Situation Report: Trump in Paris; NATO’s Game of Chicken With Russia

Situation Report: Trump in Paris; NATO’s Game of Chicken With Russia


With Adam Rawnsley

Trump in France. President Donald Trump has landed in Paris, where he’ll meet French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on counterterrorism, and to attend the Bastille Day parade. For the first time, 200 U.S. servicemembers will lead the parade in Paris in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the First World War.

The two leaders are also looking to make headway on their divisions over trade and climate change. And politically, both men have something to gain: Macron is seeking to raise his global profile early on in his administration, and Trump has been dealing with a series of domestic blows at home, revolving around Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The New York Times has a good timeline on the scandal this morning, here.

Trump will also huddle with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford and other U.S. military leaders in his quick, one-day trip.

Pentagon policy nominee rips Kremlin. While Trump has been cautious criticizing Russia — unlike virtually everyone else in his administration — his pick for the No. 2 policy job in the Pentagon David Trachtenberg wasn’t shy about sharing his feelings on the Kremlin during his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

Answering a question about Russian involvement in Syria, he said, “I think Russia’s objectives in Syria are clearly antithetical to our objectives. I believe Russia has propped up the Syrian regime. It has been the greatest enabler of Bashar al Assad’s atrocities there against his own people. Russia has worked with Iran to destabilize the region. Russia has also threatened to shoot down American planes.” The White House recently ordered the State Department and Pentagon to begin working on a ceasefire implementation plan with Russia in southwestern Syria.

NATO, Russia talk playing chicken. After a series of close calls in the skies over the Baltic Sea over the past two years, NATO and Russia will discuss flight safety in a meeting in Brussels on Thursday. The Wall Street Journal notes that the Baltic Sea “has become the focal point for this new white-knuckle geopolitical tussle. Rhetoric is rising in the region, where newer NATO members on Russia’s border are nervous and Russia’s military has shown a willingness to use close intercepts as political messages.”

Russia gobbles up more of Georgia. Just before President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin’s tête-à-tête at the G-20 on July 7, Russia quietly annexed “about 10 hectares” of Georgian territory on behalf of the Republic of South Ossetia, a polity recognized by just four countries (including Russia), writes FP’s Noah Buyon. “The move went largely unnoticed — except, of course, in Georgia proper, where Prime Minister Giorgi Margvelashvili decried “creeping occupation.” That generalized silence is what the Kremlin was counting on.”

New U.S. bases in Syria. Some Internet sleuths have located what appear to be two more U.S. bases in Jordan and Syria. “The two airstrips could support drones, helicopters, and special operations airplanes,” the Daily Beast reports.

Iraq forcing ISIS families into camps. Human Rights Watch is claiming that Iraqi security forces have forcibly relocated at least 170 families of alleged Islamic State members to a closed “rehabilitation camp” as a form of collective punishment, Reuters reports. “These abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Naming names. The White House announced a series of appointments on Wednesday evening, led by Dr. Joseph H. Felter III as deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia. Felter is a former Army Special Forces officer and head of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.

— Andrew F. Knaggs has been also been selected for deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism.

— Kathryn L. Wheelbarger as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Carrier visit. China’s first aircraft carrier is off on its maiden voyage, and passed through Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on its way back from a visit to Hong Kong, according to Reuters. The Liaoning has steamed close to Taiwan at least three times previously in what Taiwanese officials interpret as a show of force to what Beijing regards as a breakaway province.

Timing. Cyber Berkut, the hacking group described by U.S. intelligence as a “front organization for Russian state-sponsored cyber activity,” has awakened from months of slumber to post a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian government support for Hillary Clinton.

Tea for the Tillerman. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is headed back to Qatar in a bid to resolve the standoff between Doha and its neighbors. Tillerson already met with Doha’s discontents in Saudi Arabia, but doesn’t appear to be making any headway thus far, with Saudi officials reacting coolly to a recent countering terrorist financing agreement between the U.S. and Qatar.

How Kalashnikov got its groove back. Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern, maker of the iconic AK-47 assault rifle, was hit hard by U.S. sanctions against it in 2014, losing a chance to open up a factory in the United States. But now the Wall Street Journal reports that the company is back and doing better, doubling its revenues to $300 million. Sanctions forced the company to shift from catering to a civilian market to a military one, signing big ticket deals with governments in Asia and Africa.

Attack of the (hobby) drones. The Air Force is powerless to stop tiny hobby drones from buzzing its might F-22 air superiority fighter jets at Air Combat Command bases in the United States. Flight Global reports that Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mike Holmes complained that he lacks the authority to deal with the problem, noting that an F-22 narrowly avoided running into a small drone as it landed at a U.S. base.

Grunts in space. Congress’s plan to carve a separate space service out of the Air Force is running into opposition from both the White House and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. In a letter to “Rep. Michael Turner” (R-OH), Mattis writes that it’s “premature to add additional organization and administrative tail to the department at a time I am trying to reduce overhead,” according to The Hill. The White House also took a swipe at the space corps proposal in a statement of administration policy about the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it’s already in the midst of a strategic review on space issues and is ready to “suggest modifications” to the idea once its reviews are complete.