Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rex Tillerson ditches NATO meeting, will travel to Moscow and Beijing instead, to hold talks with a sovereign nation

NATO is nothing without America, and Rex Tillerson knows this.

Without American money and military might NATO crumbles. Trump has made no secret of the fact that America will not continue to pay the bill for the bulk of the alliance’s budget. Each member state needs to contribute its required share as stipulated in the alliance charter.
In light of Trump’s apparent fault to honor campaign promises, it should come as little surprise that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is opting to pass on a April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers to be present during the first US visit by China’s president.
In a move to further infuriate the establishment liberal left and neocon right, Tillerson will travel to Russia one week after the China meeting, which Reuters describes as  “a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs.
Tillerson intends to miss what would be his first meeting in Brussels with the 28 NATO members to attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. While it goes without saying, two former US officials told Reuters that “the decisions to skip the NATO meeting and to visit Moscow risked feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers before those of smaller nations that depend on Washington for their security.”
It is also likely to prompt further speculation of NATO-alternative alliances. State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.
“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added. NATO is also the alliance which installs anti-missile system, drastically shifting the nuclear balance of power in the region, and keeps piling up troops on the border with Russia, and is then shocked when a furious Russia lashes out.
As for Tillerson’s visit to Russia, any visit to Moscow by a senior Trump administration official will be carefully scrutinized after the director of the FBI on Monday publicly confirmed his agency was investigating any collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.
Perhaps this is Trump’s way of demonstrating how little he cares about the public’s reaction to Comey’s revelations. Furthermore, Trump has already antagonized and worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as “obsolete” and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

A China-US thaw and why Moscow is pleased

A China-US thaw and why Moscow is pleased

As Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the US, Moscow prefers to be left out of the US's sights. 

china tillerson
Following US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s successful visit to China, it has been confirmed that Xi Jinping, China’s President and paramount leader, will be travel to Washington in early April to meet with US President Donald Trump.

It is fair to say that before and immediately after the election most people expected a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to precede a meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.  In fact much of the talk in the first days of the administration was of the Trump administration trying to wean Russia away from its alliance with China and its burgeoning alliance with Iran, with China and Iran replacing Russia as the US’s primary enemies de jour.
In the event, though hostility to Iran remains a Trump administration theme, as my colleague Adam Garrie has written, it is China – the US’s great geopolitical rival in the Pacific, and the US’s greatest trade rival and partner – that the Trump administration is reaching out to first.
There is nothing mysterious about the reasons for this.  With President Trump being accused by his political enemies in Washington of being Vladimir Putin’s stooge, the Trump administration is simply in no position to reach out to Russia in any public way.  Were it to attempt to do so it would simply add fuel to the flames of the ‘Russiagate’ scandal in Washington at precisely the moment when it is showing the first signs of burning itself out.  For the sake of its own self-preservation the Trump administration has therefore been obliged to put relations with Russia on the back-burner as it sorts out its problems back home.
Here I am going to take a contrarian view and say that I think the leaders in both Beijing and Moscow are quietly pleased and relieved by this development.
The early weeks of the Trump administration suggested that a major confrontation between the US and China was on the cards over trade policy and the South China Sea.  The Chinese media was even openly warning the US that its stance risked triggering a naval race in the Pacific, which it warned the US it would lose.
The truth is that though the Chinese would not balk from such a race if it were imposed on them, the whole pattern of Chinese political and economic policy since 1978 has been for China to focus on its internal development, and there is no reason to think that has changed.  At a time when China is seeking to rebalance its economy away from its previous overriding focus on manufacturing and export more towards services and consumption, China would far prefer a cooperative relationship with the US than a confrontational one.
If Donald Trump’s meeting with Xi Jinping can clear the air, with the Chinese leader reassuring Trump that the days of China stealing US manufacturing jobs and pouring cheap goods into the US market are almost over, and that China’s stance on the South China Sea is a purely defensive one (which it is), then it can only be a good thing, both for relations between the US and China, and for the world in general.
As for Russia, I have previously discussed how limited the things the Russians want from the US are (see here and here)
Far from wanting some sort of grandiose ‘grand bargain’ with the US – which previous experience from the early 1970s, the late 1980s, and in 2009 has taught the Russians means their making concessions to the US in return for promises the US never keeps – what the Russians basically want from the US is to be left alone.   That way they can concentrate on what has always been their priority, which is their own internal development.
What that means in practice is that what the Russians principally want from the US is that it abandon further plans to expand NATO eastwards into the former Soviet space, and give up its attempts to carry out regime change in Moscow.
The paralysis in Washington means that that is essentially what the Russians now have, without being asked to give anything in return for it.  Given the policy paralysis in Washington and Donald Trump’s own lack of enthusiasm for both NATO expansion in the Soviet space and for regime change in Moscow, neither for the moment is being pursued with any vigour or is likely to happen any time soon.
Adam Garrie has written of how the Trump administration’s policy has become one of ‘neglect‘.  Nothing would please the Russians more than for that ‘neglect’ to continue indefinitely.
This is not to say that for the Russians this is the optimal relationship they would like with the US.   On the contrary, they remain concerned about NATO deployments in eastern Europe and the Baltic States, and are extremely concerned by the deployment of anti-ballistic missile interceptors in eastern Europe.  These of course are continuing and in the absence of dialogue with the Trump administration there is no sign of any cap being placed on them.
In addition, despite the quiet discussions that are now happening between the US and the Russian militaries, the Russians must be frustrated that even on such a seemingly straightforward issue as anti-terrorist cooperation no substantive progress is being made.
Having said this, the Russians are realistic enough to know that it would require a President with a far stronger political position in Washington than Donald Trump currently has to reverse the NATO deployments, and that Trump himself – like all Republicans – is deeply committed to the anti-ballistic missile deployments and will never reverse them.
Given that this is so, the situation that exists now is from the Russian point of view the best one that is realistically possible.  Certainly it is one which is far better for them than a scenario where they have to refuse Donald Trump’s demands for nuclear weapons cuts and for abandonment of their relations with China and Iran, in return for a promise of an improvement in relations with the US, which they know would be short-lived.
In the meantime any move towards an easing of tensions between Beijing and Washington – which will ease international tensions generally and spare Russia from the need to take sides – is one which will be quietly welcomed in Moscow.

Turkey’s gradual shift from the West to Eurasia

Turkey to Scrap Migration Agreement with EU
PETER KORZUN | 21.03.2017 | WORLD

Turkey to Scrap Migration Agreement with EU

Turkey’s relationship with the EU and NATO appears to have plumbed new lows.
Ankara’s agreement with the EU to help hold back a flood of migrants is about to end. On March 13, Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus announced the freeze amid an escalating row over Turkish officials' access to the Netherlands. Another Deputy Prime Minister, Nurettin Canikli, also said steps would be taken to reevaluate Ankara’s agreement with Brussels to prevent refugees and migrants from crossing into the EU after they transit Turkey.
Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said his country should re-assess the migrants deal with the European Union in response to an escalating crisis with the Netherlands, which barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Netherlands of behaving like Nazis, sparking outrage in a country that was bombed and occupied by Nazi German forces during World War II. He also accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of «supporting terrorists». Ankara has been angered by the refusal of some EU countries to let Turkish ministers speak at political rallies abroad. According to him, Turkey could revise its relationship with the EU on the grounds that the bloc failed to keep its promises on a number of issues since negotiations began a decade ago.
The president went further, asserting that the EU had lost its place as the symbol of democracy and human rights while vowing that Turkey will seek to mobilize other key international organizations, particularly the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), against the rise of fascism in Europe that directly affects Turks, Muslims and all foreigners in the continent. 
Adding more oil into the fire, the European Commission highlighted the «serious concerns» expressed by the Council of Europe on March 13 over the amendments to the Turkish constitution which are due to be voted on in the 16 April referendum. The Venice Commission, the specialized body of the Council of Europe for constitutional matters, has published its Opinion, stating that the proposed constitutional amendments in Turkey, which pave the way for Erdogan to remain in office until 2029, are a «dangerous step backwards» for democracy.
Evidently, Ankara’s relationship with the EU and prominent European countries has been dealt a huge blow. Under the circumstances, there is little doubt left that the land crossings component of the Turkey's migrant deal with Brussels sealed on March 18, 2016, will be reconsidered. According to official statistics, the number of migrants and refugees to Greece has declined by 95 percent a year after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented. Greece is currently sheltering more than 60,000 refugees. Some 200,000 refugees and migrants would flock to Greece if the agreement between Turkey and the European Union on the refugee crisis collapsed.
Turkey is a Muslim country. The relationship with the EU will probably deteriorate even further as anti-Muslim sentiments keep on growing in the bloc. For instance, the threat of uncontrolled refugee flows has given rise to a new phenomenon. As governments fail to control the borders, volunteer groups are mushrooming in Europe to prevent illegal border crossings and keep refugees away. More than a million volunteers across the continent, including the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Slovakia and other countries, watch the borders to stop illegal immigration. In Hungary, the number of volunteer groups is growing by leaps and bounds. Working closely with government agencies, their members are armed with clubs and pepper sprays.
In Bulgaria an organization formed to prevent migrants from coming numbers about 50 thousand members. The members of the Bulgarian National Movement Shipka are often armed with are armed with long knives, bayonets and hatchets.
The Shipka is a part of the Fortress Europe organization which boasts 17 branches across the continent, including the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain. All in all, there are about 50 such groups in Europe.
Neither the EU leadership, nor national governments fully control the activities of the «people’s volunteer armies». It’s hard to predict what they will do, if Turkey pulls out of the refugee agreement with the EU and uncontrollable migrants’ flows hit Europe again.
As the events unwind, the idea of Turkey’s accession to the EU seems to be more of a pipe dream. The relationship is on the verge of collapse.
Turkey has an alternative. On January 18, Russia and Turley’s military joined together fighting the Islamic State in Syria. It was the first time the air forces of Russia and Turkey were engaged in a joint operation. The relationship has been growing increasingly close recently, especially after the two countries united to launch the Astana process in an effort to end the Syria’s crisis. Sooner or later the Islamic State will be driven out of Syria. Russia and Turley will face the question about what to do next. It could be a start of forming a broader alliance to fight global terrorism beyond Syria’s borders, encompassing other areas of cooperation and bringing in other actors.
Progress has been achieved in all spheres as presidents of Russia and Turkey held their summit in Moscow on March 9-10. For instance, Russia and Turkey are on the way to implement the ambitious Turkish Stream gas project.
The summit’s agenda included the sale of the advanced long-range S-400 air defense systems. With Russia’s help, Turkey could start the production on its own soil to greatly enhance its industrial base.
Turkey also seeks procurement deals in electronic systems, ammunitions and missile technology. General Hulusi Akar, the head of the Turkish armed forces’ General Staff, visited Russia last November to discuss military cooperation. Turkey’s officials have complained about NATO’s unwillingness to cooperate with Turkey. In August, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized the North Atlantic Alliance, saying it was not fully cooperating with Ankara. According to him, NATO was evasive on such issues as the exchange of technology and joint investments.
Turkey mulls joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as the prospects for joining the EU fade away. Turkey’s SCO accession would be a milestone development bringing together the organization and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTS) – an international organization of Turkic countries, comprising Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are possible future members of the council.
After all, Turkey is a major Eurasian power. Its integration into the Eurasian system acquires greater significance as the relations with the EU and many NATO members worsen. Further progress will facilitate dialogue between the Eurasian powers and Turkey and strengthen Ankara’s position with regard to the West in general.
Turkey’s gradual shift from the West to Eurasia and other partners is part of a broader process as the EU gets weakened and divided. Unsurprisingly, as its relations with the West sour, Turkey is reaching out to other poles of power. This multi-dimensional foreign policy will strengthen Turkey’s standing in the world.