Ukraine Update: 14 February, 2022 (AM)

Moscow is projecting the appearance of leaving a door open for further discussions of its security concerns, even as Russian military exercises continue and, in some cases, intensify. Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting a need for further discussion, even as he emphasizes his nation’s worries about “the endless, in our opinion, and very dangerous expansion of NATO to the East.” At the moment, Putin is referring to the possibility of Ukraine becoming a NATO member. Putin met with his senior advisors today for an update. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Putin’s positive comments on more dialogue with NATO and the West while Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that some of the military exercises are drawing to a close while others will end in the near future.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has embarked on the shuttle diplomacy circuit. Today, he is in Kiev discussing the crisis with Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky. Scholz has come under fire for Germany’s somewhat skittish support for Ukraine lately and hopes this trip will help to erase the looming misperception that Berlin has been reluctant to back Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia to curtain natural gas supplies to Germany.The German chancellor will arrive in Moscow tomorrow for talks with Vladimir Putin.

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 As Scholz arrived in Kiev, Western nations are withdrawing more embassy staff and military personnel from Ukraine. More airlines are also avoiding Ukrainian airspace as the crisis with Russia continues. The Ukrainian government announced it was ready to assume financial responsibility for the safety of aircraft flying through its airspace. Kiev has dedicated over $500 million to keeping its airspace open to commercial flights in the face of many insurance and leasing companies balking at carriers use of Ukrainian airspace as tensions and the threat of Russian military action rise.  

Ukraine Update: 22 January, 2022 (0100 Eastern Time)

Once again, the German government has made a questionable decision concerning its Ukraine stance and, in the process, raises some pointed questions about the nation’s future role within NATO. Berlin is blocking Estonia from providing military material support to Ukraine. The German government is refusing to issue export permits for weapons of German origin, citing a long-standing policy concerning arms exports. Ironically enough, the weapons Estonia is looking to export to Ukraine are former Soviet D-30 artillery pieces that were left in Germany following reunification in 1990. The artillery was then exported to Finland before the Finns sent it on to Estonia. Germany’s policy on weapons exports is not the only factor in play. The Germans have made a point not to send weapons to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia. So, while the United States, Great Britain and a host of other NATO nations are contributing weapons to Ukraine as tensions rise with Russia.

Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Schloz is not helping to strengthen relations with the United States either. He has turned down the Biden administration’s invitation to discuss the Ukraine crisis, according to a report from Der Spiegel on Friday. Schloz’s office declined the invitation because of a ‘full schedule,’ including a trip Monday to Madrid. The chancellor’s office will apparently find time to speak with France’s leader Emmanuel Macron about the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday.

Not mentioned in Germany’s latest moves is the role the Nordstream 2 project is playing in its policymaking, though it is apparent the natural gas pipeline is a growing factor for Berlin.

Thoughts On The Planned Reduction Of US Troops In Germany

There has been a considerable amount of speculation and debate concerning the recently announced plan to reduce the number of US troops stationed in Germany by half. On one side is the almost customary argument that such a move will weaken NATO, strengthen Russia’s military position, and generally have a negative effect on American national security. We have seen and heard this argument presented a multitude of times since the 90s. It has never really held water, at least not to the level that its proponents would be satisfied with. A second argument being made loudly these days, especially by President Trump’s detractors, is that the planned withdrawal is a politically motivated move. Well, it was partly, and the Trump administration has made no bones about it. The fact is that one of the main reasons for this troop reduction is Germany’s failure to meet NATO’s defense spending goals. In 2014 NATO set a standard for its member-states to halt defense budget cuts and begin moving back towards spending 2% of their GNP by 2024. President Trump has said himself that until Germany pays more for its own defense, US troop levels will be reduced. He has left open the possibility of reversing the reduction plan if Germany starts to devote more money towards its military. To add insult to injury at least half of the troops set to be removed from Germany will find new homes in other European nations from Belgium, and Italy to Poland.

The mention of Poland brings up a third argument, and one that I personally stand behind. The US move is the latest component in what has been a consistent trend towards Eastern Europe for the US military. Deterring Russia has become a top priority for the US, and NATO in recent years. As a result, more US units are being based in Eastern Europe, right now mainly on a rotational basis however there are also permanent bases being constructed, and opened in places such as Romania, and Poland. So it makes sense to move troops, units, and facilities from Germany to Eastern Europe where the combat units will be better able to conduct their mission of deterring Russia, and support elements will be nearer to those combat units.

I have wanted to discuss this topic since the Pentagon made the first announcements about a possible troop reduction in Germany back in June. Unfortunately, Asia has been receiving the lion’s share of geopolitical focus lately. But with July coming to a close, and the subject receiving some attention from the media in recent days, I felt this was an opportune time to get some of my thoughts on the matter written up and placed out there for consumption. 😊

Pandemic Politics: Germany To Close Borders

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Open internal border travel has been a foundation block of the European Union’s desire to create a European Superstate. The Schengen network was regarded as a crown jewel, heralding a new era of openness and unity at a dawn of what many hoped would be a ‘One Europe’ mindset. It braved a migrant crisis, as well as the wave of populist nationalism sweeping across the continent since 2016. However, Schengen may have met its match in the coronavirus pandemic. Europe’s freedom of movement is descending into chaos as a growing number of EU nation-states are opting to close their borders in order to stem the flow of the coronavirus. Many EU nation-states are imposing strict entry measures on their borders, or closing them entirely, defying warnings by Brussels to avoid blanket travel bans.

As the hours roll by, the situation at land borders across Europe continues to evolve. The continent has become new epicenter of the pandemic and this fact is driving the border closure actions in every case. Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic will close their respective borders almost entirely in the coming days. The most recent EU member to announce border restrictions is Germany. According to the German government, Germany’s borders with France, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Switzerland will be partially closed on Monday. Germany’s federal police chief Dieter Romann explained that his country will not be closing its borders, but controlling them. “We are not closing the borders, that is what they do in North Korea,” he told reporters. “We are controlling the border, that is something completely different.”

Romann’s comments came as the number of coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 1,000 from Saturday. There are now 4,838 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Federal Republic and that number is most likely going to increased more in the coming days.

Now It’s Europe’s Turn To Broker a Libyan Ceasefire

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Last week Turkey and Russia brought the leaders of the warring factions in Libya to the table in the hopes of reaching a deal for a permanent ceasefire. The effort was unsuccessful.

Now it’s Europe’s turn.

Germany will host a conference in Berlin on Sunday aimed at bringing about a ceasefire, and constructing a roadmap to eventual political reconciliation in Libya. Europe is finally opening its eyes to what has been going on in Libya and the implications it has for Europe. The civil war currently underway in Libya, aided and funded by a number of nation-states on both sides, is destabilizing North Africa, a region historically considered to be Europe’s backyard.

The most surprising aspect is that it has taken so long for Europe’s geopolitical interest in Libya to rekindle. Libya has always been there, and since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, it has been playing a role in European Union politics to varying degrees. Migration, energy, and security are three of the main aspects that have been adversely affected by the fighting, and political chaos in Libya. However, none of the above-mentioned issues are responsible for the sudden European interest in Libya. It’s all about geopolitics, and the growing influence of Turkey, and Russia in the conflict has set off alarm bells in European capitals.

Unfortunately for Europe, its renewed interest could be coming a bit too late. The extended period of inaction prior to the upcoming conference puts Europe out of position to influence events, and paints it as ineffectual. The European Union is already split on Libya with Italy supporting the Government of National Accord (GNA) and France backing the Libyan National Army and Khalifa Haftar.

Outside of Europe, expectations for the conference in Berlin are tempered. Turkey and Russia’s positions regarding Libya are firmly entrenched with the Turks backing the GNA, and Russia firmly in Haftar’s camp. If these two most-influential parties were unable to broker a permanent ceasefire agreement in Moscow last weekend, the chances of the UN, and Europe pulling it off this weekend are not great.