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World roundup: June 10-11 2023
Stories from China, Ukraine, Honduras, and elsewhere
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THIS WEEKEND IN HISTORY
June 10, 1190: Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I drowns in southern Anatolia on his way to join what we now call the Third Crusade. His death contributed heavily to the breakup of the Crusader army and therefore to Richard the Lionheart’s decision to abandon plans to besiege Jerusalem.
June 10, 1898: US Marines and Cuban forces capture Guantánamo Bay from Spain after a five day battle. The US quickly established a naval base there that proved critical in winning the decisive naval battle and siege of Santiago in July, which essentially ended the Spanish-American war in Cuba. The conflict continued on other fronts until August and Guantánamo remains a US possession to the present day.
June 11, 786: The Battle of Fakhkh, near Mecca, results in the decisive defeat of a small early Shiʿa uprising. What makes this battle notable is that one of the rebel leaders, Idris b. Abdullah, survived and fled to northwestern Africa, where he established the Idrisid dynasty and is credited with founding the nation of Morocco.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
An apparent Turkish drone strike killed two Syrian Democratic Forces “commanders” and wounded three other people in the city of Aleppo on Saturday. The Turkish government regards the SDF as essentially a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and occasionally carries out these sorts of attacks on its personnel—though usually not in areas as heavily populated as Aleppo.
Attackers believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula killed at least two Yemeni soldiers on Sunday when they attacked a military checkpoint in Shabwah province. Two attackers were reportedly wounded but managed to escape.
Gunmen attacked an Iraqi military barracks in Kirkuk province on Sunday morning, killing at least three soldiers and wounding another four. There’s been no claim of responsibility as yet but it would be shocking if this were anything other than an Islamic State operation.
UNICEF released a statement on Thursday saying that it is “deeply concerned” over reports that the Afghan government is excluding international aid organizations from working in the country’s education sector. There’s been no comment from Afghan officials but aid groups operating in the country say they’ve been told to hand their operations off to local organizations within a month. There’s little domestic capacity to take up that work, particularly in more remote parts of Afghanistan.
Unspecified militants attacked a Pakistani military checkpoint in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Saturday morning, killing at least three soldiers. Three of the attackers were also killed and another four wounded. Given the location it’s very likely that a Pakistani Taliban faction was behind the attack.
A new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute finds that the number of operational nuclear warheads around the world (meaning warheads that are in shape to be used in combat) has increased by 86 over last year. The report finds that there are now 12,512 nuclear warheads globally and that 9576 of them meet the “operational” definition. Of those 86 newly operational nukes, 60 of them belong to China as compared with 12 in Russia, five each in North Korea and Pakistan, and four in India. The report also noted new challenges in collecting this data as Russia and Western nuclear states (the US, France, and the UK) have gotten less transparent about their nuclear arsenals since the war in Ukraine began.
The Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces actually seem to have maintained (more or less) the 24 hour ceasefire that went into effect Saturday morning, but when it expired they apparently resumed fighting with a vengeance. Reuters, citing “witnesses,” reported some of the heaviest violence in weeks in the city of Bahri, with additional fighting reported in Omdurman and Khartoum. Fighting has also been reported in West Darfur and North Kordofan states, though the situations in those regions are less clear. The ceasefire did reportedly allow for some limited humanitarian aid deliveries, which is not nothing, and the fact that it held (again, more or less) may build some confidence in negotiations between the combatants.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Tunisia on Sunday that the European Union may send over €1 billion in economic aid to Tunis in the coming days in an effort to stabilize the Tunisian economy. This aid package may not materialize, because it’s apparently dependent on the Tunisian government concluding a $2 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund and President Kais Saied has been saying nasty things about the IMF in recent days so those negotiations may not be going very well. But I still think the possibility is illustrative. Saied has turned Tunisia from a struggling democracy to an imploding dictatorship, violating alleged EU principles around things like “democracy” and “the rule of law.” But Tunisia is a bulwark against asylum seekers attempting to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe, so the EU is prepared to throw a pile of money Saied’s way because those principles matter a lot less to European leaders than keeping refugees at bay.
Al-Shabab fighters killed at least nine people and wounded at least 20 more during their attack on a Mogadishu restaurant and hotel on Friday night. Six of those killed were civilians and the other three police officers. Somali authorities say their security forces “neutralized” (which usually means “killed” but not necessarily) all of the attackers, but I haven’t seen any reporting as to how many attackers there were.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
CODECO militia fighters attacked a Congolese military outpost in the eastern DRC’s Ituri province on Saturday, killing at least seven civilians in the vicinity.
The Wall Street Journal reports on the latest developments in the German government’s investigation into the Nord Stream pipeline bombing:
German investigators are examining evidence that suggests a sabotage team used Poland, a European Union neighbor and NATO ally, as an operating base to blow up the Nord Stream pipelines built to transport Russian gas through the Baltic Sea.
The probe by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office is examining why the yacht they believe was used to carry out the operation journeyed into Polish waters. Other findings suggest Poland was a hub for the logistics and financing of last September’s undersea sabotage attack that severed the strongest bond tying Berlin to Moscow. Poland, which is conducting its own inquiry, has struggled for months to learn what Germany is investigating.
German investigators have fully reconstructed the entire two-week long voyage of the Andromeda—the 50-foot white pleasure yacht suspected of being involved in one of the biggest acts of sabotage on the continent since World War II—and pinpointed that it deviated from its target to venture into Polish waters.
The previously unreported findings were pieced together with data from the Andromeda’s radio and navigation equipment, as well as satellite and mobile phones and Gmail accounts used by the culprits—and DNA samples left aboard, which Germany has tried to match to at least one Ukrainian soldier.
Increasingly it seems the Ukrainian military and/or intelligence community had direct involvement in the bombing. Whether they worked independently or had support from the Ukraine Fan Club remains unknown.
In Ukraine news:
Ukrainian officials claimed on Sunday that their forces have seized three formerly Russian-held villages in Donetsk oblast. If true this would mark the first tangible progress they’ve made in their glorious counteroffensive, which we can safely say has begun now that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has acknowledged it. The Ukrainians have released images purporting to show their soldiers occupying the villages in question, though that’s not confirmation of their claims.
Officials at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have taken the facility’s last remaining active reactor offline. Five of the plant’s six reactors have been offline since September due to concerns that shelling near the facility could cause an accident, but the sixth reactor has remained active in order to provide power to maintain the plant’s cooling systems. The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, whose reservoir fed water into that cooling system, apparently made it advisable to put that reactor into shutdown as well. The plant was designed with contingencies to maintain its cooling system in the event of the dam’s collapse, so there’s no imminent threat of meltdown. But the facility may be running out of contingencies at this point.
The Russian and Ukrainian governments concluded another prisoner swap on Sunday. The Russians released 95 Ukrainian prisoners and the Ukrainians freed 94 Russians.
Montenegrin voters headed to the polls on Sunday for a snap election made necessary when former President Milo Đukanović dissolved parliament back in March. The Europe Now Movement, a centrist party that (as the name suggests) supports Montenegro’s accession to the EU, has claimed “victory” with 25.6 percent of the vote. I put victory in quotes because that is of course nowhere near enough votes to give the party a sole majority, so it will have to look for coalition partners in order to form a government.
The Honduran government formally opened its new embassy in Beijing on Sunday in a ceremony attended by Foreign Minister Enrique Reina and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. Honduras opened diplomatic relations with Beijing back in March, severing its ties with Taiwan and leaving Taipei with only 13 countries that still recognize it diplomatically. Honduran President Xiomara Castro is in the middle of a multi-day visit to China, during which she’s scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Biden administration has decided to respond to the latest panic over reports that the Chinese government is building a spy facility in Cuba by assuring everybody that China has been spying on the US via Cuba “for years,” and even upgraded its intelligence facilities on the island in 2019. This is a bold strategy to be sure, but I assume the aim is to dodge accusations that the Biden administration has somehow dropped the proverbial ball by arguing that this particular ball was dropped well before Joe Biden became president. Cuban officials have dismissed this claim and accused Washington of “spreading rumors and slander.”
Finally, TomDispatch’s Todd Miller argues that the Biden administration has outdone its predecessor when it comes to militarizing (and monetizing) the US-Mexico border:
Since the Department of Homeland Security was established 20 years ago, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have given private companies 113,276 contracts (yes, you read that right!), or on average 5,664 contracts annually, 16 per day. In the 15 years since 2008, the money spent on such contracts has amounted to $72.6 billion dollars and such figures have only been on the rise since Joe Biden entered the White House.
The 4,465 contracts CBP and ICE have agreed to so far this year (at a price of $4.1 billion) put them on pace to surpass 2022’s record-setting $7.5 billion. In 2022, CBP and ICE offered 9,909 contracts, an average of 27 per day, all of which means the Biden administration is likely to be the largest border-enforcement contractor ever.
Only recently, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggested that President Biden should “out-Trump Trump” and “do everything possible to secure the border like never before — more walls, more fences, more barriers, more troops, the 82nd Airborne — whatever it takes. Make Democrats own border security.” What Friedman apparently didn’t realize was that Biden had already taken just that border path.
From his first days in office, the president had stressed technology over wall-building and (not surprisingly) received three times more campaign contributions from top companies in the border industry than Trump did in 2020. And unlike the former president’s Title 42, this policy of contracts, campaign contributions, and lobbying that will push for endlessly higher border budgets is not set to expire. Ever.
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