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World roundup: June 2 2022
Stories from Yemen, Taiwan, Peru, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 1, 1215: After a lengthy siege during which a substantial portion of its population is believed to have starved to death and after which many more were massacred (actual figures are hard to come by), the city of Zhongdu—known today as Beijing—surrenders to Genghis Khan’s invading Mongolian army. Zhongdu had been the capital of the Jin dynasty, which ruled northern China, and this was the second time in very short order that the Mongols had besieged it
After the initial siege the Jin retained control of Zhongdu but moved their court to the city of Kaifeng for security reasons, which was perceived by the Mongols as a provocation and thereby triggered the second siege. Because the Mongols turned their attentions west shortly after capturing Zhongdu, the Jin were able to survive at Kaifeng until it (and the dynasty as a whole) fell to the Mongols in 1233.
June 1, 1916: The Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War I and at least by some measures the largest in history to that point, ends in a…well, it’s complicated. It’s so complicated that historians still aren’t completely in agreement as to whether the British Royal Navy Grand Fleet or the German High Seas Fleet won the battle. The Germans sank substantially more British ships and killed substantially more British personnel than vice versa, but these were losses that the British navy could sustain more easily than the Germans. The German government was able to claim victory in the immediate aftermath of the battle, but the British fleet maintained and arguably even increased its naval superiority for the remainder of the war, while keeping the High Seas Fleet largely out of the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore if there is a consensus it seems to be that the battle was a German tactical victory but a British strategic one. One thing that can be said with certainty is that Jutland was the last major naval battle that featured battleships—aircraft carriers displaced them as the primary combat ship for large naval powers.
June 2, 1098: The army of the First Crusade captures Antioch after an extended siege. They were subsequently besieged themselves by a Muslim relief army.
June 2, 1896: Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi files a British patent application for his radio telegraphy device, titled “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor.” When it was awarded the following year it became the first patent awarded for a communications system utilizing radio waves.
June 2, 1946: In a national referendum following World War II, the Italian people vote by roughly 54 percent to 46 percent to abolish their monarchy and adopt a republican form of government. This date is annually commemorated as “Festa della Repubblica,” Italy’s national day.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
At least three people were killed and another 21 wounded when their bus came under some sort of attack in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province on Thursday. State media apparently hasn’t gone into much detail so it’s not even clear what exactly happened, let alone who was responsible. Given the location and the civilian target Islamic State would seem the likeliest culprit.
Just a couple of days after US and United Nations officials sounded dismal notes about the prospect of renewing Yemen’s two-month ceasefire (which was set to expire on Thursday), the parties have reportedly agreed on a renewal after all. UN officials began to change their tune later in the day on Wednesday, saying they’d gotten “positive indications” about the prospects for a renewal from the two parties, Yemeni rebels and the Saudi-led, pro-government coalition.
It’s unclear what caused the change in tone, but it may be that the two sides agreed to accentuate the ceasefire’s positives (the ceasefire itself is holding, there’s been a resumption of air traffic into Sanaa and sea traffic into Hudaydah) rather than the negatives (there’s still no agreement on easing the rebel siege of Taiz, both sides have been using the ceasefire as cover for redeploying their forces). This two-month renewal offers another chance to negotiate a deal for opening the blockaded roads around Taiz and, assuming it holds, could help cement the ceasefire as Yemen’s status quo and make a future return to combat more difficult.
The United Nations has agreed to adopt officially the name “Türkiye” in place of “Turkey,” per the Turkish (Türkiyish?) government’s request. Ankara has been pushing the name “Türkiye” (which in fairness is what the country is called in the Turkish language, Türkiye Cumhuriyeti or “Republic of Türkiye”) for several months now, particularly in commercial spaces, but it hasn’t come into widespread use. It will be interesting to see if the UN’s decision results in greater use of “Türkiye.”
This is somewhat reminiscent of Iranian ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi’s 1935 request that the rest of the world switch from “Persia” to “Iran” when referring to his country. Clearly that worked out more or less as intended, but we’ll have to wait and see in Turkey’s/Türkiye’s case. Just as Reza Shah had political reasons for demanding the name change, so does Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is appealing to nationalist sentiments as next year’s general election approaches.
Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank have killed at least four Palestinians over the past two days in separate incidents. In addition to the Ghafran Warasna killing (allegedly in self defense) in the southern West Bank on Wednesday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian men in overnight raids on two refugee camps, one outside Bethlehem and the other outside Jenin. Later on Thursday, Palestinian authorities reported that Israeli forces had shot and killed a teenager in a village to the west of Ramallah. The Israelis haven’t, to my knowledge, commented on that shooting and details are few.
Thursday’s OPEC+ meeting resulted in the first significant deviation from the bloc’s hitherto slow ramping up of global oil production back to pre-COVID levels. The Gang agreed to ratchet up production by 648,000 barrels per day in July and August, well up from its previously scheduled 432,000 bpd. If OPEC+ can meet that increased production level—and that’s a big “if,” given that some members have already been struggling to meet their current production quotas and given the substantial uncertainty that the European Union has just injected into the Russian oil market—then oil prices could come down a bit from their current highs. I’m skeptical, but then I’m skeptical about most things.
What explains OPEC+’s decision, which is at least a gesture toward lowering oil prices even if it proves insufficient to actually lower them? Believe it or not, this may indicated that the Biden administration’s extended groveling before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is finally paying off. The administration is reportedly planning an extended jaunt to the Middle East for President Joe Biden, one that would include a stop in Saudi Arabia and would almost certainly involve some sort of meeting between Biden and MBS, the man the US government says was directly responsible for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It’s highly unlikely the administration would be willing to plan such an occurrence without some assurances from the Saudis about oil production.
Biden also went out of his way on Thursday to praise the Saudis’ “courageous leadership” with respect to the renewal of Yemen’s ceasefire (see above), which can be categorized as further groveling. Of considerably more significance, later in the day on Thursday reports hit Israeli media of an agreement between the Israeli and Saudi governments over the status of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, which are located where the Gulf of Aqaba meets the Red Sea. The Egyptian government agreed to give (or return, depending on which version of history you believe) those islands to the Saudis in 2018, but the agreement has been hung up because Israel holds a veto with respect to arrangements to ensure that the islands remain demilitarized. The Biden administration has been trying to broker a settlement and now appears to have succeeded, with Israel agreeing to the transfer in exchange for the full use of Saudi airspace for Israeli commercial flights (currently only Israeli flights to Bahrain and the UAE can use Saudi airspace). It’s likely this outcome also contributed to the Saudis’ willingness to reconsider oil quotas.
The Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) on Thursday declared an “indefinite” ceasefire in its ongoing conflict with the Pakistani state, citing the “substantial progress” that’s been made in talks, mediated by the Afghan Taliban, between the two parties in Kabul. The TTP adopted a ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday early last month and then kept extending it throughout May as the talks continued. It’s unclear what progress the two sides are making in Kabul, but it’s worth noting that the TTP has gone through several sometimes extended ceasefires since it emerged in 2007 but they’ve all eventually collapsed.
According to the National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s former civilian ruling party, 14 of its members or supporters were murdered between April 21 and May 5 by militia groups that have sprung up in support of the country’s military government. The most prominent of these militias is a group calling itself Thway Thauk Apwe (“the blood-drinking group”), which emerged from and is thought to be backed by the militant Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha—best known for its role in inciting the Rohingya genocide. Given those anti-Muslim roots, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Thway Thauk Apwe may also be targeting Muslims in addition to NLD members—it’s believed to have been responsible for the murder of two Muslims in Yangon on May 20. The junta uses groups like Thway Thauk Apwe, and like the Pyusawhti militia that’s active in Myanmar’s Sagaing region, for intelligence gathering purposes. But there’s some reason to believe it’s also provided military training to them.
Philippine authorities say their soldiers killed an alleged member of the jihadist Dawlah Islamiyah group and captured another in an engagement in Cotabato province on Thursday. Both suspects are believed to have been involved in a couple of recent bombings in Cotabato. Dawlah Islamiyah, as the name makes apparent, is affiliated with Islamic State and is aligned with the Abu Sayyaf group as part of IS’s “East Asia Province.”
Taiwanese and US officials announced a new bilateral trade initiative on Wednesday that’s intended to make up for Taiwan’s exclusion from the recently unveiled but still vaguely defined “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.” The US apparently pushed for Taiwan’s inclusion in the Framework but other participants balked due to concerns about provoking China. These talks could lead to the backdoor participation of Taiwan in the IPEF, though again it’s not even clear what that institution is supposed to do let alone how it’s supposed to operate. The European Union announced its own Taiwanese trade initiative on Thursday, focused primarily on the increasingly important semiconductor industry where Taiwan is a major international player. Unsurprisingly, all this talk of commercial engagement is not going over very well on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, where the Chinese Commerce Ministry made clear on Thursday that Beijing “opposes any form of official exchanges between any country and the Taiwan region of China.”
Also not going over well in China, at least according to The Washington Post, are new Russian requests for economic support to help counter Western sanctions:
Moscow has on at least two occasions pressed Beijing to offer new forms of economic support — exchanges that one Chinese official described as “tense.” The officials familiar with the talks spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
They declined to share specifics of Russia’s requests, but one official said it included maintaining “trade commitments” predating the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and financial and technological support now sanctioned by the United States and other countries.
“China has made clear its position on the situation in Ukraine, and on the illegal sanctions against Russia,” said a person in Beijing with direct knowledge of the discussions. “We understand [Moscow’s] predicament. But we cannot ignore our own situation in this dialogue. China will always act in the best interest of the Chinese people.”
Tunisian President Kais Saied canned 57 judges on Wednesday over allegations of corruption and “protecting terrorists.” Their main failing appears to be that they’re not on board with Saied’s seizure of power. From a rule of law perspective it probably shouldn’t be within Saied’s authority to just fire judges he doesn’t like, but since he’s dissolved or neutered virtually every state institution over the past year there’s really nobody in position to challenge his decisions.
Protesters took to the streets of Conakry late Wednesday to express their anger over rising fuel prices, in the first major demonstration of its kind since the Guinean military seized power in a coup last September. At least one person was killed by Guinean security forces, who used tear gas and live ammunition to try to suppress the protest.
Unspecified attackers struck a UN peacekeeping convoy in northern Mali’s Kidal region on Wednesday, killing one Jordanian peacekeeper and wounding three others. There are jihadist forces aligned with both al-Qaeda and Islamic State active in northern Mali and presumably one of them was responsible for this attack.
One Burkinabé soldier and four members of the paramilitary Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland organization were killed in an attack by “suspected jihadists” in Burkina Faso’s Soum province on Thursday. Another eight soldiers were wounded while seven of the attackers were killed. The previous day, one Malian soldier was killed in a clash with what authorities called “terrorists” in Sourou province.
At least two people were killed and three more abducted in an apparent militant attack in Ethiopia’s Gambela region on Wednesday. Authorities are blaming the rebel Gambella Freedom Front and Oromo Liberation Army groups for carrying out the attack, which they say targeted farm workers.
Kenyan security forces killed four people in responding to a protest over wildlife management in Kajiado county on Thursday. The demonstrators were calling for greater protections against elephants, which can destroy crops and sometimes attack people. The Kenya Wildlife Service is under some pressure to find ways to protect elephant populations while minimizing the threat they pose to local communities.
In news from Russia:
The European Union on Thursday finally moved forward with its sixth major package of sanctions against Russia, including its long-awaited embargo on (most) Russian oil sales to EU member states and the removal of Sberbank from the Swift financial network. The bloc agreed to remove the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, from its sanctions blacklist after the Hungarian government objected, which cleared the last procedural hurdle to implementing the package.
The United States on Thursday blacklisted a Monaco-based firm called Imperial Yachts that apparently takes care of “yacht-related services” (I’m sure we’re all familiar with what those are so I don’t need to go into any detail) for Russian oligarchs. The US Treasury Department identified at least four Imperial Yachts-managed yachts that appear to be linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin directly. The US Commerce, State, and Treasury departments also announced new additions to their blacklists of individuals and entities.
The Russian government on Thursday that it’s limiting its exports of noble gases for at least the rest of this year. I confess that until today I had no idea Russia was a major player in the noble gas sector, partially because I didn’t realize there was a noble gas sector. But they’re apparently important in microchip manufacturing, and with Ukrainian exports also mostly shut off due to the war, this could have a significant impact on global supply chains.
And in Ukraine:
With Russian forces closing in on full control of Luhansk oblast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the parliament of Luxembourg in a virtual address on Thursday that Russia now occupies around 20 percent of Ukraine. While I am obviously not privy to Russian war planning, I have to believe they expected to be further along than this three months after the invasion began.
Interpol Secretary-General Jürgen Stock warned on Thursday about the potential for arms that have been or will be shipped to Ukraine to find their way eventually onto the black market and into the hands of “criminal groups.” Stock was not making an argument for curtailing arms shipments to Ukraine so much as he was calling on the countries that are shipping those arms to cooperate with international organizations, like Interpol, in trying to track those weapons down once the war is over. Tracking small arms and ammunition is probably impossible, but it may be possible to find larger systems like portable anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons.
A new report from the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project finds that Peru’s political crisis, which has reached a new crescendo under President Pedro Castillo but extends back several years prior to his election, has left the Peruvian Amazon more vulnerable to destruction. Six times over the past ten years, deforestation in Peru’s portion of the rain forest has high a historic high, according to University of Maryland data. Most of this area is being lost to illegal ranching, mining, logging, and agribusiness operations that are exploiting the fact that the Peruvian government is too dysfunctional to monitor their activities. Peru contains more Amazon territory than any country except Brazil, whose deforestation issues are well documented.
A new Amnesty International report accuses Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele of overseeing the commission of “massive human rights violations” since imposing a state of emergency over gang violence in late March. Salvadoran authorities have arrested over 36,000 people since then, more than they arrested all of last year, leaving more than 1.7 percent of the adult Salvadoran population in government custody. According to Amnesty at least 18 people have died in police custody since the state of emergency began, while the newspaper El Diario de Hoy puts that figure at 21. In spite of all of these figures, Bukele’s popularity continues to rise according to opinion polling.
The Biden administration made it easier for people flying from the US to get to Cuba on Thursday, lifting Trump administration-imposed restrictions on charter flights to the island and on air travel to Cuban airports other than Havana. The Biden administration has been gradually easing a number of measures its predecessor imposed to reverse the normalization of Cuban-US relations that had been pursued under the Obama administration. It has yet to return to the full Obama-era approach, however, likely due to domestic political concerns.
Finally, at Responsible Statecraft, media critic Dan Froomkin takes issue with media treatment of the admittedly small but still alarming potential for the war in Ukraine to go nuclear:
The New York Times “buried the lede,” as they say, in Wednesday’s major story by reporters David E. Sanger and William J. Broad about the “dangers of a new, riskier nuclear era” in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Urkaine.
The article recounted how “established restraints” are “giving way to more naked threats to reach for such weapons — and a need for new strategies to keep the atomic peace.”
The news peg, of course, is that the use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whether it’s out of pique or desperation, is literally no longer “unthinkable.”
What the authors waited over 1,000 words to tell us, however, is that the White House is scrambling to figure out how to respond:
A sign of the risks of this new age has been a series of urgent meetings in the administration to map out how Mr. Biden should respond if Russia conducts a nuclear detonation in Ukraine or around the Black Sea.
The casual mention of these life-or-death war-gaming sessions, deep inside the story, is a perfect reflection of the mainstream media’s lack of alarm – and lack of interest – in the threat of a nuclear conflict. This is true even as the Biden administration sends ever-deadlier and more advanced weapons into the region.