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World roundup: December 6 2022
Stories from the United Arab Emirates, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
December 5, 1757: At the Battle of Leuthen, Prussian King Frederick II (“the Great”) wins one of the most impressive victories of his storied military career, using a diversionary attack and a sophisticated oblique maneuver to rout an Austrian army under Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine that was twice the size of his force. Fully a third of the 66,000 man Austrian army was killed, wounded, or captured. Frederick’s victory enabled him to move on to besiege the city of Breslau (Wrocław) in mid-December. Breslau’s fall left Prussia largely in control of Silesia and all but ensured its victory in the Third Silesian War, one of the many conflicts within the larger Seven Years’ War.
December 5, 1941: The Red Army under Georgy Zhukov begins a major counteroffensive against the Nazi Wehrmacht in the Battle of Moscow. The combination of the Soviet military and a brutally cold Russian winter crippled the German forces, and the offensive ended on January 7, 1942 with the exhausted Red Army having driven the Nazi line back some 150 miles from the Soviet capital.
December 6, 1240: The Mongols sack Kyiv
December 6, 1904: In his State of the Union message to Congress, US President Teddy Roosevelt issues his “corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine. The Roosevelt Corollary took the mostly defensive (at least in principle) Monroe Doctrine, which warned against European intervention in the Western Hemisphere, and made it offensive, stipulating that while European nations should butt out, the United States was entitled “to the exercise of an international police power” in the Americas. This remained US policy until Franklin Roosevelt introduced his “Good Neighbor Policy,” and then once that brief interlude was over the Corollary became the basis of US policy toward Latin America during much of the Cold War.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Syrian government plans to close public agencies on December 11 and December 18 in an effort to conserve its strained fuel reserves. Syria has been hit by severe fuel shortages in recent weeks, forcing public transit shutdowns and helping to spark Sunday’s violent protest in Suwayda province. Iran is sending 3 million barrels of oil to Syria per month but domestic oil production is limited because the US and its proxies are still squatting on most of Syria’s oilfields and sanctions make it difficult for the country to import fuel legally.
Al Jazeera has formally petitioned the International Criminal Court to investigate the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. The veteran correspondent was killed in the West Bank city of Jenin back in May, almost certainly by Israeli security forces. Several independent investigations have concluded as such and have further suggested that her killing may have been deliberate. An investigation by the Israeli military found that Abu Akleh was probably shot by Israeli forces but only accidentally, so the Israelis have refused to open a criminal investigation. The US government is also investigating the incident, since Abu Akleh was a US citizen, but the Israeli government has refused to cooperate. If the Israelis won’t cooperate with a US investigation there is no chance they’ll agree to do so with the ICC.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The Quincy Institute’s Ben Freeman has published a new brief outlining the UAE’s extensive lobbying network in the United States:
Based on an exhaustive analysis of all Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) documents filed by organizations registered to work on behalf of UAE clients in 2020 and 2021, this brief offers a number of key findings regarding legal lobbying activities of the UAE in the United States, including the following:
In 2020 and 2021, 25 organizations were registered under FARA to work on behalf of Emirati clients;
Those organizations reported making 10,765 contacts on behalf of their Emirati clients;
Emirati clients paid over $64 million to firms representing them;
These firms and their registered foreign agents reported making over $1.65 million in political contributions, with more than half a million dollars going to members of Congress these firms contacted on behalf of their Emirati clients;
The UAE’s lobbying efforts, including leveraging the Abraham Accords, was aimed at garnering contracts for tens of billions of dollars in advanced military materiel, including F–35s. These efforts had mixed success. The Emirati Lobby’s push for greater U.S.–UAE military ties found some success in the Biden administration’s pledge of a formal security pact with the UAE. These lobbying efforts could lead to outcomes not in the interests of the United States.
A US district court judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. There was really no other possible outcome here, after the Biden administration recommended last month that MBS should enjoy sovereign immunity due to his recent (and probably not coincidental) appointment as Saudi prime minister.
A bombing in northern Afghanistan’s Balkh province killed at least seven people on Tuesday. The attack targeted a bus carrying oil workers and left another six people wounded. Elsewhere, at least six people were wounded in an explosion in the city of Jalalabad. As far as I know there’s been no claim of responsibility in the Balkh incident, and the cause of the Jalalabad explosion has yet to be determined.
At least three rail workers were killed and four more wounded on Tuesday when a bomb went off at Thailand’s Khlong Ngae train station, near the country’s border with Malaysia. They were repairing a portion of track that had been damaged in an attack over the weekend. Much of southern Thailand is in the grips of a low level and fairly sporadic rebellion by that region’s ethnic Malay population, which occasionally manifests in incidents like this.
Despite the bitterly cold weather, thousands of people turned out in Ulaanbaatar for a second straight day on Monday to protest over high inflation and allegations of significant corruption. Several high ranking officials, including the head of Mongolia’s state-owned coal mining company, are apparently under investigation for embezzlement, having potentially made off with billions of dollars. Some number of legislators are also alleged to have profited from corrupt coal dealings. The protests turned violent at one point, as demonstrators tried to break into government offices, but I haven’t seen any indication of casualties.
The North Korean military has for two days running fired multiple artillery rounds into the maritime buffer zone separating Pyongyang’s territorial waters from South Korea’s. The shelling is in response to an ongoing US-South Korean artillery exercise taking place on land, near the Demilitarized Zone.
The Biden administration on Tuesday hosted Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong for the 32nd annual “Australia-US Ministerial” (AUSMIN) conference. The highlight seems to have been US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s announcement that the Pentagon will “increase rotations of air, land and sea forces … to Australia.” He didn’t go into detail but he did extend an invitation for the Japanese military-er, it’s “self-defense forces” to “integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia.” Any stepped up US military presence in Australia is obviously about China, though the parties never come right out and say that because the first rule of New Cold War is you don’t talk about New Cold War.
Unknown gunmen attacked a village in northern Nigeria’s Sokoto state on Monday, killing at least six people including four police officers. Police may have been targeted in retaliation for an incident last week in which they ran off an attempted bandit raid in a nearby district, killing an unspecified number of attackers.
The capital of Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray region, Mekelle, was reconnected to Ethiopia’s power grid on Tuesday for the first time in over a year, according to the Ethiopian state power company. Restoring power and communications to Tigray is one of the stipulations of the peace deal the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front signed last month. Parts of that agreement are fraying a bit, chiefly with respect to the TPLF’s disarmament and the presence of Eritrean and Amharan military forces in Tigray, but the deal as a whole still appears to be holding steady.
Somali security forces and local militias were reportedly able to liberate the town of Adan Yabal in the Middle Shabelle region from al-Shabab on Monday. National and local forces have been engaged in a months-long campaign to drive al-Shabab out of parts of Hirshabelle state in which they claim they’ve killed over 700 militants. Adan Yabal was by some accounts a major al-Shabab base and yet according to the Somalis they were able to take it without a fight, which could suggest that the jihadists are reeling a bit.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The M23 militia issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it is “ready to start disengagement and withdraw” from territories it’s occupied since resuming its insurgency in earnest back in March. The group’s spokesperson, Lawrence Kanyuka, expressed interest in “direct dialogue with the DRC Government in order to find a lasting solution to the root causes of the conflict.” There’s been no response from Congolese officials, who are already engaged in talks with a wide array of armed factions under the mediation of the East African Community bloc. M23 has not been involved in that process but nevertheless seems to have curtailed its advance toward Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, amid threats of an EAC military intervention. Most recently Congolese officials accused M23 of killing at least 272 civilians in the town of Kishishe last week, an allegation the militia denies.
A Sudanese businessman named Hazim Mustafa has come forward to potentially clear up one of the central questions surrounding South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s alleged attempt to cover up a 2020 robbery at his farmhouse. Among other things it’s believed the robbers made off with cash, hidden in a sofa, in an amount somewhere between $500,000 and $5 million. One possible implication of that detail is that Ramaphosa is engaged in some sort of corruption and tried to cover up the robbery for that reason. Ramaphosa has maintained that the cash came from a legal cattle sale, and now Mustafa is saying that he indeed paid Ramaphosa around $580,000 for cattle. Ramaphosa apparently has a receipt that may corroborate Mustafa’s story, assuming it’s legitimate.
A panel suggested last week that Ramaphosa should face impeachment over the coverup allegation, but the African National Congress decided over the weekend to stand behind him which lessens the chances of an impeachment vote in parliament. This new revelation could further bolster Ramaphosa’s position heading into the ANC’s leadership election later this month.
The new European Union/G7 Russian oil price cap took effect on Monday and at least one impact is already visible in the line of tankers that are now stuck in Turkish waters while authorities try to determine whether or not they’re properly insured. Turkey of course controls access between the Mediterranean and Black seas and it does not allow ships to transit the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits without proof of insurance. The issue of insurance takes on new relevance under the cap, as any company that insures a Russian oil shipment priced above the $60 limit could find itself facing legal repercussions. Global oil prices were up slightly on Tuesday as the cap raised the possibility that Russia could cut back its oil exports and as analysts believe the Chinese government’s relaxation of its “Zero-COVID” policy could increase oil demand.
For a second straight day, an apparent Ukrainian drone strike targeted an airfield well inside of Russia on Tuesday. This time the target was a facility in Russia’s Kursk oblast, part of which caught fire after the strike hit an oil storage tank. There do not appear to have been any casualties but the past two days have revealed a somewhat shocking weakness in Russian air defenses that already appears to be generating criticism from within Russia’s pro-war commentator community. As far as anyone can tell the Ukrainians are carrying out these long-range attacks with Soviet-era reconnaissance drones that have been refitted with warheads to turn them into missiles—very old, very slow, very noticeable missiles that can’t really be maneuvered to try to hide from air defense systems or dodge antiaircraft fire. There’s no obvious reason why the Russian military isn’t shooting these things down.
The Ukrainians and Russians concluded another prisoner swap on Tuesday, this time with 60 POWs being released on each side.
The Hungarian government vetoed the EU’s proposed €18 billion Ukraine aid package on Tuesday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has tried to offer a principled rationale for blocking this aid, arguing that EU member states should negotiate individual, bilateral aid deals with Kyiv rather than the EU doing so as a unit. But there’s a strong likelihood that he’s holding this aid package hostage as a way to force the EU to release the billions of euros in Hungarian aid that it’s frozen over corruption allegations. It sounds like the other 26 EU members may try to move forward on the aid package without Hungary, but they’ll have to do it under some other legal mechanism and that could take some time to cobble together.
An Argentine court on Tuesday convicted Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on embezzlement charges dating back to her 2007-2015 stint as president. She’s been sentenced to six years in prison as a result. Fernández de Kirchner can appeal the verdict and she does enjoy legal immunity as long as she’s holding public office, though following the ruling she said via social media that she will not run for any office in next year’s election. Her supporters poured into the streets of Buenos Aires following the verdict’s announcement. They’ve been warning of unrest should the court rule against her, so this could just be the start of something bigger.
At least six Colombian soldiers were killed in a clash with dissident ex-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters in Colombia’s Cauca state, according to a statement from the Colombian Army on Tuesday. It’s unclear which ex-FARC faction was involved or whether it was the same one that killed three Colombian soldiers over the weekend in the same region. Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s government has engaged in preliminary talks with a couple of the largest ex-FARC factions as part of his overall effort to end Colombia’s many armed insurgencies, but he stressed on Tuesday that “military action” will continue against any militant or criminal group that doesn’t demonstrate a “will to negotiate.”
Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and his Dominica Labour Party are expected to retain control of the House of Assembly in the wake of a snap election on Tuesday. The opposition United Workers Party and Dominica Freedom Party boycotted the vote to push their demand for electoral reforms, leaving DLP candidates running unopposed in several districts.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness imposed a state of emergency on Tuesday in response to high levels of gang violence that have contributed to Jamaica’s very high murder rate. Jamaican authorities have recorded 1421 murders so far this year in a population of around 2.8 million people. By comparison, Jamaica saw 1375 murders all of last year and the city of Chicago, which is roughly equivalent in population and is routinely characterized as a massive open air shooting gallery in US media, has recorded 643 murders so far this year. The state of emergency covers several parts of Kingston and six of the country’s 14 parishes. Past Jamaican states of emergency have drawn heavy criticism from human rights activists and there are fears that authorities will once again abuse the emergency powers they’ve now been granted.
First of all, if you haven’t checked out Michael Brenes’s introduction from Monday, please do so. I’m very excited to bring Michael on board as FX’s newest correspondent and look forward to his contributions, the first of which should be dropping fairly soon.
Finally, Chinese President Xi Jinping is heading to Saudi Arabia in a visit that should demonstrate Beijing’s increasing importance in the geopolitics of the Middle East. His visit, as Spencer Ackerman notes at his Forever Wars newsletter, has prompted a somewhat petulant reaction from US officials that reveals a bit about how Washington views international relations in the New Cold War:
IN ESSENCE, the U.S. is taking a walled garden approach to regional security. Within the logic of Great Power Competition (which I, personally, do not subscribe to), it's an advantageous strategy that leverages the major military advantage the United States currently enjoys: its unrivaled network of alliances, measured in bases, ports and intelligence access, around the world. Kahl defined the U.S. posture in its Great-Power-Competition era as a "coalition of coalitions," something that both suits Biden's longstanding multilateralism and maneuvers competition onto terrain where China, currently, is woefully outmatched.
That locks U.S. military clients into long-term security arrangements, boxing out China as Beijing seeks to project power commensurate with its global economic strength. Kahl pitched all that as a virtue. China, to say nothing of Russia, seeks "transactional" relationships, while the U.S. is trying to put a ring on it. "Turning to Beijing or Moscow for help with Tehran is a fool's errand, they're allied with Iran. … It's less likely to work with Russia now than at any time in the past," Kahl noted, referencing Russia's newfound reliance on Iranian drones as its military shits the bed in Ukraine.
But questioners pressed Kahl and McGurk on the implications of this coalition-of-coalitions walled-garden security arrangement. Can you be neutral? Can a Gulf country (or Israel) opt out of Great Power Competition? Will the U.S. view any given country's ties with China, or Russia, as signs that it's opting out of what America calls its "rules-based international order"?
The Biden administration seems to be bracketing its security relationships with countries in the region—feel free to engage with China economically, it’s saying, but when it comes to military matters, including arms sales, you belong to us. But as Spencer notes, there are many points at which these spheres overlap with one another, and so far the US does not seem inclined to be flexible on those points.
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