The pressure mounts along Moscow’s periphery. Ukraine’s parliament is currently working to pass a law that would enable Kyiv to expand its control of the Black Sea. The U.S., meanwhile, publicly blamed Russia for the stalled talks on the Ukraine conflict and described conflict resolution in places like Nagorno-Karabakh as important to Washington. Turkey also asserted its influence in the former Soviet Union when its foreign minister called on Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to enhance their cooperation with Ankara in support of regional development. And on Russia’s southern flank, reports of small acts of protest against the use of the Russian language and a growing sense of Kazakh nationalism emerged. Moscow’s sphere of influence seems to be contracting. As it does, countries on Russia’s borders will have more room to promote their national interests, while outside powers may have a chance to make inroads in the region.

The gap between U.S. and Western European defense priorities grows. Earlier this week French President Emmanuel Macron called for a European defense force to protect the region against outside actors, including the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump responded by calling the proposal insulting and reminding his French counterpart about NATO. Both sides have since toned down their rhetoric. But at the end of the day, Washington’s security interests still align more with Eastern Europe than with Western Europe, particularly on how to deal with Russia. Relations with Iran are another point of contention. The international banking communications system SWIFT will suspend services to certain Iranian banks this weekend, and the United States has warned that more sanctions on Iran may follow. Tehran is taking note. After all, the EU’s proposed mechanism for circumventing U.S. sanctions, called the “special purpose vehicle,” is not yet fully operational. The EU, however, has reiterated its intention to maintain its economic ties with Iran, saying it has redoubled its efforts to get the special purpose vehicle up and running as soon as possible.

Honorable Mentions

  • A Chinese university in Chongqing apologized for using Mao-era terminology on student assessments and background checks for admission.
  • The U.S. Pentagon called on China to withdraw its missile systems from the contested Spratly Islands.
  • Australian exporters signed $10.8 billion worth of agreements for sales to and trade with Chinese companies.
  • The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that in 91 countries – mainly in Europe, North America and South America – birthrates are too low to sustain current population levels.
  • Finland’s parliamentary Defense Committee threw its support behind an investigation into GPS satellite interference detected in the northernmost part of the country. Norway experienced similar disruptions, which it attributed to Russia.
  • Saudi Arabia told the United States it would no longer need Washington’s assistance for jet refueling.