World roundup: April 30-May 1 2022
Stories from Turkey, China, Ukraine, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
April 29, 1916: A British army besieged at Kut, in Iraq, surrenders to the Ottomans in what was the worst military disaster in British history to that point.
April 30, 1803: US representatives Robert Livingston and James Monroe and French representative François Barbé-Marbois sign the Louisiana Purchase Treaty in Paris. The treaty ceded France’s vast Louisiana Territory in North America to the United States, roughly doubling the young nation’s size, in return for $15 million. Livingston and Monroe intended to negotiate the purchase of the port city of New Orleans and were prepared to pay up to $10 million just for the one city. But Napoleon decided to sell the entire territory because he needed a large chunk of land in North America less than he needed peaceable relations with the US and money for his inevitable war with Britain. Most of the Louisiana Territory wasn’t really Napoleon’s to sell, as it still belonged to indigenous tribes, but in purchasing it the US bought the “right” to acquire that land by whatever means it chose.
April 30, 1975: The North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong capture Saigon, bringing the Vietnam War to a close. The North Vietnamese had begun their assault on the city the day before, when the remaining US personnel in Saigon began an evacuation known as “Operation Frequent Wind” that cleared out the US embassy and moved some 7000 US and Vietnamese nationals out of the country in the largest helicopter evacuation in history. The North Vietnamese government, which wasn’t really the “North” Vietnamese government anymore, renamed Saigon Hồ Chí Minh City, and this date is commemorated annually in Vietnam as Reunification Day.
May 1, 1707: The Acts of Union, separately passed by the English and Scottish parliaments, go into effect, merging the two kingdoms into the newly christened Great Britain. The Scottish Stuart dynasty had been ruling both kingdoms since James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I as James I of England, but the crowns had been held in personal union only. The Acts of Union made it a legal union and thereby completed the Scottish takeover of England. Or at least that’s how I like to think about it.
May 1, 1977: The Taksim Square Massacre
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan returned from his trip to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, telling reporters during the flight to Turkey that he and Saudi officials (i.e., Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) had “agreed…to reactivate a great economic potential through organizations that will bring our investors together.” In other words he got the Saudis to invest a bunch of money in the Turkish economy, or at least he thinks he did. Saudi cash could be a lifeline for a Turkish economy that desperately needs one, and all Erdoğan really needed to do to make that happen was to agree to sweep the Jamal Khashoggi murder under the rug and to agree to take some direction from Riyadh when it comes to foreign policy. The Saudis, for their part, are always looking to buy more friends, and Turkey is a fairly influential friend to have.
Someone fired two rockets in the general vicinity of Ain al-Asad airbase, which houses US and other international military forces, on Saturday. Both rockets struck outside the base so there were no casualties nor did they cause any material damage. An unknown but apparently pro-Iranian group calling itself “International Resistance” claimed responsibility for the attack online. Frequently when new groups pop up like this they’re meant to serve as cover for more established organizations.
Elsewhere, six rockets or missiles landed near an oil refinery in Erbil on Sunday, causing some damage but no casualties. There’s been no claim of responsibility here either.
Israeli occupation forces shot and killed a Palestinian man this weekend during a raid in the West Bank town of Azzun. The shooting occurred in the context of an Israeli manhunt for the killers of a guard at the Ariel settlement in a shooting that took place overnight between Friday and Saturday. The Israelis now say they have two men in custody in connection with that shooting, which was claimed by al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militant group affiliated with the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party.
Elsewhere, though times are tough you may be pleased to learn that the Israeli military is innovating new and exciting ways to make ends meet via what in other contexts might be called “plundering”:
Previously unpublished data from the Civil Administration — the arm of the Israeli military that governs the occupied territories — which was collated by the NGO Kerem Navot, suggests that confiscations of Palestinian agricultural and construction equipment (including tractors, cranes, construction materials, and water cisterns) have leapt nearly threefold over the past seven years. Confiscations of similar equipment from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, meanwhile, dropped by 42 percent over the same period.
The difference wasn’t always as stark. In 2014, the data shows that Palestinians and Israeli settlers lost similar quantities of equipment to the authorities: 262 individual items were confiscated from Palestinians, and 253 from settlers. By 2015 the new trend had set in: Palestinians lost 812 pieces of equipment that year, while Israeli settlers only lost 154.
Data obtained by Kerem Navot further shows that, between 2014 and 2020, the Civil Administration raised more than NIS 8 million from release fees for the seized equipment, and profited some NIS 2.5 million from selling equipment that owners were unable or unwilling to reclaim. In other words, the Civil Administration raked in over NIS 10 million from the confiscation of agricultural and construction equipment over that period.
Egyptian authorities are assuming that Islamic State militants were behind the bombing of a gas pipeline in the northern Sinai town of Bir al-Abd on Saturday. The blast triggered a fire but did not cause any casualties. It’s presumably impacted the operations of that pipeline but I don’t know for how long or to what extent. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the bombing but IS has pretty well monopolized militant violence in northern Sinai these days.
The Egyptian government released three journalists on Sunday who were serving sentences related to their alleged ties to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. This comes after they’d released 41 prisoners, mostly activists and other journalists, who were being held in pretrial detention. There’s some sense that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is trying to smooth things over with his critics, though he’s got a few thousand more political prisoners to consider before he really makes much of a dent. The Egyptian economy was already sputtering but the war in Ukraine has sent Cairo scrambling to find alternatives for the majority of its wheat and sunflower oil imports. Sisi may want to lower the political temperature before food shortages potentially send it skyrocketing again.
At least one person was killed Saturday in a bombing targeting a bus in Kabul, the second bombing in the Afghan capital in as many days. Islamic State claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack but has not, to my knowledge, claimed Friday’s mosque bombing. Two power transmission pylons west of Kabul were also bombed on Saturday, leaving potentially millions of people without electricity just a day or two before the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
The Chinese economy seems to be struggling a bit in the face of COVID lockdowns and a host of other challenges, and the effects are being felt around the world:
On Saturday, purchasing manager indexes released by China’s government showed contractions in factory and service-sector activity for a second straight month in April. They fell to their lowest levels since the pandemic began in 2020.
Cement production in mid-April was less than 40% of full capacity. Shipments of smartphones dropped 18% from a year earlier in the first quarter. Excavator sales within China were down 61% in April compared with the previous year.
China’s challenges go beyond the latest lockdowns. The fallout from the war in Ukraine has pushed up costs for Chinese businesses and contributed to fading overseas demand for their exports.Regulatory crackdowns have hit high-growth sectors such as technology and education. Real estate, a primary driver of the nation’s economy, went into free fall last year as developers buckled under heavy debts and home sales slumped.
Any sustained slowdown in China will be felt globally, depriving the world economy of one of its most dependable engines when inflation and war are raising recession fears in the U.S. and Europe this year. The U.S. economy shrank at a 1.4% annual rate in the first quarter, data released last week showed.
China was projected to account for a quarter of global economic growth in the five years through 2026, according to data released by the International Monetary Fund last year.
Protesters hit the streets in cities across Sudan on Saturday on the third anniversary of the 2019 massacre of over 125 demonstrators by Sudanese security forces in Khartoum. They called, as they’ve been calling for several months, for an end to military rule and the institution of a civilian government. Security forces responded with tear gas, but in something of a rarity since October’s coup they don’t appear to have killed anyone.
The United Nations Security Council voted on Friday to extend the UN political mission in Libya for only three months, the result of pressure by Russia for the UN to appoint a new permanent Libyan envoy. The UN’s previous envoy, Ján Kubiš, resigned in November and has yet to be replaced. The UN has put US diplomat Stephanie Williams, formerly the UN’s deputy envoy to Libya, in de facto charge of the mission but it’s highly unlikely she could win the council’s confirmation to take the job for real. Russia seems to be pushing for an African envoy but that may simply be its high-minded justification for opposing Williams. The three month mandate likely adds more uncertainty to Libya’s already uncertain political transition.
The leader of Guinea’s military junta, Mamady Doumbouya, laid out a very relaxed 39 month timetable for transitioning back to civilian rule in a televised address on Saturday. Doumbouya said the junta had considered various lengths from 18 to 52 months and opted for something (sort of) in the middle. It remains to be seen how this plan will be received by the Economic Community of West African States, which had given the junta until Monday to propose an “acceptable” transition schedule and may find this length to be unacceptable. It also remains to be seen how this time frame will go over with the Guinean public, which generally seems to have supported the coup that ousted former President Alpha Condé last September but may not relish the idea of spending another three-plus years under military rule.
The Multinational Joint Task Force says that its forces killed at least 20 “terrorists” in the Lake Chad region (specifically Cameroon and Nigeria) in operations between Wednesday and Friday. Presumably they mean Islamic State West Africa Province fighters but I don’t think they went into specifics. The MJTF is a project of the governments of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria that has been around for nearly 30 years but has spent most of the past 12 or so focused on Boko Haram/ISWAP.
In news from Russia:
Ukrainian forces appear to have attacked an oil terminal in Russia’s Bryansk oblast on Saturday, damaging a building but not causing any casualties. These Ukrainian border attacks continue to be relatively minor and I wouldn’t mention them at all except insofar as the fact that they’re happening at all is I think indicative of the way the conflict has gone so far for Russia.
The European Union reportedly intends to adopt a phaseout of Russian oil imports in its next round of Ukraine-related sanctions. The phaseout will take between six and eight months, provided Moscow doesn’t cut the Europeans off before that. EU energy ministers are set to discuss the proposal on Monday but nothing has been decided and there could still be obstacles to an agreement. While the German government has apparently dropped its resistance to this idea there may still be opposition from other parts of the EU, by which I mostly mean Hungary. Since the bloc has to do everything unanimously the Hungarians could prevent the adoption of an embargo.
There are indications that Russian government and Russian media are shifting their framing of the war from a conflict with Ukraine to a conflict with the West. This makes sense from the perspective of priming the Russian public for a much longer and more difficult conflict than perhaps most were expecting and it lets Russian officials perform a more convincing portrayal of self-defense, and to be sure—as billions of dollars in Western military aid will attest—it’s not entirely without foundation. There was some thinking over the past several weeks that Vladimir Putin was trying to build toward a declaration of victory by Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebrations, but it’s possible he could use that occasion instead to make some sort of rallying cry.
On a similar note, The New York Times reports that US rhetoric about the war, including statements from Biden administration officials talking about their hopes for a “weakened” Russia emerging from the war and comments that verge on calls for regime change from Joe Biden himself, is making European leaders nervous. They’re concerned that these statements reflect a shift from supporting the Ukrainian war effort to something considerably more ambitious and, therefore, more dangerous.
And in Ukraine:
The Russian military claims to have struck hundreds of targets in Ukraine over the weekend, all military-related of course. Among the targets that were verifiably hit was Odessa airport, where Russian strikes on Saturday badly damaged a runway.
Both the Ukrainian and US militaries are claiming that the head of the Russian military’s general staff, General Valery Gerasimov, traveled to the occupied Ukrainian city of Izyum in recent days to try to bolster the Russian offensive in some unspecified way. Ukrainian forces reportedly attacked Izyum on Saturday evening on intelligence that Gerasimov was there, but if he had been there at all it seems he was gone by the time the attack took place.
The anticipated UN-brokered evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol got a tentative start on Sunday with the removal of some 100 people from the facility. The effort was then put on hold, due (according to local officials) to Russian shelling, with the intention of resuming on Monday morning.
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and several other members of Congress visited Kyiv on Sunday for a surprise
campaign stopshow of support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the overall Ukrainian war effort. It sounds like their meeting went about as you might expect, with Zelensky asking for more aid and Pelosi promising to provide it.
Russian authorities in Ukraine’s occupied Kherson oblast have reportedly introduced the ruble as legal currency, reinforcing concerns that Moscow intends to hold on to the province for the long haul. Kherson was the first major Ukrainian region to come under Russian control after the war ended and it’s strategically significant if for no other reason than it controls the supply of fresh water to Crimea. The currency shift doesn’t necessarily mean Russia intends to outright annex Kherson but it does imply at least an intention to leave the province separated from Ukraine, a la the Donbas.
The Associated Press reported on Friday on a Ukrainian “crackdown” on those found to be “collaborating” with the Russian invaders. The anecdote that leads off that piece, and is the subject of an accompanying video, is about a Ukrainian man in Kharkiv who was arrested by police in full riot gear for the…crime, I guess, of saying nice things about Russia on social media. These sorts of arrests have attracted the attention of human rights organizations but it appears to be difficult if not impossible to ascertain how widespread they’ve gotten. It also seems to be difficult to know how many of those arrested are being held beyond the legal 30 day window before Ukrainian police are obliged to get a court order, or how many are being charged with an actual crime. The wartime impulse to round up anyone suspected of working with the enemy is unsurprising, but when the definition of “working with the enemy” is reduced to tweeting something pro-Russian that impulse starts to encroach on some very troubling ground.
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo reportedly had to hightail it by car to get back into the country from a trip to Ecuador on Friday night after his flight was canceled due to inclement weather. It seems Castillo was obliged to be back in Peru by midnight as that was the period the Peruvian Congress had authorized for his trip. Had he failed to get back across the border he could have opened himself up to a third impeachment attempt, this time on statutory grounds. Depending on your perspective you’ll be pleased, or displeased, or indifferent to learn that he made it across the border in time.
Finally, Inkstick’s Kate Alexander calls on the Biden administration to stop exacerbating Afghanistan’s economic crisis by toying with the country’s foreign reserves:
On April 25, 2022, UN human rights experts called on the US government to unfreeze the foreign assets of Afghanistan’s central bank — Da Afghanistan Bank — citing concerns that existing US policy has worsened the humanitarian crisis for Afghan women and girls. However, the US State Department spokesperson denied that US actions had increased hardships faced by Afghan women under Taliban rule and claimed the UN report contained “serious mistakes.”
US denial is demonstrably false and continues the dystopian pattern of the US blatantly and aggressively lying to the public about the impacts of its policies in Afghanistan. Today, Afghan women and girls are facing twin crises. The first is the systemic violation of their fundamental human rights by the Taliban regime. The second is an economic crisis caused by US sanctions and President Joe Biden’s executive order to freeze and distribute the assets of Afghanistan’s central bank. While the Biden administration has no control over what the Taliban does within Afghanistan, it can alleviate the economic hardship of Afghan women by releasing the country’s assets immediately.