Europe/Americas: December 19 2017



Both Russia and China are unhappy with being labeled American “competitors” in the new National Security Strategy, though they’re handling it in different ways:

Officials in Russia and China pushed back on Tuesday against the characterization of their countries as threats to the United States in a new national security doctrine published by the White House a day earlier.

A spokesman for the Kremlin criticized Mr. Trump’s foreign policy strategy as having an “imperialist character” while the Chinese Embassy in Washington suggested that the document’s theme of “America First” reflected “outdated, zero-sum thinking.”

Well, uh, they’re not wrong, even if neither is exactly the most reputable critic.


Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say that fighting in eastern Ukraine hit its worst level since February last week. The OSCE says it counted 16,000 ceasefire violations between December 11 and 17, up 35 percent from the previous week. Heavy fighting is also exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the Donbas, and December as you might imagine is not a great time to be exacerbating a humanitarian situation in Ukraine. The State Department, meanwhile, is warning about fighting close to the Donetsk water filtration plant, where a stray shell could release chlorine gas that’s used in the filtration process.


Poland’s EU membership has hit a bit of a rocky patch:

A row over the Polish government’s reforms to the country’s judiciary has been rolling on for two years but appears to have come to a head in the wake of the Polish senate’s decision last Friday to approve legislation giving the executive greater control of the supreme Court andnational council of the judiciary, which appoints judges.

Mateusz Morawiecki, who took over as Poland’s prime minister earlier this month, has defended the judicial changes pursued by his predecessor from the Law and Justice (PiS) party. He confirmed last week that he expected the article 7 decision on Wednesday to go against his government.

The launching of article 7, a never-before-used sanction, has been put on the agenda of a meeting on Wednesday of the European commission’s 28 commissioners, led by Jean-Claude Juncker. The commission’s vice-president, Frans Timmermans, is scheduled to address reporters in the afternoon.

If agreement is reached within the commission on Wednesday, they would offer a reasoned proposal to the member states to formally issue a warning to Poland that fundamental values were at “serious risk”.

Article 7’s most serious ultimate penalty is for the sanctioned country to be stripped of its EU voting rights. However, that requires a unanimous vote of all the other EU members, and Hungary has long said it would veto anything like that. So likely some lesser penalty will eventually be applied.


In related news, the upper house of the Romanian parliament on Tuesday passed a measure that would similarly increase executive control over the judiciary, not exactly a welcome detail in one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis now gets to either sign the bill or send it back to parliament, and the inevitable court challenges are lurking on the horizon.


Talks between the Croatian and Slovenian governments on a settlement of their ongoing border dispute broke down on Tuesday. These two former Yugoslav republics are clashing over the Gulf of Piran, which the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in June belongs mostly to Slovenia and that Croatia has to allow Slovenian ships a corridor to international waters through Croatian waters. Insult to injury, I guess. The geography of it looks like this:


with most of that “disputed” bit belonging to Slovenia. The deadline to implement the court ruling will pass on December 29, so these talks were a last ditch effort to settle the dispute amicably before Slovenia just goes forward with observing the ruling unilaterally. The problem with that is Croatia rejected the court’s authority after it found evidence that a Slovenian judge on the arbitration panel was colluding with the Slovenian government.


The new Austrian government wants to offer passports to German-speaking Italian citizens in the northern Italian region of Alto Adige, which Austria lost to Italy at the end of World War I. As you might expect, the Italian government is a little wary of this idea, but new Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters on Tuesday that he’ll only implement the plan in coordination with Rome. Maybe that will ease Italy’s concerns.



The figure at the center of the multinational Odebrecht scandal, Marcelo Odebrecht himself, was released from prison on Tuesday to serve the rest of his 2015 prison sentence at home. And in his case, “home” is a giant mansion in São Paulo, so it’s even less of a hardship than you might think.


Speaking of the Odebrecht scandal, things aren’t looking too hot for Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who could wind up being removed from office by the weekend. But some observers aren’t so sure that his corruption investigation is being conducted on the up and up:

Now politicians are on the run — in some cases literally. Alejandro Toledo, who served as Peru’s president in the early 2000s, remains at large after being indicted by prosecutors, accused of having accepted $20 million in payments from Odebrecht. Another former Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, and his wife, Nadine Heredia, are in jail awaiting trial. In Ecuador, a former vice president was sentenced to six years in jail for accepting payments.

President Kuczynski’s case, however, highlights a dilemma haunting many of the investigations: how to oust politicians in governments where few judging them are considered any more clean — and in some cases far less so.

In some ways, Mr. Kuczynski’s case echoes that of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s former president who was impeached in 2016 for having manipulated the federal budget to conceal economic problems. At the time of her trial in Congress, scores of lawmakers were under investigation themselves. Her successor, Michel Temer, narrowly avoided an impeachment trial for corruption.

“As in Brazil, they’re not pursuing corruption charges to clean Peru of corruption, they’re using the charges to remove their enemies from power,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a political scientist who studies Latin America at George Mason University in Virginia.


The Organization of American States may be insisting that Honduras’s presidential election has to be done over again due to concerns about the vote count, but President Juan Orlando Hernández’s alleged reelection is getting support from a couple of important places. First, Reuters is reporting that the Mexican government is about to recognize his election victory. Second, it seems the Trump administration is leaning in his direction as well–though there are Democrats in Congress who are taking the OAS’s position.


Finally, here’s Maha Hilal of the Institute for Policy Studies on the dangers inherent in the newest version of the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, which the Supreme Court has allowed to go into effect in advance of legal challenges to its constitutionality:

In the case of the previous bans, the time limits meant that when they reached the Supreme Court, they were essentially moot — no longer in effect. However, because of Muslim ban 3.0’s indefinite nature, it virtually ensures that the court will eventually have to rule on the merits of the ban. Its next action may depend on what happens in the 4th and 9th Circuit courts, which are weighing the constitutionality of the ban.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s decision to let the ban go forward will certainly embolden Trump and his base of supporters, who believe that that Muslims are essentially terrorists until proven otherwise.

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