All the buzz today is the news that Helsinki is the frontrunner for a potential summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Politico reported yesterday that the Finnish capital is the leading contender for the still planned summit between the American and Russian leaders. Reuters followed it up with a report citing a senior White House official saying that Helsinki is being considered.
Despite the momentum, nothing appears finalized yet. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton is in Moscow today and met with Lavrov and Putin to lay the groundwork for the summit. The Finnish government has been mostly silent about playing host. The president’s press office put out a very short statement yesterday saying that “Finland is always ready to offer its good services if asked.” That wording stood out to me when I read it: “If asked.” Does that mean that the Finns have not yet been asked? Does it mean that they’ve only been asked informally and not in an official capacity? Or is it simply a small oversight that I am reading too much into? I asked the Finnish President’s Office for clarification, but they declined to comment.
The other potential site for the summit is Vienna. An Austrian newspaper said earlier this week that teams from the United States and Russia were already in Vienna preparing for a July 15 meeting. In terms of scheduling, Trump is set to be in Brussels July 11-12 for a NATO summit before traveling to the U.K. for events on July 13. The World Cup final is set for July 15 and Putin is supposed to attend the game. July 14 seems like an obvious date for a meeting between Putin and Trump. Both Finland and Austria are close and make sense as destinations.
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WHAT I’M READING
1) Hurricane Trump will make landfall in Europe in mid-July and is set to hit Brussels for the NATO summit first. Things have been fraught among Western allies since Trump took over and even more so after the G-7 summit in June that ended with Trump calling Canadian P.M. Justin Trudeau “weak” and allegedly throwing a Starburst candy at German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The New York Times has a curtain raiser looking at the upcoming gathering and how it’s perceived in Europe. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/26/world/europe/trump-nato-summit-g-7.html)
2) Beijing’s trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative that consists of new infrastructure projects spanning across Eurasia to connect Europe to China has had some successes, but also plenty of hiccups. Reuters has a good report looking at the troubles and bottlenecks that the venture is facing in Poland, where ambitious targets are coming up against the difficult realities of re-writing the rules of global trade. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-europe-silkroad-insight/in-europes-east-a-border-town-strains-under-chinas-silk-road-train-boom-idUSKBN1JM34M )
3) With midterm elections approaching, the U.S. government and major tech companies are trying to learn the lessons about foreign election meddling. But it’s not exactly going great. This report here looks at a May meeting between a group of tech companies and intelligence officials that ended with both sides feeling frustrated in the fight to deal with the spread of disinformation on social media platforms. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/technology/tech-meeting-midterm-elections.html)
– Gordon Sander, a U.S. journalist that’s covered Finland for several decades, has a new book out. It’s called “Off the Map: A Personal History of Finland” and I’d recommend it as a fun read that gives a great crash course on all facets of Finland. I particularly enjoyed reading about Gordon’s early days in Finland in the height of the Cold War, complete with hostage crises and the seedier side of the country that few would recognize today. I’m not sure where the book will be available, but if you are interested in getting a copy, send an email to Gordon to find out more: firstname.lastname@example.org
-New legislation is coming into effect on Sunday that will deregulate Finland’s taxi industry and open the door to new players like Uber that could shake things up. NewsNowFinland has a good piece getting into things and giving a good lay of the land (http://newsnowfinland.fi/economy-business/taxi-drivers-face-uncertain-future-with-july-deregulation). Personally, I’m all for more competition, but it sounds like there are still some snags on this new legislation that could have some unseemly knock-on effects.
– With Arctic ice melting faster than expected, the far north is getting lots of attention and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is worried that America is getting left behind, especially as Russia and China devote more resources. In comments yesterday, Mattis said that the United States needs to “up its game” and that the warming of the Arctic had spurred a new rush for resources in the region that the United States has been reluctant to join. I know that I’ve received feedback from some people who have said that competition in the Arctic is minimal and that it shouldn’t be overblown. And yes, there’s certainly plenty of nuance here and the Arctic isn’t the next Wild West or where the next conflict with Russia will be. But comments like Mattis’ should remind you that it’s an area of competition and one where the level of competition is increasing. (https://www.rferl.org/a/us-needs-up-game-arctic-amid-russian-chinese-development-ambitions-mattis-pentagon-chief-/29320591.html)
– Speaking of the Arctic, here is a photo from Nordkapp, Norway. I was there a few weeks ago and it was beautiful.
That’s all for now.