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"What's New? How Is the World Treating You?"

In 1939 Johnny Burke (1908-1964) composed the music and Bob Haggard (1914-1998) wrote the lyrics for the hit song "What's New?" whose first line serves as the title of this blog.  To listen to Linda Ronstadt (born 1946) perform "What's New?" with Nelson Riddle (1921-1985) and his orchestra (Asylum, 1983), click here.  A new window will open, allowing the music to play in the background.

Check this web page for occasional posts containing news and commentary, mainly about events in Central Europe.  To read the article of your choice, either click on the title that appears in the table of contents or scroll down the page.
   
For news and commentary from the most recent past quarter, click here.  For earlier quarters in the year or previous years, see the Introduction and Index for "What's New?"

Table of Contents for the First Quarter of 2017

Contents

  1. 1 Protests in Belarus    29 March 2017
  2. 2 Pfeifer on Hungary’s Situation    27 March 2017
  3. 3 Bulgarian Election    27 March 2017
  4. 4 Protests in Russia    27 March 2017
  5. 5 Bank Collapse Engenders Protests in Russia    24 March 2017
  6. 6 Another Likely Kremlin Assassination    24 March 2017
  7. 7 Timmermans: Sanctions on Poland Unlikely    23 March 2017
  8. 8 More Manafort Ties to Putin    22 March 2017
  9. 9 Standoff in Macedonia Continues    22 March 2017
  10. 10 The Illicit Russian Money Flow to Europe and Elsewhere    21 March 2017
  11. 11 Czech Expert’s Advise on Dealing with Putin    19 March 2017
  12. 12 Merkel and Trump    18 March 2017
  13. 13 Peace Feelers in the Armenian-Azerbaijan-NK Conflict    17 March 2017
  14. 14 Ukraine Blockade    15 March 2017
  15. 15 “Weaker, Smaller, and Less Intelligent?”    14 March 2017
  16. 16 European Council Meeting Conclusions    10 March 2017
  17. 17 Tusk Reelected    10 March 2017
  18. 18 Škoda and Tata in India    10 March 2017
  19. 19 Zeman to Run Again for President    10 March 2017
  20. 20 Belarus’s Social Parasite Tax Suspended    10 March 2017
  21. 21 The Ambassadors of States Bordering Russia in the US Senate    9 March 2017
  22. 22 Tusk’s Candidacy    7 March 2017
  23. 23 Erdoğan’s Nazi Comment    7 March 2017
  24. 24 The Who’s Who of White House-Kremlin Connections    5 March 2017
  25. 25 Russia Is Seeking to Exploit the Macedonian Crisis    4 March 2017
  26. 26 Controversy over a Multi-speed Europe    3 March 2017
  27. 27 Business Seizures in Eastern Ukraine    3 March 2017
  28. 28 Tension over Nagorno-Karabakh    28 February 2017
  29. 29 Protests in Moscow    28 February 2017
  30. 30 Orbán: Hungary Must Eliminate Threats    25 February 2017
  31. 31 The Fate of Zweig and the World    24 February 2017
  32. 32 Le Pen on the Destruction of NATO and the EU    24 February 2017
  33. 33 Richard Evans on the Current Situation    22 February 2017
  34. 34 Proposal Would Abandon Ukrainian Achievements    21 February 2017
  35. 35 Welcome the Republic of Artsakh    21 February 2017
  36. 36 The European Response to US Defense Budget Demands    19 February 2017
  37. 37 Poland's Constitutional Court is Unconstitutional    18 February 2017
  38. 38 How Russia Infiltrates the West    18 February 2017
  39. 39 The Polish Formula for Creeping Authoritarianism    17 November 2017
  40. 40 Dim Prospects of a Trump-Putin Rapprochement    17 February 2017
  41. 41 Zeman Opposes Center against Terrorism    16 February 2017
  42. 42 Mattis to NATO: Pay Your Fair Share    16 February 2017
  43. 43 Trump Campaign Contacts with Russians    15 February 2017
  44. 44 Russian Cyber War Targets    15 February 2017
  45. 45 Serious Challenges to World Stability    14 February 2017
  46. 46 Romanian Protests Continue    14 February 2017
  47. 47 EU-Ukraine Ties    11 February 2017
  48. 48 The Independence of the WWII Museum in Gdańsk    10 February 2017
  49. 49 Navalny Barred from Russian Election    9 February 2017
  50. 50 Further Restrictions on Migrants in the EU    9 February 2017
  51. 51 EU Progress Report    9 February 2017
  52. 52 Gdańsk and Its Refugees    8 February 2017
  53. 53 Fighting Renewed in Eastern Ukraine    7 February 2017    UPDATE!
  54. 54 Will Fox News Apologize to Putin?    6 February 2017
  55. 55 Romania’s Government Acquiesced    6 February 2017
  56. 56 European Parliament Leaders Stand against Malloch    3 February 2017
  57. 57 Hitler’s Birthplace Still in Limbo    3 February 2017
  58. 58 Anticorruption Limit in Romania    1 February 2017    UPDATE!
  59. 59 Tusk Criticized Trump and Listed Threats to the EU    1 February 2017
  60. 60 Ahead of the Orbán-Putin Meeting    31 January 2017
  61. 61 External Hard Euroskepticism    29 January 2017
  62. 62 Bulgarian Parliamentary Elections    24 January 2016
  63. 63 Alcohol: Lubricating Legislative Action    20 January 2016
  64. 64 Massive CIA File Available    18 January 2017
  65. 65 Moldova between the EU and Russia    18 January 2017
  66. 66 Dodik on US Sanctions List    18 January 2017
  67. 67 Trump’s Times/Bild Interview    16 January 2017
  68. 68 Provocation Derailed    15 January 2017
  69. 69 “Height of Folly”    14 January 2017
  70. 70 Soros vs Orbán    13 January 2017
  71. 71 Conflict Scenarios    13 January 2017
  72. 72 Looming Instability in the Balkans    11 January 2017
  73. 73 Fake News in Europe and Cyber Attacks    11 January 2017
  74. 74 Psychopathocracy    11 January 2017


Protests in Belarus    29 March 2017

On 25 March, police in Belarus arrested approximately 400 protesters in Minsk and elsewhere.  The demonstrators opposed the government’s tax on those it defines as underemployed.  The tax is one way that the government can increase revenue to weather the current economic downturn.  Furthermore,  as Belarus continues to improve its ties with the European Union, to diversify its economy, Russians are demanding of Belarus higher prices for natural gas and for natural gas transit fees.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39399953; and https://www.stratfor.com/image/what-russia-has-do-protests-belarus.

Pfeifer on Hungary’s Situation    27 March 2017

A Hungarian-born journalist based in Austria, Karl Pfeifer presents a critique of the authoritarian government in Hungary and its efforts to legitimize its grip on power and its attack on democracy through the use of nationalism and anti-Semitism at http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165501.

Bulgarian Election    27 March 2017

The center-right GERB won Bulgaria’s parliamentary election on Sunday, 26 March.  The pro-European Union GERB won 32.58 percent of the votes, while the pro-Russian Social Democrats won 26.8 percent of the votes.  Bulgaria has had a caretaker government since January, in anticipation of elections.  The coalition government of  Boyko Borisov’s GERB and the Reformist Bloc resigned after GERB’s candidate had failed to win the November 2016 presidential election.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bulgaria-election-idUSKBN16X011?il=0.

Protests in Russia    27 March 2017

Protests erupted in Russia this weekend, after the dissident Alexei Navalny published information that the prime minister, Dimtry Mdevedev, possesses mansions and other items that total much more than his salary.  During the protests, which occurred in major cities throughout Russia, the police arrested Navalny and hundreds of others.  The media claims that these are the largest protests since 2011 and 2012.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39398305.

Bank Collapse Engenders Protests in Russia    24 March 2017

The collapse of one of Russia’s largest banks, Tatfondbank, located in Tatarstan, has sparked large public protests.  Some of the angry investors, who lost their savings, have occupied administrative offices and subjected officials to insults.  There now is a criminal case against the bank’s chairman, Robert Musin.  Before the bank’s failure, Vladimir Putin said that efforts are underway to return investors’ deposits.  The state owned part of the shares of the bank.  See https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/how-a-banks-collapse-sparked-russias-least-likely-street-protests-57491.

Another Likely Kremlin Assassination    24 March 2017

Denis Voronenkov, a Russian exile, former Communist party legislator, and a witness in a case being prepared against Viktor Yanukovych, has been shot in Kyiv, Ukraine.  Authorities in Ukraine suspect Kremlin involvement, and it is highly likely, since his death brings the number of assassinated prominent Kremlin critics to six.  One more, Vladimir Kara-Murza, has survived two poisoning attempts.  The Kremlin denies any connection to the event, but it is difficult to understand how Vladimir Putin or anyone around him retains any credibility.  See http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/23/europe/ukraine-former-russian-lawmaker-denis-voronenkov-killed/index.html.

Timmermans: Sanctions on Poland Unlikely    23 March 2017

At a meeting of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, Commissioner Frans Timmermans, who heads the committee examining Poland’s noncompliance with the rule of law, said that sanctions against Poland, as permitted in Article 7 of the European Union Treaty, are unlikely.  Part of the problem is that Hungary and perhaps the United Kingdom would veto the action, which requires unanimity.  He also pointed out similar pitfalls in other steps that the European Union can take against Poland.  Finally, he essentially supported efforts to create stronger mechanisms to protect democracy as well as the rule of law and fundamental rights.  Poland dismisses EU criticisms of its unconstitutional actions, such as changes in the appointments to and procedures of the Constitutional Tribunal, as interference in its internal affairs.  See http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20170320IPR67838&language=EN&format=XML; and https://euobserver.com/institutional/137346.

More Manafort Ties to Putin    22 March 2017

The AP has uncovered more information that links Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  In 2005, he provided Putin with a plan to improve Russia’s image in the United States, Europe, and former possessions of the Soviet Union.  The contract, which Manafort signed with Putin’s close associate, Oleg Deripaska, who is in the aluminum business, was worth USD 10 million.  Manafort provided services until 2009 or longer.  Manafort remains in contact with Trump, and Manafort’s former business partner, Rick Gates, runs America First Policies that promotes the president’s policies.  The AP report also notes that Manafort did not disclose his work with a foreign agent, which US law requires.  See http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/politics/article/Manafort-s-plan-to-greatly-benefit-the-Putin-11019148.php.

Standoff in Macedonia Continues    22 March 2017

The president of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, still will not permit the formation of a government based of a Social Democratic coalition with Albanians.  During a visit of the European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn to Macedonia, there was a demonstration of 50,000, according to the protest organizers, against the proposed government.  Ivanov has incited nationalists to protest against the coalition, and Russia has accused the West of attempting to break apart Macedonia to create a greater Albania.  See http://www.dw.com/en/tens-of-thousands-protest-in-macedonia-during-eu-visit/a-38059735.

The Illicit Russian Money Flow to Europe and Elsewhere    21 March 2017

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists, along with Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper in Russia, has added to the information available about their ongoing investigation about Russian money laundering schemes.

Those involved set up two fake companies outside of Russia.  One owes the other, even though no goods or services had been exchanged, and a judge in Moldova creates a court order for the debtor to pay the creditor.  That provides a legal means of getting the money out of Russia and into the hands of a fake corporation.

Most of the money heads to Europe.  Between 2012 and 2014, the greatest sums went to two countries: USD 1.6 billion to Estonia and USD 608 to Switzerland.  All other European states also received such illicit funds, aside from Ukraine.  The Czech Republic, for example, received USD 38 million, while Slovakia received USD 5 million.  Other places on the globe where the money landed included China, Hong Kong, Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.  The US received USD 38 million.

Some of Europe’s biggest banks assisted in the transactions, and one of the banks in Russia that is involved in the scheme has Vladimir Putin’s brother on the board of directors.

Details of the scheme are available at https://www.occrp.org/en/laundromat/.  The website includes an interactive map.

Czech Expert’s Advise on Dealing with Putin    19 March 2017

Jakub Janda, an expert in security and intelligence in the Czech Republic, suggested five ways to contain Vladimir Putin’s ambitions. The broad topics are assisting the Ukrainian military in defending its country against Russia, tackling massive disinformation, bolstering the EU’s efforts to stop disinformation, stopping Moscow’s Trojan horses, such as Marine LePen in France, and funding programs to boost citizens’ medial literacy skills.  See http://www.newsweek.com/five-fast-ways-stop-putin-his-tracks-567900?rx=us.

Merkel and Trump    18 March 2017

When Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, met the American president, Donald Trump, on 17 March, in Washington, DC, their public appearances seemed cordial enough, but experts had a different interpretation of their actions and statements.  Embarrassingly, Trump ignored the press and Merkel’s efforts to shake hands.  At least he did not leave Merkel in a room alone with a dog, which is what Vladimir Putin did to intimidate her (Merkel has a great fear of dogs).  For a German perspective that includes the opinions of American experts, see http://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-and-angela-merkel-make-nice-sort-of/a-38004004.  For Trump’s refusal to shake hands, see http://time.com/4705483/president-trump-angela-merkel-handshake/.  On the dog incident, which occurred in 2007, see http://www.vox.com/2014/12/1/7313443/vladimir-putin-merkel.

Peace Feelers in the Armenian-Azerbaijan-NK Conflict    17 March 2017

Azerbaijan’s president has suggested peace talks with Armenia on the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.  With both sides faulting each other for various skirmishes, it is hard to imagine that Azerbaijan’s initiative will succeed.  See http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/15/azerbaijans-president-calls-for-renewed-nagorno-karabakh-talks-its-not-that-simple/.

Ukraine Blockade    15 March 2017

After failing to dismantle rogue blockades on goods going in and out of rebel-held Eastern Ukraine, the government has announced its own blockade.  It will remain in force until rebels return confiscated factories to their legal Ukrainian owners.  Now, instead of shipping coal to Western Ukraine, the rebels have redirected it to Russia.  The official blockade is further escalating tensions between the government and rebels.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39279205.

“Weaker, Smaller, and Less Intelligent?”    14 March 2017

In these postings, there is an effort to avoid scandalous news, but sometimes, it is unavoidable.  On 1 March, a conservative, Euroskeptic member of the European Parliament from Poland, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, said that women deserve to be paid less because they are “weaker, smaller, and less intelligent.”  On 14 March, the European Parliament took disciplinary action, banning Korwin-Mikke from the chamber for ten days (he retains his voting rights), suspending his subsistence allowance for 30 days (a sum of more than EUR 9,000), and prohibiting him from representing the European Parliament for a full year.  During the 1 March session, in response to Korwin-Mikke, the Spanish socialist representative, Iratxe Garcia Perez, said, “according to your opinion, I should not have the right to be here, as a member of this parliament, and I know that it hurts you and your brothers that, today, women can sit in this house to represent the European citizens with the same rights as you.  I am here to defend all European women from men like you.”  Korwin-Mikke, who was born in Nazi-occupied Poland, was a dissident during the Communist era.  He is known for his controversial statements, including comments against women.  See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/women-smaller-weaker-less-intelligent-paid-less-janusz-korwin-mikke-polish-mep-right-wing-silesia-a7609031.html (includes a video of the exchange); https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/14/polish-mep-janusz-korwin-mikke-punished-saying-women-less-intelligent-men; and http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/03/14/janusz-korwin-mikke-suspended-sexist-polish-eu-parliament_n_15356886.html.

European Council Meeting Conclusions    10 March 2017

The European Council met on 9 March, and the 27 member states supported a five-section document but did not reach a consensus to adopt it.

In the areas of jobs, growth, and competitiveness, the EC advocated continued efforts to reduce unemployment and spur economic growth.  The member states favored the continued strengthening of the single market, including efforts to eliminate differing quality in food production in the EU.  The members are “committed to a robust trade policy and an open and rules-based multilateral trading system, with a central role for” the World Trade Organization.

In security and defense, without mentioning the Russian threat or the American administration’s questioning the level of support the United States would provide countries not meeting the minimum target of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending, the member states agreed that the EU “must do more to protect its citizens and contribute to peace and stability in its neighbourhood and beyond, including by committing sufficient additional resources, while taking into account national circumstances and legal commitments.”  More discussions about security will take place on 9 June 2017 in Prague.  The member states also reiterated their commitment to combating terrorism.

In the third section, migration, the member states supported the Malta Declaration and efforts to address the roots of migration from North Africa.  “Concerning the internal dimension,” noted the document, “the effective application of the principles of responsibility and solidarity remains a shared objective.”

On the Western Balkans, the topic of the fourth section, the communique noted:

In light of the internal and external challenges that the region is facing, the European Council discussed the fragile situation in the Western Balkans, which it will keep under review. It stresses the importance of continuing on the reform path, good neighbourly relations and inclusive regional cooperation initiatives. It reaffirmed its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans. Welcoming the progress made by the countries of the region, the European Council stresses that the EU remains committed and engaged at all levels to support them in conducting EU-oriented reforms and projects. 

The last point dealt with continued work to establish the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and the reelection of Donald Tusk as president of the EU (his term will expire on 30 November 2019).

Tusk Reelected    10 March 2017

Donald Tusk will lead the European Council for another 30 months, despite the objections of Poland, whose representatives did not hesitate to express their dislike of Tusk, even after his 9 March reelection.  Hungary, which often cooperaties with Poland, since the two countries have received criticism from the European Union for having battered democratic institutions, also supported Tusk.  See https://www.ft.com/content/c3a3c77c-04b7-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9.

Škoda and Tata in India    10 March 2017

Škoda, a division of Volkswagen, will lead a cooperative effort, with Tata Motors, to create new offerings for the Indian automobile market.  Ford and GM also are vying for more shares of the Indian market, which likely will be the third largest, after China and the United States.  They expect their first joint product to be available in 2019.  See http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/10/reuters-america-update-1-volkswagen-tata-motors-plan-to-cooperate-in-india.html.

Zeman to Run Again for President    10 March 2017

The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, has announced his candidacy for a second term.  He has support among rural voters, but elsewhere Czechs view him negatively.  He has appeared drunk in public, supports Vladimir Putin and his policies, praised Donald Trump’s election, kowtowed to the Chinese to secure investment, and made rude remarks in the media.  Nevertheless, in the most recent poll about confidence in Czech political institutions, 54 percent of the respondents definitely trusted or tended to trust the president, while the percentages for the government (37 percent), Chamber of Deputies (26 percent), and Senate (30 percent) were decidedly less.  Other candidates include the author, songwriter, and businessman Michal Horáček and the political activist and medical doctor Marek Hilšer.  Others still may enter the race for the election, which will occur no later than 2-3 February 2018.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-czech-president-idUSKBN16H1GE?il=0; and http://cvvm.soc.cas.cz/en/media/com_form2content/documents/c1/a7431/f3/pi170303.pdf (in Czech).

Belarus’s Social Parasite Tax Suspended    10 March 2017

President Alexander Lukashenko has suspended Belarus’s social parasite tax, after 2,000 people protested against it in Minsk, the capital, and elsewhere.  Those not working at least 183 days each year were to pay the government the equivalent of USD 250 to compensate it for lost revenue.  Approximately 470,000 were to pay the tax, but only 50,000 have paid, and they will receive a reimbursement if they find employment in 2017.  Lukashenko said that the legislature may revise the tax.  See https://www.yahoo.com/news/belarus-suspends-parasite-tax-record-protests-121046839--business.html.

The Ambassadors of States Bordering Russia in the US Senate    9 March 2017

On 7 March, the ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia testified for two hours before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs about the Russian military threat.  They provided oral summaries but also supplied written reports.  The chair of the committee, Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican from South Carolina), arranged for the ambassadors to speak.

The ambassador from Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin, presented information about the Russian support of separatists in the eastern part of his country and Russia’s conduct of hybrid warfare that combines military and economic action with cyber warfare, including disinformation. Piotr Wilczek, the Polish ambassador who also is a historian and translator, reminded the committee of the numbers of Polish troops in Afghanistan and Kosovo and that his country meets the NATO minimum requirement for defense spending.  Later in the discussion, Wilczek remarked that Kaliningrad, which is a slice of territory, between Poland and Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea, is “a sensitive area and the most militarized area in the whole of Europe.”  The Georgian ambassador, Davit Bakradze, reminded the committee members of the frozen war Russia is supporting on Georgian territory and the country’s efforts to combat continued Russian interference in Georgian affairs.  Andris Teikmanis, the Latvian ambassador, remarked that:

[continuing] US global leadership is extremely important.  To safeguard international rules based order [is the] best answer for today's security risks.  Since 2003, [our] troops have [stood] shoulder tho shoulder stood with [the] US in [the] fight against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Both made sacrifices, and Latvia remains committed to fighting terrorism . . . [and] ISIL.
The ambassador from Lithuania, Rolandas Kriščiūnas, stated that “the only way to achieve regional stability is to place US and NATO troops [in the] Baltic states on a permanent basis.”  Finally, the Estonian ambassador, Eerik Marmei, noted that Russia’s neighbors are used to the disinformation coming from Russia that now is beginning to influence Western and Central Europe and the United States.  “The goal . . . is to create tension and sow confusion between European Union and member states and within individual states.  By doing so the Kremlin hopes to influence [the] decision-making process and steer the narrative and outcomes towards its own interest.”

After each ambassador presented their remarks, they were involved in a discussion with the senators on the committee.  In closing the meeting, Senator Graham said:

To our friends in the Ukraine, keep your chin up.  I think the ambassador from Poland got it right.  We need to get Ukraine right before anything else will happen.  Every effort to stop Russia in the past, whether Georgia, the Ukraine, you name it, is clearly not working.  My goal is to come up with something that will work.  I want a better relationship with Russia, but that never will be achieved until Russia changes its practice of trying to grind democracy into the ground.  I can understand why Putin's afraid of democracy.  I can't understand why America and others will not defend it.  I just met President Trump.  I think you'll have a good ally in President Trump in terms of having a rotational troop presence in a permanent fashion, that the Ukraine will be helped more, not less, and that we will push back against all Russian aggression.

Tusk’s Candidacy    7 March 2017

The Law and Justice party (PiS) that dominates Polish politics has offered an alternative candidate to Donald Tusk, who is running for a second term as president of the European Council.  The PiS chair and former Polish prime minister, Jarosław Kaczyński, holds Tusk “morally responsible” for the death of his twin brother in a 2010 airplane crash, which experts attribute to weather and pilot error.  The real issues are rooted in Polish politics and the resistance of the European Union to the authoritarian actions of PiS in Poland.  The favored candidate of the Polish government is Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a Civic Platform politician who is the vice president of the European People’s party.  Tusk has the support of a majority of EU politicians and government leaders.  Hungary, Poland’s ally and another country that has witnessed a decline in the application of democratic principles, has not taken a formal stance on the Tusk’s candidacy. See http://www.dw.com/en/warsaw-formally-ditches-support-for-tusk-eu-candidacy/a-37811620; and https://www.ft.com/content/9ab67da4-f397-11e6-8758-6876151821a6.

Erdoğan’s Nazi Comment    7 March 2017

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, stated that Germany was displaying Nazi tactics when certain cities banned him from holding speeches because of security and crowd-control difficulties.  Erdoğan is campaigning to have voters, in a referendum scheduled for 16 April, support his proposal to change Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system that will expand his powers.  Angela Merkel has responded that the comment was “misguided” and that “what makes it really serious–and in my opinion even rather sad–is that Nazi comparisons only ever lead to one thing, namely that the incomprehensible suffering of the victims of National Socialism is cheapened.”  See http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/06/518805720/turkey-germany-relations-at-new-low-after-erdogan-makes-nazi-comparison; and http://www.dw.com/en/merkel-calls-for-calm-over-nazi-accusations-amid-strained-german-turkish-relations/a-37819933.

The Who’s Who of White House-Kremlin Connections    5 March 2017

The Washington Post published an article that presents the connections that 11 members of the Trump Administration, including Donald Trump, have with the Kremlin.  The newspaper will update article, so readers should check in the future as the story develops.  See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/03/03/the-web-of-relationships-between-team-trump-and-russia/?utm_term=.d5c42f81492e.

Russia Is Seeking to Exploit the Macedonian Crisis    4 March 2017

The Macedonian president, Ǵjorge Ivanov, refused to accept a new democratically formed government because it is a coalition of the Social Democratic party and the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration and because the proposed government’s program includes a concession to give Albanian official status in the country.  President Ivanov accuses the Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev, of caving in to an Albanian plan to destroy the country.  Another difficulty is that Zaev’s new government would end more than a decade of conservative rule.  The party that had won a plurality in the elections, the final round of which took place in December 2016, was the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization–Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), but it could not form a coalition.  Its failure to form a government stems from the fact that, when it was in power, until just after the election, the former prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, had been accused of wire tapping to cover up the death, in 2011, of an individual by a police officer.  Complicating matters, VMRO-DPMNE had supported Ivanov in his bid for presidency, and Ivanov supported ending the investigation into the cover up, which brought protests that prompted the 2016 parliamentary elections.

The Albanians are a large minority in Macedonia, with 25 percent of the population, while the Macedonians constitute 64 percent of the population.  The country also has much smaller percentages of Turks, Romani, Serbs, and others.  Macedonia is slated to enter NATO in the future, but there is an issue with the name of the country.  Officially, the country is the Republic of Macedonia, but Greece objected to the name, in part because of the association of Macedonia with Ancient Greece.  As a result, in international organizations, Macedonia is the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia (FYRM).  Similarly, Macedonia would like to enter the EU, but the name issue may prevent Greece from backing Macedonia’s entry, and Bulgaria also has some reservations, based on territorial concerns.  Nevertheless, Macedonia slowly is making progress toward entry into both NATO and the EU.

Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, traveled to Skopje to encourage Macedonia’s president to accept the democratic process and appoint Zaev prime minister.  Similar statements came from Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, and Jess L. Baily, the American ambassador to Macedonia.  Baily tweeted that he is “concerned about Macedonia moving away from the principles of democracy and the rule of law” as well as the principles of NATO.

The Russian propagandist online publication Sputnik labeled Zaev a tool of the United States and wrote that “his political supporters are characterized by their liberal-progressive beliefs in radical feminism and pro-homosexual legislation, which starkly put them at odds with Macedonia's conservative majority.”  It accuses the administration of Barack Obama as having started the crisis that the Donald Trump administration continues to pursue.  The purpose, according to Sputnik, is to have Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia join with Albania to form a greater Albanian state.

While the notion of a greater Albania existed before the Second World War, it has not reemerged in Albanian circles.  The vast majority of Albanians in Kosovo, for example, are disinterested in having Tirana set policy for them, and they have no real ties with the people of Albania, aside from culture.  The disinformation from Sputnik is an effort to instill fear in Macedonians, which, in turn, might push Macedonian politics to the right.  Furthermore, unrest in Albania would make it less likely to enter the EU and NATO.

Controversy over a Multi-speed Europe    3 March 2017

On 1 March 2017, in anticipation of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that began the process of creating the European Union, the European Commission presented a white paper about how the European Union would appear in 2025.  It presented five possible scenarios: carrying on (the EU pursues current policies and trends); nothing but the single market (the EU deals with all other matters through case-by-case bilateral or multilateral agreements); those who want more do more (some EU states intensify cooperation and others have the option to join); doing less more efficiently (the EU prioritizes certain areas and weakens its commitments to cooperate in other fields); and doing much more together (the EU intensifies cooperation across the board).

On the same day, in response to the European Commission’s white paper, the foreign ministers of France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they called for further deepening all the ties within the European Union.  The foreign ministers did not openly support what often is said to be a multi-speed or two-speed Europe, they stated that “while not stepping back from what we have achieved, we also have to find better ways of dealing with different levels of ambition amongst Member States so as to ensure that Europe delivers better on the expectations of all European citizens.”

The response of the V4 countries of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, on 2 March, was one that soundly rejected the multi-speed notion.

The EU’s unity is of vital importance and should always be the starting point of our approach.  Reaching consensus is indispensable if we want to foster confidence in our activities.  Regardless of the speed of integration, we all need to pull in one direction, have a common objective, vision and trust in a strong and prosperous Union.  However, to ensure a necessary flexibility, we can take advantage of enhanced cooperation, as stipulated in the Treaties.  Yet any form of enhanced cooperation should be open to every Member State and should strictly avoid any kind of disintegration of Single Market, Schengen area and the European Union itself.  We must safeguard the greatest achievements of the EU.

The V4 fully supports the deepening of the single market and calls on increased efforts to “remove the outstanding barriers, fight new obstacles and oppose protectionism both within and outside the EU.”  The V4 wants a stable euro (Slovakia is the only V4 country using the euro), and “any new developments should be designed transparently and kept open to all Member States.”  The V4 called for the return to the “proper functioning of the Schengen area,” with the strengthening of the external borders, in conjunction with the implementation of the policies adopted in Malta regarding migration.  The four countries called for the strengthening the area of defense, in cooperation with NATO as well as the United Kingdom and the transatlantic partners, and increasing the security of the European Neighborhood.   With respect to EU institutions, the V4 supports the principles of subsidiarity, which is a decentralization effort that stresses local initiative, and it advocates proportionality, that is, limiting the EU institutions to fulfilling only the objectives stated in specific treaties.  There should be more “democratic control over legislative and political processes” through an increased role of parliaments in the Member States.  The V4 wants better communication with the citizens of the EU, and it backs the Bratislava road map of 16 September 2016 that deals with security, migration, economic measures, and employment.

Future meetings of the EU member states will determine which short of scenario they will follow, and a list of the meetings, regarding these issues, appears at the end of the white paper.

The danger of the multi-speed concept is that economic and administrative divisions within the EU will become permanent over time, presenting roadblocks to effective integration.  The differences even could result in the withdrawal of certain member states.  In order to ensure uniformity, all of the EU member states must make progress together, even if that means public pressure retards the integration process that futurists deem inevitable and desirable.  

Business Seizures in Eastern Ukraine    3 March 2017

Ukrainian ultranationalists have been blocking traffic from rebel-held territories in Eastern Ukraine, claiming that the rebels are profiting from the trade.  The Ukrainian economy is feeling the strain of the blockade, in part, because of the lack of coal deliveries from the East.  Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, has not taken action to stop the blockade because he is hesitant to aggravate nationalist tendencies at home.  As a result of the blockade, the self-proclaimed Dontes People’s Republic seized approximately 40 major businesses, including coal mines.  They also have ceased the distribution of humanitarian aid that came from one of the business owners.

These economic developments further strengthen the hand of the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, and the actions of the Ukrainian ultranationalists have weakened Petroshenko’s position.

Tension over Nagorno-Karabakh    28 February 2017

Five Azeri soldiers died during fighting on the border with Nagorno-Karabakh, and both sides blame the other for initiating the skirmish. Both the European Union and NATO have called for a negotiated settlement, but no foreign power has taken on the task of mediator in the conflict.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-armenia-azerbaijan-conflict-idUSKBN166116.

Protests in Moscow    28 February 2017

This past weekend, thousands protested in Moscow to commemorate the second anniversary of the murder of Boris Nemtsov, a political activist and critic of Vladimir Putin.  Authorities claim that the crowd numbered 5,000, but the activists maintain that those who had taken to the streets numbered more than 15,000.  Since Nemtsov’s death, other opponents of the authoritarian regime in Russia have been killed.  The courts still are trying five Chechens accused of Nemtsov’s murder.  On Sunday, the Russian Supreme Court released Ildar Dadin, another dissident, from a Siberian prison.  He had been sentenced for violating Russia’s laws regarding protests, but a technicality secured his freedom.  Dadin alleges that he was tortured while in prison.  See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39094596; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/26/boris-nemtsov-putin-russians-march-two-years-since-killing; http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/26/europe/russia-protests-boris-nemtsov-death-anniversary/; http://www.voanews.com/a/russian-opposition-struggles-two-years-boris-nemtsov-killing/3741779.html; and http://www.dw.com/en/opinion-russian-politics-are-as-cold-as-ever/a-37739447.

Orbán: Hungary Must Eliminate Threats    25 February 2017

Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, continues his attack on independent associations, particularly those under the control of George Soros, the investor and founder of Open Society Foundations.

On 10 February, during his state-of-the-nation address, Orbán praised the progress Hungary made in 2016, and he noted a number of international successes that align with his mode of thinking, including the victory of Donald Trump in the United States.  He then identified five attacks on Hungarian society in 2017 that his government will address.  The first is what he labeled an attempt of the EU to regulate what countries charge for utilities by prohibiting them from lowering utility rates (Hungary did this and improved the government’s popularity).  Second, migrants still pose a threat to the European way of life.  Third, the EU wants to take more power away from national governments, including their right to lower taxes (in November 2016, the EU decided that Hungary’s tax policy on advertisers favored certain firms).  Fourth, the EU, according to Orbán, accused the EU of attacking Hungary’s job creation subsidies.  Finally, Orbán lashed out against international organizations that he referred to as “large predators” that try to influence Hungarian politics.

It is a problem that foreign funding is being secretly used to influence Hungarian politics. I think that on more than enough occasions we have proved that we are capable of deciding on our own fate. So the question is whether we should yield to covert foreign attempts to exert influence. We are not talking about non-governmental organisations fighting to promote an important cause, but about paid activists from international organisations and their branch offices in Hungary. Are we going to do something to at least ensure transparency, and make these issues publicly known? We must also recognise, Ladies and Gentlemen, that here there are large predators swimming in the water. This is the transnational empire of George Soros, with its international heavy artillery and huge sums of money. What makes this worse is that, despite the Hungarian people declaring its will in the quota referendum, the organisations of George Soros are working tirelessly to bring hundreds of thousands of migrants into Europe. They are working to divert the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government from the path that has been determined by the people. In 2017, do we want to talk straight and on the level? Or, as I heard recently: do we want to lay our straight-talking cards on the level table? [Laughter]

Orbán continues building his self-described illiberal democracy, which the Polish Law and Justice party also is constructing.  The EU can do little since each country can veto any sanctions the EU may wish to place on the other.  The ballot box remains as a remedy, but these parties are likely to stay in power then they control the legislature, courts, and much of the media.  In true populist form, Orbán framed the solutions to the problems he identified in nationalist terms:

In fact behind all five questions there is the issue of national self-determination. So we have returned to the starting point: nations against globalists, sovereigntists against federalists. If we want sure and solid answers, we must come to an agreement with the people. We must ask them and gain their support, as we have done on every important issue so far. It is not enough to state that we shall not allow these things. What is important is that the people of Hungary also shall not allow decisions affecting them to be made over their heads.

A plea for the European Union to pay more attention to the elimination of democratic institutions in Hungary appears in an article from Lydia Gall, a Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, which receives funding from the Open Society Foundations, is at https://euobserver.com/opinion/137014.  An English translation of Orbán’s speech is at http://www.kormany.hu/en/the-prime-minister/the-prime-minister-s-speeches/prime-minister-viktor-orban-s-state-of-the-nation-address-20170214.

The Fate of Zweig and the World    24 February 2017

“The Austrian émigré writer Stefan Zweig composed the first draft of his memoir, The World of Yesterday, in a feverish rapture during the summer of 1941, as headlines gave every indication that civilization was being swallowed in darkness.”  So begins a compelling essay, in The New Yorker, by the author George Prochnik.  Toward the end of his piece, Prochnik wrote: “I wonder how far along the scale of moral degeneration Zweig would judge America to be in its current state.”  For more about Zweig’s views of the 1930s and the parallels Prochnik finds in today’s world, see http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/when-its-too-late-to-stop-fascism-according-to-stefan-zweig.

Le Pen on the Destruction of NATO and the EU    24 February 2017

Although she did not state directly that she wanted to eliminate the European Union, Marine Le Pen, who is a candidate for the French presidency, claimed that the EU is the problem, not the solution.  In her view, the France must have a “French foreign policy in a multipolar world.”  She also called the EU a “bureaucratic monster,” which parallel the statements of the former Czech president and hard Euroskeptic Václav Klaus.  Her comments make it likely that she would move France out of the EU or obstruct the EU’s functioning. Le Pen also wants a national currency to supplement the euro, which would continue to apply to international companies and states. She touted Donald Trump for his policy of  “ intelligent protectionism, of economic patriotism.”  Finally, she called for closer ties with Russia, which she termed “a decisive element [to] pacify globalization.”

Le Pen is a serious candidate for the presidency, but it is highly likely that not all her supporters understand the negative impact she would have on France and Europe.  A Le Pen victory in the French presidential elections could result in the demise of the EU and the euro, the end of the close relationship between France and Germany that has been the cornerstone of the post-1945 peace, and a victory for Vladimir Putin, who hopes to make Russia a hegemonic power in Europe and Asia.  

Richard Evans on the Current Situation    22 February 2017

The noted British historian of Nazi Germany, Richard Evans, during an interview with Slate, saw disturbing parallels between Germany, on the eve of the Nazi takeover, and the current world situation.  He cautioned that history does not repeat itself but that there are similarities between the early 1930s and now.  Evans is concerned about the undue fear of Muslim extremism and the “stigmatization of minorities.”   There is a contempt of the court system in America that is disconcerting.  He views Donald Trump as “irrational,” which does not describe Adolf Hitler, and Trump cannot concentrate on one issue in his speeches, which is something Hitler was able to do.  Both, however, are self-centered.  “Lies and insults” reigned in the public discourse in Germany, a parallel with Europe today that he finds disturbing.  While it is true that Europeans [this also is true of Americans–DEM], unlike Germans in the late 1920s and early 1930s,  are not killing each other on the streets,

they’re just killing each other in tweets.  The level of verbal abuse that you find now in the public discourse is just astonishing. Of course history never repeats itself.  Democracy dies in different ways at different times.  The First World War did have this brutalizing effect on public life right across Europe.  It was heavily militarized.  You can’t go out on the street without seeing squads of thugs in uniform beating each other up.  That’s simply not characteristic of our own times.  I think the Second World War cured Western society of that level of violence.  But there has been an economic crisis.  America is deeply divided. Britain is deeply divided. There are massive and bitter political divisions and social divisions in many European countries, so there is a parallel there, certainly.

The roots of the current crisis, according to Evans, are “the credit crunch and the economic crisis of 2008, and the feeling of a lot of people that they’ve been left out, that globalization has harmed them, or they’ve not seen an improvement in living standards or reductions in social and economic inequality.”  He regrets that the United Kingdom has left the European Union, at a time when there is “a very unpredictable administration in Washington with no guarantee that it will in any way protect or look after our interests.”  He equated Brexit to “spurning international agreements and organizations just as Hitler left the League of Nations in 1933.  I think it’s a dangerous moment for Britain, and I think it’s a huge miscalculation to leave the European Union.  The European Union needs to be strengthened, not weakened.”

Proposal Would Abandon Ukrainian Achievements    21 February 2017

An article in the New York Times traces the connections between Donald Trump and the Russians through a proposal to solve the crisis in Ukraine and lift the sanctions against Russia.  There are a number of individuals with questionable connections involved in the matter, and among the most disturbing is Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager.  Manafort cooperated with Russian channels to support Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president.  The new scheme essentially would have the result of returning Ukraine to the Russian orbit, likely with someone other than Yanukovych at the helm.

A Ukrainian legislator, Andrii V. Artemenko, is the author of the plan, and he is among the opponents of the current Ukrainian government that Manafort helped to create.  Artemenko’s proposal involves toppling the current Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, with information about corruption that came from the Russians.  Russian forces would withdraw from separatist areas in the eastern part of Ukraine, and a referendum in Ukraine would lease Crimea to Russia for 50 or 100 years.

Although not explicitly stated in the New York Times article, Ukraine would return to the Russian orbit.  In order to prepare the ground for the proposed scenario, Poroshenko would have to go (that is where the charges of corruption enter into the picture), as would the achievements Ukraine has made in the past few years and the country’s cooperation with the European Union.  Ukraine would relive the Yanukovich days, without Yanukovich.

The article includes additional twists, all of which hinge on the Ukrainian gamble.

Welcome the Republic of Artsakh    21 February 2017

Armenian voters in Nagorno-Karabakh, which declared itself a republic in 1991, have voted to adopt a new constitution that changes the name of their country to Artsakh, the name of a medieval kingdom that included Nagorno-Karabakh and some Azerbaijani territory.  The vote has little meaning in international circles, however, since Nagorno-Karabakh has no recognition from any country in the United Nations, although several American states have passed resolutions calling on the United States to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh.  The voter turnout was 75.91 percent (79,380 out of 104,566 citizens), and 87.6 percent of those voting approved the new constitution. 

Although functioning independently, Nagorno-Karabakh, now Artaskah, is dependent upon Armenia and uses its currency.  Russia backs Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh in the dispute, while Turkey supports Azerbaijan.  Iran has strained relations with Azerbaijan because approximately 16 percent of Iranians are Azeris, a Turkic people, located in the northwestern part of Iran.

Conflict between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, on the one hand, and Azerbaijan, on the other hand, broke out on 1 April 2016 and ended on 5 April.  Azerbaijan regained some territory, but the amount is under dispute.  Given the tense situation in the region, analysts fear renewed conflict.

The European Response to US Defense Budget Demands    19 February 2017

When the American secretary of defense, James Mattis, told NATO partners to “step up” their defense spending or risk American “moderation” of its commitment regarding their security, they did not take kindly to the remark.  Although they have been diplomatic in their responses, they did not overreact to Mattis’s demand.  This is likely because of the mixed signals from the White House.  Donald Trump notably has called NATO obsolete and reiterated America’s commitment to the alliance.  Vice President Mike Pence has been more circumspect than Mattis.  While addressing the Munich Security Conference on 18 February, Pence reassured listeners that Americans are “unwavering in our commitment” to the alliance and that supporting Europe “is President Trump’s promise.”  Regarding Russia, Pence stated, "know this: the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found.”  At the same time, he mildly reiterated the need for NATO member states to increase their defense spending to the 2 percent NATO requires:

Europe’s defense requires your commitments as much is ours.  Our transatlantic alliance has two principles central to its mission.  In article five, we pledge to come to each other’s aid [and] be ready if and when that day comes, and in article three, we vow to contribute our fair share to our common defense.  The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long, and [this] erodes the foundation of our alliance.  When one ally fails to do their part, it undermines our ability to come to each other's aid.  In 2014, all 28 members of NATO declared their intention to move towards a minimum security commitment of 2 percent of GDP on defense.  Such investments were necessary, filling NATO’s capability shortfalls.

Nowhere was there quite the tone of Mattis’s speech a few days earlier, implying that America will not defend a country that does not meet the 2-percent target.

The applause for Pence were reserved, likely because, as the former American ambassador to Moscow and former deputy secretary general of NATO, Alexander Vershbow, stated “Many in this hall are still asking if this is the real policy.”  It is apparent that the White House is suffering from a lack of governmental and diplomatic experience and still is wrestling with sorting out campaign rhetoric from useable policy.

European leaders, however, are not complacent and simply waiting for the Trump administration to steady the helm of American foreign policy.  In response to the comments of Mattis, Angela Merkel stated that “we must do more here, no question, but the matters of development aid and crisis prevention are also important.”  She added that Germany has raised its defense spending and will continue to do so.  Like Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, noted that, “if you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different.  Modern politics cannot just be about raising defense spending.”

Statistics support Juncker’s assertion.  According to OECD figures, the United States spent 0.168 percent of its GDP on foreign aid in 2015, which is less than several other NATO countries.  Norway spent the most, giving away 1.046 percent of its GDP.  Other NATO states that donated more aid than the US, in descending order, are Luxembourg (0.952 percent), Denmark (0.847 percent), Netherlands (0.749 percent), the UK (0.704 percent), Germany (0.523 percent), Turkey (0.501 percent), France (0.368 percent), Canada (0.280 percent), Iceland (0.240 percent), and Italy (0.221 percent).  There are a number of NATO countries that provided less in foreign aid than the US: Portugal (0.158 percent), Estonia (0.154 percent), Slovenia (0.149 percent), Lithuania (0.135 percent), Hungary (0.134 percent), Greece (0.122 percent), Czech Republic (0.118 percent), Spain (0.117 percent), Slovakia (0.101 percent), Poland (0.096 percent), Romania (0.091 percent), Bulgaria (0.086 percent), and Latvia (0.086 percent).  No figures were available for Albania and Croatia.  The EU member states long have used economic diplomacy as a means of deterring enemies as well as a way of making and keeping friends.

Poland's Constitutional Court is Unconstitutional    18 February 2017

In December 2016, after the tenure of Andrzej Rzepliński as member and president of the Constitutional Court expired, the Law and Justice (PiP) candidate, Julia Przyłębska, replaced him.  This ends the standoff between the PiP-controlled government and the Constitutional Court, which involved appointments (PiP did not like the appointments of the previous government) and procedures (among other things, new regulations required a two-thirds vote instead of a majority vote in the court).  The constitutional crisis in Poland has come to an end, and PiS effectively has gained control not only over the Constitutional Court but over all of Poland’s courts. In a convoluted reasoning process, it also has emasculated the Constitutional Court by declaring that it cannot consider or overturn any government order that is “immediately effective.”  That means PiP, which controls the government and the legislature, can rule by decree, without any court interference.

Given the political atmosphere in the European Union, it appears the EU will not invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (2007) because attempting to do so would inflame the far right.  Furthermore, invoking Article 7 requires unanimity, and Hungary is likely to vote down any action against Poland because it, too, is challenging the principles of democracy.

How Russia Infiltrates the West    18 February 2017

The Russians take their efforts to extend their influence in Europe and even the United States from a page of the Soviet cold-war playbook, according to Maksym Beznosiuk, a specialist in international affairs based in Kyiv, Ukraine.  One strategy of the Soviets was to use covert or “black” means to influence the West.  “Gray” meant influencing policy through various organizations that were linked to the Soviet Union or appeared to be independent.  Finally, “white” methods involved information directly from known Soviet sources, such as Radio Moscow.   See http://neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2211-russia-s-information-techniques-in-europe-a-new-strategy.

Typical of the “gray” efforts is the December 2016 five-year agreement between the Austrian Freedom party (FPÖ) and the United Russia party of Vladimir Putin.  Among other things, the document is intended to foster communication between the two parties that involve economic issues and youth.  Heinz-Christian Strache, one of the FPÖ leaders who traveled to Moscow to sign the document, commented that it only is a means of furthering Austria’s neutrality as a “peace mediator” between countries, such as Russia and the United States, whose leaders, he suggested, could meet in Vienna.  See https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/136356; and http://www.reuters.com/article/us-austria-farright-russia-idUSKBN1481MJ.

Recently, Hungarian authorities dissolved a far-right party, the Hungarian National Front (MNA), after its leader shot a police officer involved in a search of the politician’s home.  In the ensuing investigation, evidence emerged that Russian GRU military intelligence agents had infiltrated the party–another “gray” effort on behalf of the Russians.  The MNA was not directly tied to the ultra-right Jobbik, but other such groups are.  Furthermore, all of these extremist organizations have supported improved relations with Russia, and they have close ties with similar groups in other states, including Slovakia.  Jobbik, however, wants to gain in the elections, so the party gives the appearance of distancing itself from some of the most extreme far-right groups.  It appears that Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister who prides himself on being an illiberal democrat, endeavors to shift Hungary toward authoritarianism, and flaunts his alliance with Putin, will have his hands full as he strives to control the potentially violent extreme right and stem the political aspirations of Jobbik, the extremists’ wolf in sheep’s clothing.  The Kremlin, however, is in a win-win situation, since all these actors on the Hungarian scene are anxious to associate themselves with Russian interests.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/136354; and http://hungarianspectrum.org/tag/magyar-nemzeti-arcvonal/.

Extremist parties in Hungary, Austria, and elsewhere are only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to Russian interference in democratic states.  Even the United States is not immune to such problems, as the accusations about Russian interference in the recent American presidential elections demonstrate.  Recent arrests in Moscow of four individuals accused of treason demonstrate the extent of Russian infiltration, even into American society, using both "gray" and "black" methods (incidentally, one of the detainees worked for Kaspersky Lab but was arrested for his activities when he was with the Moscow police). While some news outlets focused on the tantalizing news that the United States apparently had an operative working in the Federal Security Service of Russia, which is no surprise, far more important is why the agent, Sergei Mikhailov, is under arrest.  Apparently, he provided information to the American authorities about Vladimir Fomenko, who owns King Servers, which rents managed and unmanaged dedicated servers.  This firm, it appears, has aided the FSS in carrying out cyberattacks.  See https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/01/25/kaspersky_cybercrime_investigator_cuffed/; https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-state-cyber-security-specialist-to-face-treason-charges-56915; and https://themoscowtimes.com/news/americas-alleged-spy-in-the-heart-of-russian-cybersecurity-56945.  For general information on Russian efforts to spread fake news in the US and elsewhere, see http://www.npr.org/2017/01/06/508032496/how-russias-disinformation-campaign-could-extend-its-tentacles.

It sometimes is difficult to determine what is fake news and who may be a Russian ally.  Certainly, becoming too paranoid is not only harmful for a society, which can resort to witch hunts, but it also can be counterproductive.  It is important to remember what the leadership of Russia intends: first, divide NATO, the European Union, and the trade networks they have; and second, internally weaken individual member states.  The way Russia can succeed in these goals is to support politicians and groups that feed on the fears of voters by preaching isolationism, economic autarky, racism, and other views that are contrary to democracy and the social progress of plural societies.

The Polish Formula for Creeping Authoritarianism    17 November 2017

Martin Mycielski, who established KOD International, a branch of the Polish Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD), which opposes the current anti-democratic Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland, has proposed a list of actions that authoritarians take to erode democracy.  He recommends that Americans watch for them and devise means of combating them:

1) Authoritarians come to power through the use of fear and disinformation, including the claim that they have a mandate to change the political system.

2) They strive to divide the society into patriots and those who are unpatriotic.

3) Authoritarians limit press freedoms through legal means and refer to the media as liars who peddle false information.

4) Conflict and danger, which they often manufacture, enable them to change laws.

5) Distorting the truth will become so common that citizens no longer will be able to discern what is factual.

6) Manufactured scandals will provide them ways to manipulate public opinion and the legal system.

7) Outrageous draft legislation will engender intense opposition and draw attention away from the subtle steps that erode the democratic system.

8) Authoritarians attack the rights of women and minorities because they are the most vulnerable segments of the society.

9) They seize control of the judiciary.

10) Limiting the freedom of assembly will take place in the name of security.

11) The leaders and their supporters repeat words and phrases until the public accepts their interpretation of them.

12) Authoritarians appropriate national symbols for their own movement.

13) They rewrite history, discredit individuals who oppose them, and strive to shape the thinking of young students.

14) Authoritarians make former allies expendable and focus the economy away from its global connections, even to the detriment of the country, in order to fulfill populist promises.

15) They manipulate the electoral system, claiming that they are making improvements.

Mycielski, who published his list on 26 January 2017, is well aware of the tactics of creeping authoritarian regimes because the very points he listed have been part of the Polish experience for the past year.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/136674.

Dim Prospects of a Trump-Putin Rapprochement    17 February 2017

For those who are concerned that Donald Trump may well sell out American interests to Russia, which aspires to assert hegemony over at least part of Europe, there are some encouraging thoughts.  Even though there may not be a mechanism to stop Trump from improving relations with Moscow, and the American public either may not be concerned about the matter or may find that its wishes are ignored, there are reasons for hope.  Taras Kuzio, a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, at the University of Alberta, has posited seven reasons why any initiative to improve relations dramatically with Russia will fail:

1) There are too many differences between Russia and the United States, in terms of foreign policy.

2) Prior efforts to improve relations have not succeeded because each side misunderstands the other.

3) NATO allies, which are concerned about Russia’s aggressiveness, can influence American policy.

4) If Russia improves relations with the United States, Putin will not have an enemy against which to rally his citizens.

5) Trump may not be willing to provide the respect and even admiration that Putin seeks.

6) Congress, including the Republican leadership, does not share Trump’s degree of trust in the Russian leadership.

7) Trump cannot unilaterally eliminate sanctions against Russia and needs Congressional approval to do so.

Zeman Opposes Center against Terrorism    16 February 2017

On 1 January 2017, the Czech Republic opened its Center against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats (Centrum proti terorismu a hybridním hrozbám, CTHH), an office in the Ministry of Interior.  According to the CTHH website, it will track disinformation and attempt to anticipate terrorism as well as hybrid threats, which are cases when an attacks on soft targets (for example, a public space, instead of a hard or military target) occur in conjunction with information spread on social media.  The CTHH does not have “a button to turn off the Internet.”  It will not censor, spread its own propaganda, imprison, or conduct surveillance on individuals.  It will communicate with the public, media, and state institutions.  Similar institutions exist elsewhere, including in the United Kingdom and the Baltic states.

The prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, expressed his support for the CTHH and noted that the government also is behind the effort.  Andrej Babiš, the finance minister, however, does not like the CTHH because he believes that the people can decide, on their own, what is valid information.  Likewise, Czech President Miloš Zeman indicated that he is against the “censorship [of the Internet], with the exception of pornography, and specifically child pornography.”  Zeman is an outspoken supporter of Vladimir Putin and would like the Czech Republic to improve its ties with Russia.  The government does not share his standpoint, and Zeman’s main power, in this regard, is the Czech president’s bully pulpit.

Mattis to NATO: Pay Your Fair Share    16 February 2017

The American secretary of defense, James Mattis, told NATO members in Brussels, during his first official meeting with them, that America may “moderate” its commitments to NATO if member states do not carry their fair share of the financial burden for defense.  The target is 2 percent of a country’s GDP, and only the US (at 3.61 percent), Greece (2.38 percent), the United Kingdom (2.21 percent), Estonia (2.16 percent), and Poland (2.00 percent) meet the requirement.  A few other states are close, like France (1.78 percent) and Turkey (1.56 percent), and others have promised to meet the 2 percent figure.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, said that Mattis’s comment “is a fair message, it is a fair demand, that we need fairer burden sharing.”  Stoltenberg made similar comments at a 14 February press conference before the meeting of NATO defense ministers.  He stated that “after many years with steep cuts in defence spending, we have turned a corner. Today, I can present to you new updated figures for 2016.  Defence spending in real terms has increased by 3.8% among European Allies and Canada.”  He also noted that more needs to be done for each state to meet its 2 percent goal.

Trump Campaign Contacts with Russians    15 February 2017

Information is emerging that the presidential campaign of Donald Trump had more contacts with the Russians than just Mike Flynn.  It appears that Paul Manafort, who spent some time as Trump’s campaign manager, had phone calls with the Russians, as did other unnamed individuals.  Manafort once was an advisor to Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine whom demonstrators pushed out of power in February 2014.  

Russian Cyber War Targets    15 February 2017

The upcoming French election is likely to be the target of a Russian cyber attack, supplementing the disinformation the Russians already have launched against the front runner, Emmanuel Macron, a moderate who supports the European Union.  Similarly, Russia interfered in the American presidential election.  Russia’s first such attack was in 2007, against Estonia, and subsequent attacks occurred during the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia and against Ukraine.  Putting this new aspect of international aggression into perspective is an article by David Batashvili, who, in 2008-2013, worked for the National Security Council of Georgia.  See https://euobserver.com/opinion/136909.

Serious Challenges to World Stability    14 February 2017

The Munich Security Conference has published Munich Security Report 2017: Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order?  The MSC, an unofficial annual global gathering of security advisors and decision makers, made its debut in 1963.  It began producing the report two years ago as a means of spurring conversation during the event.

This year’s report focuses on the concerns related to the crises in democratic countries.  In the past, voters marginalized politicians who challenged the democratic order, but such politicians now are succeeding in many countries because they are taking advantage of genuine frustration with current political and economic conditions as well as fear about the future.  Populist leaders care less about democracy, representative institutions, globalization, and free trade, and they believe that they alone can solve their countries’ problems, without interference from legislative institutions and courts.  They favor isolationism or unilateralism, along with economic protectionism.

The report examines the various actors and problem areas in the world state: the United States, the European Union, Turkey, Russia, the Middle East, East Asia, and the Arctic.  The major issues it covers are disinformation, migration, radical Islamists, world healthcare issues, and defense-related problems.

Romanian Protests Continue    14 February 2017

Even though the Romanian government withdrew its intention to decriminalize corruption less than roughly USD 47,000, and after it survived a no-confidence vote, protests against it continue.  This Sunday, 70,000 people crowded one of the main squares in Bucharest, calling on the government to resign because it no longer has the confidence of the people.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/12/world/europe/romania-bucharest-protests-corruption.html?_r=0.

EU-Ukraine Ties    11 February 2017

On 10 February, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, met with the Ukrainian prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, in Brussels.  Afterward, Juncker indicated that visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the European Union “will happen before summer.”  He also indicated that the EU soon will release EUR 600 million in foreign aid, the first part of a larger package, because Ukraine continues with reforms.  In particular, Juncker cited Ukrainian preparations to lift a ban on exporting timber to the EU.  The ban was to protect Ukrainian forests and to spur local industry, but research suggests that the ban is not having the desired effect.

The news from the Juncker-Groysman meeting is very positive for Ukraine, which continues to struggle with a new separatist thrust, in the eastern part of the country, that has Russian backing.  Both the EU and the United States have called on Russia to cease the renewed fighting, which began immediately after a phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.  The Economist titled its news about the offensive with its usual dose of dry humor: “Tanks for Calling: As America and Russia Talk, Ukraine Fights.”

The Independence of the WWII Museum in Gdańsk    10 February 2017

Once again, Pawel Adamowicz, the mayor of Gdańsk and a member of Civic Platform, Poland’s largest opposition party, is in the news.  First, he commented on the desire of Gdańsk to offer more assistance to migrants from the Middle East (see the posting here).  Now, he is challenging the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which is trying to take over the newly-opened Second World War museum in Gdańsk because it claims that the museum’s message does not provide enough about the Polish experience.  The real issue, however, is the independence of the museum.  Its content currently is in the hands of historians and other experts, while under the PiS, it would become another instrument of a populist government that has eroded crucial aspects of Poland’s democracy.  The Administrative Court has thus far protected the museum’s independence, and Adamowicz, in an article in the Huffington Post, has vowed to keep the museum free of PiS domination.  See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pawel-adamowicz/is-museum-of-the-second-w_b_14630752.html.

Navalny Barred from Russian Election    9 February 2017

A Russian court renewed a conviction against the most prominent Russian opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny, for defrauding a state company.  Other cases against him are pending, including the death of an elk.  These difficulties exclude him from running against Vladimir Putin in Russia’s 2018 presidential elections.  Navalny claims they are trumped-up charges.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/world/europe/russia-aleksei-navalny-putin.html?_r=0.

Further Restrictions on Migrants in the EU    9 February 2017

The interior ministers of Albania, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Serbia have agreed to tighten controls on Middle East migrants this spring, but the details are unknown.  At this point, some of the migrants in Italy and Greece have turned to smugglers to get them to other countries in the EU. See http://www.rferl.org/a/european-ministers-agree-fortify-blockade-balkans-route-eu-migrants/28299241.html.

EU Progress Report    9 February 2017

Given Brexit and the difficulties the European Union faces at the moment, it is good to take stock in the progress it has made in the past 25 years, since it has signed the Maastrict Treaty, which not only transformed the European Community into the European Union, but also set up the process for creating the euro.

Not all is rosy, but there are a number of positive features that appear in an article Chris Harris wrote for Euronews.com.  Government debt exceeds the 60 percent target of the EU, although that is not the case for Estonia and Romania.  Overall, GDP has grown.  The Great Recession resulted in some loss, but not for Germany, France, and Luxembourg.  Otherwise, member states have recovered, aside from Greece, Italy, and Spain.  Population has grown or has held steady in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, but it has declined in Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and Romania.  Life expectancy has increased overall in the EU, including the largest states as well as Bulgaria, Estonia, Portugal, and Romania.  For the most part, unemployment surged, during the Great Recession, but it constantly declined in Germany.  It is still high in Cyprus, Greece, and Spain, although it is diminishing.  Bulgaria, France, Italy, Portugal, and the UK still have not reached the low levels of unemployment that existed before 2008, although the UK is very close.

The article only provides a sampling of statistics, but they paint a generally positive picture of the health and progress of the EU.

Gdańsk and Its Refugees    8 February 2017

The mayor of Gdańsk, Pawel Adamowicz, a member of Civic Platform, the largest opposition party, would like to welcome more refugees from the Middle East, but he is facing overwhelming odds.  The Ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) officially opposes migrants from the Middle East, and the party’s stance has fueled the suspicions of average citizens.  The Catholic Church, claims Adamowicz, is silent, when it should be assisting the needy.  As a result, despite Poland’s need for workers, given its low unemployment rate, refugees do not find Poland attractive.  It is hard to imagine moving to a country where a foreign accent makes it difficult to find an apartment and may prompt various forms of harassment.  See https://euobserver.com/regions/136477.

Fighting Renewed in Eastern Ukraine    7 February 2017    UPDATE!

Pro-Russian forces, continually reinforced with supplies from Russia, have escalated fighting in Eastern Ukraine, particularly around Avdiivka, which is facing a humanitarian crisis.   Ukraine’s vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, reported about the matter to the Security and Defense Subcommittee of the European Parliament.  The members of the subcommittee called for adherence to the Minsk Agreement and committed themselves to maintaining the sanctions against Russia.  They called for further investigation into the matter and recommended the implementation of visa-free travel for Ukraine, which has met all of the requirements.  Further debate will take place in the next plenary session and will result in a resolution, which will pressure on the EU Council and Commission to take action.  The MEPs reached the conclusion that Russia and separatist forces in Ukraine are probing to determine the response of the EU and the United States, in the wake of Donald Trump’s comments about improving relations with Russia and his ambivalence about the situation in Ukraine.  On 5 February, during an interview with Fox News, Trump did not specifically link the recent fighting in Eastern Ukraine with Russia, stating that “we don’t really know exactly what that is.”  See http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170206IPR61320/russian-probing-in-eastern-ukraine-must-stop-say-security-and-defence-meps; and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/us/politics/ukraine-trump-putin-separatists-poroshenko.html?_r=0.

UPDATE!
A more detailed account of the escalation in fighting and the connection with the likely Putin’s testing of Trump’s resolve is at http://europe.newsweek.com/putin-trump-lift-sanctions-or-ukraine-gets-it-554691.

Will Fox News Apologize to Putin?    6 February 2017

On 5 February, during an interview with Donald Trump on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly referred to Vladimir Putin as “a killer.”  Now, the Kremlin spoksperson, Dmitry Peskov, would like an apology from Fox News.  O’Reilly’s comment came after Trump had stated that he respects Putin, and after the remark, Trump interjected that America also has “a lot of killers.”  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-foxnews-kremlin-idUSKBN15L0XC; and http://www.salon.com/2017/02/06/kremlin-demands-apology-from-fox-for-bill-oreilly-calling-vladimir-putin-a-killer/.

Romania’s Government Acquiesced    6 February 2017

On 5 February, the Romanian government rescinded a decree that would eliminate the prosecution of corruption cases under 200,000 lei because of continuous mass protests in Bucharest and elsewhere.  The experience showed the success massive peaceful protests can have, especially when combined with the support of courageous politicians.  In this case, the most prominent was the country’s president, Klaus Iohannis.  With victory in hand, the protesters continue to gather and now are chanting for the resignation of the government, which they no longer trust.

European Parliament Leaders Stand against Malloch    3 February 2017

The leadership of the center-right European People’s party, the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and the Socialists and Democrats have written letters to request that the European Council, the European Commission, and the European External Action Service not accept the credentials of Ted Malloch as ambassador to the European Union, should he receive the formal nomination of the Trump administration.

The letters cite Malloch’s various anti-EU comments, explaining that someone who desires the destruction of the EU should not be in a position of working with the EU.  In the recent past, Malloch stated that the euro will collapse and that the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, should return to being “a very adequate mayor . . . of some city in Luxembourg.”  Malloch boasted that he “had in a previous career a diplomatic post where [he] helped bring down the Soviet Union. So maybe there’s another union [that is, the European Union–DEM] that needs a little taming.”

The leader of the Socialists and Democrats, Gianni Pittella, called on the EU to treat Malloch as a “persona non grata.”  He wrote that “we firmly believe that ignoring this unacceptable stance [of Malloch] would undermine our future relationship with the US administration and could potentially contribute to the spread of populism and Euroscepticism across Europe.”  The letter from Guy Verhofstadt, of the liberals, and Manfred Weber, of the EPP, cite Malloch’s “outrageous malevolence regarding the values that define this European Union” as the reason “not to accept the accreditation credentials” of Malloch as the American ambassador to the EU.

With such a unified resistance to Malloch, it is likely that Trump will face an embarrassing defeat, should he proceed with Malloch’s nomination as ambassador.  Another candidate–be that person conservative or liberal–may be more suitable, but it is difficult to know whether Trump will back down, something which is not in his nature, or wear the defeat of Malloch as a badge of honor.


The letters are at https://twitter.com/GuyVerhofstadt/status/827199163305705473 (only Verhofstadt’s signature appears on this version of the letter from the ALDE site); and http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/sites/default/files/Letter_Pittella_President_Tusk%20170202.pdf.

Hitler’s Birthplace Still in Limbo    3 February 2017

The law that allows the Austrian government to expropriate the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, in Brannau, Austria, now has gone before the Constitutional Court.  If the Austrian government assumes ownership of the structure, it may undertake renovations, to satisfy a new tenant, or even demolish the structure.  See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/31/world/europe/hitler-house-braunau-austria.html?_r=0.

Anticorruption Limit in Romania    1 February 2017    UPDATE!

On 31 January, the Romanian government issued an order that shielded from prosecution anyone accused of corruption if the amount involved was less than the equivalent of USD 48 thousand.  The socialist-liberal government had discussed the measure for some time, and it had generated protests from the streets and criticism from the country’s president, Klaus Iohannis.  Most opponents assume the measure is to protect a number of politicians accused of corruption, and many fear that it will negate efforts to stem rampant corruption in the state.  See http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/02/01/romania-anti-corruption-protests/97328852/.

UPDATE!
As Romania’s president prepares to fight the new law that limits prosecution for corruption in the Constitutional Court, Romania’s minister of business, trade, and entrepreneurship resigned, asking what he will tell his son in the years to come–whether “his father was a coward and supported actions he does not believe in, or that he chose to walk away from a story that isn't his.”  Protests against the new law were the largest since 1989, when the people demonstrated against the communist regime. See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-romania-government-protests-idUSKBN15H0P9.

Tusk Criticized Trump and Listed Threats to the EU    1 February 2017

In an open letter, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, listed the various threats to the European Union, in advance of a summit of the 27 member states in Malta.

The first challenge is from abroad: China, Russia, Middle East, Africa, and the United States.  Tusk expressed concern about the “worrying declarations by the new American administration all make our future highly unpredictable.  For the first time in our history, in an increasingly multipolar external world, so many are becoming openly anti-European, or Eurosceptic at best.   Particularly the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy.”

Second, Tusk noted anti-EU nationalism and xenophobia within the EU that results in “national egoism . . . becoming an attractive alternative to integration.”  Finally, “the pro-European elites suffer from uncertainty about integration, the need to placate populism, and doubt in the values of liberal democracy.”

As a remedy, Tusk suggested that “courage, determination and political solidarity of Europeans” is necessary.  He added that “today we must stand up very clearly for our dignity, the dignity of a united Europe–regardless of whether we are talking to Russia, China, the US or Turkey.  Therefore, let us have the courage to be proud of our own achievements, which have made our
continent the best place on Earth.  Let us have the courage to oppose the rhetoric of demagogues, who claim that European integration is beneficial only to the elites, that ordinary people have only suffered as its result, and that countries will cope better on their own, rather than together.”

Ahead of the Orbán-Putin Meeting    31 January 2017

Vladimir Putin will visit Viktor Orbán, in Hungary, on 2 February, as part of what has become an annual meeting between the two leaders.  Since Donald Trump’s election, Orbán has been outspoken about improving relations with Russia, including the elimination of sanctions.  Hungary’s foreign minister even stated that he expects stronger bilateral ties with Russia because, since Trump’s election, he anticipates that “there will be no American pressure,” as was the case during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Peter Kreko, a visiting professor at Indiana University, predicted that Orbán will not challenge Putin on sensitive issues, “such as a Hungarian MEP accused of being a Russian spy, ex-governmental officials with shady Russian links, Russian support for paramilitary extreme-right organisations in Hungary, and the allegations by pro-Kremlin media outlets that the 1956 Hungary anti-Soviet uprising was a ‘fascist coup’ and ‘CIA plot,’ to mention a few.”  Instead, the topics of conversation will be a new deal for Hungary to purchase Russian natural gas and to bolster bilateral relationships that undermine the solidarity of the European Union and strengthen Russia’s hand.

As part of the new bilateral trend in international affairs, Orbán, with the tacit support of Putin, is backing far-right political parties, including the National Front in France, which Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist, openly hopes to assist in the upcoming election.  The far-right parties throughout Europe have one common agenda: weaken Brussels–something that Moscow (and now apparently Washington) supports.

Kreko hopes that the European People’s party, which will have the presidency of the European Parliament, will censure Orbán, whose party is a member of the EPP.  That will be at least one gesture toward preserving European unity.

Read Kreko’s article at https://euobserver.com/opinion/136706.

External Hard Euroskepticism    29 January 2017

A new image is emerging about Donald Trump’s foreign policy that has disturbing implications for America’s economic and political security.  Before becoming president, there were inklings of his views regarding the European Union, but since taking office, Trump has become far more specific in his statements.  Furthermore, the actions of his administration provide further evidence about the position of Trump and those around him regarding the EU.

Even before the inauguration, members of Trump’s transition team called on various offices of the EU to determine which country might be the next to follow the United Kingdom in leaving the EU.  Afterward, during his early days in office and when Theresa May visited the United States, Trump praised Brexit as being good for Britain.  At one meeting between Trump and May, Trump stated that “I think Brexit’s going to be a wonderful thing for your country.  I think when it irons out, you’re going to have your identity and you’re going to have the people that you want in your country.”

Ted Malloch, Trump’s choice for ambassador to the EU, told the BBC that it is likely Trump will engineer a free trade deal with the UK quickly, even before one is arranged with the EU.  He added that, after the next round of elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, “I personally am not certain that there will be a European Union with which to have [free trade] negotiations.”  He added that “I think Donald Trump is very opposed to supranational organisations, he believes in nation states, in bilateral relations and I think that he thinks the EU has overshot its mark.”  He added that “I think [the euro] is a currency that is not only in demise but has a real problem and could in fact collapse in the coming year, year and a half.  I am not the only person or economist of that point of view.”

Trump’s positions are not critical of individual aspects or policies of the EU, an attitude which is known as soft or mild Euroskepticism, but he challenges the existence of the EU itself, one of hard Euroskepticism’s defining characteristics.  Euroskepticism certainly has its opponents in the 28 (soon to be 27) member countries and even abroad.  For example, in several countries that seek entry into the EU, such as Serbia and Moldova, the Euroskeptic opponents of the EU favor a closer relationship with Russia.  Nevertheless, there has not been such a powerful foreign leader to date who has taken such an outspoken and negative approach to the EU and the euro.

The repercussions of Trump’s policies about the EU are enormous.  By encouraging more secession crises and the collapse of the euro as well as his mixed messages about America’s commitment to NATO, Trump is challenging the stability that Western and Central Europe has built since 1945, with the support of the US.  His motives do not make economic sense because a divided Europe would stunt economic development on both sides of the Atlantic.  They would remove from the world scene a powerful force for the support of democracy in Europe and in underdeveloped regions.  Furthermore, it would play into the hands of Russia.

Vladimir Putin, who realizes the need to operate stealthily, sees the demise of the EU and NATO as a means of exerting hegemony in Europe and ensuring Russia’s position as a superpower.  After the Brexit vote, however, he openly expressed his support for Britain’s separation from the EU and commented that the British did not care to prop up struggling EU economies.  Oddly enough, the “Yes California” movement, which hopes to see California cede from the US, is the brainchild of an American currently living in Russia.  A separate Californian state would be one step toward fulfilling the 1998 prediction of a Russian academic, Igor Panarin, whose ideas stem from Soviet KGB prognosticators of the 1980s.

Fortunately, EU leaders are taking a strong stand against any notions, not only those that emanate from home but also externally, about the breakup of the EU and the single market.  French President Hollande, on 28 January, said that “whenever there are statements from the US president on Europe and whenever he talks of Brexit as being a model for other countries, I believe we must respond.”  He added that, if Trump “adopts protectionist measures, which could destabilise economies . . . and when he refuses to accept refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we have to respond.”  Europe must be “a space for liberty and democracy,” according to Hollande, whenever “the talk we hear coming from the United States encourages populism and even extremism.”  On 26 January, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers and the European Stability Mechanism, spoke about the future of Europe and referred to the threats Brexit and the Trump administration posed:

Growth in the euro area is firming and broadening in many countries–for the first time since the crisis all euro area Member States are forecast to grow again.  Of course there are risks: risks from the inside relating to political instability or possible instability, and risks from the outside related to a new government in the US and the Brexit.  We have achieved a lot in the last few years, and we have left the crisis behind but at this juncture, it seems particularly important to reaffirm our continuous support for global free trade and the deepening of our single internal market.  Both of which can and should deliver higher potential growth. So we should keep driving for open markets, to achieve more growth, job creation and improvement of living standards.

Pierre Moscovici, the EU commissioner for economic and financial affairs, noted that “the euro is not going to collapse, neither in 18 months, not in 10 years, nor in 20 years.  We have a single currency, which is a major factor of unity among us, [and] it is no use trying to divide the Europeans. . . . We will disappoint those who see us already dead.”  These statements demonstrate that Angela Merkel does not stand alone in supporting European integration and human rights.

As an external hard Euroskeptic, Trump supports the politics of Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Václav Klaus, Heinz-Christian Strache, Geert Wilders, and others who seek the destruction of the EU.  Furthermore, he is backing soft Euroskeptics, who include Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński, the leaders of Hungary and Poland who take exception to certain EU policies, particularly those that challenge their growing authoritarian and undemocratic tendencies.  Given the historic domestic and global interests of the US, Trump has chosen rather odd bedfellows.

Bulgarian Parliamentary Elections    24 January 2016

After the recent presidential elections in Bulgaria, the government resigned because of the defeat of the candidate whom the prime minister had favored.  Shortly after taking office, the new president, Roumen Radev, appointed a caretaker government, under Ognyan Gerdzhikov, who is a law professor and the former speaker of the parliament.  Speculation remains as to the members of the caretaker government.  Furthermore, the president also decreed that new elections will take place on 26 March 2017.  See http://sofiaglobe.com/2017/01/24/bulgarian-president-radev-decrees-march-26-2017-date-for-early-parliamentary-elections-names-gerdzhikov-caretaker-pm/.

Alcohol: Lubricating Legislative Action    20 January 2016

In the late 1990s, the Belgian legislature introduced free beer and wine in the coffee room, along with a bell to announce when a vote was about to take place, to deter legislators from imbibing off the premises.  After a recent verbal incident in the parliament, a committee recommended the elimination of free alcohol, among other things, to deter the members of parliament from becoming “quite unpleasant.”  Party leaders, however, rejected the proposal, claiming that alcohol had not fueled the remarks in question.

Stay thirsty, my friendly representatives, but drink responsibly.

See http://www.politico.eu/article/belgian-mps-to-keep-free-alcohol-in-parliament/; and http://www.nieuwsblad.be/cnt/dmf20170119_02684758.

Massive CIA File Available    18 January 2017

CREST, which is the name of the CIA’s 25-year Program Archive, which includes any declassified materials that are at least 25 years old, is now available online.  A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Muckrock forced the CIA to place the materials on line.  Earlier, researchers had to travel to the National Archives in College Park, MD, where they could access the primary sources on a few specific computers.  As of January 2017, there were 13 million pages of documents available through https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/collection/crest-25-year-program-archive.  For an article about Muckrock’s lawsuit, see https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2016/dec/14/lawsuit-cia-crest/.

Moldova between the EU and Russia    18 January 2017

Moldova’s new president, Igor Dodon, recently claimed that Moldova has received nothing from the European Union, which is not true, considering the country’s exports to the EU have increased 27 percent, and the EU has invested more than 300 million euros into Moldavia in the past three years.  Still Dodon has used disinformation to justify a promise to scrap the treaty with the EU and move Moldova into Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) if his Socialist party wins the 2018 parliamentary elections.  See https://euobserver.com/foreign/136582.  For additional statistics about Moldova-EU trade, see http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/moldova/.

Dodik on US Sanctions List    18 January 2017

For threatening the 1995 Dayton Accords with his celebration commemorating the establishment of the Srpska Republika (see the posting of 11 January 2017 below), the United States has placed Milorad Dodik, the president of the Srpska Republika, on its sanctions list.  As a result, Dodik cannot access any of his assets in the United States and its territories.  See http://www.rferl.org/a/dodik-republika-srpska-united-states-sanctions/28239895.html.

Trump’s Times/Bild Interview    16 January 2017

On 15 January, Donald Trump gave a simultaneous interview to reporters from the London Times and Bild, a German newspaper.  Readers may be shocked at the future president’s lack of coherence, but the content is far more troubling.

Trump openly criticized Angela Merkel’s humanitarian approach to migrants from the Middle East and said that he would not reveal how he will deal with ISIS.  His remark was reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s comment about his secret plan to end the Vietnam war, which turned out to be bombing Cambodia and expanding the war.  NATO, Trump said, was “obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago.”  Noting that European leaders conceived the European Union “to beat the United States on trade,” Trump neglected the EU’s important goal of preserving European stability.  He went on to state, regarding the EU, that “I don’t really care whether it’s separate or together, to me it doesn’t matter.”

On the issue of Brexit, Trump exclaimed that it is “going to end up being a great thing.”  He reasoned that the Brexit vote occurred because the people of the United Kingdom did not want “other people coming in and destroying their country.”  According to his logic, the reason the UK is separating from the EU is because the EU is “basically a vehicle for Germany.”

When asked whether putting America first will make the rest of the world suffer, Trump responded that

I don’t want it to be a disruption — I love the world, I want the world to be good but we can’t go — I mean look at what’s happening to our country — we are $20 trillion — we don’t know what we’re doing — our military is weak — we’re in wars that never end, we’re in Afghanistan now 17 years, they told me this, really — 17 years, it’s the longest war we’ve ever been in.

Never has an American president been so openly critical of European allies and NATO.  Furthermore, Trump’s support of dismantling the EU displays his willingness to destabilize Europe, which has worked so hard to overcome its divisions since the Second World War.  The question is what Trump thinks he or America will gain from a divided Europe and a weakened Transatlantic defense.

For the full interview, see http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/full-transcript-of-interview-with-donald-trump-5d39sr09d.  European leaders reacted with dismay to Trump's comments, and some of their opinions are available in a New York Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/01/16/world/europe/ap-eu-germany-trump.html?_r=0.

Provocation Derailed    15 January 2017

On 14 January, Serbian officials stopped the first train since the late 1990s headed for the Serbian area of Kosovo before it reached the border.  The Serbian prime minister claimed that the tracks, on the Kosovo side, were mined to destroy the train and that the Serbs stopped the train in an effort to preserve peace.  The train, however, was completely decorated with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbian” in 20 languages and had other nationalist symbols.  The prime minister of Kosovo said that stopping the train was appropriate and that it would not have been able to enter Kosovo.  The Serbian prime minister claimed that the provocation was on Kosovo’s side, where there were plans to blow up the train, even though Kosovo police found no evidence of explosives on the tracks.  See https://www.yahoo.com/news/serbia-sends-train-kosovo-north-despite-pristina-protest-101041343.html.

“Height of Folly”    14 January 2017

Anthony Gardner, the ambassador of the United States to the United Kingdom, held a farewell press conference in which he uncharacteristically condemned the incoming American administration’s approach to the European Union.  He responded to Donald Trump’s transition team’s recent phone calls to various offices of the EU to ask what is the next state to leave the EU.  Gardner warned that “for us to be the cheerleaders of Brexit and to be encouraging Brexit Mark 2, Mark 3, is the height of folly.”  He also indicated that Nigel Farage, who has met with Trump, is misleading the president-elect.  “We should not depart from 50 years of foreign policy with regard to the EU,” noted Gardner, and “we should not become the cheerleaders for Brexit, particularly if Brexit appears more likely to be a hard, disorderly unmanaged Brexit.”  He added that “a hard Brexit or a fragmentation of the European market would be very bad news for American business.”  Finally, Gardner criticized the unusually abrupt demand that non-career staff at his embassy vacate their offices and residences in short notice.  See http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-eu-envoy-idUSKBN14X1TF?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews.

Soros vs Orbán    13 January 2017

In an effort to further eliminate opposition, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is attacking NGOs, particularly the several dozen that receive funding from the Open Society Foundation (OSF) of George Soros, the billionaire who also funds Central European University.  One of those targeted is the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which monitors human rights.  Russia has banned OSF.  Orbán and Donald Trump seem to be developing close ties, and Soros has criticized Trump, who, in turn, has linked Soros to global economic ills.  See https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-01-11/soros-group-to-stay-in-hungary-despite-trump-inspired-crackdown.  For the statement of Christopher Stone, the president of OSF, regarding the situation in Hungary, see http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-idUSKBN14V2CY.

Conflict Scenarios    13 January 2017

Jeremi Suri, with the Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, devised four scenarios that describe how Donald Trump could lead the United States into international conflicts.  In Europe, he focused on the Baltic region, predicting that Trump’s posturing might provoke the Russians into attempting a military incursion.  During the course of events, some Russian soldiers might become casualties, giving the Russians a pretext for invading a NATO member.  The US would appear weak if it did not respond in kind.  The resulting NATO-Russian war would be far less attractive than the East-West standoff that prevailed during the cold war.  His other three possibilities for conflict involve the Middle East and Asia.  The likelihood of such events taking place is high, Suri maintained, because Trump “does not appreciate complicated multilateral relations, and he does not value delicate diplomacy.”  Furthermore, he noted that “Trump’s instinct for shortcuts and issue avoidance will cede on-the-ground influence to others, especially the Chinese and the Russians. Trump’s parading of toughness will provoke more tests, challenges, and ultimately disappointments.”  He warned that “this time, the damage will be much greater and perhaps existential.”  If Suri is correct, it will fall upon Congress and public pressure to curb any tendencies to begin military engagement, but it will take diplomacy and restraint to diffuse a potential conflict.

The nervousness of the states along NATO’s eastern border already is palpitating.  In the past few days, NATO troops have augmented their presence in Poland, and the Polish government supposedly wanted them in place before Trump’s inauguration.  The US military rejected that interpretation, stating that the plans already were in place.  The Russians already have strengthened their western defenses and have placed Iskander missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, in Kaliningrad.  They have branded the NATO buildup, with its 87 tanks and 3,000 soldiers, as a threat, and they likely will respond with even more defensive measures along their border with NATO.  Containing the already escalating militarization of the NATO-Russian frontier will require courage and diplomatic finesse, and the likelihood of success for such an effort will diminish as more armaments are in place.

Looming Instability in the Balkans    11 January 2017

Defying a Constitutional Court ruling and the wishes of the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika of Srpska held a parade to commemorate the founding of the Bosnian Serb state on 9 January (the feast of St. Stephen for the Orthodox Church) 1992.  During the event, the president of the Republika of Srpska, Milorad Dodik, stated that “the Serb Republic will not stay inside Bosnia” without additional powers.  The celebration not only has implications for the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina but also the Balkans because the president of Serbia and several Serbian cabinet ministers attended the event.  Serbia’s participation also brings into question that country’s pending membership in the European Union.  Taking a page from the playbook of Valdimir Putin, the Serbian government earlier stated that it supports the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, although its actions indicate otherwise.  See http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-bosnia-serbs-holiday-idUKKBN14T1TJ; and http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2016&mm=12&dd=29&nav_id=100110.

Fake News in Europe and Cyber Attacks    11 January 2017

The European Union is heightening its awareness of fake news, which is difficult to combat, and cyber hacking, which sometimes is relatively easy to combat.  The most recent warnings came from the individuals handling the EU’s digital single market and the justice portfolio, an Estonian and Czech who had lived under regimes that controlled the media.  One example of the latest fake news is that the United States had sent 3,000 tanks to prepare for war with Russia.  In reality, it sent 87 tanks.  The concern is not only about Russia but also about outlets from the West that thrive on fake news, including Breitbart, which is expanding in Europe and whose CEO is Steve Bannon, in line to be Donald Trump’s chief strategist.  See https://euobserver.com/foreign/136503.

Psychopathocracy    11 January 2017

Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan, an expert on Middle East affairs, and the author of the popular blog "Informed Comment," has coined a new term for degenerate democracies: psychopathocracy, a regime under the control of psychopaths.  He focused his comments on the incoming American administration, butthey well could apply, with little modification, to what has emerged in Russia, under Vladimir Putin, Poland, under PiS, Hungary, under Viktor Orbán, and elsewhere.  See http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/welcome-to-psychopathocracy.html.