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World roundup: July 5 2022
Stories from Turkey, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and more
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Bearing in mind that I’m on I think day 5 of COVID, let’s see how this goes.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
July 4, 1187: The Battle of Hattin
July 4, 1776: The “Declaration of Independence” is published in Britain’s North American colonies. Commemorated annually as Independence Day in the United States.
July 5, 1811: Venezuelan Independence Day, marking the adoption of Venezuela’s Declaration of Independence in a congress of colonial provinces.
July 5, 1960: Several Force Publique military units mutiny against their Belgian officers in the Republic of the Congo-Léopoldville (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo), sparking what has come to be known as the “Congo Crisis.” The Belgian military sent soldiers into Congo-Léopoldville and several parts of the country rebelled. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union for assistance, but army chief of staff Mobutu Sese Seko ousted Lumumba in a coup in September and the country began to break apart. The Crisis ended in November 1965, after most of the rebellions had been suppressed and Mobutu, with US support, had ousted President Joseph Kasa-Vubu in a second coup and assumed absolute power.
July 5, 1962: Algeria declares its official independence from France, a few months after the close of the Algerian War. Independence Day in Algeria.
July 5, 1977: Pakistan’s civilian government, under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, is overthrown in a military coup led by General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia ruled Pakistan as president/dictator until he died in 1988.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The French Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that it’s repatriated some 51 French nationals from Syrian camps holding the wives and children of suspected Islamic State fighters. Of that group, 35 are children who were taken into state custody and 16 are women who were turned over to legal authorities. There are still hundreds of French nationals in those camps and you can multiply that figure across several Western countries, but despite a serious and often dangerous overcrowding problem in the camps the repatriation process is incredibly slow. Western governments simply don’t want to bring these people home for fear that they’re security threats or will be perceived as such by the public at large.
At least three people were killed and 18 more wounded on Tuesday in an explosion at an arms depot in southern Yemen’s Abyan province. There’s no clear indication as to what caused the explosion and given the site it could easily have been accidental, but given that we’re talking about Yemen it also easily could have been intentional.
If you’re anything like me then you’ll no doubt be absolutely thrilled to learn that, while I was away, the leaders of Finland, Sweden, and Turkey reached an agreement under which the Turks agreed to drop their hold on the other two countries’ NATO applications. Huzzah! Go, uh, NATO! Woo…hoo? This was probably inevitable, given the intense desire within NATO to add these two new members while the Ukraine war is still driving public opinion in those states toward NATO membership. Turkey’s goal in blocking their membership bids was to extract concessions, not to thwart their applications altogether and generate bad will in Brussels.
So what concessions did Turkey extract, you ask? There were some vague ones, including promises that Finland and Sweden would support Turkey in national security-related areas and would not “provide support” to groups Ankara regards as terrorist organizations. Less vaguely, both prospective NATO members agreed to drop any embargoes on the sale of arms to Turkey. And according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Sweden agreed to extradite dozens of “terrorists” to Turkey, though the agreement doesn’t appear to specify any number of extraditions or even that there will necessarily be any extraditions at all (more on this below). Turkey appears to have gotten an unwritten concession from the US, as just a day later the Biden administration announced its support for a hitherto stalled sale of new F-16s and kits for modernizing Turkey’s existing F-16 fleet.
On top of any concessions, Erdoğan has now gotten to show that he’s Tough on NATO for the benefit of nationalist-minded voters heading into next year’s general election. And it’s important to note that Erdoğan only agreed to allow the Swedish and Finnish membership applications to move forward—Turkey can still block their final accessions, which means Erdoğan has another opportunity to play hardball should he feel the urge (like over the extradition question).
The US State Department has determined that Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was “likely” killed by Israeli soldiers, rather than Palestinian militants, back in May. Its determination is substantially less decisive than those reached by several major US media outlets, including The New York Times and CNN, who also investigated the shooting and determined not only that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh, but that said fire may have been intentional. The State Department’s statement insisted that the shooting was unintentional, which is a strangely definitive conclusion given that the department isn’t 100 percent certain who shot her. I feel like it’s worth stressing here that Abu Akleh was Palestinian-American, as in she had US citizenship. I can’t imagine the US government absolving any other nation of responsibility for killing a US citizen this sweepingly, but what do I know?
Anyone who’s anxious for more bad news regarding the Iran nuclear deal will be pleased to learn that a new round of talks on reviving that accord held in Doha last week went absolutely nowhere and may have actually set the process back. It’s hard to know exactly what went wrong, particularly when the most detailed accounts of the session are coming from US officials who are incentivized to point the finger at Iran for any negotiating failures. It does sound like the Iranians are back to insisting on a guarantee that the US will not withdraw from the agreement again, a demand that is perfectly reasonable from the Iranian perspective but politically impossible from the US perspective.
In the latest sign that their normalization talks are going well, the Turkish and Armenian governments announced last week that they will partially open their shared border and begin direct cargo flights between their countries. I say “partially open” because this agreement only applies to “third country” nationals trying to pass from Armenia to Turkey or vice versa. Cross-border travel for Turkish and Armenian nationals will have to wait for further negotiations.
Uzbek officials are saying that somebody fired five artillery shells into the southern Uzbek city of Termez on Tuesday, but none of the shells exploded and they only caused some damage to a number of houses. Termez is near the Afghan border so Uzbek authorities say they’re communicating with Afghan authorities to try to determine if the shells came from Afghanistan. Islamic State Khorasan Province has made claims about firing into Uzbekistan in the past but doesn’t appear to have claimed this incident as yet.
Major protests broke out on Friday in the Uzbek city of Nukus, capital of the autonomous Karakalpakstan region, over a controversial proposed change to the Uzbek constitution. Those protests turned violent and lasted into Saturday, leaving at least 18 people dead and hundreds injured and/or arrested. Uzbekistan’s current constitution, adopted in 1992, includes several measures intended to preserve the region’s autonomy, including a clause allowing it to secede from Uzbekistan should its population opt to do so in a referendum. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is proposing to change the constitution, probably to extend his own presidential term, and in the new constitution he promulgated last month those autonomy measures were substantially weakened or removed altogether. That’s what sparked the protest.
In the wake of the unrest, Mirziyoyev has apparently reversed course and decided to leave those measures in the new charter. Details on what caused the apparently peaceful protest on Friday to turn violent are unclear—Uzbek authorities are blaming “criminal” elements in Karakalpakstan, perhaps aided by unspecified foreign instigators. But they’re also blocking the region’s internet service in an effort to suppress any sort of counter-narrative.
At least seven Philippine soldiers were wounded on Tuesday by a landmine placed in Northern Samar province, probably by New People’s Army rebels. If true that would be the first attack carried out by the NPA, the militant arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, under newly inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Philippine forces are reportedly searching for the insurgents who planted the mine.
In what could be a significant development in Sudan’s political transition, junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan declared on Monday that the Sudanese military “will not stand in the way” of democratic governance and will in fact step back and allow a civilian government to manage the process. According to Burhan the junta’s “sovereign council” will dissolve upon the appointment of this hypothetical government, to be replaced by something called the “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” that would work with the government—crucially there’s nothing in Burhan’s remarks that suggests it would take orders from the government—on matters related to security. As I say this could be a significant development. It could also be empty rhetoric, which seems to be how the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change group is regarding it. Supporting the FFC’s interpretation, Sudanese security forces attacked a group of anti-junta protesters in Khartoum shortly after Burhan’s speech on Monday, wounding at least 11 of them.
Protests that began in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk on Friday have spread to cities across the country, prompting United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to express “concern” over the situation and call on protesters and security forces to restrain themselves. It would seem that a growing number of Libyans are fed up with political infighting and dysfunction, though I can’t imagine why. Libya’s Presidential Council, based in Tripoli, announced on Tuesday that it has devised a solution to the current political impasse, which has seen two people claim the office of prime minister, though it doesn’t appear to have revealed what that solution is other than that it would lead at some point to a national election.
Tunisian President Kais Saied revealed late Thursday the new draft constitution he aims to put to a national referendum later this month. Unsurprisingly, it would shift substantial authority away from the Tunisian parliament, which Saied suspended last July and later dissolved, and to the Tunisian presidency. The charter was quickly criticized by Sadok Belaid, the man Saied had appointed to head the constitution drafting committee. Belaid claimed over the weekend that the published charter is not what the committee drafted and warned that it would create “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.” The referendum will be held on July 25 and will, if nothing else, reveal how much public support Saied still has.
At least two UN peacekeepers were killed and five wounded on Tuesday when their vehicle ran over a landmine along the important Tessalit-Gao road in northern Mali. All of the victims were Egyptian. There’s no indication as to responsibility.
Unspecified militants reportedly killed at least 22 civilians in northern Burkina Faso’s Boucle du Mouhoun region in an attack that began late Sunday and continued into Monday morning. There’s no indication as to responsibility, but the attack took place close enough to the Malian border to speculate that the attackers may have originated in Mali.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with Sudanese junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on the sidelines of an Intergovernmental Authority on Development meeting in Nairobi on Tuesday, and the two men apparently agreed to find a peaceful resolution to their countries’ ongoing border crisis. That crisis, focused primarily on the disputed al-Fashaqa territory, has been escalating of late amid allegations that Ethiopian soldiers killed seven Sudanese soldiers and a civilian late last month. Ethiopian officials have insisted that the killings were carried out by a militia (without specifying any militia in particular).
Elsewhere, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is reporting a massacre of Amhara civilians in two villages in Ethiopia’s Oromia region on Monday. Details are very sketchy—it’s not yet clear how many people were killed, for example—but Ethiopian officials are blaming the rebel Oromo Liberation Army for the atrocity. The OLA is rejecting the accusation, blaming instead some unspecified “government-allied militias.” The OLA has a history of (allegedly) carrying out attacks on ethnic Amhara communities in Oromia.
In news from Russia:
The Russian government officially defaulted on a $100 million debt payment on last week, the result of Western sanctions blocking Russian access to a large chunk of its foreign currency reserves. Moscow is insisting that this is an “artificial” default, which is true in the sense that it has the money to make this payment but cannot do so in the appropriate currency because of restrictions imposed by other countries with the goal of weakening the Russian economy. It remains to be seen whether this will have a significant impact on said economy but it may impact Russia’s borrowing ability long-term. That could, in turn, affect Russia’s ability to finance something like, say, a war, but it’s questionable whether that would occur on a timetable that could impact the war in Ukraine.
Turkish authorities have reportedly seized a Russian-flagged cargo ship in the Black Sea on suspicion that the 700 metric tons of grain it’s carrying were stolen from Ukrainian stockpiles. The vessel, the Zhibek Zholy, took on cargo at the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port of Berdiansk, reinforcing the pilfering claim. Russian officials have acknowledged that the ship is flying a Russian flag but are denying any other connection to it or to its voyage. However, officials in the Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia oblast have said they’re working on deals to sell grain to several Middle Eastern countries. Ukrainian officials asked the Turks to investigate the ship and its cargo, and they’ve also asked Ankara to do likewise with three other Russian cargo ships.
Leaders of the G7 member states met in Germany last week and, after apparently agreeing that ties are for losers (click through and look at the photo), announced their intention to impose a “price cap” on Russian oil. Basically the plan is to deny financing, insurance, and potentially shipping options to any buyer who purchases Russian oil at a price higher than whatever level The Gang decides is appropriate. This would form a sort of cartel of nations that would only pay Russia a relative pittance for its oil, cutting into Russian oil profits while keeping said oil flowing so as not to further squeeze global supply.1 That Russia could respond to such an act by simply refusing to sell oil and waiting for panicked nations to break away from the cartel, and/or use accounting tricks to circumvent the price cap, is I guess not a consideration.
In news from Ukraine:
The Russian military and its proxies now appear to be in full control of Ukraine’s Luhansk oblast, after the remaining Ukrainian forces in Lysychansk withdrew from that city over the weekend in order to avoid being encircled. The seizure of Luhansk is a major milestone for the Russian invasion but it’s only part of the war for the Donbas, and it’s clear the Russians aim to keep pressing their advance through the rest of Donetsk oblast. That puts cities like Bakhmut, Kramatorsk, and Slovyansk up next on the Russian agenda. Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko has called on civilians remaining in Donetsk (an estimated 350,000 people) to evacuate ahead of what’s likely to be another grueling campaign there.
There’s some effort by Western media to find a silver lining in Russia’s capture of Lysychansk by arguing that its recent advances have come at so high a cost as to limit what the Russian military will be able to do moving forward. I’m not buying it, personally. This analysis, if that’s what it is, ignores the fact that those advances have been just as costly (if not more so) to the Ukrainian military, whose capabilities and resources are still inferior to those of its Russian counterpart.
Of course, what do I know? UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is apparently telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he thinks the Ukrainian military could totally retake the territory it’s lost to the Russians and surely he a) really means it and b) knows what he’s talking about. I mean it’s not like BoJo is just a privileged dipshit who’s failed upward his entire life and whose only real interest in the Ukraine war is in milking it for good press to drown out his myriad displays of corruption and/or incompetence. Right?
There has been some positive news from the Ukrainian perspective, however, in that the Russian military withdrew from Snake Island in the Black Sea last week. The Russians had seized that island early on in their invasion and were using it as a stationary “flagship” for their Black Sea naval operations. Ukrainian attacks on the island had apparently grown intense enough to drive the Russians away. Moscow is insisting that it surrendered the island voluntarily as a good-faith gesture, which stretches credulity to say the least.
All 30 NATO member states officially agreed on Tuesday to advance the membership bids of both Finland and Sweden to the accession stage. They’ll get immediate access to some of the perks of NATO membership but technically won’t be under the alliance’s mutual defense umbrella until all 30 members have ratified their accession in their respective national legislatures. That could take upwards of a year. The situation in Ukraine might inject some urgency into the process, but Turkey in particular (see above) seems unlikely to fast track anything unless/until its demands have been met.
The Italian government has declared a state of emergency at least through the end of this year in five northern provinces: Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Piedmont, and Veneto. A massive drought has impacted water levels on the Po River, threatening agriculture as well as potable water supplies throughout the region. I mention this not because FX is becoming a weather newsletter, but because we talk enough about climate change here that I figure we should at least try to document some of its most egregious effects. And given that the drought in northern Italy is by no means the only drought currently impacting southern Europe, this seemed worth noting.
Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso on Tuesday fired—er, I mean, “accepted the resignations of”—Transportation Minister Marcelo Cabrera, Finance Minister Simon Cueva, and Health Minister Ximena Garzon. They’re apparently taking the fall for economic conditions that had prompted weeks of Indigenous protests across Ecuador, protests that Lasso and Indigenous leaders appear to have brought to a negotiated end (at least temporarily) last week.
Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro is proposing a mutual ceasefire and peace talks with the country’s multiple rebel groups, including the National Liberation Army (ELN). Petro made the offer on Tuesday, and as far as I know there’s been no response from ELN or any other group as yet. Petro still has another month before he’ll take office so they have some time to consider his offer.
Finally, Responsible Statecraft’s Paul Pillar makes the case against a binding US defense commitment in the Middle East:
There is increasing talk about the United States getting more deeply committed to anti-Iran security arrangements on the side of Arab states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
Legislation along this line has been proposed in Congress, and the Biden administration appears to want to take steps in this direction in connection with the president’s coming trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel. Doing so would be a mistake. Such a move lacks justification in terms of the security realities in the region and the nature and records of the regional states concerned.
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