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U.S.-Russia relations plummet further over Syria, Ukraine

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a reserve for wild horses near the Urals city of Orenburg, about 800 miles southeast of Moscow today.

WASHINGTON >> Already testy, relations between the United States and Russia plummeted Monday as Washington suspended diplomatic contacts with Moscow over failed efforts to end the war in Syria and President Vladimir Putin put on hold a deal with the U.S. on disposing weapons-grade plutonium.

On the surface, the suspensions were unrelated. But both underscored deep mistrust and rising tensions between the former Cold War foes, who are increasingly at odds on a number of issues, particularly Syria and Ukraine. In the short term, the end of discussions on Syria deals a potential death blow to efforts to slow the civil war and begin negotiations on possible elections in the country that could mean the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

Underscoring the deterioration between the U.S. and Russia, Putin suspended a deal on plutonium disposal hours before the U.S. announcement. The two powers will still continue discussions on the Iran nuclear deal, Ukraine and other non-Syria issues.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the U.S. has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging cooperation.” It cited U.S. sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and NATO’s deployment of forces near Russian borders.

U.S. officials said that despite the suspension of talks with Russia, they would continue to work for a truce and aid deliveries to Syria in other gatherings, including the International Syria Support Group, a collection of nations, including Russia.

The Obama administration said it decided to cut off discussions on Syria because Russia had not lived up to the terms of last month’s agreement to restore a tattered cease-fire and ensure sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged cities, such as Aleppo, which has been under bombardment from Russian and Syrian forces.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “What’s clear is that there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to trying to reach an agreement that would reduce the violence inside of Syria and that’s tragic.”

“This is not a decision that was taken lightly,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Russia failed to live up to its own commitments … and was also either unwilling or unable to ensure Syrian regime adherence to the arrangements to which Moscow agreed.”

Kirby’s statement said that Russia and Syria are pursuing military action in violation of the cease-fire agreement, and pointed to their targeting of hospitals as well as the Sept. 19 airstrike on a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy. The U.S. accused Russia of bombing that convoy, a charge both Russia and Syria have denied.

Russia intervened on behalf of its close ally Syria on Sept. 30 last year, joining Assad’s bombardment of both anti-Assad rebel groups and militant groups such as the Islamic State and Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida spinoff formerly known as the Nusra Front. Russia is interested in propping up Assad in part because Russia’s only naval facility outside the former Soviet Union is on the Syrian coast.

If it had been implemented, the cease-fire deal would have created a joint U.S.-Russian center to coordinate military and intelligence operations. President Barack Obama had overruled Pentagon objections to such cooperation and Secretary of State John Kerry made the offer.

According to a senior U.S. official, the Pentagon has ordered troops who had been deployed to set up the joint implementation center — fewer than 20 — to return to their bases. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The suspension will not affect communications between the two countries aimed at keeping their planes from bumping into each other over Syria.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova voiced regret about the U.S. move and blamed Washington for the failure to persuade the moderate Syrian rebels it backs to cut ties with extremist groups.

“And now, after failing to fulfill the agreements they worked out themselves, they are trying to shift the blame,” she said.

The U.S. had agreed to separate the rebel groups but noted it was an extremely slow process. The U.S. has relatively few personnel on the ground in Syria and even the moderate rebels have said they are frustrated with the pace of U.S. help.

Putin’s decree on plutonium cited the “emerging threat to strategic stability as a result of U.S. unfriendly actions,” as well as Washington’s failure to meet its end of the cease-fire deal. It said, however, that Russia will keep the weapons-grade plutonium covered under the agreement away from weapons programs.

Under the agreement, which was expanded in 2006 and 2010, Russia and the U.S. each were to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads. When it was signed in 2000, the deal was touted as an example of successful cooperation between Washington and Moscow.

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  • Now that Iran was removed from economic sanctions and with Billions of $$$$ released to the Iranian government, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years, Iran is going to declare itself nuclear possessing country. There is money to be made from weapons grade plotonium and there are still rogue countries wanting to get a hold of those materals to use against the west.

  • Barrack and Hillary will go down as two of the most uninformed, corrupt political hacks to gain power in America. The country will be far better off when these two are dustballs in the armpit of history.

    • Trump would NOT be any better cause he is a liar who claims he can make big money however the unathorized release of his some of his state tax returns shows he is a big LOSER of money who dodges paying his fair share of taxes so he can sit on a gold toilet fly in a privare jet. At least with Hillary there is hope that she has a husband who knows a little about dealing with other countries with nuclear capability unlike Trump’s spouse who only knows how to plagiarize a speech and strip for the camera.

      • Putin is counting on the common sense of America to elect Trump, a person with whom he CAN deal (including restoration of the weapon grade PU agreement), rather than that incompetent, power lusting harridan whose every venture into foreign affairs has been a debacle.

        • Actually, Trump is relying on the Americans to vote for Trump and has done espionage in the form of hacking to hurt the Democrat presidential candidate. In fact, Trump outright vocally encouraged this action. But if you dig deeper, Trump has financial interest with Russia due to loans. American banks have grown tired of Trump’s predilection for filing for bankruptcy. By the way, Trump while enjoying a lavish lifestyle has skated by on not paying taxes due to a loophole that allows people like him to avoid paying taxes for up to 18 to 20 years. That while making profits. This net loss loophole is what he talks about when he pridefully states that he will close that loophole to fix the problem. And we wonder why he will not share his tax returns with the public. It is this prideful legal tax evasion that allows him to continue to reap great profits at the expense of all taxpayers who must cover his share while he lives his lifestyle of the rich and famous.

        • Correction: Putin is relying on the American voters to vote for Trump as Russia has ties with Trump in the form of loans. With this influence they can garner a lot of power in the White House. It is such a high stake matter that Russia will use every form of hacking to try to tip the balance in favor of Trump. The last attack on the Democratic party’s data was found to be coming from Russia. And for Trump to encourage hackers vocally tells you a lot about him. Is this the kind of person you want leading our country? Someone that would encourage hacking against his own country just for personal gain?

      • I am not a fan of Hillary but would agree she is clearly the lessor of two evils with ‘psychotic’ Trump. And Christie, Guiliani, Carson who have gone ‘all in’ with supporting Trump and saying stoopid ridiculous things to defend Trump’s pathetic statements, have just about ended their political careers and any aspirations for higher office like ever becoming Pres of the US. Even Tulsi Gabbard has a way better chance of becoming the future Pres of the US then those three.

        • Christie now has an approval rating of below 20% in NJ. He has single handedly destroyed the state’s credit rating. And watching his humiliating groveling at the feet of Trump is cringeworthy. He’s done in politics.

  • Do you know what…the insanity has ratcheted up to a point where we are talking about annihilating our world once again. So perhaps it should happen. Maybe we have reached a point where we are too selfish, too greedy, too violent, too entitled, too everything. We haven’t become any smarter. We haven’t reduced suffering. We haven’t bridged the economic gap between rich and poor. Technology hasn’t made our lives better. Instead we are, as individuals, even more isolated. The anonymity of the internet has made everyone a bully, and everything a target for criticism, and trolling. So now we are threatening each other with nuclear weapons? If that isn’t a cry for help, what is? Global suicide is what’s on the table now.

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