U.S.-Russia relations are deteriorating fast. The United States will begin the process of leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 60 days if Russia continues to defy it, according to a statement released by the State Department. The Kremlin held the line, insisting that it never stopped complying with the treaty. The Russian military had more to say. The chief of Russia’s general staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, warned that Russia would retaliate if the treaty collapsed – and that countries that hosted U.S. intermediate-range and short-range missiles would be the targets of its response. Only a few days earlier, after refusing to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the G-20, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a new round of Russia sanctions for the poisoning of former Russian intelligence operative Sergei Skripal. Their disagreements have already begun to spill over into other policy areas. The top U.S. diplomat for Syrian affairs called for an end to the Russia-led Sochi and Astana talks, and Gerasimov accused the U.S. of trying to create a quasi-state for Kurds in northern Syria, a comment that may complicate Washington’s relationship with Turkey – as would a Russian military response to U.S. activity in Cyprus.
Hindu nationalism in India’s east. Ten days remain for residents of Assam state, eastern India, to officially file their residency in the National Register of Citizens. Four million of the state’s 35 million residents remain unregistered and thus at risk of becoming stateless or being labeled foreigners. Officially, the registry is meant to stem the tide of illegal immigration, but critics say it disproportionately targets the state’s Muslim minority. The deadline comes as Indian-American activists and various nongovernmental groups presented to a U.S. congressional commission a report showcasing the rise of Hindu extremism in India and persecution of minority religions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is known to support Hindu nationalists – something it saw as a useful tool for uniting such a diverse and populous country.
A sense of urgency to leave Afghanistan. The new head of U.S. Central Command admitted that Afghan forces cannot defend their territory without U.S. help, adding that he does not know when U.S. troops will fully withdraw from the country. This probably explains why the Taliban have been in no hurry to finalize peace talks. The U.S., however, is starting to feel a stronger sense of urgency to leave. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump asked his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan, to help support peace efforts in Afghanistan – i.e. stop providing refuge to militants. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry responded by saying that Islamabad would be willing to help but also called for Iran and China to be involved in negotiations. The U.S. has a hard enough time dealing with Russia’s influence with the Taliban in these talks; the inclusion of two other competitors will almost certainly kill the talks before they begin.
- The king of Saudi Arabia invited the emir of Qatar to the Gulf Cooperation Council’s annual summit on Dec. 9.
- U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis approved a 45-day extension of U.S. troops along the Mexican border. The new mandate ends Jan. 31 and calls for a reduction from 5,400 troops to 4,000.
- The services Purchasing Managers’ Index in the United Kingdom fell 1.8 points to 50.4, just above the 50 point benchmark indicating growth. IHS Markit forecasts 0.1 percent growth in gross domestic product in the fourth quarter.
- Decrepit power generation plants caused South Africa’s state-owned power company Eskom to initiate a series of rolling power cuts (a measure of last resort) to businesses and residences.
- Turkey, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan agreed to form a joint venture in information technology. They also discussed further public and private cooperation, fiber optics networks and satellite services.
- The U.S. will fully restore ties with Somalia and reopen an embassy there. It was closed in 1991 at the start of Somalia’s civil war.