Confidence abounds. The British and Greek prime ministers get to keep their jobs, at least for now. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote by a margin of 325 to 306, following the rejection of her Brexit deal. The resilient May refused to rule out a no-deal withdrawal from the EU and set Jan. 29 as the date for discussing a fallback option. Parliament has firmly rejected the EU offer and put its support behind the May government. The stance, though due perhaps to a lack of alternatives more than anything else, puts some pressure on Brussels to reconsider its position. None of this is particularly important, but it is good theater. In Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government barely survived a no-confidence vote of its own, by a margin of 151 to 148. The question now is whether Tsipras can garner enough support to pass the Macedonia name change deal, the last major hurdle before Macedonia can join NATO and the EU. On this issue, the jury is still out.
Speaking of the Balkans … Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of “destabilizing” the Balkans ahead of a visit to Serbia today. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, visited Croatia Wednesday and, in addition to professing his hope that bilateral trade might soon exceed $1 billion, said the 1995 Dayton Agreement – which split Bosnia into two semi-autonomous regions – should be “revisited.” Erdogan isn’t wrong when he points out the Dayton Agreement has begun to show signs of obsolescence. But it’s the convergence of strategic interests here that catches our eye: The West is trying to grandfather Macedonia into its alliance structure, Russia is holding on to its ally Serbia, and Turkey feels strong enough to express opinions about the region’s political organization.
Germany considers its relations with China. German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the German government was considering ways to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from the 5G mobile network. The Federation of German Industries criticized the report, saying no vendors should be excluded without evidence of wrongdoing. If Germany moves forward, it will join countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the U.K. in heeding U.S. warnings about security concerns related to Huawei. (Just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company was under investigation in the United States for stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies.) Reuters, however, reported that Germany and China will sign two agreements Friday, deepening cooperation in the financial sector, in part because Germany hopes to become a hub for yuan-denominated financial products in Europe.
Iran and Azerbaijan strengthen ties. Continuing a trend that began in 2013 with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election, Iran and Azerbaijan signed a military cooperation agreement designed to boost coordination in areas including logistics, training and exchange of operational experience. The deal’s announcement comes just a day after Moscow said it was preparing to host a Russia-Iran-Azerbaijan summit, the third such meeting since 2016. Azerbaijani foreign policy is often pragmatic – the country also has close ties to the United States and Israel – but, even so, closer alignment among these three countries has implications for the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Caspian region and even Central Asia.
Another interesting Russian poll. Earlier this week, we wrote about a poll from the Levada Center that noted declining confidence among Russians in their government. A new poll on national identity and pride was released today, and the results likewise say a lot about how Russians feel about their country and its place in the world. When asked which events in Russian history they were proudest of, respondents most commonly cited victory in “the Great Patriotic War” (World War II), Russia’s leading role in space exploration and the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Poverty was by far the top answer respondents gave when asked which events in Russian history they were most ashamed of – marking the first time since 2008 the incidence of this response has increased. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said Russia must retain its role as a great power.
- The Australian prime minister is on a three-day trip to Vanuatu and Fiji to demonstrate Australia’s resolve to strengthen ties with Pacific island nations.
- The presidents of Brazil and Argentina agreed to economic integration, strengthening the Mercosur trading bloc and putting pressure on the Venezuelan government.
- Mexico said it was willing to serve as a mediator to help resolve the crises in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
- Scotland’s first minister said she would say more about the timing of a second Scottish independence referendum in the coming weeks.
- Pakistan arrested a senior Afghan Taliban leader in Peshawar, reportedly to pressure the Taliban to be more flexible during negotiations with the U.S.
- U.S.-Russia talks on preserving the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty failed to make headway.
- Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Manila plans to review its Mutual Defense Treaty with Washington to clarify under what circumstances the U.S. would come to the Philippines’ aid if under attack.