World roundup: May 10 2022
Stories from Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Colombia, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
May 9, 1271: Lord Edward, Duke of Gascony—the future King Edward I of England, AKA “Edward Longshanks”—lands at Acre to begin what historians now regard as the Ninth Crusade. Edward’s Crusader army was far too small to make any serious gains, in part because the French army that was supposed to join him was wiped out besieging Tunis. But with some assistance from the neighboring Mongolian Ilkhanate he was able to win a number of small victories against Mamluk forces and prevented Sultan Baybars from eradicating the Crusader presence in the region. Admittedly this only bought the Crusaders another couple of decades—Acre, the last Crusader state in the Levant, fell to the Mamluks in 1291—but as Crusades go that counts as a success.
May 9, 1865: US President Andrew Johnson issues a proclamation declaring that the Confederacy’s armed resistance was “virtually” over and obliging any countries or ships at sea that were harboring Confederate fugitives to turn them over to authorities. There were still small rebel units in the field, so the fighting wasn’t completely at an end, but this date is frequently cited as the formal conclusion of the US Civil War.
May 10, 1857: A unit of sepoys in the town of Meerut mutinies against their commanders in the British East India Company, marking the start of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. This was more a widespread series of local uprisings than a unified revolt, and its causes and aims varied from place to place, but overall it proved to be too great a challenge for the EIC to manage. Although British forces did eventually suppress the movement, finally declaring an end to hostilities in July 1859, the result was the end of the EIC’s control of India and the advent of direct crown rule, also known as the British Raj. This had the additional effect of formally ending the Mughal Empire, though Mughal emperors hadn’t held real power in over a century.
May 10, 1869: The First Transcontinental Railroad, a track linking the eastern US rail network to California, opens when Central Pacific Railroad boss Leland Stanford ceremonially drives in the “Golden Spike” at Promontory, in the Utah Territory. The CPRR track, which began at Sacramento, linked up with a section of rail built by the Union Pacific Railroad Company that ran from Omaha to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where it linked up with the eastern network. By November the line had been extended to the Pacific Coast at the Oakland Long Wharf.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The World Meteorological Organization now says that humanity has about a 48 percent chance of reaching the 1.5 degree Celsius warming milestone (referring to average global temperature increases since the pre-industrial age) by 2026. For context, the 2015 Paris Agreement was rooted in warnings from the scientific community of dire consequences should humanity exceed that threshold. Now, those consequences will only manifest after an extended period of time at or above the threshold so a single year is not necessarily cause for concern. But if that single year is the first of 10, or 20, or 30? That would be pretty bad.
An international donors conference raised $6.7 billion in pledges for Syria and Syrian refugees on Tuesday, surpassing even the United Nations’ $6.1 billion request. The money, assuming it all manifests, will be used to support humanitarian relief in Syria and refugee relief in countries that are hosting large numbers of displaced Syrians.
On the subject of aid, there are concerns that the UN Security Council won’t be able to extend the mandate of the UN’s cross-border relief operation in northern Syria. When the mandate was up for renewal last year Russia resisted, arguing that all international humanitarian assistance should be distributed through the Syrian government. Given the Ukraine war and the heightened level of tension in the Russia-US relationship, it seems unlikely that Moscow will agree to a last minute renewal, as it did last year. Closing the cross-border route would likely mean cuts to the level of aid reaching rebel-held northern Syria.
The UN is holding another donors conference on Wednesday to raise the funds to retrieve the oil currently stored on the deteriorating tanker FSO Safer, marooned off of Yemen’s Red Sea coast. It now says that $144 million will be needed to fund the project, which isn’t all that much compared with the estimated $20 billion it will cost to clean up the damage should the Safer’s cargo spill out into the Red Sea. In addition to the immediate environmental damage, a spill would also affect desalination plants, which could threaten regional water supplies.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi testified before a European parliamentary committee on Tuesday regarding Iran, and apparently didn’t have much in the way of good news to report. Grossi told the committee that Tehran still “has not been forthcoming” in terms of responding to IAEA questions regarding the detection of enriched uranium traces at a number of undeclared Iranian sites. Diplomat Enrique Mora, the European Union’s point person with respect to talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, is heading to Iran this week to try to get those talks going again. Grossi’s testimony, and the lingering concerns over these uranium traces, will likely dampen whatever remaining momentum there is to restore the 2015 accord.
The Sri Lankan government has put thousands of security personnel on the streets to quell protests and enforce a curfew imposed after Monday’s unrest left at least five people dead. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday in a futile effort to pacify protesters, had to be rescued by Sri Lankan soldiers overnight after a large group of those protesters stormed into his official residence in Colombo. Now that the proverbial dust has settled a bit it seems Rajapaksa himself helped spark the violence by busing groups of counter-protesters into Colombo. Once there, some number of them began attacking anti-government protesters physically and what had been a relatively peaceful protest movement turned non-peaceful in a hurry.
The curfew in Colombo is set to remain in place until at least Wednesday morning. Protesters have been calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation and it seems unlikely that they’ll be satisfied now with just the cabinet’s removal. Gotabaya hasn’t shown any willingness to step aside, but it’s also unclear whether he still has enough parliamentary support to appoint a new “national unity” cabinet under the circumstances, particularly insofar as most opposition parties seem hesitant to join such a cabinet.
The US Navy sent the cruiser USS Port Royal through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday on a “freedom of navigation” mission that apparently provoked a “warning” from the Chinese military. There’s no indication why this particular “freedom of navigation” transit drew the warning, though the fact that it was the second such incident in about two weeks (following the USS Sampson’s trek through the strait on April 27) may have had something to do with it.
Yoon Suk-yeol officially became South Korea’s 13th president on Tuesday, using his inaugural address to pledge substantial economic aid to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s commitment to “complete denuclearization.” Or, in other words, he announced a continuation of the status quo on the Korean Peninsula, with South Korea (and the US) demanding a concession that North Korea will likely never be willing to make. With signs pointing to a North Korean nuclear test in the not too distance future, Yoon can likely expect a response to his offer soon.
Australian voters began heading to the polls on Monday as early voting opened ahead of the country’s May 21 election. A new survey for the newspaper The Australian puts the opposition Labor party ahead of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s coalition, 54 percent to 46 percent, in head-to-head preference, though Morrison still edges Labor leader Anthony Albanese in terms of who voters want to see as PM, 44-42. The two-party edge would seem to make Labor a slim favorite to win the election but Morrison outperformed unfavorable head-to-head polling (albeit with a smaller margin) to win the 2019 election so nothing is certain.
Libya’s House of Representatives, the parliament based in the eastern part of the country, now says it would like the man it appointed as prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, to start working in the city of Sirte rather than in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Bashagha has been vowing to take office in Tripoli since his appointment in March, but the capital is controlled by militias loyal to Libya’s other incumbent PM, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. Militia’s aligned with Bashagha have on a couple of occasions threatened to force their way into the city but have backed down to avoid restarting Libya’s civil war. Tuesday’s statement from the HoR, which is also planning to hold its next session in Sirte, is an admission that Bashagha can’t get into Tripoli for the time being, at least not without causing violence.
According to South Sudanese Finance Minister Agak Achuil, Juba is out of money and unable to pay government workers, in large part because it has committed oil revenues through 2027 to go toward debt service payments. When you consider that it’s 2022 right now and “government workers” includes soldiers, this seems like kind of a problem! The South Sudanese government has allocated oil revenues to cover everything from infrastructure projects (including Belt and Road efforts) to unsustainable and probably corrupt perks for lawmakers. A failure to fully implement the 2018 agreement ending the country’s civil war has limited oil production and is part of the reason this “not paying soldiers” policy is particularly dicey.
Somali elections officials have registered a whopping 39 candidates ahead of Sunday’s indirect presidential election, most in the country’s history. Incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed does appear to be running for reelection, along with former presidents Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Attackers believed to be part of the CODECO militia reportedly attacked a displaced persons camp in the eastern DRC’s Ituri province overnight, killing at least 14 people. CODECO, an ethnic Lendu militia, is one of the strongest (and most notorious, from the standpoint of targeting civilians) armed groups in the eastern DRC and most likely was responsible for an attack on a village and nearby artisanal mine on Sunday in which at least 35 and likely more than 50 people were killed.
The World Health Organization’s European region held a vote on Tuesday in which members passed a resolution that may result in the WHO closing its office in Russia. The full organization may vote to suspend Russia’s voting rights later this month. These moves are intended to add to Russia’s growing international (at least when it comes to Western-run institutions) isolation. On a related note, the UN General Assembly on Tuesday elected Czechia to replace Russia on the UN Human Rights Council. Members voted to suspend Russia from the HRC last month and Moscow promptly quit the body altogether. Czechia will serve out the last two years of the three year council term.
In news from Ukraine:
US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the US intelligence community estimates that Moscow is settling in for the long haul with respect to the war in Ukraine. Planning for an extended conflict would align pretty well with, say, an overall Russian plan to seize all of southern Ukraine and keep going into Moldova’s Transnistria region. That in turn would align pretty well with the Russian military’s recent interest in bombing Odessa, the largest Ukrainian city between Transnistria and the parts of Ukraine that Russia already controls. Odessa has increasingly come under Russian missile attack, including an attack overnight in which at least one person was killed.
Back in eastern Ukraine, for as slow as it’s gone the Russian advance in the Donbas is making progress. There are indications that the Russian military is nearing control of all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, which would give Moscow full control over a region that was still mostly in Ukrainian hands when the invasion began. Russian forces are reportedly continuing to attack the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, the one part of that key city that’s still not under Russian control. An official in Mariupol’s local government suggested via Telegram on Tuesday that there are still around 100 civilians trapped at Azovstal, which contradicts claims by Ukrainian officials and the UN over the weekend that all civilians had been evacuated. Little about the situation in Mariupol, including the claim regarding civilians at Azovstal, can be confirmed under the circumstances.
Ukrainian forces appear to be advancing north of Kharkiv, where they began a localized counteroffensive last week. Media accounts are portraying this counteroffensive as a potential turning of the tide which seems extremely premature to me. But even if the only thing it achieves is some relief for civilians in Kharkiv that’s not nothing. In theory if the Ukrainians are successful here they could threaten Russian supply lines in the Donbas, but that’s some ways off at best.
A new poll from the pollster MDA gives Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva about an eight point lead over Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, 40.8 percent to 32 percent, ahead of October’s election. That’s down from the 42.2-28 lead Lula held in MDA’s previous survey, in February. Lula leads Bolsonaro in a hypothetical runoff, 50.8-36-8, which is also down from February’s 53.2-35.3 lead. Bolsonaro’s support appears to be rising as the effects of recent social spending initiatives, implemented with the specific aim of boosting the president’s electoral chances, take hold.
I’m sorry to say that in yesterday’s roundup I may have undersold the extent to which Colombia’s Gulf Clan cartel has been acting out in recent days:
The Gulf Clan drug cartel shut down dozens of towns in northern Colombia for four days in reaction to its leader being extradited to the U.S. for trial. It warned that anyone who disobeyed the stay-at-home order risked being shot or having their vehicle burned.
Businesses closed, schools stayed shut, intercity bus service was suspended and a professional soccer match couldn’t be played after one of the teams refused to travel to the game.
The Gulf Clan’s “armed stoppage” decree was issued Thursday in pamphlets and What’sApp messages following the extradition of Dairo Antonio Usuga — also known as Otoniel — to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges.
The action appeared to be winding down Monday, according to reports from human rights groups and the Roman Catholic Church, [but it] underlined that the cartel is still a major security threat despite Otoniel’s highly publicized arrest last year.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Tuesday that he may skip the Summit of the Americas meeting in Los Angeles next month unless the Biden administration rethinks its plan not to invite leaders from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. In that case he would send Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard in his place. Given that the summit is supposed to focus on migration, and specifically on migration at the US-Mexico border, for the Mexican president not to be there would be a fairly significant turn of events. Several Caribbean leaders have also threatened their own boycotts, which wouldn’t be as impactful as AMLO’s absence but could collectively prove embarrassing for Washington. The administration says it hasn’t come to a final decision about the Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan invites.
Ongoing warfare between Haiti’s Chen Mechan and 400 Mawozo gangs in and around Port-au-Prince has now claimed at least 148 lives, according to Haiti’s National Network for the Defense of Human Rights. The organization says it has evidence of victims being burned alive and has uncovered at least one mass grave containing some 30 bodies. The gang fighting appears to be waning somewhat but the situation still appears to be quite tense and most of the thousands of people who have fled the violence don’t appear willing to return home as yet.
Finally, at Responsible Statecraft, the National Taxpayers Union’s Andrew Lautz recaps the latest congressional efforts to funnel billions of dollars into Ukraine:
As early as this week, lawmakers on Capitol Hill may pass a $40 billion spending bill to support the U.S. military and humanitarian response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
This will be the second emergency Ukraine spending bill passed by Congress in two months, and this second bill is already nearly three times larger than the first. While many Americans of all political stripes are eager to support the people of Ukraine, Congress must take care and avoid spending that ultimately proves wasteful or even counterproductive to Ukraine’s efforts.
The pace and scale of U.S. funding to support Ukraine has been breathtaking, even for a nation with multi-trillion dollar budgets that has spent $1.6 trillion in the 21st century on the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.