On Monday, US President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order detailing the framework for re-imposing sanctions on Iran, which were lifted under the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) nuclear deal, with the goal of getting Iran back to the table to negotiate a deal covering not just Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but also Tehran’s other malign activity. Immediately after issuing the order, Trump tweeted that these were the most biting sanctions ever and would be ratcheted up to another level in November.  This is, of course, not true. 

The sanctions the administration is re-imposing in two waves (August and November) on Iran are effectively the same sanctions that were in place in 2013 and led to the JCPOA negotiations.  Unlike 2013, the Trump administration does not have the full support of the international community and is not bolstered by several United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran to generate maximum pressure on Tehran.  Instead, the US withdrawal from the JCPOA has caused an ugly split with our European allies who passed a blocking regulation preventing EU companies from complying with US sanctions on Iran and has drawn the ire of the other deal signatories, China and Russia, and key partners – such as Turkey, India, Japan, and South Korea – who went along with US sanctions in 2013. 

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Ten years ago, Russia invaded Georgia, burning and ethnically cleansing the villages of the Tskhinvali region and occupying and recognizing the regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow’s immediate objective was to limit the sovereign right of Georgia to resist the corrupt, backward, and technologically obsolete Russian political and economic system, and, instead, join the transatlantic political, military, and economic alliances of advanced economies. The invasion followed the April 2008 NATO Summit, where Georgia and Ukraine were given a commitment, but no actual mechanisms and timeframe to become members of NATO. The Russian Federation saw this as a window of opportunity to prevent the process.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has attempted to control the countries in its neighborhood at all cost and punish those countries who resist Moscow’s will. In 2008, the United States and the West did not do enough to deter Russian aggression – this mistake must not be repeated.

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Saudi Arabia and Canada have found themselves in the middle of a diplomatic crisis, which threatens to end all diplomatic and economic contacts between the two countries. Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian Ambassador in Riyadh on August 6, after Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, called for the release of Saudi human rights activist Samar Badawi on August 2.

Canada has refused so far to revoke its statements of support for Badawi and her brother Raif Badawi, prompting Saudi Arabia to increase its response on August 8. Samar Badawi is known for her advocacy on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia; her brother remains in jail, and his family has been living in exile in Canada after being imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for promoting religious tolerance.

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On August 8, the Russian newspaper Kommersant published a draft of what they claim is the new Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKAA), a bill US senators introduced on August 2 that aims to punish Moscow for its interference in American elections, its continued support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and the illegal annexation of Crimea.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the new sanctions were necessary because existing measures had “failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 elections,” and that these sanctions would be in place “until [Russia] ceases and desists meddling in the US electoral process.”

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On the tenth anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, it is essential not to forget the ongoing human, security, political, and economic impact both of that war, and of Georgia’s underlying unresolved conflicts with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Nothing brings home the cost of war better than meeting some of its victims. My most searing memory as British Ambassador to Georgia came when I visited a group of Georgian internally displaced persons near the city of Gori, less than fifty miles from Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. They lived down a long dirt road, far from any schools, shops, medical centers, or places of work. They had little furniture, scant possessions, and few prospects for improving their lot. One elderly woman cried as she told me of her lost family: her husband prematurely dead due to ill health; one son killed in the war; another son killed in a criminal incident in Moscow, where he had moved in search of work. Another family was in despair, because both their children had serious medical issues which were not being treated. Their overall outlook remained bleak – a world removed from the more optimistic mood in Tbilisi, celebrating Georgia’s recently signed Association Agreement with the EU.

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The 2008 war between Georgia and Russia was a critical test for Turkey. It highlighted Ankara’s delicate balancing act between the West and Russia, one that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is still pursuing today.

The conflict presented a formidable challenge. Georgia was not just another neighbor for Turkey – the two countries had built robust diplomatic and commercial ties since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Russia, too, had become a leading commercial and political partner for Ankara. Turkish policymakers viewed Russian pushback against the West in the Black Sea as a serious threat and sought to mitigate the conflict. 

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The Russo-Georgian War lasted a brief five days, but its impact is still felt deeply in Georgia and throughout the region. Ten years later, Russia exerts ever-growing influence on Georgia, occupying one-fifth of the country’s territory - the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia - and using this position to project its power throughout the region. Despite Russia’s enduring interference in Georgia, Tbilisi continues to forge a path westward, resolute in their desire to join NATO and the European Union (EU).

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“Brexit is Britain’s moment to look up, be more ambitious, and redefine our place in the world,” United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, said on August 7. Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Williamson sought to assure those “worrying about Brexit and what role Britain will play in the world,” that the United Kingdom will “remain a nation that champions those fundamental values of freedom, democracy, and tolerance.”

Rebutting criticism that the United Kingdom’s pending withdrawal from the European Union would weaken Britain’s influence in the world, Williamson said “never underestimate my nation.”

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Exactly ten years ago, Russian forces attacked Georgia, bringing to a violent end a nearly two-decade long advance of a Europe whole and free. In the wake of NATO’s failure to agree on how to advance the membership aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine at its Bucharest Summit months earlier, Moscow acted to block those prospects with its invasion. Moscow’s actions in Georgia ten years ago previewed its far deadlier attacks on Ukraine, which continue today.

Ten years on, the NATO Summit in Brussels July 11-12 offers the prospect of reversing the shortcomings of Bucharest and restoring momentum to NATO’s Open Door policy.

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This piece is part of a two part series on current US-Turkey relations. See the first piece here

Relations between Turkey and the United States may have hit a new low after the US Department of the Treasury sanctioned two Turkish government officials in response to the imprisonment of an American pastor in Turkey on July 31st.

The sanctions were placed on Turkey’s Minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gül, and the Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, on the basis of the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act and 2012 Magnitsky Act. These acts give the United States government the authority to sanction foreign nationals who abuse human rights or are involved in corrupt practices.

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