Bloomberg Radio – What is Putin’s Endgame? – 3/5/2022

Listen to Jack Devine on Bloomberg Radio where he discusses Putin and the Ukraine.

Jack Devine’s Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: Putin Has Ensured His Own Downfall – 3/3/2022

Read Jack Devine’s newest Wall Street Journal Op-Ed on Putin and his downfall.

In Other News – NATO is More Relevant Than Ever, & More – 3/3/2022

March 3, 2022

NATO is more relevant than ever, but its actions remain subject to Putin’s interpretation. The war in Ukraine has galvanized NATO, unifying members with an increased sense of purpose to actively defend European security, prompting an increase in domestic military spending, and reframing the benefit of NATO membership for would-be members including Finland and Sweden. NATO is directing significant humanitarian and military aid into Ukraine as well as deploying military equipment and troops into member states bordering Russia and Belarus. While NATO and its members have been clear to state that they will not fight in Ukraine, hoping to make a clear delineation that the group’s not in direct conflict with Russia, there are active concerns about how Russia, and most importantly Putin, will interpret NATO actions and whether such a clear demarcation of what constitutes an act of war by NATO exists from the Russian perspective. This assessment is even more critical given that Russia integrates the use of tactical nuclear weapons as part and parcel of its standard operating war procedures, as played out every year in its Zapad War Games. Further, if Putin feels increasingly isolated and under pressure for a sustained period of time, it’s possible that he could escalate the conflict regardless of NATO’s take.

Russian citizens’ reaction to Ukraine invasion being shaped by social media. Putin tried to assure the world that he had broad public support for his violent actions in Ukraine, but once the fighting began it was clear he had miscalculated. Thousands of Russians defied police threats and took to the streets in protest- risking their lives in the process. More than 7,000 Russians have been detained in hundreds of opposition protests across the country, and public celebrities, sports figures, and media personalities, in an unprecedented showing, have all spoken out in opposition to the invasion. Even Russia’s political elite have spoken out, if not in opposition to the war, in support of peace. Further fueling Russian opposition, social media continues publicize images of young Russian soldiers dying or being taken prisoner, and last weekend, Ukrainian authorities launched a website designed to help Russian families keep track of their family members fighting in Ukraine.

Russian lawmakers have now proposed a 15-year prison sentence for people who post “fakes” about the war. It is believed “fakes” will be defined as anything that runs counter to Putin’s narrative. Parliament, controlled by the Kremlin, will take up the measure on Friday. In addition, many anticipate the imposition of martial law to block open internet, ban all protests, and in a move that may already be too late, restrict Russians from leaving the country. Despite the Kremlin’s best efforts to control the narrative, the proliferation of social media and the willingness of both ordinary people and public figures to speak out may prove too much for Putin to control for long.

Continuum of international support for Russia underscores varied domestic security and economic concerns. The international community’s response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ranges from imposing unprecedented sanctions on Moscow to attempting to stay neutral in international efforts. Only a handful of nations: Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea, are 100% on Putin’s side. Most nations that are rallying behind Ukraine, however, are acting not only to support Kyiv but to demonstrate the full scale of repercussions for invading a sovereign state and upending the accepted modern conventions of international security. Several important East Asian countries including Japan, South Korea, and notably Singapore – not typically inclined to impose financial sanctions – have stepped up against Russia in part to deter China from any type of similar future move that would threaten their territorial integrity.

But a look at nations who abstained from the UN vote on Wednesday to support a resolution to condemn Russia’s actions and demand Moscow withdraw military forces from Ukraine demonstrates the extent of Russia’s reach into Africa. It also reflects the precarious positioning of states like Kazakhstan and Mongolia that sit between Russia and China, as well as highlights Russia’s inroads into a large swath of land that notably includes both India and Pakistan. While India’s longstanding military and security ties to Russia date back to the end of the Cold War, Islamabad is working to enhance energy and economic cooperation with Moscow.

Even nations like Israel and the United Arab Emirates, who voted to condemn Russia during Wednesday’s vote, will be hesitant to take stronger actions like sanctions. The UAE has been balancing its US-Russia relations for several years and recently cemented 1.3 billion worth of energy and technology deals with Moscow. Israel needs to maintain friendly relations with Russia to ensure its security vis a vis Syria and, by extension, Iran, but it’s also attempting to maintain open ties to Ukraine. Likewise, nations like Azerbaijan – who recently agreed to “allied cooperation” with Moscow right before the invasion – has also sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and several other nations are grappling with their desire to support Ukrainians without overtly angering Putin. Even China seems to be towing a fine line: securing a strategic alliance while also limiting financing for Russian commodities by its state banks. How and if these “neutral” nations shift to support the battle for principles of sovereignty over domestic concerns, however, will likely depend on their assessment of Putin’s gains and losses.

Read Jack Devine’s latest Op-Ed, Putin Has Ensured His Own Downfall, in the Wall Street Journal.

In Other News – Putin’s Strategic Blunder, & More – 2/24/2022

February 24, 2022

Putin’s Strategic Blunder
While the world watches to see the depth and breadth of Russia’s assault on Ukraine as well as the West’s response, from a strategic perspective, this appears to be a massive overstep for Putin. His invasion of Ukraine is an uncharacteristic move for an individual whose leadership style has been predicated on cautious, deliberate, and calculated steps. His strength and influence have grown over the past decade largely through asymmetric and covert action. That gameplan has been seemingly cast aside with a display of unmitigated aggression taking place on the world stage. By upending the post-Cold War security dynamic, he has galvanized and strengthened NATO, bringing unity to an organization where there had been little in recent years. While Putin has made clear he can live with the economic isolation and resulting hardships that will fall upon the Russian people, it is the displeasure of everyday Russians and the oligarchs he should fear most. Should his campaign in Ukraine get bogged down and be accompanied by higher than “acceptable” casualties and costs, the support for his ruthless ambition will dissipate, and likely over time spell the end to both Putin, and his dreams of resurrecting the Russian empire.

Sanctions on the Horizon and Their Effects
The strength and heft of the power of international sanctions benefited from a major shift when the post-Merkel leadership in Germany agreed to halt the certification of the NordStream 2 pipeline. This demonstrated a newfound unity from NATO, and the willingness of Germany to withstand domestic discomfort to stand united against Russia. It also placed more pressure on Britain and the rest of the NATO partners to increase the severity of their sanctions. President Biden announced that Russian Banks are the next target, and U.S. companies will be prohibited from exporting electronics and computer chips to Russia, which will take away a key component to modern living, and for which Russia doesn’t have a domestic production capability. While likely very difficult to gain agreement among the participants, barring Russia from the SWIFT network is potentially on the table. If successful, this would serve to cut Russia off from the dollar and the majority of the international banking infrastructure. In addition to amassing more than $600 billion in gold-based reserves, through its “Fortress Russia” policy, Russia has deliberately sought to pursue self-sufficiency through more domestic food and medicine production, as well as economic diversification away from dollar-based transactions and towards the Euro and the Yuan. Anticipated sanctions will have a profound impact on the already sclerotic Russian economy, affecting economic growth, increasing poverty, spurring inflation, deterring investment, and possibly provoking a run on Russian banks as holders will want to flee the rapidly devaluating ruble.

Active Measures and Information Warfare
Putin’s intelligence playbook has been on full display in the lead up to this conflict. First and foremost, since 2014, Putin has been cultivating an ultranationalist narrative that in part promotes the reunification of an expansive ancient Russia, which includes by his account Ukraine. This narrative has been promoted in movies and films and integrated more and more throughout Russian policy documents. This position was driven home Wednesday night with Putin’s contemptuous dismissal of the notion that Ukraine was a sovereign nation. Following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and occupation of the Donbas Region, Putin’s efforts have been relentless in creating the false narrative that these two regions fervently desire to be independent from Ukraine. He has sent mercenaries into these regions to pose as independentist armies, run political campaigns and insurrection efforts to advance this political reality, and even staged fake terrorist attacks. Within Russia too, he has promoted the narrative that Russia is protecting ethnic Russians, and in the two days since their “declaration of independence,” has provoked a fake refugee crisis by ordering all people to evacuate these regions into Russia whilst conscripting every male over 18 into the new independentist armies. To add to the confusion, Russia launched a cyber-attack on Ukrainian government banking sites and started sending fake text messages to Ukrainian troops ordering evacuations. Russia has additionally used a wide-sweeping bot attack to disable Twitter accounts that had been providing a reliable crowd sourced accounting of events on the ground. The race is now on to determine how the narrative of the war in Ukraine will be told… but the truth is not on Russia’s side.

In Other News – Putin’s Brinkmanship Remains as Ukraine Crisis Continues, France and Others Announce Troop Withdrawal from Mali, & More – 2/18/2022

February 18, 2022

As the Ukraine crisis continues, Putin’s brinkmanship is further called into question. Conflicting reports regarding Russian troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border were rampant this week, while Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists both accused each other of ceasefire violations. On Friday, the separatist leader of eastern Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) reportedly ordered the mass evacuation of women, children, and elderly citizens to Russia due to concerns that Ukraine was launching some sort of offensive. Kyiv utterly denied the allegation. While accusations of shelling along the line of contact in Donbas could serve as a pretext for further Russian force, the ongoing tensions are also serving to bolster Ukraine’s military capability. The United States is selling more weaponry like Abrams tanks to neighboring states like Poland, while other nations like the Netherlands just announced plans to send more military equipment to Ukraine. As the crisis drags on, Putin’s brinkmanship is further called into question. But if he’s not bluffing, Putin’s picking a very costly and historic, paradigm shifting battle with the United States and an increasingly united West.

Tensions remain high on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, but it’s not distracting Putin from cultivating allies in Latin America. This week, Putin met with Brazilian President Bolsonaro in Moscow, where the pair primarily focused on energy project cooperation: in September Russia’s Rosatom signed an agreement to help Brazil develop and maintain nuclear power plants. It’s also convenient that Brazil currently sits on the UN Security Council, but Putin’s interested in an even broader regional impact. Earlier this month, Argentine President Alberto Fernández also visited Putin in Moscow, where the leaders reportedly discussed Argentina’s desire to be less dependent upon the United States and IMF funding.

Indeed, despite the heavy focus on Ukraine, Putin’s been building up military presence in Latin America over the past several years- most overtly in Nicaragua, but with ventures in Venezuela and the Caribbean as well. He’s also been expanding regional cooperation in areas like agriculture, mining, and space. These activities are reminiscent of the Cold War alliances with countries that are unfriendly to the United States. While Putin knows that developing a coalition of anti-US authoritarian regimes in Latin America might not present a direct threat to US security, he’s painting Moscow as a third path and economic and political ramifications could be significant.

France and European security partners announce troop withdrawal from Mali after nearly a decade of fighting. According to French President Macron, the decision to withdraw all troops from Mali, and likely redeploy them elsewhere in the Sahel, follows multiple obstructions by Malian authorities. In the past several years, the conditions to effectively collaborate on counterterrorism in Mali have eroded. In August 2020, internal special forces officers toppled Mali’s president, and nine months later, Col. Assisi Goita led a second coup and instated himself as leader. Goita’s regime has since ignored its transitional status, as well as promises to hold free and fair elections, frustrating Paris and its allies. Further, in January France’s top diplomat accused Mali of hiring Russian Wagner Group mercenaries, although Putin continues to deny any state-association with the hired force. With France’s latest plans to withdraw, what remains to combat a resurgent AQ and ISIS in a beleaguered Mali will be Mali’s army, a United Nations peacekeeping mission, and a government primarily focused on retaining its own power.

Canadian Freedom Convoy demonstrates how the same tools that group organizers rely upon can quickly be used against them, raises questions of future interference. After the Canadian government requested that mainstream crowdfunding platform GoFundMe remove a fundraising site supporting the convoy, the group began to receive online donations via alternative site GiveSendGo. But this week GiveSendGo was hacked, and its donor list leaked. While groups like the convoy are leveraging technology and social networking to their advantage, so are their ideological opponents. Individuals from all over the world reportedly donated to the convoy, and there have been copycat movements in other countries. Foreign elements could also take advantage of online organizing efforts like this. But the reach the internet allows comes with a risk, and the individuals who support these actions furtively are being exposed – not unlike how January 6th activists were identified via their social media postings. What’s notable about the recent convoy developments is that this is one of the first times a hacktivist group is targeting these specific groups and actors, which may be the beginning of a trend to watch in the cybersphere where independent hackers are taking aim at what they characterize as antidemocratic populist movements.

In Other News – China endorses Putin, Omicron Responses Affected by Politics, & More – 2/11/2022

February 11, 2022

China publicly endorses Putin, but political consequences of a Ukraine invasion could limit just how far Beijing will go in its support. While Putin contemplates his next move, the West is uniting against Moscow. Ukraine and NATO allies are strengthening their defenses through weapons acquisition, bulked-up and repositioned troops, and increased agreement on what a response might entail. If Putin continues to shun all diplomacy and keeps building up troops on Ukraine’s border, he could be on his way to becoming an intractable outcast to the entire democratic world. This week, after Putin and President Xi met at the Beijing Olympics, China and Russia released a substantial long-term agreement that ups their mutual support to an unprecedented degree. But Putin may have a wrongfooted Cold War vision of recreating a Sino-Soviet alliance. In today’s context, it’s doubtful that words would materialize into actual Chinese cyber or military support during a Ukraine attack. Ultimately, China is going to do whatever it decides is in its own best economic and financial interests, and its relationship with the United States and Europe is so intertwined that it’s unlikely Beijing would jeopardize this with visible military support for Putin’s Ukraine grab.

Political systems are impacting Omicron response policies, but the long-term effects remain to be seen. There is wide variation in how nations are currently responding to the pandemic. For example, Denmark has lifted all Covid restrictions even while its infection rate remains high. This policy is informed by a high vaccination rate, wide availability of effective treatments, and adequate hospital capacity to care for those who need it; to keep restrictions in place would be a deleterious constraint on a free society. Hong Kong, however, has adapted a zero-Covid policy that’s resulted in a new lockdown. On top of low vaccination rates and strained hospital capacity, Hong Kong now faces a food shortage and no income from tourism.

These prolonged restrictions coupled with the antidemocratic legislation passed in Hong Kong during the pandemic has prompted a flight of human and investment capital that is likely to endure. Hong Kong, like China, continues to opportunistically use the pandemic to entrench a totalitarian hold over its populace. While the pandemic responses in Denmark and Hong Kong demonstrate vastly different governmental approaches, it remains to be seen if national policies will continue along their current trajectories and wind-up having a long-term impact on economic growth and political freedom.

United States removed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia “FARC” organization from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list, but FARC affiliates are still named. The FARC is notorious for its bloody history in Colombia spanning over 50 years replete with hundreds of thousands of deaths. In 2016, the FARC signed a peace agreement with the government of Colombia, but mass killings have continued along with violent territorial disputes over land and control of the narcotics trade. However, in late 2021 – in a move that upset several US politicians and some members of the Colombian government, the United States removed the FARC from the FTO list, noting that the broader FARC organization had adhered to the main terms of the peace agreement. At the same time, the Biden administration added two new Colombian organizations and their leadership to the list, including FARC splinter group “FARC-EP” and “Segunda Marquetalia.” While the removal of FARC from the FTO list was intended to send the message that becoming part of the political process will be rewarded, and that the list targets those most active today, concurrently naming two successor organizations to that same list, with many of the same members, will likely reduce the impact of the removal.

In Other News – Putin and the Ukraine, Conflict Spills Over Yemeni Border, & More – 2/3/2022

February 3, 2022

No matter if Putin decides to invade Ukraine or not, his actions will have long lasting consequences. Putin has managed to command the world’s attention by amassing troops along the Ukrainian border, but by doing so he’s increasingly alienated Western nations and given them time to bond together in a more united front. Putin has particularly frustrated France and Germany and he’s only further isolating himself from the West as he continues to build-up troops while simultaneously holding discussions to reduce tensions.

The drawn-out build-up has also allowed Ukrainians to better prepare for an attack, and for the United States to bolster its NATO deployment in Eastern Europe and send even more sophisticated military equipment over to Ukrainian troops. Putin also likely recognizes that Ukrainians are better equipped to defend against a Russian invasion now than they were back in 2014, having a larger and more robust military force, and that national sentiment is also more united against him. Even if Putin invaded and achieved some degree of military success, he should anticipate continued resistance from the Ukrainian population.

The question now is not just if Putin will invade, but what else he will do to threaten the resolve of US and NATO allies. Moscow could try to wield economic and political damage on the West through weaponizing energy and waging disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, while also exhausting patience with constant destabilizing acts like bolstering its troops in Belarus. Putin isn’t going to give up easily on reclaiming his version of Russia, but the strength of his arsenal depends on the unity and endurance of those containing him.

Conflict spills over the Yemeni border as the United Arab Emirates is attacked, United States aims to balance support and political goals. In response to a recent spate of attacks directed at the UAE by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the United States is ramping up military support to the Emiratis. On Monday, Washington reported that US forces had activated Patriot missile defenses in the UAE, and on Wednesday US officials stated they would further deploy a guided missile destroyer and state-of-the-art fighter jets to help defend their Emirati partners. While the devastating conflict in Yemen has dragged on for years, and Saudi has faced Houthi attacks on its oil facilities and southern region, attacks on the UAE are notably rare. But in January the Houthis targeted the UAE three times, including a drone-and-missile assault on Abu Dhabi’s oil facilities and airport that killed three foreign workers, and a missile attack, that was thwarted, while the Israeli President was recently visiting. The escalation comes at a delicate time for Washington as negotiations to restore the Iran nuclear deal are reportedly in their final stage. While it’s currently unclear how the uptick in violence will impact the discussions, the attacks appear to have brought Saudi and the UAE closer together again as the Yemeni war is actively threatening security within their own borders.

Military coups in Africa appear off to the same rapid clip seen in 2021, paving the way for regional democratic decline. Last fall, after several coup d’états and coup attempts in nations like Chad, Mali, Guinea and Sudan, UN Secretary General Guterres expressed concern that “military coups are back” after a quieter period during the previous decade. The start of 2022 has already seen a successful coup d’état in Burkina Faso and a failed attempt in Guinea Bissau. Over the past few years there’s been a weak response by the international community to these unconstitutional takeovers, including inconsistent or inconsequential responses from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and France, among others. Indeed, strategic competition with China and Russia has also been prioritized over a dedicated effort to promote democracy in the region. But democratic decline in Africa is of concern not just because of the decrease in political liberties and civil rights of local citizens, but because democracy itself is still the best political system we’ve got to ensure inclusive development and future peace and stability. Further, without clear and firm consequences from the international community, leaders of brazen takeovers are empowered, and the democratic world misses an opportunity for growth and unity.

In Other News – NATO Diplomatically Engages Putin on the Ukraine, the Beijing Olympics, & More – 1/28/2022

January 28, 2022

NATO members continue to diplomatically engage Putin on Ukraine, but US ramp-up of weapons to Kyiv could significantly impact Putin’s calculus. This week, French President Macron was the latest to speak with Putin regarding Ukraine tensions, but in the conversation, Putin reportedly reiterated that the recent US and NATO responses to his demands failed to account for Moscow’s primary concerns: preventing NATO’s expansion and refusing to deploy strike weapons systems near Russia’s borders. Further, on Wednesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that admissions for new NATO members remains open, which would include potential Ukraine membership. Simultaneously, Washington has recently raised the cost of a Russian invasion by shipping weapons like Stingers and Javelin anti-tank missiles and launchers to Ukraine‒ sophisticated equipment that would show up in droves in the case of an actual invasion.

NATO is also carefully watching Putin’s latest build-up of troops and weapons in Belarus, and on Friday Belarusian leader Lukashenko announced that Belarus will fight alongside Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine. Both Lukashenko and Russian officials, however, continue to publicly state that Moscow is not planning an invasion. Putin is now going to escalate or de-escalate based on his calculations of what a Ukrainian war might look like. He’s likely weighing how many Russian lives would be lost in a drawn-out battle, and what he can accomplish through other efforts to destabilize Kyiv.

The Ukraine-Russia tensions have already demonstrated to NATO that the alliance must secure alternative energy resources for Europe and continue to actively support pro-democratic governments while increasing cooperation among members in this mission. This work is key, because Putin’s determination to retake Ukraine by force, subterfuge, election meddling, repeated cyber-attacks and disinformation, or any subsequent annexations, will remain steadfast regardless of how the next few weeks play out. While Turkish President Erdogan’s upcoming discussions with Putin could be important, as Turkey is the second largest standing military force in NATO and maintains friendly relations with both Moscow and Kyiv, Putin will use both the content of these diplomatic conversations, and his assessment of Ukraine’s increasing military strength, to decide on his next move.

Upcoming Beijing Olympics raise political and security concerns, frustrating China. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and an evolving number of European nations are participating in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in a move that has enraged Chinese officials. The protesting nations cite Beijing’s human rights abuses ranging from anti-democratic acts in Hong Kong, to the public disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai after she made sexual assault allegation against a former top official of the Communist Party, as reasons to boycott the competition. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Putin recently stated that Russia and China “share common values,” and announced that he will attend the opening ceremonies and meet with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

While athletes from the boycotting nations will still be participating, Chinese officials have referred to the political protest as an example of American political manipulation, further remarking that the United States can’t boycott the Beijing Olympics because Washington hasn’t been invited. China has also stated that the boycotting nations would “pay a price” for their action. Notable US allies South Korea, Germany, Italy, and France have thus far not joined the boycott; while all have been critical of China’s human rights record, Italy and France are respectively hosting the Olympics in 2024 and 2026 and they likely want to avoid retaliation by China.

China has been preparing for months to shine, even ensuring blue skies by suspending factory production across the country’s northeast. Beijing has also enacted strict lockdown measures to contain Covid-19, although some nations still aren’t sending representatives due to pandemic concerns. Despite China’s best efforts to present Beijing as a safe environment, National Olympic Committees in countries like Sweden and the United States are warning athletes that they’ll be exposed to a myriad of data security risks such as surveillance and cybercrime while in country; athletes are advised to leave all personal technological equipment at home and instead use temporary “burner” phones. Security flaws have also been detected in China’s mandatory Olympics app for athletes that contains sensitive personal data, and there are ongoing concerns about the safety of making financial transactions via China’s digital yuan. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for February 4.

In Other News – Putin & Ukraine, Violent attacks in Pakistan, & More – 1/21/2022

January 21, 2022

If Putin wants to invade Ukraine it won’t be sanctions alone that stop him. This week, at high-level discussions between the United States and Russia in Geneva, Moscow continued to insist that it wasn’t planning a Ukraine attack and restated its demands that the US-led NATO military alliance halt regional activity and never accept Ukraine as a member. Meanwhile, new satellite images captured Wednesday show additional Russian troops and equipment near the country’s border with Ukraine. Despite intense diplomatic efforts by Washington and partners to lower tensions, Putin seems to be enjoying the global spotlight and is carefully weighing his options as he considers next steps. Economic penalties alone are unlikely to deter Putin at this point, but he could be deterred by the possibility of a sustained resistance that would result in drawn-out fighting and a heavy Russian death toll. Nonetheless, it’s increasingly possible that Putin could test the waters with some trumped up provocation and see how his opponents respond. Taking a piecemeal approach would allow Putin to better assess what he’s actually up against − including isolation from the West or strong overt or covert Western military support to Ukrainian troops, that could threaten Moscow’s ability to prevail.

Violent attacks in Pakistan are steady but certain as Pakistan tries to keep diverse allies happy. This week, several violent attacks in Pakistan served as a reminder of the precarious security situation in the region and could be a harbinger of greater instability. Overnight attacks on Monday targeted police in Islamabad, and two policemen were later killed in attacks in the districts of Dir and North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan. These attacks were claimed by Tehrik-e-Taliban “TTP” or the Pakistani Taliban, who also claimed responsibility for attacks on Pakistani army personnel in late December. The TTP is reportedly growing stronger and headquartered in Afghanistan, but recent TTP-Islamabad negotiation attempts fell apart, and it seems that the Pakistani leadership isn’t willing to sacrifice good ties with the Afghan Taliban by pressing the issue. However, the TTP also presents a threat to Pakistan’s neighbors like India, as well as international investors like the Chinese who are vulnerable to the attacks while working in Pakistan on joint infrastructure projects. In addition to dealing with the TTP, Islamabad is also challenged by Baloch separatists, a group who just claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed several individuals in Lahore on Thursday, and previously attacked Chinese infrastructure project workers in southwest Pakistan last summer.

Lebanon’s increasing domestic woes could spiral into an international refugee crisis. In the aftermath of the Beirut port blasts of August 2020, the Lebanese government has been unable to pull the nation out of economic and political turmoil and has failed to provide citizens with fundamental services like healthcare, electricity, and food. A “day of rage” coordinated by Lebanon’s transport unions last week shut down transport routes and educational institutions, but thus far the strikes have failed to materialize in any government reforms. Since 2020, much of the Lebanese middle class has fled for the Americas, the Arab Gulf states, and Europe through a formal migration process. But with increasingly difficult economic socio-economic conditions challenging those who remain, a growing number of poorer and disheartened Lebanese, as well as Palestinian and Syrian refugees based within Lebanese borders, are reportedly planning to leave as well. This group is unlikely to have the resources needed to move via legal means, and it is anticipated that many will attempt to relocate to Europe via illegal sea routes, potentially creating a new migrant crisis. Despite international aid efforts over the past several months, and recent news that Jordan will sign a formal agreement next week to supply Lebanon with electricity under a US-backed regional plan, the situation is unlikely to stabilize soon, and ramifications of the domestic crisis are anticipated well beyond Lebanon’s borders.

In Other News – Stability in the Balkans is Threatened & More – 1/14/2022

January 14, 2022

Putin’s continued gamesmanship threatens stability in the Balkans. In the aftermath of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, a fragile peace has held in Bosnia Herzegovina under the Dayton Accords, but last fall tensions increased among the country’s multi-ethnic leaders and Putin is now adding fuel to the fire. Under the Dayton Accords, the Republika Srpska (Serbian), and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Croatian and Bosnian) share leadership of the country, but in October, Milorad Dodik, the Serb-Bosnian leader who has been cultivating a friendship with Putin, called for Bosnian secession and announced that Republika Srpska would withdraw from the country’s armed forces as well as key judicial and taxation bodies. Republika Srpska then passed a law obliging the local authorities not to cooperate with national institutions attempting to implement state-level law.

Last Sunday, on the “Day of the Serbian Republic” that’s been proclaimed unconstitutional in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to its association with the bloody ethnic conflicts in the 1990s, Putin visibly demonstrated his support of the Serbian cause. At the celebration, Russian ambassador Igor Kalabuhov was prominently seated next to Milorad Dodik. Moscow’s public celebration of an independent Republika Srpska deliberately undermines the Dayton Accords, and by extension NATO and the EU. Further, Moscow’s endorsement of Dodik, while simultaneously sending troops to Kazakhstan to violently curb social protest, puts real weight behind his words and once again demonstrates how far he’ll go to test NATO’s resolve. But in a tinderbox like the Balkans, Putin’s actions could unleash forces that neither NATO nor Putin will be able to control.

China’s global, soft power efforts expand but are undermined but non-democratic and hard power actions. Since President Xi assumed power nearly a decade ago, Beijing has concertedly increased its global soft power efforts everywhere from Chile to Israel. Just last week China’s Foreign Minister took a whirlwind tour of Eritrea, Kenya, and Comoros to further encourage economic partnerships and cooperation, pledging China’s continued vaccine distribution in Africa. In December, one of Beijing’s first Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects was completed with the inauguration of the Laos-China Railway. Although there are real fears that BRI projects could be a “debt trap” for developing nations, vaccines and railways build goodwill and connections, as do the numerous Chinese cultural and educational programs that we’re seeing sprout up around the world.

But while Beijing may be advancing components of its soft power strategy, it’s failing in one key area. According to scholar Joseph Nye who first coined the term “soft power” in 1990, soft power comes from three primary sources: a nation’s culture, policies, and political values. Policies here can be seen as legitimate when they are framed with an awareness of another country’s interest, and China’s been heavily working this angle in Pakistan, Latin America, and Africa. Beijing’s weak spot lies with its political values which are overtly undemocratic at a time of heightened global attention.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen companies from Tesla to Intel criticized heavily for any association with business in China’s Xinjiang province, the area where China’s minority Muslim population has been subject to human rights abuses. And companies are increasingly pressured to make sure that their supply chain is free from any abusive practices. Further, in addition to lacking in a value system that could strengthen its soft power efforts, Beijing’s consistent use of hard power in places like the South China Sea and Indian border, as well as the economic punishment it served to Australia, inevitably makes partners know that they are dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing.