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Putin suspends nuclear pact, raising stakes in row with Washington

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium, signalling he is willing to use nuclear disarmament as a new bargaining chip in disputes with the United States over Ukraine and Syria.

Starting in the last years of the Cold War, Russia and the United States signed a series of accords to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals, agreements that have so far survived intact despite a souring of U.S.-Russian relations under Putin.

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But on Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending an agreement, concluded in 2000, which bound the two sides to dispose of surplus plutonium originally intended for use in nuclear weapons.

The Kremlin said it was taking that action in response to unfriendly acts by Washington.

The plutonium accord is not the cornerstone of post Cold War U.S.-Russia disarmament, and the practical implications from the suspension will be limited. But the suspension, and the linkage to disagreements on other issues, carries powerful symbolism.

“Putin’s decree could signal that other nuclear disarmament cooperation deals between the United States and Russia are at risk of being undermined,” Stratfor, a U.S.-based consultancy, said in a commentary.

“The decision is likely an attempt to convey to Washington the price of cutting off dialogue on Syria and other issues.”

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week warned that Washington could halt diplomacy with Russia over the conflict in Syria unless Russia took immediate steps to stop the violence there.

Western diplomats say an end to the Syria talks would leave Moscow without a way to disentangle itself from its military operation in Syria. The operation was intended to last a few months but has now just entered its second year.

LIST OF GRIEVANCES

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As well as issuing the decree ordering the suspension of the plutonium cleanup deal, Putin submitted a draft law on the suspension to parliament.

That draft linked the suspension to a laundry list of Russian grievances towards the United States.

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It said conditions for resuming work under the plutonium deal included Washington lifting sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict, paying compensation to Moscow for the sanctions, and reducing the U.S. military presence in eastern Europe to the levels they were 16 years ago.

Any of those steps would involve a complete U-turn in long-standing U.S. policy.

“The Obama administration has done everything in its power to destroy the atmosphere of trust which could have encouraged cooperation,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on the treaty’s suspension.

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“The step Russia has been forced to take is not intended to worsen relations with the United States. We want Washington to understand that you cannot, with one hand, introduce sanctions against us where it can be done fairly painlessly for the Americans, and with the other hand continue selective cooperation in areas where it suits them.”

The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning it in nuclear reactors.

Clinton said at the time that there was enough of the material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides back then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Russian officials alleged on Monday that Washington had failed to honour its side of the agreement. The Kremlin decree stated that, despite the suspension, Russia’s surplus weapons-grade plutonium would not be put to military use.

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(Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin and Alexander Winning; Editing by Richard Balmforth)


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Trump rages at new light bulbs during White House meeting for making him look orange

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President Donald Trump on Friday complained about energy-efficient light bulbs that he claimed made him look orange.

As reported by Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason, the president said he wanted to bring back older light bulbs that would give him a more flattering skin tone.

"Trump quips that the new light bulbs don’t make him look good and being a 'vain' person, that’s important to him," Mason reports. "He says they make him look orange. He plans to bring cheaper light bulbs back."

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MSNBC host reveals stunning new evidence that blows a hole in Republicans’ defense of Trump

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During the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, Republicans have frequently pushed the talking point that there couldn’t have been any real “quid pro quo” between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Despite a multi-month delay, they claim,  the funds allocated for military aid to Ukraine were eventually released without Zelensky ever investigating former Vice President Joe Biden or his son, Hunter Biden, as Trump wanted. No harm, no foul, these Republicans argue.

Many have explained why this argument does hold up for a variety of reasons. But MSNBC’s Ari Melber, on his Thursday show, outlined a new reason why that talking point is bogus: 14% of the money allocated for military aid to Ukraine remains unreleased, according to the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report.

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Former ‘America First’ Senate candidate arrested for domestic violence for a second time

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A Maine man who was gearing up to challenge Susan Collins (R-ME) for her Senate seat has been charged with domestic violence -- for the second time, CentralMaine.com reports.

On Sunday, 45-year-old Derek Levasseur was arrested and booked at the Fairfield Police Station on a domestic violence assault charge. He was later released on bail.

Levasseur announced his Senate bid earlier this year touting an “America First” platform, making him the first Republican to challenge Collins since she was elected in 1996. He later quit the race, blaming pressure from "party elites." According to the police report, he was involved in a “domestic situation” inside a residence when he was arrested.

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