New Atlanticist

Even as oil prices continue their downward spiral, worldwide investment in renewable energy is growing exponentially—confounding experts who said it would never happen—says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Steiner, a German development expert who has run UNEP since 2006, spoke April 1 at an event sponsored by the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center.

“Virtually everybody has been wrong,” he said. “Renewables are going to take hold a lot faster than anybody ever thought.”

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Former US diplomat says too much at stake in nuclear negotiations to walk away now

Tougher sanctions and threats of military action are both bad options in the event talks to reach a deal on Iran’s nuclear program fail to produce results, said Thomas Pickering, a former US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. He spoke as negotiators in Switzerland announced another extension of their self-imposed March 31 deadline to seal such an agreement.

“Any increase in the pressure on each side may have taken us over the sweet spot… and we will begin to see a tumbling downward of a process of cascading pressures rather than a more constructive set of activities,” the veteran diplomat said in an April 1 conference call hosted by the Atlantic Council.

What could keep the process constructive, said Pickering—who also served as US Ambassador to the United Nations—would be the application of “lighter pressures that are in some ways articulated by new thinking on how and in what way the present stage of negotiations could be advanced.”

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The failure of the P5+1 and Iran to strike a “framework” accord by their own March 31 deadline is troubling. If the two sides can’t even agree to agree on some vague bullet points after sixteen months of negotiations, it is hard to imagine that they will be able to work out a comprehensive accord, complete with all of the technical details, by the next deadline in just three months. This means that, while most analysts are focusing on the historic implications of a possible deal between Iran and the United States, the more relevant question to ask is: What happens if and when diplomacy fails?

The answer to that question is simple: The United States must return to the pressure track.

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Opposition leader Buhari’s strategy of building coalitions pays off, says Atlantic Council’s Pham

Opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari’s strategy of assembling a broad coalition and restricting President Goodluck Jonathan to his traditional power base helped the former military ruler to a decisive victory in Nigeria’s March 28 presidential elections, according to Atlantic Council analyst J. Peter Pham.

On March 31, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)  declared Buhari the winner, as results showed the retired major general who ruled the country from 1983 to 1985 leading with close to two million votes.

Jonathan later called Buhari to concede, a spokesman for Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) told Reuters.

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Vladimir Putin

Putin’s War is Not Over Donbas, but a New Russian Empire

According to Vladimir Putin, Crimea and Ukraine are where the spiritual sources of Russia’s nationhood lie. And he “always saw the Russians and Ukrainians as a single people. I still think this way now.”

People observing the crisis triggered by Putin’s aggression against Ukraine therefore ought to understand what these words mean. Quite simply they mean that for Putin—and for much of Russia as well, even without the constant incitement of Kremlin propaganda—there is no such thing as a separate Ukrainian people, national identity, culture, or history. Seen through this Russian lens, the concept of a Ukrainian state independent of Russia is at best a legend or fantasy. At worst it incarnates a threat to the very existence of the Russian state. And obviously Moscow will meet that threat with violence.

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Russian-backed separatists are planning a fresh offensive in eastern Ukraine that could come within a matter of months, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, warned March 30.

“What is happening now is preparations for a renewed offensive from the east,” and this could take place following Orthodox Easter, on April 12, and “most probably” before VE Day on May 8, Clark said, citing multiple local sources he spoke with on a recent fact-finding mission to Ukraine.

“That’s what all the talking is about right now, preparing the cover for the next attack,” he said.

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Weak naira, low oil prices already hurting Africa’s largest oil producer, says Atlantic Council’s Hruby

The absence of a clear winner in Nigeria’s presidential elections could deal another blow to the country’s economy, which is already reeling from falling crude oil prices, says Atlantic Council analyst Aubrey Hruby.

Nigerians will vote in presidential and national assembly elections March 28. The contest between the top two candidates—President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Major General who ruled Nigeria from 1983 to 1985—is likely to be Nigeria’s closest ever since military rule in Africa’s top oil producing-nation ended in 1999.

“The problem with the economic trends we’re seeing—the downward trajectory of the naira [Nigeria’s currency] and the oil prices—is that, if combined with prolonged election uncertainty, it will certainly produce a negative impact on investment trends,” Hruby, a Visiting Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, told the New Atlanticist. 

“The biggest fear is that there will be a contested election that could be accompanied by violence,” she added.

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On March 19, delegates at the European Union Summit in Brussels agreed to extend tough sanctions against Moscow—until year’s end if necessary—to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to implement the Minsk II ceasefire. Under terms of that deal, signed on February 12, EU sanctions won’t be lifted until Ukraine takes back full control of its border. And that’s a problem for Putin.

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is struggling with a loss of popularity and an inability to pass reforms that are critical to addressing the enormous economic challenges facing Brazil.

The current political crisis is being driven by four key factors. The first is widespread discontent with the impunity and corruption of government officials, most notably those involved in the Petrobras scandal. The second is fatigue with the Workers Party’s (PT) politics and economic policies after twelve consecutive years in power. The third factor is a stuck legislative agenda in the hands of a fragmented Congress. And finally, Dilma’s own inability to manage her coalition through Brazil’s slumping economy and evolving corruption scandals.

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Viewed historically, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war is the product of four deeper causes and one trigger. First, the Soviet empire’s collapse in 1991 propelled its successor state, Russia, to seek reimperialization for structural and ideological reasons. Second, the emergence of a “fascistoid” (or almost fully fascist) regime made imperial revival a central feature of Vladimir Putin’s hyper-masculine strategy of self-legitimation. Third, European Union and NATO expansion placed Ukraine in an untenable security vacuum, between a Europe manifestly uninterested in Ukraine and an imperial Russia that was increasingly making claims on Ukrainian sovereignty. Fourth, the “colored revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-05 directly threatened Putin's imperial regime and legitimacy—compelling him to wage war against Georgia and launch a variety of protective measures vis-à-vis Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Finally, Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan Revolution was the trigger that led Putin to exploit that country’s post-revolutionary weakness by invading Crimea and eastern Ukraine in the hope of promoting Russia’s empire and consolidating his regime.

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