US Vice President Mike Pence spent the last days of July and early August traveling American allies in Eastern and Southern Europe. The main goal was to reassure them before the upcoming military exercise. First, he visited Estonia to assure the Baltic states of US support against Russian destabilisation, telling them Washington firmly backs NATO’s collective defence.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) July 31, 2017
The next stop was Georgia where he met with PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili. A lavish welcome was awaiting Pence in Tbilisi which some attribute to Georgian desperation for US support amidst Trump’s unpredictability and substantial cuts in US aid for Georgia. Pence observed a joint US-Georgia military exercise.
His last visit was to the Alliance’s newest member, Montenegro. He told leaders of eight Balkan nations that “the future of the western Balkans is in the West,” a signal of American commitment to south eastern Europe and a warning against Russian encroachment in the region. Montenegro faced a coup attempt likely backed by Russia last October before its accession to the Alliance in June.
His message throughout the trip was that “America first does not mean America alone.”
There was more news from Georgia which celebrated 9 years since its war with Russia on August 7 and 25 years since the beginning of the War in Abkhazia on August 14.
— Joshua Kucera (@joshuakucera) August 9, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin added his bit to the geopolitical touring when he visited the de facto Republic of Abkhazia on the anniversary of a war with Georgia. Analysts attributed the visit as a response to Pence. Abkhaz presidential adviser told Sputnik that Abkhazia was a “noble partner” of Russia, Noble Partner was also the name of the US-Georgian military exercise.
It would be perhaps more appropriate to visit South Ossetia, much closer partner of Russia and set of most of the 2008 fighting. But Putin had a secondary agenda – to appease the much more pragmatic and ‘autonomous’ Abkhazia. Following a sharp drop in tourism from Russia after harsh weather and attacks on tourists, Putin’s agenda was also to ensure a safety of Russians.
Zapad 2017 scar(r)ing Europe
Next month Russia will hold the biggest military exercise in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Estimated 100 000 troops will drill in Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast and Belarus. Russia insists that the scenarios of the Zapad exercises (held every four years) are purely defensive. However, in 2009 the exercise climaxed into a dummy nuclear strike on Warsaw and many of the new equipment used in the 2013 edition was used only 6 months later in the annexation of Crimea.
— Dominik P. Jankowski (@dpjankowski) August 12, 2017
There are concerns in NATO over the real intentions behind Zapad. Moscow has a history of using drills as a pretext for an invasion and some fear that Russian troops will simply stay in Belarus after the exercise is concluded. Since the invasion in Ukraine NATO felt the need to increase protection by sending multinational battalions to the Baltic States and Poland.
But the real issue adding to suspicion is the rejection of international observers and ignoration of OSCE calls for greater transparency of the exercise.
New Mechanism for US sanctions
On August 2 President Donald Trump signed The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The bill gives most powers in determining the reach and scope of sanctions to the US Congress. Although the law deals with Iran, North Korea and especially Russia, the latter section could have far reaching implications setting the tone for transatlantic relations in general.
The law has three objectives:
- To respond to Russia’s interference in US elections with an entire section dedicated to preventing and punishing cyber-attacks.
- To reduce president’s maneuvering room with Russia and possibility of him striking a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin.
- Giving sanctions an extraterritorial effect, potentially involving many European companies.
It is the last section which sparked outrage in Europe. Europeans are fighting the extraterritorial reach of US sanctions since the 1980s. The new sanctions are creating worries among others about the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
In reaction to the sanctions, Moscow seized one US government’s property in Moscow and ordered its diplomatic presence in the country to be reduced by two-thirds.
In response to the diplomatic games, Meduza created a literal game. Goal? Be the last one to expel diplomats in a sanctions game with Russia.
— Meduza in English (@meduza_en) August 2, 2017
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into broader context.
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