New Atlanticist

Passive Responses to Putin Darken the Future for Ukraine—and for Russia

The professional killing of Boris Nemtsov February 27 confronts us with two facts that Western policymakers ignore at great cost in the Russia-Ukraine war. First, Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine is potentially a great domestic political liability for him. Second, it is central to his campaign to crush all democratic inclinations so as to force Russia back under into the authoritarian rule it bore for centuries under tsars and Soviet commissars.

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How would the United States respond if the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) were to either take control of several Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad or conduct a major terrorist attack on the al-Asad airbase in Iraq where US personnel are based?

Neither development would spur the United States to draw down its presence in the region or overhaul its current approach, according to participants in a war game conducted by the Atlantic Council on February 25.

This response would be grounded in the realities of domestic politics as well as the challenge of balancing the interests of allies and partners, especially those in the region.

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Khaleda Zia
A decision by a court in Bangladesh to issue an arrest warrant for Khaleda Zia on February 25 is likely to escalate tensions between the opposition leader’s supporters and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government.

“We don’t know how this will play out or whether it will precipitate a deeper crisis, but one thing is for sure and that is this is a direction in which you do not want things to go,” said Bharath Gopalaswamy, Acting Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

“If you want to defuse the political crisis and get the parties to the table you have to work behind the scenes. Issuing a public arrest warrant certainly doesn’t help,” he added.

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Truce Buys Ukraine Time to Get a Little Real Help From Its Friends

Ukraine and its allies hope this month’s cease-fire deal agreed with Russia and Russian-backed rebels brings relative calm to southeastern Ukraine. But the Minsk agreement is deeply flawed, and there is every chance it may yet unravel, even if it holds for the short term.

The accord’s greatest flaw is in letting Russia maintain unsupervised control of Ukraine’s border in the Donbas region until the end of the year. This will mean Russia can freely continue supplying weapons and equipment to locally controlled “people’s militias," armed formations that will now expressly be permitted under the agreement. Moreover, while the accord calls for the withdrawal of “foreign armed formations, military equipment, and mercenaries,” it creates no effective regime for enforcing a pullout of those Russian military assets from the Kremlin-engineered separatist enclave in the Donbas.

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Somali terror group has sympathizers, but no active sleeper cell in United States, says Atlantic Council's Pham

Al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda-linked militant group in Somalia, has sympathizers in the United States, but likely does not have the ability to strike targets in the West, despite its recent threat to do so, according to Atlantic Council analyst J. Peter Pham.

“Shabaab has always had a transnational reach, but it has never struck transnationally beyond the region,” Pham, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said in an interview.

“There has also been no evidence of an active sleeper cell, but there has been more than sufficient evidence of sympathizers,” he added.

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Atlantic Council analysts say both Washington and Havana have incentives to see progress

The second round of talks between the United States and Cuba on February 27 will be marked by tough negotiations, but both sides have incentives to work toward a breakthrough, according to Atlantic Council analysts.

“The United States wants to do a lot of things very fast. The Cubans want to do everything very slow,” said Peter Schechter, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

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But Political Squabbling Yields a Minority Government, Strengthens Russia’s Hand

Moldova’s three-month-long political last week produced a surprise prime minister, Chiril Gaburici, who promised every effort "to ensure that by 2018 the country can qualify to sign an agreement on associate membership” in the European Union.

But as Gaburici, a cellular telephone company executive, takes up his first political post in replacing former Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, his real political mandate is unclear, according to Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Brian Mefford and other analysts. After Leanca failed to win a parliament majority last week for a new term, his Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition ally, the Democratic Party, got help from the Communists to elect Gaburici with 60 votes in the 101-seat chamber.

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Alexis Tsipras

Atlantic Council analyst says creditors want to know how Athens will fight corruption

Greece’s creditors will scrutinize its reforms plan, which is aimed at securing a financial lifeline, for details on how the new government in Athens will tackle endemic problems such as corruption and tax evasion, according to Atlantic Council analyst Andrea Montanino.

Greece on February 24 cleared its first hurdle toward getting a four-month extension of its bailout when euro zone finance ministers approved the package of reforms submitted by the Greek government.

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The arrest of the Mayor of Caracas is an attempt by President Nicolás Maduro’s crumbling government, which is under immense political and economic pressure to demonstrate authority, to consolidate the hardline base of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), according to Atlantic Council analysts.

Venezuela, which has suffered political turmoil since protests broke out in February of 2014, has been thrust into a new political crisis following the February 19 arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma. Supporters of Ledezma, a prominent critic of Maduro, took to the street to protest his arrest.

"The Chávez-Maduro government has always followed the same MO: when they are under severe stress they go on the attack,” said Peter Schechter, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Ledezma’s arrest is “symptomatic of a feeling inside the PSUV that things are going very badly for them. They need to shore up their most radical and loyal base, which has historically responded extremely well to conspiracy messages that link foreign powers with domestic opposition groups accused of creating havoc to damage the image of the chavista government,” he added.

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