Trump chides Rus­sia, but doesn’t con­demn elec­tion med­dling

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD - BY KEN THOMAS AND DAR­LENE SUPERVILLE

On the eve of his first meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vowed Thurs­day to con­front “new forms of ag­gres­sion” tar­get­ing the West and called for Moscow to stop fo­ment­ing un­rest around the world. Yet he point­edly stopped short of con­demn­ing Rus­sia for med­dling in the U.S. elec­tion.

Buoyed by an elec­tri­fied crowd of thou­sands in Poland chant­ing his name, Trump sought to show he wasn’t over­look­ing Rus­sian ac­tions that have elicited global con­ster­na­tion, es­pe­cially from nearby na­tions in east­ern and cen­tral Europe.

He warned that West­ern in­ter­ests were be­ing tested by “pro­pa­ganda, fi­nan­cial crimes and cy­ber war­fare,” forc­ing NATO to adapt.

“We urge Rus­sia to cease its desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in Ukraine and else­where, and its sup­port for hos­tile regimes in­clud­ing Syria and Iran, and to join the com­mu­nity of re­spon­si­ble na­tions in our fight against com­mon en­e­mies and in de­fence of civ­i­liza­tion it­self,” Trump said in a speech in War­saw’s Krasin­ski Square.

It was a cri­tique that the pres­i­dent did not ap­pear to ex­tend to Rus­sia’s ac­tions last year dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. In a news con­fer­ence be­fore his speech, Trump ques­tioned the ve­rac­ity of Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence about for­eign med­dling in the U.S. elec­tion, ar­gu­ing that Rus­sia wasn’t the only coun­try that may have in­ter­fered.

“No­body re­ally knows for sure,” Trump said.

As U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s med­dling forge ahead, Trump is un­der in­tense scru­tiny for how he han­dles his first face-to-face ses­sion with Putin. U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials say the un­pre­dictable Rus­sia leader or­dered in­ter­fer­ence into the 2016 elec­tion that brought Trump to the White House.

From Poland, Trump took a short flight to Ham­burg, Ger­many, where he met with Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. The two shook hands and chat­ted ca­su­ally but made no com­ments to re­porters be­fore their meet­ing. Trump also planned to have din­ner later Thurs­day with the lead­ers of South Korea and Ja­pan, two U.S. treaty al­lies deeply alarmed about North Korea’s lat­est mis­sile launch.

Trump and Putin plan to sit down to­gether on Fri­day in Ham­burg, on the side­lines of the G-20 sum­mit of in­dus­tri­al­ized and de­vel­op­ing economies. Asked, in Poland, whether he planned to dis­cuss elec­tion med­dling with Putin, Trump de­murred.

But back in Wash­ing­ton, pres­sure was mount­ing from Trump’s crit­ics in Con­gress for him to force­fully con­front Putin. Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Demo­crat on the House in­tel­li­gence panel, urged Trump to “have the courage” to raise the elec­tion is­sue di­rectly, while sev­eral Sen­ate Democrats in­sisted it would be a “se­vere dere­lic­tion” of Trump’s du­ties if he doesn’t.

Loath to cast a shadow on his elec­tion vic­tory, Trump has avoided firmly blam­ing Moscow for cam­paign hack­ing in the past, and on Thurs­day, he was sim­i­larly elu­sive. He ar­gued vari­ably that it could have been Rus­sia, prob­a­bly was Rus­sia and in­deed was Rus­sia, while in­sist­ing it could have been other coun­tries, too, and adding: “I won’t be spe­cific.”

AP PHOTO

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel pose for a pho­to­graph prior to a bi­lat­eral meet­ing on the eve of the G-20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, north­ern Ger­many, Thurs­day.

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