ESADEgeo’s Daily Digest, 11/05/2017

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The Guardian—J. Borger / Sergey Lavrov’s White House visit reveals little about Trump and Russia

  • The morning after firing FBI director James Comey, U.S. President Donald Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and he later had an unannounced visit by Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
  • “Was he fired? You’re kidding! You’re kidding!” Lavrov exclaimed theatrically when a journalist asked him whether Comey’s downfall might throw a shadow over the Russian’s visit.
  • U.S. media were denied access to the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov, although the Russian press was let in. Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to Washington, was also in the meeting.
  • At a press conference in the Russian embassy, Lavrov praised Trump and Tillerson, repeatedly calling them “businesslike” and comparing them favorably to the Obama administration and what he called its “dirty tricks”.
  • “Our dialogue right now is free from the ideology that was very typical for Obama’s administration”, said Lavrov. “It must be humiliating for the American people to realize that the Russian federation is controlling the situation in America. How is it possible for such a great power and such a great country?”
  • The U.S. State Department gave no briefing.

Foreign Policy—R. Gramer / Russia’s controversial European gas project is under fire, again

  • Nord Stream 2, meant to pipe natural gas from Russia to Germany, has hit another obstacle.
  • The pipeline starts on the Kurgalsky Nature Reserve in the Leningrad Oblast in western Russia. But building on nature reserves violates Russian local and national laws, and contravenes the 1992 Helsinki Conventions protecting the Baltic Sea and the 1971 Ramsar Convention protecting wetlands.
  • If Finland, Sweden, and Denmark move forward with the project, environmental experts say, they’ll be knowingly violating international environmental conventions. “The Nordic countries indeed have a record of taking environmental concerns seriously,” said Tim Boersma, an energy expert with Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
  • The project is in line with Gazprom’s declared plans to bypass Ukraine as a transit route for Russian gas headed west to Europe.
  • There are disagreements in the EU about the project: although it runs counter to Brussels’ plans to diversify its sources of energy, it has the support of countries like Germany.

Financial Times—G. Wildau / China new ‘Silk Road’ investment falls in 2016

  • Some hard data suggest the hype surrounding Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) may exceed the substance.
  • Foreign direct investment from China to countries identified as part of the BRI fell 2 per cent in 2016 year on year and has dropped an additional 18 per cent so far in 2017.
  • Xiao Yaqing, chairman of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission: “Let’s not look at year-on-year growth but at the development of the investment and the projects themselves. Over the long term, I believe investment into BRI countries will rise.”
  • Some bankers and state enterprises are privately complaining that they feel pressured by the government to undertake BRI projects that are not profitable.

Brookings—W. McCants / Trump should push the Saudis to scale back proselytizing—they may be more responsive than you think

  • In Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia at the end of this month, the U.S. President has the chance to pressure the Saudi government to stop the country’s exports of religious extremism.
  • Although Saudi rulers often scorn Wahhabi teachings, they have been slow to reform the creed and to limit the influence of the clerical establishment that promotes it at home and abroad.
  • According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, there are fewer intolerant passages in school textbooks than a decade ago, but there is a long way to go.
  • Diplomats and generals surrounding Trump likely agree that American partnership with Saudi Arabia is crucial for maintaining the stability of energy prices, gathering intelligence on jihadists, and checking the ambitions of Iran. But there are signs that the new Saudi leadership is unusually responsive to complaints about the deleterious effects of Saudi proselytizing, and Trump should not fear taking advantage of that.

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