Early Warning for 16 July 2018

Good morning. Here’s your Early Warning for 16 July 2018. (All times Eastern.)

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting right now at a summit in Helsinki, Finland. After meeting in a one-on-one setting with no aides or reporters, the two appeared in front of cameras and journalists and gave statements. In a pre-meeting tweet, President Trump said: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs retweeted with the comment, “We agree.”

Meanwhile, news outlets and pundits are pointing out the “ridiculous” notion that the U.S. is at all to blame for poor relations with Russia. They cite “Russian aggression” in Crimea and Ukraine, hacking, election meddling, and its support for Assad in Syria.

But what they’re ignoring is Putin’s logic, which is quite logical. The Russians maintain that the 1997 Founding Act between NATO and the Russian Federation was intended to promote cooperation between the two spheres of influence, and that NATO’s expansion has violated the 1997 agreement. The handshake agreement by former president Bill Clinton and former Russian president Boris Yeltsin was intended to prevent the growth of military alliances and keep Europe undivided.

Thirteen European nations have since joined NATO since the agreement, including former Warsaw Pact countries like the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia), Romania, Bulgaria Albania, and others.  Russian President Vladimir Putin sees NATO expansion as a growing and direct threat to Russian national security.

In response to NATO expansion, Putin set an agenda of military action in grey zones abroad, starting in South Ossetia (2008), Ukraine (2014), and Syria (2015), to prevent the U.S. and NATO from further expansion and influence. Putin likely fears regime change and a reverse of his ‘Russia First’ policies.

It’s not enough to simply point out “Russian aggression” without also pointing out Western aggression towards Russia, which would include NSA and CIA activities directed at the Russian government, inform and influence campaigns to foment domestic unrest against Putin, and the expansion of NATO to include last year’s ascension of Montenegro, which has the population of Las Vegas, into the military alliance. No one should pretend that the U.S. and NATO are simply innocent victims of Russian aggression without acknowledging the activities directed towards Russia. That would be fair and balanced reporting.

They’re still meeting, at the time of this writing, however, President Trump did describe the first session as “a very good start”. [source]


White House

After having breakfast with the president of Finland, President Trump participated in a one on one bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin before having lunch during an expanded bilateral meeting between U.S. and Russian officials. President Trump is expected to arrive back at the White House later tonight.


State Department

State Department officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are in Finland today, holding meetings with Russian officials.

Assistant Secretary Singh is traveling this week to Greece, Turkey, and Kazakhstan to discuss trade and economic matters.


Defense Department

There are no reported significant events or meetings with DOD officials today.

The Carl Vinson (CVN-70) was last reported in the Hawaii Area of Operations. The Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) is reportedly in the East Atlantic, and the Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is in the Philippine Sea. Conflict requiring a Carrier Strike Group does not appear imminent.


Congress

House: There are no significant committee hearings scheduled for today.

Senate: There are no significant committee hearings scheduled for today.

 

Significant congressional/political reporting:

  • A day after a raucous hearing by the House Judiciary and Government Oversight committees involving testimony from FBI agent Peter Stzrok, who was appearing to answer questions of alleged anti-Trump bias and procedures involving investigations he led into Hillary Clinton’s classified emails and surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign, testimony by his reported paramour — former FBI lawyer Lisa Page — was praised by some of the same Republicans who criticized Strzok’s performance. While details of her closed-door testimony were not publicly revealed, some House Republicans said she provided information that they have been waiting to hear for some time. “There is significant new info she has provided,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C. told CNN. He called her a “very credible witness.” Added caucus member Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla, “I found Lisa Page to be far more credible than Strzok.”

 


Economy/Finance

Tariff concerns and the trade war with China are weighing on consumer sentiment, and recent data shows that Republicans have much greater confidence in the economy than do Democrats.

According to University of Michigan data, U.S. consumer sentiment on home buying conditions and home affordability continue to drop to lows not seen since 2008.


Weather

The National Hurricane Center reports that tropical cyclone activity is not expected during the next 48 hours.

Drought conditions persist across much of the Southwest.

 


Weekend Significant Reporting

“I think the European Union is a foe,” Trump says ahead of Putin meeting in Helsinki

Why an unmanned fighter fleet isn’t yet viable, according to Britain’s air force chief

China, Russia, U.S. are all building centers for artificial intelligence


Notable Quotable

“He’s been very nice to me the times I’ve met him. I’ve been nice to him. He’s a competitor. You know, somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ No, he’s not my enemy. ‘Is he a friend?’ No, I don’t know him well enough.” — POTUS Trump discussing President Putin last week at the NATO summit in Brussels, ahead of today’s meeting.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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