Russia suspends nuclear arms treaty after US threatens the same

In response to the US threatening to withdraw from the long standing Nuclear Forces Treaty if Russia didn’t comply with it, Russia has responded by withdrawing from the treaty.

I don’t know if this signals the reigniting of another nuclear arms race, or if Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are just playing some sort of brinkmanship.

Whatever it is, it looks like a sign of deteriorating relations between the US and Russia.

Reuters:  Russia suspends nuclear arms treaty after U.S. says to pull out

Russia has suspended the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, after the United States said it would withdraw from the arms control pact, accusing Moscow of violations.

The United States announced on Friday it will withdraw from the INF treaty in six months unless Moscow ends what it says are violations of the 1987 pact.

It would reconsider its withdrawal if Russia came into compliance with the agreement, which bans both nations from stationing short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe. Russia denies violating the treaty.

“The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well,” Putin said during a televised meeting with foreign and defense ministers.

Putin said Russia will start work on creating new missiles, including hypersonic ones, and told ministers not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington, accusing the United States of being slow to respond to such moves.

“We have repeatedly, during a number of years, and constantly raised a question about substantiative talks on the disarmament issue,” Putin said. “We see that in the past few years the partners have not supported our initiatives.”

During the meeting with Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of violating the INF and other arms deals, including the non-proliferation treaty.

Back to cold war style blaming each other for what they want to do themselves.

Trump seems to have had a night off Twitter so no response from him yet.

 

On the FBI investigation of Trump’s Russian connections

There continues to be defenders of Donald Trump and deniers of any Russian collusion.

Washington Examiner – Devin Nunes: Counterintelligence bombshell shows FBI leaders ‘had no real evidence against the Trump team’

On Friday, the New York Times reported the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey in the spring of 2017. The counterintelligence inquiry was later wrapped into the FBI’s broader Russia collusion investigation, which special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to lead after Comey’s ouster.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the New York Times’ bombshell report on a counterintelligence investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia only strengthens the argument that the FBI has no evidence of collusion against the Trump team.

“This is yet more evidence that FBI leaders actually had no real evidence against the Trump team,” Nunes said in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York. “Instead, they were simply trying to undermine a president they didn’t like and avenge Comey’s firing. By relying on the Steele dossier — a fraudulent document funded by Democrats and based on Russia sources — FBI leaders were either complicit or too oblivious to notice they were being used in a disinformation operation by the Democratic Party and Russian operatives.”

In a follow-up, the Washington Post reported the president took steps to try to protect his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including pressuring a translator to withhold information on discussions between the two leaders from administration officials.

And there continues to be claims that there was obvious cause for concern.

…imagine you are a FBI Agent working Russian counterintelligence in 2016 and you witness the following:

– you witnessed Russian hackers targeting a wide swath of Americans including the DNC, DCCC, former Secretary of State & a Presidential candidates staff

– someone previously targeted by Russian Intelligence joins the Trump campaign and then appears on a stage in Moscow supporting Russia policy and speaking negatively of US policy

– A Presidential candidate hires a new campaign manager whose not been in the business in the states for years, but has been seen pushing a Russian agenda in Ukraine and has Russian intel contacts

– an Australian official contacts you and says the Russians have stolen emails of a Presidential candidate & may want to give them to the candidate’s competitor

– a Russian lawyer & others tied to Russian government visit a Presidential candidate’s son in the candidate’s building in NYC

– Candidate Trump stands on a stage and calls out Russia and asks about emails from his competitor, says they will be rewarded if they have them and release them

– website that’s released sensitive & classified documents from US for years, helped deliver a US insider to The Kremlin, begins publishing document & emails during Dem convention, content you know was stolen by Russia. Site administrator once hosted a TV show on Russia State TV

– during this time, you watch a campaign associate tweet with a Russian account that’s pointing people to stolen documents from the opposing campaign. The campaign associate predicts something will happen to the opposing campaign manager- his emails are later released

– as Election Day approaches, Presidential candidate makes allegation, without evidence, voter Fraud & Election Rigging, Russia propaganda echoes this, social media accounts associated Kremlin do the same, at same time, you watch Russian Hackers hit state election infrastructure

After election, current President issues sanctions against Russia, but the incoming National Security advisor makes calls to Russian officials from 3rd country, when approached for clarification post inauguration, the advisor lies about contents of phone call w/Russian officials

During summer fall leading into the election, you receive raw intelligence from highly reliable source whose proven invaluable on other investigations. source provides intelligence on Russia’s efforts to support a presidential candidate, the info is consistent with other info

Before inauguration your bosses, your leaders from all intelligence agencies brief president elect on classified info showing Russia influenced the election on behalf of President elect. President elect rejects intelligence from all your superiors and suggests Russia innocent

From the summer of 2015 all the way through the election and after inauguration, you watch as the candidate, president elect and now president offers overt effusive support for Vladimir Putin who you know has been helping the President get elected.

Shortly after inauguration, your new commander-in-chief spouts false information about Polish aggression toward Belarus. This is not supported by the Intelligence community you are in, and the only source for this viewpoint is Russian propaganda.

After firing of National Security Advisor that lies to agencies investigators, the President corners your boss 1-1 asks him to go easy on National Security Advisor who lies about his conversation with Russians.

During this period, the President inexplicably and repeatedly asks your boss if he’s under investigation with regards to Russia, despite your boss and other intel heads going out of their way to brief the President about Kremlin efforts to potentially compromise & manipulate him.

While Congressional committees investigate Russian interference, the President fires your boss for his handling of an email investigation into the President’s opponent, an investigation that helped elevate the President rather than hurt him.

You later find out a draft memo from President to your boss regarding his firing cited the Russia investigation.

The President then goes on national television and in an interview says he fired your boss because of the Russia investigation.

A week after firing your boss, the President invites Russian leaders into the Oval Office, Russian photographers capture the moment, but US media is not allowed to observe. President then brags to Russian leaders about firing your boss.

Sometime during the spring, if you’re not already aware, you read a news story alleging the President’s son-in-law may have sought a way to communicate with Russia via a back channel not monitored by you and your colleagues.

During summer, you watch the President attend NATO summit and shove Montenegro PM, in an Interview claim Montenegro is aggressive, might start a war. This mirrors Russian propaganda & you know Russia backed covert operation destabilize Montenegrin election.

For next year, either you, your colleagues and your organization, FBI, are discredited by President. He mixes true and false information in public disclosures which you are not allowed to respond to. If you do respond, your accused of leaking and could be fired or even jailed.

Documents & information from confidential sources you’ve pledged to protect, are selectively leaked into public through those who are supposed to provide government oversight. These inappropriate disclosures make your job as an investigator nearly impossible & hurts your sources.

At some point during the summer or before, you learn that the President’s son was receiving & responding to direct messages from website that was releasing emails stolen from the President’s opponent by Russia.

1st two years President’s term, you watch him take a negative, adversarial stance toward NATO and particularly Germany. This strains your relationship with your most valuable intel partners, your Counterterrorism agent colleagues depend on them & they help fight war on terror.

Over next 2 years, President aggressively seeks meetings with Putin who helped elect him. Need for meetings is not clear. One President meets in private with Putin for 2 hours without witnesses but translator. To this day, you, your bosses don’t really know what was discussed.

President emerges from private meeting with Putin and on world stage in Helsinki accepts and validates Russian denials about election interference & rejects years of your teams intel work. This badly damages your reputation and partner trust with your organization.

Separately, your President publicly discusses a Russian proposed partnership on cyber security, this insane concept is mind boggling to you as an investigator as you’ve just spent years tracking these same Russians who just attacked your country.

Even further, your President publicly mentions a possible exchange where Russian investigators might interview and interrogate you and other Americans about their attack on you and America. A crazy, frightening and bizarre threat to you as a civil servant.

Throughout your investigation into Russian interference, you watch as your President’s attacks on the Special Counsel, Justice Department & FBI are amplified and spread in America by the very Russian troll social media accounts and state sponsored propaganda you are investigating.

Throughout the Special Counsel indictments, hearings and trials, you watch the President and his legal team publicly interject, discredit witnesses and discuss pardons, all subverting the rule of law and justice which you’ve dedicated your life to protect and defend.

You either know or learn a parallel investigation shows Russians representing a bogus Russian gun rights movement penetrated the political party hosting members who’ve tried to discredit you – you recognize this as a TEXTBOOK espionage/influence op you learned at FBI academy.

After two years, the Attorney General over you, who appropriately recused himself from Russia investigation, is fired for seemingly no clear reason after taking public lashings from the President.

Your AG is replaced by an acting AG whose unqualified for position, has limited experience justify such high level appointment, you’ve watched him on TV discrediting your agency and your team’s investigation despite seeing none of evidence or knowing anything Russian influence.

The same month, the President’s personal lawyer pleads guilty in federal court and says he continued negotiations throughout almost the entire Presidential campaign for a Tower in Moscow. This is in opposition to President’s public denials.

You read public reporting that the best apartment in the Moscow Tower project pursued by the President’s business was offered to Russia’s President Putin, the same Putin your President always sides with over you and your agency, the Putin who helped your President win.

You either knew or learned through a redaction error that the President’s campaign manager was alleged to have lied about providing polling data to a Russian whom he owed money, via a former Russian GRU contact.

That was Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Clint Watts concludes:

Wrote thread through day from memory without web searches, I’m sure I missed a lot, & this is all on the public, can’t imagine what it must feel like to serve FBI during this investigation,we clearly don’t know everything Mueller team knows, I imagine there is much more to learn.

If Mueller has been doing his job and is as thorough as has been claimed I imagine he has learned quite a lot.

As Watts shows, there is already a lot out in public, but no doubt there will be more to come when Mueller’s report comes out. It has been reported a draft of his report has already been done.

Whatever the outcome of Mueller’s investigation, it is important for the US and for the world that the results are publicly known.

 

 

 

 

Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation

Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would be withdrawing their troops from Syria. This raised questions about the fate of the Kurds who had been supported and used by the US, but are opposed by Turkey.

Trump has answered in his typical bluster and threat style, via Twitter:

“Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone…Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

What if the Kurds attack Turkish forces? Should Turkey not respond for fear of economic devastation?

What if Russia…? What if Iran…?

What would economic devastation mean for Turkey and the Middle East and the Mediterranean?

Reuters: Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks Syrian Kurd militia

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the NATO allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: “You’ll have to ask the president.”

“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things, Pompeo said, adding he had not spoken with Ankara since Trump’s comment.

So it sounds like Trump’s Secretary of State doesn’t know what the hell Trump is playing at. This isn’t an unusual situation for Trump’s administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syrian withdrawal announcement.

Trump has already impacted significantly on the Turkish economy.

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

Things are getting crazier, with Trump letting loose on Twitter making seemingly impulsive, destablilising (for his Administration and for the world) and potentially devastating pronouncements.


Reuters Explainer: Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war?

The future of Kurdish-led swathes of northern and eastern Syria has been thrown into doubt by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops who have helped secure the territory.

The region, roughly a quarter of Syria, is the largest chunk of the country still outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian Kurdish leaders fear Turkey, which sees them as a threat, will use a U.S. pullout as an opportunity to mount an assault into northern Syria.

This has driven them to talk to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of agreeing a deal to protect the region and safeguarding their political gains.

The Russians will be quietly looking for any advantage they can take over the Us withdrawal from Syria.

HOW DID THE KURDS EMERGE AS A FORCE?

The main Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), began to establish a foothold in the north early in the war as government forces withdrew to put down the anti-Assad uprising elsewhere. An affiliated militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), secured the region.

Early in the conflict, their control was concentrated in three predominantly Kurdish regions home to roughly 2 million Kurds. Kurdish-led governing bodies were set up.

The area of YPG influence expanded as the fighters joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (IS), becoming the spearhead of a multi-ethnic militia alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF influence widened to Manbij and Raqqa as IS was defeated in both. It has also reached deep into Deir al-Zor, where the SDF is still fighting IS. The SDF, which also includes Arab and other groups, says it has more than 70,000 fighters.

Kurdish leaders say their aim is regional autonomy within a decentralized Syria, not independence.

The Syrian Government would probably not react well to an bid for full independence.

WHY DOES TURKEY VIEW THEM AS A THREAT?

The PYD is heavily influenced by the ideas of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights. Ocalan has been in jail since 1999 in Turkey. He is convicted of treason.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey says the PKK is indistinguishable from the PYD and YPG.

So the US has been supporting an organisation they have designated terrorists?

Turkey has a Kurdish minority equal to 15 to 20 percent of its population, mostly living in eastern and southeastern areas bordering Syria. Wary of separatistism, Turkey views the PYD’s Syrian foothold as a security threat.

Turkey has already mounted two cross-border offensives in northern Syria as part of its efforts to counter the YPG.

Now Trump has threatened Turkey not to do that.

FOR KURDS, IS ASSAD A FRIEND OR FOE?

Syria’s Baathist state systematically oppressed the Kurds before the war. Yet the YPG and Damascus have broadly stayed out of each other’s way during the conflict, despite occasional clashes. They also have been seen to cooperate against shared foes, notably in and around Aleppo.

The YPG has allowed the Syrian state to keep a foothold in some of its areas. The YPG commander told Reuters in 2017 it would have no problem with the Assad government if Kurdish rights are guaranteed in Syria.

But Damascus has long opposed Kurdish autonomy demands and talks between the two sides last year went nowhere.

It’s complicated. And difficult to see a lasting solution.

WHAT WOULD AN ASSAD-KURD DEAL MEAN FOR THE WAR?

The territory held by Damascus and the Kurdish-led authorities accounts for most of Syria. A political settlement – if one could be reached, perhaps with Russian help – could go a long way to stitching the map back together.

Anti-Assad insurgents, though defeated across much of Syria by the government and its allies, still have a foothold in the northwest stretching from Idlib through Afrin to Jarablus. Turkey has troops on the ground in this area.

The rebels include Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army groups and jihadists.

Assad also wants Turkey out as he vows to recover “every inch” of Syria.

It’s very complicated.

I don’t think Trump can deal with complexities, apart from making them more complex with his ad hoc impulsiveness and threats.

Some good may accidentally emerge from his approach, but there is a far greater likelihood he will make things worse.

Russia will be seeing how they can benefit from all of this. I can’t see Trump deliberately aiding Russia here, but that is a highly likely inadvertent outcome.

 

More on Trump and the Russia probe

It has been revealed that just after Donald trump fired FBI chief James Comey the the FBI investigated whether Trump was secretly working for Russia. Trump has slammed the report (in the New York Times) but didn’t answer a question on whether he had worked for Russia in a friendly Fox interview.

New York Times:  F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017.

Trump does what he often does when something awkward comes up – attacked the source and ex-FBI leaders.

“Funny thing about James Comey. Everybody wanted him fired, Republican and Democrat alike. After the rigged & botched Crooked Hillary investigation, where she was interviewed on July 4th Weekend, not recorded or sworn in, and where she said she didn’t know anything (a lie), my firing of James Comey was a great day for America. He was a Crooked Cop.”

White House response (Sarah Sanders):

“This is absurd. James Comey was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his Deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI.

“Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push American around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.”

Fox News: Republican uncovered secret FBI debate over Trump motivation for Comey firing during House questioning

A House Republican’s line of questioning uncovered revelations that in May 2017 senior FBI leadership debated whether President Trump was directed by the Russian government to fire FBI Director James Comey, Fox News has learned.

Contacted by Fox, U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, confirmed his questions to former FBI General Counsel James A. Baker uncovered the claims, some of which were first reported Friday by the New York Times.

Ratcliffe called the Baker transcript leak “selective,” adding that the full transcript of the Oct. 18 interview, which is undergoing a classification review by the FBI and the Justice Department, reveals “that in May 2017, political bias infected senior FBI leadership, and emotion — not evidence — drove their decision making.”

A separate source said Baker told investigators the internal FBI debate over the president’s decision to fire Comey on May 9, 2017, included personnel who have since left the bureau for cause, retired, or have been demoted.

Ratcliffe said he was surprised to read Friday’s New York Times report, which quoted part of his Baker interview, and reported that after the Comey firing “law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior” that they began investigating whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia.

The House Republican would not further describe the contents of the Baker transcript but said it was clear, based on his direct questioning of Baker, that in May 2017 “FBI senior leadership could not accept Comey was fired for cause and the president had the constitutional authority to terminate Comey.”

Ratcliffe said he was aware of the Baker revelations in October, and House Republicans had been working through proper channels to make the entire transcript public.

In a phone interview with a friend at Fox News (Jeanine Piro) Trump avoided answering a question about Russia:

The president was also asked to respond to a recent New York Times report that alleged that the FBI had investigated him for working on behalf of Russia.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I have ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written and if you read the article you see that they found absolutely nothing.”

“If you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other … probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents.”

I don’t think ‘the folks in Russia’ are the people to ask about that.

Trump also addressed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election, saying “it’s all nonsense.”

“Here’s the bottom line. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. … It’s a witch hunt.”

That is still uncertain. The Robert Mueller investigation into Russian collusion has not yet revealed anything major against Trump. Time will tell whether it has found information that will be damaging for Trump or his family. In the meantime, the saga and slagging match will continue.

Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen is set to testify in congress next month, before he heads to prison in March to start a three year sentence. This could be awkward for Trump. However Cohen may be limited in what he can say.

Fox News:  Michael Cohen, seeking vindication, can’t use most ammunition against Trump

While President Trump’s former personal lawyer turning on him before a House committee will be a television spectacle, Cohen’s allies say he will testify under great constraints.

Cohen may have important new information that he has disclosed to Robert Mueller in 70 hours of interviews with prosecutors, but if so, he won’t be able to reveal it.

The major limitation, as Cohen has said, is that he can’t discuss anything still under investigation by the special counsel. That means Cohen, who is still hoping for a reduction in his sentence, can’t answer questions about Russian collusion or the proposed real estate project in Moscow. It also means he can’t address the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer (who was recently indicted on money-laundering charges).

The New York lawyer wants to explain why he went to work for Trump, why he is ashamed of having worked for Trump, and how he made the decision last July to turn on his longtime benefactor, who has called him a “weak person” and a “rat.”

Part of that explanation will focus on Cohen’s view that while certain behavior might be tolerable in a private businessman, the standards are very different when that person becomes president.

Cohen will offer personal anecdotes about his service to Trump and what he has termed his complicity in “dirty deeds,” the sources say. These would likely be unflattering blasts from the past but could have little to do with his record as president.

Trump has survived many unflattering blasts from the past before.

Everyone will have to wait until the Mueller investigation reveals what it has found out about what dealings Trump or his family or associates may have had with Russia in the 2016 election campaign.

 

 

Will delivery drones ever be viable? Or safe?

Drones have been promoted as a means of making deliveries. I remain very sceptical about whether this is a good thing or not. Even if it can be developed into a reliable means of transport how much drone traffic do we want zinging all over town?

Amazon have been a prominent proponent. CNN (2017): Amazon patent reveals drone delivery ‘beehives’

In 2013, Amazon unveiled plans for a new delivery service called Prime Air, which would use drones to deliver packages.

Amazon made its first drone delivery in the U.K. in December 2016. The company plans to expand the service to dozens of customers near its British facility in the near future.

Amazon has filed for a patent for beehive-like towers that would serve as multi-level fulfillment centers for its delivery drones to take off and land. The facilities would be built vertically to blend in with high rises in urban areas. Amazon envisions each city would have one.

amazon drone beehives 2

Each city would have an Amazon drone tower? And how many others. A Dominos drone tower?

Stuff (2016): Dominos delivers pizza by drone

History has been made today in Whangaparaoa just north of Auckland. As of this morning, drone deliveries of pizza are now reality as the first commercial deliveryof food by drone to a customer was successful. The first ever flying order delivered at 11:19am today was put together by Domino’s Pizza and Flirtey.

I don’t know how this project is progressing. Or the Amazon drone delivery project.

What about delivering the mail? Remember mail that came to our letterboxes?

This was just one embarrassing failure.

What about the potential dangers? Will we have to start wearing helmets in public in case an errant drone drops on us? Or a book or a pizza?

I live on a flight path for seagulls – they are frequently passing overhead heading up or down Otago Harbour. Seagulls can be a pest in some parts of town, but they are a majestic part of bird life here, I love watching them soar past. It would be funny if they learnt to attack pizza drones to score a free feed.

But the silent soaring of birds is different to the buzz of drones doing suburban deliveries.

We may have something that will make drones unviable here – the Resource Management Act.  If anyone tries to get them off the ground in any serious way.

Trump changes Syrian war, Kurds feel betrayed

Donald Trump surprised many people and countries with his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. In protest US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, resigned.

Trump’s decision has forced a sudden chaange of approach in the war by Turket, and Syrian Kurds, used by the US in the war but regarded as terrorists by Turkey, feel betrayed.

Reuters – Syrian surprise: How Trump’s phone call changed the war

President Donald Trump’s declaration in a phone call with Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border.

In the phone call two weeks ago, Trump had been expected to deliver a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to launch a crossborder attack targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, U.S. officials say.

Instead, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.

“Trump asked: ‘If we withdraw our soldiers, can you clean up ISIS?’”, a Turkish official told Reuters. He said Erdogan replied that Turkish forces were up to the task.

“Then you do it,” Trump told him abruptly. To his national security adviser John Bolton, also on the call, Trump said: “Start work for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.”

“I have to say it was an unexpected decision. The word ‘surprise’ is too weak to describe the situation,” said the official, one of five Turkish sources who spoke to Reuters about the Dec. 14 call between the two leaders.

Trump’s decision was also a shock in Washington, where senior administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, tried for days to change the president’s mind, U.S. officials said. When Trump made clear he would not back down, Mattis and a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, both resigned.

For Turkey, Trump’s decision offers opportunity and risk.

Ankara has complained bitterly for years that the United States, a NATO ally, had chosen the Kurdish YPG militia as its main partner on the ground in Syria against Islamic State.

Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group, inseparable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed.

The U.S. withdrawal potentially frees Turkey’s military to push the YPG back from 500 km of border without risking a confrontation with American forces. It also removes a main cause of this year’s diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

But it also opens up an area of Syria far larger than anything Turkey had expected to fill, potentially pitting it against not just Kurdish forces but also the Damascus government – which is committed to regaining control of all of Syria – and its Russian and Iranian backers.

The YPG on Friday asked the Syrian government to take over the town of Manbij, which the Kurdish militia currently controls with U.S. support, to protect it from Turkish attack.

And if Turkish forces are to take on Islamic State in its last pocket of Syrian territory near the Iraqi border, they would first have to cross 250 km of territory controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.

“Erdogan got more than he bargained for,” said Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute. “He had asked the U.S. to drop the YPG, but not withdraw from Syria”.

Alliances between groups fighting in Syria and countries involved in the war are complicated. Trump’s decision will force other countries to rethink their involvement, and will no doubt change the power struggles within and over Syria.

New York Times:  Syria’s Kurds, Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection

Feeling betrayed by the United States, its Kurdish allies in Syria asked the Syrian government on Friday to protect them from possible attack by Turkey.

The request surprised some American officials and could help open the way for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, to start retaking the Kurdish-held part of the country near Turkey’s border.

That would be a big step toward Mr. Assad’s goal of reclaiming all of Syria, upended by almost eight years of war.

It was also the first sign that President Trump’s abrupt announcement last week that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria was not only shifting alliances in the conflict but directly benefiting Mr. Assad — a brutal autocrat once described by Mr. Trump as an “animal” responsible for chemical attacks and other atrocities.

American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.

The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.

The Kurdish militias are regarded by Turkey as dangerous, autonomy-minded insurgents. The United States regards them as valuable partners in helping rout Islamic State extremists from Syria — the original purpose of the American military deployment four years ago.

Although the American troops in Syria number only about 2,000, they have been a deterrent to an assault on the Kurdish militias by the Turks. The American presence also discouraged Mr. Assad’s forces from sweeping into the area even as they retook major areas elsewhere from anti-government fighters, often with the support of Russia and Iran.

Mr. Trump’s surprise announcement that he would pull American troops had raised fears of a scramble by competing forces to exploit the resulting vacuum.

It’s hard to know whether trump understands the implications of his sudden decision or not.

Groups controlling land in Syria:

 

The areas run by the Kurds in Syria have long stood apart in the conflict. They had hoped, with their American friends, to pioneer an alternative model for Syria’s future.

While none of the other powers fighting in Syria liked the situation, they mostly avoided attacking the area for fear of provoking the United States. Now, with that deterrent set to end, the future of the northeast is up in the air.

Those most likely to gain, analysts say, are the Syrian government and its allies, who want to bring the northeast back under the control of Damascus, both for the good of Mr. Assad and for their own interests.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in Syria now.

Mixed messages in US sanctions on Russia

Donald Trump has indicated he wants to improve relations with Russia, as the US have imposed fresh sanctions on Russia for cyber-related activities.

CBS News: Trump open to lifting Russia sanctions, “most likely” to meet Kim Jong Un again

President Trump on Monday said he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if Moscow were to take steps towards working with the U.S. on issues like Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Trump made the comments in an interview with Reuters.

It’s yet unclear exactly what kind of steps Mr. Trump would require to ease such sanctions. Mr. Trump insists he has been tougher on Russia than any other president, despite the laudatory way he speaks of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian response (Reuters):  Actions better than words, says Russia after Trump offer

The Kremlin said on Tuesday it welcomed statements by U.S. President Donald Trump indicating a desire to cooperate with Russia, but that it would welcome concrete steps to improve relations more.

Trump has repeatedly said he would like better ties with Moscow, but despite meeting President Vladimir Putin last month, relations have come under further strain as Washington announced new sanctions.

“We of course welcome statements that affirm a readiness to cooperate, but we would welcome even more some kind of concrete actions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said the Kremlin would like to hear more details from the United States on any proposed cooperation in Syria and Ukraine, and that Kiev should also take positive steps.

“We need to be specific about what is expected from Russia in terms of Ukraine, and why nothing is expected from the Ukrainian authorities,” he said.

But at the same time U.S. imposes fresh sanctions for Russian cyber-related activity

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two Russians, one Russian company and one Slovakian company for what Washington said were their actions to help another Russian company avoid sanctions over the country’s malicious cyber-related activities.

The U.S. Treasury said in a statement that the sanctioned companies, Saint Petersburg-based Vela-Marine Ltd and Slovakia-based Lacno S.R.O., and the two individuals helped Divetechnoservices evade previously imposed sanctions.

In a statement on the Russian foreign ministry’s website, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the latest sanctions groundless and promised a response from Moscow.

Ryabkov’s criticism extended to separate sanctions Washington imposed on Tuesday on two Russian shipping companies that it said were involved in transferring refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels in violation of Unite Nations restrictions.

IOt’s hard to see any progress on better US relations while more sanctions are being imposed. No wonder Putin asked for action rather than words from Trump on lifting sanctions.

Trump invites Putin to White House meeting

Donald Trump seems to have decided to double down on his Helsinki debacle. He says he has invited Vladimir to another meeting, this time in Washington.

It’s hard to know whether eyebrows have been raised again, they stayed raised, or they have just given up oand been plucked.

Reuters: Trump invites Putin to Washington despite U.S. uproar over Helsinki summit

President Donald Trump has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this autumn, the White House said on Thursday, a daring rebuttal to the torrent of criticism in the United States over Trump’s failure to publicly confront Putin at their first summit for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

NY Times: Trump Invites Putin to Washington, Blindsiding His Intelligence Chief

President Trump plans to invite President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to visit Washington in the fall, the White House said Thursday — an invitation that stunned the nation’s top intelligence official, who said he was still groping for details of what the two leaders had discussed in their encounter this week in Helsinki, Finland.

Reuters: Russia ready to discuss Putin Washington visit: Ifax

Russia is ready to discuss a proposed new meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, Interfax news agency cited Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, as saying on Friday.

Meanwhile: Sanctions law behind Putin’s request to Trump for former U.S. officials

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request to U.S. President Donald Trump for a joint investigation of former U.S. officials sought by the Kremlin for “illegal activities,” including a U.S. ambassador to Russia, is just the latest effort in a years-long campaign to undermine a U.S. law that imposes financial sanctions on Putin’s officials.

The Hill: White House Rejects Putin Proposal to Interview American Citizens

The White House on Thursday backed off a proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin to question U.S. citizens over alleged crimes in Russia after initially indicating President Trump would consider the matter.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

Trump was widely criticised for being a pussy with Putin, so in typical fashion tries to sound like he is really tough: Trump: I’ll Be Putin’s Worst Enemy If Relationship Doesn’t Work Out

  • President Donald Trump vowed in an interview with CNBC that if his dealings with Russian leader Vladimir Putin don’t “work out, I’ll be the worst enemy he’s ever had.”
  • But he also said that, “Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia is postive, not a negative,” Trump said.

Also typically, he is all over the place, saying something for everyone in his support base.

Also typically he tries to portray Obama as weak (he was) in comparison to himself.

  • Trump blasted his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for having been a “patsy for Russia” — while claiming he has been “far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years. Maybe ever”.

Image result for trump russia

Trump back flips over Russian election meddling

As is becoming common with Donald Trump, he has changed his claims substantially over Russian meddling in the US election.

Did he blunder, listen to advice and is now trying to repair the damage?

Does he simply say things to suit an audience – praising Putin in Helsinki but singing a different song in the US? He did similar in his UK visit, slamming them before the visit and then claiming things were wonderful to their faces.

Or is this another example of a deliberate shock and retreat strategy?

@ReutersPolitics:

UPDATE: Trump says Russia actions had no impact on outcome of elections, accepts U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddling took place.

Trump has always been obsessed with his claims he won the election on his own merits, but that clashes with the claims of Russian interference.

Trump says he meant to say in Helsinki that he saw no reason why it would not be Russia that interfered in elections.

Whoops, he said the opposite to what he meant. Again. Is this believable?

Trump says his administration will move aggressively to repel any efforts to interfere in 2018 election.

So that the Republicans can win on their own merits?

US democracy is a basket case.

Is Trump an extreme symptom, or is he a masterful opportunist?

Whatever it is, US credibility is suffering, and is at risk of democratic failure one way or another.

See “What we are living with is pre-fascism”

UPDATE: Trump has just said that when he came back to the US facing flak for his Putin/Russian meddling comments, he reviewed the transcript of what he said and now claims he meant the opposite to what he said.

But he is all over the place. He admits saying the opposite to what he now says he meant, but also blames it on the media.

 

Trump backs Putin over US intelligence on Russian interference in US elections

There has been widespread shock and condemnation after Donald Trump accepted Vladimir Putin’s word that Russia did not intefer in the US election in 2016. This is contrary to the views of the entire US intelligence community and most US politicians.

Fox News: Trump blasts Mueller probe, Putin denies meddling as leaders tout summit as ‘success’

President Trump and Vladimir Putin tackled allegations of election meddling in unprecedented terms following their one-on-one summit Monday, with Trump opening the door to an unusual offer of cooperation in the special counsel probe and the Russian president suggesting he indeed favored the billionaire businessman in 2016.

But Putin, emphatically and repeatedly, denied meddling in the U.S. election, saying there’s “no evidence.” And Trump, while saying they spent a “great deal of time” discussing the allegations, blasted the ongoing probe as a “disaster for our country.”

The two leaders spoke at a freewheeling joint press conference following a pair of meetings — one private — in Helsinki, Finland. Trump and Putin both touted the summit as a success, vowing to improve ties on a range of issues.

“I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics,” Trump declared.

NY Post: Trump refuses to accuse Putin of election meddling

President Donald Trump on Monday refused to accuse Vladimir Putin and Russia of interfering in the US election after their one-on-one sitdown in Finland.

Asked directly if he believed Putin or his own intelligence community, which concluded that the Russians were behind the hacking and other interference, the president did not directly answer.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said as Putin stood several feet away.

Trump then said he saw no reason why Russia would interfere in America’s elections.

Putin, meanwhile, admitted he had been rooting for Trump to beat Hillary Clinton.

“Yes, I did, yes I did, because he talked about bringing US-Russia relations back to normal,” Putin said.

Trump also praised the Russian strongman for offering to help special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigate the well-documented Russian meddling. “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators. I think that’s an incredible offer,” he said.

Trump then launched a stunning series of political attacks on Democrats and Clinton while standing on foreign soil — and suggested that he believed Putin’s denials.

“So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server, why haven’t they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee. I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?” the commander-in-chief said.

“What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails, 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia, they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.”

He also said the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was poisoning relations between the US and Russia.

“It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore. Virtually, none of it related to the campaign,” he said.

Trump then defended his campaign and hailed his surprise victory.

“They will have to try really hard to find something that did relate to the campaign. That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and, frankly, we beat her and I’m not even saying from the standpoint, we won that race,” he continued.

Fox News – Media slams Trump following Putin summit: ‘One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president’

The media came down hard on President Trump following Monday’s joint press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with pundits and anchors on both sides of the political aisle bashing the American leader’s performance.

Trump was primarily criticized for the way he handled questions about allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S., claims that have been paired with allegations Russia and the Trump campaign colluded to win the election. Trump said he raised the issue of election meddling during their one-on-one meeting prior to the press conference, but ripped Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe during the news conference, declaring there was “no collusion.”

Trump also passed on a chance to side with the American intelligence community, which claims Moscow meddled in the election.

Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire and Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason were both praised by journalists for asking tough questions, but Trump’s answers drew scorn.

“Trump, finally asked whom he believes on Russia interference, gives a vague and rambling non-answer, with renewed complaints about Hillary’s server. Says he trusts US intel but made clear he takes Putin’s denials seriously. Lame response, to say the least,” Fox News’ Brit Hume tweeted.

NBC News’ online headline said Trump’s performance “advances conspiracy theories,” pointing to him bringing up 33,000 Hillary Clinton emails that the president said are missing.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper called it “perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president” immediately after the press conference. Cooper’s name immediately began trending on Twitter after making the comment, which resulted in a variety of media members agreeing with the CNN star.

Former CIA John Brennan:

Reuters – U.S. Rep. Schiff: Trump comments give Putin OK on 2018 interference

The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence panel said President Donald Trump’s comments in Helsinki on Monday essentially gave Russian President Vladimir Putin permission to interfere in November’s midterm election.

“President Trump just attacked our intelligence agencies and law enforcement for doing their jobs while standing next to a dictator who intervened in our election to help elect Trump. Putin will take this as a green light to interfere in 2018, and it is. Cowardly and shameful.”

It’s hard to find support or praise of Trump’s post-summit performance, but Rush Limbaugh manages to go against the flow: Comedy Gold As American Journalists Beclown Themselves

Hey, folks, parts of this joint press conference here between Trump and Putin were comedy gold. Parts of this press conference were some of the funniest stuff that’s been on American television since Trump was elected. I mean, I have been laughing myself silly. I don’t laugh out loud much watching television anymore. It’s a sad reality, but watching TV does not make any laugh anymore. But I have been laughing out loud — uncontrollably at times — watching this joint presser. What makes it is that the United States media regularly beclowns itself, makes fools of themselves because they really have it in their heads…

I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know if they really do believe that Trump and Putin colluded to steal the election, if they’ve been reporting that for so long that they actually now believe it. Because even with Mueller, there isn’t any evidence of it. Which reminds me, Mueller’s indictment… Wait ’til you hear what the Drive-Bys are trying to do with this indictment! It is craziest thing! It is laughable, because our media has become a collective joke.

That sounds like a manic sort of defence of Trump, resorting to the old ‘attack the media’ approach with a few conspiracy theories thrown in.

BBC: Trump sides with Russia against FBI at Helsinki summit

US President Donald Trump has defended Russia over claims of interference in the 2016 presidential election.

After face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said there had been no reason for Russia to meddle in the vote.

Mr Putin reiterated that Russia had never interfered in US affairs.

The two men held nearly two hours of closed-door talks in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday.

At a news conference after the summit, President Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to the allegations of meddling in the elections.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he replied.

US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.

In a strongly-worded statement, US House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mr Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally”.

“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he said, adding that there was “no question” Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election.

“The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”

Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr Trump had sent the Kremlin a message of US “weakness”.

He tweeted: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”

Fellow Republican Senator Jeff Flake – a staunch critic of President Trump – called his words “shameful”.

Trump succeeded in dominating the headlines, but he has been dominated by Putin and savaged by most in the USA. Including the Director of National Intelligence.