World roundup: October 25 2022
Stories from Chad, Ukraine, Venezuela, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 24, 1648: The Peace of Westphalia (mostly) ends the Thirty Years’ War under the tenet cuius regio, eius religio (“whose state, his religion”)—in other words, the principle that a ruler should be allowed to determine his/her nation’s religion. Many IR scholars trace the origins of a world order based on national sovereignty to Westphalia, with its emphasis on the sanctity of national borders and the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs—hence the term “Westphalian sovereignty.”
October 24, 1912: In the same day, the Ottoman Empire suffers two decisive defeats, one to a Bulgarian army in the Battle of Kirk Kilisse in modern Turkey and the other to a Serbian army in the Battle of Kumanovo in modern North Macedonia. The simultaneous defeats set the tone for the First Balkan War, which had begun on October 8 and would end in May 1913 with a decisive victory for the Balkan League (Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia). The Bulgarian victory at Kirk Kilisse gave its armies an open path to Istanbul, though in two battles at Çatalca (on the outskirts of the city) in November and then in February-April, the Ottomans were able first to stop and then to rout the Bulgarian offensive. Thus, although they lost the war, the Ottomans were able to defend their capital and preserve what was left of their empire.
October 25, 1147: The Siege of Lisbon ends. This siege involved soldiers who had initially set out for the Holy Land to join what we now call the Second Crusade. And speaking of which, this is also the date on which the army of Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III was thoroughly defeated by the Seljuks at the Battle of Dorylaeum, removing it as a potential factor in that crusade. We’ve seen how that eventually turned out.
October 25, 1917: The Bolsheviks begin an uprising in Petrograd that would within a day see them overthrow the provisional Russian government of Alexander Kerensky and, after a lengthy civil war, establish communist control over Russia. This is the Old Style (Julian calendar) date of the revolution, which according to the Gregorian calendar actually took place on November 7. But since it’s called the “October Revolution” I feel weird commemorating it in November.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
At least six Palestinians were killed on Tuesday in a couple of Israeli operations in the West Bank. In the larger of those operations, Israeli forces attacked a facility used by the Palestinian “Lions’ Den” militia in Nablus, killing five people. In the other, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian in a village outside Ramallah under less clear circumstances. The Nablus raid appears to have sparked a relatively small but energetic protest in Gaza near the enclave’s enclosure fence, which I mention mostly because any incident like that in Gaza brings with it the potential for escalation.
Two soldiers in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed on Tuesday in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Iranian media attributed their killings to “unknown assailants” and said that authorities are investigating the incident. Zahedan is the capital of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province, which sees activity from smugglers as well as Baluch separatists and Sunni extremist militants (there’s substantial overlap among these groups). It was also the site of major unrest late last month, possibly over a report that a police officer had raped a local teenage girl. There have been a number of protests in the city since that incident, most recently on Friday.
Meanwhile, protests over the death of Mahsa Amini are continuing and have been particularly sizable on college and university campuses. Demonstrations could get more heated later this week, as Wednesday marks the end of the traditional 40 day mourning period following Amini’s death.
Two gunmen shot and killed a Pakistani police officer guarding a polio vaccination team in Baluchistan province on Tuesday. Although the location suggests Baluch militants, the target is more indicative of an Islamist attack. Pakistani religious extremists frequently target these vaccination units.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is planning to march from Lahore to Islamabad on Friday, presumably with a crowd of supporters, to demand a snap election. Khan was recently removed from public office by Pakistani electoral officials on corruption allegations, but after originally announcing a “ban” on his ability to hold office authorities apparently decided just to oust him from parliament and not to apply the penalty to future elections. Friday’s march will almost certainly draw some sort of response from police, which creates the potential for violence.
The death toll from Sunday’s airstrike in Myanmar’s Kachin state now stands at 80 or more, according to a group called the Kachin Artists Association and the rebel Kachin Independence Army. The strike reportedly targeted a ceremony for the Kachin Independence Organization. Myanmar’s ruling junta finally acknowledged carrying out the attack in a statement on Monday evening, justifying it as “necessary” due to “terrorist” acts carried out by the KIA.
Sudanese security forces killed at least one protester in Omdurman on Tuesday amid very large nationwide demonstrations marking the anniversary of the coup last October that ousted the country’s civilian transitional government. That makes at least 119 people killed in similar circumstances since the coup. Marchers in Khartoum attempted to approach the presidential palace but were turned aside before they could reach it. Sudan’s ruling junta is in negotiations with civilian leaders about appointing a new transitional government, at which point junta leaders have insisted they’ll step back from politics. There is deep skepticism about those promises, however, and particularly about the military’s willingness to subordinate itself to civilian authorities.
The US government has given non-emergency US diplomatic personnel and their families permission to leave Nigeria. This announcement comes just a couple of days after US and UK officials warned their citizens in Nigeria of a potential terrorist attack in Abuja, without going into much detail.
At Responsible Statecraft, Alex Thurston argues that the United States should, but almost certainly won’t, rethink aid to the junta currently ruling Chad:
The U.S. has not treated events in Chad as a coup that would trigger a suspension of assistance under Section 7008 of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act — even though Washington has suspended aid to nearby countries that have also suffered recent coups, such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Sudan. Statements and visits by senior State officials since April 2021 have focused on supporting the dialogue and encouraging eventual elections, a posture that confers de facto legitimacy on the CMT.
The most recent statement by State, following the October 20 violence against protesters, is much more critical of the CMT, referring directly to the CMT’s decision to prolong the transition and to allow its own members to run in the upcoming election.
Yet the statement also lapses into a kind of “both-sidesism,” twice pinning responsibility on “all parties” for the violence. The U.S. now also faces keen dilemmas about how and whether to follow up on its words, especially as the initial shock of the death toll fades. The obvious thing to do would be to suspend assistance. Yet the most likely outcome still appears to be that, despite intermittent bloodshed, the CMT will complete its extended transition timetable, run an insider as president, re-hat itself as a civilian regime, and enjoy tacit acceptance from the Western powers all along the way.
South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party decided for some reason to strip Vice President Riek Machar’s party membership during a meeting last week. Machar, unsurprisingly, is refusing to accept his ouster. He’s arguing that, since he’s technically the leader of a separate SPLM faction, the SPLM-in-opposition (SPLM-IO), the main party can’t expel him. Machar and South Sudanese President (and SPLM party leader) Salva Kiir negotiated a settlement to the country’s long-running civil war in 2018 and have been struggling to implement it since then. This latest dust up threatens to destabilize that process.
The Burundian government officially reopened its border with Rwanda on Tuesday for the first time in nearly six years. The two countries shut the border over political disputes, with the Burundians accusing Rwanda’s government of harboring fugitives involved in a 2015 coup attempt in Gitega, and then delayed this reopening in part due to COVID. The Rwandan government reopened the border back in March but it’s taken Burundian officials some time to reciprocate.
The governments of Denmark, Germany, and Sweden have now all opened investigations into the ruptures of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines last month. All three have concluded that the ruptures were caused deliberately, via explosives, and…well, that’s it, really. If any of these investigations have unearthed evidence as to the culprit behind this massive act of sabotage, that evidence has not been made public. I have a hard time imagining that any of these three governments would keep mum if they had evidence that Russia was responsible for wrecking these pipelines, so I would guess that either they haven’t found any evidence or the evidence they’ve found points in a different direction.
As expected the Russian government took its claim that Ukraine is preparing to use a radiological dispersal device or “dirty bomb” to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. Also as expected, their audience was not especially receptive to that message. The Russians are also reportedly circulating a resolution that would open an investigation into allegations Moscow has leveled at Ukraine and the US regarding supposed biological weapons labs. That resolution would of course be vetoed but could provide for some additional soap opera-esque Council antics. Ukraine’s Energoatom firm has responded to this “dirty bomb” claim by accusing Russian personnel of engaging in some sort of shady construction activity at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, suggesting that the Russians could be preparing some sort of nuclear disaster and are floating the “dirty bomb” scenario as a cover story.
On the ground in Ukraine, meanwhile, the Ukrainian military appears to be making some new progress in Luhansk oblast. There are also indications that the Ukrainians have been fending off the Russian advance (mostly involving Wagner Group mercenaries) on Bakhmut, in Donetsk oblast. These claims regarding Ukrainian advances are being “verified,” to some degree at least, by Russian commentators, and the claim regarding Bakhmut is supported by comments from Wagner Group boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin over the weekend about the difficulty his fighters are having in advancing on that city. To the south, the Ukrainian offensive in Kherson oblast seems once again to have slowed to a crawl or stalled out completely, with no real indication (at least not yet) that the Russians are preparing to withdraw from their positions west of the Dnipro River.
Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti told reporters on Tuesday that his government plans to go ahead with imposing new regulations that will require anyone with Serbian license plates on their cars to switch to Kosovan plates by October 31. The Kosovan government’s push to require Kosovan plates and Kosovan identification documents has generated pushback from Kosovo’s ethnic Serb population, many of whom don’t recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia and still view Belgrade as their governing authority. The Serbian and Kosovan governments agreed in late August to recognize each other’s ID documents, but the license plate issue remains and Kurti’s government has resisted calls from the European Union and the US to postpone implementing the new regulations for at least another ten months.
Rishi Sunak officially took over as the UK’s new prime minister on Tuesday after going through the formal process whereby the country’s reigning monarch—King Charles III, for the first time—asked him to form a new government. Sunak is the first person of color to become UK PM and apparently also the wealthiest person ever to hold that office, which is somewhat remarkable but also a good sign, since as we all know personal wealth is directly correlated both with competence and with being a good, upstanding person.
Sunak made a few changes to the cabinet that had been assembled by his predecessor, Liz Truss, but left most of the major ministries untouched—Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace all kept their gigs. Returning after a brief sojourn is Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who quit that office less than a week ago after violating aspects of the ministerial code. Sunak’s pledge to emphasize “integrity, professionalism, and accountability” during his premiership is already looking good.
According to Reuters there’s a movement underway to provide significant humanitarian aid to Venezuela:
Venezuelan politicians are discussing proposals for a fund that could release over $3 billion to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuela through the United Nations, in a process that also involves officials from the U.S. State and Treasury Departments, according to nine people close to the talks.
The proposals offer a potential way to revive stalled political dialogue in Venezuela, and come as more Venezuelans try to reach [the US-Mexico border], creating clashes among U.S. politicians over immigration.
Migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are prompting discussions on unfreezing Venezuelan funds held in foreign banks that would provide needed food and medicine, the sources told Reuters. The sources were not authorized to speak publicly on the topic.
I suppose it comes as no surprise that this effort is motivated not by a recognition of the devastating effect US sanctions have had on the Venezuelan people but out of a desire to reduce the number of people affected by those sanctions who are trying to enter the US. The potential aid project is apparently also drawing the attention of Venezuela’s international creditors, who I suppose would like to see this money used to pay them instead of to, you know, buy food for people who are starving. You have to have priorities, after all.
Finally, at his Nonzero Newsletter, Robert Wright dares to ask whether US foreign policy has helped bring about a world in which Iranian drones are apparently being used by the Russian military as part of its invasion of Ukraine:
This week media coverage of Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones—and possibly, down the road, other Iranian weapons—reached such intensity as to raise a question in the mind of Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler. “How soon before we start using ‘axis of evil’ again?” he tweeted on Tuesday.
It’s hard to get ahead of the curve these days, and by the time Kessler suggested this label for the Russia-Iran partnership, the label had already been applied by, among others, a British tabloid, Ukrainian protestors, and not one but two senior fellows at the Atlantic Council.
And the New York Times, without using the phrase, devoted a whole piece to the “emergence of a Moscow-Tehran alliance”—thus making the “axis” part of the label more or less official and paving the way for God-knows-how-many others to affix the “evil” part in the coming weeks.
The Times piece had the virtue, at least, of conveying that the Russian-Iranian collaboration is a marriage of convenience, not part of a global autocratic plot to squash democracy, and that its motivation is largely defensive. “There is no deep love” between Iran and Russia, the Times piece observed. “The two authoritarian governments, both chafing under Western sanctions, share a view of the United States as their great enemy and a threat to their grip on power.”
What the Times piece didn’t do is explore the question of how these countries came to see the US as their great enemy. So it didn’t shed light on the perennial question: Was all this really necessary? Or might a different US foreign policy have led to a world in which Iran was in no mood to send Russia weapons, and maybe even a world in which Russia had no current use for them?
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