Putin meets with Tillerson in Russia as Syria rift deepens

Tillerson: Russia-US relations at a low point
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Tillerson: Russia-US relations at a low point 03:45

Story highlights

  • Putin says relations with US have ‘worsened’ under Trump administration
  • Washington accuses Moscow of a confusion campaign over chemical attack

(CNN)US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that relations with Moscow are at a low point after meetings in Russia that seemed to do little to bridge a deepening diplomatic divide over a chemical attack in Syria.

Relations are “at a low point, there is a low level of trust between our two countries,” Tillerson said at a news conference with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Tillerson and Lavrov spoke to the press after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in an extended display of US-Russian disagreements over the chemical attack that left more than 80 dead; the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s future; US actions in the Middle East; and Russian involvement in the US election.
The unvarnished airing of differences made for one of the more bare-knuckled and blunt diplomatic encounters in recent years and points to a less accommodating and more confrontational approach to Russia than the Trump administration initially said it would embrace.
The US has tried to use the attack to try to drive a wedge between Moscow and Damascus, saying that Russia must choose between Syria — and being on the wrong side of history — or turn toward the international community in getting rid of Assad. Tillerson offered his Russian counterparts a bridge, tempering the open tensions by urging that Washington and Moscow find ways to cooperate.
Tillerson said that he and Lavrov discussed Assad at length and that he made clear that the Trump administration has come around to the view that the Syrian President cannot stay in power.
“Our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end and they have brought that on themselves with their conduct,” the top US diplomat said.

Common ground?

Still, the two diplomats hinted that they could find common ground on this issue. Tillerson said that the US wouldn’t dictate how Assad’s departure takes place, saying, “We leave that to the process going forward,” and added that it’s important his departure “is done in an orderly way” and that it will “take a pace of its own.”
Lavrov, meanwhile, said that Russia is “not staking everything on a personality … we are simply insisting that everybody sits around the table and talks about it.”
Lavrov also announced that Putin has agreed to reinstate a military “deconfliction” channel to ensure there are no unintended clashes in the skies above Syria. And Tillerson said that the two sides had agreed to establish a working group that would address smaller frictions and aim to make progress on larger differences.
The news conference came after Lavrov issued a warning to Tillerson Wednesday against any further US strikes on the Syrian regime. Russia is Syria’s most powerful ally.
The two top diplomats had sat down together earlier in the day to work through the fallout of last week’s chemical attack in northwestern Syria, which plunged the old Cold War enemies to a new low.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. left, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow on Wednesday.

Russia has rejected the US conclusion that Damascus was responsible for last week’s chemical attack, which killed 89 people and prompted the US to carry out its first strike against the Syrian regime in the six-year conflict, taking out aircraft and infrastructure at a Syrian military air base.

Differences over attack

“The facts we have are conclusive” that the attack was planned and carried by Syrian government forces, Tillerson said, adding that the US was “quite confident of that” and describing it as “just the latest in a series of uses of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”
Lavrov countered, “It is perfectly obvious the subject is one we diverge on.” He floated an alternate theory that “some of these stockpiles are being controlled by extremists,” and added, “Russia is insisting on an objective investigation” and will protest if it does not take place.
The White House on Tuesday accused Russia and Syria of carrying out a confusion campaign over who was responsible for the chemical attack.
Haley: I think Russia knew about attack

Haley: I think Russia knew about attack 02:41
Less than an hour after their news conference, Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would have required Syria to cooperate with investigators and face full accountability after the brutal chemical weapons attack in that country.
When asked about Russian interference in the US election, Tillerson said that Russia’s responsibility “is fairly well established.” That set off Lavrov, who hadn’t been asked for his thoughts but piped up to say that “not a single fact has been confirmed. Who saw the fact? We don’t know. No one has shown us anything.”
The Russian repeatedly raised the issue of US interference in other countries, pointing to the fallout after the Iraq War and the 2011 US intervention in Libya as he warned against the US taking action in Syria.
“This insistence on removing or ousting a totalitarian leader, we’ve already been through it, we know very well what happens when you do that,” Lavrov said. “I don’t know of any place of a dictator being removed smoothly without violence.”
Tillerson's tough task in Russia

Tillerson’s tough task in Russia 02:32
The Russians were clearly steeling themselves for a tough visit. Putin said in an interview with state-run MIR television earlier Wednesday that relations with the US had deteriorated.
“The working level of confidence in Russian-American relations, especially at the military level, under the administration of Donald Trump, has not improved, but rather worsened.”
Tillerson and Putin are no strangers — Putin in 2013 awarded the Order of Friendship to Tillerson when he was CEO of ExxonMobil, the highest honor Russia gives to foreigners.

An icy welcome

Despite that history, Lavrov gave Tillerson an icy welcome Wednesday, diving straight into Moscow’s grievances with Washington in what would usually be warm opening remarks.
Russia “saw some very troubling actions regarding the attack on Syria,” he said, according to an official Russian interpreter. Following the chemical attack, US President Donald Trump ordered a Tomahawk missile strike against Syria’s Shayrat airfield, from which the US says the aircraft launch the attack.
“We believe it is fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again,” Lavrov said.
Full coverage
  • Putin implies plot to stage attacks in Syria
  • He hit back at remarks Tillerson made a day earlier that Russia would have to decide whether it was with the US and the West in standing up against Assad, or against them, describing the comments as “wrong choices.”
    Tillerson took a more diplomatic tone in his opening remarks, saying that he hoped to clarify “areas of common objectives, areas of common interests, even when our tactical approaches may be different.”
    “And to further clarify areas of sharp difference, so we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be.”
    It was a hostile start to the long-awaited meeting, which began with the two men entering a conference room making very little eye contact, and made for a marked contrast to the hopes Trump has expressed of improved relations with Moscow.
    Lavrov also complained about the mixed messages coming out of Washington about the Trump administration’s Syria policy: “I will be frank that we had a lot of questions regarding a lot of very ambiguous as well as contradictory ideas on a whole plethora of bilateral and international agenda coming from Washington.”

    What is the US’ Syria policy?

    Indeed, the White House has also caused a great deal of confusion — the US position on Syria is still unclear, as Trump has made no comprehensive statement on Syria since last week’s missile attack. He has made some comments to Fox News on Syria, saying he did not plan for the US to be drawn fully into the Syrian war.
    White House press secretary Sean Spicer has said that the Trump administration would respond if the Assad regime used barrel bombs against his own people, something that has been a regular occurrence in the six-year civil war. Aides later clarified that this “did not signal a change in administration policy.”
    US Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that while defeating ISIS was first priority, further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would not be tolerated and could warrant additional military action.
    “If they use chemical weapons, they are going to pay a very, very stiff price,” Mattis told reporters during his first Pentagon briefing as secretary.

    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.

    New York Proteste gegen US-Syrien Angriff (picture-alliance/Zuma/E. Mcgregor)

    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.

    Watch video01:42

    US, UK step up war of words with Russia

    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.

    Kombobild Trump PutinJust when you thought they might be able to work together…

    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.

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    Moral outrage shrouds reality of Russian hacking case

    Moral outrage shrouds reality of Russian hacking case
    © Getty

    In a time of virtually complete political polarization, there is one point upon which both parties appear to agree: moral outrage at the notion of Russian attempts to influence our election.

    There are bipartisan demands for a special prosecutor and a full criminal investigation.  However, while the outrage is most evident, the alleged crime is more difficult to discern.  Before we order a massive independent investigation, it might be useful to examine both the basis for the self-evident outrage and the less-than-evident crime.

    Moral outrage as political necessity

    As our politicians went on the air to vent their disgust over Russians trying to influence our election, there was an interesting study published this month on moral outrage in an academic journal, Motivation and Emotion.  The researchers found that moral outrage is rooted, not in altruism, but self-interest — often to affirm one’s own status and avoiding responsibilities or guilt.

    “Individuals,” the study notes, “respond to reminders of their group’s moral culpability with feelings of outrage at third-party harm-doing.”  The most astonishing aspect of this study is that it was not done entirely on Capitol Hill.

    Many other countries can be forgiven if they are a bit confused by the expressions of outrage at the notion that Russia hacked emails or tried to influence our election.  The United States objecting to hacking or influencing elections is akin to Bernie Sanders expressing disgust over accounting irregularities.

    The United States has not only extensively engaged in surveillance in other countries but hacked the accounts of our closest allies, including the personal communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Moreover, our country has a long history of direct interference in foreign elections from overthrowing governments to funding opposition movements.

    One study found 81 different instances of the United States interfering with the elections of other countries between 1946 and 2000. We learned from the best; foreign interference in our country goes back to 1700s when France and Britain actively sought to influence our early governments.

    Democratic leadership have a particular interest in expressing moral outrage over the election. The extent to which the election becomes an example of “third-party harm-doing,” the less attention will be drawn toward the party establishment which virtually anointed Hillary Clinton as their candidate despite polls showing that voters wanted someone outside of the establishment.

    Not only did they select the single greatest establishment figure, but someone with record negative polling.  “The Russians did it” is a much better narrative.

    Of course, the Russians did not “hack the election.”  No votes were fabricated.  Indeed, there is no proof of emails being fabricated (despite the claims of some Democratic leaders like Donna Brazile at the time).  The reason the public has not risen up in anger is that it is hard to get the public outraged over being shown the duplicitous and dishonest character of their leaders — even if the release was clearly one-sided against Democrats.

    The public has every right to be outraged, but the outrage of our government officials would make Claude Reins blush.

    Moral outrage in search of a crime

    In the end, Russian attempts to influence our election should be a matter of national concern and investigation, though we would be in a far superior position if we acknowledged our own checkered past in such efforts.  However, the call for a “Special Counsel” or “independent prosecutor” seems a bit premature since we do not have a clear crime other than the hacking itself (which has already been confirmed).

    Clearly the Russians hacked DNC emails but we do not need a special counsel to confirm extensive hacking operations by a host of different countries. It is like complaining about the weather.

    Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (and the acting deputy attorney general), could determine that an investigation by the Justice Department would still present a conflict of interest even after the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The process for the appointment of special counsels through the courts lapsed in 1999.  Thus, the current standard would involve Boente determining that the “criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted” and must be done outside of the Department.  But what is the crime under investigation?

    The suggestions that Sessions committed perjury are far-fetched and unsupported.

    Some have suggested violations of the Logan Act. However, that 1799 law concerns calls for the fine or imprisonment of private citizens who attempt to intervene in disputes or controversies between the United States and foreign governments.  It has never been used to convict a United States citizen and does not appear material to these allegations.  If there were monetary payments to influence the election, that would constitute a crime but there has yet to be evidence such crimes.

    Finally, there do appear to have been criminal leaks during and after the election.  However, those are insular, conventional matters for investigation by the Justice Department.

    We generally do not start special counsel investigations absent a clear articulated and supportable criminal allegation.  There are a host of obvious political or policy concerns that could be the subject of an independent investigation by a commission or joint legislative/executive effort.  There are real concerns over conflicts in the current administration given the focus on the presidential election.

    Yet, we are simply likely to confirm much of what we know: we were hacked.  We are also likely to confront what many do not want to discuss: we have hacked others for years.

    Until there is more evidence of a crime by United States citizens, there is little reason for a special counsel as opposed to the current investigations.  We should investigate the hacking and efforts to influence our elections, certainly. But our politicians may want to leave the moral outrage and hypocrisy behind.

    Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and teaches a course on the Constitution and the Supreme Court.


    The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

    Dems already cranking up Trump impeachment talk

    Even before Donald Trump had taken the oath of office, some House Democrats, apparently stunned at the election results and bruised by being left entirely out of the Washington power structure, were suggesting impeachment was in order. The movement has only grown stronger more than a month into the Trump presidency.

    It is centered around two alleged violations that Trump critics maintain rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

    “I mean on day one he was in violation of the Emoluments Clause,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN.) said in a recent CNN town hall.

    The Emoluments Clause  to which Ellison refers, reads in part, “…no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

    Ellison’s charge is based on Trump’s children now running his businesses.  With no blind trust in effect, some believe there is a risk of bribery. “I think a reasonably strong case can be made and a number of constitutional scholars have  made that case, says  Julian Epstein, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment.

    Bruce Fein, a Deputy Attorney General during the Reagan Administration, agrees. “If you can prove bribery by circumstantial evidence or something that a foreign government is patronizing the Trump Hotel in exchange for some benefit in trade or military sale, that’s bribery. That clearly satisfies the impeachment standards, leaving open the possibility of bribery,” he says.

    The second potential violation is the charge Trump team’s had Russian connections. “This President absolutely was in collusion with the Kremlin and Putin and Russia during the campaign,” alleges Rep. Maxine Waters,D-Calif.

    Fein believes  Waters’ argument is weak, noting Trump had not been sworn into office when the alleged violation occurred. “Obviously what  he did wasn’t corrupting government, he wasn’t even president yet exercising presidential powers. It verges on frivolity, in my judgment,” he says.

    Indeed, Republicans say the charges of a Trump-Putin collusion thus far are based on anonymous leaks and hearsay. “We don’t have any evidence that they talked to Russians,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said during a press briefing on Monday.

    But impeachment is more than a legal process, it’s a political one, too, something that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, noted in a panel discussion with radio talk show host Mark Levin at last week’s CPAC Convention.

    “Do the Democrats understand that they need to control the House of Representatives to impeach somebody?” Levin asked of Cruz.

    Cruz replied to uproarious applause, “The Democrats right now are living in an alternative universe.”

    Epstein believes that may change.”The president’s support is a mile wide but an inch deep,” he says. “If the president’s approval numbers, which are in the low 40s right now, dip into the mid- 30s or the low 30s or the high 20s, then you could foresee a situation where  Republicans could begin to think that Mike Pence is a much better alternative,” he says.

    Epstein cautions against impeachment, citing his own experience. “Impeachment is a little like war,” he says.  “People tend to romanticize the idea of impeaching a president when the opposition party is in the White House. I have lived through an impeachment and it’s an incredibly divisive fight that leaves wounds that sometimes takes years and years to heal,” he says.

    Doug McKelway joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in November 2010 and serves as a Washington-based correspondent. Click here for more information on Doug McKelway.

    Putin revels in Trump, lies and videotape

    Christmas really does come twice in Russia and this week’s events in the US are surely the best present President Vladimir Putin could have asked for, writes Fiona Clark.

    Russland Stankt Petersburg Masken von Putin und Trump (picture-alliance/AP Photo/D. Lovetsky)

    Way back in the early 1990’s, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, I spent the odd night in Moscow’s Intourist Hotel. Without fail, at some stage during the night, a young woman would knock on the door offering her services for an hour or so. Whether or not they were sent by Russia’s infamous KGB is an open question but it was common knowledge that anyone who did partake in a midnight dalliance could well find themselves in a compromised situation.

    Today the Ritz Carlton, where US President-elect Donald Trump is accused of having intimate relations which were apparently caught on tape, sits on the very spot where the Intourist Hotel once stood – at the bottom end of Tverskaya St, just across the road from the Kremlin.

    It’s an irony probably not lost on Putin, a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB. He’d be well aware of the tactics his former employer used to gain leverage over unsuspecting foreigners or to discredit internal enemies of the state.

    While both Trump and the Kremlin deny the existence of such tapes, this kind of tactic is a tried and true KGB (now FSB) speciality. It didn’t die with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    Watch video02:04

    Trump rejects “phony” dossier allegations

    Scalps claimed

    In 1999, Russia’s prosecutor general, Yuri Skuratov was forced to resign after a tape showing a man who looked like him in bed with two prostitutes was aired on state-run TV. The footage emerged shortly after he announced he was going to investigate several prominent figures for corruption.

    Ten years later there were two other tape-related scandals. A British diplomat lost his job after being pictured with two women in a compromising manner in a brothel and an American diplomat was also embroiled in a sex-scandal that the US claimed was fabricated.

    Sometimes though, the plan backfires. Apparently it was tried on an Indonesian public figure who was filmed having sex with two women. It’s alleged that when he was shown the tape he was quite pleased with his performance and asked for extra copies as he thought it would be good publicity.

    Others have got wise fast. Eight years ago the ‘honey pot’ tactic was tried on Ilya Yashin, a colleague of murdered opposition leader, Boris Nemstov. The New York Times published his description of the event which basically says a woman called Mumu had made contact with him, they’d dated for a couple of weeks, then she invited him over to an apartment and another woman was there. Things started to get a little steamy with whips but when the bag of sex toys and cocaine came out he thought enough was enough and left. He says the tape was never aired, surmising that it wasn’t compromising enough. But he claims footage filmed in the same flat of others did see the light of day.

    Old tactics die hard

    So, there’s a pattern here. And I can’t tell you the number of expat women who have said to me that they’re afraid of going on holiday and leaving their husbands behind because when they do, the approaches begin.

    Russland 2013 Donald Trump mit Gabriela Isler, Miss Universe 2013 (picture-alliance/Itar-Tass/V. Prokofyev)Power, politics and beauty can be a messy cocktail sometimes

    Given Trump had a long history of trying to do business with Russia in the 90’s and then later with the Miss Universe pageant, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Russia’s security services would have files on him. It would be unusual if they didn’t. The Czech’s are said to have had files on him as far back as the 1970s.

    Usually though you wouldn’t reveal your trump card publicly as your leverage would be lost – unless, of course, you had an entirely different plan in mind.

    The Kremlin labels allegations about the tapes existence as ‘pulp fiction’ but there must be some form of quiet enjoyment it’s reveling in as it watches the US tear itself apart. First with the hacking allegations and the role it may have played in getting Trump elected, and now with talks of impeachment before he’s even sworn in. It’s a disaster. Utter political disarray. And if Trump is looking for support at home, he may have to change his tune as, let’s face it, he hasn’t got off on a great start with his own intelligence agencies. If he doesn’t, they may well rain on his parade.

    And all of this as Russia enjoys its Orthodox Christmas. Who could ask for more? Putin speaks fluent German so perhaps the word that’s floating through his mind as he gazes across the square from the Kremlin to the Ritz Carlton – feeling a little inner glow – is schadenfreude.

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    US intelligence report: Putin ‘ordered’ targeted involvement in US election

    A new US intel report has found that Putin “ordered” a hacking campaign aimed at harming Hillary Clinton’s electability. The report also found the Russian government showed a “clear preference” for Donald Trump.

    Karikatur Trump als Marionette von Putin (picture-alliance/Zumapress/B. Slabbers)

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    Trump tells US newspaper Russia hacking investigation is a ‘political witch hunt’

    US intel heads slam Kremlin in alleged Russian hacking during US election

    ‘Full-scope cyber actor’: US intelligence officials testify on Russia’s cyber activities

    Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a media manipulation and hacking campaign targeting the 2016 US presidential election, according to a declassified version of a  US intelligence report that was released on Friday.

    The report found that the Russian government specifically targeted Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton with the goal of harming her presidential campaign.

    “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” said the report from the Director of National Intelligence. The report also alleges that Putin had a personal grudge against Clinton, blaming her for stoking 2011 protests against his rule while she was secretary of state.

    Intelligence officials released a 25-page public version of the report on Friday after briefing President Barack Obama, President-elect Donald Trump and top US lawmakers with a longer, classified version.

    The report also found that Putin and the Russian government “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” However, the intelligence agency noted that it did not assess the impact of Russian meddling on the outcome of the US election.

    Trump defended the legitimacy of his election victory on Friday following his two-hour intelligence briefing with intelligence officials on the results of the Russian meddling report.

    Ties to WikiLeaks

    Additionally, intelligence officials said that they believe “with high confidence” that the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, used intermediaries such as WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and Guccifer 2.0 to release emails it acquired from the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    An annex to the report noted that when US intelligence assigns “high confidence” to an allegation, the information is based on “high-quality information from multiple sources.” However, the sources and methods of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) are protected in the report, which may not convince skeptics.

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied that a “state party” provided him with stolen emails from the DNC and from top Clinton aide John Podesta. Assange did not rule out the possibility that the emails came from a third party.

    Russia has repeatedly denied the US government’s accusations of hacking during the 2016 election campaign.

    Trump promises ‘aggressive’ action

    Following release of the public report, Vice President-elect Mike Pence told reporters that Trump will act against cyber hacking once he takes office.

    “The president-elect has made it very clear that we are going to take aggressive action in the early days of our administration to combat cyber attacks and protect the American people from this type of intrusion in the future,” Pence said outside of Trump Tower.

    The much-anticipated report is likely to further agitate the debate over the outcome of an election in which Clinton won the popular vote but was beaten by Trump in the electoral college.

    rs/kl (AP, AFP, Reuters)

    Istanbul new year Reina nightclub attack ‘leaves 39 dead’

    Media captionBullets are seen being fired by the gunman – and flying off passing cars

    At least 39 people, including at least 15 foreigners, have been killed in an attack on a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey’s interior minister says.

    A gunman opened fire in Reina nightclub at about 01:30 local time (22:30 GMT), as revellers marked the new year.

    Suleyman Soylu said efforts were continuing to find the attacker, who was believed to have acted alone.

    At least 69 people were being treated in hospital, the minister added. Four were said to be in a serious condition.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attackers were trying to “create chaos” and pledged to “fight to the end” against terrorism.

    ‘Different countries’

    Addressing reporters early on Sunday, Mr Soylu said: “This was a massacre, a truly inhuman savagery.”

    “A manhunt for the terrorist is under way. Police have launched operations. We hope the attacker will be captured soon.”

    Only 21 of the victims had been identified, he said. Fifteen or 16 were foreigners, he said, and at least three of the Turkish victims may have been employees at the club.

    Several hours later, Israel confirmed one of its citizens, 19-year-old Leanne Nasser, was among the dead.

    Turkish state news agency Anadolu also quoted Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya as saying most of the dead were foreigners “from different countries – Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya”.

    Media captionTurkey attack survivor: “There were bodies on the floor”
    Media captionEyewitness Ismail Celebi was nearby when the attack happened
    An injured woman is taken to an ambulance in IstanbulImage copyrightREUTERS
    Image captionAt least 69 people were injured in the attack

    Early media reports suggested the attacker may have been wearing a Santa Claus outfit, but newly-obtained CCTV footage shows the suspected attacker in a black coat outside the club.

    Mr Soylu said the gunman was wearing a coat and trousers, but “we were informed that he was wearing different clothes inside”.

    ‘Several bodies’

    Reina nightclub, in the the Ortakoy area of Istanbul, is an upmarket venue on the banks of the Bosphorus.

    Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the attacker killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club before entering and opening fire.

    “Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” the Associated Press news agency quoted Sinem Uyanik, who was inside the club, as saying.

    “I had to lift several bodies from (on) top of me before I could get out. It was frightening.”

    There were reportedly as many as 700 people in the nightclub at the time of the attack, some of whom jumped into the water to escape.

    map and satellite shot
    Staff of the Reina nightclub in Istanbul nightclub pose for a picture (file photo)Image copyrightREUTERS
    Image captionReina nightclub, seen here in a file picture, is one of the most exclusive in Istanbul

    The Turkish authorities have imposed a media blackout on coverage of the attack, citing security and public order concerns, but it does not extend to official statements.

    Some media reports spoke of more than one attacker and Dogan news agency reported that some witnesses claimed the attackers were “speaking Arabic”, but there is no confirmation of this.


    IS threats: By Rengin Arslan, BBC Turkish, Istanbul

    Despite there being no official statement about who might be behind this brutal attack, the finger of blame is being pointed at the so-called Islamic State.

    In the last two years of attacks in Turkey, Kurdish militants have mostly targeted military forces and police, while IS is known to target civilians.

    IS leaders have threatened Turkey and called on their followers to carry out attacks inside the country.

    Turkey began a ground operation against IS as well as Kurdish groups inside Syria four months ago.


    In a statement, President Erdogan condemned those trying to “demoralise our people and create chaos with abominable attacks which target civilians”.

    “We will retain our cool-headedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games.”

    US President Barack Obama, who is on holiday in Hawaii, was among the first international leaders to make a statement after being briefed by his team.

    “The president expressed condolences for the innocent lives lost, directed his team to offer appropriate assistance to the Turkish authorities, as necessary, and keep him updated as warranted,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.

    A Turkish police officer stands guard close to the site of an armed attack near the Reina night club on 1 January 2017Image copyrightAFP
    Image captionPolice are searching the city for the attacker, who left the scene

    Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the “cynical” murder of civilians. “Our shared duty is to decisively rebuff terrorist aggression,” he said in a telegram quoted on the Kremlin website.

    Turkey and Russia are working together on efforts to end the fighting in Syria, though they support different sides in the conflict.

    Istanbul was already on high alert with some 17,000 police officers on duty in the city, following a string of terror attacks in recent months.

    Many were carried out by so-called Islamic State (IS) or Kurdish militants.

    Less than a fortnight ago, Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov was shot dead by off-duty Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas as he gave a speech in the capital Ankara.

    After the shooting, the killer shouted the murder was in revenge for Russian involvement in the conflict in the Syrian city of Aleppo.


    Deadly attacks in Turkey in 2016

    Scene of explosion in Ankara's central Kizilay district on 13 March 2016Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image captionScene of explosion in Ankara’s central Kizilay district on 13 March

    10 December: Twin bomb attack outside a football stadium in Istanbul kills 44 people, Kurdish militant group claims responsibility

    20 August: Bomb attack on wedding party in Gaziantep kills at least 30 people, IS suspected

    30 July: 35 Kurdish fighters try to storm a military base and are killed by the Turkish army

    28 June: A gun and bomb attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul kills 41 people, in an attack blamed on IS militants

    13 March: 37 people are killed by Kurdish militants in a suicide car bombing in Ankara

    17 February: 28 people die in an attack on a military convoy in Ankara

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