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Bill Browder believes that US President Donald J. Trump will be “handing me over to my death” if he agrees to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to get access to eleven Americans in exchange for allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to interview twelve Russian intelligence officials indicted in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Browder spoke via Skype at a conference hosted by the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center on July 19. A financier and an outspoken critic of Putin’s, Browder inspired the Magnitsky Act after his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian jail in 2009.
Just in the past few months, US President Donald J. Trump has blown up the G7 summit in Canada, berated the United States’ NATO allies, criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May on her handling of Brexit, described Germany as a “captive” of Russia, characterized the European Union as a “foe,” and directed the Pentagon to review the cost of withdrawing US troops from Europe.

In sharp contrast to remarks directed at US friends and allies, Trump has been reluctant to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin whom he has described as “fine.” Acting against the advice of his advisers, Trump went so far as to congratulate the Russian president on his victory in an election widely viewed as unfair. He even suggested that Russia be invited back to a G8—a grouping Russia was expelled from after it annexed Crimea in 2014. On July 16, Trump will meet Putin in Helsinki for the leaders’ first summit. The rest of the world will be watching anxiously.

Managing a growing rift within NATO

US President Donald J. Trump traveled to Europe this week with his rhetorical guns loaded, taking aim at NATO allies for failing to adequately pay for their own defense. The primary target of Trump’s ire is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Despite positive trajectories in both German and NATO allies’ defense spending over the past two years, which allies promised to increase to 2 percent of GDP by 2024, Trump is not looking to take a “victory lap” in Brussels and take credit for positive momentum in NATO defense spending.

Instead, Trump will sharply accelerate American calls to end European “free-riding” to a new crisis point, directly linking U.S. political and security commitments in Europe with European willingness to raise defense spending, turning a security partnership into a transactional relationship. Trump’s rhetoric and actions in the following months has the potential to do more damage to the Alliance than any previous US president, more than even Russian President Vladimir Putin could have conducted or dreamed of.   
This week, Western leaders will gather at the NATO Summit in Brussels to discuss the most pressing issues of the day, likely including the construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. The pipeline, owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom, would significantly increase Moscow’s capacity to export natural gas directly to Germany. Nord Stream 2 is too often mistakenly framed as primarily a German commercial issue or a Ukrainian transit problem, since the country will be bypassed by the new pipeline. Sometimes, even more misleadingly, it is portrayed as a rival to the United States’ liquefied natural gas (LNG) export ambitions to European markets.

But is this gas pipeline really that bad for Europe?

The short answer is an unequivocal yes. Here are the four main reasons why:
On June 12, the prime ministers of Greece and Macedonia announced a historic agreement to settle a decades-long quarrel over Macedonia’s name. Leaders from around the world praised the Balkan neighbors for putting aside nationalist disputes. The deal is not yet done, however. Opposition to the agreement is strong in both countries. If the new deal is to hold, Macedonia needs more than congratulatory tweets and letters.

The “name issue” is no abstraction. Greece has used it, among other things, to block Macedonia’s accession to NATO, and the prospect of lifting Greece’s hold may have convinced the Macedonian government to face down its own nationalists and seek a resolution. To seal the deal, therefore, NATO’s summit in Brussels on July 11 and 12 should issue a formal invitation to Macedonia to join the Alliance, as they had been prepared to do ten years ago, but could not because of the name issue.
The US-Russia summit on July 16, which will take place several days after President Trump issues a broadside against NATO Allies July 11-12 for their lack of burden sharing, will undermine US and NATO interests vis-à-vis Russia. Although a summit between the US and Russian Presidents can be productive at the right time and with the right approach, particularly with tension running so high in US-Russian relations, now is not that time. President Trump should be focused on ensuring the visit of an American president to the continent, at a great time of insecurity and uncertainty in Europe, is done in a way that strengthens Allied deterrence, defense, and unity. A snap meeting with Russia’s president with little coordination with European allies runs cross purposes to that objective. 
US President Donald J. Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, will hold their first summit in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, the White House announced on June 28.

The meeting will come days after the NATO Summit in Brussels and Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom. US National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that Russia’s alleged interference in 2016 US presidential election will be on the agenda. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman stated that the meeting would focus on Syria, Ukraine, and international terrorism.
The summit between US President Donald J. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12 was not itself a bad idea. But signing an empty paper is questionable.  Adding a unilateral concession—suspending US-South Korean exercises without even consulting with our allies—smacks of careless frivolity.  Tactical unpredictability can be a tool. Strategic unreliability is a liability.

China and Kim are winners.  We are now operating within their policy framework:  de facto nuclear status quo (which favors North Korea), suspension of US military exercises (ditto) , and de facto gradual weakening of sanctions, the leverage which the US administration deployed, developed, and now risks squandering.
I am sorry to see the letter from a group that opposes a private dinner that we are holding with Peter Aven and Mikhail Fridman of Alfa Group.

I have the greatest of respect for this distinguished group of people, and we have more often been on the same side when it comes to campaigning on Russia, its aggressive foreign policy, abuse of human rights, and corruption.  Still, I am a bit bemused by the views they express in this statement.

They are clearly critics of Fridman and Aven and they provide the reasons for their criticism. We are happy to provide them with the means to express their views.
Last week we—Russian and US experts and activists—learned that an off-the-record roundtable dinner with Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, principals of the Alfa Group, will be held on May 21 at the Atlantic Council. These Kremlin regime insiders are both listed on the January update of the US government list “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) but are nevertheless invited to discuss “the outlook for the Russian economy in an era of escalating sanctions” in Washington DC.


    

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