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World roundup: August 20-21 2022
Stories from Iran, Russia, Colombia, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 19, 1745: An Iranian army under Nader Shah decisively defeats a much larger Ottoman army at the Battle of Kars. This, combined with the destruction of a second Ottoman army near Mosul by an Iranian army under Nader’s son, effectively brought the Ottoman-Persian war of 1743-1746 to an end by wiping out the Ottoman offensive. Although he began the war with big goals for defeating the Ottomans, Nader—ill and growing more paranoid about internal threats by the day—opted to settle the conflict with a restoration of Ottoman-Iranian borders as they had been at the fall of the Safavid dynasty.
August 19, 1953: Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh is removed from office in a UK/US-backed coup.
August 19, 1991: A group of Soviet leaders calling themselves “the State Committee on the State of Emergency” undertakes a coup and arrests President Mikhail Gorbachev. The whole thing fell apart three days later under pressure from the Soviet public, rallied by Russian President Boris Yeltsin—who, as a result, became effectively the most powerful person in the USSR. This was such a cataclysmic failure that it led to the collapse of the entire Soviet Union.
August 20 (give or take), 636: The Battle of Yarmouk
August 20, 1988: A ceasefire brings the nearly eight year long Iran-Iraq War to an end. The war cost hundreds of thousands of lives and included some of the most appalling war crimes of the 20th century, all to achieve essentially a restoration of the prewar status quo (except for all the casualties, of course).
August 21, 1415: Portuguese forces under King John I and his son Henrique, the future “Prince Henry the Navigator,” capture the city of Ceuta from the Moroccan Marinid dynasty. Ceuta was the first possession in what would become the Portuguese Empire and served as a staging ground for the Portuguese to capture several other cities around the northwest African coast. It’s a Spanish city today—Madrid kept it after the 16th-17th century Iberian Union broke apart.
August 21, 1791: Slaves in Saint-Domingue attend a Vodou ceremony in the evening and afterward begin a mass uprising. This insurrection marked the start of the Haitian Revolution, the most successful slave revolt in the Americas. Haiti won its independence from France, effective on January 1, 1804. The impact of the revolution on slavery in the Americas continues to be a matter of scholarly debate, but at the time the uprising so terrified US slaveholders that the Jefferson administration imposed an embargo on Haiti that remained in place until 1862.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Giants Brigades, a southern Yemeni militia supported by the United Arab Emirates, has reportedly seized control of oil facilities in Yemen’s Shabwah province, where since earlier this month its fighters have been battling with other factions that are theoretically its allies in the pro-government coalition. The big loser here appears to be the Islah Party, Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, a number of whose fighters were captured by Giants Brigade personnel during this seizure. The chair of Yemen’s presidential council, Rashad al-Alimi, called on Saturday for the restoration of the facilities “to their previous state before the attack” and for the release of those Islah fighters.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The UAE announced on Sunday that it’s sending its ambassador to Iran, Saif Mohammed al-Zaabi, back to Tehran in a matter of days, restoring full diplomatic relations with Iran. This move comes over six years after the Emiratis withdrew Zaabi in protest over a mob attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response to the Saudi execution of prominent Shiʿa sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke last week and agreed to try to improve the Iran-UAE relationship, so this is the outcome of that discussion.
CNN reported on Friday, citing “a senior [Biden] administration official,” that Iranian negotiators have dropped their demand that the US remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its foreign terrorist organization list as part of any agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The Iranians may even have dropped their fallback demand that the US instead delist several companies that are owned by or otherwise have ties to the IRGC. Assuming this report is accurate, that shift alone may explain why the prospects for reaching an agreement seem to be improving.
Potential sticking points still include Iranian demands that the International Atomic Energy Agency drop its investigation into enriched uranium traces found at several undeclared Iranian sites and that the new deal protect Iran in some fashion should a future US president once again decide to withdraw, as Donald Trump did in 2018. The Biden administration has indicated it won’t budge on the former and can’t do anything on the latter, where “can’t” really means “won’t” because there are things the administration probably could do to ensure compensation for Iran in the event of Trump 2.0. It could create a compensation escrow fund and put the distribution in the hands of a third party, for example. It just doesn’t want to do anything like that.
The United Nations Security Council reimposed global travel bans on 13 Taliban-turned-Afghan officials on Friday when the council’s permanent members were unable to reach a compromise on the subject. All 13 were previously blacklisted by the council, but they were provisionally delisted when the Taliban regained power in Kabul so as to enable them to participate in negotiations on Afghanistan’s international status. That delisting had to be renewed by Friday.
The US government proposed letting the exemption expire for seven of these individuals while restricting the other six to travel between Afghanistan and Qatar, the new restrictions meant as punishment for the Taliban’s treatment of women. Russia and China proposed a 90 day renewal for all 13 officials with fewer geographic restrictions. They failed to reconcile these positions by the deadline. The US proposed a 90 day renewal for six of the officials without any geographic constraints, which Russia and China are reportedly considering.
Two Pakistani police officers were killed on Friday by a roadside bomb in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Given the location it’s likely an element of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) was responsible, though as far as I know there’s been no claim of responsibility. The main body of the Pakistani Taliban is currently engaged in peace talks with the Pakistani government, but the TTP has never been the most cohesive organization so there may still be parts of it that are continuing to engage in violence.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, because apparently now that Nancy Pelosi has been there Taipei has become the must-visit destination for striving US politicians. I have no idea what Holcomb is doing there and frankly it probably doesn’t matter, except insofar as his trip might generate another outburst from China. According to Taiwanese authorities the Chinese military is continuing to operate in close proximity to Taiwan’s air and maritime space, with four Chinese military aircraft crossing the Taiwan Strait median line on Saturday and another five on Sunday. So the tensions that Pelosi’s trip generated have lessened but they haven’t completely dissipated.
The Chadian junta’s long awaited (?) “national dialogue” began in N’Djamena on Saturday with a kickoff event featuring some 1400 attendees from various rebel groups, political parties, civil society organizations, and of course the junta itself. Junta leader Mahamat Déby has envisioned this dialogue as the start of a transition back to what I guess one might call “civilian rule,” though I suspect the military will retain the same conspicuous role in Chad’s governance that it held under Déby’s father, Idriss. As we’ve covered here previously, Chad’s strongest rebel group, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), is boycotting the event and presumably will also boycott whatever Déby is planning in terms of a transition.
After 30 hours, Somali security forces finally ended al-Shabab’s attack on the Hayat Hotel in Mogadishu, which began on Friday. At latest count officials had confirmed 21 people killed and 117 wounded in the attack, though there are indications those figures could be under counted. Authorities have identified four attackers, all killed during the operation, though there may have been more than that.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited Istanbul on Saturday to inspect the facility overseeing operations to export Ukrainian food products via the Black Sea. While there, Guterres raised the issue of Russian food exports, similarly impacted by the war, calling that “the other part of this package deal.” Guterres in particular raised the issue of fertilizer exports from both Russia and Ukraine, noting that “without fertilizer in 2022, there may not be enough food in 2023.”
Elsewhere, Darya Dugina, the daughter of Russian political polemicist Alexander Dugin, was killed near Moscow on Saturday by what appears to have been a car bomb. Dugin, who is either a deeply influential Vladimir Putin adviser or an impotent political gadfly (opinions vary) who advocates a new “Russian Empire,” may have been the intended victim. Dugina herself was a prominent political commentator but based on the reporting I’ve seen so far Dugin was supposed to be driving the car that exploded.
Russian media is unsurprisingly pointing a finger in Ukraine’s direction, an allegation Ukrainian officials are denying but that may serve as the justification for some sort of Russian escalation—there were already signs that Moscow might have been planning something like that before Dugina’s death. Former Russian politician Ilya Ponomarev, who now lives in Ukraine, has suggested that an underground Russian group called “the National Republican Army” killed her as part of an effort to topple Putin’s government. It’s unclear how killing Dugin, let alone his daughter, would have advanced that cause. The possibility that Putin ordered the bombing in order to vindicate whatever he’s planning (assuming he is in fact planning something) probably can’t be ruled out though I haven’t seen any serious analysis to that effect.
There was an apparent Ukrainian drone attack on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Saturday. There were no casualties in the incident but this is the latest in a string of Ukrainian drone strikes or attempted strikes on targets behind Russian lines. There is some speculation that the Ukrainians are using commercially-available Chinese drones, the Mugin-5, to carry out these operations. These drones are inexpensive and therefore disposable, and could be used for surveillance or (probably) modified to function as kamikaze weapons.
The Russian Defense Ministry accused Kyiv of poisoning Russian soldiers with botulinum toxin type B after a number of Russian soldiers apparently took ill in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region last month. Ukrainian officials have denied the allegation and are suggesting the Russians may have gotten sick from eating expired rations.
Albanian authorities arrested two Russian nationals and one Ukrainian national on Saturday for allegedly spying on a military facility in Gramsh, not far south of Tirana. Two of the facility’s guards were reportedly injured while making the arrest. On Sunday, police detained four Czech nationals for allegedly snooping around a military facility in the city of Poliçan but it seems they were later confirmed to be tourists. At this point there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for the Gramsh incident.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro on Saturday announced a series of measures meant to enable peace talks with the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN). According to a statement from Petro, he’s “allowing [ELN] negotiators to again reconnect with their organization, suspending arrest warrants for those negotiators, [and] suspending extradition orders for those negotiators in order to start a dialogue.” ELN and Colombian negotiators agreed in a meeting in Cuba earlier this month to restart the peace process that was begun under former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos but suspended by his successor, Iván Duque, in 2019.
Finally, the Quincy Institute’s Ben Freeman discusses a new push by the US Justice Department to encourage DC think tanks to register as foreign agents when applicable:
Late Friday the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Unit issued guidance indicating that think tanks and non-profits doing work at the behest of a foreign government likely have an obligation to register under FARA.
In a new Advisory Opinion — the FARA Unit’s public, though heavily redacted, responses when organizations ask if they should register or not — the Chief of the FARA Unit argues that the unnamed organization in question should register under FARA as its work for foreign principals included outreach to policymakers in the defense community, facilitating “meetings and new partnerships in the United States, particularly with U.S. government officials,” and has agreed to prepare a study that would “foster bilateral exchange and cooperation between” a foreign government and the United States.
As the Chief argues, each of these actions constitutes “political activity” under the FARA statute, defined as attempts to “influence any agency or official of the United States or any section of the public within the United States with reference to . . . the domestic or foreign policy of the United States.”
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