The Washington Post
“Political chaos in Washington is a return on investment for Moscow”
Russia’s “active measures” campaign ended with the election last year. But Comey’s firing on Tuesday triggered a new wave of ¬Russia-related turbulence.
His removal was perceived as a blow to the independence of the bureau’s ongoing investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Current and former U.S. officials said that even if that probe remains on track, Comey’s ouster serves broader Russian interests. “They feel pretty good overall because that’s a further sign that our political system is in a real crisis,” said Eugene Rumer, a former State Department official who served as the top intelligence officer on Russia issues from 2010 to 2014. “The firing of Comey only aggravates this crisis. It’s now certain to be more protracted and more painful, and that’s okay with them.” James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, offered a similar assessment in Senate testimony last week, even before Comey was dismissed, saying that Moscow must look on the election and its aftermath with a great deal of satisfaction.
Trump’s policies toward Russia have also taken a harder line in part because of the rising influence of senior members of his administration, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who are critics of Moscow.
Even so, Trump himself continues to send pro-Russia signals, sometimes at the expense of agencies that report to him. Trump recently signaled, again, that he remains unconvinced that Russia was behind the hack of the 2016 election and release of tens of thousands of emails that damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign. His position is a rejection of the consensus view of U.S. intelligence agencies.
“Emmanuel Macron names Edouard Philippe as French prime minister”
France’s new centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, has appointed as prime minister Edouard Philippe from the rightwing party Les Républicains.
Philippe, 46, the mayor of the Normandy port town, Le Havre, comes from the centre-right faction of Les Républicains – the party led by Nicolas Sarkozy until last year that saw its candidate, François Fillon, knocked out in the first round of the presidential election. Philippe, seen within his party as a centrist, supported the moderate, centre-right former prime-minister, Alain Juppé, in the party’s primary race to choose a presidential candidate last year.
Macron, who has set out his own political line as “neither left nor right”, has sought what he calls a “pragmatic” alliance of people from all backgrounds and parties to push through his pro-business reforms. He has sought to benefit from the weakness of France’s traditional left and right governing parties, which were both knocked out of the presidential election at the first round amid anti-establishment anger among voters. Macron, a newcomer to politics who was unknown three years ago, has promised to renew France’s political class and include more women. He is under pressure to ensure a number of women hold senior positions in the new French government to be announced on Tuesday. Macron has previously said his government would be 50% female. His key cabinet and senior advisor positions in the Elysée, announced on Sunday, were all men.
“Turkey slams Trump plan to arm Kurds”
Turkey has lashed out at Washington’s plan to send arms to Kurdish rebels fighting ISIS in Syria, calling for an end to the US strategy that has long rattled Ankara.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump had authorized arming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), green-lighting a US policy that had sat on the backburner for years to avoid confrontation with Turkey, a key NATO ally. It said that the provision of supplies and weapons was aimed at aiding the only group it sees fit enough to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the ISIS group’s de facto capital, in the near future.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the decision was unacceptable and asked the US to reverse its decision. «If the opposite decision is made, the consequences will bring negative outcomes, not only for Turkey but also for America,» Anadolu quoted him as saying.
Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana White tried to allay Turkey’s concerns, saying that the the United States fully supported returning Raqqa to Syrian Arabs, not the Kurds. She added that equipment provided to the SDF would be «limited, mission-specific, and metered out incrementally as objectives are reached.» Defense Secretary James Mattis also tried to calm the storm, saying that the US and Turkey have had open discussions about the issue.
“The super-connector airlines face a world of troubles”
When a video of a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight went viral last month, the American carrier’s Middle Eastern rivals were quick to mock its customer service. Qatar Airways updated its smartphone app to say it “doesn’t support drag and drop”. The ribbing was justified. Over a decade of expansion, Qatar Airways, along with Emirates of Dubai, the world’s largest airline by international passenger miles travelled, and Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi, wowed customers with superior service and better-value fares.
Passengers joined them in droves, abandoning hub airports in America and Europe as well as the airlines that use them. Over the past decade the big three Gulf carriers and Turkish Airlines trebled their passenger numbers, to 155m in 2015 (see chart). They went a long way to dominating long-haul routes between Europe and Asia. Most international airlines rely on travellers going from or to their home countries, but customers of the four “super-connectors”, as they are known, mostly just change planes at the carriers’ hub airports end route to somewhere else.
A slowing of this spectacular growth was at some point inevitable. But it has been exacerbated by several things. First, the airlines have been deeply affected by the halving of the oil price since 2014, which has reduced their customers’ spending power and sharply cut demand for air travel from the Middle East itself. Second, geography has turned sharply against them. When Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates, helped Dubai’s government to set up the airline in 1985, he was quick to spot that a third of the world’s population lives within four hours’ flight of Dubai, and two-thirds within eight. The third, and latest, blow has been a set of travel restrictions introduced by the Trump administration.