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Priebus: Trump now believes Russia carried out cyber attacks during election

President-elect Donald Trump accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia engaged in cyber attacks during the U.S. presidential election and may take action in response, his incoming chief of staff said on Jan. 8.

Reince Priebus said Trump believes Russia was behind the intrusions into the Democratic Party organizations, although Priebus did not clarify whether the president-elect agreed that the hacks were directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He accepts the fact that this particular case was entities in Russia, so that’s not the issue,” Priebus said on Fox News Sunday.

It was the first acknowledgment from a senior member of the Republican president-elect’s team that Trump had accepted that Russia directed the hacking and subsequent disclosure of Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump had rebuffed allegations that Russia was behind the hacks or was trying to help him win, saying the intrusions could have been carried out by China or a 400-pound hacker on his bed.

With less than two weeks until his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump has come under increasing pressure from fellow Republicans to accept intelligence community findings on Russian hacking and other attempts by Moscow to influence the Nov. 8 election. A crucial test of Republican support for Trump comes this week with the first confirmation hearings for his Cabinet picks.

A U.S. intelligence report last week said Putin directed a sophisticated influence campaign including cyber attacks to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and support Trump.

The report concluded vote tallies were not affected by Russian interference, but did not assess whether it influenced the outcome of the vote in other ways.

‘ACTION MAY BE TAKEN’

After receiving a briefing on Friday from leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump did not refer specifically to Russia’s role in the presidential campaign.

In a statement, he acknowledged that “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat(ic) National Committee.”

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told Reuters the president-elect’s conclusions remained the same and that Priebus’ comments were in line with Friday’s statement.

Priebus’ wording did not appear to foreshadow the dramatic reversal of Trump’s apparent Russia policy that experts say would be required to deter further cyber attacks.

“It will take a lot more than what we heard on television today to make Putin cool it,” the expert added. “In fact, there may not be anything that can deter Putin from pursuing a course he’s bet his future and Russia’s on,” said a U.S. intelligence expert on Russia, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss domestic political positions.

The expert added that Putin’s “multifaceted campaign of cyber attacks and espionage, propaganda, financial leverage, fake news and traditional espionage” had expanded in the United States since the election, “and it will be a shock if it does not escalate in France, Germany and elsewhere this year.”

Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman Trump tapped as White House chief of staff, said Trump planned to order the intelligence community to make recommendations as to what should be done. “Action may be taken,” he said, adding there was nothing wrong with trying to have a good relationship with Russia and other countries.

Two senior Republican senators urged Trump to punish Russia in response to U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Putin personally directed efforts aimed at influencing the election.

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain said evidence was conclusive that Putin sought to influence the election — a point that Trump has refuted.

“In a couple weeks, Donald Trump will be the defender of the free world and democracy,” Graham said. “You should let everybody know in America, Republicans and Democrats, that you’re going to make Russia pay a price for trying to interfere.”

On Saturday, Trump wrote on Twitter that having a better relationship with Russia was a “good thing.”

U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said three U.S. presidents had tried and failed to be friends with Putin.

“I’m just not sure it’s possible,” Nunes said on the Fox News Sunday program. “I’ve cautioned his administration to be careful with Putin, as he remains a bad actor.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed it was not unusual for a new president to want to get along with the Russians. He added on CBS, however, that the Russians remained a “big adversary, and they demonstrated it by trying to mess around in our election.”

Obama, who himself tried to “reset” relations with Russia after he took office in 2009, told NBC he did not think he had underestimated the Russian president.

“But I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation for cyber hacking and so forth to have an impact on our open societies, our open systems, to insinuate themselves into our democratic practices in ways that I think are accelerating,” he said in an interview with Meet the Press broadcast on Sunday.

Despite controversy, Wisconsin electors will stick with Trump

Brian Westrate is one of 10 Republican Party insiders selected to serve as electors, the people who will cast ballots across the country Monday for Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton. Electors have been under pressure from Trump opponents to not cast their ballots for him, even if he won the state.

Westrate laughed when asked if anyone had tried to convince him not to cast his Electoral College vote for president-elect Donald Trump.

“Let me give you the total as of right now,” Westrate said early last week. “48,324 emails about my role as elector, some have been for Mr. Trump and some have been asking me to maintain my role and honor.”
The small-business owner and GOP district chairman in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, said he also got about 100 letters or postcards, from all 50 states, and 30 phone calls.

“I have a Twitter debate with a former porn star from California asking me to change my vote,” said Westrate, a Republican activist from Eau Claire. “It’s been fascinating.”

Westrate said he isn’t budging, and neither are any of the other Republican electors in Wisconsin who spoke to The Associated Press. Six of the 10 electors spoke with AP about their intentions while the other five did not respond to phone or email messages.
But elector Brad Courtney, chairman of the Republican Party, insisted that all of them would be sticking with Trump.

“Wisconsin voters spoke loud and clear and I intend to honor their decision,” Courtney said. “All of us will be doing the same.”

Trump defeated Clinton in the state by less than a percentage point.

Democratic members of the Electoral College trying to stop Trump from becoming president have dubbed themselves “Hamilton Electors” and are trying to convince electors from both parties to unite behind another Republican.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win the White House, and Trump won enough states to garner 306 electoral votes.

Three dozen electors would have to fall away for him to lose, and only one Republican elector nationwide told AP he wouldn’t vote for Trump.

Still, a cloud of illegitimacy will hang over Trump’s presidency. He won three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — by razor-thin margins, which led to calls for recounts. Despite Trump’s tiny victories in those states, however, election laws award him all of their electoral votes. Without them, he would have lost.

Clinton won the popular vote, racking up a significant majority of 2.8 million more votes than Trump. The president-elect, however, contends that Clinton’s winning votes were cast fraudulently by illegal immigrants, although he’s offered no evidence.
While Trump and his campaign describe his victory as an “electoral landslide,” his win actually ranks in the lowest one-third of electoral victories since World War II.

Trump’s win is also overshadowed by Russian hacking attacks aimed at helping him and hurting Clinton. There was also a Russian-coordinated campaign of misinformation on social media that vilified Clinton, persuading a majority of Republicans that Clinton operated a child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor.

Trump is a self-proclaimed fan of Russia’s virtual dictator Vladimir Putin, who has amassed $85 billion in assets as that nation’s entrenched, military-backed leader. He could only have amassed such a fortune through the graft and corruption that are as rampant in post-Soviet Russia, just as they were under communism. Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has strong financial ties to the Russian state’s oil industry.

All of the many unprecedented circumstances surrounding the 2016 election have led to calls for electoral reform by voters from both parties.

Analysis: Trump’s Machado tirade proves he’ll never be presidential

Donald Trump’s week-long tirade over former Miss Universe Alicia Machado proved one thing: He’s incapable of acting presidential.

He may surround himself with new staff and even listen to their advice for a while. He may stick to a scripted, more measured message if it looks to be working.

But he’ll always be a man/child who can’t resist lashing out with petty, offensive barbs against any perceived foe, whether it’s a judge who ruled against him or a military father whose son was killed fighting for the United States overseas. His psycho-emotional state is permanently rooted on the grammar school playground. (Although Maureen Dowd, in a column this morning for The New York Times, said his catty behavior is reminiscent of a 13-year-old girl).

Trump will always be the man who humiliated a young beauty queen about her weight, then defended his comments two decades later when Hillary Clinton raised them in a debate. And the man who  just 38 days away from potentially being elected president of the United States deepened his highly personal criticism of Machado in a pre-dawn, unhinged Twitter tirade.

“Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?” Trump wrote in a message timestamped 5:30 a.m.

There’s no evidence that any sex tape exists except in the Donald’s damaged mind. It’s just another fabrication he invented in the heat of the moment, just as he does all day long on the campaign trail.

Some voters may applaud Trump’s moves. Some may prefer his stubborn refusal to censor himself. Enough voters may ultimately elect him president.

But Trump’s pattern of pre-teen, abrasive behavior has left him deeply unpopular with many Americans, particularly women and minorities, who hold significant sway in presidential elections. If Trump does win in November, he’ll have to figure out a way to lead a country where many people believe he’s racist, sexist and uncivil.

Most Republican leaders long ago gave up hope that Trump would make a full-scale pivot into a more palatable politician in the general election. But they’ve still found ways to rationalize their support for him, to look past his most volatile moments and offensive rhetoric.

Some Republicans hinge their hopes on a belief that if Trump is elected president, he’ll surround himself with high-quality experts to help guide his decision-making. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom have their own designs on the White House, argue a Trump presidency would at least give them a chance of implementing conservative legislation in Congress, while a Clinton White House would be nothing more than an impenetrable roadblock.

But Republicans might also worry that Clinton’s ability to get under Trump’s skin so easily has provided a blueprint that world leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin could use to rile him as president. And they should have no illusions that the brash businessman can control his belligerent behavior and avoid offending many Americans.

Trump’s decades in the public eye are littered with examples of long-held grudges with business associates and demeaning comments about women. One of his first moves after clinching the Republican nomination was to start a feud with U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, claiming his Mexican heritage made him biased against Trump in a legal case. Trump emerged from the party conventions this summer locked in an ugly fight with Khizr Khan, an American Muslim whose son was killed serving the U.S. Army in Iraq.

The latest controversy came at one of the most critical stages of the campaign — on the debate stage in front of a televised audience of 84 million people and with early voting already underway in some states.

Trump struggled to fend off Clinton’s criticism of comments he made about Machado two decades earlier. When Clinton accused him of calling the former Miss Universe “Miss Piggy,” he said, “Where did you find this? Where did you find this?”

Rather than let the matter go, he acted out the next morning, apparently blind to how offensive his comments seemed.

“She gained a massive amount of weight,” said Trump, who owned the pageant at the time she won. “It was a real problem. We had a real problem.”

Surely by week’s end, Trump was aware that his criticism of Machado risked damaging his campaign and giving Clinton fresh fodder to argue that he is too thin-skinned to serve as commander in chief.

That made his decision to keep the story alive all week and deepen his denigration of Machado all the more perplexing. Does he possess any self-awareness or self-control?

“Using Alicia M in the debate as a paragon of virtue just shows that Crooked Hillary suffers from BAD JUDGEMENT! Hillary was set up by a con,” Trump wrote in one of three early morning messages about the Venezuelan-born Machado, who is now an American citizen.

Clinton advisers can hardly believe their good fortune as the race barrels toward the finish line. The Democrat has struggled to persuade voters she is honest and trustworthy. And the race with Trump is far closer than most Clinton supporters expected.

But the core of Clinton’s case against Trump has always been that the Republican is too hypersensitive, offensive and ignorant to be trusted in the Oval Office. And just over five weeks from Election Day, Trump is giving her more evidence.

“When something gets under Donald’s thin skin, he lashes out and can’t let go,” Clinton wrote in her own Twitter message. “This is dangerous for a president.”

—By Louis Weisberg, based on a report by AP White House correspondent Julie Pace.

 

Putin says Panama Papers part of US plot to weaken Russia

President Vladimir Putin has denied having any links to offshore accounts and described the Panama Papers document leaks scandal as part of a U.S.-led plot to weaken Russia.

Putin also defended a cellist friend named as the alleged owner of an offshore company, describing him as a philanthropist who spent his own funds to buy rare musical instruments for Russian state collections.

Speaking at a media forum in St. Petersburg, Putin said Western media pushed the claims of his involvement in offshore businesses even though his name didn’t feature in any of the documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm.

Putin described the allegations as part of the U.S.-led disinformation campaign waged against Russia in order to weaken its government. “They are trying to destabilize us from within in order to make us more compliant,” he said.

The Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said the documents it obtained indicated that Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin acted as a front man for a network of Putin loyalists, and, perhaps, the president himself.

The ICIJ said the documents show how complex offshore financial deals channeled as much as $2 billion to a network of people linked to the Russian president.

Putin said Roldugin, a longtime friend, did nothing wrong. He said he was proud of Roldugin, adding that the musician spent his personal money to advance cultural projects.

Roldugin used the money he earned as a minority shareholder of a Russian company to buy rare musical instruments abroad and hand them over to the Russian state, Putin said.

“Without publicizing himself, he also has worked to organize concerts, promote Russian culture abroad and effectively paid his own money for that,” Putin added. “The more people like him we have, the better. And I’m proud to have friends like him.”

Putin contended that Washington has fanned allegations of Russian official corruption in order to weaken Moscow as the U.S. has become concerned about Russia’s growing economic and military might.

“The events in Syria have demonstrated Russia’s capability to solve problems far away from its borders,” he said, adding that Moscow has achieved its goal “to strengthen the Syrian statehood, its legitimate government bodies.”

Putin said it’s essential to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.

He praised cooperation between Moscow and Washington in efforts to broker a cease-fire, which went into effect Feb. 27. The truce excludes the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida branch known as the Nusra Front.

But while lauding contacts on Syria, he signaled tensions on another issue, accusing the U.S. of breaching its obligations under an agreement to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium.

He said that while Russia has abided by the deal and built reprocessing facilities, the U.S. has opted for a different technology which, he alleged, allowed it to maintain the so-called “return potential” of keeping weapons-grade materials if it wishes to do so.

Putin said that a rift over the issue was one of the reasons behind his decision to snub a nuclear summit hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington.

Swedish peace activists launch ‘gay’ sonar to deter Russian subs

Swedish peace activists who argue that military hardware isn’t the best way to deter Russian submarines have launched their own underwater defense installation: a gay-themed sonar system.

In a publicity stunt dubbed “Operation The Singing Sailor,” the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society placed a sonar device in the Stockholm archipelago sending out a Morse code message saying “This way if you are gay.”

The device also features a neon sign with a sailor waving a white flag and the words “Welcome to Sweden — Gay since 1944” — the year Sweden legalized homosexuality. 

The group is urging the Swedish government to resist calls for re-armament after a weeklong hunt in October for a suspected Russian submarine, saying “love and peace across boundaries is more important than ever.”

Moscow bans Pride parade honoring drag queen — Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst

Moscow authorities have turned down gay activists’ application to hold a parade honoring drag queen Conchita Wurst, winner of this year’s Eurovision song contest.

Wurst’s appearance in the continental cavalcade of cheesy pop and garish costumes sparked controversy in Russia, where some called for state television to edit out Wurst from the finals’ live broadcast.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1990s, animosity toward gays remains strong in Russia. The county last year passed a law banning the dissemination to minors of so-called “gay propaganda” and routinely rejects applications to hold gay rights demonstrations.

Alexei Maiorov, head of Moscow’s security department, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the Wurst parade was rejected because of concerns it would provoke clashes between gays and their opponents.

Hillary Clinton calls for more sanctions against Russia

Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week she believes the outcome of the standoff in Ukraine will be a bad one for Russia.

Speaking at a University of Connecticut issues forum, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state said she believes the sanctions against the Russian government must be “tightened and widened” to prevent the crisis from escalating.

“I think Russia will pay a big price for this,” Clinton said. “But that is an endpoint that we’ve got to get to as peacefully as possible without seeing the total disintegration of Ukraine as a country with territorial integrity and opportunity to have the relationship it wants with the West.”

Clinton, who is considering a run for president in 2016, said she believes Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to see a return of a Russian era that no longer exists and said the U.S. and Europe need to be “very clear, strong and to some extent patient” to make that outcome unaffordable to him.

“I think the outcome for him and Russia will not be good, which is deeply unfortunate,” she said. “Russia should be a much more dynamic and much more successful country and could be if Putin weren’t trying to turn the clock back to the Soviet Union days.”

Clinton spoke for more than an hour to a group of about 2,300 students, faculty and staff. The talk was not open to the general public.

She used her prepared remarks to praise young people’s activism and community service, and called on UConn students be part of what she called the “participation generation.”

She was then asked questions submitted in advance and spoke on issues ranging from congressional gridlock to immigration reform.

She urged the students not to vote for any leader who does not believe in compromise. But she did not say whether she would be a candidate for president.

Clinton also had little to say about her political future earlier in the day at a women’s leadership conference in Boston. But she offered a strong message to a largely female audience estimated at 3,500.

“There are times in all of our lives when we’re either given an opportunity or we see one that we could seize. And we get nervous. We worry. We’re not ready to dare anything. But I hope you will,” she said at the Simmons Leadership Conference set along the Boston waterfront. “Women have to dare to compete.”

It’s a familiar refrain from Clinton, who has focused on gender equality, among other issues, in a series of public appearances since leaving the Obama administration last year.

In a speech and subsequent question-and-answer session, Clinton thanked the thousands of runners who competed in the Boston Marathon earlier in the week for sending “a message of hope, resilience and determination one year after the vicious attack.” Three people died and hundreds were injured in twin bombings near the finish line of last year’s marathon.

Clinton also drew on her experience as secretary of state, listing her biggest regret as the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. She called it “a terrible, senseless, terrorist action.”

Clinton’s proximity to New Hampshire, which traditionally hosts the country’s first presidential primaries, was as noteworthy as her remarks.

While potential Republican presidential candidates have begun aggressively courting New Hampshire voters in recent weeks, Clinton has avoided the state altogether since the 2012 elections. Despite her absence, the vast majority of New Hampshire’s top Democrats have lined up behind Clinton, the overwhelming Democratic front-runner should she run.

She has said she will make a decision about the 2016 presidential contest by the end of the year.

Massachusetts doesn’t have the same political significance as New Hampshire, but Massachusetts activists make up a significant portion of the volunteer armies needed for get-out-the-vote efforts when the New Hampshire primary season begins in earnest.

Wednesday’s event also earned widespread media coverage across New Hampshire’s most populated areas, which get their television news from Boston stations.

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Billie Jean King: On Sochi Olympics, Putin, gay equality

Billie Jean King’s taxi ride home after the Sochi Olympics included a revelation.

She learned Jason Collins had joined the Brooklyn Nets, becoming the first openly gay male player in the NBA.

“I was totally stoked and texted him immediately,” said King, who saw the news on a TV in her cab in New York. “When my mom died, he called and left a message. I talked to him when he first came out. We’ve just hit it off.”

She was originally scheduled to attend the opening ceremony, but her 91-year-old mother died that day.

The closing ceremony wrapped up a 17-day sports extravaganza with Russia atop the medal standings and few outward displays of disapproval by international athletes of the country’s anti-gay law. Rule 50 of the Olympic charter restricts political gestures or protest by athletes, who mostly shied away from commenting about the topic in Sochi.

King has been outspoken about the Russian law passed last year that banned gay “propaganda” to minors, punishable by fines and jail time. The openly gay former tennis great said she’d like the International Olympic Committee to add sexual orientation to the list of protections in its charter and consider the issue when deciding host countries for future Olympics.

Here are five things to know about King’s impressions of the Sochi Games, borscht and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

PUTIN, A HUGGER: King learned while in Sochi that Putin reportedly hugged Ireen Wust, a bisexual Dutch speedskater who led all Sochi medal winners with five — two gold and three silver.

“It’s great,” King said. “Think he knew it? Doesn’t matter, that’s the way the world should be. He should be embracing humanity.”

Putin said ahead of the Olympics that gay athletes and visitors were welcome, but warned to “leave the kids alone.”

MIXED MESSAGES: King said she met with a Russian teen who is gay and getting bullied.

“I’m worried about the LGBT community for their safety,” she said. “Basically, it’s OK to hate now and you can get away with it. I’m concerned, more than concerned. The main thing is to let them know we care and we can help LGBT organizations that help the community. Dialogue is always good, but action is important, too.

“The athletes pretty much kept it mainstream, ‘this is about sports, keep the politics out.’ There’s politics in everything, especially with this.”

HOCKEY HEARTBREAK: U.S. hockey player Julie Chu met King a few days after the team lost to Canada 3-2 in overtime in the gold-medal game. The U.S. had a 2-0 lead with less than 4 minutes left in regulation.

King was “heartbroken” after the loss, noting she’s become “hooked on hockey” after hanging around former U.S. Olympic hockey stars Angela Ruggiero and Caitlin Cahow. Ruggiero is now an IOC member and Cahow represented the U.S. at the opening ceremony.

Chu, a four-time Olympian, was the U.S. flag bearer at the closing ceremony.

BEST DISH: King recalled playing tennis in Russia at age 18 in 1962 when there was “hardly any food, just black bread.” While times have changed, she was hoping to get “some borscht, it’s the one thing I missed. I love borscht, but got cabbage soup instead. It was delicious.”

She visited the USA House and attended the closing ceremony with a U.S. delegation that included former Olympic gold-medal winning speedskaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden. “They are iconic. They are speedskating to me, they put it on the map.”

The U.S. delegation sat in VIP seats a section below Putin at the closing ceremony, but they weren’t shown by NBC. The opening ceremony delegation, featuring openly gay former Olympians Brian Boitano and Cahow, also weren’t shown by the network that paid $775 million for the rights to the games.

BREAKTHROUGHS: So what does it say about the evolution of male sports in America to have Collins in the NBA and openly gay Michael Sam expected to play in the NFL?

“We’re getting there. Because the youth, they don’t care as much,” said the 70-year-old King. “They’re judging people by their contribution on the team. It should be a non-issue. We need these breakthroughs and young people stepping up. It’s putting yourself in the spotlight.

“When they’re older, they’re going to appreciate the things they’re doing so much more. For me, it was tough — ‘will it ever end’ — but now I’m glad I went through it,” said King, who was outed in 1981. “It makes a small difference. It’s about human rights.”

Gay couple from Sochi marries in Argentina, seeking asylum

A gay couple from Russia’s Olympic city of Sochi has gotten married in Buenos Aires and plans to seek asylum in Argentina.

Alexander Eremeev and Dmitry Zaytsev married at the civil registry in Argentina’s capital, accompanied by gay rights activists who say Argentina should provide refuge to people who are being persecuted for their sexual orientation in other countries.

The two men are preparing their case before Argentina’s National Commission for Refugees, saying that now that they are married, they would face attacks and police persecution back home in Sochi.

Political asylum cases involving Russian gays and lesbians have increased sharply since Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a law banning so-called gay “propaganda” from reaching minors.

The law created penalties for Russian citizens and visitors that could result in fines and imprisonment. The law also provided cover for right-wing extremists who have waged a series of assaults against gay people in Russia.

5 things to know about chilly US-Russian relations

The weather is warm at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, yet U.S.-Russian relations are still in the deep freeze.

Back in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave Russia’s top diplomat a red button labeled “reset” to symbolize how U.S. relations had thawed — even though it was mistranslated into Russian.

But the outcome was more of a downhill slalom, than a soaring ski jump.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had hoped hosting the Olympics would further seal his nation’s status as a world power. But President Barack Obama is among several western leaders who decided not to show up.

Here are five of the issues where U.S.-Russian relations have run off course.

UKRAINE

Washington and Moscow are in a standoff over Ukraine, which is rocked by anti-government demonstrations over Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of an agreement with the European Union and his acceptance of a $15 billion loan package from Russia instead.

Both the U.S. and Russia accuse the other of meddling in the affairs of the former Soviet satellite nation. And the two tangled after a Russian government aide posted a video online of a bugged phone call between two top U.S. diplomats.

At one point, a voice believed to be Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Victoria Nuland, is heard saying, “Fuck the EU,” in an expression of frustration over the EU’s pace in taking steps to help Ukraine. Nuland later apologized.

The State Department, without directly accusing Russia of recording and posting the audio of the call on YouTube with Russian subtitles, said the incident marked a “new low in Russian tradecraft.”

The Russian government official who posted the link denied any Russian government role, saying he came across the recording while surfing the Web and simply reposted it.

SYRIA

In the bloody war in Syria, Russia is in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s corner and the U.S. supports the opposition.

The Russians made a proposal to place Syrian chemical weapons out of Assad’s control, a proposal embraced by the U.S., U.N. and other nations. Some weapons materials have been destroyed. But peace talks to end the civil war in Syria are not going well.

The talks have been accompanied by a sharp rise in violence. Opposition leaders have called on Russia to pressure the government to prevent the faltering peace negotiations from collapsing. Moreover, Russia says it would veto a Western-proposed U.N. resolution threatening sanctions if Assad’s government does not allow full deliveries of aid to civilians caught in the fighting.

President Barack Obama recently said Moscow was a “holdout” to the passage of the U.N. resolution. Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry and others have delivered a very direct message to the Russians: “That they cannot say that they are concerned about the well-being of the Syrian people when there are starving civilians. … It is not just the Syrians that are responsible; the Russians, as well, if they are blocking this kind of resolution.”

Responding to the latest tit-for-tat, Russia’s foreign ministry accused Washington of a “biased distortion” of the Russian stance on Syria. It said that Russian diplomats were working with Syrian authorities to help humanitarian efforts and challenged the U.S. to use its influence with the rebels to do the same.

U.S. SURVEILLANCE

Tensions with the U.S. and Russia spiked last year after Putin granted temporary asylum to former National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying Obama’s demands that the 30-year-old American be returned to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor who fled the United States with classified information, has leaked thousands of pages of documents that revealed that the NSA has been sweeping up millions of Americans’ phone and Internet records and snooping on U.S. allies abroad, including heads of state.

The controversy surrounding the NSA surveillance programs followed Obama to the Group of 20 economic summit in Russia last fall, but Obama chose to call off his one-on-one meeting with Putin while he was in Russia. The Snowden affair has given Moscow a way to turn the tables on Washington, which often criticizes Russia’s human rights record.

GAY RIGHTS

The Olympics also has been a venue for debate over a Russian law, signed by Putin last June, banning gay “propaganda” from reaching minors. The law has drawn strong international criticism and calls for a boycott of the Sochi Games from gay activists and others.

A coalition of 40 human-rights and gay rights groups from the U.S., Western Europe and Russia wrote a letter to the 10 biggest Olympic sponsors, urging them to denounce the law and run ads promoting equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

The law bans pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors — a measure viewed by activists as forbidding almost any public expression of support for gay rights. The law cleared parliament virtually unopposed and has extensive public support in Russia.

Obama, who has criticized the Russian law, named a U.S. delegation to the Olympics that includes several openly gay athletes, including tennis great Billie Jean King and figure skater Brian Boitano.

PUSSY RIOT

Two members of the punk band Pussy Riot have urged politicians attending the Winter Olympics to criticize human rights abuses in Russia.

The two performers, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were sentenced in August 2012 to two years in prison for hooliganism after an irreverent performance blasting Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral that was broadcast around the world.

Now out of prison, the two criticized Russia’s law banning pro-homosexual propaganda from reaching minors and the risks — including beatings — that gay people and other minority groups can face in Russia if they speak out.

After meeting the two punk rockers in New York, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power traded jibes on Twitter with Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. “I asked Pussy Riot if they were afraid of prison. Response: No. In prison we could see the terrible conditions. It’s human rights fieldwork,” Power added.

Asked about it later, Churkin defended the performers’ arrest, re-tweeting sarcastically that perhaps Power would like to invite the band to perform in a world tour at the National Cathedral in Washington, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Mecca in Saudi Arabia “and end up with a gala concert at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.”