Russians here and Russians there, more confirmation of the Steele dossier

Carter Page’s bizarre testimony before the House Intelligence Committee supported some key elements of the infamous dossier compiled by a former British spy.

The former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign told lawmakers last week about his visits to Russia before and after the election, when he met with government and business leaders, reported Business Insider.

Page confirmed he had emailed campaign adviser J.D. Gordon July 8, 2016, from Moscow — on a trip approved by former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — to say he had gotten “incredible insights and outreach from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here.”

That seems to confirm findings by former British spy Christopher Steele, who reported in his dossier that “official close to Presidential Administration Head, S. Ivanov, confided in a compatriot that a senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, Divyekin (nfd) also had met secretly with Page on his recent visit.”

According to Steele’s source, Diveykin told Page the Kremlin had damaging information on Hillary Clinton that they wanted to turn over to the Trump campaign.

Page denied meeting with Diveykin and told the committee that “senior members of the presidential administration,” as described in his email, was actually just a brief chat with deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich.

He also claimed his reference to legislators meant only a few people shaking his hands in passing during the trip.

Page also confirmed that he “possibly” had contacted the head of investor relations at the Russian oil company Rosneft in advance of his July 2016 visit.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s ranking Democrat, pointed out that Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, was under U.S. sanctions as part of the Magnitsky Act.

A U.S. intelligence source claimed in September 2016 that Page met with Sechin, who raised the issue of lifting those sanctions after the election.

A Russian source told Steele that Sechin and Page held a secret meeting to discuss “the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.”

Steele alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for getting U.S. sanctions lifted against oligarchs close to Russian president Vladmir Putin.

Page denied “directly” expressing support for lifting sanctions, but he admitted

that Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations, “may have briefly mentioned” the sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft in July.

A 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft changed hands in December under mysterious circumstances, and Page returned to Moscow the day after the deal was signed to meet with “some top managers” at the company.

He has denied meeting with Sechin while there, but agrees it would have been “a great honor.”


J.D. Gordon Quote from NBC news “ I discouraged Carter from taking the trip to Moscow in the first place because it was a bad idea. Since I refused to forward his speech request form for approval, he eventually went around me directly to campaign leadership


No matter how much you don’t like Hillary, the Uranium story is still BS

The claim that Russia obtained 20 percent of American uranium is still not true

More than a year ago, Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, made a slew of claims about Hillary Clinton’s alleged role in the approval of the sale of a Canadian company, Uranium One, with mining rights in the United States to Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear energy agency. The Fact Checker labeled it false at the time.

But this claim seems to resurface whenever news about the Russia investigation heats up. After Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), head of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Congress would lead a probe into the deal, the Fact Checker delved into the tale again. In an interview with Fox News, Nunes said, “How is it that our government could approve a sale of 20 percent of our uranium at the same time that there was an open FBI investigation?”

The 20 percent figure has long been in wide circulation. It comes from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, one of the agencies that approved the deal in 2010. It stated that as of 2010, the licenses “represent approximately 20 percent of the currently licensed uranium in-situ recovery production capacity” in the United States. But that did not mean 20 percent of U.S. uranium reserves. In-situ recovery is one of two ways uranium is mined and is generally used for low-grade ore that would otherwise be too expensive to mine.

Plus, the 20 percent number was an estimate. Today, the Uranium One represents only 2.3 percent of all U.S. production. And uranium produced in the U.S. represents a very small section of the world’s total. In 2016, it accounted for 1,126 tons of the world’s total 62,266.

So, the overwrought claims that Clinton “gave away” 20 percent of the U.S. nuclear supply or that Russia controls that much U.S. uranium are simply absurd. Clearly, the number is woefully out of date.

Wahington Post

Sinister new White House – Russian “Collusion”?

Prominent anti-Putin whistleblower Bill Browder says he was barred from entering the US

Bill Browder. CNN/screenshot

Banker turned human-rights activist Bill Browder says his authorization to travel to the US using his British passport via an ESTA visa was revoked on the same day that Russian prosecutors issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest on charges of tax evasion and murder.

Browder tweeted over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin had managed, on the fifth attempt, to place him on the Interpol list after four previous rejections by the International Police Organization.

Interpol did not immediately return a request for comment. But Browder said Russian officials had used a “loophole” known as a diffusion notice to bypass scrutiny by Interpol HQ. A diffusion notice is similar to, but less formal than, a red notice, which is “the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today,” according to the Justice Department.

The same day the warrant was issued, Browder said, he was notified that his ESTA had been revoked. Browder gave up his US citizenship in 1998 and became a British citizen.

ESTA, or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is an automated system that allows tourists from a Visa Waiver Program country to travel to the US for business or pleasure for 90 days or less.

It is still unclear why Browder was effectively barred from the US following the Interpol warrant. A spokesperson for the US Customs and Border Protection Agency said in a statement following this article’s publication that Browder’s ESTA “was manually approved by CBP on Oct. 18—clearing him for travel to the United States.” The spokesperson said it “remains valid.”

But Browder told Business Insider that he “got the message from DHS of my Global Entry revocation and my ESTA (visa waiver) cancellation on October 19th.”

He also said the Department of Homeland Security “refused to provide any answers” when he initially asked last week why his ESTA had been revoked.

“They suggested I file a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request and wait for the answer, which can take as long as six months,” Browder said. Browder explained that he first discovered the visa problems after receiving an email from DHS about “a change in global entry status” — his global entry pass had been revoked, according to the website. He then tried to book a flight to the US to check whether his ESTA authorization was still valid, but United Airlines “refused to check me in because of visa problems.”

“I checked with law-enforcement contacts and learned that Russia added me to the Interpol system via a diffusion notice on October 17,” Browder said.

Russian investigators have accused Browder of several crimes over the past decade, including tax evasion and a scheme to bypass the Kremlin to buy up Gazprom shares for foreign investors, in an effort to undermine his credibility.

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya detailed Browder’s alleged misconduct in a memo that she brought with her to a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower last June. The document closely mirrored a memo written by the Russian prosecutor’s office months earlier that was given to US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher while he was in Moscow.

Browder spearheaded the 2012 sanctions legislation known as The Magnitsky Act, which was passed to punish high-level Russian officials suspected of being involved in the death of his tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

A memorial for Sergei Magnitsky in Russia. AP

Magnitsky is believed to have uncovered a $230 million tax-fraud scheme in 2008 on behalf of Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital, which quickly snowballed into one of the biggest corruption scandals of Putin’s tenure. Putin on Thursday called the Magnitsky Act the product of “anti-Russian hysteria.”

Magnitsky was jailed by some of the same Russian officials he had accused of corruption, Browder has said, and was beaten to death by prison guards after failing to receive medical treatment for pancreatitis and other serious ailments.

Russia has claimed Magnitsky died of natural causes and, in a new twist, is now accusing Browder of colluding with a British spy in 2009 “to cause the death of S. L. Magnitsky by persuading Russian prison doctors to withhold care,” according to The New York Times.

“The new accusation is made all the more sinister for its absurd and at times cartoonish details,” The Times reported.

The “Dossier” by former UK intelligence official Christopher Steele is casting an ever darker shadow over Trump


former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele

Nine months after its first appearance, the set of intelligence reports known as the Steele dossier, one of the most explosive documents in modern political history, is still hanging over Washington, casting a shadow over the Trump administration that has only grown darker as time has gone by.

It was reported this week that the document’s author, former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele, has been interviewed by investigators working for the special counsel on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are, meanwhile, asking to see Steele to make up their own mind about his findings. The ranking Democrat on the House committee, Adam Schiff, said that the dossier was “a very important and useful guide to help us figure out what we need to look into”.

The fact that Steele’s reports are being taken seriously after lengthy scrutiny by federal and congressional investigators has far-reaching implications.

Originally commissioned by a private firm as opposition research by Donald Trump’s Republican and then Democratic opponents, they cite a range of unnamed sources, in Russia and the US, who describe the Kremlin’s cultivation over many years of the man who now occupies the Oval Office – and the systematic collusion of Trump’s associates with Moscow to help get him there.

The question of collusion is at the heart of the various investigations into links between Trump and Moscow. Even a senior Republican, Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, admitted this week it was an open question.

Burr said his committee needed to talk Steele himself to assess the dossier properly and urged him to speak to its members or staff. According to an NBC report on Friday, Steele had expressed willingness to meet the committee’s leaders.

In his remarks this week, Burr said his committee had come to a consensus in supporting the conclusions of a US intelligence community assessment in January this year that Russian had conducted a multi-pronged campaign to interfere in the 2016 election, in Trump’s favor.

It is a finding that echoes the reports that Steele was producing seven months earlier. Trump has called the assessment a “hoax”, but there is no sign the three agencies that came to that conclusion, the CIA, FBI and NSA, have had any second thoughts in the intervening months.

“Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken [the Steele] reports seriously since they were first published,” wrote John Sipher, a former senior officer in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service on the Just Security website. “This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods and the nature of raw intelligence reporting.”

Sipher emphasised the “raw” nature of the reports, aimed at conveying an accurate account of what sources are saying, rather than claiming to be a definitive summary of events. There are spelling mistakes and rough edges. Several of the episodes it described remain entirely unverified.

But as every passing month brings more leaks, revelations in the press, and more progress in the investigations, the Steele dossier has generally gained in credibility, rather than lost it.

The Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya,: Yury Martyanov/AFP/Getty Images

Trump Tower meeting

One of the more striking recent developments was the disclosure of a meeting on 9 June 2016 in Trump Tower involving Trump’s son, Donald Jr, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with a Russian lawyer closely tied to the government, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

After the meeting was first reported on 8 July this year, the president’s son claimed (in a statement dictated, it turned out, by his father) that it had been about adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

The next day that was exposed as a lie, with the publication of emails that made it clear that Veselnitskaya was offering damaging material on Hillary Clinton, that an intermediary setting up the meeting said was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

“If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer,” Donald Trump Jr replied.

Just 11 days after that meeting – but more than a year before it became public – Steele quoted a source as saying that “the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton”, for several years.

A later report, dated 19 July 2016, said: “Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them and the Russian leadership.” The report said that such contacts were handled on Trump’s end by his then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who participated in the 9 June Trump Tower meeting.

Manafort has denied taking part in any collusion with the Russian state, but registered himself as a foreign agent retroactively after it was revealed his firm received more than $17m working as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party. He is a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and in July the FBI raided his home in Virginia.

Other key protagonists in the Steele dossier have surfaced in subsequent disclosures and investigation. Two of them, an Azeri-Russian businessman Araz Agalarov and his son Emin, are described in emails released by Donald Trump Jr as offering to serve as intermediaries in passing on damaging material on Clinton and is reported to have help set up the Trump Tower meeting.

Carter Page

Another key figure in the Steele dossier is Carter Page, an energy consultant who Trump named as one of his foreign policy advisors. Steele’s sources describe him as an “intermediary” between Manafort and Moscow, who had met a Putin lieutenant and head of the Russian energy giant, Rosneft, and a senior Kremlin official, Igor Diveykin. Page denied meeting either man on his trips to Moscow, which he has said were for business purposes and not connected to his role in the Trump campaign.

Nonetheless, he has become a focus of investigation: it was reported in April that that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued an order last year for his communication to be monitored. To obtain the order, investigators would have to demonstrate “probable cause” to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power. Page has said he welcomed the news of the order as it demonstrated he was being made a scapegoat of the investigation.

Elsewhere, a Steele memo in September 2016 mentions a “Mikhail Kulagin” who had been withdrawn from the Russian embassy in Washington because of his “heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation”.

There was no diplomat of that name at the mission, but there was a Mikhail Kalugin; five months later, it emerged that he had left the embassy in August 2016.

McClatchy reported he was under investigation for his role in Russia’s interference in the campaign. The BBC reported that the US had identified Kalugin as a spy.


More recently, there has been a slew of revelations about the role of disinformation spread by Russians and other eastern Europeans posing as Americans on social media. The New York Times reported that hundreds and possibly thousands of Russian-linked fake accounts and bots on Facebook and Twitter were used to spread anti-Clinton stories and messages.

Facebook disclosed that it had shut down several hundred accounts that it believes were fabricated by a Kremlin-linked Russian company to buy $100,000 in ads that often promoted racial and other divisive issues during the campaign.

This week, Facebook handed over to Congress 3,000 ads bought by a Russian organization during the campaign, and it was reported that many of those ads, some of them Islamophobic, were specifically targeted on swing states, Michigan and Wisconsin.

A Steele memo from August 2016 states that after Russia’s hand had been discovered in the hacking of Democratic party emails and passing them to WikiLeaks for publication, another avenue of influence would be explored.

The memo says “the tactics would be to spread rumors and misinformation about the content of what already had been leaked and make up new content”. The Russian official alleged by Steele’s sources to be in charge of the operation, Sergei Ivanov – then Putin’s chief of staff – is quoted as saying: “The audience to be targeted by such operations was the educated youth in America as the PA [Russian Presidential Administration] assessed that there was still a chance they could be persuaded to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump as a protest against the Washington establishment (in the form of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton).”

The Steele dossier said one of the aims of the Russian influence campaign was to peel off voters who had supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and nudge them towards Trump.

Evidence has since emerged that Russians and eastern Europeans posing as Americans targeted Sanders supporters with divisive and anti-Clinton messages in the summer of 2016, after the primaries were over.

The startling claim that Trump was filmed with prostitutes while staying at a Moscow hotel in November 2013, when he was staging the Miss Universe contest there, has not been substantiated in any way.

Nor has the allegation that Trump’s lawyer and vice-president of the Trump Organisation, Michael Cohen, traveled to Prague in August 2013 to conspire with a senior Russian official. In a letter to the House intelligence committee, Cohen said he never went to Prague and took issue with a string of other claims in the dossier.

It has however emerged that Cohen was involved in exploring a real estate deal in Moscow for the Trump Organisation while the campaign was in full swing. He has been summoned to appear in open hearing before the Senate intelligence committee later this month.

The Steele dossier, its author and the firm who hired him, Fusion GPS, have become favored targets for Trump’s loyalists on Capitol Hill. They point to the fact that the genesis of the documents was a paid commission to find damaging facts about Trump.

But the dossier has not faded from view. Instead, it appears to be growing in significance as the investigations have gathered pace.

by Julian Borger in Washington


Get over the election already! Sorry Trumpies that’s not gonna happen

Local EPD apologist and Tommy McClain hater Violet sent us this:

Get over the election already!
So what if there were a few Facebook pages rallying Trump supporters.
It’s no worse than the millions spent by Hollywood rallying support for Hillary.
Apparently, it’s okay for Democrats to have scandalous support, but not for Republicans?

Why not cover real news, like Comey’s lies and Hillary’s email? There is ACTUAL evidence of law breaking by Comey and Hillary, yet you keep chasing your pipe dream of tripping Trump; give up, he’s MUCH smarter than you or the MSM.

We thought this debate between Tucker Carlson and Rob Reiner seemed like a good response

Filmmaker Rob Reiner handed it to Tucker Carlson Thursday when the Fox News host tried to belittle the importance of Russia’s invasion in the U.S. election.

Carlson began by wondering why Reiner wasn’t demanding Trump send in the F-15 fighters to bomb St. Petersburg if his new ad says “we’re at war.” Reiner tried to explain that it’s a cyber war, which Carlson refuted.

“If you watch the entire video, it talks about cyberwarfare” Reiner explained. “It talks about how he was able to use the internet and cyber tools to attack the U.S. democracy, which is what they did.”

Carlson told Reiner that he should clarify in the video “we’re not really at war,” dismissing the hacking of a democracy as a serious issue.

Reiner again encouraged Carlson to watch the full video where it explains what the cyberwar was about and how it was conducted according to intelligence. He named off the various ways we now know the Russians, or people connected to Russia, were using the internet to help attack Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump. He admitted that we’re accustomed to propaganda being used in elections, what is unique in this situation was the use of propaganda to specifically target and advertise to those in swing states on Facebook.

Carlson tried to accuse Reiner of colluding with far-right warmongers who’ve supported full on violent wars in the past and wondered why he would align himself with these types of people as a liberal. Reiner explained very simply that people on both sides of the political aisle believe Russia invaded the U.S. when it sought to impact American democracy.

“We’re not advocating going to war, or going to a traditional war,” Reiner said.

“Well, you should say that,” Carlson demanded.

“But we’re already in a cyber war with them,” Reiner countered. “People want to turn their heads at that and it’s at their own peril. The point I’d like to make, and this is really important for people to understand because this doesn’t have anything to do with Donald Trump. Trust me, Donald Trump, whatever happens to him, is going to happen to him, I mean there are already investigations. Muller is going to find what he finds. The House and Senate have their own investigations. They’ll find whatever they find. But beyond that, we’ve been invaded in a certain way and the thing that has been so upsetting to me, I don’t know how old you are Tucker, but when I was young we had to hide under a desk because we were worried we were going to get attacked by a nuclear bomb.

He went on to say that when the country has been attacked in the past, whether 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, “we’ve come together as a country to defend ourselves against foreign enemies.” America isn’t doing that here for the first time in our history. That is a major reason why it is important to him that people see the video.

Carlson said that Hollywood doesn’t care about China hacking the US websites and government agencies and that they build movies with the Chinese censors in mind. Reiner countered that the difference is that we’ve done the same to China. Russia stepped into influence an election and that was “game over.”

“It’s not about hacking into computers and stealing information, it’s about using that information and weaponizing it in some way,” Reiner explained. He went on to say he wants people to encourage policymakers to put things in place so that we can protect ourselves as a country.

video link here:

Russia’s military show of force shakes up Europe, with Trump in charge we should worry too

The Russian Military dominates the Arctic these days and now they have Europe very concerned with their latest moves

TALLINN/VILNIUS (Reuters) – From planes, radar screens and ships in the Baltics, NATO officials say they are watching Russia’s biggest war games since 2013 with “calm and confidence”, but many are unnerved about what they see as Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West.

NATO believes the exercises, officially starting on Thursday in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are already underway. It says they are larger than Moscow has publicized, numbering some 100,000 troops, and involve firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Codenamed Zapad or “West”, NATO officials say the drills will simulate a conflict with the U.S.-led alliance intended to show Russia’s ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict.

“NATO remains calm and vigilant,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week during a visit to an Estonian army base where British troops have been stationed since March.

But Lithuania’s Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis was less sanguine, voicing widely-felt fears that the drills risk triggering an accidental conflict or could allow Moscow to leave troops in neighboring Belarus.

“We can’t be totally calm. There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory,” he told Reuters.

Some Western officials including the head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Gen. Ben Hodges, have raised concerns that Russia might use the drills as a “Trojan horse” to make incursions into Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.

The Kremlin firmly rejects any such plans. Russia says some 13,000 troops from Russia and Belarus will be involved in the Sept. 14-20 drills, below an international threshold that requires large numbers of outside observers.

NATO will send three experts to so-called ‘visitor days’ during the exercises, but a NATO official said these were no substitute for meeting internationally-agreed norms at such exercises that include talking to soldiers and briefings.

Moscow says it is the West that threatens stability in eastern Europe because the U.S.-led NATO alliance has put a 4,000-strong multinational force in the Baltics and Poland.

Wrong-footed by Moscow in the recent past, with Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its intervention in Syria’s war in 2015, NATO is distrustful of the Kremlin’s public message.

In Crimea, Moscow proved a master of “hybrid warfare”, with its mix of cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns and use of Russian and local forces without insignia.

One senior European security official said Zapad would merge manoeuvres across Russia’s four western military districts in a “complex, multi-dimensional aggressive, anti-NATO exercise”.

“It is all smoke and mirrors,” the official said, adding that the Soviet-era Zapad exercises that were revived in 1999 had included simulated nuclear strikes on Europe.

NATO officials say they have been watching Russia’s preparations for months, including the use of hundreds of rail cars to carry tanks and other heavy equipment into Belarus.

As a precaution, the U.S. Army has moved 600 paratroopers to the Baltics during Zapad and has taken over guardianship of the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which lack capable air forces and air defense systems.


Russia’s military show of force raises some uncomfortable questions for the alliance because NATO cannot yet mass large numbers of troops quickly, despite the United States’ military might, NATO officials and diplomats said.

NATO, a 29-nation defense pact created in 1949 to deter the Soviet threat, has already begun its biggest modernization since the Cold War, sending four battalions to the Baltics and Poland, setting up an agile, high-readiness spearhead force, and developing its cyberspace defenses.

But NATO has deliberately taken a slowly-slowly approach to its military build-up to avoid being sucked into a new arms race, even as Russia has stationed anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad, the Black Sea and Syria.

“The last thing we want is a military escalation with Russia,” said one senior NATO official involved in military planning, referring to Zapad.

In the event of any potential Russian incursion into the Baltics or Poland, NATO’s new multinational forces would quickly need large reinforcements. But a 40,000-strong force agreed in 2015 is still being developed, officials say.

Lithuania’s Karoblis said he hoped to see progress by the next summit of NATO leaders in July 2018.

Baltic politicians want more discretion given to NATO to fight any aggressor in the event of an attack, without waiting for the go-ahead from allied governments.

During Zapad, NATO is taking a low-key approach by running few exercises, including an annual sniper exercise in Lithuania. Only non-NATO member Sweden is holding a large-scale drill.

NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Everard told Reuters there was no need to mirror Zapad. “It’s not a competition,” he said during a visit to NATO forces in Latvia.

Fearing Russia, Sweden holds biggest war games in 20 years

GOTHENBURG, Sweden (Reuters) – Neutral Sweden has launched its biggest war games in two decades with support from NATO countries, drilling 19,000 troops after years of spending cuts that have left the country fearful of Russia’s growing military strength.

On the eve of Russia’s biggest maneuvers, since 2013, which NATO says will be greater than the 13,000 troops Moscow says are involved, Sweden will simulate an attack from the east on the Baltic island of Gotland, near the Swedish mainland.

“The security situation has taken a turn for the worse,” Micael Byden, the commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, said during a presentation of the three-week-long exercise.

Sweden, like the Baltics, Poland and much of the West, has been deeply troubled by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula Crimea and its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

“Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions – the annexation of the Crimea and continued battles in eastern Ukraine – so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russia is doing,” Byden said.

Around 1,500 troops from the United States, France, Norway and other NATO allies are taking part in the exercise dubbed Aurora.

Non-NATO member Sweden has decided to beef up its military after having let spending drop from over 2 percent of economic output in the early 1990s to around 1 percent, and is re-introducing conscription.

Sweden’s soldiers attend the Aurora 17 military exercise in Gothenburg, Sweden September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Johan Ahlander

The armed forces, which at one point could mobilize more than 600,000, stand at just 20,000, with 22,000 more Home Guard volunteers.

NATO generals say the Aurora exercise is not a response to Russian exercises that start on Thursday.

French soldiers work in weapon systems during the joint NATO exercise ‘Aurora 17’ at Save airfield in Goteborg, Sweden September 13, 2017. Henrik Brunnsgard/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

But Byden, speaking as U.S. and French forces displayed mobile surface-to-air missile systems to be deployed during the exercise, stressed the importance of NATO for Sweden.

“We are a sovereign country that takes care of and is responsible for our safety. We do this together with others, ready to both support and receive help,” he said.

The United States shipped vehicles by sea from Germany, while France brought others by train. They are to be moved via a classified route to Sweden’s east coast for the exercise where U.S. attack helicopters will play the enemy during Aurora.

The government is determined to stick to the country’s formal neutrality. Sweden has not fought a war since it clashed with Norway in 1814.

But like its non-NATO neighbor Finland, Sweden has been drawing closer to NATO, allowing closer cooperation with alliance troops, with a view to working together in the event of an armed conflict.


Trump’s Russian dream deal that never happened

WASHINGTON – In the third month of Donald Trump’s presidency, Vladimir Putin dispatched one of his diplomats to the State Department to deliver a bold proposition: The full normalization of relations between the United States and Russia across all major branches of government.
The proposal, spelled out in a detailed document obtained by BuzzFeed News, called for the wholesale restoration of diplomatic, military and intelligence channels severed between the two countries after Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria.
The broad scope of the Kremlin’s reset plan came with an ambitious launch date: immediately.
By April, a top Russian cyber official, Andrey Krutskikh, would meet with his American counterpart for consultations on “information security,” the document proposed. By May, the two countries would hold “special consultations” on the war in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal, the “situation in Ukraine,” and efforts to denuclearize the “Korean Peninsula.” And by the time Putin and Trump held their first meeting, the heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Council, and Pentagon would meet face-to-face with their Russian counterparts to discuss areas of mutual interest. A raft of other military and diplomatic channels opened during the Obama administration’s first-term “reset” would also be restored.
“This document represents nothing less than a road map for full-scale normalization of US-Russian relations,” said Andrew Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, after reviewing the proposal provided by BuzzFeed News.
Besides offering a snapshot of where the Kremlin wanted to move the bilateral relationship, the proposal reveals one of Moscow’s unspoken assumptions – that Trump wouldn’t share the lingering US anger over Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and might accept a lightning fast rapprochement.
“It just ignores everything that caused the relationship to deteriorate and pretends that the election interference and the Ukraine crisis never happened,” said Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia during the George W. Bush administration who also reviewed the document.
As of today, only a small fraction of the dozens of proposed meetings have taken place — and many of the formalized talks appear unlikely to happen as Moscow and Washington expel one another’s diplomats and close diplomatic facilities in a tit-for-tat downward spiral.
The Russian Embassy in Washington declined to discuss the document. “We do not comment on closed bilateral negotiations which is normal diplomatic practice,” the embassy said in a statement.
Officials at the White House and State Department declined to say who delivered the document but did not dispute its authenticity. They denied giving the Russians explicit indications that their proposal was feasible. When asked how Moscow got the impression that its terms might be acceptable, a spokesperson for the National Security Council cited misleading news reports about Trump’s infatuation with Russia. “Frankly, I would point more to media coverage than administration overtures,” the spokesperson said.
Of course, Russian officials could simply have listened to Trump’s extensive public remarks, which repeatedly touted the benefits of engagement with Moscow as recently as February. “I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” Trump said at a news conference.
Yet despite Trump’s warm rhetoric, the actual level of engagement between the United States and Russia since the president took office has been fairly limited outside of the open channels used by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the White House.
Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon and his Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov have held on-and-off discussions on irritants in the US-Russia relationship, but have little to show for it. On Syria, State Department diplomats Michael Ratney and Brett McGurk have held regular discussions with Russian counterparts to discuss a modest ceasefire confined to the southwest of the country. On Ukraine, Special Envoy Kurt Volker’s discussions with his Russian counterpart have only just gotten off the ground.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, has been openly skeptical of engagement with the Russians as it maintains a limited deconfliction channel in Syria. In February, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, in Azerbaijan, but was quick to point out that the meeting did not portend increased cooperation with Russia in Syria or anywhere else. The two met again in Turkey in May.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has also downplayed expectations for cooperation, telling reporters in February, “We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo traveled to Moscow in May for talks with Russian intelligence officials, but an agency spokesman declined to discuss the nature of the meeting.
In pushing its reset plan, Moscow seemed to underestimate the political blowback the Trump administration would face if it carried out a large scale rapprochement amid high-profile investigations by the FBI and Congress into allegations of collusion with Russia.

“Putin doesn’t seem to understand that Trump’s powers are not the same as his,” said Steven Pifer, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution. “The checks and balances, the special prosecutor and congressional investigations have tied Trump’s hands in ways that didn’t occur to Putin.”
When asked if he is disappointed in Trump, given early hopes of improved relations, Putin has responded frostily.
“Your question sounds very naive,” Putin told a reporter at a press conference in China last week. “He is not my bride, and I am not his groom.”
“Each country has its own interests,” he added.
Still, the decision by the US Congress to slap new sanctions on Russia in August, which prompted Moscow to force the firing or transfer of hundreds of US employees in Russia, which in turn prompted the US to shutter Russia’s consulate in San Francisco, is not what Russia’s parliament presumably hoped for when it burst into applause the night of Trump’s surprise election victory over Hillary Clinton.
“When the Russians submitted this proposal, they were under the impression that Trump would do what he said he would do: Make a deal with Putin and normalize relations,” said Stent, who is also director of Eurasian studies at Georgetown University.
“That’s a reflection of the way their own system works,” she said. “If Putin wants something done, the Duma is compliant, the Ministry of Defense is compliant. But in the US, a lot of these things aren’t in the purview of the White House even if you have a president who is inclined.”
A senior State Department official acknowledged that Moscow’s initial expectations were unrealistic. In a July meeting between Tillerson and Lavrov in Hamburg, Tillerson stressed that a broader rapprochement wasn’t possible absent positive Russian action on Ukraine, the official said.
Moscow’s eagerness to dictate new bilateral meetings has at times irritated State Department officials, two US officials said. At a summit in Manila in August, for example, Lavrov left a bilateral meeting with Tillerson and began telling reporters that America’s special envoy for Ukraine would soon travel to Moscow to discuss the Ukraine crisis. US officials, however, had not agreed to hold the meeting in Russia and later demanded it happen elsewhere. The Americans ultimately prevailed, and the meeting took place in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
Despite recent disappointments, the Kremlin hasn’t given up hope for normalized ties with the United States, even if it is still threatening to expel more diplomats and sue Washington over the closure of its US facilities. In an interview two weeks ago, Moscow’s new ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antanov, made a passing reference to the March proposal and suggested the offer was still on the table. “We have always been interested in constructive interaction with Washington on the entire bilateral and international agenda,” Antanov told a Russian news outlet.
But as the White House faces the glare of multiple Russia probes, it has done little to pressure the Pentagon or State Department to engage their Russian counterparts. And absent a push, America’s risk-averse national security bureaucracy is unlikely to move forward on its own, especially given the nomination of prominent Russia hawks in senior positions, such as Wess Mitchell, a Kremlin skeptic slated to become the top US diplomat to Europe and Russia.
“There may not be a willingness by the US to go back to business as usual given that Russia policy on Ukraine and Syria hasn’t changed,” said Pifer.
In an apparent reference to Tillerson’s hawkish advisers, Putin told a business forum last week that the former ExxonMobil CEO has “fallen in with bad company.”
The State Department says it remains open to better ties. “We’ve told the Russians that the path to normalization runs through Ukraine,” a State Department official said.
As written, Russia’s offer from March contains numerous meetings with proposed deadlines that came and went. Perhaps the most forlorn proposal was one calling on both governments to work toward “resuming and promoting mutually beneficial trade and investment cooperation.” Five months after the proposal was delivered, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation that slapped new economic sanctions on Russia while barring Trump from terminating previous sanctions without a congressional review.
Another ambitious proposal called for relaunching a pair of bilateral working groups on cyber security and counterterrorism originally started in 2009 as a part of Barack Obama’s sweeping “reset” with Russia. In July, that proposal looked as if it might succeed when Trump tweeted that he discussed “forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” with Putin. But after a widespread backlash from Republicans, the president quickly reversed himself. “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t,” he later tweeted.
The initial cybersecurity group launched under Obama was plagued by infighting as the Russian side tried to assert the right of governments to control information, which the American side rejected. “It never went anywhere,” a former official who participated on the US side said. “And with the Russian use of cyber as an instrument in Ukraine and then against us in 2016, the challenge became even greater.”
But even a bilateral channel mired in gridlock can offer Moscow something appealing: The optics of being a seen as a global power going toe-to-toe with the Americans. ●