Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.
Situational awareness: Today marks five years since the Russian annexation of Crimea. With that in mind, let's start with European security, and Russia.
The silhouette of a woman reflected in a puddle as she crosses in front of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Photo: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images
French Defense Minister Florence Parly said today that an “unthinkable” question now hangs over Europe: What happens if the U.S. leaves us to fend for ourselves?
The big picture: Speaking at the Atlantic Council, Parly indicated that the growing transatlantic divide isn’t just about defense spending, or even a clash of personalities. “Now that the strategic rivalry is moving to Asia, and Europe is no longer its main playground, a question mark has emerged,” she said. With Washington's eyes turning toward China, “will U.S. commitment [to Europe] be perennial?"
Between the lines: Parly conceded that despite the current push on “strategic autonomy,” the state of Europe’s collective military capabilities is “unflattering.”
Europe’s NATO contingent has a combined GDP more than 10 times Russia’s, spends 3.5 times as much on defense, and includes two nuclear powers, the Economist points out. But reliance on the U.S. has left gaps in capability that would, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, take at least 15 years to fill.
Parly paraphrased NATO’s first secretary-general, Hastings “Pug” Ismay, who quipped that NATO was designed to “keep the Russians out and the Americans in” (she left out the part about keeping the Germans down).
Putin is adjusting to the new global reality. China shields him from political isolation and offers him an economic lifeline. It’s also a burgeoning superpower with which Russia shares a 2,600-mile border, much of it sparsely populated.
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, speaking at Brookings last week, expressed frustration that NATO allies are speaking in hypotheticals about conflict with Russia at a time when Moscow is occupying Crimea and flexing its cyber and disinformation capabilities:
Parly also referenced Eastern Europe, contending that if the next flare-up was allowed to happen on NATO's turf, rather than in Georgia or Ukraine, it would signal “a drastic reduction in U.S. power" and have global repercussions.
The bottom line: China's rise poses new questions for the U.S., but it can't afford to ignore the old ones.
Indonesian Muslims protest China's detention of Uighurs. Photo: Afriadi Hikmal/Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Indonesian President Joko Widodo is seeking re-election next month in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and, as the FT points out, “presenting himself as defender of the faith is central to his campaign strategy.”
Why it matters: “His reticence signals how influential Beijing has become in Asia and how the Chinese Communist party is increasingly able to control global narratives and silence critics far beyond China’s borders."
The latest: Kazakhstan recently arrested activist Serikzhan Bilash, who has campaigned for the closure of the Xinjiang camps, and charged him with inciting ethnic strife. Ethnic Kazakhs are among those held in the camps.
The U.S. has been more willing to speak out. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said such horrific human rights abuses hadn’t been seen “since the 1930s.”
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
In a tour de force essay, Robert Kagan describes a global showdown between liberalism and authoritarianism that — as the balance of power shifts and new technologies give governments unprecedented power — will become “all that matters.”
The big picture: Writing in the Washington Post, Kagan argues that we’ve been “living with the comforting myth that the great progress we have witnessed in human behavior since the mid-20th century, the reductions in violence, in the brutality of the state, in torture, in mass killing, cannot be reversed.” He says that’s “another illusion born in the era that is now passing,” when liberal democracies dominated the world.
The battle Kagan describes has a deep ideological dimension. He says authoritarians like Vladimir Putin are offering "a full-blown indictment of what many regard as the failings of liberal society" that has found “broad appeal,” even in the U.S.
Meanwhile ... Erica Frantz notes in Foreign Policy that many democracies are "gravitating toward authoritarianism" just as more authoritarians are embracing the facade of democracy.
Ardern hugs a woman outside a mosque in Wellington. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Bolsonaro speaks today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro began his visit to Washington today with an unusual stop: the CIA. He'll visit the White House tomorrow.
Between the lines: The president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, “described the CIA as ‘one of the most respected intelligence agencies in the world,’ in a tweet that was likely to raise eyebrows back home in Brazil, where the U.S. and its spy services have been regarded with suspicion in recent years,” AP notes.
The younger Bolsonaro also raised eyebrows by attending a far-right gathering on Saturday night at the Trump Hotel, hosted by Steve Bannon. According to the FT, Eduardo told attendees the populist right was “at last doing what the communists and the socialists did a long time ago … we’re organizing ourselves internationally.”
The big picture: A senior Trump administration official told reporters today that the visit signals a "historic remaking of the US-Brazil relationship" and noted that Bolsonaro is "unabashedly pro-American."
At home, Bolsonaro is pushing for much-needed pension reform. But the Economist notes that he often uses his massive social media presence to fight culture wars rather than promote policies.
Stranded timber workers in eastern Zimbabwe following the cyclone. Photo: Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images
Meanwhile, North Korea warned Friday, in a briefing by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, that it was considering walking away from nuclear talks and resuming missile and nuclear testing.
Students in Christchurch, New Zealand, perform a haka to honor the victims of the mosque attacks. Watch. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images
"The wicked person who martyred 49 brothers and sisters is saying that we can stay on the Anatolian side, we cannot pass to the European side. Who do you think you are?"— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an election rally in which he showed footage from the New Zealand attack and snippets of the gunman's manifesto
Thanks for stopping by — see you Thursday evening.