This week’s meeting in Paris of the Normandy Four is a critical one. If there is no measurable progress there to advance a framework for peace in Ukraine, public sentiment that Minsk is exhausted as a peace process will only grow. (Editor’s note: On October 19, 2016, France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to a preliminary roadmap for implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreement.)

The recent resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has prioritized security before elections in Ukraine—a major diplomatic breakthrough that needs to be consolidated in Paris. If the Normandy Four process cannot deliver provisions that stabilize the security situation, Ukraine risks being locked into Russia’s war of attrition. Russia’s strategy is to grind Ukraine to the point of collapse through a persistent loss of resources and public support, eventually bearing out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s view that Ukraine cannot govern itself.

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The next president of the United States must build on the opportunity provided by the nuclear deal to normalize ties with Iran, said Ellen Laipson, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, in Washington on October 19.

“Iran is not a pure adversary of the United States. We should be able to manage the challenge of Iran in a slightly more agile and productive way than we have in past decades,” said Laipson.

She said that while the United States has to ensure its security priorities and those of its partners in the Middle East, “I would like to see us take a little more risk in deepening the channels for engagement [with Iran]…I would like to think of the nuclear agreement as a new factual reality that would allow the next president to think of a decade-long process to begin moving toward normalization.” 

Normalization of relations will depend to a large extent on Iran’s domestic politics and US national security interests, “but it should be a long-term objective of the United States to try to get to a more normal relationship,” with Iran, she added.

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin rules supreme. On September 18, his United Russia party won its largest-ever majority—enough to change the constitution—in the parliamentary elections. He seems to be running circles around the West in both Ukraine and Syria.

Yet, Russia’s stability must not be overestimated. Last year, retail sales fell by 10 percent and this year by more than 5 percent, reflecting declining living standards, though social protests remain insignificant. But the real source of instability centers on conflicts in the security services. Putin is attempting a major transformation of Russia’s security services and state administration, trying to consolidate his power, but KGB generals in their 60s still dominate the security council and stand in his way.

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On October 14, the Azov Battalion—Ukraine’s controversial ultranationalist paramilitary group that has been fighting in the Donbas as part of the National Guard—entered the political fray. Registered as a political party under the name National Corps, the new party proposes an ambitious military and nationalist agenda, including a re-nationalization of Ukraine’s private sector and nuclear re-arming. Azov counts some unsavory members among its ranks, including self-proclaimed fascists, but its main front has been the battlefield. In August 2014, Azov’s fighters were reportedly key in helping fend off a major Russian offensive on Mariupol. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has hailed the battalion for its military prowess. But unlike Azov’s achievements on the battlefield, its time in politics is likely to be very short lived.

Ultranationalist parties have never been popular in Ukraine, and Azov is just another boogieman in a long line of failed ultranationalist groups that have tried their hand at politics.

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There is a stark divide between rural and urban Alaska, with 41 percent of the state’s residents residing in the city of Anchorage. Most communities are located off the road system, accessible only by airplane or boat. Supplying reliable, secure, and affordable energy is a challenge. Remote electricity systems, and even large cities concerned about storms and terrorist attacks, are increasingly looking to microgrid technology to meet their energy needs. A 2014 report by Navigant Research predicts that the global microgrid market will grow from $2.4 billion in 2014 to $5.8 billion in annual revenue by 2023, with a potential $10 billion share for microgrids in remote locations. Alaskan expertise can help guide this growth.

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Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are not the world’s only major “refugee” hosting nations.

Ukraine too hosts enormous numbers of people who have had to leave their homes because of war. Millions fled their homes in 2014 after Russian operatives and tanks invaded Ukraine’s eastern regions and annexed Crimea.

But they are not labeled “refugees.” Instead, they are defined as “internally displaced persons,” or IDPs, and are living in hovels, on couches, in shelters, or sometimes five to a room throughout the country. Some of them have to rent flats, dorms, or hostels. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy, 1.7 million Ukrainians are officially registered as IDPs. Approximately 50 percent of them have applied for financial help from the state, which amounts to about $34 per month for people who are able to work and $17 per month for disabled persons.

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Despite the opposing positions on climate change adopted by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a senior US official has expressed confidence that the United States’ efforts to curb the effects of global warming over the course of its chairmanship of the Arctic Council will transcend the political transition in Washington.

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election on November 8, “the current and existing work programs [of the Arctic Council] will continue moving forward until we hand it over to Finland,” said Melanie Nakagawa, deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation at the State Department’s Bureau of Energy. Finland will assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council when the US tenure ends in the spring of 2017. Nakagawa noted that the US’ work on the Arctic Council “is an area that we have seen incredible bipartisan support for.”

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As a consequence of our dependence on gadgets that are increasingly interconnected, securing these devices has become a “homeland security issue,” a senior US official said at the Atlantic Council on October 14, while exhorting industry and civil society leaders to address potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

The system of interrelating, connected computing devices with the ability to transfer data, known as the Internet of Things (IoT), “is not a trend, it’s a full-blown phenomenon,” said Robert Silvers, assistant secretary for cyber policy at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  

The pervasiveness of IoT, from medical devices to driverless vehicles, has led to “a national dependency,” according to Silvers. Our reliance on connected devices means that “IoT security is not a public safety issue; it’s now a homeland security issue,” he added.

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Three-Fourths of Russian Oil Sold to Europe

On October 20, the Council of the European Union will consider its strategy toward the Russian Federation. Following the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Europe faces a genuine challenge: to recognize Russian aggression against Ukraine for what it is, and to provide truly effective measures to stop Moscow.

The EU’s most powerful lever is its energy imports, which are to be considered as part of the new EU strategy. By importing energy from Russia, the EU is allowing the Kremlin to continue its aggression against Ukraine and Syria and to spread fear and uncertainty in European societies.

Russian energy exports feed Russian aggression. Two-thirds of Russian export revenues come from the sale of energy raw materials—oil and its refinery products, natural gas, coal, and electricity—and the EU-28 is their major importer. Three-fourths of Russian oil is sold to Europe.

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"Security First, Elections Next," the West Concedes

After long resisting Western pressure to implement the political points in the Minsk agreements, Ukraine scored a diplomatic victory last week when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed two important resolutions.

The first resolution officially defines the conflict in Ukraine as Russian aggression, countering those who claim it is just a civil war or separatism. Most importantly, it calls on Russia to “allow Ukraine to regain control of Crimea” and “withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine.” The West now also recognizes the impossibility of conducting free and fair elections in the Donbas unless the security situation there improves and Russian military withdraw. The second resolution highlights serious human rights violations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and calls on both sides to address them.

The resolutions’ passage has already prompted a change in rhetoric among top European officials.

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