Europe/Americas update: February 1-2 2018

EUROPE

UKRAINE

Al Jazeera reports on the largely ignored plight of Crimean Tatars, who never wanted the Russian annexation and have been paying for it ever since:

The Kremlin praises Crimea’s “comeback to Russia” as bloodless and voluntary.

 

But a day before the March 18, 2014 “referendum”, Tatar activist Reshat Ametov was found dead – covered in cuts and bruises, with eyes poked out, next to a pair of handcuffs.

 

Three days earlier, the 39-year-old father of three was forced into a car by three camouflage-wearing pro-Russian “self-defence fighters” during his one-man protest.

 

Since then, more than a dozen Tatars have disappeared without a trace; some were seen kidnapped by burly men, US-based Human Rights Watch said in November.

 

Two were found dead.

POLAND

The Polish government is careening toward a crisis of its own making over its about-to-be-signed-into-law Holocaust measure:

The Polish government was trying to solve a domestic problem in recent days when it pushed through legislation long sought by hard-line supporters who say the country is unfairly maligned for the horrors that unfolded on its soil during the Holocaust.

 

But in looking to criminalize those who suggest Poles took part in Nazi atrocities, lawmakers sparked an international uproar. The fallout has included rifts with close allies, condemnation by Jewish groups worldwide and an intense focus on the very questions of complicity that nationalist Poles were hoping to sweep aside once and for all.

 

“The government achieved exactly the opposite of what it wanted,” said Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The unintended consequences and the international damage have been huge.”

Israel has raised a stink, which means that Donald Trump–who actually appreciates Poland’s right-wing authoritarian government and may have been its best friend in the West–will have to raise a stink too. And on top of that, the measure mocks the actual historical record while pretending to preserve it. Well done all around.

HUNGARY

Speaking of right-wing authoritarians, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is threatening to withdraw from negotiations on a United Nations international migration deal due to how it might force him to let somebody into the country someday. The UN General Assembly agreed in 2016 to negotiate a migration deal within two years, but that’s looking like it won’t happen because the Trump administration has of course already pulled the US out of the talks on account of dirty foreigner cooties.

GERMANY

And speaking of migration, Germany got closer to a governing coalition on Friday when Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats reached an accord on the contentious issue. Or, rather, it seems the SPD caved, agreeing to language that sets a cap on immigration as the conservatives wanted. The two parties still have plenty of work to do before they reach an agreement that stands a very good chance at this point of being thoroughly rejected by SPD party members, Merkel’s flexibility on spending nothwithstanding.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May says that EU nationals who enter the UK during a hypothetical transition period will not have the same rights as EU nationals who were already there. Which is fine, I guess. But Brussels seems to strongly disagree with her on this, and has called the issue “non-negotiable.”

AMERICAS

Rex Tillerson would like all you Latin American types to know that a) the United States is still your boss and B) China will never love you the way the guy who thinks your countries are all shitholes loves you:

During a question-and-answer session after a speech in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Tillerson praised the 1823 Monroe Doctrine as “clearly … a success.” The doctrine, and subsequent corollary to the doctrine issued in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt, asserted U.S. authority in the Western Hemisphere over meddling European powers, and is still seen by many in the region as a form of U.S. imperialism.

 

 

Tillerson took particular aim at China’s economic approach to Latin America, which focused on gaining access to commodities from countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Peru, but which has left little lasting benefit for those countries.

 

“Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people,” said the top diplomat charged with implementing the Trump administration’s “America first” approach to the world. “China’s state-led model of development is reminiscent of the past,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be this hemisphere’s future.”

VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s Socialist Party has nominated incumbent President Nicolás Maduro as its candidate in this spring’s presidential election. I’m glad they did this because the suspense was really killing me. In almost any other circumstance, Maduro and his sub-20 percent approval rating would be a sure loser, but Venezuela’s opposition is so disjointed and so unpopular that there’s a strong likelihood that most Venezuelan voters will just stay home on election day. Even those who would be motivated to come out and vote against Maduro are (not entirely without reason) convinced that he’ll fix the results anyway, so they can make more of a statement by not voting and keeping turnout low than by participating in a process they believe is rigged.

Of course, maybe Maduro will be removed from office by other means. Say, what about a military coup? Those are always fun and usually lead to really great outcomes, especially when they’re against South American leftists! Tillerson, who was really on a roll in Austin, pretty much tried to swallow his entire foot while broaching this subject:

“We have not advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro. We have advocated that they return to the constitution,” Tillerson said when asked during a question-and-answer session whether the removal of Maduro was necessary or the United States would play a role in it.

 

He then suggested the possibility, however, that internal forces might take action, although he offered no evidence the United States had intelligence backing the notion that the military might turn against Maduro.

 

“In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, often times, it is the military that handles that,” Tillerson said.

 

“When things are so bad that the military leadership realizes that it just can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition,” he said. But he added: “Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know.”

Ah yes, the peaceful democratic military coup, that most common of things that definitely really is an actual thing. Needless to say the Venezuelan government didn’t appreciate Tillerson’s remarks, but really who would?

MEXICO

Tillerson’s arrival in Mexico at the start of his big Western Hemisphere tour comes at a time when Mexican politics is revolving around a single question: how thoroughly is the Mexican government prepared to kiss Donald Trump’s ass in order to save NAFTA?

Mexico has been at pains to prove itself a good ally to the United States on combating drug trafficking and immigration, in hopes this would help efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement on as favorable terms as possible.

 

Those secret efforts sprang into view this week, when Reuters exclusively reported that Mexico is considering allowing U.S. air marshals aboard commercial cross-border flights, igniting a debate over what lengths Mexico should go to in order to win favor with its top trade partner.

 

“The question is, what else is (Foreign Minister Luis) Videgaray giving to Trump and his collaborators in exchange for preserving NAFTA?” Salvador Garcia Soto asked in his El Universal newspaper column, decrying Videgaray’s “opaque” maneuvering.

UNITED STATES

The Trump administration has completed its nuclear posture review, and it’s conclusion? Nukes are fucking cool as shit and we should really try to make sure we can use them whenever possible:

The Pentagon released a new nuclear arms policy Friday that calls for the introduction of two new types of weapons, effectively ending Obama-era efforts to reduce the size and scope of the U.S. arsenal and minimize the role of nuclear weapons in defense planning.

 

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in an introductory note to the new policy — the first update to the military’s nuclear strategy since 2010 — that the changes reflect a need to “look reality in the eye” and “see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

The world “as it is” is apparently begging for us to turn it into a post-apocalyptic hellscape. The administration wants to develop “low yield” nuclear weapons, which are popular among psychopaths who believe you can have a limited nuclear exchange that doesn’t escalate to full-on armageddon, and to reintroduce nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missiles, probably because Trump likes the acronym (SLCM or “slick ’em”). Expect these programs to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the $1.2 trillion we’re already planning to spend over the next 30 years to modernize our stockpile of nukes, because it’s low-class to vaporize human civilization with last generation tech.

On the plus side, even if we do develop low-yield weapons that make a nuclear exchange more likely, America will be fully protected by our successfully tested missile defense syst–I’m sorry, what’s that? Oh, I see. Never mind.

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