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While the Kremlin’s hopes for a partial relaxation of US sanctions on Russia have all but evaporated due to increasing tension between Moscow and Washington, Russia can still count on friends and partners in Eastern Europe to promote sanctions relief. For example, in a speech to the Council of Europe on October 10, Czech President Miloš Zeman deemed the sanctions ineffective and the Russian annexation of Crimea “irreversible.”

Early in the Trump presidency, the Kremlin thought it had a fair chance for a bargain with the United States leading to reduced sanctions. However, under the current circumstances, Russia’s best bet to achieve its aim is to go down the well-trodden path and focus on Europe. There, attitudes toward Russia have always been mixed, but there are many who continue to believe in engagement with the Kremlin.

The United States’ shift to a hard line against Russia raised alarm among Washington’s European partners. For example, the German government had a sharp reaction to the round of sanctions imposed by the US Congress over Russian meddling in the US presidential elections in 2016.  However, the traditionally dovish Social Democrats would most likely not take part in Angela Merkel’s next cabinet, following their disastrous performance in the September 24 elections, and the pro-Russian voices in the Bundestag will weaken. 
While analysts agree that diplomacy is the ideal route to ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, they disagree on whether the United States sending defensive weapons to Ukraine will achieve that end.

On September 22, the Atlantic Council, in collaboration with the Charles Koch Institute, hosted a debate between experts: Should the United States Arm Ukraine?

The divisive prospect of sending US weapons to Ukraine as further defense against Russian aggression in the Donbas could, according to those in favor, defend US interests on the world stage. Alternatively, countered those opposed to the idea, it could escalate the conflict in a manner detrimental to US national security.

Analysts both for and against sending weapons to Ukraine argued that a decision must be predicated on a consideration of what is in the best interests of the United States, yet the opposing sides diverged on how to achieve those ends.
In a year of unpredictable elections in the United States and in Europe, Germany’s federal elections on September 24 went as expected: Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected to a rare fourth term, signaling that a majority of Germans want more of the same for the next four years. And, why shouldn’t they? Germany has enjoyed low unemployment, historic budget surpluses, and is the undisputed (if reluctant) leader of Europe. But, despite the desire for stability among most, the elections also signaled a growing disenchantment with the mainstream and a desire to shake up German politics, even if just a bit.
Atlantic Council experts share their take on the outcome of the German elections. Here’s what they have to say:
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit and Expo 2017 hosted in the Kazakh capital Astana in June served to highlight important regional trends to which US policy makers should play close attention.
Russia has decisively expanded its global footprint in a way that analysts say challenges the West and will force US President Donald J. Trump to rethink his “America First” strategy.

This challenge extends well beyond Russia’s neighborhood—Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic States—to Syria, Libya, and even Afghanistan. Western governments and intelligence agencies have also accused Russia of meddling in elections in the United States and Europe.

John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “pursuing a clear revisionist agenda designed to change the post-Cold War order in Eurasia; permit Moscow to establish a clear sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space; weaken NATO and the EU; weaken the transatlantic relationship; diminish American prestige and power; and project Russian power globally.”

With this as a backdrop, Trump and Putin will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7. The meeting takes place amid investigations by a special prosecutor and congressional committees into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
US President Donald J. Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department’s budget would deprive the United States of the tools it needs to combat Russian hybrid warfare, Madeleine K. Albright, a former US secretary of state, said at the Atlantic Council on June 29.

Trump’s proposed budget would sharply cut funding for diplomacy and development. With these cuts, “we are losing a tool to deal with what is hybrid warfare,” said Albright.

US Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), meanwhile, echoed Albright’s call to bolster diplomatic efforts in the fight against disinformation stating: “We can’t cut the State Department 30 percent because we need our diplomats out there working with their partners,” to counter the spread of disinformation.

Albright and Hurd spoke at the DisinfoWeek conference jointly hosted by the Atlantic Council and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Washington, DC. The weeklong conference featured discussions and meetings held at Stanford University in California and in Washington, DC.
Fighting fake news—no, not the kind US President Donald J. Trump has made it a habit of railing against—has been the subject of a weeklong series of meetings and public events co-hosted by the Atlantic Council and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung from June 26-30.

The disinformation campaign being waged by various state and non-state actors seeks to “undermine the legitimacy of objective truth,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “It demands a response and whether we like it or not that response has to be led by the United States,” he added.

Murphy and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have overcome the increasingly bipartisan nature of Washington to work together in the fight on disinformation. They co-authored the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, signed by then US President Barack Obama in December of 2016. The act seeks to improve the United States’ ability to counter propaganda and disinformation from countries such as Russia and China, and help US allies do the same.
Disinformation has become a hot topic since Russia’s interference in the US presidential elections in 2016. As seventeen US intelligence agencies agreed in December of last year: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” This influence operation aimed to undermine faith in democracy and the credibility of the Western institutions.

Cyberattacks played a key, but relatively small part in this operation. Kremlin-backed hackers used targeted phishing e-mails to steal troves of documents and communications between Democratic Party operatives, but the bigger, and more sophisticated, part came later. Rather than using the stolen information for intelligence gathering—a normal and expected technique in the world of spycraft—the data instead appeared on WikiLeaks and other sites beginning in July 2016. It was at this point that an intelligence-gathering operation turned into an influence operation.
When considering the state of Ukraine’s banking reforms, it is important to consider not only what remains to be done, but how much the country has achieved, according to an economic adviser to the Ukrainian government.

“The fact that Ukraine is even alive, and surviving, and growing today, is quite amazing given where it was in 2014,” Daniel Bilak, chief investment adviser to the prime minister of Ukraine, said at the Atlantic Council on April 20.

Though Ukraine’s economy has endured what Valeria Gontareva, governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, describes as “a perfect storm” during “real wartime in our territory,” Bilak said that now, as a result of comprehensive reforms, “the trend is actually very good and when investors see this, they see Ukraine in a very different light than what they might read in the media.”


    

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