Longtime Donald Trump advisor Roger Stone pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges stemming from the ongoing investigation into whether the president’s campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 election.
Stone, 66, is charged with lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction in relation to his contacts with WikiLeaks, whose publication of embarrassing Russian-hacked communications from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign gave a boost to Trump.
Stone, a veteran Republican consultant who prides himself on his reputation as a political dirty trickster, entered a not guilty plea during an appearance in federal court in Washington.
Stone is the sixth campaign associate of Trump indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 vote.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Moscow and denounced the probe by Mueller, a former FBI director, as a “political witch hunt.”
Stone arrived for his arraignment on a chilly winter morning to chants of “Lock him up” from some protestors. One waved a Russia flag and another held up a sign reading “Dirty Traitor.”
A pro-Stone demonstrator displayed a poster calling for contributions to a Stone Defense Fund.
Stone, who launched his career as a campaign aide to Richard Nixon and has a tattoo on his back of the first US president to resign from office, has spent decades advising political campaigns.
His association with Trump dates back to 1979, and he was one of the first to enlist when the billionaire real estate magnate launched his run for the presidency in 2015.
The Mueller probe was launched in May 2017 and Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Monday that it was close to being wrapped up.
Moscow will early next year host the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey to discuss the Syrian conflict, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said Friday, after the United States announced it was withdrawing troops from the country.
“It’s our turn to host the summit… around the first week of the year. This will depend on the schedules of the presidents,” Mikhail Bogdanov was cited as saying by Interfax news agency.
The meeting will be the latest step in the Astana peace process — set up in early 2017 by Russia and Iran, who support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, and opposition backer Turkey.
The Astana process was launched after Russia’s military intervention in Syria tipped the balance in the Damascus regime’s favour. It has gradually eclipsed an earlier UN-sponsored negotiations framework known as the Geneva process.
The last meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan took place in Iran in September with the fate of the rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
US President Donald Trump in a shock announcement recently said he was pulling out some 2,000 American soldiers from Syria, claiming the Islamic State jihadists had been defeated.
Moscow on Wednesday dismissed the US claims that Russia is violating a major Cold War treaty limiting mid-range nuclear arms, from which Washington is planning to withdraw.
“Groundless accusations are again being repeated,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia in “material breach” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
“No proof has been produced to support this American position,” Zakharova said.
She described the treaty as a “cornerstone of global stability and international security”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov meanwhile said facts had been distorted “in order to camouflage the true goal of the US withdrawing from the treaty”.
Pompeo said during a meeting with fellow NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday that the US would withdraw from the deal within 60 days if Moscow does not dismantle missiles that Washington says violate it.
NATO said it was now “up to Russia” to save the treaty.
In October, President Donald Trump sparked global concern by declaring the United States would pull out of the treaty and build up America’s nuclear stockpile “until people come to their senses”.
But on Monday, the US leader said he wants talks with his Chinese and Russian counterparts Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin “to head off a major and uncontrollable Arms Race”.
Signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, the INF resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.
But it was a bilateral treaty between the US and the then Soviet Union, so it puts no restrictions on other major military actors like China.
Pompeo on Tuesday said there was no reason why the US “should continue to cede this crucial military advantage” to rival powers.
The Trump administration has complained of Moscow’s deployment of Novator 9M729 missiles, which Washington says fall under the treaty’s ban on missiles that can travel distances of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 and 5,500 kilometers).
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.
The two states are also at odds over Russian support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
Moscow on Sunday warned US President Donald Trump that his plan to ditch a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty with Russia was a dangerous step.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said this “would be a very dangerous step” and accused the US of risking international condemnation in a bid for “total supremacy” in the military sphere.
He insisted that Moscow observed “in the strictest way” the three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF, while accusing Washington of “flagrant violations.”
The treaty was signed in 1987 by the then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
But Trump on Saturday claimed Russia had long violated it.
“We’re the ones who have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honoured the agreement, but Russia has not unfortunately honoured the agreement, so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” he told reporters.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years. I don’t know why president (Barack) Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons (while) we’re not allowed to.”
Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton was set to arrive in Moscow on Sunday evening and meet next week with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
That comes ahead of what is expected to be a second summit between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin this year.
Bolton was also set to meet with Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Putin aide Yuri Ushakov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a “possible meeting” was being prepared between Putin and Bolton.
Deputy foreign minister Ryabkov said Sunday he hoped Bolton would explain the US plans “more substantively and clearly.”
The Trump administration has complained of Moscow’s deployment of 9M729 missiles, which Washington says can travel more than 310 miles (500 kilometres), and thus violate the INF treaty.
The treaty, which banned missiles that could travel between 310 and 3,400 miles, resolved a crisis that had begun in the 1980s with the deployment of Soviet SS-20 nuclear-tipped, intermediate-range ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.
US or Russia at fault?
A Russian foreign ministry official earlier accused Washington of implementing policy “toward dismantling the nuclear deal”.
Washington “has approached this step over the course of many years by deliberately and step by step destroying the basis for the agreement,” said the unnamed official, quoted by Russia’s three main news agencies.
The official accused the US of backing out of international agreements that put it on an equal footing with other countries because it wanted to protect American “exceptionalism.”
Russian senator Alexei Pushkov wrote on Twitter that the move was “the second powerful blow against the whole system of strategic stability in the world” after Washington’s 2001 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.
“And again, the initiator of the dissolution of the agreement is the US,” he added.
Bolton himself is pressuring Trump to leave the INF and has blocked talks to extend the New Start treaty on strategic missiles set to expire in 2021, according to The Guardian newspaper.
US withdrawal from the INF “will destroy any prospects of extending the New Start treaty,” the head of the Russian senate’s foreign affairs committee Konstantin Kosachev warned on Facebook.
A US withdrawal from the INF could also target China. As a non-signatory, Beijing can develop without constraints intermediate-range nuclear weapons.
US-Russia ties are under deep strain over accusations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The two countries are also at odds over Russian support for the Syrian government in the country’s civil war, and the conflict in Ukraine.
On Friday, the US Justice Department indicted the finance chief of Russia’s leading troll farm for allegedly interfering with US elections, the first person to face charges involving the 2018 congressional mid-term vote.
Russia accused the US of fabricating the charges.
While no new summit between Trump and Putin has yet been announced, one is expected in the near future.
The two leaders will be in Paris on November 11 to attend commemorations marking the centenary of the end of World War I.
A senior Trump administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said another potential date could be when both presidents attend the Group of 20 meeting on November 30 to December 1.
The Russian foreign ministry was to summon the Dutch ambassador on Monday after the Netherlands said it had foiled a cyber attack by Russians, state news agencies reported.
“Due to the campaign of disinformation carried out in The Hague the Dutch ambassador will be summoned to the foreign ministry on Monday,” a source in the ministry told RIA Novosti state news agency.
The Netherlands said Thursday it had expelled four GRU military intelligence agents in April for an attempt to hack into the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
At the time of the alleged plot, the OPCW was investigating the March poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury.
It was also probing allegations of a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian town of Douma by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Moscow.
The suspected agents were traveling on Russian diplomatic passports.
Moscow last summoned the Dutch ambassador Renée Jones-Bos along with the Swiss ambassador in September over what it called “unsubstantiated accusations” that Russian spies had attempted to hack Swiss targets.
Russia has dismissed accusations it has orchestrated a string of global cyber attacks as “spy mania”.
Moscow on Thursday rejected an international investigation that found a Russian missile downed flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, saying no such weapon had ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border and blaming Kiev for the tragedy.
“Not a single anti-aircraft missile system from the Russian Federation has ever crossed the Russia-Ukraine border,” the defence ministry said in a statement carried by local news agencies.
The ministry accused Ukraine of being behind the disaster in which 298 people died, saying it had presented evidence that “showed the involvement of Ukrainian units using (Soviet-designed) BUK missiles”.
Earlier in the day, a Netherlands-led joint investigation team said — for the first time — that the missile which brought down the plane over eastern Ukraine came from a Russian military brigade.
The group “has come to the conclusion that the BUK-TELAR that shot down MH17 came from 53rd Anti-aircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk in Russia,” top Dutch investigator Wilbert Paulissen said.
He told reporters gathered for a press conference that “the 53rd Brigade forms part of the Russian armed forces.”
The Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was blown out of the sky over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Ukraine and its Western allies have long accused Russia of funnelling troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the conflict.
Moscow has denied the allegations despite overwhelming evidence that it has been involved in the fighting and its explicit political support for the rebels.
Investigators had previously concluded that the plane was hit by a Russian-made BUK missile system brought in from Russia and fired from territory in Ukraine held by Moscow-backed rebels. But they had stopped short of directly saying who pulled the trigger.
Now the team has painstakingly recreated the route taken by the missile convoy from Kursk towards the border into Ukraine using videos and photos.
The US and its allies fired more than 100 cruise missiles at Syria, a significant number of which were intercepted by Syrian air defences, the Russian defence ministry said Saturday.
“More than 100 cruise missiles and air-to-land missiles were fired by the US, Britain and France from the sea and air at Syrian military and civilian targets,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by RIA Novosti news agency, adding that “a significant number” were shot down by Syrian air defences.
It said that 12 cruise missiles were fired at an airfield close to Damascus and all were intercepted by Syria’s air defences.
“Russian air defence systems located on Syrian territory have not been used to counter the missile strikes”, it said.
It said earlier that none of the Western strikes in Syria had hit areas covered by Russia’s air defences around its Hmeimim airbase and naval facility in Tartus.
The Russian military said the missiles were fired from US ships in the Red Sea as well as from tactical aircraft over the Mediterranean and by US strategic bombers from the Al-Tanf base in southeastern Syria.
The US, France, and Britain announced a joint operation against Syria’s government, a week after an alleged chemical attack outside the capital Damascus that was said to have left more than 40 people dead.
Arsenal survived a scare as they progressed to the last four of the Europa League on Thursday after coming back to draw 2-2 with CSKA Moscow in Russia.
Fedor Chalov and Kirill Nababkin scored for CSKA to set Arsenal nerves jangling in the Russian capital, as the hosts looked to overturn a 4-1 deficit from the first leg.
But Danny Welbeck pulled one back before Aaron Ramsey levelled the scores on the night in stoppage time, taking the Premier League side through 6-3 on aggregate.
It was another night of comebacks in a crazy midweek in Europe, with Marseille and Red Bull Salzburg producing stirring performances to overturn first-leg deficits and go through.
Salzburg lost 4-2 to Lazio in Rome last week but won 4-1 in the return in Austria, despite Ciro Immobile giving the Italians a second-half lead on the night.
The hosts proceeded to score four times in 20 minutes to advance 6-5 on aggregate.
Marseille recovered from losing 1-0 away to RB Leipzig last week, and from falling behind to the Germans inside two minutes in the return at the Velodrome, as they won 5-2 on the night to progress 5-3 on aggregate.
A brilliant Dimitri Payet finish for Marseille’s fourth was a highlight as they made it through to a first European semi-final since 2004.
Atletico Madrid are also through, and remain the favourites to win the trophy in Lyon next month — they were beaten 1-0 on the night away to Sporting Lisbon but progressed 2-1 on aggregate.
Moscow on Wednesday said it would expel a Hungarian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move after Budapest kicked out a Russian representative over the poisoning of a former double agent in the UK.
Hungary has unusually warm ties with Russia for a European Union country, but last month became one of 18 bloc members to expel Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain.
“In response to the unfriendly and unreasonable demand from Hungary to expel a Russian diplomatic worker on the basis of Britain’s unproven accusation regarding Russia in the so-called ‘Skripal affair’, Russia is declaring a worker in the Hungarian embassy persona non grata,” the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.
The Hungarian ambassador had been called into the ministry, the statement added.
The move came days ahead of an election in Hungary that will likely extend the term of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The rightwing premier was one of just a few EU leaders to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his own re-election last month.
Orban has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over the rule of law and immigration, and he and Putin visit each other regularly.
The Hungarian leader has said that rather than liberal democracy he favoured building an “illiberal state” and praised Russia as a model.
The first plane carrying Russian diplomats expelled from the United States over the poisoning of a former spy arrived at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on Sunday.
The Il-96 jet brought home 46 Russian diplomats and their family members, the state TASS news agency said.
Russian television showed passengers disembarking from the plane while several buses waited to pick them up.
A second plane was expected to arrive in the Russian capital later Sunday.
In total, 171 people — diplomats and their families — were scheduled to leave the US.
Washington joined a score of Britain’s allies in expelling Russian diplomats in response to a nerve agent attack against a former double agent, with more than 150 ordered out of the US, EU members, NATO countries and other nations.
The US announced it would send home 60 diplomats — which it alleges are “spies” — posted around the country and at the Russian mission to the United Nations, as well as closing Russia’s consulate in Seattle.
Moscow responded by expelling 60 US diplomats and closing Washington’s consulate in Saint Petersburg.
The tit-for-tat measures came in retaliation to the coordinated expulsion of Russian diplomats by Britain and its allies over the nerve agent attack against former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.
It is the biggest wave of diplomatic expulsions between Russia and the West in recent memory.
Moscow will expel British diplomats in response to London’s move to kick out 23 Russian officials over the poisoning of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.
“Of course we will,” Lavrov told journalists when asked whether Moscow will respond in kind to the expulsion of Russian diplomats announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Lavrov was speaking in the Kazakh capital Astana following talks on Syria with the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey.
The Russian foreign minister on Thursday said Moscow would respond by expelling British diplomats “soon”.
He said his country had no motive to target Skripal, but suggested others could use the poisoning to “complicate” the World Cup.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier said Vladimir Putin would ultimately choose the option that “most suits Moscow’s interests”.
In a rare joint statement, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and the US on Thursday condemned the attack on Skripal and his daughter Yulia as an “assault on UK sovereignty”.
The escalating international scandal is unfolding as Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition after exposure to the Soviet-designed chemical Novichok on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury.
Moscow on Tuesday shrugged off London’s decision not to send British ministers and royals to Russia’s World Cup over a nerve agent attack on a former double agent.
The measure was one of a number announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May in response to the March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
May said her government had found thatRussia was “culpable” of the attack — a charge Moscow angrily denies.
“It is every fan’s choice, whether to come or not,” Russia’s World Cup organising committee chief Alexei Sorokin told the RIA Novosti state news agency.
“It will have no impact on the quality of the tournament. We still intend to organise it at the highest level,” said Sorokin.
The possibility of England’s national team boycotting the first World Cup staged in Russia has been heavily analysed by the Moscow press and irritated football officials.
Moscow’s Sport Express newspaper ran a story ahead of May’s announcement warning in a headline that “sport is being taken hostage”.
– Traveling Britons warned –
May’s announcement should remove the worst-case scenario — an English boycott — for Russian organisers and the world football governing body FIFA.
But Sorokin still criticised May for giving a diplomatic snub to a tournament that has been associated closely with Vladimir Putin since the Russian strongman wrested the hosting rights away from England in 2010.
“It is a shame that not everyone adheres to the principle of football being outside politics,” Sorokin said.
And some British lawmakers continued to argue in favour a full boycott of the Russian tournament even after May’s remarks.
England’s Football Association said it “will continue to work closely with the UK Government and relevant authorities regarding our participation in this summer’s FIFA World Cup” in light of May’s decision.
“Our priority for all England matches is to ensure the safety and security of the fans, players, and staff,” the FA said in a statement.
The Foreign Office also warned Britons currently in or travelling to Russia of a risk of “anti-British sentiment or harassment”.
It added that English supporters who do go should refrain from discussing politics in public.
Most foreign fans attending the June 14 to July 15 competition will be arriving in Moscow before either flying or taking a train to one of the 10 other host cities.
England will play their opening match against Tunisia on June 18 in the Volga River city of Volgograd.
They travel up the river for a June 24 encounter in Nizhny Novgorod against Panama before wrapping up their group stage games against Belgium on June 30 in the western exclave of Kaliningrad.