Withdraw first, ask later: He nuked Russia-US relations, now Bolton arrives in Moscow to talk

The alleged mastermind behind the US pullout from the historic INF treaty, John Bolton will expect a wintry reception in Moscow, with only the embers of the long-forgotten Helsinki summit to warm the parties.

Washington can be commended at least on laying its cards on the table with Friday’s announcement by Donald Trump that he was considering withdrawing from the Gorbachev-Reagan 1987 agreement, which limits both sides from producing intermediate range missiles.

But the news is likely to cast a pall over Bolton’s two-day visit, during which the National Security Advisor will meet not only his Russian counterpart Nikolay Patrushev, but foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and, on Tuesday, likely Vladimir Putin himself, though the face-to-face has not been given final approval by the Kremlin.

 
Pershing IA missile launcher and RSD-10 Pioneer (SS-20) missile. © Wikimedia Commons / RIA Novosti / Sputnik

 

The foreign ministry has already demanded “to hear a coherent explanation” of Washington’s actions, while various senior Russian officials have called the prospect of withdrawal “blackmail”, “a landmine under the nuclear disarmament process”, and a harbinger of “complete chaos in the sphere of nuclear armaments.”

And this is not one Bolton can blame on his boss. Appointed only in March, Bolton has become arguably the most influential US foreign policy architect, and is a long-time critic of arms control treaties. According to senior staff sources who spoke to the Guardian and the Washington Post last week, he personally persuaded Trump to quit INF. Stateside reports indicate that despite Trump’s customarily hazy pronouncements, Bolton will definitively signal US intentions to leave – a six-month notice is required to leave the indefinite-term agreement - during the Russian visit.

For nearly two decades the two states have taken turns claiming the other is violating the treaty, which bars both of them from producing all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles – not just nuclear-tipped ones – with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. The Pentagon – citing its classified intelligence –claims that Russia has developed an intermediate range missile for the Iskander-M launcher, the existence of which Moscow has never acknowledged. In turn, Russia insists that the launchers that form the US missile defense shield in eastern Europe are themselves capable of firing intermediate range missiles, and should be destroyed under the terms of the agreement.

But the likelihood is, even if Moscow somehow assures Bolton that it is perfectly compliant, Washington is not interested. INF was signed in a two-bloc world that was ending an arms race but, in the intervening years, other world powers have sprung up and developed their own intermediate missiles, while Russia and the US are the only major countries that continue to suffer restrictions. In his oblique manner, Trump hinted at this on Friday, when he said that a new agreement may be possible, but would have to include China.

 
FILE PHOTO.

 

While getting all the three major powers to sign such a self-limiting document in the current conditions seems like a phantom prospect, if Bolton had come bearing a new proposal, he could have at least let all sides save face. Instead, he landed in Moscow with a unilateral decision that – like many others recently taken by Washington – leaves the Russians with little scope for a constructive counter-move.

Meanwhile, a little diplomatic smoothness from the famously straight-shooting veteran hawk would have gone a long way this week. The parties have important international issues to discuss: North Korea, where the US reportedly has no plans to drop its sanctions, Iran in the aftermath of the JCPOA withdrawal by Trump, and Syria, which remains a bloody theater of operations. As well as the fate of the nuclear control New START treaty, which expires in 2021, which neither side will likely dare to mention now. Arranging a new meeting between Putin and Trump, which many speculated had been the buried agenda of such a high-powered series of talks, now also becomes harder, as real opportunities loom during several upcoming international events.

READ MORE: As Bolton heads to Moscow, US charges another Russian with ‘election meddling’

The Helsinki summit in July between Putin and Trump may have been famously short on specifics – though Bolton name-checked it before flying overseas – it did signal a potential warming of relations that a Russian official this week described as being “in dire straits.” But with every action taken by Washington since, the goodwill has dwindled and, instead of making things better, this week both sides will simply hope to avoid aggravating the strife.

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Russia Warns NATO Against Provoking Third World War

Members of the NATO-Russia Council have only met three times in the last two years and when they have, NATO focuses strictly on Ukraine.

On Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to avoid taking steps that may lead to a third World War.

RELATED: Lavrov: US Trying to Establish Mini-State in Syria

Lavrov was unequivocal about the prospects of war, “I believe everyone will be wise enough to prevent that. However, we are certainly very much concerned about the total absence of any professional dialogue between the Russian military and NATO.”

Members of the NATO-Russia Council have only met three times in the last two years and when they have, NATO focuses strictly on Ukraine and “attempts were made to use the NATO-Russia Council as another tool to blame all mortal sins on us, and another way of satisfying the whims of our Ukrainian neighbors who dream of sanctions being endlessly perpetuated and want nothing more than Russia to always be subject to intense criticisms.”

United States' influence over NATO is a factor that Russia considers to be a determinant in the organization’s behavior. “So, look at this situation. I believe it is absurd to remain hostage to US legislator’s whims,” the minister added.

Lavrov's statement comes at a time when there have been military accidents in the region — such as the accidental shooting of a missile by a Spanish fighter jet in Estonia due to NATO activities — in addition to NATO member countries' intention to hold naval drills in the Sea of Azov bordering Russia’s eastern coast, which according to Lavrov, would require the Federation’s permission.

In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that the United States is making the colossal mistake of countries that treat themselves as "empires," by imposing sanctions on countries around the world.

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Student Opens Fire At College In Crimea, Kills Himself, 17 Others

Moscow: At least 17 people were killed and dozens injured at a college in the Black Sea region of Crimea on Wednesday when a student went through the building shooting at fellow pupils before killing himself, Russian law enforcement officials said.

Eighteen-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov turned up at the college in the city of Kerch on Wednesday afternoon carrying a firearm and then began shooting, investigators said. His body was later found in the college with what they said were self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

There were no immediate clues as to his motive in mounting such an attack, which recalled similar shooting sprees carried out by students in U.S. schools.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting international condemnation and Western sanctions, but since then there have been no major outbreaks of violence there.

Many of the victims from Wednesday's attacks were teenage students who suffered shrapnel and bullet wounds.

Pupils and staff described scenes of mayhem as panicked pupils tried to flee the building. They said the attack had started with an explosion, followed by more blasts, and a hail of gunfire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting in the southern Russian resort of Sochi with his Egyptian counterpart, declared a moment's silence for the victims.

"This is a clearly a crime," he said. "The motives will be carefully investigated."

"CHILDREN'S BODIES EVERYWHERE"

The director of the school, Olga Grebennikova, described the scene that she encountered when she entered the college building after the attack.

"There are bodies everywhere, children's bodies everywhere. It was a real act of terrorism. They burst in five or 10 minutes after I'd left. They blew up everything in the hall, glass was flying," Grebennikova told Crimean media outlets.

"They then ran about throwing some kind of explosives around, and then ran around the second floor with guns, opened the office doors, and killed anyone they could find."

Soon after the attack, Russian officials said they were investigating the possibility that it was terrorism. Troops with armoured personnel carriers were sent to the scene. Local parents were told to collect their children from the city's schools and kindergartens for their safety.

However, the Investigative Committee, the state body that investigates major crimes, said later that it was re-classifying the case from terrorism to mass murder.

Officials had previously given the death toll as 18, but the Committee revised that to 17 killed. An employee at Kerch's hospital said dozens of people were being treated for their injuries in the emergency room and in the operating theatre.

Anastasia Yenshina, a 15-year-old student at the college, said she was in a toilet on the ground floor of the building with some friends when she heard the sound of an explosion.

"I came out and there was dust and smoke, I couldn't understand, I'd been deafened," she told Reuters. "Everyone started running. I did not know what to do. Then they told us to leave the building through the gymnasium."

"Everyone ran there... I saw a girl lying there. There was a child who was being helped to walk because he could not move on his own. The wall was covered in blood. Then everyone started to climb over the fence, and we could still hear explosions. Everyone was scared. People were crying."

Photographs from the scene of the blast showed that the ground floor windows of the two-storey building had been blown out, and that debris was lying on the floor outside.

Emergency services teams could be seen in the photographs carrying wounded people from the building on makeshift stretchers and loading them on to buses and ambulances.

A second pupil at the college, who gave his name as Sergei, said he had taken a few steps out of the building into the street when the first blast went off. He was hit by debris from the blast and injured in the leg.

Sergei, 15, told Reuters he ran to another building, but said he could hear more explosions going off every few seconds. He took cover and after the attack was over, he was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

"I arrived at the hospital, the scene there was awful. They're bringing in people all covered in blood, some with arms missing, some with legs missing."

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Che and Beginning of Cuban Independence Wars Remembered in Russia

The Association of Cuban Residents in Russia commemorated the fall in combat of the heroic guerrilla fighter Ernesto Che Guevara and the beginning of the wars for independence in Cuba, at an event held here on Sunday.

The screening of a documentary about Commander Camilo Cienfuegos and Che opened the event, which also remembers the physical disappearance of Camilo, also known as the Hero of Yaguajay.

The Association also screened a recent speech by President Miguel Diaz-Canel at the event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Cuba's wars for independence, held at the emblematic La Demajagua sugar mill, in eastern Cuba.

Cuban Deputy Consul Ricardo Carbajo Perez noted the possibilities opened for Cuban residents in Russia after an agreement is ratified between Moscow and Havana to extend to 90 days the period during which Cubans can stay in the country without a visa.

In addition, the diplomat noted that Cuban residents here can submit their proposals to modify the Constitution on the Internet.

The meeting also included a cultural gala at which musicians from the Cuban community in Russia played songs by the Cuban composer and pianist Ernesto Lecuona.

Participants at the meeting were called to celebrate Cuba's Culture Day on Saturday, October 20, to recall the first time when the National Anthem was sung in the country.

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After Aborted Launch Astronauts To Go To Space Next Year: Russia

Moscow: Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague are likely to go into space in the spring after their flight was suddenly aborted, the head of the Russian space agency said Friday.

"The guys will fly for sure," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said on Twitter, posting a picture of himself with smiling Ovchinin and Hague. 

"We are planning their flight for the spring of next year," he said, adding the men had returned to the space training centre Star City outside Moscow.

Ovchinin and Hague had a close brush with death when a Soyuz rocket failed shortly after launch from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday.

It was the first such accident in Russia's post-Soviet history and a major setback for its once proud space industry.

The aborted launch took place in the presence of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine who was visiting Russia and Baikonur this week and was a huge embarrassment for Russia, which has recently touted plans to send cosmonauts to the Moon and Mars.

The Soviet-designed Soyuz rocket is currently the world's only lifeline to the International Space Station and the accident is expected to affect the work of the orbiting laboratory. 

All manned launches have been suspended and a criminal probe has been launched.

The astronauts escaped unharmed and were in good spirits on Thursday. Official photographs showed them embracing their wives and tucking into food.

Industry experts say the country's space industry has in recent years suffered so many mishaps -- including the loss of cargo spacecraft and numerous satellites -- that a serious accident during a manned mission was simply a matter of time. 

'Collapse of Soyuz'
The failed launch earned scathing criticism from the usually pliant Russian media. 

"The breakup of the Soyuz," Kommersant broadsheet said in a frontpage headline, while Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote: "The space industry crashed in a couple of minutes."

"There will be significant damage to the image of the industry," Vedomosti business daily said.

The fiercely pro-Kremlin Izvestia daily pointed out however the accident proved that the Soyuz had a reliable rescue system, designed in 1986.

There have been two similar aborted manned space launches in the history of the Soviet space programme.

In 1983, cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov miraculously survived a fire during launch in Kazakhstan.

In 1975, cosmonauts Oleg Makarov and Vasily Lazarev made a successful emergency landing in the Altai mountains after problems during booster separation. The harrowing accident went down in history as the world's first manned space launch abort.

Both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) expressed confidence in the reliability of the Soviet-era workhorse Soyuz rockets.

In a letter to the Russian space agency released Thursday, ESA director general Johann-Dietrich Worner praised the "extreme reliability" of the Soyuz and its importance for all countries with space programmes.

The United States is developing commercial space launches but problems with the Soyuz present a headache for NASA, which has a policy of having a continuous presence in space.

An interruption would also be disastrous for the research aboard the ISS, as the orbiting station serves as a scientific laboratory.

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Russia to supply India with 5 S-400 systems, defying Washington sanctions

A contract for the delivery of five S-400 systems, one of Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapons, has been signed between Moscow and New Delhi, the Kremlin has confirmed.

 

© Reuters

India signed a $5.43 billion deal to purchase five advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia, defying threats of potential sanctions from Washington.

The deal was finalized after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi.

The advanced air defense system can defend against different kinds of cruise and ballistic missiles. China was the first foreign nation to purchase S-400 systems.

With its S-400 purchase, India now risks being sanctioned under Washington’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets countries that purchase arms from Russia.

During a joint media conference after their meeting, Putin said that Russia would work with India to boost bilateral cooperation in the United Nations, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and G20.

The Russian leader also said both nations would coordinate counter-terrorism efforts. Modi noted that both countries support a multipolar world.

The two leaders also signed a deal on space cooperation. Modi said during the joint press conference that he hoped Russia would help India develop its space program. The Indian leader recently announced that he aims to send astronauts into space by 2022.

Putin stated during the press conference that they had discussed regional security issues, including counter-terrorism efforts in Syria, as well as the status of the Iran nuclear deal.

Modi hailed his country’s close ties to Moscow, saying that Russia has always "stood shoulder-to-shoulder with India in the energy sector and our goals."

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‘New reality’? Israel may increasingly use F-35s in Syria raids after Russia’s S-300 delivery

The IAF must increasingly rely on the futuristic stealth capabilities of the troubled F-35 jet if it’s to continue its raids with impunity, after Syria’s air-defenses were boosted with S-300 systems, Israeli army radio reports.

Tel Aviv's self-reserved right to freely strike ‘Iranian targets’ anywhere inside or outside Syria was severely undermined by Moscow’s transfer of S-300 air defense systems and accompanying hardware to Damascus. The surface-to-air interceptors delivered to the Syrian Arab Army, as well as Moscow's resolve to jam the radar, navigation, and communications systems on any aircraft attacking targets in Syria via the Mediterranean coast might complicate missions for Israeli F-15s and F-16s. So, to avert potential threats to their fighter planes, Israel will rely more on the F-35 to carry out its missions in Syria, Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) reported.

 
© Russian Defence Ministry

“The coming attacks won't be the first, but they will be safer for the pilots in light of the new reality in Syria's skies,” a source within IAF told the radio station, also emphasizing that Israel has every intention to use this “most expensive weapon in the world.”

In recent years, Tel Aviv purchased 50 F-35 units, known in Israel by their Hebrew name, the ‘Adir,’ from Lockheed Martin, at the cost of $125 million each. Eight of the planes have already been transferred to Israel, while 33 more are expected to arrive by 2021, an IAF source said.

Russia’s S-300: Here’s what you need to know about the missile system

According to the technical characteristics of the US-made jets, the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system should, in theory, allow the jet to operate undetected inside enemy territory and to evade advanced missile defense systems such as the S-300 by suppressing its signals. Whether or not the F-35’s ‘stealth’ capabilities will be effective in real battle conditions is yet to be seen as, in the past, the aircraft, on top of hundreds of bugs and glitches in its systems, was experiencing radar problems.

READ MORE: Pentagon hiding ‘life-threatening’ F-35 design flaws to meet deadline – watchdog

Russia’s move to secure the Syrian airspace with S-300 complexes follows the downing of the Il-20 reconnaissance plane over Syria by Damascus’ dated air defense system. Moscow pinned the blame for the death of the 15 servicemen on Tel Aviv, asserting that the tragedy occurred because four Israeli F-16 jets used the Russian plane as a cover during an air raid in the Latakia province.

@RT_com Netanyahu has said Israel will continue to strike Iranian targets in Syria despite Russia's S-300 anti-missile systems

Tel Aviv denied responsibility, shifting the blame on Damascus and Tehran, and stressing that it will continue to strike ‘Iranian targets’ in Syria. Israel, however, pledged to boost coordination between the IDF and the Russian militaries, to avoid any further unfortunate incidents in the Syrian skies.

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‘49 pieces of hardware’: Syria gets S-300 missile system & more from Russia in wake of Il-20 downing

The S-300 air defense system and dozens of additional hardware pieces have been delivered to the Syrian military to boost security of Russian personnel there, Russian Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, told President Vladimir Putin.

“We have completed the delivery of the S-300 system,” Shoigu said Tuesday. The hardware supplied to Syria consisted of 49 pieces of military equipment, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers, he added.

@PaulaSlier_RT BREAKING: Defence Minister, Sergey , has now announced that a series of systems have arrived in .

It was announced 2 weeks ago that the system would be deployed following an in which downed a .

A unified air defense control system in Syria will be completed by October 20, Shoigu told the Security Council. Russia will “prepare and train” the Syrian crews to operate the S-300 within three months.

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