Geopolitical Highlights, Dec 11th
The EU discusses its enlargement, the US hosts the Africa-US Leaders Summit, and Russia celebrates is Constitution Day.
It’s December 11th, 2022.
And it’s time for a few of the weekly geopolitical and current events l think you should keep an eye on.
You’re reading TGG’s What to Watch, Gambit Outlook.
As always, this list isn’t exhaustive and l encourage you to follow any other developments you consider noteworthy.
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First off, the EU - specifically the European Council, will meet to discuss two topics.
Unsurprisingly, one will be Ukraine.
But the other will be around the EU expanding to include more of the Balkans.
Now the Council is the body of the EU that sets the political direction and priorities of the EU and where the leaders of the EU members actually meet alongside the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The war has unprecedently tested Western resolve, but especially European’s, and this meeting will seek to identify ways to undermine and respond to Putin’s efforts as we enter 2023.
Partially states will focus on increasing investments in defense industries, with a goal of not only sustaining armament supplies but also improving coordination.
When the war first began, states unilaterally began provisions and while this has improved over 2022, there is a lot further this can go. Namely, with an official plan and approach.
We will come to this more in the next section.
Prior to this meeting, there was a Western Balkan Summit (WBS) - which involve the former Yugoslavia, and Albania.
4 states have been holding accession talks but the process, even at EU levels has been painfully slow.
So the WBS was seen as appeasement and an effort by the EU to reassure them.
Serbia is a particular case, given its historical stance, but also over the Ukraine War, seeing itself as able of keeping countries distanced from EU aspirations, despite its appeal.
Then there is Bosnia.
Any potential movements over Bosnian ascension have been plagued by ongoing divisions and concerns of separatism in the country.
Indeed, the Republic of Srpska - home of Bosnian Serbs, and a center point of the Yugoslav Wars (1991-95), is trying harder than ever to align with Russia.
So, any prospect for Bosnian membership remains a pipedream so long as he does the chance of internal Russian interference.
Another element of this is the importance of the EU value system.
The EU is a hub of ‘soft power’ - namely non-military forms of influence, and the more the countries that align to those values, the larger the influence too.
But candidate countries have to adopt and adhere to the internal regulations and rules by restructuring themselves if they’re to be constructive members.
But that doesn’t always guarantee compliance.
Take what is happening with Hungary and Viktor Orban, who has been holding up another financial relief package for Ukraine.
But with Bosnia, this comes down to a case of least-worst scenarios.
Namely, the internal situation may be problematic, but the prospect of losing the whole of Bosnia to a Putin-aligned force, and therefore having an enlarged territory to continually counterbalance against by the EU, will be the tougher of the two scenarios for the EU and continent more broadly.
Moreover, Putin is subtly cultivating relations in the subregion with the Croats in Bosnia.
Not to mention tensions rising between Catholic Croats, Muslim Albanians in Kosovo, and Orthodox Christian Serbs…paving the way for a potential repeat of the 90s…
An absolutely disastrous scenario.
Bosnia really lacks in some areas of the EU’s 14 criteria, notably rule of law, which includes public administration reform for instance.
Some are hoping that reigniting the talks with Bosnia, will also help to boost overall EU unity, develop new ideas, and find a way to address the systemic risks facing the EU, be they internal from Orban or external from Putin.
Indeed, both have played their hands quite well and it’s imperative the EU step up for the protection and survival of the Union.
Russia’s Consitution Day
Dec 12th represents Russia’s Constitution Day - when Russia adopted its current constitution in 1993.
Details vary on if Putin will speak, specifically referring to the war.
If he does, then he will emphasize the apparent gains Russia has made and that Russia has not lost the number of forces that they likely have.
Notably, Ukraine has been striking into Russian territory more often, really underlining that this war is a world’s away or that Russia is immune.
And this only exacerbates sentiments of dissent that Putin will need to address.
Indeed, the poor military performance has seen ultranationalists of Russia increasingly re-enter the fray, such as reflected by greater designation of power to field commanders.
Plus, there is the lingering pressure that comes from Russian mothers of the men losing their lives, and the notion of this remains a constant simmering source of pressure on Putin.
Farcically, Putin met with a hand-selected group of mothers - all for optics, of course, to give off the illusion he generally cares about their losses.
He was quoted as saying to one:
some people die of vodka and their lives go unnoticed, but your son really lived and achieved his goal. He didn't die in vain.’
What kind of statement is that?
I mean l know it’s Putin, but even for him - talk about seeming flippant.
But as l outlined in the first Gambit Outlook, the EU was seeking to take more action against Russia and so Putin will probably make clear that Russia is committing to a form of attritional warfare too.
He maintains emphasis that NATO, the West, and the US are intent on undermining and in some cases destroying Russia, so will leverage an occasion like Constitutional Day to reiterate that.
For Putin, it’s about Russia’s existential survival.
And where more appropriate to raise this than at a day around the constitution?
In any public appearances, he is saying that Russia will stick it out and his calculus is that either Ukraine or one of the Western coalitions breaks first.
That is why the Kremlin has heightened its focus on targeting critical infrastructure.
Be it electricity, commerce, or sanitation, these strikes are about inflicting pain, and coercing the Ukrainians to come to talks due to a horrendous winter.
Putin will also try to inflict pain on Europe over the winter too.
The intent here is to see populist parties gain popularity, increase internal disunity, and ultimately push for political changes, which are then reflected in the division of transatlantic relations.
So, it’s interesting that President Macron of France was recently in DC, quite clearly with the intent of signaling the resolve of the West is steadfast.
Needless to say, this day is as much about the West and/or Ukraine, as it is about Russia itself. At least in Putin’s mind.
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US-Africa Leaders Summit
This Summit is about recommitting US activities, beyond largely military ones, and counterbalancing to Russia, China and others.
Indeed, Biden is acutely aware of the need to renew drum up favorable sentiments among African states, given how the BRI of China, but also Russia’s very amplified presence in Mali, most of all.
Now, before proceeding further, remember Africa isn’t a monolith - there are over 50 nations, all of varying sizes, varying phases of development, and varying degrees of self-interests.
Let’s be clear though, this is 80% China, and 20% Russia-focused.
China-Africa trade is 4x that of US-Africa.
Moreover, Africa is a vital hub given its the only continent that will see demographic growth aggregately, and that most countries haven’t imposed sanctions on Russia despite condemning it at say UNGA votes.
Despite this, Africa hasn’t been a priority for the US:
there hasn’t been a summit like this since 2014…China has does them annually since 2000,
the strategic document that accompanies this summit was only produced in August…19 months after Biden took office.
Seems like the summit will have lots of generalities, little of specifics.
While the Africans just formed the African Continental Free Trade Area - the largest in the world - Biden doesn’t seem to want to pursue many trade deals.
He’s not even holding any 1-1 meetings - very unusual in summits.
Maybe, because its such a large event, or as Biden has done other diplomatic events elsewhere, but its still somewhat surprising.
And definitely a missed opportunity.
Furthermore, others have mentioned that the notion of supporting the uptake and provision of vaccinations to the continent is surprisingly lacking.
There is potential for a new initiative to be raised, but nothing concrete.
As it stands, Biden likely wants to build on this narrative that the US is back, after the America-first, isolationist-policy approach of Trump.
While that seems very positive, naturally, that’s within the US self-interests too.
But whether or not it resonates with the African delegates is another matter.
The US was one of many that hoarded vaccines at the start of the pandemic, and so it will be pretty difficult for continent representatives to just go along and forget that recent past.
The fact the summit is taking place is important.
But as with large-scale multilateral events, doesn’t look like it delivers much, at least that couldn’t have been more possible.
What else to Watch?
Japan will meet with Australia, with a specific focus on foreign and defense ministries. The two continue to deepen ties amid the perceived threat of China’s belligerency in the Indo-Pacific, and the growth of the Taiwanese fly-overs.
Fiji holds general elections. This will be another major development for the Indo-Pacific, especially at the time of climate crises facing island nations and again, the rise of China’s presence, such as with their new security pact with the Soloman Islands.