World roundup: June 23 2022
Stories from Turkey, North Korea, Ukraine, and more
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Tonight will be our last news roundup for a bit as I am taking a break. We will return to regular programming on July 5.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 22, 1593: Local Ottoman forces from the Eyalet of Bosnia are routed by a Habsburg army at the Battle of Sisak. This was one of the first serious Ottoman defeats in the Balkans, and the Ottomans’ desire for revenge contributed to the 1593-1606 Long War against the Habsburgs (there are some historians who consider Sisak part of that war). That war ended indecisively, which was typical for Ottoman-Habsburg conflicts until the late 17th century.
June 22, 1527: A force from the Javanese Demak Sultanate under its commander, Fatahillah, liberates the port of Sunda Kelapa from the Portuguese and renames it “Jayakarta.” I wonder whatever happened to that place.
June 23, 1280: A Castilian-Leónese army is decisively defeated by forces of the Granadan Emirate at the Battle of Moclín. Alfonso X of Castile sent an army to invade the emirate because that’s what you did back then if you were the king of Castile. But the Granadan forces suckered the Castilians in with a feigned retreat and then massacred them, killing more than 2800 including almost all the knights of the venerated Order of Santiago.
June 23, 1757: A British East India Company army defeats a combined Bengali-French army at the Battle of Palashi (Plassey). EIC officials managed to turn Mir Jafar, the field commander of the Bengali army, by promising to elevate him to the Bengali throne, which proved key to securing victory despite being heavily outnumbered. After the battle the British commander, Robert Clive, installed Mir Jafar in place of the ousted Siraj ud-Daulah as the Nawab of Bengal and effectively annexed Bengal into the East India Company’s territory. Plassey thus became one of the key battles in establishing British control over the Indian subcontinent.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamic State fighters killed at least nine pro-government fighters (soldiers and paramilitaries) in eastern Syria’s Raqqa province. The Observatory claims that seven IS fighters were also killed. IS has reportedly killed at least 30 pro-government fighters in eastern Syria so far this week.
A row between Ahrar al-Sham and the Sham Front is at the center of the crisis, which erupted into a big confrontation last week, with fellow SNA factions standing by the Sham Front, and the HTS [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham], a designated terrorist group, backing Ahrar al-Sham. The Sham Front attacked Ahrar al-Sham in several locations in al-Bab countryside on June 18, seizing the outposts of the group’s eastern forces, known as Ahrar al-Sham-Eastern Sector, and taking 50 of its members captive. The clashes quickly spread to Jarablus. The Sham Front tried to expel Ahrar al-Sham militants and their families from Afrin as well. All three areas are in regions controlled by Turkey and its allies.
In response, Ahrar al-Sham, backed by HTS, marched through the crossing separating the rebel forces of Idlib and Afrin and seized multiple areas in Afrin’s southern and southwestern countryside. The SNA factions were forced to retreat all the way to Ain Dara and Qarzihel, just 7 kilometers (4 miles) away from Afrin city. Faylaq al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sharqiya were among the retreating forces, but some reports claim they were reluctant to fight. Turkish troops positioned in rural areas were recalled to their main base during the clashes, in which tanks and howitzers were used.
The upshot is that HTS may be using Ahrar al-Sham as a cutout to fragment the SNA and thereby create an opening to expand the territory under its control. Which could mean more factional conflict to come. It could even lead to conflict between HTS and Turkey, though things aren’t at that stage yet.
At Responsible Statecraft, Kate Kizer looks at the US government’s “see no evil” approach to downplaying its responsibility for civilian casualties in Yemen:
Amid President Biden’s controversial decision last week to soon meet with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman — a move that appears to be following the lead of prominent Middle East hawks — the Government Accountability Office released a new report finding that the State and Defense Departments failed to thoroughly investigate and “don’t know” whether the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen used American-made weapons in attacks that killed civilians.
What’s perhaps more revealing about the GAO’s assessment is that it shows the militaristic mindset and poor judgment that got the United States into this strategic and humanitarian nightmare in the first place are alive and well inside the executive branch.
According to Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman, in an effort to unblock Swedish and Finnish applications for NATO membership, a portion of next week’s alliance summit in Madrid may be devoted to Turkish priorities:
Ankara’s threats to block Sweden's and Finland’s NATO memberships may yield some modest dividends, with the security alliance weighing whether to devote its last session during a summit in Madrid next week to “challenges” to its southern flank — meaning Turkey — and the fight against terrorism, Al-Monitor has learned.
The session, which sources say will most likely be added to the program, would provide Turkey with a platform to air its longstanding gripes over what it says is a lack of NATO solidarity over the threats it faces, including from a US-backed armed Kurdish group in Syria that Ankara says is closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is waging an armed campaign for Kurdish autonomy inside Turkey and is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
The hope is that this airing of Turkish grievances, coupled with a favorably worded end-of-summit statement (discussions as to the precise wording already appears to be happening), would move Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to green light the opening of accession talks with Sweden and Finland. The three countries would then have to continue ironing out their relationships before Erdoğan might be willing to approve their accession.
Incumbent Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati was renominated to continue in that post by President Michel Aoun on Thursday. Mikati’s nomination was backed by 54 members of the 128 seat Lebanese parliament, enough to get him over this first hump but clearly not the majority he’ll need to for a government. He’s likely to have an uphill battle to secure the remaining votes he’ll need, even though Lebanon really needs a quick political transition so that its government can focus on attracting the foreign aid and investment the country’s imploding economy needs.
An Iranian court ruled on Thursday that the United States government is liable, to the tune of $4 billion, for the murders of several Iranian nuclear scientists in incidents stretching back to 2010. It’s generally accepted that Israeli operatives carried out these killings, but Iranian officials accuse the US of supporting the operations. Needless to say there’s no chance Iran is going to collect on this judgment but the ruling will support the position of those Iranian officials who oppose diplomacy with the US.
Elsewhere, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Thursday announced that it had removed the head of its intelligence service, Hossein Taeb. His replacement is the now-former head of the IRGC’s counterintelligence service, Mohammad Kazemi. Taeb is reportedly being shunted off as an adviser to IRGC commander Hussein Salami. It’s possible, or likely even, that Taeb is paying the price for the murder of an IRGC colonel in Tehran last month, a number of other mysterious recent deaths involving IRGC personnel, and the failure, perhaps, of an alleged IRGC plot to kidnap or kill Israeli tourists in Turkey that prompted an Israeli travel warning earlier this month. Turkish media finally reported in some detail on Thursday about that plot—and the role Turkish authorities played in thwarting it, of course.
The United Nations rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, issued a statement on Thursday in which he estimated that the number of people killed by Myanmar security forces since last year’s coup has now risen above 2000. Authorities have arrested some 14,000 people and displaced some 700,000. Andrews issued his statement at the end of a trip to Malaysia to assess the situation. The Malaysian government has been pushing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a stronger position opposing Myanmar’s junta, a stance Andrews endorsed in his comments. He also cast shade at a junta proposal to hold “free and fair” elections sometime in 2023, calling the idea “preposterous” given the level of political suppression the junta has imposed. Speaking of which, the junta announced on Thursday that it’s moved former Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest into solitary confinement. It’s unclear why.
North Korean media reported on Thursday that, at a meeting of the North Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission, Kim Jong-un and other senior North Korean leaders talked about strengthening “the operational capabilities of the front-line units” deployed along the Demilitarized Zone. This is notable because those additional “operational capabilities” probably have to do with the deployment of tactical nuclear weaponry. The North Korean military does not currently possess tactical nukes but officials in Pyongyang have been talking for some time about new tactical weapons and there have been indications that North Korea is preparing for a new nuclear test that could well involve a smaller device such as might be used in a tactical weapon. There aren’t a lot of dots to connect beyond that.
Inter-communal violence in Sudan has displaced an estimated 84,000 so far this month, making it the worst single month for displacement in that country since January 2021. Fighting between Arabs and members of the Kimr people in West Darfur state has generated most of the displacement. Clashes between communities in South Kordofan state have also contributed to the problem.
At least two people were killed as the result of a clash between two militia factions in Tripoli late Wednesday. One of the victims was a militia fighter killed in the skirmish while the other was a civilian who was struck by a car while trying to flee the fighting. There’s no indication as to why the fighting began and by Thursday it seemed to have ended, but given the ongoing tension between armed groups aligned with one of Libya’s two prime ministers (Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and Fathi Bashagha) any outbreak of violence in the capital is going to draw attention. Both of the groups involved in Wednesday’s incident appear to support Dbeibeh so this doesn’t seem to have been related to the PM rivalry.
The Malian military said on Thursday that it has been conducting airstrikes all week against targets associated with the Macina Liberation Front, or Katibat Macina, which is part of the al-Qaeda aligned Jamaʿat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin network. These strikes are apparently retaliation for attacks on several villages in central Mali’s Mopti region over the weekend that left at least 132 people dead. There’s no indication as to the effect of these airstrikes.
In news from Russia:
US officials are accusing the Russian Navy of laying mines off of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and in the Dnieper River in an effort to block Ukrainian grain exports. Moscow has consistently denied that it’s placed mines in those areas, contending that the Ukrainians mined their own ports for defensive reasons. To be clear the Ukrainians did mine their own ports, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Russians haven’t done so as well. If they have, that would bolster accusations that Moscow is intentionally blocking Ukrainian food exports as part of its war effort. The US government also released satellite images purportedly showing damage caused by a Russian missile strike on Ukrainian grain silos at Mykolaiv earlier this month, which also support claims of an intentional food blockade.
Nike on Thursday became the latest Western company to announce that it’s packing up shop in Russia for good, or at least until it makes business sense to go back. The company didn’t do much business in Russia so the impact of this departure probably won’t be that significant either for Nike’s bottom line or for Russian consumers. Western corporate exits have, overall, had a sizable impact on Russian consumers.
Pew Research Center’s latest “Global Attitudes Survey” suggests that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a deleterious impact on its international image. Which it probably has, but I suspect this survey overstates things. The annual Global Attitudes Survey involves a handful of countries (18 in this year’s survey) in which countries of the West, or “Global North,” are disproportionately represented. That Russia’s standing among those nations has cratered is not particularly surprising. But the survey doesn’t have much to say about Russia’s image outside that group.
In news from Ukraine:
The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk oblast, Serhiy Haidai, suggested on Thursday that Ukrainian forces might withdraw from the city of Lysychansk before it can be encircled by the Russian military. Such a withdrawal could also include the remaining Ukrainian forces in Severodonetsk, assuming there’s still an open path through which they could retreat. It’s increasingly clear that the Russians are attempting to surround both cities before fully securing them, so a withdrawal makes strategic sense.
The Biden administration announced on Thursday that it is sending another tranche of military aid to Ukraine totaling around $450 million. Included in this new shipment will be four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, doubling the number currently in Ukraine, along with tactical vehicles, small arms, and ammunition.
European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to make both Ukraine and Moldova official candidates for EU membership, following last week’s recommendations by the European Commission. Candidate status doesn’t guarantee eventual membership, at least not in a timely fashion—North Macedonia became an EU candidate in 2005 and it’s accession doesn’t seem to have advanced much since then. The war may cause Brussels to speed up Ukraine’s accession process, though as World Politics Review’s Dave Keating points out there are longstanding concerns within the EU about what admitting Ukraine would mean for the bloc’s internal politics. So Ukraine may remain a candidate for some time to come, despite the war.
Protests led by Ecuadorean Indigenous groups continue to rage in Quito and other cities across Educador, with demonstrators still calling for cuts to fuel and food prices as well as other economic concessions from President Guillermo Lasso’s government. There have been indications of violence, as Ecuador’s Alliance of Organizations for Human Rights says it’s catalogued at least three deaths and over 100 people wounded. Lasso’s decision to give his security forces a green light to use force against protesters likely accounts for most of that violence. There may be a particularly serious situation developing in the Amazonian city of Puyo, where authorities are claiming that they’ve “lost control”—what that means isn’t exactly clear—and that there are 18 police officers missing in that city following attacks by armed protesters.
Finally, TomDispatch’s Alfred McCoy compares the old Cold War to the new one that we’re supposedly entering:
From his first days in office, Joe Biden and his national security advisers seemed determined to revive America’s fading global leadership via the strategy they knew best — challenging the “revisionist powers” Russia and China with a Cold War-style aggressiveness. When it came to Beijing, the president combined the policy initiatives of his predecessors, pursuing Barack Obama’s “strategic pivot” from the Middle East to Asia, while continuing Donald Trump’s trade war with China. In the process, Biden revived the kind of bipartisan foreign policy not seen in Washington since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Writing in the December 2021 Foreign Affairs, a group of famously disputatious diplomatic historians agreed on one thing: “Today, China and the United States are locked in what can only be called a new cold war.” Just weeks later, the present mimed the past in ways that went well beyond even that pessimistic assessment as Russia began massing 190,000 troops on the border of Ukraine. Soon, Russian President Vladimir Putin would join China’s Xi Jinping in Beijing where they would demand that the West “abandon the ideologized approaches of the Cold War” by curtailing both NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe and similar security pacts in the Pacific.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine loomed in late February, the New York Times reported that Putin was trying “to revise the outcome of the original Cold War, even if it is at the cost of deepening a new one.” And days later, as Russian tanks began entering Ukraine, the New York Times published an editorial headlined, “Mr. Putin Launches a Sequel to the Cold War.” The Wall Street Journal seconded that view, concluding that recent “developments reflect a new cold war that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin have initiated against the West.”
Instead of simply accepting that mainstream consensus, it couldn’t be more important right now to explore that Cold War analogy and gain a fuller understanding of how that tragic past does (and doesn’t) resonate with our embattled present.
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