How Has Supporting POTUS Worked Out for Russia? Jonah Shepp July 16, 2017 8:30 pm


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Maybe I should have gone with Mike Huckabee? Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images

We now know with more certainty than we did a couple weeks ago that the Russian government tried to tip the scales in last year’s presidential election toward Donald Trump and that central figures in the Trump campaign were apparently only too happy to accept the assistance. But just what did Russian president Vladimir Putin get for his efforts? Has he received a decent return on his investment, or is Trump backfiring on him?

Here’s a look at some of the policy areas in which Putin likely hoped a Trump victory would advance Russian interests and how well Trump has delivered (whether knowingly or unknowingly). Remember, it’s Putin giving the grades here, so high marks don’t necessarily mean a job well-done.

Sanctions

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HOW AN ENTIRE NATION BECAME RUSSIA’S TEST LAB FOR CYBERWAR – ANDY GREENBERG 06.20.17


The clocks read zero when the lights went out.

It was a Saturday night last December, and Oleksii Yasinsky was sitting on the couch with his wife and teenage son in the living room of their Kiev apartment. The 40-year-old Ukrainian cybersecurity researcher and his family were an hour into Oliver Stone’s film Snowden when their building abruptly lost power.

“The hackers don’t want us to finish the movie,” Yasinsky’s wife joked. She was referring to an event that had occurred a year earlier, a cyberattack that had cut electricity to nearly a quarter-million Ukrainians two days before Christmas in 2015. Yasinsky, a chief forensic analyst at a Kiev digital security firm, didn’t laugh. He looked over at a portable clock on his desk: The time was 00:00. Precisely midnight.

Yasinsky’s television was plugged into a surge protector with a battery backup, so only the flicker of images onscreen lit the room now. The power strip started beeping plaintively. Yasinsky got up and switched it off to save its charge, leaving the room suddenly silent.

He went to the kitchen, pulled out a handful of candles and lit them. Then he stepped to the kitchen window. The thin, sandy-blond engineer looked out on a view of the city as he’d never seen it before: The entire skyline around his apartment building was dark. Only the gray glow of distant lights reflected off the clouded sky, outlining blackened hulks of modern condos and Soviet high-rises.

Noting the precise time and the date, almost exactly a year since the December 2015 grid attack, Yasinsky felt sure that this was no normal blackout. He thought of the cold outside—close to zero degrees Fahrenheit—the slowly sinking temperatures in thousands of homes, and the countdown until dead water pumps led to frozen pipes.

That’s when another paranoid thought began to work its way through his mind: For the past 14 months, Yasinsky had found himself at the center of an enveloping crisis. A growing roster of Ukrainian companies and government agencies had come to him to analyze a plague of cyberattacks that were hitting them in rapid, remorseless succession. A single group of hackers seemed to be behind all of it. Now he couldn’t suppress the sense that those same phantoms, whose fingerprints he had traced for more than a year, had reached back, out through the internet’s ether, into his home.

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Russia Targeted 21 States for Election Hacking, Official Says – By Byron Tau and Erica Orden Updated June 21, 2017 7:38 p.m. ET


Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says ‘Vladimir Putin himself’ directed the effort

Department of Homeland Security officials revealed in separate House and Senate hearings new details about Russia’s involvement in the cyber-attacks that targeted 21 states during the 2016 election. WSJ’s Tanya Rivero has four things to know. Photo: Getty

WASHINGTON—Russian government hackers targeted voting systems in nearly two dozen states last year, seeking vulnerabilities to exploit and aiming to undermine public faith in the integrity and legitimacy of U.S. democratic elections, current and former U.S. officials testified Wednesday.

One of the officials, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, testified that the attempted intrusions could be traced specifically to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “In 2016, the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election,” Mr. Johnson said. “That is a fact, plain and simple.”

The Russian government has denied the allegation.

In two separate and simultaneous hearings in front of the House and Senate intelligence committees about alleged Russian meddling in last year’s elections, four senior government officials responsible for cybersecurity, counterintelligence and national security publicly disclosed new details about the alleged Russian operations and the federal government’s response to the threats.

“As of right now, we have evidence of election-related systems in 21 states that were targeted,” Jeanette Manfra, the acting deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS, told the Senate panel. She testified with DHS and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials on Wednesday morning.

Her admission was the first time a government official had publicly quantified the number of states targeted in the hacking. Officials said there was no evidence that systems involved in vote tallying or reporting were affected.

Ms. Manfra didn’t name the 21 states in question—citing the privacy rights of entities that contacted the DHS for help on cybersecurity-related issues. Only a few states—including Arizona and Illinois—have publicly acknowledged that their systems were targeted.

The hearings were held after the U.S. intelligence community in January determined that Moscow ran a campaign designed to help Donald Trump win the presidential election. The Russian campaign, according to U.S. intelligence officials, included cyberattacks on the email accounts of senior Democrats and a propaganda effort aimed at demonizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

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Russia’s Middle East Energy Diplomacy – By James Henderson and Ahmed Mehdi – June 20, 2017


PAVEL GOLOVKIN / REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 2017.

 

How the Kremlin Strengthened Its Position in the Region

When the United States and the European Union decided, in March 2014, to impose sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, they attempted to target a key proxy of Russian geopolitical influence: its energy sector. Part of the sanctions’ sting came from complicating Russian energy project finance deals and increasing the level of risk attached to Russian debt. In response, the Kremlin attempted to build new energy-financing channels and export markets. Its first inclination was to turn to the fast-growing energy consumers in Asia, with a particular focus on China. In addition to negotiating a May 2014 deal for Russia’s Gazprom company to supply up to 38 billion cubic meters of gas to China National Petroleum Corporation for 30 years, China became a source of loans for oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects aimed at its market.

Progress on Russia’s eastern gas strategy since then has been sluggish, however, mainly because of China’s slowing growth and its ability to exploit its strong bargaining position relative to Russia, whose eastern hydrocarbon assets are stranded owing to a lack of readily available markets. As a result, the Kremlin has turned its foreign policy strategy back to an old Soviet source of geopolitical influence—the Middle East. The United States’ decision to abandon its role as regional underwriter in chief over the course of Barack Obama’s second presidential term, as evidenced by a series of U-turns on Syria and the decision to indirectly support a regional rebalancing of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran following the lifting of nuclear sanctions in 2016, has allowed the Kremlin to claim a stake in the Middle East’s conflict hot spots, as well as to insert its energy sector at the heart of the region’s oil and gas markets.

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Democrats are falling for fake news about Russia – Zack Beauchamp May 19, 2017, 8:30am EDT


Why liberal conspiracy theories are flourishing in the age of Trump.

President Donald Trump is about to resign as a result of the Russia scandal. Bernie Sanders and Sean Hannity are Russian agents. The Russians have paid off House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz to the tune of $10 million, using Trump as a go-between. Paul Ryan is a traitor for refusing to investigate Trump’s Russia ties. Libertarian heroine Ayn Rand was a secret Russian agent charged with discrediting the American conservative movement.

These are all claims you can find made on a new and growing sector of the internet that functions as a fake news bubble for liberals, something I’ve dubbed the Russiasphere. The mirror image of Breitbart and InfoWars on the right, it focuses nearly exclusively on real and imagined connections between Trump and Russia. The tone is breathless: full of unnamed intelligence sources, certainty that Trump will soon be imprisoned, and fever dream factual assertions that no reputable media outlet has managed to confirm.

Twitter is the Russiasphere’s native habitat. Louise Mensch, a former right-wing British parliamentarian and romance novelist, spreads the newest, punchiest, and often most unfounded Russia gossip to her 283,000 followers on Twitter. Mensch is backed up by a handful of allies, including former NSA spook John Schindler (226,000 followers) and DC-area photographer Claude Taylor (159,000 followers).

There’s also a handful of websites, like Palmer Report, that seem devoted nearly exclusively to spreading bizarre assertions like the theory that Ryan and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell funneled Russian money to Trump — a story that spread widely among the site’s 70,000 Facebook fans.

Beyond the numbers, the unfounded left-wing claims, like those on the right, are already seeping into the mainstream discourse. In March, the New York Timespublished an op-ed by Mensch instructing members of Congress as to how they should proceed with the Russia investigation (“I have some relevant experience,” she wrote). Two months prior to that, Mensch had penned a lengthy letter to Vladimir Putin titled “Dear Mr. Putin, Let’s Play Chess” — in which she claims to have discovered that Edward Snowden was part of a years-in-the-making Russian plot to discredit Hillary Clinton.

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Russia ‘targeted Trump adviser in bid to infiltrate campaign’ – Stephanie KirchgaessnerFirst published on Sunday 23 April 2017 00.48 EDT


CNN claims investigators have intelligence suggesting Russians may have used Carter Page to try to access Trump campaign

Carter Page, who advised Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, makes a presentation in Moscow in December 2016. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters/Reuters

Russian operatives sought to infiltrate the Trump campaign using some of the US president’s own advisers, including Carter Page, according to a CNN report that cited unnamed US officials.

Page, a former Merrill Lynch banker who Trump referred to as a foreign policy adviser during his presidential race, has emerged as a key figure in several US investigations into possible coordination between the Kremlin.

New allegations that federal investigators have gathered intelligence that suggests Russian operatives may have used Page to try to gain access to the Trump campaign follows a separate report by the Washington Post that he was being monitored by the FBI last summer because of suspicions about his ties with Russia.

Page has denied wrongdoing but acknowledged that he might have shared information with Russians. He has insisted that the information was innocuous.

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Russia’s Charm Offensive in North Africa – By Oren Kessler and Boris Zilberman April 3, 2017


ALEXEI DRUZHININ / KREMLIN VIA REUTERS Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attend a welcoming ceremony onboard guided missile cruiser Moskva at the Black Sea port of Sochi, August 12, 2014.

With the world’s attention focused on the question of Russian influence in the United States and the European Union, the Kremlin is quietly making inroads in another region critical to both the United States and Europe: the five North African states of the southern Mediterranean shore.

Russian and Algerian officials gathered at a St. Petersburg shipyard last month to shatter a champagne bottle on the first of two so-called Black Hole submarines built for the Algerian navy. The same day, news broke that Russia had deployed special forces and drones to a Soviet-era base in western Egypt to bolster a militia leader in neighboring Libya. Late last year, the secretary of Moscow’s national security council traveled to Morocco, where the king invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to repay the visit he had made to Moscow earlier in the year. And in Tunisia, where Russian tourism jumped tenfold in 2016, the Kremlin signed a deal last autumn to build a nuclear power plant.

Egypt, the world’s largest Arab state, was the jewel in the Soviets’ Middle East crown until it defected to the U.S. camp in the late 1970s, serving as Washington’s most important North African ally ever since. Cairo, however, began systematically expanding its ties with Russia soon after General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The administration of Barack Obama, wary of Cairo’s heavy-handed tactics to stamp out dissent, kept some distance from Sisi, who then turned to Russia to help fill the void. In 2015, Putin traveled to Cairo, where the streets were lined with banners bearing his image, and he returned the favor by presenting Sisi with a new Kalashnikov.

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