The presence of “strategic and moral clarity” in Washington is essential before a reset in the US-Russia relationship can be attempted, John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and a former US ambassador to Ukraine, said in Washington on March 28.

US President Donald J. Trump has expressed a desire for renewed relations with the Kremlin.

Once the Trump administration has “produced polices that will stop [Russia] from further aggression and limit their danger” it can then “engage them in areas of mutual interest,” such as fighting Islamic extremism, said Herbst.

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was heavily criticized during our recent presidential campaign.

The day after US President Donald J. Trump’s swearing in, it was posted on the White House website that “the President is committed to renegotiating NAFTA [to give] American workers a fair deal.”

Before moving forward to “renegotiate,” it is essential that the administration appreciate what NAFTA has accomplished.  Joining the economies of Canada, Mexico, and the United States created a $19 trillion market with 490 million consumers. In the twenty-three years since NAFTA took effect, vibrant integrated supply chains have developed linking the three economies in ways that have been enormously beneficial to the United States. 

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 European venture capital (VC) suffers from fragmentation, undersized funds, lack of private capital, excessive and unfavorable regulations, dependence on public investment, and an often risk-averse culture. These factors that stymie VC in Europe are interconnected and mutually reinforcing.

The European Union (EU) is still not one large VC market; instead, the EU is made up of twenty-eight markets with different regulatory regimes. To market their funds across different EU member states, many VC fund managers must pay a fee and register their funds in each EU country. National corporate tax systems throughout the EU actively discourage equity financing and incentive debt financing. For funds operating across EU borders, double taxation remains a serious obstacle.  EU-wide regulations, such as Basel III and Solvency II, impede equity investments by banks and large insurance companies. As a result of this fragmented VC market, today’s typical European VC fund only operates in one EU member state and is much smaller than its US competitors. 

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The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) has strengthened solidarity among the bloc’s other twenty-seven member states, David O’Sullivan, the EU’s ambassador to the United States, said at the Atlantic Council on March 29.

“The debate around Brexit has strengthened support for the European Union elsewhere around Europe,” according to O’Sullivan. “If anything, it has joined the rest of us more closely together.”

On March 29, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty beginning the process of taking the United Kingdom (UK) out of the EU.

O’Sullivan said that the prospects of Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU, triggering a domino effect among other European nations is “most unlikely.” While populist forces in other countries with upcoming elections—such as France and Germany—seek to capitalize on the challenges facing the Union and introduce division, O’Sullivan asserted, “I remain remarkably optimistic about the future of Europe, the future of the European Union.”

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US senators, Russian opposition activist call for calibrated pressure on Vladimir Putin

Two US senators—one a Republican and the other a Democrat—and a Russian opposition activist who has survived two apparent attempts on his life made a call for greater international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to respect human rights. Speaking at the Atlantic Council on March 30, all three stated quite clearly that even as this pressure is applied, care must be taken not to hurt the Russian people in the process.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, an ardent critic of Putin who has twice slipped into a coma after mysteriously falling ill—once in 2015 and more recently in February—said it was important to turn up the heat on Putin and his cronies, but noted that it is equally important not to equate Putin’s regime with the Russian people.

“We’re against sanctions on Russia. We’re against sanctions on the Russian people,” said Kara-Murza, vice chairman of Open Russia. “It is essential that the US is not seen as seeking to punish the Russian people for the actions of a regime that they can neither unseat in a free election—because we don’t have any—and cannot hold to account through independent media or a legitimate parliament—because we don’t have any either,” he added.

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US President Donald Trump has long held disparaging views of the European Union (EU), asserting it is a failure and praising the United Kingdom for its vote to the leave the bloc. However, a weak and fragmented EU, let alone a collapsed one, and the renationalization of European politics that would follow, would be dangerous for global stability and counterproductive for both sides of the Atlantic.

Trump and some of his advisers, such as Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, reportedly favor a collapse of the EU, which they think would be in the best interest of the United States. Their preference for dealing with countries on a bilateral, rather than multilateral, basis reflects the president’s America-first approach to foreign policy.

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With the United Kingdom formally starting the process of leaving the European Union on March 29, the Atlantic Council is launching a series of blog posts that will track the course of the Brexit negotiations and the many challenges they pose for the future of US-UK relations. 

By formally notifying the European Union that it plans to leave, London has effectively handed over control of its exit negotiations to those on the other side of the table—the EU institutions and the remaining twenty-seven member states. In diplomatic terms, the United Kingdom has become the demandeur, the one asking for favors.

Since the referendum last June that endorsed the country’s departure from the EU, the UK has been engaged in an often-angry debate over how far it should actually disentangle itself from EU regulations and the key components of the Union, notably its single market and its customs union. 

Many Britons have seemed to think they can themselves define their new relationship with their former partners, without fully understanding that the other EU countries will largely dictate the outcome, and that the UK will have to make major concessions to achieve its aims.

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The United States needs to shift its relationship with Africa from a predominantly humanitarian focus to “productive partnerships,” especially in business, strategic development, and security, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said at the Atlantic Council on March 27.

“For decades, the United States has adopted a monolithic approach to Africa,” said Kagame. “It’s time for fresh thinking.”

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With no end in sight to a war that started six years ago, has claimed more than 465,000 lives, and displaced millions, it is fair to ask when is the right time to launch a much-needed effort to rebuild Syria. Should this effort start now, while the country is still ravaged by war, or once the conflict is over?

This quandary will inform the work of the Atlantic Council’s Rebuilding Syria Initiative, a two-year project that aims to identify what can be achieved now in terms of physical reconstruction in Syria, while simultaneously developing “a long-term plan that would address the massive reconstruction requirements of Syria in the future,” said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“This project, however, is not just about bricks and mortar,” said Hof. “It will inevitably have to grapple with the question of how, if at all, investments, loans, and grants can proceed on a suitably massive scale if legitimate governance is absent.”

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US sanctions on Russia, imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, must not only be maintained, “they should be tightened,” according to Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).

As recently as March 20, Russia has performed military drills practicing “offensive and defensive operations,” in Crimea, Chabot said, adding: “The fact that Russia has successfully claimed another country’s sovereign territory as its own and then carries out unprecedented offensive military drills there [is] absolutely unacceptable.”

Chabot suggested that “in the last number of years America’s traditional leadership role around the world has often times been lacking.” He went on to describe a “power vacuum around various parts of the globe” that Russian President “Vladimir Putin and other bad actors have taken advantage of.” He called Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 an “egregious example of that power vacuum.”

The West cannot afford to stand idly by, said Chabot.

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