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World roundup: August 23 2022
Stories from Japan, Mozambique, Ukraine, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 22, 1864: An international convention held in Geneva produces a treaty outlining humane “rules” of war, including provisions for the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers. That treaty would subsequently be amended and expanded four times and is the basis of the First Geneva Convention, which was adopted along with the other three Geneva Conventions in 1949.
August 23, 1595: An outnumbered Wallachian army under Prince Michael “the Brave” defeats an Ottoman army under Grand Vizier Koca Sinan Pasha at the Battle of Călugăreni, today located in southern Romania. Michael had to retreat afterward due to the Ottomans’ decisive advantage in numbers, but the victory became an important symbolic event in Romanian national history. This battle was part of the 1593-1606 Long War between the Ottomans and Habsburgs, which ended inconclusively but did stabilize the Ottoman-Habsburg frontier for several decades.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Iranian state media is reporting that an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general, Abolfazl Alijani, was “martyred” in Syria over the weekend. As far as I know Tehran hasn’t released any details regarding the circumstances of Alijani’s death.
One of the largest factions in Yemen’s nominally pro-government coalition, the UAE-supported Southern Transitional Council, announced on Tuesday that it has begun a new operation against “terrorist organizations” in southern Yemen’s Abyan province. The announcement mentioned al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has been fairly active in Abyan attacking coalition forces in recent months. However, given the Giants Brigades’ recent military activity in Shabwah province it would seem that UAE-backed factions are largely operating independent of, and sometimes in opposition to, other groups within the coalition. The head of Yemen’s presidential council, Rashad al-Alimi, has ordered the STC to cease and desist pending the implementation of a 2019 deal that was supposed to redeploy coalition forces throughout government-held parts of Yemen. It’s unclear whether the STC intends to obey.
Supporters of Iraqi political grandee Muqtada al-Sadr expanded their Iraqi parliament building sit-in to include the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council building in Baghdad on Tuesday. The council temporarily suspended its business, but Sadr ordered the protesters to break up the demonstration later in the day and it sounds like it will resume normal functioning on Wednesday. He demanded earlier this month that the council dissolve parliament and force a new election, but the council has insisted that it does not have the authority to take an action like that. It’s unclear how protesting at the council building was going to change that, but the sit-in reinforced the point that Sadr and his followers can disrupt government functions basically at will.
Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud suggested in an interview with Bloomberg on Monday that the OPEC+ alliance would be prepared to cut global oil production in order to keep prices at a suitably high level. Presumably this is not a message that the Biden administration, which is terrified about the political impact of high gasoline prices, wants to hear, and indeed the minister’s comments sent Brent crude prices into the $100 per barrel level on Tuesday. But OPEC+ members are worried about the potential for a significant global recession that cuts oil demand, and they seem prepared to respond with production cuts.
Another factor, I suspect, is that the Saudis in particular are preparing for a successful conclusion to talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. That could mean an increase in Iranian oil exports—though how big an increase and how quickly it could manifest are open questions. For the Saudis to cut oil production in response to a nuclear agreement would be risky, but they might view it as a risk worth taking if it keeps oil prices high (and maybe irks Washington a little).
A small protest in Bangkok on Tuesday marked what opponents of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha argue should be the end of his eight year term in office. It has, in fact, been eight years since Prayut became PM after the Thai military seized power in a 2014 coup, and legally PMs are limited to an eight year term. Case closed, especially if you’d like to see Prayut get on with his life’s work. But Prayut’s supporters argue that, since the term limit was established under the 2017 Thai constitution, his eight year countdown should legally have started in 2017, not 2014. Real Prayut heads argue that his legal term didn’t really begin until after Thailand’s 2019 election, the first under the new charter.
The Thai Constitutional Court is now considering a petition that would remove Prayut from office and there are expectations it will announce on Wednesday whether it will take the case. Even if it does, the chances of the court ultimately ruling against Prayut seem slim at best.
In a turn of events I have to confess I did not see coming, it would appear that the Japanese public has decided that former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s assassin may have had a point. This is not to say that they approve of the assassination, but having heard the assassin’s justification—which concerned the Liberal Democratic Party’s association with the South Korea-based Unification Church—they seem to agree that the LDP has some explaining to do. Consequently, current PM Kishida Fumio’s approval rating has gone from 52 percent to 36 percent since mid-July, according to a new survey by Mainichi Shimbun. Furthermore, 53 percent said they do not want Abe to receive a state funeral and a whopping 87 percent said they were troubled to some degree by the LDP’s links to the church. Kishida, who does not personally seem to have any apparent ties to the church, has reportedly been leaning on other senior LDP officials to sever their ties.
There are new concerns that Burkina Faso’s ongoing struggle with jihadist violence could spark ethnic violence against the country’s Fulani community. Social media messages have reportedly been encouraging attacks against Fulani, and they’ve gotten serious (and frequent) enough to draw a condemnation from Burkinabé authorities last week. The predominantly Muslim Fulani community has faced undeserved backlash for jihadist violence in other West African countries as well, backlash that has at times involved violence. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of sorts, in which the backlash alienates a small number of Fulani enough to make them susceptible to jihadist recruitment tactics, which in turn leads to more backlash against the broader Fulani people.
The Togolese military is claiming that its forces defeated a “terrorist” attack near the Burkinabé border on Monday. Details are spotty but officials say that “several” Togolese soldiers were wounded in the incident. The attackers reportedly fled back across the border into Burkina Faso. Jihadist activity has been spreading south out of the Sahel into Gulf of Guinea littoral countries like Togo and Benin for some time now, though so far only sporadically and mostly confined to northern border regions.
Some 80,000 people are believed to have been displaced so far amid what the AP is calling a “new offensive” by jihadist militants in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. Said offensive began in June and has reportedly expanded to parts of the province that had previously been untouched by jihadist violence. Prior to June an influx of forces from Rwanda and from the Southern African Development Community had seemingly enabled the Mozambican government to get a handle on the violence and secure at least the major cities in Cabo Delgado, but according to the AP a new “hit-and-run” approach by the militants has left security forces scrambling to adjust.
A Russian ammunition storage facility reportedly caught fire in Belgorod oblast on Tuesday. There are no reports of casualties. This is the second time something like this has happened in Belgorod in just the past several days, possibly even at the same facility although that’s unclear. Authorities are blaming hot summer weather for igniting the ammunition but under the circumstances I think it’s reasonable to question whether this was the result of some sort of Ukrainian operation.
Elsewhere, the Canadian government on Tuesday added 62 Russian individuals and one entity to its Ukraine war blacklist. Hopefully none of them were planning a trip to see the Paddlewheel Graveyard in Dawson City.
If tensions over the safety of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant weren’t already high enough, the deaths of one of the facility’s workers and his driver in a mortar strike on Tuesday are likely to take them still higher. The attack doesn’t seem to have targeted the plant but it may have been too close for comfort. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on the plant on Tuesday, because that always helps fix things. Apparently everyone is agreed in theory on the need to send an International Atomic Energy Agency inspection team to the plant to do a safety check, but for some funny reason they can’t seem to turn that agreement in theory into an agreement in practice.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned again on Tuesday of the potential for what he termed “brutal” Russian attacks to coincide with Wednesday’s Ukrainian Independence Day commemoration, which also happens to mark six months since the start of the Russian invasion. The US embassy in Kyiv advised Americans in Ukraine to leave the country “now” to avoid whatever it is that may be about to happen. Speaking of the US government, it’s reportedly planning to mark Ukrainian Independence Day with the announcement of a whopping $3 billion in new military aid to Kyiv. There’s no information as to what’s in that package, but according to Reuters it won’t include any weapons systems the US hasn’t already provided. This tranche of arms isn’t going to come from US stockpiles but will instead be purchased from arms manufacturers on Ukraine’s behalf. Consequently it could take some time for the new arms to actually get to Ukraine.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro said via Twitter on Monday that his government “guarantees the right to asylum and refuge.” He made this statement in response to comments from Diosdado Cabello, the vice president of Venezuela’s ruling United Socialist Party, suggesting that Caracas was planning to request the extradition of a number of Venezuelan opposition leaders who have fled to Colombia now that Venezuelan-Colombian relations appear to be on friendly terms again. Petro’s comments are fairly vague but this could be something to watch moving forward.
Finally, Responsible Statecraft’s Tim Shorrock notes a bit of a double standard in US media coverage when it comes to happenings on the Korean peninsula:
In America these days, almost any information about North Korea, be it rumor, fake news, or just plain silly, becomes fodder for the mainstream media. From TMZ to The Guardian, reporters know there is an insatiable appetite for anything that puts Kim and his regime in a bad or crazy light.
But when it comes to South Korea, which hosts 28,500 American ground troops and the Pentagon’s largest military base outside of North America, U.S. media coverage is, shall we say, highly selective. That was made resoundingly clear on August 14, when Seoul was the scene for the largest public demonstration in decades against the U.S. military presence in South Korea.
Amazingly, not a word about the protest appeared in the U.S. media.
We don’t get a lot of opportunity to talk about the often egregious ways that US media outlets cover (or don’t) US foreign policy. But suffice to say the behaviors Shorrock identifies here aren’t limited to coverage of North and South Korea.
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