Europe/Americas update: July 14-15 2018


On his way to Finland to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump once again made his feelings about the European Union very clear:

In an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor Jeff Glor in Scotland on Saturday, President Trump named the European Union — comprising some of America’s oldest allies — when asked to identify his “biggest foe globally right now.”

“Well, I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe. Russia is foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly they are a foe. But that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive,” Mr. Trump said at his golf club in Turnberry, Scotland.

“I respect the leaders of those countries. But, in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us and many of those countries are in NATO and they weren’t paying their bills,” he added.

Trump doesn’t seem to believe in the concept of “alliances” period, which I guess is one position to take. I’m not sure it’s a tenable one, even for the hyper-militarized United States, but I guess the next two and a half to six and a half years will tell us whether it is or not.


The first genuine Trump-Putin summit will take place on Monday in Helsinki, and at this point it’s anyone’s guess what they’ll talk about. Syria? Almost certainly. Iran? Probably. North Korea? Also probably. Nuclear arms reductions? Perhaps. Crimea? Maybe. Extraditing the 12 Russians who Robert Mueller just indicted to the US? Maybe not. Pardoning the 12 Russians who Robert Mueller just indicted? That I could buy. The pee tape? I’d like to think so.

Officials from both countries spent the weekend talking about their “low expectations” for the meeting, which US National Security Advisor John Bolton says will be “unstructured” and is unlikely to produce any “deliverables.” With four hours of talks planned, including a 90 minute one-on-one session between Trump and Putin, I think just getting through it without Trump’s prion disease acting up would be a real feat.

The expert consensus seems to be that Putin has already gotten most of what he wants out of this summit simply by virtue of it taking place at all, because it means he’s being treated as the leader of a great power that has survived repeated Western efforts to isolate and humble it. Despite all the deliberate lowering of expectations, Putin may be preparing to give Trump some kind of big PR “win” on something that doesn’t materially affect Russian interests, in return for sanctions relief and other concessions (recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea would be a big one, and could garner a promise from Putin to finally end the conflict in eastern Ukraine) down the road. We’ll see.


The Italian government did the unthinkable over the weekend: it agreed to take in some migrants. Interior Minister Matteo “let’s count all the Roma, wait why are you looking a me like that” Salvini said on Sunday that Italian authorities will allow two rescue ships containing 450 migrants saved from their rickety boat on the Mediterranean to dock in Sicily, after France, Germany, Malta, Portugal, and Spain agreed to take in some of the migrants. I don’t want to give Salvini any credence here because he’s a frighteningly racist piece of garbage, but Italy’s underlying complaint–that, despite EU rules requiring all member states to share the burden of taking in refugees and asylum seekers, Greece and Italy handle the bulk of that responsibility–is a legitimate one.


British Prime Minister Theresa May says that Donald Trump advised her to “sue” the EU in order to speed up Brexit and give the UK more leverage. Of course it’s unclear where Britain would be able to sue the EU and also on what grounds it could possibly do so, but for Christ’s sake you can’t expect Trump to think of everything. Or anything, really.

May’s Brexit plans, such as they are, do not seem to be going down well with hardliners in her own party:

The party’s European Research Group says it will reject any last attempts at compromise by Number 10 as they hope to force May to change course over Brexit or risk a no-confidence vote before the summer break by demonstrating the depth of their support.

A special ERG whipping operation, using the WhatsApp messaging service, has been created by Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister who resigned from the government last week, although ERG insiders would not put a number on how many they expected to rebel in the Commons.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the ERG, told the BBC “we’ll have an idea of the numbers at 10pm on Monday evening” while one ERG insider added that they were “intensely relaxed” about the number of rebels they had signed up.

Things may come to a head on Monday evening, when parliament is supposed to debate several hardliner amendments to a taxation bill that would make it difficult for May to implement her plan to essentially leave the UK in the EU’s single market for goods. May is telling potential rebels that ousting her this late in the game would risk no Brexit deal being negotiated at all.



At least ten more people were killed on Sunday–six protesters and four police officers–in clashes between police and anti-Daniel Ortega protesters in and around the city of Masaya, south of Managua. By some estimates now over 300 people have died in protests that began back in mid-April over Ortega’s proposed austerity measures.


Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned on Saturday amid days of protests against his planned, then later rescinded, fuel price increase. He was potentially facing a contentious confidence vote had he not resigned. The International Monetary Fund is still insistent that Haiti end its fuel subsidy program, though it has suggested a more gradual phaseout coupled with benefit increases in other areas to cushion the blow.

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