World roundup: September 16-17 2023
Stories from Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Colombia, and elsewhere
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Folks, I need a break. In past years I’ve usually taken several days off around Labor Day but this year, after my dad passing away and with the uncertainty about when I might need to take some additional time away from the newsletter to help my mom settle affairs, I tried to power through with a semi-inactive long weekend but I can tell that wasn’t enough. So I will be taking the rest of this week to recharge and will be back next Sunday. This is United Nations General Assembly week, which usually coincides with a bit of a lull in actual news as world leaders are too busy talking at one another to get into any real trouble, but if anything of serious importance does take place I will take a break from my, uh, break to discuss it here at the newsletter.
As always, thanks for reading!
TODAY IN HISTORY
September 16, 1955: A group of senior military officers begins an uprising they call the “Revolución Libertadora” against Argentine President Juan Perón in the city of Córdoba, Argentina. The coup would end with Perón’s resignation on September 21 and the junta assuming power on September 23.
September 16, 1970: Black September begins
September 17, 1176: The Battle of Myriokephalon
September 17, 1978: The Camp David Accords are signed
September 17, 1982: The Sabra and Shatila massacre
An explosion in an apartment building in the northern Syrian town of Afrin killed at least one person and wounded several others on Saturday according to Syrian media. To my knowledge there hasn’t yet been any determination as to what caused the blast and it may have been accidental. However, Afrin is occupied by Turkish forces and their rebel proxies and the Kurdish YPG militia has carried out bombing attacks there in the past. This may have been another of those.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested to reporters on Saturday that he might formally end Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. He was reacting to a new report commissioned by the European Parliament that concludes that Turkey’s stalled accession process should not be resumed at present due to concerns over human rights and the rule of law in Turkey.
I said “formally end” above because Turkey’s bid to join the EU was probably dead on arrival back in the 1990s. Admitting Turkey to the EU would bring with it a huge demographic shift within the bloc that member states—especially those under right-wing governments—have never seemed all that keen to undertake. And to be fair Turkish politics haven’t exactly aligned with stated EU principles, whether because of the Turkish military’s predilection for coups prior to Erdoğan’s rise to power or, since then, Turkey’s steady march toward autocracy. But pretending to maintain the accession process has been a useful framework for both sides to manage the Turkey-EU relationship and I have a hard time imagining either would want to do away with it. Erdoğan surely knows Turkey isn’t getting into the EU but he can still try to leverage more favorable customs and visa deals out of Brussels.
An apparent Turkish drone strike killed at least four Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq’s Sinjar region, according to Iraqi Kurdish officials. The Yazidi Sinjar Resistance Units militia later appeared to claim that three of the four were members of that organization.
The Palestinian Fatah Party has reportedly given Islamist elements inside Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh until the end of this month to surrender the individuals believed responsible for killing a senior Fatah commander back in July. Fatah and those Islamists have been battling on and off within the camp since that incident. Their latest ceasefire, which took hold on Thursday, has held so far but without some resolution to the underlying dispute the fighting seems likely to resume eventually. Hamas, which has denied any involvement in this affair but has been involved in negotiations to try to end the fighting, suggested the formation of a “joint security force” in the camp that would then seek to resolve the factions’ grievances.
Unspecified gunmen attacked a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Basij militia in the town of Nurabad on Saturday, killing one and wounding another three. The attack coincided with the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death while in the custody of Iranian morality police, but it’s unclear whether the latter had anything to do with the former. Iranian security forces were out in force all weekend to stifle any attempted protests. They even went so far as to arrest Amini’s father, Amjad, subsequently releasing him after apparently warning him not to hold any sort of organized event to commemorate his daughter’s death. There were reports of scattered incidents around the country, including a couple of shootings involving Iranian security forces, but nothing on the order of last year’s protests.
The Iranian government and the International Atomic Energy Agency are mired in a new dispute after the former barred a number of IAEA inspectors (specifically its French and German inspectors) from working in Iranian facilities. IAEA director Rafael Grossi criticized the move on Saturday, saying that it “openly contradicts the cooperation that should exist between the agency and Iran.” IAEA member states do have the right to bar individual inspectors from entering their facilities, but the Agency is complaining that Iran’s action goes beyond that and is akin to a blanket ban. Tehran’s action here seems like it may be a response to the recent announcement by the “E3” that they will not allow a number of Iranian sanctions to sunset next month as is stipulated under the 2015 nuclear deal.
The separatist government of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave has reportedly reached agreement with Azerbaijani authorities to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid into the region via territory controlled by Baku. The opening of a corridor from the Azerbaijani town of Aghdam is supposed to coincide with an easing of the Azerbaijani blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which links Karabakh to Armenia. Aid is to be permitted via that route as well. Assuming this deal holds up it could significantly reduce tensions in the southern Caucasus and bring desperately needed supplies to the people of Karabakh. Whether it leads to further talks on the status of Karabakh itself remains to be seen.
The US and South Korean governments agreed earlier this year to greater nuclear cooperation, in return for which the South Koreans agreed not, for the time being, to pursue a domestic nuclear weapons program. But The Wall Street Journal reports that a domestic program remains a very potent political issue in South Korea:
A majority of both conservatives and liberals back South Korea going nuclear, with widespread acknowledgment that doing so won’t convince North Korea to give up their weapons, according to polling by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
“To dismiss this as a fringe movement is a pretty serious mistake,” said Karl Friedhoff, one of the report’s authors and a fellow in public opinion and Asia policy at the organization.
Support for nuclear armament in South Korea won’t go away, especially as the nuclear arsenals of Russia, China and North Korea raise concerns about South Korea’s ability to defend itself, said Shin Yul, a professor of political science at South Korea’s Myongji University.
“The recent statements with Washington temporarily put out the fire, but as long as South Koreans fear North Korea’s growing nuclear threat, politicians will continue to call for nuclear armament,” Shin said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un headed home on Sunday after a lengthy sojourn through eastern Russia. After his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Kim toured a number of Russian military facilities. There’s no indication that he reached any binding agreements to obtain Russian military tech and/or provide Russia with North Korean-manufactured ordinance, but the trip definitely seems to have been intended to advance the possibility of greater military collaboration. Kim was gifted a few Russian drones and a bulletproof vest so he’s not going home empty handed.
The juntas ruling Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger all signed a mutual defense agreement on Saturday promising to aid one another in case of internal or external threat. Burkinabè and Malian officials had already pledged to come to Niger’s aid in the event of a military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States so this just formalizes the region’s new coup bloc-er, sorry, I mean the “Alliance of Sahel States,” which is apparently what they’re calling it.
It might be interesting to see how this pact is implemented—or is not implemented—in the case of a second coup in Niger. I’ve seen regional experts ruminate on the possibility of such an event and it’s probably worth noting that the current governments of both Burkina Faso and Mali are both products of back-to-back coups, albeit under considerably different circumstances. If Niger’s current junta is overthrown by another one would Burkina Faso and Mali be obliged to come to the current junta’s defense?
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
A militia attack on a village in the western DRC’s Kimvula territory reportedly left at least 18 civilians and one soldier dead last Monday, according to Congolese officials. Kimvula is located just south of Kinshasa in Kongo Central province. The attacker are believed to have been members of an ethnic Yaka “Mobondo” militia.
A Ukrainian artillery strike reportedly killed one person in a border village in Russia’s Kursk oblast on Saturday. Border shelling like this has remained relatively infrequent even as Ukraine has stepped up other types of attacks (i.e., drone strikes) against Russia. Speaking of which, an attempted Ukrainian drone strike reportedly caused disruptions in airport operations in Moscow on Sunday while another drone strike caused a fire in an oil facility in Russia’s Oryol oblast. The Russian military also said it shot down six drones heading toward Crimea.
Elsewhere, the North Macedonian government announced over the weekend that it’s expelled three Russian diplomatic staffers. This is the third time Skopje has expelled Russian staff since the start of the Ukraine invasion. Authorities did not go into detail about the expulsions but did note unspecified “activities being taken against the Vienna Convention for diplomatic relations.”
Ukrainian army commander Alexander Syrskyi declared via Telegram on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had recaptured Klishchiivka, a village situated just south of Bakhmut. Ukrainian officials claimed to have retaken the nearby village of Andriivka a few days ago so at least in their telling they’re making some progress around Bakhmut’s southern flank. In the Black Sea, two cargo ships have arrived in Ukraine to take on new loads of grain for export. They are the first two ships to sail to Ukraine via the corridor the Ukrainian military says it has opened since the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. A handful of vessels have successfully used the corridor to leave Ukraine and exit the Black Sea.
Lily Lynch of The New Statesman assesses the current state of the war—and Western media coverage of the war—amid new pessimism about the Ukrainian counteroffensive’s chances of achieving its goals:
But by most accounts, the counteroffensive has been a profound letdown. A Washington Post article published on 17 August cited a classified assessment by the US intelligence community which said that Ukraine’s counteroffensive would “fail to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol”, meaning that Kyiv “would not fulfil its principal objective of severing Russia’s land bridge to Crimea”. Other analyses have testified to the same. As Roland Popp, strategic analyst at the Swiss Military Academy at ETH Zurich told me, “The main cause for the change in [the media’s] tune is certainly general disappointment about Ukrainian military performance in the much-anticipated ‘counteroffensive’. Military experts in Western think tanks had whipped up high expectations based on Ukrainian successes in Kharkiv and Kherson last year. They ignored the Russian ability to adapt – which is historically the main factor explaining the changing odds during wars – and overstated the effects of Western weapons technology and doctrine.”
It is said that “success has a hundred fathers but failure is an orphan”, and a rush to allocate blame for the underwhelming counteroffensive is now under way. Some Western military experts blame the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ failures on its “Soviet legacy”. And several recent articles have condemned Ukraine for refusing to follow US instruction. “The thinly disguised criticism of Ukrainian operational decision-making is also intended to distract from [their] own misjudgments,” Popp said. American officials have complained through media that Ukraine has focused too much on the city of Bakhmut and other points in the East, wasting Western-furnished artillery in crushing barrages, and asserted that Kyiv should concentrate its forces in an area around Tokmak in the south of the country and its artillery fire only on the most important targets. Through unnamed sources and leaks to the press, a story of a more frustrated US-Ukraine relationship has emerged in recent weeks. “We built up this mountain of steel for the counteroffensive. We can’t do that again,” one disappointed former US official is quoted as telling the Washington Post. “It doesn’t exist.”
Militants from the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), a faction of dissident ex-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) members, killed at least four soldiers in a clash in southern Colombia’s Nariño department on Saturday. The incident comes as EMC leaders are set to open talks with the Colombian government on Monday about organizing peace talks and implementing their recently renewed ceasefire. It’s unclear if this incident will impact those talks but according to AFP there are questions as to EMC’s internal cohesion and it’s possible a faction opposed to negotiations is trying to undermine the process.
Jacobin’s Carlos Cruz Mosquera assesses the present state of Gustavo Petro’s presidency:
Not only has the Petro administration made progress on the most pressing national issues, including tackling high poverty levels, addressing the long-standing violent conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other armed groups, and limiting the narcotics trade — it’s also begun to take on capitalism’s environmental crises on the international stage.
It has not all been smooth sailing, however. The coalition is rife with internal conflict and power struggles, a hostile opposition has successfully limited progressive bills in Congress (where the coalition lacks a majority), and, more generally, the incessant machinery of a disquieted ruling class constantly undermines the coalition’s policy goals, particularly through lawfare and corporate media smears. Unsurprisingly, despite evidence of Petro’s impressive performance in his first year in office given these challenges, most of the country’s opinion polls show his approval ratings down from 56 percent when he was appointed to just 33 percent. However, a recent Strategic Center Latin American of Geopolitics report suggests that around 90 percent of those who voted for the coalition continue to approve its mandate.
Colombia’s social democratic project under President Petro and the Pacto Histórico provides those of us interested in left-wing governance some important lessons. In just a year, the new administration has implemented impressive policies that depart from the rapacious neoliberalism of the past. Moreover, in contrast to some other regional examples, Colombia’s left remains committed to implementing its radical reforms, edging out the stalling centrists in its midst. But whether it has the wherewithal to withstand the powerful offensive waged upon it and its vision for a new country remains to be seen.
Finally, TomDispatch’s Stan Cox highlights a potentially positive development on the climate change front emerging from the US state of Montana:
The wording in Article IX, Section 1, of Montana’s constitution couldn’t be clearer: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” Accordingly, in April, a district court judge in Yellowstone County voided a permit for a natural-gas-fired power plant under construction there. Over its lifetime, it would have released an estimated 23 million tons of planet-roasting carbon dioxide and that, ruled the judge, was incompatible with a “clean and healthful environment” in Montana or, for that matter, anywhere else.
Within a week, the state legislature had voted to reinforce a 2011 law barring the consideration of climate change in policymaking and so allowing the construction of the power plant to resume. But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Last month, the lawmakers were slapped down a second time when another district judge ruled in favor of a group of 16 youthful Montanans in a suit filed in 2020 seeking to strike down that very 2011 anti-climate legislation.
In her ruling, Judge Kathy Seeley wrote, “Montana’s climate, environment, and natural resources are unconstitutionally degraded and depleted due to the current atmospheric concentration of [greenhouse gases] and climate change.” She added that “every additional ton of greenhouse gas emissions exacerbates Plaintiffs’ injuries and risks locking in irreversible climate injuries.” The state, she made it abundantly clear, is obligated to correct such a situation.
The plaintiffs, who were all in their teens or younger when their suit, Held v. Montana, was filed three years ago, are represented by a nonprofit group, Our Children’s Trust. Since 2011, it has been pursuing climate action on behalf of this country’s youth in the courts of all 50 states. The Montana case was simply the first to go to trial. The second, a climate case against the Hawaii Department of Transportation, is scheduled to begin next summer.
For all I know this case will eventually get to the US Supreme Court and the conservative majority will rule against the plaintiffs and then order the state of Montana to create a giant coal bonfire just for shits and giggles. Still, it’s encouraging that the reality of what’s ahead is getting legal traction.
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