US ready to ‘fight for justice’ in Syria without UN approval – Haley

US ready to ‘fight for justice’ in Syria without UN approval – Haley
The US does not consider itself constrained by the United Nations Security Council and might seek “justice” in Syria on its own terms, the US representative to the UN, Nikki Haley, has said. The US took similar action in Libya in 2011.

READ MORE: Russia vetoes ‘unbalanced’ US resolution on Syrian chemical weapons, but its draft fails

“With the unity of this council, or alone, unrestrained by Russia’s obstructionism, we will continue to fight for justice and accountability in Syria,” Haley said, blasting Russia’s vetoing of the draft resolution on the extension of the Syrian chemical weapons probe on Friday.

The draft, proposed by Japan, envisioned the “technical extension” of the probe for another 30 days. Explaining Russia’s decision to block the resolution, Russian UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya said that there is no sense in prolonging the mission if some glaring flaws in its work are not amended.

“There can be no other way after the JIM’s [the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism] leadership disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation into the sarin use incident in Khan Shaykhun and signed off on baseless accusations against Syria,”he said.

Haley went on to accuse Russia of showing no flexibility in negotiating the conditions of the probe, claiming that Moscow had only “dictated and demanded” while the US had “incorporated elements of the Russian draft” into its own in the hopes of reaching a consensus.

Russia vetoed the US draft on Thursday, with Nebenzya calling it “unbalanced” and solely designed to discredit Russia and its role in the Syrian settlement. Haley subsequently accused the Russian mission of ignoring the US delegation’s attempts to contact it before the vote.

READ MORE: ‘Full of systemic deficiencies’: Russia slams OPCW report on Idlib chemical attack at UNSC

Haley’s remarks on the impossibility of reaching the Russian mission provoked an angry reaction from Moscow, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calling it “fake diplomacy.” Lavrov said that “it seems we are witnessing a new phenomenon in international relations, as now, apart from fake news, there is also fake diplomacy.”

The rival draft was co-sponsored by Russia and China, and “aimed at the extension and qualitative improvement” of the fact-finding mission, according to Nebenzya. However, it also failed, gaining the support of only four Security Council members.

While both Russia and the US used their veto powers on the respective resolutions, Haley accused Moscow of obstructing the work of the UNSC and its efforts to find “the truth.”

Russia has repeatedly criticized the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM)’s report on the chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun as being filled with “omissions, inconsistences and contradictions.” It also says it does not follow standard procedures for an impartial inquiry as it relies on questionable testimonies provided by rebels and NGOs, some of which are suspected of links to terrorists. In particular, it pointed to experts’ refusal to visit the site of the attack despite security guarantees.

In 2011, the US intervened in the region to curb the violence in the ongoing civil war in Libya. Under the pretext of a UN mandate to establish a no-fly zone in the country and save civilian lives, the US-led NATO coalition waged a full-fledged campaign that eventually resulted in the slaughter of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and multiple civilian deaths, the number of which varies from 72, according to Human Rights Watch, to more than 1,000 in unconfirmed reports. The country is still in tatters and the war involving tribes and militants is ongoing.

Despite the UN not giving the greenlight for a full-fledged campaign in Syria, US Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed that the organization sanctioned action there, justifying it with the struggle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. Damascus has repeatedly blasted the US for operating on Syrian territory without its consent and in violation of international law, and views the US presence as an invasion.

Courtesy: RT

Russia squeezing US out as agricultural superpower

Russia squeezing US out as agricultural superpower
The US is being pushed out of the grain market as Russia’s bumper wheat harvest has dragged down prices to record lows. Russian agricultural exports are booming thanks to a weaker national currency and massive investment.

“We are pushing America aside in some markets, and we are satisfied with this,” said Russia’s Agriculture Minister Aleksandr Tkachev.

This year Russian farmers are expected to harvest the biggest crop in over a century. Russia will produce at least 83 million tons of wheat in the current growing season, according to estimates by The Wall Street Journal.

Lower prices and close proximity to large markets gives Russia an advantage, according to the General Director of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies Dmitry Rylko.

“A relatively weak ruble is good for the Russian wheat market. We see either gradual or rapid growth for our exports,”the expert told RT.

However, the figure announced by the Russian government earlier this year is much more impressive. The Moscow-based grain consultant ProZerno estimates a harvest of over 130 million tons. It is 2.6 percent more than the previous record set in 1978 before the Soviet-Afghan War.

“Today our task is to set reasonable prices across the country. The grain crop of 130 million tons, there is more to come. It may reach up to 200 million tons. The main thing is to find new sales markets,” said Tkachev.

The US agricultural sector has faced lousy weather this season, meaning fewer acres of wheat were sowed in 2017 than ever before. US wheat output is expected to decline by a quarter compared to the previous season.

Unfavorable conditions along with Russia’s resurgence pushed wheat prices at the Chicago Board of Trade down almost 25 percent to $4.19 a bushel (about 27 kilograms) compared to July, when Russia began a record wheat harvest. The US Wheat Associates trade group announced the shutdown of its office in Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat importer.

“We literally can’t compete on the price of wheat in those markets compared to Russia,” said the trade group’s spokesman Steve Mercer, as quoted by the WSJ.

According to the US Agriculture Department, American wheat will make up just 15 percent of global exports in 2017, down from half four decades ago. The plunge was also caused by more grain grown in Europe and India. The US will produce half as much as Russia, according to the department.

Last year, Russia managed to become the world’s leading producer and exporter of grain, after shipping 34 million tons from its 119 million ton harvest. Exports of Russian wheat are expected to increase to 40 million tons this year, according to the agriculture ministry.

“No one is leaving the market. The Americans are rather better at corn and soybean farming, and they are successfully doing that while losing position in wheat,” Rylko told RT.

Courtesy: RT

Trump: ‘I really believe’ Putin when he told me face-to-face ‘I didn’t meddle’ in elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin is steadfastly denying that his country meddled in the 2016 White House race, President Trump told reporters Saturday.

Trump and Putin briefly spoke several times while in Vietnam for a regional economic summit, as part of the U.S. president’s 12-day trip to Asia.

“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump afterward told reporters, aboard Air Force One. “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

Putin’s words contradict U.S. intelligence community claims that Russia indeed tried to influence the election’s outcome — amid evidence that suggests Russian operatives hacked emails from Democratic Party leaders and tried to sway U.S. voters by purchasing ads of social media.

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” also said Trump, who deflected answering a direct question about whether he believed Putin’s denial.

Congress and Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller are each conducting investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian in the 2016 campaign.

Trump and Putin were in together in Danang, Vietnam, for the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. They have no plans to hold a formal meeting during Trump’s five-nation trip the concludes this weekend.

Trump told reporters on the flight from Danang to Hanoi that he and Putin largely discussed Syria in their “two or three very short conversations.”

At about the same time, the Kremlin issued a joint statement for both presidents about the countries’ “successful” and continuing efforts to defeat the Islamic State terror group, or ISIS, in Syria, the caliphate’s last stronghold.

In Syria’s years-long civil war, Putin has backed the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, while Western allies have supported his ousters.

“I would rather have him get out of Syria,” Trump told reporters. “If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing. In fact, it would be a great thing, not a bad thing.”

Trump declined to comment on the recent allegations about decades-old sexual misconduct by Roy Moore, the GOP nominee for a U.S Senate seat in Alabama. The president said that he hasn’t been following the news closely enough to offer an opinion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

Russia will promptly ‘develop & adopt’ mid-range missiles if US violates INF treaty

Russia will promptly ‘develop & adopt’ mid-range missiles if US violates INF treaty
Russia has the military and technical capabilities to develop and adopt new intermediate-range missile systems, should the US begin the development of a new missile. Mentioned in a recent US budget bill, the weapon would potentially violate a 1987 missile treaty.

“If the missile announced by Congress indeed makes it into the American arsenal, we will have to develop and adopt the same thing. Russia has the military and technical capacities for that,” Viktor Bondarev, the head of the Defense and Security Committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federal Council, has said.

On Wednesday, US legislators allocated $58 million to counter Russia’s alleged non-compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The sum was part of the $700 billion proposed in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2018.

The measures to counter alleged Russian activities include a “research and development program on a ground-launched intermediate-range missile,” which, somehow, should not violate the treaty itself. The 1987 deal bans missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500km.

However, Russian lawmakers have no doubt the violation would be unavoidable, and warned that Moscow will have to respond immediately. “It will entirely contradict the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty,” Vladimir Shamanov, the head of the Russian lower house Defense Committee and the former head of Russia’s airborne troops, said on Thursday. “Our president said: ‘the response will be instant,’” referring to earlier comments by Vladimir Putin.

“We are going to comply with its [INF] terms, provided our partners do so,” Putin said in October at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi. “If they decide to abandon it, however, our response will be instant and symmetrical.” The US had previously threatened to scrap the treaty altogether.

While Washington did not provide any proof that Russia had violated the INF, top US and NATO officials have repeatedly presented it as a given fact. US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday that “many” NATO nations allegedly have “their own evidence of what Russia has been up to.” Mattis added: “We have a firm belief now over several years that the Russians have violated the INF and our effort is to bring Russia back into compliance.”

Russia and the US have been trading accusations of INF treaty violations for several years already. Moscow listed the target missiles for testing anti-ballistic missile technology, the US drone program and ground placement of a naval vertical launch system as part of the Aegis Ashore program as violations of the treaty.

Courtesy: RT

U.S. Risks ‘Coup’ if Mueller Investigation Continues, Republicans Warn

Graham Lanktree

,

Newsweek

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign assisted Russia in its effort to interfere in the 2016 election amounts to an attempt to overthrow the government, Republicans have argued.

“We are at risk of a coup d’etat in this country if we allow an unaccountable person, with no oversight, to undermine the duly-elected President of the United States,” said Florida Congressman Rep. Matt Gaetz from the chamber floor.

He was joined by other members of the House Freedom Caucus, a hard-right group of Republicans, who brought a motion last week calling for Mueller step down because of “obvious conflicts of interest.” The measure wouldn’t be binding, but it would put the House on record in opposition to Mueller.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller has begun issuing indictments in his Russia investigation. One law professor is arguing that the probe should not be taking place because Mueller was appointed illegally. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Their motion came the same week Mueller’s legal team made its first arrests in the investigation, indicting Trump campaign’s former chairman, Paul Manafort, and his business associate Richard Gates on 12 charges, including money laundering.

On Wednesday, the Republicans laid out their case for why Mueller must go. “We’ve got to clean this town up, and it will start with the resignation of Mr. Mueller and a proper investigation of all of this underlying case involving Comey, Lynch, the Clintons, and Russia,” said Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert.

The group argued that Mueller has a conflict of interest because he headed the FBI during an investigation into corruption at a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned atomic energy company Rosatom.

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While the investigation was ongoing, a nine agency panel, including the State Department, then led by Hillary Clinton, approved the sale of Canadian mining firm Uranium One to Rosatom. The Clinton Foundation later received millions in donations from current and former investors in Uranium One. Critics and former officials point out Clinton was not involved in the approval panel and nevertheless would have had to convince eight other officials to approve the sale.

Read more: The Hillary Clinton Russia Uranium One conspiracy theory doesn’t make any sense

“It is far past time to thoroughly investigate this [Uranium One] deal, the Obama administration’s actions, and the Clinton family’s role,” said California Rep. Scott Perry.

The Congressmen also accused Mueller of having a vendetta against President Donald Trump because he fired former FBI Director James Comey over “this Russia thing.” When Trump fired Comey May 5, the lawman was investigating potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. Comey has written in memos that Trump asked him to drop part of his investigation.

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Mueller was appointed to take up that investigation on May 17 by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Mueller can be fired by Rosenstein for conflicts of interest and other infractions.

“Could Mr. Mueller be acting with vengeance? Or to vindicate his good friend and colleague James Comey, who had a very public feud with the president?” asked Congressman Trent Franks from the House floor Wednesday.

“Jim and Bob are friends in the sense that co-workers are friends. They don’t really have a personal relationship,” Comey’s attorney David Kelley has said, pointing out that they have never been to each other’s homes but have had lunch together once and dinner twice during their decade-long overlapping careers at the Department of Justice.

Republican calls for Mueller to step down and for the investigation to shift focus to Hillary Clinton echo the president. “There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!” Trump urged Republicans a day before Manafort was indicted, calling allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia “phony.”

“Why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” Trump tweeted the day Manafort and Gates were arrested. Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly has called for a special counsel to be appointed to investigate Clinton.

  • “This is the scandal of our time,” said Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, one of the sponsors of last week’s motion, renewing his call for Mueller’s resignation. “It affects our national security and the views of the American people for justice and on elections.”

Courtesy: Yahoo News

Paradise Papers sends shockwaves around the world

With high-ranking politicians appearing in the Paradise Papers, officials around the globe were quick to react to the leak. The EU and India have started investigations while Russian and US officials were on the defense.

Paradise Papers (picture-alliance/dpa/J.-F. Frey)

Governments around the globe worked quickly on Monday to respond to the Paradise Papers, a collection of 13.4 million leaked records from two offshore firms, after several politicans and public figures were mentioned in the data.

Obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and investigated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the trove of leaked documents details the offshore tax avoidance methods used by the world’s wealthiest companies and individuals.

Read moreParadise Papers — what you need to know

Here’s how some around the world reacted to the news:

Watch video01:47

Transparency advocates see opportunity as outrage over leaks grows

Europe

European Union finance ministers are set to discuss plans for a tax haven blacklist on Tuesday, EU officials announced.

The revelations from the data “put renewed emphasis on the work the European Commission is doing to fight tax avoidance,” said European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis.

Read moreGermans among those featured in the Paradise Papers

The bloc previously planned to reach an agreement on an EU-wide blacklist by the end of the year, although no decision is expected on Tuesday.

Currently, each of the EU’s 28 member states has its own list of jurisdictions that are perceived as being less cooperative where taxes are concerned. The criteria to define tax havens vary widely among EU states with little consensus on the jurisdictions that appear on their national blacklists.

“It’s time that we agree and publish a blacklist on tax havens,” EU tax commissioner Pierre Moscovici told reporters, calling for “adequate sanctions” when serious offenses are unveiled.

United Kingdom

The papers also revealed that British Queen Elizabeth II’s estate also made investments in tax havens, prompting calls from the opposition Labour Party for a public inquiry.

“All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate,” a spokesperson for the Duchy of Lancaster said in a statement. The duchy provides the monarch with her income and handles her investments.

They added that the queen “voluntarily pays tax on any income she receives from the duchy.”

“The shocking revelations from the Paradise Papers today, yet again of widespread tax avoidance and evasion on an industrial scale, must lead to decisive action and real change,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

United States

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, one of the main allies of US President Donald Trump implicated in the leak, denied any wrongdoing.

The papers revealed that Ross invested in a shipping firm that has significant business ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

“There is nothing wrong with anything that was done,” Ross told CNBC, adding that he properly disclosed his investments in Navigator Holdings, which reportedly transports gas for Russian petrochemical company Sibur.

He added that he is not considering resigning from his post.

As Commerce Secretary, Ross’s ties to Russian entities raise questions about potential conflicts of interest and whether they undermine US sanctions on Russia.

Read moreOffshore — The legal and the not so legal

Watch video02:02

Paradise Papers implicate US-Secretary of Commerce

Russia

Russian officials downplayed the Paradise Papers data on Monday, with Russian companies and government officials saying that the deals leaked in the data were legal and not politically-motivated.

In a statement reported by Russian news agencies, petrochemical giant Sibur expressed “amazement at the politically charged interpretation in some media of ordinary commercial activity.”

The head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian senate, Konstantin Kosachev, accused reports on the leaks of “stirring emotions” and having “muddled wording.”

“When it is boiled down, what is described here is standard and legal commercial activity,” Kosachev told RIA Novosti state news agency.

Read moreU2 frontman Bono named in Paradise Papers tax evasion leak

Watch video01:20

How do tax havens work?

Canada

Canada’s tax agency said it has already started reviewing the Paradise Papers documents for any evidence of its nationals having used tax havens to avoid paying taxes at home.

Over 3,000 Canadian companies, foundations, trusts and indivduals appear in the documents, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s close friend and chief fundraiser Stephen Bronfman.

Bronfman also denied any wrongdoing in a statement, saying that one multi-million dollar transfer to a trust in the Cayman Islands was made “in full compliance with all legal requirements.”

Trudeau has made tax fairness one of his main policy aims.

India

Indian officials announced that a panel of government officials has been established to investigate cases mentioned in the Paradise Papers.

Officials from India’s central bank along with members of government bodies will conduct and monitor the investigation, India’s finance ministry said.

Read moreParadise Papers prompts probe of India’s corporates

The names of some 714 Indians appear in the Paradise Papers documents. Although their inclusion in the documents does not mean they attempted to stash funds, some of the individuals and companies are already being investigated by Indian authorities.

Watch video02:35

‘Paradise Papers’ leak – Q&A with Robin Hodess, Transparency International

rs/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Courtesy: Fox News

Cybersecurity: Why it’s ‘hard to protect yourself’ online

Governments have fallen victim to a string of high-profile cyberattacks in recent years. German IT expert Sandro Gaycken tells DW about cybersecurity’s shortcomings and why he thinks Kaspersky did not work with Russia.

An ethernet cable (picture alliance/dpa/F.Kästle)

DW: At the end of October, a new virus called “BadRabbit” attacked computer systems in Russia, Ukraine, Germany and other countries. Among the victims were media organizations, ministries and various businesses. The last few months have seen similar attacks by viruses like “WannaCry” and “Petya.” Can we defend ourselves against these infiltrations?

Sandro Gaycken: No, not really. There are of course a number of IT-security technologies, but they’re all still in pretty early stages and only work to a limited degree. That’s why it’s hard to protect yourself, especially when the attacker is somewhat clever.

Is that our new reality?

Yes, right now it is. But a lot of money is currently being invested in the cybersecurity market, so better products are on the way. But it’ll take at least five to eight years [to get them ready].

What is your advice? How could we at least limit the damage?

Don’t connect your devices to the internet.

In the US, public authorities are not allowed to use products by Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky anymore. The government ban was triggered by reports about Russian intelligence agencies using Kaspersky software to get their hands on NSA data. Kaspersky denies any sort of cooperation with Russian intelligence agencies. The company also advises NATO on cybersecurity issues. Will other NATO states follow the US example and cease cooperation with Kaspersky?

Sandro Gaycken (picture-alliance/dpa)Sandro Gaycken

I haven’t heard that. German industry players and German authorities still trust Kaspersky, they’ve been working together for a long time. There’s the assumption a little bit that there’s industrial politics behind it, too. In Germany there were no concrete indicators found that would make Kaspersky any more suspicious than other software alternatives.

Of course all IT-security products have the problem that they are vulnerable, too. That’s not something you’d think as a layman, but cybersecurity products can have faults as well and sometimes just aren’t programmed well enough.

Kaspersky will have certain targets that can be attacked more easily, just like the big US companies have those, too. You can then say these targets have been put there on purpose, or you don’t believe that. But as long as no one can present intelligence-based evidence, it’s all speculation.

So you as an expert don’t see the use of Kaspersky software as dangerous?

I assume that the Russian as well as the American intelligence agencies have access to all big IT-security products anyway, or at least they could get access. So it doesn’t really make a difference. You just have to decide where you want to have which security level, what kind of IT-systems you need and whether they have to be connected to the internet.

Should Kaspersky users be worried about the fact that the head of Kaspersky graduated from a KGB academy and is friends with several Russian intelligence officials?

That’s normal in the security community. If you work in any type of technical security, you’ll almost always work with intelligence agencies. Especially people who are good in their fields come from this technological intelligence area. That’s not different in Israel. That alone is not an indicator.

Of course it would seem fitting for a Russian company to [work with intelligence agencies]. But it would be extremely ill-advised for Kaspersky to let this happen. If this came out, massive losses would be the consequence.

Sandro Gaycken is an expert for cyber and network security and is an advisor to the Bundestag, NATO and the European Union.

Courtesy: DW

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