Fortnightly Review & Analysis: USA, Russia & EU (Vol 2 Issue XVI)

Aug 16-31, 2017

USA

Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and one of his most controversial advisers, exited the Trump administration after a tumultuous seven-month stint. The White House released a statement on August 18 saying that Bannon and White House chief of staff John Kelly had “mutually agreed” that this would be Bannon’s last day in his job.

Mr. Bannon’s exit, the latest in a string of high-profile West Wing shake-ups, came as President Trump came under fire for saying that “both sides” were to blame for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Critics accused the president of channeling Mr. Bannon when he equated white supremacists and neo-Nazis with the left-wing protesters who opposed them. Bannon’s departure has been long in the making. According to observers, Trump signaled his public displeasure as early as April with Bannon’s high media profile and the chief strategist’s clashes with other administration officials have only worsened since. A new round of rumors about Bannon’s potentially imminent departure began doing the rounds after Kelly was named chief of staff in late July and began exploring how to restructure the dysfunctional West Wing in the Whit House. Then Bannon added fuel to the fire by giving a blunt and candid interview to liberal journalist Robert Kuttner in which he criticized some of his rivals in the administration by name, contradicted Trump’s stated North Korea policy, and explained his plans to reshuffle State Department personnel. This provided his many internal enemies — who had already accused him of being too eager to leak and to take internal disputes to the press — with several more reasons to call for his head. In a tweet Bannon has subsequently claimed that his departure was his own idea, and that he submitted his resignation two weeks ago — but several reporters are hearing that he was in fact fired.

In any case, Bannon’s exit marks a major milestone for an administration and indeed a party that he’s influenced in profound ways. Bannon has attempted to steer Trump administration policy, and the GOP generally, toward what he dubs nationalism. Part of this strategy involved stoking white voters’ resentments of various “others” — immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter protesters — beyond what was previously considered acceptable by GOP elites. President Trump shares Bannon’s instincts, and so this resentment stoking has suffused much of Trump’s campaign and presidency (as was seen in the president’s statements on the violence in Charlottesville). Much of this will surely continue despite Bannon’s departure. But in losing Bannon, Trump has lost an adviser who was deeply committed to implementing this agenda at a granular level — someone who cared about policy details and lower-level personnel appointments, rather than just presidential tweets or statements. Mr. Bannon’s outsized influence on the president, captured in a February cover of Time magazine with the headline “The Great Manipulator,” was reflected in the response to his departure.

Conservatives groused that they lost a key advocate inside the White House and worried aloud that Mr. Trump would shift left, while cheers erupted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when headlines about Mr. Bannon’s ouster appeared. Both the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index and the Dow Jones industrial average immediately rose, though they ended the day slightly down. His removal is seen as a victory for General Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general whose mission is to impose discipline on White House personnel. A caustic presence in a chaotic West Wing, Bannon frequently clashed with other aides as they fought over trade, the war in Afghanistan, taxes, immigration and the role of government.

Europe

News about Brexit

The UK announced its intention to unveil five policy papers, including positions on how the UK will treat confidential EU information obtained before Brexit and how to treat goods in supply chains. The more contentious issues of how to treat civil and commercial contracts in force before Brexit, how any transition agreements should be enforced and what form dispute-resolution should take will likely follow these. The latter will prove the most contentious given that British Prime Minister May has said that breaking free of the European courts is a "red line" while the EU sees a "continued role for the European Court of Justice," says Bloomberg.

On August 17, the UK also announced that European Union nationals would be able to pass freely through UK without passport checks after Britain leaves the EU. According to a report in the Guardian, under the government's plans, EU citizens won't need visas to enter the UK, but if they wish to work, study or settle in Britain, "they will need to comply with new migration restrictions.” According to the BBC, a full plan for the UK's post-Brexit immigration system is likely to be outlined in the autumn, while The Times says that new regulations for EU visitors will be introduced officially in March 2019 – the date the UK officially leaves the EU. After that date, anyone coming to work in the UK will have to register with the Home Office to work without restrictions.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen says of the measures: "I don't think anybody ever intended we were just going to pull the shutters down and become a Little England." The same restrictions will apply to UK citizens who wish to visit the Continent. I mean, did you really think we were going to have a visa system just to go for a weekend to Paris?"
The British government has also released a paper detailing a proposal on how it intends to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic Ireland. According to Bloomberg, visa-free entry for EU citizens will help with the "thorny issue" of the Northern Irish border.

Russia

The 2018 Elections

The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has told reporters he will definitely participate in the 2018 presidential race, also urging changes to the current law that allows presidents to serve two consecutive terms. “I will definitely run as a candidate in the March 2018 elections,” Zhirinovsky told RIA Novosti. The politician, 71, who has headed the Liberal Democratic Party since its foundation in the late 1980s, also said that he considered himself to be a new figure in the executive branch of power because he has never assumed any executive state posts throughout his career. “If I win this race and become the head of state on March 18, 2018, we will immediately have new politics in our country,” he said.

Zhirinovsky also noted that in his opinion the best scenario for the race would develop if the incumbent Russian leadership voluntarily refused to participate. “In this case, I would have the best chances of all, because I have a lot of energy and experience while other potential opposition candidates are constantly giving up their positions. [The head of the Fair Russia party Sergey] Mironov and [the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Gennady] Zyuganov have not yet decided anything, because they are afraid to run. And the young ones they lack experience and authority, they will never win.” In the same interview, Zhirinovsky said that the current Russian law that allows the same person to remain president for two consecutive six-year terms should be canceled. “We have proposed this many times: the Constitution must contain a very solid norm reading that one person can remain president for only one term. It can be five, six or seven years, but it must be only one term,” he said.

Zhirinovsky is one of the best-known and most experienced politicians in Russia. The LDPR was among the first political parties to register after the Communist Party monopoly on state power ended in 1991 (the party had existed underground and under a slightly different name since 1989). If he keeps his promise to run, it would be Zhirinovsky’s sixth presidential bid – the fifth for president of the Russian Federation, plus one attempt in 1991 when Russia was a Soviet republic. Another possible contender in the 2018 race is the founder of the liberal Yabloko party, Grigory Yavlinsky. Anti-corruption activist, the high profile Aleksey Navalny has also announced plans to run for the presidency, but is technically banned from doing so because he is currently serving a five-year suspended jail sentence that will not expire before the March 2018 election.

Russia’s largest opposition party – the Communists – has not yet announced its candidate, nor has the parliamentary majority United Russia party.

Incumbent President Vladimir Putin gave the first hint of his possible participation in the race in early August when a group of villagers in the Siberian republic of Buryatia asked him to register as a candidate. “All right, I will think about it, thank you,” Putin replied.