Europe/Americas update: July 1-2 2017




There was positive news from the Cyprus reunification talks in Switzerland on Saturday:

A “clear understanding” has been reached at talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders and their backers on what is needed to reach a comprehensive agreement to reunite the island, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday.

Guterres, who arrived on Friday on the third day of negotiations in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, has lent his weight to the effort to unite Cyprus under a federal umbrella.

He gave no details, but said in a statement that he had held a “positive, results-oriented” meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı, as well as Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that evening.


Ukraine’s SBU security service says it has proof that Russia was responsible for the June 27 Petya cyberattack. Apparently it can connect this recent attack to another attack in December against cyber targets in Kiev.


Eight people were wounded in a shooting outside the Arrahma mosque in Avignon late Sunday evening local time. I mention this because of the possibility that it was anti-Muslim terrorism, but French authorities seem to be treating the location of the shooting as incidental to the shooting itself.


It’s still early, but so far Brexit seems like a complete mess. How big a mess? Well, consider that polling shows 60 percent of British citizens want to retain their European Union citizenship, which is hard to imagine happening and harder still to imagine happening under Theresa May’s preferred “hard Brexit.” Many of these people would actually be willing to pay to keep their EU passports:

Michael Bruter, professor of political science and European politics at the LSE, and his colleague Sarah Harrison at the LSE’s electoral psychology initiative (ECREP) worked on the research in conjunction with the polling firm Opinium.

Bruter said the research showed that young people in particular were “very unhappy” at the prospect of losing rights they regarded as fundamental and crucial to their future prospects. “They would paradoxically be willing to pay far more than they currently do [compared with the current per capita contribution to the EU budget made by UK citizens] to retain those rights,” he said.

The LSE/Opinium team found that 73% of voters would like either to protect or extend the rights that current citizens from other EU countries have to vote in the UK; 48% wanted to see the right to vote extended from local elections to general elections, while 25% wished to keep the status quo. Only 10% supported the government’s position of withdrawing EU citizens’ right to vote in local elections.

May’s government, which has all along labored under the ridiculous belief that it would be able to get the EU to give it all the benefits of membership without any of the drawbacks, now seems to finally understand that this whole “have our cake and eat it too” idea has always been a collective delusion. So now they’re looking at accepting some kind of association with the EU at least in the near term, maybe a customs union such as the one the EU has with Turkey. The problem with that is that the UK isn’t Turkey–it’s on the way out of the EU and Brussels still has incentive to make that exit as painful as possible to deter potential future departures.

On the plus side, Donald Trump may be visiting soon! He’ll have to do it on short notice to minimize the chance of massive protests, but still! What fun!



Four more people were killed in protests against the Maduro government on Friday, which means at least 80 people have now been killed since those protests began in early April. In an effort to try to blunt the protests, President announced on Sunday that he’s raising the national minimum wage by 50 percent. Which is great, except that inflation has already made those wages almost worthless.


There were apparently more big, shocking revelations in the Trump-Russia story this weekend, but it’s still not clear that they show any collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow. The Wall Street Journal has now done two stories on an effort (those are both behind the WSJ paywall unfortunately, but I link you to them anyway) by Peter Smith, a long-time and now-deceased Republican political operative, to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails from Russian hackers in the late stages of the 2016 campaign. Smith had no official role with the Trump campaign but appears to have name-dropped a bunch of people involved with the campaign–Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Michael Flynn–when he was approaching cybersecurity experts trying to get the emails. He doesn’t seem to have had any particular evidence that Russian hackers had Clinton’s emails, he was just surmising based on her admittedly crappy IT setup. But at some point during his search he does seem to have been contacted by someone claiming to have copies of Clinton’s emails.

I’m not sure I’m following all the details here but it seems the upshot has to do with those people Smith was name-dropping, most of whom have disavowed any connection with him or his quest. So the issue is, was he just throwing names around, or was he really in touch with these Trump campaign people? If the latter, there could be something to this story. At Lawfare on Friday, cybersecurity expert Matt Tait, who was apparently one of the major sources for the WSJ’s reporting, wrote about his experiences interacting with Smith, who approached him about possibly trying to authenticate the Clinton emails he’d allegedly been offered. And this seems to be the big takeaway:

When he first contacted me, I did not know who Smith was, but his legitimate connections within the Republican party were apparent. My motive for initially speaking to him was that I wondered if the campaign was trying to urgently establish whether the claims that Russia had hacked the DNC was merely “spin” from the Clinton campaign, or instead something they would need to address before Trump went too far down the road of denying it. My guess was that maybe they wanted to contact someone who could provide them with impartial advice to understand whether the claims were real or just rhetoric.

Although it wasn’t initially clear to me how independent Smith’s operation was from Flynn or the Trump campaign, it was immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn and his son well. Smith routinely talked about the goings on at the top of the Trump team, offering deep insights into the bizarre world at the top of the Trump campaign. Smith told of Flynn’s deep dislike of DNI Clapper, whom Flynn blamed for his dismissal by President Obama. Smith told of Flynn’s moves to position himself to become CIA Director under Trump, but also that Flynn had been persuaded that the Senate confirmation process would be prohibitively difficult. He would instead therefore become National Security Advisor should Trump win the election, Smith said. He also told of a deep sense of angst even among Trump loyalists in the campaign, saying “Trump often just repeats whatever he’s heard from the last person who spoke to him,” and expressing the view that this was especially dangerous when Trump was away.

So…OK? Later Tait says he was given a document by Smith that also suggested he was working with the Trump campaign (this document is apparently where Conway and Bannon had their names brought into the story), but that still doesn’t seem like proof Smith was working with these people.

Tait says that Smith’s “knowledge of the inner workings of the campaign were insightful beyond what could be obtained by merely attending Republican events or watching large amounts of news coverage,” and maybe that’s true but it’s not really reflected in that money-shot paragraph up there. There’s nothing in there that you couldn’t glean from news coverage. Anybody who knew anything about Flynn’s career would know he probably hated everyone in the Obama administration and that he was probably too toxic for a Senate confirmation hearing. Anybody who spent more than five minutes watching Trump during the campaign would know that he’s a moron who parrots back the last thing he heard on virtually any topic of substance. And it doesn’t take much to guess that there were people in the campaign who were worried about that. Maybe Tait is holding information back from his conversations with Smith, but if not then I have to say I think he’s assuming facts not in evidence. Which doesn’t mean that Smith wasn’t the link between the Trump campaign and Moscow, it just means that I don’t think the case has suddenly been blown wide open.

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