Europe/Americas update: September 16-17 2017

EUROPE

CYPRUS

Oh boy, this is a bit embarrassing:

A leaked list of names of those who have benefited from Cyprus’s citizenship-by-investment programmes represents a detailed insight into the panoply of clients behind schemes providing passports to the super rich.

It also reveals the extent to which interest from the Russian and Ukrainian elite has driven the programme which, according to the Cypriot government, has generated more than €4bn in investment since 2013. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of beneficiaries.

Prior to 2013, Cypriot citizenship was granted on a discretionary basis by ministers, in a less formal version of the current arrangement.

“Golden visa” schemes, whereby countries sell passports or citizenship in exchange for investment, are almost universally carried out in complete secrecy. Only Malta has ever published the names of its applicants.

Lots of really wealthy and possibly corrupt Russian and Ukrainian businessmen appear to be on the list. Shocking, I know.

UKRAINE

Russia’s suggestion to station UN peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine is meeting with support from all quarters. Kurt Volker, the US envoy for Ukraine, is the latest to welcome the idea. Except, ah, when Vladimir Putin suggested that peacekeepers be deployed throughout eastern Ukraine, he didn’t actually mean throughout eastern Ukraine:

Putin originally said the peacekeepers could be deployed along the line of contact between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists, but later said they could also be deployed in other areas where OSCE inspectors work.

Washington and Kiev also want peacekeepers to be deployed along those parts of Ukraine’s border with Russia which Kiev does not control.

However, Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Russian upper house of parliament and a close Putin ally, said on Sunday Moscow strongly objected to that idea.

“I don’t see any logic in such a proposal,” Matviyenko, visiting Turkmenistan, told reporters, the Interfax news agency reported.

Matviyenko was maybe speaking for herself here but I would be inclined to think she’s also speaking for Putin. In which case the whole UN peacekeeper idea looks like it’s going to run aground before it ever gets off the dock.

GERMANY

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party is polling in third place leading into next week’s election, and it’s almost a lock to do well enough to actually be seated in the next parliament. As you might imagine, many Germans aren’t taking it so well:

That has caused tremendous hand-wringing in a country that takes the burden of its Nazi history seriously. Stickers that read “FCK AFD” are plastered to street signs and apartment buildings across Berlin, and media coverage hails citizens who take it upon themselves to remove swastikas etched onto grimy walls.

In the Bundestag itself, the mood is much the same. There’s a strong feeling among lawmakers that people with even tenuous ties to the Nazi Party that gutted democracy 85 years ago simply don’t belong there.

Of course, they’re taking it better than Drudge:

Uhhh, no. No, it’s not.

FRANCE

Four Americans were sprayed with acid on Sunday at a train station in Marseille. The woman who was arrested for the attack is reportedly mentally unstable and they aren’t treating the attack as a terrorist incident, but they haven’t ruled that out either.

UNITED KINGDOM

British police on Saturday arrested an 18 year old man in Dover in connection with Friday’s bombing of a subway train in London in which 30 people were injured. A second man, 21, was arrested late Saturday night. Police are searching for more suspects and ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. But authorities lowered the country’s terror threat level from “critical” to “severe,” so that’s something I guess.

On Brexit, this Guardian look at the talks from the European perspective is well worth your time, but the bottom line is that things aren’t going well:

On citizens’ rights, the offer to give EU nationals the same rights as British citizens would leave them with fewer rights than today. The solutions proposed in Ireland, involving the suspension of the normal border checks one would expect for a country outside the EU’s customs union and single market, have been rejected almost out of hand by the commission, as an affront to the legal order. And on the financial settlement – perhaps the biggest stumbling block – the EU’s chief negotiator has questioned whether Brussels can really trust the British on anything, given Downing Street’s reluctance to admit Britain has a legal duty to live up to the spending commitments already made by the EU.

Meanwhile, the British claim they can’t make progress on the Irish border or divorce bill unless they know what their relationship with the EU will be after 29 March 2019, when the UK leaves the bloc. That newly minted argument has particularly riled the commission, given that it was thought the British had accepted the idea of sequenced talks, with the trading relationship to be discussed once “sufficient progress” had been made on the key opening issues, as enshrined in article 50 guidelines agreed by the EU leaders in April. Just to add insult to injury, the Department for Exiting the EU has let it be known that a delay to the next round of talks, allowing the prime minister to make her major speech in Florence on Thursday, will permit EU leaders time to persuade Barnier to be more flexible in the fourth round of talks, which begin a few days later. There is a suspicion that the British also believe that once Angela Merkel is re-elected as Germany’s chancellor this month, she will have political capital to expend on making things happen.

If Britain’s plan for Brexit is “Angela Merkel swoops in and gives us everything we want,” then this is going to get pretty ugly because it’s hard to imagine why she would entertain doing that. The big issue clearly seems to be the EU’s “divorce bill,” i.e. making the UK pay for EU initiatives that were undertaken pre-Brexit, and the expectation in London appears to be that Britain will be able to get away without paying it if they just hold out long enough. That seems like a long shot.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Nicolás Maduro appears to be quite a bit more excited about the potential for new Dominican Republic-mediated talks to produce a settlement between his government and Venezuela’s political opposition than the opposition is:

“After weeks of conversations, we are close to an agreement, of political co-existence, of peace and sovereignty,” Maduro said in a speech late on Friday. “We’re very near.”

But the opposition, which accuses Maduro of creating a dictatorship and ruining a once-prosperous oil economy, insisted the talks in Santo Domingo were only “exploratory” and would not proceed without firm guarantees of democratic change.

They want a date for the next presidential election, due by the end of 2018, with guarantees it will be free and fair, plus freedom for hundreds of jailed activists, a foreign humanitarian aid corridor, and respect for the opposition-led congress.

They’re…unlikely to get much of that, or any of it really, since it would all undermine Maduro’s ability to stay in power. I’m not sure on what basis Maduro thinks he can get the opposition to knuckle under.

MEXICO

Mexican soldiers were reportedly ambushed in the country’s southwestern Guerrero state late Saturday night, but fought back and killed eight suspected gang members to one dead soldier.

CUBA

The US is considering closing its embassy in Cuba over the incredibly weird and mysterious “sonic attack” that has affected so many American and Canadian diplomats. Although this is probably what the Trump administration wants to do anyway, since Donald Trump’s one animating principle is undoing the entirety of the Obama administration, it’s hard to argue with pulling American personnel out of Cuba under the circumstances.

UNITED STATES

Wow, this is big news: America might not be pulling out of the Paris climate accord after all:

At a ministerial summit of 30 countries in Montreal, where the United States participated as an observer, the European Union‘s top climate official said the Trump administration had backed away from its declaration in June that it was abandoning the historic 2015 agreement.

The U.S. “stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” Miguel Arias Canete said, according to wire reports.

Arias said he and other officials involved with the Paris agreement would meet on the margins of this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York to determine what the “real U.S. position” was.

But, he added, “it’s a message which is quite different to the one we heard from President Trump in the past.”

Sadly, this was all a trick perpetrated by the devious Europeans to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids. The Trump administration is not reversing itself on the Paris climate accord:

The US has insisted it will leave the Paris climate accord, despite reports that it may be softening its stance.

Following a meeting of environment ministers on Saturday, the EU climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, said Trump officials had indicated the US would either stay in the 2015 accord or review its terms.

But the White House insisted there had been “no change” in the US position.

However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday did allow as to how the Trump administration might be open to reversing itself on the Paris climate accord:

Donald Trump is open to staying in the Paris accord on climate change, his secretary of state has said, just hours after the White House insisted there would be “no change” to US policy.

Rex Tillerson said the US would stay in the agreement “if we can construct a set of terms that we believe is fair”.

His comments come despite the White House earlier denying reports it was softening its stance on the accord.

Shit, this is complicated and contradictory. Maybe we should go straight to the top and ask the man in charge, President Trump himself, what he thi-

It’s a big week for President Trump. He will appear before the United Nations General Assembly, the first such visit of his presidency. The session comes at a time when the United States is on the cusp of crucial foreign policy decisions: North Korea continues to provoke by firing missiles over Japan, and Mr. Trump plans to refine his overall strategy on Iran.

Serious work beckons, but so does Twitter, and on Sunday morning the temptation to share a fan’s GIF that showed Mr. Trump golfing and the ball striking Hillary Clinton proved too much to resist.

Yeah, you’re right, let’s not do that.

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