Russian President Vladimir Putin is suddenly confronting a Western alliance that's united against him after the unprecedented expulsion of nearly 140 of his diplomats by 24 countries.
While Russia's promising a “tough” response, Putin must also calculate whether to try to salvage ties with U.S. President Donald Trump a week after they agreed in a phone call to hold a summit to discuss ways to avert a new arms race.
Trump’s order to expel 60 Russians won rare bipartisan praise in Washington amid continued rancor over alleged Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and may help him domestically by showing his independence from Putin. Even so, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman told Kommersant today that Trump still wants to meet Putin “if we can make progress in our relations.”
The Kremlin insists Russia has nothing to do with the nerve-agent poisoning of a former spy in the U.K. that triggered the expulsions. China offered Putin’s camp little support, urging both the U.K. and Russia to get their facts straight.
Defying the West helped Putin win landslide re-election this month. As Russian analysts warn that tensions are at Cold War levels, Putin must decide whether to escalate confrontation or seek a way out of the crisis.
Just in … Germany is willing to offer the U.S. concessions in order to stop Trump from imposing tariffs on European steel and aluminum, exposing a divide with France on how to avert a trade war, Birgit Jennen exclusively reports.
White House denies affair | Adult film actress Stormy Daniels added Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen as a defendant in her defamation lawsuit against the president, another fold in the legal morass stemming from her alleged 2006 affair with Trump and a subsequent non-disclosure agreement. The White House yesterday made its most substantial statement yet on the alleged affair, with a spokesman adamantly denying it ever took place.
North Korean intrigue | Kim Jong Un made a surprise visit to Beijing, Bloomberg reports, as countries jockey for the upper hand in potential talks on the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The trip — Kim’s first known venture away from home since taking power in 2011 — was shrouded in mystery, as North Korean state media sat silent and China declined to acknowledge even the presence of the train believed to have carried the leader across the border.
The difference a week makes | U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May — whose expected political lifespan has been measured in days — looks strong suddenly, buoyed by international support for her tough stand against Russia over the poison attack. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is on the backfoot, meanwhile, angering his own lawmakers by refusing to blame Russia and embroiled yet again in accusations of anti-Semitism.
Dialogue with jihadists | Nigeria is pursuing negotiations with Islamist militants to end a nine-year conflict that’s cost thousands of lives and pushed its northeastern region to the brink of famine. President Muhammadu Buhari’s government credited back-channel contacts for securing the release of more than 100 abducted schoolgirls this month. It will need expanded talks to achieve a cease-fire with the faction-ridden insurgent group known as Boko Haram, whose name translates as “Western education is a sin.”
Influence building | Facebook is on a hiring spree as it contends with a privacy scandal that cuts to the heart of its business model. The social network, which started employing new lobbyists last fall after revelations Russians exploited its platform to try to help elect Trump, is seeking at least 11 people for policy-related positions in Washington amid mounting calls to explain its data-privacy practices.
What to watch :
- Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are closing in on the last rebel bastion in a Damascus suburb, where hundreds have been killed. With Eastern Ghouta expected to fall anytime now, government troops would then control all of Syria’s major urban centers and about 60 percent of territory.
And finally… Flying Whales is the latest entrant in a global race to develop a viable cargo airship, reviving an era effectively ended by the 1937 Hindenburg disaster. The French company is developing a 500-foot blimp capable of lifting 60 tons that’s twice as long as a jumbo jet. It’s up against defense giant Lockheed Martin and other rivals including one dubbed the “flying bum.” History, not technology, may be the biggest hurdle. “There’s work ahead of us to teach people about how blimp technologies and materials have evolved,” says Flying Whales founder Sebastien Bougon.
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