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World roundup: October 13 2022
Stories from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Russia, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 12, 1492: Christopher Columbus’s first expedition makes landfall in the Bahamas. Check out my Columbus and the Islamic World essay for a take on how Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas affected much of Eurasia.
October 13, 1307: The Knights Templar order is purged.
October 13, 1943: Italy declares war on Germany. This abrupt shift of alliances was a symbolic culmination of Italy’s very chaotic late-World War II upheaval. In late July 1943, after the Allies had successfully invaded Sicily, Italy’s Grand Council of Fascism voted to oust Benito Mussolini as prime minister. Italian King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as his new PM, and Badoglio entered into talks with the Allies on what would eventually be the Armistice of Cassibile, AKA Italy’s surrender, signed on September 3 and made public five days later. Germany responded by undertaking the Gran Sasso raid on September 12, which sprung Mussolini from prison, and establishing on September 23 the Italian Social Republic (RSI), AKA the Republic of Salò, which was a German puppet regime under Mussolini’s nominal leadership. This Italian declaration of war came as the Allies were moving on German-occupied/RSI-ruled Rome.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
A new report from the environmental NGO CDP indicates that a full 80 percent of cities worldwide are currently coping to some extent with climate change and at least a third are facing critical climate threats. These effects cover the gamut: heat waves, droughts, flooding, intensified storms, and more.
The International Energy Agency warned on Thursday that OPEC+’s recently announced oil production cuts threaten to push the global economy into recession. This is interesting because the economic argument OPEC+ made to justify the cuts was that an oncoming recession threatened to crash global oil demand and, therefore, prices. In this case it would appear that production cuts are the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. We’ll talk a bit more about this issue, and specifically about what it’s doing to the US-Saudi relationship, in a moment.
Somebody blew up a military bus outside of Damascus on Thursday, killing at least 18 soldiers and wounding 27 more. There’s been no claim of responsibility but the bombing is reminiscent of past Islamic State attacks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia in Kazakhstan on Thursday, where Putin apparently proposed making Turkey the glorious new hub for Russian natural gas exports to Europe. In light of the war in Ukraine, and particularly in light of the recent damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, Putin suggested that Russian gas could be shipped to Turkey and from there on to Europe. It doesn’t seem like he went into any detail and I suspect massive infrastructure investment would be needed to bring something like this to fruition, but it sounds like he’s talking about selling gas in bulk to Turkey and letting Turkey cut deals to sell it on to other European states. This would give those European states a way to claim they’re not cutting new deals with Russia. It would also maintain Russia’s chokehold on Europe’s natural gas market at a time when European governments are casting around for alternative suppliers.
Elsewhere, the Turkish parliament on Thursday voted in favor of a momentous new “disinformation” law that will be enacted just in time for Turkish authorities to jail any unfriendly journalists ahead of next year’s general election. The new law makes peddling “disinformation” a crime punishable by up to three years in prison, and the reason I keep putting disinformation in scare quotes is because it will be up to Turkish authorities to decide what does and does not fall under that heading. I’m sure the country’s political authorities will not use this new power arbitrarily. Erdoğan is definitely not the kind of guy who wields power arbitrarily.
The Iraqi parliament met on Thursday and made its first substantive progress toward forming a new government since last October’s election. Legislators elected veteran Kurdish politician Abdul Latif Rashid as Iraq’s new president. Rashid has previously served as minister of water in the Iraqi government. Iraq’s two largest Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, had been engaged in a running dispute over the presidency, with the KDP pushing for the election of its candidate even though the PUK has historically been given the Iraqi presidency while the KDP runs the Kurdistan Regional Government. Rashid was apparently nominated by the KDP but his background is in the PUK, so he may have been intended as a compromise candidate of sorts. Still, incumbent and PUK nominee Barham Salih contested the vote and reportedly stormed out of parliament when he lost, so the PUK may not be entirely on board with Rashid’s election.
Rashid then designated Mohammed Shiaʿ al-Sudani as new prime minister. Sudani is the choice of the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Shiʿa parties that became the dominant force in parliament when Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew his party from the legislature earlier this year. Sadr’s supporters have spent months using civil disobedience to try to prevent this vote and force a new election, including at one point occupying the parliament building. Somebody fired nine rockets at the parliament building on Thursday, wounding at least five people in what seems like yet another attempt to disrupt the vote. It’s fair to assume that Sadr’s supporters were behind that attack though as far as I know there’s been no claim of responsibility.
The political news from Lebanon is not quite so promising. The Lebanese parliament attempted for the second time in less than a month to elect a new president to replace outgoing incumbent Michel Aoun on Thursday and had to scrap its plans when it failed to reach a quorum. Speaker Nabih Berri scheduled a new attempt for next Thursday.
Israeli police assailed Palestinian protesters in eastern Jerusalem with a combination of tear gas, stun grenades, and bullets overnight, as tensions over the closure of the Shuafat refugee camp escalated. Israeli authorities have been blockading the camp since a presumably Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli soldier at a nearby checkpoint on Saturday, and the arrival of large numbers of Israeli nationals to eastern Jerusalem to mark the Sukkot holiday has contributed to that volatile situation. There were no reports of injuries overnight.
Elsewhere, representatives of Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Fatah Party met in Algiers on Thursday and signed a “reconciliation” deal that, if actually implemented, would see new Palestinian elections held next October. That would be the first Palestinian election since a parliamentary vote in 2006. Hamas won that election but Fatah, backed by most of the international community, decided it didn’t care for that outcome and would ignore it. This precipitated a split in the Palestinian political system and Hamas’s eventual takeover of Gaza. The two parties have launched numerous “reconciliation” efforts like this one since that split and none of them have come to fruition, so there’s not much reason to expect this one will either. There had been plans to hold a new election last year but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled the election over claims that the Israeli government was planning to bar Palestinians living in Jerusalem from voting. The fact that Hamas was likely to win that election probably factored into his decision as well.
The US-Saudi relationship continued to erode on Thursday as the two countries sniped at one another over last week’s OPEC+ decision to cut global oil production. No doubt irritated by days of grievance-airing from Democrats in Washington, up to and including the Biden administration, the Saudis issued a terse statement on Thursday insisting that the cuts were made purely for economic reasons and had nothing to do with “taking sides” in support of Russia and against the United Sta-er, I mean Ukraine. They then accused the administration of asking the Saudis to delay the cuts until after next month’s US midterm election, which would be a somewhat craven political move if true.
The Biden administration countered later in the day, with White House national security spokesperson John Kirby insisting that the administration had asked the Saudis to postpone the cuts until oil market conditions demanded them, which at present they do not (according to the administration). Kirby went on to suggest that the Saudis strong-armed other members of OPEC+ into accepting the cuts, telling reporters that these unnamed dissenters had expressed their dissent to US officials. That’s a serious accusation against the Saudis, who always insist (somewhat fancifully) that OPEC+ decisions are made by consensus and that they don’t have any special influence within the bloc.
At least seven people were reportedly killed overnight amid Iran’s escalating crackdown on protests over the death of Mahsa Amini. All seven were killed in cities in Iran’s Kurdistan region, which has seen the most intense suppression efforts as authorities bring in members of the hardline Basij militia. Basijis tend to be particularly brutal in dealing with protesters, which is a role in which authorities frequently utilize them.
Indian officials have decided not to go forward with the adoption of a controversial electoral reform that would have opened up the Kashmiri electorate to anyone resident in that region for at least a year. Opponents of the change had argued that it was an attempt by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to change Kashmir’s electoral demography to diminish the voting power of the region’s Muslim majority. It’s not entirely clear why the government has decided to change direction so abruptly.
Friday morning saw a flurry of military activity on the Korean peninsula, with the North Korean military testing what was probably a short-range ballistic missile and flying ten fighter jets near the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. Pyongyang said its actions were a response to what it called a “provocative” South Korean artillery drill, also apparently near the DMZ. The South Korean military scrambled its own fighters to shadow the North Korean jets but fortunately that’s as far as things escalated.
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s government has seen its approval rating drop to a mere 27.4 percent, according to a new poll from Jiji Press, while its disapproval rating is up to 43 percent. This is in line with other recent polling showing a continued backlash against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over revelations about its ties to the South Korean Unification Church. Those revelations first became news following the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō back in July, when Abe’s killer said the LDP’s relationship with the church was his primary motivation. In a turn of events I’m not sure anybody could have predicted, the Japanese people seem to have decided that the assassin had a point.
The rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) released nine prisoners of war on Thursday to the Sudanese ambassador in South Sudan. All nine were captured in fighting between Sudanese security forces and fighters from the recalcitrant “Hilu” faction of the SPLM-N in South Kordofan province last month. South Sudanese officials brokered the release, which may be a first step toward some sort of accord between the Sudanese government and the Hilu faction. That group was one of a handful of Sudanese militant groups that rejected the 2020 Juba Agreement, under which most of those militant groups (including the rest of the SPLM-N) agreed to a mutual cessation of hostilities with Khartoum.
Someone blew up a bus in central Mali’s Mopti region on Thursday, killing at least nine people. Both al-Qaeda and Islamic State are active in the region and to my knowledge there’s been no claim of responsibility as yet in this bombing.
Beninese authorities say their security forces thwarted an attempted “terrorist” attack in the northwestern town of Materi on Wednesday morning, killing at least eight attackers in the process. Northern Benin is increasingly dealing with spillover from IS and al-Qaeda operations in Burkina Faso and Niger.
In Russian news:
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod oblast, Vyacheslav Gladkov, accused the Ukrainian military of attacking civilian targets in a border village and in the city of Belgorod on Thursday. Ukrainian officials countered by claiming that the incident in Belgorod city, where an apartment building was struck, was caused by a misfiring Russian missile.
According to Reuters, the Russian government is threatening to quit the Black Sea grain export deal when its terms are up for renewal next month. Moscow is demanding that the United Nations do more to protect Russian exports of food and fertilizer, which were part of that agreement alongside restarting Ukrainian food exports. UN officials are heading to Moscow this weekend to discuss renewing the agreement.
The AP has published an explosive investigative report alleging that the Russian military has been abducting Ukrainian children by the thousands and taking them to Russia. Some portion of these children are war orphans or kids who were already in state institutions in parts of Ukraine that have now been occupied by Russian forces. But the AP report alleges that many of them have simply been taken from their Ukrainian families under false pretenses. If this is part of an intentional Russian effort to depopulate Ukraine that would be a serious war crime and could even be characterized as a form of genocide. It’s unlikely, however, that these charges will ever be put to a legal test.
The Russian-appointed governor of Ukraine’s Kherson oblast announced an evacuation of civilians on Thursday in response to recent advances in that province by the Ukrainian military. In particular the Russians are calling on civilians living west of the Dnipro River to evacuate to the other side due to the risk that Ukrainian advances could wind up isolating that side of the river from other Russian-held parts of southern Ukraine. Kherson city happens to lie west of the Dnipro so this is potentially a large number of people who are being asked to relocate.
Elsewhere, Russia and Ukraine engaged in another prisoner swap on Thursday, with 20 POWs on each side being repatriated. This is the second exchange this week—the previous swap, on Tuesday, saw 32 Ukrainian prisoners released.
Italy’s three party right-wing coalition government hasn’t even officially taken power yet and it’s already showing some cracks. Unrepentant (as far as I can tell) fascist Ignazio La Russa of the Brothers of Italy party was elected president of the Italian Senate on Thursday, but only after senators from the Forza Italia party, another member of the coalition, revolted against his candidacy and abstained from the vote. A number of opposition senators wound up supporting La Russa (it’s unclear whom since this was a secret ballot) to make up the difference. It would appear that FI party boss Silvio Berlusconi is displeased with Brothers party boss and presumptive prime minister Giorgia Meloni for rejecting some of his suggestions for her forthcoming cabinet. It’s unclear whether this dispute is going to impact Meloni’s cabinet formation process, but suffice to say this is not an auspicious start for a coalition that made its cohesion and stability a big part of its sales pitch to Italian voters.
Two new polls show Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva maintaining a lead over Jair Bolsonaro heading into Brazil’s presidential runoff later this month. One survey, from Genial/Quaest, has Lula ahead 49 percent to 41 percent, a slightly wider margin than the poll showed last week. The second survey, from AtlasIntel, puts Lula in front 51.1 percent to 46.5 percent. Brazilian pollsters performed relatively poorly in forecasting the first round earlier this month, badly underestimating Bolsonaro’s support, so take these results with a grain of salt.
The Mexican Chamber of Deputies voted on Thursday to extend the Mexican military’s deployment for domestic law enforcement through at least 2028. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran in 2018 promising to send Mexican soldiers back to barracks but has since changed his mind and had advocated in favor of this extension to the military’s law enforcement mandate, which had been set to expire in 2024. He’s also put the Mexican military in charge of his National Guard, a decision Congress approved last month.
The Biden administration has imposed travel bans on 11 people linked to Haitian gangs. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is considering a US-drafted resolution that would sanction Jimmy Cherizier, the leader of Haiti’s powerful G9 gang. Cherizier is probably the key figure in the current blockade of Port-au-Prince’s Varreux fuel terminal, which was carried out after Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced an end to government fuel subsidies last month and which has caused severe fuel shortages in the capital and around the country. The Security Council and the Biden administration have been considering a request from Henry for an international military intervention to counter gang activity.
The Biden administration’s long-awaited National Security Strategy (NSS) was released this week to mixed reviews. On one level, it reads like a continuation of the Trump strategy of focusing on great power competition as the guiding principle for US engagement with the rest of the world, backstopped by “the strongest military in the world.” But to the administration’s credit, the strategy document also references addressing non-military challenges and promoting cooperation with allies and adversaries alike as integral components of any plan to promote US and global security in the decades to come.
It’s almost as if two separate documents mashed together — one focused on traditional military threats (and threat inflation) and another on non-military risks like climate change, which the strategy describes as “the existential challenge of our time.” But there is no recognition of the fact that pursuing genuine cooperation will require scaling back plans premised on dominance and confrontation.
In addition to the focus on climate change, other positive elements of the NSS — issues that were largely ignored or even ridiculed during the Trump years — include pledges to invest in preventing pandemics; reducing global inequality; addressing the divisions that are threatening the future of American democracy; and helping to foster economic development in countries that are struggling to meet the needs of their people. The question is whether these problems will attract the kind of resources and attention currently being lavished on military tools of influence.
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