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As the U.S. and Russia Talk Ukraine, Where’s Europe?

The French president wants a new security framework for Europe, but he’ll have a hard time getting a unified answer from his fellow leaders.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to the French armed forces at a military camp in eastern France.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to the French armed forces at a military camp in eastern France.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to the French armed forces at Oberhoffen military camp in Haguenau, eastern France, on Jan. 19. Bertrand Guay/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joins four-way talks on Ukraine, Turkey’s central bank makes its interest rate decision, and Biden considers redesignating the Houthis as a terrorist group.

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Europe’s Stake in the Ukraine Crisis

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joins four-way talks on Ukraine, Turkey’s central bank makes its interest rate decision, and Biden considers redesignating the Houthis as a terrorist group.

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


Europe’s Stake in the Ukraine Crisis

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken continues his European tour Thursday in Berlin, where his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, will host a meeting of the so-called trans-Atlantic Quad, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Britain’s James Cleverly filling out the four corners.

The talks come as U.S. President Joe Biden alluded to “differences” among NATO allies on the best way forward with Russia, which has demanded an end to NATO expansion among other security guarantees amid a buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border. (Biden, speaking on Wednesday evening, appeared to meet Russia halfway, conceding that the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO was “in the near term not very likely.”)

Those divisions were laid bare on Wednesday, when French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that Europe build its own security framework. And while Macron’s speech can be taken with a pinch of election-year salt, he has not hidden his opinions on Europe’s alliances before, remarking in 2019 that NATO was experiencing “brain death.”

Macron’s most recent comments come at a time when Europe, and specifically the European Union, is very much in the background of the debate on Ukraine’s future, with Russia preferring face-to-face talks with U.S. representatives first and foremost. (That trend continues on Friday, when Blinken will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.)

In a crisis brewing on the EU’s borders, why is it not a bigger voice in the room? Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, points to fundamental issues that make the EU’s position difficult: Its 27 countries vary widely in their relationships with Russia and reliance on the United States for security, and the bloc has its own difficulties in articulating its wider foreign-policy vision.

In his speech Wednesday, Macron said a European proposal for “building a new security and stability order” would be put to Russia in the coming weeks. For Daalder, that’s too late: “We don’t have a few weeks. The crisis has been with us since October, and the EU hasn’t developed a strategy.”

Some of the EU’s absence isn’t entirely its own fault, with Russia preferring direct talks with the United States based on Moscow’s own assessment of the regional dynamics. “It reflects Russia’s view that Europe is basically a continuation of U.S. politics to some extent, as is NATO,” said Liana Fix, an expert on Russian foreign policy and a resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

There’s also a difference of opinion between Europe’s major powers and Washington, with Berlin looking east without feeling too threatened, while U.S. officials, including Biden as recently as Wednesday evening, speak of imminent invasion. “In Berlin, it’s viewed as a Russian negotiation strategy, whereas in the United States it’s seen as a very real and probable option that Russia will use military force,” Fix said.

Just because Europe isn’t who Moscow picks first to call doesn’t mean it’s not a big part of the talks, said Dan Baer, the acting director of the Europe program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Baer, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), pointed to the other forums available to European countries, such as NATO and the OSCE, as well as continuing U.S. efforts to keep European nations close before and after its one-on-one negotiations with Russia.

“There’s quite a lot of evidence from the Biden administration that there’s no desire from their part not to have European countries involved in the conversation,” Baer said. “It’s just that the Russians demand a solo interlocutor, and for that reason the United States is the default.”


Quitting Time

While most Americans are trying to finish out a shortened work week thanks to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (and only have to wait 30 days for their next three-day weekend), the United States still lags behind other developed countries when it comes to time off. Although the United States is close to the OECD average when it comes to public holidays, it ranks dead last on statutory vacation time.


What We’re Following Today

Close to midnight. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Thursday will reveal the assessment of its expert panel on whether to move the minute hand on its “Doomsday Clock,” symbolizing how close the world is to man-made disaster. The clock has stayed at 100 seconds to midnight for the past two years, its closest to catastrophe since the clock started “ticking” 75 years ago.

Turkey’s interest rate. Turkey’s central bank is expected to either lower or maintain interest rates in its decision Thursday after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the rate would fall “slowly, gradually, and without hurry” on Tuesday, appearing to back off on previous calls to cut rates quickly. Turkey has also taken steps to shore up its foreign currency reserves on Wednesday after it secured a currency swap worth $5 billion with the United Arab Emirates, a sign of warming ties between the two nations.


Keep an Eye On

Havana syndrome. A new intelligence assessment from the CIA appears to quash speculation that a mysterious illness affecting hundreds of U.S. overseas officials, dubbed Havana syndrome, was the work of a foreign actor. In its assessment, the agency found that in the vast majority of cases, a plausible alternative explanation existed for those experiencing symptoms. The CIA’s findings are unlikely to put the issue to bed for good however, as it reported nearly two dozen cases where foreign involvement may have been a factor.

Yemen’s war. The Biden administration may return Yemen’s Houthis to a list of designated terrorist organizations following a drone and missile attack on the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi over the weekend. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Biden said the possibility was “under consideration.” The Houthis were named a terrorist group by the Trump administration on its final day in office, a decision reversed by the Biden administration in part to ease humanitarian access to Houthi-controlled areas.


SitRep Live: Is There a Biden Doctrine?

War looms in Ukraine. The pandemic continues its deadly spread. Tensions with China escalate. And Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever. U.S. President Joe Biden has had crises thrown his way from Kabul to Kyiv. Amid the chaos, has a coherent foreign policy emerged? On Thursday at 11 a.m. EST, join FP’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer as they give their report card on Biden’s first year, drawing on interviews with dozens of foreign dignitaries and experts.

Register to attend here.


Odds and Ends

Following last week’s blind date from hell, China’s lockdown-induced matchmaking is at least breaking even after one couple decided to get married in the wake of a forced cohabitation.

Zhao Xiaoqing and Zhao Fei were only on their second date when the city of Xianyang was forced into lockdown, leaving the two together for longer than planned.

“Our souls are compatible, we get along very well, and both our parents are happy,” Zhao Xiaoqing told local news following the engagement.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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