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World roundup: August 18 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Timor-Leste, Ukraine, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 17, 1717: Prince Eugene of Savoy’s Habsburg army successfully concludes its month-long siege of Belgrade. The garrison finally surrendered after the Habsburg forces drove off a last-ditch Ottoman attempt to relieve the besieged city. Belgrade became a Habsburg city in the Treaty of Passarowitz the following year, but the Habsburgs were forced to give the city back to the Ottomans in the 1739 Treaty of Belgrade.
August 17, 1945: Rebel leaders Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta issue a proclamation declaring Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands. The proclamation kicked off the 1945-1949 Indonesian Revolution, and this date is annually commemorated as Indonesian Independence Day.
August 18, 684 (or thereabouts): The Battle of Marj Rahit
August 18, 1487: The garrison defending the Granadan city of Málaga surrenders, ending a Castilian-Aragonese siege that had lasted over three months. Málaga was the Emirate of Granada’s second-largest city and its largest seaport, so losing it to the Catholic monarchs was a massive defeat—one from which, it turned out, the emirate would never recover. Frustrated by the city’s refusal to surrender—even after urban leaders capitulated on August 13, the garrison held out for almost another week—King Ferdinand II of Aragon either executed or enslaved most of its remaining population.
August 18, 1870: The French Army of the Rhine meets the Prussian First and Second armies under the command of King Wilhelm I at the Battle of Gravelotte in Lorraine. Tactically the battle was inconclusive—the Prussians outmaneuvered the French but the French were able to retreat in good order to Metz, and casualties were pretty even relative to the numerical disparity (the Prussians outnumbered the French by about 70,000 soldiers) between the two armies. But the Prussians were then able to besiege the French army at Metz, eventually emerging victorious in one of the most decisive engagements of the Franco-Prussian War.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
A unit of the Turkish-backed “Syrian National Army” rebel coalition says its forces killed three Syrian Democratic Forces fighters in the town of Tell Rifaat in northern Aleppo province on Wednesday. This claim is unconfirmed but it comes as clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces along the Syrian-Turkish border appear to be escalating and with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s nebulous threat of another Turkish invasion of northern Syria sort of hanging in the air. According to The New Arab a column of Turkish forces was spotted crossing the border into Syria early Wednesday in what could be preparation for that invasion. Tell Rifaat is likely one of the areas that would be targeted in a new Turkish offensive.
The Israeli military raided offices belonging to a number of Palestinian human rights organizations on Thursday. Local Call, via +972 Magazine, explains what happened:
The Israeli army raided this morning the Ramallah offices of seven prominent Palestinian NGOs that have been designated as “terror organizations” by the Defense Ministry. In a concerted operation, soldiers simultaneously broke into the groups’ headquarters across the occupied West Bank city just before dawn, seized files and equipment from some of them, and welded the doors shut. At the entrance to each office, the army left copies of military orders declaring that the organizations were illegal.
Six of the organizations — Al-Haq, Addameer, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), the Union of Agricultural Works Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) — were outlawed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz in October 2021, while the seventh, the Health Work Committees, was outlawed the year before.
The organizations have refused to shut down and have challenged Gantz’s order. They’ve been supported by several European states. The raids appear meant to intimidate the organizations and to show those European governments that their support is irrelevant.
Timorese officials are threatening to seek Chinese, rather than Australian, backing for a major offshore energy project in the Timor Sea:
Timor-Leste’s president, José Ramos-Horta, has warned his nation will seek Chinese support if Australia and Woodside Energy fail to back a gas pipeline between the resource-rich Timor Sea and his country’s southern shore, rather than Darwin.
Ramos-Horta has warned Timor-Leste – Australia’s neighbour and ally – would “absolutely” look to Chinese investment to secure what he says is the “national strategic goal” of piping gas from the Greater Sunrise fields to his nation’s coast. The comments are likely to heighten concerns about Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.
“Timor-Leste would favourably consider partnership with Chinese investors if other development partners refuse to invest in bringing gas via pipeline to Timor-Leste,” Ramos-Horta told Guardian Australia.
The dispute has already been a major test for the 2018 East Timorese-Australian maritime boundary agreement, and that was before Chinese involvement became a possibility.
The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it’s planning to hold the second round of negotiations on the proposed “US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade” sometime this fall. The two countries held preliminary talks on this trade deal back in June, but the fallout from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this month has seemingly raised the stakes of any engagement between Washington and Taipei. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a statement decrying the proposed talks, though since Taiwan is already one of the US’s largest trade partners as it is it’s hard to imagine Beijing getting that worked up about a new trade deal.
The United Nations rapporteur on modern slavery, Tomoya Obokata, released a new report this week arguing, based on “an independent assessment of available information,” that it is “reasonable to conclude that forced labour among Uighur, Kazakh and other ethnic minorities in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing has been occurring in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.” Obokata identified programs that Chinese officials have characterized as vocational training and a rural jobs initiative as forced labor schemes. UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet is supposed to issue her own report on Xinjiang, based in part on her trip to China earlier this year, by the end of the month.
The president of Vanuatu, Nikenike Vurobaravu, dissolved parliament on Thursday, apparently to avoid a no confidence vote on Prime Minister Bob Loughman and his government. The leader of the parliamentary opposition, Ralph Regenvanu, is claiming he had 29 of 51 members of parliament on board with the no confidence vote and it sounds like he intends to challenge the dissolution order in court.
Thousands of anti-junta protesters marched on Khartoum’s airport on Thursday before being turned aside by security forces featuring teargas. Although the march didn’t reach its destination it did clog streets in the capital so I would assume it got its point across. Protesters have been demanding a transition to civilian, democratic rule since the Sudanese military seized power in a coup last October. It sounds like they’re planning a general strike next week as their next major action.
The leader of Chad’s Union of Resistance Forces alliance, Timan Erdimi, arrived in N’Djamena on Thursday, some 17 years after he fled into exile in Qatar. He was followed by Mahamat Nouri, head of the rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development. They’re expected to participate in the national dialogue process that Chadian junta leader Mahamat Déby is intending to kick off this weekend. Most of Chad’s rebel groups will be part of that process—though the most powerful of them, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), will not.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The UN’s DR Congo peacekeeping operation withdrew from the city of Butembo on Thursday. That city has seen large and at times violent protests against the UN presence over the past couple of months, with demonstrators expressing outrage at the operation’s failure to protect civilians from the many armed groups that are active in North Kivu province and other parts of the eastern DRC. A spokesperson for the UN mission stressed that this was not a permanent departure but rather a temporary redeployment of UN forces until temperatures cool down.
Residents of two villages near the Russian-Ukrainian border in Russia’s Belgorod oblast were ordered to evacuate on Thursday when a nearby military ammunition depot caught fire. There’s no indication as to what caused the fire but given recent events in Crimea speculation will naturally run to Ukrainian operatives of some sort.
Do you like coffee? Do you like Starbucks coffee? Then you’re going to love (possibly) Star
bucks coffee, the newest taste sensation to rock Russia’s beverage sector! Yes, Stars Coffee has emerged as the latest Russian takeover of a Western chain that’s pulled out of Russia due to the Ukraine war. The similarity in names means the new proprietors don’t really need to change much about the logo or anything else across the many former Starbucks outlets that are now being repurposed for the new venture. I’m sure it’s yummy.
In Ukraine, meanwhile:
At least 17 people were killed and another 42 wounded on Thursday by Russian shelling on the city of Kharkiv. At least two more people were reportedly killed in Russian shelling on a town in Kharkiv oblast. It’s unclear why the Russian military is bombarding Kharkiv of late—it could be the precursor to a ground offensive but I haven’t seen any indication that the Russians are building up to something like that in Kharkiv.
There are reports of more explosions hitting Russian military facilities in Crimea on Thursday, with at least four blasts reported at an airbase north of Sevastopol and sketchier reports of explosions near the city of Kerch. There are no details as to any casualties and/or damage.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Kyiv on Thursday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The main subject seems to have been conditions at the embattled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, where ongoing fighting continues to raise concerns about a potential catastrophe. Moscow accused the Ukrainians of planning a deliberate “provocation” at Zaporizhzhia on Thursday, while denying accusations that the Russian military is deliberately positioning artillery near the plant to try to deter Ukrainian counter-strikes. Guterres and Zelensky say they agreed on the contours of an International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of the plant, but it remains to be seen how the Russians will respond. Moscow did reject an idea floated by Guterres to demilitarize the plant and its surroundings, claiming that to do so would make the plant less safe.
The Biden administration is reportedly preparing to announce a new $800 million tranche of arms for Ukraine, perhaps on Friday. There are no details as to what this package would include but presumably we’ll find out soon enough.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti spent the day in Brussels on Thursday for some European Union-brokered talks on improving their countries’ bilateral relationship. Undoubtedly they were there to discuss recent tensions in northern Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs blocked roads late last month to protest new regulations from Pristina whose implementation Kurti’s government decided to postpone from August 1 to September 1. With that new deadline approaching presumably the goal was for Vučić and Kurti to reach some sort of common ground that would avoid new protests. They apparently didn’t make any progress.
EU officials seem to think these negotiations will resume shortly, but it sounds like Vučić flew back to Belgrade to deliver a national address regarding Kosovo on Friday and then hold “emergency meetings” with political party leaders on Sunday. That sounds like it might not be good.
Paraguayan Vice President Hugo Velázquez is apparently not ready to resign just yet. You may recall that Velázquez announced his resignation last week after winding up on a US corruption watchlist. That resignation was supposed to take effect this week, but Velázquez now says he wants to see the details of the US allegation before he makes any major life changes. He is apparently sticking (at least for now) to his decision not to run in next year’s Paraguayan presidential election.
A new poll from Datafolha shows former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s lead over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro narrowing a bit but not by enough to suggest that the race is going to be tight. The new survey puts Lula ahead of Bolsonaro, 47 percent to 32 percent, in first round intentions. That’s slimmer than the 47-29 margin Datafolha showed for Lula in its July poll but it’s still a 15 point lead and it still has Lula close enough to 50 percent that an outright first round victory would not be out of the question. The poll has Lula leading a hypothetical runoff 54-37. Bolsonaro’s approval rating has ticked up a bit over the past month, possibly due to a newly expanded welfare program and other government spending that is ostensibly meant to help people cope with inflation but is really Bolsonaro’s attempt to buy votes.
Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group announced on Thursday that it would release five soldiers and one police officer in what it called a “unilateral humanitarian gesture” in response to new President Gustavo Petro’s efforts to revive peace talks. The Colombian government later confirmed the releases. ELN and government representatives met in Cuba last week and agreed in principle to resume those talks.
Finally, this evening I’m going to leave you with a plug, courtesy of Jacobin, for the third season of the excellent podcast Blowback:
The one thing people tend to know about the Korean War is that they don’t know much about it. On the rare occasions it is mentioned, it’s typically described as a “forgotten war” — a term that has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy for the conflict. Yet the third season of Blowback, a podcast about the history of American imperialism, makes a compelling case that, alongside the events which preceded it, the Korean War is far more significant than is typically credited.
To Noah Kulwin, who cohosts Blowback with Brendan James, this cliché of the conflict as a forgotten war is “used to consign what America actually did as something so minor as to not be worthy of our attention.” If the conflict itself has been turned into a historical footnote, however, its legacy has never been more prominent: in the past few years, satires of South Korean hypercapitalism like Parasite and Squid Game have exploded in popularity across the globe, while North Korea’s status as the West’s favorite bogeyman remains potent. As Blowback explores, the Korean War set the stage for the Cold War, ushered in the development of the US national security state, and helped to create the playbook which still characterizes America’s foreign policy to this day.
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