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Trump pinata
Trump pinata

-Analysis-

Last week, just a day after the abrupt dismissal of FBI Director James B. Comey set off the worst round of criticism Donald Trump's young presidency, the next — and perhaps even more damaging — controversy was being ignited. The Washington Post is reporting that Trump allegedly revealed highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during a White House meeting last Wednesday. "I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day," the Post reports Trump boasting to the visiting Russians.

Though blended in with lingering questions about the Trump campaign's possible links to Moscow, the episode reveals, above all else, a troubling picture of the president's basic competency as commander-in-chief — and could undermine Washington's relations with its allies, particularly in the fight against terrorism.

The Post quotes anonymous U.S. officials as saying that "Trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State (ISIS)" and could "hinder the United States' and its allies' ability to detect future threats." National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster denied the claims yesterday and said The Washington Post"s allegations were "false," without elaborating.

The international press was quick to raise serious worries. In The Guardian, reporters Julian Borger and Sabrina Siddiqui write that "Donald Trump's Oval Office boasting to the Russians, if confirmed, could wreak its deepest and most enduring damage on vital intelligence-sharing by U.S. allies." Because of "Trump's cavalier attitude towards state secrets and his chumminess with Moscow," allies — including in the rest of the Five Eyes alliance (Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) — could refuse to share crucial intelligence with Washington, possibly resulting in lasting impacts on security and counterterrorism. "People may die, including American citizens, if fear over Trump leaking leads to refusal to share sensitive information in the future," the newspaper quotes Richard Nephew, a former NSC and state department official as saying.

A troubling picture of the president's basic competency as commander-in-chief.

In Germany, meanwhile, Süddeutsche Zeitung calls the revelation Trump's "next Russian problem" and correspondent Thorsten Denkler writes that it could "reignite the debate" in Germany over whether the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) should continue to cooperate with the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

Several news reports speculated that the sensitive intelligence information shared with Russia originally came from a Middle East country, and could jeopardize formal and informal intelligence-sharing agreements. In January, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Israeli intelligence officials had expressed concern in classified discussions after Trump's election that sensitive information would be leaked to Russia — and from Russia to Iran — because of Trump's close ties to the Kremlin.

It may be much too soon to say with certainty whether the claims will cause direct damage to Donald Trump, who seems to not only play, but also be judged, by a different set of rules at home. But where the crucial sharing of sensitive intelligence is concerned, the president's big mouth may have already left lasting damage in the global fight against terrorism.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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