World roundup: August 11 2022
Stories from Turkey, Sri Lanka, Colombia, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 10, 1920: The Ottoman Empire signs the Treaty of Sèvres, formally withdrawing from World War I and surrendering to the Allied Powers. The terms, which required the empire to give up not only all of its Arab territory but most of its Anatolian territory as well, were so lopsided that they quickly sparked the Turkish War of Independence. The new Republic of Turkey emerged victorious from that war, and the terms of the ensuing 1923 Treaty of Lausanne superseded Sèvres.
August 11, 1473: The Battle of Otlukbeli
August 11, 1960: Chadian Independence Day
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
A new study published in the journal Nature suggests, based on satellite imagery analysis, that the Antarctic ice shelf has been shrinking at a much faster rate than previously thought. Essentially the authors argue that scientists have been overly focused on the melting of the shelf from below due to warming waters, while paying much too little attention to the loss of ice from above due to “calving”—the shearing of chunks of ice from above. This study indicates that the shelf has been losing as much ice from calving as from melting, but the amount lost by calving hasn’t been well tracked. Most of the calving losses have occurred in western Antarctica, but as we saw a few days ago eastern Antarctica is also dealing with a more serious warming problem than may have previously been thought.
On the other side of the world, meanwhile, a new study indicates that the Arctic has over the past 40 years warmed at a rate four times higher than the rest of the world. A 2019 estimate by the United Nations suggested the Arctic was warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, and that now looks like a substantial underestimate. This is a feedback loop in that the melting of the Arctic ice cap means that instead of reflecting solar radiation back into space, the region now absorbs that radiation instead.
In response to factional infighting in Yemen’s Shabwah province this week, the Yemeni government’s presidential council on Thursday announced that it has sacked an unspecified number of military officials in that province. Details, like whether this is going to be enough to actually end the violence, are unclear at this point. One member of the council reportedly quit late Wednesday over the conflict, but he was “persuaded to rescind his decision” in the name of political stability, according to Reuters. Factionalism has been a problem for the nominally pro-government coalition throughout this war, and it may loom as a serious obstacle for efforts to bring the war to an end.
According to Al-Monitor’s Fehim Taştekin, the war in Ukraine—well, Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine—has had the unintended effect of throwing Turkey an “economic lifeline” in the form of Russian money:
The economic outcomes of the recent Turkish-Russian summit and a string of financial moves by the Russian builder of a nuclear power plant in Turkey have come as fresh signs that Turkey is becoming a safe harbor for sanctions-hit Russian capital. For some observers, the moves amount also to a financial lifeline for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he grapples with economic turmoil ahead of crucial elections next year.
Money transfers by Rosatom, the state-owned Russian company building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu; a deal allowing Turkey to pay in rubles for some of its Russian gas imports; and moves to expand the use of the Russian Mir payment system in Turkey are all seen as the pieces of an integrated effort between Ankara and Moscow.
According to experts monitoring Russian capital movements, flows to Turkey have increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February and the ensuing Western sanctions targeting the Russian economy. Many Russian companies have come to import goods from Europe via Turkey. The Turkish experience in trading in rubles, which dates back to the 1990s, when Turkey emerged as a hub of “suitcase trade” for Russians, facilitates mutual dealings.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad says it is investigating Israeli claims that roughly a third of those killed during this past weekend’s Israeli bombardment of the enclave were killed by errant PIJ rocket fire. The Israelis have proffered video and radar evidence they say proves that some portion of PIJ’s rockets went off course and landed inside Gaza. Both PIJ and Hamas, which governs Gaza, have rejected the “errant rocket” claim (PIJ’s investigation aside) though it’s entirely possible that it’s true in a technical sense as PIJ’s rockets are not exactly on the cutting edge of military technology. Still, this Israeli argument is a fairly lame attempt to dodge blame for civilian casualties, given that those rockets almost certainly wouldn’t have been fired in the first place had the Israeli military not opted to start pulverizing Gaza (again) on Friday.
A suicide bomber targeting a seminary in Kabul killed a prominent Taliban-affiliated religious leader, Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, on Thursday. To presumably not much surprise, Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.
A group of Kashmiri separatists reportedly attacked a military camp in Kashmir’s Rajouri district early Thursday, killing four Indian soldiers while losing two of their own company. The ensuing battle lasted for some three hours so it’s a bit surprising the casualty figures are as low as they are.
A Chinese naval vessel called the Yuan Wang 5 is believed to be sailing for southern Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port as the US and Indian governments are trying to pressure Sri Lankan officials to refuse it permission to dock. Colombo has already given the ship, a probably-unarmed satellite tracking ship, permission to stop at Hambantota for “replenishment,” but under this US and Indian pressure the economically desperate Sri Lankan government is now asking Beijing to at least postpone its arrival. Indeed it already has been postponed—the ship was reportedly due to arrive on Thursday but as far as I know did not.
New Delhi has suggested that equipment on board the Yuan Wang 5 could somehow be used to spy on India, but apart from that dubious claim this appears to be a pure “you’re either with us or against us” power play on the part of the US and India. Both countries have some concern that China could use Hambantota, which it’s leased from Sri Lanka, as a naval base, but there’s no evidence China is moving to do so and really one ship isn’t going to make much of a difference in that respect. Sri Lanka’s economic collapse means its leaders can’t afford to alienate India, a major economic partner, or the US, which can dictate policy at the International Monetary Fund and/or World Bank. They also can’t really afford to alienate China, but in this case it doesn’t seem to be China that’s forcing them to choose.
It would appear that the Chinese military is winding down its military exercises around Taiwan, but it has also hinted at the possibility of continued exercises in the Taiwan Strait on something approaching a regular basis. This has raised fears of permanent or semi-permanent disruptions in the global supply chain, which relies heavily on the Strait and in which Taiwan, a significant part of the supply chain particularly with respect to technology, may find itself under a soft China blockade. The potential for an economic war around Taiwan to turn into a shooting war is not high but it’s not low enough for comfort either.
Anyway, I wonder how Nancy Pelosi is doing?
Speaking of economic warfare, the Biden administration has been deliberating for some time now whether to lift some of the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese imports, to impose additional tariffs, or some combination of both. The economic/political argument for lifting tariffs is that doing so should reduce prices on products sourced from China to counter inflation. In the wake of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and China’s reaction to it, according to Reuters the administration has decided to stand pat for now. US officials don’t want to impose new tariffs that might provoke additional Chinese escalation but they don’t want to lift existing tariffs and risk looking weak.
In a speech on Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly “declared victory” over COVID, after several days in which state officials declared zero new cases of the illness (which they’ve decided to label “fever”). I have no idea whether there’s any basis in reality for this declaration but of course Western media has reacted skeptically, and in fairness given the likely condition of North Korea’s sanctions-weakened healthcare system and the country’s lack of vaccines or even widespread testing there are reasons to doubt its success against the pandemic. Interestingly Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, intimated that he’d contracted COVID (or “fever”) at some point during this latest outbreak. He seems to be doing fine now.
Wednesday’s violent protests across Sierra Leone saw at least 21 civilians and six police officers killed, according to “police and other sources” who spoke to Reuters. Two of the police officers and 13 of the protesters died in Freetown while other casualties were reported in the town of Kamakwie and the city of Makeni. The curfew that Sierra Leonean officials imposed on Wednesday afternoon appears to have kept things in check on Thursday but the economic conditions underlying those protests are still in full effect so the possibility of further unrest is not insubstantial.
Human Rights Watch is alleging that Cameroonian soldiers summarily executed at least ten people and “carried out a series of other abuses between April 24 and June 12, during counter-insurgency operations” in Cameroon’s restive Northwest region. Those “other abuses” allegedly included looting, forced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions are home to an insurgency by anglophone separatists seeking independence from the francophone majority of the country. These sorts of incidents presumably don’t do much to win the people of those regions over to the government’s point of view.
Police opened fire on protesters in a number of cities across the breakaway Somaliland region on Thursday, killing at least four people and wounding dozens more. The demonstrators were demanding new elections this November after talks between Somaliland’s government and a number of opposition parties on that subject appeared to be faltering. Opposition leaders are accusing the region’s current government of attempting to extend its time in power unlawfully.
Elsewhere, the UN refugee agency and Norwegian Refugee Council are now estimating that more than 1 million Somalis have been displaced by the Horn of Africa’s ongoing drought, which has now extended through four largely failed rainy seasons and is approaching a fifth. Some 755,000 of the displaced are still in Somalia while the rest have left the country as refugees. The UN further estimates that the number of Somalis who are facing acute hunger will rise from around 5 million to around 7 million as a result of the drought and the food impacts wrought by the war in Ukraine. Making matters worse, relief efforts in Somalia are badly underfunded.
According to the International Energy Agency, Russian oil production has declined by a scant 3 percent and its oil exports are down by only around 580,000 barrels per day since the start of the Ukraine war. Other than that sanctions are going great! The decline in Russian oil exports to the European Union, Japan, South Korea, and the US has been largely offset by increased exports to places like China, India, and Turkey. The IEA does expect additional cuts as the EU’s oil embargo fully takes effect next year, as the alternative market for Russian oil probably won’t be able to fully replace the EU.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Thursday that Moscow and Washington are in discussions over a potential prisoner exchange. The US would be seeking the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan while Russia is seeking the release of Viktor Bout. Another American in Russian custody, Marc Fogel, has not been classified as wrongfully detained and it can be presumed the Biden administration has not sought to make him part of a deal.
Officials in Belarus are blaming an unspecified “technical incident” for several explosions that reportedly rocked Zyabrovka military airport, which has been used by the Russian military during its invasion of Ukraine, early Thursday morning. That may well be true. However, in the wake of Tuesday’s explosions at a Russian airbase in Crimea—which increasingly appear to have been the work of Ukrainian forces though the Russian military maintains they were accidental (more on that below)—I’m sure there will be a good deal of speculation as to what caused these Belarusian blasts.
Continuing from above, satellite imagery of the Saki airbase in Crimea shows a couple of things. One, it’s clear that, contrary to Russian claims, several aircraft were damaged or destroyed in Tuesday’s incident. Two, the damage appears consistent with what would be expected from some sort of long distance artillery or airstrike. If that’s the case then the attack was carried out by a weapon or weapons unlike anything currently believed to be in Ukraine’s arsenal. The potential repercussions of an enhanced Ukrainian long-range strike capability are significant, but without more concrete information anything that one might say about it now is just speculative.
The Swedish government has reportedly agreed to extradite to Turkey a man wanted on fraud charges. This would mark the first Swedish extradition to Turkey since the two countries struck an agreement back in June to allow Sweden’s NATO membership application to move forward. The Turks believe Sweden agreed to dozens of extraditions in that deal, but Swedish officials have disputed that and maintain that any extraditions must proceed through the Swedish legal system. It’s unclear whether this individual was on the list of people whose extraditions Turkey is believed to be seeking.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Thursday named former Foreign Minister Félix Plasencia as his new ambassador to Colombia. Maduro and new Colombian President Gustavo Petro agreed during Petro’s transition period to reestablish full diplomatic ties between their nations, which cut ties with one another in 2019.
Petro’s government, meanwhile, has sent its new “high peace commissioner,” Danilo Rueda, to Cuba for negotiations with leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s oldest rebel group. Petro has expressed an openness to talks with all of Colombia’s myriad rebel groups, right-wing militias, and drug gangs, and ELN was one of several such groups to suggest during Petro’s transition that it would also be open to such talks. With respect to ELN, Petro has suggested he’d be prepared to pick up where former President Juan Manuel Santos left off when his government’s talks with the group broke down in 2019, so the two sides may not need to start from scratch.
Hundreds of protesters hit the streets of Guatemala City on Thursday in anger over a weak economy and over alleged corruption and authoritarian tendencies exhibited by President Alejandro Giammattei and his government. They seem particularly angered by Giammattei’s decision to reappoint Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who’s earned a reputation for hindering corruption investigations and punishing officials who choose to pursue them.
Finally, if you’re interested in the project of developing a left-oriented foreign policy Aziz Rana is in my view one of the most important thinkers in that arena these days—whether you agree with his thinking or not. With that in mind, I’d urge you to check out his new interview with Jacobin:
All this ends up justifying a version of liberal internationalism, which defines the US national security state’s project. The thought is that, for a stable international order to exist, there has to be a dominant state that has the authority to intercede and even to move outside the rules, to ensure that the rules as a whole are being followed. This power ends up falling to the US.
There’s been a sustained left critique of this approach, which goes something like this: at the heart of the national security state’s project is a specific combination of corporate and military elites. As a result, the long history of the “American century” has been one of sustained interventions, coups, and assassinations across the world. Rather than rule following, the norm has been violence and lawlessness under the guise of rule following. And rather than global prosperity, American primacy — through its dollar hegemony and global economic standing — has promoted the accumulation of wealth for elites.
The response from the Left — and you can see this in anti-colonial struggles and workers movements — is that in order for there to be a genuine internationalism, Americans have to commit to an independent foreign policy that’s distinct from the objectives of the security state. Otherwise, we will never be able to treat the global commons as a universal resource, redistributing global wealth in ways that are nonexploitative and foster self-determination.
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