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Donald Trump

Trump’s new UN ambassador blames Russia for Ukraine violence, urges return of Crimea

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 2:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 10:30am

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley blamed Russia on Thursday for the recent surge of violence in eastern Ukraine and warned Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until Moscow returns Crimea to Kiev.

“I consider it unfortunate on the occasion of my first appearance here I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia,” Haley said, making her first public remarks inside the Security Council since being sworn in as the United States’ representative to the United Nations last month.

“It shouldn’t happen, or be that way,” said Haley. “We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”

It was the new US administration’s most visible rebuke of Moscow, amid intense scrutiny of the relationship. Trump has praised Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and expressed a wish for improved relations between the two countries.

Nevertheless, Haley’s chastisement only came after the US Treasury Department on Thursday eased sanctions on Russian intelligence agency FSB put in place by former President Barack Obama last year over accusations that Moscow launched cyber attacks to try to influence the US presidential election.

The Treasury Department said in a statement it would allow US companies to make limited transactions with the intelligence service that are needed to gain approval to import information technology products into Russia.

The White House immediately batted down the suggestion sanctions were being relaxed.

It said actions by the Treasury Department for companies were routine.

Asked about the Treasury’s statement and whether it suggested a shift in policy toward Russia, US White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters: “No it doesn’t. From what I understand it is a regular course of action.” He referred questions about the move to the Treasury Department.

The broader significance of the sanctions exemptions were not immediately clear. The Treasury Department often issues general licenses such as the one announced on Thursday to help US companies overcome unintended business consequences of sanctions.

US intelligence agencies accused the FSB of involvement in hacking of Democratic organisations during the election, won by Republican Donald Trump.

The agencies and private cyber security experts concluded the FSB first broke into the Democratic National Committee’s computer system in the summer of 2015 and began monitoring email and chat conversations.

They say FSB was one of two Russian spy agencies believed to have been involved in a wide-ranging operation by top-ranking individuals in Russia’s government to discredit Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Trump win the election.

In December, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and put sanctions on two Russian spy agencies. He also sanctioned four Russian intelligence officers and three companies that he said provided material support to Russian cyber operations.

Trump has said he wants better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.