Europe/Americas update: June 21 2017



Say, things between Moscow and Washington seem like they’re going well:

Russia has canceled a planned round of talks with the US in protest at new sanctions imposed this week over Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine.

The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, denounced the new sanctions, which expanded the list of individuals and organisations targeted by the US treasury, as the responsibility of “avid Russophobes” in Congress who were determined to derail US-Russian relations.

As a result, Ryabkov said he was cancelling a meeting with his US counterpart, Tom Shannon, in St Petersburg later this week – which was supposed to have been part of a continuing dialogue between Washington and Moscow aimed at reducing “irritants” in bilateral relations.

The sanctions, Ryabkov said, had meant that the circumstances were “not conducive to holding this round of dialogue, particularly as there is no agenda set out for it, as Washington does not to want to make concrete proposals”.

Huh. Well I’m sure it’s not as bad as all tha-

NATO fighter jets confronted a plane carrying Russia’s defense minister in neutral airspace over the Baltic Sea on Wednesday morning before being chased away by a Russian warplane.

NATO confirmed the face-off, but denied acting aggressively or knowing that the defense minister was on board.

The confrontation was the latest of many over the Baltics, a heavily militarized area where Russian and NATO jets regularly jostle. The high-altitude encounter raised new fears about the possibility of an aerial conflict — whether intentional or accidental — during a time of particularly high tensions between Moscow and the West.

Jesus Christ. Maybe everybody should stop flying over the Baltic Sea for a day.


Kiev and eastern Ukrainian rebel leaders say they’ve reached agreement on a new ceasefire that will kick in on Saturday to allow farmers time to harvest crops. Meanwhile, President Petro Poroshenko returned from his Washington trip talking about assurances he’d received that a number of US-Ukraine military agreements will be completed soon.


Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu is no longer prime minister. After some shakiness earlier this week, Grindeanu’s Social Democratic Party was able to win the no confidence vote it called against its own government…or does that mean it lost the vote, but on purpose? I’m very confused about this whole thing. Anyway the point is that Grindeanu and his corruption-loving cabinet are out. Grindeanu suggested that he’s being railroaded by SDP leader Liviu Dragnea, saying that Dragnea (who can’t serve as PM himself because of a past conviction on vote-rigging charges) wants to replace him with someone less independent.


Among many other topics covered in his first interview since being elected French President, Emmanuel Macron had some frank words for authoritarian-minded governments in Central and Eastern Europe:

After an election campaign in which he had strong words for central European states such as Poland and Hungary for not cooperating on refugees and respecting European values, Macron now insisted he did not believe in “a conflict between east and west in Europe”. But he nonetheless warned against certain European leaders “abandoning principles, turning their backs on Europe, having a cynical approach to the European Union that only served as dispensing credit without respecting its values”.

He stated: “Europe isn’t a supermarket. Europe is a common destiny. It is weakened when it accepts its principles being rejected. The countries in Europe that don’t respect the rules should have to face the political consequences. And that’s not just an east-west debate.” He added: “I will speak to everyone with respect but I won’t compromise on European principles – on solidarity or democratic values. If Europe were to accept that, it would mean it’s weak and had already ceased to exist.”


Theresa May’s minority government kicked off its new parliamentary session on Wednesday with Queen Elizabeth delivering a Queen’s Speech that was, shall we say, quite a bit less ambitious than the one I imagine May wishes she would have been able to deliver:

Earlier, the Queen had set out the 27 bills the government intends to pass in what the prime minister hopes will be a two-year session of parliament.

Eight of these were the pieces of legislation the government believes are necessary for Brexit – including bills allowing Britain to determine its own immigration, customs and trade arrangements.

But plans to scrap free school meals, ration winter fuel payments for pensioners, repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, and introduce what became widely known as the “dementia tax” for funding social care have been swept away by the election result.

Grammar schools were not mentioned; nor was the promised free vote on repealing the foxhunting ban, which enraged many younger voters during the campaign.

So many people who could be having their lives ruined by pointless Tory austerity will now have to go on without having their heating subsidies and free school lunches cut. Somehow they’ll all have to muddle through anyway.

There’s a lot of interesting material in that Guardian piece, from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighting what a mess May’s government is:

Corbyn called May’s minority administration “a government without a majority, without a mandate, without a serious legislative programme, led by a prime minister who has lost her political authority, and is struggling to stitch together a deal to stay in office”.

to the news that the Liberal Democrats may try to use the normally helpless House of Lords to gum up May’s Brexit plans:

Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael said he did not believe the eight Brexit-related bills would be covered by the so-called Salisbury Convention, which usually obliges the Lords to back legislation promised in the governing party’s manifesto, and passed by the Commons. “What we are seeing now is the opportunity for Parliament to control the government,” he said.

The Lib Dems have more than 100 peers, with significantly more influence in the upper house than in the Commons, where the party has just 12 MPs.

“The government is not only going to struggle to gets its business through the House of Commons, it is going to have one hell of a job to get stuff through the House of Lords,” Carmichael said.

May’s alliance negotiations with the Democratic Unionist Party seem to be turning, at the moment, on abolishing the UK’s air passenger tax. Northern Ireland’s airports struggle to compete with Dublin because Ireland has already eliminated such a tax, so DUP want May to eliminate it to help level the playing field.



The Trump administration says it’s preparing more sanctions against Nicolás Maduro’s government, while its efforts to get the Organization of American States to pass a resolution condemning Maduro’s authoritarian turn seem to have hit a dead end. Maduro certainly doesn’t seem like he’s planning to quit now. As several of his cabinet members have stepped down in order to run for seats in the constituent assembly he wants to form to rewrite the country’s constitution, Maduro has taken to replacing them with army generals. This seems like a fairly ominous attempt to keep the army on-side as public protests escalate.

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