Europe/Americas update: February 19-20 2018



Hey Russians! A new viral video wants to let you know that you need to vote for Vladimir Putin–or, you know, somebody else I guess–in Russia’s presidential election next month or else, uh, you’ll have to take in a gay tenant? Wait, what the hell-

The video is set on 17 March, the eve of the presidential election, and starts with a middle-aged man mocking his wife, who wants to set an alarm clock to get up and vote. “As if they won’t elect someone without you,” he says.


He then falls asleep and dreams that a military official, flanked by two soldiers, including a black man, attempts to conscript him into the army. “I’m 52,” he protests. “Excellent. The conscription age has been increased to 60.”


He then goes into the kitchen, where a tattooed gay man sits filing his nails. “Who’s this?” he asks his wife. “I’m a gay on a homestay,” the man tells him, after which his wife reminds him that under a new law, Russian families are obliged to take in gay people who have been abandoned by their partners.

For some reason people are accusing Putin’s campaign and/or the Russian government of producing this video, but I think it makes a convincing argument for not voting. Keep that turnout down around 40 percent or so and life in Russia could get a lot more interesting.


The European Union is shutting down a program to modernize Ukraine’s western border checkpoints. The initiative was launched in 2014 to help streamline crossings between Ukraine and eastern EU member states, but ran into a little buzzsaw that I like to call “Ukraine is an almost hilariously corrupt country where literally nothing can get done because of all the graft.” Some $36 million later, none of the six targeted checkpoints has actually been modernized.

Speaking of Ukrainian corruption, remember how the Ukrainian military is fighting rebels in eastern Ukraine? Wouldn’t you think that, of all the things that could possibly be immune from corruption, perhaps the care and treatment of soldiers wounded in that fight would be at the top of the list? Well, guess again:

Nearly four years into a grinding war against rebels armed by Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry proudly announced last month that it had improved its previously meager medical services for its wounded troops with the purchase and delivery of 100 new military ambulances.


Not mentioned, however, was that many of the ambulances had already broken down. Or that they had been sold to the military under a no-bid contract by an auto company owned by a senior official in charge of procurement for Ukraine’s armed forces. Or that the official, Oleg Gladkovskyi, is an old friend and business partner of Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown Kiev.

Ukraine’s military budget has naturally ballooned amid the civil war, and that’s helped keep that civil war stalemated. But it’s also provided ever more opportunities for oligarchs to stick their hands out and grab for cash, even as Ukraine has made some improvements in rooting out corruption in its energy sector. Overall the situation may be better than it had been under Viktor Yanukovych, but not by nearly enough, and international agencies like the IMF and the EU have started suspending aid because of it.

On the other hand, Ukraine’s relationship with the Trump administration has never been better. Why? Because, with supplies of Russian gas iffy and Ukraine’s own coal holdings either in the unstable east or in Russia, Kiev cut a deal with Donald Trump last year to import American coal. It’s truly a win-win: Ukrainians got to heat their homes and keep the lights on this winter and Trump got to fulfill his otherwise absurd campaign promise to bring the coal industry back. Well, kind of–it’s still dying, just a little more slowly. The only losers here are any Ukrainians who enjoy breathing clean air and, well, future generations of humanity who have to live with the fact that we should’ve stopped burning coal roughly the day after we started burning it.


For some time now, the Polish government has been mired in a dispute with the European Union over logging in the Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest primeval forests left in Europe. The European Court of Justice ordered Poland to cease logging last year but the Polish government told the court to get bent. But earlier this year Warsaw announced that it was halting logging in the forest in an effort to help repair its relations with Brussels. There’s only one problem: Poland has already cut down its quota of trees in the forest through 2021. Parts of the forest may be irreparably damaged, and the notion that Poland was doing the EU a solid by halting the logging is at best laughable.


With demand growing for Angela Merkel to begin grooming a successor, on Monday she named Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, minister-president of Saarland state, as general secretary of her Christian Democratic Union party.

merkel akk
That’s her on the right

Kramp-Karrenbauer is apparently sometimes called the “mini-Merkel,” and boy, she must be so proud. She now has the same job Merkel herself had before becoming chancellor, so she’s the obvious heir apparent. In appointing her, Merkel both appeases the people who have been asking for a succession plan and puts a close ally in a job that could have been trouble if it had gone to a potential rival instead.



The Intercept’s Sandra Cuffe reports that US-trained special forces in Honduras, known as TIGRES, have begun targeting and arresting anyone found protesting President Juan Orlando Hernández’s disputed November election victory:

Hernández was sworn in for his second term on January 27, two months after the November 26 general elections were marred by widespread reports of fraud. An early 5-point lead favoring opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla evaporated after the election data transmission system went offline for hours. Observers from the Organization of American States documented a host of irregularities and refused to endorse Hernández’s victory, claiming it was impossible to have any certainty about the outcome.


Within days of the elections, opposition supporters took to the streets around the country, defying a state of exception and curfew to protest election fraud. The rallies, marches, and highway blockades that rocked the country for two full months still continue here and there.


The government response has been an ongoing violent state crackdown, with security forces opening fire on protesters on multiple occasions. More than 35 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces and other unknown perpetrators, hundreds injured, and more than 1,000 detained. At least 22 people remain in jail in different parts of the country on charges related to protests.

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