As German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet on Saturday near Berlin, several items will be on the agenda, including the war in Syria, the conflict in east Ukraine, and US tariffs. The most important item, however, will be the Nord Stream 2 pipeline bringing Russian gas to Germany. The Nord Stream 2 project has faced harsh criticism from both partner EU countries and Washington and reflects the continued complexity of the German-Russian relationship. Merkel’s need to balance her interests between her Western allies and Moscow means that her meeting with Putin will likely produce an empty-promise agreement on Nord Stream 2, with Russia saying that it will continue its gas transit via Ukraine even after the pipeline is completed.

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When German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 18, few expect any break-throughs on the intractable differences between Berlin and Moscow in recent years. But their second meeting in just three months may also signal that the two leaders are stepping up their dialogue as both need each other’s support on a number of foreign policy headaches amid an international environment in flux. 

Officially on the agenda for the meeting are the protracted conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Syrian war, and the refugee situation in the region as well as the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. For the moment, Merkel seems to have little leverage to affect any major changes in Moscow’s policies. At least in the near term, Putin holds the key to real progress on any of the three items and little suggests his previous positions have shifted significantly since their last meeting in May – or are likely to do so in the immediate future.

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In October, voters will have the opportunity to elect a new leader in Brazil, on the hope that the next administration will turn things around for a country still facing economic uncertainty, deep political polarization, and a wide-spread corruption crisis. “We are looking at a new chapter for Brazil,” Roberta Braga, Associate Director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center said in an August 16 conference call.  While currently “the general mood in Brazil is very negative,” according to Ricardo Sennes, nonresident senior Brazil fellow at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, voters will have the chance to pick a president who can address the challenges of high unemployment, political reform, and increasing crime rates.

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Despite the high-profile acrimony over defense spending and worries about the United States’ commitment to NATO, the July summit in Brussels showed that the Alliance can still project strength on its eastern flank. The summit declaration included numerous programs, initiatives, and projects to strengthen the Alliance against Russian aggression. When it comes to addressing challenges in NATO’s south, such as destabilizing migration flows, terrorism, and general instability in the region, however, the Alliance has often struggled to demonstrate the same sense of strategic focus.

And yet, this year in Brussels, NATO planners took several steps towards strengthening the Alliance’s southern strategy. The extension of the commitment in Afghanistan and launch of the training mission in Iraq grabbed headlines, but another southern initiative was one of the quiet successes of the summit.

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Momentum is building regarding the trade truce and work plan announced by the United States and the European Union in the July 25 US-EU Joint Statement. US President Donald J. Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker gave special attention to strengthening “strategic cooperation with respect to energy,” adding that the “European Union wants to import more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States to diversify its energy supply.” In early August, the EU Commission reiterated support for that goal and urged the United States to ease LNG export regulations as a way to help increase LNG trade.

Washington and Brussels have been working to increase cross-border economic integration in the energy sector and to promote increased US-EU energy ties at least since the early 2000s when they began serious talks about diversifying supplies to Europe and enhancing the EU’s energy security. In recent years, the United States’ increased natural gas production has provided new options for potential US energy supply to Europe, beyond emergency supply situations.

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Despite US Congressional efforts to modernize and secure election system infrastructure across the country, beginning in 2002 with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and emergence of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), Russian government hackers have gained access to systems that represent America’s most cherished institution – the democratic vote. Within a campaign of disinformation, fake social media accounts, and state-run media narratives, Russia continues to target the US electoral process, according to US intelligence officials during a press conference at the beginning of August. These stark warnings come just after the Justice Department’s indictment of twelve officers of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus, the Glavnoe Razvedyvatelnoe Upravlenie (GRU), who hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and election voter registration databases beginning in April of 2016.

How can lawmakers better secure the US election system as the 2018 midterms loom? Though progress has been made in election funding and assistance to states, the keys to election security are mandatory cybersecurity standards for election system vendors and for state and local election sites, in tandem with adequate state funding.

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This piece originally was published in Macedonian in Sloboden Pecat on August 5 and in Albanian in Koha  on August 7 in anticipation of the September 30 referendum on the Greek-Macedonia name deal. An English version of the piece appears below. 

On September 30 you will have the opportunity to make a historic choice. Do you want to open the way to giving your country membership of NATO and the EU by supporting the agreement with Greece? We, The Ohrid Group, urge you to say yes. 

We are a group of senior international statesmen, diplomats, soldiers, and thinkers who have all been deeply involved in helping your country during the last twenty years. Many of us were here in the early years of this century, including helping to negotiate the Ohrid Accords and being part of the subsequent NATO operations. We are all proud to have helped during your times of trouble. We all left a small part of ourselves in your beautiful country, so now we all want to see you move forward to the better future you deserve.

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This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 edition of The Cairo Review of Global Affairs. An excerpt is published here with permission.

The Syrian civil war, which began seven years ago, has had an ongoing deep and tragic impact on Syrians. Half a million lost their lives and 11.5 million were displaced. Of those displaced, more than six million became internal refugees and over 5.6 million fled to neighboring countries. Sharing a 911-km border with Syria, Turkey became the country most affected by the migratory movement of Syrian refugees. For the first four years of the war, Turkey handled the crisis on its own without much international support and assistance. Today, it is much harder to do that. Turkey has become the world’s largest refugee-hosting nation and a permanent home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees living there, in comparison to 986,000 in Lebanon and 66,000 refugees in Jordan. 

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On August 8, US President Donald J. Trump announced the doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, escalating the tension between the two NATO countries that has reached a boiling point over the last several weeks.

In his announcement, the American president said, “our relations with Turkey are not so good at this time!” The new tariffs follow the sanctioning of the Turkish interior and justice ministers on July 31.

The Turkish lira tumbled following Trump’s announcement and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked Turkish citizens to convert any US dollars and gold into lira to help the country in its “national struggle.”

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The Atlantic Council commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war with a series of pieces looking at the impact of the war and the unsettled geopolitical situation today.

Here is a look back at the pieces which ran from August 7 until August 9:

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