World roundup: October 3 2023
Stories from Yemen, Azerbaijan, Russia, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
October 3, 42 BC: An army led by two of Julius Caesar’s assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, meets the combined armies of Triumvirs Marc Antony and Octavian in the first round of the Battle of Philippi. Antony’s forces defeated Cassius’s, and Cassius subsequently committed suicide after hearing that Brutus had also been defeated. In fact Brutus’s portion of the army had been victorious in its part of the battle against Octavian’s forces. So the battle overall was more or less a draw. The two armies would meet again 20 days later, at which point the Triumvirs soundly defeated Brutus and he, too, committed suicide.
October 3, 1932: In accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, Iraq gains independence from Britain upon the expiration of its League of Nations Mandate, albeit with Britain retaining substantial political and commercial influence in the newly “independent” kingdom. Commemorated annually as Iraqi National Day.
October 3, 1990: The German Democratic Republic (“East Germany”) is merged into the Federal Republic of Germany (“West Germany”) after a 45 year separation. Commemorated annually as German Unity Day.
A group of some 50 Yemeni and international NGOs issued a joint statement on Tuesday warning that “while economic challenges are rife across the country, rising inflation and the deterioration of public services are making life unbearable” for Yemenis, particularly those living in and around the country’s de facto capital, Aden. Apparently residents in that part of Yemen are dealing with upwards of 17 hours per day without electricity and many cannot afford rising food prices. While Yemen has been under a tacit ceasefire since last October, the failure to renew the actual ceasefire that expired that month has had substantial negative effects on the Yemeni economy, and a paucity of international aid money (in part because attention remains focused on Ukraine) has left those NGOs scrambling to make do with less.
The Turkish military carried out a new round of airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) outposts in northern Iraq on Tuesday, destroying “16 targets” according to their figures. The Turks are saying they’re still retaliating for Sunday’s PKK bombing in Ankara, but since they regularly strike the group in northern Iraq anyway I’m not sure the bombing really has anything to do with it.
Don’t look now, but Israeli settlers are continuing to effect an unofficial annexation of the West Bank:
Across remote parts of the West Bank, the mountainous territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Palestinian herding communities are abandoning their homes at a rate that has no recorded precedent, according to the United Nations.
Simultaneously, Israeli settlers are establishing wildcat herding outposts at close to record levels, often near Palestinian villages, according to land assessments by Kerem Navot, an independent Israeli watchdog that monitors settlement activity. The group says that at least 20 new outposts have been established since the beginning of the year, a handful of which were dismantled by the Israeli Army before being reassembled.
The result has been the accelerated expansion of an Israeli civilian presence across large and strategic tracts of the territory — more than 140 square miles, according to Kerem Navot — and the simultaneous retreat of Palestinians from the same rural areas.
The Israeli settlers’ stated intention is to chip away at wide expanses of land that the Palestinian leadership, at the advent of the Oslo peace process 30 years ago, hoped would form the territorial spine of a future Palestinian state.
The Armenian parliament on Tuesday voted to ratify the Rome Statute, making Armenia a full-fledged member of the International Criminal Court. This is clearly a snub of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who would now be at risk of arrest if he were to visit Armenia given his active ICC indictment. Armenian officials insisted that there’s no chance they would actually arrest him but nevertheless Moscow and the ICC are decidedly not on good terms right now and the Armenian government remains pretty irritated that Russian peacekeepers did nothing to stop the Azerbaijani military’s seizure of the Nagorno-Karabakh region last month. The math here isn’t exactly advanced calculus. Certainly the Kremlin, which heavily criticized the vote, understood what was happening.
On the subject of Karabakh, Azerbaijani authorities have now apparently arrested several former top officials of the secessionist “Republic of Artsakh” administration. It’s unclear exactly what charges they’re going to face or what their punishments might be if we make the fairly safe assumption that they’ll eventually be found guilty. The arrests don’t exactly contradict Azerbaijani promises to peacefully integrate Karabakh’s Armenian population but they also don’t instill a lot of confidence about those promises being fulfilled.
Meanwhile, Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman assesses the risk of a new conflict over Azerbaijan’s designs on southern Armenia:
Baku wants to connect Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani exclave that borders Turkey. [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev insists that Azerbaijan should be granted unfettered access through a proposed land corridor and not be subjected to border controls. Armenia ripostes that not only would this constitute a breach of its sovereignty, but it would effectively cut it off from its southern neighbor and closest regional ally, Iran.
Turkey favors the scheme because this would allow it direct access to Azerbaijan proper and to Russian and Central Asian markets that lie beyond. Russia is also on board provided that its own forces monitor the corridor.
Armenia’s real and not unreasonable worry is that Baku will use the corridor as a launching pad to invade Syunik, the southern region that separates Nakhichevan from Azerbaijan. Israel would be delighted. It uses Azerbaijan soil to spy on Iran. In exchange, Israel provided weapons in the last two Nagorno-Karabakh wars. Iran has declared any such move cause for war.
In an ominous portent, Azerbaijan has occupied an estimated 125 square kilometers of Armenian territory since 2020. Western inertia in the face of the past week’s events may embolden Aliyev to make another land grab, sowing the seeds of yet another cycle of bloodletting. This would be all the more likely should Russia succeed in ousting [Armenian Prime Minister Nikol] Pashinyan and installing its own apparatchiks, most likely in a coup. The Kremlin could revert to its old tactic of playing one side against the other.
The Indian government has reportedly ordered Canada to recall 41 of the 62 diplomatic staffers it currently has posted to India, in the latest fallout from the dispute over the murder of Sikh nationalist Hardeep Singh Nijjar and the Canadian government’s assertion that India was responsible. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who’s been steadily backpedaling since leveling that accusation last month, said that his government will “continue to engage responsibly and constructively” with New Delhi to try to forestall the expulsion.
The Biden administration on Tuesday blacklisted 28 people and entities linked to global drug trafficking, including an alleged Chinese “network” involved in the fentanyl trade. The US Justice Department also unsealed drug-related indictments involving eight Chinese entities and 12 individuals.
European Union ambassadors have agreed to what Reuters termed a “framework” for sanctioning “key actors” in the conflict between the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group. As you might have guessed from the wording, the EU is still a few steps away from actually sanctioning anybody. Member state foreign ministers still need to approve the “framework” and then the EU can start fleshing it out with names.
Nigerien authorities announced late Monday that a jihadist attack near the Malian border had left at least 29 of their soldiers dead. They haven’t said exactly when or where this attack took place, though as to the latter it was probably in Niger’s troubled Tillabéri region. Niger’s junta also rejected a claim by Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf that junta leaders had accepted Algeria’s six month transition plan and its offer to mediate Niger’s dispute with the Economic Community of West African States. It’s unclear why Attaf made that claim without some assurance that the junta would back him up.
The governor of Russia’s Bryansk oblast, Alexander Bogomaz, claimed on Tuesday that Ukrainian forces had shelled a border village using cluster munitions. There are no reports of any casualties, but if true the use of cluster bombs in areas containing civilian populations it is at least arguably a war crime and goes against assurances that Ukrainian officials have made about their use of such munitions. Again that’s if this claim is true. There’s no confirmation of Bogomaz’s allegation.
Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the Kremlin has no plans to order a new military mobilization and has no need for one given that, according to him, some 335,000 people have volunteered to fight for Russia in Ukraine so far this year. Some portion of them are likely mercenaries, including ex-Wagner Group fighters, who have agreed to join “voluntary forces” that are controlled by Shoigu’s ministry. Needless to say there’s no indication that the Russians are on the back foot in Ukraine—an analysis from Harvard’s Belfer Center even suggests they’ve gained more Ukrainian territory than they’ve lost over the past month, though neither side has made much headway.
The Ukrainian government has reportedly reached a deal to facilitate the exportation of its grain products with the governments of Lithuania and Poland. The deal will allow Ukrainian grain to pass more expeditiously through Poland because it shifts the inspection point for shipments from the Polish border to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda. From there it can be shipped via the Baltic Sea. There’s some hope that this new plan will ease mounting tensions between the Ukrainian and Polish governments over those grain exports. If it works it will likely mean less Ukrainian grain passing overland through Poland and neighboring states.
The Serbian government has reportedly arrested the prime suspect in last month’s apparent Serb militant attack in northern Kosovo. He is a Kosovan Serb political figure named Milan Radoičić and he is accused of having facilitated the attack by, among other things, procuring weapons for the attackers. Kosovan authorities want him extradited but there’s no indication at this point that the Serbian government is prepared to do that. In the meantime, fears sparked by a Serbian military buildup along the Kosovan border appear to have subsided as Belgrade has reduced its border deployment to something approaching normal levels.
The European Union is currently sitting on billions of euros in funds that have been earmarked for Hungary but frozen because of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s disdain for little things like “the rule of law” and “human rights.” But EU member states are apparently ready to unfreeze at least part of that money, not because Orbán has seen the light on those issues but in order to bribe him to support the EU’s agenda regarding Ukraine. The EU is set to begin membership talks with Kyiv in December—unless, that is, one of the bloc’s member states should object. The EU also wants to raise members’ financial obligations to support additional Ukraine aid. Orbán can quash either or both of those plans if he wants, and given that he’s not terribly fond of the Ukrainian government (and is pretty fond of Vladimir Putin) it’s clear he’ll need some inducement to let them move forward. Nothing is decided here and Orbán may need to make at least some token gesture toward satisfying EU objections to the way he governs, but we’ll see.
King Felipe VI of Spain tapped Socialist Party leader and current caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to form a new government on Tuesday, following the failure of People’s Party leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s bid last week. Sánchez is thought to have a slightly smoother path toward winning a confirmation vote than Feijóo had, but he’ll need to curry favor with Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists to do it and it very much remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to pull that off.
Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arévalo visited Washington on Tuesday to meet with US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, to discuss his ongoing legal struggles back home. Guatemalan Attorney-General María Consuelo Porras is still trying to undermine Arévalo’s incoming administration, presumably because of his stated intention to root out corruption and her preference that he not do that. The Biden administration, joining the United Nations and the Organization of American States, has raised concerns about Arévalo’s transition process.
The Federal Communications Commission has made the DISH Network Corporation the proud recipient of the first fine ever levied by the federal government over the issue of space junk. The FCC has charged DISH $150,000 over what it says is a “failure to properly de-orbit” the company’s EchoStar-7 satellite. Apparently the company had promised to move that device to a higher, less risky orbit as it reached the end of its operational lifespan, but opted to move it only part of the way and leave it parked at an altitude where it is still a significant collision risk. The fine is a pittance but could set a precedent for dealing with the ongoing challenge of space junk.
Perhaps U.S. President Joe Biden’s strangest policy U-turn since taking office has been his total reversal on U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia. As a candidate in 2020, Biden called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, a pariah and promised to make Saudi leaders pay for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Three years later, as part of a drive to secure Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic recognition of Israel, the Biden administration is inching ever closer toward offering Riyadh the kind of security guarantees only given to Washington’s closest and most important allies. Though the actual details are not yet known or even finalized, the rough contours of the deal are clear: In exchange for normalizing relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia would receive a formal security guarantee from the United States, along with technical assistance on its civilian nuclear program.
The U.S. has often compromised its values in the past to advance urgent security interests, and the administration and its backers argue that this deal is just such a case of strategic necessity. It would, they argue, help stabilize and strengthen the security environment in the Gulf and, more importantly, help the U.S. gain an advantage over China in a critical region. It is perhaps no surprise that many critics of the deal have focused instead on Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record, from the killing and jailing of dissidents to the apparent state-sanctioned slaughter of migrants on the border with Yemen. Others have pointed to the potential risk that the deal might undermine Palestinians’ struggle for rights and statehood, as well as the impact it could have on Israeli domestic politics by emboldening the far-right factions in the current Israeli government.
But focusing on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, appalling though it might be, is a red herring. The real problem with this deal as it is currently being reported is that it would do little to advance U.S. interests on oil prices, regional stability or even geopolitical competition with China. The stated goal of normalization between Israel and the Arab states is admirable and achieving it would be historic. But it’s simply not worth the price the Biden administration appears willing to pay.
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