A Reshuffle on U.S. Foreign Policy Positions
On Tuesday, March 13, Donald Trump relieved the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of his position. The firing of Tillerson, although long in the making, came as a surprise to many. This includes the former secretary himself, who, reportedly, only found out when reading Trump’s tweet. (Other sources cite that he found out while on the toilet.) The reason put forward by Trump was a number of disagreements between the two men on the direction of U.S. foreign policy. Out of the job is also the Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein. He later publicly stated that he had every intention of staying in his position and that he was unaware of the reason for his firing.
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
Tillerson’s replacement will be CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who will be replaced as the head of the CIA by Gina Haspel, the first woman to hold the position. According to Edward Snowden, Gina Haspel was a key part of an illegal CIA torture program in the early 2000’s. How will these changes impact the future direction of the U.S. foreign policy remains to be seen. One of the possible explanations is that Trump is seeking tighter control over his foreign policy apparatus before the expected negotiations with North Korea.
Cold War machinations as Putin’s strategy to win the elections?
The political relations between Great Britain and Russia are getting tenser. The reason is a recent poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Both remain in serious condition in hospital. They were reportedly confronted with Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. Skripal is, after Litvinenko, the second former spy who was poisoned on the British soil.
The British PM Theresa May expressed no doubts about Russian involvement and responsibility in this case and gave Russia an ultimatum to come clean about the poisoning. This was, as expected, without success. As a result, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the country and threatened to ban Russian TV-network Russia Today. Russia hit back in the same way – expelling 23 British diplomats and announcing plans to remove every single British media.
"There is no alternative conclusion than that the Russian State was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in #Salisbury."
— UK at the UN 🇬🇧 (@UKUN_NewYork) March 14, 2018
It might seem as if we were heading the course of cold war again. But Skripal´s poisoning can also be seen as Putin’s strategy to show strength and secure his position and power in the recent presidential elections. It sends a clear message about the power of Moscow. It wants to be portrayed as ready to attack anywhere and that the possible consequences do not matter. Needless to say, Putin remains on the top of the game for another six years.
Footage from a voting station in Moscow, Russia shows what appears to be ballot stuffing, after President Vladimir Putin received a record number of votes to win a triumphant re-election
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) March 19, 2018
Night Wolves to visit Western Balkans
A controversial pro-Putin motorcycle club Night Wolves announced that they plan to tour Serbia and Bosnia for more than a week, starting in Belgrade on March 19. While covering some 2000 kilometers, they plan to “study the historical heritage of the Russian Empire and the Orthodox Church”. On March 21, the Night Wolves are supposed to meet with Milorad Dodik, the pro-Kremlin president of Republika Srpska, in Banja Luka. Whether this meeting is going to take place remains uncertain, because Bosnian authorities banned leaders of the Night Wolves from entering the country. This was due to the security concerns and suspicion they might attempt to intimidate Dodik’s opponents ahead of October elections.
Bosnia has placed a ban on its leaders, but Russia’s nationalist motorcycle group, the 'Night Wolves', say their tour of Serbian parts of Bosnia will go ahead this week. https://t.co/QnbZPzYsqA
— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) March 20, 2018
Night Wolves have local branches in Serbia, Montenegro, and Republika Srpska. The Russian government, as well as local authorities, fund, and support these groups to spread anti-Western ideas and pan-Slavism. It is, reportedly, part of a broader Russian effort to recruit and train paramilitaries in the region, who would cooperate with local pro-Moscow politicians. The apparent goal is to destabilize the Balkans and prevent the expansion of NATO. Whether the Night Wolves achieve their aim in Republika Srpska depends on the determination of the Bosnian authorities to stop them.
Serbia and Kosovo slow clocks in Europe
A row between Serbia and Kosovo disrupted the electric power grid in most of Europe since January and caused many people to show up late for work. The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSOE) described the problem on their website on March 6. The problem lies in the way many clocks regulate. Some clocks use the swing of a pendulum or oscillation a quartz crystal to keep time, others regulate using radio waves or the internet. Many clocks on ovens or heating systems, however, use the frequency of the alternating current to keep time. The European power system usually guarantees average frequency of 50 Hz. A disagreement between Serbia and Kosovo caused the average frequency to drop to only 49,996 Hz in the first two months of 2018. The problem began when a power plant in Kosovo went down for repairs, causing a shortfall in the power supply. According to the agreement, Serbia, which still operates Kosovo’s transmission system, should make up the difference but refused to do so.
Since the European grid is closely interconnected, unifying 25 countries, the disagreement caused a problem all over the continent. The only spared were the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and some post-Soviet countries, which are not as tightly linked to the system. This was the first time something like this happened. The two former Yugoslav countries came to an agreement and everything is back to normal.
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.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
The text has not undergone language revision.