World roundup: April 22 2021
Stories from Iran, Samoa, Ukraine, and more
This is the web version of Foreign Exchanges, but did you know you can get it delivered right to your inbox? Sign up today:
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
April 21, 43 BC: In the followup to April 14’s Battle of Forum Gallorum, Mark Antony’s army is again defeated by a consular army led by Aulus Hirtius with the support of Octavia at the Battle of Mutina. Antony decided after this defeat to lift his siege of Mutina, which he’d ostensibly undertaken in order to kill its governor, Decimus Brutus, who was one of Julius Caesar’s assassins. He set about amassing a huge army of Caesarian loyalists. Decimus Brutus wound up fleeing east to join Brutus and Cassius, but was captured and killed by allies of Antony on the way. Conveniently for Octavian, Hirtius died during the battle, and when his fellow consul Pansa died the following day of wounds suffered at Forum Gallorum, Octavian was left to claim credit for the victory uncontested. The newly empowered Octavian soon turned on the Senate and later allied with Antony under the framework of the Second Triumvirate.
April 21, 1526: The First Battle of Panipat
April 21, 1802 (probably): A Saudi-Wahhabi army/mob sacks the city of Karbala.
April 22, 1809: Napoleon’s army defeats the Austrians under Archduke Charles at the Battle of Eckmühl, in Bavaria. The victory is considered a turning point in the the 1809 War of the Fifth Coalition, because it blunted Austria’s invasion of Bavaria, which had caught the French leader somewhat by surprise, and allowed him to go on the offensive by invading Austria.
April 22, 1948: In one of the last major engagements before the civil war in Palestine turned into the Arab-Israeli War, the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah captures the Arab sections of the port city of Haifa from the Palestinians. Haifa was one of six largely mixed cities the Haganah captured between the start of April and the middle of May—by the end of May, between voluntary flight and involuntary expulsions the number of Arabs living in those cities collectively dropped from an estimated 177,000 to an estimated 13,000.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for April 22:
145,316,661 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (+884,273 since yesterday)
3,084,467 reported fatalities (+13,388 since yesterday)
For vaccine data the New York Times has created a tracker here
In today’s global news:
The Washington Post has a graphic (in every sense of the word) look at the extent of vaccine inequality around the world. It finds that some 48 percent of the total number of vaccines administered worldwide has gone to roughly 16 percent of the world’s population across high-income countries (as defined by the World Bank). Further research from Duke University suggests that, thanks to the inequality, the world’s poorest 92 countries can expect to have vaccinated 60 percent of their populations only by 2023, and that’s a best case scenario.
Today is Earth Day, and it’s also the first day of a two-day (virtual) global climate summit organized by Joe Biden. So it’s a big day for environmental news, as you’ll see throughout. For example, there’s the news that last year was the hottest on record for Europe, by far, and saw temperatures in the Arctic rise to around 4.3 degrees higher than their 1981-2020 average. Is that bad?
Meanwhile, a new report from the Swiss Re Institute finds that the world could lose around 18 percent of its estimated economic output by 2050 if climate change mitigation efforts go nowhere and average temperatures rise by 3.2 degrees worldwide. That also seems like it might be bad?
On the plus side, NASA says that its Perseverance rover has been able to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide on Mars into breathable oxygen. This marks the first time humans have extracted a resource on another planet that could potentially be of use to humans. It could open up the way to further Martian exploration. Hey, if everything goes well maybe we could have another planet to trash someday! Cool!
21,725 confirmed coronavirus cases (+141)
1496 reported fatalities (+13)
It would appear that the Syrian missile that landed in Israel overnight was indeed an air defense missile that missed its target and went far off course. US Central Command boss Kenneth McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that he believes the incident was caused by “incompetence in Syrian air defense,” and unless you think the US military is now doing crisis management for Bashar al-Assad I would say that for McKenzie to dismiss the possibility of an intentional missile strike is fairly conclusive.
This means that various media reports describing overnight Israeli airstrikes in Syria as “retaliatory” (this one, for example) are basically regurgitating Israeli propaganda. What seems to have happened is that the Israelis launched one of their periodic airstrikes against Iranian-affiliated units in southern Syria, Syrian air defenses responded, the missile went off course, and then the Israeli military switched targets to the air defense unit that fired the missile, which was apparently positioned near Damascus. You’ll note here that the Israeli airstrikes came first and, indeed, triggered the exchange that resulted in the errant Syrian missile hitting Israel. But Israel, like the US, has a blank check to bomb whatever it wants under the special Israel Corollary to the Principle of American Exceptionalism. So ipso facto Syria is to blame here regardless of the details. It’s called international law, folks.
6020 confirmed cases (+60)
1157 reported fatalities (+10)
The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen intercepted a drone fired by Yemeni rebels heading toward the city of Khamis Mushait, according to Saudi media. It looks like the rebels have confirmed the attempted drone strike. Saudi media reported another drone interception early Friday.
1,010,304 confirmed cases (+8450)
15,128 reported fatalities (+30)
At least three rockets landed near a military facility at Baghdad International Airport that houses US soldiers late Thursday, to no apparent effect.
697,487 confirmed cases (+2097)
8474 reported fatalities (+45)
Jordanian authorities have reportedly freed (or will free) 16 of the people they arrested earlier this month in connection with an alleged coup plot against King Abdullah II. This leaves only the two supposed “ringleaders” of the plan in custody, Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid. Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who was to have supplanted Abdullah had this purported effort succeeded, was briefly held under house arrest but has since been released after affirming his loyalty to Abdullah. He may be subject to some kind of punishment within the royal family but if he is it’s unlikely that will become public.
837,807 confirmed cases (+315) in Israel, 287,680 confirmed cases (+1652) in Palestine
6346 reported fatalities (+0) in Israel, 3115 reported fatalities (+19) in Palestine
Since the start of Ramadan back on April 13, groups of Palestinians have reportedly been brawling with Israeli police and groups of Israeli civilians on an almost nightly basis outside the Damascus Gate into Jerusalem’s Old City. At least seven Palestinians were injured in such clashes on Thursday alone. According to the Palestinians, Israeli authorities wielding stun grenades and “skunk water” are trying to block their traditional gatherings at that gate for Iftar, the breaking of the daily Ramadan fast. The Israelis claim the gatherings are a public safety hazard, since Damascus Gate is the main route into and out of the al-Aqsa compound, where the number of worshipers significantly increases during Ramadan.
409,093 confirmed cases (+1055)
6869 reported fatalities (+11)
Responsible Statecraft’s Paul Pillar hails recent reports of Saudi-Iranian diplomatic engagement:
A recent sign pointing to possible greater peace in the Persian Gulf region — in addition to the reported progress in restoring full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which restricts the Iranian nuclear program — is the initiation of tension-reducing talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia. That neither of these two governments has yet openly acknowledged the talks is an encouraging indication that both sides are taking them seriously and want to minimize the risk that either foreign or domestic spoilers will disrupt them.
Cross-Gulf détente is in the interests of all the states with a stake in the region, including the two main protagonists. The fundamental underlying reality is that neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia is going away, no matter how much pressure or intimidation either one might try to apply to the other. It thus behooves both regimes — in the interest of the security and prosperity of their citizens — to find ways to share the neighborhood peacefully.
2,335,905 confirmed cases (+24,092)
68,366 reported fatalities (+453)
At Axios, Israeli journalist Barak Ravid has more detail about the course of negotiations on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. According to Ravid, the US has proposed an “outline” of the battery of sanctions the US has imposed on Iran, under three categories: those that are clearly nuclear-related and will be suspended, those that are clearly non-nuclear and will not be suspended, and those imposed by the Trump administration, which reimposed formerly nuclear-related sanctions under non-nuclear justifications precisely so as to complicate any effort to reconstruct the nuclear accord. Sanctions under the third category are subject to review, and it seems pretty clear that if this process goes off the rails that’s where it will happen.
For now, though, the Iranians seem satisfied with what they’ve seen. So much so, in fact, that they’ve cut the number of centrifuge cascades enriching uranium to 60 percent from two to one. The Iranians said they weren’t planning to make much 60 percent enriched uranium so maybe they just don’t need the second cascade anymore, but whatever the reason this step could help move the Vienna talks forward.
58,542 confirmed cases (+196)
2565 reported fatalities (+4)
During his Senate testimony on Thursday, McKenzie also said that he is “concerned about the ability of the Afghan military to hold on after we leave.” To be fair it is unfortunate that the US military is being forced to leave Afghanistan so quickly. If only it had enjoyed a lengthy deployment, say 20 years or so, it might have been able to build a more effective, more durable Afghan security establishment. Oh well.
778,238 confirmed cases (+5857)
16,698 reported fatalities (+98)
The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing outside a luxury hotel in Quetta, the death toll from which now stands at five. China’s ambassador to Pakistan was staying at that hotel (he wasn’t there when the bombing took place), but from what I can tell it’s still not clear that there was any intent to target him. The TTP’s statement about the bombing suggests it was meant to target Pakistan security forces, though they may be lying about that after the fact.
142,674 confirmed cases (+13)
3206 reported fatalities (+0)
The Biden administration on Wednesday announced new sanctions against the Myanma Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise, which control Myanmar’s exports of…well, they’re in the names. The administration has been sanctioning business entities that fund the Myanmar government in an effort to starve the country’s ruling junta of funds.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states are still scheduled to meet this weekend to discuss the situation in Myanmar, with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing among them. Two ASEAN principals—Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha—have said they’re sending their foreign ministers rather than attending in person. ASEAN has criticized February’s coup and the subsequent crackdown on coup opponents, but it seems unlikely to take any substantive action that might alienate the junta. Indeed, the fact that they now seem to be treating Min Aung Hlaing as One of the Gang suggests they’ve decided to accept the coup as a fait accompli.
90,547 confirmed cases (+6) on the mainland, 11,719 confirmed cases (+14) in Hong Kong
4636 reported fatalities (+0) on the mainland, 209 reported fatalities (+0) in Hong Kong
The British parliament voted on Wednesday to declare China’s alleged mistreatment of its Uyghur community a “genocide.” Its resolution was non-binding, meant to pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson into follow suit or, at least, to levy additional sanctions against Beijing.
At World Policy Review, the International Crisis Group’s Dina Esfandiary says that the big “$400 billion” trade and investment deal that China and Iran signed late last month doesn’t really have very much substance to it:
Given its apparently vague terms, the deal is best seen as a roadmap for improving bilateral relations between the two countries, outlining areas for cooperation and exchanges in energy, infrastructure, cultural endeavors, and defense and counterterrorism, to name a few. Much of the promised deepening of economic ties will remain somewhat dependent on the lifting of U.S. unilateral sanctions, as China doesn’t want to openly flout them. Sino-Iranian relations can only reach their intended potential if the nuclear crisis between Iran and the U.S. is resolved.
All of this suggests that the deal is unlikely to have much of a concrete impact on the nature of Iran’s relationship with China. Despite Zarif’s insistence that that deal does not concede any territory, basing rights or exclusive access to Iranian territory to China, many Iranians remain suspicious of Beijing, with some protesting that the new cooperation pact will sell their country out. Many will also read the lack of concrete figures as signaling a relatively loose commitment. While discussing the agreement on the Clubhouse app, Zarif defended the deal against criticism, but also added, “I don’t believe in the [policy] of looking to the East or the West.” Rather, he said, Iran would have to engage all, based on its interests and goals.
546,425 confirmed cases (+5291)
9764 reported fatalities (+54)
Joining the European Union and the United States (see below), the Japanese government used the occasion of Earth Day and the start of Joe Biden’s global climate summit on Thursday to make a stronger commitment to reduce emissions. Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide announced that Tokyo will cut its emissions by 46 percent by 2030, based on its 2013 emissions levels. That’s up substantially from a previous commitment to cut emissions by 26 percent over that same period. Japan remains pretty heavily dependent on coal-fired power plants, so a wait-and-see approach to this announcement is probably best.
3 confirmed cases (+0)
No reported fatalities
It’s been almost two weeks since Samoan voters went to the polls on April 9 and apparently the outcome of the country’s parliamentary election remains unclear. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi’s Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has won 26 seats, down from the 35 it won in 2016 and one shy of a majority in the 52 seat legislature. Challenger Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’s Faith in the One True God (FAST) party is sitting at 25 seats with one independent, who has announced he’ll caucus with FAST. So the parties are deadlocked at 26 seats.
What’s interesting here is that before the election, Samoa’s Legislative Assembly had 51 seats and a party needed 26 seats for a majority. A 52nd seat was created after the vote in order to elect one more woman legislator and thereby fulfill an electoral mandate that 10 percent of parliament’s seats must be held by women. The extra seat just so happened to go to an HRPP candidate. This means that under pre-election conditions, FAST and its independent partner would now have a one vote majority. Mata’afa, who would be the first woman to serve as Samoan PM, is challenging the creation of the extra seat as unconstitutional.
4735 confirmed cases (+4)
169 reported fatalities (+0)
Several world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, are either in or are on their way to Chad ahead of Friday’s funeral for former President Idriss Déby. They’ve been warned not to show up by the rebel Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which is claiming responsibility for Déby’s death and which says its fighters are some 200-300 kilometers outside of N’Djamena and are preparing to resume their advance on the Chadian capital.
Chad’s internal stability is very much up in the air in the wake of Déby’s death, but there are also concerns about a potential cascade effect on regional stability. Chad’s military is a key component of the G5 Sahel Force, a multinational unit tasked with combating jihadist militants. If, as seems likely, Chadian officials recall their soldiers from their G5 deployment in order to defend against FACT and/or shore up the political situation in N’Djamena, then the group’s other members (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) may find themselves struggling to manage regional security.
247,989 confirmed cases (+1505)
3496 reported fatalities (+22)
Addis Standard is reporting new claims of inter-communal violence in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, this time between regional security forces and the Qemant community in the Gondar area. Unconfirmed reports say that 32 people have been killed in fighting that began last week, with regional authorities accusing the Qemant of collaborating with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and/or the Oromo Liberation Army.
1,990,353 confirmed cases (+16,235)
41,266 reported fatalities (+470)
The Russian military carried out a large and (initially) provocative military exercise in Crimea on Thursday, personally overseen by Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu. Then, later in the day, Shoygu ordered Russian military units that have been massing along the Ukrainian border to…return to their bases. Huh. Could it be that they weren’t about to invade eastern Ukraine after all? More importantly, what are we going to panic about now? Vladimir Putin capped the day off by inviting his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to Russia for talks. Zelensky had previously asked Putin to meet him in the rebel-held Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. It’s unclear if he’ll accept the invitation to head to Moscow.
378,150 confirmed cases (+677)
11,357 reported fatalities (+53)
The Slovak government on Thursday expelled three Russian diplomats based, it seems, on “information” it received from the Czech government. Prague and Moscow are engaged in a real diplomatic brawl (see below), so this may have been meant as a show of solidarity as much as anything else. Presumably the Russian government will retaliate in kind.
1,612,832 confirmed cases (+2942)
28,787 reported fatalities (+25)
The Czech government, meanwhile, announced on Thursday that it is ordering the Russian government to withdraw a whopping 63 of its diplomatic personnel from Prague by the end of May. That will leave Russia with the same number of diplomatic personnel in the Czech Republic as the Czechs have in Russia. The Czechs expelled 18 Russian personnel over the weekend amid allegations that two GRU agents were responsible for a pair of ammunition depot explosions in the Czech Republic back in 2014. The Russians retaliated by expelling 20 Czech personnel. They will presumably retaliate for this latest move though it’s unclear what form that retaliation might take.
3,238,054 confirmed cases (+29,382)
81,693 reported fatalities (+311)
Around 3000 people in the German city of Mannheim were forced to temporarily evacuate on Thursday after a construction crew happened upon an unexploded 1100 pound World War II bomb. Authorities successfully defused the device and it looks like everybody was allowed to return home by Thursday evening.
14,172,139 confirmed cases (+49,344)
383,757 reported fatalities (+2070)
In concert with Thursday’s global environmental conference, Jair Bolsonaro pledged that Brazil would reach net zero emissions by 2050. He also announced that he’s just gotten a fantastic deal on some prime beachfront properties and advised his fellow world leaders to contact him ASAP if they wanted in on the deal because those places were definitely going to sell quickly. Bolsonaro, as we’ve covered, is currently extorting the rest of the world for billions of dollars in return for an agreement to protect the Amazon rain forest that he will undoubtedly break once the international check clears.
2,720,619 confirmed cases (+19,306)
70,026 reported fatalities (+430)
Unspecified gunmen reportedly attacked a group of indigenous Colombians who were destroying a coca field in the country’s Cauca province on Thursday. At least 31 people were wounded and five of the attackers were captured by the Indigenous Guard, a communal policing force. There is no shortage of armed groups that operate in Cauca—left wing paramilitaries, right wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers—so the identity of the attackers is unclear.
361,992 confirmed cases (+314)
6198 reported fatalities (+2)
France 24 reports on the impact climate change is having on indigenous island communities living off the Panamanian coast:
32,669,121 confirmed cases (+67,070)
584,226 reported fatalities (+896)
Finally, given that he was hosting Thursday’s climate conference it makes sense that Joe Biden had his own ambitious emissions target to roll out: cutting US greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. This is kind of a cheat—US emissions spiked in 2005, so it’s a lot easier to get to half of that level than to get to half of, say, last year’s emissions. To be fair it’s still considerably better than the United States has been doing and it will require some very fundamental changes in the way the US operates. But The New Statesman’s Adam Tooze is right to wonder if it will actually come to pass:
With sights now set on net zero by 2050, there is no longer any room for fudges. The Biden administration needs to change the direction of energy policy radically, from Obama’s “all of the above” to a systematic exit from fossil fuels. It needs to find both economic and technical solutions to make a green energy system viable.
But it also needs to win the political argument. While the technological uncertainties and economic obstacles of planning for a net-zero future are universal, America’s distinctive problem is the political question of commitment. Decarbonisation is a long-term business. But there is nothing close to a consensus in US politics on the need for action. As serious as the Biden administration may be about tackling the climate crisis, its power to deliver on this depends on having the votes in Congress, a balance that might shift in the 2022 midterms, or in 2024, or in 2026, and so on. Without broader societal agreement, each US election will be a heart-stopping moment of potential derailment.
In every advanced economy there are economic interests opposed to deep, rapid decarbonisation, including those of businesses, consumers and some labour unions. The US is unique among advanced economies, however, in having one of its two governing parties committed to outright climate denial, and a large part of the public with it. Unless this can be changed, America will remain a fundamentally unreliable partner in the effort to halt global heating.