Europe/Americas update: January 18 2019



The Russian government is casting doubt on ISIS’s claims that it was behind a December 31 explosion in an apartment building in the city of Magnitogorsk. That explosion, which killed 39 people, was most likely caused by a gas leak–Russian infrastructure is generally quite old and in varying states of disrepair–but the terror group claimed responsibility for the blast this week and there are unconfirmed reports that three men were seen leaving the building before it exploded and that those three men were later killed in a shootout with police. Russian authorities are still investigating the incident.


Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven got his government on Friday, and all he apparently had to do was give up any pretense that his Social Democratic Party will attempt to follow any social democratic principles:

The Social Democrats and Green Party will govern without the third member of their campaign bloc, the Left Party. To consent to the government’s formation, the Center Party and the Liberals broke with the other two members of the center-right alliance they had joined in the campaign.

In Sweden, a government does not require majority support in Parliament. But a majority vote can prevent its formation, and an attempt to do that on Friday fell short, with 153 of 349 lawmakers voting to block the new government from taking office.

As part of the agreement, the Social Democrats and Greens signed onto a 73-point declaration of intent that is heavy on conservative policies like mandatory language testing to become a citizen, lower taxes and weaker employment protection rules. It also ruled out any influence from the Left Party, the heir to the old Communist Party.

On the plus side, the far right Sweden Democrats are locked out of government. On the minus side, this experiment in center-left parties governing as center-right parties is probably going to fail relatively soon, leading to a new election in which the Sweden Democrats are likely to increase their power.


Norwegian police are treating a knife attack Thursday evening in Oslo as a terrorist incident. One woman was injured by a Russian national who told authorities he wanted to kill many people and that he was carrying out a terrorist attack.


One reason why extending the Brexit deadline past March 29 is problematic is that the European Union is holding a parliamentary election later this year and the new parliament will be seated on July 2. And, well, everybody was assuming the UK would be gone by then. If it’s not, then any European parliament without UK representation might be illegitimate. Which means the UK might have to go through the time and expense of holding an EPP election even though it’s leaving the EU. Lawyers in Brussels are trying to determine if the EU could legally seat a parliament without UK representation even if the UK is technically still an EU member at the time.



The Colombian government has determined that the ELN rebel group was responsible for a car bombing in Bogotá on Thursday that killed at least 21 people. Colombian President Iván Duque made it pretty clear in a speech on Friday that his government is no longer interested in engaging in peace talks with the rebel group:

In a televised address, the conservative leader said he had revoked a decree suspending arrest orders against leaders of Colombia’s last remaining rebel group, known as the ELN for its Spanish initials, who have been living on the communist-run island amid fading hopes that peace talks would resume.

“It’s clear to all of Colombia that the ELN has no true desire for peace,” Duque said, citing a long list of 400 terrorist attacks attributed to the guerrillas since peace talks began in 2017.

“We would like to thank the Cuban government for the solidarity it expressed yesterday and today, and we ask that it capture the terrorists who are inside its territory and hand them over to Colombian police,” he said, adding that no ideology could justify the cruelty of Thursday’s attack.

Duque was referring to the 10 ELN negotiators who are in Cuba to engage in talks with the Colombian government. He reiterated his demands that the rebels forsake violence and release any captives they’re holding as prerequisites for the resumption of peace talks.


At least 20 people were killed on Friday in Mexico’s Hidalgo state when a fuel pipeline ruptured by thieves exploded. Dozens more were reportedly injured. Thieves tampering with pipelines has been cited as one reason for Mexico’s recent fuel shortages, as the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos switches to delivering its product via tanker truck.


Finally, at LobeLog William Hartung argues that Donald Trump’s New Star Wars program is an extremely bad idea on multiple levels:

The Pentagon’s new Missile Defense Review has been rightly criticized for being dangerous, unworkable, and unaffordable. Or, as Newsweek’s headline on the topic put it, “Trump’s Space Missile Plan Is Too Expensive and Will Not Work, Just Like His Border Wall.” The title is apt not just because both initiatives will cost immense sums while making no one any safer, but because President Trump spent a good portion of a speech that was supposed to be about unveiling his administration’s new missile defense plan railing about the need for his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the border wall and the “space wall” are by no means equivalent. While a border wall would cost billions, the fulfillment of the Pentagon’s multi-faceted missile defense plan could cost hundreds of billions, if not over a trillion. And it could spark an arms race in space that would make a nuclear conflict more likely.  Hardly a bargain, by any measure.

Oh well, at least some rich people will get a lot richer. The system works!

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