BREAKING: Russia becomes first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, says Putin

Continue reading “BREAKING: Russia becomes first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, says Putin”

“We are suffering here” – Nigeria BEA scholarship recipients in Russia complains

By Inyiama Neche

Over the years, the BEA scholarship has become very challenging contest for Nigerians. Nigeria has Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) with non-speaking English countries like Egypt Ukraine, Turkey, Serbia, China, Macedonia, South Korea, Romania and Russia which many Nigerians participate in.

Nigeria pays for the student allowances like textbook, feeding, housing, medical insurance etc while the host country waves off the school fees and receives them. Among this host countries, Russia is the most choosen destination for Nigerians and has taken more than half scholarship receipent each year.


Weekend briefing

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The Nigeria president union of students in Russia has written telegram to Nigeria complaining they haven’t receive their student allowances resulting to them working in cold odd hours to survive. Some have been even chased out of their hostels because they haven’t paid. The lists goes on how they are being mis-treated in Russia.

Director, Federal Scholarship Board, said efforts were being made to pay the students their outstanding arrears. Ndajiwo said the board had forwarded memos to the Central Bank of Nigeria to start payment of both 2017 and 2018 arrears of the stipend.“The arrears will be paid to the scholars bank accounts,” she promised.

NAN reports that the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, during a news conference in Abuja on Thursday also assured the students that their arrears will be paid. Adamu said the Federal Government was committed to fulfilling its financial obligations to students pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees both at home and abroad.

He said: “On our part, we will do our utmost best to meet our obligations arising from all bilateral agreement as much as circumstances will permit.

They have said but we are still waiting until the issue remains passive.What’s your thoughts on this?.Hit the comment button to voice your opinion on this.We would appreciate your opinion on this.

‘Putin’s cook’ is behind Russia’s influential fake Facebook accounts in Africa

Russia is expanding the scope of its disinformation campaigns by focusing on a new target: Africa.

On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it had removed three networks of pages, accounts,and groups linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to Facebook, Prigozhin was behind a network of 200 fake and compromised accounts that reached almost 1 million people in eight African countries: Madagascar, Central African Republic, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Sudan, and Libya.

This is hardly new territory for Prigozhin, commonly known as “Putin’s cook.” He was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in 2018 for his role funding Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which is accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

Read: Putin’s “Erik Prince” is tied to some of Russia’s riskiest covert operations

Prigozhin has been spearheading Russia’s effort to wield greater influence in more than a dozen African countries, according to documents leaked to the Guardian earlier this year. Facebook’s findings published Wednesday makes clear that online information campaigns are a key part of this effort.

In some of the campaigns, the Russian-run networks worked with local citizens to evade detection, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber-security policy, said.

“There’s sort of a joining of forces, if you will, between local actors and actors from Russia,” he told Reuters. “It appears that the local actors who are involved know who is behind the operation.”

Read: Facebook Has Become a ‘Megaphone for Hate’ Against Muslims in India

Facebook did not identify any of the locals, organizations or companies working with these campaigns, but according to their researcher partners at Stanford Internet Observatory, the disinformation campaigns can be linked to the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor owned by Prigozhin that operates in the Middle East and Africa.

The network of accounts worked to promote Russian interests in the region, criticize French and U.S. activities, as well as bolster the prospects of a range of African politicians and political parties.

The aims and techniques of the campaigns differed from country-to-country:

Libya: Beginning in December 2018, the Russian networks supported two potential future presidential candidates: Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and the rebel General Khalifa Haftar, who reportedly has at least 100 mercenaries from the Wagner Group fighting alongside his militias.

Sudan: The effort here isn’t as clear cut as in Libya. Instead, the content in Sudan appeared to support whatever government was in charge at the time. Since it popped up in mid-2018, the network of accounts supported Omar al-Bashir, the Transitional Military Council, and the Sovereign Council of Sudan. It ran a number of pages related to two news websites that regularly re-posted articles from the Kremlin-run Sputnik news agency. Prigozhin-linked companies are known to have mining agreements in Sudan and have trained local military forces.

Mozambique: The most recent campaign began in September 2019, just weeks before the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The pages posted content to support the incumbent president, and damage the reputation of the opposition — in at least one instance, with a fake news story, according to Facebook’s findings.

Cover: In this Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, file photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, serves food to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, during dinner at Prigozhin’s restaurant outside Moscow, Russia.

Donald Trump denies knowing of Russia meeting

  • President issues volley of tweets after explosive CNN report
  • Trump attacks former lawyer’s use of Clinton-linked counsel

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Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

Donald Trump responded on Friday to bombshell reports that his former lawyer Michael Cohen says Trump knew of and approved a meeting between his son and aides with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The president denied knowing of the meeting and questioned Cohen’s motives and connections, writing: “He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”

The lawyer referred to is Lanny Davis, Cohen’s counsel who defended Bill Clinton during his impeachment in the late 1990s.

Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort met at Trump Tower on 9 June 2016 with a group including the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, having been told she was offering sensitive information about Clinton from the Russian government.

On Thursday, citing an unnamed source, CNN reported that Cohen said he was present when Donald Jr told his father about the Russians’ offer to meet and that Trump approved it. NBC said it had independently verified the report.

On Friday, the president first tweeteda familiar complaint, that “the ridiculous news that the highly conflicted Robert Mueller and his gang of 13 Angry Democrats obviously cannot find Collusion”.

Mueller is a Republican appointed by a Republican, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. According to public information, 13 of Mueller’s investigators have registered as Democrats and nine have donated to Democrats.

“The only Collusion with Russia was with the Democrats,” Trump added, without presenting evidence. He then referenced a New York Times reportthat Mueller, the special counsel, is examining his Twitter feed as part of his investigation of potential obstruction of justice.

“The rigged Witch Hunt continues!” he added. “How stupid and unfair to our Country….And so the Fake News doesn’t waste my time with dumb questions, NO,….

“…..I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”

Cohen’s investment in New York taxi medallions, which have been hit by the rise of Uber and other car services, has been widely reported.

Trump, his son, his lawyers and other officials have repeatedly claimed the Trump Tower meeting did not produce any “dirt” on Clinton and the future president did not know about it until details were revealed in July 2017. The president told reporters onboard Air Force One then: “I only heard about it two or three days ago.”

Trump’s role in the production of a misleading statement about the meeting is reportedly part of Mueller’s investigation.

On Thursday night Trump’s current lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, mounted a counterattack.

“It would have to be people in the room with the president that can corroborate Cohen, which there won’t be because it didn’t happen,” he told CNN. “And then it becomes a credibility contest between two or three witnesses who say one thing and Cohen who says another.”

He added: “He’s been lying all week, he’s been lying for years” – a comment potentially damaging to Trump since Cohen was working for him during those years. Cohen has also seen his home and premises raided by the FBI over his role in payments to women who claim affairs with Trump – affairs Trump denies. Whether or not Cohen will “flip” and turn against Trump has been the subject of mounting speculation.

Trump’s knowledge or otherwise of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting is a key issue in Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and links between Trump aides and Russia.

Donald Trump personally blames Putin for election meddling

After clashing statements on who was responsible, president claims he told Russian leader: ‘We can’t have this’.

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Donald Trump now says he holds the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally responsible for his country’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, further walking back a statement on Monday that drew bipartisan rebukes.

In an interview set to be broadcast Wednesday evening, the US president told Jeff Glor of CBS News that he holds Putin responsible “because he’s in charge of the country, just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country”.

Asked if he agreed with US intelligence assessments that Russia meddled in the election in 2016, Trump replied: “Yeah, and I’ve said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that is true, yeah.”

Asked what he had said to Putin during a one-on-one meeting the two had in Helsinki on Monday, Trump replied: “Very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling, we can’t have any of that.”

But Trump stopped short of saying that if the intelligence services were correct in their assessment, then Putin must be lying.

“I don’t want to get into whether or not he’s lying. I can only say I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted. I think Dan Coats is excellent … we have excellent people. So when they tell me something it means a lot.”

Christopher Wray, the FBI director, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, said Wednesday that Russia continued to attempt to sow discord in the US, using fake news and propaganda to “spin up” Americans.

He added that he stood behind the US intelligence agencies’ assessment of Moscow’s election meddling.

He also said that Moscow’s offer of assistance in the investigation of Russian military intelligence officials indicted in the US on espionage charges, was “not high on our list of investigative techniques”.

The president’s statements came after a second day of efforts by the White House to quell bipartisan anger over his failure to publicly hold Putin to account at a joint news conference in Helsinki.

Trump rejected criticism from senior members of even his own party, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who accused him of showing “weakness”.

“I totally disagree. I think it was a strong news conference. People said you should have gone up to him, you shoulda started screaming in his face. We’re living in the real world, OK?”

In his private meeting with Putin, Trump continued, the two leaders discussed nuclear proliferation and the protection of Isreal. On North Korea, Trump said the Russian president “agrees with what I’m doing and that I’m doing a great job. He said he’d help, and I think he will.”

“I think we have a deal. There’s no rush. There’s no missiles going off. We have our hostages back. There’s no testing, so we’ve come a long way in a short period of time. There is no rush, but we would like to see the denuclearization of North Korea. He (Putin) feels strongly about and I feel strongly about it, so that’s good.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House tortured semantics of the past several days continued when Trump replied “no” when asked by reporters whether he believed Russia was “still targeting the US”, contradicting Dan Coats, director of national intelligence.

A few hours later, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, claimed Trump had been answering a different question, and that “we believe the threat still exists”.

The exchanges came a day after Trump’s tortured effort to clarify what he had said in Helsinki on Monday, claiming that he had accidentally used “would” instead of “wouldn’t” to describe whether he thought Russian intelligence interfered in the election.

Trump had told reporters: “They said they think it’s Russia; I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump told reporters. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

In a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday morning, Trump continued his campaign to recast interpretation of the Helsinki meeting.

“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”

Five Questions on the Trump-Putin summit – Your morning briefing

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Good morning, Here are yesterday’s top stories, and a look ahead – Click on any title to read the complete story.

In a joint press conference that followed Monday’s closed-door summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the U.S. president refused to blame the Russian president for any meddling in the 2016 presidential election, accepted Putin’s denial of interference – and cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, just two days after a federal grand jury indicted 12 Russian military officers for conspiring to interfere with the election.

Trump’s Helsinki performance drew criticism from Republican lawmakers such as Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and Rob Corker, who denounced the president’s comments. On Twitter former CIA director John Brennan called Trump’s behavior “nothing short of treasonous.”

Steven Pifer, a non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and a former State Department official focused on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union, spoke with Reuters editor Helen Coster about the summit.

“Following Trump’s bull-in-the-china-shop diplomacy at NATO and in London and his obsequious and embarrassing performance in Helsinki,” said Pifer, “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that U.S. foreign policy interests would have been better served had Trump stayed home.

OSTER: What was your main takeaway from the summit?

PIFER: Based on the press conference, Vladimir Putin has every reason to be happy. He got a formal summit with President Trump, which helps his spin that Russia is no longer isolated. He did not appear to give on any major issue, and Trump declined to challenge Russian actions. The president, at least in public, failed to criticize Russian aggression against Ukraine and did not put down a marker that Russian meddling in U.S. politics is unacceptable and, if continued, would result in U.S. retaliation. One can only hope that things went better in the actual discussions, but it’s not clear there is any reason to believe that.

COSTER: What do you think of the fact that Trump took Putin’s side against the U.S. intelligence community?

PIFER: Trump’s acceptance of Putin’s denial of election-meddling over the considered judgment of the U.S. intelligence community (and the growing number of indictments of individual Russians) is astonishing. He gave the Kremlin no reason not to continue such interference in U.S. election processes: it’s been successful (from their point of view), the costs are minimal, and the U.S. president apparently does not believe it is happening. Why not continue?

COSTER: What do you expect to be the reaction among U.S. allies – in public and in private?

PIFER: U.S. allies will likely keep their views to themselves publicly, but they have to be dismayed in private. Contrast Trump’s reluctance in Helsinki to criticize Putin or any Russian misbehavior with his eager readiness to criticize allies [at last week’s NATO summit] in Brussels, particularly Germany and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, over defense spending, plus his London interview in which he put the European Union at the top of his list of foes of the United States.

COSTER: So much of diplomacy happens in small steps and behind the scenes. What steps of that nature might have come out of today’s meeting, and what do you expect for U.S.-Russia relations going forward?

PIFER: Hopefully, the summit will produce follow-up dialogues that might yield some progress. Putin opened the door for discussions on arms control, including on extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which would be in the U.S. interest. We will have to see what comes, but it would be wise to be patient and keep expectations modest.

COSTER: A lot of people are stating that Trump’s comments today give Putin a blank check in terms of his future behavior. What do you think?

PIFER: Genuine improvement in U.S.-Russian relations will require at least some change in problematic Russian policies, such as aggression against Ukraine, interference in U.S. domestic politics and involvement in Syria. It does not appear that Trump gave Putin a reason to change any of those policies, so Russian misbehavior will likely continue.

Have a great day!


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World cup: four weeks of endless drama revives the world

After a tournament that was gripping from start to finish with thrilling matches, marvellous midfielders, the rebirth of England and VAR controversy, Qatar has a lot to live up to.

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Kylian Mbappé, one of the stars of the tournament, lifts the trophy. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA


Thank you Russia, and goodbye! It’s been fun. Not to mention epic, thrilling, dazzlingly well-organised, and with a constantly shifting sense of place from the strangulating heat of Samara, to the fly-marshes of Volgograd, to the mist and drizzle of the north.

But that is now a wrap. After four and a half weeks and 64 matches, 1,613 shots, 1,734 fouls and a shared continental-scale avalanche of herring, beetroot, dumplings, vodka and sustained on-field drama, the World Cup can now be packed away for the next four years.

It is tempting in the immediate glow to call this the greatest modern tournament. Certainly Gianni Infantino and friends have been energetically congratulating themselves. On the eve of Sunday’s final the swanky Arbat embankment was buzzing. This is where Fifa based itself for Russia 2018, with an HQ at the Stalin-does-Disney Radisson Royal, the tallest hotel in the world when it opened in 1957, and host these days to its own fleet of river yachts.

On the strip outside the Royal on Saturday night an armed military escort lounged in its supercharged Mercedes jeep, next to the plain-clothes security in the Cadillac Escalade, just down from the black-out Maybachs, part of a £2m haul of luxury cars lined up waiting for their passengers to eat a pizza.

Inside the Qatar 2022 committee could be seen enjoying a pre-final dinner that looked more like a celebration. Understandably so. Russia 2018, the other half of the late-Blatter two-hander, has been a wonderful success, a World Cup that has both re-geared international football’s juggernaut status and reinforced Fifa’s authority as keeper of the spectacle.

Around the same time Infantino was across town on stage at the ballet cooing and fawning over Vladimir Putin. “This World Cup is changing the perception of Russia, particularly from us in the west. Even the police are smiling!” Fifa’s president gushed, a political statement for which he will now presumably fine himself heavily.

Infantino is right to be bullish though. The World Cup will head to the Gulf looking relevant and purposeful, beneficiary once again of football’s ability to re-energise itself no matter what its governing bodies throw at this great belching circus of global interests.

On the pitch Russia 2018 was beautifully gripping from first to final whistle. The only caveat would be the absence of one or two obviously great national teams, although it is possible this young French squad might change that perception in years to come.

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi departed early from a tournament that wasn’t for superstars. Photo: AP

Overall Belgium scored the most goals. Russia committed an astonishing 95 fouls in five matches. Right up to the final weekend Spain had made the most passes despite exiting at the first knockout stage. England led the world on passes backwards. Neymar overcame his constant sufferings to have the most shots, 27 in all. By way of contrast Kylian Mbappé had just six before the final.

At the end of which France were admirable champions, a team culled from the beautifully fecund academy system and cast in the fanatically team-oriented shape of their coach. It seems likely that in Mbappé France also finessed a little further the outstanding attacking player of the next decade.

Although this wasn’t a tournament for stars. Instead the struggles of the World Cup’s herd of would-be GOATS provided another layer in the daily drama and a refreshing shift away from club football’s cult of personality.

The constant TV close-ups of Lionel Messi’s Sad Face, his utter bafflement at not being about to rouse a team of lesser talents; the wretched theatricals of Neymar; the inability of the great C-Ron to drag Portugal along under his arm: all of this was a gripping counter-narrative to football’s standard seasonal star fest.

Instead organised western European nations thrived, with Sweden, Switzerland, England, Belgium and Denmark leaving some kind of imprint. African football remained stuck in the blocks, with an apparent deficit in prep and organisation and support staff.

The slaying of various stricken giants added early depth. Germany and Spain seemed trapped within their own methods, hampered in both cases by a failing manager: Julen Lopetegui’s sacking and Jogi Löw’s vagueness.

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Germany supporters are dejected at their group stage exit. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Endless drama was the key. There were very few of the dull games that can dog the group stages. The last 16 and quarter-finals were often tight and taut to the end. France 4-3 ArgentinaBrazil 1-2 Belgium and Croatia 2-1 Englandfelt like authentic World Cup matches.

Tactically this was a tournament with little in the way of innovation or fine-point embroidery. The usual dance between possession football and counterattack was played out. But international football is too rushed, too brown-paper-and-string to feature much in the way of real planning. The most notable change of gear was the emphasis on set-piece goals, the easiest thing to coach in a hurry and the hardest to defend on the hoof.

If there was a dominant texture to the play Russia 2018 was perhaps the tournament of the central midfielder, with Luka Modric, Paul Pogba, Philippe Coutinho, N’Golo Kanté and Kevin De Bruyne among the outstanding players, less so the goalscorers or attacking playmakers.

Chief irritation was the constant play-acting and writhing about holding the wrong body part, no doubt driven in part by hope of a favourable VAR referral. Talking of which, a word on VAR here: rubbish. Actually that’s unfair. VAR works best the less it’s used and clearly has a place. But it can be dreadful when overdone, or used as a piece of big-match vanity refereeing.

Russia itself was a multilayered joy and also, of course, an enigma and all-round riddle wrapped up in a crab-flavoured crisp packet. The promised pummelling with knuckledusters failed to materialise. Instead everyday Russians were curious, amused and often kind. Russia may have scrubbed up to face the world, and undoubtedly has plenty of issues unaddressed by a football tournament, but there is a warmth to this huge, piecemeal, slightly bonkers nation that suited the oddity of a World Cup.

These events have their own energy too. The sight of Peruvians and Senegalese waving flags in former Soviet city centres and singing football songs outside the Kremlin is striking in itself. Who knows what ripples might be felt.

Finally on to England, and the fevered micro-climate of joy and giddiness that greeted Gareth and his boys. In retrospect a likable, hard-working team performed well against opposition at their level but didn’t have the class to beat those above.

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A delighted Gareth Southgate after England’s penalty shootout win over Colombia. Photo: Kieran McManus/BPI/REX/Shutterstock

The best part was the public engagement, although watching the reaction in England from a distance was a strange experience. The gushing BBC news reports about players “carrying a nation in their hands – but still taking time to go grocery shopping!” over an adoring shot of Harry Kane holding a plastic bag. The sense of a nation in the grip of some unbearably sensual excitement, through to the sudden end with its slight feeling of come-down. They’re selling Southgate wigs in Woolworth’s. And for now the greatest English World Cup adventure of the last 28 years is over.

The fond memories will remain, as they will of a wonderful four weeks. Even the final was fascinating, with a weirdly aggressive closing ceremony featuring flag bearers of all nations dancing angrily to house music. A man called Nicky performed an inappropriately suggestive rap routine in an inappropriately heavy tog bomber jacket. Ronaldinho played the bongos. And France and Croatia dished up the most goals since Wembley ’66.

In its wake this grand old overblown competition feels energised. The World Cup trophy had arrived at the Luzhniki Stadium escorted by Philipp Lahm and someone described by the PA as a “philanthropist and supermodel” (same).

On the touchline it was unpacked from its case with the usual weirdly sensual air of longing. The fetishising of the trophy itself – purring and leering at it as though in the presence of some magical relic – has been a theme of modern Fifa.

In Russia it felt apt after a month where the sense of madness and longing and scale returned. This was a reminder of sport’s basic fun, not to mention its ability to offer a degree of escapism in odd and fractured times. Qatar, with its winter sun, its tiny footprint, has a great deal to live up to.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Putin’s denial of election meddling more ‘powerful’ – Trump

US president indicates Russian leader’s denial outweighs findings of his own intelligence agents.

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U.S. President Donald Trump (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Donald Trump has been condemned as “treasonous” for siding with the Kremlin over his own government agencies after a stunning joint appearance with Vladimir Putin in which he seemed to accept the Russian leader’s denial of election meddling.

At a joint press conference after one-on-one talks that lasted more than two hours in the Finnish capital, the US president offered no criticism of Putin or election interference, saying only: “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

The comments set off a new firestorm in Washington and only fuelled the intrigue of why Trump’s refusal to criticise Putin remains one of the few constants of his presidency. Critics said it was the weakest performance by a US president

Addressing reporters in the baroque surroundings of the presidential palace, Trump acknowledged that Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, had told him that Russia was behind the cyber-attack on American democracy but that Putin insisted it was not. “I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he said.

He then veered off into a rambling discussion of the Democratic National Committee’s server and Hillary Clinton’s missing emails – a move a seen by critics as a crude attempt to deflect and distract.

“Where is the server? I want to know. Where is the server and what is the server saying?” And bridling at the suggestion that his election victory might be discredited, Trump added: “I beat Hillary Clinton easily … We won that race. And it’s a shame that there can even be a little bit of a cloud over it … We ran a brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m president.”

There was swift condemnation from some of Trump’s leading critics in Washington, where intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia actively sought to interfere in the election to help Trump and harm his rival, Hillary Clinton.

John Brennan, a former director of the CIA, tweeted: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors’. It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, said: “In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way President Trump has supported President Putin.

Trump-Russia investigation: Mueller jail Alex van der Zwaan jailed for 30 days

  • Dutch attorney, 33, is first to be formally sentenced for lying to FBI
  • Trump says ‘nobody’s been tougher to Russia than Donald Trump’

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Attorney Alex van der Zwaan, left, who formerly worked for the Skadden Arps law firm, arrives at a US district courthouse in Washington DC for his sentencing on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A Dutch attorney was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 days in prison for lying to federal agents, in the first formal conviction obtained by Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian election interference and alleged collusion between aides to Donald Trump and Moscow.

A federal judge in Washington sentenced Alex van der Zwaan, a 33-year-old lawyer who previously worked with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. He was also ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

Van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with another former Trump adviser, Rick Gates, and a person the FBI has assessed as being tied to Russian military intelligence.

Although the Dutchman was the fourth person to plead guilty in the Mueller probe, he was first to be formally sentenced. Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have entered plea deals.

A former lawyer at the prominent firm Skadden Arps, Van der Zwaan worked on a 2012 report commissioned by Manafort to defend former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from international criticism.

Van der Zwaan’s sentence could be a guide for what other defendants charged with lying in Mueller’s investigation receive when their cases are resolved, if they have co-operated.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to financial charges and denied any wrongdoing related to Russian election interference.

A memo by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein revealed in a court filing on Monday confirmed that Mueller was explicitly authorized to investigate allegations that Manafort colluded with the Russian government.

Trump has denied any collusion and repeatedly called the Mueller investigation and congressional investigations a “witch hunt”. At the White House on Tuesday the president told reporters “probably nobody’s been tougher to Russia than Donald Trump”.

He added: “If we got along with Russia, that would be a good thing not a bad thing. And just about everybody agrees with that, except very stupid people.”

Van der Zwaan had faced up to six months in prison, under federal sentencing guidelines. His attorneys pushed for him to pay a fine and leave the country. US district judge Amy Berman Jackson cited the need to deter others from lying in an investigation of international importance and said incarceration was necessary.

The criminal case against Van der Zwaan is not directly related to Russian election interference. But it has revealed new details about the case against Manafort and previously undisclosed connections between senior Trump aides, including Gates, and Russia.

Prosecutors did not take a position on whether Van der Zwaan should be locked up but they stressed that he had lied “repeatedly” to investigators.

Van der Zwaan’s attorneys argued that he had suffered enough because of his “terrible decision” to lie. The attorneys also pushed for Van der Zwaan to be allowed to return to London, where he lives with his wife, who is pregnant with their first child.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Russia will hit back at countries expelling diplomats

Foreign secretary warns of possible disruption to energy supplies or harassment of diplomatic missions in Moscow.


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Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, has predicted Russia will retaliate against countries that have acted in solidarity with the UK over the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal, suggesting Moscow may interfere with energy supplies, or disrupt the lives of their Moscow-based diplomats and their families.

Hailing the courage of the 27 countries that had backed Britain by taking action against Russia, he said their show of solidarity had crystallised a collective feeling across three continents that patience with Russia’s malign behaviour had come to an end.

Speaking to the Lord Mayor’s banquet at the Mansion House in London, Johnson pitched the dispute as a wider battle against Russian disruption, claiming “this week was the moment when the world decided to say enough to the wearying barrage of Russian lies, the torrent of obfuscation and intercontinental ballistic whoppers”.

He said: “It wasn’t about us. It was about all of us and the kind of world we want to live in. I believe these expulsions represent a moment when a feeling has suddenly crystallised, when years of vexation and provocation have worn the collective patience to breaking point, and when across the world – across three continents – there are countries who are willing to say enough is enough.”

Russia, he claimed, had underestimated the strength of global feeling against, and the accumulation of impatience with, Vladimir Putin’s behaviour.

In remarks that will raise the diplomatic temperature, Johnson also warned that countries that had sided with Britain “know full well that they face the risk of retaliation – and frankly there are countries that have taken action that are more vulnerable to Russia than we are, whether through geography or their energy needs”.

He said: “I pay tribute to them because they know that their own Russia-based diplomats, and their families, must now deal with the possibility of their own lives being turned upside down.”

Johnson’s remarks are likely to be seen by Moscow as intended to deepen divisions between Europe and Russia. The Russian political leadership have insisted they will prepare reprisals against the nations that have expelled Russian ambassadors, but also do not want to exacerbate bilateral relations with some countries.

Moscow continues to insist that the Russian state was not involved in the poisoning, and now claims that the UK intelligence services may have been responsible as part of an effort to shore up support for Theresa May’s government due to the difficulties it faces in uniting the country over Brexit. It also says the solidarity shown by EU countries is largely due to bullying by America, and that many countries had privately indicated they had not wished to take any measures.

Russia is also calling for access to the nerve agent novichok that the UK intelligence services say was administered to Skripal and his daughter.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “Unless we receive convincing proof of the opposite, we will regard this incident as an attempt on the life of Russian citizens as part of a large-scale political provocation. We emphasise that the burden of proof rests solely on the UK.”

Johnson retorted that the Foreign Office has so far counted 24 ludicrous Russian lies about the cause of Skripal’s poisoning. He said: “It is rather like the beginning of Crime and Punishment in the sense that we are all confident of the culprit – and the only question is whether he will confess or be caught.”

Johnson put the poisoning in the context of the annexation of Crimea, the Russian intervention in Ukraine, the downing of flight MH17, cyber-attacks, the attempted coup in Montenegro, the concealing of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, the hacking of the Bundestag and interference in other countries’ elections.

He concluded: “There are now just too many countries who have felt the disruptive and malign behaviour of the Russian state.”

In a speech that was light on further measures against Russia, or a solution to the crisis, Johnson instead focused on how the episode showed the UK, once outside the EU, could remain a major player and work alongside the EU on security issues.

He argued the episode had been immensely reassuring since British people “had learned we may be leaving the EU in exactly a year but we will never be alone, and in part that commitment to Britain reflects Britain’s reciprocal commitment to our friends, whether through the work of our peerless intelligence agencies or our armed forces or our development budgets”.

He promised his EU colleagues: “We will stand by you as you have stood by us.”


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Russia to expel 23 British diplomats as a payback

Russia to expel 23 British diplomats in retaliation of UK’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats: Russia’s foreign ministry.

Merkel and Putin

Russia will expel 23 British diplomats in retaliation against the United Kingdom’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, Russia’s foreign ministry said.

The tit-for-tat expulsion follows after the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in London on March 4.

Blaming Russia for the poisoning, the UK said it would expel 23 Russian diplomats, the single biggest expulsion in more than 30 years.

Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury, after they were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. The two remain in critical condition in a hospital.

A former double agent, Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest in Moscow in 2004. He was later sent to the UK in exchange for captured Russian spies.


SOURCE: Al Jazeera

US, UK, Germany and France unite to condemn spy attack

Joint statement deplores ‘assault on UK sovereignty’ and says only plausible explanation is that Russia is responsible.

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The leaders of Britain, the US, Germany and France have released a joint statement strongly condemning the Salisbury nerve agent attack as “an assault on UK sovereignty” and saying it is highly likely Russia was behind it.

The rare united comment from Theresa May, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, released by Downing Street, follows extensive UK efforts to drum up international support for its response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripaland his daughter.

After the statement’s release Donald Trump said that Russia appeared to be behind the attack. “It looks like it,” he told reporters. “I’ve spoken with the prime minister and we are in discussions. A very sad situation. It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen, and we’re taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.”

May, speaking on a visit to Salisbury on Thursday, said the statement showed the UK’s allies “are standing alongside us” in protest at Russia’s behaviour.

The statement said the use of novichok “constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the second world war”, noting that the four leaders “abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal”.

“A British police officer who was also exposed in the attack remains seriously ill, and the lives of many innocent British citizens have been threatened,” it read. “We express our sympathies to them all, and our admiration for the UK police and emergency services for their courageous response.

“It is an assault on UK sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law.

“It threatens the security of us all. The United Kingdom thoroughly briefed its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack.

“We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility.”

The unambiguous tone of the comments about Russia will greatly please British ministers, who have spent the past few days seeking to persuade allies to take this line, notably France, where Macron’s spokesman warned the UK on Wednesday against “fantasy politics”.

Speaking after visiting businesses in Salisbury and speaking to emergency services, May said the four countries were “vey clear in attributing this act to Russia”.

“What is important in the international arena – and we have taken this into Nato, into the United Nations, we’ve taken it through into the European Union – is that allies are standing alongside us and saying this is part of a pattern of activity that we have seen from Russia in their interference, their disruption that they have perpetrated across a number of countries in Europe,” she said.

“This happened in the UK, but it could have happened anywhere and we take a united stance against it.”

There was overwhelming support for the UK from its allies, including the US, at a UN security council meeting overnight.

Washington’s envoy, Nikki Haley, said: “Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning: the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain. The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent.”


The joint statement calls on Russia to “address all questions related to the attack” and provide full disclosure of the novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

“Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behaviour. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN security council to uphold international peace and security,” it ends.

On Wednesday, May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the UK and a range of other measures to crack down on “corrupt elites”, including new measures to combat spying.

The expulsion was the largest such move since the cold war, and marked a considerable escalation on the expulsion of four diplomats after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.


Earlier on Thursday, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, told BBC News: “There is something in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’ve heard that indicates their fundamental guilt. They want to simultaneously deny it, yet at the same time to glory in it.”
He suggested Vladimir Putin had some responsibility for the attack. “There is very little doubt in people’s minds that this is a signature act by the Russia state, deliberately using novichok, a nerve agent developed by Russia, to punish a Russian defector as they would see it, and in the runup to Vladimir Putin’s election.”

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, confirmed Moscow would soon expel British diplomats from the country in a tit-for-tat response, Russian state news agencies reported.

Asked by journalists at a press conference on Thursday whether diplomatic expulsions would be included in a Russian response, he said: “Absolutely.” Asked when those statements would be made public, he said: “Soon.”

“As polite people, we’ll first be delivering our response to our British counterparts,” Lavrov said.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Trump may have done something illegal

In a pair of extraordinary interviews on Monday, former Donald Trump aide Sam Nunberg said he would defy a grand jury subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller but also said the president “may have done something” illegal.

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Sam Nunberg. Photo: The Times of Israel


Speaking first to the Washington Post and then on MSNBC, Nunberg vowed to defy Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and alleged collusion between Trump aides and Moscow.

Mueller has indicted 13 Russians and four former Trump aides, three of whom have entered plea deals involving cooperation.

Nunberg, however, said he would tear up his subpoena live on Bloomberg TV.

He also told MSNBC host Katy Tur, the author of a bestselling book on the Trump campaign, that he thought the candidate “may have done something” illegal during the election.

He added: “I don’t know that for sure.”

Later, Nunberg told the Associated Press that though he was angry over Mueller’s request to have him appear in front of a grand jury and turn over thousands of emails and other communications with other ex-officials, he was “going to end up cooperating with them”.

A protege of veteran political operative Roger Stone, Nunberg was Trump’s political adviser before the start of his White House run. He was fired in August 2015, over racially charged Facebook posts, after he and Stone lost an internal power struggle with the then campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Nunberg was sued by Trump on the eve of the 2016 Republican convention, for allegedly leaking information about Lewandowski’s relationship with the close Trump aide and future White House communications director Hope Hicks. The case was settled and Nunberg has remained close to many in Trump’s orbit.

Speaking to the Post, Nunberg dared Mueller to act if he refused to appear before a grand jury on Friday.

“Let him arrest me,” he said.

Speaking to MSNBC, Nunberg said: “I think it would be funny if they arrested me.”

Nunberg told Tur he would not cooperate with Mueller, saying: “It’s a witch-hunt and I’m not going to cooperate.

“Why do I have to spend 80 hours going over my email? That I’ve had with Steve Bannon and Roger Stone? Why does Bob Mueller need to see my emails when I send Roger and Steve clips and we talk about how much we hate people?”

Nunberg also said that had Trump not won the Republican primary, “he was probably going to endorse Hillary Clinton”.

He also showed the Post a copy of what appeared to be his subpoena, the newspaper reported, which included a list of names of those about whom the special counsel is seeking information. Hicks, former White House strategist Steve Bannon, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Lewandowski and Stone were among the names listed.

Speaking to the AP, Nunberg retreated again, saying: “I’m happy if the scope changes and if they send me a subpoena that doesn’t include [ex-foreign policy adviser] Carter Page.”

Nunberg insisted he had never spoken to Page, a key figure in the Russiainvestigations, and said the only reason he was being asked to testify was to provide information to be used against Stone, which he would not do.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, dismissed Nunberg’s comments.

“I’m not going to weigh into someone who doesn’t work at the White House,” she said. “From our perspective, we’re going to cooperate with the special counsel’s office and the reason we’re so comfortable doing so is there was absolutely no collusion with the Trump campaign.”

Nunberg also asked Tur for advice, saying: “What do you think Mueller is going to do to me?”

Tur responded: “I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know but given the circumstances you might be held in contempt of court.”

In a separate television interview, Nunberg told CNN that Mueller “thinks Trump is the Manchurian Candidate” though the former aide said he disagrees.

Nunberg said he believes investigators are interested in learning more about theMiss Universe pageant Trump held in Moscow in 2013.

“They probably want to know about Miss Universe 2013, if I had to guess,” Nunberg said. “There was nothing there, but they want to hear the testimony. They want to hear what other people said, and perhaps other people told them different things than I heard.”

It was during this visit to Moscow that Trump is said to have discussed potential business opportunities in Russian. Nunberg said he was asked about Trump Tower Moscow, which was under discussion but never built.

Investigators also asked him about the goings on inside Trump Tower in New York, where Trump lived and worked before moving into the White House.

“They asked questions to me in terms of did I hear Russian spoken around Trump Tower? No, Gloria, I never heard Russian spoken around Trump Tower, OK? Now, I understand why they have to ask that, but it was pretty ridiculous to me,” Nunberg said, referring to CNN’s political analyst, Gloria Borger.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK/CNN

'Russia wants to hack the Oscars': smear campaign targets maker of 'Last Men in Aleppo'

‘Russia wants to hack the Oscars’: smear campaign targets maker of ‘Last Men in Aleppo’

THE film-maker behind the Oscar-nominated documentary Last Men in Aleppohas been targeted by a smear campaign that seeks to paint him as a terrorist sympathiser in the run up to the Academy Awards.

'Russia wants to hack the Oscars': smear campaign targets maker of 'Last Men in Aleppo'
A still from Last Men in Aleppo. ‘The film is coming from the side of the human being,’ says Fayyad. Photo: Handout


Feras Fayyad spent a year following a handful of volunteer rescue workers in the besieged Syrian city as they rushed towards bombed buildings to try and find people in the rubble. The resulting documentary has earned widespread critical praise and won awards including the Sundance grand jury prize.

However, the international recognition has been accompanied by an organized attempt to tarnish the film-maker’s reputation, following a playbook of Russia-backed disinformation and manipulation.

“It is like Russia wants to hack the Oscars like they hacked the US election,” he told the Guardian.

Since the Oscar nominations were announced, Fayyad, a Syrian national, has become the subject of several articles by Russia state news agency Sputnik News and “alternative news” sites to discredit his work, describing it as a “propaganda piece funded by western governments” and an “Al-Qaida promotional film”. Others have trawled through his social media accounts and published pictures of his family and friends. Syrian state media has followed suit. On Twitter and Facebook, dozens of accounts have accused Fayyad of being a liar and terrorist sympathiser.

Other Oscar-nominated film-makers and Academy members say the campaign could affect Fayyad’s chances of winning the award.

Chris Hegedus, who made Oscar-nominated documentary The War Room, described the articles as “outrageous” and said that they “made us see how Russia and others are meddling beyond social media and political elections”.

“It can definitely influence voters and make them question the legitimacy of a film to have false reports circulating and rumours that a film’s integrity is questioned,” she said.

Producer Amy Ziering agreed, mentioning other “white noise disinformation campaigns” including one that targeted her campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground and another that took aim at An Inconvenient Truth.

“It can very much damage an Oscar campaign’s success, but even more importantly it can damage the ability for important and necessary truths to be told,” she said.

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Feras Fayyad’s Oscar-nominated film has come under attack as ‘western propaganda’. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Fayyad is baffled by the attacks on his reputation, particularly as he feels that the theme of his documentary is not the White Helmets as an organisation but an intimate look at the lives of a handful of people struggling to get by in a civil war.

“The film is coming from the side of the human being. It’s about a Syrian who is torn between his responsibility to his community and to his family,” he said, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, where his film was screened.

It’s a dilemma that Fayyad has experienced in his quest to make documentaries about people in Syria. In pursuing his work on the ground he attracted the attention of Syria’s intelligence service, and spent many months being tortured in prison on suspicion of being a spy.

After being arrested at the airport and bundled into a vehicle with his T-shirt pulled over his head as a makeshift hood, Fayyad recalls peeping down from his blindfold at the knock-off Adidas shoes of one of his torturers. For months he passed between beatings, starvation and periods in isolation, stepping over dead bodies left in corridors and bathrooms. The Syrian regime insisted he was a spy working for the US or Europe.

Those months behind bars flash into Fayyad’s mind when faced with the unfounded criticism of his work. To be accused of being a spy or propagandist is a terrifying prospect.

“In the community in the Middle East this is shameful and it would make people not trust me if they think I’m collecting information for the FBI,” he said.

He is daunted by the prospect of winning, believing it could exacerbate the harassment. “I feel scared about what we might go through,” he said.


SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Tension as Russian fighter jets fly over Washington, new Jersey

Tension as Russian fighter jets fly over Washington, new Jersey

According to familiar sources, as part of a longstanding treaty that allows the militaries of the United States and Russia to observe the other from the air, an unarmed Russian Air Force aircraft overflew the US Capitol, the Pentagon, Central Intelligence Agency and Joint Base Andrews at low altitude on Wednesday, CNN reports.

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The flight which was part of the Treaty on Open Skies, which gives access to military aircrafts from the 34 signatory nations including the US and Russia to observe military sites of one another and has been in effect since 2002.

According to tracking website Flightradar24, the said aircraft which late yesterday also flew over Bedminster and New Jersey, where President Donald Trump is vacationing, is a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-154 which passed at around 3,700 feet over downtown Washington and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where Air Force One is based.

The US-government authorized jet is licensed to enter P-56, which is a highly secure airspace surrounding the White House.

A law enforcement who conferred with CNN said the plane which had United States Air Force personnel on crew also overflew Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains, the Trump National Golf Course in Virginia, and Mount Weather, one of the US government’s secret relocation bunkers and is also capable of a variety of intelligence gathering.

Russia involvement in US election: Putin finally opens up

Russian President Vladimir Putin has says the Russian state has never been involved in hacking, New York Times reports.

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Putin

Putin said this Thursday at a meeting with senior editors of leading international news agencies, he said that some individual “patriotic” hackers could attempt attacks on America taking advantage of the frosty relationship between the two world powers in recent times.

He stated that “we don’t engage in that at the state level” and that “no hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America.” His comments come at a time when  US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 elections by hacking into Democratic Party emails and working on President Trumps’s election victory.

Donald Trump’s son-in-law under FBI’s rader over Russia link

The activities of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner have come under FBI scrutiny as part of the probe of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election, US media reported Thursday.

Although it is unclear whether Kushner is a main focus of the probe, he is under investigation for the “extent and nature” of his interaction with Russian officials, the Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

NBC News, citing unnamed US officials, also reported that the FBI was looking at Kushner but emphasized that while investigators believe he has “significant information relevant to their inquiry,” it does not mean they suspect him of a crime.

Kushner held meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States and a banker from Moscow in December, the Post said.

Kushner initially failed to declare the meetings on forms to obtain a security clearance to serve in the White House. His lawyer later said it was a mistake, telling the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he would amend the forms.

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, is the only current White House official known to be considered a key figure in the probe, which is targeting other members of Trump’s campaign team.

“Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” Jamie Gorelick, one of his attorneys, told the Post.

Investigators are looking into possible financial crimes in addition to possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials, the newspaper said.

The probe is headed by former FBI director Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel with broad powers to investigate Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign after the president sacked FBI director James Comey, who was heading the investigation, earlier this month.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin, amid accusations from US intelligence that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a sweeping campaign to tilt the vote in the Republican’s favor.

Russians mock Trump's photo with Sergei Lavrov in the Oval office

Isreal is the source of the classified information Trump gave out to Russia – Agency

Israeli intelligence was a source for some of the information on ISIS bomb-making capabilities that President Donald Trump discussed with Russian diplomats, CNN reports.

Russians mock Trump's photo with Sergei Lavrov in the Oval office
US President Dobald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

The White House declined to comment on Israel being the source. Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, would also not comment on the intelligence, but expressed confidence in the nation’s relationship with the US.

“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump,” Dermer said.

Press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday that he can’t comment on whether the Israelis were the source of the information Trump reportedly shared with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in an Oval Office meeting last week.

“I cannot comment specifically on that,” Spicer said.

Other Arab allies, also supplied some intelligence that drove the US to impose restrictions on laptops and other electronics on flights from 10 countries in the region.

The New York Times was first to report Israel was an intelligence source.

Russians mock Trump's photo with Sergei Lavrov in the Oval office

Trump want to make peace with Russia… Finally

President Trump met with Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House, Wednesday  to discuss Ukraine, Syria and bilateral issues.

Russians mock Trump's photo with Sergei Lavrov in the Oval office
US President Dobald Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

The meeting comes after Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone last week about the war in Syria for the first time since Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian government air base last month after an alleged chemical weapons attack by the regime.

Trump took to twitter to tweet his peaceful intentions concerning relations between United States and the Kremlin.

 

Russian ambassador to Turkey shot dead in Ankara

  • Gunman was police officer Mevlut Mert Altıntas
  • Attacker shouted ‘Don’t forget Aleppo’ after opening fire on ambassador
  • Putin says ‘provocation’ aimed at sabotaging Russo-Turkish relations

The Russian ambassador to Turkey has been shot dead by a police officer who shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo” as he pulled the trigger.

Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov
The Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, shot in the art gallery in Ankara. Photo: Business Insider


The chilling attack on Monday evening, which was captured on video, appeared to be a backlash against Russian military involvement in the Syrian civil war.

Andrei Karlov was attacked at the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara by a man believed to be an off-duty Turkish police officer. Karlov was several minutes into a speech when he was shot. Footage of the attack showed a man dressed in a suit and tie standing calmly behind the ambassador. He then pulled out a gun, shouted “Allahu Akbar” and fired at least eight shots.

After firing at the ambassador, the man shouted in Turkish: “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price.”

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called the killing a “provocation” aimed at sabotaging a rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara and attempts to resolve the conflict in Syria.

“The crime that was committed is without doubt a provocation aimed at disrupting the normalisation of Russian-Turkish relations and disrupting the peace process in Syria that is being actively advanced by Russia, Turkey and Iran,” he said in televised comments.

Putin said: “There can be only one answer to this – stepping up the fight against terrorism, and the bandits will feel this.”

Putin said that Russian officials would be dispatched to Ankara to investigate the killing. “We have to know who directed the hand of the killer,” he said.



His comments were echoed by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov who said, following a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusgolu, that those behind the shooting “were seeking to derail the process of normalising Russia-Turkey ties primarily with a goal to prevent an efficient fight against terrorism in Syria.”

Lavrov will meet with the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey later on Tuesday to discuss Syria.

The attacker was killed by Turkish special forces after they surrounded the gallery. Photographs from the aftermath appeared to show him lying dead on the floor. Three other people were wounded.

The gunman gestures after shooting Karlov.
The gunman gestures after shooting Karlov. Photograph: Burhan Ozbilici/AP

Local media outlets said security guards at the scene had told them that the killer showed a police ID to enter the gallery. The Turkish interior ministry named the attacker as Mevlut Mert Altıntas, an officer in Ankara’s riot police squad, who was born in 1994 in Aydin and graduated from Izmir police academy.

The shooter’s family home in the western province of Aydin was later searched and his mother, father and sister were detained, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency. . Altıntas’s house in Ankara was raided and his roommate, also a police officer, was also taken into custody, it said.

“It has saddened us and our people. I offer my condolences to the Russian federation and the Russian people,” Suleyman Soylu, the Turkish interior minster, told reporters.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called Putin on Monday evening to brief him on the attack.

The Russian president cancelled a planned trip to the theatre on Monday evening and called an urgent meeting with his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the heads of the security services.

In a bizarre coincidence, Putin had planned to see the play Woe from Wit, written by the poet and diplomat Alexander Griboyedov, who was murdered by a mob when ambassador to Tehran in 1829.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign relations committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said: “A tragedy of this scale has not happened since the time of Griboyedov. There have been attacks on our Russian and Soviet diplomats, but not something this dramatic.”

Kosachev said the repercussions of the killing on Russian-Turkish relations would depend on the details of the incident: “It could have been a planned terrorist attack by extremists or it could be the work of a lone maniac. After we know, we’ll be able to understand how this will affect Russian-Turkish relations.”

Kosachev’s counterpart in the lower house, Alexey Pushkov, said Karlov’s death was “a result of political and media hysteria around Aleppo sown by the enemies of Russia”.

Turkish security officials and Erdoğan supporters have alleged that the gunman was linked to the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom they accuse of orchestrating a failed coup in July. A spokesman for Gülen described the accusation as “laughable” and told Reuters that it was intended to cover up for lax security.

Later on Monday a gunman had attempted to enter the US embassy in Ankara and fired eight shots into the air. The man was overpowered by security guards and taken into custody by police. No one was hurt in the incident. The embassy said its missions in Ankara, Istanbul and the southern city of Adana would be “closed for normal operations on Tuesday.”

Internationally, the killing of Karlov throws into doubt the ongoing evacuation deal for civilians in besieged east Aleppo, an agreement that was brokered by Turkey and Russia. A source with knowledge of the negotiations said Moscow was the main reason the deal did not fall apart over the weekend, despite the objections of Iranian and jihadi interlocutors.

The ambassador had been part of discussions with Turkey that led to an evacuation of east Aleppo getting under way late last week. Russia and Iran engineered the deal allowing civilians and rebel fighters in Aleppo to be evacuated, with Turkey acting as the brokers for the Syrian opposition in the discussion.

The attack comes the day before the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is due in Moscow for Syria talks with his Russian and Iranian counterparts. In the weeks running up to the fall of east Aleppo, the Russians, Turks and Iranians have increasingly been working together on Syria’s future, to the exclusion of western powers, including the US, as well as the Gulf states, normally the sponsors of the Syrian opposition.

Many Syrian opposition figures fear they will be marginalised by the Putin initiative and his new triumvirate.

In his time as ambassador, Karlov presided over a rocky period in Russo-Turkish relations. When Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plane in November 2015, Moscow responded furiously, with Putin calling it “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists”.

Turkish police secure the area near the art gallery.
Turkish police secure the area near the art gallery. Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters

Earlier this year, the pair reconciled, after Erdoğan wrote a letter of apology to Putin. The two leaders met at a summit in August amid a distinct thaw in relations and in what resembles a loose anti-western alliance.

Kosachev, who knew Karlov personally, said: “The Turkish period in his career saw fantastic highs and lows. Everyone was hoping for another high.”

However, Russian actions in Syria have angered many Turks. In recent days, protests in Istanbul against Russian involvement in Syria and Aleppo, including a demonstration in front of the Russian consulate on the city’s famed İstiklal Avenue, have occurred on a regular basis. The protests have often had a significant Islamist contingent.

The assassination of the Russian ambassador, and the security lapse that allowed it to happen, will anger Putin but, in the medium term, it is possible that the two leaders could unite in an anti-terror alliance.

Karlov was a career diplomat who had previously served as ambassador to North Korea. The British ambassador to Turkey, Richard Moore, described him as a “quietly spoken, hospitable professional”.


SOURCE: The Bloomgist/The Guardian/Business Insider