Atlantic Council

New Atlanticist

The Islamist militant group ISIS executed US journalist James Foley as a political message aimed at changing US policy, with its recent air attacks on the group’s forces, says Atlantic Council resident fellow Faysal Itani. It also is meant to portray ISIS as a newly powerful player in the Middle East and thus to win new recruits, Itani said in an interview at the Council. Itani, a former risk analyst on the Middle East, now focuses on Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan at the Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. He spoke after President Barack Obama condemned the killing of Foley and announced that the US would sustain its current policies in Iraq and Syria.

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Deadliest Fighting in 20 Years is Encouraged by Crisis in Ukraine


The often-forgotten conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh has flared this summer into the worst violence since a 1994 truce, killing at least eighteen soldiers in recent weeks. The surge in fighting not only shows that renewed, all-out warfare is a danger; it also lets Russia step in as mediator to secure its own role in the Caucasus. The government of President Vladimir Putin, driven by its nationalist, imperialist foreign policy, is unlikely to want truly to resolve the fight, which keeps the region from serving as a secure transit route for oil, gas or other Western interests.

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Despite Georgia's readiness to become a candidate for NATO, the Alliance announced in late June that Georgia will not be offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the Wales Summit this September. This is disappointing news for Georgia, which has undertaken years of political and military reforms and has long awaited to be welcomed into the Alliance. Although the United States was not able to persuade some of its fellow allies on MAP, US leadership must not only continue to press on the issue but also devote equally sustained attention to other elements of Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration. Russian recent aggression in Ukraine makes it all the more pressing for the United States to send a strong message that Georgia, and the region as a whole, is important by concluding a US-Georgia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

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With Kremlin's Proxy War Stumbling, Kyiv and West Guard Against 'Humanitarian Intervention'


As Russia’s government moves its proposed convoy of humanitarian aid toward the war zone in Ukraine that it has created with its support of separatist militias, Ukraine and Western governments are warning it not to try using Russian military forces on the border to push the purported relief supplies into Ukraine. Atlantic Council analysts say Putin’s dispatch of the convoy signals he may try some effort short of a conventional invasion.

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Ukrainians' Traditional Loyalty to Moscow Patriarch is Strained by His Close Tie to Kremlin 


The longstanding divide between Ukraine’s two main Orthodox churches will continue with little change following the election yesterday of a new leader, or metropolitan, by the Moscow-aligned faction. Metropolitan Onufriy is a religious conservative loyal to his church’s formal subordination to the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow and its primate, Patriarch Kirill.

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US Has Declined to Arm Kurdish Forces, But That Now Must Change

Iraq’s national army effectively has collapsed before the advance of the brutal guerrillas of the Islamic State, leaving only one effective fighting force – the Kurdish peshmerga – to confront them. As the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has seized much of northwestern Iraq, and as it threatens genocidal violence against minorities, including an estimated 40,000 people from the Yazidi sect now trapped on barren mountains, the peshmerga are doing the bulk of the fighting against this threat. Since early June, 150 peshmerga reportedly have been killed in the conflict.

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Turkish Opposition Fails to Coalesce Around a Message and a Leader



Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s widely-expected election to the presidency of Turkey won’t herald major changes in Turkey’s domestic or foreign policies, or in US-Turkish relations – at least in the short term.

Polarization, an increasingly predominant characteristic of Turkey’s politics for at least seven years, continues. A presidential campaign that could have been uniting but seemed more divisive than anything else, contributed greatly to this. Indeed, Erdoğan seemed to relish the politics of division; it certainly was a political winner for him.

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Separatists Show No Unity Under New Donetsk ‘Prime Minister,’ Kremlin Paper Says


The Kremlin and its proxy rebellion in southeastern Ukraine seemed to recognize last week that as a supposedly Ukrainian uprising, it should have a titular Ukrainian leader, rather than a Moscow-based Russian ultra-nationalist with ties to the Kremlin. So after three months as “prime minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” the Russian, Alexander Borodai, resigned in favor of a local militia leader, Alexander Zakharchenko.

But as the rebels fight an escalating battle against the Ukrainian army’s siege of the city of Donetsk, it was unclear this weekend just what loyalty Zakharchenko commands. The rebels’ two most powerful militia leaders have failed to publicly recognize him as their commander, and their willingness to do so is “an open question,” the Kremlin-controlled Russian daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda, said Sunday. Tensions among the separatists, and changes in their leadership, have increased in the five weeks since a re-invigorated Ukrainian military has seized the majority of the territory once held by the rebels and encircled the city of Donetsk.

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A Prime Minister Aims to Become President, and Then Concentrate Power in His New Job


ISTANBUL -- Turkey’s voters are likely this month to elect Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to a new job as the country's president, putting him on a path to re-write the constitution and forge a more centralized, presidential government.

After eleven years as prime minister, Erdoğan is barred from running for re-election next year by a three-term limit enforced by the rules of his Justice and Democracy Party (AKP). His switch to the presidency is likely to continue, and perhaps accelerate, an erosion in Turkish democracy, several analysts say. That puts at risk Turkey’s role of recent years as a model of stability and democratization in the Middle East and the Eurasian region.

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Although President Obama cited humanitarian concerns for the fate of the endangered Yezidi minority, these air strikes were more likely precipitated by ISIS's recent significant military gains in Northern Iraq. Kurdish forces, whom the US had expected to hold their ground against and indeed roll back ISIS, have struggled and ceded significant territory. There is now a threat to the critical, Kurdish city of Erbil. Reports that ISIS now controls the Mosul Dam – Iraq's largest, and a critical strategic asset –have raised US concerns over the group's gains and entrenchment.

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