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Syria: Russia sees end in sight at peace talks

Russia's military campaign objectives "have been almost accomplished," according to an influential lawmaker. With talks gearing up, the UN's chief negotiator said the peace process had reached a "moment of truth." A senior Russian lawmaker on Monday said Russia's military mandate in Syria could be nearing its end given the latest advancements by pro-government forces in the conflict-ridden country. Vladimir Shamanov, who sits as chairman of Russian parliament's defense committee, told a meeting at the Kazakh parliament that the "major tasks" of Moscow's military campaign in Syria "have been almost accomplished," according to Russia's state-run news agency TASS. Read more: Asma al-Assad: The beautiful face of dictatorship "We expect that by the end of this year (Syrian) government forces will restore control over the eastern border of the Syrian Arab Republic and the 'Islamic State' won't exist anymore as an organized military structure," Shamanov said. In September 2015, Russia launched an aerial campaign in Syria in what Moscow claimed was an offensive to defeat terrorist forces in the country, including the "Islamic State" militant group and al-Qaeda. However, Russia's move was largely viewed by the international community as a ploy to prop up the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Towards a political solution Another round of de-escalation talks co-sponsored by Turkey, Iran and Russia kicked off in Astana on Monday with the aim of ending Syria's conflict. Kazakhstan's foreign ministry confirmed that delegations from the Syrian government and rebels seeking to overthrow Assad arrived in the capital along with those from Turkey, Russia and Iran. Read more: Turkey needles NATO by buying Russian weapons While UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva have focused on securing a political solution, the talks in Astana have provided concrete grounds to move forward between parties, including the establishment of de-escalation zones to minimize fighting between pro-government forces and moderate rebel factions. Last week, the UN's chief negotiator, Staffan de Mistura, announced the resumption of peace talks in Geneva on November 28, saying he hoped talks in Astana will "prevent further unraveling of interim de-escalation and cease-fire arrangements." 'Moment of truth' In Syria, more than 330,000 people have been killed since 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters calling for Damascus to release political prisoners and for Assad to step down. Read more: 'Islamic State': Will it survive a post-caliphate future? However, since then, the civil war has turned into a multi-pronged conflict involving global powers, neighboring countries and non-state actors, including the US, Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. "We need to get the parties into real negotiations," De Mistura told the UN Security Council last week, adding that after the defeat of the "Islamic State," the Syrian peace process had reached a "moment of truth."

Russia’s military campaign objectives “have been almost accomplished,” according to an influential lawmaker. With talks gearing up, the UN’s chief negotiator said the peace process had reached a “moment of truth.” A senior Russian lawmaker on Monday said Russia’s military mandate in Syria could be nearing its end given the latest advancements by pro-government forces in the conflict-ridden country. Vladimir ... Read More »

Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria chemical weapons probe

The panel created unanimously by the Security Council is due to end in mid-November. Russia has drawn criticism for the move, but says it must first review an upcoming report before allowing the probe to move forward. Russia on Tuesday cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council blocking the extension of a mission set up to identify perpetrators of chemical weapon attacks in Syria. The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), a joint panel of the United Nations and chemical weapons watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created by the Security Council in 2015 and renewed last year for another year. On Thursday, just weeks before the end of its mandate, the JIM is due to submit its report on who was responsible for the use of banned sarin nerve agent in Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on April 4. At least 87 people including 30 children died in the attack on the town in the opposition-held Idlib province. The attack caused global outrage and prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian airbase. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has denied using chemical weapons in the 6-year civil war and claims it no longer possesses chemical arsenal in compliance with a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States. Failed attempt to postpone vote Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia wanted to discuss the JIM report on Khan Sheikhoun before voting on the extension of the mission. "Don't try to create the impression that the JIM will be a dead letter unless we adopt this resolution today," Nebenzia said ahead of the vote. "We are ready to return to extending the JIM after the publication of the report and after we discuss it after the 26 of October." But US envoy Nikki Haley insisted on a vote before the report, saying Russia wanted first to see if the report blames its ally Syria for the Khan Sheikhoun attack. The US blames the Syrian military for the attack. 'Assad and his team of murderers' There were fears that Russiamay not support extending JIM's term. It has in the past openly questioned the work of the panel. China abstained from Tuesday's vote, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting against the resolution. Eleven countries voted in favor of the text. "Russia has once again demonstrated it will do whatever it takes to ensure the barbaric Assad regime never faces consequences for its continued use of chemicals as weapons," Haley, who is currently in Africa, said in a statement. "This is the ninth time Russia has protected Assad and his team of murderers by blocking the Security Council from acting," she said. "In doing so, Russia once again sides with the dictators and terrorists who use these weapons."

The panel created unanimously by the Security Council is due to end in mid-November. Russia has drawn criticism for the move, but says it must first review an upcoming report before allowing the probe to move forward. Russia on Tuesday cast a veto at the United Nations Security Council blocking the extension of a mission set up to identify perpetrators ... Read More »

‘Matilda’ hits cinemas as Russia fears more violence

Russia is on edge as the controversial historical drama premieres. DW's Juri Rescheto in Saint Petersburg explains why attacks have dogged Aleksei Utichel's film and why the response has been too little, too late. "Maltida" is good at playing hide and seek. Nothing points to a premiere: no posters, no trailer, no program brochure. Instead, the calendar of events at St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater announces a guest performance of the Estonian National Ballet. Nothing else. Barely known is the fact that on Monday October 23, the famous theater will host an event of national significance, a premiere that has had the whole country holding its breath for months. In the Mariinksy, on a different stage next to one where the contemporary Estonian troupe will perform, an entirely different ballerina will be dancing, one who is historic, classic and controversial. Her name? Matilda — the main character of the eponymous film by Russian director Aleksei Uchitel. Over 100 years ago, Matilda Kschessinskaya, the picture-perfect dancer of Polish origin, turned the head of Nicolas II, Russia's last czar. The affair almost cost him the throne — almost, because he remained steadfast and returned to his less beautiful wife, the German princess Alix von Hessen-Darmstadt. The monarchy was saved, even if not for long… That's as far as the script for this movie goes. Made in the Hollywood manner of an overly pompous costume drama, the film has been a thorn in the eye of the Russian Orthodox Church for nearly a year and has given militant supporters of the state church a reason for hate and violence. The resulting controversy has become so bad that numerous cinemas are refusing to show the film. The main actor in "Matilda," German Lars Eidinger, even canceled his trip to Russia for the film's premiere due to fear of violent attack. He has been defamed in Russia as a "gay German porno actor." Natalia versus Matilda: a politician fights the film Behind the hate campaign is a delicate blond: Natalia Poklonskaya, one of the glitziest figures in Russian politics. The former public prosecutor of the Crimean peninsula is currently a member of the Russian Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament. About one year ago, she made the fight against "Matilda" her life calling. She accuses the film of portraying the czar in an "unworthy" manner. Nicolas II was murdered by the Bolsheviks as a consequence of the October Revolution of 1917 and was recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church as a martyred saint in 1981. Thus, the film is opposed on the grounds of "insult to religious feeling," which in Russia is punishable by law. Poklonskaya has not seen the film. When I asked her how she reached her judgment, the member of parliament answered that one need not eat a whole bucket of crap in order to know how bad it tastes. Just a spoonful suffices. The "spoonful" is the trailer that she has seen. It has a chaste bedroom scene. That seemed to be enough for her. Uncontrolled violence Poklonskaya pulled out all the stops: she gathered signatures, submitted one claim after another to the state's attorney, worked with group after group of experts. All fruitless. "Matilda" may be screened. After a private viewing, the Duma came to the conclusion that the film was permissible. But it was too late. The authorities had remained silent for too long, and the spirit of religiously motivated hate had already been let out of the bottle. Poklonskaya's threats, and those from the ominous group "Christian State — Holy Rus," had been observed passively for too long. When I met supporters of this group in February in the Russian city of Lipetsk, some 438 kilometers (272 miles) southeast of Moscow, they defended their threats to set fire to cinemas that want to show "Matilda." One wants to fight "for the honor of the holy czar," so they said, and for the honor of "Christian State — Holy Rus," as they called their organization at the time. A troop of numerous, well-trained, bearded young men sat across from me and filmed our team as we filmed them. It was an absurd and unsettling situation. Some half a year later the leader is in jail and the unregistered group has been classified as an extremist organization. Too little, too late But even that came too late, as a series of events reveals. On September 4, just days before the sneak preview in Yekaterinburg, a metropolis of over 1 million lying east of the Ural mountains, a minibus rammed into the cinema where the screening was to take place. The cinema went up in flames. The driver and arsonist's attack was motivated by protest against the film. On September 11, heavily armed security troops were called out to Vladivostok to protect viewers and "Matilda" director Uchitel — who had traveled from Moscow some 9,174 kilometers (5,700 miles) to the far eastern city — from potential attacks. Shortly before, coach buses drove through Vladivostok displaying texts calling for a boycott of the film. Read more: Russia gripped by hoax bomb threats, thousands evacuated And in Moscow on the night of September 11 to the 12, the car belonging to Uchitel's lawyer was burned. Three suspects were arrested, one of whom was a "Holy Rus" religious extremist. A search of the house belonging to one of the arrested individuals turned up stickers bearing the slogan, "To burn for Matilda." Not even director Uchitel's personal appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin can stop the violence. Will the extremists be able to prevent "Matilda's" premiere in the Mariinsky Theater? Probably not. But provocations and attacks have not been ruled out — even though event organizers have banished the film about the czar from their public schedule of events.

Russia is on edge as the controversial historical drama premieres. DW’s Juri Rescheto in Saint Petersburg explains why attacks have dogged Aleksei Utichel’s film and why the response has been too little, too late. “Maltida” is good at playing hide and seek. Nothing points to a premiere: no posters, no trailer, no program brochure. Instead, the calendar of events at ... Read More »

EU-NATO hybrid threat center launched in Finland

The EU and NATO have teamed up in Europe's far north to fight hybrid threats from "tweets to tanks". A new center of excellence focuses on resilience to menaces from little green men to huge humanitarian catastrophes. Hybrid threats require hybrid resistance and now the European Union and NATO have established their first joint center to counter the multifaceted menaces to the stability of their members. Finland is the host of the new European Center of Excellence (CoE) for Countering Hybrid Threats, a facility officially inaugurated by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. Read more: NATO in Europe needs 'military Schengen' NATO already has two dozen accredited centers of excellence, but this is the EU's first and the first to link the two organizations. Eleven European nations, including Finland, plus the US, have signed on as supporters. What are hybrid threats? Stoltenberg described how difficult it is to combat these "disguised intentions" even though they've been around, he pointed out, at least since the days of the legendary Trojan Horse. Hybrid threats are a "mixture of military and non-military means of aggression, a combination of covert and overt operations and measures," he explained, "everything from propaganda, from disinformation to actually the use of irregular forces, from tweets to tanks. Sometimes soldiers in uniform, sometimes out of uniform, sometimes in cyberspace and sometimes things that happenat our border." What's changed in recent years, the secretary general emphasized, is the "scale and the scope and speed" with which perpetrators can conduct their attacks. That's why this new EU-NATO partnership, the clearinghouse of ideas and experiences is so essential. The institution will continuously analyze the type of attacks being leveled at Europe and the US and figure out how best to counter them. "I have been struck at how quickly NATO and the EU have ramped up their responses to hybrid threats," said Daniel Fiott, Security and Defense Editor and the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS). "Hybrid threats are the key reason why EU-NATO cooperation has blossomed over the past year or so," he told DW, adding that more focus is needed on developing cyber capabilities and conducting exercises. Fiott said the EU "increasingly understands" that its adversaries exploit the obvious current gaps in its responses. Why Finland? Finland weathered the last century better than some of its neighbors, fending off the Soviets in the 1930's and 40's to remain independent when much of the region found itself locked behind the Iron Curtain. The small country has at times in its history been criticized for its methods of keeping peace with its aggressive neighbor, but now the non-NATO ally is getting kudos for its ability to keep the Kremlin at bay while integrating further with Europe. The CoE has been created on Finland's initiative. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said his country looks forward to sharing its methods of coping in a cool way. "We need to identify our vulnerabilities and we need to be prepared and resilient," Niinistö said at the inauguration. "One must remain levelheaded about the threats we face. Sometimes the threat can also be less than meets the eye. At times I have been struck by the level of alarmism." Niinisto says the high stakes of conflict in his region serve as their own deterrent. "If there is a war in the Baltics, it would be mean World War III," he told journalists in Helsinki including DW, and that's why he doesn't believe it will happen. Nonetheless, he says the EU needs to focus debate on how it will provide security for its citizens in the future. As Finland has no plans to join NATO, it's a strong proponent of building up a security and defense capacity within the EU. Threat center threatened from start The hybrid center got a preview of things to come immediately upon its launch. A website with a similar-looking logo but hosted at ".ru" – Russia – popped up, spreading fake news stories via social media. The group, believed to be supported by Russia, even held an event in Helsinki to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine. One Twitter account from the false company has been suspended but there are others, as identified by troll watchers at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. But instead of being concerned, Daniel Fiott says he's reassured. "We should not be surprised that a fake version of the website made it online," he said, noting this is a classic hybrid tactic. "What I find incredible is how quickly the real Hybrid CoE discovered the fake site and put its counter narrative out there. They responded quickly and decisively, even though their work had just begun. This bodes well for the future."

The EU and NATO have teamed up in Europe’s far north to fight hybrid threats from “tweets to tanks”. A new center of excellence focuses on resilience to menaces from little green men to huge humanitarian catastrophes. Hybrid threats require hybrid resistance and now the European Union and NATO have established their first joint center to counter the multifaceted menaces ... Read More »

Huntsman takes up Moscow post at a time of historically poor relations

The new US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, has presented his diplomatic credentials to Vladimir Putin in Moscow. He takes up the post at an especially contentious time in relations between the two countries. The new United States ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Kremlin ceremony in which the American presented his diplomatic credentials. The 57-year-old statesman and businessman will need all of his diplomatic skills if he is to help repair a relationship his predecessor John Tefft said was at a "low point." Relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, and have been marked by tit-for-tat retaliations that began with US sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and subsequent support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Relations have continually worsened amid accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Read more: Facebook says 10 million US users saw Russia-linked ads Disagreeing with the boss? During his Senate confirmation hearings last week, Huntsman made clear what he thought about the accusations, despite statements by Trump calling them a hoax: "There is no question, underline no question, that the Russian government interfered in the US election last year.” Adding, "Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies.” The billionaire businessman, whose family company has holdings in Russia, will also take up his post with a greatly diminished team after Russia's Foreign Ministry ordered the US to cut staff by two-thirds in July in response to new US sanctions, leaving the US with 755 fewer employees on the ground. Huntsman has promised to confront Russia in addressing human rights abuses and over its actions in Ukraine and Syria. But it would seem that his first order of business may be to defuse a diplomatic row that erupted upon his arrival in Moscow. Russia's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday announced that US authorities had broken into residencies at Russia's San Francisco consulate and threatened retaliation for what Moscow called a hostile and illegal act. Washington ordered Russian staff to vacate the consulate last month as part of the diplomatic tug-of-war. Read more: US orders Russia to close San Francisco consulate An American abroad Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has served each US president since Ronald Reagan in some capacity. Among other roles, he was the US ambassador to Singapore in 1992-1993 under George H.W. Bush and later Bill Clinton, then ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 under Barack Obama. Huntsman also served as President George W. Bush's deputy US trade representative, and was the acting chairman of the foreign policy think tank the Atlantic Council when he was tapped by President Donald Trump to take up the Moscow post. In 2012 he ran as a Republican party candidate for the US presidency.

The new US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, has presented his diplomatic credentials to Vladimir Putin in Moscow. He takes up the post at an especially contentious time in relations between the two countries. The new United States ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Kremlin ceremony in which the American presented his diplomatic ... Read More »

Women’s Euro: Germany aiming for much more than the minimum against Russia

Germany go into their final Group B match at the Women's Euro in the Netherlands needing only a draw to qualify. However, coach Steffi Jones has made it clear that nothing less than a victory will be satisfactory. As is the case regarding most of their opponents, Germany's women have an overwhelmingly positive record against the Russians, who they face in their final group-stage game in Utrecht. The two teams have met each other in a total of 19 matches (including friendlies), with Germany winning 17 times, with two draws. This includes the two times the sides met in qualifying for this summer's tournament; a 4-0 win for Germany in Russia and a 2-0 win at home. A further measure of Germany's dominance is the fact that they have outscored Russia 67-8 in in those 19 contests. Despite their record against their final Group B opponents - and the fact that on four points from their first two matches, Germany only need a draw to advance - there appears to be little chance of any overconfidence as they head into Tuesday night's contest. Lack of finishing remains a concern While head coach Steffi Jones said she was happy with the result after Germany's 2-1 victory over Italy on Friday, she rightfully expressed more than a little concern about her team's finishing. It wasn't for a lack of chances that Germany weren't able to score more, having put 10 of their 25 total attempts on target. The Germans simply weren't clinical enough, having to rely on a goalkeeping error off a set piece and later a spot kick to get the two goals they needed. Jones wants more from her creative players, including newly crowned Germany Women's Footballer of the Year Dzenifer Marozsan, against Russia. "It's simply not enough. We have to score goals and work on our mistakes," the 44-year-old former national team defender said after the Italy match. "Otherwise it will be difficult to achieve our goal." Nothing but the title will do Germany of course will be satisfied with no less than a seventh-consecutive and ninth-overall women's European title, and despite their record against the Russians, they will be taking nothing for granted. "This will be a completely new match," German midfielder Kathrin Hendrich said in comments published on the German football association's (DFB) website. "We have to force our game on the Russians. There are no easy games at a European championship… We have to be more focused when we are in the final third of the pitch - to create scoring chances and put them away." Teammate Leonie Maier said she expected the Russians to be just as difficult to beat as the Italians were. Russia could potentially dump Germany out with a win, after defeating The Azzurri themselves in the opening group game. "If we want to leave the pitch as the victors we'll have to be wide awake from the first to the last minute and win the individual battles," the defender said. Asked whether the team was feeling the pressure over Germany's lack of dominance in their first two matches, Maier conceded that "a certain pressure is always present." But she also said she was confident that the team would come up with an improved performance on Tuesday evening in Utrecht. Putting a few goals past Russian goalkeeper Tatyana Shcherbak could go a long way to putting Steffi Jones' concerns to rest.

Germany go into their final Group B match at the Women’s Euro in the Netherlands needing only a draw to qualify. However, coach Steffi Jones has made it clear that nothing less than a victory will be satisfactory. As is the case regarding most of their opponents, Germany’s women have an overwhelmingly positive record against the Russians, who they face ... Read More »

Trump nominates Christopher Wray as new FBI head

Donald Trump has announced that he will nominate former Justice Department official Christopher Wray to head the FBI. The announcement comes a day before former FBI Director James Comey is to testify to the Senate. US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter early Wednesday that he has selected former assistant attorney general Christopher Wray to lead the FBI, nearly a month after he controversially sacked former FBI Director James Comey. Wray, now a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, was assistant attorney general between 2003 to 2005 during George W. Bush's tenure. At that time he dealt with white collar crime and financial fraud, including leading the government task force investigation into energy giant Enron, according to the King & Spalding website. While at King & Spalding, he represented Republican New Jersey Governor and former Trump campaign adviser Chris Christie in the "Bridgegate" scandal. Christie was never charged, but two of his aides were convicted of plotting to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge to retaliate against a Democratic mayor who had refused to endorse Christie. The announcement comes a day before James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate intelligence committee about allegations of Russian meddling in the US election and ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Comey is also expected to provide new details about the weeks leading up to his sacking on May 9. This includes allegations Trump asked the FBI director to drop an investigation into ties between Russia and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired for misleading the White House about conversations he had with Russia's ambassador in Washington. The Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the federal investigation following Comey's firing. Wray's appointment will require confirmation at a special Senate hearing.

Donald Trump has announced that he will nominate former Justice Department official Christopher Wray to head the FBI. The announcement comes a day before former FBI Director James Comey is to testify to the Senate. US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter early Wednesday that he has selected former assistant attorney general Christopher Wray to lead the FBI, nearly a ... Read More »

Sweden beats Canada on penalties to win ice hockey world championships

Sweden has won the ice hockey world championships for the 10th time with a 2-1 victory over 2016 champions Canada. Sunday's final in the German city of Cologne was settled by a penalty shootout. At the end of regulation, Sweden and Canada were tied 1-1. Ryan O'Reilly had equalized for Canada at the end of three periods, after Victor Hedman had put Sweden ahead. There was no score in overtime and it was Sweden who held their nerve in the penalty shootout. Both Nicklas Backstorm and Oliver Ekman Larsson nailed their penalties for Sweden, to the delight of their travelling fans in Cologne, with Backstorm hitting the winning shot. Canada's quartet of O'Reilly, Nate Mackinnon, Brayden Point and Mitch Marner all failed with their penalty attempts, handing Sweden their first world title since 2013. Russia places third Earlier, Russia survived a late fightback by Finland as Nikita Kucherov sealed their 5-3 win to claim bronze. Russia raced into a 4-0 lead in the bronze-medal match with Nikita Gusev scoring twice, and Vladimir Tkachyov and Bogdan Kiselevich scoring one apiece.

Sweden has won the ice hockey world championships for the 10th time with a 2-1 victory over 2016 champions Canada. Sunday’s final in the German city of Cologne was settled by a penalty shootout. At the end of regulation, Sweden and Canada were tied 1-1. Ryan O’Reilly had equalized for Canada at the end of three periods, after Victor Hedman ... Read More »

US-Russian honeymoon turns sour over Syria

Where to now for US/Russian relations in the wake of Trump's actions against Syria? Fiona Clark looks at the convoluted relations between the two players. So, the honeymoon might be over, but does US President Donald Trump's decision to unilaterally bomb a Syrian airfield really mean divorce is imminent? Despite a barrage of baseless conspiracy theories bantering about the bombing being a cunning way to divert attention away from Trump's alleged ties to the Kremlin, the view from Russia certainly appears to be one of abject disappointment. Cries of foul play resounded with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accusing Trump of breaking international law and describing the airstrikes as "an act of aggression with an invented pretext," which, he hoped, would not lead to irreparable damage to US-Russian relations. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev went further. He said trust was gone and that relations were "completely ruined" by an action that put them "on the verge of a military clash." Read: Gabriel: Russia backs Syrian chemicals attack probe And it seems the disappointment may only get worse. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, has indicated that the US is adding the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to its list of priorities alongside the defeat of IS in the region. She also raised the prospect of further sanctions against Russia over its support of the Assad regime. Tillerson's task The statement is going to make US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's job in Moscow this week all the more difficult. He maintains Washington's first priority is the defeat of the "Islamic State" (IS) group, and that the United States is still hopeful it can help bring all parties to the table to begin the process of hammering out a political solution. "If we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilization in Syria, then we hope we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process," Tillerson told CBS's Face the Nation. A long-time friend of Moscow, Tillerson may have a shot at smoothing the troubled waters, but the underlying problem will remain. Trump's actions, which many see as justified as drawing a belated line in the sand against the use of chemical weapons, was, it appears, sparked by an emotional response. There appears to be no long-term strategy or plan and the risk is, if challenged again by another chemical weapons strike, he will have to take further action and end up embroiled in a regional battle he hadn't really bargained for and that brings him into direct conflict with Russia. Read: Putin and Rouhani condemn US missiles against Syria Predictability, reliability and foreign policy Russia's support for Assad isn't because they love the man or what he stands for - it's about regional influence and oil. If they can find a suitable replacement for Assad who would ensure Russia's interests in the region, they'd probably jump at it. But if the US steps in any further and rocks its boat, extending its influence beyond the Saudi-backed states further south, the Kremlin will not be happy. So how can you have a political dialogue when you don't know whether the people you're negotiating with are going to uphold their end of the bargain? As Lavrov pointed out: "An attack on a country whose government fights terrorism only plays into the hands of extremists, creates additional threats to regional and global security." And if Trump had considered the consequences, then he certainly didn't care about them. Irrespective of whether the decision was right or wrong, Russia will see this as an example of US arrogance and imperialism. Read: Syria, Russia to dominate G7 meeting amid questions over US strategy Not only that, but it highlights the central problem with Trump - his unpredictability. The Kremlin may be duplicitous and opportunistic, but it's rarely random, and it will find it very hard to deal with impulsive behavior and wavering foreign policy. Tillerson will have his work cut out for him in trying to convince the Kremlin that Trump can be trusted. There's only about one certainty in all of this - as US warships steam ahead toward North Korea, President Putin may well be ruing the Kremlin's alleged involvement in getting Trump elected. The monster it supposedly helped created may pose more problems for it than it ever envisaged.

Where to now for US/Russian relations in the wake of Trump’s actions against Syria? Fiona Clark looks at the convoluted relations between the two players. So, the honeymoon might be over, but does US President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally bomb a Syrian airfield really mean divorce is imminent? Despite a barrage of baseless conspiracy theories bantering about the bombing ... Read More »

Syria, Russia to dominate G7 meeting amid questions over US strategy

Foreign Ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) nations have called on Russia to help end the war in Syria ahead of a meeting in Italy. The gathering comes as tensions rise in the wake of a US airstrike on Syrian forces. The meeting in the Tuscan city of Lucca on Monday will focus on simmering tensions between Russia and the West over the conflict in Syria, just days after US airstrikes on Syrian government forces raised questions about Washington's strategy. Ahead of the meeting, Western leaders condemned the suspected chemical attack on civilians in northwestern Syria last week. "We rededicate ourselves to holding account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a cermony commemorating victims of a Nazi massacre in Italy on Monday. Read: US-Russian honeymoon turns sour over Syria British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meanwhile called for Moscow to stop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "It's time for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up," Johnson said, according to a foreign ministry spokesperson. "He must understand that Assad is now toxic in every sense. He is poisoning the innocent people of Syria with weapons that were banned 100 years ago - and he is poisoning the reputation of Russia." Moscow condemned last week's strikes by the US, calling them "a flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression." In an interview with ABC, Tillerson called on Russia to follow through with its commitment to remove chemical weapons from Syria. "I think the real failure here has been Russia's failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013," he said. Questions about US policy Though both the EU and the UK came out in support of last week's cruise missile strikes, conflicting statements from top US officials have caused confusion worldwide. President Donald Trump had spoken out in the past against attacking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, and both his secretary of state and his top envoy to the UN delivered starkly different remarks on Sunday concerning the US agenda in Syria. Opinion: US sends a warning to Assad and Russia Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said the removal of Assad was essential to securing peace in Syria. The comment was a departure for the administration, which had previously downplayed the importance of regime change in the country. Tillerson said Washington's priority remained the defeat of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group. After the group's defeat, officials in Washington would then "hope to turn our attention to ceasefire agreements between the regime and opposition forces," Tillerson said. North Korea also on the agenda The G7 ministers will also discuss recent posturing by North Korea, which used the US strikes in Syria as justification for what the G7 host Italy called its "worrisome" nuclear weapons program. Tensions have also been rising in the Asia-Pacific region following comments by Trump that Washington would act against Pyongyang with or without the help of China, North Korea's most important ally. The US Navy is headed to the Korean Peninsula after the North launched a missile in the lead-up to a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. Representatives from the EU will also attend the meeting with the G7, which is made up of the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US. Russia was formally suspended from the group - originally referred to as the G8 - after its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.

Foreign Ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) nations have called on Russia to help end the war in Syria ahead of a meeting in Italy. The gathering comes as tensions rise in the wake of a US airstrike on Syrian forces. The meeting in the Tuscan city of Lucca on Monday will focus on simmering tensions between Russia and ... Read More »

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