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On a visit to Tbilisi in March, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated a decade-old promise: Georgia will eventually join the Western military alliance. However, despite Stoltenberg’s comments, there is little discernible evidence to suggest membership for Georgia is in the cards.

At NATO’s Bucharest Summit in 2008, the Alliance welcomed the transatlantic aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine and agreed that both countries will eventually become members of NATO. Since then, Georgia has taken meaningful political, economic, and military steps westward.

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s long-awaited investigation has not found adequate evidence to prove US President Donald J. Trump or any of his aides colluded with the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 election. The investigation did not determine “one way or the other” whether Trump had illegally obstructed justice, according to a letter delivered to Congress by US Attorney General William Barr.


Barr made a summary of Mueller’s findings public on March 24.


“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller wrote in the findings released by the Justice Department.

On March 19, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, made a brief statement on television declaring that he would resign the next day. Why prompted his decision and what will be its consequences?

Nazarbayev has discussed his possible resignation aloud for the last couple of years, so it appeared to have been well-prepared. He is seventy-eight, has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, and is considered to be in frail health, so his decision to resign makes perfect sense. He sets a good example for the region, where leaders have been ousted or other former colleagues in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan have died in office. His voluntary and well-planned resignation shows that Nazarbayev remained in full control and by no means was forced out.

President steps down after almost thirty years in office

By resigning from the presidency after almost thirty years, Nursultan Nazarbayev may have given his greatest gift to Kazakhstan: a peaceful transition to a new generation following nearly three decades of stability—a stability that was likely solidified by Nazarbayev’s willingness to commit human rights abuses and corruption.

Nothing should be taken for granted. In general, transitions in the former Soviet Union have proved difficult, sometimes involving revolutions, internal coups, and last-minute changes in the succession before the new leader takes control.

But although Nazarbayev effectively became president-for-life in 2007 when he secured a right to contest presidential elections indefinitely, he has in fact been planning carefully for at least twelve years to ensure a smooth transition in the event of his retirement or death in office.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has served as the president of Kazakhstan for nearly thirty years, on March 19 abruptly announced his decision to step down from the presidency, but also said he would retain several important posts. The resignation goes into effect on March 20.

“Nursultan Nazarbayev has been an effective leader for Kazakhstan since before independence,” according to John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, but after resigning his position as president, the question now becomes whether Nazarbayev “and the various clans and other interest groups in the country can come to some sort of understanding on the new leadership.”  

MPs vote to seek to delay departure from the European Union

British Prime Minister Theresa May finally secured a key parliamentary victory on March 14 that strengthened the prospect she will eventually be able to get parliamentary approval for her deal to take Britain out of the European Union.


But the price she has had to pay is that Britain will seek a three-month extension to its planned exit date on March 29. And in that time, not least as a result of an impassioned intervention by Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, pressure to hold a new referendum on whether Britain should end its forty-six-year membership of the world’s biggest trading block is expected to grow.

Moreover, while the government will now formally seek an extension to Article 50, the mechanism that sets the withdrawal date, it is for the twenty-seven remaining EU member states to decide whether to agree such an extension, and even one rejection would be enough to veto it.

While social media companies have taken some initial steps toward tackling the problem of disinformation on their platforms, democratic governments “shouldn’t just be reliant on the fact that Facebook or Google may or may not be doing a good job” identifying or eliminating misleading or harmful content, according to UK Member of Parliament Damian Collins. Right now, Collins argued, governments “only have their word” as evidence that social media companies are adequately addressing the disinformation threat.

When trying to stop the spread of disinformation by malign foreign and domestic actors online, “it’s not enough to do the fact-checking,” according to Ben Nimmo, senior fellow for information defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. To really kill the power of the disinformation, “we have to do the story telling,” he argued.

Speaking at the Atlantic Council’s Disinfo Week event in Brussels, Belgium, on March 8, Nimmo suggested that too many policy makers are focused on disinformation as an information warfare problem rather than “narrative warfare.” It is not access to better or new information that is making Russian and domestic extremist propaganda more successful online, Nimmo said, quite the contrary. “We have the facts,” Nimmo explained, but “they have the stories.”

As democracies around the world struggle to counter online disinformation, the developing democracies of the Western Balkans “have been hit by this new wave of disinformation being much less prepared or resilient than Western societies,” according to Jelena Milic, director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Serbia. The region, which saw devastating conflicts in the 1990s following the breakup of Yugoslavia, has been increasingly targeted by foreign-backed and homegrown disinformation in recent years, made worse by deep public mistrust of governmental institutions.

Milic and other regional experts discussed the rise of disinformation in the region as part of the Atlantic Council’s Disinfo Week event series, which brought together government officials and counter-disinformation researchers for four days on discussions in three European cities (March 4 in Athens, March 5 in Madrid, and March 7-8 in Brussels).

“Russia is trying to use a strength of our democracies – our openness, our flow of information – to destabilize us,” US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland warned on March 7. But while “the Kremlin is using the same tactics in an attempt to weaken the credibility of America’s commitment to Europe,” he continued, the United States’ “alliance with the European Union is unshaken, is strong, and is deep.”

Sondland, addressing the Atlantic Council’s Disinfo Week event in Brussels, Belgium, stressed that the United States and Europe remain on the same page when it comes to disinformation, despite temporary disagreements on trade and defense spending. “We are determined not to allow the Kremlin to undermine our democratic institutions,” he said. “Neither will they shake America’s commitment to Europe, nor undermine transatlantic unity…we’ve weathered far worse than an onslaught of propaganda from Russian troll farms.”



    

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