New Atlanticist

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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Dnipropetrovsk’s Kolomoyskyi: Patriotic, Corrupt, Threatening—Or All Three?

Ukrainian billionaire politician Ihor Kolomoyskyi resigned today as governor of Ukraine’s strategically critical Dnipropetrovsk province after clashing with the central government and parliament over control of two state-owned oil-sector companies. In that clash, Kolomoyskyi last week sent troops of an armed militia he controls to occupy the Kyiv headquarters of Ukrtransnafta, the country’s main pipeline operator.

Kolomoyskyi has been both an asset and a risk for Ukraine’s government, spending his money and political capital to make his province a firm bulwark against the Russian-sponsored insurgency in neighboring Donetsk. But his power, which includes a bloc of deputies in parliament, extends far beyond his province and in some respects has rivaled that of the central government. Civic and pro-democracy activists have said he is a prominent source of political corruption.

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Europe’s belt-tightening on defense at a time when Russia and China have ramped up military spending endangers NATO, the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said March 25.

“While we have been cutting our defense budgets, others have invested heavily,” Stoltenberg said in his keynote address at the NATO Allied Command Transformation seminar. The Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security co-sponsored the event.

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Afghan leader ‘cautiously optimistic’ about prospects of reconciliation as Pakistan, China pitch in

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects of peace with the Taliban, in part because Pakistan—where a mélange of terrorist groups have for years found safe haven and support—now acknowledges that improving ties with neighboring Afghanistan is key to ending regional violence.

“The problem, fundamentally, is not about peace with the Taliban [but] about peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Ghani, adding that Pakistani officials have “accepted this definition of the problem. That’s the breakthrough.”

Ghani made his comments in a March 25 conversation moderated by Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe at the United States Institute of Peace. The two organizations co-hosted the event during Ghani’s visit to Washington.

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Atlantic Council analyst sees opportunity for cooperation on drone strikes

Yemen’s descent into chaos has jeopardized US counterterrorism operations there, but the Pentagon could still order scaled-down drone strikes against an al-Qaeda affiliate by working with like-minded elements in the Yemeni military, says an Atlantic Council analyst.

US drone strikes on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continued even after February, when Houthi rebels—who often chant “Death to America”—ousted Yemeni President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a key US ally in the war against AQAP.

The United States, which considers AQAP the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda, was able to carry out the targeted attacks by collaborating with elements of Yemen’s military with which it had worked while Hadi was in power, said Nabeel Khoury, a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“Since the Yemeni military now has divided loyalties, you can pick your allies and work with them, so long as you have only limited military goals,” Khoury told the New Atlanticist in an interview. He was referring to the various factions that have emerged in Yemen—remnants of the Hadi government, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s supporters, and the Houthis, who are Shiite Muslim rebels with ties to Iran.

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Atlantic Council's Pham shares insights on Russia's acitivities on the continent

Under pressure from the West over its actions in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, Russia is increasingly turning its attention to Africa, says J. Peter Pham, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

“Recent developments have validated these concerns as the siloviki around [Russian President Vladimir] Putin have not only returned to the former Soviet Union’s theaters of operations in Africa, but done so in force across a range of sectors, the connections between which are, more often than not, far from transparent,” Pham writes in AfricaSource.

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The Pentagon must consider a formal defense treaty with its Arab Gulf allies in light of Iran’s ongoing attempts to destabilize the region politically, according to a new Atlantic Council report.

“While we have very effective forces and a strategy guiding those forces, it’s our sense that there’s enough going on in the world that we risk very significant misalignment in what our forces are doing, and the nature and mix of our forces in the region,” Barry Pavel, Vice President and Director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, said March 23 at the Atlantic Council.

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