You might have expected the first press conference in Moscow featuring both a Trump administration official and a Russian official to be something of a victory lap. After all, Trump was Russia’s preferred candidate in the 2016 election; he had promised to realign US foreign policy to work with Moscow. He even picked Rex Tillerson, an oil magnate and a man to whom Vladimir Putin personally awarded a Russian state medal, to be secretary of state.
So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump's national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia's ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity.
On April 12, 1982, Yuri Andropov, the chairman of the K.G.B., ordered foreign-intelligence operatives to carry out “active measures”—aktivniye meropriyatiya—against the reëlection campaign of President Ronald Reagan. Unlike classic espionage, which involves the collection of foreign secrets, active measures aim at influencing events—at undermining a rival power with forgeries, front groups, and countless other techniques honed during the Cold War. The Soviet leadership considered Reagan an implacable militarist. According to extensive notes made by Vasili Mitrokhin, a high-ranking K.G.B.
Garry Kasparov knows what it is to oppose an authoritarian ruler. The longtime world chess champion was arrested twice in his native Russia for opposing Vladimir Putin. Since 2013, he has lived with family in self-imposed exile in New York City, and is now the chair of the Human Rights Foundation. Winter Is Coming, Kasparov’s prescient book detailing Putinism’s rise and transnational menace, came out in paperback recently. Deep Thinking, his new book on chess and artificial intelligence, comes out May 2.
President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Russia is supporting the opposition Free Syrian Army, providing it with air cover, arms and ammunition in joint operations with Syrian troops against Islamist militants. His statement appeared to be the first time Moscow said it was actually supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's opponents in the fight against Islamic State forces. Putin said last month the Russian air force had hit several "terrorist" targets identified by the Free Syrian Army.
The downing of a Russian military plane by Turkish forces has introduced another layer of complication to the Syrian crisis and raised fears over possible escalation and the potential for a direct conflict between the US and Russia. To get the Turkish perspective on this incident, I spoke with Steven A. Cook, the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, about why the Turkish military would take such dramatic action and what this could mean for the future of Turkish-Russian relations and Turkey's policy toward Syria. What follows is a transcript of my conversation with Cook, lightly edited for length and clarity.
President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible for blowing up a Russian airliner over Egypt and intensified air strikes against militants in Syria, after the Kremlin concluded a bomb had destroyed the plane last month, killing 224 people. Putin ordered the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean to coordinate its actions on the sea and in the air with the French navy, after the Kremlin used long-range bombers and cruise missiles in Syria and announced it would expand its strike force by 37 planes.
After the crash of Russia’s Metrojet Flight 9268 over Egypt, on Saturday, which caused the death of all its passengers, thousands of people came to St. Petersburg’s central Dvortsovaya Square to express their grief and sympathy. They brought candles, flowers, and toys; some were carrying photos of the crash victims. Similar spontaneous gatherings took place across Russia, but the one in St. Petersburg was the largest; of the two hundred and twenty-four people killed in the crash, one hundred and seventy-three were from St. Petersburg and the neighboring Leningradskaya Oblast. This outpouring of compassion, as well as scenes from St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport, where families learned of their loved ones’ deaths, were broadcast by all the major Russian TV channels.
When Russia started bombing in Syria last week, it said it was targeting ISIS — a claim it's stuck to pretty consistently in the past week. But this map of Russian airstrikes in Syria so far, put together by the Levantine Group, tells a very different story. The Levantine Group's analysts used a proprietary network of sources, cross-checked with open-source media and information released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, to determine the locations hit by Russian planes. This map shows those strikes overlaid on territory controlled by Bashar al-Assad's regime, by anti-Assad rebels, by ISIS, and by Kurdish forces.
On September 30, Russian warplanes launched their first air raids in Syria, striking eight targets around Homs, north of Damascus. In a second day of strikes on October 1, Moscow’s planes hit another five targets, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. The Kremlin insists it’s hitting militants from the so-called Islamic State. But the locations of the aerial strikes imply otherwise—that Russia’s bombing civilians and U.S.-backed rebels instead. Chillingly, video and photographs from Russia’s new air war seem to indicate that the attacks are inaccurate and indiscriminate.
The bad blood between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin and their so-called dueling speeches at the United Nations on Monday masks a deeper reality: The two presidents are today in more alignment than they have been in years on what to do about the threat from Syria. As a result, some sources suggest that despite the tough rhetoric on the surface between the two countries, there’s a much higher likelihood of an accommodation with Moscow—an accommodation that will prolong Bashar al-Assad’s regime at least for a time and place the U.S. and Russia on the same side against the so-called Islamic State (ISIL).
U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday said Washington is prepared to work with Russia and Iran to try to end the more than four-year war in Syria that has spawned Islamic State militants. "The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict," Obama told the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations. "But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo."
Russia has moved a small but significant military force into Syria, adding a volatile new dimension to Syria's now four-year civil war. The Russian installation, in a couple of military sites along Syria's Mediterranean coast, is far short of a full invasion force, but it's still a meaningful escalation, potentially making Russia a direct participant in the war for the first time. Russia has moved in a few hundred troops, 28 fighter jets, and 14 helicopter gunships and transports, as well as six tanks, 15 artillery pieces, and some other equipment.
Russian combat operations on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are likely to begin “soon,” three U.S. officials told The Daily Beast. And Russian drone flights to spot targets for potential airstrikes are already underway. That concession by U.S. officials of growing Russian influence marks a shift from previous statements by officials who said they weren’t sure whether Russia intended to use force in Syria and enter into the country’s long and brutal civil war. There already are early signs that Russia plans to target moderate forces that threaten the Assad regime, not the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which has been the focus of a year-long U.S.-led air campaign.
Germany and other western European powers need to work with Russia as well as the United States to solve the crisis in Syria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday. Merkel was speaking ahead of a meeting of the German, Russian, French and Ukrainian foreign ministers being held in Berlin on Saturday evening.
igns of an ongoing Russian military buildup in Syria have drawn U.S. concerns and raised questions of whether Moscow plans to enter the conflict. President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin's intentions. Observers in Moscow say the Russian maneuvering could be part of a plan to send troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State group in the hope of fixing fractured ties with the West. They warn, however, that Putin would likely find it hard to sell his idea to a skeptical U.S. and risks potentially catastrophic repercussions if he opts for unilateral military action in Syria.
Are little green men about to appear on the North Pole? Russia’s claim last week, using an extremely creative interpretation of international law, to exclusive economic rights to nearly half a million square miles of the Arctic Sea was certainly a head-scratcher. Sure, the territory is valuable due to its untapped reserves of fossil fuels and for the shipping lanes that will open as Arctic ice melts. But the claim is likely to ultimately be rejected by the United Nations.
In most countries, criminals need to make their dirty money clean in order to make it useful in the legitimate economy. As any Breaking Bad fan knows, that’s what money laundering is: a way to bring the proceeds of crime onto account books and into bank accounts as the proceeds of a legitimate business. But in Russia, corruption has gotten so bad that the logic of money laundering has turned upside down. There, many companies face the opposite problem: In order to get things done, they need to take clean money and make it dirty.
This March, Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled a series of public appearances, and the world promptly seemed to lose its collective mind. Everyone from Russians on social media to mainstream Western journalists speculated wildly about why Putin had "disappeared." Could he be ill? Incapacitated by a stroke? Dead? After several days passed and Putin failed to surface, the theories grew more exotic. Was this the result of a "silent coup" by the security services? Was there a conspiracy to keep it all quiet? How deep does this go?
It was in August 2014 that the real danger began, and that we heard the first warnings of war. That month, unmarked Russian troops covertly invaded eastern Ukraine, where the separatist conflict had grown out of its control. The Russian air force began harassing the neighboring Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which are members of NATO. The US pledged that it would uphold its commitment to defend those countries as if they were American soil, and later staged military exercises a few hundred yards from Russia's border.