Morning Brief

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U.S. and Russia Meet for Nuclear Talks as Landmark Treaty Nears End

The only remaining nuclear arms control treaty between Washington and Moscow expires in February and the two governments are still at loggerheads over the terms of a new agreement.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control, speaks during a press conference on June 23 in Vienna after the United States and Russia met for talks on their last major nuclear weapons agreement.
Marshall Billingslea, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control, speaks during a press conference on June 23 in Vienna after the United States and Russia met for talks on their last major nuclear weapons agreement. Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. and Russian representatives meet to discuss nuclear arms control, disputes over Kyrgyzstan’s election results, and Nicaraguan President Ortega moves to further suppress the opposition.

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U.S. Allies Worry the White House Wants to End New START Treaty 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. and Russian representatives meet to discuss nuclear arms control, disputes over Kyrgyzstan’s election results, and Nicaraguan President Ortega moves to further suppress the opposition.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


U.S. Allies Worry the White House Wants to End New START Treaty 

The United States and Russia are due to meet in Helsinki, Finland, today in their ongoing effort to renegotiate and replace the New START nuclear arms treaty which is set to expire in February 2021. New START is the only remaining agreement limiting nuclear arms between the two countries. Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. chief arms negotiator, will meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to continue a prior meeting held in Vienna in August.

The China factor. Much of the delay in renegotiating the treaty was due to Washington’s insistence that China be included in any new agreement. “The next treaty will have to be multilateral, it will have to include China, and the framework that we are articulating together as two great powers, us and the Russians, will be the framework going forward that China will be expected to join,” Billingslea told reporters in a briefing in August.

But the White House has since backed off that condition as Trump has become embroiled in his reelection campaign, and now the hope among many U.S. allies is that Washington will seek a standalone deal with Russia before the deadline and pursue another agreement with China at a later time.

Losing hope. The United States has so far only proposed new conditions for Russia, a move that some officials worry is little more than a thinly-veiled attempt by the White House to scuttle the deal entirely. Billingslea reportedly told Ryabkov during their meeting in August that a new treaty would need to address Russia’s build-up of short-range missiles which aren’t covered by the current treaty. “The ball is now in Russia’s court,” he said at the time.

As Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer recently reported, “former officials and arms control experts worry the administration may be seeking to slow-walk the accord to death by making impossible demands of Russia just months before the treaty is slated to end.”


The World This Week

Oct. 5. German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator.

Oct. 5. The United Nations holds a high-level meeting to discuss ongoing peace efforts in Libya.

Oct. 5-6. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visits Ankara for meetings with top Turkish officials. He then travels to Athens for meetings with Greek officials.

Oct. 6. Merkel meets with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Oct. 7. The U.S. vice presidential debate takes place between Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

Oct. 8. The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss the ongoing crisis in Mali.

Oct. 9. The winner of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize is announced.

Oct. 11. Lithuania holds legislative elections. A second round, if necessary, will take place on Oct. 25.

Oct. 11. Tajikistan holds its presidential election.

Oct. 11. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a de facto state that is unrecognized by almost the entire international community, holds its presidential election.


What We’re Following Today 

Kyrgyzstan crisis looming? Two pro-government parties, Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, are set for a strong showing in Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary elections, which took place on Sunday, but it is still unclear if they will find common ground and forge a grand coalition. After Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, it appears that only two of the 16 parties that contested the election crossed the 7 percent threshold required to actually win seats. Opposition parties alleged widespread irregularities in the vote and staged a nonviolent protest in the capital of Bishkek and the city of Talas, and they have planned more rallies for today.

The aftermath of the elections in Kyrgyzstan could cause a new set of problems for Russia. Moscow is already deeply involved in conflicts in Libya and Syria, and it is currently dealing with crises in neighboring Belarus and Azerbaijan. Another political crisis in Kyrgyzstan could draw Moscow into yet another regional dispute.

Violence in Nagorno-Karabakh spreads. Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh escalated on Sunday after Armenian forces launched a series of airstrikes on targets in Azerbaijan’s second city of Ganja. The city lies to the north of Nagorno-Karabakh and sits near an important series of oil and gas pipelines that run from the capital city of Baku to Turkey. The airstrikes killed one person and injured more than 30 others. 

Arayik Haratyunyan, the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh, said in a tweet that he ordered the attack as an “act of self-protection, in response to days-long deliberate shelling” of civilian areas in the region. Turkey, which has been backing Azerbaijan throughout the clashes, called the attack a “violation of all the principles of International law.”

Conflicting reports on Trump. U.S. President Donald Trump could be discharged from Walter Reed military hospital today, according to his doctor, Sean Conley, despite Trump’s blood oxygen levels dropping twice in recent days. The apparent inconsistency has raised concerns that officials are painting an inaccurate picture of Trump’s condition and failing to deliver accurate information to the public.

Trump generated further controversy when he took a ride outside the hospital in a presidential vehicle to wave to his supporters. Although he wore a mask, medical professionals warned that he is likely still highly infectious and could have exposed the Secret Service agents driving him to the virus while in an enclosed space. “He’s not even pretending to care now,” one agent told the Washington Post after Trump’s drive.

Trump announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19 early on Friday and was admitted to Walter Reed on Saturday. Shortly after his admission, Conley told reporters that Trump was “doing very well,” an assessment that was quickly contradicted by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. He said Trump’s vitals “were very concerning” and that “the next 48 hours will be critical.” Trump is reportedly receiving the steroid dexamethasone, which is often administered to patients with severe cases of COVID-19.


Keep an Eye On 

Sudan under pressure. Efforts by the United States to pressure Sudan into reaching a normalization agreement with Israel are causing rifts to form within Sudan’s transitional government. Military leaders, who share power jointly with civilian leaders, have called for a deal with Israel similar to those recently signed with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. “Whether we like it or not, the removal [of Sudan from the terror list] is tied to [normalization] with Israel,” Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo said last week, referring to an offer from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to remove Sudan from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list in exchange for normalizing ties with Israel.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the top civilian leader in the transitional government, has pushed back, saying the military does not have the authority to make foreign-policy decisions of that kind of importance.

Repression in Nicaragua. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is trying to push through legislation that could criminalize political opponents and foreign journalists in a move opposition leaders have charged is an attempt to suppress Ortega’s opponents ahead of next year’s presidential election. One bill would require international journalists to register as foreign agents and would severely restrict their reporting activities in the country. Another would require groups receiving funding from abroad to register with the government or face harsh penalties.

Ortega’s Sandinista party controls the country’s legislature with a large majority and will have little problem pushing the legislation through. A vote is expected to take place later this week.


Odds and Ends 

The hashtag #ProudBoys went viral on Twitter over the weekend but not due to anything the far-right, ultra-nationalist group did. After Trump pushed the group into the national spotlight during last week’s presidential debate by calling on the group to “stand back and stand by,” thousands of men in same-sex relationships took to social media to reclaim the Proud Boys moniker and share images and stories from their relationships using the hashtag. The spontaneous campaign was an instant hit, with several thousand tweets posted using the hashtag.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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