Europe/Americas update: September 27-28 2017



Russia destroyed its remaining declared chemical weapons stockpiles today. More to the point, Russia held a major televised event at which it destroyed its remaining declared chemical weapons stockpiles. The purpose was less to destroy the weapons than to give Vladimir Putin a chance to criticize the United States for failing to destroy its chemical weapons. The 2012 Chemical Weapons Convention obligates the US and Russia to get rid of their chemical weapons, but both countries missed deadlines in 2007 and 2012. Moscow’s pride at beating its arbitrarily declared 2020 deadline seems a little silly in that context. The US has said it will have its weapons destroyed by 2023.


On Wednesday, a major Ukrainian arms depot west of Kiev exploded, forcing the evacuation of 24,000 people. It’s the second Ukrainian arms depot to explode suddenly this year, and while I think we’re all thinking what you’re thinking right now, there’s no conclusive evidence that the incidents were any more than accidents. Whatever their causes, taken together the explosions have reportedly done considerable damage to Ukraine’s military capabilities.


The Greek government is floundering under a wave of new migration, which has stretched its capacity for receiving and sheltering them to the limit. These migrants are supposed to be resettled throughout the European Union, but, hey, guess what’s happening:

Despite a pledge by EU member states in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers – including 106,000 from Greece and Italy – a mere 29,000 have been moved to other European countries so far. With the 28-nation bloc failing to meet the deadline set out in its own plan, mass demonstrations are expected in capitals across Europe this weekend.

This would be galling under any circumstance, but it’s particularly galling that Greece, which the rest of the EU can’t jump on fast enough if it misses an interest payment, has to accommodate tens of thousands of extra refugees because the rest of the EU has decided that its rules about refugees are really only suggestions.


Angela Merkel’s task of forming a governing coalition was already going to be difficult, but it’s gotten harder thanks to disagreements within her own party. Merkel’s party is actually itself a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union and the Bavarian Christian Social Union. in the wake of Sunday’s drubbing, in which the CDU/CSU emerged as the largest party in parliament but lost more than 60 seats, the CSU wants to shift right to pick up voters who supported the extremist Alternative for Germany party, while Merkel and the CDU are working on forming a governing coalition with the libertarian Free Democratic Party and the leftist Greens. Neither of those potential partners is going to want to join the CSU down the ultra-nationalist k-hole.


Catalonia’s independence referendum is only a couple of days away, in theory, and if you’re looking to catch up on what’s happened on that front, the New York Times has published a pretty good summation:

As Spain’s government tries almost everything it can to stop an independence referendum Sunday in the restive northeastern region of Catalonia, the standoff is escalating into a constitutional crisis emblematic of the larger forces tearing at European unity.

With the support of the Spanish judiciary, Madrid has shut down websites and advertising campaigns that have promoted the vote. It has raided the offices of companies that would print the paper ballots. It has sent in thousands of police officers from outside the region, threatening to block polling stations.

Last week, a dozen regional government officials were detained. Spain’s attorney general has warned that scores more could be arrested and prosecuted, including even the leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont.

“We are witnessing the worst democratic regression since the death of Franco,” Mr. Puigdemont said in an interview, referring to Gen. Francisco Franco, the dictator whose death in 1975 opened the way for Spanish democracy. “What is happening in Catalonia is very serious.”

Obviously I hope I’m wrong about this, but there is every chance that Sunday’s attempted vote could turn very ugly. Or it could fizzle out completely. The one thing that seems highly unlikely is that the vote will take place in a calm and orderly fashion.


British and European Union negotiators say they made progress in the most recent round of Brexit talks, but not enough progress to move on to talking about the future of the UK-EU relationship. Theresa May’s speech in Italy earlier in the week seems to have shaken the talks up a bit, but her refusal to talk specifics is emblematic of the overall problem attending these talks. In particular, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said Thursday that the talks may remain in an indefinite stalemate until the UK agrees to honor financial commitments made while it was part of the union:

Barnier lamented that Davis was, in his own words, not yet ready to specify what past financial commitments would be met by the UK. The British government has so far only offered to ensure that no country loses out in the two years after the UK leaves in 2019, at an estimated cost to the Treasury of €20bn (£17.5bn).

“The UK explained also that it was not in a position yet to identify its commitments taken during membership,” Barnier said. “For the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments taken at 28 [member states] are honoured at 28.”

Britain is edging closer to the EU’s position on the rights of EU nationals who remain in the UK, allowing that EU law could take precedence over UK law in cases involving those people. That’s unlikely to sit well with the hard Brexit crowd, but it’s one of the EU’s key issues.



At LobeLog, reporter Mike LaSusa looks at the still strange affair of former Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose story we’ve covered here on a few occasions. Nisman’s January 2015 “suicide” has now been determined to have been a murder, with most suspicion as to motive revolving around Nisman’s investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. That bombing has long been alleged to have been carried out by Iran, but LaSusa argues that the evidence for that allegation has never been very strong. He offers instead another possible reason for Nisman’s murder:

As I reported for LobeLog last year, before Nisman’s death US authorities were investigating a New York bank account held in his name for indications of possible money laundering. Nisman’s ex-wife told Argentine authorities about the bank account shortly after the prosecutor’s killing and stated that she believed he had been murdered for “economic motives.”

Notably, one of the individuals who gave money to Nisman met a similarly suspicious—and yet unknown—end.

Damian Stefanini, an Argentine entrepreneur who deposited $150,000 in Nisman’s account in October 2012, vanished without a trace almost exactly two years after making that transfer—in October 2014, just three months before Nisman’s death.

Stefanini’s car was found abandoned near his accountant’s office in Buenos Aires, close to an address tied to another entity that had made a suspicious deposit to Nisman’s New York account. In fact, it was the single largest suspicious deposit to Nisman’s account that authorities examined: a $134,975 transfer from a corporation called “RODFA Limited,” which is based in Hong Kong, an increasingly popular money-laundering center.

This genuinely is an “I report, you decide” kind of thing. Since we’ve talked about Nisman in the past I thought the article might be interesting to some readers, but I don’t claim to have any particular insight into this case.


It’s good to know, in this upside down modern world, that Brazilian mob boss President Michel Temer is as popular as ever:

The approval rating for Brazilian President Michel Temer’s scandal-plagued government has sunk further since new corruption charges were brought against him, and 92 percent of Brazilians do not trust him, a new poll published on Thursday showed.

The survey by pollster Ibope said the number of people who consider Temer’s government “bad” or “terrible” rose to 77 percent from 70 percent in the previous survey carried out in July. The proportion of those who rate his government as “great” or “good” slipped to just 3 percent from 5 percent.

Only 6 percent of Brazilians still trust Temer, down from 10 percent, the poll said.

The Brazilian people are of course way ahead of their elected representatives in Congress, who see no reason to throw out the solid gold baby with the platinum bath water and appear to have no interest in showing Temer the door as he rightly deserves.

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