Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Issue 38



The outcome of the impeachment proceedings against President Trump remains highly predictable. Call it hypocrisy, disregard for constitutional duty or blind partisanship, most of the Republicans in the US Senate are unwilling to look at the case against the President. In that context there is some justification in House Speaker Pelosi’s decision to delay the transmission of the articles of impeachment to the Senate until there is some clarity about how the Senate will handle its proceedings. Beyond having Majority Leader McConnell and President Trump squirm, keeping impeachment alive has a minimal cost and may have political advantages in the 2020 election year. Impeachment in itself may not work, but dangling it before an irascible president has more than entertainment value. Through the disruption that it causes, it may lead to even more unhinged or impetuous behaviour on the part of the President. Besides, as we just saw in late December, more evidence may become available that could further justify impeachment, at least in public opinion. Some electors may not want Trump impeached, but may eventually reckon that he is a cheat, in real life, as well as when he plays golf, as has been observed by many of his sport partners.

There is no deep political reason for a Ukraine-related incident now to be at the center of the political debate in the US.  Easy money may, however, explain a lot. The permissive financial environment in Ukraine, that US politicians so like to criticize, has resulted in hefty advantages for some US citizens. Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign manager did very well in Ukraine. Hunter Biden, the son of the leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden, did also receive a lot of money for little real work. One should not be surprised that Trump having lost his friend Manafort to a Ukrainian denunciation wanted to use a Ukrainian denunciation to go after his main opponent. Not a quid pro quo, more like tit-for-tat, in line with the Trump character. Besides, for Trump, cheating is not a crime especially if you feel that someone else has already cheated against you.

The Russian intervention during the 2016 presidential campaign, even though it may have had much less impact than generally alleged, the ensuing Mueller inquiry and, now, the impeachment debate have meant that anything related to Russia and Ukraine is viewed in Washington through ultra-partisan lenses. In light of his own questionable statements and overall lack of credibility, Trump is not in a position to develop a coherent policy vis-à-vis Russia. The result is an erratic approach that can upset long-time allies and in connection with the Russia-Ukraine conflict a marginalisation of the US role in the resolution of that conflict.  Trump getting his briefing on the December 11h Paris Normandy Format Summit from the Russian Foreign Minister rather than from the German or the French should have raised eyebrows not the fact that he appeared to do Foreign Minister Lavrov a special favour, which he was not, and that they had their picture taken together. In the meantime, another casualty of the situation is that important contentious issues such as, among others, disarmament do not seem to get any sustained attention. Although it is NATO that President Macron called brain-dead, his real target was arguably US policy leadership, or the lack thereof.



Presidents Zelenskyy, Macron and Putin, Chancellor Merkel
Paris, December 11th
©President of Ukraine Website

As many observers have noted, the results of the December 11 Paris Normandy format summit were relatively modest. A few steps were agreed, including the long-awaited exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and its rebel regions, as well as the incremental continuation of the disengagement process along the front line in Eastern Ukraine. More important was the general agreement to continue the conversation and to have another such meeting within four months.

Although President Zelenskyy voiced his frustration at the lack of more progress, the result of the Summit probably met most of his expectations. He was able to protect his position in relation to nationalists who had warned him not to cross any of their red lines.  The level of military activity is slowly decreasing. The forthcoming exchange of prisoners has allowed for some good news coverage over the Holiday Season. The criticism in Ukraine about the inclusion of some special service policemen accused of shooting at protesters during the February 2014 uprising did not seem to affect the popular success of the operation.

President Zelenskyy greeting a freed prisoner
Kyiv, December 29th
©President of Ukraine Website

Decreasing the number of casualties and freeing prisoners does not resolve the conflict, but it affords President Zelenskyy the time that he needs to pursue a gradual restoration of normality in the relations between Ukraine and its rebel regions as between Ukraine and Russia. President Zelenskyy seems to have surprised his French and German counterparts by suggesting that the existing peace arrangements (the Minsk accords) need to be amended. This may not go anywhere, but it challenges those who oppose his dispute settlement efforts to come up with something better. At the same time, he is also moving along with the decentralisation of power throughout Ukraine even in the regions not affected by the conflict, thus fulfilling one of the conditions of the Minsk agreements, but making it look like it is not a concession on his part, but a commitment made by his predecessor and now a broader policy decision.

William Taylor, the outgoing chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy and now famous Trump impeachment witness, has suggested that the conflict might be resolved by the creation of a suitable peacekeeping arrangement. He may well be right, especially if through Zelenskky’s efforts, a situation that is closer to peace than war finally emerges. This could also lead to a long-term freezing of the conflict. In the absence of foreseeable major political changes in Ukrainian public opinion, this may well be if not the best the only solution.

Although this is not directly the mandate of the Normandy Format meetings, more important than all is probably the fact that the new atmosphere created by Zelenskyy has allowed for the conclusion of a new agreement between Ukraine and Russia over the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine to European markets. For Zelenskyy, the new deal is beyond reproach as it was essentially negotiated with the direct participation of the EU and is based on European standards. The deal includes the resolution of all legal disputes between the Ukrainian and Russian gas companies. The transit deal will bring badly needed revenues to the Ukrainian economy. The Ukrainian Prime Minister has already noted that this will allow to keep gas prices in Ukraine at a lower level, a highly popular measure. Resolving the legal disputes also means that the Ukrainian side has received the amounts owed by Russian Gazprom, over 2.3 billion dollars. Ukraine was going to receive that money at some point, but the legal dispute could have delayed this significantly. The victory is in getting an immediate payment at a time when Ukraine will be facing large financial obligations.

For Russia, there is also a victory element in this. Russian gas will continue to flow freely to European markets and bring expected revenues. The long legal battle is over. The two gas companies will be working from a clean slate. This might lead to even closer cooperation in the future. The agreement also foresees that it is the Ukrainian company that will have to meet Ukrainian regulatory requirements for gas transit through Ukraine, not Gazprom itself.  

The conclusion of a major gas transit deal and the settlement of legal disputes is not consistent with the existing war rhetoric. That is interesting to observe, but not the major issue. What matters more is that the gas transit deal was achieved through the active intermediation of the European Union. The new deal also challenges the idea that Russia cannot be a suitable long-term economic partner for Ukraine. Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, President Zelenskyy’s alleged political mentor, has recently made a statement along the same lines, suggesting that Ukraine would gain from reviving its economic relationship with Russia. It will take more than one deal, no matter how substantial, to change public perceptions. With the EU, Ukraine and Russia working together, the idea that gains credibility is that Ukraine does not have to give up on its European aspirations to advance its business interests with Russia. That would also improve the atmosphere.



In late December, President Trump approved sanctions on companies that might continue their involvement in the construction of the 90 percent completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline. That pipeline is designed by Moscow and its European partners to bypass Ukraine and increase gas supplies via the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, Russia's biggest energy customer. The restrictive measures target pipe-laying vessels and include asset freezes and the revocation of U.S. visas for the contractors.

Swiss-Dutch company Allseas, which was laying the pipeline, immediately suspended its activity to avoid US sanctions.

The pipeline will most likely be completed regardless of sanctions, but at a slower pace. The Russian side was expecting this type of development. In 2016 the Russian energy giant Gazprom bought a special pipe-laying vessel to be used as a last resort if European companies stopped working on Nord Stream 2. Some experts think the project could be delayed by several months since the Russian ship is slower and is currently based in the Russian Pacific port of Nakhodka.

The delay can probably be managed through the use of existing pipelines, including the one crossing Ukraine, now that an EU-brokered gas transit deal has been concluded between Ukraine and Russia, as noted above. Ever since the Obama administration, Washington has opposed the Nord Stream 2 project on the grounds it would strengthen Russia’s economic and political grip over Europe. That argument has never much impressed European clients of Gasprom. In fact, the US decision seems to have irked their German allies as much as their Russian adversaries. The US sanctions and their extra-territorial reach have been perceived as an attempt to dictate its energy policy to Europe, certainly not creating any renewed interest in more expensive US gas. The US, itself a top producer of liquid gas, would like to become a supplier and, eventually maybe not replace Russia completely, but become a serious competitor in the gas business.

The US sanctions have arrived late in the game. They are not likely to achieve their stated purpose, other than inflicting a real, but manageable, financial loss on the promoters of Nord Stream 2. They probably, however, will make Russia adopt countersanctions that will add another complication to the Russia-US commercial relationship.



President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was elected in June 2019 as the second President of Kazakhstan since the country gained independence in 1991. On December 20th, during the second meeting of the National Council of Public Trust, he announced a wide-ranging set of economic, social and political reforms.

President Tokayev

The key element of the proposed economic reforms is the further reduction of the share of state enterprises in the economy. It is also planned to enhance the fight against the shadow economy (the polite words for corruption), to discipline the foreign debt process and to stabilise the national currency, essentially through better transparency tools. To foreign investors and to international trade partners, these measures can only be welcome. The proposed reduction of the foreign labour quota may sound a discordant note but should be seen a direct response to preoccupations recently expressed by Kazakh workers over discrimination patterns and the exploitation of foreign workers (and its ensuing broader impact on labour conditions).
The social measures are aimed at simplifying and making more effective state assistance directed to children. There are also specific measures to assist handicapped individuals. Their impact should be to modernise the overall system of social support.

A specific measure is also being proposed to deal with the proper use of agricultural land. In order to ensure an optimal use of arable lands, targeted remote space-based observation will be initiated and will lead to greater taxation rates for the owners of land who are not actually cultivating their land. To foreigners, this may sound rather harsh. In a context where post-USSR land distribution has not been optimal and where some farmers actually see their activity constrained by the lack of available land, the measure would appear justified.

The political reforms are essentially aimed at furthering the democratisation of Kazakh society. They are intended in particular to deal with issues such as the organization of peaceful marches, the reduction of registration barriers for the formation of a political party, quotas for the involvement of women and youth, the possibility of enhancing the role of opposition parties in Parliament,  the decriminalization of slanderous articles. It is also foreseen to abolish the death penalty by having Kazakhstan ratify the relevant international convention.

Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan's capital

In Western eyes, Kazakhstan is still generally regarded as an authoritarian state although one in which the political emphasis is on modernisation. The proposed reforms are admittedly a top-down initiative, but one over which there has been public consultation. The fundamental purpose of the political reforms is in fact to do away with some of the authoritarian aspects of the current governance and to achieve greater popular empowerment. If one thinks for a moment about what is currently happening in the world, from Algiers to Hong Kong, it is difficult not to see the merit of the presidential proposals whose purpose is to achieve greater democracy without disruption.  The reforms are undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Some may argue that more is needed. The President himself has acknowledged the incremental nature of his approach. Considering the depth of changes that are ultimately planned, an incremental approach would seem to have better chances of success.

The reforms are tackling one of the most difficult problems of democracy in some parts of the post-USSR world. In advancing democracy in a context where for many years a single party has been the rule, the greatest challenge is to facilitate the emergence of genuine opposition political parties. No matter how good your constitution and your national legislation may be, creating the entities that will make democracy work properly cannot be legislated. Having a legislation that facilitates the emergence of new political parties is, however, a pre-requisite. This is what currently proposals are doing.

The next challenge is then to create the other conditions where political parties can thrive. This is where economic reforms aimed a democratisation of the economy through, for instance, privatisation could become a significant factor in supporting the political democratisation if they lead to less oligarchic economy that could eventually lead to less oligarchic governance.
The question that remains to be addressed is that of the funding of political parties. This is where the challenges of younger democracies converge with the challenges of older ones. Political parties and political campaigns are funded differently the world over. Once the political field becomes more open and if no public funding exists or popular funding is not facilitated through fiscal measures, can parties align along political orientations or will not they become instruments of financial or special interest groups?

The President has done the first part of the job by offering an initial set of tangible, significant political improvements. Although it is only at an early stage, the course proposed by President Tokayev offers an opportunity that can become a defining moment for the future of a democratic Kazakhstan.



Turkey is increasingly relying on military capabilities in its foreign policy, triggering regional and international tensions the latest being with Egypt, France and Russia over potential troop deployment in Libya.

Largely isolated in Europe and the Middle East, with Qatar as its only staunch ally, Ankara is flexing its muscles in Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean and now in Libya. Ankara seems to be on a direct collision course with Moscow over Turkey’s plans to deploy troops in support of the Islamist-backed Tripoli government. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assailed the presence of the Russian private military company Wagner in Libya on the side of Libyan National Army Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

“Through the group named Wagner, they are literally working as Haftar’s mercenaries in Libya. You know who is paying them,” Erdogan was quoted December 20 by broadcaster NTV. He added: “It would not be right for us to remain silent against all of this.”

Russia earlier said it was “very concerned” by the possible Turkish troop deployment in Libya, the Interfax news agency reported.

Erdogan recently stated Turkey was ready to send troops to Libya to back the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, which is already a recipient of Turkish military support.
“We will be protecting the rights of Libya and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean,” Erdogan told A Haber television channel on December 15th. “We are more than ready to give whatever support necessary to Libya.”

The Turkish government said it is trying to make its voice heard in a region where conflicts pose threats on Turkey’s doorstep and where other players ignore Turkish interests but the approach is not winning Turkey any friends and is a far cry from the idea of having “zero problems with neighbors” that is the official position  promoted on the website of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

To some extent, military power has always played a role in Turkey. Its fighter jets and ground troops have been confronting militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in northern Iraq since the 1990s but, in recent years, unilateral military action has become a much more regular feature of Turkey’s foreign policy, putting the country on a collision course with neighbors, regional powers and other NATO members.

Turkey's incursion into Syria in 2019 pitted Turkey against the US and basically forced American administration to betray their Kurdish allies. Since then however the situation had stabilized as Turkey slowed the pace of their advance and partially reined in their Muslim Arab allies who already began committing customary atrocities against the Kurdish population.



Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, to Italian immigrants. As a young man, Bergoglio underwent surgery to remove part of one of his lungs due to serious infection.

On March 13, 2013, at the age of 76, Jorge Bergoglio was named the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church—becoming the first citizen from the Americas, the first non-European and first Jesuit priest to be named pope, adopting the name Pope Francis after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy.

As a Pope Francis instituted some important reforms in the financial sector of the Vatican, liberalizing functions of the Curia and setting draconian laws on the issue of sexual abuse by the clergy and stripping suspected priests of any kind of immunity.

Reform, Francis said, is not simply seeking change for its own sake or to follow the latest fashion, “but to have conviction that development and growth are characteristic of earthly and human life, while, in the perspective of the believer, at the heart of it all is the stability of God.”

Referring to the changes he has made to the Roman Curia since taking office, the pope insisted that “reform never had the presumption of acting as if nothing existed before; on the contrary, it’s designed to give value to the good accomplished in the complex history of the Curia.”

On December 20th Pope Francis received in audience António Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations. The following quote from the ensuing press release illustrates the Vatican’s traditional role in international affairs as well as the new orientations that have been advanced by Pope Francis: “The Holy See expressed its consideration for the United Nations’ commitment to peace in the world. The parties then focused on the process of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, and on the crisis of multilateralism, made particularly evident by the difficulties of managing certain current problems such as migration and human trafficking, climate change and disarmament.”



During his annual marathon press conference on December 19th, President Putin for the first time in 20 years approved the general idea of the need for constitutional reform and made a rather puzzling statement concerning presidential mandates suggesting that the existing limitation to “two consecutive mandates” may be changed by dropping the word “consecutive”. This has left observers to speculate widely, but may only be a decoy. Whatever he wants to do at the end of his current presidential mandate, Putin, as legalistic former KGB officer, will want the arrangement to be cast in the appropriate legislation, probably even enshrined in the constitution. This will require some preparation. If changes are also made to the status of Parliament, they have to be done before the 2021 parliamentary elections. One way or the other, it is not too early to start an informal discussion about the process.

Putin has often said he did not want to become "president-for-life". His inclination would likely be announce his intentions for the future at the last possible date. In this case, the Parliamentary election calendar may force him to reveal some of his plans earlier than he would like. 



Ilya Gerol, former foreign editor of the Citizen in Ottawa, syndicated columnist in Canadian, US and European media specializing in international affairs. His area of expertise includes Russia, Eurasian Economic Union, Eastern and Central Europe.  Ilya Gerol has written several books, one of them, The Manipulators, had become a textbook on relations of media and society.

During his career in the Canadian Foreign Service, Gilles Breton had three assignments at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. His first posting there began during the Soviet period, in 1983. His last was from 2008 to 2012 as Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission. He also served as Deputy Director responsible for Canada’s relations with Russia from 2000 to 2008. As an international civil servant, he was Deputy Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw from 1994 to 1997.

Gilles Breton also currently serves as Chairman of the National Board of the Canada-Eurasia-Russia Business Association. The views expressed in this newsletter exclusively reflect the opinion of the authors.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Issue 37



François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs is truly an engaging person. He is also often described as very smart by individuals who have had dealings with him. Christya Freeland, Champagne’s predecessor, was certainly no less intelligent.  The difference between intelligent and smart may not change everything, but one is led to believe and hope  that the passage from one to the other might lead to a foreign policy with less lecturing and more dialogue, less emphasis on preaching Canadian values and more on advancing Canadian interests (of which promoting Canadian values is an important element, but not the only one).

Minister Champagne, Prime Minister Trudeau
Facebook archive

On the substance of things, the arrival of a new minister will not necessarily herald the emergence of a new foreign policy. The current Prime Minister has little interest or appetite for that. The new minister’s different style of implementing policy objectives may nevertheless lead to visible improvements in the perception of Canada on the international scene. He may not readily resolve current problems, including the ones with China, he may, however, be more apt at conflict prevention. In all fairness, the objective of getting Canada elected as non-permanent member of the Security Council is, however, not one on which Minister Champagne’s performance should be judged. For one thing, the competition is too stiff. Besides, there may not be enough time to regain old friends. 

Minister Champagne
Facebook profile

As for Deputy Prime Minister Freeland, in addition to her Intergovernmental Affairs responsibilities, she is expected to continue overseeing Canada-US relations. This does not imply that she will not have a large influence on other foreign policy discussions in Cabinet. On the matter that is obviously closest to Freeland’s heart, the relationship with Ukraine and the non-relationship with Russia, it is worth observing that unconditional supporters of Ukraine find themselves somewhat left in the lurch by the policies of President Zelenskyy who is working for a peace settlement in Eastern Ukraine and a modus vivendi with Russia. With respect to the latter, it should also bear reminding that France is leading the movement for the re-establishment of the Europe-Russia relationship, with the UK and the US caught up in their domestic troubles, leaving Canada virtually alone to fight the rear-guard action.



The ironic aspect of the 2020 presidential election campaign is that Michael Bloomberg, a newcomer in the race, will find it more difficult defeating his Democratic colleagues than he would beating Donald Trump head to head. The left-wing convulsions have become so habitual in the current Democratic political establishment that even Bernie Sanders is closer to the center of the party than to its left fringe.

Michael Bloomberg is the second multi-billionaire tycoon to run for the nomination of the party, after Tom Steyer. This is especially noteworthy in comparison to the field where a large portion of the candidates are openly "progressive", à la Justin Trudeau. Bernie Sanders already twitted an angry tirade against Michael Bloomberg citing his wealth and "capitalist" instincts, accusing him of buying his way into the race.

It is a certainty that all other candidates will unite against Bloomberg during upcoming debates. He, on the other hand, will not be able to defend himself in those forums because according to the rules candidate who did not receive financial contribution from donors are not allowed to take part in debates.  As the result the split in the Democratic party has intensified with the entry of Michael Bloomberg. This makes Trump's position stronger. This will be re-enforced by the most likely failure of the impeachment ordeal as well.

On impeachment there is yet no visible change in the potential outcome with all available Republicans “circling the wagons” and shooting messengers rather than addressing the growing evidence against the President.

As the impeachment process moves along, Democrats are likely to collect more dirt on Trump and on  Republicans. This is not necessarily likely to cause impeachment or electoral defeat for Trump, since his base is fiercely loyal, some even referring to him as the God-given one. There still could be problems in some swing states, but the damage could well be felt in the House and  Senate elections. Those Republicans fearing Trump’s kiss of death may be held to account for their blind partisan support, and not having been chosen by God, may suffer a slower but equally painful electoral death.



President Macron’s remarks in a recent interview with the Economist about NATO suffering from brain death have elicited considerable comments from many quarters as well as a negative reaction from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany’s formal response has been to float the idea of convening a group of experts to look at the situation. The idea was, of course, welcomed by NATO officials. The group of experts would be created at the 70th Anniversary NATO Summit in December and would only produce its report after the next US presidential election in November 2020, in the hope there might a new US President or that a second-term Trump presidency might be a lesser disturbance. As an example of “la fuite en avant” one could hardly imagine any better. Some German politicians have already criticized the idea as an instance of political leaders shirking their responsibilities.

President Macron, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg
November 28th, Paris

Macron’s initial observations may have been provocative, but they are explained in a more direct and perhaps even more damning way by his further statement at a Paris peace conference held a few days after his Economist interview. Macron said: “I think we need truth. Prudery or hypocrisy does not work in these times. Why? Because our fellow citizens see it. We are in an open world. The experts, the citizens, the activists, they see the consequences of this world. When it does not work any more, they tell us. So hypocrisy and silence is not a solution. And intellectual laziness or inaction is not a solution either.”
President Macron, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg
November 28th, Paris

Macron’s specific frustration with NATO was triggered by the fact that NATO as an entity did not get its act together with respect to Syria. The US President announced his troops were leaving, without a moment of consultation with NATO allies. In the meantime, Turkey, another NATO ally is conducting its own military offense essentially not heeding any advice from NATO partners, and is purchasing a sophisticated defence system from Russia.

There is more. Macron is also proposing to re-engage with Russia. Other EU countries are already doing this, more discretely. In that context, for Macron, NATO is only reciting the same mantra and not taking a creative forward-looking approach.

President Macron, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg
November 28th, Paris

NATO supporters will rightly argue that, as a collective security organisation, NATO has functioned well against the potential threat that was the Soviet Union and that is now Russia. There is no arguing against that. What Macron is essentially saying is that parroting that line ad infinitum does constitute a form of brain death, thus offending not only Germany, but a certain number of countries of the so-called "New Europe" for which NATO accession was the equivalent of drinking from the Holy Grail, in that it reversed the post World War II order that confined them to the Soviet sphere of influence.  As an East German, Chancellor Merkel would be sensitive to that. Macron’s point, though, is not to change collective defence provisions of the NATO Treaty, but to acknowledge that the institution no longer actively exercises the foreign policy coordination function that it once did and that it essentially is in a state of prolonged inertia.

Although the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union may not have accomplished that much so far in terms of creating a European army, it and other EU institutions would seem to have the advantage of providing the actual forum where Europeans more readily and more assiduously discuss their foreign policy concerns and are taking a forward-looking approach. NATO meetings have the comparative advantage of bringing in North American participants and Turkey, but with the level of coordination exercised within the EU, more often that not, this will leave the non-EU participants with the impression that they were not invited to the real party. Ultimately, many Europeans see a NATO as part of their history, not their future.

As for the key current challenge to European security, the situation in Ukraine, it is certainly noteworthy to observe that the Normandy Four peace process has been driven by France and Germany, that have been in no  hurry to provide the US, their main NATO ally, a seat at the table. President Trump’s earlier pronouncements about NATO and recent revelations about his lack of interest in Ukraine are in the long term bound to feed European tendencies to want to look after their own defence interests and to look at a US-led NATO as a relic of the Cold War. As for Macron, his warnings will not necessarily be heeded, but he will be despised by the proponents of the Euro-Atlantic security arrangement for having spoken his mind, touched a raw nerve and questioned the articles of faith.



President Zelenskyy just got severely criticized in a US publication by a member of the parliamentary opposition for his lack of a vision for Ukraine as well as the absence of a program for the future, beyond putting an admittedly desirable end to the war in Eastern Ukraine. The opposition clearly senses that they have a profound disagreement with Zelenskyy’s approach, but they are frustrated by the fact that since the President does not outline his plans in any detail, just the same as he avoided during the election campaign, he deprives them of an identifiable target that they could readily shoot down. In the meantime, Zelenskyy is nevertheless moving along in seeking an end to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, knowing that if he can avoid crippling criticism during the process he stands a chance of winning public support for a result that would essentially put an end to the fighting.

President Zelenskyy visiting Luhansk region,
November 20th
©President of Ukraine Website

The next meeting of the Normandy Four Summit is to be held in Paris on December 9th. The preference of leaders is for that kind of event to produce a previously-agreed deliverable. There have been separate phone conversations between Macron and Merkel with Putin and more recently between Zelenskyy and Putin. There is a sense that something could be achieved on the Eastern Ukraine issue and related matters. The delivery and transit of Russian gas has also been discussed. There is no indication of any movement on the issue of Crimea, nothing should be expected on that front.

The damage that has been done to the US-Ukraine relationship by Trump’s antics and statements may have reduced US influence in Ukraine, but it does not prevent the US administration from commenting on the issue and in some cases raising the bar on what should be expected from Eastern Ukraine rebel leaders. Cleverly enough, Zelenskyy recently travelled to Estonia and Lithuania where he found direct support for his peace efforts, thus counteracting US misgivings about a possible peace arrangement. In Ukraine, Estonia and Lithuania, it turns out, may have as significant influence as the US.

President Nauseda, President Zelenskyy
November 27th, Vilnius, Lithuania
©President of Ukraine Website
President Kaljulaid, President Zelenskyy
November 26th, Tallinn, Estonia
©President of Ukraine Website

While Zelenskyy may be able to advance his peace agenda without too much interference, there is some difficulty on his other priority, fighting corruption and advancing economic reform. The country’s foreign debt burden offers little breathing room. Badly needed foreign investment could come from China, but that raises a number of strategic questions, including China’s close links to Russia. The long-awaited plan to legalize private land ownership is highly controversial and clearly less than popular. Managing a parliamentary majority that is composed of a large number of political newcomers is also not simple, with the odd scandal popping up on a frequent basis. For now, Zelenskky still enjoys a 60% popular rating, a significant achievement in the circumstances, but there will be considerable pressure on him to deliver tangible results, including some economic improvements, in the near future.



With the decision of a Swedish court to reject an appeal by Russia’s Gazprom, Ukrainian Naftogaz just won another battle against its Russian counterpart in their legal conflict over the interpretation of their existing contractual arrangement that is coming to an end on December 31st  of this year. In the meantime, opponents of the Nord Stream 2, that would allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in delivering gas to Western Europe, have publicly acknowledged that they only have a few months left to stop the completion of that project. There a few other legal decisions due in 2020 that could affect the Naftogaz/Gazprom relationship. Gazprom may eventually have to pay large sums of money to Naftogas, but Naftogas has to weigh the long-term impact of no longer having a Russian supplier and a transit service client. In addition to the major revenue loss for the Ukrainian economy, that would include paying more for other more distant sources of gas. Gazprom can wait, time is in its favour. The pressure is on Naftogaz to decide whether to trade its latest legal win for a better long-term contract or to wait for a cheque eventually coming from Moscow when all legal matters have been resolved.



The summit that took place in November in Brasilia  brought together leaders of  Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The association of those nations represents half of the world population. (BRICS is the acronym coined for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Originally the first four were grouped as "BRIC", before the induction of South Africa in 2010).

BRICS Summit Leaders' Working Session
November 14th, Brasilia
©President of Russia Website

One aspect of that summit particularly attracted international observers' attention. China, Russia and India agreed to speed up the transfer of their trade from US dollars to their national currencies. In fact only China be beneficiary of that idea because the yuan is steadily becoming a reserve currency due to the China's economic might. For others it is more a question of prestige than reality. It has also become noticeable that the African continent has become a competitive field for China-economically, while for Russia militarily and politically. South Africa meanwhile is on the way to become an African economic powerhouse.

What makes BRICS also an interesting organization is that it has no Western members and therefore no Western influence.


Michael Bloomberg was born in Boston in 1942. After earning his MBA from Harvard, he got a job in 1966 in "The Cage" at Salomon Brothers, where he counted out securities by hand. He worked his way up to general partner, but was fired in 1981.

He is the co-founder, CEO, and owner of Bloomberg L.P., a global financial services, software and mass media company that bears his name, and is known for its Bloomberg Terminal, a computer software system providing financial data widely used in the global financial services industry.
He is an active philanthropist, he has donated close to $8 billion to gun control, climate change and other causes. As the mayor of New York City for 12 years (three terms). Bloomberg is one of just four individuals to have served that long.

According to Forbes he is the 9th richest American and 14th richest man in the world with a fortune of around 54$ billion dollars.

After much speculation, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced Sunday that he was entering the 2020 Democratic primary race.

"I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America," Bloomberg declared in a statement on his campaign website.  We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions. He represents an existential threat to our country and our values. If he wins another term in office, we may never recover from the damage."

It is yet to be seen if Bloomberg will appeal to younger, left-leaning Democrats as he likely to position himself as a solid centrist, maybe even the most conservative of the whole lot in the party. However, even at 77, among other older candidates, he is evidently more dynamic than Biden and more middle of the road than openly socialist Sanders who already twitted fiercely anti-Bloomberg statement.

Bloomberg is person of the month for himself, but as well as the illustration of the Democratic Party’s failure thus bfar to find an electable candidate, to such a point that even Hillary Clinton even hinted discretely at another possible run, only to get quickly discouraged from even trying.



The US Defence Department has recently expressed more than usual concern over the possibility that Israel may strike Iran directly, moving away from striking Iranian assets only in Syria.
This thinking comes from an understanding that Iran may fire more missiles from Syria or even Iraq or Yemen (where it keeps rocket launching capabilities) into Israel. If such an attack were to occur and inflict similar damage to Israel as Iran inflicted on Saudis, Israel will most likely strike back hard and strike Iran itself.

Iranian forces in Syria have recently launched four rockets into the Israeli Golan heights region. It was a retaliation for the suspected assassination attempt on one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad in Damascus. Israel easily intercepted the rockets, but unleashed a fierce retaliation on dozens of Iranian bases and assets in Syria on November 20th, with cruise missiles and planes killing more than 20 Iranians and some Syrians. Syria claimed it has intercepted most missiles, but the damage on the ground showed it is unlikely any Israeli rockets were intercepted.

The Pentagon is concerned that the next round of hostilities may escalate into a large war. Israel does everything to show Iran that it is not Saudi Arabia and it would reply to even a small Iranian attack with overwhelming force. That in turn could force Iran, with its back against the wall due to civil unrest and rapidly declining economy, to reply with its own rockets or make Lebanese Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad in Gaza to fire hundreds if not thousands of rockets into Israel.



Serbia says it is investigating reports of an alleged spying incident involving Russia after a video was posted on social media apparently showing a Russian diplomat passing money to a person said to be a senior member of Serbia's security service.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on November 20th that the military intelligence agency had been ordered by the president to investigate the video and claims that the man filmed handing out the alleged payment is a Russian military intelligence agent.

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said the affair might be linked to Belgrade remaining militarily neutral despite many countries in the Balkan region joining NATO. Vulin told the Tanjug news agency that the "situation is very serious."

Serbia is seeking EU membership but has remained a close ally of Moscow, and has vowed to remain militarily neutral, despite most countries in the Balkans joining NATO. Belgrade also has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.



During his recent visit to Austria, President Alexander Lukashenko defended Belarus’s human rights record, as he called for closer relations with the European Union. Lukashenko made the comments on November 12 at a joint press conference with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen in Vienna. It was his first trip to an EU member state since his Italy visit more than three years ago.
Critics of the authoritarian president, who has ruled Belarus for a quarter of a century, say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media. When asked about the state of human rights in his country and the fact that Belarus is the only European state with death penalty (around 400 people were executed since 1992) Lukashanko said: " "It is a country where one can relax in peace and security." He also added that the death penalty was approved in a national referendum in 1996. He also said that Belarusians enjoyed the right to life, the right to work in Belarus and abroad, and the right to free education.

The country had been the target of U.S. and EU sanctions over its poor rights record and lack of fair elections, but Belarus and the West have recently sought to mend ties to reduce Russia’s influence in the country. In fact some set of sanctions had been reduced.

Russia is Belarus’s largest trading partner and props up its smaller neighbor’s economy with cheap energy. Austria is the second-largest foreign investor in Belarus after Russia.



The leaders of Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have committed to working together to lift barriers on the movement of goods and people between the three Balkan countries.

"We have launched an initiative or action plan that creates a truly different Balkans than we know: the Balkans of the 21st Century," North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on November 10th after meeting with his Albanian counterpart, Edi Rama, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

The meeting took place in the town of Ohrid, North Macedonia. Details of a plan to set up a free trade zone were discussed to boost economic growth and foreign investment.

The three leaders gave the project a name: "little Schengen," after the European Union's border-free zone.

The Ohrid summit was also attended by Bosnian Prime Minister Denis Zvizdic and Montenegro’s Economy Minister Dragica Sekulic, whose countries are willing to join the zone.



Moldova's parliament has approved a new government led by former a finance minister and presidential adviser, Ion Chicu. President Igor Dodon nominated Chicu on November 13th, a day after pro-Western Prime Minister Maia Sandu's cabinet lost a confidence vote after just five months in office, threatening more instability in one of Europe's poorest and most corrupt countries.
Dodon described Chicu as "a technocrat, a professional who has not been in any political party."
Some 62 lawmakers out of 101 voted in favor of the new government.

Chicu, 47, who until five months ago served as finance minister, told lawmakers that his minority government will have a transitional role until the next elections. More than half of the new government's members are former advisers of the pro-Russian Dodon, and some of them held ministerial positions in the government led by the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), which was ousted in June.

The alliance between the pro-Western and pro-Russian parties came following months of political uncertainty prompted by inconclusive national elections in February. President Dodon. The current arrangement is not expected to advance significant reforms.



Dozens of cadets and youngsters from Russia's Youth Army have been getting up close and personal with perhaps the world's most iconic firearm as their country marked the centenary of the birth of Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the legendary AK-47 rifle.

At Victory Museum in western Moscow, visitors including the young cadets were invited to assemble Kalashnikovs and pose for selfies at the exhibition dedicated to the ubiquitous automatic weapon.
Sunday November 10th was the 100th anniversary of Kalashnikov's birth. It was marked by a number of events, including the museum display and a biopic.

The military engineer, who died in 2013 at the age of 94, is seen in Russia as a national hero and symbol of the country's proud military past.

His assault rifle has become a weapon of choice for both guerrillas and governments the world over.



Ilya Gerol, former foreign editor of the Citizen in Ottawa, syndicated columnist in Canadian, US and European media specializing in international affairs. His area of expertise includes Russia, Eurasian Economic Union, Eastern and Central Europe.  Ilya Gerol has written several books, one of them, The Manipulators, had become a textbook on relations of media and society.

During his career in the Canadian Foreign Service, Gilles Breton had three assignments at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. His first posting there began during the Soviet period, in 1983. His last was from 2008 to 2012 as Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission. He also served as Deputy Director responsible for Canada’s relations with Russia from 2000 to 2008. As an international civil servant, he was Deputy Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw from 1994 to 1997.

Gilles Breton also currently serves as Chairman of the National Board of the Canada-Eurasia-Russia Business Association. The views expressed in this newsletter exclusively reflect the opinion of the authors.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Issue 36



The results of the October 21st Canadian federal elections have elicited a lot of comments about the divide between Western Canada and the rest of the country. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party managed to remain in power as a minority government, but failed to elect any candidate in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. This in itself is regrettable and preoccupying from the point of view of national unity, but not that unusual, considering the long-term tendency of popular vote in Western Canada. There was also an upsurge in the support for the Bloc Québécois that allowed it to regain a significant number of seats in Québec. The left-leaning New Democratic Party suffered some losses, but, paradoxically, will have more influence on the conduct of government as it will be holding the balance of power and will be the party to which the Liberals will turn to remain in power for the next four years. The Bloc will not openly support Justin Trudeau, but has made it clear it does not intend to bring down the Liberal minority government. In the meantime, the Conservative Party, having failed to transform its popular support plurality into even a minority government will be engaged in the painful discussion about what to do with Andrew Scheer, its less than charismatic leader.

Foreign policy was not a major discussion item during the election campaign with even the incumbent Prime Minister avoiding the debate focusing on that question. There were well- founded calls for a renewed, re-energized foreign policy, but not a great deal of public opinion interest. The new make-up of Canada’s federal Parliament is most unlikely to have any significant impact on the conduct of Canada’s foreign policy.  Ralph Goodale, previously the lone liberal Minister from Saskatchewan, was known as one of the strongest supporters of a pro-Ukraine policy. His catering to the Ukrainian community voters did not make any difference: he was soundly defeated. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, the other champion of the pro-Ukraine policy, was re-elected and may well keep her job in the new government, not necessarily for policy reasons, but for political ones. As a potential successor to Justin Trudeau and with her Alberta and Ontario connections, there may be some comfort for the Prime Minister in leaving her in a job where she is less likely to be in a position to build her own political basis, or maybe giving her another "problem" portfolio. At this time, in Canadian foreign policy there are many challenges and few opportunities for early success.  Nothing much can happen with the US or the EU, absorbed as they are, one with impeachment, the other with Brexit. Patching up relations with China is beyond the reach of the Foreign Minister, as long as a Huawei executive is under custody in Vancouver. There is no dialogue with Russia and unlikely to be any soon. Even the attempt to renew with Canada’s multilateral tradition by, for instance, getting elected to the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 term does not look very promising, despite all the efforts of former Prime Ministers who were recently enlisted for that purpose.



These days, the obvious first challenge for political analysts is to offer a winning prediction on the outcome of the current impeachment process in the US. Despite the highly partisan views on the matter, a few things are clear. The prima facie evidence exists: an impeachable offence was committed, using US military assistance to an ally as a means of securing personal political advantage. The law is also clear: the offence amounts to a high crime or misdemeanour as the writers of the Constitution intended these words to mean. The problem with the offence is that it does not carry moral opprobrium in the Trump world: squeezing your partners while invoking a higher motive is seen by many as a good deed. As the Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said after admitting the famous quid pro quo: “get over it”. This being said, the dilatory measures of the White House and the Bolshevik tactics of some of the Trump supporters in the House of Representatives (including breaching House rules and storming a meeting) confirm it: impeachment is possible. The question boils down to the number of Republican senators who will be willing to remove their partisan blinkers and possibly jeopardize their re-election chances by voting to impeach Donald J. Trump. This ultimately will depend on the quality and damning nature of the evidence that the Democrats will be able to produce. In light of all that has happened so far, it is not inconceivable that more such evidence could become available. Even more important, it will henceforth be made public.

In this particular chess game, seasoned political operators on the Democratic side are not without realizing that impeaching Trump makes Mike Pence President. If nothing else, that is a very good reason to follow Talleyrand ‘s famous advice to “rush slowly”. In fact, drawing out a process that keeps discrediting Trump, his entourage and his partisans might be as good as impeachment.
The problem with an ongoing impeachment process is that it paralyzes the political system and prevents possibly useful legislation from being developed. An even more serious problem might be that the President may be looking for ways of bolstering his presidential stature by making decisions that make him look good even if temporarily. The decision to put an end to US troop support to Kurdish rebels in Syria was justifiably described as wrong. The decision to go after ISIS leader Al Baghdadi was not justified by tactical or strategic interests. Whatever fate Al Baghdadi may have deserved, his disappearance virtually changes nothing on the ground in Syria other than to encourage remaining ISIS elements to seek revenge against US elements left behind to “protect the oil” from being used by ISIS.



President Zelenskyy meeting National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine,
October 28th, Kyiv
©President of Ukraine website

President Zelenskyy’s has said that he did not feel any undue pressure in his now famous phone call with President Trump. While Zelenskyy clearly did not want get involved in US politics he probably could have gone along with whatever Trump symbolic gesture might have asked from him, knowing full well that the investigation of past corruption cases is beyond his personal jurisdiction and, in the case of the Bidens,  would not have led to anything in any event.  During his recent meeting with Anticorruption officials, Zelenskyy clearly stated: "we will not influence you".Whatever poor judgment Hunter Biden may have shown for agreeing to sit on the Board of a company that would pay him USD 50,000 a month essentially for his name, that is not a matter inconsistent with the law or the practice in the region. Alexander Kwasniewski, the former President of Poland was on the same Board for the same reason and with a similar level of incompetence. No one flinched. As for the military assistance that was expected from the US, Zelenskyy had to go through the motions. He has to be seen as interested in US support, but he would know that US support is driven as much by US self-interest as by the interest of Ukraine.  Ultimately, Zelenskyy could be upset not for being under pressure but for the sorry spectacle of US politicians and political operatives not caring for Ukraine as much as using it as a playground for either getting rich (Biden Jr and former Trump associate Manafort) or for scoring political points (Trump and Giuliani).



For President Zelenskyy, the priorities have not changed: eliminating corruption and achieving peace in Eastern Ukraine.

Eliminating corruption is a long-term goal for which there is widespread popular support. There may be back-room resistance among oligarchs or disagreement over methods, but there is a strong consensus over the objective. The greater difficulty will be to maintain that consensus over time. In order to do that, there will have to be real signs of improvement in the daily lives of ordinary citizens in the relatively short term.  Zelenskyy is on the right track in tackling corruption, but could use support on the economic front. With EU participation, there are continuing trilateral discussions about the possibility of Russian gas continuing transiting through Ukraine after 2019 and possibly even being delivered to Ukraine. A deal would be useful for the Ukrainian economy, but there are obstacles to resolve, including how to deal with the lawsuits that the Ukrainian gas company has won against its Russian counterpart and the extent to which they should be factored in any new arrangement.

Achieving peace in Eastern Ukraine will be a much more difficult task, not because of having to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. In the current negotiating format, the Normandy Four, Ukraine can essentially count on France and Germany as guarantors of the process itself and of its outcome. The principles behind the Minsk I and II arrangements are not so much at stake as the process of their implementation. During his tenure as Foreign Minister of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier had developed a formula that now bears his name. The formula was devised with a view to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk arrangements by sequencing events in a manner that is in principle more acceptable to the Ukrainian side. It was officially accepted by President Zelenskyy on October 1st. There is now considerable debate among those who were involved in the negotiations as to who was the initiator of the formula. It is no accident that during his recent visit to Japan for the enthronement ceremony of the new Emperor, Zelenskyy took advantage of the presence of Steinmeier, now President of Germany, to firm up the impression that the Steinmeier formula was the work of Steinmeier not that of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Presidents Zelenskyy and Steinmeier
Tokyo, October 23rd
©President of Ukraine website

As could be expected, after Zelenskyy’s acceptance of the Steinmeier formula, there were popular demonstrations aimed at denouncing Zelenskyy’s efforts to bring peace to the Donbass and to cast them as “capitulation”.  These protests re-confirm the polarization of Ukrainian society over the Donbass issue. They, however, are not an insurmountable obstacle to Zelenskyy’s peace plans. Here, it is the result that will matter.

President Zelenskky near the front line in Zolotoe area
October 26th
©President of Ukraine website

For Zelenskyy, a far more difficult problem is to deal with the voluntary nationalist battalions that have essentially been at the front line of the confrontation with Eastern Ukraine rebel forces and their Russian supporters. At this stage, the next step in the negotiation is conditional on a cease-fire holding for a period of seven days in two disengagement areas. This had been impossible to achieve until recently. The OSCE Monitoring Mission continues reporting daily violations of the cease-fire. On the Ukrainian side, it appears that the view among many voluntary fighters is that separating the two sides has not worked before and could only lead to more casualties. This is why, at the end of October,  Zelenskyy travelled to the front line area, put on a bullet-proof vest and engaged in conversations with local people as well as with some of the fighters from the voluntary battalions, including the famous Azov battalion. As a result voluntary battalions complied with the requirement to withdraw and remove their weapons from a first disengagement area. Almost simultaneously, rebels also complied. This is a significant victory for Zelenskyy. If the other disengagement area is freed up shortly, this would open the way for a Normandy Four Summit in November.  The first steps have been taken on what will most likely be a very long and difficult road.



After a virtually flawless and successful operation in Syria, that started in 2015 and culminated in regaining most of Syrian territory under the rule of Bashar Al Assad, Moscow has powerfully returned to the Middle East. At the same time even such a complicated and possibly unsolvable problem as a standoff between pro-Iran Syria and Israel is being handled by Moscow by a multi-leveled cooperation between such countries as Turkey, Iran, US and Israel.

Israeli PM Netanyahu has visited Russia more than any other country, including the US, last year. In 2019 he met Putin 9 times. Russia has become the main conduit in the delicate and often dangerous relations between Damascus, Jerusalem and Tehran.

Presidents Putin and Erdogan
Sochi, October 22nd
©President of Russia website

Even the American military activities in Syria are being conducted with at a certain degree of cooperation with the Russian command in the area. President Trump especially thanked Russia for keeping the skies open for its operation to neutralize the ISIS leader on October 27th in the province of Idlib. (Russia has for now refused to acknowledge any involvement.)

Paradoxically Russia has become the only major power that holds the balance between major Sunni and Shia powers because the United States though it has normal relations with the Sunni world, has been in conflict with Iran (the largest Shia state) since 1979. Iran and Turkey, both countries being hostile to each other for various religious and geopolitical reasons, come to Moscow for mediation in many areas, especially when it comes to their neighbourhood problems. Finally, it was Russia that separated Turkey and Kurdish SDF forces after the rapid and questionable withdrawal of the US troops.



The most unusual conference took place in Sochi in October of this year. All countries-members of the African Union led by President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attended the first Africa-Russia Summit: they had two day-long meetings with President Putin and leaders of Russia's major corporations from the civilian and military-industrial sectors.

President Putin put it bluntly; "unlike the Soviet Union that dealt with Africa on a strictly ideological platform, modern Russia wants to have economic and cultural partnership with the rapidly developing African continent".

Russia-Africa Summit
Sochi, October 24th

Russia looks to substantially increase the sale of more advanced weapons to African countries,  ahead of major suppliers as the US, the UK, France and China. Africa is rapidly becoming a diversified exporting entity. Aside from its natural resources Africa also produces everything from cars to computers to heavy machinery.

Moscow promised its African partners to open Russian markets to its goods and to invest in various industrial and energy projects across the continent. It was decided that such summits will take place every three years.

To a large extent, Russia is applying the principle of diversification to its foreign economic relations as well as developing useful long-term alliances that can serve it in global multilateral forums. With relatively low-cost diplomatic initiatives, it is advancing further its already profitable relationship with Africa.




Marie Jovanovich was US Ambassador to Ukraine till March 2019, at what time she was abruptly removed from that position. Marie Jovanovich is a diplomat’s diplomat. To those who have had the fortune of meeting her she represents the best qualities that anyone would want to see in a foreign service officer from any country. It is highly unfair, to say the least, that she should have suffered retribution for her professionalism and honesty and that such retribution should have been engineered by “individuals with questionable motives”. She, however, was able to testify before Congress on her own personal knowledge of “Ukrainegate” and thus contribute to some form of justice. Her testimony was similar to that of Fiona Hill and William Taylor. Fiona Hill is one of the foremost experts on Russia and served on the National Security Council. Her testimony was regarded as one of the most substantial heard in Congress in recent years. William Taylor succeeded Jovanovich as the most senior diplomatic representative in Ukraine. His testimony was regarded as one of the most damning so far for Trump.

Hill and Taylor could also have been persons of the month, in their own right or collectively with Jovanovich. Jovanovich, however, also represents the State Department, a previously formidable institution that is currently being gutted by a short-sighted President and Secretary of State. In the highly political and partisan Washington environment, the State Department’s task of providing well-informed professional advice was never easy. Under Trump it is now being deprived of some of the means to do that job. The long-term consequences could be detrimental for US interests. They will not contribute to make America great again.

In the circumstances, there is no small irony and some inherent justice in the fact that it is in part the testimony of State Department officials that could be instrumental in bringing down the Trump presidency.



Various media report that U.S. President Donald Trump has signed a document signaling his administration's intent to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, the latest in a series of major arms control and disarmament accords that are on the verge of collapse. Unnamed US officials have revealed that the document has been signed. The White House has refused to respond to questions surrounding the issue.

Signed by 34 nations, including Russia, the treaty aims to increase international stability by allowing signatory nations to conduct surveillance flights over one another’s territories, to observe military installations and other areas.

The treaty is one of several arms control agreements that are on the verge of collapse or have already collapsed.



Kazakhstan's effort to tap into its offshore oil and gas wealth has taken a hit with the withdrawal of major foreign investors from two Caspian Sea projects. Kazakhstan announced on October 21 that British-Dutch energy giant Royal Dutch Shell was walking away from its agreement to develop the Khazar field, which is located next to the country's giant but troubled Kashagan field.

The Kazakh state gas firm KazMunaiGaz said in a statement that Shell had invested about $900 million into the Khazar field, which is estimated to contain 40 million tons of oil and 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas, but opted out due to "low profitability." The Khazar field, of which Shell held a controlling stake, is set to be returned to the Kazakh state.



Serbia has signed a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EES), despite veiled warnings from the European Union. The accord was officially signed during a October 25th visit by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to Moscow. It will replace the existing free-trade deals between Belgrade and Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

Serbia does not have any such accords with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, the two other EES members. The deal provides for "instant savings in customs payments" in trade between Serbia and the bloc's member states.


There is a most healthy competition among countries of Eurasia for their ranking in the annual World Bank report on the ease of Doing Business, both in terms of absolute ranking and in terms of year-on-year improvement. The latest report was published on October 23rd.

For countries that rank among the first 50, moving up the scale clearly becomes more difficult but is probably not so important as being in the first tier. Among the countries of Greater Eurasia the best performers this year are Georgia (7), Kazakhstan (25) and Russia (28), Azerbaijan (34), Armenia (47), Moldova (48) and Belarus (49).

Ukraine jumped seven spots to rank 64th. It registered most of its progress in the post-2014 period by moving 48 spots since then. Uzbekistan is not far behind in 69th place. Its progress has been even more striking as it was 166th in 2011.

For purposes of comparison, the top-ranking economy is New Zealand. Canada ranks 23rd.
The relevance of the World Bank classification is that it shows the long-term efforts of governments at improving their business climate. In some cases, it usefully contradicts widely shared perceptions with evidence collected on the ground by professionals.


Ukrainian prosecutors have opened a criminal probe into former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s deportation from Ukraine in 2018. The Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office said that the investigation was launched after Saakashvili filed a complaint over the "abduction and violent actions against" him and "his illegal" deportation to Poland last year.

In May, Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reinstated Saakashvili's Ukrainian citizenship almost two years after it was removed by Zelenskyy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko.


Belarus is the only European country that still executes people. There have been repeated calls by the European Union for the abolition of the capital punishment in Belarus.

A court in the western city of Brest on October 25 found 47-year-old Viktar Syarhel and his co defendant, 26-year-old Natalya Kolb, guilty of murdering Kolb’s eight-month-old daughter in October last year. The woman was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the maximum punishment for women in Belarus.

Syarhel is the third Belarusian sentenced to death this year. According to human rights organizations, some 400 people have been sentenced to death in Belarus since it gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.


Armenia has been elected as one of 14 new members of the UN Human Rights Council, receiving votes from 144 of 193 countries. In his Facebook post Armenian PM Pashinian wrote; "This is a testament to the great confidence of the international community in our country, especially in the field of human rights".


Uzbekistan has officially joined the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, also known as the Turkic Council. The decision to accept Uzbekistan to the group was made on October 15th during a two-day summit of member states in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku. This is in line with Uzbekistan's efforts to pursue more active international cooperation, after years of relative isolation.

The Turkic Council was established in October 2009 with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey as the group's founding members.

Also, on October 15, Kazakhstan’s former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who represented his country at the summit, was elected as lifetime honorary chairman of the Turkic Council. Although Nazarbayev resigned the presidency in March, he still enjoys the "leader of the nation" title.



Ilya Gerol, former foreign editor of the Citizen in Ottawa, syndicated columnist in Canadian, US and European media specializing in international affairs. His area of expertise includes Russia, Eurasian Economic Union, Eastern and Central Europe.  Ilya Gerol has written several books, one of them, The Manipulators, had become a textbook on relations of media and society.

During his career in the Canadian Foreign Service, Gilles Breton had three assignments at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. His first posting there began during the Soviet period, in 1983. His last was from 2008 to 2012 as Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission. He also served as Deputy Director responsible for Canada’s relations with Russia from 2000 to 2008. As an international civil servant, he was Deputy Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw from 1994 to 1997.

Gilles Breton also currently serves as Chairman of the National Board of the Canada-Eurasia-Russia Business Association. The views expressed in this newsletter exclusively reflect the opinion of the authors.