Europe/Americas update: August 3-4 2017



The European Union on Friday sanctioned three Russian firms and three Russian individuals accused of involvement in shipping gas turbines to Crimea. The turbines were legally sold to Russian buyers by the German firm Siemans, but as the EU doesn’t recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea shipping the items there is a violation of the terms of the deal.

Speaking of Crimea, The Intercept’s Robert Mackey wrote Thursday that amid Donald Trump’s two signing statements regarding the sanctions bill he signed into law this week was a passage suggesting he might be amenable to recognizing the Crimea annexation:

Specifically, the president complained about sections 253 and 257 of the legislation, which state that the United States “does not recognize territorial changes effected by force,” and will “never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Government of the Russian Federation or the separation of any portion of Ukrainian territory through the use of military force.”

Since those statements simply reiterate nine decades of U.S. policy about not recognizing borders changed by force — which has been in effect since the Hoover Administration and was restated by Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday — Trump’s objection to it seems to indicate that he is open to negotiating new borders for Ukraine as part of his stated desire to “make a deal with Russia.” What, if anything, Trump would get from Russia, in exchange for lifting sanctions related to its occupation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels in the east, remains unclear.

In fact, the White House’s own explanation of the legal basis for Trump’s objection to those sections of the law includes a clue that the president might be willing to let Russia keep Crimea. The problem with sections 253 and 257, Trump says in the signing statement, is that “those provisions purport to displace the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds, in conflict with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry.”

The ruling in Zivotofsky v. Kerry essentially said that Congress could not force the executive branch to accept Israeli claims over Jerusalem (it’s long-standing US policy that Jerusalem’s status must be negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians). Treating Crimea and Jerusalem as analogous situations suggests Trump believes the status of Crimea is open to negotiation.


In these cynical, troubled times it’s gratifying to see a couple in love and happy with one another. I’m not talking about the guy who wants–nay, deserves–your kudos for finding his wife attractive. That guy is a real hero, don’t get me wrong, but in this case I’m referring to Prince Henrik and Queen Margrethe of Denmark, truly a love story for the ages:

Prince Henrik of Denmark has announced that he does not wish to be buried next to his wife, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, saying he is unhappy he was never acknowledged as her equal.

Henrik, 83, married Queen Margrethe in 1967 and was later named prince consort. But he has repeatedly said he would have liked to be named king consort.

“It is no secret that the prince for many years has been unhappy with his role and the title he has been awarded in the Danish monarchy. This discontent has grown more and more in recent years,” the palace’s communications chief, Lene Balleby, told the tabloid BT.

“For the prince, the decision not to buried beside the queen is the natural consequence of not having been treated equally to his spouse – by not having the title and role he has desired.”

Frankly, I’m not sure there would be room in the couple’s planned shared plot for Margrethe, Henrik, and Henrik’s perpetually full diaper, so this is probably for the best.

The happy couple back in 2010, when they were still planning on being buried together (Wikimedia | Holger Motzkau)


Don’t look now, but French President Odin Emmanuel Macron is sinking in the polls. His approval rating is down to 36 percent according to YouGov, which represents a loss of about seven points in a month. His disapproval rating is up seven points to 49 percent, putting him underwater a scant three months into his presidency. It seems like French voters are unwilling to be very patient with Macron in allowing him time to bring unemployment down and improve the economy. But Macron’s plans for austerity coupled with corporate-friendly deregulation are surely going to do the trick and increase his popularity!



Amid a mix of protests and celebrations, Venezuela’s new constituent assembly opened for business on Friday. The assembly, whose creation was spearheaded by President Nicolás Maduro to give him a way around Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature, is technically empowered to rewrite the country’s constitution, even though the size of its popular mandate, if any, is very debatable. One change Maduro says he’ll be seeking is removal of constitutional protections of immunity for legislators, which seems like it could lead to some abusive behavior but what do I know.

Among the assembly’s critics is Pope Francis, of all people, whose Secretariat of State has urged Maduro to suspend the body. That’s…unlikely to happen.


We already mentioned the leaked Donald Trump phone transcripts in a previous post, but let’s talk briefly about the call Trump had with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Trump isn’t quite as whiny in this one as he was in his call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, but he’s still pretty whiny as he demands that Peña Nieto stop talking about not paying for the border wall and making Trump look bad:

Because you and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall. From a political standpoint, that is what we will say. We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out. Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about. But in terms of dollars – or pesos – it is the least important thing. I know how to build very inexpensively, so it will be much lower than these numbers I am being presented with, and it will be a better wall and it will look nice. And it will do the job.

If you will not say what I want you to say then I won’t talk to you anymore. What a strong alpha male move that is. Truly this is a manly man we’ve elected.


On Thursday, Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen reported that the White House is in the midst of a purge of the National Security Council. Specifically, the Michael Flynn/Steve Bannon faction within the NSC–the very paranoid, very unhinged Michael Flynn/Steve Bannon faction–is being moved out:

Among them are NSC senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was removed Aug. 2; NSC senior director for the Middle East Derek Harvey, who was asked to resign last week; and NSC director for strategic planning Rich Higgins, reportedly for writing and circulating a bizarre memo alleging a conspiracy of globalists, leftists and Islamists trying to undermine Trump, according to The Atlantic.

The arrival on Monday of new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who previously served as Trump’s secretary of homeland security, appears to have bolstered the authority of national security adviser H.R. McMaster to make such firing decisions, which he has long sought. Combined, the personnel moves aim to bring more coherence and discipline to a sometimes chaotic, unpredictable foreign policy-making process that has often seemed undermined by competing power centers inside the administration as well as by Trump’s own personality.

Though McMaster officially removed Bannon from the NSC principals committee after taking over from Mike Flynn in February, recent reports and sources indicate that Bannon has continued to operate a kind of parallel power center that has drawn in fringe thinkers who favor regime change in Tehran. A faction around Bannon has been thinking about how to destabilize Iran but is constrained by the fact that Trump tells them he does not want another big war, a military analyst whose mentors in the US national defense community have participated in the discussions told Al-Monitor.

It’s no secret that the people losing their jobs are among the most diehard Iran hawks in the administration. Trump himself is deeply hostile to Iran and the Iran nuclear deal, but he also desperately wants to avoid a new war in the Middle East and so he’s basically waffling and, for the moment at least, the Kelly-McMaster combo seems to be in charge. But that’s unlikely to last, given how mercurial Trump is and how much he already seems to dislike McMaster, who he’s talked about appointing as the new US commander in Afghanistan almost as a way to just get him the hell out of the White House. Online, the white nationalists and other assorted Trump-supporting garbage are gunning for McMaster in a big way, and Trump is nothing if not susceptible to outside voices.

By the by, Bannon’s parallel security operation isn’t going away, it’s just losing its key allies on the NSC, so don’t expect presidential adviser Hugo Drax Sebastian Gorka to be canned anytime soon.

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