Headline Archives 2018

AMERICA IN TURMOIL IN 2019

Janusz Bugajski, December 2018

The United States is entering a period of deep political turmoil. President Donald Trump has precipitated the escalating crisis by his combative responses to growing legal and political challenges that undermine his legitimacy and his term in office.

There are two ultimate results for Trump’s political future – removal from office or confrontational resistance. In the first scenario, investigations and legal proceedings against him and his family multiply, particularly after Democrats take charge of the House of Representatives in January 2019. They will control numerous committees that can subpoena Trump’s associates and documents. In the second scenario, Trump resists the mounting pressure and hangs on to office while social tensions increase.

The next few months will be grueling for the President. Currently, 17 federal and state level investigations revolve around him, focusing on three main accusations: criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and financial crimes. “Collusion” has become a code word for a criminal conspiracy with Russian intelligence services intended to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections. This lies at the core of the Special Counsel investigation, which has already uncovered volumes of evidence about the Kremlin’s election attacks and indicted over a dozen Russian conspirators.

The investigation also involves WikiLeaks and its hacking of Democrat party Emails on behalf of Russian intelligence agencies. This has ensnared several Trump associates as well his campaign chairman. An additional line of inquiry involves the activities of Russian agents during the election campaign, including the penetration of the National Riffle Association and various conservative and evangelical groups.

A separate second line of investigation involves the President’s alleged attempts to obstruct justice, tamper with witnesses, and prevent the FBI from uncovering the conspiracy with Moscow. The firing of FBI director James Comey was the most glaring example of how Trump purportedly attempted to block any probes into his campaign.

A third expanding investigation revolves around the finances of the Trump family. Over a dozen inquests are now under way at federal level and by the US Attorney General’s office in New York. Analysts believe that the Trump Organization engaged in financial crimes for decades, with Comey comparing Trump to a mafia boss.

Among the targets of financial crime is the Trump Tower Moscow Project, which was pursued even while Trump was running for office. Investigators seek to uncover whether candidate Trump was promising Putin that he would lift sanctions in return for Moscow’s financing. The funding of the President’s Inauguration is also under scrutiny and whether foreign entities funneled money into the inauguration in order to buy influence with the incoming administration. Trump family members are also being investigated for foreign lobbyingand influence peddling not just with Russia but also with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar.

All Trump businessesare under scrutiny. The Trump Foundation was recently closed for numerous financial crimes and prosecutors are examining howmoney flowed both in and out of Trump’s interconnected enterprises, including his hotels, golf courses, and companies. Experts believe it is not possible to separate his election campaign from his business dealings, as Trump himself intermingled them to make money and gain office.

Trump now confronts dozens of witnesses while the Special Counsel and other prosecutors have amassed millions of documents, telephone calls, recordings, emails, and other communications. Courts in Washington and Maryland have sent out subpoenas for Trump hotel financial records alleging that the President is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits him from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office. This lawsuit could publicly reveal how foreign governments have funneled business to Trump’s businesses.

Given the likelihood that Trump will be directly implicated in conspiracies, obstruction, and corruption, there are two main avenues for him to leave office, either impeachment or resignation. If Republicans in the Senate begin to calculate that they will lose the November 2020 elections by remaining tethered to Trump, they may turn against him and support the Democrat-led impeachment process.

However, there is a second possible scenario if Trump can successfully resist Congress and, unlike Richard Nixon, refuses to resign. He will calculate that the Republican controlled Senate will protect him from impeachment, at least until the November 2020 elections. He can claim special legal privileges as President, including non-indictment, even while sacrificing others to trial and imprisonment, including members of his own family. He can simultaneously rally the ultra-conservative media and his militant base in threatening civil disorder and even violent resistance if Congress dares to move against him.

A major factor in Trump’s future will be the state of the Democratic Party and whether it can stay united as politicians begin to line up for primary election season to choose a candidate for the 2020 presidential vote. There is little affection between the moderate and progressive streams of the party and they could be further pulled apart by campaign pledges and debates. Above all, Trump could rebound if the Democrat candidate for President turns out to be as weak as Hilary Clinton.

WEST BALKANS IN THE BALANCE

Janusz Bugajski, December 2018

2019 promises to be a crucial year in the Western Balkans where decisions made by political leaders and international players will decide its long-term future. These decisions can usher in greater state stability, regional security, and international integration, or they could precipitate new conflicts. But regardless of the outcome, the current status quo cannot continue indefinitely.

In the coming year, two outstanding inter-state disputes could be resolved and contribute to regional coexistence. First, the Kosova-Serbia dialogue can move in one of two directions: constructive or destructive. A constructive dialogue that brings concrete results would culminate in Serbia’s recognition of Kosova as an independent state. This could be expedited through border changes or limited land swaps or some other inter-governmental arrangement. A comprehensive accord would free both countries to pursue their EU aspirations and Kosova could focus more intensively on developing its security structure and petitioning for NATO membership.

A destructive scenario would witness the Prishtina-Belgrade talks collapsing indefinitely. Public frustrations will then increase with Kosova sinking deeper into an international limbo, the economy stagnating, and the best-educated workers continuing to emigrate. This would make the country more vulnerable to populism and nationalism, intensify inter-ethnic disputes, and substantially increase tensions with neighboring states.

Radicalism in Prishtina can be inflamed by public frustration with economic conditions and by Kosova’s international blockage, including delays in EU visa liberalization, exclusion from Interpol, and lack of progress toward membership in the United Nations. In recent weeks, the government in Belgrade has also intensified its de-recognition campaign against Kosova, with over a dozen small states in Africa and the Pacific targeted by Serbian officials offering lucrative bribes.

Some Kosova politicians also face potential prosecution, as the Special Court for war crimes has begun to subpoena witnesses to appear in The Hague. Prishtina is concerned that the objective or the result will be to delegitimize the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) and boost Serbia’s claims against Kosova. At the same time, elected representatives of the Serbian minority continue to boycott Kosova’s institutions on Belgrade’s instructions, while uncertainty prevails over potential border changes and what they will mean for the country’s future. Such an array of pressures may be part of a negotiating ploy by Belgrade ahead of bilateral talks or they may be part of a strategy designed to demonstrate that Kosova is a failed state.

In an environment of expanding grievances, the government in Prishtina calculates that it needs to assert itself on the international stage. Hence, new legislation has been passed on creating a Kosova army despite opposition from Serbia and several EU and NATO officials. Parliament recently approved transforming the 3,000-strong Kosova Security Force into an army consisting of 5,000 active troops and 3,000 reservists during the next decade.A supportive statement from the US administration on Prishtina’s progress indicates that if it implements the necessary reforms, Kosova is likely to join NATO long before Serbia does. According to Kosova’s constitution, Serb minority representatives should be included in the process of legislating for the creation of an army, but Kosova cannot come to a standstill because of their persistent boycott of parliament.

Prishtina is also asserting itself by imposing 100% tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian imports in retaliation for Belgrade and Sarajevo blocking imports from Kosova and creating a large trade imbalance by unfairly treating its goods. This has brought the government significant domestic popularity by demonstrating that it is no longer passive. There is widespread resentment that the EU favors Serbia and ignores how Belgrade discriminates against Kosova and destabilizes the region through its close connections with Moscow. Without fair trade, open markets, state stability, and membership in international organizations, investors will shy away from Kosova and the economy will languish.

The second lingering regional dispute between Macedonia and Greece is on the verge of resolution. The Macedonian parliament has until the end of January to ratify constitutional changes to adjust the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia. This would clear the path toward NATO membership and help move the country toward potential EU accession in the coming decade. Nonetheless, there is still a possibility that the process could unravel. For instance, the Macedonian government may not muster the needed two thirds of deputies to ratify necessary constitutional modifications or the Greek government could face new opposition to the deal with Skopje amidst calls for early elections.

In the worst-case scenario, Macedonia rejects the name change and returns to a frozen status with the door to both NATO and EU entry firmly closing. The moderate Social Democrat government falls, the economy declines, nationalism rises, ethnic tensions increase, and civil disturbances escalate. Instead of becoming a pillar of regional security, Macedonia devolves into a factor of instability in which each of its four neighboring states will be pulled into the fray.

2019 can either be a year of success or a year of failure – the onus is on state leaders to take brave steps and act on behalf of the long-term interests of their nations rather than the short term personal advantages of political office.

TRUMP POSITIVES

Janusz Bugajski, December 2018

As the Department of Justice Special Counsel investigation moves closer to the White House and the Democrats prepare to conduct further probes, it is an important time to take stock of Donald Trump’s presidency. While it is commonplace to criticize Trump’s performance on many levels, often missed are the positive results that Americans are already witnessing from his term in office.

Above all, we are witnessing much greater public involvement in politics particularly among women, African-Americans, Latinos, and young people. Much of this is in opposition to Trump and his divisive politics. The newly elected members of the House of Representatives have raised the number of women legislators to over one hundred out of 435 – the highest number in US history.

The House has also become the most ethnically diverse chamber in the country’s history. 23 new African-Americans will take their seats in the House; many of them will represent mostly white districts,together with the first two Native American congresswomen and the first Muslim congresswomen.

A second indicator of growing political awareness was the high voter turnout in the November congressional elections. Nearly half of registered voters cast their ballots – a significant increase on recent midterms. Only 36.7% voted in 2014, and 41% in 2010. Indeed, it was the highest turnout for a midterm since 1966, when 49% cast ballots. Voting among “millenials,” the new generation coming of age, was more substantial than in 2018. It seems that many more realize their civil responsibilities and cannot beindifferent to politics because it affects their everyday lives.

A third enormous positive of the Trump presidency is greater public awareness that democracy cannot be taken for granted and must be constantly monitored. The US constitution needs to be protected because no one person, including the President, stands above the law. Civic education has been improving through example, as Trump’s attempts to influence Congress and the justice system is raising public awareness of how US institutions actually work and the importance of the separation of powers.

A fourth factor that counters partisan polarization is the growth in the number of Independents who generally vote for policies over parties. The percentage of self-identified Independents has been steadily rising. In the 2000 and 2004 presidential contests and the 2006 midterms, Independents formed 26% of the electorate. This has climbed to over 32% this year – the highest figure in more than 75 years of opinion polling. Some polls indicate that Independents actually outnumber both Democrats and Republicans.

The opinions of Independents often reflect the direction of political change. Overall, only 31% currently approve of Trump’s performance, down from 47% during the summer. In 2016, independents voted narrowly for Trump, but this has changed dramatically. Independents currently prefer Democrats to Republicans by 11 points, 38% to 27%, and they are likely to decide the 2020 presidential elections.

A fifth revelation has been the growing realization that racism remains a major problem and is destructive for the country’s social cohesion and economic development. Trump’s election campaign in which he attacked various minorities gave encouragement to a sizeable element of the population that is susceptible to anti-immigrant xenophobia. It also enabled the fringe groups of white nationalists, racists, and neo-Nazis to become more vocal. Racism needs to be more effectively combated, as it is partly a failure of the educational system and the prejudicial collective stereotypes that still remain widespread.

A vital sixth positive of the Trump presidency is that even the left-leaning Democrats in Congress or those who favored “resets” with the Kremlin have finally understand the nature of the Vladimir Putin regime. The Robert Mueller investigation has disclosed widespread interference by Moscow in the US elections and its consistent attempts to influence American politics. However, many Republicans have moved in the other direction, and a party that was once hawkish on Russia has turned dovish and unwilling to investigate Trump’s connections with Putin. This may of course change drastically when Trump is no longer in office.

A seventh major lesson for American citizens is the Mueller investigation itself, revolving around an alleged criminal conspiracy and a major cover-up through the obstruction of justice. It seems that every generation needs to learn that any democracy can be threatened from above even more than it is from below. While the US has no broad populist movements that challenge the democratic system, the President himself can generate the power and authority to undermine America’s key institutions and needs to be contained. The previous generation assimilated this lesson during the Richard Nixon presidency in the 1970s.

For many Americans who have grown up on television soap operas and drama series, the Trump presidency offers constant entertainment that seamlessly blends fact with fiction. The daily program begins with the President’s early morning tweets berating assorted politicians, journalists, and television personalities. It continues throughout the day with perpetual scandals, revelations, and conflicts about Trump and his entourage. And it culminates in heatedevening disputes between Trump supporters and opponents. In the Trump era, who needs Hollywood?

DEFECTS IN AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

Janusz Bugajski, December 2018

The United States has good reason to be proud of its democratic system. Nonetheless, the system contains several defects that create confusion, ignore the popular will, and may enable the abuse of presidential powers. The Donald Trump presidency has highlighted four of the most obvious deficiencies.

In the first place, the process of tabulating the results of the presidential elections does not always reflect the will of the majority of American voters. The President wins through an Electoral College system to which each of the fifty states send representatives for the candidate gaining the majority of votes in that state.

Although the number of college electors is proportional it does not accurately reflect the size of populations in each state. For instance, a lightly populated state such as Wyoming has 3 electors for the Electoral College, while a highly populated state such as New York only has 29, even though the population of New York is forty times larger than that of Wyoming. In a fully proportional system New York would possess over 100 representatives in the Electoral College.

This disconnect between states would not be significant if the total popular vote matched the Electoral College result. However, in the November 2016 presidential elections Hilary Clinton gained 48.2% of the total vote, while Trump received only 46.1%. She won 2.86 million more votes than Trump but lost the Electoral College because many states, however small demographically, voted for Trump. Such a discrepancy can bring into question the mandate and even the popular legitimacy of the incoming President.

A second glaring democracy defect in the US system is the two month long gap between congressional elections and the assumption of office by the newly elected legislature. While balloting always take place in the first week of November, the new Congress does not convene until the beginning of January.

For the President the two-month gap is less important because the incumbent is unlikely to make any major decisions in his or her remaining weeks in office. However, in the case of Congress, some legislation or official appointments can still be pushed through by the outgoing majority, which in reality has become a minority. Alternatively, Congress may not act to block a presidential appointee who is clearly unqualified for the position and would be rejected by the newly elected legislature.

A third major weakness in America’s political structure is insufficient separation between the White House and the Justice Department. This was clearly evident during the Richard Nixon presidency in the 1970s when the President fired several top officials for refusing to terminate investigations into his potential abuses of power. And this weakness has become even starker under Trump.

Trump has made strenuous efforts to stifle Special Counsel Robert Muller’s probe into Russian interference in the US elections and Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice. Under suspicious circumstances, the President fired James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

He also appointed a loyalist, Matthew Whitaker, as the interim Attorney General. This exposed the core problem that Department of Justice officials are nominated and fired by the President. Instead of being a fully separate arm of government only answerable to Congress and the Supreme Court, the Justice Department can be deployed as an arm of the Executive.

In normal circumstances, Presidents have been careful not to abuse their powers or to be seen as impeding the rule of law. But when a President becomes desperate to disguise and deflect attention from his potential misdemeanors, his close links with the Justice Department become a temptation he or she may not be able to resist in order to stay in power or even to avoid trial.

A fourth significant democracy deficit that is now at the center of controversy for the Trump administration is the President’s constitutional power to grant pardon or amnesty to virtually any convicted prisoner. This provision may have been initially designed as an act of compassion that would be selectively used when the incumbent was leaving office. However, in the hands of a more unscrupulous President pardons can become a weapon of abuse.

Various Trump associates have already been imprisoned or are facing trial and jail terms, including the former chairman of his election campaign. Some have also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and the Special Council by disclosing all they know about potential collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence services. With Trump dangling the possibility of pardon to the accused, they will have little incentive to cooperate with law enforcement because they can ultimately escape justice.

While no democracy is perfect, it is important to remember that systems are not set in stone and need to adapt to new political challenges and social changes. That is why the US constitution contains 27 amendments. In the light of current political controversies, several new amendments would certainly improve the functioning of American democracy.

EUROPEAN ARMY DISPUTE

Janusz Bugajski, November 2018

During President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Paris, several EU leaders proposed that Europe should establish its own army. Although Trump was blamed for this declaration, because of his alleged antagonism toward continental Europe, in reality the EU is again trying to punch above its weight.

The idea of a European Army has been raised by several West European governments since the end of the Cold War, either because EU leaders want to appear strong and unified or are voicing their displeasure with some aspect of US security policy. For its part, Washington has been frustrated that these propositions remove the focus from strengthening the NATO alliance.

A European corps (Eurocorps), involving ten European countries, was established in the 1990s and based on the Franco-German brigade. Other countries pledged contingents, but the Eurocorps was never actually deployed as a distinct unit. Several countries have since abandoned the joint brigade and the French and German contingents are mostly deployed on their national territories.

Paris and Berlin are now attempting another incarnation of the European Army given Trump’s criticisms of insufficient Allied defense spending and his threats to abandon NATO. French President Emmanuel Macron warned that Europeans must create a separate army to protect themselves and to demonstrate that Europe is not an American vassal.

Chancellor Angela Merkel supported Macron’s military proposal in a more assertive EU.Merkel has claimed that Europe’s traditional allies (in other words, the US) may no longer guarantee the continent’s security. In a direct criticism of Trump, she asserted that “the times in which we could unconditionally rely on others are over.”

Trump quickly denounced the new European Army initiative on Twitter, claiming that the US gained nothing of value in return for spending hundreds of billions of dollars on helping its European allies. He called Macron’s proposal insulting and demanded that “Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly!” He mocked the idea of an effective EU army and pointed out that the French had needed Americans to rescue them from the Germans in both world wars.

The Macron-Merkel declaration comes a year after EU members agreed to establish a defense union, styled as PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation). Some viewed this initiative as the creation of a European Army, but in reality its ambitions are more modest and could complement NATO rather than undermining it. Officials earmarked 17 joint projects for PESCO, including a pan-European military training center, the creation of a German-led European medical unit and logistics hub, faster crisis response forces, and intelligence exchanges on cyber threats.

In practical terms, the EU can contribute to its mutual security even if some states fail to fulfill the 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) defense spending stipulated in NATO documents. Most importantly, the expansion of dual-use trans-national infrastructure, including roads and railways, can directly assist NATO mobility in times of emergency. At the same time, the EU can maximize its resources by pooling military equipment and avoiding unnecessary competition in arms production.

The EU also needs to focus on strengthening Union borders, intercepting refugee smuggling and other forms of trafficking, combating maritime piracy, providing humanitarian assistance, and contributing to Alliance counter-terrorism operations. Such mission would not require significant US involvement and would harden the softest part of Europe’s defenses. Europe can also do more to combat numerous growing non-military threats, including cyber attacks, organized crime, state-directed corruption, economic warfare, and energy monopolization.

Despite the ambitions of Paris and Berlin, without the UK the EU will become a weaker military player. Britain and France have been the two strongest European militaries and are not averse to engaging in combat, unlike Germany, which prefers peace-keeping to war-fighting. London has obstructed any moves that would duplicate NATO and divert scarce funds away from the Alliance. It was also determined to maintain the trans-Atlantic link with the US.

Likewise, most Central and East European (CEE) leaders have opposed any distinct EU army, contending that a separate defense structure will undermine NATO at a time when Alliance solidarity is necessary to defend against Moscow’s aggression. Resources should be focused on improving NATO capabilities instead of creating weaker substitutes without Washington. Some CEE capitals contend thatthe American presence must be expanded, as evident in recent proposals from Warsaw for a permanent US base in Poland.

The motive behind an EU army may be more reactive than rational – to demonstrate that Europe should be taken more seriously as an international player despite the UK’s exit and Trump’s persistent criticisms. However, another failed project will simply deepen the Union’s decline and enable Moscow to capitalize on trans-Atlantic rifts. Indeed, Russian officials have loudly praised the new Macron-Merkel proposal.

In order to be effective, EU initiatives need to complement NATO and not dilute transatlantic unity. In a time of crisis, a European army could not handle a major war either within or outside its borders without substantial US involvement.

RUSSIA EXPLOITS SERBIA

Janusz Bugajski, November 2018

Contrary to conventional assumptions, Serbia and Russia have not established a close alliance but an asymmetric coupling in which the Kremlin exploits its dominance. When Moscow needs Serbia to fulfill certain international tasks to Russia’s advantage, the pressure mounts on Belgrade, as evident in the current push toward border adjustments in the Western Balkans.

Although official history claims that Russia was instrumental in liberating Serbia from the Ottomans, the real ambitions of the Tsars was to expand their empire toward the Mediterranean. Christian Orthodoxy and pan-Slavism were useful ideological tools crafted to convince Serbs that Russia was defending their national interests.

After World War Two, Stalin undercut Serbian ambitions and prevented the emergence of a Balkan Communist federation combining Yugoslavia and Bulgaria because he feared that a strong state in the region would challenge Moscow’s diktat. Tito’s Yugoslavia subsequently demonstrated that Belgrade was unwilling to remain a loyal puppet when it broke from the Soviet bloc in 1948 and helped to establish the non-aligned movement.

Milosevic and Yeltsin were not close allies but exploited each other’s political ambitions. With the onset of war in Yugoslavia during the 1990s, Belgrade appealed to Russian solidarity whether over preserving Yugoslav integrity, creating a Greater Serbia, or retaining control over Kosova. Moscow in turn manipulated Serbia’s grievances against the US and NATO to demonstrate that Russia remained a major factor in European affairs.. However, since the overthrow of Milosevic, Serbian governments have adopted the role of Russia’s junior partner, enabling Putin to transform Serbia into Moscow’s outpost in the Western Balkans.

The Kremlin calculated that in exchange for blocking Kosova’s entry into the UN and other international bodies in which Moscow has a veto, Belgrade would surrender ground to Russia and disqualify itself from Western institutions. The scars from the 1999 NATO intervention over Kosova to prevent the genocide of Albanians have not healed sufficiently for Belgrade to petition for NATO membership. And Moscow makes sure that anti-Alliance sentiments are constantly nurtured among the Serb public.

Bilateral relations are contaminated by the persistent disinformation that Russia is Serbia’s main economic benefactor, even though its trade and investment in the country is not only dwarfed by the EU but is based largely on opaque deals that primarily benefit corrupt politicians.

Serbia was persuaded to give Gazprom majority shares in its major oil and gas company, NiS,and entered into other deals that tied the country tightly with Russia’s energy supplies. Belgrade was also pressured to open a “Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center” near the southern city of Nis, which Russian services can use as an intelligence gathering facility vis-à-vis the West and to train paramilitaries for future Balkan conflicts.

In a new twist to its exploitation of Belgrade, the Kremlin now seeks to benefit from Washington’s goal to “normalize” relations between Serbia and Kosova. As the notion of land swaps has been mooted, the Kremlin is pushing Serbia to accept territorial exchanges with Kosova despite the political resistance in Belgrade. The unprecedented meeting between Putin and Kosova’s President Hashim Thaci during the World War One Armistice anniversary in Paris, the first between the heads of both states, ratcheted up the pressure on Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

Putin’s strategists are pursuing two main objectives. First, border changes in the Balkans approved by Western powers can be trumpeted as a valuable precedent and example for Crimea, Donbas, Transnistria, and other regions coveted by Russia. Russian officials can contend that changes in the Kosova-Serbia border simply bring co-ethnics into the motherland. Hence, a similar process can be applied to territories with sizeable Russian populations, including parts of Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kazakhstan.

Second, the Kremlin simultaneously calculates that border changes in the Balkans can create havoc for NATO and the EU by stimulating calls for further partitions. Local nationalists could orchestrate violence to demonstrate that ethnic co-existence is not feasible and borders have to be adjusted. A ripple effect of territorial aspirations will not only affect unsettled states such as Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia, but also impact on NATO members Croatia, Albania, and Montenegro.

Vucic will come under increasing Western pressure to forge a deal with Prishtina but may not be able to contain domestic nationalist opposition without Kremlin backing. If Belgrade officially acknowledges the loss of Kosova through a bilateral deal, Russia’s appeals to Slavic Orthodox solidarity may be insufficient. Instead, and regardless of Vucic’s reluctance, Moscow can express support for the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia’s incorporation of Republika Srpska (RS). This would be a bigger prize for Serb nationalists than the northern fringes of Kosova and where RS leaders, working with Russian agencies, yearn to join Serbia.

The result of Moscow’s deepening intervention will be to embroil Vucic in a new conflict with the EU, NATO, and the US over Bosnia-Herzegovina. This will also serve Kremlin interests by blocking Belgrade’s path toward EU accession. Unless it breaks free from Russia’s suffocating political grip, Belgrade cannot achieve its national potential and will continue to be exploited as a pawn in Putin’s campaign to dismantle the West.

POST-ELECTION FIREWORKS

Janusz Bugajski, November 2018

Following the US Congressional elections, the political heat in Washington is rising and will decide the fate of the Donald Trump presidency. The Democrats won the House of Representatives by a significant margin, while the Republicans narrowly retained the Senate. In response, Trump appeared determined to end the Justice Department probe into his alleged conspiracy with Moscow by immediately firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointing a loyalist replacement.

If Trump moves to suppress Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, he could trigger a constitutional crisis with escalating confusion over the extent of presidential powers. So far, the Mueller team has brought charges against 35 individuals and entities, secured six guilty pleas, and three prison sentences. The probe is now increasingly focused on Trump’s inner circle, including members of his family.

Any attempt by the White House to fire Mueller would challenge the rule of law and even draw opposition from several key Republicans in Congress who want the completion of the Special Counsel’s work.Trump could then face a divided Senate in addition to a hostile House. The Republican-held Senate is responsible for confirming Trump’s appointments to various government agencies. With the President preparing to remove more high-level appointees, confirming replacements could prove problematic leaving some government departments without leadership.

But Trump’s bigger headaches will be with the House of Representatives. This chamber has the constitutional power to impeach government officials and pressures to start such proceedings will now heighten with Democrats in control. If the House approves impeachment by a simply majority it then moves the process to the Senate for a trial. At present a Senate trial appears unlikely, as a two-thirds majority is necessary, unless the Mueller probe releases clear evidence that Trump himself conspired with Russianintelligence services to win the elections.

Nonetheless, even short of impeachment, the House of Representatives will increasingly undermine the President. Various congressional committees can issue subpoenas to demand documents, information, and testimony from federal agencies, including details about government mismanagement. The White House is particularly concerned that Congress can investigate top Trump administration officials for potential corruption and the obstruction of justice.

RepresentativeAdam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has already asserted that no stone will be left unturned in investigating collaboration between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Other congressional committees, including Oversight and Government Reform, Judiciary, and Ways and Means, will also pursue intensive investigations into alleged executive abuses.

Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker, Session’s former chief-of-staff, as acting attorney general has spurred outrage. Whitaker is widely viewed as a Trump crony and is himself under criminal investigation by the FBI. He has also attacked the Mueller inquiry and advocated closing any investigation into the President’s ties to Moscow. Even senior Republicans are challenging his appointment, as the Senate has never been confirmed him to any position. The House of Representatives could also investigate Whitaker, as a conspirator in the obstruction of justice.

Any attempt by President Trump or Whitaker to fire Mueller would challenge the rule of law and trigger opposition from many key Republicans in Congress who are on the record for supporting the completion of the special counsel’s work.Trump may then face a divided Senate without a majority to support him, as well as a hostile House. Moreover, it may already be too late for Trump in the Special Counsel probe, with mounting evidence that Mueller is ready to strike with dozens of indictments regardless of what the White House does.

In this red-hot political climate, with deepening division between the two chambers of Congress, any proposed legislation will face gridlock and paralysis. As a result, many of Trump’s pledges to his electorate are likely to remain unfulfilled, including immigration reform, building a wall along the Mexican border, and further tax cuts. The Democrats are also unlikely to pass any significant legislation, as they would need both Senate support and White House approval.

Democrats will also be preparing for the 2020 presidential elections by selecting a candidate that could more effectively challenge Trump. In the next three months, several politicians will declare their candidacy, but Democrats face deep internal divisions. There is likely to be an intense battle between moderates and liberal progressives that the Republicans will seek to exploit to depict their opponents as ultra-leftists.

With control of the House of Representatives, Democrats will wield more influence in foreign policy, even though the executive branch remains dominant on the international arena. Congressional legislators control the budget in funding war, diplomacy, and intelligence operations. House Democrats will also have a bigger role in writing legislation and this may include adopting tougher policies toward countries that Trump has courted, including Russia and Saudi Arabia. This could result in more incoherence in foreign policy and further intensify clashes between the House and the President.

MOMENTOUS US ELECTIONS

Janusz Bugajski, November 2018

The US Congressional elections on 6 November will be the most significant for decades. At stake is not only the identity of the party that controls the Senate and the House of Representatives. More importantly, the ballot will determine whether the new Congress empowers President Donald Trump with more executive authority or whether the new Congress will pursue corruption investigations and impeachment proceedings against the sitting President.

Since his election in November 2016, Trump has relied on a passive Congress controlled by Republicans to test the limits of his constitutional authority. He does not believe in a clear separation of powers as mandated by the constitution but asserts that the President should have more decision-making authority both in domestic and foreign policy. If Republicans retain or strengthen their majorities in both the Senate and the House, Trump will feel even more emboldened to expand his executive power and sideline the legislature.

The most damaging result of a Republican victory could be the termination of the Special Counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Robert Mueller’s team has been investigating alleged collaboration between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s intelligence services, as well as the President’s obstruction of justice to stifle the investigation. A premature dismissal of the Mueller probe by the White House would mean that the most comprehensive direct attack on American democracy would be covered up without any consequences for the perpetrators. In effect, the Kremlin will have gained a historical victory over the US.

In marked contrast, if the Democrats gain control of the House they will control all relevant congressional committees and can start further investigations of Trump’s Russian connections, family finances, corruption charges, and various alleged abuses of power. Reanimated Democrats could then use evidence released by the Special Counsel to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President.

Democrats need to gain 24 Republican seats and keep the 194 they currently hold in order to take control of the House of Representatives They are targeting 21 districts in particular that were won by Barack Obama in 2012 but moved toward Trump in 2016. Winning the Senate, will be more problematic, as only 35 of the 100 Senate seats are up for re-election.  Democratic incumbents must defend 25 seats to the Republicans 8, and 10 of those seats are in states that voted for Trump in 2016. Democrats would also need to take 2 of 3 Republican-held seats in battleground states.

Although Democrats are highly unlikely to gain the two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove Trump from office, by controlling the House they can freeze any further legislation and obstruct Trump’s planned initiatives, such as repealing Obamacare – the current national health care plan – and potential cuts to welfare and other social programs. Democrats could also launch their own legislative agenda including immigration reform, gun control, and environmental protection. During the last two years of his presidency Trump would then become a true “lame duck” bombarded with investigations and disclosures about his finances and business deals.

On the eve of the elections, Democrats are expecting a “blue wave” of votes while Trump’s disapproval rating among likely voters continues to exceed 52%. Mid-term elections usually bring out an older, whiter electorate than presidential ballots. Analysts also believe that political apathy among young voters in November 2016 led directly to Trump’s victory. However, Trump’s job approval rating in the 18-30 age group now stands at only 26%. Extensive anger at the President’s performance among the younger generation may propel many more to vote. A strong turnout could move some of the closer House races toward the Democrats.

Trump has been campaigning to bring out his base and other Republicans, stoking fears about waves of immigrants who are allegedly poised to invade America across the Mexican border. But the majority of voters remain fixed on their daily concerns, including affordable health care and decent paying jobs. Although the economy is showing low unemployment, few jobs have seen a rise in wages or the return of manufacturing jobs that Trump promised in his campaign.

Trump’s rhetoric is alienating large numbers of Americans, including women, suburban voters, and the growing Latino population. Democrats are focused on substantially increasing the votes of African and Latino Americans many of whom abstained in 2016 because of a lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton.

People have become increasingly wary of election projections and predictions, as everything will depend on actual turnout and the participation of millions of new voters. Already more people have voted early than in any previous mid-term elections, indicating a surge in voter enthusiasm. Over 30 million ballots have already been cast, from about 146 million registered voters. However, nobody can be certain that this will favor the Democrats. As the presidential elections dramatically demonstrated, no polls or indicators can be taken for granted. Only the actual ballots count.

AMERICAN TERRORISM

Janusz Bugajski, October 2018

The United States has a long history of domestic terrorism that is distinct from attacks by foreign jihadists. During the past week, an ultra-rightist massacred eleven Jews in a synagogue and a radical Trump supportersent 14 pipe bombs through the mail toleaders or donors of the Democratic Party. Although none of the devices exploded and the perpetrator was arrested the bombing threat and the synagogue massacre will have a profound impact on American politics.

Over recent decades, America has experienced terrorism from across the political spectrum. Left-wing terrorism was prominent in the 1960s and 1970s with radicals regularly planting bombs to protest against the Vietnam War or to show their defiance against the administration. The assassination of three prominent US leaders in the 1960s – President John F Kennedy, his brother and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and civil rights activist Martin Luther King by ultra-right gunmen – incited further violence.

During the 1980s and 1990s, rightist and anti-establishment terrorism became more prominent. The “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski terrorized the nation with several package bombs following the release of an anti-government diatribe. Kaczynski killed three people and injured 23 more before he was captured in 1996. However, the most violent single act of terrorism before 9/11 was the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. Two US militia movement sympathizers and embittered enemies of the administration blew up a government building with a truck bomb and killed 168 people and injured more than 680.

Most bomb attacks are ideologically based but not tied to any specific political group and usually conducted by lone operators. One of the significant exceptions in recent years have been the militant anti-abortion activists. They have bombed health centers, committed acts of arson, and even murdered abortion providers outside their homes and in churches. In addition, radical rightists such as the KKK have attacked Jewish synagogues and African-American churches and in some instances slaughtered members of the congregation, as was the case in Pittsburg a few days ago.

In the current deeply divided political climate the terrorist threat has entered a new phase with racism and xenophobia on the rise. For the first time in modern American history violent extremists and terrorists are claiming to be active on behalf of the President’s agenda and not against the government. Several political groups have been formed asserting “white nationalism” and engaging in violent attacks on anti-Trump protestors. This appears to be a radical right equivalent of the “anti-fascist” anarchist groups who spearhead violent assaults on “capitalist” institutions such as the World Bank.

In his speeches and tweets against political opponents Trump dehumanizes critics. His vilification of the Democrats and of the media as “enemies of the people” may inspire more violent attacks.

Political polarization is also fuelled by conspiracy theories about Trump’s political adversaries. Without any evidence, some ultra-conservative media pundits asserted that the recent mail bombs were a hoax perpetrated by Democrats to discredit Republicans and designed to help Democrats in the November elections.

Such accusations reinforce the popular notion among Trump devotees that the “deep state” establishment wants to stifle and overthrow the President. This conspiratorial posture by Trump’s ultra-right defenders may demonstrate their fear that the President has not delivered on one of his key campaign promises – to “make America safe again” after he complained for years about terrorist attacks during the Obama administration.

The postal bombs could herald the beginning of a surge in terrorism and other forms of political violence. On the one hand, many Trump supporters are convinced by the conservative media that their President is besieged by “dark forces.” On the other hand, leftist anger against the Trump administration and Republicans in general is accelerating. Thus far, radical left protests have resulted in the destruction of property or verbal confrontations with Republican politicians. The next step could be outright violence, whether through assassination attempts or outright terrorism.

The terrorist plot against Trump’s opponents will have a significant impact on the 6 November congressional elections. With party-affiliated citizens already decided on their voting preference, the key questions will be the size of the turnout and the choice of independent voters, who form about a third of the electorate. A high turnout usually favors Democrats and the party’s supporters may indeed be motivated by the terrorist threat against their party. At the same time, independents who favored Trump in the presidential ballot in November 2016 may turn against him ifthey conclude that he is leading the country toward violent domestic conflict.

With Trump blaming Democrats and negative media coverage of the White House for stoking the anger that leads to terrorism, the stage is set for even greater militancy. Whatever the result of the mid-term elections, either radical Republicans or radical Democrats are likely to feel aggrieved and increasingly take political actions outside the country’s democratic institutions. US politics is entering a particularly dangerous phase as Trump has generated both devotion and hatred like no other President in modern history.

RUSSIAN vs. AMERICAN ELECTION INTERFERENCE

Janusz Bugajski, October 2018

With the FBI warning about Moscow’s interference in the US mid-term elections in November, skeptics assert that Washington also tampers with foreign elections. Some pundits even contend that Moscow’s interjection in US politics mirrors that of America’s meddling in Russian politics. Such a comparison proves to be false when examining seven key arenas of US and Russian involvement in the internal politics of other states.

First, the US has provided assistance to democratize the political systems of countries emerging from communism. It calculated that this would strengthen domestic and regional stability and thereby benefit America’s national interests. In stark contrast, Moscow impedes or disrupts democratic polities that provide an attractive alternative to the Russian system, or it destabilizes countries that challenge Russia’s state policy.

Second, the US does not organize protest actions abroad, as reforming countries develop their own indigenous pro-democracy movements. This has been evident in Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia over the past two decades where citizens have rebelled against corruption and abuse of power. In stark contrast, Russia funds and manipulates political groups to stage violent assaults against national institutions in targeted countries. The most egregious example was the attempt to violently overthrow the Montenegrin government following the October 2016 elections.

Third, the US provides support openly to a spectrum of political parties in democratizing states, assists in formulating election laws, and encourages transparency throughout the election process. Putin’s Kremlin bribes politicians and parties through opaque financial schemes in order to cultivate support for Moscow’s foreign policies. Alternatively, it engages in blackmail by gathering compromising material on specific political leaders.

Fourth, the US offers support to an independent and objective mass media in order to increase citizens’ participation in the political process. In a diametrically opposed strategy, Russia systematically injects fraudulent stories and conspiracy theories into Western media outlets and establishes anti-Western television networks abroad. Moscow also bribes and recruits journalists, political activists, lobbyists, academics, and opinion leaders to participate in Moscow’s conspiracies in order to subvert democratic systems.

Fifth, the US helps social media platforms to better inform citizens about democratic pluralism and encourage young voters to become involved in politics. In stark contrast, Russia exploits the social media to spread disinformation and either boost or suppress voting in order to help specific candidates that favor Moscow’s policies. The 2016 US elections proved a bonanza for Kremlin-funded networks to inundate the social media with false stories in order to influence voting.

Sixth, there is no evidence that the US hacks the computers or correspondence of politicians and parties in order to influence election results. Conversely, Russian intelligence agents steal the Emails and other communications of targeted politicians and release them through front operations such as Wikileaks in order to influence public opinion and discredit specific individuals. Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party were the primary victims when stolen documents were provided to Wikileaks for general release at politically opportune occasions during the 2016 election campaign.

Moscow also uses social media platforms to create thousands of accounts that appear to be American. The purpose is to further polarize American society and sow conflict over such issues as gun control, gay rights, anti-racism, the ultra-right, and other socially divisive issues.

Seventh, and not least, the US does not hack into voter rolls or other election material in other countries to influence election outcomes. Contrarily, Russian operatives have hacked into election materials in the US. They gained access to election rolls, voter registration databases, and voting systemsin 21 states, election management systems in 39 states, and at least one election software vendor. Investigators suspect that election penetration may have been even more widespread.

The purpose was to alter voter information and affect elections at local and state levels. Investigators have yet to determine what impact this had on the vote count, but some believe the information gained can be used in subsequent elections, including the upcoming congressional races.Moscow’s agents may also have planted malware, or malicious computer programs, in the voting machines that could alter or erase data and significantly affect voting results.

Both the US and Russia project their national interests by influencing developments in key states, but their methods and goals are fundamentally different. For Washington, democracy and security are viewed as two reinforcing pillars that strengthen the NATO alliance even if the policy emphasis shifts between different administrations. The US does have autocratic allies if these contribute to regional security but it has no democratic adversaries. Hence, it is in America’s interest to have secure democratic states in a common alliance that does not challenge the security of neighbors.

Moscow’s professed national interest is to restore dominance over its European neighbors by threatening their security and determining their foreign policy. In the Kremlin’s calculations, stable democracies are inherently dangerous because they seek NATO membership to protect their achievements and thereby challenge the legitimacy of the Putin model of autocratic governance and the Russian model of imposed security.

BOSNIA’S GROWING VOLATILITY

Janusz Bugajski, October 2018

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a politically frozen state veering toward further ethnic division. In the recent general elections all three main nationalist formations that have dominated the country’s political institutions were re-elected. The results indicate that Bosnia’s administration will remain gridlocked and the country paralyzed in its aspirations toward EU membership. However, after each election cycle the status quo becomes less sustainable and post-election politics are likely to witness growing radicalization and instability.

Bosnians elected a new state parliament, assemblies in the two entities, ten cantonal assemblies within the federation entity, and a three-member state presidency. Milorad Dodik, head of Alliance of Independent Social Democrats,won the Serbian seat in Bosnia’s presidency and Šefik Džaferović from the ruling Party of Democratic Action gained the Muslim seat. Željko Komšić won the Croatian seat to the national presidency but Bosnian Croat seats in parliament will again be led by the Croatian Democratic Union.

Even in the most optimistic scenario, the formation of new governments at entity and central levels will take prolonged negotiations. In the federation entity there is currently no legal basis for the election of a new House of Peoples, as the approval of a key election law has stalled. In addition, Croatian leaders complain that Bosniak Muslims upended the 1995 Dayton accords by voting across ethnic lines to elect Komšić to the presidencyand defeat Dragan Čović, the CDU candidate. This will contribute to immobilizing the federation and central governments.

At a more fundamental level, Bosnia’s ethnic politics disguises failed reforms, economic decline, and social despair. The country’s infrastructure is deteriorating, the healthcare system is collapsing, education and welfare are threadbare, and the legal system remains deeply corrupt. The country has Europe’s highest unemployment rate of 25% with over 54% of young people out of work. The country faces a demographic crisis through a combination of low birth rates, high mortality, and growing emigration.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a multi-ethnic country but an association of ethnic fiefdoms, in which national parties maintain divisions in order to control their citizens and protect their spoils. Politicians have been stoking fears of armed conflict since the end of the last war and claim to be protectors of national interests in order to divert attention from deep-rooted corruption and economic failure. Politicians seeking a more cohesive state that guarantees equal citizenship regardless of ethnicity have limited support.

Numerous initiatives for constitutional changes to amend Dayton and eliminate entity vetoes and ethnic voting have failed. Dayton was not designed to construct an integrated state with an effective central government. Instead, it created a complex administrative structure in which ethnic balancing predominates and layers of governmental bureaucracy ensures inefficiency and budgetary burdens. This system has obstructed effective decision-making and Bosnia’s progress.

Ethno-politics and patronage networks stymie the development of state citizenship, programmatic pluralism, individual rights, and a competitive democracy. In this climate of state paralysis,the Serbian entity has steadily moved from autonomy toward sovereignty and its President Milorad Dodik, with Moscow’s financial and political support, has raised the prospect of separation and unification with Serbia. Dodik is likely to be encouraged by the election results to push for further RS autonomy. He also plans to benefit from the partition debate revolving around Kosova.

Dodik’s relative success has tempted some Bosnian Croat politicians to call for a third entity and the partition of the Bosnian Federation. Meanwhile, Bosniak Muslim leaders warn about a renewed war as they are committed to defending Bosnia’s territorial and constitutional integrity. However, politicians from the other two ethnicities view any further centralization as a pretext for reducing their national status.

EU leaders have proved inadequate in resolving Bosnia’s predicament. Despite several Balkan summits, the country has achieved only limited moves toward accession. Summits in Sofia, Brussels, and London over the summer produced vague commitments to speed up the process of integration at some indeterminate time after the European Parliament elections in May 2019. In reality, EU preoccupations with populism, migration, and Brexit means that there is little appetite for further enlargement.

The evaporation of a visible EU perspective contributes to stirring nationalist and separatist sentiments, as frustration and resentment invariably assume an ethnic dimension. The EU is also blamed for failing to push through constitutional and political reform. As long as there is no violence, Brussels appears content to keep Bosnia-Herzegovina in a limbo and actually benefits from the political paralysis because it keeps the country at arms length from membership.

However, the durability of Bosnia’s status quo may prove deceptive. During each election cycle, economic decline, ethnic division, state bankruptcy, and social desperation further exacerbate nationalist radicalization. Ethno-nationalist leaders who have in effect divided the country between them will have fewer resources to offer citizens. This can exacerbate turf battles in which a unified government will prove even more difficult to forge and the separatist option will become more appealing. In this acrimonious climate, armed conflicts can again be provoked and may ultimately prove the only way to break the stifling deadlock.

MACEDONIA IN THE BALANCE

Janusz Bugajski, October 2018

Macedonia stands on the verge of political decisions that will impact on its long-term stability, security, and integrity. The lowvoter turnout in a referendum on changing the country’s name has threatened the agreement with Greece that promised to open doors to NATO and EU membership. And if such prospects disappear the country will be increasingly exposed to ethnic radicalization,regional instability, and Moscow’s interference.

According to the Prespa accords signed between Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in June 2018, the government in Skopje agreed to rename the country as the Republic of North Macedonia. Simultaneously, the name of the language as “Macedonian” was retained and the nationality was defined as “Macedonian/Citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia.” Skopje made one key compromise by agreeing to alter the constitution so that the appellation “Republic of North Macedonia” can be used both internationally and domestically.

To come into force, the Prespa agreement needs to be ratified by the Macedonian and Greek parliaments.The referendum in Macedonia was intended as thefirst step in this process and its validity depended on a 50% turnout and a majority “yes” vote. However, although 91% of those that voted approved the name change, just under 37% of the electorate actually cast their ballots, with the highest turnout in Albanian majority areas.

Even though the referendum was only “consultative,” Zaev did not receive the broad popular mandate to push the Prespa agreement through parliament. Thegovernment coalition holds a slender parliamentary majority with 69 out of 120 lawmakers – eleven short of thetwo-thirds needed to enact constitutional amendments in altering the country’s name.

Following the referendum, Zaev entered into urgent negotiations with the VMRO opposition. However, given the polarized political environment VMRO seems unlikely to back the government.VMRO leader Hristijan Mickoski declared that the referendum failed and that the Prespa agreement was rejected by a majority of Macedonians.Zaev’s only recourse will be to call for early elections in late November to increase his majority, although this itself is a risky proposition given that nationalists will be emboldened by the referendum boycott.

The clock is ticking on Skopje’s decision. A new parliamentary majority will need several weeks to pass the required constitutional changes, and this must be accomplished before Greece starts its own election campaign in the Spring of 2019. Greek parliamentary ratification of the Prespa deal cannot be guaranteed if the Tsipras leftists lose the next elections. Indeed, the entire agreement could then be rejected by Athens.

Many Macedonians claim that the Prespa agreement will eliminate their identity and language despite the fact that many nations have had geographical appellations in the name of the state without weakening their ethnic identity. Paradoxically, it is Macedonian insecurities about their future that could propel the country toward a new crisis in which three potentially negative elements may converge.

First, Macedonian nationalists will be bolstered by the shortcomings of the referendum. VMRO leaders, backed by President Gjorge Ivanov, who called for a boycott of the referendum,are likely to claim that any parliamentary vote on constitutional changes is invalid. Some politicians will assert that the majority of Macedonians abstained from the ballot and that Albanians should not determine the country’s name. Such assertions will intensify inter-ethnic tensions.

Second, the Albanian population will become increasingly frustrated with Macedonia’s blocked path toward NATO and the EU if the Prespa accords fail to be ratified. While many Slavic Macedonians believe that membership in either institution may not be essential, for Albanians NATO accession in particular is viewed as an existential imperative.Albanian disillusionment could fuel more militant demands for federalization or territorial autonomy.

Moreover, with the partition debate raging in Kosova and Serbia, neighboring Macedonia could be drawn into the calculations. If Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosova President Hashim Thaci reach an agreement on border changes, some Albanian leaders in both Kosova and Macedonia may see a chance for further ethnic homogenization by attaching territory from Macedonia to Kosova.

And third, nationalism, separatism, and irredentism will leave Macedonia more vulnerable to Russia’s influences. Moscow relishes the prospect of a rump anti-Western Macedonian state lodged in the middle of the Balkans that will assist the Kremlin’s strategic thrust against NATO and the EU. Moscow may calculate that Macedonia could evolve into a second Republika Srpska– the Bosnian entity that is increasingly beholden to Russian money and influence.

A combination of these three factors would also unsettle the wider region. Macedonia’s blocked path toward Western institutions and growing ethnic polarization will raise calls for national self-defense in several neighboring countries and increase tensions between majorities and minorities. It will also energize the Kremlin and its local nationalist supporters to unravel the region’s fragile democratic achievements and benefit from the ensuing disarray. Meanwhile, prospects for both NATO and EU accession in the Western Balkans will further recede.

BRITAIN’S ISOLATIONISM

Janusz Bugajski, October 2018

As the United Kingdom approaches its Brexit deadline, the country remains stuck between past and future. With a divided Conservative Party and a neo-Marxist Labor Party poised for new elections, the country has entered a period of deep uncertainty that may threaten its trans-Atlantic commitments.

Since the referendum on leaving the EU in June 2016, Britain has plunged into a Brexit debacle. Despite months of intensive domestic debate and sporadic EU negotiations, London is no nearer in reaching an exit agreement that would satisfy both sides. London has until 29 March 2019 to finalize its plans but negotiations are at a standstill.If the UK receives a bad deal or no deal at all, the Labour Party will exploit the public outrage to push for early general elections.

The British government cannot decide whether it wants a hard or soft Brexit, or what elements from both options. A hard Brexit would entail a comprehensive economic break with the EU to escape Union regulations and tariffs. This would mean leaving both the single market and the customs union. Supporters claim that they are willing to sacrifice short-term disruption and even the high initial economic costs, because Britain will evidently gain longer-term gains through better regulations and beneficial free-trade deals outside Europe.

In contrast, a soft Brexit means maintaining Britain’s close economic alignment with the EU. The goal would be to minimize any disruption to trade and business sparked by abandoning EU regulations. A soft Brexit would include remaining within both the EU’s single market (similar to Norway) and the customs union (much like Turkey). Soft Brexiteers are even willing to be bound by EU rules and tariffs even though London will lose any say in deciding them. They contend that high barriers to commerce with the EU, Britain’s most important trading partner, will substantially depress the economy.

Prime Minister Theresa May has in principle agreed to a multi-year transition during which Britain will continue to be bound by all EU rules. To guarantee that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland, a province of the UK, and the Irish Republic, an EU member, she accepted that Britain must stay in a customs union and maintain EU regulations until another formula is found.

Unfortunately, May heads a weak and often divided Conservative government that finds it difficult to push any decisions through parliament. This uncertainty is fuelling economic stagnation, with the Bank of Englandwarning about the dire consequences of a hard Brexit to major financial institutions in the City of London. The delay is also undermining investor confidence in the country and some large multinationals may sooner or later decide to abandon the UK.

Unless the Conservatives can unite and win over the electorate, lurking in the background is the revived specter of Marxist socialism. At the recent Labour Party conference, its leader Jeremy Corbyn announced plans to reconstruct a hard socialist United Kingdom. And Labour’s opportunities will likely expand if the May government cannot negotiate a profitable Brexit deal and if there is substantial economic decline.

Labour leaders believe that the shock of Brexit will raise support for a change of government with radically different policies. Some are actually hoping for chaos and decline in the immediate aftermath of Brexit. According to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, “the greater the mess we inherit, the more radical we have to be, the greater the need for change to shift the balance of power.” While many voters currently view Labour as too militant, an economic jolt after leaving the EU may sway an increasing number to accept radical solutions.

In the economic arena, Corbyn wants to heavily tax the rich and large businesses, to renationalize utilities and transportation, and to vastly increase government spending on social services. In the midst of Brexit, this sounds like a recipe for economic disaster, as business will be stifled, international investors will avoid the country, and workers from the EU will no longer be available to perform menial jobs.

The prospects of a Labour triumph in early elections have already set off alarm bells in Washington. Corbyn is staunchly opposed to NATO, supports Marxist regimes in Latin America, is vehemently anti-Israeli, aims to swiftly recognize a Palestinian state, and wants to abandon Britain’s nuclear weapons. Such policies would be even more damaging to the country than Brexit, as the “special” security and military relationship with the US could be jeopardized. Under a Corbyn government, the close economic relationship with the US could also unwind.

A British swing from populism to socialism could also be a warning for the future of Europe. Just as right-wing populists seek to assist their counterparts in neighboring states, Labour may want to return to a Europe that starts to swing leftward. And before the March 2019 deadline, Labour will demand a general election if parliament rejects whatever deal May negotiates with Brussels, or if no Brexit agreement is reached. Even a second referendum on the terms for leaving the EU cannot be discounted.

RUSSIA’S DEFEATS

Janusz Bugajski, September 2018

An integral part of Russia’s state propaganda is to create an aura of invincibility and inevitability in its foreign policy. This is reminiscent of claims about the irresistible success of world communism in a previous era. But reality is less sanguine, as the Kremlin’s covert war against the West is experiencing an escalating number of defeats that weaken its expansionist ambitions.

Moscow relishes reports about its role in undermining Western states by corrupting politicians, championing populists, and propagating informational havoc. Even while President Vladimir Putin brazenly denies involvement in the US elections, Russian officials take pride in penetrating the domestic politics of their main adversary. Such achievements propel the perception that Russia remains a great power and must be treated as an equal by Washington.

The Kremlin welcomes accusations of successful interference but hides failures that expose its incompetence. An important weapon in the Western arsenal is to loudly trumpet Moscow’s defeats. The most notable Kremlin failures have included the coup fiasco plotted by Russian intelligence officers in Montenegro and the inability to keep Montenegro out of NATO; failure to intimidate the Baltic states and Poland from reinforcing NATO’s military capabilities; Ukraine’s decision to abandon its “non-bloc” status and petition for NATO membership; and Moscow’s botched efforts to cower Tbilisi from seeking NATO accession despite its occupation of Georgian territory,

However, the most monumental Putin debacle has been the impending loss of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the Universal Patriarch of Orthodox Christianity, is preparing to rule in favor of the UOC gaining autocephaly or independence from the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). This is a defeat of biblical proportions for Moscow whose Orthodox Patriarch collaborates with the Kremlin to preserve and expand the “Russian world.” Moscow not only loses an important tool of influence in Ukraine but it will also forfeit a fundamental yet fraudulent claim to dominate the eastern Slavic world.

The independence of its Orthodox Church signifies universal recognition that Ukraine’s history and identity predate that of Russia. The UOC is older than the ROC, tracing its origins back to 9thcentury Kyivan Rus, but its heritage has been appropriated by Moscow through generations of disinformation. Western observers who assert that Kyiv is the historic cradle of Russia and its Orthodox Church are simply parroting Moscow’s imperial propaganda.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is acknowledged as the sole descendant in Ukraine of the metropolis of Kyivan Rus within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople established in Kyiv in the 10thcentury. At that time, there was no “Russian” nation, state, or church, and Moscow was merely a peripheral town in the Kyivan federation. Although the ROC professes ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Ukraine, this claim was imposed through the imperial expansion of the Grand Duchy of Moscow since the 15thcentury and the subjugation of neighbors. Patriarch Bartholomewhas now reaffirmed that Ukraine was never a legitimate part of Moscow’s canonical territory.

Ukraine has been seeking autocephaly since it regained statehood from the Soviet Union in 1990. Ukraine’s Metropolitan Filaret broke with the ROC to establish the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP). The ROC renamed its exarchate in Ukraine as the UOC – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP),thus creating two competing churches, with the UOC-MP loyal to Moscow and the UOC-KP loyal to Kyiv. In future, there will be one legitimate and independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Russia’s Orthodox hierarchy have disparaged the existence of a separateUkrainian nation and state. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Orthodox clergy faithful to Moscow have taken the side of the occupier, welcomed the theft of Crimea, and blessed Russian mercenaries fighting in Donbas. In stark contrast, the revived Ukrainian Orthodox Church will help consolidate the country’s statehood, identity, and integrity.

Ukraine and Russia possess approximately the same number of Orthodox parishes and following Constantinople’s decision the Moscow Patriarchate will lose about half of its congregation to Kyiv. The ROC will no longer be the world’s largest Orthodox Church and its retaliatory moves in severing diplomatic relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople will further isolate Russia.

Additional Kremlin defeats are looming on the horizon and should be widely publicized to demonstrate that Russia’s rollback is gaining momentum. The Belarusian Orthodox Church is likely to be next in line for autocephaly; Macedonia will join NATO once it can confirm through a referendum its name agreement with Greece; Ukraine and Georgia will develop closer ties with NATO and the US military; and NATO’s eastern front will continue to be reinforced despite Moscow’s threats.

The Russian state is significantly weaker than its exaggerated assertions, even while it continues to test Western resolve through subterfuge and subversion. Growing realization that Russia is suffering serial defeats on the international arena, coupled with the grinding decline in living standards, is more likely to turn citizens against the Putin regime than any promises of freedom and democracy. Putin himself may well be remembered in history as the Moscow ruler who presided over the final collapse of the Russian empire.

POPULIST ATLANTICISM

Janusz Bugajski, September 2018

Steve Bannon, the architect of Donald Trump’s election victory, has launched a campaign to foment ultra-right populism in Europe. In a populist version of trans-Atlanticism, Bannon has established a foundation known as the Movement to assist the radical right in gaining power and is scouring Europe from Scandinavia to the Balkans to enlist parties to promote his cause.

Bannon’s form of nationalist populism tactically avoids openly racist and neo-Nazi rhetoric, although it seeks to benefit from white supremacism and ethnic xenophobia. Instead, its core message boils down to three “antis”– anti-establishment, anti-immigrant, and anti-Islamic – while its three policy anchors consist of social conservatism, economic nationalism, and cultural homogeneity. This form of populism exploits continuing economic, social, and cultural insecurities even though the inflow of refugees in Europe has substantially declined in the past year.

Although Bannon wasousted from the White House by the President’s chief of staff, he continues to cast himself as the guardian of Trump’s populist movement in an enduring struggle with “globalists” espousing free trade and open borders.He is challenging George Soros and his liberal “open society” initiative with a conservative “closed society” alternative. Bannon seeks to raise billions of dollars to match the $32 billion that Soros is estimated to have spent on largely liberal causes during the past thirty years.

Headquartered in Brussels, Bannon’s Movement is designed to spearhead a right-wing populist revolt across the continent starting with the European Parliament elections in May 2019. The Movement will be a central source of opinion polling, advice on campaign messaging, think-tank research, and data-led voter targeting. Until now, most populist groups have suffered from a lack of expertise and finances, thus increasing their reliance on money from Russian sources. Bannon believes that Europe’s populist groupsare not sufficiently pooling their skills and ideas and urgently need a guiding hand from America.

Bannon plans to spend half of his time in Europe, mostly touring and establishing contacts rather than at the Brussels office, once the mid-term congressional elections in the US are over in early November. The entire operation is also supposed to serve as a link between Europe’s rightists and the pro-Trump Freedom Caucus in the US Congress. Several congressmen have already assisted Bannon in his European venture and will help him in raising substantial funds.

In recent months, Bannon has held talks with right-wing leaders across the continent including the main Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, members of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Although Bannon claims not to enlist ethno-nationalists, in reality parties such as the Sweden Democrats, True Finns, the People’s Party of Belgium, the Dutch Party of Freedom, the Danish People’s Party, the Swiss People’s Party, the English Defense League, and the Alternative for Germany are either openly or covertly white supremacist.

Inside the EU, Bannon hopes to widen opposition to the EU project and eventually to dismember it. He envisions a rightist “supergroup” within the European Parliament that will attract a third of lawmakers after next year’s elections. Such a unified populist bloc would then be in a position to disrupt or paralyze parliamentary proceedings.

Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister and leader of the anti-immigrant party, the League, recently joined the Movement to help Bannon spread Europe-wide populism. This provides more legitimacy to the initiative and will encourage other Euroskeptic and populist politicians to join. Salvini has become a populist hero for his determination in turning away shipwrecked migrants from North Africa and the Middle East.

Outside the EU, Bannon is courting parties and governments with strong nationalist sentiments and opposed to Union membership. Chief among them is the regime in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska, which can assist European populists in halting further EU enlargement. Bannon also calculates that Banja Luka is anti-Muslim and sees itself as a defender of the Christian world.

In July, Bannon hosted Prime Minister Željka Cvijanović at his home in Washington. Other former and current Trump staffers including Corey Lewandowski and Kellyanne Conway also met with the premier. Two former Trump campaign aides have established a lobbying group for Cvijanović’s party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), regardless of the fact that Milorad Dodik, the party’s leader and RS President, has been targeted by US sanctions for promoting ethnic conflict. Bannon is looking at other possible candidates for his movement and will no doubt be visiting the Balkans and other regions on a more regular basis.

Propaganda forms a vital part of the populist arsenal and the Breitbart media network, Bannon’s former flagship, is also expanding its reach in Europe after opening an office in London. Any country is exploitable where there is public opposition to EU regulations, unemployment is high, immigrants are resented, and Islam is viewed with hostility. The London outlet focuses on the threat of rising immigration and the alleged menace of Islamic fundamentalism in order to boost populist right-wing parties across Europe. Breitbart will be helping The Movement to reach vulnerable European societies through various outlets including the social media.

THE TRUMP DOCTRINE

Janusz Bugajski, September 2018

Donald Trump is an unconventional President and no one has been able to define Trump’s foreign policy doctrine. In practice, it consists of basic contradictions that keep both US allies and adversaries off balance. Three sets of contradictions are evident in Trump’s strategy, if one can actually define his moves as strategic. They revolve around White House statements, appointments, and policies.

During the presidential election campaign and soon after he took office, Trump displayed little enthusiasm for foreign policy and it was several months before he actually ventured abroad. Even the Trump campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” a rallying cry taken from Ronald Reagan’s campaign in the 1980s, could be interpreted in two ways.  – America as world leader or an isolationist America.

The populists and nationalists who surrounded Trump during the campaign were opposed to any US involvement in foreign wars or in providing protection to America’s allies. They pushed for a fast military withdrawal from the Middle East and Afghanistan, a reduction in commitments to NATO, and the downsizing of troop numbers in South Korea and Japan. They argued that American military bases abroad were too costly and did not directly benefit the homeland.

While in office, Trump has engaged in antithetical behavior – both bullying and fawning to various world leaders. The President has berated US allies in displays of machismo at the cost of undermining trust in American leadership and raising anti-Americanism in Europe and other vital regions. At the same time, Trump has praised dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and even Kim Song Un, evidently in admiration of their toughness and ability to quash any opposition.

A second arena of Trump’s contradictions are evident in his cabinet appointments, especially in national security. There are enormous incongruities between some of his close advisors and members of his national security team. Trump brought with him into the White House several radical populists and self-proclaimed economic nationalists such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. Fortunately, he listened to the advice of seasoned Republicans rather than isolationist and populists in appointing internationalists and Atlanticists to key government positions, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Trump’s contradictions are most visible in significant foreign policy decisions where his diatribes have often been played down or ignored by his cabinet. Hence, Trump may complain about NATO’s relevance but his appointees pursue Alliance enhancement along the Eastern flank and enlargement in the Balkans. Trump may lavish praise on Putin while his cabinet and Congress ratchet up financial sanctions against Russia’s elite and help arm the Ukrainian and Georgian militaries.

In assessing the pursuit of policy it is worth remembering that Trump has a background in entertainment and “reality television” in which showmanship and imagery prevail over substance. Not surprisingly, his foreign policy moves often follow a television script in which Trump seeks popularity, praise, and favorable media coverage rather than substantive results.

Secretary Pompeo has learned to cater to Trump’s ego by devising policies that the President can herald as a success even if little is actually accomplished. North Korea serves as a valuable example, in which the Singapore Summit with Kim Jong Un in June was trumpeted as a major breakthrough for world peace. In stark reality, however, Pyongyang continues to pursue its nuclear weapons program despite Trump’s claims. Although little has changed, Trump depicts himself as a winner and his core supporters believes he is a great statesman who should be awarded the Nobel peace prize.

International trade is another arena where Trump claims victories without any real evidence. The President asserts that previous free trade agreements have damaged the American economy and that winning trade wars was easy for Washington. In reality, escalating trade wars between the US and China, Canada, and Europe will hurt much of Trump’s agricultural and manufacturing base and damage a number of US companies. Although the White House claims a booming economy because of Trump’s policies, the jobs that have been created in recent months are either in the low paying service sector or are concentrated mostly in the states that voted for Hilary Clinton.

Trump’s cabinet is often engaged in damage control in dealing with NATO allies and other international partners who are worried by Trump’s pronouncements. While publicly praising his foreign policy successes, they also try to distract the President so he does not make any rash and destabilizing decisions. They encourage almost weekly campaign-style rallies with his ardent supporters to help vent some of Trump’s anger and they do not try to stop his daily tweet attacks against assorted enemies. At the same time, they uphold regular contacts with allies to help reassure them.

Despite all these safeguards, the fear remains that at some point, probably during a major international dispute, Trump will precipitate a major crisis. His contradictions will either paralyze policy or an impetuous decision by the President will bypass his cabinet, escalate the conflict, and even trigger an unexpected war.

 

THE IMPEACHMENT GUILLOTINE

Janusz Bugajski, August 2018

The threat of impeachment is hanging over President Donald Trump. New revelations from formerly loyal allies place Trump in serious jeopardy even though there is little agreement on how to legally remove a President. However, according to the Constitution, the one clear possibility is impeachment by the US Congress.

Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has testified as part of a guilty plea agreement that on the eve of the 2016 elections Trump directed him to hide payments to two women – a porn actress and an ex-Playboy model. This was a deliberate move to keep information about extramarital affairs out of the media, as this may have been harmful to Trump and influenced the elections. Such a cover-up is a violation of campaign finance laws and subject to criminal prosecution.

Simultaneously, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of various financial crimes and faces another trial in September on his connections with Russian oligarchs.Manafort may also cooperate with special counsel’s Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign either to avoid anothertrial or have his sentence reduced.

Even more disturbingly for Trump, Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, was granted immunity to help prosecutors in their investigations of the President. Weisselberg has been with the Trump family for decades and knows all the details about potential financial crimes.

In the midst of growing scandals for Trump, a debate is raging in the legal community whether a sitting President can be indicted. The consensus is that Mueller will not push for an indictment but will abide by Justice Department regulations. While he is President, Trumpis unlikely to be charged or convicted of any crime. Nonetheless, he can be impeached—and impeachment is a political process.

The House of Representatives would initiate impeachment if it suspects the President is guilty of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” A simple 51% majority is then needed to conduct a trial in the Senate. If two thirds of Senators find him guilty he is removed from office and the Vice President replaces him.

At some point in the next few months, Mueller will release the findings of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. It will help reveal whether there was a conspiracy between Moscowand the Trump campaign, and whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to stifle the investigation. Without indicting the President, Mueller will simply let the report speak for itself and leave it to the political process for further action.

Without sufficient proof of Trump’s wrongdoing, Democrats have been reluctant to campaign about impeachment. However, recent developments will certainly place the issue on the ballot in mid-term congressional elections on 6thNovember. Control of Congress has now become crucial for Trump’s future, as Republican dominance could crumble. Even Trump’s strategist and confidant Steve Bannon has asserted that that the November vote will be a referendum on impeachment.

If Democrats win the House of Representatives, where they only need to capture 24 more seats, they are certain to proceed with impeachment proceedings. The Senate is likely to remain in Republican hands and no one can be sure how many Republicans will renounce Trump. However, the more House seats the Democrats gain in November, the more likely that moderate Republicans will favor impeachment.

While Democrats have benefited from recent developments as indisputable evidence of deep corruption in Trump’s inner circle, Republicans have remained cautious. Even so, they are warning Trump against trying to sack Muelleror Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who hired Mueller to conduct the Russia probe. As there is little trust in the President, Democrats have prepared a plan of rapid reaction if Mueller is sacked, including congressional initiatives and protests around the country.

Their primary concern would be to prevent the Special Counsel’s documents from being destroyed or his team of investigators disbanded. Democrats would demand a Senate vote on a bill protecting Mueller and his materials. In both the House and Senate, sympathetic Republicans would be included who have signaled privately that they would proceed with impeachment if Trump repeats President Richard Nixon’s scenario of sacking justice officials.

The firing of Mueller would be seen as a public admission of guilt by Trump. In numerous cities across the US, hundreds of rallies would be quickly organized. Over 350,000 people have already signed a petition online to attend the marches but the number of protestors is likely to rapidly grow once Trump acts.

Trump is becoming more desperate to defend his presidency, as each day brings new allegations and fresh evidence against him. In appealing to his voter base, Trump even warned that impeachment would damage the economy, as the market would crash and “everybody would be very poor.” In reality, if Trump is replaced by Vice President Mike Pence the market is likely to stabilize as domestic political volatility would be significantly reduced.

 

AMERICA’S MEDIA WARS

Janusz Bugajski, August 2018

President Donald Trump has declared the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people” – a phrase taken from Stalin’s Soviet Union. While his objective is to convince people that he is innocent in any criminal investigations reported by the media, his attacks continuously erode public trust in informational objectivity.

Since assuming office in January 2017, Trump has berated much of the media for manufacturing “fake news.” He has triedto depict mainstream television channels such as CNN and ABC as propaganda arms of the Democratic Party. In some tweets he has even accused the media of being the “opposition party” because of their coverage of the FBI investigations into his alleged conspiracy with Moscow to win the 2016 elections.

Trump’s criticisms rarely point to any genuine inaccuracies in media coverage. Instead, his strategy is to dismiss all negative news as fraudulent and dishonest. He has threatened to deny credentials to reporters. In one recent example, the White House banned CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from covering an open press event because she shouted questions about Trump’s relationship with his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is poised to testify against him.

Animosity towards the press is growing as the FBI investigation intensifies and new revelations are expected about Trump’s alleged collaboration with Russia and obstruction of justice. The President has encouraged crowds at his rallies to jeer and shout insults at reporters. News organizations have started to hire private security personnel to protect their reporters from attendees who often hurl insults and may be tempted to physically assault them.

Trump has inspired physical threats against journalists by accusing reporters of being “dangerous and sick” and for causing “great division and distrust.” The New York Times, a common target for Trump’s attacks on the press, has declared that while it is fair to criticize the news media for its coverage, attacking reporters is dangerous.In response, Trump actually intensified his attacks, declaring on Twitter that the media is “unpatriotic” and “can also cause war.”

Trump also benefits from his ownmedia. In addition to various ultra-right internet and radio channels that support the President regardless of his actions, Fox television has become the main pro-presidential channel. Several Fox shows, watched predominantly by  Republicans and conservatives, focus on clearing Trump of any wrongdoing and attacking his opponents. They seek to discredit the FBI probe and to paint Trump’s critics as lying Democrats. Such partisan simplifications actually help foreign adversaries to penetrate US politics and widen divisions in American society.

The response of most of the media to Trump’s attacks has been largely defensive but could also be counter-productive. More than 350 news outlets published editorials on 16 August denouncing the president’s threats against the press. The list of outlets with editorials refuting Trump’s claims that the press is “the enemy of the people” ranged from major newspapers such as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Chicago Tribune to small town outlets. The Boston Globe’s editorial asserted that a state-run media is the “first order of business for any corrupt regime taking over a country.”

The overall message was that an independent media ensures a free society. Although such sentiments are indisputable, the  coordinated editorial response could well backfire. It will enable Trump to argue that there exists a broad national media cabal that works with Democrats to destroy his presidency and thwart the will of the American people.

As a result of the polarization and partisanship in American politics, opinion polls indicate that a majority of citizens across the ideological spectrum believe that the media is full of “fake news” if it does not reflect their views. A large number also find it hard to discern fact from fiction in the internet and social media. Media outlets are partly responsible because in the current programing format they often fail to distinguish between news and opinion. Indeed, there are more programs with partisan panelists and politicians than with credible impartial analysts.

With a growing proportion of the public no longer trusting any media outlets, the information space is open to various sources on the internet posing as genuine media. These range from radical conspiracy theorists to foreign sources injecting fraudulent stories into the social media and creating “informational chaos.” In seeking “balance” consumers may lose track of objectivity. The two are not synonymous because the truth does not always lie “somewhere in the middle.” For instance, how can you reconcile evidence that the earth is a sphere with the flat earth theories?

The politicization of the media is symptomatic of a much wider American problem in which every institution is now viewed as being partisan. This not only includes Congress and the White House, but even the justice department, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement bodies are widely believed to have a political agenda. Trump’s paranoid defense of his presidency is thereby eroding the foundations of democratic consensus.

TRUMP CHALLENGES AMERICA’S SELF-IMAGE

Janusz Bugajski, August 2018

Donald Trump’s supporters are challenging the principles of American national identity and the country’s fundamental self-image. The President’s core followers and a large part of his Republican base not only define themselves as anti-liberal, they may also favor an authoritarian political system.

American self-identity revolves around the noble notions of freedom and liberty, as enshrined in the words of the national anthem. Gaining independence from the British Empire in the 18thcentury supposedly demonstrated that all citizens were committed to maintaining their liberties and the Republic was based on democratic not monarchical principles. Every administration in the modern era has declared and reinforced this self-perception of what it means to be American.

Unfortunately, such self-images have been taken for granted even while the state of the US educational system has declined, political polarization and ideological radicalism has accelerated, and new leaders have come to the forefront willing to exploit and exacerbate persistent divisions in American society. Trump is the most successful example of this phenomenon by questioning three core principles: multi-culturalism, constitutionality, and national security.

The United States is the classic land of immigrants and has prided itself as a multi-cultural “melting pot” in which all ethnicities and religions can blend and aspire to achieve the “American Dream” of success and prosperity. In stark contrast, Trump’s White House has made it a priority to limit immigration, both illegal and legal, especially from Third World countries.

This anti-immigration campaign is undergirded by racist messages, disparaging Latinos, Muslims, and black Africans in particular. The election of Barack Obama was supposed to demonstrate that the US had evolved into a fully open society where even a black man could become President. It now transpires that such views are not shared by all citizens and Trump has tapped into an undercurrent of prejudice and xenophobia that is more pervasive than many believed. By using racist bigotry to explain economic hardship Trump consolidated a substantial share of the electorate that looks to him for salvation.

Another segment of the electorate that has supported Trump are evangelical Christian whites who view him as a messianic figure who will reverse the liberalism of modern society. In a display of high hypocrisy, evangelical leaders do not criticize Trump’s amoral life-style as long as he can appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court and roll back abortion rights, LGBTI equality, and other libertarian achievements.

New opinion polls are now needed among Trump voters to assess the extent of their disillusionment with democracy itself. Trump’s attacks on the free media, the independent judiciary, and law enforcement bodies investigating his ties with Moscow resonate among his base. Many believe that a “deep state” exists in Washington that is determined to thwart the President. Much of the public also seems willing to overlook the growing web of corruption aroundTrump, involving family members, cabinet officials,congresspeople, and presidential allies. Whereas in the past a single financial scandal could end a politician’s career,inthe Trump era the multiplicity of daily controversies overwhelms citizens and news cycles.

The question now rising is whether a majority of Trumpvoters would actuallysupportan authoritarian structureheaded by the President. Opinion polls need tofocus oncontroversial questions about America’s constitution and political system. For instance,should the Presidency be strengthened and the role of Congress and the Judiciaryreduced? Many Trump supporters complain that the President is being obstructed by Congress in pursuing his campaign promises and that the justice department is investigating him on spurious grounds.

Several other polling questions could be revelational.For example, what is more important for citizens- democracy or economy? Is the democratic system that ensuresequal rightsdiluting Americanculture and identity? Such questions would certainlyappeal to Trump’s baseand may exposethat a substantial segment of the population has no enduring commitment to democracy.

Equally important, American patriotism is often defined as a commitment to a strong national defense in which America’s chief adversaries are successfully confronted and defeated. For instance, the Cold War is depicted as a decisive era in defending the US from a hostile Soviet Union. However, Trump’s propagandists are currently undermining national security by claiming that Russia is no longer an adversary and Moscow’s interference in the US presidential elections is irrelevant.

New polls demonstrate that amajority of Trump voters would continue to support him even if he collaboratedwith Russian agencies. 77% believe that he should remain in office even ifthe FBI uncoversthat his election campaign conspired withRussia’s intelligence services. WhenDemocrats and independents are factored into the results, 37% of all voters believethatTrump should notbe removedregardless of his tieswith Moscow.Such stark statistics indicate that the core principles of American sovereignty and security have not beenunderstoodor accepted by a sizeable number of citizens.

PERILS OF PARTITION

Janusz Bugajski, August 2018

In recent weeks a new specter is haunting the Balkans – the specter of partition. After several provocative statements by Serbian and Kosovar politicians and silence from the US administration, suppositions are growing that a territorial exchange is being planned between Belgrade and Prishtina.

Kosova’s President Hashim Thaci asserted that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue will include talks on “the correction of borders” – a term that implies the exchange of territory and not simply demarcation agreements as with Montenegro. His Serb counterparts have repeatedly put forward the territorial option to normalize relations between the two states but thus far the issue has not been seriously considered.

In a move that inflames rumors of secret exchanges, Thaci has stated that talks with Belgrade should consider the unification with Kosova of the Presevo Valley, a part of southern Serbia with a majority Albanian population. Thaci clearly wants to bring Presevo into the discussion and not be faced with a unilateral surrender of northern Kosova.

Until now, Washington and Brussels have opposed any border changes, viewing such moves as too precarious in a still volatile region. Rumors are now growing that the Trump administration may overrule the State Department in an effort to resolve the Serbia-Kosova dispute, but without carefully evaluating the consequences.

In a recent media interview, the US ambassador to Kosova, Greg Delawie, did not rule out territorial transactions, claiming that Washington would stand by any agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina. At the same time, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, claimed that he had discussed partition during his visit to Washington. Meanwhile, the State Department has remained silent, fuelling further speculation that the US has given up on integrating four northern municipalities inside Kosova.

In principle, territorial exchanges or partitions are nothing new, whether through post-war adjustments by the victorious parties or on the basis of democratic plebiscites or inter-governmental agreements. While Yugoslavia was partitioned through wars and elections, Moscow was unable to hold the Soviet Union together by either force or persuasion, and Czechoslovakia was amicably divided by the governments in Prague and Bratislava. In each case, however, the new units that emerged possessed federal status, clearborders, and elected governments. The potential division of Kosova would open a new principle – the division of states that emerged from the defunct federations.

Such a process would require at least four conditions to be realized peacefully. First, because only sovereign states can swap territory, Belgrade and Prishtina would need to recognize each other as independent countries and not block entry into international institutions. Second, popular approval in both states would need to be secured either through parliament or a public referendum. Third, international mediation would be needed to monitor and implement any territorial agreements. And fourth, the citizens affected by the land exchange would have to obtain the resources to relocate to the state of their choice.

But even if all these conditions were met, border changes in the Western Balkans are fraught with numerous perils. Above all, they would be interpreted throughout the region as legitimizing national homogenization. With the principle of multi-ethnicity jettisoned, demands for mono-ethnicity would escalate and potentially unravel several countries. Western institutions and NATO forces may find themselves woefully unprepared for the wave of instability that could then engulf the region.

In Kosova itself, the Serbian Orthodox Church would vehemently oppose any loss of territory especially as most Serb religious sites and over 60% of the Serbian population are not located in the northern municipalities. Nationalist Serbs and Albanians could incite violent protests in order to expel the other ethnicity from their assigned territories. And a similar process can be envisaged in the Presevo valley if a land swap is agreed.

The territorial exchange would also raise support in Kosova for unification with Albania. Such momentum could rapidly spread to Macedonia where at least a quarter of the population is Albanian. Threats to Macedonia’s territorial integrity would intensify nationalism, scuttle the name deal with Greece, and bring both Bulgaria and Albanian into the expanding conflict.

Meanwhile, the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina can demand the application of the Kosova precedent in order to join Serbia; the Croat population could petition for western Herzegovina to be absorbed by Croatia; and the Bosniak population would campaign for Serbia’s Muslim-majority Sandjak region to unite with Bosnia. Montenegro would also be caught in the middle of this maelstrom, with Bosniaks, Serbs, and Albanians all demanding slithers of the country in which they form local majorities. And all this is unlikely to occur in a peaceful political and political climate but would be peppered with violent incidents to prove that separation was necessary.

Although such a scenario sounds like a bonanza for the Kremlin in consolidating its own partition of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, it would be premature for Moscow to celebrate Kosova’s partition. The signal would be amplified that the Russian Federation, containing 85 federal units, may also be divided according to ethnic, religious, or regional principles. Paradoxically, Kosova’s partition could serve as a precedent for Russia’s potential partition.

UNRESOLVED CONFLICTS BENEFIT MOSCOW

Janusz Bugajski, July 2018

US support for the territorial integrity of all states threatened by neighbors is vital in upholding the principles of international security. Contrary to forecasts that Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula would be sacrificed to improve relations with Moscow, the Trump administration has underscored thatKremlin claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force contravenes international law.

The US position is an important policy principle that must be applied to Moscow’s other forceful territorial acquisitions. Whereas the capture of Crimea was a blatant form of direct and rapid annexation, in most cases Russia’s attacks on neighboring states have been cloaked as support for local autonomy or ethnic self-determination.

In reality, regardless of the professed status of the seceding territorial units, Moscow controls segments of three states — Ukraine (Donbas, Crimea, Sevastopol), Georgia (Abkhazia, South Ossetia), and Moldova (Transnistria). It also perpetuates Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory (Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other districts) and promotes separatism and inter-state disputes in the Western Balkans.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has actively engineered “frozen conflicts” and the maintenance of “frozen states” in order to paralyze the central governments and prevent countries from joining Western institutions. The Kremlin seeks international legitimacy for separatist enclaves that it has overtly or covertly sponsored and it acts as a mediator in avowedly resolving disputes that it does not want resolved. Moscowalso holds in reserve the prospect of reviving these armed conflicts and precipitating direct military intervention. Such a threatening posture is intended to convince Western governments to make compromises that favor Russia.

With its occupation of Transnistria and Donbas through surrogate forces that it recruits and equips, Moscow has been pushing its own version of federalism on to Moldova and Ukraine. In this scheme, the secessionist regions seek a confederal arrangement with the central government and veto powers over the country’s foreign and security policies, thus blocking their entry into Western institutions. Moscow also sends signals that it could recognize the separatist territories as independent if the governments in Kyiv and Chisinau pursue foreign and security policies that undermine Russia’s ambitions.

The Kremlin has taken a further step with Georgia by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. However, this may be a temporary arrangement, as the Putin government is closely integrating both entities into Russia’s economic and military structures and raises the prospect of absorption by the Russian Federation. In such an arrangement, South Ossetia would unite with North Ossetia in one federal unit and Abkhazia would become another federal subject.

In Moldova, Moscow is intensifying its pressures on Chisinau with the goal of federalizing the state. Washington needs to distance itself from representatives of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) in Moldova who continue to be duped by the Kremlin in backing a federal plan that will acknowledge the sovereignty of Transnistria and undercut Moldova’s pro-Western foreign policy. An inadequate Western response to the violent partition of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldovasimply encourages Moscow to continue this model of expansionism in other parts of the Wider Europe.

Western governments must also learn lessons from Nagorno-Karabakh, in which Russia is able to gain leverage over two states by exploiting and maintaining a conflict between them. By assisting Armenia in its occupation of Azerbaijan’s territory, Moscow has ensured Yerevan’s political and military dependence on Moscow. And by supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity it dangles the prospect of regaining Nagorno-Karabakh in order to pressure Baku to develop closer economic and political ties with Russia. If Yerevan moves westward, Moscow can cease supporting Karabakh separatism. If Baku moves westward, Moscow can recognize the partition of Azerbaijan. Russia is determined to obstruct any resolution of the conflict, as this would widen the road toward Western institutions for both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The Kremlin is also increasingly projecting its models of conflict into the Western Balkans, although with mixed results so far. It was unable to precipitate a crisis between Montenegro and Serbia over the independence of the former or to spark inter-ethnic collisions inside Montenegro through a violent coup in October 2016 designed to prevent Montenegro’s NATO entry.

Nonetheless, Moscow maintains at least three key pressure points. It seeks to perpetuate Macedonia as a “frozen state” by maintaining its conflict with Greece over the country’s name. Since the signing of the agreement between Athens and Skopje to resolve their dispute, Russian services have been pouring money into movements and media that can provoke anti-government demonstrations and abort the new accord.

Moscow remains active in blocking Kosova’s path into the UN and discourages Belgrade from forging any bilateral agreements with Prishtina. And in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Kremlin openly backs secessionist sentiments among leaders of the Serb Republic as the country gears up for national elections in October. To detect and thwart any destabilizing conspiracies, local and Western intelligence services must remain on high alert, particularly for any for violent provocations by Russian agencies and their proxies. 

CROATIA’S TRIUMPH

Janusz Bugajski, July 2018

I have been a football fanatic for almost my entire life and the World Cup is always the pinnacle of that passion. Croatia’s triumphal performance despite its defeat in the final is particularly emotional because it is a country with which I feel closely attached. As with the struggle for independence, Croatia has defeated all the doubters in its footballing achievements.

Even for many neutral supporters Croatia provided a breath of fresh air after the same teams have dominated the World Cup every four years. For much of the final match they were superior to France, controlled the midfield, and proved more creative in attack, but were ultimately defeated by two erroneous decisions by the referee.

Croatia is a small country with a big heart. Success in football is not only a question of individual skill, but of tactics, teamwork, determination, and perseverance through the pain barrier. The Croatian team demonstrated all these vital traits and each player should be rightly considered as a national hero.

Persistent claims by officials and commentators that politics and sport should not be mixed are wishful thinking and often hypocritical. One only needs to look at the history and tradition of any international competition. Sport is always political – why else do athletes compete under national flags, supporters wave national symbols, and everyone sings national anthems? As the most popular global game, football has become a primary marker of national identity.

Football clearly demonstrates that internationalism, unlike nationalism and state patriotism, does not stir genuine passion or commitment. On the contrary, it often has the reverse effect when it sparks resentment and fear of losing one’s national identity and blending into uniformity. This is clearly on display throughout the EU, where the sense of European identity remains weak despite all the benefits that the Union brings to its members.

Political hypocrisy and double standards were also on display during the World Cup, particularly by FIFA officials and Russian authorities. Two Kosova Albanian players on the Switzerland team were penalized by FIFA for making a symbol of the Albanian eagle after their victory over Serbia. FIFA then threatened to disqualify Domagoj Vida for his “Slava Ukraini!”  (Glory to Ukraine!) salute after Croatia’s victory over Russia. His was a powerful reminder that in the midst of the World Cup Moscow continues to occupy parts of Ukraine and murders its civilians.

Unfortunately, Croatia’s football authorities failed to display the bravery of the Croatian team and compelled Vida to apologize for what was claimed as a “controversial video” where he spoke out for Ukraine’s independence. They also sacked assistant coach Ognjen Vukojevic instead of hailing both men as responsible sportsmen who underscored the importance of national freedom. Their acts actually highlighted the close link between politics and sport that no amount of denial can eliminate.

The top prize for hypocrisy belongs to the Russian authorities for whom sport is so important as a marker of national achievement that they regularly cheat with performance enhancing drugs in order to capture trophies.This has been evident throughout the Olympic Games and investigations are now underway regarding Russia’s currentfootball team.

The World Cup ignites national hopes for glory in all corners of the world. Football matches promote national unity and a sense of pride that often becomes compensation during harsh social and economic conditions. Unfortunately, in the earlier days of club competition, racism was a common phenomenon and an underpinning of mass hooliganism. But when football clubs acquired foreign players of different ethnicities, racism became self-defeating. Indeed, the English Premier League, which I consider as the most entertaining in Europe, has become particularly attractive because it includes so many foreign players.

Football may be an international language but it also has many dialects. Clubs are surrogate tribes during important competitions. Many cities around Europe and Latin America are deeply divided by football club loyalties where gang violence has thrived in inner city areas. Nonetheless, moves to transform football into a family spectator sport rather than a male machismo phenomenon have proved increasingly successful.

Football ignites “us against them” passions and has on occasion resulted in collective violence. Football clubs have also been recruitment centers for ultra-nationalist fanatics, as witnessed during the wars in Yugoslavia in 1990s when various militias manipulated club loyalties and national identities against rival ethnicities. In 1969, there was even a full-scale war between El Salvador and Honduras sparked by a World Cup playoff that exposed deep-rooted conflicts over borders, land ownership, and immigrants.

Croatia now stands at the pinnacle of world attention. Its current success and national pride must be translated into a full-scale cleaning of Croatia’s football federation from all corruption scandals. And at higher organizational levels, FIFA itself must continue to be monitored and investigated for pervasive corruption because unfortunately the “beautiful game” attracts both heroes and villains.

  

AMERICA’S POLITICAL VACUUM

Janusz Bugajski, July 2018

American politics has become so polarized that a vacuum is forming for the majority of the population. While Trump has virtually turned the Republican Party into his personal vehicle, recent primary elections for Congress indicate that the Democratic Party is moving leftward and will alienate an increasing number of voters.\

The majority of congressional Republicans have become acquiescent toward Trump, either because they agree with his agenda or fear being ousted by his core voters. A record number of 31 Republicans in the House of Representatives are not seeking re-election in the November mid-terms. Meanwhile, a new crop of Trumpists are appealing to the President’s voter base in the “red’ (or Republican majority) states. They need a high turnout to make certain that they are not ousted by Democrats. Many of them peddle anger and fear among voters by stirring xenophobia, racism, and resentment of foreign countries allegedly exploiting the American worker.

On the Democrat side, recent primary results indicate that the “progressive” wing may be taking over the party. In addition to having several prominent members in Congress, including Elizabeth Warren, they have now registered a major primary election victory. Self-declared “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez easily beat the establishment Democrat Joe Crowley for the relatively safe 14th District of New York. Bernie Sanders, the godfather of the progressive movement who ran close with Hilary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination, is canvasing for the new candidates among his own young and extensive voter base.

The Clinton-Obama stream in the Democratic Party lost momentum during and after the 2016 presidential elections. A large number of Democrats became disillusioned with the Clinton dynasty and thereby rejected moderate centrism that could have won the 2016 elections. Democrat leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are now facing a wave of grassroots activism that is reminiscent of the ultra-rightist Tea Party rebellion within the Republican Party over a decade ago.

The Progressive Democrats are aiming to swing America from the conservative right to the socialist left. They calculate that the worse conditions become under Trump the better for them and the more likely that voters will turn to radical leftist alternatives. Trumpist populists and Sanders progressives are now creating a post-modern US parody of the fascist-communist struggle in the 1930s, leaving many voters bewildered on the sidelines.

Democrats are providing plenty of ammunition for Trump to denounce them as militants who are out of touch with American voters. Support for socialist economic policies, high taxes, easing restrictions on migrants, including the abolition of the Immigration and Customs service, free Medicare and university education, and a focus on identity politics for minorities will increasingly estrange them from centrists and they will have little appeal among the majority of Trump voters.

Ocasio-Cortez and her comrades also display profound naivety on the global stage, somewhat reminiscent of Trump during the election campaign. Indeed, their foreign policy is more isolationist than that of Trump, by calling for scaling down the US military, withdrawing America’s presence from global trouble spots, and working through multilateral institutions that would in effect dilute America’s leadership role.

In this increasingly polarized and radicalized political climate, a growing number of disillusioned centrist Democrats, moderate Republicans, and political Independents feel that neither party represents them any longer. A growing number are unlikely to vote in November or in the 2020 presidential elections if the current trends continue.

For many years talk of a third party in US politics has been dismissed as unrealistic. The two major formations were considered “big tents” that could incorporate a spectrum of policy positions but were essentially steered by moderates. With the moderates losing control in both parties, the time may be finally ripening for establishing a new centrist organization that can represent the majority of US citizens.

In addition to political alienation among older citizens, a recent Reuters poll found that support among new voters for both Democrats and Republicans has also dropped dramatically in recent years. An increasing number are calling for the formation of a distinct party to distance themselves from radical leftists and Trump fanatics.

A recent online survey of more than 16,000 registered voters aged 18 to 34 indicated that support for Democrats over Republicans for Congress is slipping. Although nearly two out of three young voters said they do not like Trump, their distaste for him does not necessarily translate directly into votes for Democratic congressional candidates. In 2016, eight percent of Millennials (the newest voting cohort) opted for candidates other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. That figure is now rising and could provide impetus for a new political organization.

Creating a new nationwide party will be fraught with financial and policy challenges and opposition from both Republican and Democrat leaders. It could take several election cycles before voters recognize it as a viable alternative to thetwo major parties. However, as both Republicans and Democrats are battling over what was once considered fringe politics, the revolt of the center could appear as a new force on the horizon.

 

TRUMP PREPARES FOR PUTIN SUMMIT

Janusz Bugajski, July 2018

In the upcoming Summit in Helsinki on July 16, President Donald Trump should focus on Vladimir Putin’s deeds rather than his words. Otherwise, the White House will repeat the mistakes of previousUS administrations.

In the usual scenario, an incoming US President believes that he can be more successful than his predecessor in establishing a partnership with Russia’s leader. Trust is declared, promises are made, deals are struck, and Moscow’s previous acts of aggression against its neighbors are overlooked. This new détente gives cover for the Kremlin to prepare for its next offensive, which leads to another breakdown in relations, and the cycle begins all over again.

Instead of repeating a cycle that allows Russia to pocket the spoils from its territorial revisionism and sets the stage for further instability, the US administration needs to calculate the most effective way to constrain Moscow while advancing US and Allied interests. In sum, there are two contrasting strategies for US policy toward Putin’s Russia: imperial accommodation or trans-Atlantic assertiveness.

In the former approach, policy makers may calculate that a rapprochement with Moscow will defuse the danger of great power conflict and secure constructive joint initiatives. However, those backing such an approach operate with two erroneous premises: that the Kremlin is interested in permanent compromises and that Russia possesses some special interests toward its former satellites that Washington should acknowledge.

In reality, the Kremlin’s negotiating strategy is not aimed at ensuring mutual benefits or ”win-win” objectives. It is based on zero-sum or winner-loser calculations, in which Moscow estimates that it can gain advantages from a temporary lull in hostilities with the West even if not all of its expansionist goals have been achieved. This follows Lenin’s dictum of moving “two step forward, one step back” and is a tactical peredyshka (pause) before the next offensive.

The second fallacious assumption is that Russia possesses “national interests” outside its borders. Acquiescence to such claims diminishes the independence and security of all Central-East European states and empowers Moscow to engage in its imperial adventures. Russia’s foreign policy since Putin assumed power almost twenty years ago includes determining its neighbors’ foreign and security policies, regulating the extent of their territories, and selecting their international alliances.

Suggestions have been made about a potential “grand bargain” between Trump and Putin that would permit Moscow to assert its dominance throughout former Soviet territories in return for ephemeral pledges to cooperate in other domains. Paradoxically,consenting to Russia’s asymmetrical “interests” toward its neighbors is more likely to result in a collision with NATO. If the Kremlin is convinced that it has a free hand to intervene in countries along its borders, it can easily miscalculate and provokea direct confrontation with NATO states. The “grand bargain” would then become a grand failure by making it more likely that Washington becomes embroiled in a conflict with Moscow.

In contrast to a hazardous accommodating approach toward Russia, trans-Atlantic assertiveness will strengthen the Alliance and better defend America’s national interests. The new US National Security Strategy affirms that Russia is a rival and competitor aiming to weaken Washington’s international influence and divide the US from its allies and partners.In light of this astute geopolitical assessment, Washington’sstrategy must deter the Kremlin from undertaking any offensive actions in Europe that can weaken American leadership.

To achieve this objective, the defense of key allies such as Poland, Romania, and the three Baltic States must be consolidated. Some measures have already been implemented to more effectively protect the security of these vulnerable NATO allies, including the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) deployments. But more needs to be accomplished in the coming years. In particular, NATO needs to boost its capabilities in terms of mobility and response to any potential military moves by Moscow. In addition, Washington needs to consider the long-term advantages ofdeploying a permanent military presence in Poland, as Warsaw has recently requested.

A firmer commitment is also needed to strengthen the state sovereignty and national security of all former Soviet bloc countries bordering Russia, particularly NATO partners such as Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, and to increasingly involve wavering Russian allies such as Belarus and Armenia. A renewed war involving any of these states could destabilize a wider region and ensnare US allies. More intensive political, military, and economic engagement would serve as a deterrent to Kremlin intervention.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with summiting with Putin, as long as President Trump does not take Putin’s words at face value and fall into Russia’s tactical traps to undercut the trans-Atlantic link. Negotiating from a position of military strength, Trump needs to stamp his authority by establishing clear markers of what Washington expects from Moscow, including a withdrawal from Ukraine and an end to military threats against all NATO allies. Otherwise, as during the Obama administration, the White House will again find itself floundering when Putin decides to launch another international offensive.

 

AMERICA’S IMMIGRATION SHOWDOWN

Janusz Bugajski, June 2018

Trump is in the midst of the biggest testof his presidency. It revolvesaround the fate of immigrant children separated from parents at the Mexican border and Washington’s failed attempts to deal with millions of illegal migrants in the United States.

Immigration isthe most divisive issue in American politics.No administration has been able to push through legislation to resolve the status of undocumented migrants, estimated at over tenmillion people. While many Democrats have promoted an amnesty and a path to citizenship,hardlineRepublicans have sought outright deportation.

Donald Trump’selection campaignrevolved around the illegal immigration question. He rallied his raucous supportersby calling for the construction of a huge wall along the border with Mexico. The issue remains Trump’s key rallying cry,so hecannot back down from arresting and deporting aliens. Thenew “zero tolerance” policy gained widespread support among his base even though it has resulted in dividing thousandsof immigrantfamilies.

Unexpectedly for Trump, his immigration policy sparked widespread public outrage and forced him to adjust his policies. Hefaced intense pressure from across the political spectrum and from business executives, religious leaders,and numerous allied governments.In particular, they expressed dismay at a policy of keeping young children and even infantsin cage-like detention centersand dispersing them around the country.

In an executive order, Trump agreed for families to stay together after being arrestedand in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. But the new instruction did not contain procedures for reunitingwith parents more than 2,300 children currentlyin the care of the federal government. And critics accuse the President of solving the problem of separations by simply ordering the indefinite incarceration of entire families.

Meanwhile, Congress isstalemated. Even if animmigration billpassesthe House, any inclusion of Trump’s hardline policy on legal immigration will killthe bill in the Senate.Senators opposechanges to legal immigration that would eliminate the visa lottery system and restrictfamily migration.Trump himself opposes any bill that gives any amnesty to undocumented migrants.

 The immigration showdown is likely tohaveserious election implications. While Trumpis desperateto maintain his electoral base for the2020 presidential elections, many Republicans fear that public indignationagainst hard immigration policies amongmoderate, suburban, and independent voters could doom their chances in the November mid-terms.

 To prove his tough credentials, Trump continues to intensifyhis attacks on illegal immigrants while claiming that the DemocraticParty wants “open borders” so that illegals can “infest thecountry.” Unprecedented hostility has been whipped up against migrants even though their numbers have been declining in recent years.Rather than being parasites, child smugglers, drug traffickers, gang members, and serial rapists, as Trump has claimed,mostare economic refugees looking foremployment or asylum seekers seeking safety in America.

Trump’s policies also send a signal to populists, nationalists, and anti-immigrant groups in Europe. When the world’s most powerful democracy demonstrates that it is acceptable to detain families indefinitelyand remove all illegal immigrants, then racists and xenophobes become emboldened.

While Trump and his closest advisers want to deport all illegals and to limit legal immigration, the US economy actually needs substantial population growth. America’s population is barely rising, at less than one percent annually. An insufficient number of workers are available to replace those who are retiring. If immigration is constrained, there will be fewer households and consumers, and fewer new jobs. With consumer spending forming about 70 percent of GDP, fewer consumers means slower growth.

On the production side, US businesses are currently struggling to find enough foreign workers for the hectic summer tourist season particularly because visas permitting employers to hire foreign workers seasonally have been delayed or denied. Similarly, the housing industry cannot build enough homes to meet demand because of a shortage of manual laborers. For instance, Trump’s decision to end Temporary Protection Status for tens of thousands of Honduran workers directly undermines house construction in Texas and Florida and makes existing homes more expensive.

US immigration authorities have conducted extensive raids on various businesses and rounded up hundreds of employees who do not possess proper work papers. Although these raids were part of Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on undocumented migrants, the effect on the economy is negative as there are few citizens willing to work certain low-paid jobs, such as meatpacking or agriculture. The National Federation of Independent Businesses has reported that more than one in three small businesses have job openings that they cannot fill and labor supply is projected to grow at a mere half a percent annually.

While the President makes his supporters feel triumphant in the longer term it is the majority of US citizens who will suffer from his misguided policies. The only sensible option is a path to citizenship for those illegal immigrants who have proven they work hard, pay their taxes, and have no criminal record, and that is the majority.

STOPPING NORD STREAM

Janusz Bugajski, June 2018

The planned Nord Stream 2 (NS2) natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea is a political project intended to advance the Kremlin’s geo-strategic influence over Europe. In a critical new report released by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and authored by Margarita Assenova, one of Washington’s premier energy experts, Moscow’s goals are exposed and key recommendations issued for the US administration.

The Trump administration has voiced strong opposition to the NS2 pipeline, which has three main goals: increasing Europe’s dependence on Russia by dominating its energy market, dividing the EU countries, and isolating Ukraine. In reality, the EU does not need more pipelines for Russian gas, as currently about 40% of Russia’s existing pipeline export capacity is idle. NS2 would increase Europe’s dependence on a single supplier and concentrate 70-80% of gas imports from Russia in one Kremlin controlled route.

NS2 would also undermine non-Russian companies in exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the EU and diversifying supplies – a key component of energy security. It would thereby undermine the EU’s energy strategy, which is based on promoting a diversity of energy sources through a proliferation of import routes.

NS2 would further threaten EU unity, as the project favors some countries over others, thus amplifying Russia’s “divide and rule” approach to energy politics. Moreover, gas from NS2 will not remain cheap, as monopolists like Gazprom increase prices when there is no competition. This energy leverage would hit the Central European states hardest especially as gas transport capacity from West to East Europe for non-Russian gas would be significantly reduced..

The NS2 pipeline, together with the Moscow-directed Turkish Stream pipeline under the Black Sea, will also eliminate Ukraine as a major gas transit country and bypass most of Central and Eastern Europe. This will leave Ukraine and its neighbors in a more vulnerable political and financial position.

By stopping the Nord Stream 2 project, the Trump administration can enhance Europe’s energy security, further liberalize the gas market, preserve European unity, protect member states from Russia’s monopolistic energy competition and financial subversion, and decrease the risk of a further escalation in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

In order to terminate the NS2 project, several tools can be deployed. Securing financing for the pipeline remains the biggest vulnerability, given the current sanctions on Russian economic activity. Washington can impede Gazprom from obtaining project financing from Western companies. It can also impose tougher sanctions already authorized by Congress that include new pipeline projects. The US administration has the legal authority to sanction private sector interests facilitating the development of NS2.

US leadership in opposing the project is essential to prevent German and other narrow business interests from prevailing over the security of the Central-East European states. The majority of EU capitals (20 out of 28) are opposed to NS2 but they need to operate within a transatlantic coalition. Paradoxically, through NS2, it is Germany that is undermining Atlanticism and not the Trump administration.

The EU needs to demonstrate its commitment to its own principles. The Union was founded on the rule of law and the equality of all member states. However, NS2 counters EU competition rules and violates the 2009 EU Gas Directive. If they are serious about their own principles, EU leaders must demonstrate that the financial interests of individual companies do not trump the rule of law or the equality of all EU member states.

EU laws prohibit monopolies in the energy sector and restrict the monopolistic practices of providers such as Gazprom. European consumers lose when they depend on an energy monopoly and they win when there are multiple sources.Europe needs to develop more alternatives to Russia’s energy supplies.For instance, support for the Southern Gas Corridor from Azerbaijan to Turkey and Southeastern Europe is critical for upholding the EU’s energy strategy. Moreover, the EU has the opportunity to increase the financial andregulatory incentives for energy alternatives such as LNG, shale gas, renewables, and nuclear power.

The EU Gas Directive, the Third Energy Package, and previous European court rulings clearly demonstrate that the planned NS2 pipeline, which would be owned and operated solely by Gazprom, is in conflict with EU strategy. If it is to retain credibility, the European Parliament must affirm that EU laws also apply to NS2. The European Council can also unequivocally confirm that European laws also pertain to EU territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. The message from Brussels must be clear: all companies doing business in the EU must play by European rules. This would send a strong message to Moscow that the NS2 pipeline and the companies involved in its construction would not be exempt.

The termination of NS2 would also demonstrate US and European commitment to the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including support for its major energy projects. If the majority of Russian gas transit is diverted from Ukraine this could precipitate domestic instability and escalate Russia’s military intervention, thus spreading instability along NATO’s eastern border.

EUROPE’S COLD WAR WITH AMERICA

Janusz Bugajski, June 2018

In recent weeks, senior EU leaders have taken turns not only to criticize the Donald Trump administration but also to claim that the trans-Atlantic link is disintegrating. Such rhetoric is counter-productive and potentially self-fulfilling and also exposes the EU to charges of hypocrisy and weakness.

Several top EU official have recently attacked Trump as a major challenge totransatlantic unity. They condemn the President for abandoning several multilateral accords including the Paris Climate Agreement and the nuclear deal with Iran. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans stated that Trump was the first US President to favor a divided Europe. European Council President Donald Tusk claimed that “with friends like that who needs enemies.”

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel went one step further in asserting that even after Trump leaves the White House relations with the US “will never be the same.” And European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that “we have to replace the United States,” which has allegedly lost vigor and influence. It makes one wonder what Juncker’s home country of Luxembourg has ever contributed to Europe’s security.

In reality, it is irresponsible to declare America’s post-World War Two geostrategic relationship with Europe to be dead simply because of one person’s election. Aside from the fact that the EU project owes its existence to the sacrifice and resources of the US, America and Europe continue to share the same fundamental interests. And Trump’s national security officials are not the isolationists that some EU leaders are claiming.

Europe remains heavily dependent on the US for its security, as Washington contributes over 70% off the NATO budget and can more rapidly deploy troops than any European ally. Contrary to hyperbole from some officials, the White House has actually strengthened the NATO alliance over the past year and key US officials harbor fewer illusions about Russia than some of President Obama’s appointees.

It is worth recalling that transatlantic relations were not alwaysrosy before Trump’s presidency, as America shifted its center of gravity away from Europe to the Middle and Far East. Obama’s naive “reset” with Russia precipitated protests in Central-Eastern Europe with several leaders warning that the US President was weakening NATO.

Europeans themselves cannot avoid sharing responsibility for any decline in transatlantic relations. In recent opinion polls, it transpires that most Germans, Italians, and French favor neutrality and oppose defending a NATO ally if it is attacked by Russia. Such a position is much more damning that anything that Trump has stated either as candidate or as President.

There is also a core of hypocrisy in EU condemnations of Trump’s alleged indifference to liberal values and human rights. EU leaders issue blatantly dishonest complaints that their companies will be sanctioned by the US for doing business with Iran – a regime that murders its own people and spreads international terrorism. Does such business actually foster the “common values” of “liberal democracy” that they accuse America of backtracking on? Evidently, Europe’s corporate profits are more important than human rights.

Naturally, any trans-Atlantic rifts serve Moscow’s objectives in dividing its adversaries and there are certain domains where the Kremlin can benefit. In particular, rising tensions between the US and larger European states such as Germany will undermine the international sanctions imposed for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Absent US pressure, West Europeans will make energy deals with Moscow, such as Nord Stream 2, which the Kremlin has designed to isolate Ukraine and increase EU dependence. And without US commitments to European security, the Kremlin would have a freer hand to subvert and suborn its former satellites in Europe’s east.

European leaders need to look at themselves from a global perspective. Compared to the larger powers, Europe is a declining continent in terms of population, GDP, and military spending. The proposal that the EU form an independent “humanitarian” pole of power that could compete with a rising China, a subversive Russia, and a restless Middle East without US leadership is laughable at best and tragic at worst. And if EU leaders believe that Trump is trying to unravel the EU then they are simply closing their eyes to Putin’s intentions.

Exaggerated attacks on the Trump administration will not result in greater EU unity as too many policies divide the Union even aside from Brexit. On the contrary, disputes between Brussels and Washington will simply widen rifts between European states that value the US military presence and fickle West Europeans who have taken the American security umbrella for granted.

The values and interests uniting the US and Europe will survive one presidency unless of course European leaders decide to make any ruptures permanent. Europeans can start to unwind the transatlantic alliance, but they do so at their peril. If the US was truly to withdraw from Europe, the EU would face a stark choice – whether to vastly increase its defense budget at the cost of its social spending, or simply throw its hands in the air and surrender to Putin’s Russia.

 

THE ITALIAN CONNECTION

Janusz Bugajski, May 2018

After two months of intensive negotiations Italy finally has a new government. The newly forged coalition looks set to challenge EU integration and could damage the NATO Alliance. While the EU is still trying to digestBrexit, a potential loosening of the Italian connection may also encourage other dissatisfied capitals.

A government of the 5Stars anti-establishment party and the ultra-right League is unprecedented in Europe. This is the first time among the six original EU countries that parties deeply skeptical toward the Union have taken power and sidelined Italy’s traditional leftist and rightist parties. If they are successful in government than EU integration may move in reverse.

EU leaders have been struggling with life after Brexit and have declared on numerous occasions that the Union must be reformed. The problem is that each member state has a different conception of what kind of a Union the reforms should lead to – looser or tighter, federal or confederal, unified or inter-governmental. Various proposals have led nowhere, including the “Bratislava Declaration” issued by European Council President Donald Tusk and a “Future of Europe” White Paper produced by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

The early hopes that French President Emmanuel Macron would revive the Union are also fading. Even the Franco-German tandem is not in sync. Germany’s new coalition government is not interested in such initiatives as an EU finance minister or a budgetary union that could damage German finances. At the same time, Spain is in the midst of an internal conflict over Catalonia while Poland and Hungary are embroiled in a crisis of confidence over the rule of law.

Italy has now added to the sense of danger, as the new coalition seems to favor the idea of a euro-exit. Beppe Grillo, the founder of 5Stars, is reviving the idea of a referendum on the single currency. Meanwhile, Italian President Sergio Mattarella has asserted that the European project has lost its ability to meet the expectations of large portions of the population. Restless young Italians, similarly to the Greeks, mostly blame the EU for their economic problems. But unlike the Greeks many also believe they would be richer outside the Euro and the EU. In a recent opinion poll, over half of people under 45 claimed they would vote to leave the EU.

Italy is part of a southern EU grouping that is falling behind the more dynamic northern economies. It is the eurozone’s third-largest economy, but also one of its most indebted. According to the Bank of Italy, Rome’s public debt totals €2.3 trillion and is equivalent to about 132 percent of the country’s GDP.

The 5Stars-League coalition is calling for the renegotiation of EU treaties, including the Stability and Growth Pact. Its economic proposals are alarming the rest of the EU, as they include demands for billions of euros in debt relief from the European Central Bank and a scaling down of Italy’s budgetary contributions to the Union. They are also planning a budget worth tens of billions of euros that includes a minimum universal income and a flat tax of 15% for low and middle earners.

5Stars opposes what they describe as EU-imposed austerity but have no realistic plans for boosting the Italian budget. Germany and other northern economies will be resolutely opposed to their taxpayers funding an Italian spending spree. The new coalition also wants to tighten immigration even though Italy’s population is rapidly aging and without immigrants its economy will sink further in the coming decade.

The performance of Italy’s populist-nationalist government will have a significant impact on Euroskeptic parties in the 2019 European parliamentary elections. Leading Euroskeptics such as France’s Marine Le Pen are trying to unite all anti-Europeans under one banner and the Italian connection now looks the most promising. If the new government registers any success the Euroskeptics will undermine the EU parliament’s centrist majority. Paradoxically, if parliament is deadlocked between centrist and Euroskeptics, then far-left and Green parties would become kingmakers.

Italy’s growing connections with Putin’s Russia can also lead to Atlantic disconnections. The two coalition partners, both of which have been courted by Moscow, want to drop sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. If this happens then the Kremlin will register a major success by gaining its first significant collaborator inside the European Council, the G7, and NATO. The League has a cooperation agreement with Putin’s ruling party, United Russia, with credible reports that the Kremlin has funded both 5Stars and the League.

Although Italy is not a prominent military contributor to NATO, its participation in Alliance exercises and peacekeeping missions, as well its hosting of US bases, could be jeopardized if Moscow’s influences increase over the new government. The one bright hope is that the radical coalition will not last long particularly as Italy is notorious for its short-lived governments that rapidly lose public backing amidst early elections.

 

TRUMP’S DIPLOMACY OF BULLYING

Janusz Bugajski, May 2018

President Donald Trump is juggling two dangerous grenades on the world stage as he simultaneously confronts the regimes of North Korea and Iran. His policy consists of two elements: bullying and diplomacy – or what is often called the “bad cop, good cop” routine, in which Trump sometimes plays both roles.

With regard to North Korea, Trump’s tough rhetoric of bombing the country into oblivion if it launched any nuclear device against US territory was followed by the brazen diplomacy of newly appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a surprise visit toPyongyang, he laid the groundwork for a summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, scheduled to be held in Singapore on 12 June. This is the first planned meeting between the heads of state of the two countries since the Korean War in the 1950s.

Previous bilateral diplomatic moves have been slow and fruitless. An agreement in 1994 with North Korea slowed North Korea’s nuclear program for eight years, but the pact collapsed because of Pyongyang’s provocations, while the US failed to help the country develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Relations deteriorated during the Obama administration and Trump’s angry rhetoric seemed to be pushing both sides toward outright war.

Trump supporters believe that his threatening words combined with more punishing economic sanctions convinced Pyongyang to enter talks. Trump’s critics remain convinced that Kim is seeking to outwit the President. Indeed, despite the high hopes Washington must remain cautious. North Korea is suspected of having a nuclear stockpile of sixty warheads and pervious agreements to freeze its nuclear program have invariably failed because of cheating by Pyongyang. On the US side, because Trump is so unpredictable there will be fears inNorth Korea that he could pull out of a deal at a moments notice. This may give Kim Jong Un fewer incentives to make any concessions.

Trump has already granted Kim a massive gift of a bilateral summit that helps legitimize the North Korean regime. Although Kim has frozen missile and nuclear tests, began to close one of his nuclear test sites, and declined to complain about current US-South Korean military exercises, he has not offered any irreversible concessions to the US, let alone promised to surrender his nuclear arsenal. Above all, Kim is desperate to alleviate his country’s economic isolation, and in return for ceding any part of his nuclear arsenal he will demand significant political concessions possibly including the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea.

In the case of Iran, Trump has announced that America is pulling out of the nuclear deal that is supposed to stall Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. The President expressed several basic problems with the Iran deal, because it does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, does not prevent Tehran from generating instability in the Middle East, and rewarded Iran by releasing assets frozen by years of US sanctions. America’s withdrawal signifies that the White House is preparing to impose new economic sanctions.

Trump rejected the pleas of America’s closest European allies and virtual all former diplomats who have dealt with Iran. He even ignored his own Defense Secretary James Mattis who asserted that the agreement has allowed robust monitoring of Iran’s activities. Tehran had to surrender most of its ability to enrich uranium and agreed to place the vast majority of its centrifuges in storage under the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In their response to Trump’s actions, European leaders noted that the Energy Agency has concluded that Iran was abiding by the agreement, in line with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

It remains uncertain whether the US withdrawal will completely terminate the Iran deal to which France, the UK, Germany, Russia, and China are also signatories. The most optimistic scenario is that the US withdrawal from the Iran agreement could actually stimulate new negotiations between Tehran and Washington. But nobody is holding their breath.

If Tehran itself abandons the agreement, this would simply serve to reunite the US and Europeans. In practice, the durability of the deal will be tested when American economic and trade sanctions are reapplied. The Iranians have abided by the agreement primarily because of the economic benefits it has brought the country. If European companies now withdraw from Iran to avoid being sanctioned by Washington then Tehran will have no incentive to stay in the international deal and is likely to revive its nuclear program. This could precipitate a more direct military confrontation with the US.

Paradoxically, a potential success in North Korea could actually undermine America’s Iran policy. Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal may convince other capitals that it is better to negotiate with Washington when already in possession of nuclear weapons than to be coerced not to develop them. The juxtaposition of North Korea and Iran could serve as a dangerous precedent.

EUROPE’S SEPARATIST FUTURES

Janusz Bugajski, May 2018

The European Union is heading toward a wave of sub-state separatism for which it is unprepared. Catalonia, Scotland, and Greenland are the most prominent regions seeking independence and how they are handled will help determine whether other regions push for statehood and whether separation has to be violent in order to succeed.

Spain’s political crisis continues with a standoff between Madrid and political leaders in Catalonia that could descend into violence. In a referendum in October 2017, the pro-independence vote reached 90% even though the turnout was only 43%. The regional parliament, where the separatist majority no longer recognizes the Spanish constitution, promptly declared Catalonia an independent republic.

Madrid responded by imposing emergency powers and direct rule over Catalonia. The Catalan President Carles Puigdemont and his cabinet were accused of rebellion and dismissed, while the regional parliament was dissolved. Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Santamaría was appointed to run the region temporarily. While Puigdemont asserted that he would resist the imposition of direct rule, independence activists called for mass demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts to “defend the republic.” The longer that this standoff continues the clearer it becomes that a stalemate is untenable.

The banned Catalan National Assembly has called for international mediation and urged the EU to intervene to stop the “violation of civic and political rights” by the Spanish government. Until now, the EU has viewed the crisis as Spain’s domestic affair. However, after a German court dismissed Madrid’s accusations of rebellion against Puigdemont and his cabinet members, pressure has been mounting on the Spanish government to negotiate with their Catalan counterparts.

Autonomy is not the solution, as the Spanish constitution already grants Catalonia a considerable degree of administrative devolution. Spain remains a unitary entity with the central government in full control of key levers of power. One possible solution is genuine federalization in which Spain accepts that Catalonia has a right to self-determination, while Catalonia accepts that this will require a 55% majority in a referendum. This would break the ruling principle of a unitary Spain and could satisfy the majority of Catalans.

The only other formula would be for Madrid to accept Barcelona’s right to secede in order to avoid continuous conflicts, much as the Czechs and Slovaks decided in 1992. Without negotiations and peaceful solutions there will be a growing spiral of repression and resistance leading to violent confrontation.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is facing growing domestic pressure to move forward with a second independence referendum. Sturgeon has a mandate for another ballot before the next Scottish assembly elections in 2021.In the last referendum in 2014, the “Yes” campaign lost by 55.3% to 44.7%. However, that was before Brexit in which the Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. After Brexit, the case for independence has been strengthened although political leaders are waiting to see what emerges from the negotiations between London and Brussels.

Westminster has been at loggerheads with the Scottish administrations since the Brexit referendum on how powers are transferred to Edinburgh when Britain leaves the EU. Leaders in Wales and Scotland have expressed concern that London will bring EU treaties into British national law without input on key policies from either nation. This would diminish the authority of the Scottish parliament. Some Scottish leaders are also convinced that a hard Brexitwill impact negatively on the economy by removing EU subsidies and diminishing business investment.

Recent opinion polls indicate that support for Scottish independence has surged among younger generations who are eager to embrace a European identity and disillusioned with Westminster’s policies. According to the results, 57% of 16 to 24 year-olds are in favor of independence and 59% back statehood among 25 to 34 year-olds. This underscores that a future referendum is very likely to swing toward the “yes” vote.

In Greenland, pro-independence parties won general elections on 24 April. Six of the seven parties taking part in the ballot are in favor of separation from Denmark, which appears to be just a question of time. Until 1953, Greenland was officially a Danishcolony and then was declared a self-governing territory.  Denmark economically subsidized the enormous island, which has a tiny population of under 60,000.

However, Copenhagen’s heavy-handed approach in imposing the Danish language and Protestantism alienated the indigenous inhabitants.In 2017, the native Inuit leaders established a constitutional commission, which declared that they would follow the experience of other former Danish colonies, including Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, to determine Greenland’s independence.The Faroe Islands government has delayed a scheduled vote on independence evidently due to concerns from Denmark and the EU about the outcome and impact on other countries.

It is extremely difficult for any region to achieve independence under existing international and EU law. In practice, it is easier to win statehood through violence when international attention becomes focused on resolution for fear of spreading bloodshed. Europe is waiting to see whether Catalonia, Scotland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and other ambitious regions can break this violent tradition. 


IN DEFENSE OF NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE

Janusz Bugajski, May 2018

This year marks the 100thanniversary of the emergence of independent states across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) following the collapse of the Russian, German, Austrian, and Ottoman empires. For many of these countries independence continued to be threatened or thwarted throughout the 20thcentury until the Soviet empire collapsed almost thirty years ago. But given the ambitions of Europe’s last imperialist – Russia – and the disastrous consequences of tolerating a predatory power, NATO’s core mission of strengthening the security of each member is as vital today as defending Western Europe during the Cold War.

In looking back 100 years, one important lesson stands out: while it is difficult to win and maintain national independence, it is much easier to lose it. The appeasement by Western allies of Nazi Germany before World War Two and of the Soviet Union before and after World War Two proved a disaster for the CEE countries and for the millions of victims of Soviet communism and German fascism in the 20thcentury.

The collapse of communism almost 30 years ago not only heralded the restoration of democracy but equally importantly the political revolutions of 1989-1991 ensured the national liberation of 21 countries from Moscow’s dominance and a further seven freed states when Yugoslavia splintered. And while communism is a fading nightmare, the struggle to maintain state independence from an increasingly assertive Russian regime continues to this day.

To justify their expansionist ambitions, officials in Moscow depict Russia in its various imperial incarnations as a benevolent global power that brought order and civilization for its neighbors. They assert that the Soviet Union did not occupy half of Europe but “liberated” it from Nazi tyranny and capitalist exploitation. They ignore the fact that Moscow constructed a vast network of concentration camps and prisons and perpetrated several genocides to destroy nations that resisted, including Ukrainians, Chechens, and Tatars. It imposed repressive totalitarian systems that stifled political and economic progress and violently crushed periodic revolts against Soviet rule.

Kremlin spokesmen claim that the Soviet bloc was benevolently dismantled and that the Cold War ended in a draw, rather than admitting that the communist empire proved an abject failure that disintegrated from within. The notion of a benign or “progressive” Soviet system is calculated to validate Russia’s current aspirations toward its neighbors. For this reason, both Europeans and Americans must vigilantly defend the real historical legacies of liberation from both Tsarist and Soviet imperialism.

Vladimir Putin’s regime is implementing an extensive long-term plan to reverse the transformations of the post-Cold War era during which Russia lost its satellites, forfeited its regional predominance, and relinquished its global role. A key element of this agenda is the creation of a Eurasian “pole of power” that ensures Russia’s primary influence in all neighboring states while corroding Western cohesion. Such a strategy seeks to preclude the emergence of a “whole and free” Europe – a vision nurtured by all US administrations since the end of the Cold War.

Moscow tries to partition the West by undermining any lasting trans-Atlantic solidarity. One of its devices of disinformation is to drive wedges between the “Anglo-Saxon” countries of the US, UK, and Canada and continental Europe. History is perversely inverted in claims that Washington has limited the sovereignty of European countries. In reality, for the past century America has sacrificed its blood and treasure in defending Europe’s independence and remains committed to NATO as the most effective protector of sovereign statehood.

To compensate for its military inferiority, Moscow deploys an assortment of political, economic, financial, and informational tools to achieve its objectives. It capitalizes on Western vulnerabilities, whether through cyber attacks, extensive espionage, disinformation offensives, political corruption, personal blackmail, or other “soft power” tools that debilitate Western officials and institutions.Kremlin interference in the US presidential elections is merely the exposed tip of an iceberg of anti-Western subversion. The goal is to promote division and polarization in domestic politics and paralyze foreign policy decisions.

 Kremlin information warfare also promotes an anti-EU agenda to divide Europe and impede a common diplomatic front toward Russia. Propaganda campaigns against European liberalism are designed to appeal to conservative and nationalist constituencies in which Russia is portrayed as a Christian bulwark. Energy deals and business enticements for specific European states are designed to enmesh them in Kremlin projects and lessen their opposition to Moscow’s foreign policy. Threats of nuclear war are intended to pacify Western politicians and prevent them from reinforcing NATO’s eastern flank or defending Ukraine or Georgia.

Any surge of isolationist nationalism and economic populism in Europe favors the Kremlin’s regional objectives by weakening democratic institutions, exposing them to corruption, and undermining the pursuit of a common trans-Atlantic security policy. Without a unified NATO to which every ally makes contributions commensurate with their capabilities, the independence of each member becomes endangered. To adapt Karl Marx’s much-quoted saying about the ideal society to the necessity of a strong NATO alliance: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”

 

FROM DEMOCRACY BUILDING TO SECURITY PROMOTION

Janusz Bugajski, April 2018

US foreign policy under the Donald Trump administration is evolving from a focus on democracy building to one of security promotion. Although these are not mutually exclusive concepts, even a slight shift in emphasis can enable the US to attract more allies and lessen anti-Americanism in several states.

The US has a number of partners and allies that are not democracies but are valued for their contribution to regional and American security. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf States are cases in point in the Middle East. They act as a buffer against Iran and host American military bases. South Korea was an authoritarian state after the Korean War but was protected by US troops as it evolved intoa pluralistic democracy.

In post-World War Two Europe, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey were dictatorships for many years even while members of NATO and close American allies. Washington calculated that it was preferable to have these countries insidethe Alliance facing an assertive Soviet Union than risk their isolation and penetration by Moscow.

Contemporary Europe presents a new quandary for the US regarding the most effective policy toward authoritarian states or countries regressing as competitive democracies. The post-communist context underscores America’s dilemma in that the development of alliances was premised on each Central and East European (CEE) state developing into a stable democracy. Such stipulations were not applied to previous NATOmembers or to strategic allies in the Middle East, East Asia, and elsewhere.

US democracy promotion in Europe’s east was intended to immunize each country from slipping back toward communism or from imploding into inter-ethnic battlegrounds. It did not envisage a wave of national populism throughout the EU that would challenge democratic principles in political systems that had recently emerged from communism. Washington is now in the process of adapting to the new realities.

Given this context, two foreign policy concepts appear to stand out in the Donald Trump administration. First, that America will not dictate the structure of any country’s internal politics, and second that Russia is now a bigger threat to Allied security than international terrorism. And the two concepts are connected.

Although Trump’s speeches stressed that American foreign policy will no longer interfere in domestic politics, US officials continue to underscore that democratic systems are stronger and more secure than dictatorships. However, a country’s lack of progress toward pluralistic democracy should not disqualify it from moving closer to America if both states stand to benefit. The glue that ultimately holds alliances together is not common values or common cultures, but common security threats and a common defense against them.

Moscow attacks US democracy promotion as a cover for staging “colored revolutions,” inserting pro-American governments, and exerting covert political control. Instead of admitting that such revolts are internally generated, Russia’s propagandists equate America’s support for democratic reforms with Moscow’s campaign of subversion and political warfare. The Kremlin depicts NGOs providing assistance to post-communist and post-Soviet states as arms of the US government and the CIA. Moscow projects on to the West its own modus operandiwhere nominally independent organizations and the media are in reality arms of the Kremlin’s security and intelligence services.

Western pro-democracy groups have promoted stability, transparency, accountability, and inter-ethnic reconciliation, and worked closely with local activists from across the political spectrum. In stark contrast, Moscow corrupts the political process with illicit funds, fosters social and ethnic tensions, and supports anti-Western nationalists to keep countries outside multi-national institutions such as NATO and the EU.

Countering the Kremlin’s assault on European countries, whatever their political structures, must become Washington’s priority mission. In this sense, the US can transform from a democracy builder into a security promoter as the Russia threat increases. This is especially clear in America’s military contribution to the Enhanced Forward Presence along NATO’s eastern flank in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Approximately 4,000 US troops are now serving on a rotational basis to defend Poland.

The Trump administration has also supplied Patriot long-range missile defense systems to Poland, Javelin portable anti-tank missiles to Ukrainian forces battling Russia’s proxy separatists, and Javelin missiles to the Georgian army confronting Moscow’s occupation of two breakaway territories. Washington can also develop the NATO partnership program and bilateral security ties with quasi-authoritarian states such as Belarus and Azerbaijan, which remain anxious about preserving their sovereignty from an assertive Russia. If they are completely sucked into the “Russian World” then any prospects for democratization will evaporate.

Even though countries such as Poland and Hungary are no longer model democracies and the ruling parties have consolidated their influences, it would be mistaken to conclude that the Western alliance is “losing them.” Indeed, in Poland’s case the opposite is true, as Warsaw wants an increase in American troops and even an American military base on its territory. In a climate of escalating international threat, the US can intensify its leading role as a security promoter throughout the Wider Europe.

TRUMP’S WAR

Janusz Bugajski, April 2018

Most American presidents have a specific war by which they are remembered in history. With Bill Clinton it was Serbia and Bosnia and with George W. Bush it was Iraq and Afghanistan. Although Trump like Obama underscored that he would avoid foreign entanglements, the sitting President is making Syria his war.

The recent US-led strike against Syria was limited, aimed primarily at eliminating the ability of Damascus to conduct chemical weapons attacks against civilians. Chemical weapons are banned under international treaties.The US, the UK, and France bombed specific chemical producing facilities, but “regime change” for President Bashar al-Assad was not the objective.

Unfortunately, Germany announced that it would not join any military action, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of sending a united message that using chemical weapons was unacceptable. Germany also refused to take part in the American-led war in Iraq, and in 2011 abstained from a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force to protect civilians in Libya. One wonders why key US bases remain in Germany rather than closer to NATO’s eastern front.

All eyes will now be on Assad’s response and his Russian allies. If American troops are targeted or there are further chemical attacks by Damascus, Washington is likely to escalate. President Donald Trump has been restrained by Defense Secretary James Mattis who was unwilling to engage in a comprehensive attack at the outset.

A massive Allied strike against Syria carries several risks – regional escalation that could draw in Iran and Israel into the war, but even more importantly a direct military confrontation between the US and Russia. Relations between Washington and Moscow are worse than they have been at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

In a worst vase scenario, the two states may stumble into direct military confrontation, and because Moscow will not win a conventional war its next step may be to threaten nuclear strikes. However, Putin’s reaction to the bombing of Syria makes nuclear war unlikely.Washington gave Moscow prior warning before the missile strike although the risk of miscalculation remains. Official verbal reaction has not been matched by military action and it seems that the Kremlin is more afraid of America than the White House is of Russia.

Thus far, Moscow has issued ominous warnings but has failed to defend its ally with arms. It threatened “grave repercussions” if the US carries out military strikes against the Syrian regime, including targeting American weapons systems. But Putin’s people are  well aware that they will be defeated in any firefight with America. An estimated 2,000 US troops in Syria have been focused exclusively on fighting the Islamic State. Any attacks on these units by Syrian, Russian, or Iranian forces would be met with massive American strikes.

Putin faces humiliation if he is seen to be weak and unable to defend Syria. Other allies from Belarus to Armenia will wonder whether the Kremlin will ultimately cower from any move against Western forces. A Russian unit was decimated by US troops in February when it staged an attack on an America base assisting Syrian rebels. Moscow immediately distanced itself from the defeated troops and described them as “mercenaries” outside of state control. In reality, no Russian military units would be active in Syria without Kremlin approval and support.

Despite Russian fears of a war with America, the West must remain on guard in case Moscow decides to take its revenge for the US-UK-French strikes by staging provocations in other regions. One possibility would be to intensify the attack on Ukraine in order to rally the Russian masses behind Putin and demonstrate that he remains a strong leader.

Kremlin officials must now be convinced that the“hawks” dominate the White House and will channel Trump’s aggressive instincts against Russia’s assertiveness. Moreover, although both the House of Representatives and Senate are deeply divided along party lines, virtually all Members of Congress remain united on the issue of combating Russia. Trump himself criticizedMoscow for protecting the Syrian regime and its failure to keep its promise in guaranteeing the elimination of Assad’s chemical weapons.

Trump may have started his presidency with a focus on isolationism, but he is clearly moving toward international interventions. This is despite the fact that his national security team is in flux following the ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the replacement of National Security Advisor McMaster with John Bolton. If Moscow was hoping for a more accomodationist team it is gravely mistaken. Bolton is a genuine “hawk” and interventionist and believes in a tough military posture.

If confirmed as Secretary of State by the Senate, Mike Pompeo, the former head of the CXIA, has also complained about soft US policy toward Moscow and considers Russia a direct danger to US security. Bolton and Pompeo both stress America’s “duty to lead,” – this is their interpretation of Trump’s slogan of putting “America first.”

 

TURKEY DESTABILIZING BALKANS

Janusz Bugajski, April 2018

Turkey’s influences in the Balkans have heightened local fears that the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government may be destabilizing the region. Initially seen as a useful supplement to the EU and the US, especially among Muslim populations, Turkey’s self-declared “neo-Ottomanism” is increasingly viewed as a form of potential neo-imperialism.

Over recent years, Ankara has extended its influences across the Balkan peninsula through trade, investment, cultural exchanges, humanitarian assistance, and religious contacts. In general, all countries welcomed Turkey’s involvement and viewed the country as a developing economy and a trusted NATO member. However, with Ankara kept at arms length by the EU and its democracy regressing, the government is now perceived as overly intrusive.

Ankara has applied pressure on the region’s governments in demanding the extradition to Turkey of adherents of Fethullah Gulen – an ostracized Turkish cleric living in exile in the US since 1999. President Erdogan claims that Gulenists organized the coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016 and has pinpointed the movement as the main danger to the state. Unable to convince Washington to extradite Gulen himself, Erdogan has focused on Gulenist supporters in Europe, with the Balkans viewed as the softest target.

A scandal recently erupted in Kosova over the expulsion of six Turkish citizens allegedly linked with Gulen but without the knowledge of Kosova’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. The Prime Minister fired the Interior Minister and the head of Kosova’s Intelligence Agency after news of the deportations was announced. Erdogan accused Haradinaj of protecting terrorists and claimed that Ankara would continue to intervene in Kosova. Officials admitted that Turkish agents had conducted the operation in cooperation with collaborators in Kosova’s security services.

Erdogan also implied that Washington was behind Haradinaj’s decision, claiming that the Prime Minister was acting on the orders of another country. Any attempts to turn Albanians against the US is a futile proposition. On the contrary, public opinion is likely to turn against Turkey. Already a growing number of officials and analysts complain about overbearing Turkish influence and an imperial “big brother” syndrome toward Muslims similar to the Russian variant among Slavic and Christian Orthodox populations.

Turkey’s President likes to portray himself as a protector of Muslims in former Ottoman dominions. He also uses this image in domestic politics, as millions of Turkish citizens have Bosnian or Albanian backgrounds. However, the extent of Turkey’s political impact in the region varies. In Macedonia and Bulgaria, Ankara has supported pro-Turkey parties and civil society organizations among local Turks and other Muslims and has enlisted people who are loyal to Erdogan. These bodies do have influence at local level where there are sizeable Turkish populations and when they enter government coalitions. Nonetheless, it is in Muslim-majority states that Turkish influence is more challenging.

Kosova and Albania are largely immune to pan-Turkism or pan-Islamism and Turkey is important only as far as its policies are in sync with those of the EU, which both countries seek to enter. Turkey is not a political role model for these secular Muslim societies and the only way it could gain more influence is if these countries were to be abandoned by the EU and US.

There are two populations that may be more susceptible to Ankara’s interventions – the Bosniak Muslims and the Sandzak Muslims. Bosnia-Herzegovina is home to private schools founded by the Gulen movement and Ankara has been demanding that they all be closed. Theseeducational institutions stand accused by Ankara of fostering a personality cult around Gulen. Supporters of the institutions contend that they provide a balanced education and are opposed to their closure.

In the ongoing dispute between Erdogan and Gulenists and with increasing pressure on Bosnia, intra-Muslim disputes could escalate. This would assist the separatist agenda of leaders of the Serbian entity backed by Moscow who contend that Bosnia is an unstable and failing state. Bosnia’s limited progress toward EU membership and its stagnant economic conditions would feed into the turmoil.

The Sandzak is a Muslim-majority region along the Serbia-Montenegro border where Turkey claims significant influence. The region was created by the Ottomans in order to separate Serbia and Montenegro and to connect the Ottoman Empire with Bosnia. Sandzak Muslim loyalty toward Turkey stems from close historical and cultural ties, and because Ankara is viewed as a potential source of protection from Serbian nationalism. The region is also connected to Turkey by a large diaspora, with some estimates that nearly five million Bosniaks live in Turkey, most of whom originate from the Sandzak.

If there is unrest in Bosnia, the Sandzak will be directly affected and Ankara could be pulled into the fray if new waves of nationalism increase religious and ethnic divisions. Since the wars in the 1990s, Turkey’smoderate Islam has been viewed as a valuable counterpoint to radical Salafist penetration from Saudi Arabia. However, the intra-Turkish struggle between Erdogan and Gulenism and Ankara’s heavy-handed approach may contribute to intensifying Balkan disputes.

BEYOND THE COLD WAR

Janusz Bugajski, April 2018

Moscow’s chemical weapon attack on British soil has alerted Western leaders to Russia’s intensifying offensive against both NATO and the EU. Kremlin policies are not a replay of the Cold War but a much more dangerous endeavor in which Russia is testing the limits of Western reaction.

The Cold War was a status quo that left Europe divided between NATO and the Soviet Bloc while both sides avoided direct confrontation. In stark contrast, Putin presides over a revisionist, revanchist, and aggressive regime in which the consequences of conflict between Russia and the West are less predictable. This will have major ramifications for NATO and the EU because it challenges their political unity and their determination in confronting a belligerent adversary.

Tensions between Moscow and the West are escalating each day. In the past week, NATO joined the US and over 25 European countries in the expulsion of over 150 Russian diplomats, many of them spies. This was the largest coordinated expulsion since the Cold War. It was precipitated by a military-grade nerve-agent attack orchestrated by Russian services on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. Moscow responded to Allied solidarity by expelling dozens of Western diplomats.

Washington and its allies have also imposed sanctions on Moscow for its military intervention in Ukraine and its meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections. The US ouster of 60 Russian diplomats for the nerve agent attack has further dented Putin’s attempts to forge a deal with President Donald Trump aimed to reestablish distinct spheres of influence across Europe. It appears that the Kremlin may have given up on Trump delivering any benefits to Russia.

In another threatening move, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu asserted that a Russian military aircraft had for the first time since the Cold War conducted a training flight across the North Pole to North America. In recent weeks, Moscow’s sabre rattling has included announcements about the development of new weapons that can allegedly blunt US missile defenses and increased arms supplies to Taliban forces fighting US troops in Afghanistan.

All Allied countries need to demonstrate their solidarity with the UK and NATO in their reaction to Russia’s policies. Moscow’s nerve-agent assault was more than an assassination attempt; it was a chemical weapons attack on a NATO ally in which hundreds of citizens were infected. States that do not respond to such provocations are considered by Moscow as weak links in the Western chain. By showing solidarity with its allies, each capital should expect Allied solidarity in return and will be in a stronger position in dealing with Putin when he turns his attention toward them.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov inevitably accused the US of exerting pressure and blackmail on its Allies regarding the expulsions and blamed it on “Anglo-Saxon arrogance.” He evidently fears that the large-scale expulsions could seriously damage Russia’s ability to gather intelligence in Europe and the US.  However, the expulsions are unlikely to change the Kremlin’s aggressive behavior and the time has come for Western capitals to deploy more effective tools of pressure.

An increasing number of analysts are convinced that Russia must be hit harder by focusing on its extensive assets abroad. One key option is the imposition of financial sanctions on Kremlin officials and their oligarchic cronies. Total private Russian holdings abroad amount to almost $1.3 trillion, as money is regularly syphoned out of the country to benefit a small clique of billionaires.

Since 2006, the personal enrichment of Putin and his closest collaborators has amounted to some $25 billion a year. Putin himself is believed to be the richest man in the world, with a personal wealth of approximately $200 billion in various bank accounts and properties around the world. The US and Britain harbor most of Russia’s offshore wealth because they allow for large-scale and anonymous investment in real estate and other sectors.

American authorities need to be more diligent in implementing existing laws, particularly the Magnitsky Act that is intended to sanction individuals and companies for their role in human rights abuses and Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Secret ownership of property and other assets must be investigated and unearthed, and indeed the FBI probe of Russia’s intervention in the US elections has already revealed several culprits.

The Magnitsky Act prohibits individuals from entering the US and freezes their assets. Until now, the US government has detected only a few million dollars of illicit funds and property, although the US treasury has calculated that at least $300 billion a year has been laundered in the US over the past decade.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is also considering imposing a ban on the City of London in helping Russia to sell its sovereign debt, which helps to prop up the Russian economy. Freezing Putin’s fortunes, cracking down on oligarchs, and curtailing the Russian budget can undermine elite support for Putin and even precipitate a power struggle in the Kremlin. The nerve agent attack should make Moscow nervous.

CYBERWARS: THE NEXT BATTLE

Janusz Bugajski, March 2018

The digital arms race is intensifying. With the FBI still investigating the extent of the information war waged by Moscow during the 2016 US presidential elections, preparations for the next battle are already underway. Russia’s disinformation campaign is gearing up to target the US congressional elections on November 6, while American authorities are still uncertain how to respond.

The mid-term US elections are critical not only for the two parties because they will determine who will hold the balance of power in Washington. They are even more important for President Donald Trump who faces the prospect of impeachment if the Democrats triumph over Republicans in the House of Representatives.

US lawmakers have warned of the urgent need to defend the US election system against attacks from foreign adversaries. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen fears that in addition to the Russian threat, more state and non-state actors are seeking involvement. There are two main avenues areas of attack that experts are concerned about: systematic disinformation spread through the social media and the hacking of vulnerable election infrastructure.

During 2016, Russian agents launched a social media blitz to inflame social tensions and promote certain candidates. In February, FBI special counsel Robert Mueller indicted thirteen Russians for meddling in the elections by using false identities and fake social media accounts in a concerted attack on American democracy coordinated with some US nationals. Intelligence officials now see indications Russian agents are preparing a new round of election attacks targeting public opinion and voting preferences.

Investigators are following the money trail and how Kremlin cash corrupts the social media. Facebook in particular is under intense scrutiny for sharing private information about millions of subscribers with data digging firms such as Cambridge Analytica who then passed the information to Russian operatives. National elections are often decided by a small number of voters in a few key precincts who can be targeted by fabricated news. The US lacks sufficient media education through which citizens can discern facts from fiction and real media from fake media.

Congress needs to pass legislation that would necessitate full transparency in foreign funding sources for social media advertisements and political messaging. A draft law, the Honest Ads Act, would place political ads on the internet under the same regulatory regime as broadcast TV and radio and ban the purchase of political ads by foreign nationals. Legislation should also prohibit election spending by groups linked with foreign governments and foreign-owned corporations. Congress should require social media sites to engage in federal licensing for all foreign-sourced social media accounts that seek to advertise or disseminate information.

On the hacking front, software vulnerabilities exist throughout the US election system, including voter registration, the balloting process, vote counting, and certification. Even Democrats have criticized the Obama administration for failing to warn the public that the voting system was being targeted. Experts believe too little has been done to fix weaknesses in 10,000 U.S. voting jurisdictions that run on obsolete and insecure technology. Moscow attempted to penetrate 21 states including their voter database. Several senators are now pushing for all states to have a backup paper ballot system, so a trail is left in case of system failure or breach of electronic voting machines.

A Senate report has recommended punishing governments attempting to interfere in America’s election infrastructure. It underscores that any US counter-measure must be unified to involve the White House, federal agencies, state and local officials, private companies, the media, and citizens. The primary goal is to protect the election infrastructure including voter registration systems, voting machines, and tally servers.

Some Senators are urging the DHS to create a “red team” in the Department employing a group of highly proficient hackers to break into electoral systems in several US states to demonstrate how easily they can be penetrated. Beyond that, a comprehensive cyber deterrence strategy is needed with several Senators urging American counter-attacks against foreign hackers and disinformation peddlers. Some legislators want the administration to formulate a cyber-retaliation doctrine focusing not only on deterrence but also on offensive measures.

Any major cyberwar initiative requires leadership from the White House, in which the President acknowledges the gravity of the threat to American democracy. Unfortunately Donald Trump failed to even raise the topic of US election security when he telephoned Putin to congratulate him on his fake re-election. President Trump has not spoken clearly on the question of Moscow’s election interference or imposed tough sanctions on Russia.

The longer that the Trump administration delays in implementing a comprehensive strategy of cyber-defense and cyber-counter attack, the more questions will be raised about the President’s motives. An increasing number of people are likely to conclude that Trump may actually want the Kremlin to interfere in the November elections to help Republican candidates and pre-empt potential impeachment by a Democratic Congress.

WHO DECIDES US FOREIGN POLICY?

Janusz Bugajski, March 2018

The sacking of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has raised questions not only about American foreign policy but more importantly about who actually decides that policy and how it is applied. Although US Presidents traditionally determine the direction of policy, it is their interpretation and implementation that remains crucial.

Donald Trump’s Cabinet is in constant turmoil, as the President often makes statements impulsively and without consulting other officials. Sometimes, major policy disagreements can result in a sacking, while on other occasions Trump feels he needs to replace an individual who has appeared disloyal.

Tillerson frequently clashed with Trump and at one point was quoted by the media as calling him “a moron” when concluding that the President had no grasp of foreign affairs. During recent weeks, Trump undermined Tillerson by raging against the nuclear agreement with Iran, imposing tariffs on metal imports that impacts directly on foreign policy, and announcing a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un without consulting his Cabinet.

Trump’s ouster of Tillerson may be the first move in a wider government shakeup. For instance, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, may be sacrificed, as Trump has not forgiven him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and exposing the President to charges of collaborating with the Kremlin. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may also be replaced after questioning by the Senate over his lavish spending on office renovations and private flights that are embarrassing to Trump. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin may also be sacked following release of a report on his ethics violations.

Despite these turnovers, Trump’s national security team remains committed to NATO as the foundation of trans-Atlantic security regardless of Trump’s tweets. The new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former CIA Director, is known as a policy “hawk” which traditionally means a strong supporter of the US military, the NATO alliance, and America’s global role. Under Pompeo there are unlikely to be any major shifts in US policy toward Europe, although there may be some changes of emphasis and intensity in the Middle East and North Korea.

A more worrying prospect for foreign policy is the potential ouster of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who has reportedly never clicked with Trump. Observers will be closely watching his replacement – whether by another strong Atlanticist or a populist-nationalist in the mold of Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon.

The most important and powerful cabinet level official who retains Trump’s trust despite policy disagreements is Defense Secretary James Mattis. His military achievements simply cannot be dismissed by Trump even when he may support a contrary position. It will be instructive to see whether Pompeo sides with Mattis if there are any rifts between the White House and the Pentagon.

Tillerson came under immense criticism from Democrats and some traditional Republicans for alienating many career diplomats and scaling back the State Department. Paradoxically, Pompeo may need to build up the Department again if he is to pursue a more aggressive diplomatic policy, and this could potentially put him at odds with Trump who does not fully understand the need for the US foreign service. It remains to be seen whether Pompeo will be able to neutralize Trump’s often unpredictable decision-making.

While Tillerson left many State Department positions empty, reduced staffing at US embassies abroad, and confined decision-making to a small group of advisers, Pompeo is more expansive. As CIA Director he sent more agents into the field while eliminating bureaucratic red tape and decentralizing some of the Agency’s decision-making to lower levels.

A key test for Pompeo will be his position on Russia, particularly if Trump continues his soft rhetoric toward Putin. In contrast to Tillerson, Pompeo has a blunt-speaking style and will be more aggressive in calling out adversaries that challenge US national and security interests. Instructively, it was Pompeo who helped engineer a detente between Trump and America’s intelligence agencies after the President disparaged them for concluding that Moscow had interfered in the presidential elections.

Pompeo has been helped by the new sanctions imposed on 19 Russians and five entities Russian for their meddling in US elections and persistent cyber attacks. This was the most significant step taken against Moscow since Trump became President. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov asserted that the government was preparing retaliatory measures.

The US has joined its allies in demanding that Moscow explain a military-grade nerve toxin attack in England on a former Russian military intelligence double agent. Additionally, US officials announced that Russian hackers had attempted to break into the American energy grid, which is vulnerable to debilitating cyber attacks.

US-Russia relations continue to deteriorate despite Trump’s often-declared intention for improved cooperation. Pompeo is unlikely to jeopardize his reputation to defend either Putin or Trump. However, the real test will come if the ongoing FBI Special Counsel investigation confirms a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin as well as possible obstruction of justice by the White House.

AMERICA’S DEMOCRAT WAVE

Janusz Bugajski, March 2018

As America’s new election season approaches, fears are growing among Republicans that they will suffer significant setbacks in November. While the governing party usually loses some of its support during congressional mid-terms, the unpopularity of President Donald Trump can drastically increase support for Democratic Party candidates.

The mid-term elections will take place in the middle of  Trump’s term in office. All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the US Senate will be contested, together with numerous state, county, and municipal elections.

In the Senate, Republicans can only afford to lose one seat to maintain their working majority, in which Republican Vice President Mike Pence can break any tied vote. Three of the Republican Senate seats are now open contests because of retirements, while Democrats are defending ten seats in states won by Trump in the presidential elections.

However, it is the House of Representatives that poses the biggest danger to the Republican majority. At least 25 have announced their retirement in recent weeks for a variety of personal and political reasons. Meanwhile, the Democrats need 24 extra seats to gain control of the House.

California and Pennsylvania may be pivotal in November, as it contains 14 House Republicans half of whom could lose their seats because of retirements and public disapproval of policies. In Pennsylvania, the new redistricting map could cost the Republicans six additional seats.  In addition, suburbs in several parts of the country are now leaning Democrat. Democrat victories in recent Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races could indicate the road ahead.

First term midterm elections are invariably bad for the party in power, but approval ratings for congressional Republicans has dipped below expectations. Despite the passage of tax legislation, many citizens are dismayed that a Congress and White House controlled by one party is still incapable of major legislative achievements, such as Trump’s promises on infrastructure and affordable health care.

In addition, the Trump phenomenon could make it even worse for Republican incumbents. Historically, there is a close correlation between the President’s approval ratings and first-term midterm losses by the President’s party. On the six occasions when the President’s job approval among citizens dipped under 50%, the average loss for his party was more than 43 seats.

Trump’s popularity has hovered between 32% and 40%, most of whom are his hard-core supporters. The President’s impulsive moves and the evident chaos in the White House have alienated the majority of Americans. Many believe that Trump’s political instincts, which worked in the 2016 elections, are failing him and his time in office is widely viewed as disastrous.

Numerous senior officials in the White House have resigned in recent months, including Trump’s chief economic advisor Gary Cohn. Rumors abound that he could lose another Chief of Staff and another National Security Advisor in the coming weeks. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have become more critical of the White House, indicating their fears about the election impact.

Republicans had planned to focus on economic growth in the run up to the November elections after passing tax cuts for businesses. Instead, Trump’s sudden imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports could precipitate an international trade war and ultimately damage business development, worker employment, and consumer prices. Trump’s protectionism is anathema to establishment Republicans and indicates a continuing struggle between the traditionalist-conservative and populist-nationalist wings in the party.

Trump himself may keep his Republican base, or about a third of the electorate, but he has alienated many independents and the constant scandals around him have invigorated the Democrats who are likely to turn out to vote in record numbers. Moreover, Trump supporters may simply not be motivated to vote for congressmen that they view as part of the despised Washington establishment and whom Trump has berated in the past as political creatures of “the swamp.”

In this political maelstrom, Moscow is preparing further interventions. US intelligence chief Dan Coats recently informed Congress that Washington must take more vigorous action to deter attacks from Russian sources in the upcoming elections. He asserted that it was “highly likely” that Moscow would engage in a campaign of disruption, similar to its interventions through cyber space and the social media in the 2016 presidential election.

Despite Trump’s denials of any collaboration with Russian sources during his presidential campaign, the Russia question could come back to bite him after the November elections. If the Democrats win the House of Representatives, Trump will face more intensive investigations, frequent subpoenas, and most likely impeachment proceedings. If the House impeaches Trump, the process will then move to the Senate. And although, a two-thirds super majority is required to convict an impeached Preside t and remove him from office, the opprobrium of impeachment could itself force Trump to resign from office.

CROATIA’S UNPREDICTABLE BORDERS

Janusz Bugajski, March 2018

Although Croatia is both a member of NATO and the European Union, it continues to face security challenges along its long southern borders that could drag the country into another war. Although this may be a worst-case scenario, it is important for Zagreb to develop contingencies for its worst-case reactions.

During the past few weeks, EU institutions have issued documents and several EU leaders have conducted tours in the West Balkan states to underscore their renewed commitment to incorporating the entire region inside the Union. The European Commission has issued a new report asserting “A credible enlargement perspective and enhanced EU engagement.” And the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker just completed his first regional pilgrimage in the footsteps of Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Although the EU document claims that the Union can start to admit new members by 2025, there are serious doubts about how realistic such a plan will prove given the enduring problems in several candidate states. Critics argue that the EU announcements do not signify any real acceleration in the enlargement process but are simply a means to press each country to pursue reforms and prevent further instability.

Both Brussels and Washington have expressed heightened concern that renewed conflicts may be just over the horizon. In conditions of economic stagnation, popular frustration, nationalist manipulation, and limited inter-ethnic reconciliation most of the flashpoints are found along Croatia’s southern border.

Bosnia-Herzegovina remains the primary danger where developments can rapidly spiral out of control. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik may not fully realize that he is playing with fire when he toys with the idea of referenda on separation. Bosniak Muslim reactions should not be underestimated and even delayed revenge attacks for the attempted genocide in the 1990s cannot be discounted.

But Bosnia could implode even without a provocative political decision in Banja Luka. Conflict can be triggered by a violent act such as a political assassination or a major terrorist outrage. This could become a pretext for the RS to withdraw from all state institutions in Sarajevo, declare statehood, and construct a hard border across the country. Moreover, the creation of paramilitary forces by Banja Luka will simply encourage similar moves among Bosniaks and Croats. The EU may warn against armed conflict but it lacks the deterrents to prevent it, while any NATO mobilization is likely to be significantly delayed.

In the most extreme scenario, armed clashes between Serbs and Bosniaks will rapidly escalate and draw Croats into the fighting. Such developments may create a vacuum and an opportunity to declare a Croatian entity or even to announce outright autonomy. Croatia and Serbia could not afford to stand on the sidelines during the growing crisis if their kindred across the borders are being killed or expelled. If Bosnia starts to crumble some form of military intervention by Zagreb and Belgrade would become practically inevitable, with an enormous risk of clashes between the two neighbors.

At this point NATO would automatically become involved in the war to honor its article five pledge to Croatia, while Moscow would not want to lose credibility by claiming neutrality. Having assisted Dodik in creating a paramilitary force and fearing that Serbia could suffer a military defeat, the Kremlin would probably intervene either with its special forces or assorted “volunteers” relocated from Ukraine or Syria. This would raise the prospects for NATO-Russia clashes, with Croatia trapped in the middle.

A second crisis scenario along Croatia’s southern border could involve Montenegro. Although Montenegro has already entered NATO and is a primary candidate for EU accession, Moscow has not surrendered the country to the West and will use any opportunities to incite conflict. The attempted coup and assassination attempt in October 2016 was intended to demonstrate that Moscow has every means at its disposal including outright violence.\

The coup plot was also designed to deliver a strong message to Serbia. In effect, Belgrade needs to comply with Russia’s international aspirations or face a potential overthrow of the Aleksandar Vucic government. Russian officials have no enduring loyalties toward their Serbian counterparts but exploit the latter’s economic needs and nationalist yearnings to further Moscow’s anti-Atlanticist agenda.

An assassination or coup in Serbia would further damage relations with all of Serbia’s neighbors and could increase pressure on Bosnia, Kosova, and Montenegro in particular. An even more pro-Moscow administration in Belgrade could jettison its EU aspirations and even stage provocations against Croatia in attempts to embroil the country in the region’s instabilities. Just as the Kremlin is testing NATO commitments toward the three Baltic states, Serbia could be used as a vehicle by Moscow to test Alliance commitments in defending Croatia and Montenegro.

Zagreb cannot sit on its hands and assume that conflict and war have been consigned to history. In addition to preparing for potential military and self-defense operations, it would be valuable to expand the “Immediate Response” exercises with NATO forces and develop contingency plans for a series of crises along Croatia’s unpredictable southern borders.

RUSSIA AFTER PUTIN

Janusz Bugajski, February 2018

One key element of Kremlin disinformation is to convince NATO capitals that the fall of Vladimir Putin will spark a global Armageddon. Russian officials, propagandists, trolls, and gullible Westerners recite the credo that regime change in Russia will precipitate chaos, conflict, and even a nuclear war. Instead of succumbing to such hyperbole, it is valuable to consider Russia’s “Fuehrer Principle” while evaluating the potential alternatives to Putin.

The notion that the removal of a Russian leader is a dangerous endeavor is deeply rooted in Soviet and Tsarist tradition. Each of Moscow’s rulers is portrayed as the infallible representative of the Russian state and the supreme defender of its people. “Without Putin there is no Russia” is a phrase heard among the most fawning officials and demonstrates how Tsars, Secretary-Generals, and Presidents are depicted as quasi-divine figures. To escape from this autocratic straightjacket, Russia’s citizens periodically rebel but are quickly strapped down again through repression and propaganda.

It is worth remembering the warnings about regional and global conflagrations during the early 1990s in the event that communist rule collapsed or the Soviet Union disintegrated. In reality, neither episode triggered international conflict. On the contrary, the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union were celebrated among Russia’s neighbors. Each country could finally achieve independence and the majority of states sought membership in Western institutions without fear of Moscow’s violent reprisals.

As Putin is unlikely to voluntarily disappear into the sunset, his ouster is likely to be sudden and possibly violent. He faces three scenarios of abrupt replacement, other than a natural death or a fatal accident – assassination, a power struggle, or a popular revolt.

Assassinations are not uncommon in Russian politics and although the President has an army of guards he cannot guarantee the loyalty or mental stability of every subordinate. A successful assassination could be the result of an internal power struggle, if Putin is increasingly viewed as an impediment for elite enrichment and a serial loser on the international arena. Conversely, the assassination of Putin may become a trigger for competing elites to try and seize the Kremlin reigns. Less likely, but not inconceivable is a mass popular revolt that overthrows Putin once a sufficient mass of people conclude that even the unpredictability of revolution is preferable to the inevitability of economic destitution.

The Kremlin traditionally wards off any support for a new regime by claiming that the alternative would be worse than the incumbent. In reality, the impact of Putin’s demise will depend on the identity of his replacement and not on the act of dethronement. The post-Putin administration may be of several possible varieties.

The new Kremlin head may initially assume an aggressive and imperialist posture. However, as Putin’s revisionist enterprise, including the seizure of Crimea, has actually impoverished the Russian state, his successor may calculate that further expansionist ventures are self-defeating. It is conceivable that the next Russian leader who fears the country’s economic collapse may turn to a more virulent ethno-nationalism in order to deflect public unrest toward internal and external enemies. But such a move carries even greater risks than those taken by Putin, as it could release the genie of ethnic and religious conflict inside Russia itself. An assertive Russian nationalism will alienate the non-Russian population which forms about a quarter of the country’s total and some of whom may press for separation from Moscow.

Alternatively, we cannot discount the prospect that a post-Putin regime may be more internally focused on reforming, modernizing, and reviving the economy and will conclude that decentralization and genuine federalism is more productive than centralized political repression. Hence, post-Putinism could lead either to the collapse of the state or its economic revival.

Bordering countries are particularly anxious about Russia’s internal developments because Moscow habitually disguises its own problems by attacking them. After eighteen years of Putinism, each capital has concluded that Russia’s commander-in-chief is an autocrat and imperialist. He subverts neighbors political systems, incites social and ethnic divisions, threatens war, supports separatist groups, and annexes territories. Hence, a change of regime in Moscow may open up more productive possibilities in bilateral relations.

Indeed, the next Kremlin leaders may decide that Russia desperately needs foreign investment and modern technology in order to restart economic growth. To attract Western capital, Russia would need to reduce its attacks on European states and behave as a responsible international player. Such a scenario would clearly be the most beneficial for the US and Europe even if the new détente proves to be a temporary interlude. The alternative, marked by internal decay and potential state fracture, will severely weaken the Kremlin and diminish its international capabilities.

Western governments have little practical influence over Russia’s internal evolution, otherwise why would they have tolerated its expansionist communism for over seventy years. But regardless of which scenario materializes in the Kremlin, Washington and its European allies should be preparing their responses to a post-Putin Russia, both to protect themselves against potential negatives and to engage with potential positives.

DANGERS OF AN ATLANTIC RIFT

Janusz Bugajski, February 2018

The EU’s new defense agreement risks weakening NATO and alienating the Trump administration from its Atlantic allies. If the PESCO pact among EU members leads to the diversion of resources and equipment from NATO then some in the White House may conclude that candidate Trump was correct in claiming that the North Atlantic Alliance has become obsolete.

The EU launched its Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defense (PESCO) at the close of 2017, a project driven primarily by Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Although the list of potential PESCO projects is still being decided, its members will initially focus on 17 areas, including improved military training and cyber defense, for which a new funding mechanism will be established. Such developments have generated concerns in the Pentagon.

US officials and generals are anxious that some of the proposed PESCO initiatives may pull resources and military capabilities out of NATO. In his recent visit to NATO HQ in Brussels, Defense Secretary James Mattis informed his European counterparts that the US is generally supportive of PESCO as long as it is complimentary to NATO’s activities and requirements and not a competitor.

One useful PESCO initiative would be to lower legal requirements that slow the movement of military equipment between European states in case of a crisis. This has been a major focus for NATO since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. However, the Pentagon is concerned that PESCO may compound the problem by creating two sets of rules, one for the EU and one for NATO.

The US seeks to enhance practical co-operation among allies, as Washington has placed the threat from Moscow at the forefront of its new national defense strategy. A new NATO Joint Force Command for the Atlantic is to be established, the first since the end of the Cold War. Its mission will be to help protect sea lines of communication between North America and Europe and counter Russia’s military probing.

Above all, Mattis wants to focus Europe on modernization and burden sharing. Only Estonia, Greece, Poland, Romania, and the UK fulfill the 2% of GDP requirements for military spending. Washington is also urging NATO members to meet an equally important guideline by allocating at least 20% of their defense spending for military equipment. Less than half of the Alliance met this stipulation last year. Washington also wants to ensure that any closer EU co-operation does not undermine the commitment of NATO members in the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

An EU defense structure including a single EU army has been under discussion for several decades but continues to have opponents who perceived it as a challenge to NATO. The majority of EU members from Central and East Europe are skeptical about any distinct EU force that could undermine NATO precisely at a time when the Alliance needs to strengthen its capabilities to deter Moscow. Moreover, the EU has lost some of its potential military muscle in the wake of Brexit.

Supporters of PESCO argue that the initiative will not conflict with NATO. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini claimed that PESCO would be able to take actions where NATO could only use military tools. If that is the case, then PESCO is not a serious attempt at developing hard security but another mechanism for such mission as providing humanitarian relief and development aid.

If PESCO results in a limited mandate for a small international crisis-response force then this could prove valuable. In the past 15 years the EU has engaged in over thirty international missions, including peacekeeping and police-training operations in Africa, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The creation of a compact international force could also help in intercepting refugee smuggling and other forms of trafficking, combatting piracy, rescuing distressed ships, providing humanitarian assistance, and contributing to counter-terrorism operations throughout Europe.

Another potentially positive outcome of PESCO would be to integrate the fractured EU defense industry. Analysts estimate that EU governments could save more than €25 billion annually if they coordinated their defense purchases to focus on the bloc’s overall security needs. However, American officials have warned the EU not to use any deepening of military cooperation to impose protectionist measures around Europe’s defense industry by excluding US companies from the bidding process for military equipment.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has asserted that EU efforts to boost its defense spending under the pact were welcome, but only if this was coordinated with NATO. He also warned that the EU could not replace the Alliance in guaranteeing European security and should not even try. Instead, the Union should pool its security within the most effective security organization that maintains the US in Europe.

Hopefully, as in past iterations of a European security arm, officials in Brussels and a few other capitals will make a few commitments, sign a few documents, and create a new bureaucracy, but the initiative silently fizzles out and only NATO remains standing as the sole effective guarantor of trans-Atlantic security.

MOSCOW FEARS NATO

Janusz Bugajski, February 2018

Moscow has manufactured a thick mist of disinformation about NATO in order to disguise its expansionist policies in Europe’s east. Nonetheless, lurking behind this propaganda offensive is a genuine fear in the Kremlin that the North Atlantic Alliance will thwart Kremlin ambitions and weaken the Vladimir Putin regime.

Russia’s NATO myth making can be debunked by examining the evidence. According to Moscow’s deceptions, Russia tried to join Western institutions during the 1990s but was rebuffed and ostracized. In reality, the Russian Federation has failed to meet the basic standards for either EU or NATO membership, whether in the rule of law, democratic governance, or military reform, and its aggressive aspirations toward neighboring states counters the core principles of both multinational organizations.

Russia’s officials also contend that NATO captured the post-communist countries and threatened Russia’s borders. In reality, NATO enlargement over the past twenty years has been a voluntary process initiated by each aspirant state. It has not created a hostile alliance along Russia’s western frontiers but improved relations between new NATO members and diminished their fear of Kremlin attacks. Moreover, no neighboring country has voiced claims to Russia’s territory or its resources. Above all, NATO, in its doctrine, exercises, military posture, and force dispositions is neither a threat to Russia’s statehood nor a danger to its territorial integrity.

Despite these facts, the Kremlin has a troika of fears about NATO. These do not revolve around Russia’s national security but are based on profound anxieties about the future of the Putin administration.

In the first place, the Kremlin President has anchored his domestic legitimacy on restoring Russia’s great power status and reigning in neighbors that have veered away from Moscow. Such ambitions are blocked when aspirants enter NATO and benefit from its core principle of mutual defense. And although Russian security is not challenged by any country’s accession to NATO, Moscow’s ability to control their security dimensions and foreign policy orientations is largely thwarted. In this sense, NATO is an effective threat against Russia’s threat.

The second fear for the Putinists is that NATO is a source of attraction for other post-Soviet states, including Russia’s allies. Unlike NATO and the EU, Moscow’s alliances are not voluntary but consist of countries trapped in a dependency relationship based on blackmail, bribery, and threat. In seeking genuine national independence several capitals have turned to Western institutions for help and protection. When they do, Moscow inverts reality by claiming that it is being surrounded by enemies and needs to pursue an aggressive posture to combat them

In the most glaring recent example of truth inversion, in justifying its attack on Ukraine Moscow charged that Washington organized the overthrow of the government in Kyiv in February 2014 primarily to create an excuse for reinvigorating NATO and deploying American forces closer to Russia’s borders. In reality, the Ukrainian revolution was indigenous and is thereby a potential precedent for Russia itself. NATO simply responded to Russia’s attack on Ukraine and its escalating threats against the Alliance’s eastern flank by increasing its defensive presence in the region.

Third, and most importantly, Moscow fears NATO as the security core of Europe’s development that challenges the credibility of Russia’s ruling dictatorship. Not surprisingly, the Kremlin’s main fear over Ukraine was the prospect that its large neighbor would be transformed into a democratic, unified, and prosperous state that achieves EU accession and NATO membership. Such a model of development can become increasingly attractive for Russia’s citizens.

For Kremlin officials an independent, democratic, economically stable, and internationally integrated Ukraine symbolizes everything that threatens their hold on power. A successful Ukrainian model of development would expose the Russian model as a failure and inspire dozens of impoverished federal regions to seek greater control over their own destiny by opposing the current hyper-centralized regime in Moscow.

From the outset, relations between NATO and Russia have been based on false premises. Putin’s Moscow does not see NATO as a potential partner but as its primary rival, territorial competitor, and existential political threat. The Kremlin’s methodology has involved drawing the Alliance into ephemeral joint initiatives in combating terrorism and curbing nuclear proliferation. In reality, this lulls NATO leaders into a false sense of confidence while Moscow prepares new assaults against its neighbors and subverts NATO states from within.

The NATO-Russia Council, established in May 2002, was aborted after August 2008 in the wake of Moscow’s attack on Georgia. After lulling the West into another false dawn, amid growing calls for restoring the Council, in April 2014 NATO again suspended practical co-operation in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. To prevent a third failure, NATO must develop a new realism toward Moscow, one that is not based on grand bargains, power balances, or global cooperation but on upholding the principles on which NATO was founded – the defense of democracies on both sides of the Atlantic and effective opposition to any power that seeks to dominate Europe.

US SHOULD INTERFERE IN RUSSIA ELECTIONS

Janusz Bugajski, February 2018

With the CIA reporting that Moscow is preparing to interfere in America’s mid term Congressional elections in November, it is time for America to launch a cyber offensive against Russia. Instead of simply monitoring and warning about Russian state-sponsored hacking and manipulation of American public opinion, the best form of defense would be a targeted cyber onslaught that undermines the stability of the Vladimir Putin regime.

CIA chief Mike Pompeo issued a warning about Russian interference in the US political system at the same time that he met secretly in Washington with the heads of Russia’s three main intelligence agencies. Speculations about the meetings have persisted, whether to explore cooperation in countering international terrorism or nuclear proliferation. Another explanation is that the three spy chiefs may have been offered a freeze in sanctions policy in return for desisting from manipulating the US elections.

And indeed, despite a Congressional deadline for the end of January, the Trump administration did not impose new sanctions on Putin’s corrupt cronies who finance international subversion but simply published a broad list of officials and oligarchs. If Moscow fails to stem its election interference and evidence mounts that hacking and disinformation have intensified, then the pressure for new sanctions is likely to escalate in Washington.

However, sanctions are rarely an effective tool and often take years to have any significant impact. To demonstrate that Washington is serious in countering Moscow’s attack a covert cyber onslaught needs to be launched on Russia’s own political process. Indeed, the first principle of any war, whether material or cyber, is not only to defend against attack, but above all to counterattack and stymie the aggressor.

According to Pompeo, Moscow is targeting the Congressional elections in order to influence the result or to generate confusion and chaos. Kremlin-aligned hacking group Fancy Bear—notorious for stealing e-mails from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential elections—is evidently making preparations to penetrate and leak US Senate e-mails.

What Pompeo did not point out is that Russia itself faces presidential “elections” on 18 March and the country is equally vulnerable to attack from cyber hackers. The most logical US strategy would be to undermine Russia’s political networks whose objective is to damage Western democracies. A key component of such a covert assault would be to hack and disseminate official Russian communications and documents, with a focus on the Kremlin, government ministries, parliament, and all subservient political parties, as well as private communications between Russian officials.

Although the regime controls the major media outlets, the most incendiary leaks can be circulated through the internet and the social media – a favorite instrument of Kremlin disinformation in the West. They could even be camouflaged as emanating from within Russia, including from inside the ruling circles. The purpose would be to uncover and publicly disclose the most provocative scandals of Russia’s high officials and the extent of their corrupt governance, opulent lifestyles, public lies, personal hypocrisies, and contempt for ordinary citizens. Especially valuable would be messages that reveal a willingness to betray the country for personal gain. And Western intelligence services possess more information about Putin’s theft of the Russian budget than Alexei Navalny, the main anti-Kremlin activist barred from the elections.

The US offensive can be extended beyond the March elections, as part of a broader psychological influence operation. This offensive needs to be geared toward two core objectives: alienating the public from the regime and promoting power struggles inside the ruling stratum. Detailed revelations about official treason and financial abuse while living standards for the masses dramatically collapse can fuel social, ethnic, regional, and religious unrest. Any attempts at regime change would then become the task of the exploited and manipulated Russian people.

Simultaneously, disclosures about conflicts within the ruling elite will generate uncertainty and anxiety in government circles and indicate the regime’s vulnerabilities. The promotion of regime power struggles may not precipitate Putin’s downfall, but it can distract the authorities from their unchallenged cyber war against America. It will spread suspicion and distrust between officials, raise fears about political purges and repressions, and may lead some fractions to take preemptive actions that would escalate the disputes and potentially endanger Putin’s rule.

Although the result of the March elections is already decided, an avalanche of revelations can discourage voters and diminish the turnout. Although the turnout percentage has no legal bearing on the validity of the results, a vote of under fifty percent will be viewed as a sharp decline in Putin’s popularity and government legitimacy.

Voices of appeasement will of course be heard in Washington, deriding any US cyber and informational offensive against Moscow as being too provocative. Such a position is not only short-sighted, it is also dangerous. Weakness and hesitation simply whet the Kremlin’s appetite. The attacks on US democracy continue to this day precisely because of our lack of resolve and action. Moreover, as Moscow will in any case accuse America of interfering in its elections, Washington might as well make such intervention consequential. It is time for America’s democracy to destabilize Russia’s dictatorship.

TRUMP’S FIRST YEAR

Janusz Bugajski, January 2018

President Donald Trump launched his second year in office by a visit to the World Economic Council in Davos. Despite his combative and self-congratulatory speech, Trump’s foreign policy record during the first year in office has been marked by shortcomings, contradictions, and unintended consequences.

In Europe, Trump claims to have pursued closer bilateral ties and a business friendly agenda, but the results show serious shortcomings. US relations with the UK and Germany at the leadership level have rarely been weaker since World War Two, although this has not ultimately threatened the security ties maintained by Trump’s national security team.

The promised bilateral trade agreements have not been forged, as the EU remains a single market and evidently resilient to further national “exits.” Trump’s public popularity ratings in virtually every state make George W. Bush seem like a European celebrity. Trump’s withdrawal from the climate agreement, his xenophobic statements, and his attacks on various European governments as being weak on terrorism have alienated large sectors of the population.

With NATO, Trump has been more successful, but this despite his own statements on the Alliance. His security team working in tandem with Congress have reaffirmed the importance of NATO, underscored US commitments to article five for collective defense, strengthened NATO’s presence along its eastern flank, and have not blinked when facing Russia’s constant threats.

With regard to North Korea, Trump has created fear and confusion but without any end product. Pyongyang continues to manufacture and test its rocketry and nuclear devices and analysts estimate that within the coming year it will have the capability to hit the US with a nuclear weapon. Moscow continues to provide Pyongyang with the needed technology and both Russia and China bypass US economic sanctions as they want the Kim Jong Un regime to survive. Trump threats of nuclear annihilation have plainly not achieved nuclear disarmament and tensions will again increase this year.

In the Middle East, Trump claims that he has defeated the Islamic State terrorists, but the result is a mixed picture. Increased bombing of IS targets certainly contributed to shrinking their territories in Syria, but the prime agents were Kurdish forces, the Syrian opposition, and Syrian government military assisted by Russia. Although Trump pledged to stamp out terrorism globally, in reality the Islamic militants will simply move and mushroom in other unstable states in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central and Southern Asia. And they will continue to threaten the US and Europe regardless of how many refugees from war zones are allowed into Western countries.

In Israel, Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and to threaten a cut-off in aid to the Palestinian authority is widely seen as the end of the two-state solution that may close the peace process. Analysts expect a growth of anti-Americanism and terrorist outrages as a result of Trump’s decision.

In the case of China, Trump has sent contradictory signals. While he praises President Xi Jinping as a great leader, he simultaneously attacks China’s economic and trading polices. However, his recipe for thwarting China’s predatory trade policies are backfiring. For instance, US withdrawal from the Pacific free trade agreement simply gives Beijing more influence and opportunities around the Pacific rim, while the imposition of tariffs on Chinese products is likely to hurt American consumers more than Chinese businesses.

In the case of Africa, Trump’s comments about “shit-hole” countries sending immigrants to America have been condemned as racism and discrimination. They will sour relations with several dozen countries that may increasingly look to China as an alternative investor, developer, and security partner.

In the case of Russia, Trump’s initial policy direction has been completely contradicted by later developments. Relations with Moscow have certainly not improved, despite the fact that Trump has consistently praised Putin and called for cooperation with Moscow in combating terrorism. In reality, relations continue to deteriorate with a host of disputes over Ukraine, Syria, NATO, North Korea, and US sanctions.

The perennial question of Russia hangs around the President’s neck, as one part of the FBI investigation is approaching its climax. The intense probe of whether Trump obstructed justice in preventing the FBI from investigating campaign collusion with Russia’s intelligence services has now reached the White House. Special Investigator Robert Mueller wants to interview Trump himself and the President’s lawyers fear that he could implicate himself even more if he agrees to talk under oath.

America is experiencing a unique era, in which there appear to be two foreign policies: the policy of words and the policy of deeds. Trump brash, loud, and controversial statements sometimes result in decisions that damage America’s position in the world. On the other hand, the President’s national security team continues to pursue the policy of the deed, in which US commitments are fulfilled and major damage is avoided. However, this balancing act between the President and the cabinet may sooner or later become untenable in the face of some major crisis in which a singular US policy will need to prevail.

BALKANS NEED A VIGOROUS US STRATEGY

Janusz Bugajski, January 2018

The Balkans are returning onto America’s radar screen, as threats to regional stability and European integrity are mounting. To prevent a dangerous spiral of escalation, Washington needs to pursue a more vigorous strategy to help secure the remaining states within Western institutions and curtail Russia’s spreading subversion.

Drift and delay in dealing with the Western Balkans can give a false sense of security. After years of relative peace and progress, a new crisis can erupt when ambitious nationalist politicians and foreign governments are intent on provoking armed conflicts to gain power or expand their influence.

In recent months, the region has witnessed several ominous developments, including a Moscow-directed coup attempt in Montenegro, the creation of a Russian-trained paramilitary force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the assassination of a moderate Serb politician in Kosova. Whether or not there is a grand strategy behind the three incidents, it is clear that nationalist radicals and Kremlin operatives directly benefit from the resulting instability.

In October 2016, Montenegrin police arrested several suspects, including former Serbian gendarmerie chief Branislav Dikic, on charges of plotting a coup against the elected government. Evidence indicates they were funded and directed by Russia’s military intelligence service. The plot was confirmed by Western intelligence and by the Serbian authorities, which provided Montenegro with assistance in apprehending the conspirators.

In recent weeks, reports have surfaced about the creation of a paramilitary force styled as Serbian Honor (Srbski Ponos) at the behest of Milorad Dodik, President of the Serbian entity in Bosnia. According to local analysts, the unit has been trained in Russia and at Moscow’s military outpost in the Serbian city of Nis. Some of its members fought as mercenaries alongside the Kremlin’s proxy separatists in Ukraine. Bosnia’s Minister of Security Dragan Mektic, a member of the opposition Serbian Democratic Party, confirmed the existence of the paramilitaries whose objective is to defend the Serb entity in case of conflict with the central government in Sarajevo.

In another blow to regional stability, Oliver Ivanović, a prominent Serb politician in Kosova who favored talks with the government in Prishtina, was gunned down outside his party headquarters on the day that Belgrade and Prishtina resumed talks on normalizing relations. Although investigators have yet to find the culprits, the assassination clearly profits politicians who want the talks to fail. Indeed, the Serbian delegation withdrew from the discussions after news of the murder was announced.

To prevent political radicalization and ethnic polarization that could ignite armed conflicts, a more vigorous Western Balkan strategy led by Washington is urgently needed. Such an initiative must be grounded on three pillars – counter-subversion, national security, and regional collaboration.

Counter-subversion entails monitoring and combating imminent security threats, whether these stem from illegal paramilitaries, terrorist cells, criminal organizations, or Russian-financed networks. Improved intelligence collection, police effectiveness, banking transparency, judicial reform, media responsibility, information literacy, and the elimination of political corruption can reduce the sub-military threats. Washington can play a more prominent role in developing a comprehensive inter-agency approach to help defuse the dangers.

In bolstering national security, each state needs to be brought under the NATO umbrella with its defense structure modernized according to NATO standards. Last year’s accession of Montenegro into the Alliance is a consequential step in this process. Washington can take the lead role in unblocking Macedonia’s and Bosnia’s progress toward NATO and offering both Serbia and Kosova dual entry once they establish full bilateral ties and complete the necessary military reforms.

However, even NATO inclusion is not sufficient to ensure security. The Alliance must not only assist each state in its struggle against domestic and foreign subversion but also avoid moves that undermine national stability. For instance, attempts by some Western embassies to sideline Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro’s most important political figure, are a short-sighted strategic mistake. One cannot assume that because Montenegro joined NATO then its security problems are fully resolved. The Kremlin together with Serb nationalists will continue to undermine the state and without a proven pro-Western leadership opportunities for destabilization will expand.

The third pillar of US policy should enhance opportunities for regional security collaboration, in which practical initiatives defuse tensions. Countering political and religious terrorism, organized crime, and foreign subversion provide valuable arenas for cross-border cooperation. For instance, the murder of Ivanovic may actually improve ties between Belgrade and Prishtina. Because the destabilization of one state has a ripple effect on neighbors, each government will enhance its effectiveness by working jointly. Moreover, such collaboration would also boost their credentials for both NATO and EU membership.

In an important recent initiative, the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee has ordered a report from the Defense Department on Russia’s intrusions in the Western Balkans. It is especially concerned about Serbia’s defense links with Moscow and how its acquisition of new weapons systems may affect regional stability. The investigation of both hard and soft security threats is the first step in combating the dangers and demonstrating America’s effectiveness in countering Putin’s strategy of destabilization.

AMERICA POISED FOR AN OFFENSIVE

Janusz Bugajski, January 2018

At the start of 2018 there are indications that the US is poised to take the offensive against Russia’s persistent subversion of Western institutions. A series of high-level reports and resolutions by the US Congress and a number of imminent steps by the Trump administration is likely to intensify the struggle with Moscow.

The Trump administration has two parallel foreign policies. On the one hand, Trump and his closest advisors, family members, and long-time friends act on impulse in trying to implement campaign promises to cut America’s foreign entanglements. On the other hand, the traditional internationalists in the cabinet seek to bypass the President and assert America’s global strategy. The majority of Congress quietly supports this parallel government that prevents Trump from damaging US interests.

Despite acquiescing to the President domestically, Congress has proved more assertive internationally. It has overwhelmingly passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act to punish Russian oligarchs and entities linked with Kremlin interference in US elections. Trump reluctantly signed it into law, although its provisions are still to be implemented. If enacted this would have a crippling economic effect on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s presidential elections in March.

A new US Senate report produced by the Democrats asserts that the Trump administration has been negligent in responding to Putin’s election interference. The report urges better coordination among the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence services, and other US agencies to more effectively counter Moscow’s assaults.

There are growing fears about the Congressional elections scheduled for November and the primaries in the Spring. America’s vulnerabilities are evident in cyberspace and the social media sphere. In particular, measures need to be taken to help safeguard the electronic voting process from hacking and other forms of sabotage. Analysts are warning that Russian agents will have refined their tactics of interference to try and influence candidates and voters.

With approval from traditional Republicans, the White House itself has issued a National Security Strategy that contradicts Trump’s campaign statements that cooperating with Russia will transform it into a friendly partner. According to the document, the Kremlin is intent on weakening US influence and divide the Western allies, and preventative actions must be taken.

Despite the Kremlin attacks, some appeasers in Washington linked with Trump hope to diminish the escalating conflict with Moscow. The problem is that any unilateral move by the US will be perceived as weakness in the Kremlin. For instance, a halt to NATO enlargement and a weaker US military presence in Europe would signal to Putin that it may be a propitious time for another adventure against a neighboring state. Moreover, any talk about a new “security architecture” in Europe that sidelines NATO is music to the ears of Russia’s ruling imperialists.

When Moscow expresses outrage at some assertive US initiative, Russia’s propagandists aim to frighten the US public and policy makers with the threat of war. Fortunately, the most seasoned policy makers understand that strength and action are genuine deterrents while weakness and prevarication actually provoke the Kremlin.

As a result, arming Ukraine with lethal weapons, the further expansion of NATO in the Balkans, NATO Membership Action Plans (MAPs) for Ukraine and Georgia, and a more robust military presence along NATO’s eastern flank and in the Baltic and Black Seas, will signal to the Kremlin that Washington is no longer hesitating in its policy offensive.

In a significant recent bipartisan initiative, the US Congress has ordered a new report from the Defense Department on “Growing Russian Interests and Current Intrusions into the Western Balkans.” Congress is increasingly concerned about Serbia’s defense ties with Moscow and how this affects regional stability and the NATO presence. Belgrade has acquired a number of weapons systems in the past five years that could prove threatening to NATO members such as Croatia and to the stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova, and Montenegro.

Serbia’s armed forces also participate in Russian exercises and Moscow’s operatives have penetrated Serbia’s intelligence services. All these factors pose a direct threat to the Alliance and cast a shadow over US and NATO cooperation with Belgrade. Indeed, there are suspicions that Serbia is becoming an outpost of Russian expansionism and even a facilitator of Moscow’s penetration of Western institutions.

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee has asserted that Washington needs a more effective plan to counter Moscow’s destabilizing influence throughout the Balkans and wants the Pentagon and State Department to additionally examine ties between Russia and other Balkan governments, including Bosnia’s Serb entity.

The intensifying FBI investigation of the Trump campaign will increase pressure on the White House. Regardless of the outcome, it will prevent the President from making any significant conciliatory moves toward Moscow. Washington will become even more combative if Democrats regain control of one or both houses of Congress during the November ballot, which even senior Republicans are now predicting. At that point, not only could the Trump presidency be imperiled with impeachment, but calls will intensify for retribution against Kremlin subversion of America’s political process.

TRUMP BATTLES FOR REPUBLICAN BASE

Janusz Bugajski, January 2018

The rift between President Donald Trump and his former chief strategist Steve Bannon has inflamed the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. If the split is permanent and Bannon turns against his former boss, then Trump’s support among the populist wing of the party could decline and his presidency would be further imperiled.

Trump’s election victory was driven by a core of Republican voters who were mobilized by populist messages that Bannon helped to craft. Bannon has been a key figure in the “alt right” (alternative right) movement that helped Trump appeal to anti-establishment rightists, economic nationalists, and religious conservatives.

Trump won the presidency partly because of the high turnout among the Republican base, about one third of which are hard-core rightists and nativists. Their long-term reaction to Bannon’s rift with Trump will determine whether Republicans win or lose the Senate and House of Representatives in mid-term elections in November 2018. Although they will not vote Democrat, the question is whether they will be motivated to vote at all.

Trump has excoriated his former chief strategist, claiming that Bannon had “lost his mind” after being pushed out of the White House a few month ago. The President attacked Bannon after a new book by investigative journalist Michael Wolff “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” quoted Bannon criticizing senior members of the Trump campaign. He implied that Trump’s son and son-in-law were engaging in “treason” for meeting with Russian government agents during the election campaign.

Trump’s maintained regular contact with Bannon even after he was pushed out of the White House by the President’s new chief-of-staff General John Kelly. Bannon had influence over Trump as a de facto leader of the rightist populist movement. He returned to the helm of the ultra-right website, Breitbart, and has been focused on creating a political network to support nationalist and populist candidates against traditional Republicans.

Over recent months, Bannon has waged a political war against the two most prominent Republicans – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan. He has accused them of being part of the corrupt establishment and undermining Trump’s populist and protectionist agenda. He has pledged to back new Republican candidates in the mid-term congressional elections to challenge the traditionalists. He uses his Breitbart media outlet to attack and discredit establishment figures and promote alternatives.

However, Bannon’s impact has come under question over the past month, especially after backing the losing Republican candidate in the Senate election in Alabama to fill a seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Bannon even convinced Trump to support the controversial candidate who was accused of sexual liaisons with under-age girls.

Mainstream Republicans are now hopeful that Bannon’s campaign against the party establishment will be extinguished after the split with Trump. Democrats may also miss his potential decline, as he was fuelling the Republican civil war and his populist campaign could ensure significant victories for Democrats in upcoming elections.

Bannon is also in conflict with several of Trump’s cabinet members and senior advisors. He presents himself as the guardian of Trump’s populist movement in conflict with “globalists” espousing free trade and “open borders,” including Trump’s relatives. His attacks on daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner have clearly angered Trump and contributed to his venomous recent tweets against Bannon.

Bannon’s criticisms of Donald Trump Junior and Jared Kushner as potential traitors for meeting with Russian operatives will also provide extra ammunition for the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign. Indeed, Bannon may seek revenge against the “globalists” by providing evidence against them to Special Counsel Robert Mueller whose probe of Kremlin collusion, obstruction of justice, and financial crimes are increasingly focused on the Trump family.

If Bannon concludes that the presidency is irredeemably compromised by White House deals with globalists and establishment Republicans he may become Trump’s biggest critic for betraying his support base. Although the base may no longer find Bannon as appealing after his break with Trump, his persistent attacks could diminish enthusiasm for Republican candidates in the November elections.

A major deciding factor will be economic conditions, as Trump‘s working class voters were promised better jobs and higher wages. Major tax cuts for the rich and for private businesses in recently passed legislation and the record setting stock exchange will have little impact on their livelihoods. Additionally, cuts in government welfare programs and attacks on comprehensive health care may actually hit Trump’s base even harder.

Bannon and the populists support a redistributive economic agenda with tax cuts for working and middle classes, and they view much of the business class as part of the ossified establishment. In addition, one of the main planks of Trump’s campaign was to limit immigration in order to allegedly create jobs for US citizens. The stalemate in building a wall along the Mexican border will contribute to their apathy and resentment and Trump could well be the long-term loser.

 

THE BATTLE OVER KOSOVA

Janusz Bugajski, January 2018

2018 is bound to bring several surprises, particularly in the Balkans. Although the region has made progress in moving closer to NATO and the EU, as well as registering some economic growth, dangers continue to lurk beneath the surface. In addition to a potential Bosnian implosion and another Macedonian crisis, the Serbia-Kosova conflict could place the US and Russia at loggerheads.

EU-sponsored talks between Belgrade and Prishtina, initiated during the Brussels Agreement in April 2013, have stalled. Moreover, the negotiations have only handled smaller and easier issues, on the assumption that a step-by-step approach would help build confidence while leaving the more critical questions for later. The problem is that “later” has already arrived and the remaining questions may not be resolvable without tackling the bigger ones.

During the past year, the parliament in Prishtina has failed to ratify an agreement on establishing an Association of Serbian Municipalities. Its opponents argue that it could turn Kosova into another divided state such as Bosnia. In addition, Prishtina does not see any reciprocal moved by Belgrade that would strengthen Kosova’s statehood. The stalemate suits neither side, as it retards Kosova’s international progress and Serbia’s EU aspirations.

With the Kosovar government coming under increasing criticism from Brussels, officials are now seeking US involvement in a renewed dialogue with Belgrade, and the new US administration might be more willing to participate than the previous one.

After a December meeting at the White House, Kosova’s President Hashim Thaci claimed that US Vice President Mike Pence pledged that America would be directly involved in reaching a final agreement to “normalize” relations between Kosova and Serbia and to bring Kosova into the UN. What this will mean in practice is still unclear, although it seems evident that the Trump team is seeking some foreign policy successes.

Americans are already indirectly involved in the Serbia-Kosova negotiations and remain well-informed on their progress and regress. Washington is concluding that practical questions can be more effectively handled by the EU, such as protecting religious buildings, agreeing on border posts, and forging cooperation on energy links or telecommunications. However, Brussels has studiously avoided dealing with the more fundamental roadblocks.

The main concern for the US revolves around “normalization” so that the current standoff does not develop into a full-scale conflict in which Washington would need to re-engage militarily. “Normalization” would include Kosova’s entry into the UN, mutual recognition between Serbia and Kosova, and the exchange of ambassadors. Having decided on NATO involvement and state recognition in the past, the US is in a better position than all other states to push for full-scale “normalization.”

While Prishtina is trying to entice Washington into the talks, President Aleksandar Vučić has threatened to involve Moscow. Vucic spent his pre-Christmas visit to Russia canvassing for Kremlin involvement in order to neutralize a more direct American role. Indeed, Vucic claimed that President Vladimir Putin agreed that Moscow would be involved as mediator.

Vucic also made an ominous sounding comment that Belgrade had concluded “certain agreements” with Moscow: “in case there are any conflicts, the format will expand in order to resolve the situation.” This could mean flexing Serbia’s military muscle and allowing Russia to have a more prominent diplomatic or even security role. Such moves could worsen relations between the US and Russia if Washington concludes that the Kremlin is obstructing resolution and denying the US a foreign policy success.

Vucic informed Russia’s state-run news agency TASS that Serbia was planning to buy Russian military transport helicopters and air-defense systems. Moscow has already provided Serbia with six MiG-29 fighter jets. Serbia’s moves to heighten military ties with Moscow are of grave concern to NATO and several neighboring countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova.

Additionally, Russia’s military intelligence base in Nis is damaging its position in Washington and the EU. The base will need to be closed or Russian personnel replaced by Europeans if Belgrade is serious about hosting an actual humanitarian relief center.

Belgrade is committing a basic miscalculation if it believes that it can leverage its relations with Kosova in order to gain improved conditions for EU entry. It will eventually have to accept Kosova as an independent state in order to qualify for the Union, but an early acceptance could actually prove more advantageous. “Normalization” would build confidence between the two states and may win Belgrade support for a faster track to EU accession. Vucic is also in a better position to deliver than previous Serbian leaders, as his base is nationalist and he benefits from broad public support.

Serbia’s reliance on Russian benevolence in blocking Kosova’s UN admission may be a grievous error. Vucic naively claims that he is “absolutely convinced” that Serbia can “always count on Moscow’s support.” He has evidently forgotten that Russia does not operate on sentiments but according to its expansionist interests. If Serbia no longer profits Moscow’s geopolitical calculations and can trade Kosova for some other strategic prize then Belgrade’s aspirations can be easily discarded.