EU vs. Switzerland. Negotiations formalizing the relationship between Switzerland and the European Union appear to be floundering. Swiss-EU relations are currently covered by around 120 bilateral agreements negotiated over the years, but the EU wants to consolidate those deals into a new treaty that would also require Switzerland to automatically adopt some EU laws. Now, Brussels has warned that, in light of ongoing challenges with Brexit, if there is no resolution by June 30 it will cut off Swiss stock traders from EU markets. Switzerland has said it would retaliate by blocking EU investors from buying Swiss stocks, forcing them to use local banks or brokers. The implicit warning to the U.K. throughout these negotiations is that it, too, would be required to seek equivalence rules, similar to Switzerland, or face trading restrictions for its own equity markets.
No decision on EU expansion. On Tuesday, the EU General Affairs Council decided to postpone until October a decision on the launching of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. Supporters of the delay argue that more work needs to be done in the two countries to tackle corruption, organized crime and poverty; that starting accession talks now would inflame anti-migrant sentiment in some EU countries; and that the EU needs to be focusing on its own internal reforms at the moment, not looking to expand. Critics contend that both North Macedonia (which literally changed its name to unlock negotiations) and Albania have already sacrificed much in the way of reforms to get to this stage, and that their efforts should be rewarded. Moreover, accession is a years-long process, and starting it is not the same as letting the candidate countries take a seat at the table. Some of the other criticisms, however, are less sound, such as that the delay harms EU credibility – it surely does, but the bloc hardly has any credibility in external affairs; that it will boost the position in the Balkans of rivals like China – never mind that EU membership hasn’t exactly proved to be a firewall preventing China from expanding its influence in some EU member states; or that it undermines the pro-EU governments in Skopje and Tirana, where polls consistently show sky-high support for EU membership. It’s unclear what will have changed when the issue comes up again in four months, but the postponement probably is not the crisis that critics say it is.
More rocket attacks in Iraq. Two Katyusha rockets reportedly came close to hitting a U.S. base in Mosul on Tuesday, while another rocket attack on an oil-drilling site owned by ExxonMobil in Basra wounded three people. The attacks come just one day after three rockets hit a base north of Baghdad where U.S. forces are stationed and several days after mortars were fired at the Balad air base, where American trainers are located. None of these attacks seem to be causing major damage, but they are coming in greater frequency after the rocket attack that occurred last month near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
- The Islamic State has about $300 million in reserves and continues to look for additional funds, according to the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council.
- A quick update on Russia’s military presence around Ukraine. Moscow boasts about 82,000 military personnel and a motorized rifle division along the border with Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as in Crimea, according to Ukrainian media. Russia’s Southern Military District, moreover, recently deployed airplanes and helicopters to Crimea and Krasnodar to participate in joint exercises, which will end this week. The Ukrainian military has said that Russia also has hidden in Crimea a contingent of aircraft such as the Yak-130, MiG-29 and Su-30M, as well as Mi-35M and Mi-24 helicopters.
- A top lawmaker from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s comments Tuesday about the potential for more monetary easing sent an “alarming signal” about the central bank’s integrity and risked binding the hands of his successor.
- A Taliban spokesperson said a deal has been reached over the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Washington has yet to respond to the claim. Meanwhile, a Taliban leader traveled to Tehran reportedly to share details of the talks.
- The Israeli air force is conducting exercises that simulate a multi-front combat scenario involving Gaza, Syria and Lebanon. The exercises started Sunday and end today.
- In the Netherlands, a former colonel in the Russian intelligence service, two former agents in Russia’s military intelligence service and a Ukrainian national have been charged with murder over the downing in 2014 of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which killed 298 passengers.
- The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi published a four-point statement on its website banning foreign forces from Iraqi territory without explicit approval from Iraq. This is a bit redundant; stationing foreign forces usually requires host country permission. The statement is likely Baghdad signaling that it doesn’t want to be caught in between the U.S. and Iran.
- Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have agreed on a mechanism to allow the United Nations to inspect ships docking at the port of Hodeida. Last month, they agreed to unilaterally withdraw from three ports as part of a U.N.-brokered deal.
- The water supply for residents of Johannesburg will be cut for more than two days starting June 24 while new equipment is installed. South Africa’s infrastructure is in severe need of upgrades in a number of areas, water resource management among them. Last year, Cape Town nearly ran out of water but was saved from complete rationing by increased rainfall later in the year.
- Hundreds of Bangladeshi workers came to blows with Chinese managers at a power plant being built south of Dhaka. The proximate cause of the fighting was the death of a Bangladeshi worker, but in a broader context, the fighting is emblematic of the resistance to Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in South Asia.
- Yesterday, four U.S. senators introduced a bill that would place restrictions on aid to Lebanon unless the government in Beirut assured Washington it would limit Hezbollah and Iranian influence over the Lebanese armed forces.