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World roundup: September 15 2022
Stories from Armenia, South Africa, Ukraine, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
September 14, 1829: The Treaty of Adrianople ends the Ottoman-Russian War of 1828-1829. The Ottomans ceded control over the eastern shore of the Black Sea and the mouth of the Danube River, re-guaranteed Serbia’s autonomy, allowed Moldavia and Wallachia to become Russian protectorates, and paid a large indemnity to the Russians.
September 14, 1960: At a meeting in Baghdad, the governments of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela agree to form the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Everything has gone really well ever since. Also on this date, with CIA help, Congolese Army Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko seized power in a bloodless coup in Kinshasa. That worked out really well too.
September 15, 1821: The Captaincy-General of Guatemala—encompassing the modern states of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua—declares its independence from Spain. The date is commemorated as independence day in all five of those countries.
September 15, 1894: The Imperial Japanese Army captures the city of Pyongyang from Qing Dynasty China in one of the first engagements of the First Sino-Japanese War. China opted to abandon Korea to the Japanese, and when the war ended with a Japanese victory the Korean peninsula came under Japan’s regional sphere of influence.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to Reuters, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan, has been taking meetings with his Syrian counterpart, National Security Bureau boss Ali Mamlouk, at the Russian government’s behest. Insofar as it would reduce Russia’s concerns in Syria and allow it to devote more attention to Ukraine, it makes sense that Moscow would try to coax a thaw in the Turkey-Syria relationship. But that thaw is unlikely to happen quickly, given that Turkey has assumed control of a large portion of northern Syria and thus has also assumed responsibility for thousands of rebel fighters and millions of displaced civilians under its purview. These meetings are a start, but that’s all they are.
Israeli forces shot and killed a 17 year old Palestinian and injured at least three other people during an raid near the West Bank city of Jenin on Thursday. Israeli officials are, as ever, insisting that their personnel acted in self defense. The raid apparently targeted the homes of two Palestinian militants who were killed the previous day after gunning down an Israel soldier.
The campaign leading into November’s Israeli snap election began in earnest on Thursday as the parties submitted their final candidate lists. Polling consistently shows former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right to far right coalition winning a plurality of seats in the Knesset but falling short of a majority, an outcome that would mean months of coalition talks that in all likelihood would fail to produce a government. The fractious anti-Netanyahu coalition currently running Israel, meanwhile, is likely to fall even further shy of a majority and may fall apart altogether if Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz can’t resolve their dispute over which of them should head the coalition after the election.
The Biden administration has decided to withhold and repurpose $130 million in Egyptian military aid that had been frozen by Congress over human rights concerns. Or, put another way, it’s decided to release $170 million of the overall $300 million in 2022 aid that Congress froze, citing improvements in the Egyptian government’s human rights performance. It probably will not surprise you to learn that there have been no discernible improvements in the Egyptian government’s human rights performance this year. As always, we’re Putting Human Rights at the Center of US Foreign Policy.
The Iranian government on Thursday signed a “memorandum of obligations” to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Russia- and China-led security collective. The Iranians are hoping that SCO membership will help alleviate their struggles under US sanctions while Moscow and Beijing are presumably happy to add another state that’s found itself on the wrong end of US foreign policy.
After two days of fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers in which more than 170 people have been killed—105 Armenians and 71 Azerbaijanis—a ceasefire appeared to be holding as of this writing. Whether it will continue to hold is an open question. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he’s requested help from the Russian government and the Central Security Treaty Organization, in which Armenia is a member. So far he’s gotten crickets in response. The CSTO is apparently planning to send a “fact finding mission” to the region next week, but at this point that’s it. There’s certainly been nothing about the CSTO’s response that might, say, deter Azerbaijan in the future.
As expected, Chinese President Xi Jinping used the occasion of his visit to the SCO conference in Samarkand, his first foray outside of China since the onset of COVID, to touch base with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. They apparently talked about the war in Ukraine, with Putin noting beforehand that Xi had some “concerns” about the war. It’s unclear what exactly those concerns are, though analysts have noted that Beijing hasn’t done all that it probably could be doing to support the Russian war effort despite the stated “friendship” between the two countries. Interestingly, the Chinese government’s statement following the meeting didn’t mention Ukraine at all. At least they got a chance to hang out, I guess.
A new outbreak of inter-communal violence in southern Chad’s Moyen-Chari region has left at least ten people dead and 20 more injured over the past two days. The fighting began with a dispute between a local farmer and a pastoral herder, members of two groups that frequently find themselves at odds in southern Chad and indeed in many other parts of Africa.
The South African parliament has named a new panel to consider whether or not to impeach President Cyril Ramaphosa over allegations that he misled police about a robbery that took place at his private farm. The former head of South Africa’s State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, is alleging that Ramaphosa failed to report the incident and instead had the robbers privately detained and then bribed them to keep their mouths shut. Presumably this had something to do with the roughly $4 million in furniture Fraser is alleging they took, and the questions the revelation of such an expensive haul would raise about Ramaphosa’s personal finances. The panel has to issue a report into its investigation within 30 days, after which legislators will decide whether or not to pursue impeachment.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is hoping to expand the agreement that has unlocked Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea to include exports of ammonia from Russia. Guterres apparently spoke to Putin about the subject on Wednesday. Ammonia is a key ingredient in fertilizer and before the war Russia exported a fair amount of it via Ukraine’s Pivdennyi seaport. If the goal is to alleviate the impact the war has had on global food supplies, then reestablishing Russian ammonia exports has to be part of the effort.
The US Treasury Department on Thursday blacklisted 22 individuals and two entities accused of supporting the Russian war effort. The Commerce and State departments are apparently also set to impose new sanctions in concert with these, but I haven’t seen any details on those.
In Ukraine, meanwhile:
Ukrainian authorities in the recently recovered city of Izyum have discovered a mass grave there containing over 440 bodies. Most seem to have been killed in airstrikes or artillery attacks but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is comparing the discovery to what Ukrainian forces are said to have found when they recaptured Bucha when Russian forces withdrew from the area around Kyiv several weeks ago. Or, in other words, he’s accusing the Russians of having carried out atrocities during their occupation of the city.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors adopted a resolution on Thursday calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The vote was 26 board members in favor to two (Russia and China) opposed, with seven abstentions. This resolution was more pointed than past IAEA statements about the facility, which have talked in more general terms about demilitarizing the plant and its surrounding region.
The German government is sending two additional multiple rocket launchers and 50 armored personnel carriers to Ukraine, according to a statement from Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht on Thursday. The announcement comes two days after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba criticized Berlin for failing to meet Ukrainian weapons requests, but it’s unlikely to satisfy that criticism. Kuleba was mostly demanding that the Germans send tanks and armored fighting vehicles, and those don’t seem to have been in the offing in Lambrecht’s announcement. German officials have resisted calls to send their advanced Leopard 2 tanks, under the justification that it would be simpler for Eastern European countries to send their Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine since the Ukrainian military is already familiar with those systems.
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to declare that Hungary is now a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” rather than a true democracy. Like everything else the EP does this vote is entirely symbolic, but it provides some reinforcement should the European Commission decide to freeze and/or cut Hungary’s regular cut of European Union funds on corruption grounds. As you might expect, the Hungarian government was not terribly thrilled with the vote.
One Oxford protester was led away, handcuffed, put into a van, interrogated, and told he would be interviewed and possibly charged, all for shouting “Who elected him?” in the middle of King Charles’s proclamation. A woman was arrested at the same event in Edinburgh for silently holding a sign that read “Fuck Imperialism, Abolish Monarchy” before being charged under a law criminalizing “threatening or abusive” behavior. Edinburgh also saw a man arrested and charged for a “breach of the peace” after heckling Prince Andrew, as he marched in the Queen’s funeral procession, over his long friendship with the late billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. (Andrew, who remains free and not charged with any crime, has been credibly accused of engaging in sex with one of Epstein’s underage sex slaves and was stripped of his royal patronages last year as a result).
These weren’t even the most absurd examples. Barrister and activist Paul Powlesland was threatened with arrest in Parliament Square in London. His crime? Holding a blank piece of paper and expressing the intention to write “Not My King” on it. In a video posted by Powlesland, the police officer can be heard telling him the message he hadn’t even written “may offend people.” (Incidentally, being arrested for holding blank paper is exactly what Russian antiwar protesters have faced under Vladimir Putin this year). In another arrest near a separate funeral procession, a man was charged with a breach of the peace for being near the queen’s coffin while carrying eggs.
I mean, that last one didn’t even involve any criticism. Apparently they can arrest you for carrying groceries now.
Former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader and current ex-FARC militant leader Iván Márquez (real name Luciano Marín Arango), is apparently ready to negotiate with the Colombian government again. Márquez was among the senior FARC leadership who agreed on a peace deal with the government back in 2016, but he later rejected that deal, citing former President Iván Duque’s failure to implement it. According to new President Gustavo Petro’s chief negotiator, Danilo Rueda, Márquez is one of a number of militant leaders who have reached out to say they’re prepared to talk with Petro’s administration. There were rumors back in July that Márquez had been killed in Venezuela, but clearly that wasn’t the case.
Finally, at TomDispatch, Andrew Bacevich wonders why all the US military “experts” who have been so thorough in their criticisms of the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine refuse to turn their attention inward:
Implicit in this critique, voiced by self-proclaimed American experts, is the suggestion that, if the Russian army had paid more attention to how U.S. forces deal with such matters, they would have fared better in Ukraine. That they don’t — and perhaps can’t — comes as good news for Russia’s enemies, of course. By implication, Russian military ineptitude obliquely affirms the military mastery of the United States. We define the standard of excellence to which others can only aspire.
All of which begs a larger question the national security establishment remains steadfastly oblivious to: If jointness, combined arms tactics, flexible leadership, and responsive logistics hold the keys to victory, why haven’t American forces — supposedly possessing such qualities in abundance — been able to win their own equivalents of the Ukraine War? After all, Russia has only been stuck in Ukraine for six months, while the U.S. was stuck in Afghanistan for 20 years and still has troops in Iraq almost two decades after its disastrous invasion of that country.
To rephrase the question: Why does explaining the Russian underperformance in Ukraine attract so much smug commentary here, while American military underperformance gets written off?
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