Russia and Cuba Could End the Venezuelan Catastrophe. Seriously.

In Castrospeak, when something is said not to happen, it likely will. The island produces very little and has little money to spend on imports. As of last week, eggs, chicken and pork are being rationed, as the country struggles to cope with shortages of staple foods. If the situation persists, the regime may face real protest for the first time since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia might prefer to concentrate its efforts on saving Cuba, rather than focusing on it and Venezuela simultaneously.

.. Three reasons are generally cited to explain Russia’s growing involvement in Venezuela.

  1. First, to protect and perhaps one day recover the more than 60 billion dollars different Venezuelan entities owe various Russian banks and companies. A post-Maduro government may not recognize these debts, many of which were not approved by Venezuela’s National Assembly.
  2. Second, Mr. Putin is picking his nose at the United States by being a nuisance in its backyard, in a tit-for-tat response to what Moscow considers NATO’s interference in Eastern European affairs.
  3. Lastly, and perhaps crucially, Russia hopes to project power in a region the American government considers its sphere of influence. Russia has maintained close ties with Havana for 60 years, dating back to when Nikita Khrushchev was leader of the Soviet Union. By extending loans to Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador, Mr. Putin is trying to expand Russia’s influence in the region.

Washington has a strong hand to play, but it must do so wisely. If in fact Mr. Trump wants to do away with both governments in Cuba and Venezuela, or if he is really after regime change only in Cuba, this will lead to failure and invariably anger the country’s democratic partners in Latin America and Europe. With the exceptions of Nicaragua, Bolivia, Uruguay and Mexico, the region wants Mr. Maduro out. But it will not support Mr. Trump in any effort to dislodge the Cuban dictatorship.

Instead, Mr. Trump should continue to press Cuba to join its efforts to remove Mr. Maduro. The country can play a crucial role by affording him a safe haven and by participating in the transitional arrangements that would ensure a democratic transition: freeing all political prisoners and allowing all opposition leaders to run for office in free, fair and internationally supervised elections, re-establishing freedom of the press and association, gradually and peacefully reducing its footprint in Venezuela. Mr. Trump should engage Russia to persuade the Cubans to do so. And he should remember that after all, there is no carrot and stick approach without a carrot.

The Undoing of Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin’s Friendship, and How It Changed Both of Their Countries

On June 15, 1998, however, Clinton calls Yeltsin specifically to discuss Kosovo. He makes it clear that nato is considering military action to stop Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević’s troops from terrorizing Kosovo.

.. Serbia is Russia’s traditional ally, and American military intervention will show that Moscow is helpless either to protect or influence it. It will serve as proof that Russia has lost its superpower status.

.. Yeltsin tells Clinton that he had invited Milošević to Moscow so that he can talk sense into him. At the same time, he is trying to talk sense into the American President. “Military action by nato is unacceptable,” he says.

.. Clinton tells Yeltsin that Milošević has broken his promise to Yeltsin: Serbian troops, Clinton says, have displaced two hundred thousand civilians.

.. Clinton talks about needing to take action before the harsh winter threatens displaced Kosovars, especially the estimated ten thousand who are hiding in the mountains. Yeltsin agrees.

.. Clinton calls Yeltsin to tell him that he, the leaders of France, the United Kingdom, Germany, “and the rest of the Europeans” have concluded that they must launch air strikes against Milošević. “As you know, Milošević has stonewalled your negotiator and Dick Holbrooke”—the American negotiator—“and he has continued to move his forces into Kosovo and to evacuate villages,”

.. Clinton begs Yeltsin not to allow Milošević to destroy their relationship—in his framing, it is all the Serb’s fault.

.. Yeltsin just gets sadder. “Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with nato,” he says. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that. Well, since I failed to convince the President, that means there in store for us a very difficult, difficult road of contacts, if they prove to be possible. Goodbye.”

.. Nineteen years later, it seems clear that one President was being more honest than the other. Contrary to Clinton’s assertion, he and the other nato leaders certainly had a choice in the situation, and the choice they made—to launch a military offensive without the sanction of the United Nations—changed the way that the United States wields force. By bypassing the Security Council and establishing the United States as the sole arbiter of good and evil, it paved the way for the war in Iraq, among other things.

.. It also changed Russia. What was seen as a unilateral American decision to start bombing a longtime Russian ally emboldened the nationalist opposition and tapped into a deep inferiority complex. Sensitive to these sentiments, Yeltsin responded that May by celebrating Victory Day with a military parade in Red Square, the first in eight years. In fact, military parades took place all over the country that year, and have been repeated every year since. What was even more frightening were a series of nongovernmental Victory Day parades by ultranationalists. That these public displays, some of which featured the swastika, were tolerated, and in such close proximity to celebrations of the country’s most hallowed holiday, suggested that xenophobia had acquired new power in Russia. Later that year, Yeltsin anointed Vladimir Putin his successor and signed off on a renewed war in Chechnya. This offensive, designed to shore up support for the country’s hand-picked new leader, was both inspired and enabled by Kosovo. It was a dare to the United States, an assertion that Russia will do what it wants in its own Muslim autonomy.

We will never know whether Russian politics would have developed differently if not for the U.S. military intervention in Kosovo. And, of course, the new war in Chechnya and the emergence of Putin himself were symptoms of deeper problems, including Russia’s failure to reinvent itself as a post-Soviet, post-imperial state. For this, Yeltsin himself bears most of the responsibility. Still, these transcripts tell a tragic story of much more than a friendship gone sour.

The West Must Face Reality in Turkey

Turkey’s currency crisis and standoff with the United States over the imprisonment of an American pastor have exposed the crumbling edifice of the two countries’ Cold War-era partnership. Rather than hold out hope that Turkey will return to the Western fold, US and European policymakers must consider a new policy toward the country.

..  Moreover, tariffs allow Erdoğan to blame his country’s economic woes on America, rather than on his own government’s incompetence.
.. It is still possible that the Turkish government will find a way to release Brunson, and that US President Donald Trump, anxious to demonstrate fealty to the evangelicals who form a core part of his base, will rescind the tariffs.
.. But even if the immediate crisis is resolved, the structural crisis in US-Turkish relations – and Western-Turkish relations generally – will remain.
We are witnessing the gradual but steady demise of a relationship that is already an alliance in name only. Though the Trump administration is right to have confronted Turkey, it chose not only the wrong response, but also the wrong issue.
The relationship between Turkey and the West has long been predicated on two principles, neither of which obtains any longer.
  1. The first is that Turkey is a part of the West, which implies that it is a liberal democracy.
    • Yet Turkey is neither liberal nor a democracy. It has effectively been subjected to one-party rule under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and power has become concentrated in the hands of Erdoğan, who is also the AKP’s leader.
    • Under Erdoğan, checks and balances have largely been eliminated from the Turkish political system, and the president controls the media, the bureaucracy, and the courts.
  2.  The second principle underlying Turkey’s “Western” status is alignment on foreign policy. Turkey recently bought more than 100 advanced F-35 fighter jets from the US. Yet, in recent years, Turkey has also supported jihadist groups in Syria, moved closer to Iran, and contracted to purchase S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia.

.. The Turks were not happy with the US decision to withdraw medium-range missiles from Turkey as part of the deal that ended the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

.. Turkey refused to give US military forces access to Incirlik Air Base during the Iraq war in 2003.

.. the Turkish government has been infuriated by America’s refusal to extradite the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdoğan believes masterminded the 2016 coup attempt.

..  The anti-Soviet glue that kept the two countries close during the Cold War is long gone.

.. The problem is that the NATO treaty provides no mechanism for divorce.

.. Turkey can withdraw from the alliance, but it cannot be forced out.

  1. .. First, policymakers should criticize Turkish policy when warranted.
    •  they must also reduce their reliance on access to Turkish bases such as Incirlik,
    • deny Turkey access to advanced military hardware like F-35s, and
    • reconsider the policy of basing nuclear weapons in Turkey.
    • Moreover, the US should not extradite Gülen unless Turkey can prove his involvement in the coup with evidence that would stand up in a US court and satisfy the provisions of the 1981 mutual extradition treaty.
    • Nor should the US abandon the Kurds, given their invaluable role in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
  2.  Second, the US and Europe should wait until the Erdoğan era is over, and then approach Turkey’s new leadership with a grand bargain.
    • The offer should be Western support in exchange for a Turkish commitment to liberal democracy and to a foreign policy focused on fighting terrorism and pushing back against Russia.