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World roundup: May 30 2023
Stories from Turkey, North Korea, Kosovo, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
May 30, 1431: The 19 year old (give or take) Joan of Arc is burned at the stake for heresy. After helping shepherd Charles VII to the French throne in 1429, Joan was captured while accompanying an army sent to relieve the English-Burgundian siege of Compiègne in May 1430. The Burgundians transferred her to English custody, and despite several French attempts to rescue her she was placed on trial for heresy in January 1431. Despite a lack of evidence and amid heavy English interference in what was supposed to be a Church process, Joan was found guilty.
May 30, 1913: The Treaty of London brings the First Balkan War to an end. The victorious Balkan League and the “Great Powers” (Austria-Hungary, Britain, Germany, Italy, and Russia) dictated the terms, which gave Crete to Greece and ceded every remaining Ottoman European territory to the Balkan League, except for the European environs of Istanbul and the territory of an independent Albania whose exact borders were to be determined by the “Powers.” The treaty has the distinction of satisfying almost nobody. The Ottomans were obviously unhappy, the boundaries of the new Albania angered Greeks in the southern part of the new nation and angered Albanians because they left out roughly half of the predominantly Albanian territories in the Ottoman Empire (the ongoing dispute over Kosovo is a legacy of those borders), and the Balkan League quickly fell to discord over how to split up formerly Ottoman Macedonia. That discord led to the Second Balkan War, which began in June and pitted Bulgaria against the other Balkan League members (plus the Ottomans).
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The US Treasury Department on Tuesday blacklisted two Syrian financial services firms, Al-Fadel Exchange and Al-Adham Exchange Company. They’ve allegedly been funneling money to several already sanctioned entities, including Hezbollah, Iran’s Quds Force, and the Syrian government.
To I assume no great surprise, given how the first round ended, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defeated challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in Sunday’s runoff by the relatively comfortable margin of 52.14 percent to 47.86 percent according to an unofficial tally. I’ve seen some emphasis placed on the fact that this was the first presidential runoff in Turkish history, though the significance is somewhat undercut by the fact that Turkey only began popularly electing presidents in 2014. Erdoğan overcame what appears to have been fairly deep ambivalence about his economic record, his response to February’s earthquake disaster, the presence of millions of refugees in Turkey, and his consolidation of power to win an election that seems to have turned largely on the issue of nationalism. For American Prestige subscribers, Djene Bajalan and I discussed the election earlier today:
There’s less to talk about in the What It’s All About vein than if Kılıçdaroğlu had won, in that what Erdoğan’s election likely means is that he’ll keep on keeping on. He is likely going to have to make more of a public effort to emphasize economic recovery to placate a Turkish market that doesn’t seem terribly pleased with his victory. I expect there will be some commentary around the notion that Erdoğan no longer needs to posture for nationalist voters and so he could soften his approach to—take your pick—the Kurds, Greece, NATO expansion1, etc. I’ve seen enough of these Turkey elections to know that Erdoğan really never stops posturing and there’s always another election on the horizon, so I wouldn’t expect any major shifts. He is 69, an age at which it is safe to start wondering whether another election is really on the horizon, but given that he’s already moving to shut down what little opposition-friendly media Turkey has left despite having won the election, there’s no immediate indication that he’s changing tactics.
The Iraqi Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s parliament exceeded its authority last October when it extended its current term for another year. Everything the KRG legislature has done since that extension is legally nullified as a result, assuming the KRG doesn’t just ignore the ruling (as it has done at times in the past). Iraqi Kurdish parties have been unable to reach consensus on a law to govern their next parliamentary election, which right now is tentatively scheduled for November.
Palestinian attackers killed an Israeli civilian near the West Bank Hermesh settlement on Tuesday. Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade claimed responsibility for the shooting and said it was intended “to avenge Palestinians killed by Israel,” according to Reuters.
Iran’s IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday that the International Atomic Energy Agency has terminated two of its investigations into Iran’s nuclear program. One of those involves the IAEA’s discovery earlier this year of trace amounts of uranium enriched to just under 84 percent, very close to weapons grade, at Iran’s Fordow enrichment facility. Iranian officials had insisted that those traces were byproducts of the normal enrichment process, and if this report is accurate then it seems the IAEA hasn’t found any evidence to contradict that claim. The second investigation involves the IAEA’s discovery of trace amounts of enriched uranium at a facility in the Iranian city of Abadeh. The IAEA hasn’t commented but it’s due to issue another quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program soon so that may clarify things.
Afghan and Iranian security forces got themselves into a shootout on the border of western Afghanistan’s Nimruz province over the weekend that left at least one Afghan and two Iranian border guards dead. It’s unclear what triggered the incident—each side unsurprisingly insisted that the other provoked it—but with the bilateral relationship already tense over the issue of water rights on the Helmand River, any border clash is noteworthy. The violence prompted Iran to close the Milak-Zaranj border crossing, which is apparently an important commercial outpost but is not where the shooting took place.
Protesters and police reportedly clashed in the Chinese city of Yuxi on Tuesday over the planned demolition of the Najiaying Mosque. A Chinese court ruled in 2020 that the facility had been built illegally and should be torn down, though specifics aside this case fits a pattern of Chinese authorities either tearing mosques down or refurbishing them to remove overt Islamic characteristics. Much of that activity has gone on in the Xinjiang region, where there are larger concerns about the treatment of the Uyghur people, but there have been similar cases involving mosques in other parts of the country.
Elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the Chinese government has refused a request from the Biden administration for the two countries’ defense ministers—Lloyd Austin and Li Shangfu—to meet on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue defense forum in Singapore this coming weekend. In their rejection Chinese officials reportedly questioned the “sincerity” of the US desire for a meeting. This is being reported as another instance of Beijing standing in the way of better relations with the US, but the thing is the US government has been sanctioning Li since 2018 and the Chinese government has been pretty clear that he won’t be available to meet with US officials until his designation is removed. The Biden administration has steadfastly refused to do that.
The North Korean government has informed the Japanese Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization that it intends to carry out a space launch sometime between tomorrow and June 11. Alerts about potential debris have already been distributed via the Worldwide Navigational Warning System. Pyongyang is making another of its periodic attempts to put a spy satellite in orbit.
UPDATE: It’s looking like the North Koreans carried out said launch early Wednesday morning, though details are very spotty at this point. South Korean officials are saying the rocket disappeared from radar fairly quickly, which may indicate that the launch failed somehow. And now it appears North Korean state media is reporting that the rocket failed after its first stage separation.
The good news is that the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces agreed on Monday to extend their ceasefire—which was to have expired that evening—for at least another five days. The bad news is, you guessed it, they’re still fighting through this ceasefire, as they have through all of their previous ceasefires. There had been indications of a lull in Khartoum early Tuesday but a new round of heavy fighting began later in the day, with the RSF blaming the military for starting it. The military, meanwhile, has imposed a curfew in Port Sudan, the main point of entry for all the humanitarian aid that mostly isn’t getting to the Sudanese people (though the World Food Program did report some food distribution in Khartoum on Monday, which is a first for the agency since the fighting started in mid-April). The port has thus far been largely spared from the conflict but if that changes it could foreclose on even the possibility of any large-scale relief efforts.
Two apparent jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso’s Boucle du Mouhoun region over the weekend left at least 40 people dead, not including any deceased attackers. One of those attacks targeted a military convoy and most of the victims there were members of the paramilitary Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland unit. Burkinabé Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyélem de Tambèla told the country’s interim parliament on Tuesday that ongoing jihadist violence could force a postponement of next year’s planned elections, which I’m sure would be heartbreaking for the country’s ruling military junta.
Bola Tinubu officially took office as Nigeria’s new president on Monday, promising in his inaugural address to focus on improving the country’s economy. Early indications are that he intends to follow the standard Western economic playbook, starting with the elimination of a long-standing government fuel subsidy. That decision sent Nigerians racing to their local gas stations to try to stock up before prices spike. The gas stations are likely to start hoarding supply waiting for that price spike, so this could become a tense situation.
Boko Haram fighters attacked two towns in northern Cameroon on Tuesday, killing at least eight people in total. Apparently Cameroonian authorities tracked a large group of fighters that crossed into the country from Nigeria overnight. It’s unclear what they’re after, though with much of the group’s old Nigerian stomping grounds now mostly in Islamic State West Africa Province control they may be looking for a new area in which to operate.
Al-Shabab fighters attacked a military base in central Somalia’s Galguduud region on Friday, sparking a battle that has apparently continued through the weekend and has left at least 17 people dead thus far. The base and the town in which it’s located are reportedly securely in government control and Somali units have chased fleeing militants into a nearby forest.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Suspected Allied Democratic Forces fighters attacked a town in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province late last week, killing at least 17 people. Authorities were apparently still discovering bodies as of Monday so the toll may rise further.
There was a new drone strike on Moscow early Tuesday morning, involving eight devices that according to Russian authorities were all successfully intercepted either electronically or kinetically. There were reports of damage to a few residential buildings but no casualties. Unsurprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the Ukrainian government for the strike, calling it “a sign of terrorist activity” and an attempt “to intimidate Russia, Russian citizens.” This is a real tragedy considering all the goodwill Russia has shown to Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens in recent months. The Ukrainian government issued the same denial it issues after every attack on Russian soil, but whether this incident was directly orchestrated by Kyiv or by one of those Russian militant groups getting support from Kyiv seems like a matter of semantics.
Ukrainian forces have been shelling the border town of Shebekino, in Russia’s Belgorod oblast, for a few days now. Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported more shelling on Wednesday morning that left at least one person wounded.
The Russian military, for its part, attacked Kyiv on Tuesday morning in a significantly larger drone strike that killed at least one person and wounded another 11. The property destruction was also more severe than in the Moscow incident.
Elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the Ukrainian government, in concert with its Western supporters, is planning to hold a “peace summit,” and I put that term in quotes because there’s no plan to include Russia so the subject isn’t really going to be “peace” so much as “public relations.” The conference would include leaders of what could broadly be considered the “nonaligned” movement, perhaps countries like Brazil, China, India, and Saudi Arabia, with the ostensible aim of trying to sell them on Kyiv’s proposal for a peace plan. Said proposal includes the full Russian withdrawal from territory regarded as Ukrainian, which is a non-starter for Moscow, and the prosecution of war crimes related to the conflict, which is so far out of bounds for the Russians that it doesn’t even qualify as a non-starter. The real goal would be to show how Reasonable the Ukrainians are being and thereby win some goodwill among this particular group of nations.
At least 30 NATO peacekeepers were injured on Monday in violent clashes sparked by opposition to recently elected local officials in predominantly Serb communities in northern Kosovo. You may recall that the Kosovan government went ahead with local elections in those communities late last month that were boycotted by Kosovan Serbs. Despite a turnout rate south of 3.5 percent, Kosovan authorities made the inexplicable decision last week to install the winners of four mayoral races, who were of course Kosovan Albanians since the Serbs didn’t vote. That’s provoked riots in the affected communities, which in turn prompted the Serbian government to put its security forces on alert. NATO now says it will deploy another 700 peacekeepers to join the 3800 it already has in Kosovo, and the Biden administration is taking steps to penalize the Kosovan government (excluding it from an upcoming NATO exercise, for example) for having installed those mayors despite their obvious lack of any electoral mandate.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has set a snap election for July 23 in the wake of his Socialist Party’s poor performance in local and regional elections on Sunday. In moving the vote up a few months (it was originally set for sometime in December), Sánchez seems to be hoping that public antipathy around the idea of a right-wing government will help keep his left of center coalition in power. But polling strongly suggests that the right-wing People’s Party and the far-right Vox party could emerge from the vote in position to form a coalition government, assuming the former is willing to align with the latter.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva hosted a summit of South American leaders on Tuesday that was intended to advance prospects for regional economic integration and revitalize the moribund Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). What appears to have happened instead is that disagreements over Venezuela and its president, Nicolás Maduro, highlighted regional political divisions. Lula had met with Maduro on Monday and offered his own support to the embattled leader, which apparently helped spark Tuesday’s rancor. Even Chilean President Gabriel Boric, at least nominally an ideological ally of Lula’s, criticized the Maduro meeting and Lula’s comments.
An organized vigilante movement that emerged in Port-au-Prince late last month and has killed at least 160 suspected criminals since then has reportedly caused a measurable decline in the level of gang activity across Haiti. The human rights NGO CARDH says that kidnappings and gang-related murders are down significantly from early April. The vigilante movement, known as “Bwa Kale,” began on April 24, when residents of the capital carried out a mass lynching involving 12 suspected gang members.
Finally, Foreign Policy’s Anjan Sundaram highlights the troubling disparity in the media coverage of international conflicts:
In 2013, when I traveled as a journalist through the Central African Republic (CAR) during the country’s civil war, I discovered massacres unknown even 5 kilometers from where they had been perpetrated. As it turned out, after killing hundreds of civilians suspected of aiding rebels in the country’s west, soldiers had destroyed radio antennae so the news wouldn’t get out. People, fearing reprisals, didn’t dare speak about the killings. For months, these massacres went undocumented.
Even as we receive round-the-clock news from the war in Ukraine, with dozens of international reporters rotating through the country, journalists are still unable to cover much of our world. The dead haven’t been counted in the conflict in CAR. The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the world’s deadliest since World War II, makes the front pages of newspapers briefly, only when violence explodes. In Latin America, hundreds of environmental activists have been killed while bravely defending precious forests, mountains, and rivers, and many of their deaths are just a footnote in the news. The reasons are timeless: a lack of interest in places deemed faraway, and in violence against people seen as unlike us. We don’t grieve as much for some people as others.
Another problem is that news from places such as CAR and Congo often needs to travel to London or New York before it reaches countries such as Nigeria and India. This means that much of international news is filtered through a Western lens or neglected altogether. A lack of international news outlets in the global south has led to great gaps in coverage—even when millions of people die in the world’s deadliest wars.
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