Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for September 14, 2022

Newsline: Ex-U.S. ambassador and hostage negotiator visits Moscow

Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a frequent emissary in hostage negotiations who has worked to secure the releases of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another jailed American, Paul Whelan, visited Moscow this week and held meetings with Russian leaders, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday night. The visit came as American officials have continued to press Russia to release Griner, who was sentenced last month to nine years in prison in a drug possession case, and Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges. The U.S. government regards both as wrongfully detained. In in interview with The Associated Press last month, Richardson said he was hopeful about the chances of a two-for-two prisoner swap. In cases like this, Richardson said at the time, “it’s proportional — two-for two.” (https://thegrio.com/2022/09/14/ex-u-s-ambassador-visits-moscow-where-brittney-griner-remains-jailed/) The person who confirmed Richardson’s visit insisted on anonymity to discuss private negotiations. The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which Richardson founded, issued a statement declining to comment on his visit. CNN was first to report Richardson’s visit. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in July that the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia to facilitate a swap. Though he did not detail the terms, a person familiar the matter said the U.S. had offered to release convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Newsline: Top U.S. diplomat casts doubt on ‘Havana syndrome’ claims

A top State Department official, countering claims that have circulated widely among members of Congress and the news media, says in a new interview there is no evidence that any external actors caused the “Havana syndrome” health incidents reported in recent years by over 1,100 U.S. diplomats and spies. The comments by Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, are especially striking given they come at a time the CIA and the State Department have begun making arrangements to compensate — with payments of up to $189,000 — current and former U.S. officials suffering from unexplained brain injuries under a law, the HAVANA Act, passed by Congress last year and signed by President Biden. But even as those payments go out, a Yahoo News investigation has found there is mounting skepticism among senior officials about a key underlying premise of the new law: that the symptoms associated with Havana syndrome — which the government formally refers to as Anomalous Health Incidents (AHI) — can be linked in any way to hostile attacks by a foreign power. “We have not identified any outside causality in any Anomalous Health Incidents,” said Nichols in an exclusive interview for a new three-part series for Yahoo News’ “Conspiracyland” podcast, “The Strange Story of Havana Syndrome.” (https://news.yahoo.com/top-us-officials-cast-fresh-doubt-on-sensational-havana-syndrome-claims-090025560.html) The remarks by Nichols — who oversees Cuba policy at the State Department — echo, but in some respects go beyond, recent comments by CIA Director William Burns that the agency has not found any foreign actors, including Russia, to be responsible for a “sustained global campaign on the scale of what has been reported” to harm U.S. officials and that “a majority” of Havana syndrome cases could be attributed to alternative environmental and medical factors.

Newsline: EU top diplomat says sanctions prevent Moscow from making up military losses

European Union sanctions are severely hurting Moscow’s potential to sustain its weapons and military equipment in the war on Ukraine, the EU’s top diplomat said on Tuesday, arguing almost half of Russia’s technology depended on European imports. “If you look at the inside, the guts of a Russian tank destroyed on a Ukrainian street, you will see the tremendous amount of electronic components manufactured by European countries in those tanks,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told lawmakers at the bloc’s Parliament in Strasbourg. “Forty-five percent of Russia’s technology depends on European imports and this has been cut off,” he noted. Borrell said EU sanctions on Russia were already having “very serious consequences” for Moscow. “Two thirds of all civilian aircraft can no longer fly because their components come from Western countries and the blockade also makes it impossible for them to get the spare parts they need,” he noted. (https://news.yahoo.com/eu-sanctions-prevent-moscow-making-145817128.html) The EU has slapped several packages of massive sanctions on Moscow – targeting the financial sector as well as energy and the transport sector.