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Trump TV Changes Channels On Syria

President Trump in the White House
President Trump in the White House

We all know Donald Trump is sensitive to what he sees on TV. But rather than displaying thin skin about comedy sketches aimed at him, the American president has now joined the wider world in reacting to this week's images of a brutal chemical attack in Syria. And in this case, it may shape the first major foreign policy decision of his presidency.

Just one week after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson marked a major shift in U.S. foreign policy by announcing that removing Syrian President Assad from power was no longer Washington's focus, President Trump signaled another reversal yesterday. Speaking alongside King Abdullah II of Jordan, Trump said that after the chemical attack in Idlib, which is believed to have killed at least 70 people, "my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much."

Threats of intervention, however, also risk alienating his own supporters.

Perhaps even more significantly, the shift also concerns Russia. In a speech to the United Nations yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Russia "cannot escape responsibility" for the attack, that they "chose to close their eyes to the barbarity." The Guardian wrote that Haley's speech "was as harsh in tone as anything delivered in the same forum by her predecessor, Samantha Power." She declared that "Assad, Russia, and Iran have no interest in peace," and went as far as suggesting that the U.S. might act unilaterally in Syria.

Is it a coincidence that this latest shift happened simultaneously with the removal of Trump's controversial chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon from the National Security Council? In any case, the wavering on foreign policy is bound to bring criticism from all sides. Many say Trump has no strategy and that this administration is plagued by amateurism. Threats of intervention, however, also risk alienating his own supporters, who believed his presidency would mean an end to U.S. interventionism in the Middle East.

Coming hours before Trump's highly-anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the latest foreign policy confusion deepens the worries of those who see a White House that seems to shift its stance as fast as the president can switch channels on his TV set.

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Why Crimea Is Proving So Hard For Russia To Defend

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, claiming Monday that a missile Friday killed the head of Russia's Black Sea fleet at the headquarters in Sevastopol. And Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in smoke after a Ukrainian missile strike.​

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram on Monday.

Responding to reports of multiple missiles strikes this month on Crimea, Russian authorities say that all the missiles were intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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