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World roundup: June 18-20 2022
Stories from Israel-Palestine, Ethiopia, France, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 17, 1462: The Night Attack at Târgovişte
June 18, 1815: Napoleon’s revived imperial dreams run smack into British (with allies) and Prussian armies at the Battle of Waterloo. Spoiler warning for those who are listening to the excellent Age of Napoleon podcast, but this one doesn’t go too well for Napoleon. The French cause was arguably lost when Napoleon defeated the Prussians at the Battle of Ligny two days earlier, which despite the French victory ended with the intact Prussian army retreating in good order such that it was still available to reinforce the British army. At Waterloo, the British, under Duke of Wellington Arthur Wellesley, were able to hold on long enough for the Prussians to reach them and make a decisive attack that sent the French into retreat. Napoleon abdicated (well, re-abdicated) on June 22 and was forced once again into exile. This time he was sent not to nearby Elba but to distant (and considerably harder to escape) St. Helena, where he died on May 5, 1821.
June 19, 1821: An Ottoman army defeats a group of fighters from the Filiki Eteria (Society of Friends), a Greek independence movement, in battle near the town of Drăgășani (in modern Romania). This was one of the earliest battles of the Greek War of Independence, so clearly the Greeks’ fortunes picked up afterward.
June 20, 1631: Algerian pirates sack the Irish village of Baltimore. They carted off 107 captives, of whom only three ever made it back to Ireland.
June 20, 1789: Members of the French Third Estate take the Tennis Court Oath, in which they pledged not to dissolve under royal pressure. This was one of the first serious acts of defiance in the French Revolution and helped establish the power of the National Assembly.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Syrian military says that at least 13 people were killed on Monday in some sort of attack on a bus in Raqqa province. Although the bus is being described as “civilian” it seems 11 of the 13 killed were Syrian soldiers and another three soldiers were wounded. Islamic State subsequently claimed responsibility for the incident. Meanwhile, The New Arab reported over the weekend on clashes between different units of the Turkey-backed “Syrian National Army” group near Aleppo city. At least seven people were killed in the fighting, two of them civilians, and “dozens” were wounded. The battle apparently erupted when the SNA’s “Third Legion” attacked a unit, the “32nd division,” that left its ranks a few days prior.
The US military is warning of Russian “escalations” against US personnel in Syria over the past several days. Among these alleged escalations are the apparent drone attack targeting the US-backed Maghaweir al-Thowra militia and Russian harassment of the US raid in northern Syria that reportedly resulted in the capture of a senior IS official. The best way to prevent Russian forces harassing US troops in Syria would be for US troops to leave Syria, but that’s impossible because…um…let’s move on.
The Yemeni military claimed on Saturday that at least four of its soldiers had been killed in clashes with rebel forces across the country over the previous three days, during which Yemeni officials say they counted “no less than 288” rebel violations of the Yemeni ceasefire. Rebel media responded by alleging at least 103 ceasefire violations by government forces in a single 24 hour period. Nice to see everybody getting along. These reported violations come as negotiations over implementing the ceasefire’s terms around easing the rebel siege of Taif and allowing traffic across the front lines in other parts of the country seem to be stuck in neutral. A lack of progress on that issue could prime the pump either for the ceasefire’s collapse or for a decision not to renew it again when its two-month extension expires in early August.
As expected, the Israeli military responded to Saturday morning’s Gaza rocket launch with airstrikes targeting (as usual in these situations) alleged Hamas military sites. The strikes don’t appear to have caused any casualties. Israeli occupation forces did kill one Palestinian man on Sunday near the West Bank city of Qalqilya. The man was allegedly attempting to damage the security fence in order to enter Israel proper. In still more military news, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz claimed on Monday that he’s been spearheading the creation of something he calls the “Middle East Air Defense Alliance,” which he claims has already prevented “Iranian attempts to attack Israel and other countries.” Sure, why not? As it happens I’ve developed my own regional military alliance that has thwarted a number of alien invasions, but this is cool too. I suspect Gantz is trying to burnish his credentials for political reasons.
What political reasons, you ask? Well, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Monday both the dissolution of his governing coalition and his resignation as prime minister. The coalition was slowly collapsing anyway and had until the end of the month to extend the special legal status of West Bank settlements, which it probably would not have been able to do. With the government dissolved it now seems likely that enough opposition legislators will support the extension for it to pass.
Bennett is giving way to coalition partner and (until Monday) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will serve as caretaker PM until lucky duck Israeli voters get to head back to the polls in late October for what will be the country’s fifth election in three years. The vote will once again hinge on whether former PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its coalition partners can amass a collective majority of seats in the Knesset. Polling indicates that Likud will easily finish as the largest single party. If Netanyahu can’t close the deal Israel could see a revival of the current anti-Netanyahu coalition in some form, or it could be looking at another period of extended political chaos including several more elections to come.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iranian authorities are preparing to enrich uranium using a cascade of advanced IR-6 model centrifuges in Iran’s underground centrifuge facility at Fordow. Under the 2015 nuclear deal Iran had agreed to stop enriching uranium at Fordow, but it resumed doing so after the Trump administration quashed the deal in 2018. The new centrifuge operation is apparently another retaliation for the IAEA board’s decision to censure Iran earlier this month.
Some 60,000 people rallied in Tbilisi on Monday to show support for Georgia’s eventual accession to the European Union. These demonstrators were presumably frustrated by the European Commission’s decision last week to recommend the candidacies of Moldova and Ukraine while suggesting that Georgia had more work to go before it could be considered a viable EU candidate.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan claims that “scores of civilians” were killed and wounded in a bombing attack on a market in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Afghan authorities are so far only acknowledging ten casualties overall. There’s no indication as to responsibility yet but Islamic State seems the likeliest candidate.
IS has already claimed responsibility for an attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul on Saturday and killed one worshiper and one member of the Afghan security forces (or “Taliban fighter” as AFP put it). It characterized the attack as retaliation for recent derogatory comments made about the Prophet Muhammad by members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—even though those comments were made by Hindu nationalists, not Sikhs. IS may also have been responsible for a bombing that killed at least two people in Kabul on Sunday, but it hasn’t claimed that attack and there’s been no indication from Afghan authorities as to who was responsible or even what/whom they might have been targeting.
Unspecified militants killed two Pakistani police officers in an attack on a security outpost in Baluchistan province on Sunday. There’s been no claim of responsibility to my knowledge but given the location and the nature of the target it seems likely the attackers were Baluch separatists. The previous day another likely separatist attack on a labor camp in Baluchistan left at least three workers dead and five more wounded. And two people (one soldier and one militant) were killed in a clash between the Pakistani army and unspecified militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It’s unclear who these “militants” were, but given the location it’s likely they were either Islamic State fighters or members of a Pakistani Taliban faction—one that presumably isn’t observing that group’s current ceasefire.
Kashmiri militants were likely responsible for the murder of an Indian police officer on Saturday not far from his home in the town of Pampore, just south of the regional capital Srinagar. No group has claimed the killing but this would presumably be the latest in what’s been a string of targeted attacks by militants in the region.
Sri Lankan authorities on Monday announced the closure of schools and government offices across the country for at least the next week, in response to a critical nationwide shortage of fuel. Officials are asking the public to refrain from buying fuel for the next three days in order to ensure that critical facilities and workers (hospitals and health care personnel, for example) are able to get the fuel they need to keep functioning. They’d already ordered most Sri Lankan workers to work from home in possible in order to cut down of fuel usage. There are supposedly fuel shipments on the way, but they’ll at best be stopgaps while officials in Colombo try to repair the country’s shattered economy. And in the meantime the potential for violence is high.
Thousands of Tunisians turned out in Tunis on Saturday and Sunday to express opposition to President Kais Saied’s proposed July 25 constitutional referendum and his recent decision to can a large number of Tunisian judges, acts that are seen as further cementing his one-man rule. While these protests are organized by opposition parties their growing size suggests increasing frustration with Saied’s power grab, frustration that’s likely exacerbated by the fragile state of the Tunisian economy.
At least two people were killed and several leading opposition figures arrested on Friday amid political unrest in Dakar. Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko apparently issued a call for protests, at which point Senegalese authorities sent out riot police to block the roads leading to his residence, barring Sonko from leaving and his supporters from getting to his home. Protests broke out in Dakar, where at least one person was killed, and in the troubled southern Casamance region, where another death was reported. On Saturday, Sonko delivered an “ultimatum” to President Macky Sall, demanding the release of those who were arrested lest Sonko and his supporters “come and get” them.
The Economic Community of West African States sent a regional military force to Guinea-Bissau on Monday. ECOWAS had pledged to put such a force in Guinea-Bissau following the attempted coup in that country back in February. The force numbers 631 soldiers and will be tasked with helping to secure public offices and protect senior political figures.
Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 132 people in central Mali’s Mopti region over the weekend, according to Malian authorities. The militants are said to have attacked multiple villages near the town of Bankass on Saturday and Sunday. There are al-Qaeda and Islamic State aligned groups active in central Mali. In addition to these attacks, one UN peacekeeper was killed over the weekend when he apparently stepped on a landmine while on patrol in northern Mali.
Unknown gunmen reportedly attacked two Christian churches (one Baptist, the other Catholic) in northern Nigeria’s Kaduna state on Sunday, killing at least eight people and abducting 38 others. These are the second and third Christian churches in Nigeria to come under attack this month, following an attack on a Catholic church in Ondo state on June 5. Authorities believe Islamic State West Africa Province was responsible for that earlier attack but ISWAP has not claimed responsibility for it. There’s no indication who was responsible for Sunday’s attacks but Kaduna is mired in the same bandit struggle that has engulfed much of northern Nigeria.
Details are still in flux, but according to the latest estimates as many as 320 people may have been killed on Saturday when militants allegedly from the rebel Oromo Liberation Army massacred ethnic Amhara in the western part of Ethiopia’s Oromia region. Even the lower estimate of 260 killed would make this one of the bloodiest incidents of inter-communal violence in Ethiopian history—a history that includes a fair amount of such violence. The OLA is allied with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which has been fighting its own war against federal and Amhara forces for over a year and a half now, but there’s no indication (at least not so far) that this massacre is connected to that conflict.
Militants from Rwanda’s rebel National Liberation Front (FLN) group reportedly attacked a bus in southwestern Rwanda’s Nyungwe forest region Saturday, killing at least two people. The FLN is the armed wing of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, a diaspora opposition group led by imprisoned Rwandan political figure/activist Paul Rusesabagina.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Leaders of East African Community member states agreed in a meeting in Nairobi on Monday to send a regional military force to the eastern DRC to respond the M23’s campaign in North Kivu province and hopefully forestall what looks like a looming conflict between the DRC and Rwanda. M23 has for several weeks been on the offensive in North Kivu, in a campaign Congolese authorities insist is being supported by the Rwandan military. Tensions have escalated amid a number of (so far isolated) clashes along the Congolese-Rwandan border. Monday’s EAC statement made no mention of Rwanda and this could be a sticking point. The regional bloc ultimately gets to decide on the makeup of these multinational forces, but Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi has suggested that he would reject any regional force that included Rwandan personnel.
The Lithuanian government has apparently banned Russian goods that have been hit by European Union sanctions from entering Lithuania. This is a problem for Moscow, which often transits goods through Lithuania on their way to and from Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, and so it’s not hugely surprising that the Russian government on Monday issued a threat “to take actions to protect its national interests” should Lithuanian officials not change this policy. Kaliningrad, along with Ukraine, has long been seen as a potential Eastern European flashpoint, so needless to say this is not good news. The EU may consider rejiggering its sanctions policy to allow through transit specifically with respect to Kaliningrad, but we’ll see.
The Russian military’s slow, violent advance in Luhansk province continued over the weekend, with Donbas separatist fighters reportedly capturing a strategically useful village just south of the embattled city of Severodonetsk. There are also reports of Russian forces attempting to advance to within easy shelling distance of the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, though whether they’re doing so as part of another attempt to seize that city or in order to divert Ukrainian forces away from the Donbas is unclear.
Thousands of people hit the streets of Skopje on Saturday in protests organized by the conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party. They were there to call on Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski to dissolve his Social Democratic Union-led coalition and hold a snap election. VMRO-DPMNE is attempting to capitalize on a weak economy, high inflation, and spiking food and fuel prices (courtesy of the Ukraine war) to muster enough public opposition to force the coalition out of office, but there’s no indication that the coalition is open to a new election despite the protest.
With Russia’s Gazprom cutting natural gas flows to Europe substantially, the German government has decided to return to an old, familiar friend to make up the power difference: coal. Economy Minister Robert Habeck announced on Sunday that Germany will start burning more coal, which is ironic in that Habeck is co-leader of the German Green Party and they tend to frown on things that are going to be really bad for the environment. Berlin is also looking for additional gas suppliers and may consider various schemes to incentivize private conservation. The libertarian-ish Free Democratic Party, which like the Greens is a junior partner in the ruling coalition, is pushing for new fracking, because I guess the idea of burning more coal isn’t destructive enough for their taste.
The second round of France’s parliamentary election on Sunday produced an outcome that wasn’t hugely surprising but is still pretty significant in terms of its repercussions—President Emmanuel Macron’s rhetorically-centrist-but-really-conservative Ensemble coalition lost its majority in the French National Assembly. Macron will now have 245 assembly seats at his disposal, down 102 seats from his current disposition and well short of the 289 he would’ve needed to retain a bare majority. It’s still the largest bloc in the assembly, followed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftist coalition at somewhere between 131 and 133 seats (results are still in a bit of flux as I’m writing this), assuming it manages to hold together.
The biggest surprise is not Macron’s struggles but rather the unexpected surge by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party, which will go from eight seats currently to a whopping 89 in the new parliament. Presumably the same forces that dimmed Macron’s fortunes fueled the rise of right-wing extremist candidates. It remains to be seen how this will all shake out. Macron’s simplest way out of the hung parliament he now faces would be to form an alliance with the conservative Republican Party, with which he would seem to be largely compatible on an ideological basis. But the Republicans have already rejected such an alliance. Either they’re just playing hardball and will be open to negotiations with Macron, or President Jupiter is just going to have to come to terms with a parliament in which he’ll struggle to pass significant legislation moving forward.
Hundreds of Indigenous protesters marched on Quito on Sunday to continue their days-long protest against President Guillermo Lasso’s government. They’re demanding lower fuel prices, bans on new oil and mining projects, and reforms to lending rules that would give small and medium farmers more time to repay their debts. Lasso on Saturday declared states of exception in three Ecuadorean provinces—Cotopaxi, Imbabura, and Pichincha—because of Indigenous protests, which could mean he’s planning to turn security forces loose on the protesters. Petroecuador also declared “force majeure” over the protests, which are apparently impacting oil production to the point where the firm is struggling to fulfill its contracts.
In Sunday’s other big election, leftist Gustavo Petro defeated right-wing TikTok star Rodolfo Hernández in a runoff to become Colombia’s president-elect. Petro is the first leftist elected president in Colombian history, and his election (along with the fact that the political outsider Hernández had joined him in the runoff) reflects was seems to be deep dissatisfaction by Colombian voters with their traditional political establishment.
Petro has pledged dramatic action to deal with problems like inequality, crime, and corruption, but he’ll face pushback from what is still a fundamentally conservative political system and will likely have his work cut out for him to pass legislation in a heavily fragmented Colombian Congress. In a promising early sign, Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group announced on Monday that it would be open to peace talks with the incoming Petro administration.
Finally, at Jacobin, John Carl Baker argues that anti-imperialism should also mean opposition to nuclear weapons:
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a growing chorus of voices on the Left are insisting that we grapple with the new reality of competing imperialist powers. Focusing on US empire exclusively, they note, is ill-suited for an era in which Russia attempts a European land grab, China crushes democracy in Hong Kong, India revokes the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, and the fate of Taiwan remains an open question.
The chorus is correct: a multipolar moment requires a multipolar analysis. But there has been much less recognition on the Left that today’s inter-imperialist rivalry is a specifically nuclear rivalry. The omission is particularly striking since the Ukraine war — where one nuclear superpower is the invader, and another is supplying weapons for the invaded country’s defense — has raised the specter of nuclear war like few other events in recent history.
The aggressor states mentioned above — Russia, China, India — are all nuclear-armed powers, as are their main adversaries: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Pakistan. All these countries (along with Israel and North Korea) are updating their nuclear arsenals. Some, like China and the UK, are expanding them. Just this week, the Guardian reported that in the coming years, the total number of nuclear weapons on earth is expected to increase for the first time in decades.
These would be worrisome developments in the best of times — but they are especially disturbing in a world where Cold War–era arms control treaties are rapidly falling apart. With that in mind, I would like to offer three brief notes on the new nuclear present and its implications for left strategy today.
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