Editors: Sławomir Dębski (PISM Director), Bartosz Wiśniewski (Head of Research Office), Rafał Tarnogórski (Managing Editor), Karolina Borońska-Hryniewiecka, Anna Maria Dyner, Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk, Sebastian Płóciennik, Patrycja Sasnal, Justyna Szczudlik, Marcin Terlikowski, Tomasz Żornaczuk
On 15 March, President Andrej Kiska accepted the resignation of Robert Fico, the longest-serving prime minister of Slovakia (2006–2010 and 2012–2018). Peter Pellegrini became the new head of government and announced changes to the cabinet. Support for the largest party, Smer-Social Democracy, is weakening and public opinion is demanding a snap election in the middle of the parliamentary term.
On 15 March, the anniversary of the start of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, an informal consultative meeting of the members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) took place. It was carried out in the “Arria formula” on the joint initiative of Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, and the U.S., and with the participation of Ukraine.
On 13 March, U.S. President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and announced he has nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be his replacement. Tillerson’s ousting was no surprise and there was speculation Pompeo would be named the next Secretary of State. The change is a signal that Trump wants to control American foreign policy more closely. The president has initiated new tariffs on steel and aluminium and declared he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over its nuclear and missile programmes.
On 8 March, representatives of 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region met in Santiago, the capital of Chile, to sign the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It is the new version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the United States renounced in January 2017. The CPTPP is an expression of opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policy and an attempt to strengthen cooperation among the countries of the region in the face of China’s growing clout.
On 8 March, President Donald Trump imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminium imported into the U.S. This action serves primarily to keep one of the president’s election promises. The tariffs will apply to all countries, unless exempted, such as Canada and Mexico. The result of the U.S. tariffs might be further deterioration of the transatlantic trade cooperation.
The two leading British political parties are preparing for a critical juncture constituted by votes in parliament concerning Brexit and the possibility of a snap general election. This is visible after a series of highly publicized speeches made in the last two weeks by leading ministers and their counterparts in the shadow cabinet. Brexit has become a clear party cleavage in the UK.
On 4 March, it was announced that 66% of the almost 380,000 members of SPD voted in an internal party referendum in favour of forming a coalition with CDU/CSU. Thus, the biggest obstacle to Angela Merkel’s new government has disappeared.
After an unfavourable verdict from a Stockholm arbitration court in its dispute with Naftogaz, Gazprom has unilaterally refused to deliver gas to Ukraine that should have started in March. With the politically motivated decision, the Russian company is trying to hit Ukraine during the severe cold of winter with the hope of undermining its reputation as a transit country.
On 1 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed parliament. During the talk, he set the domestic policy priority as an improvement in the living conditions of Russia’s citizens. In foreign and security policy, Putin said Russia will focus on strengthening its armed forces and defence potential, in particular its nuclear capabilities. The military portion of Putin’s address effectively dominated the attention afterward, though it was also addressed to Russians.
The final ruling by a Stockholm arbitration court in a dispute between Naftogaz and Gazprom over gas contracts has strategic importance to Ukraine’s authorities. It is a political victory for them and paves the way for further Naftogaz reforms and that of the whole Ukrainian gas sector. The ruling, together with the reforms, opens the door to foreign stakeholders to invest in the Ukrainian transmission system and management firms.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) issued a statement on 21 February stating it is considering issuing a Travel Advisory for Jews travelling to Poland. According to an SWC representative, the advisory would suggest travel in the country be limited to memorial sites connected with the Holocaust and Jewish cemeteries. The stated reason would be threats to Jews in Poland.
On 16 February 2018, Dorin Chirtoacă, the mayor of Chişinău, resigned. Three days earlier, Renato Usatîi, the mayor of Bălţi, a city of 100,000 residents and the second-largest city in Moldova (excluding Tiraspol in Transnistria), announced his resignation. The early elections of these mayoral posts will be especially important because they will offer a glimpse of the Moldovan public’s mood ahead of parliamentary elections in autumn.
On 15 February in Ankara, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The visit was meant to reduce tensions in Turkish-American relations and showed that both sides are interested in normalisation.
On 24 January, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the adoption of the State Armament Programme for 2018–2027. The Russians plan to spend RUB 20 trillion (more than $355 million) to modernise its armed forces. The priority will be spending on nuclear forces, which indicates that Russia will focus primarily on maintaining its deterrence capabilities.
On 17 January, a manifesto signed by 14 leading German and French economists was published. The document contains—as the title indicates—a “constructive proposal for the reform of the euro area,” and its most important points refer to the stabilisation of the banking sector, public finances, and crisis prevention. This is another important voice in an increasingly intense discussion about the future of European integration.
On 20 January, the Turkish military began an operation in the Syrian province of Afrin. It is directed against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which control the province. The pretext for launching the offensive were reports that the U.S. plans to establish a border force in the north of Syria that would include, among others, the YPG.
On 12 January, U.S. President Donald Trump announced demands regarding the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). They were directed to the U.S. Congress and other powers-signatories to this agreement. If they are not met by May 2018, the U.S. might withdraw from JCPOA. Trump also stressed that this was the third and final time he would waive implementation of older American sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme. At the same time, Trump introduced some new U.S. sanctions in response to Iran’s suppression of recent protests in the country.
On 11 January, the Russian Ministry of Defence announced the remobilisation of the 689th fighter aircraft regiment in Kaliningrad. The unit will be equipped with modern Su-35 and upgraded Su-27 fighter jets. Following the decision to deploy Iskander-M systems to the oblast, this is another demonstration of Russia’s strengthened military presence in the Baltic Sea basin, which is changing the balance of power in the region.
On 8–10 January, British Prime Minister Theresa May reshuffled her government. Changes in the ministerial team are meant to prepare for the second stage of the Brexit negotiations, which are to begin in March.
On 9 January, North and South Korea held official talks for the first time in more than two years. The main themes of the meeting that took place in Panmunjom were the North’s participation in the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang in February and reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The talks could contribute to a short-term improvement of the situation in the region, but it is very unlikely that the North Korean nuclear programme will be discussed in this format.