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Russian lawmakers mount fierce defence of Flynn

Top contenders for vacated national security advisor position include Kellogg, Petraeus and Harward.


MOSCOW — Russian lawmakers mounted a fierce defence of US President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, who resigned following reports that he misled White House officials about his contacts with Russia.

Michael Flynn resigned Feb. 13, conceding that he gave “incomplete information” about his calls with Russia’s ambassador to the US.

A US official told The Associated Press that Flynn was in frequent contact with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia after US intelligence reported that Russia had interfered with the US elections.

The Kremlin has confirmed that Flynn has been in contact with Kislyak but denied that they talked about lifting sanctions.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, said in a post on Facebook that firing a national security adviser for his contacts with Russia is “not just paranoia but something even worse.”

Kosachev also expressed frustration with the Trump administration.

“Either Trump hasn’t found the necessary independence and he’s been driven into a corner… or Russophobia has permeated the new administration from top to bottom.”

Kosachev’s counterpart at the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, Alexei Pushkov, tweeted shortly after the announcement that “it was not Flynn who was targeted but relations with Russia.”

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on Flynn’s resignation, saying that “it’s none of our business.” Asked if Moscow still hopes that relations with the US are going to improve, he said it is “too early to say” since “Trump’s team has not been shaped yet.”

The Kremlin earlier said that it was not expecting a breakthrough before the two presidents meet in person.

Fyodor Lukyanov, chair of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policies, a group of Russian foreign policy experts, told the RIA Novosti news agency that it is not yet clear whether Flynn’s departure could influence bilateral ties.

“There’s nothing to influence yet, there are no relations as such. Our countries have relations shaped by the former administration which were awful, and Trump was going to change that,” he said. “But who he is going to change it with – Flynn, or not him, (Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson – it is not clear right now.”

Here’s a look at the top named contenders for the post, which does not require Senate confirmation:

RETIRED LT. GEN. KEITH KELLOGG

Kellogg had previously been appointed the National Security Council chief of staff and, along with Flynn, advised Trump on national security and foreign policy issues during the campaign. He had been considered for national security adviser before the post went to Flynn.

Kellogg was chief operating officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, the interim governing body following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. He previously worked as executive vice-president of research and technology for Virginia-based information technology firm CACI International, which works as a contractor for defence, intelligence and homeland security agencies.

DAVID PETRAEUS

The most audacious choice would likely be former CIA director David Petraeus. Petraeus, a retired four star general, was bounced from his position atop the intelligence agency in 2012 after he it was revealed that he passed on classified information to his biographer, who had also become his mistress.

But Trump during the campaign spoke sympathetically about Petraeus’ plight despite his frequent criticisms of his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified materials. Petraeus was briefly under consideration to become secretary of State before Trump picked Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson.

RETIRED VICE ADMIRAL ROBERT HARWARD

Robert Harward, a Navy Seal, served as Deputy Commander of the United States Central Command when it was under the command of General James Mattis, who is now secretary of Defence. He served on the National Security Council for President George W. Bush and commissioned the National Counter Terrorism Center.

Upon retirement in 2013 after a nearly 40-year career in the Navy, Harward took a post as a chief executive officer for defence and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin in the United Arab Emirates. Trump has recently been in very public negotiations with Lockheed over the cost of its F-35 fighter jet program.
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