World roundup: October 4 2022
Stories from North Korea, Ukraine, Colombia, and elsewhere
This is the web version of Foreign Exchanges, but did you know you can get it delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today:
Wishing an easy fast to those who are observing Yom Kippur.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Substack has finally introduced an Android app to go with its iOS app, so please check that out if it’s of interest to you.
THESE DAYS 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.
October 4, 1957: The Soviet Union successfully launches Sputnik 1, putting the first artificial satellite in orbit and terrifying a whole bunch of people in Washington DC.
October 4, 1993: The two-day Battle of Mogadishu, later memorialized in the book/film Black Hawk Down, ends. The battle began with a calamitous US/UN mission to capture a couple of aides to self-declared Somali President Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which went south very quickly when Somali fighters shot down a US Black Hawk helicopter (they later shot down a second). In the end 21 international soldiers were killed (19 of them US) and one captured, while at least 200 Somalis (both civilians and militants) were also killed.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
No fewer than four Lebanese banks were targeted in attempted “heists” on Tuesday. I put “heists” in quotes because as has been the case for several weeks the people who undertake these operations aren’t trying to steal anything, they’re trying to force the banks to give them access to their own money despite withdrawal limits. One bank was “held up” in this fashion on Monday, so this week is shaping up to be even more active than the seven-heist week last month that prompted Lebanon’s banking association to temporarily shut down bank branches due to safety concerns. Two of Tuesday’s perpetrators appear to have been armed, though that hasn’t been confirmed yet as far as I know.
According to The Wall Street Journal the Lebanese and Israeli governments have both said they’re prepared, pending some “amendments,” to accept the latest US proposal to resolve their simmering maritime border dispute. Under its terms Israel would gain full control of the Karish gas field while Lebanon would control the Qana field but pay royalties to Israel for the portion of that field that lies under Israeli waters. An agreement here could accomplish multiple geopolitical aims—forestalling a potential Israel-Lebanon war over the gas fields, chiefly. Beyond that, there are hopes that Israel might be able to start extracting gas from Karish in short order, making that a viable replacement for part of the gas European Union member states are now not getting from Russia. And as the bank story above highlights, Lebanon could certainly use the revenue that should come from exploiting its own offshore deposits.
There’s a potential drawback here in the form of next month’s Israeli snap election. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has been harshly critical of the US framework and is suggesting that if he becomes prime minister again he’ll scrap any deal made under its terms. He may be bluffing for political effect, but then again maybe not.
I’m sorry to have to inform you all that the Bahraini government has decided to drop its bid for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Its decision to run for a seat on the HRC drew a fair amount of criticism on account of Bahrain’s fairly miserable human rights record. There are plenty of countries with lousy human rights records serving on the council—Qatar and the UAE are on it right now, for instance—so it’s unclear why the Bahrainis withdrew their candidacy unless they just weren’t willing to deal with the criticism.
The Azerbaijani government has reportedly freed 17 Armenian prisoners of war, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan crediting US mediation for this development. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov during the UN General Assembly session last month and apparently got them both on the phone on Tuesday to finalize the prisoner release. It’s a small step but could help calm tensions in the southern Caucasus and spark some progress toward a peace deal.
Unspecified militants attacked a Pakistani security convoy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Tuesday, killing two soldiers. Three of the attackers were also killed in the engagement. Also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan security forces reportedly killed four Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP) fighters in an overnight raid. It’s likely the TTP was responsible for the convoy attack as well, or in other words it seems like the Afghan Taliban-brokered peace talks between the TTP and the Pakistani government have well and truly crapped out.
The head of prisons in Kashmir was found murdered in his home late Monday, and while authorities seem to believe this was a domestic crime of some sort the militant “People’s Anti-Fascist Front” group has claimed responsibility. If true this would be the highest profile assassination by a Kashmiri militant group in years. In its statement claiming responsibility, PAFF suggested there could be more killings like this to come.
The North Korean military’s Tuesday morning missile test has generated a fair bit of outcry, as you might expect given that the projectile overflew Japan and appears to have been Pyongyang’s longest-range test to date. The Biden administration has requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the test but it’s believed Russia and China will block it. The US and South Korean militaries conducted their own weapons tests in response to the North Korean test and the Japanese government is talking about increasing its “counterattack capability,” just in case I guess. It’s still unclear exactly what the North Koreans tested, with theories ranging from an intermediate range ballistic missile to an intercontinental ballistic missile to something in the “hypersonic” family. Looming on the horizon is the North Korean nuclear test that analysts in the US and South Korea have been predicting for months now, perhaps of a lower yield “tactical” device.
Solomons officials wound up signing last week’s “US-Pacific Partnership” agreement after all, even though they’d threatened not to sign prior to the summit that preceded it. All it took was a bit of a rewrite involving parts of the agreement that contained “indirect references” to China. It’s unclear what those references might have been, since of course the final draft didn’t include them. But the whole affair highlights the role the Pacific region is playing in our glorious New Cold War.
Representatives from the Economic Community of West African States visited Ouagadougou on Tuesday to meet Burkina Faso’s new junta, after which the bloc’s chief mediator, former Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, pronounced himself “satisfied” with what he heard. Neither the junta nor ECOWAS was forthcoming as to the content of their meeting but the bloc is keen on ensuring that the new junta sticks to the former junta’s July 2024 deadline for new elections, so presumably Issoufou was reassured that things are still on schedule. Issoufou and his team were reportedly greeted by a small pro-Russian protest in the capital, which is interesting insofar as there’s been speculation that last week’s coup was the product of a group of Burkinabè military officers who would like to shed the country’s traditional alliance with France in favor of stronger ties with Russia and the Wagner Group.
Unspecified gunmen attacked a village in Nigeria’s Taraba state on Monday, killing at least 12 people. Although Taraba lies on the outskirts of the parts of Nigeria that have been embroiled in violence due to Boko Haram and/or Islamic State West Africa Province, there’s no indication as yet that these attackers were jihadists. Rather it sounds like this may have been an instance of farmer-herder violence, as the community they attacked is predominantly made up of herders. The attackers made off with a large number of cattle, so simple banditry is also a possible motive.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni canned his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, from his position as commander of the Ugandan army on Tuesday. It seems that Kainerugaba is fond of tweeting, and for some reason he decided to tweet on Tuesday that “it wouldn’t take us, my army and me, 2 weeks to capture Nairobi.” Now, whether that’s true or not is unclear. And whether or not Kainerugaba was joking is also unclear. But what’s very clear is that the Kenyan government wasn’t terribly thrilled about the army commander of a neighboring country musing publicly about capturing the Kenyan capital. So Museveni probably didn’t have much choice. To cushion the blow, Museveni actually promoted Kainerugaba to four-star rank and kept him on as a military adviser. There’s been a great deal of speculation that the 78 year old Museveni has been grooming his son to succeed him and I would assume that nothing about Tuesday’s events changed that plan.
SÃO TOMÉ AND PRINCIPE
The São Toméan Constitutional Court confirmed on Monday that the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) won a sole majority in the National Assembly in last month’s election. The ADI emerged from that vote with 30 seats in the 55 seat legislature, putting party leader Patrice Trovoada in line for what will be his fourth stint as prime minister.
The UK’s Times newspaper reported on Monday that Russia is preparing to conduct a nuclear test near the Ukrainian border. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on that claim on Tuesday. I gather the idea is that Vladimir Putin would somehow be demonstrating his willingness to use nuclear weapons to try to intimidate the West or something, but the logic of doing that by setting off a nuke on Russian soil mostly escapes me. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.
The Japanese government has expelled the Russian consul in the city of Sapporo in retaliation for Moscow’s expulsion of the Japanese consul in Vladivostok last month. Russian officials accused the Japanese consul of spying, a charge Tokyo has rejected. Japan has been a full participant in the West’s sanctions program since the start of the Ukraine war so needless to say relations between these two countries are not great.
The Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, voted on Tuesday to ratify Russia’s “annexation” of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. That sends the annexation to Vladimir Putin’s desk to be signed into law, which he may have done on Tuesday though I have not seen any reporting to that effect. Inside, Ukraine, meanwhile, Russian forces appear to be retreating in Kherson and in the east. There’s no confirmation of that, but according to Reuters Tuesday’s daily video update from the Russian Defense Ministry featured maps on which the part of Ukraine under Russian control was significantly smaller than in previous days. The changes correspond to reports on Monday that the Ukrainian military had advanced along the western bank of the Dnipro River, while in the east it looks as though the Ukrainians have retaken all but a small portion of Kharkiv oblast all the way to the border of Luhansk.
Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s opening pitch to parties willing to enter a coalition with his GERB party is that he will not seek to retake his former position. GERB won Sunday’s parliamentary election with a bit over 25 percent of the vote, enough to make it the largest party in the National Assembly by a significant margin but nowhere near enough to give it a sole majority. Borisov’s challenge is that none of Bulgaria’s other parties seem willing to collaborate with GERB due to lingering allegations of corruption stemming back to Borisov’s last stint as PM. With Bulgarian voters surely nearing some sort of breaking point after going to the polls four times over the past 18 months, Borisov sounds like he’s offering something akin to a national unity government to try to avoid another snap election.
The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have agreed to resume peace talks starting next month. New Colombian President Gustavo Petro has offered to resume negotiations with the ELN, Colombia’s largest remaining rebel group, where they had left off under former President Juan Manuel Santos. Those talks were broken off by Santos’ successor, Iván Duque, in 2019 after an ELN attack on a police facility in Bogotá.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Port-au-Prince on Monday, protesting fuel shortages and rising prices and calling for Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation. Gangs are continuing to block access to the city’s main fuel terminal at Varreux, causing gasoline prices to spike and forcing hospitals to consider service cutbacks. Haitian schools were due to open on Monday, a month later than scheduled after officials determined they could not open on time due to the country’s economic crisis.
Finally, Airwars reports on another shambolic annual report on civilian casualties from the Pentagon:
The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress, released yesterday, on civilian deaths and injuries resulting from US military actions in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria has declared responsibility for 12 deaths and five injuries in 2021. All 12 deaths conceded were in Afghanistan; injuries were reported resulting from actions in both Somalia and Afghanistan.
While these mostly align with public reports on Afghanistan and Somalia – the lack of any incidents for Syria are of serious concern. Airwars has documented at least 17 incidents in which harm to civilians occurred as a result of US actions; this includes 15 civilian deaths, and 17 injuries.
Alongside reports of casualties in 2021, included in the annual report are additional cases from past actions under Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) – the operation to defeat ISIS. In these cases too, conceded casualty reports are significantly lower than local reporting suggests.
Thanks for reading! Foreign Exchanges is entirely a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.