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World roundup: August 4 2022
Stories from Azerbaijan, Mali, Ukraine, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
August 3, 1940: An Italian army crosses from Italian East Africa into British Somaliland, beginning an invasion that will end with Italy’s annexation of the colony on August 19. Britain organized a counterattack, Operation Appearance, which began on March 16, 1941, and ended with the British recapture of Somaliland on April 8. Following World War II, Britain assumed control over Italian East Africa, and eventually the former British and Italian Somalilands gained independence and merged into Somalia. Nowadays the territory of British Somaliland, under the name Somaliland, considers itself independent of Somalia, though that claim is not recognized internationally.
August 3, 1960: Having expressed its intention to leave the neocolonial “French Community” the previous month, the government of Niger gains full independence. Annually commemorated as Nigerien Independence Day.
August 4, 1578: The Battle of Alcácer Quibir
August 4, 1791: The Treaty of Sistova ends the Austrian-Ottoman War of 1787-1791. This rather unremarkable treaty, ending a rather unremarkable war (the Ottomans lost a little territory, but that’s it), turned out to be quite remarkable in hindsight because it marked the end of the long (265 year) series of Ottoman-Habsburg conflicts. Austria’s attentions turned west, due to the French Revolution, and later turned to the rise of Prussia, while Russia became the Ottomans’ main adversary moving forward.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The lone power plant in Gaza may be forced to shut down within the next day due to lack of fuel, according to the facility’s manager. The fuel shortage has been caused by the Israeli military’s decision to lock down Gaza, not because of anything anyone in Gaza has done but rather because Israeli authorities are concerned about the possibility of blowback from their arrest of Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Bassem Saadi in the West Bank earlier this week. The lock down is preventing fuel from being trucked in to maintain operations at the plant. If the facility shuts down that will exacerbate power shortages in an enclave whose residents already only receive around 10 hours of electricity per day. Far from easing the lock down, the Israeli military is still deploying additional units to Gaza. Needless to say that doesn’t bode well for the possibility of Gaza getting more fuel.
Israeli media is reporting that Israeli officials may “postpone” drilling for energy deposits in the disputed Karish natural gas field off the coasts of Israel and Lebanon. This postponement would come in the wake of threats from Hezbollah to strike at Israeli ships exploiting the field and as the US government continues to try to broker an agreement between the two countries that would delineate their maritime border. As it stands now the Israelis are intending to start drilling in Karish next month.
Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on Thursday, with European Union envoy Enrique Mora shuttling between the Iranian delegation led by Ali Bagheri Kani and the US delegation led by Rob Malley. There’s not much indication that a breakthrough is imminent, but then this whole round is something of a surprise so maybe the outcome will be a surprise as well. There are conflicting reports regarding Iran’s demand that the US remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its Foreign Terrorist Organization list—if reports that the Iranians have dropped that demand are true it could lead to a breakthrough in the talks. I’m still unclear as to whether the other parties to the deal have sent their delegates to Vienna, though AFP is indicating that there is at least a Russian team there.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a call for “restraint” in the southern Caucasus on Thursday, one day after violent clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian/Karabakh forces around the Nagorno-Karabakh region left at least three people dead. Moscow’s statement appears to have come in response to comments from Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who earlier on Thursday questioned Russia’s commitment to its peacekeeping role in Karabakh.
At Responsible Statecraft, the Quincy Institute’s Anatol Lieven argues that Wednesday’s violence is the result of Azerbaijani forces testing that Russian commitment given that Moscow’s attention is focused on Ukraine. That is likely part of the picture. He further warns that the Georgian government might try to take advantage of the Ukraine war to move against Russian-backed separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Either of these scenarios has the potential to escalate into a bigger conflict so hopefully neither will get to that point.
The Afghan government says that it’s still investigating “the veracity of the claim” that a US drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul over the weekend. The Taliban seems genuinely unsure how to respond here and it seems like they’re playing coy about what happened to try to buy some time. Admitting that Zawahiri was in Kabul would mean admitting that the Taliban (or, more specifically, the Haqqani Network) was hosting him there, which could make the Taliban’s already uphill battle for international recognition even harder. It would also mean admitting that they were unable to protect him, which isn’t going to do much for their reputation in Islamist circles.
China’s response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit continued on Thursday via live fire military drills in the Taiwan Strait and other areas quite near Taiwan. These drills are scheduled to run through Sunday and, if Thursday was any indication, they’ll include multiple missile launches (including a few that land inside other countries’ waters, like the five that splashed down inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone on Thursday) and multiple Chinese aircraft and naval vessels skirting what Taiwan considers its own airspace and waters. Taiwan is also experiencing an “unprecedented,” as Reuters put it, spate of cyber attacks targeting everything from government operations to 7-11 outlets. It’s unclear whether these attacks are coming from official Chinese hacking operations or enthusiastic amateurs. These military drills in particular are going to remain a concern until they end, hopefully without any incidents more serious than a few missiles landing in Japanese waters.
Official results from Sunday’s Senegalese parliamentary election are in and it appears the collective opposition has done fairly well for itself. President Macky Sall’s coalition won just 82 seats in the 165 seat National Assembly, making it the largest bloc in the legislature but leaving it short of a majority. Sall’s coalition had held 125 seats heading into the election. The opposition emerged with a collective 80 seats while three seats are held by small parties. If any one of those parties opts to join Sall it would give him a bare majority, while if all three join the opposition bloc then it would have a collective one vote majority. It remains to be seen how that will shake out, but either way Sall may not have the votes he would need to amend the constitution and stick around past his constitutional two-term limit—assuming, of course, that he would like to do that.
Malian officials have increased the level of security in and around Bamako, as the al-Qaeda linked Jamaʿat Nusrat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin (JNIM) continues to threaten the Malian capital. Last month, for example, JNIM fighters attacked the Malian military base at Kati, which is only around 15 kilometers from Bamako. Alex Thurston has written about the possibility that JNIM might move on the capital and what could happen if it does. Given what seems to be a fairly dismal military situation in Mali, it’s prescient that Alex has got a new piece at The New Humanitarian considering the potential for dealing with groups like JNIM through negotiation:
The idea of public negotiations with Sahelian jihadists has received tentative but growing attention from major research NGOs. Yet there are many questions that remain unanswered.
Would jihadists, despite their occasional proclamations of openness to dialogue, meaningfully engage for something other than tactical gains? Would they renounce their ties to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and what would such a renunciation be worth?
Does the international environment – especially overt French hostility to dialogue with jihadists – constrain what is politically possible? And what do local populations – in conflict zones, areas facing encroaching attacks, and national capitals – really want?
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir announced on Thursday that the transitional government he currently heads will remain in power for at least another two years. Planned elections have been pushed back to December 20, 2024 under this new arrangement. Several terms of the 2018 agreement that outlined South Sudan’s peace process have not been implemented, including and most especially the integration of rebel fighters into the regular military. I’m not sure there’s much reason to expect those provisions to be in place by December 2024, either, but I suppose we’ll see.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
According to Reuters, a confidential United Nations expert report says that there is “strong evidence” supporting the claim that Rwandan soldiers have been aiding and even fighting with M23 militia fighters in the eastern DRC. That’s a charge that Congolese officials have been lobbing at Rwanda but which Rwandan officials (and the M23) have consistently denied. M23 began a major offensive in May that seems to have tapered off recently but there were a number of occasions during that offensive in which the Congolese military accused its Rwandan counterpart of involvement and even a couple of incidents of cross-border conflict. In their report, the UN experts claim to have photos and drone footage proving the presence of Rwandan soldiers in M23 camps and indications of materiel provided to the rebels by Rwanda.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned Norway’s ambassador in Moscow over “offensive Russophobic comments” made by the Norwegian consul in Murmansk. Video spread on Russian social media seems to show the consul saying “I hate Russians,” which to be fair could probably have been phrased more diplomatically. In response, the Norwegian government has shuttered its Murmansk consulate and apologized to Moscow.
A Russian court on Thursday sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison on drug charges. Griner was arrested in February, having apparently tried to enter Russia while in possession of cannabis-infused vape cartridges. The US government considers her to have been unlawfully arrested and there have been reports for several days now that the Biden administration is working to negotiate a prisoner swap in which she would be repatriated. It’s entirely possible that her conviction and sentencing will clear the way for that swap to go through.
Ukrainian officials acknowledged some Russian gains in the Donbas on Thursday, the first indication of Russian movement in that region in several days. Fighting seems particularly intense around a village called Pisky, in Donetsk oblast, where Ukrainian military units are dug in and claim to have driven back two Russian assaults. Russian shelling reportedly killed at least eight people in the town of Toretsk, also in Donetsk. The Russians may be hoping to pressure the Ukrainian military into diverting units from its offensive in Kherson oblast to counter the Russian offensive in Donetsk, which is interesting in that the Ukrainians have been hoping their Kherson offensive would force the Russians to divert units from Donetsk.
Elsewhere, a Turkish cargo ship, the Osprey S, has entered the Black Sea and is expected to dock at the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk to take on grain on Friday. This is significant because the Osprey S is the first commercial ship to approach Ukraine’s Black Sea coast since the Russian invasion began. There are still a number of cargo ships that have been blockaded in Ukrainian ports and some of those may begin setting sail on Friday. Speaking of cargo ships, the the Syrian-flagged Laodicea has departed the Lebanese port at Tripoli despite calls for its seizure by Ukrainian officials. They’ve been claiming that the ship is carrying stolen grain products, but a Lebanese court cleared its departure on Wednesday.
Amnesty International released a new report on Thursday accusing the Ukrainian military of “launching strikes from within populated residential areas, as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages” between April and July. These deployments can draw Russian attacks upon those same residential areas and are at least arguably violations of international law. Amnesty alleges that the Ukrainians have bypassed “viable alternatives” in the form of military bases or otherwise unpopulated areas in placing forces in residential zones. Unsurprisingly this report drew sharp criticism from Kyiv, which now apparently believes that Amnesty is Vladimir Putin’s handmaid, or something like that.
US prosecutors are asking the Argentine government to impound and transfer to US possession a Venezuelan cargo jet that’s been grounded since early June at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport. The aircraft in question is now owned by Venezuela’s Emtrasur cargo firm, but the US Justice Department says that it was gifted to Venezuela by Iran’s Mahan Air firm. Mahan is suspected of facilitating Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps activity throughout the Middle East (and beyond), and it’s been sanctioned by the United States. Washington regards its transfer to Venezuela as a violation of US sanctions and is trying to claim possession on that basis. The Argentine government is also detaining seven members of the plane’s 19 member crew—including its pilot, Iranian national Gholamreza Ghasemi. They’re apparently under investigation for alleged ties to Hezbollah.
Finally, in light of Speaker Pelosi’s excursion to Taiwan, Responsible Statecraft’s Ben Freeman examines the growing strength of the “Taiwan lobby”:
More recently, Taiwan’s lobbyists have continued to promote closer ties with the United States. Throughout 2022, they have been lobbying to get the Biden administration to add Taiwan to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, including collecting signatures for a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Congressional Taiwan Caucus. Taiwan’s agents also hyped a March 2022 trip of U.S. officials purportedly “sent by President Biden” to Taiwan.
The size of the Taiwan lobby has grown in recent years, from seven FARA registrants in 2020 to twelve today, and Taiwan has spent just over $25 million since 2016 on these firms, according to the OpenSecrets website. While that might seem like a lot, it pales in comparison to Taiwan’s neighbors in the Asia Pacific region – Japan and South Korea, each spent more than $200 million, and China spent a whopping $276 million on FARA registrants during the same time period.
But, FARA registrants are just one part of the equation, as Taiwan’s influence in D.C. is also aided by close ties, and financial support, for a number of Washington think tanks. As Eli Clifton previously documented for Responsible Statecraft, many of the nation’s top think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, and the Hudson Institute have all received funding from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the United States. These same think tanks often push for expanded arms sales and trade agreements with Taiwan “without widely disclosing their high-level funding from TECRO,” according to Clifton.
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