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Westlake Legal Group > Putin, Vladimir V

In Impeachment Trial, Geography Dictates Politics

Westlake Legal Group 26dc-assess1-facebookJumbo In Impeachment Trial, Geography Dictates Politics United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Putin, Vladimir V Presidential Election of 2020 impeachment

WASHINGTON — When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a curse-laden tirade to a reporter on Friday, asked, “Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” he was getting at an essential element of President Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial. White House officials are convinced that Americans are indifferent to what happens in the struggling former Soviet republic, and they may well be right.

But the impeachment trial is about more than the fate of Ukraine — and whether Mr. Trump sold it out for a “domestic political errand,” as his former adviser, Fiona Hill, put it so bitingly. To Democrats, it’s about a president who undercut his own administration’s stated goal of pushing back hard against Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia — the geopolitical challenge of a new, very different Cold War.

It is one of those cases where the geography of the debate shapes the politics of the argument.

As long as the president’s lawyers can focus the debate on the narrower question of Ukraine, they can argue that the charges against the president focus on a foreign policy sideshow: how the president uses the spigot of American aid and attention to mold another country’s behavior.

“They basically said, ‘Let’s cancel an election over a meeting with the Ukraine,’” Mr. Trump’s White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, said on Saturday, characterizing the Democrats’ arguments as he opened the president’s defense. Mr. Cipollone made the case that the Democrats are seeking to undo Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory or fear that they cannot beat him in 2020.

Yet the defense team’s characterizations about Ukraine are also designed to make the impeachment charges appear to be on a fundamentally trivial affair, surrounding the treatment of a faraway country that, as Mr. Pompeo suggests, most people could not find on a map stripped of country names. (He challenged the NPR reporter, Mary Louise Kelly, to identify Ukraine, and she reported that she did.)

That is precisely why the man leading the Democrats’ prosecution of the case, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, focused so relentlessly on Russia last week.

Mr. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, understands that Russia resonates in a way that Ukraine never can. His argument revives questions of whether Mr. Putin has some strange, still unexplained control over the American president — which is why Mr. Schiff played the cringe-worthy tape of Mr. Trump’s news conference with Mr. Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in summer 2018. In his public statements, Mr. Trump appeared to adopt the Russian leader’s self-interested theory that someone else was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s servers in the last presidential election.

“It’s a breathtaking success of Russian intelligence,” Mr. Schiff said. “This is the most incredible propaganda coup,” he continued, because “it’s not just that the president of the United States standing next to Vladimir Putin is reading the Kremlin talking points. He won’t read his own national security staff talking points.”

Cast that way, this is no argument over the history of American aid to Kyiv. It is part of a battle over Russia’s use of Ukraine as a petri dish in disruption — the place where Mr. Putin has experimented with seizing territory, undermining a hostile government and conducting cyberattacks that literally turned off the lights.

And it is an argument over Mr. Putin’s efforts to manipulate the 2020 election, at a moment when even Mr. Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security says the Russians are already testing new techniques. By demanding that the new president of Ukraine investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president and a political opponent of Mr. Trump, and reviving theories that the Democratic National Committee’s server is somewhere in Ukraine, Mr. Trump was essentially joining that manipulation effort, Mr. Schiff was saying.

“The threat that he will continue to abuse his power and cause grave harm to the nation,’’ Mr. Schiff said of the president, “is not hypothetical.”

In less partisan times — say, when a presidential election does not loom — Mr. Schiff’s argument might strike a political chord, chiefly because it is the Republicans who, until recently, have been particularly hawkish about Mr. Putin’s Russia.

It is easy to forget now, but when Mr. Trump tried to water down sanctions on Russia two years ago, his own party pushed back so hard that new penalties for Moscow passed 98 to 2. (In one of the strange twists of history, one of the two opposing votes was cast by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is a leading contender to take on Mr. Trump in November.) In the House, the measure passed 419 to 3. Angry, Mr. Trump signed the bill, knowing any veto would be overturned.

But the politics of impeachment are different than the politics of sanctions. So it is no surprise that, as the Republicans focus on Ukraine and the Democrats focus on Russia, both are bending the facts to fit their case.

Mr. Pompeo, for example, has been known to pause his episodic blasts at State Department correspondents to make the legitimate point that it was the Trump administration that gave powerful anti-tank weapons — called Javelins — to Ukrainian forces, a step that President Barack Obama refused.

The issue came up this weekend, as Jay Sekulow accused the Democrats of keeping that fact out of their 23 hours of arguments. “Javelin missiles are serious weapons,” Mr. Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer, reminded the senators at the trial on Saturday. He quoted the testimony of the two previous top American diplomats in Ukraine, including Marie L. Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post last year, in one of the events at the center of the impeachment charges.

The Javelin decision is the best piece of evidence that the Republicans have at hand that Mr. Trump has been willing to stand up to Mr. Putin. Almost everything else cuts the other way, leaving little doubt that in twisting the arm of the new Ukrainian government, Mr. Trump was not only pursuing his own political interests but also helping Mr. Putin’s.

Even before he was elected, Mr. Trump wondered aloud why the United States was helping Ukraine fight off the Russians. It made no sense, he argued in a March 2016 interview on foreign policy, his first extended discussion of his worldview as a candidate.

“Now I’m all for Ukraine, I have friends that live in Ukraine,” Mr. Trump said during the interview at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida golf resort. He complained that when the Obama administration moved to sanction Russia for its annexation of Crimea and “was getting very confrontational, it didn’t seem to me like anyone else cared other than us.”

He added: “Even their neighbors didn’t seem to be talking about it. And, you know, you look at Germany, you look at other countries, and they didn’t seem to be very much involved.”

In fact, they were very involved and continue to provide aid to Ukraine to prop up its democracy and its economy while often complaining about rampant corruption. But in the interview, Mr. Trump made no mention of corruption; instead, he lumped Ukraine in with the many other examples he cited of nations that the United States supports while other countries freeload.

The release over the weekend of a recording of Mr. Trump at a dinner in 2018 makes clear that the president understood early in his term that unless aid continued to Ukraine, it could be easily overrun.

“How long would they last in a fight with Russia?” Mr. Trump asked at the dinner.

“I don’t think very long,” said Lev Parnas, the Soviet émigré who worked for Rudolph W. Giuliani in pressuring Ukraine. “Without us, not very long.”

What’s missing from the record of Mr. Trump’s manipulation of the aid to Ukraine last summer is any indication that he sought an assessment from the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies or his own National Security Council over whether suspending American help could, in fact, lead to the downfall of the government.

And that, in the end, may be the most telling fact of all.

If nothing else, what Americans learned from watching the impeachment trial over the past week is that Mr. Trump regarded the conduct of foreign policy the way he has regarded any other policy: a chess move toward re-election rather than geopolitical advantage for the United States. Otherwise, there would be conversations weighing the benefits of restricting aid against the harm to American interests in countering the power of Russia.

There is anecdotal evidence that many around Mr. Trump did in fact push back — including Mr. Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, and the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel. Their arguments were ignored until a whistle-blower’s complaint made clear that the suspension of aid to Ukraine was about to become public.

So far, not one has testified as part of the impeachment process or spoken publicly about what they told Mr. Trump about the potential consequences of his domestic political errand. It is a silence that speaks as loudly as the arguments made in the Senate.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russia Deploys Hypersonic Weapon, Potentially Renewing Arms Race

Westlake Legal Group 27dc-missile1-facebookJumbo Russia Deploys Hypersonic Weapon, Potentially Renewing Arms Race United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Treaties Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Russia Putin, Vladimir V Nuclear Weapons Moscow (Russia) Missiles and Missile Defense Systems Defense Department Defense and Military Forces Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

WASHINGTON — The Russian military on Friday said it had deployed a hypersonic weapon that flies at superfast speeds and can easily evade American missile defense systems, potentially setting off a new chapter in the long arms race between the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers.

American officials said Friday they have little doubt that the Russians have a working hypersonic weapon — which sits on top of a modified missile and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead at speeds faster than 3,800 miles per hour.

Moscow has been working on the technology for years and has invested heavily in it, determined to reverse the pattern in the Cold War, when it was often struggling to catch up with American nuclear weapons systems. If the new system, called “Avangard,” works as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia boasted when he described the weapon a year ago, it would significantly enhance Moscow’s already powerful nuclear forces, American officials said.

Hypersonic weapons fly extremely fast and can maneuver along unpredictable trajectories, making them incredibly difficult for current systems to track, much less shoot down. Senior American military officials said the United States plans to deploy its own hypersonic weapons by 2022, but some experts believe that schedule may prove optimistic.

Yet the Russian announcement may be as much about spurring a new round of diplomatic talks as it is about reviving an arms race, current and former diplomats said. Moscow is anxious for President Trump to renew the last remaining arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, called New START, which limits strategic nuclear missile launchers and deployed warheads for both nations. The treaty expires soon after the next presidential inauguration in 2021.

The Trump administration has been noncommittal about extending the treaty, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that he would only renew it if it includes China and other nuclear powers. China has said it is not interested in any numerical limits on its arsenal, which is one-fifth of the size of America’s and Russia’s.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that “the world has changed” in the decade since the Obama administration negotiated New START and arms control treaties can no longer be limited “to the United States and Russia.”

By showcasing its new weapon, Russia could be trying to pressure Mr. Trump to open talks. Mr. Putin said earlier this week that Russia was ahead on hypersonic technology, reveling in a rare moment of superiority to American and Chinese technology. The Russian leader has been unafraid to use “nuclear diplomacy” in the past and Moscow has been designing new weapons that can threaten the United States.

Mr. Trump has at times called for starting a new arms race, saying that American technology would ultimately win. Yet while the United States military was once thought to be well ahead in hypersonic technology, the pace of development flagged in recent years.

“China and Russia made hypersonic weapons a national priority. We didn’t,” William B. Roper, the head of Air Force acquisitions and technology, said on Friday. “Every service now has a major hypersonics program in a departmentwide effort to catch up.”

The United States Air Force has two hypersonic prototypes in testing and while development is on an accelerated pace, the weapons are not scheduled to be operational until 2022. Other parts of the Pentagon, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, have other hypersonic initiatives, but they are many years down the road.

Still, experts say the threat to the United States appears limited. Russia’s system is being deployed in relatively low numbers, likely no more than a couple of dozen, according to Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. As a result, the system “does not significantly increase the threat to the United States and the world” of Russia’s already fearsome nuclear arsenal, Mr. Kimball said.

But he said the two countries should discuss hypersonics as part of any new treaty negotiations.

“Washington and Moscow should immediately commence talks on how new weapons technologies and all types of nuclear weapons should be regulated so that neither side believes they can gain an advantage by ‘racing’ ahead of the other,” Mr. Kimball said.

The Russian weapon — known as a hypersonic glide vehicle — can fly lower in the atmosphere, avoiding ballistic missile defense radars. It is mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile, allowing the warhead to be initially carried toward a target on a traditional piece of technology. But as it gets closer to the target, it is designed to fly at hypersonic speeds in an unpredictable path — making detection, tracking and interception extremely difficult. Most American missile defenses work by predicting the path of an incoming weapon, and shooting an “interceptor” at it.

On Friday, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, informed Mr. Putin that the first missile regiment armed with the glide vehicle was operational, the ministry said in a statement. The strategic missile forces chief, Gen. Sergei Karakayev, said at a meeting later in the day that the new missile was deployed with a military unit in the town of Yasny of the Orenburg region on the border with Kazakhstan.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the Russian statement, but other American officials said there was no reason to doubt Moscow had deployed the new weapon.

Nothing in the existing arms treaty would prohibit the new Russian weapon from being mounted atop an intercontinental weapon. In November, before Friday’s deployment of the hypersonic weapon, the Russian military exhibited it for American officials, as required under the treaty, and to show off the technology to the United States.

The weapons that Mr. Putin has tried to highlight in recent years have all been systems designed to reach the United States.

“The Russians are developing capabilities to reach out and attack us,” said Brig. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, a senior Air Force official said in an interview earlier this month, before the Russian technology was declared operational. “When you look at some of the capabilities Russia has announced, they are designed for offensive attack into the homeland of the United States.”

The Avangard project was among the few new Russian strategic weapons Mr. Putin unveiled during his State of the Union speech in March 2018. Mr. Putin boasted the new weapon “flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire” and is “absolutely invulnerable to any air or missile defense system.”

Russia began looking at ways to improve the capabilities of its strategic missile force after the United States withdrew from the antiballistic missile treaty in 2002 in order to expand its missile defenses.

Russia has several other projects underway, including a long-range torpedo that could detonate a nuclear weapon on the American West Coast, and a nuclear-powered cruise missile. Neither would be covered by New START but development is still years away.

The new American defense budget devotes significant funds to developing both new weapons and new defenses against hypersonic weapons. Progress has been cloaked in considerable secrecy. But Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesman, said hypersonic weapons “remain a technical research and engineering priority” for the Pentagon.

Unlike the new Russian system, two Air Force prototypes are designed to be carried and released by aircraft, not launched atop ICBMs.

Dr. Roper said the Air Force is moving more aggressively than usual to test the prototypes in an effort to build new weapons faster. Even if the new prototypes work, he said there can be no “sense of comfort” and warned that the United States will need to continue developing new hypersonic weapons “if we want to dominate this new domain of fast flight.”

Ivan Nechepurenko in Moscow contributed reporting.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russia Deploys Hypersonic Weapon, Potentially Renewing Arms Race

Westlake Legal Group 27dc-missile1-facebookJumbo Russia Deploys Hypersonic Weapon, Potentially Renewing Arms Race United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Treaties Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Russia Putin, Vladimir V Nuclear Weapons Moscow (Russia) Missiles and Missile Defense Systems Defense Department Defense and Military Forces Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

WASHINGTON — The Russian military on Friday said it had deployed a hypersonic weapon that flies at superfast speeds and can easily evade American missile defense systems, potentially setting off a new chapter in the long arms race between the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers.

American officials said Friday they have little doubt that the Russians have a working hypersonic weapon — which sits on top of a modified missile and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead at speeds faster than 3,800 miles per hour.

Moscow has been working on the technology for years and has invested heavily in it, determined to reverse the pattern in the Cold War, when it was often struggling to catch up with American nuclear weapons systems. If the new system, called “Avangard,” works as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia boasted when he described the weapon a year ago, it would significantly enhance Moscow’s already powerful nuclear forces, American officials said.

Hypersonic weapons fly extremely fast and can maneuver along unpredictable trajectories, making them incredibly difficult for current systems to track, much less shoot down. Senior American military officials said the United States plans to deploy its own hypersonic weapons by 2022, but some experts believe that schedule may prove optimistic.

Yet the Russian announcement may be as much about spurring a new round of diplomatic talks as it is about reviving an arms race, current and former diplomats said. Moscow is anxious for President Trump to renew the last remaining arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, called New START, which limits strategic nuclear missile launchers and deployed warheads for both nations. The treaty expires soon after the next presidential inauguration in 2021.

The Trump administration has been noncommittal about extending the treaty, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that he would only renew it if it includes China and other nuclear powers. China has said it is not interested in any numerical limits on its arsenal, which is one-fifth of the size of America’s and Russia’s.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that “the world has changed” in the decade since the Obama administration negotiated New START and arms control treaties can no longer be limited “to the United States and Russia.”

By showcasing its new weapon, Russia could be trying to pressure Mr. Trump to open talks. Mr. Putin said earlier this week that Russia was ahead on hypersonic technology, reveling in a rare moment of superiority to American and Chinese technology. The Russian leader has been unafraid to use “nuclear diplomacy” in the past and Moscow has been designing new weapons that can threaten the United States.

Mr. Trump has at times called for starting a new arms race, saying that American technology would ultimately win. Yet while the United States military was once thought to be well ahead in hypersonic technology, the pace of development flagged in recent years.

“China and Russia made hypersonic weapons a national priority. We didn’t,” William B. Roper, the head of Air Force acquisitions and technology, said on Friday. “Every service now has a major hypersonics program in a departmentwide effort to catch up.”

The United States Air Force has two hypersonic prototypes in testing and while development is on an accelerated pace, the weapons are not scheduled to be operational until 2022. Other parts of the Pentagon, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, have other hypersonic initiatives, but they are many years down the road.

Still, experts say the threat to the United States appears limited. Russia’s system is being deployed in relatively low numbers, likely no more than a couple of dozen, according to Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. As a result, the system “does not significantly increase the threat to the United States and the world” of Russia’s already fearsome nuclear arsenal, Mr. Kimball said.

But he said the two countries should discuss hypersonics as part of any new treaty negotiations.

“Washington and Moscow should immediately commence talks on how new weapons technologies and all types of nuclear weapons should be regulated so that neither side believes they can gain an advantage by ‘racing’ ahead of the other,” Mr. Kimball said.

The Russian weapon — known as a hypersonic glide vehicle — can fly lower in the atmosphere, avoiding ballistic missile defense radars. It is mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile, allowing the warhead to be initially carried toward a target on a traditional piece of technology. But as it gets closer to the target, it is designed to fly at hypersonic speeds in an unpredictable path — making detection, tracking and interception extremely difficult. Most American missile defenses work by predicting the path of an incoming weapon, and shooting an “interceptor” at it.

On Friday, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, informed Mr. Putin that the first missile regiment armed with the glide vehicle was operational, the ministry said in a statement. The strategic missile forces chief, Gen. Sergei Karakayev, said at a meeting later in the day that the new missile was deployed with a military unit in the town of Yasny of the Orenburg region on the border with Kazakhstan.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the Russian statement, but other American officials said there was no reason to doubt Moscow had deployed the new weapon.

Nothing in the existing arms treaty would prohibit the new Russian weapon from being mounted atop an intercontinental weapon. In November, before Friday’s deployment of the hypersonic weapon, the Russian military exhibited it for American officials, as required under the treaty, and to show off the technology to the United States.

The weapons that Mr. Putin has tried to highlight in recent years have all been systems designed to reach the United States.

“The Russians are developing capabilities to reach out and attack us,” said Brig. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, a senior Air Force official said in an interview earlier this month, before the Russian technology was declared operational. “When you look at some of the capabilities Russia has announced, they are designed for offensive attack into the homeland of the United States.”

The Avangard project was among the few new Russian strategic weapons Mr. Putin unveiled during his State of the Union speech in March 2018. Mr. Putin boasted the new weapon “flies to its target like a meteorite, like a ball of fire” and is “absolutely invulnerable to any air or missile defense system.”

Russia began looking at ways to improve the capabilities of its strategic missile force after the United States withdrew from the antiballistic missile treaty in 2002 in order to expand its missile defenses.

Russia has several other projects underway, including a long-range torpedo that could detonate a nuclear weapon on the American West Coast, and a nuclear-powered cruise missile. Neither would be covered by New START but development is still years away.

The new American defense budget devotes significant funds to developing both new weapons and new defenses against hypersonic weapons. Progress has been cloaked in considerable secrecy. But Lt. Col. Robert Carver, a Pentagon spokesman, said hypersonic weapons “remain a technical research and engineering priority” for the Pentagon.

Unlike the new Russian system, two Air Force prototypes are designed to be carried and released by aircraft, not launched atop ICBMs.

Dr. Roper said the Air Force is moving more aggressively than usual to test the prototypes in an effort to build new weapons faster. Even if the new prototypes work, he said there can be no “sense of comfort” and warned that the United States will need to continue developing new hypersonic weapons “if we want to dominate this new domain of fast flight.”

Ivan Nechepurenko in Moscow contributed reporting.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russia Is a Mess. Why Is Putin Such a Formidable Adversary?

Westlake Legal Group 23russia-putin-facebookJumbo Russia Is a Mess. Why Is Putin Such a Formidable Adversary? Russia Putin, Vladimir V Politics and Government

MOSCOW — Its economy, already smaller than Italy’s, may be sputtering but, two decades after a virtually unknown former K.G.B. spy took power in the Kremlin on Dec. 31, 1999, Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, have just had what could be their best year yet.

The United States, an implacable foe during the Cold War but now presided over by a president determined to “get along with Russia,” is convulsed and distracted by impeachment; Britain, the other main pillar of a trans-Atlantic alliance that Mr. Putin has worked for years to undermine, is also turning inward and just voted for a government that vows to exit the European Union by the end of January.

The Middle East, where American and British influence once reigned supreme, has increasingly tilted toward Moscow as it turned the tide of war in Syria, provided Turkey, a member of NATO, with advanced missile systems, and signed contracts worth billions of dollars with Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. Russia has also drawn close to Egypt, another longtime American ally, become a key player in Libya’s civil war, and moved toward what looks more and more like an alliance with China.

It has been barely five years since President Barack Obama’s dismissive 2014 judgment of Russia as a “regional power” capable only of threatening its neighbors “not out of strength but out of weakness.” Its successes raise a mystifying question: How has a country like Russia, huge in size — it has 11 time zones — but puny when measured by economic and other important metrics, become such a potent force?

“When the Soviet Union collapsed, everyone was asking the same question,” recalled Nina Khrushcheva, granddaughter of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and a Russia expert at the New School in New York: “How is it that such a rotten system punched so far above its weight?”

The West, Ms. Khrushcheva said, has repeatedly misread a country whose ambitions are as immense as its territory — it stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea — and that is often untethered from what looks like reality. Mr. Putin, she said, “is at once a technocrat and a religious zealot, an exhibitionist and a master of secrets. You expect one thing, linearly, and suddenly it’s entirely something else, smoke and mirrors.”

Under Mr. Putin, Vladislav Surkov, a longtime Kremlin adviser, wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper, earlier this year, Russia “is playing with the West’s minds.”

Also its own.

As a reporter based in Moscow two decades ago when Russia’s first democratically elected president, Boris N. Yeltsin, handed power to Mr. Putin, I traveled to St. Petersburg, the new president’s hometown, to try and figure out what chance — if any — Mr. Putin had of ruling, never mind reversing, the bleak scene he had been handed.

Russia was a mess, its economy still blighted by a post-Soviet collapse worse than the Great Depression in the United States, its military so feeble that it had lost a war in tiny Chechnya, its population so disillusioned with Mr. Yeltsin’s promises of a new capitalist dawn that it had elected a parliament filled with communists, cranks and crypto-fascists.

A conversation with Mr. Putin’s former high-school biology teacher, however, quickly made clear that, as a popular Russian saying goes, “hope dies last.” She remembered Mr. Putin as not only a diligent student but also an exceptional basketball player because “he was very tall.”

That the diminutive new president had grown in her memory to become a giant gave me my first glimpse of what, over the 20 years since, has been a defining feature of Mr. Putin’s rule: his ability to present himself and his country as standing far taller than objective facts would seem to justify.

It is not all just legerdemain.

“Maybe he’s holding small cards, but he seems unafraid to play them,” said Michael McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Moscow and now a scholar at Stanford. “That’s what makes Putin so scary.”

Mr. Putin acknowledged as much in an interview with the film director Oliver Stone. “The question is not about having much power,” he said. “It’s about using the power you have in the right way.”

Mr. Putin has harnessed Russian patriotism, which he described in his recent year-end news conference as “the only possible ideology in modern, democratic society,” to achieve some real results, notably curbing the disorder of the Yeltsin era, along with the freedoms.

He crushed a rebellion in Chechnya, which he visited just hours after taking office in a show of can-do bravado, modernized the armed forces and reined in — driving into exile, jailing or simply terrifying — the oligarchs who, under Mr. Yeltsin, had done so much to discredit capitalism and democracy. He has nurtured a new clique of obedient oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin.

All the same, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political scientist who worked for more than a decade as a Kremlin adviser, Russia under Mr. Putin still reminds him of a sci-fi movie exoskeleton: “Inside is sitting a small, weak and perhaps frightened person, but from the outside it looks terrifying.”

Russia’s economy is dwarfed by that of America’s, which is more than 10 times bigger in dollar terms; it is too small to make even a list of the top 10, and it grew by around just 1 percent this year. Nor does Russia pack much cultural punch beyond its borders, despite excelling in classical music, ballet and many other arts. South Korea, thanks to K-pop and its movies, has more reach.

Yet Russia has become a lodestar for autocrats and aspiring autocrats around the world, a pioneer of the media and other tools — known in Russia as “political technologies” — that these leaders now deploy, with or without Moscow’s help, to disrupt a world order once dominated by the United States. These include the propagation of fake or at least highly misleading news; the masking of simple facts with complicated conspiracy theories; and denunciations of political rivals as traitors or, in a term President Trump borrowed from Stalin, “enemies of the people.”

Whatever its problems, Mr. Surkov, the Kremlin adviser, said, Russia has created “the ideology of the future” by dispensing with the “illusion of choice” offered by the West and rooting itself in the will of a single leader capable of swiftly making the choices without constraint.

China, too, has advocated autocracy as the way to get results fast, but even Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, can’t match the lightning speed with which Mr. Putin ordered and executed the seizure of Crimea. The decision to grab the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine was made at a single all-night Kremlin meeting in February 2014 and then carried out just four days later with the dispatch of a few score Russian special forces officers to seize a handful of government buildings in Simferopol, the Crimean capital.

The temptations of authoritarianism à la Russe have found fertile ground in countries that long saw themselves as bastions of Western values like Hungary and Poland, and that had long histories of hostility toward Moscow. They have seduced voters elsewhere in Europe, too, and also in parts of the United States. Mr. Pavlovsky, the former Kremlin adviser, said he was stunned during a recent trip to Western Europe to have people tell him “how lucky we are in Russia to have such a brilliant and strong president.”

“There is almost a consensus that Putin is a great man, a resurrection of de Gaulle,” he said. “Putin thinks this himself. It is not just an illusion, because it works.”

Not all Russians are convinced, particularly the young in Moscow and St. Petersburg, who staged protests over the summer to declare that Mr. Putin’s time is up.

But the security forces quickly put an end to that, using often brutal force, and Mr. Putin’s approval rating nationwide, which had dipped slightly, is now back up to around 70 percent, according to an opinion poll published in November by the Levada Center.

This is down from the period of nationalist euphoria that followed the annexation of Crimea but is still remarkably high in a country with stagnant growth and, for many, shrinking prospects.

Heartened by the shifting winds in Russia’s direction, and his own, in an interview with The Financial Times, he pronounced dead the West’s governing creed since the end of World War II. The ideology of liberal democracy, he said, “has outlived its purpose.”

Russian mind games have been particularly successful in the United States, which Mr. Putin and his officials regularly accuse of paranoid Russophobia but whose fixation on Russia has only multiplied the force of its influence. Moscow’s efforts to sow division through Facebook and other social media platforms were low-budget and often primitive, but they have had a disproportionate effect on the American political process.

The result is a state of fretful and anything-goes uncertainty, a condition summed up by Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born British author, in the title of his 2014 book about Mr. Putin’s Russia: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible.”

In Russia, Ms. Khrushcheva said, “it’s not what is on the surface, it’s doublespeak, triple-think. That’s why we are so good at art.”

When Mr. Putin first took charge after Mr. Yeltsin’s surprise resignation on the eve of the new millennium, he declared his commitment to a very different direction for Russia than the one he has since taken.

Bid farewell by Mr. Yeltsin on the steps of the Kremlin with a melancholy request that he “take care of Russia,” Mr. Putin appeared on television a few hours later to deliver his first New Year Eve’s address to the nation, vowing to “protect freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the mass media, ownership rights, these fundamental elements of a civilized society.”

He delivered much the same message a year and a half later in a historic speech, the first by a Russian leader, in the Reichstag in Berlin, sketching a vision of Russia as inextricably bound to Europe and its values.

By 2002, however, he was already growing weary of Russia being viewed as a supplicant junior partner. “Russia was never as strong as it wants to be, and never as weak as it is thought to be,” he warned.

Bitterly disillusioned with the West on security issues, in 2007 Mr. Putin delivered a speech in Munich bristling with resentment and anger at American unilateralism and disregard for Russian opposition to the expansion of NATO. “They bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another,” he said, creating such insecurity that “nobody feels safe.”

But the real turning point, said Mr. Pavlovsky, who was then working in the Kremlin, came a year later with the meltdown of global financial systems.

“For Putin this was a decisive threshold,” he said. “Before this he orientated himself toward America. Yes, he disliked in the extreme what the Americans were doing around the world, but all the same he saw America as the strongest economy that runs the world economic system. Suddenly it turned out: no, they are not running anything.”

This, Mr. Pavlovsky said, “was the moment of truth,” when “all the old norms vanished.”

Since then, he said, Russia has set about creating its own norms.

“Reality is not a children’s matinee or the handing out of mandarin oranges,” he said. “In other words, things simply don’t look like you thought they do, like you wanted them to, like you expected them to.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Russia Is a Mess. Why Is Putin Such a Formidable Enemy?

Westlake Legal Group 23russia-putin-facebookJumbo Russia Is a Mess. Why Is Putin Such a Formidable Enemy? Russia Putin, Vladimir V Politics and Government

MOSCOW — Its economy, already smaller than Italy’s, may be sputtering but, two decades after a virtually unknown former K.G.B. spy took power in the Kremlin on Dec. 31, 1999, Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, have just had what could be their best year yet.

The United States, an implacable foe during the Cold War but now presided over by a president determined to “get along with Russia,” is convulsed and distracted by impeachment; Britain, the other main pillar of a trans-Atlantic alliance that Mr. Putin has worked for years to undermine, is also turning inward and just voted for a government that vows to exit the European Union by the end of January.

The Middle East, where American and British influence once reigned supreme, has increasingly tilted toward Moscow as it turned the tide of war in Syria, provided Turkey, a member of NATO, with advanced missile systems, and signed contracts worth billions of dollars with Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. Russia has also drawn close to Egypt, another longtime American ally, become a key player in Libya’s civil war, and moved toward what looks more and more like an alliance with China.

It has been barely five years since President Barack Obama’s dismissive 2014 judgment of Russia as a “regional power” capable only of threatening its neighbors “not out of strength but out of weakness.” Its successes raise a mystifying question: How has a country like Russia, huge in size — it has 11 time zones — but puny when measured by economic and other important metrics, become such a potent force?

“When the Soviet Union collapsed, everyone was asking the same question,” recalled Nina Khrushcheva, granddaughter of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and a Russia expert at the New School in New York: “How is it that such a rotten system punched so far above its weight?”

The West, Ms. Khrushcheva said, has repeatedly misread a country whose ambitions are as immense as its territory — it stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea — and that is often untethered from what looks like reality. Mr. Putin, she said, “is at once a technocrat and a religious zealot, an exhibitionist and a master of secrets. You expect one thing, linearly, and suddenly it’s entirety something else, smoke and mirrors.”

Under Mr. Putin, Vladislav Surkov, a longtime Kremlin adviser, wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper, earlier this year, Russia “is playing with the West’s minds.”

Also its own.

As a reporter based in Moscow two decades ago when Russia’s first democratically elected president, Boris N. Yeltsin, handed power to Mr. Putin, I traveled to St. Petersburg, the new president’s hometown, to try and figure out what chance — if any — Mr. Putin had of ruling, never mind reversing, the bleak scene he had been handed.

Russia was a mess, its economy still blighted by a post-Soviet collapse worse than the Great Depression in the United States, its military so feeble that it had lost a war in tiny Chechnya, its population so disillusioned with Mr. Yeltsin’s promises of new capitalist dawn that it had elected a parliament filled with communists, cranks and crypto-fascists.

A conversation with Mr. Putin’s former high-school biology teacher, however, quickly made clear that, as a popular Russian saying goes, “hope dies last.” She remembered Mr. Putin as not only a diligent student but also an exceptional basketball player because “he was very tall.”

That the diminutive new president had grown in her memory to become a giant gave me my first glimpse of what, over the 20 years since, has been a defining feature of Mr. Putin’s rule: his ability to present himself and his country as standing far taller than objective facts would seem to justify.

It is not all just legerdemain.

“Maybe he’s holding small cards, but he seems unafraid to play them,” said Michael McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Moscow and now a scholar at Stanford. “That’s what makes Putin so scary.”

Mr. Putin acknowledged as much in an interview with the film director Oliver Stone. “The question is not about having much power,” he said. “It’s about using the power you have in the right way.”

Mr. Putin has harnessed Russian patriotism, which he described in his recent year-end news conference as “the only possible ideology in modern, democratic society,” to achieve some real results, notably curbing the disorder of the Yeltsin era, along with the freedoms.

He crushed a rebellion in Chechnya, which he visited just hours after taking office in a show of can-do bravado, modernized the armed forces and reined in — driving into exile, jailing or simply terrifying — the oligarchs who, under Mr. Yeltsin, had done so much to discredit capitalism and democracy. He has nurtured a new clique of obedient oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin.

All the same, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political scientist who worked for more than a decade as a Kremlin adviser, Russia under Mr. Putin still reminds him of a sci-fi movie exoskeleton: “Inside is sitting a small, weak and perhaps frightened person, but from the outside it looks terrifying.”

Russia’s economy is dwarfed by that of America’s, which is more than 10 times bigger in dollar terms; it is too small to make even a list of the top 10, and it grew by around just 1 percent this year. Nor does Russia pack much cultural punch beyond its borders, despite excelling in classical music, ballet and many other arts. South Korea, thanks to K-pop and its movies, has more reach.

Yet Russia has become a lodestar for autocrats and aspiring autocrats around the world, a pioneer of the media and other tools — known in Russia as “political technologies” — that these leaders now deploy, with or without Moscow’s help, to disrupt a world order once dominated by the United States. These include the propagation of fake or at least highly misleading news; the masking of simple facts with complicated conspiracy theories; and denunciations of political rivals as traitors or, in a term President Trump borrowed from Stalin, “enemies of the people.”

Whatever its problems, Mr. Surkov, the Kremlin adviser, said, Russia has created “the ideology of the future” by dispensing with the “illusion of choice” offered by the West and rooting itself in the will of a single leader capable of swiftly making the choices without constraint.

China, too, has advocated autocracy as the way to get results fast, but even Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, can’t match the lightening speed with which Mr. Putin ordered and executed the seizure of Crimea. The decision to grab the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine was made at a single all-night Kremlin meeting in February 2014 and then carried out just four days later with the dispatch of a few score Russian special forces officers to seize a handful of government buildings in Simferopol, the Crimean capital.

The temptations of authoritarianism à la Russe have found fertile ground in countries that long saw themselves as bastions of Western values like Hungary and Poland, and that had long histories of hostility toward Moscow. They have seduced voters elsewhere in Europe, too, and also in parts of the United States. Mr. Pavlovsky, the former Kremlin adviser, said he was stunned during a recent trip to Western Europe to have people tell him “how lucky we are in Russia to have such a brilliant and strong president.”

“There is almost a consensus that Putin is a great man, a resurrection of de Gaulle,” he said. “Putin thinks this himself. It is not just an illusion, because it works.”

Not all Russians are convinced, particularly the young in Moscow and St. Petersburg, who staged protests over the summer to declare that Mr. Putin’s time is up.

But the security forces quickly put an end to that, using often brutal force, and Mr. Putin’s approval rating nationwide, which had dipped slightly, is now back up to around 70 percent, according to an opinion poll published in November by the Levada Center.

This is down from the period of nationalist euphoria that followed the annexation of Crimea but is still remarkably high in a country with stagnant growth and, for many, shrinking prospects.

Heartened by the shifting winds in Russia’s direction, and his own, in an interview with The Financial Times, he pronounced dead the West’s governing creed since the end of World War II. The ideology of liberal democracy, he said, “has outlived its purpose.”

Russian mind games have been particularly successful in the United States, which Mr. Putin and his officials regularly accuse of paranoid Russophobia but whose fixation on Russia has only multiplied the force of its influence. Moscow’s efforts to sow division through Facebook and other social media platforms were low-budget and often primitive, but they have had a disproportionate effect on the American political process.

The result is a state of fretful and anything-goes uncertainty, a condition summed up by Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born British author, in the title of his 2014 book about Mr. Putin’s Russia: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible.”

In Russia, Ms. Khrushcheva said, “it’s not what is on the surface, it’s doublespeak, triple-think. That’s why we are so good at art.”

When Mr. Putin first took charge after Mr. Yeltsin’s surprise resignation on the eve of the new millennium, he declared his commitment to a very different direction for Russia than the one he has since taken.

Bid farewell by Mr. Yeltsin on the steps of the Kremlin with a melancholy request that he “take care of Russia,” Mr. Putin appeared on television a few hours later to deliver his first New Year Eve’s address to the nation, vowing to “protect freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the mass media, ownership rights, these fundamental elements of a civilized society.”

He delivered much the same message a year and a half later in a historic speech, the first by a Russian leader, in the Reichstag in Berlin, sketching a vision of Russia as inextricably bound to Europe and its values.

By 2002, however, he was already growing weary of Russia being viewed as a supplicant junior partner. “Russia was never as strong as it wants to be, and never as weak as it is thought to be,” he warned.

Bitterly disillusioned with the West on security issues, in 2007 Mr. Putin delivered a speech in Munich bristling with resentment and anger at American unilateralism and disregard for Russian opposition to the expansion of NATO. “They bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another,” he said, creating such insecurity that “nobody feels safe.”

But the real turning point, said Mr. Pavlovsky, who was then working in the Kremlin, came a year later with the meltdown of global financial systems.

“For Putin this was a decisive threshold,” he said. “Before this he orientated himself toward America. Yes, he disliked in the extreme what the Americans were doing around the world, but all the same he saw America as the strongest economy that runs the world economic system. Suddenly it turned out: no, they are not running anything.”

This, Mr. Pavlovsky said, “was the moment of truth,” when “all the old norms vanished.”

Since then, he said, Russia has set about creating its own norms.

“Reality is not a children’s matinee or the handing out of mandarin oranges,” he said. “In other words, things simply don’t look like you thought they do, like you wanted them to, like you expected them to.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

It’s Putin’s World. We Just Live in It.

Westlake Legal Group 23russia-putin-facebookJumbo It’s Putin’s World. We Just Live in It. Russia Putin, Vladimir V Politics and Government

MOSCOW — Its economy, already smaller than Italy’s, may be sputtering but, two decades after a virtually unknown former K.G.B. spy took power in the Kremlin on Dec. 31, 1999, Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, have just had what could be their best year yet.

The United States, an implacable foe during the Cold War but now presided over by a president determined to “get along with Russia,” is convulsed and distracted by impeachment; Britain, the other main pillar of a trans-Atlantic alliance that Mr. Putin has worked for years to undermine, is also turning inward and just voted for a government that vows to exit the European Union by the end of January.

The Middle East, where American and British influence once reigned supreme, has increasingly tilted toward Moscow as it turned the tide of war in Syria, provided Turkey, a member of NATO, with advanced missile systems, and signed contracts worth billions of dollar with Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. Russia has also drawn close to Egypt, another longtime American ally, become a key player in Libya’s civil war, and moved toward what looks more and more like an alliance with China.

It has been barely five years since President Barack Obama’s dismissive 2014 judgment of Russia as a “regional power” capable only of threatening its neighbors “not out of strength but out of weakness.” Its successes raise a mystifying question: How has a country like Russia, huge in size — it has 11 time zones — but puny when measured by economic and other important metrics, become such a potent force?

“When the Soviet Union collapsed, everyone was asking the same question,” recalled Nina Khrushcheva, granddaughter of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and a Russia expert at the New School in New York: “How is it that such a rotten system punched so far above its weight?”

The West, Ms. Khrushcheva said, has repeatedly misread a country whose ambitions are as immense as its territory — it stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea — and that is often untethered from what looks like reality. Mr. Putin, she said, “is at once a technocrat and a religious zealot, an exhibitionist and a master of secrets. You expect one thing, linearly, and suddenly it’s entirety something else, smoke and mirrors.”

Under Mr. Putin, Vladislav Surkov, a longtime Kremlin adviser, wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper, earlier this year, Russia “is playing with the West’s minds.”

Also its own.

As a reporter based in Moscow two decades ago when Russia’s first democratically elected president, Boris N. Yeltsin, handed power to Mr. Putin, I traveled to St. Petersburg, the new president’s hometown, to try and figure out what chance — if any — Mr. Putin had of ruling, never mind reversing, the bleak scene he had been handed.

Russia was a mess, its economy still blighted by a post-Soviet collapse worse than the Great Depression in the United States, its military so feeble that it had lost a war in tiny Chechnya, its population so disillusioned with Mr. Yeltsin’s promises of new capitalist dawn that it had elected a parliament filled with communists, cranks and crypto-fascists.

A conversation with Mr. Putin’s former high-school biology teacher, however, quickly made clear that, as a popular Russian saying goes, “hope dies last.” She remembered Mr. Putin as not only a diligent student but also an exceptional basketball player because “he was very tall.”

That the diminutive new president had grown in her memory to become a giant gave me my first glimpse of what, over the 20 years since, has been a defining feature of Mr. Putin’s rule: his ability to present himself and his country as standing far taller than objective facts would seem to justify.

It is not all just legerdemain.

“Maybe he’s holding small cards, but he seems unafraid to play them,” said Michael McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Moscow and now a scholar at Stanford. “That’s what makes Putin so scary.”

Mr. Putin acknowledged as much in an interview with the film director Oliver Stone. “The question is not about having much power,” he said. “It’s about using the power you have in the right way.”

Mr. Putin has harnessed Russian patriotism, which he described in his recent year-end news conference as “the only possible ideology in modern, democratic society,” to achieve some real results, notably curbing the disorder of the Yeltsin era, along with the freedoms.

He crushed a rebellion in Chechnya, which he visited just hours after taking office in a show of can-do bravado, modernized the armed forces and reined in — driving into exile, jailing or simply terrifying — the oligarchs who, under Mr. Yeltsin, had done so much to discredit capitalism and democracy. He has nurtured a new clique of obedient oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin.

All the same, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political scientist who worked for more than a decade as a Kremlin adviser, Russia under Mr. Putin still reminds him of a sci-fi movie exoskeleton: “Inside is sitting a small, weak and perhaps frightened person, but from the outside it looks terrifying.”

Russia’s economy is dwarfed by that of America’s, which is more than 10 times bigger in dollar terms; it is too small to make even a list of the top 10, and it grew by around just 1 percent this year. Nor does Russia pack much cultural punch beyond its borders, despite excelling in classical music, ballet and many other arts. South Korea, thanks to K-pop and its movies, has more reach.

Yet Russia has become a lodestar for autocrats and aspiring autocrats around the world, a pioneer of the media and other tools — known in Russia as “political technologies” — that these leaders now deploy, with or without Moscow’s help, to disrupt a world order once dominated by the United States. These include the propagation of fake or at least highly misleading news; the masking of simple facts with complicated conspiracy theories; and denunciations of political rivals as traitors or, in a term President Trump borrowed from Stalin, “enemies of the people.”

Whatever its problems, Mr. Surkov, the Kremlin adviser, said, Russia has created “the ideology of the future” by dispensing with the “illusion of choice” offered by the West and rooting itself in the will of a single leader capable of swiftly making the choices without constraint.

China, too, has advocated autocracy as the way to get results fast, but even Xi Jinping, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, can’t match the lightening speed with which Mr. Putin ordered and executed the seizure of Crimea. The decision to grab the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine was made at a single all-night Kremlin meeting in February 2014 and then carried out just four days later with the dispatch of a few score Russian special forces officers to seize a handful of government buildings in Simferopol, the Crimean capital.

The temptations of authoritarianism à la Russe have found fertile ground in countries that long saw themselves as bastions of Western values like Hungary and Poland, and that had long histories of hostility toward Moscow. They have seduced voters elsewhere in Europe, too, and also in parts of the United States. Mr. Pavlovsky, the former Kremlin adviser, said he was stunned during a recent trip to Western Europe to have people tell him “how lucky we are in Russia to have such a brilliant and strong president.”

“There is almost a consensus that Putin is a great man, a resurrection of de Gaulle,” he said. “Putin thinks this himself. It is not just an illusion, because it works.”

Not all Russians are convinced, particularly the young in Moscow and St. Petersburg, who staged protests over the summer to declare that Mr. Putin’s time is up.

But the security forces quickly put an end to that, using often brutal force, and Mr. Putin’s approval rating nationwide, which had dipped slightly, is now back up to around 70 percent, according to an opinion poll published in November by the Levada Center.

This is down from the period of nationalist euphoria that followed the annexation of Crimea but is still remarkably high in a country with stagnant growth and, for many, shrinking prospects.

Heartened by the shifting winds in Russia’s direction, and his own, in an interview with The Financial Times, he pronounced dead the West’s governing creed since the end of World War II. The ideology of liberal democracy, he said, “has outlived its purpose.”

Russian mind games have been particularly successful in the United States, which Mr. Putin and his officials regularly accuse of paranoid Russophobia but whose fixation on Russia has only multiplied the force of its influence. Moscow’s efforts to sow division through Facebook and other social media platforms were low-budget and often primitive, but they have had a disproportionate effect on the American political process.

The result is a state of fretful and anything-goes uncertainty, a condition summed up by Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born British author, in the title of his 2014 book about Mr. Putin’s Russia: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible.”

In Russia, Ms. Khrushcheva said, “it’s not what is on the surface, it’s doublespeak, triple-think. That’s why we are so good at art.”

When Mr. Putin first took charge after Mr. Yeltsin’s surprise resignation on the eve of the new millennium, he declared his commitment to a very different direction for Russia than the one he has since taken.

Bid farewell by Mr. Yeltsin on the steps of the Kremlin with a melancholy request that he “take care of Russia,” Mr. Putin appeared on television a few hours later to deliver his first New Year Eve’s address to the nation, vowing to “protect freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the mass media, ownership rights, these fundamental elements of a civilized society.”

He delivered much the same message a year and a half later in a historic speech, the first by a Russian leader, in the Reichstag in Berlin, sketching a vision of Russia as inextricably bound to Europe and its values.

By 2002, however, he was already growing weary of Russia being viewed as a supplicant junior partner. “Russia was never as strong as it wants to be, and never as week as it is thought to be,” he warned.

Bitterly disillusioned with the West on security issues, in 2007 Mr. Putin delivered a speech in Munich bristling with resentment and anger at American unilateralism and disregard for Russian opposition to the expansion of NATO. “They bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another,” he said, creating such insecurity that “nobody feels safe.”

But the real turning point, said Mr. Pavlovsky, who was then working in the Kremlin, came a year later with the meltdown of global financial systems.

“For Putin this was a decisive threshold,” he said. “Before this he orientated himself toward America. Yes, he disliked in the extreme what the Americans were doing around the world, but all the same he saw America as the strongest economy that runs the world economic system. Suddenly it turned out: no, they are not running anything.”

This, Mr. Pavlovsky said, “was the moment of truth,” when “all the old norms vanished.”

Since then, he said, Russia has set about creating its own norms.

“Reality is not a children’s matinee or the handing out of mandarin oranges,” he said.” In other words, things simply don’t look like you thought they do, like you wanted them to, like you expected them to.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Syria Peace Talks to Open After a Long, Strange Month

Westlake Legal Group 28syria-peace1a-facebookJumbo Syria Peace Talks to Open After a Long, Strange Month United Nations Trump, Donald J Syria Putin, Vladimir V Jeffrey, James F Geneva (Switzerland) Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Assad, Bashar al-

GENEVA — The first United Nations mediator who tried to broker peace in Syria declared it “mission impossible” and abandoned the effort. That was seven years and hundreds of thousands of deaths ago.

Now, as Mediator No. 4 prepares to try again, diplomats appear to be setting their sights lower and choosing their language carefully. In recent weeks, they spoke only of “a glimmer of hope” and of “a door opener to a political process.”

And that was before the following happened:

  • And, perhaps most important for the new talks, President Bashar al-Assad suddenly appeared more firmly ensconced in power than he had in years.

Despite the turmoil, for the first time in years, Syrian government and opposition delegates will meet this week to weigh the devastated country’s future.

On Thursday, after months of intensive but low-key diplomacy, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, plans to bring 150 Syrians to Geneva. There, they will begin work on a constitutional committee intended to shift attention from the battlefield to what happens when, sooner or later, the fighting in their country stops.

Mr. Pedersen’s immediate goals are modest. He does not expect to achieve a peace, he said in an interview, but reforming Syria’s Constitution, could serve as “a door opener to a political process.”

“We all understand that the constitutional committee itself will not bring a solution to the conflict,” he said.

The Geneva talks are meant to be a first step under a United Nations Security Council mandate that calls for a nationwide cease-fire and elections under United Nations supervision.

A senior State Department official said Monday that the United States and other nations had several points of leverage to try to get Mr. Assad to work on a political settlement. The official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said that could include keeping reconstruction assistance from Mr. Assad’s government, barring Syria’s re-entry into the Arab League and refusing to restore diplomatic ties with Damascus.

When the new talks were announced at the United Nations General Assembly in September, some in the West still hoped that Mr. al-Assad’s grip on his country might be loosened in any eventual settlement.

“There may be a glimmer of hope that this conflict can be ended the right way,” James F. Jeffrey, the State Department’s special envoy on Syria policy, told reporters.

But just days later, on Oct. 6, Mr. Trump announced the withdrawal, clearing the way for a Turkish military move against the Kurds. That decision in effect redrew the battle lines and strengthened Mr. al-Assad’s negotiating hand. It gave him and Russia, his strongest ally, control over parts of the country the Syrian government had relinquished years ago.

The American military withdrawal paved the way for joint Russian-Turkish security patrols in formerly Kurdish-held territory in northeast Syria, under a deal struck last week between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Mr. al-Assad’s government is also now negotiating directly with Kurdish fighters in the northeast, a region Syrian troops had once all but given up.

Russian airstrikes on the few remaining rebel enclaves in Syria’s Idlib and Hama Provinces on Thursday raised concerns that Mr. Erdogan may have agreed to a bargain that will also gird Mr. al-Assad’s grasp in the northwest. Mr. Erdogan had previously provided backing to some of the rebels who have fought Mr. al-Assad in that region for more than eight years.

“At some point, one has to come to terms with the fact that the international effort of 2011 to change the regime, to change the political nature of the country, has failed,” said Robert Malley, who oversaw Middle East policy at the White House during the Obama administration and is now president of the nonprofit International Crisis Group in Washington.

“There has to be a reassessment of what is realistic to do in Syria,” he said, “given the balance of power on the ground.”

It has been seven years since the first United Nations mediator, Kofi Annan, gave up on peace talks. Now it is Mr. Pedersen’s turn. For the first time in years, he said, the United Nations, Damascus and the Syrian opposition have agreed on an approach.

The constitutional committee negotiated by the United Nations includes three delegations: one from the Syrian government, one from the opposition and one drawn from civil society and different ethnic and religious groups.

The uncertainty surrounding the process is such that the United Nations has not given a detailed timeline for the talks, and the Syrian delegates have no idea how long they will be staying in this lakeside city.

Mr. Pedersen said he expects the 150 committee members to spend several days laying out their visions and aims for the Constitution, and then hand the work over to a smaller body of 45 people. To build confidence in the process, he has pushed all the parties to release detainees, but the results have been meager: freedom for 109 people. The biggest release, in February, involved 42 people, with the government setting free 20 detainees, 11 of them women and two of them children presumed to have been born in captivity.

“I had hoped for more,” Mr. Pedersen said. “I want much bigger releases in future, particularly women and children.”

To take the political process forward, he said, “we need a nationwide cease-fire and this is the opportunity to work seriously on that.”

Opposition delegates are not holding their breath. “There is no indication showing the regime is inclined to détente,” said Basma Kodmani, a member of the Syrian opposition’s negotiating team. “There’s no sign of good will.”

Delegates have also found themselves pilloried in social media as unrepresentative or unqualified, and the meetings condemned as a futile endeavor that merely buys time for Mr. al-Assad’s government.

“The difference this time,” Ms. Kodmani said, “is that Russia absolutely wants to get something moving. The incentive is to get money flowing.”

Without a political process that gives some legitimacy to postwar government, Western governments say they will withhold reconstruction aid and investment that Damascus needs to achieve stability.

The talks beginning in Geneva underscore how far the political needle has shifted in Mr. al-Assad’s favor as his once failing army, steeled by Russian and Iranian support, has expanded its control on the ground.

Some senior European officials have suggested that Mr. al-Assad not be allowed to remain in power, given chemical weapons attacks and other atrocities his forces have committed against civilians.

But forcing Mr. al-Assad to step down, as the Obama administration once demanded and even Mr. Trump suggested a few months after taking office in 2017, is not the aim of the negotiations, and it is no longer the American policy objective — even if some members of Congress still nurse the hope.

“I have about as much use for Assad as I’ve got for Erdogan,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, told Mr. Jeffrey at a congressional hearing last week. “Is it still our government’s position that we don’t talk to Assad, and that Assad can be part of no negotiations?”

Mr. Jeffrey affirmed that the United States does not engage directly with Mr. al-Assad or his government. But, he said, the Trump administration has made clear that it is not seeking “to overthrow Assad.”

Days later, in Geneva, he was even more explicit.

Mr. al-Assad’s administration, Mr. Jeffrey said, “is “the legal government — even if you think it is a horrific, terrible and laden-with-war-crimes government.”

Nick Cumming-Bruce reported from Geneva, and Lara Jakes from Washington. Catie Edmonson contributed reporting from Washington.

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The Cost of Trump’s Aid Freeze in the Trenches of Ukraine’s War

As President Trump froze military aid to Ukraine and urged it to investigate his rivals, the country was struggling in a bare-bones fight against Russian-backed separatists.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_162966096_12f0c38e-ac9e-4e0b-80ef-246fd39efdd1-articleLarge The Cost of Trump’s Aid Freeze in the Trenches of Ukraine’s War Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Putin, Vladimir V

Soldiers digging fresh trenches and bunkers after recently withdrawing about 500 yards from their previous position in Stanytsia Luhanska.CreditBrendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Westlake Legal Group author-andrew-e-kramer-thumbLarge The Cost of Trump’s Aid Freeze in the Trenches of Ukraine’s War Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Putin, Vladimir V

Oct. 24, 2019

ZOLOTE, Ukraine — Lt. Ivan Molchanets peeked over a parapet of sand bags at the front line of the war in Ukraine. Next to him was an empty helmet propped up to trick snipers, already perforated with multiple holes.

In other spots, his soldiers stuff straw into empty uniforms to make dummies, and put logs on their shoulders to make it look like they are carrying American antitank missiles — as a scare tactic.

“This is just the situation here,” he said, shrugging as he held the government’s position. “The enemy is very close.”

Fought in muddy trenches cut through hundreds of miles of farmland, the war in Ukraine has killed 13,000 people, put a large part of the country under Russia’s control and dragged on for five years almost forgotten by the outside world — until it became a backdrop to the impeachment inquiry of President Trump now unfolding in Washington.

Ukraine, politically disorganized and militarily weak, has relied heavily on the United States in its struggle with Russian-backed separatists. But the White House abruptly suspended nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in July and only restored it last month after a bipartisan uproar in Congress.

The impeachment inquiry hinges on whether Mr. Trump froze the aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals, especially former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., one of the leading candidates in the 2020 American election.

In closed-door testimony on Tuesday, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., said Mr. Trump halted the aid to Ukraine and refused to meet the country’s leader until he agreed to investigate Mr. Biden and his son. Mr. Taylor called the decision “crazy” because it undermined a vital ally, strengthened Russia’s hand and put Ukrainian lives in jeopardy — all for the sake of a political campaign in the United States.

Ukrainian soldiers here at the front line were jolted by the suspension, too. While the aid was restored in time to prevent any military setbacks, it took a heavy psychological toll, they said, striking at their confidence that their backers in Washington stood solidly behind their fight to keep Russia at bay.

“It was very unpleasant to hear about this,” Lieutenant Molchanets said about the halt in American military assistance. But with or without allies, he added, he would continue to fight. “I tell you that as an infantryman and commander.”

Even at the tip of the spear of Ukraine’s armed forces, signs are everywhere of the poverty of the army.

The war began in 2014, after street protesters deposed Ukraine’s kleptocratic, pro-Kremlin president. Russia responded by helping stir up rebellions in two eastern provinces, and since then Russia has wielded the military advantage, able to slip tanks, antiaircraft weapons and soldiers into Ukraine at will.

Ukraine has fought back with repeated appeals for aid, diplomatic pressure, Western sanctions against Russia — and with an army that is holding on by its fingernails.

The war is fought in trenches, like World War I, owing to a peculiarity of the conflict: Neither side uses aviation. Russian antiaircraft systems have cleared the skies.

Soldiers live in log-covered dugouts smelling of socks and earth, warmed by wood stoves. Ukrainian troops cook their own meals from potatoes, carrots and onions, delivered in crates, and from handmade preserves kept in glass jars on wooden shelves.

Their weapons are also basic. Hanging on nails hammered into logs in Lieutenant Molchanets’s bunker were binoculars and a Kalashnikov rifle.

Both sides use heavy artillery, but the only piece of American military aid at the position was a much-prized infrared spotting scope for night fighting. Soldiers also carry American tourniquets in their medical kits, used to stanch bleeding.

“Our allies help us, but the hard and dirty work we do ourselves,” Lieutenant Molchanets said.

Even the most sophisticated weapons the United States offers are of little use here — at least, not in the way they are intended.

In 2018, the Trump administration authorized sales to Ukraine of a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile called the Javelin, reversing an Obama administration policy of supplying only non-lethal aid.

But there is a big catch. The Trump administration provided the missiles on the condition that they not be used in the war, Ukrainian officials and American diplomats have said, lest they provoke Russia to slip more powerful weaponry to the separatists.

“They are not to be on the front line,” Iryna Herashchenko, a former chief settlement negotiator, said of the missiles. Their precise deployment positions are kept secret.

So, Ukrainian soldiers at the front have improvised: They prop up the dummies of straw and extra uniforms that appear to hold the missiles, as a ruse, an army spokesman said.

Soldiers at Lieutenant Molchanets’s position said the fake missiles are conjured from logs and empty ammunition boxes, roughly mimicking the silhouette of a Javelin.

The American military aid suspension hurt Ukraine in another way as well, Ukrainian officials said: It signaled their weakness, just as they were trying to project strength in negotiations with the Russians and needed solid backing from Washington.

Since taking office in May, Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has wanted the United States to take a more active role in pressuring Russia to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine — which the Kremlin does not even acknowledge are there — and accept a peace deal to end the conflict.

Mr. Trump has also showed a clear desire for a peace deal on Ukraine, part of his longstanding effort to remove an issue that has driven a wedge between Russia and the West, and has made his cozy relations with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin harder to defend.

Soon after the July 25 phone call in which he urged Mr. Zelensky to investigate his political rivals — the call at the heart of the impeachment inquiry — Mr. Trump seemed confident that he would get a peace deal on Ukraine after all.

“I think he’s going to make a deal with President Putin, and he will be invited to the White House,” Mr. Trump said of the Ukrainian president.

But Mr. Trump has not pressed Russia and sided with Ukraine in the negotiations in the way Mr. Zelensky has urged. To the contrary, at a news conference in New York last month, Mr. Trump backed away from Mr. Zelensky and his troubles in the war, telling the Ukrainian leader, “I really hope you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem.”

By distancing himself from Mr. Zelensky in negotiations, Mr. Trump has made it harder for the Ukrainian government to defend the concessions it is making to end the war.

To revive settlement talks, Mr. Zelensky has already ordered his troops to pull back at some locations on the front line, a move that earned derision from his domestic critics, who called it a capitulation to Russia. Tens of thousands of people in Kiev, the capital, protested the decision this month in Independence Square, the site of the demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president five years ago.

Here in eastern Ukraine, the war is far from over. On a crystalline fall day, the contact line, as the front is known, opened onto a meadow of dry grass, stretching a few hundred yards to the opposing positions in a tree line, the oaks and maples in the brilliant autumn colors of orange and yellow.

Lieutenant Molchanets, who is 23, commands a platoon. On the second day of his command, the position came under heavy machine-gun fire. When it was over, he said, “there was a light euphoria. I had no sense of danger. Only later I realized we made mistakes, and we were just lucky.”

The luck soon ran out. A week later, on Sept. 17, two of his soldiers stepped on one of the area’s ubiquitous mines and were gravely wounded.

Kept under the pillow of his bunk was a Ukrainian flag inscribed by friends in Kiev, where he also left a girlfriend behind. “We believe in you,” one note on the flag said.

In the pale fall sunshine last week, soldiers chopped wood for their heating stoves and grilled a shish kebab over a campfire, unconcerned by the explosions in the distance.

“It’s not us” getting hit today, Lt. Ivan Dyachyk said. “It’s our neighbors,” a unit a few miles away.

Mr. Zelensky wants to move the Ukrainian front line back — from a few hundred yards away from the separatists to about 1,000 yards in several locations, including around the town of Zolote, the site of Lieutenant Molchanets’s position.

Separatist forces are also supposed to pull back in these areas, to put both sides out of sniper range and reduce skirmishing, paving the way for settlement talks.

The problem in the town Zolote — and what has set off protests here and in Kiev — is that pulling back will leave some neighborhoods in front of the army’s new trenches, exposing them to the enemy side.

“All of this is scary for me,” worried Larisa Prizova, a clerk in the mayor’s office of Zolote. Her home near the front line now seems likely to wind up inside the buffer area: a shooting gallery between the two armies.

“Maybe Mr. Trump, because of the election in the United States, wants a success in Ukraine” by pushing Mr. Zelensky into a settlement deal that Russia will accept, said Ms. Herashchenko, the former chief negotiator. “But peace and the illusion of peace are not the same things.”

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Zolote, Ukraine.

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Behind an Impeachment Inquiry, a Forgotten War

As President Trump froze military aid to Ukraine and urged it to investigate his rivals, the country was struggling in a bare-bones fight against Russian-backed separatists.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_162966096_12f0c38e-ac9e-4e0b-80ef-246fd39efdd1-articleLarge Behind an Impeachment Inquiry, a Forgotten War Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Putin, Vladimir V

Soldiers digging fresh trenches and bunkers after recently withdrawing about 500 yards from their previous position in Stanytsia Luhanska.CreditBrendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Westlake Legal Group author-andrew-e-kramer-thumbLarge Behind an Impeachment Inquiry, a Forgotten War Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Putin, Vladimir V

Oct. 24, 2019

ZOLOTE, Ukraine — Lt. Ivan Molchanets peeked over a parapet of sand bags at the front line of the war in Ukraine. Next to him was an empty helmet propped up to trick snipers, already perforated with multiple holes.

In other spots, his soldiers stuff straw into empty uniforms to make dummies, and put logs on their shoulders to make it look like they are carrying American antitank missiles — as a scare tactic.

“This is just the situation here,” he said, shrugging as he held the government’s position. “The enemy is very close.”

Fought in muddy trenches cut through hundreds of miles of farmland, the war in Ukraine has killed 13,000 people, put a large part of the country under Russia’s control and dragged on for five years almost forgotten by the outside world — until it became a backdrop to the impeachment inquiry of President Trump now unfolding in Washington.

Ukraine, politically disorganized and militarily weak, has relied heavily on the United States in its struggle with Russian-backed separatists. But the White House abruptly suspended nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in July and only restored it last month after a bipartisan uproar in Congress.

The impeachment inquiry hinges on whether Mr. Trump froze the aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals, especially former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., one of the leading candidates in the 2020 American election.

In closed-door testimony on Tuesday, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., said Mr. Trump halted the aid to Ukraine and refused to meet the country’s leader until he agreed to investigate Mr. Biden and his son. Mr. Taylor called the decision “crazy” because it undermined a vital ally, strengthened Russia’s hand and put Ukrainian lives in jeopardy — all for the sake of a political campaign in the United States.

Ukrainian soldiers here at the front line were jolted by the suspension, too. While the aid was restored in time to prevent any military setbacks, it took a heavy psychological toll, they said, striking at their confidence that their backers in Washington stood solidly behind their fight to keep Russia at bay.

“It was very unpleasant to hear about this,” Lieutenant Molchanets said about the halt in American military assistance. But with or without allies, he added, he would continue to fight. “I tell you that as an infantryman and commander.”

Even at the tip of the spear of Ukraine’s armed forces, signs are everywhere of the poverty of the army.

The war began in 2014, after street protesters deposed Ukraine’s kleptocratic, pro-Kremlin president. Russia responded by helping stir up rebellions in two eastern provinces, and since then Russia has wielded the military advantage, able to slip tanks, antiaircraft weapons and soldiers into Ukraine at will.

Ukraine has fought back with repeated appeals for aid, diplomatic pressure, Western sanctions against Russia — and with an army that is holding on by its fingernails.

The war is fought in trenches, like World War I, owing to a peculiarity of the conflict: Neither side uses aviation. Russian antiaircraft systems have cleared the skies.

Soldiers live in log-covered dugouts smelling of socks and earth, warmed by wood stoves. Ukrainian troops cook their own meals from potatoes, carrots and onions, delivered in crates, and from handmade preserves kept in glass jars on wooden shelves.

Their weapons are also basic. Hanging on nails hammered into logs in Lieutenant Molchanets’s bunker were binoculars and a Kalashnikov rifle.

Both sides use heavy artillery, but the only piece of American military aid at the position was a much-prized infrared spotting scope for night fighting. Soldiers also carry American tourniquets in their medical kits, used to stanch bleeding.

“Our allies help us, but the hard and dirty work we do ourselves,” Lieutenant Molchanets said.

Even the most sophisticated weapons the United States offers are of little use here — at least, not in the way they are intended.

In 2018, the Trump administration authorized sales to Ukraine of a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile called the Javelin, reversing an Obama administration policy of supplying only non-lethal aid.

But there is a big catch. The Trump administration provided the missiles on the condition that they not be used in the war, Ukrainian officials and American diplomats have said, lest they provoke Russia to slip more powerful weaponry to the separatists.

“They are not to be on the front line,” Iryna Herashchenko, a former chief settlement negotiator, said of the missiles. Their precise deployment positions are kept secret.

So, Ukrainian soldiers at the front have improvised: They prop up the dummies of straw and extra uniforms that appear to hold the missiles, as a ruse, an army spokesman said.

Soldiers at Lieutenant Molchanets’s position said the fake missiles are conjured from logs and empty ammunition boxes, roughly mimicking the silhouette of a Javelin.

The American military aid suspension hurt Ukraine in another way as well, Ukrainian officials said: It signaled their weakness, just as they were trying to project strength in negotiations with the Russians and needed solid backing from Washington.

Since taking office in May, Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has wanted the United States to take a more active role in pressuring Russia to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine — which the Kremlin does not even acknowledge are there — and accept a peace deal to end the conflict.

Mr. Trump has also showed a clear desire for a peace deal on Ukraine, part of his longstanding effort to remove an issue that has driven a wedge between Russia and the West, and has made his cozy relations with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin harder to defend.

Soon after the July 25 phone call in which he urged Mr. Zelensky to investigate his political rivals — the call at the heart of the impeachment inquiry — Mr. Trump seemed confident that he would get a peace deal on Ukraine after all.

“I think he’s going to make a deal with President Putin, and he will be invited to the White House,” Mr. Trump said of the Ukrainian president.

But Mr. Trump has not pressed Russia and sided with Ukraine in the negotiations in the way Mr. Zelensky has urged. To the contrary, at a news conference in New York last month, Mr. Trump backed away from Mr. Zelensky and his troubles in the war, telling the Ukrainian leader, “I really hope you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem.”

By distancing himself from Mr. Zelensky in negotiations, Mr. Trump has made it harder for the Ukrainian government to defend the concessions it is making to end the war.

To revive settlement talks, Mr. Zelensky has already ordered his troops to pull back at some locations on the front line, a move that earned derision from his domestic critics, who called it a capitulation to Russia. Tens of thousands of people in Kiev, the capital, protested the decision this month in Independence Square, the site of the demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president five years ago.

Here in eastern Ukraine, the war is far from over. On a crystalline fall day, the contact line, as the front is known, opened onto a meadow of dry grass, stretching a few hundred yards to the opposing positions in a tree line, the oaks and maples in the brilliant autumn colors of orange and yellow.

Lieutenant Molchanets, who is 23, commands a platoon. On the second day of his command, the position came under heavy machine-gun fire. When it was over, he said, “there was a light euphoria. I had no sense of danger. Only later I realized we made mistakes, and we were just lucky.”

The luck soon ran out. A week later, on Sept. 17, two of his soldiers stepped on one of the area’s ubiquitous mines and were gravely wounded.

Kept under the pillow of his bunk was a Ukrainian flag inscribed by friends in Kiev, where he also left a girlfriend behind. “We believe in you,” one note on the flag said.

In the pale fall sunshine last week, soldiers chopped wood for their heating stoves and grilled a shish kebab over a campfire, unconcerned by the explosions in the distance.

“It’s not us” getting hit today, Lt. Ivan Dyachyk said. “It’s our neighbors,” a unit a few miles away.

Mr. Zelensky wants to move the Ukrainian front line back — from a few hundred yards away from the separatists to about 1,000 yards in several locations, including around the town of Zolote, the site of Lieutenant Molchanets’s position.

Separatist forces are also supposed to pull back in these areas, to put both sides out of sniper range and reduce skirmishing, paving the way for settlement talks.

The problem in the town Zolote — and what has set off protests here and in Kiev — is that pulling back will leave some neighborhoods in front of the army’s new trenches, exposing them to the enemy side.

“All of this is scary for me,” worried Larisa Prizova, a clerk in the mayor’s office of Zolote. Her home near the front line now seems likely to wind up inside the buffer area: a shooting gallery between the two armies.

“Maybe Mr. Trump, because of the election in the United States, wants a success in Ukraine” by pushing Mr. Zelensky into a settlement deal that Russia will accept, said Ms. Herashchenko, the former chief negotiator. “But peace and the illusion of peace are not the same things.”

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Zolote, Ukraine.

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Putin and Erdogan Announce Plan for Northeast Syria, Bolstering Russian Influence

Westlake Legal Group 22russia-turkey1-facebookJumbo Putin and Erdogan Announce Plan for Northeast Syria, Bolstering Russian Influence United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Syrian Democratic Forces Syria Russia Putin, Vladimir V Kurds Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Assad, Bashar al-

SOCHI, Russia — His jets patrol Syrian skies. His military is expanding operations at the main naval base in Syria. He is forging closer ties to Turkey. He and his Syrian allies are moving into territory being vacated by the United States.

And on Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia played host to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, for more than six hours of talks on how they and other regional players will divide control of Syria, a land devastated by eight years of civil war.

The negotiations ended with a victory for Mr. Putin: Russian and Turkish troops will take joint control over a vast swath of formerly Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria, in a move that cements the rapid expansion of Russian influence in Syria at the expense of the United States and its Kurdish former allies.

Under the terms of the agreement, Syrian Kurdish forces must now retreat more than 20 miles from the border, abandoning land that they had controlled uncontested until earlier this month — when their protectors, the American military, suddenly began to withdraw from the region.

Mr. Putin has emerged as the dominant force in Syria and a major power broker in the broader Middle East — a status showcased by Mr. Erdogan’s hastily arranged trip to the president’s summer home in Sochi. And it looks increasingly clear that Russia, which rescued the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria with brutal airstrikes over the last four years, will be the arbiter of the power balance there.

As President Trump questions American alliances and troop deployments around the world, Russia, like China, has been flexing its muscles, eager to fill the power vacuum left by a more isolationist United States. In Syria, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan see opportunity in Mr. Trump’s sudden withdrawal this month of American forces in the country.

Mr. Erdogan had long wanted go to war against the Kurdish-led forces that control northeast Syria, but he dared not, as long as the Kurds’ American allies were stationed there, too. He responded to Mr. Trump’s withdrawal by launching an invasion.

Tuesday’s meeting began hours before the end of an American-brokered truce between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria, where Mr. Erdogan says his troops have seized more than 900 square miles of territory since invading on Oct. 6.

“The U.S. is still the 500-pound gorilla,” said Howard Eissenstat, a professor of Middle East history at St. Lawrence University. “If the U.S. decided that ‘issue X’ was a primary concern to its national security, there would be very little that anybody in the region could do about it.”

But with the United States increasingly removing itself from the picture — as symbolized in the Russian news media by the images of abandoned washing machines and unopened cans of Coca-Cola left behind in the chaotic withdrawal — it was Russia whose consent Mr. Erdogan needed on Tuesday to consolidate and extend his gains.

“Before, Turkey could play the U.S. against Russia and Russia against the U.S.,” said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul-based research group. “Now that’s no longer the case, and Russia has shaped up to be Turkey’s only real counterpart in Syria.”

Tuesday’s meeting looked to be a culmination of Mr. Putin’s yearslong strategy of taking advantage of Western divisions to build closer ties with Turkey — a NATO member and long a key United States ally — and to increase Moscow’s influence in the Middle East.

As the United States and Western Europe vacillated in their approach to Syria — to the frustration of Turkey and other Middle Eastern powers — Russia chose to protect its ally, Mr. al-Assad, and stuck with him despite fierce criticism from the West that the Syrian ruler was a brutal despot.

The upshot, Russians now say, is that while their country lacks the West’s economic might, it can be counted on to keep its word.

“Some people are furious again, some people are jealous and some people are drawn to power,” Dmitri Kiselyov, the prominent host of a news program on state-controlled television, told viewers Sunday night. “Whatever the case, Erdogan is flying to Russia to meet with Putin.”

The negotiations highlight the loss of American influence in the days since Mr. Trump ordered troops to withdraw from northeast Syria. The pullout not only cleared the way for Turkey’s assault on American allies, it also prompted the area’s Kurdish leaders to turn to Mr. al-Assad’s government and its main backer, Russia, for protection.

This sudden alliance has allowed Syrian government forces back into parts of northeast Syria that they have not entered in half a decade and thrust Mr. Putin even more prominently into the Syrian affairs.

“The situation in the region is very tense — we understand that,” Mr. Putin said as he began talks with Mr. Erdogan. “I would like to express the hope that the level of Russian-Turkish relations that has been attained recently will play a role in resolving all of the issues that the region has encountered and will help find answers to all questions, even very difficult ones, in the interests of Turkey, Russia, and all countries.”

Russian television showed Mr. Putin looking relaxed as he delivered his opening remarks, leaning back and his hands clasped easily over an armrest. Mr. Erdogan, by contrast, sat up straight as he eyed his Russian counterpart.

Mr. Putin, who relishes chances to drive wedges into Western alliances, has drawn closer to Mr. Erdogan, whose relations with Europe and the United States have been rocky. They have met eight times this year, according to Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy adviser.

In July, Turkey defied Western warnings and began taking delivery of a Russian antiaircraft missile system, prompting the United States to cancel Turkey’s purchase of American-made fighter jets. NATO had warned that the purchase could reveal Western technological secrets to Russia, and that the Russian weapons were incompatible with the alliance’s systems.

Mr. Putin has also cultivated ties to the United States’ closest American ally in the region, Israel, and its bitterest adversary, Iran, another supporter of Mr. al-Assad.

Russia “doesn’t have the economic or military capabilities the U.S. has,” Mr. Eissenstat said, “but it has been very savvy about using its power in limited and effective means.”

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin were expected on Tuesday to discuss whether Turkey will be allowed to expand its sphere of influence beyond the central pocket of formerly Kurdish-held territory that Turkish-led forces have already seized this month.

“With my dear friend Putin, we will discuss the current situation in northern Syria, primarily to the east of the Euphrates,” Mr. Erdogan said to reporters at an airport in Ankara, shortly before departing for Russia.

Kurdish fighters had managed to carve out their own autonomous region in northeast Syria, free of government control, amid the chaos of the eight-year civil war. They greatly expanded their territory from 2015 onward, when they became the principal Syrian partner of an American-led coalition working to defeat militants from the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS.

As Kurdish fighters won back ISIS-held land, they took over its governance, eventually establishing control over roughly a quarter of Syria.

Mr. Erdogan’s goal is to create a buffer zone along the entire length of the Turkish-Syrian border, roughly 20 miles deep, to keep Kurdish fighters from getting within mortar range of Turkey. Analysts in Moscow expect Mr. Putin to accept some measure of Turkish control over a buffer zone, though it’s not clear how deep into Syrian territory he would agree for it to extend, or how it would be policed.

Mr. Erdogan views the main Kurdish militia in northeast Syria, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a threat to Turkish national security, since the group is an offshoot of a guerrilla movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

“We understand Turkey’s concern in connection with the need to ensure its safety and with the need to fight terrorist elements,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the meeting.

“But we are also expecting that all actions should be proportionate to these concerns and that these actions should in no way make the process of peaceful political settlement in Syria more difficult.”

For Mr. Putin, the meeting with Mr. Erdogan provided an opportunity to solidify and extend Mr. al-Assad’s hold on power.

Mr. al-Assad attempted to project his own influence on Tuesday, visiting the northwestern province of Idlib for the first time since the area fell out of government control several years ago. He was pictured near the front line of a battle between rebels and his own military, in photographs released by a state-run news agency.

Before his meeting with Mr. Erdogan was arranged, Mr. Putin was already scheduled to be in Sochi this week to host the leaders of 43 African countries, a first-of-its-kind summit that will offer another measure of Russia’s growing foreign policy ambitions.

Turkey is part of NATO, which Russia sees as an adversary. But ties between Moscow and Ankara have rapidly warmed as a result of the war in Syria and growing tensions between Turkey and its longtime allies in Western Europe and the United States.

As American troops crossed the border from Syria into Iraq this week, the Iraqi government faced questions about whether the withdrawal was camouflage for an American buildup in Iraq. The United States military has a large camp in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the troops are going there until arrangements are made for them to move on.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper seemed mindful of the Iraqis’ concerns on Monday when he wrote on Twitter, “As we withdraw from NE Syria, we will temporarily reposition those forces in the region outside Syria until they return home.”

The Iraqis had agreed that the Americans could leave Syria through Iraq and then fly out to Kuwait or Doha, according to generals in the Iraqi Joint Command. In a statement, the Joint Command said that it wanted to make clear that “there is an agreement for U.S. troops to enter Iraqi Kurdistan in order to leave Syria, but there is no approval for them to stay in Iraq.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Trump said he wanted troops in Iraq to “watch Iran,” angering Iraqi politicians who said they feared the United States would use Iraq as a launching pad for a war against Iran.

Anton Troianovski reported from Sochi, and Patrick Kingsley from Istanbul. Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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