Stories by Paul Stronski

Expert Voices

Journalists killed in Central African Republic amid growing Russian presence

Flowers brought to the Central House of Journalists in memory of three Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic.
Flowers brought to the Central House of Journalists in Moscow, on July 31, 2018, in memory of three Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic. Photo: Sergei Savostyanov/TASS via Getty Images

Three independent Russian journalists were murdered on July 31 in the Central African Republic (CAR) while filming a documentary on the Wagner Group, the mysterious Kremlin-linked military contractor operating in that country. The circumstances of their deaths are still unknown, but the incident follows the mysterious death of another Russian journalist who investigated the organization.

The big picture: With deployments in Ukraine, Syria and Sudan in addition to CAR, the Wagner Group has become an active, although still unofficial, component of Russia’s foreign policy and military toolkit at a time when the Kremlin is expanding its reach across Africa.

Expert Voices

Trump's appeasement of Putin undermines U.S. diplomatic posture

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland.
President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. Photo: Chris McGrath via Getty Images

At President Trump’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, he assigned blame to the U.S. and complained about Robert Mueller's “witch hunt,” showing indifference to Russia’s meddling in both Ukraine and the 2016 U.S. election. His performance could scarcely have been more favorable to Putin or more threatening to the security of American democracy.

Why it matters: The press conference will create a lasting disconnect between the president and his national security team. It will now be much harder to continue assuring U.S. allies that they can ignore what Trump says.

Expert Voices

History shows why Trump needs clear objectives for Putin summit

President Donald Trump speaks besides U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a news conference at the 2018 NATO Summit.
President Trump speaks besides Secretary of State Pompeo during a news conference at the 2018 NATO Summit on July 12, 2018, in Brussels. He will go to Helsinki next week. Photo: Jasper Juinen via Getty Images

Next week's Helsinki summit poses the risk that President Trump could make a rash offer to Vladimir Putin in an attempt to improve U.S.–Russian relations. It's possible he might recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, assent to Syrian President Assad’s continued rule or waver on America’s commitment to NATO.

The big picture: As much as Trump may want to turn the page with Putin, his recent call for a one-on-one meeting without aides is risky. Putin is a shrewd negotiator. A conciliatory approach with Russia has not worked out for the past three American presidents or a long list of European leaders, and it likely won't for Trump either.

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