U.S. evicts Russians for spying, imposes sanctions after election hacks

admin   •   December 30, 2016   •   4695

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk into a photo opportunity before their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election.

The measures, taken during the last days of Obama’s presidency, mark a new post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties, which have deteriorated over differences about Syria and Ukraine.

Allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed efforts to intervene in the U.S. election process by hacking mostly Democrats have made relations even worse.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama said in a statement from vacation in Hawaii.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” he said.

It was not clear whether President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, would seek to roll back the measures once he takes office on Jan. 20.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks but on Thursday he said he would meet with intelligence officials soon.

“It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said in a statement. “Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” he said, without mentioning Russia.

The Kremlin, which denounced the sanctions as unlawful and promised “adequate” retaliation, questioned whether Trump approved of the new sanctions. Moscow denies the hacking allegations.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials also say that the Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Trump, a Republican, defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Should Trump seek to overturn Obama’s measures, he would likely encounter wide bipartisan Congressional opposition.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said Russia “has consistently sought to undermine” U.S. interests and the sanctions were overdue.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said they intended to lead effort in Congress to “impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”

Opposition from Trump could generate bipartisan discord early in his administration. “This is going to be a key source of tension post-inauguration,” said Eric Lorber, a senior associate at the Financial Integrity Network, which advises banks on sanctions.

SPIES AND SANCTIONS

Obama put sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies “that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.

He said the State Department declared as “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives and is closing two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that were used by Russian personnel for “intelligence-related purposes”. The State Department originally said the 35 were diplomats.

The 45-acre complex in Maryland includes a Georgian-style brick mansion, swimming pool, tennis courts, and cottages for embassy staff.

A senior U.S. official told Reuters the expulsions would come from the Russian embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco. The Russian embassy declined to comment.

The Russians have 72 hours to leave the United States, the official said. Access to the two compounds will be denied to all Russian officials as of noon on Friday.

The State Department has long complained that Russian security agents and traffic police have harassed U.S. diplomats in Moscow, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

The U.S. official declined to name the Russian diplomats who would be affected, although it is understood that Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, will not be one of those expelled.

Obama said the actions announced on Thursday were just the beginning.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said.

A report detailing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as well as cyber attacks in previous election cycles would be delivered to Congress in the coming days, he said.

The sanctions were the strongest response yet by the Obama administration to Russia’s cyber activities, however, a senior administration official acknowledged that Trump could reverse them and allow Russian intelligence officials back into the United States once he takes office. He said that would be inadvisable.

Obama amended an executive order originally issued in April 2015 to respond to cyber hacking to include sanctions on those who tamper with information to interfere with an election.

Trump said in October he would “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” on his first day in office, without saying who would determine their constitutionality.

(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz, Yeganeh Torbati and Nikolai Pavlov in Washington and Katya Golubkova and Svetlana Reiter in Moscow; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Jeff Mason; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump takes a limousine lap before Daytona 500 auto race

UNTV News   •   February 17, 2020

President Donald Trump took a loop around the Daytona 500 racetrack on Sunday (February 16) in the presidential limousine known as “The Beast,” drawing cheers from fans at NASCAR’S most prestigious race.

Ramping up his nationwide re-election effort after his acquittal in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial, Trump served as the grand marshal at the annual National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing event, which takes place in the electoral swing state of Florida.

After his motorcade made its way around part of the track, Trump took a break to take pictures with supporters.

After being driven a full lap in the limo before the race began, Trump delivered the opening line: “Gentlemen, start your engines” at the Daytona International Speedway before a crowd of 100,000.

Previous presidents who attended NASCAR events at the speedway include Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Florida is one of a handful of U.S. states that swing between Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections.

Trump won the state, where he has golf courses and a home that is now considered his primary residence, in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. (Reuters)

(Production: Pavithra George)

Russia’s Putin: No gay marriage ‘as long as I’m President’

Marje Pelayo   •   February 14, 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin answers questions during his annual life-broadcasted news conference with Russian and foreign media at the World Trade Center in Moscow, Russia, 19 December 2019. EFE/EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

RUSSIA – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday (February 13) the country would not legalize gay marriage as long as he was in the Kremlin.

He made clear he would not allow the traditional notion of mother and father to be subverted by what he called “parent number 1” and “parent number 2.”

“We need to clarify some things. A marriage is a union between a man and a woman. A family is a different thing, but the idea itself (to add a line in the constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman) is good and must be supported, as it is,” he Russian President said.

“We only need to think how to phrase it and where to do this. As far as ‘parent number 1’ and ‘parent number 2’ goes, I’ve already spoken publicly about this and I’ll repeat it again: as long as I’m president this will not happen. There will be dad and mum,” he stressed.

During his two decades in power, Putin has closely aligned himself with the Orthodox Church and sought to distance Russia from liberal Western values, including attitudes towards homosexuality and gender fluidity.

He made the comments as he met a state commission to discuss changes to Russia’s constitution.

The commission was set up last month after Putin announced sweeping changes to Russia’s political system that are widely seen as being designed to help him extend his grip on power after his scheduled departure from office in 2024.

In separate comments during the meeting, Putin said he backed an idea to make it unconstitutional for Russia to give away any part of its territory, a move likely to irritate Japan and Ukraine that have land disputes with Moscow.

Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has been in a decades-long dispute with Tokyo over ownership of a chain of islands in the Pacific that Moscow seized from Japan at the end of World War Two.

Russia and Japan have been holding talks on the latter dispute which has prevented the countries formally signing a peace treaty after World War Two. REUTERS (Anastasia Adasheva)

Trump celebrates impeachment acquittal, lashes out at political foes

UNTV News   •   February 7, 2020

US President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump, facing a bruising re-election campaign and possible further investigations in Congress, celebrated his acquittal on impeachment charges on Thursday (February 6) in a speech that drew on White House pomp to underscore the fact that he remained in office.

After walking down a red carpet to a standing ovation from scores of Republican lawmakers, administration officials and conservative media figures in the White House, Trump re-aired old grievances and accused Democrats of staging a “corrupt” effort to undermine his presidency.

“We went through hell unfairly. Did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I’ve done things wrong in my life, I will admit. Not purposely. But I’ve done things wrong. But this is what the end result is,” he said as he held up a morning newspaper, with a headline reading “Trump acquitted.”

“And there’s nothing from a legal standpoint, this is a political thing. And every time I’d say ‘this is unfair, let’s go to court’, they say ‘sir, you can’t go to court, this is politics’. And we were treated unbelievably unfairly. And you have to understand, we first went through ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’. It was all bullshit. We then went through the Mueller report,” he added.

The Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday voted to acquit Trump on charges bought by the Democratic-led House of Representatives, only the third time in U.S. history that a president has been impeached.

The acquittal was Trump’s biggest victory yet over his Democratic foes in Congress, who attacked Senate Republicans for refusing to call witnesses or seek new evidence at the trial. (Reuters)

(Production: Mana Rabiee)

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