Europe/Americas update: October 12 2018



RFE/RL reports on naval tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov. Ukrainian officials say that commercial ships there are being shadowed and/or harassed by Russian coast guard vessels, and the US has provided Kiev with two patrol boats to enhance its naval presence:

Be sure to stick around for the fairly brazen attempt at rent-seeking by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. And people wonder why there are complaints about Ukrainian corruption.


The Wilson Center’s Michael Kofman welcomes a debate over stationing US ground forces in Poland, which he says is a bad idea but could/should spark a general rethinking of US military deployment across Europe:

The debate started earlier this spring when it became known that Poland’s Ministry of Defense had made the proposal to Washington, seemingly without its own president’s knowledge. Lt Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe, came out against it in June, arguing it was unnecessary, not feasible given current availability of forces, and damaging to NATO cohesion. Political commentators like Marc Thiessen and Leonid Bershidsky thought it might be a good idea. Since the need for deterrence has, in their view, ‘moved east,’ so too should U.S. forces. Michael Fitzsimmons argued that it would lead to a security dilemma and political support for Poland’s worrisome illiberal turn. However, Michael Hunzeker and Alexander Lanoszka wrote in Defense One that pundits should not mock the idea, as “whatever its ultimate name, a base there will deter Russian aggression and reassure our allies in Poland and the Baltic region.” They see permanent U.S. bases in Poland as enhancing deterrence, potentially saving American lives in the event of a conflict, and sending a positive signal to allies.

Unfortunately, naming a U.S. base in Poland after Trump is the least problematic part of Warsaw’s proposal. A permanent U.S. base in Poland will not deter Russia any better, and it will probably do more harm to NATO than good. From the standpoint of deterrence and alliance politics, it’s a foolish and detrimental idea. The United States does need more forces in Europe with capabilities relevant to deterring Russia, but an armored division in Poland is not the right answer. In my view, there is almost no redeeming value to Poland’s idea, either for the United States or NATO, but the proposition does offer an opportunity to discuss the future of U.S. military deployments in Europe and the overall strategy behind this effort.

Poland wants a division of US forces stationed there to deter Russian aggression. Kofman argues that they would do nothing to deter Russia–on the contrary, if Russia views that division as an potential offensive force, it could increase its own military presence in the region to counter the US. A smarter deployment would plan for what an actual conventional NATO war against Russia might look like and position forces–mostly air and air defense forces–accordingly.


Swedish Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson on Friday asked the other parties in his Alliance coalition to back him in forming a minority government, but as that minority government would depend on support from the far-right Sweden Democrats it’s unclear what kind of response he’s going to get. The Center and Liberal parties have both expressed an unwillingness to participate in any government that relies on the Sweden Democrats, so Kristersson appears to be asking them to just support a government consisting of his Moderates and the Christian Democrats, rather than actually participating in it. If he can’t pull this off then the center-left coalition led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven may get a crack at forming a government. And Swedish politics will remain gridlocked.


We don’t often talk Luxembourg around here, but they’re holding an election on Sunday that looks like it will return the country’s center-right Christian Social People’s Party (CSV) to power after the country has spent the past five years under the Democratic Party. CSV has dominated Luxembourgian politics since World War II, but it may fall short of an absolute majority, in which case it will have to look for a coalition partner.


I really have to hand it to Theresa May. After spending months telling anybody who would listen that she could cut a Brexit deal with the European Union that would give the UK the benefits of EU membership with none of the responsibilities, she’s now reportedly circling a Brexit fallback deal that would foist all the responsibilities of EU membership on the UK with very few of the benefits:

Secret plans to allow an extension of the transition period in the Brexit withdrawal agreement could result in the UK living under all EU rules well beyond the 21 months so far negotiated, the Guardian can reveal.

The expected offer of an extension is designed to convince Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, that the “backstop” plan to avoid the creation of a hard border on the island of Ireland will never come into force.

A longer transition period would mean the whole of the country would be locked into a prolonged period of what EU diplomats have previously described as a state of “vassalage”, with the House of Commons being forced to accept Brussels regulations without having any say on them.

DUP can, let’s remember, bring May’s government down if it wants, hence May’s need to appease Foster. Britain would likely be forced to continue contributing financially to the EU during this indeterminate transition period despite, again, having no say in EU policymaking. Everybody in London and Brussels is saying that a Brexit deal is close, but so far I’ve seen nothing to indicate that they’re getting any closer just on the Irish border issue, let alone anything else.



Stop me if you’ve heard this before–the devoted fans of an oafish authoritarian right-wing clod running for president have turned out to be pretty violent:

The two contenders in Brazil’s bitterly contested presidential race have urged calm after a wave of attacks on journalists, activists and members of the LGBT community by supporters of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro including beatings, a knife attack and a murder.

Supporters of the former paratrooper – himself the victim of an assassination attempt last month – have also reportedly been targeted with violence.

But an investigation by independent journalism group Agência Publica found that an overwhelming majority of the violence was committed by supporters of Bolsonaro, who polls give a 16-point lead over his leftist opponent, Fernando Haddad, ahead of the second-round runoff on 28 October.

Agência Pública said bolsonaristas were behind 50 separate attacks since 30 September. In the same period, six Bolsonaro supporters were assaulted, the report found.

Bolsonaro is sometimes called the Brazilian Donald Trump, but I think that’s not quite accurate. Bolsonaro shows no sign of prion disease, for example. But it is undeniably true that Bolsonaro’s voters are analogous to Trump’s.


Finally, I know we covered the Jamal Khashoggi story earlier, but I think it’s appropriate to close out here with BuzzFeed’s Evan Hill as he makes the case for leftists to push for an end to the US-Saudi alliance:

Calling for an end to the Saudi alliance isn’t a hard choice — it’s realistic, popular, and morally correct. A February Gallup poll found that 55% of Americans held unfavorable views of Saudi Arabia, while a recent and still unpublished survey by Data for Progress, a progressive polling group, showed that 48% want to end US support for the disastrous Saudi war in Yemen, while only 20% want to continue it.

Ending the special relationship with Saudi Arabia is exactly the kind of foreign policy fight progressives should embrace, and it would fit clearly into a vision of a more democratic, egalitarian, and just world. Opponents would be forced to take the side of a regime that almost assuredly just committed the state-sanctioned murder of a journalist and US resident, in addition to its myriad other abuses. In their corner, apologists would have only the dismal logic of arms sales.

In purely practical terms, Saudi Arabia is no longer the useful partner its defenders make it out to be. Realists will argue that a cold-eyed assessment of the transactional relationship the United States has held with Saudi monarchs for decades will show strategic benefits that we should not abandon. They will point to the stability of the global energy market, supposedly guaranteed by Saudi oil supplies, and they will insist that the kingdom is a crucial force for stability in the Middle East.

But realists have one real problem here: Neither of these things is true.


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