ESADEgeo Daily Digest, 27/02/2018

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The New York Times – Mark Landler, David E. Sanger & Gardiner Harris / Rewrite Iran deal? Europeans offer a different solution: A new chapter

  • Europeans are aiming to preserve the Iran nuclear deal by creating a successor deal. The new agreement would be intended to halt Iran’s ballistic missile program, provide assurance that inspectors have unfettered access to Iranian military bases, and extend the deal’s expiration dates.
  • As the EU and the US prepare to meet for trans-Atlantic talks next month in Berlin, the Europeans are demanding a guarantee that President Trump will abide by the add-on deal after it is negotiated and not jettison it on some other pretext.
  • European diplomats said there was scope for an agreement on missiles and inspections, but not yet on the length of the deal. Moreover, even if Trump pledged to abide by the new deal, it is far from clear that a successor deal would be endorsed by Russia or China, let alone the Iranians.
  • While American and European negotiators are working feverishly on a deal to preserve the 2015 accord, there are also preliminary discussions about what will happen if they fall short.

Foreign Affairs – Neil Hauer / Russia’s mercenary debacle in Syria

  • On February 7, over 100 pro-government fighters (the exact figure is unclear) were killed in the span of three hours by retaliatory U.S. air strikes and artillery fire. Information emerged that many of those killed were Russian mercenaries contracted to the Wagner Group.
  • The confusion surrounding the attack suggests that Wagner’s offensive actions resulted in a debacle the Kremlin did not expect. With its ability to control the Assad regime already in question, Russia appears to now be facing issues restraining even its own mercenary contractors.
  • Although private military companies remain technically illegal in Russia itself, current best estimates place Wagner’s numbers in Syria at around 2,500 servicemen. For perspective, in September 2016 Russia was estimated to have just under 5,000 personnel in Syria.
  • As bad as the February 7 attack is on the Russian domestic front, its impact on the Syrian conflict is likely to be worse. The revelation that the Kremlin either cannot or will not exercise control over proxies such as Wagner only further challenges Russia’s narrative as kingmaker in Syria.

Financial Times – Gideon Rachman / Russia, America and a contest of sick systems

  • President Putin got behind the campaign of Donald Trump for reasons that were not a million miles from the German motivation for backing Lenin during World War I, which led to the birth of the Soviet Union.
  • There was also a broader lesson that Putin could draw from history, but this time from the Soviet Union’s death: contemporary power struggles are more likely to be determined by domestic resilience than by external strength.
  • In the Trump era, the idea that the US system is inherently more stable than its rivals can no longer be taken for granted.
  • But another lesson of the Cold War is there was a tendency to overestimate the weakness of the West. Something similar could be happening now: the internal weaknesses of the US’ international rivals — such as Russia and China — might be even more serious, but harder to observe.

South China Morning Post – Nectar Gan / In ending presidential term limits, ‘Xi Jinping is thinking global and acting local’

  • Xi’s intention to stay on as Chinese President beyond two five-year terms was no surprise to many China watchers. But Beijing’s announcement on Sunday of a planned amendment to the two-term clause in the constitution so early in Xi’s second term did catch many off guard.
  • Real power in China rests in the positions of the party’s general secretary and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. Since there is no written limit on his tenure as the party and military chief, Xi could theoretically cling on to power by breaking with recent precedent.
  • “He could have [stayed in power], but without changing the presidential statute he would technically not have been able to represent China on the world stage. This is a clear indication that Xi plans to stay in power indefinitely … Internally, that means that any factions that might have been trying to ‘wait him out’ will now be forced to acquiesce to Xi’s rule and policies,” said David Shambaugh of the George Washington University.
  • “Xi’s move to promote the role of state president goes even further than Mao,” said Warren Sun of the Monash University in Australia. “Mao never considered the ceremonial state chairmanship as necessary.”
  • Having an unlimited term also ramps up the pressure on Xi, who would have no one but himself to blame if his policies and ambitions failed to deliver.

The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and ESADEgeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.

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