Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel using diplomatic facilities

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications. The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser. The White House disclosed the fact of the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest. Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate – a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team. Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.


Newsline: Estonia expels two Russian diplomats

Two senior Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave Estonia, the Russian embassy and Estonian Foreign Ministry have confirmed to RT, adding that they cannot give any further comment. Russia’s consul general in Narva, Dmitry Kazyonnov, and consul Andrey Surgaev were handed a note to leave the Baltic country on Friday. The Russian Foreign Ministry told RT it considers the expulsion of the diplomats “yet another unfriendly and absolutely groundless act.” Such actions from Tallinn “will not be left unanswered,” it added.


Newsline: Russian Embassy in London joins in US murder speculation

The Russian Embassy in London has joined in the speculation surrounding the unsolved murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. The embassy tweeted an image featuring Rich and Hillary Clinton in the background, with text saying, “Who Killed Seth Rich?” The tweet also says, “#WikiLeaks informer Seth Rich murdered in US but MSM [mainstream media] was so busy accusing Russian hackers to take notice.” Rich, 27, was shot and killed on July 10, 2016, as he was walking home from a bar in Washington, D.C. Police found him still in possession of his credit cards, wallet and phone, and believe the murder was a botched robbery. On July 22, WikiLeaks released 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments belonging to the DNC. Because Rich had worked for the committee, people on the political right speculated that Rich had been behind the leak, and that the DNC or Clinton may have arranged his murder. The Russian Embassy’s tweet comes days after Rod Wheeler, a private investigator working on behalf of Rich’s family, told a Fox affiliate there was evidence that Rich had communicated with WikiLeaks. A day later, on Tuesday, Fox News reported that a “federal investigator” had corroborated Wheeler’s account, and that an FBI analysis of Rich’s computer showed he had transferred the 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments to Gavin MacFayden, a man who had ties to WikiLeaks before he died last October.


Newsline: Trump accused of revealing highly classified information to Russian foreign minister, ambassador

President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said. The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency. “This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” For almost anyone in government, discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law. “The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who participated in the meeting. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”


Newsline: Russia to replace Ambassador to US with anti-Western hard-liner

Russia may replace its Ambassador to the United States after the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump takes place. Russia’s Ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, is likely to be replaced by Anatoly Antonov, who previously served as deputy Defence Minister, the Kommersant said. Russia’s incumbent Ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, has been taking the position since July 2008. Kislyak was nominated for the position of the director of the Bureau for Combating Terrorism at the United Nations. On December 28, 2016, President Vladimir Putin appointed Anatoly Antonov, who then served as Deputy Defence Minister, for the position of Deputy Foreign Minister. At the Defence Ministry, Antonov was in charge of international cooperation. Antonov is considered a supporter of hard line policy against the West.


Newsline: Russian Embassy in UK Trolls British Media

The Russian Embassy in London has decided to poke some light fun at The Times newspaper’s expense, responding to a story about alleged EU meddling in Britain’s upcoming parliamentary elections. This week, Prime Minister Theresa May openly accused the EU of interfering in the country’s snap general election, scheduled to take place next month. The Times newspaper decided to run May’s remarks as a front page story headlined “Brussels is meddling in our election, warns May.” Russia’s Embassy to the UK, well-known for its pithy commentary on some of the ridiculous claims against Russia levelled by Western politicians and media, couldn’t resist trolling the newspaper, May and the mainstream establishment media in general through Twitter, writing “Praise God it’s not Russia this time” along with a snap of The Times cover story. The Embassy’s sarcastic comment was a concise reply to claims regularly made by Western officials and media that Russia was somehow interfering in elections, from the US presidential race in 2016 to elections in France, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Last month, a UK parliamentary committee even hinted that Russian hackers may have attempted to interfere in last year’s Brexit referendum.


Newsline: Russian ambassador says Kremlin isn’t trying to destabilize the EU

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, denied Moscow was trying to destabilize the European Union but said he envisioned a contest of “values” between Russia and the West in the decades ahead. Chizhov, speaking at a press briefing Wednesday, blamed the strained relations between the EU and Russia on the United States and urged Brussels “to be more independent in its decision-making.” Asked why so many diplomats in Brussels believe Russia was working to undermine the West and accuse the Kremlin of meddling in European elections, Chizhov said the claims were a throwback to the Cold War. “I have a feeling that this anti-Russian rhetoric, bordering on the verge of hysteria, which was originally linked to domestic political problems in the United States in view of last year’s presidential elections — this has become a contagious thing crossing the Atlantic and spreading across Europe,” he said. Chizhov added: “Let me tell you in all frankness: It is not Russia’s intention to destabilize the European Union.” Chizhov’s briefing in Brussels came a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. Merkel said she told Putin Western sanctions against Russia would be lifted once the Minsk peace accord is implemented in eastern Ukraine.