it, including in the US and the UK media.

As for the meetings themselves, given the statements made by both parties ahead of the talks almost nobody expected any breakthrough results. Moscow and Washington offered different interpretation of many world events. However, some analysts were not so pessimistic about the negotiations pointing at some facts. First of all, President Putin decided to meet Mr.Tillerson (according to the media, the negotiations between them had not been arranged in advance) spending two hours in talks with him. Secondly, the parties agreed to create a bilateral working group of diplomats and experts, whose aim would be to address the existing differences. Thirdly, they agreed to reinstate a “deconfliction” channel in Syria. At least, the meetings can make clear who is making Russia policy in the US now since during the election campaign President Trump numerously expressed his intention to mend fences with the Kremlin but now finds himself under fire inside the country, which inevitably limits his room for maneuver.

Taking into account the situation around the chemical attack and future Montenegro’s NATO membership, last week many authors devoted their articles to the risks of the current escalation, including a possible war between the great powers. There were a lot of articles that called for restraint (e.g. “Trump Should Rethink Syria Escalation”). Some western elites still cannot understand a simple realistic fact concerning Russia-West relations. It was clearly pointed at by former British Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton: “Threats of “isolation” and “penalties” make it harder not easier for such a proud country to go along with the west. The only way to get Russian help (which we certainly need in the case of Syria) is to approach them as a partner in a joint enterprise with joint benefits”.

Syrian conflict

Russia’s Next Move in Syria: Ignore, Escalate, Distract, or Détente?

By Peter B. Doran

The National Interest

10.04.17

Moscow moved in to call Obama’s bluff. But Trump is playing a different game.

War! (What is it Good For?)

By J. Robert Smith

The American Thinker

12.04.17

Last Friday, President Trump unleashed 59 Tomahawks on a Bashar al-Assad military air base. But has he unleashed the dogs of war, too?

Tillerson and Putin Find Little More Than Disagreement in Meeting

By David E. Sanger

The New York Times

12.02.17

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for nearly two hours Wednesday, but the two men appeared unable to agree on the facts involving the deadly chemical weapons assault on Syrian civilians or Russian interference in the American election — much less move toward an improvement in basic relations.

Trump Stumbles into Putin’s Syrian Backyard

By Nina L. Khrushcheva

Project Syndicate

13.04.17

With the bombing of an air base in western Syria, the Trump administration stepped into a gaping power vacuum in the Middle East. But what, if anything, will Trump do next?

Russia and Iran Unite in Support of Syria’s Assad

By Thomas Grove

The Wall Street Journal

14.04.17

Foreign ministers from Russia, Syria and Iran presented a unified front in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, saying the U.S. and international accusations of a chemical strike by the regime in Damascus were fabrications.

Russia-US relations

Is Russia Testing Trump?

By Michael J. Morell and Evelyn Farkas

The New York Times

11.04.17

But Mr. Tillerson should recognize that Russia’s involvement in Syria is only one example of the increasingly active, and disruptive, role that President Vladimir Putin has been playing on the world stage since Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Trump’s Shift on Russia Brings Geopolitical Whiplash

By Peter Baker

The New York Times

11.04.17

Now, Mr. Trump is in a diplomatic clash with Mr. Putin’s Russia, his administration accusing Moscow of trying to cover up a Syrian chemical weapons attack on civilians and his secretary of state delivering us-or-them ultimatums.

To Russia with More Russia-Bashing

By Nat Parry

Consortiumnews.com

12.04.17

Now that President Trump is bashing Russia, not resetting relations, the mainstream U.S. media has gone from pushing “Russia-gate” conspiracies to decrying doubts about U.S. government anti-Russia claims.

‘Words Are Also Deeds’: Unverified Stories and the Growing Risk of War With Russia

 By Stephen F. Cohen

The Nation

12.04.17

The US narratives for which there are as of yet no facts could lead to direct military conflict between Washington and Moscow.

Don’t believe Trump when he says relations with Russia are at an ‘all-time low’ – the truth in Moscow is different

By Mary Dejevsky

The Independent

13.04.17

It’s significant that Rex Tillerson went ahead with his Moscow trip so soon after the air strikes in Syria. It’s equally significant that a meeting with Putin went ahead – and, for once, Putin did not keep his guest waiting.

“Russiagate”

FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page

By Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous

The Washington Post

11.04.17

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

British spies were first to spot Trump team’s links with Russia

By Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins

The Guardian

13.04.17

GCHQ is said to have alerted US agencies after becoming aware of contacts in 2015.

Russia-NATO relations

Montenegro Has the U.S. Greenlight to Join NATO. Now What?

By Emily Tamkin

Foreign Policy

12.04.17

Just one day before President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met in Washington, the North Atlantic alliance came one big step to gaining its first new member in eight years: Montenegro.

Russia’s internal politics

Power brokers in the Kremlin jostle to succeed Putin

By Kathrin Hille and Henry Foy

The Financial Times

11.04.17

President’s authoritarianism has barred the rise of any challenger.

Putin’s dilemma: crush dissent or appear democratic?

By Anna Arutunyan

USA Today

13.04.17

Less than a year before Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks re-election, the biggest protest wave in five years is putting his popularity — and his control over political dissent — to the test.

Articles also deserving your attention

  1. Why Trump’s missiles are shaking Putin’s home front (10.04.17)
  1. Putin is running out of options in Syria (10.04.17)
  1. The US strike on Syria carries convenient victories for both Putin and Trump (10.04.17)
  1. Trump’s relationship with Russia was confusing enough. Then Syria happened (11.04.17)
  1. What Comes After the Syria Strikes (11.04.17)
  1. The Russian and Iranian ties that the U.S. can’t seem to break (11.04.17)
  1. How Trump’s Syria strike could spiral into World War III (11.04.17)
  1. What could go wrong for the U.S. in Syria? War with Russia (09.04.17)
  1. White House Accuses Russia of Cover-Up in Syria Chemical Attack (11.04.17)
  1. US-Russia diplomacy: Why one airstrike does not leverage make (11.04.17)
  1. Why the Russians Aren’t Likely to Break With Assad (11.04.17)
  1. Why Russia Supports Assad (14.04.17)
  1. The White House is getting smarter on Russia — but still has a lot to learn (11.04.17)
  1. Why U.S.-Russia Relations Won’t Get Any Better (12.04.17)
  1. Trump dumps Russia, woos China instead (14.04.17)
  1. When Rex Met Sergey (13.04.17)
  1. Putin’s mission is already accomplished: Jill Lawrence (11.04.17)
  1. What Trump Could Never Understand about Putin (13.04.17)
  1. Can FBI Director James Comey Untangle the Trump-Russia Allegations? (13.04.17)
  1. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Sees a “Russia Connection” Lurking around Every Corner (12.04.17)
  1. Trump’s Morphed From Spy Agency Critic to Fan, CIA’s Pompeo Says (14.04.17)
  1. ‘Don’t you look away from me!’: How a Russian diplomat’s tirade broke U.N. tradition (13.04.17)
  1. The G7 proves too weak to hold Putin to account (11.04.17)
  1. Putin’s Self-Serving Israel Agenda (13.04.17)
  1. While the U.S. wasn’t looking, Russia and Iran began carving out a bigger role in Afghanistan (13.04.17)
  1. Trump’s Putin Pushback (11.04.17)
  1. How the UK became Russia’s greatest western foe (11.04.17)
  1. ‘No longer obsolete’: Trump backtracks on Nato with Russia tensions rising (12.04.17)
  1. The old Cold War never got far out of the deep freeze (13.04.17)
  1. Russia and NATO: Drama redux (14.04.17)
  1. Russian withdrawal throws Eurovision politics into sharp relief (14.04.17)
  1. European Court Faults Russia’s Handling of 2004 Beslan School Siege (13.04.17)
  1. Putin Is Looking Vulnerable in a Crumbling Russia (14.04.17)
  1. Gay men in Chechnya are being tortured and killed. More will suffer if we don’t act (13.04.17)
  1. I worked for Putin’s government, then became one of his biggest critics (12.04.17)

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