(1) US Secretary of State Tillerson says Russia must honor Ukraine deal – The Washington Post

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday Russia must abide by the 2015 Minsk deal aimed at ending fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia=backed separatists.  The Secretary spoke after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time, in the highest level face-to-face contact between representatives of the two countries since President Trump took office.

Commentary:  There is good news and not so good news.  First the good.  It is welcome news that Tillerson expects the Russians to act in accordance with their word and is publicly calling on them to do so.  As for the not so good news: (1) the Minsk accords are at the very best a pathetic collapse from the Budapest Memorandum as far as the obligations of both Russia and the United States and overwhelming evidence that Putin honoring Russian commitments means nothing more than “clouds in your coffee.” 

Also the Post article reported “Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Russian-speaking separatists in Ukraine’s began protests that escalated into a war, with thousands killed. A deal two years ago known as the Minsk agreement was intended to end the conflict, but skirmishes have continued.” 

It is really disgusting that a major publication still sticks to the “separatist” narrative instead of underscoring the reality of the Russia presence and participation.  Likewise to include the meaningless “Russian-speaking” is also a sloppy by-in top Putin’s narrative.  Has the Post ever reported that everyone in Ukraine speaks Russian and that Ukrainian was outlawed during the years of the Soviet Union? 

And finally, the article includes this gem, “Asked whether the chaos in Washington was a concern to Russia, Lavrov replied: ‘You should know we do not interfere in the domestic matters of other countries.’” This guy Lavrov is the master of the straight face.  He pitches this rubbish with the appearance of genuine conviction which is his job as a Putin puppet.  But it is repulsive that the Post accepts it without denunciation. Russian propaganda wins again.

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/us-secretary-of-state-tillerson-meets-with-russias-lavrov/2017/02/16/1756270c-f44b-11e6-9fb1-2d8f3fc9c0ed_story.html

(2) Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin met with experts at Washington think-tanksMinistry of Foreign Affairs Ukraine press release --

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin met with Heritage Foundation experts to share his vision of the US-Ukraine Strategic Partnership. He underlined the importance of continuous unwavering support of Ukraine by the United States. Discussing the upcoming Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedoms 2016, Minister Klimkin emphasized Ukraine’s efforts to build strong anticorruption institutions and highlighted the results of their work, as well as outlined the steps taken to further strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine. 

At the Atlantic Council, the Minister also discussed Ukraine’s efforts to implement Minsk agreement, de-occupy Crimea, carry out fundamental reforms and consolidate international support for Ukraine under the U.S. leadership. The Minister also emphasized the importance of support of Ukraine by the new U.S. Administration to enhance our country’s defense capabilities, while Ukraine is defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity. During the discussion with representatives of the U.S. Senate, Administration and experts organized by the American Foreign Policy Council, Minister Klimkin called for continued U.S. support of Ukraine and emphasized Ukraine’s determination to further strengthen the Strategic Partnership with the United States. 

Link:  http://mfa.gov.ua/en/press-center/news/54767-pavlo-klimkin-zustrivsya-z-kerivnikami-ta-jekspertami-providnih-politologichnih-centriv-vashingtona

(3) Ukraine's envoy to Council of Europe points at problems with Trump-Putin "grand bargain" – UNIAN Information Agency -- Dmytro Kuleba, Permanent

Representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe speaks out about President Trump’s reported interest in a “grand bargain” with Russia and offers his view that Trump faces powerful opposition in the U.S. to such a rapprochement with Putin.

Link: https://www.unian.info/politics/1780591-ukraines-envoy-to-council-of-europe-points-at-problems-with-trump-putin-grand-bargain.html

(4) End of Kremlin’s Dream of ‘Big Deal’ with Trump Makes Putin More Dangerous Not Less – Window on Eurasia/Paul Goble --

The apparent collapse of Putin’s calculations that the new US Administration would deliver such a deal – a “grand bargain” -- may in fact make the Kremlin leader more dangerous in the short term for at least two reasons. (1) As long as Putin felt he had something to lose in Washington by being more aggressive in Ukraine or elsewhere, he has operated in a more restrained fashion than may be the case now. If he senses that he has nothing to lose, the Kremlin leader may go for broke and launch an even larger invasion of Ukraine or make moves elsewhere.

(2) On the other, precisely because the Flynn scandal and its growth has so disordered the Trump White House, Putin may conclude that now is the time to strike given that he may assume that he can act with impunity given that even if Trump isn’t going to deliver a grand bargain, the US president won’t choose to respond to a Russian move with anything but rhetoric.  Putin may be wrong in that calculation, but if he is thinking in those terms … 

Commentary: Then again, what was said in the January phone call between Trump and Putin? It took less than 24 hours for Putin to launch a significant assault in eastern Ukraine.

Link: windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/02/end-of-kremlins-dream-of-big-deal-with.html

(5) Poroshenko meeting with U.S. Vice-President Pence in MunichInterfax -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence heads to Europe this week to meet with allies seeking clarity on the Trump administration's foreign policy strategy and its stance toward Russia after the resignation of the National Security Advisor. The official website of the Ukrainian President says President Poroshenko will meet with Pence in the course of his working visit to Munich (Germany) on February 17-18.

(6) Russia Tells White House It Will Not Return Crimea to Ukraine – The New York Times - Russia said on Wednesday it would not hand back Crimea to Ukraine or discuss the matter with foreign partners after the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump expected the annexed Black Sea peninsula to be returned. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that Trump expected and wanted to get along with Russia, but was expecting Moscow to hand Crimea back.

Commentary:  The good news – President Trump apparently has expressed the view Putin’s “little green men” and associated regular army thugs should leave Crimea.  The bad news – The Kremlin’s response is what you would expect.  The ugly news – That when the Kremlin mouthpieces regurgitate the pathetic and amateurish lie that the people of Crimea voted for the Russian occupation, the media includes the lie in its reporting without pointing out the unequivocal fact that there was no genuine election leaving only Ukraine’s refutations to counter blatant propaganda.

Link: Continue reading the main story

(7) Residents in Eastern Ukraine face worst fighting in years in war with Russia-backed separatists -- The Los Angeles Times -- Ukraine’s nearly three-year battle against “Kremlin-backed separatists” in the east erupted into the worst fighting in two years in late January. Exactly why the fighting intensified recently remains unclear, though such encounters have occurred with some frequency during unrest that included Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014

Commentary:  It is good that the American media covers Russia’s war on Ukraine (though one should expect much more coverage).  However, the media’s chronic acceptance of the Kremlin’s narrative of “Kremlin-backed separatists” or “Russia-backed” is clearly misleading.  Such sloppiness helps hide the reality that this is a war instigated and prosecuted by Putin mitigating what should be uniform, continuous and aggressive international condemnation.  And, at the same time, and with different but equally damaging impact on perceptions and policies, the Kremlin’s false narrative leaves people to believe the Russian war on Ukraine to be a civil war which is anything but true. 

As for the timing of the “worst fighting” it began in Avdiivka less than 12 hours after President Trump’s January 28th telephone call with Mr. Putin. A second major attack on the city began less than 24 hours after President Trump’s overture.  Improve relations – Putin appears to have no interest and intends to continue to challenge the U.S. and the West to see just how long they will ignore Chamberlain’s over 75-year-old lesson.   Link:  Los Angeles Times

(8) As Fighting Escalates in Ukraine, Attention Focuses on Donald Trump – The New York Times -- Dozens of soldiers and civilians have been killed or wounded all along the front in nearly two weeks of fighting. While it is still not clear who is responsible for the escalation in fighting between the Ukrainian Army and the Russian-backed rebels, many residents say they believe the recent violence was meant to force some clarity from President Trump.

Commentary: The New York Times may not know who is responsible for the escalation in fighting and USUBC does not have privileged information but deductive reasoning might be applied to the situation.  Let’s see: (1) Russia started the war, continues to provide men, weapons, strategies, and propaganda smokescreens;

(2) Russia this week had three – 3 – of its military airplanes buzz a U.S. Navy ship in the Black Sea; (3) Russia is intervening in Western European elections; (4) Russia is expanding its malevolent presence in the Artic; and it could just go on-and-on and at some point it is likely one would draw the conclusion that the little former KGB colonel is behind all this.   Link: New York Times

(9) Russian military provocations testing Trump - Surveillance warship off Connecticut coast – The Washington Times -- Russian harassment of U.S. military assets has surged in recent weeks, testing the new Trump administration and drawing a sharp response from Mr. Trump’s top aides — even as the White House comes under fire for working too closely with Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin

Commentary: Putin is pressing Trump and the West on numerous fronts and pressing hard.  At some point the response will be apparent either from action, or inaction.  Link:  Washington Times

(10) Ukraine turns a blind eye to ultrarightist militia – The Washington Post - Despite Kiev’s pledge to rein them in, rogue militias continue to fight against Moscow-backed separatists. When war erupted in 2014, Ukraine’s army was on its knees after decades of corruption and neglect. So the top brass joined forces with volunteer battalions to counter the pro-Russian insurgency. But these informal groups proved difficult to control, with some committing heinous abuses. Almost all have been incorporated into Ukrainian state forces

Commentary: It is noted here that within this article The Washington Post draws anti-Semitic implications and includes: “Moscow has freely exploited Ukraine’s troubled history with the extreme right.  Some Ukrainian nationalists fought against the Nazis during World War II, but others committed atrocities alongside the Germans.” 

This may be true but the inclusion of “Moscow has freely exploited…” without castigating the Russian propaganda pointing out that any such “right” phenomena in Ukraine can be found in Russia in multiples.  Once again Russia hypocrisy is ignored and the Western media assists the Kremlin’s propaganda. The media - prototypically the “useful idiots” so long relied upon by the Kremlin.

Link: Washington Post

(11) Mnuchin Won’t Say If Russian Sanctions Will Be Eased The Wall Street Journal --

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declined to comment Tuesday on whether the Trump administration planned to ease sanctions against Russia, telling reporters “our current sanctions programs are in place.”

Commentary: Bottom line is nobody knows anything and will not know anything about sanctions until President Trump acts.  He will make the decision.  Having made that point and given the timing of this newsletter it is noted that there have been rumors swirling around Washington since mid-week that Trump may drop sanctions on some individuals whose deeds were deemed to have nothing to do with Ukraine. 

Who knows?  It would seem that with the Flynn Affair and all its collateral implications the Administration might best do nothing related to Russia until tensions subside, unless of course, it wishes to send defensive weaponry to Ukraine.  Link: Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

(12) Trump and Russia: Confusion at the Top – The National Interest/Ambassador John Herbst --

The Trump Administration’s Russia policy is already working against U.S. interests. It’s time to show Putin that he can’t revise the international order.

Link: http://www.the-american-interest.com/2017/02/15/trump-and-russia-confusion-at-the-top/

(13) Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence – The New York Times --

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials. The Administration faced fresh pressure from lawmakers over its communications with Russia and the operations of the White House inner circle, following the resignation of Mike Flynn as national security adviser after less than a month in office

Commentary:  It is a mess.     Link: New York Times

(14) With Michael Flynn Gone, Russia Sees a Different Trump – The New York Times --

The departure of Mr. Flynn on Monday over his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington was the latest in a series of mixed signals from Mr. Trump and his advisers on a host of issues important to Russia, particularly the lifting of economic sanctions.  Now, many prominent political figures are wondering whether hopes for change were premature, and whether Moscow will inevitably remain Washington’s main boogeyman. On Tuesday, the Pentagon was confrontational, accusing Moscow of secretly deploying a cruise missile system that violates a 1987 treaty on intermediate-range missiles based on land.

Commentary: (1) There is an extraordinary amount of media coverage of the Flynn Affair and it is likely to go on for quite some time and include investigations into Trump-related communications with Russia beyond those of General Flynn.  Washington accusations and posturing are in full scale – accusations over the propriety/impropriety of such communications and attempted deflections about the improprieties of the leaks and the handling of the situation.

(2) Whatever Flynn did it appears he has had a naïve blind spot to Washington ways for the last four or more decades.  It often is not the mistake that brings a person down, it is the lying about and/or cover-up of the mistake that takes you down and metastasizes into a full blown scandal.  Others involved in trying to react to the situation may suffer from the same naiveté.

(3) And, as for dealings with Russia certainly the tea leaves are as difficult to read in Moscow as they are in Washington.  Trump is the President and until he actually does something it would appear foolhardy to predict.  Link: https://nyti.ms/2lg37WV 

(15) Fake News, Fake Ukrainians: How a Group of Russians Tilted a Dutch VoteThe New York Times -- Harry van Bommel, a left-wing member of the Dutch Parliament, used a “Ukrainian team” that actually included Russians in an effort to influence the Dutch referendum last year on a trade agreement with Ukraine. They attended public meetings, appeared on television and used social media to denounce Ukraine’s pro-Western government as a bloodthirsty kleptocracy, unworthy of Dutch support. Van Bommel recalled, it “was very handy to show that not all Ukrainians were in favor.”

Commentary:  How much evidence of Putin’s aggressive and the support he gets from useful idiots does the west need?     Link:  New York Times

(16) Top U.S. general to meet his Russian counterpart – The Washington Post -- Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with the top Russian military officer this week, in the first encounter between the two countries’ leading generals since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea in 2014

Commentary:  The Obama Administration’s stated overall policy once Putin seized Ukraine was to “isolate” Russia and, in general, that Administration did a fairly good job of such isolation.  Although in office for just a few weeks General Dunford’s meeting is not the first time the new Administration has brought Moscow out of isolation.  Link:  Washington Post

(17) Trump Must Stand Up to Putin – Atlantic Council – Ambassador John Herbst -- It is very dangerous for the United States to show such weakness in the face of Kremlin aggression


(18)  United States Congress:

          S. 94 - Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017.  The legislation would impose sanctions in response to cyber intrusions by the Government of the Russian Federation and other aggressive activities of the Russian Federation, and for other purposes. It was introduced by Senator Cardin (D-MD) and has 19 co-sponsors.  It has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

          H.R. 830 – this is the STAND for Ukraine Act that passed the House of Representatives in the previous, 114th Congress. It was introduced by Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and has 27 co-sponsors.  It has been referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Ways & Means, Judiciary, and Financial Services.

          H.Res. 88 – this resolution calls on the Russian Federation to stop the violence in Ukraine, and for other purposes.  It was introduced by Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), Co-Chair of the House Ukraine Caucus.  It is a priority of the Caucus as they wish to get something passed fast expressing Congress’ clear understanding of and attitude toward Putin’s war on Ukraine.  It is sponsored by the four Co-Chairs of the Caucus, Harris, Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Sander Levin (D-MI).  The Caucus is anxious to add at least 25 additional sponsors including a majority of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the committee to which the resolution was referred.


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