World roundup: June 11-12 2022
Stories from Iraq, France, Brazil, and more
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THESE DAYS 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.
June 12, 1898: Philippine rebel leader and dictator Emilio Aguinaldo proclaims Philippine independence with a declaration and a ceremony at his home south of Manila. This date is annually commemorated as Independence Day in the Philippines.
June 12, 1990: The Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia adopts the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, basically proclaiming Russia’s independence from the Soviet Union although “independence” may not exactly be the right term for this particular situation. This date is annually commemorated in Russia as “Russia Day.”
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 11 people were killed and another 34 injured on Saturday in a landmine explosion near the southern Syrian city of Daraa. Mines and other explosives left over from a more active period in Syria’s civil war remain an ongoing danger, killing at least 124 people just this year and more than 3000 in all.
Elsewhere, as of Saturday the Damascus airport was still closed, the result of a Friday morning Israeli missile strike. Both the Observatory and Syrian media are reporting that the strike damaged multiple airport facilities including hangars, runways, and the control tower. At this point the airport appears to be closed indefinitely. Israeli media is suggesting that the airport was intentionally targeted over alleged “weapons smuggling.” In most other contexts the intentional bombardment of a civilian airport would likely spark international outrage, but I digress.
The Saudi monarchy has looked deep within and generously come up with a cool $10 million to help fund the United Nations-led effort to recover some 1.1 million barrels of oil from the stranded FSO Safer before the ship deteriorates and spills that oil into the Red Sea. For context, Saudi Arabia’s 2022 military budget—the Saudi military being a major part of the reason why the Safer is stranded off the coast of Yemen—is somewhere in the neighborhood of $46 billion. But still, good for them. The United States, whose $782 billion military has been supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen, also coughed up $10 million a few days ago for the same project.
The UN needs $80 million to fund the project in total, a sum that either the Saudis or the US could produce without breaking a sweat, but Washington is apparently insisting that “the private sector and other governments” pick up part of the tab for reasons I don’t entirely understand. If, or when, the Safer falls apart the cleanup cost will run somewhere around $20 billion and much of the environmental damage will be irreparable. Passing the hat instead of just paying for the recovery operation makes no practical sense but I guess there’s some ideological point being made here.
Something tells me negotiations on getting Turkey to unblock the Finnish and Swedish applications to join NATO are not going all that well. I say this because NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg seemed to be at pains to stress the “legitimacy” of Turkey’s stated grievances during a visit to Finland on Sunday. Stoltenberg also pointed out the history of terrorist activity in Turkey—excuse me, in “Türkiye,” as he also made sure to use Ankara’s preferred nomenclature.
In another indication that things aren’t going well, Stoltenberg said that the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of this month “was never a deadline” for kicking off the two Scandinavian countries’ NATO accession process. Which is true, but NATO certainly wants to be able to make a big announcement at Madrid. That Stoltenberg is setting an expectation for no announcement likely means the talks are going slowly or not going anywhere at all.
Muqtada al-Sadr on Sunday followed through on his threat to have his entire parliamentary bloc (73 members in total) resign en masse. As we discussed on Friday, this is a theatrical gesture meant to increase public pressure on Sadr’s Shiʿa rivals either to form a government on their own or to stop obstructing Sadr’s efforts to form a majority, rather than unity, government. The resignations were accepted by Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi but they may not even take effect, since they must be accepted by a parliamentary vote and Sadr’s move has left the parliament an administrative shambles. Iraqi politicians have been trying and failing to form a government since last October’s election.
According to The New Arab, Islamic State fighters killed two members of a tribal militia and wounded two others in northern Sinai on Saturday. The militia works with Egyptian security forces, as do many other such groups in Sinai, which makes their fighters regular targets for IS operatives.
At least four people were killed and several wounded on Saturday when their minibus was bombed in a neighborhood in eastern Kabul. There’s been no claim of responsibility but IS would be the obvious suspect. On a similar note, it’s likely that IS fighters were the as-yet unspecified gunmen who attacked a bus carrying airport workers in Mazar-i-Sharif on Sunday, killing at least two people and wounding six others. Afghan authorities announced over the weekend that their security forces had killed “four key figures” in IS in some sort of operation in Takhar province. Afghan media is reporting that eight IS personnel were killed in this incident in total, but apparently four of them didn’t rate a big announcement.
One Pakistani soldier was killed on Sunday in some sort of clash with militants in the North Waziristan region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The identity of the militants is unknown. The main body of the Pakistani Taliban is in theory observing a ceasefire at present, but there could be a faction that’s rejected the ceasefire or these could be IS members as well.
Two people who were wounded by gunfire during one of the many protests that broke out across India on Friday died of their wounds on Saturday. Both were shot in the city of Ranchi in eastern India’s Jharkhand state, but the specific circumstances of their shootings are unclear. I haven’t seen any indication as to whether large scale protests continued over the weekend, but it is being reported that police in Uttar Pradesh are razing the homes of Muslims accused of protesting. That’s the sort of thing that’s like to make tensions worse.
The North Korean military fired several artillery rounds into the sea on Sunday morning, according to the South Korean military. The previous day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had expressed a desire to strengthen the country’s military capabilities at the conclusion of the latest plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. The artillery barrage may have been intended to emphasize his point.
You’ll no doubt be deeply relieved, as I was, to learn that the Australian and French governments have found a way to put that whole unfortunate AUKUS business behind them. All it took was a payment of €555 million from Australia to France’s semi-private defense contractor, Naval Group, in compensation for canceling a big contract for Naval Group to build new diesel submarines for the Australian Navy. As you may know, the centerpiece of the US-UK-Australia AUKUS deal was an arrangement for Australia to purchase new nuclear submarines instead of those French diesels, which sparked an intense backlash from Paris over the loss of revenue.
The UN decided to postpone the second round of its Sudanese national dialogue, which had been scheduled to begin on Sunday, due to a continued boycott by the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change group. FFC, which formed the civilian transitional government that the Sudanese military ousted in last October’s coup, has refused to participate in the dialogue, arguing that the process “legitimizes” that coup. FFC leaders did meet with members of Sudan’s junta on Thursday in an “unofficial” session brokered by the US and Saudi Arabia, but it’s unclear whether anything came of it.
Agence France-Presse is reporting that there was heavy fighting in Tripoli from Friday night into Saturday morning between militias supporting Libya’s dual—and dueling—prime ministers, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and Fathi Bashagha. At least one person was killed in the clash, which also produced “significant material damage” in AFP’s words. Things apparently calmed down over the weekend but the potential for another flare up likely remains high.
Unspecified gunmen reportedly attacked a military checkpoint in southern Mali’s Sikasso region on Saturday, killing at least eight people (two customs officers and six civilians). The attack took place near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso, but it’s unclear whether the attackers came from that side of the border or were already in Mali. Both countries are, of course, dealing with serious jihadist challenges.
At least six people were killed on Saturday in an attack on a village and nearby gold mine in Burkina Faso’s Centre-Nord region. The attackers here are also unspecified but also presumably jihadist in motivation. There was apparently another attack late Saturday in the Sahel region that resulted in “several” casualties, but there’s no specific count as far as I can tell.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
At least two Congolese soldiers were killed in an extended clash with M23 militia fighters in North Kivu province on Sunday. The Congolese army is claiming that the militia fighters were receiving support from the Rwandan military, the latest in a series of accusations that Rwandan officials keep denying. With tensions between the two countries running high, there was a bit of good news on Saturday when the Rwandan government announced the release of two of its soldiers that had been taken into custody by the Congolese army last month. Angolan President João Lourenço apparently stepped in to broker their release.
In a somewhat grim repeat of what happened during the fall of Mariupol to attacking Russian forces, it seems that hundreds of civilians in Severodonetsk have taken refuge inside a large industrial facility—in this case the Azot chemical plant. The facility is still reportedly under Ukrainian control, but it’s not hard to imagine this situation developing the same way the situation at the Azovstal steel plant developed, with Russian forces eventually surrounding and besieging both the civilian survivors and any Ukrainian combatants who wind up seeking refuge there as well. The chemical plant could be more dangerous than the Azovstal facility was, in that anything flammable or volatile being stored on site could be particularly vulnerable to Russian artillery strikes.
Overall the situation in Severodonetsk does not appear to have changed substantially over the weekend. Elsewhere, the Russian military attacked what it claims was a weapons depot in the western Ukrainian town of Chortkiv on Sunday, wounding at least 22 people and destroying a facility that, again according to the Russians, contained a significant quantity of Western-supplied weapons and ammunition. That latter claim hasn’t been confirmed.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas may be set to regain the parliamentary majority she lost earlier this month when the Centre Party quit her coalition. Two smaller parties, Isamaa and Estonia’s Social Democratic Party, have apparently agreed to join Kallas’s Reform Party, which would give Kallas a smaller but still presumably functional majority in the Riigikogu. The parties presumably still need to discuss their agendas to determine whether they can work together, so nothing is definite as yet. Even if Kallas can’t form a new majority coalition, with Estonia scheduled to hold its next parliamentary election in March it’s likely she’ll remain as PM anyway.
French voters, or some of them at least, headed to the polls on Sunday for the first round of their parliamentary election. Polling had put Emmanuel Macron’s
Get Back Down in That Salt Mine Granddad Ensemble coalition almost level with a leftist coalition called the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union, led by former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. I say “some of them” because turnout was below 50 percent, which is similar to turnout in France’s 2017 parliamentary election but is low by historical standards.
France’s two-stage parliamentary voting process, which is designed to give establishment parties like Macron’s a structural advantage over challengers like Mélenchon’s coalition, makes polling difficult and also means it’s impossible to know what the next legislature will look like until after next Sunday’s second round. But the projection after Sunday’s voting is that Macron has a reasonable chance to maintain a parliamentary majority of some size once the voting is finally all done, but it’s by no means a certainty that he will. Ensemble is likely to emerge with between 255 and 300 seats, needing 289 for an outright majority. No matter what, Macron will have a substantially smaller parliamentary bloc than the 346 seats he currently controls.
A Bolivian court on Friday found former junta leader Jeanine Áñez guilty of “dereliction of duty” and of acting “contrary to the constitution,” sentencing her to ten years in prison. Áñez declared herself president of Bolivia in the wake of the November 2019 coup that ousted Evo Morales. She was taken into custody shortly after Morales’ Movement to Socialism party regained power with the election of President Luis Arce in 2020. She maintains her innocence, and Human Rights Watch has intimated that it is “concerned” with how her trial was conducted.
There are indications that the Brazilian military is preparing to help President Jair Bolsonaro rig October’s presidential election:
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has for months consistently trailed in the polls ahead of the country’s crucial presidential race. And for months, he has consistently questioned its voting systems, warning that if he loses October’s election, it will most likely be thanks to a stolen vote.
Those claims were largely regarded as talk. But now, Mr. Bolsonaro has enlisted a new ally in his fight against the electoral process: the nation’s military.
The leaders of Brazil’s armed forces have suddenly begun raising similar doubts about the integrity of the elections, despite little evidence of past fraud, ratcheting up already high tensions over the stability of Latin America’s largest democracy and rattling a nation that suffered under a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
Military leaders have identified for election officials what they say are a number of vulnerabilities in the voting systems. They were given a spot on a transparency committee that election officials created to ease fears that Mr. Bolsonaro had stirred up about the vote. And Mr. Bolsonaro, a former army captain who filled his cabinet with generals, has suggested that on Election Day, the military should conduct its own parallel count.
Following up on a story we mentioned here on Thursday, it would seem that retired Marine General John Allen has resigned as president of the Brookings Institution following revelations that he secretly conducted lobbying activities on behalf of Qatar. Thoughts and prayers, etc. The important thing to remember is that Allen was the only person at any Washington think tank doing anything untoward on behalf of a major benefactor, be it a foreign state or a large defense contractor. The only one.
Finally, writing for The Atlantic, the Carnegie Endowment’s Stephen Wertheim argues that if Joe Biden wants to get more Global South nations to join his anti-Russia coalition, he needs to stop characterizing the Ukraine war as a conflict in defense of democracy and start appealing to a more universal (and less subjective) value:
The assault on Ukraine strikes at the core right of states to preserve their sovereign independence. This is an axiom that countries on all continents hold dear. Many nations in the global South remember colonial rule and continue to fear great-power exploitation. Even the government of India, which has drawn criticism in the West for opposing sanctions on Moscow and buying up discounted Russian oil, has shown its disapproval of Putin’s breaches of international law.
The Biden administration also has condemned Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and for using force in breach of the UN Charter. But the United States does itself no favors when it appears to cast its cause first and foremost as a defense of democracy. The implication is that the United States places greater value on democracy than on sovereignty. This leaves potential partners to ponder whether Biden regards the sovereignty of other nations as conditional, worthy of support only if they qualify as democratic in the eyes of the West. Instead of uniting more states around universal values, Biden risks repelling them.