‘Defensive actions’? NATO launches new multinational force to counter Russia

NATO is launching a new multinational force in Romania to counter Russia along its eastern flank and keep close tabs on the Russian presence in the Black Sea. The chief of the military alliance said NATO’s actions are purely “defensive and proportionate.”

“Here in Romania, our multinational framework brigade is now operational,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Bucharest on Monday, thanking Romania for hosting the brigade.

“We are also seeing increased allied presence in the Black Sea,” the alliance chief noted, adding that NATO jets are busy patrolling the skies over Romania and Bulgaria.

 
© Regis Duvignau

“Our deployments are a direct response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said, speaking at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the Romanian capital.

“NATO’s actions are defensive, proportionate and entirely in line with our international commitments,” he concluded.

Stoltenberg went on to say that members of the alliance are “concerned by Russia’s military buildup close to our borders and its lack of transparency when it comes to military exercises such as Zapad 2017. This highlights the importance of our dual-track approach to Russia,” he said.

What the alliance chief said next, however, sounded more like a mantra.

“Russia is our neighbor. Russia is here to stay. We do not want to isolate Russia. NATO does not want a new Cold War. Our actions are designed to prevent, not provoke conflict.”

Details of the new force size are unclear. Once a small force relying on troops from 10 NATO countries, the land, air and sea deployments will complement some 900 US troops already in place, according to Reuters.

The land component of the multinational force is stationed at a base near the southern Romanian city of Craiova. Aside from Romania, Poland is the biggest troop contributor; Bulgaria, Italy and Portugal will train with the force in Craiova, while Germany is also set to contribute. Apart from routine NATO Black Sea naval patrols, a maritime presence will feature more allied visits to Romanian and Bulgarian ports, training and exercises.

 
U.S. army soldiers with their Stryker armoured fighting vehicle attend the final day of NATO Saber Strike exercises in Orzysz, Poland, June 16, 2017. © Ints Kalnins

Some Eastern Europeans reportedly want NATO's new ballistic missile defense shield, which includes a site in Romania, to be part of NATO's eastern posture vis-a-vis Russia.

"The Aegis Ashore system would add another level of deterrence," Maciej Kowalski, an analyst at the Polish Casimir Pulaski Foundation, told Reuters.

NATO’s military activities near the Russian border have been repeatedly criticized by Moscow, which has accused the alliance of undermining the security balance with its eastward encroachment and military provocations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last month that NATO is currently seeking to revive the Cold War climate instead of building a dialogue with Moscow. Russia has long been trying to remove the legacy of the Cold War but received no support in its efforts from its partners in the West, the minister noted, expressing regret that “some countries still prefer force to dialogue."

"The West constructed its policy on the basis of a principle, ‘If you are not with us, you are against us’ and proceeded with hideous expansion of NATO to the east,” Lavrov said.

 
© function.mil.ru

The Russian permanent representative to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, meanwhile noted in July that NATO activities in Eastern Europe “not only ensure a reinforced military presence of the allies in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders but in fact represent an intensive mastering of the potential theater of military operations.”

Last month, Russia conducted the Zapad 2017 (West 2017) military drills, which took place on the territory of Russia and Belarus. The exercises involved about 12,700 servicemen, including up to 5,500 from Russia and about 7,200 from Belarus.

The drills caused hysteria in several countries neighboring Belarus, including Ukraine, with the country’s commander-in-chief, Viktor Muzhenko, claiming in an interview with Reuters that Russia had allegedly withdrawn only a few units from Belarus.

"As for the units of Russian troops who took part in the joint strategic ‘West 2017’ exercise, they all returned to the points of permanent deployment," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov stated in September, adding that Muzhenko's allegations about "hidden" Russian troops in Belarus "demonstrate the depth of the degradation of the General Staff of Ukraine and the professional incompetence of its leader."

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Why isn't NATO bombing Madrid for 78 days? - fmr British diplomat

It is a little bit late for the EU to remember international law on its Western border when it was ignoring it on its Eastern border, Marko Gasic, an international affairs commentator, told RT.

Catalonia's leader has vowed to declare the region's independence from Spain in the coming days.

Carles Puigdemont, the breakaway region’s president, said he does not plan to delay the declaration of independence for much longer and is ready to “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next,” he said in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday.

Spanish authorities continue to say they see the vote on Sunday as illegal and unconstitutional, while the EU gave its backing to the Spanish prime minister to resolve the crisis.

 
A Catalan regional police officer looks on as people who showed up to support the Spanish national police officers staying in town, hold up Spanish flags as police vehicles depart in Pineda de Mar, north of Barcelona, Spain, October 3, 2017. © Albert Gea

The move has been criticized by the president of Serbia, who has accused the EU of double standards regarding Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic did not mince his words when he voiced a rather obvious question: "How did you proclaim the secession of Kosovo to be legal, even without a referendum, and how did 22 European Union countries legalize this secession, while destroying European law and the foundations of European law, on which the European policy and EU policy are based?"

Marko Gasic, an international affairs commentator, said Kosovo's vote was recognized because it's not part of the union.

"Some say the EU has double standards on this matter. I would say that they just have very low standards on this matter, in terms of international law and their consistency in obeying it. Because the EU opposes Catalan secession in Spain and it supports Kosovo secession in Serbia," Gasic told RT.

He added, "this is clearly a schizophrenic position the EU has."

Gasic provided some historical insight into the EU's past stance on Kosovo secession.

"While opposing the referendum in Spain, it was insisting and organizing referenda in Yugoslavia," he reminded. "In Yugoslavia they were saying that it didn’t matter what the constitution said; in Spain it is saying the constitution is all important. In Yugoslavia they said you have two weeks to decide whether you want independence for parts of Yugoslavia and we will decide within a week for you - this was in 1992."

Gasic expressed doubt that the EU has learned any lessons from its past experience in Yugoslavia since "it never admitted any mistakes" there

"I believe the EU would behave in exactly the same way again because [Kosovo] is not an area that belongs to the club, the rich man’s club, as Spain does," he added.

 
A person holds up a banner during a protest in Barcelona, Spain October 3, 2017. © Yves Herman

In the case of Yugoslavia and Kosovo, the EU is "deciding the fate of countries outside the European Union," because although it craves "stability in EU countries," it has no problem when it comes to "instability outside of the EU... because that gives the EU an excuse to project itself into those areas," Gasic argued.

The political analyst went on to note that "if the EU wants to be consistent with international law, it should oppose secession in Spain, or in Serbia, or anywhere else in line with the terms of Helsinki Final Act and the UN Charter. Self-determination should be within nation states or rather within states, not without states."

"The EU behaves selectively according to where its power interests lie. It is supporting Spain not because Spain is right, I believe Spain is, it is supporting Spain because it is convenient. And it was opposing Yugoslavia and opposing Serbia now because that is an opportunity for its projected power over there."

"I think all Serbian see the comparison between Catalonia and Kosovo and Metohija. That is something that the Catalans themselves see. The Catalan government expects the EU to support its bid for independence because it is thinking 'if a drug-running, organ-harvesting criminal cabal in Kosovo can be allowed to separate from Serbia, then why shouldn’t we civilized Catalans have the same pleasure at the expense of Spain?"

You could hardly blame the Catalans for seizing the opened Pandora box the EU is responsible for. It is a little bit late for the EU to remember international law now on its Western border when it was ignoring it on its Eastern border," Gasic told RT.

'Why isn't NATO bombing Madrid for 78 days?'

Former British diplomat William Mallinson told RT that a major part of the problem involving the Catalan crisis is "the enormous size of the European Union and globalization" which brings about the "slow destruction of the nation state itself.”

This undermining of the nation state causes the "smaller parts getting irritated."

Mallinson then drew parallels between what is now happening in Spain to past events when NATO opened a relentless offensive on Yugoslavia and the capital Belgrade over the question of Kosovo independence.

"Why isn’t NATO bombing Madrid for 78 days, because the situation is similar in very many ways."

“In fact, Kosovo is even more a part of Serbia than Catalonia [is to Spain.] Let’s remember in the Middle Ages joined when Ferdinand and Isabella joined all those bits of Spain together. Let’s remember that Spain is a united country but it is a conglomerate. We also must remember this dangerous knock-on effect. This is going to feed Basque anger more and more. And of course, other parts of Europe, possibly even the Walloons in Belgium, not to mention Scotland,” he continued.

Mallinson suggested a possible solution to the ongoing crisis is to "throw out the hotheads and get Mr. Rajoy to talk to the leaders of Catalonia to try to come to some kind of temporary compromise while everyone gets together and try to put a stop to these deleterious effects of globalization and the destruction of the nation state."

"Keep the interfering people out,” he emphasized.  

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Anti-Russia spin pushed by those who lost US election & can't face reality – Putin to Le Figaro

A powerful bureaucracy is preventing US presidents from making changes, Vladimir Putin told Le Figaro, saying he’s not surprised Donald Trump hasn’t restored relations with Moscow amid a power struggle – just as Obama failed to shut down Guantanamo.

Despite early signals from the Trump administration that it would not mind improving relations with Russia, which seemed to hit rock bottom during the last months of the Obama presidency, Moscow “had no special expectations” with regards to the new US President Trump, the Russian leader said in an interview to be published in full Wednesday.

READ FULL VERSION of Putin’s interview

 
Russian President Vladimir Putin © Sergey Guneev

While US presidents “come and go,” its political landscape is hardly prone to changes, Putin said, noting that the incumbent US leader “is steering a traditional US policy.”

This political invariability can be ascribed to the sprawling US bureaucratic machine, which imposes rigid constraints on every neophyte leader as soon as he rises to power, Putin argued.

“When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits… These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes,” Putin elaborated, noting that no administration is able to escape this trap, which significantly narrows its room for maneuver.

READ MORE: ‘Reading US papers is dangerous’: Moscow ridicules report that Trump shared secrets with Russian FM

Putin argued that former US President Obama also fell victim to the system as he was not able to deliver on his pre-election promise to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Describing Obama as a “forward-thinking man,” Putin said that he has no doubt that Obama genuinely wanted to follow through his pledge, but failed even though the controversial Cuban prison was known primarily for torture and a practice of unlawful detentions.

“Can you imagine France or Russia acting this way? This would have been a disaster. But it is possible in the United States and continues to this day,” Putin said, referring to widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in the prison.

The Russian president said Moscow still hopes for a political normalization with Washington, but is in “no hurry” and “ready to wait” until the anti-Russian hysteria, fueled by the defeated party which seeks to shift the blame for its own loss on Russia, subsides.

“That said, I am cautiously optimistic, and I think that we can and should be able to reach agreements on key issues,” he said.

Criticizing the increase in NATO military spending and its build-up on Russia’s doorstep, Putin nevertheless noted that Trump showed a “pragmatic and understandable approach” when he demanded from other NATO member states to share the financial burden of common defense with the US.

READ MORE: ‘Turn for the worse’: Russian envoy blasts NATO’s latest steps in Europe

 
The West Wing White House in Washington, US © Jonathan Ernst

Dismissing allegations of Russian meddling in the US and French presidential elections, Putin argued that claims that Moscow was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee emails have not been supported by evidence. He added that it does not take much effort to cover up the source of the attack for the purpose of making Moscow a scapegoat.

“As President Trump once said, and I think that he was totally right when he said it could have been someone sitting on their bed or somebody intentionally inserted a flash drive with the name of a Russian national, or something like that,” Putin said.

The Russian leader believes that essence of the problem lies not in the Moscow’s perceived interference in the electoral process, but in the unwillingness of those who were stunned by the defeat in the November elections to take responsibility for their poor performance.

READ MORE: Fox News host speaks Russian on air in outburst to ‘potential Russian overlords’

“They are absolutely reluctant to admit this, and prefer deluding themselves and others into thinking it was not their fault, that their policy was correct, they did all the right things, but someone from the outside thwarted them. But it was not so. They just lost and they have to admit it,” Putin said.

Apparently, Trump turned out to be “closer to the people and better understood what ordinary voters want,” Putin said, suggesting that the Democrats need to put up with the fact and adding that when those drop this mindset “it will be easier for us to work [with the US].”

While there is no timeline for when such a turnaround will happen, Putin believes that this phase in US-Russia relations, during which Russia is being dragged into US internal policy, is temporary.

“The fact that this is being done using anti-Russia tools is not good, as it brings discord into international affairs,” Putin said. “But it will pass, everything passes, and this will pass as well.”

READ MORE: Lavrov: Trump admin are business people, dialogue free from ideological bias

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Trump says Berlin must do more for NATO as German FM claims US leader puts Europe at risk

Donald Trump has slammed Berlin over its contribution to NATO and criticized the trade deficit between the two countries, after the German foreign minister claimed the US president’s current policy is weakening the West and putting Europe’s future at risk.

Berlin and Washington have traded barbs over numerous aspects of their relationship in the past few days.

On Tuesday, Trump responded to a barrage of recent statements from Berlin, saying in a tweet: “We have a massive trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay far less than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for US. This will change.”

@realDonaldTrump We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change

Trump believes that European powers owe much to the US, particularly in the areas of defense and trade. During his election campaign, he consistently said Washington’s allies must shoulder the burden and financially support the US military presence in the region. Additionally, he accused Berlin of exploiting the benefits of American markets and overriding US carmakers.

The president’s tweet was met with caution in Berlin. “Donald Trump makes clear with his tweet that he views Germany as a political opponent,” Thomas Oppermann, head of the Social Democrats' (SPD) parliamentary faction, told reporters on Tuesday.

Martin Schulz, an outspoken Social Democrat and center-left chancellor candidate, said later on Tuesday that Trump was “the destroyer of all Western values.” He added that the US president was undermining peaceful cooperation of nations based on mutual respect and tolerance.

“One must stand in the way of such a man with his ideology of rearmament,” Schulz added.

“The short-sighted policies of the American government stand against the interests of the European Union,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in Berlin, adding, “the West has become smaller, at least it has become weaker,” he told the Rheinische Post newspaper. 

 
© Jonathan Ernst

In an apparent reference to President Trump, he added that “anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk.”

The foreign minister later echoed previous statements by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who over the weekend sent shockwaves through Western capitals by arguing that Europe cannot rely completely on the US or Britain.

“We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands, of course in friendship with the United States, in friendship with Great Britain, with good neighborly relations wherever possible, also with Russia and other countries – but we have to know that we have to fight for our future and our fate ourselves as Europeans,” Merkel said in Munich at an event organized by the Christian Social Union, Bavaria’s sister party of the chancellor’s Christian Democrats.

“The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days,” she argued.

On Monday, Merkel clarified her much-debated speech, saying that transatlantic relationships were "of paramount importance" to Berlin, although Europe must also act independently.

"Transatlantic ties are of paramount importance to us... but the current situation gives more reasons for... us to take our destiny in our own hands," said Merkel, as quoted by AFP.

She also stressed that "Europe must become a player active in international affairs.”

The strongly-worded message and the shock it caused prompted Berlin to downplay the tone and content of Merkel’s speech.

snubs for & another arm wrestle follows

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Monday the chancellor was a “deeply convinced trans-Atlanticist” who believes in the idea of Western unity.

Later in the day, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere echoed Seibert’s statements, saying: "I can only say transatlantic cooperation, especially in the security domain, is of paramount significance for our country."

Signs of discord between major European powers and Washington surfaced after the recent G7 summit in Italy. Merkel herself described her diplomatic encounter with the Americans as “very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory.” Germany and France, two strong advocates of the landmark Paris climate change accords, oppose the Trump administration’s initiative to potentially pull out of the agreement.

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Russia to NATO: Stop Dominating World, Warns of Arms Race

Russia condemned NATO's "reckless" and "destructive" efforts, and warned that continued actions near Russia's border would lead to an arms race.

On Friday in response to the ongoing North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned in a statement Friday the “destructive line” of NATO allied nations which it said are an attempt to dominate global affairs. The ministry warned that the alliance's actions make a constructive relationship impossible, and will lead to an arms race.

RELATED: Pentagon Confirms March US Strike Killed 105 Civilians in Iraq

Moscow blamed deteriorating NATO-Russian relations on western aggression. “The growing negative tendency is not Russia's choice,” the Foreign Ministry reiterated. “This is a direct result of a destructive line of the bloc, aimed at reckless achievement of military and political dominance in European and global affairs,” they continued.

The statement comes in response to NATO reaffirming its approach of simultaneously building up defense against Russia, while also seeking a more “constructive relationship.”

“NATO is a defensive alliance. NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. Actually we recognize that Russia is our biggest neighbour, Russia is here to stay, and we are striving for a better and more constructive relationship with Russia. At the same time, NATO has to deliver credible deterrence and defence. Because by delivering credible deterrence and defence we are preventing conflict. We are preventing war,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The statement went on to justify heightened NATO activity near Russia as being necessary following the annexation of Crimea.

However, Moscow does not view NATO actions as “defensive,” as Stoltenberg insisted. Rather they see them as “the alliance's desire to legitimize military preparations near the Russian borders, which – in conjunction with the military activity of individual bloc countries – change the alignment of forces in Europe and lead to a dangerous spiral of an arms race.”

In addition to tensions from conflicts of interest in the ongoing Syrian conflict, last year NATO stationed 1,100 soldiers in the Baltic region close to the Russian border, 900 of which were U.S. troops.

The Russian ministry acknowledged that Russian-NATO relations “are in the deepest crisis since the end of the Cold War,” and went on to condemn efforts at “whipping up a myth on 'a threat from the East'.”

RELATED: Trump Revealed Classified Information to Russians

U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured for NATO European allies to increase military spending in order to do their “fair share.” Doubts are cast over the unpredictable U.S. President's committment to the organization, which he called "obsolete" while campaigning.

NATO was founded in 1949 as a collective defense alliance between various North American and European states. According to Article 5 of the NATO charter, members are obligated to assist any member country that is attacked. NATO countries formed an allied military bloc in opposition to the socialist Soviet bloc during the cold war.

Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the militaristic organization has played a role in regime change interventions like Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya that claimed tens of thousands of lives and produced a crisis of refugees due to destabilization. As member nations arrived in Brussels this week, thousands protested the meeting of the organization.

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Trump, European Union leaders remain at odds over Russia

BRUSSELS – As President Trump met with European leaders on Thursday, he couldn't escape the Russia controversy dogging him at home and now abroad.

The White House is grappling with multiple investigations into Russia's interference in last year's presidential election, including an FBI probe into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow. Still, Trump has openly sought warmer relations with Russia – and just this month welcomed top diplomats to a controversial Oval Office meeting in which he reportedly disclosed highly classified information in an apparent attempt to get Moscow to step up its fight against the Islamic State.

Yet in Brussels, home of the NATO and European Union headquarters, EU leaders publicly broke with Trump's more positive diplomatic approach to President Vladimir Putin's government.

"I am not 100% sure that we can say today ... that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia," said European Council President Donald Tusk after meeting with Trump. Tusk added that both parties remain critical of Russia's military incursions into neighboring Ukraine.

Tusk also said "some issues remain open" with Trump, including climate change and trade policy.

Trump's meeting with Tusk, who presides over the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, preceded talks with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Brussels stop came in the middle of Trump's first foreign trip as president, one that began with visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Rome. Trump is spending nine days away from Washington, which is still reeling from a spate of recent revelations related to Trump's links to Russia.

Trump's first foreign trip as president came a week after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to look into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russians who sought to influence the 2016 presidential campaign. The U.S. intelligence community has accused Moscow of orchestrating a high-level campaign of cyberattacks, propaganda and fake news to try and influence the 2016 election, though the president and his aides have denied any collusion.

Still, EU members have long questioned Trump's warm comments toward Putin, who has backed many anti-EU candidates in elections throughout the continent. And countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns about similar Russian hacking and disinformation campaigns to undermine elections in their countries.

Trump's lean towards Russia was on full display one day after firing his FBI director, when Trump took an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kisylak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. on May 10. The Washington Post subsequently revealed Trump divulged highly classified intelligence in that meeting about a terror plot, in a way the Russians could have deduced secret sources and methods.

This is notable not just because it potentially compromised a source of intelligence on the Islamic State – believed to be Israel – but because Russia has also backed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whom the U.S. and European countries accuse of widespread killing civilians and opponents in the name of fighting terrorism.

Trump also unnerved European Union leaders by supporting last year's "Brexit" vote in which the United Kingdom opted to exit the EU. Trump, who met with new president of France, Emmanuel Macron also had kind words for defeated French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, another EU opponent.

While Trump said better American relations with Russia would benefit all nations, he has also opposed Putin on occasion. The Trump administration supported Montenegro's admission to NATO, an addition Russia opposed. The president has made no move to lift sanctions on Russia over its activities in Ukraine.

Trump ends his journey this weekend at a Group of Seven industrial nations summit on the Italian island of Sicily. Trump is expected to air his concerns about what he calls unfair trade policies by other nations and the Paris climate change pact that obligates the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – two other issues on which the president and European Union leaders disagree.

The Trump-EU meeting did have its lighter moments, including the fact that complex European Union rules require the naming of two presidents: Tusk, who presides over the European Council, and Juncker, president of the European Commission.

“Do you know, Mr President, we have two presidents in the EU,” Tusk told Trump, who responded: “I know that."

Juncker chimed in by joking, "there is one too much."

Later, when asked his impressions of Trump, Juncker simply said, "I hope he hasn't sent a tweet about me yet."

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Putin ready to meet Trump at upcoming Arctic summit in Finland

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would be ready to meet with US President Donald Trump at the upcoming summit of Arctic countries in Finland, if the talks are properly prepared.

“I believe Finland suits this purpose well, and Helsinki is a very convenient platform to organize an event like this,” Putin said, when asked if he thought a meeting between him and Trump was possible in Finland.

Putin was speaking at the International Arctic Forum in Russia’s northwestern city of Arkhangelsk.

However, he added that any meeting between him and Trump should be well prepared “by both sides.”

“If this happens, we – and I personally – would be glad to take part in such an event. If not, the meeting [with Trump] could take place in the framework of the G20 summit [set to take place in July],” Putin concluded.

 
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin © Reuters / Sputnik

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said earlier that his country would “certainly be very happy to have the opportunity to hold such a summit.”

The summit is set to take place at Finlandia Hall in Helsinki on September 18-20, 2017, according to the event’s official website.

Russia considers the US a great power, and would like to get its relationship with Washington back on track, and claims alleging anything else are lies and fiction, Putin said.

The Russian president added that, while relations between Moscow and Washington are currently “at zero level,” he counts on the situation improving someday – and the sooner the better.

The anti-Russian card is being played by various political forces in the US to reinforce the positions of certain politicians, Putin added, slamming as nonsense claims that the Russian ambassador to the US had held “spy” meetings with officials connected to Trump.

Putin also slammed the way the Russian ambassador is being treated in the US. The diplomat’s contacts have been limited and any meetings he has are regarded as a spy activities, according to the Russian president.

Putin warned that the attempt of some US political forces to bring US-Russian relations to the point of “Caribbean crisis” [October missile crisis] is a huge mistake.

Putin also confirmed that he will personally meet with Rex Tillerson to discuss the fight against terrorism during the US secretary of state’s upcoming visit to Moscow.

The US State Department said Tillerson is planning to visit Russia in April following a G-7 meeting in Italy. An exact date hasn’t been announced.

READ MORE: US delegation ushers out media as Tillerson starts talking to Lavrov at G20

The first high-profile Russia-US meeting was held in mid-February, when Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Bonn, although journalists were asked to leave when the US’ top diplomat began speaking.

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Terrorist threat higher in Europe than anywhere else except war zones – EUCOM chief

The threat posed by violent extremism is higher in Europe than anywhere else in the world, apart from actual war zones and hotspots, US European Command head General Curtis Scaparrotti said, commenting on Wednesday’s terrorist attack in London.

“The number of threat streams that we have of this type within Europe – it’s probably higher in Europe than any other part of the globe, with the exception of the places we’re actually physically fighting [terrorists], like Syria […] Afghanistan and Iraq,” the senior US military leader in Europe, who is also NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

He said that Europe is faced with a “difficult challenge” posed by extremists.

 
©

Europe is challenged by both the flow of terrorists returning from Syria and other places. They’re challenged by an internal threat of those inspired by ISIS [Islamic State or IS] or directed by ISIS and this is another, an example of the attacks that we’ve seen in Europe in the past year. It’s a difficult challenge.”

On Wednesday five people, including the assailant, were killed in the attack in central London, after a car plowed into pedestrians near the British Parliament. Police identified the attacker as 52-year-old British citizen and Muslim convert Khalid Masood, born Adrian Russell Ajao. Eight more people were detained in connection with the case in raids at six different UK locations.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the terrorist group’s ‘news agency’ Amaq.

Scaparrotti expressed his condolences to those injured or killed in the tragedy, noting that the United States is ready to further support its NATO ally, the UK.

 
© Denis Balibouse

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to these victims and their families impacted by this senseless attack. We strongly condemn this attack, and will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO ally, and our partners, to defeat terrorism,” he stated.

Asked by committee Chairman John McCain whether there is any “connection” between the increased European terrorism threat and the inflow of refugees from the globe’s hotspots, Scaparotti said he is particularly concerned by the criminal groups that smuggle asylum seekers into Europe illegally.

He stated that apart from people whose identities it is difficult to establish given the circumstances of their arrival into Europe, these groups “are more than willing to move equipment, personnel, weapons” to carry out terrorist plots.

Before reports of the London attack broke on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted a meeting of 68 nations of the global anti-IS coalition, aimed at finding ways to defeat the jihadists and reduce the spread of terrorism on a global scale.

READ MORE: Brussels district hosts 51 NGOs with suspected terrorist links – report

While stressing the importance of IS’ defeat, Tillerson warned against a possible spillover of the terrorist threat to other areas once the group is defeated in the Middle East.

“As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS' phony physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” he said, as cited by Military.com.

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