World roundup: November 10 2020
Stories from Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Peru, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
November 9, 1799: In the Coup of 18 Brumaire, Napoleon Bonaparte forces the Directory and its legislature to disband and replaces that government with the French Consulate, with Napoleon himself as First Consul. Napoleon engineered the coup to overthrow the Directory and simultaneously sideline his fellow coup plotters, leaving him as the most powerful man in France.
November 9, 1989: A (botched, as it turns out) announcement by the East German government that it would open checkpoints along the Berlin Wall leads a throng of East Berlin residents to the wall trying to get into West Berlin. Amid the crowds of people trying to cross, some began chipping pieces off of the wall, and over the next several weeks what had been the most in-your-face symbol of the Cold War was torn down.
November 10, 1444: The Battle of Varna
November 10, 1659: The Maratha leader Shivaji and his outnumbered army defeat the Adilshahi under Afzal Khan at the Battle of Pratapgarh. It was the first major victory Shivaji would win over a Muslim kingdom, but it would definitely not be the last. His kingdom grew rapidly in the wake of the battle and became the nucleus of the Maratha Empire, which subjugated the Mughal Empire in the middle of the 18th century and became India’s dominant empire until it was defeated by the British East India Company in the early 19th century.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for November 10:
51,797,045 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (14,132,510 active, +542,390 since yesterday)
1,278,538 reported fatalities (+9190 since yesterday)
6352 confirmed coronavirus cases (+68)
325 reported fatalities (+4)
The Turkish military is reportedly evacuating another of its observation posts in northwestern Syria. Like the previous post they abandoned, this one, at Sher Mogher, is in northern Hama province and has been entirely surrounded by the Syrian military. There are reports that the Turks are quitting two more outposts in the region, one in northern Aleppo province and the other along the important M5 highway. Those forces may be redeployed to territory still held by Turkish proxies, though that’s not clear at this point.
399,360 confirmed cases (+2529)
11,059 reported fatalities (+87)
The abrupt resignation of ex-Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak over the weekend may have made investors happy (briefly, at least), but it may also have shaken up Turkey’s long-term political future. Since he’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son in-law, there’s been some speculation that Albayrak was being groomed to someday succeed him as president, or sultan, or whatever title Erdoğan is using by the time he’s ready to step aside. It’s still unclear whether Albayrak had told Erdoğan before he submitted his resignation, which would be awkward if he hadn’t. Given that he’s only 42 and was increasingly under fire for mismanaging the Turkish economy, it’s also possible that getting Albayrak out of the public spotlight is part of an effort to salvage his reputation so that he’s still a viable successor one day.
703,288 confirmed cases (+10,339)
39,202 reported fatalities (+453)
The Trump administration on Tuesday blacklisted six companies and four people for allegedly procuring “sensitive goods” for the Iranian military. Among those materials are “electronic components” that were obtained on behalf of Iran Communication Industries, which is allegedly an Iranian military front and is already under US sanction. Announcements of new Iran sanctions may become a daily thing during the lame duck period, as the Trump administration attempts either to provoke Iran into a confrontation or to tie Joe Biden’s hands with respect to reopening diplomacy with Tehran.
108,687 confirmed cases (+1221)
1609 reported fatalities (+29)
As far as I can tell the Armenian government did survive the night, though in the wake of Monday’s deal to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict the situation in Yerevan is tense, to say the least:
Shortly after the agreement was announced, hundreds of angry Armenians marched to Baghramyan Avenue, the site of many state buildings and the seat of parliament. One group, led by a veterans of a special forces unit from the first war in Karabakh in the 1990s, broke into the parliament, loudly chanting and throwing bottles.
Members of the opposition Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia parties were in the chamber in an attempt to organize an emergency session, but they failed without representatives from the ruling My Step coalition, who were absent. Naira Zohrabyan, a Prosperous Armenia MP, said that they were discussing whether parliament had the authority to annul the peace agreement that Pashinyan had signed.
On the street nearby, some of the protesters managed to find Ararat Mirzoyan, the speaker of parliament and a close Pashinyan ally. They dragged him out of his car while his child was in it and beat him badly. He underwent surgery but was expected to live. "Fortunately, there is no danger to his life," a Pashinyan spokesman wrote on Facebook. Two suspects later were arrested in the beating.
Pashinyan is still running the country, albeit from what appears to be an undisclosed location. The overnight violence has dissipated but protests are continuing in the Armenian capital and could turn violent again. And there’s no reason to think that opposition parties are going to stop trying to oust Pashinyan.
67,392 confirmed cases (+1346)
867 reported fatalities (+15)
In Karabakh, meanwhile, Russian peacekeepers began their deployment as stipulated under Monday’s agreement. The deal stipulates a five year peacekeeping mission, renewable in five year increments beyond that. The Russian forces will protect Karabakh (minus the city of Shushi, which is now under Azerbaijani control) as well as the Lachin Corridor that connects the region to Armenia. In return, Armenian forces will hand over, by December 1, all the Azerbaijani territory around Karabakh that they occupied during the previous Karabakh war in the 1990s and “guarantee” transportation between Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave (which, maybe not incidentally, will strengthen Azerbaijan’s direct links to its patron, Turkey). The two sides will at some point exchange prisoners as well.
Karabakh’s long-term status remains up in the air, and the hope on the Azerbaijani side may be that its residents will “voluntarily” migrate to Armenia, ethnically cleansing the area on Baku’s behalf. That seems like a recipe for more conflict in the future, especially if Baku loses patience and decides to actively drive the remaining Armenians out of the region. If there is a renewal of conflict, it wouldn’t be out of the question for countries interested in countering Turkey’s international ambitions—the UAE, for example—and/or countries that feel they’ve lost influence in the region because of Turkey’s involvement—Iran, basically—to get involved on the Armenian side.
Regionally the agreement salvages Russia’s role as the controlling power in the southern Caucasus, or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a controlling power now because Turkey has also clearly become a major player due to the support it provided to Baku. One reason Russia decided to step in at this point may have been to arrest Turkey’s growing role in the conflict. As the peacekeeper in Karabakh Russia has kept most of its influence, and meanwhile Pashinyan—who leans toward the West and isn’t well liked in Moscow—has seen his long-term political future probably destroyed. France and the US, the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group—which had previously overseen the tenuous peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan—are now more or less irrelevant in the region.
42,463 confirmed cases (+166)
1577 reported fatalities (+3)
Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security says its forces killed an al-Qaeda and Taliban bomb maker named Mohammad Hanif in western Afghanistan. As far as I know the NDS statement was vague in terms of where and when the operation in which Hanif was killed actually took place.
There’s new speculation that Donald Trump fired Mark Esper on Monday because Esper was opposed to some plan Trump has in his back pocket to completely withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year, or maybe by Inauguration Day. I have a hard time believing that Trump cares enough about withdrawing those forces, now that the campaign is over, to go to the trouble of canning Esper over it. But if he’s planning to run again in 2024 (I’m also skeptical about that), then I guess he might want to do something big and bold on his way out the White House door. I’m not even sure that logistically it would be possible to completely vacate Afghanistan by the time Joe Biden becomes president, but of course that probably wouldn’t stop Trump from ordering it anyway.
The Afghan government seems to be hoping that Biden will be a bit less eager to get out of Dodge and more willing to pressure the Taliban, which is naturally calling on Biden to honor the withdrawal deal its negotiators reached with Trump. Biden has talked about ending the “forever wars” but also leaving a residual military deployment there for “counter-terrorism” purposes. That these things are contradictory is irrelevant, but what might not be irrelevant is that the Taliban are opposed to any remaining US presence in Afghanistan and could abandon peace talks because of it. Of course, now that I think about it the peace talks aren’t making any progress anyway, so maybe that actually is irrelevant.
63,241 confirmed cases (+1266)
1461 reported fatalities (+24)
The leader of Myanmar’s military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, Than Htay, is alleging that there were irregularities in Sunday’s parliamentary election, though so far at least without any evidence. The ruling National League for Democracy, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is claiming to have won a sole majority in that vote, though official results aren’t available yet. This is an interesting developing, inasmuch as while the USDP is an opposition party it is also closely tied to the military, which has a kind of condominium with Suu Kyi where she runs the country but the military retains substantial political influence. It’s unclear whether these USDP allegations represent a souring of that governing accord.
20,847 confirmed cases (+12)
126 reported fatalities (+0)
Clashes between supporters of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara and supporters of his political opponents led to the deaths of at least three people and injuries to at least 34 others in the town of M’Batto on Tuesday. The potential for more violence in the wake of the October 31 presidential election, which Ouattara won after his two main rivals opted to boycott, remains high. The United Nations says that over 8000 Ivorians have already fled the country due to violence related to the election, with most of them winding up in Liberia.
100,327 confirmed cases (+345)
1537 reported fatalities (+7)
To hear Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tell it, the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region might be over soon. Abiy said Tuesday that an end to the fighting is “coming within reach.” This is a big change from this weekend, when Abiy sacked several of his top national security personnel after operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front had apparently hit a snag. It’s unclear why Abiy has turned his frown upside down, and it’s possible he’s putting on a happy face for external purposes—he’s increasingly under pressure from the African Union and the UN, among other international players, to bring the situation under control. Ethiopian authorities have shut down communications in the Tigray region so getting reliable information about what’s happening there is a tall order, but the Ethiopian military did claim Tuesday that its forces had seized an airport near a town called Humera close to the Eritrean border. So I guess that’s something.
4301 confirmed cases (+0)
107 reported fatalities (+0)
Somalia will (probably) be holding a general election in December, though it will not be a popular vote. Instead, caucuses will elect new members of parliament, who will in turn elect a new president in February. Authorities are apparently scrambling to try to organize the December election and the International Crisis Group suggests a delay might be in order:
Pushing forward with elections without adequate preparation could be risky. With tensions already running high, if the Somali public lacks confidence in the electoral process either because they see it as rigged or just poorly managed, the frustration could spill over into violence and spawn a major security crisis. Previous regional elections in South West and Jubaland states have already shown how differences between federal and regional interests can quickly turn ugly and result in bloodshed. If there is election-related violence, Al-Shabaab (which is already signalling its intention to disrupt the vote) and the Islamic State in Somalia are likely to fan the flames.
There is a more prudent option, but it must be carefully undertaken. Somalia’s international partners could swiftly explore with the country’s politicians a possible consensual extension of the electoral calendar, perhaps of one to three months, to allow more time for preparations. Authorities would then use this period to fulfil aspects of the September agreement that will help protect the vote’s integrity – for example, by helping civil society take on a new role in monitoring the selection of electoral college delegates or helping federal and state authorities stand up an enhanced dispute resolution mechanism. While opposition parties leery of delay may view this idea with suspicion at first, proponents can allay their concerns by sharing a detailed timetable for taking these technical steps. Some in the opposition have privately indicated that as long as the process is moving, a short wait would not necessarily generate major discontent. Farmajo’s [President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed] administration can help by stepping back from major policy decisions in order to make clear that for the duration of the extension period, it will be acting in a caretaker capacity.
509 confirmed cases (+0)
21 reported fatalities (+0)
Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu has reportedly fled the country after taking refuge in the German embassy in Dar es Salaam for the past several days. Lissu finished a very distant second behind incumbent John Magufuli in last month’s presidential election, and he claims he’s been targeted by death threats after alleging (backed up by election observers) fraud in the voting itself and other irregularities in the campaign leading up to it.
The EU agreed on Monday to levy tariffs on some $4 billion in US products in response to a World Trade Organization ruling that the US government has given support to Boeing in violation of WTO rules. This is mostly a retaliation, since after the WTO ruled last year that the EU had violated its rules by subsidizing Airbus, the Trump administration slapped tariffs on roughly $7.5 billion in European products. European leaders seem to be hoping they can revisit trade relations after Joe Biden (presumably) becomes president.
1,233,775 confirmed cases (+20,412)
49,770 reported fatalities (+532)
The British government has expelled two Belarusian diplomats from the UK, reciprocating Minsk’s decision to boot two UK diplomats out of Belarus on Monday. The Belarusian government accused them of violating diplomatic protocols by observing street protests calling for President Alexander Lukasheko’s resignation, but British officials say the two diplomats were, as The Guardian puts it, “carrying out legitimate duties.”
925,431 confirmed cases (+1904)
34,992 reported fatalities (+49)
Credit where credit is due—when former Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra warned that his impeachment and removal from office over corruption allegations on Monday might lead to “unpredictable consequences,” he appears to have been correct. Manuel Merino, previously the President of the Peruvian Congress, was sworn in as Vizcarra’s replacement on Tuesday (Vizcarra had no vice presidents), and he was met with a substantial outpouring of public opposition. Demonstrators thronged the streets of Lima to protest Vizcarra’s removal, deeming it a coup by opposition parties in the congress. Perhaps this wasn’t so unpredictable, come to think of it—the last time Congress tried to impeach Vizcarra, in September, polling indicated that almost 80 percent of Peruvians wanted him to remain in office through April’s general election, and a little over 70 percent disapproved of Merino.
Vizcarra, who as vice president replaced former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in 2018 amid a corruption scandal involving the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, never really established a base of support in Congress, which made impeaching him relatively easy. But he did build a base of support among the Peruvian public, both for his perceived anti-corruption efforts and for his perceived opposition to a widely reviled Congress. There are concerns now that Merino will try to roll back Vizcarra’s anti-corruption agenda ahead of April’s election, which could allow a number of incumbents, who might have been barred from the ballot over their own corruption issues, to run for reelection.
10,559,184 confirmed cases (+135,574)
245,799 reported fatalities (+1345)
Tuesday brought a lot more turnover at the Pentagon in the wake of Esper’s dismissal, and you’ll be pleased to know that some Very Fine People got some cool new jobs:
First came the resignation of James Anderson, the Pentagon’s acting policy chief, after repeatedly clashing with the White House over the installation of Trump allies in the department. That paved the way for retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata to take over policy on a temporary basis.
Tata, a Fox News regular before joining the administration this year, had been nominated by Trump for the top policy job. As one of the most senior officials in the Pentagon, the undersecretary of defense for policy is the principal adviser to the defense secretary on formulating the major national security and defense policy issues, from nuclear deterrence to missile defense to troop drawdowns worldwide.
But his nomination collapsed this summer after CNN unearthed tweets calling former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and referring to Islam as "most oppressive violent religion I know of.”
POLITICO isn’t doing Tata justice—he tweeted lots of more interesting things:
Also out are acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller’s chief of staff, Jen Stewart, and Undersecretary of Defense Joseph Kernan, who was apparently planning to resign anyway. Stewart’s replacement is Kash Patel, who used to work for former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell. That’s not great! Kernan’s replacement is the much more troubling Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a former Defense Intelligence Agency staffer and employee/protege of batshit ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who seems to be deeply embedded within the Trump administration despite the fact that hardly anybody seems to know very much about him. There’s no particular reason to believe anything nefarious is at hand, but this much turnover in a Pentagon that only has about ten weeks left before a new administration takes over is…unusual. Let’s leave it at that.