Europe/Americas update: August 21-22 2017

PSA: This may very well be my last update until Monday. I’m traveling for the rest of the week and while ideally I would like to find time to pump out a little content while I’m doing so, realistically I don’t think it’s going to be possible.



In response to Russia’s decision to order the US mission there to drastically cut its staff, the US diplomatic mission in Russia will drastically curtail its activities:

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced Monday that it will temporarily stop issuing nonimmigrant visas in Russia and permanently curtail visa operations outside Moscow as it works to comply with Russia’s demand that the U.S. mission in the country reduce its staff by 755.

Moscow’s order “calls into question Russia’s seriousness about pursuing better relations,” the U.S. Embassy said in its announcement.

The move will mean delays for the hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens who apply for nonimmigrant visas to the United States each year. And although Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to rule out an immediate reciprocal response, his tone was frosty. Washington, he suggested, is seeking to “provoke discontent of Russian citizens against the actions of the Russian government.”

This is a petty move, but Putin did basically invite the US to do it.


Serbia pulled its diplomatic staff out of Skopje on Monday, citing Macedonia’s unnamed “offensive actions” against Serbian interests. The Macedonian government has said it wants to help Kosovo join UNESCO, which can be viewed as a way to legitimize Kosovo’s independence. Beyond that, it’s not clear what “offensive actions” means. The Macedonian government denied on Tuesday that it’s been carrying out intelligence activities against Serbia, so that’s something, but as far as anybody can tell the Serbians hadn’t alleged that they had.


French President Quetzalcoatl Emmanuel Macron is heading to Central and Eastern Europe to harangue the leaders of Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria about European Union labor laws. Macron wants to level the playing field to stop companies from exploiting cheaper labor costs in Central and Eastern Europe, but many of the countries there say they should be allowed to undercut labor costs in Western Europe in order to develop their still-struggling economies. Macron is snubbing Poland and Hungary, whose right-wing governments are mostly anti-EU, and I’m sure their grief over not being allowed to host Frances boy-king will cause both governments to fundamentally reconsider their policies.

To his credit, Macron continues to agitate for Eurozone reforms, including a common Eurozone budget and finance minister. He’s heading to Greece next month to keep pressing that case in the country in which, well, the need for those reforms is most apparent.


Younes Abouyaaqoub, the man believed to have been the driver of the van that crashed into a crowd and killed 13 people in Barcelona last Thursday, was killed by Spanish police on Monday in Subirats, west of Barcelona. Abouyaaqoub also murdered another person on Thursday when he stabbed a man while stealing his car to make his getaway. He was apparently wearing a fake bomb vest and was shot when he displayed it to the police.

Spanish investigators are trying now to figure out how this apparently sophisticated cell was formed and led. The few survivors who were taken into custody have said that the group’s original plan was, as suspected, far more dramatic:

[Mohamed Houli Chemlal], 21, confirmed what police said they had concluded last week: that the group had been planning large-scale bomb attacks before an explosion ripped through a house in Alcanar where a number of them had been staying, killing two of the plotters.

One of the proposed targets was the Sagrada Família, the half-finished church designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí that is one of Barcelona’s best loved buildings.


Theresa May’s government will issue its next Brexit paper on Wednesday, this one about extricating Britain from the European Court of Justice. This is a serious matter, because Brussels wants EU nationals who remain in Britain to continue to have access to the ECJ while London is adamant that it will not allow the ECJ to undercut the British judicial system.

The governments of Wales and Scotland are working together to oppose the May’s current EU repeal bill, which they argue amounts to a giant power grab because it arrogates all EU authorities to London rather than devolving them to regional governments.



Remains of “some” of the missing sailors on the USS John S. McCain have been located in damaged parts of the ship. The destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore early Monday morning. Ten sailors have been missing since the collision. The now former commander of the 7th Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, has been relieved of duty following this collision and one involving the USS Fitzgerald in June.

Josh Keating has a good summary of Donald Trump’s big Afghanistan address on Monday and his foreign policy in general. The conclusion? Rhetoric and erratic behavior aside, Trump has been a very conventional Republican hawk:

The events of this past week, including the departure of the main ideologue behind Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, Steve Bannon, and Monday night’s announcement of Afghanistan strategy, will probably be remembered as a turning point in the administration’s foreign policy—from norm-breaking to basically normal. But it’s already been clear for some time that the Trump administration’s approach to the world, not counting the commander in chief’s Twitter outbursts and public fits, is surprisingly conventional. The Trump administration has kept many of Obama’s policies in place; and where it has changed them, those changes have gone not in the direction of Bannonite ultranationalism but toward the recommendations of the very bipartisan foreign-policy establishment that Trump was supposed to disrupt. Most of this administration’s decisions and actions don’t differ significantly from what one might expect from any Republican president, or for that matter, from a hawkish Democrat like Hillary Clinton.

Along those same lines, here’s an up and coming foreign policy analyst named Derek something or other, writing about Steve Bannon’s firing and the impact it’s not going to have on Trump’s foreign policy:

Bannon’s departure from this administration is unequivocally a welcome development. His absence from the West Wing means one less white nationalist potentially filling the deeply impressionableTrump’s head with talk of immigration bans, a future war with China, or the apocalyptic war with Islam in which Bannon already believes Western (AKA “Judeo-Christian”) civilization finds itself. There’s also strong reason to believe that Bannon has been protecting other dangerously radical Trump appointees in the White House. Some, like former National Security Council staffers Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Rich Higgins, are already gone. Others, like presidential deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka (whose foibles have been comprehensively documented by LobeLog), may now find their positions at risk with Bannon out.

But if anyone is expecting that Bannon’s departure is going to substantially improve the Trump administration’s foreign policy, they should prepare to be disappointed. As odious as Bannon was, his foreign policy influence had been on the wane for months, and the worst aspects of Trump’s international agenda are still well-entrenched despite his sacking.

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