World roundup: July 28 2022
Stories from Nigeria, Ukraine, Colombia, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
July 27, 1794: Challenged by Maximilien Robespierre to arrest all those he deemed “traitors” to the revolution, which could have included pretty much any or all of them (he didn’t specify), France’s National Convention decides it would just be easier to arrest Robespierre instead. In what is now known as the “Thermidorian Reaction” since it took place in the month of Thermidor on the revolutionary calendar, Robespierre and dozens of his associates were rounded up by a faction within the National Convention called—wait for it—the Thermidorians. A group of 22, including Robespierre himself, were executed the following day. The Thermidorians established a new constitution the following year that dissolved the Convention and established the five-member Directory as the main organ of the revolutionary government.
July 27, 1953: The Korean Armistice Agreement, signed by the United Nations Command, the North Korean People’s Army, and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army at Panmunjom, halts fighting in the Korean War. The agreement set terms for a ceasefire, a prisoner exchange, and the fixing of what was supposed to be a temporary border and demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, with subsequent peace talks meant to finalize the details surrounding the end of the war. So, about that—those subsequent talks, at the 1954 Geneva Conference, failed, and the temporary armistice has remained the last word on the Korean War since its signing.
July 28, 1821: Having entered Lima a few weeks prior and having been named “Protector of Peru” by local officials, South American revolutionary leader José de San Martín proclaims Peru’s independence from Spain. Annually commemorated as Peruvian Independence Day.
July 28, 1915: The US military occupies Haiti following a revolt that culminated in the assassination of pro-US Haitian President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. Woodrow Wilson ordered the occupation out of concern that Germany could use the uprising to establish a foothold in the Western Hemisphere (and to make sure Haiti repaid the sizable loans it had received from several US financial institutions, but we don’t like to talk about that part). The US didn’t return control of Haiti to Haitians until 1934.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
A Turkish drone strike in eastern Syria’s Raqqa province killed at least four Kurdish security personnel on Thursday, according to a provincial security force and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There are indications that the Turkish military has increased its drone activity in Syria since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Iran earlier this month, where he failed to get acquiescence from either Iranian or Russian leaders for another Turkish invasion of northern Syria. Apparently if the Turks can’t kill Kurds on the ground their plan is to kill more of them from the air.
Shortages of government subsidized bread are reportedly leading to tense and borderline violent confrontations at bakeries across Lebanon. The subsidy is meant to keep prices low so that Lebanese citizens can afford at least one basic food staple despite the country’s economic crisis, which has featured a collapse in the Lebanese pound’s value. Unfortunately it also fuels a healthy black market trade in which illicit dealers can price the bread at multiple times its subsidized price while still coming in under non-subsidized alternatives. Lebanese authorities are blaming Syrian refugees for the shortages, which I suppose comes as no surprise since as refugees they’re easy targets for scapegoating.
Iranian police reported on Thursday that they’ve arrested five alleged members of an alleged Israeli spy ring, including its alleged leader. In a statement published by the Iranian Labor News Agency, officials claimed that the five had been “given various pledges from Mossad, including financial promises, to gather information from important areas across the country.” It also suggested that the group had been tasked with carrying out acts of sabotage and/or terrorism. There’s been no comment from the Israeli government as to these claims.
Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held a phone conference on Thursday, their fifth since Biden took office. Like the other four, this one seems to have consisted mostly of mutual threat making and/or venting about their respective grievances.
Or that, sure, let’s go with that.
Xi reportedly told Biden that he was “playing with fire” on the subject of Taiwan, possibly referring to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s potential
campaign stunt super important and definitely serious trip to Taipei next month. Biden insisted that the US is sticking to the “one-China policy” but warned Xi against any military attempt to change Taiwan’s status, which is diplomatic speak for a Chinese invasion of the island. They also reportedly discussed tensions over the South China Sea and an array of global issues.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un used the occasion of the anniversary of the Korean War armistice on Wednesday to warn that Pyongyang is prepared to respond to any US and/or South Korean attack with nuclear weapons. There’s no indication that such an attack is imminent or even in the planning stages, but good to know anyway I guess. Kim also unloaded on new South Korean President President Yoon Suk-yeol, declaring that his government is chock full of “confrontation maniacs” and “gangsters.” This is unfair. Sure Yoon has already shifted South Korea’s defense posture in a more confrontational, US-aligned direction, and sure a few of his nominees have had criminal allegations lodged against them, but…I’m sorry, I lost my train of thought.
The Algerian, Nigerien, and Nigerian governments have reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding to build a long-hypothesized trans-Saharan natural gas pipeline. If the MOU actually comes to fruition the result will be a roughly $13 billion project to construct a roughly 4000 kilometer-long pipeline running from the southern Nigerian city of Warri to the Hassi R’Mel gas field in northern Algeria, where it will link up with existing pipelines that run to Europe. It could bring some 30 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe annually. But that’s if the MOU actually turns into a real project. These countries have been talking about this idea for decades and have come close to starting work in the past only to have their plans fall apart.
Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who currently moonlights as the chair of the Economic Community of West African States, said on Thursday that Guinea’s ruling junta has agreed to a two-year transition back to civilian rule, down from its previous plan for a 36 month transition. There’s been no comment from the junta and there’s no indication as to, say, when that 24 month clock is to start (or if it already has started), but Alex Thurston argues that the new timetable reflects a shift in ECOWAS policy toward coups, one that’s also emerged in the bloc’s position on the 24 month Malian and Burkinabé transition plans. ECOWAS used to demand 18 month transitions in these situations but, possibly recognizing that it lacks the leverage to force juntas to do anything, it’s now relaxed its demands a bit. As Alex notes, a 24 month transition is sort of in a gray area between “temporary political hiccup” and “full-blown military regime,” and future juntas may force ECOWAS to relax its policy still further.
Two bombings in northern Burkina Faso killed at least nine people in total over the past two days. The first incident took place on Wednesday, when a military patrol apparently hit a roadside bomb and at least six soldiers were killed. The second incident took place on Thursday and targeted civilian paramilitary volunteers, killing at least three of them. Both incidents occurred near the Nigerien border. There’s no indication as to responsibility.
Islamic State West Africa Province fighters attacked a convoy carrying a local political official in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state on Wednesday, killing three police officers and a militia fighter. The attack took place along a highway where ISWAP fighters have carried out a number of attacks and have even set up “checkpoints” at which they extort and/or assault motorists.
Elsewhere, The Intercept’s Nick Turse reports on evidence that the US military was partially responsible for a 2017 civilian massacre in Borno state:
The United States played an unacknowledged role in the 2017 bombing of an internally displaced persons’ camp in Nigeria that killed more than 160 civilians, many of them children.
A surveillance plane circled above the Rann IDP camp, which housed 43,000 people and was controlled by the Nigerian military, before a jet arrived and bombed the area where people draw water from a borehole, survivors of the attack said. The jet then circled and dropped another bomb on the tents of displaced civilians sheltering there.
The Nigerian air force expressed regret for carrying out the airstrike, which also killed nine aid workers and seriously wounded more than 120 people. But the attack was referred to as an instance of “U.S.-Nigerian operations” in a formerly secret U.S. military document obtained exclusively by The Intercept.
Evidence suggests that the U.S. launched a near unprecedented internal investigation of the attack because it secretly provided intelligence or other support to the Nigerian armed forces, a contribution hinted at by Nigerian military officials at the time. The U.S. inquiry, the existence of which has not been previously reported, was ordered by the top American general overseeing troops in Africa and was specifically designed to avoid questions of wrongdoing or recommendations for disciplinary action, according to the document.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
At least 12 people have been killed in what appears to be an attack by the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces militia near the city of Oicha in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province. Medical personnel in Oicha report receiving five bodies on Wednesday and seven on Thursday from two villages outside the city. Given those details it’s easy to envision that the death toll might rise as more bodies are discovered or as the attackers move on to another village.
Elsewhere, the Congolese government has 30 oil and natural gas blocks up for auction, including nine in the country’s environmentally sensitive peatland and rain forest areas. Environmental groups have warned that drilling in the peatlands could spew massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, while the danger of drilling in the rain forest presumably speaks for itself. Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi insists that any drilling projects will be conducted to minimize environmental impacts but that’s not a very high bar to clear. It would be hypocritical in the extreme for developed nations to complain about the DRC exploiting its natural resources, but the developed world could, say, offer to compensate Kinshasa for not adding to the climate crisis. It’s just that it chooses not to do so.
Speaking of the developed world’s relationship with the developing world, while I was out over the weekend the website Devex reported on an internal document European Union diplomats are circulating that proposes making the bloc’s aid to Africa more “transactional.” Translated, that means the EU would demand that African countries toe the current anti-Russia line or else risk having their European development assistance cut off. Many African states have opted not to take sides in the Ukraine conflict, and the African Union has, for example, lent credence to Russian claims that global food shortages are being caused or at least exacerbated by Western sanctions, a claim the EU finds distasteful to say the least. One could argue that adding “transactionality” to the EU-AU relationship, after…well, pick any of the many disgraceful colonial episodes from the last 500 years, honestly, is also pretty distasteful, but what do I know?
A new study from Yale University aims to punch a hole in the Russian government’s claims that it’s thriving under Western sanctions. The report argues that on several fronts—commodities exports, imports, domestic production—the Russian economy is now in tatters, in some ways irreversibly so. I have no problem accepting that this report is in the ballpark in terms of the long-term damage that’s been done to the Russian economy and that Russia is on the road to a future that looks something like present conditions in Iran or Venezuela. But the fact remains that Western governments are selling these sanctions as a way to halt the Russian war effort and maybe, in the longest of long shots, cause Russian elites to turn on Vladimir Putin. Indefinitely immiserating the Russian people isn’t supposed to be the goal, at least not for public consumption. If we take those Western governments at their word then these sanctions are still failing to achieve their purpose.
The Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive in Kherson oblast appears to be fully underway. Ukrainian aircraft conducted strikes on multiple Russian military targets in that province on Thursday and, according to the British military, Ukrainian forces positioned north of Kherson are beginning to move south. The Ukrainians have reportedly been using longer range artillery supplied by Western countries to damage or destroy several bridges across the Dnipro River for several weeks in an effort to cut off Russian forces positioned to the river’s west. If nothing else, this Kherson operation may be causing Russia to divert its forces from the Donbas to southern Ukraine, at least delaying that offensive, and it could slow down any Russian annexation plans. It also seems to have sparked a wide-ranging Russian missile barrage on Thursday, with reports of strikes in the Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv regions as well as on several central Ukrainian military facilities.
Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials are alleging that a Syrian vessel, the Laodicea, has docked at the Lebanese port city of Tripoli carrying some 5000 tons of stolen Ukrainian barley. The vessel was originally supposed to dock at the Syrian port of Tartus and I haven’t seen any explanation for the change in itinerary. But Ukraine’s ambassador in Beirut has reportedly met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun to warn him against buying any pilfered Ukrainian grain.
A new poll from Datafolha has former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva holding on to his double digit lead over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro heading into October’s election. The survey gives Lula a 47-29 lead over Bolsonaro in first round voting intentions, virtually unchanged from June’s 47-28 lead, and further suggests that Lula could take as much as 53 percent of the valid first round votes and thereby avoid a runoff. In the event of a runoff, the survey puts Lula ahead 55-35, a margin that’s been narrowing in recent months but at a pace that’s too slow to help Bolsonaro if it continues. Bolsonaro’s planned welfare enhancements won’t fully come online until next month, so it’s possible he may be able to close the gap a bit when that happens.
Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro’s incoming government will exchange ambassadors with Venezuela, per a deal struck Thursday between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Carlos Faria and Petro’s Foreign Minister-designate Álvaro Leyva. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia in 2019 over tensions with Iván Duque’s government and they’ve remained cut off since then.
Finally, TomDispatch’s Michael Klare looks at the world’s increasing, and increasingly destructive, appetite for oil:
For some perspective on this, recall that, in those pre-fracking days at the start of the century, many experts were convinced that world petroleum output would hit a daily peak of perhaps 90 million barrels in 2010, dropping to 70 or 80 million barrels by the end of that decade. In other words, we would have little choice but to begin converting our transportation systems to electricity, pronto. That would have caused a lot of disruption at first, but by now we would be well on our way to a green-energy future, with far less carbon emissions and a slowing pace of global warming.
Now, compare those hopeful scenarios to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). At the moment, world oil production is hovering at around 100 million barrels daily and is projected to reach 109 million barrels by 2030, 117 million by 2040, and a jaw-dropping 126 million by 2050. So much, in other words, for “peak oil” and a swift transition to green energy.
Why global oil consumption is expected to hit such heights remains a complex tale. Foremost among the key factors, however, has certainly been the introduction of fracking technology, permitting the exploitation of mammoth shale reserves once considered inaccessible. On the demand side, there was (and remains) a worldwide preference — spearheaded by American consumers — for large, gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks. In the developing world, it’s accompanied by an ever-expanding market for diesel-powered trucks and buses. Then there’s the global growth in air travel, sharply increasing the demand for jet fuel. Add to that the relentless efforts by the oil industry itself to deny climate-change science and obstruct global efforts to curb fossil-fuel consumption.
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