Europe/Americas update: July 7-9 2017

NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT

On Friday, 122 nations voted in the UN General Assembly in favor of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. None of those 122 countries actually possesses nukes–the nine nuclear nations, plus Japan, the NATO states, and a few other countries, all boycotted even the debate over the measure–so the vote is meaningless even by typical UNGA standards. And, you know, I was feeling very cynical about this, but Arms Control Wonk’s Michael Krepon actually makes a good case that this isn’t a meaningless gesture:

Is it preposterous for the nuclear “have-nots” to dictate terms to nuclear-armed states? Yes. Does this treaty disregard geopolitics and the sorry state of relations between nuclear-armed states? Yes. Is it still useful? Yes. To a point. The utility of this exercise will now depend, in large measure, on the tactics that the “have-nots” subsequently pursue.

I urge you to go read it in full.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

So, the big Trump-Putin face-to-face happened on Friday at the G20 in Hamburg. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the big news, which is that Putin and Trump both agreed to resign from office and go on tour as a folk rock duo Trump performed a citizens arrest on Putin, shouting “I HAVE HIM! I HAVE THE MAN WHO SULLIED OUR ELECTIONS! POLICE!” Putin assured Trump that Russia had nothing to do with any 2016 election-related hijinks, and Trump believed him.

The kind of people who make a good living running around like their hair is on fire talking about how America is under constant threat and/or Donald Trump’s perfidy are making quite a fuss about this–OMG Trump believes Putin over his own intelligence community, that sort of thing–but I guess I’m not sure what these folks all expected Trump to say. Acknowledging that Russia got him elected last fall would also mean acknowledging his own illegitimacy to some extent, and there’s absolutely no way in hell Donald Trump is ever going to do that. To be fair, that’s a tough ask for anybody, particularly somebody who’s enough of an egomaniac to run for president in the first place. But Trump goes beyond egomania and into narcissism. He will never, ever admit anything that might make him look bad. Folks can keep getting outraged–or performing outrage–every time something like this happens if they want, but that seems like a huge waste of energy and emotion to me.

There were two other outcomes from the meeting. One, had to do with Syria and you’ll find that elsewhere, but the other had to do with something so hilariously stupid it sets a new bar even for this administration:

<span class="articleLocation” style=”transform:translate3d(0px,0px,0px);”>U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that he discussed forming a cyber security unit to guard against election hacking with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tweeting after his first meeting with Putin on Friday, Trump said now was the time to work constructively with Moscow, pointing to a ceasefire deal in southwest Syria that came into effect on Sunday.

“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” he said following their talks at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

There are many, many reasons why this would have been a ridiculous idea, but the most obvious is that there would be massive political blowback in Washington to the idea of working with a country that just hacked a US election to prevent the hacking of US elections. The blowback was so immediate, in fact, that Trump hilariously just walked back the whole idea on Twitter a couple of hours ago:

We’re being governed by a nitwit the likes of which this nation has never seen, and we all lived through George W. Bush so you know that’s saying something.

UKRAINE

One thing that did not happen in Hamburg was any move to reduce US sanctions against Russia over Ukraine or Syria. In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson headed to Kiev on Sunday and said plainly that it was up to Moscow to take the first steps to de-escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine before any sanctions relief could be considered. Before his meeting with Putin, in fact, Trump picked Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO known for being a hawk on Russia, as Washington’s envoy to the Minsk peace process, which does legitimately seem like a signal that the Trump administration is going to back Ukraine moving forward.

The Russians, for their part, are complaining that Kiev has been too slow to implement the Minsk agreement with respect to moving heavy weapons off of the front line. That complaint might get a little boost after two bombings hit the center of Luhansk on Friday, killing one person. There’s been no claim of responsibility but it wouldn’t be farfetched to imagine that some pro-Kiev paramilitary group, one of the several groups that the Ukrainian government really hasn’t done enough to rein in, was behind the attack.

GERMANY

The G20 was protested heavily, as it always is (though I suspect we’ll see less of that sort of thing in 2020, when the summit is held in a place where the authorities decapitate you for that kind of thing). There’s really no way to stop the G20 from being protested, other than, say, not holding an annual summit wherein the leaders of the 20 richest nations in the world talk about how best to exploit the rest of the planet, but of course that’s just crazy talk. I mean, maybe at least don’t hold the summit in a country run by a reactionary austerity fetishist who spends much of her time trying to pick the last few scraps of meat off of Greece’s carcass to feed to her country’s banks? But, again, that’s crazy talk.

As far as the conference itself, I guess the good (?) news is that all 20 leaders “reaffirmed their support for free trade” (hooray!) while allowing for some Trump-esque protectionism should the need arise. On the downside (?), I guess, the 19 nations that are not the US made a point of singling out the US for abandoning the Paris climate agreement in their final statement. While deserved, this kind of treatment is unlikely to motivate Trump to rethink his climate denialism.

SPAIN

Spain may be supplanting Italy as the main point of (attempted) European entry by migrants from North Africa. While the number of migrants seeing entry into Europe via Italy has increased by 32 percent from last year, the number trying to get in via Spain has increased a whopping 75 percent. The Italy route is still far more popular overall, but as the situation in and around Libya continues to deteriorate you can imagine that migrants will increasingly gravitate toward Spain. The Spanish government doesn’t really seem ready to deal with a larger influx of arrivals.

UNITED KINGDOM

Brexit kind of took a back seat to the G20 over the past week or so, but rest assured that it’s still there and the European Union is still unhappy with Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for EU nationals who remain in the UK after Brexit:

Theresa May has been accused of offering EU workers in the UK “second-class citizenship” in a stark warning from the European parliament that it would reject her “damp squib” opening offer on the Brexit negotiations.

The prime minister, who will on Monday attempt to relaunch her struggling tenure in Downing Street, was told that the EU legislature would “reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens less favourably than they are at present”.

Writing in the Guardian, the parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt and eight other leading MEPs say the UK’s opening offer on citizens’ rights falls short of both the EU proposal and Vote Leave’s campaign pledges.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Sunday released opposition leader Leopoldo López and moved him to house arrest, a move that has cheered anti-government protesters and even got President Nicolás Maduro’s stamp of approval (a given, since the court itself is pretty much his rubber stamp nowadays). López has been in prison since 2014 on charges of inciting violence and is one of the most popular political figures in the country if polling can be believed.

If Maduro is hoping to ease the protests against his government with this move he’s probably mistaken. Historically in situations like what Venezuela is experiencing right now, there’s a point where the repressive government can either go all in on the repression and take its chances or make some seemingly minor concession or concessions to the opposition to try to pacify things. Obviously as a moral and ethical question the latter is preferable to the former. But from a survival of the regime question, well, governments that choose the latter course often find that their concessions embolden the opposition rather than appeasing it. Ask the Shah of Iran about taking your foot off the repressive gas pedal, for example.

MEXICO

President Trump’s G20 meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto seems to have been…interesting:

Donald Trump has again humiliated Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto by repeating his claim – in the presence of the Mexican leader – that America’s southern neighbour would pay for a border wall.

Peña Nieto allowed Trump’s comments to go unchallenged when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg on Friday.

Asked by reporters if he expected Mexico to finance a border wall, Trump responded: “Absolutely.” Peña Nieto sat silently next to him.

Trump publicly pantsed Peña Nieto in similar fashion last August in Mexico, and Peña Nieto took so much grief for it at home that you have to start to wonder if he’s maybe a masochist to some degree. He and Trump allegedly agreed earlier this year not to talk about the border wall in public, so, uh, oops. It’s likely the Mexican president wanted to avoid confrontation since he, Trump, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are supposed to start renegotiating NAFTA in August, and he’d like for Trump to be in a good mood when those talks begin.

UNITED STATES

One addendum to the Trump-Putin G20 meeting. On Saturday, Trump pledged $639 million, an oddly specific number, to provide aid to food insecure people in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. I’m not mentioning this to praise Trump because that’s literally a rounding error in the F-35 budget, but it’s also not nothing, so let it not be said that the United States didn’t do the least it could do for those people. Assuming, of course, that Trump actually follows through on the pledge. His administration has in total pledged $1.8 billion to combating hunger in those four countries.

Wait, no, there’s another addendum. There were only six people in the meeting: two interpreters, Trump, Putin, Tillerson, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Or, in other words, the Russians had a veteran politician and seasoned diplomat talking to an oil company executive and a reality TV star. Other voices in the Trump administration pushed hard to expand the meeting to include people who might, you know, actually know something, but Trump was apparently adamant that the group be kept to a minimum because, as it turns out, he didn’t trust his own national security advisor or his top Russia expert not to later contradict his version of events to the press. That seems pretty dysfunctional to me, but what do I know?

Well, one other addendum. There was that whole episode when Ivanka Trump sat in for her father during a session on Saturday and people got angry about it. I’ve tried to make myself care about this but I just can’t. I know it’s nepotistic and that there were any number of people who should have rightfully been in that seat with Trump taking a break before her, but it’s the G20. If you’re going to be angry at the appearance of stifling artificial hierarchies at the G20, how can you not start by being angry at the very existence of the G20?

OK, here’s the fourth and final addendum. It’s maybe the most important of the bunch, because I wouldn’t be doing the G20 justice if I didn’t mention whatever in the ever-loving fuck this is:

I had no idea Leni Riefenstahl was still alive, but man has the quality of her work taken a nosedive.

Now with all that out of the way, let’s talk about Russiagate, specifically the two big New York Times stories that came out over the weekend. On Saturday, the NYT reported that, right after Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination last year, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. (along with then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort) met at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya who has ties to the Kremlin. Trump Jr. apparently set up the meeting. Veselnitskaya has specialized in attacking the Magnitsky Act, which passed Congress in 2012 and sanctioned a number of Russians suspected of human rights violations. Its passage made Vladimir Putin angry enough to suspend the adoption of Russian children by Americans. So when Trump Jr. says that this meeting with Veselnitskaya was about “an adoption program,” as he did, he’s probably correct, but it’s about an adoption program that is intimately tied into the sanctions regime adopted by the United States against a lot of important Russian individuals in Putin’s personal orbit. So already we’re into uncomfortable territory with respect to making promises about sanctions.

On Sunday, the NYT dropped a new report, however, that suggests Don Jr. is lying when he says the meeting was about the adoption issue:

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

And now, if true, we’re into some seriously problematic shit. Donny J doesn’t say that he was looking for any Clinton dirt. He acknowledges that Veselnitskaya said she could provide some after the meeting began, but says she didn’t and then quickly pivoted to talking about the Magnitsky Act. I’m sure he’s telling the truth there–Trumps are notorious for their honesty. But if he arranged the meeting looking for material on Clinton, then Junior may very well have committed a crime.

UPDATE: And, actually, if you read little Donny’s full statement, he does basically admit that he set up the meeting because he was promised info on Clinton. There are questions about Veselnitskaya’s actual links to the Kremlin, so proving collusion based on this meeting could be difficult, but this really does not look good.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

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