In an election season marred by cyberattacks—an activity the White House has blamed on Russia—the security of voting machines is a prominent concern for voters.  Such concerns could undermine voters’ faith in the system as well as the legitimacy of the result of the presidential election, the Atlantic Council’s Daniel Chiu said in Washington on October 19.

“Hackers may not even need to actually compromise voting computers or systems to undermine the people’s trust in the election results,” said Chiu, who is director of the Strategy Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “[M]erely a credible claim of doing so could compel voters to cry foul, undermining the legitimacy of the vote, at home in the United States, and abroad,” he added.

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When does a Russian warlord become a “pro-Russian separatist?” Newsrooms around the world may want to ask themselves this question following Russian militant leader Arsen Pavlov’s assassination in Donetsk in mid-October. In the wake of the killing, one news report after another ran with headlines referring to Pavlov as a pro-Russian separatist leader, creating the impression of a Russia-leaning local who was defending his democratic rights by force of arms.

In reality, Pavlov was much more than simply “pro-Russian.” He was an actual Russian. This is not a matter of mere semantics—it is the crux of the entire conflict. Pavlov was one of tens of thousands of Russian citizens who have traveled to neighboring Ukraine in order to wage war. The forces Russia has deployed for this purpose include a mixture of regular army troops without insignia (“little green men”), paramilitaries drawn from Russian army veterans, Russian nationalists, common criminals, and local recruits. Together, they form a hybrid army of occupation that is larger than the armed forces of all but a handful of European states. Describing such people as "pro-Russian” is clearly absurd, and yet it continues. By almost any rational measure, Pavlov’s nationality should have been central to the international media coverage of his demise. Instead, in most reports it appeared as a mere footnote.

The media response to the death of Pavlov has highlighted the problems international reporters continue to face when covering events in Ukraine.

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The United States and Europe have entered a “dark period” of Islamophobia, and no easy solutions are at hand, panelists contended in a discussion at the Atlantic Council in Washington on October 20.

In the wake of deadly attacks by sympathizers of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino, hate crimes against Muslims in the West have soared to levels last seen in the period after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

The Atlantic Council and the Aydın Doğan Foundation jointly hosted a panel discussion in Washington to discuss the challenge of Islamophobia and to seek solutions to counter the spreading sentiments. The event was convened ahead of the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibition on “The Art of the Quran,” which opens on October 22.

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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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