Discover more from Letters from an American
May 16, 2023
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has been on a tour of visits with European leaders. On May 13 he met with Pope Francis, who offered help finding the Ukrainian children kidnapped by the Russians and returning them to Ukraine, and with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. The next day he met with German chancellor Olaf Scholz before flying to France to meet with President Emmanuel Macron. On Monday, Zelensky made a surprise visit to the United Kingdom, where he met with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The European Parliament and the Foundation of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen awarded the Ukrainian people and Zelensky the Charlemagne Prize “for their fight for freedom and democracy against the unjustified Russian war of aggression. This award underscores the fact that Ukraine is part of Europe and that its people and its government—headed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy—support and defend European values, and therefore deserve encouragement to enter swiftly into accession negotiations with the European Union.”
Leaks linked to Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira have revealed a dynamic landscape. On the basis of those leaks, on May 13 the Washington Post reported that Zelensky’s calm public demeanor is different from his private positions, which have called for a much more aggressive stance toward Russia. On May 14 the Washington Post reported on a leaked document revealing that Yevgeniy Prigozhin had offered in January to tell Ukraine where Russian forces were positioned if it would pull back from the front in Bakhmut, where Prigozhin’s Wagner Group mercenaries were getting pounded.
On Sunday, as Zelensky was receiving promises of more European support, Ukraine said it had captured more than ten key Russian positions near Bakhmut. Last week, Germany announced its largest aid package to Ukraine since the war began—a package of nearly $3 billion—and U.S. Abrams tanks arrived in Germany ahead of schedule for training Ukrainian troops. Rumors are swirling about the health of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, one of Putin’s key allies, who has not been seen recently and has skipped important public events.
In July, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will gather in Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss strengthening the organization’s defenses against Russia, and the relationship of NATO to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and the European Council have been hosting peace talks between Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan after Russian peacekeepers have become ineffective. And U.S. Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Richard Verma is currently on a trip to Poland, Moldova, and Romania to “emphasize the United States’ commitment to our European Allies and partners, Transatlantic security, and our shared democratic values” even as Russia seeks to destabilize Moldova.
Elections in Turkey have produced a runoff between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Kilicdaroglu has promised to move Turkey closer to Europe than would Erdogan, who has swung toward Russia and authoritarianism. Turkey is a member of NATO, and Erodgan has ruled it for two decades, eroding its democracy. Opponents of Erdogan have coalesced behind Kilicdaroglu, who is popular enough that he managed to get within striking distance of Erdogan despite the leader’s attempt to rig the vote.
Expert on Turkish foreign policy and fellow at the Brookings Institution Asli Aydintasbas told Jared Malsin and Elvan Kivilcim of the Wall Street Journal: “A Turkey that tilts a little more toward Europe or NATO, even if it’s not a full pivot, that would be a huge change for the global balance of power, particularly with Russia’s war on Ukraine.”
U.S. senior officials are in Detroit this week for one of a series of meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, a group of 21 countries with nearly 40 percent of the global population— almost 3 billion people— and nearly 50 percent of global trade. APEC members account for more than 60 percent of U.S. goods exports and seven of our top ten overall trading partners.
Hosting APEC this year was supposed to show “U.S. economic leadership and multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific and highlight the direct impact of international economic engagement on prosperity here in the United States,” an illustration of the Biden administration’s outreach in the Indo-Pacific.
But just as Biden’s attempts to counter Russia and China and shore up democracy globally are bearing fruit, he has to cut short his visit to Australia and Papua New Guinea, where he was scheduled to travel after this weekend’s meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) in Hiroshima, Japan. The G7 is a forum of the leaders of France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada, along with the European Union, to discuss economic and governmental policies. The debt ceiling crisis is forcing Biden to come home early rather than continue to strengthen ties in the region.
Today, more than 140 leaders of the biggest U.S. companies published an open letter to the president and congressional leaders “to emphasize the potentially disastrous consequences of a failure by the federal government to meet its obligations.” They noted that when the government approached a default in 2011 under similar circumstances, the U.S. lost its AAA bond rating (which it has never regained), the stock market lost 17% of its value for more than a year, and “Moody’s reported that the heightened uncertainty from this crisis resulted in 1.2 million fewer jobs, a 0.7 percentage point higher unemployment rate, and a $180 billion smaller economy than it otherwise would have—dire impacts that occurred without an actual default.”
House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are refusing to raise the debt ceiling, which is a limit to how much money the Treasury can raise to pay existing obligations, in order to extract budget cuts they cannot get through the normal process of legislation. While Republicans claim to be concerned about spending, it is notable that they have flat-out refused to help reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes that would raise $40 billion. They also refuse to consider any measure that would raise taxes, focusing solely on spending cuts.
Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by billionaire Charles Koch, has rolled out an ad campaign putting pressure on Biden and Democratic senators in the battleground states of Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin to give in to Republican demands rather than insist on the same clean debt ceiling Congress passed three times under Trump.