Europe/Americas update: March 1 2018



Vladimir Putin is really excited about his new nukes:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that Moscow is developing a new range of supersonic nuclear weapons that cannot be intercepted by antimissile systems.


In his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, Putin claimed that Russia has tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with unlimited range that will be “invulnerable to enemy interception,” rendering US antimissile systems useless.


Responding to the Russian president’s claims, the Pentagon said it wasn’t “surprised by his statements.”


“The American people should rest assured that we are fully prepared,” said Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana White.


A nuclear-powered underwater drone, equally immune to interception, is also under development, Putin had said.

You know, this is good. It’s good that the two countries with the world’s largest nuclear arsenals are both run by stunted man-children who seem terrifyingly fascinated with how big a boom their missiles could potentially make. It’s great that we’re ratcheting back up into a cold war because nobody seems to want to stop measuring dicks long enough to actually talk to each other. I’m really psyched about it.


Speaking of which, the United States is apparently about to sell anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. That will be sure to ease tensions.

On a happier note, the Ukrainian parliament voted on Thursday to create a new anti-corruption court. Aside from being badly needed, the new body will help Kiev qualify for new financial support from the International Monetary Fund. The bill to create the court still needs to be amended before a final vote is taken, but Ukrainian leaders say the amendment process will look to bring it more in line with international anti-corruption standards.


Somebody has been carrying out a sustained cyberattack on German governmental systems, for several months. The attack has reportedly gotten into the German Foreign Ministry’s computer network. It’s unknown who is behind the attack (Russia is a prime suspect) or for how long it’s been going on–it was first detected in December but seems to have been going on for months already before it was finally caught.


If you’re interested in who’s who with respect to this weekend’s Italian parliamentary election, the BBC has a primer for you:

The search for a new prime minister involves some familiar names – and some very familiar faces, indeed.


Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 81, is back and leading his centre-right Forza Italia (FI) with unbounded energy.


He has teamed up with Matteo Salvini, 44, of the right-wing, Eurosceptic Lega (League – formerly the Northern League).


On the centre-left is [former Prime Minister Matteo] Renzi, 43, leader of the Democratic Party (PD), and challenging both camps is the leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) Luigi Di Maio, who, at 31, would be Europe’s youngest prime minister if he prevailed.


Carles Puigdemont has dropped his bid to remain as Catalan president. Finally our long international nightmare is over. Puigdemont of course can’t serve as Catalan president because he can’t set foot back in Spain lest he be arrested on charges related to last year’s independence referendum. Instead, he has thrown his support behind Catalan activist Jordi Sanchez, who, uh, is already in prison over the referendum so it’s not really clear how he could serve as president either.


On Friday, Theresa May is going to unveil…oh God, I don’t even know anymore. I’ve lost track. She’s constantly promising to unveil some clear Brexit position only to offer more of the vague gibberish that’s been streaming out of her mouth virtually since the day she became prime minister. Apparently this week she’s unveiling Britain’s vision of a future UK-EU trade deal closer than any other free trade agreement that’s ever been negotiated:

“So I want the broadest and deepest possible agreement – covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any Free Trade Agreement anywhere in the world today,” May will say.


“I believe that is achievable because it is in the EU’s interests as well as ours and because of our unique starting point, where on day one we both have the same laws and rules. So rather than having to bring two different systems closer together, the task will be to manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.”

Yeah, well. May and the Tories keep insisting that it’s entirely in the EU’s interest to negotiate the closest possible free trade agreement with the UK, but they never get around to explaining why that is. Because maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s not in the EU’s long-term interest to give London a sweetheart deal that allows banks to keep their European operations in that city instead of having to relocate them to an actual EU member state, for example.

Or more importantly, maybe it’s not in the EU’s long-term interest to set the precedent that any member state can withdraw from the union, stop abiding by principles like the free movement of people and a common regulatory environment, and it’ll be OK because Brussels will come crawling to them with a bespoke trade deal that lets them keep all the things they liked about EU membership while giving up all the things they didn’t like. Maybe it’s just possible that it’s really not good for the EU to create the impression that you can leave and actually be better off for having left. I’m just spitballing here, but that seems like the kind of impression that you’d want to avoid creating, if you were the EU.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why the EU continues to reject every single concession May makes as insufficient, even as she’s twisting in the wind trying to balance the EU on the one hand and the hardliners in her own party on the other. Maybe the EU has some incentive to actually make Brexit hurt, a lot. And maybe the benefits of remaining good and tight with Almighty Britain just aren’t as important as May and everybody in the pro-Brexit wing of her party seems to think they are. Maybe it’s more important for Brussels to send a message to any country that might want to think about leaving the EU down the road.



Venezuela’s election board has postponed the upcoming presidential election from April 22 to May 20. The move represents an agreement between Nicolás Maduro’s Socialist party and some smaller opposition parties, who have agreed to participate in the election and lend it a little credibility in return for the delay. The major opposition parties are still planning to boycott the vote. One of those parties is Henri Falcón’s Progressive Advance party. Falcón is of course planning to challenge Maduro, and while he does have a chance of winning he’s going to have an uphill battle if for no other reason than that boycott by the main opposition parties. The boycott will likely depress turnout among the very voters Falcón needs to win.

The Trump administration once again seems to be considering broad oil sanctions as a way to pressure Maduro. Of course, oil sanctions aren’t going to hurt Maduro nearly as much as they hurt the already fully immiserated Venezuelan public, but I’m sure this administration will definitely keep their well-being at the forefront of its deliberations.


US Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson is leaving her post in May “in search of other opportunities.” I have no idea what those might be, but I would imagine that after serving as the ambassador to Mexico for a president who 1) hates diplomacy and 2) hates Mexicans, pretty much anything else has got to be looking pretty good right now.


NBC reported Thursday evening that H.R. McMaster’s time as national security adviser is coming to an end:

The White House is preparing to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser as early as next month in a move orchestrated by chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, according to five people familiar with the discussions.


The move would be the latest in a long string of staff shake-ups at the White House over the past year and comes after months of strained relations between the president and McMaster.


A leading candidate to become President Donald Trump’s third national security adviser is the auto industry executive Stephen Biegun, according to the officials.

I know, I know, you’re all thinking “auto industry executive? How could that guy possibly be qualified to serve as national security adviser?” But Biegun served on the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice during the George W. Bush administration, so…he’s definitely not qualified to serve as national security adviser.

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