World roundup: October 11 2022
Stories from Lebanon, Taiwan, Ukraine, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 10 (maybe), 732 (also maybe): The Battle of Tours
October 10, 1911: An uprising in the city of Wuchang (which is now a part of the city of Wuhan) led by the Tongmenghui movement leads to the Xinhai Revolution. It ended in February 1912 with the toppling of the Qing Dynasty and the formation of the Republic of China. This marked the end of thousands of years of imperial Chinese rule. Commemorated today in Taiwan as the National Day of the Republic of China.
October 11, 1899: The Second Boer War begins. Though the Boer states had some initial success, the war ended in May 1902 with an overwhelming British victory and the collapse of both the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. Among the war’s many legacies was the popularization of the concentration camp, which Britain used to house large numbers of Boer civilians, many of whom died due to the treatment to which they were subjected.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The United Nations General Assembly voted Tuesday to fill 14 seats on the UN Human Rights Council. Most of the races were uncontested, which resulted in the election of such human rights luminaries as Algeria, Morocco, and Sudan. In the races that were contested, Chile and Costa Rica bested Venezuela for two Latin American/Caribbean seats and Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, and Vietnam defeated Afghanistan and South Korea for the four available Asia-Pacific seats.
This week is the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, and that means there’s a lot of talk about the developing world’s unsustainable debt burden. To wit, the UN Development Program issued a new report on Tuesday warning of a mounting debt crisis involving 54 of the world’s poorest countries. The UNDP is advocating substantial debt relief along with rewriting bond contracts to give debtor governments more latitude to reduce or suspend debt service payments in times of economic difficulties. A related report from the European Network on Debt and Development finds that developing island nations are spending a collective 18 times more on debt service than they’ve received in aid to cope with climate change. Given that creditor nations are by and large responsible for manufacturing the climate crisis this seems a particularly warped state of affairs.
The Syrian pound slid past 5000 per US dollar on the black market on Tuesday, its lowest level ever and well lower than even the recently adjusted official rate of 3015 per dollar. Aside from the war, the economic collapse in neighboring Lebanon (which was itself fueled in part by the Syrian conflict) has been a major factor in Syria’s economic collapse.
The Iraqi parliament intends to meet on Thursday to elect a new president, a bit over a full calendar year after its most recent election. It’s refreshing to see that they’re not rushing things. A presidential election is the first step toward forming a government, though lingering disagreements between the country’s two largest Kurdish parties—the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—could still prevent parliament from reaching an accord, given that by accord Iraqi presidents must hail from among the country’s Kurdish population. If the vote takes place and if it is decisive that would presumably be a blow to Iraqi political operator Muqtada al-Sadr, whose decision to withdraw his party from the legislature back in June could wind up leaving him on the outside looking in.
It appears that the Lebanese and Israeli governments have managed to agree to a US-brokered deal establishing their mutual maritime border. As of yesterday the word was that Beirut was pleased with the most recent US draft of the deal but there hadn’t been any official word from the Israelis. Lebanese President Michel Aoun made his government’s approval more official on Tuesday and then Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid followed suit. Hezbollah threw its own approval into the mix as well, which takes care of the agreement’s main potential spoiler. The deal will allow the Israelis to begin extracting natural gas from the offshore Karish field, probably in fairly short order, while Lebanon will exploit the disputed Qana field and pay some portion of its revenue to Israel in royalties. That project is likely to take a while to come to fruition.
An Israeli soldier was shot and killed on Tuesday outside a settlement near the West Bank city of Nablus. A relatively new Palestinian militant group calling itself “The Lions’ Den” claimed responsibility for the attack. This is the second Israeli soldier killed in the past three days, the other having been gunned down at a checkpoint in eastern Jerusalem on Saturday. Israeli officials say they’re in pursuit of the attackers in both incidents.
Elsewhere, Hamas is reportedly ready to rebuild its ties with Syria, with a ceremony scheduled for next week in Damascus to mark the occasion. Hamas more or less severed its relationship with the Syrian government when it came out in support of Syrian rebels back in 2012. That conflict is now all but over, of course, and Hamas is lacking in regional patrons these days (particularly with Turkey re-normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel). So a restoration of this bilateral relationship is not surprising.
Following in the footsteps of their Lebanese brethren, banks in Egypt are imposing withdrawal limits as a method of dealing with low levels of foreign reserves. The limits apply principally to withdrawals in US dollars, the main reserve currency in Egypt as it is in most other parts of the world, but other foreign currencies are also included. Egypt lost some 19 percent of its foreign reserves over the first half of this year and presumably more since, particularly as it’s dealing with the fallout from the Ukraine war and its effect on food imports in particular.
The Biden administration has responded to the recent torrent of criticism for Saudi Arabia coming from congressional Democrats by telling reporters that Joe Biden wants to “re-evaluate” and potentially “revisit” the US-Saudi relationship. These comments align with new reporting from The Wall Street Journal that not only did the Saudis feel comfortable slashing global oil production against US wishes last week, they even ignored the administration’s request to at least delay the production cut until after the US midterm election. The administration is denying that it made such a nakedly political request, offering instead that it asked the Saudis to wait until the global oil market actually began to slacken before instituting cuts, rather than cutting production preemptively.
The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein reports that the Saudis, and by “Saudis” I mean Crown Prince/Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, cut production partly in a deliberate attempt to swing the midterm election to Republicans. MBS obviously prefers Republicans, particularly members of the Trump family, but I’m not sure the composition of the US House of Representatives is really his primary focus especially when, at least prior to this latest incident, both major US parties took the same basic approach (i.e., indulgence) toward the Saudis. What the production cut certainly seems to indicate is that MBS doesn’t really see much value in cultivating his relationship with Washington, at least not when compared with, say, cultivating one with Moscow. Possibly that’s because he feels the Saudis are in the dominant position with respect to the US. There are things Washington could do to try to disabuse him of that notion, but at the risk of repeating myself I’m in “believe it when you see it” territory when it comes to the US making any drastic changes regarding Saudi Arabia.
Over the weekend, the Kyrgyz government canceled a joint Collective Security Treaty Organization military exercise that was supposed to have begun on Monday. It didn’t explain the cancellation but subsequent comments from Kyrgyz official Edil Baisalov make clear that it was motivated by Kyrgyzstan’s recent border dust up with fellow CSTO member Tajikistan. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov skipped a Commonwealth of Independent States confab earlier this month that doubled as a little birthday bash for Russian President Vladimir Putin, presumably because he didn’t want to share a table with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. And the Kyrgyz military says it won’t participate in CSTO exercises that are taking place in Tajikistan.
TomDispatch’s Michael Klare considers recent events involving the world’s lesser noticed (at least in recent months) potential nuclear conflict:
Thanks to Vladimir Putin’s recent implicit threat to employ nuclear weapons if the U.S. and its NATO allies continue to arm Ukraine — “This is not a bluff,” he insisted on September 21st — the perils in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict once again hit the headlines. And it’s entirely possible, as ever more powerful U.S. weapons pour into Ukraine and Russian forces suffer yet more defeats, that the Russian president might indeed believe that the season for threats is ending and only the detonation of a nuclear weapon will convince the Western powers to back off. If so, the war in Ukraine could prove historic in the worst sense imaginable — the first conflict since World War II to lead to nuclear devastation.
But hold on! As it happens, Ukraine isn’t the only place on the planet where a nuclear conflagration could erupt in the near future. Sad to say, around the island of Taiwan — where U.S. and Chinese forces are engaging in ever more provocative military maneuvers — there is also an increasing risk that such moves by both sides could lead to nuclear escalation.
While neither American nor Chinese officials have explicitly threatened to use such weaponry, both sides have highlighted possible extreme outcomes there. When Joe Biden last spoke with Xi Jinping by telephone on July 29th, the Chinese president warned him against allowing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit the island (which she nonetheless did, four days later) or offering any further encouragement to “Taiwan independence forces” there. “Those who play with fire will perish by it,” he assured the American president, an ambiguous warning to be sure, but one that nevertheless left open the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Chadian Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke resigned on Tuesday to clear the way for junta leader-er, I mean President Mahamat Déby to unveil his new “national unity” government—which, by the way, is definitely not a continuation of the junta under a new guise. It’s conceivable that Padacke could wind up being reappointed as PM in the next government, but either way Déby will want to go through the formality of choosing a new PM to formalize the occasion.
Inter-communal violence left at least 27 people dead in northern South Sudan’s Warrap state on Monday. According to South Sudanese officials members of the Twic community attacked the town of Abyei amid a longstanding dispute over community borders. At least 15 Twic and 12 Abyei residents were killed in the clash.
It turns out that Lesotho’s Revolution for Prosperity party did not need much time to negotiate a governing coalition after emerging victorious from Friday’s parliamentary election. Party leader Sam Matekane told reporters on Tuesday that he’d cut a deal with two other parties, the Alliance of Democrats and the Movement for Economic Change, which should give him control of a collective 65 seats in the 120 seat National Assembly. Matekane, a businessman who ran on an anti-corruption agenda, should be in line to become prime minister in the new government.
According to the governor of Russia’s Belgorod oblast, Vyacheslav Gladkov, some 2000 residents of that province lost power on Tuesday due to apparent Ukrainian shelling of an electrical substation. The Ukrainian government hasn’t commented but this attack would presumably have been meant as retaliation for the extensive Russian bombardment on Monday (which continued on Tuesday; see below) that targeted several Ukrainian cities including civilian infrastructure.
Efforts to restore electricity across Ukraine were hampered on Tuesday by a new round of Russian missile strikes. Authorities asked people to limit the use of electrical appliances in an effort to minimize blackouts. Ukrainian electrical infrastructure appears to be one of the primary targets of these latest Russian attacks. Speaking of Monday’s attacks, the Ukrainians took receipt of the first of at least four German IRIS-T air defense systems on Tuesday, according to the German military. More Western-made systems are likely on the way.
On a more positive note, Ukraine and Russia engaged in another prisoner exchange on Tuesday, with 32 Ukrainian soldiers being repatriated by the Russians. It’s not clear how many prisoners the Ukrainians freed in return.
Transparency International criticized Jair Bolsonaro’s government on Tuesday for interfering with the enforcement of anti-corruption laws. In a new report, the group warned that Brazilian plans to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development could be impacted by its failures to implement OECD anti-corruption standards. Bolsonaro had made joining the OECD a foreign policy priority, so it will be interesting to see if he pays at all for this revelation with Brazil’s presidential runoff just a couple of weeks away.
Thousands of Haitians hit the streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities on Monday to protest against Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s request for international military aid. The UN Security Council met to discuss that request on Monday and the Biden administration is reportedly considering the idea of an intervention on its own accord. At least one person was killed and “several” shot amid the demonstrations, with witnesses blaming police for the violence.
Moses [a source inside Haiti’s overcrowded National Penitentiary] and several other currently incarcerated men with whom we’ve been connected by cell phones report that, sometime last week, cholera found its way into the notoriously brutal National Penitentiary. This was confirmed by the Haitian Ministry of Health on Saturday. Moses reported that over a roughly 48-hour span between Wednesday and Friday, more than 60 people died from cholera. This has been difficult to verify; other sources have said 32 or 33. Moses has since told us that 17 people died on Saturday. This same number of deaths on Saturday was also reported to us by multiple independent sources (both incarcerated people and external sources who work in close relation to the prison), which brings the apparent total death count to somewhere between 32 to 80 people. On Sunday, government officials confirmed 16 deaths inside the prison in one report and then just nine in another report published six hours later, underlining the reality that formally verifying the first-hand accounts we have received is all but impossible under current circumstances.
Finally, amid a report on US intelligence failures that overestimated the Russian military’s capacity to conquer Ukraine, The Intercept’s James Risen and Ken Klippenstein report that covert US activity in Ukraine has intensified in ways that make even some members of the US intelligence community uncomfortable:
Yet clandestine American operations inside Ukraine are now far more extensive than they were early in the war, when U.S. intelligence officials were fearful that Russia would steamroll over the Ukrainian army. There is a much larger presence of both CIA and U.S. special operations personnel and resources in Ukraine than there were at the time of the Russian invasion in February, several current and former intelligence officials told The Intercept.
Secret U.S. operations inside Ukraine are being conducted under a presidential covert action finding, current and former officials said. The finding indicates that the president has quietly notified certain congressional leaders about the administration’s decision to conduct a broad program of clandestine operations inside the country. One former special forces officer said that Biden amended a preexisting finding, originally approved during the Obama administration, that was designed to counter malign foreign influence activities. A former CIA officer told The Intercept that Biden’s use of the preexisting finding has frustrated some intelligence officials, who believe that U.S. involvement in the Ukraine conflict differs so much from the spirit of the finding that it should merit a new one. A CIA spokesperson declined to comment about whether there is a presidential covert action finding for operations in Ukraine.
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