World roundup: November 19 2020

Stories from Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Belarus, 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:


November 18, 1803: The Battle of Vertières, the final major battle of the Haitian Revolution, results in a decisive Haitian victory over a heavily outnumbered French expeditionary army. The French, under the Vicomte de Rochambeau, negotiated their withdrawal from the island and Haitian leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared independence on January 1, 1804.

November 18, 1916: The Battle of the Somme, which had begun on July 1, ends with over one million dead and wounded in total and only very minor Allied tactical gains to show for it. Strategically the battle did help the green British army gain experience while forcing Germany into a war of attrition that it couldn’t possibly sustain. But mostly Somme stands as the best example of the meat grinder approach to war and the callous indifference to lower rank casualties among the officer class that marked World War I.

November 19, 636: The Battle of al-Qadisiyah ends

November 19, 1256: The last Assassin imam surrenders to the Mongols.


Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for November 19:

  • 57,223,058 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (16,143,528 active, +647,637 since yesterday)

  • 1,364,868 reported fatalities (+10,758 since yesterday)

In today’s global news:

  • According to the United Nations, 2020 is the worst year on record for the resettlement of refugees. A mere 50,086 refugees—a figure that’s absurdly inadequate—were resettled between January and September of last year. This year the number is an unbelievable 15,425. Worldwide. Obviously the pandemic has had a major impact on resettlement, but undoubtedly the continued prominence of xenophobic right wing governments in wealthy nations around the world is also part of the problem.



  • 430,170 confirmed coronavirus cases (+4542)

  • 11,943 reported fatalities (+123)

The Turkish Central Bank announced a major interest rate hike on Thursday that seems to have boosted the ailing lira a bit (it gained around two percent against the dollar for the day). This move came in spite of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s oft-stated (as recently as Wednesday) opposition to rate increases, and suggests that, in a rare sign of self-restraint, he’s prepared to let his new economic team have some leeway to manage the economy. Potential foreign investors in particular are likely to appreciate that.


  • 327,049 confirmed cases (+718) in Israel, 67,296 confirmed cases (+1110) in Palestine

  • 2742 reported fatalities (+3) in Israel, 598 reported fatalities (+9) in Palestine

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel on Thursday and showered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a flurry of last minute gifts as the Trump administration heads (probably) for the exit. He really packed a lot into the trip: announcing that the administration will officially label the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as antisemitic, visiting an Israeli colony settlement in the West Bank to announce that the US will now label products manufactured in those colony settlements as “made in Israel,” and visiting the Golan to ratify Israel’s annexation of that territory.

Sounds like a real swell time. Each of these moves is intended in part to make it harder for the Biden administration to restore even the laughably biased Israel-Palestine policy the US had prior to Trump’s election. There may be more moves like this to come over the next two months.


  • 111,955 confirmed cases (+342)

  • 6508 reported fatalities (+13)

A gas pipeline in the northern Sinai exploded on Thursday to what appears to have been fairly minimal effect. I mention it because the Islamic State claimed responsibility for causing the explosion, though at this point as far as I know there’s no proof it was anything other than an accident.



  • 121,979 confirmed cases (+1520)

  • 1870 reported fatalities (+31)

France 24 reports on Armenian allegations that Azerbaijani forces used phosphorus munitions (which are permitted under international law when used to produce smoke but regarded as chemical weapons if used against personnel directly) in their recent campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh:


  • 83,994 confirmed cases (+2597)

  • 1053 reported fatalities (+23)

Al-Monitor’s Fehim Taştekin suggests that Russia and Turkey are having some trouble agreeing on the Turkish military’s future role in Azerbaijan:

Under the Nov. 10 deal, Azerbaijan will gain a transportation link to the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan, an Azeri exclave separated from the mainland by a strip of Armenian land and shares a tiny border with Turkey. The provision has led to overblown expectations in Turkey that the connection will amount to a corridor linking Turkey to the Turkic republics of Central Asia and revive the trade routes of the historical Silk Road.

In fact, the deal marks Russia’s military return to Azerbaijan eight years after it evacuated the Gabala base in the country. Moscow has shown who the boss in the Caucasus is. Thus, its acquiescence to a joint monitoring center with Turkey and muted attitude in the face of Ankara’s military posturing is quite understandable.

The snags may not be showing in official statements, but they are surfacing on technical level. The two sides failed to agree on technical details during two-day talks in Ankara last week, according to Turkish media reports. The Turkish side reportedly pressed for the deployment of a small number of Turkish troops in Nagorno-Karabakh along with the Russian peacekeepers, but the Russians agreed only to drone surveillance with no Turkish boots on the ground in the conflict zone. The deadlock led the Russian delegation to return to Moscow for consultations.


  • 9,004,325 confirmed cases (+46,182)

  • 132,202 reported fatalities (+584)

At least four Kashmiri militants were killed in a gun battle with police on Thursday near the city of Jammu. Two Indian police officers were wounded in the clash.


  • No acknowledged cases

The Trump administration Thursday imposed sanctions on a Russian construction company and a North Korean trading firm that operates in Russia, for allegedly participating in a forced labor program. There are still hundreds, at least, of North Korean expats working in Russia despite United Nations restrictions on that sort of thing, but this case seems to go a little deeper than just illicit work permits. The Korean firm is accused of conscripting Korean laborers to work for the Russian firm, in return for payments back to the North Korean government.



  • 76,006 confirmed cases (+541)

  • 1062 reported fatalities (+9)

Don’t look now, but the “Libyan National Army” and forces aligned with the Government of National Accord have yet to begin pulling back from their front line positions around Sirte. They’re not yet in violation of last month’s ceasefire agreement, but ideally they would have at least started some kind of withdrawal process by now. The British government has threatened to impose sanctions on either or both parties if they fail to implement the ceasefire, and it’s possible that other European governments could follow suit.


  • 311,554 confirmed cases (+4559) in Morocco, 10 confirmed cases (+0) in Western Sahara

  • 5090 reported fatalities (+77) in Morocco, 1 reported fatality (+0) in Western Sahara

The Western Sahara separatist POLISARIO Front declared Thursday that its forces had undertaken “massive attacks” at several spots along the Western Sahara Wall that the Moroccan military built across the territory in the 1980s, causing “important material damage.” There’s no way to verify these claims and the Moroccan government hasn’t responded to my knowledge. Moroccan authorities built the wall amid their previous conflict with POLISARIO, in order to contain POLISARIO’s forces in the eastern/inland quarter of Western Sahara while consolidating Moroccan control over the rest of the territory.


  • 65,839 confirmed cases (+146)

  • 1165 reported fatalities (+2)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province have been essentially taking control of the main highways around the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri:

But in the past six months alone, more than 200 people have been murdered or kidnapped on the four main highways that head into a town now more famous as the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency, according to analysis from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, interviews with soldiers and state officials. The attacks are conducted by militants fighting for Boko Haram and a splinter group loyal to Islamic State. With each passing month they become more brazen, targeting civilians, aid workers, soldiers and even the state’s most powerful politicians.

In September, jihadists attacked the heavily armed convoy of the governor of Borno state, Babagana Zulum, on the road from his Maiduguri office to Baga, near the border with Chad, leaving 20 people dead and forcing one of Nigeria’s most powerful men to be rushed into an armored vehicle amid a hail of bullets. In July, 37 Nigerian special-forces soldiers were killed in a militant ambush on the Damboa road, which leads south out of the city. Two weeks later, the extremists released a video showing the execution of five aid workers they had abducted on the Monguno road, which heads north toward Lake Chad.

In recent weeks, the jihadists have abducted dozens more people, including government officials from the Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, and on Tuesday, seven guests from a wedding party including the bride.


  • 104,427 confirmed cases (+499)

  • 1607 reported fatalities (+6)

The Ethiopian military says it is continuing to advance on the Tigray region’s capital city, Mekelle, while the Tigray People’s Liberation Force claimed Thursday that an Ethiopian airstrike hit that city’s Meles Academy University, injuring a number of students. As with everything else about this conflict it’s impossible to verify these claims due to the media and communications blackout in Tigray. In another sign that the campaign against the TPLF is verging on becoming an ethnic war against the Tigrayan people, Ethiopian officials are now accusing Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a Tigrayan who also happens to be the director of the World Health Organization, of attempting to build diplomatic support for the TPLF and even of trying to smuggle arms into the Tigray region for the TPLF’s forces. They’ve offered no evidence to support those accusations, which Tedros denies. The WHO leader is a TPLF member, or at least he was when he was active in Ethiopian politics, but without evidence this smacks of “guilt by ethnic association.”


  • 17,148 confirmed cases (+243)

  • 158 reported fatalities (+1)

At least 16 people have reportedly been killed in clashes between police and protesters since the arrest of popular musician and opposition politician Bobi Wine on Wednesday. Another 65 or more people have been injured or wounded in the protests and more than 350 have been arrested. Wine is probably the strongest challenger to incumbent Yoweri Museveni ahead of January’s presidential election. His arrest was ostensibly over violations of Uganda’s COVID-19 protocols but his supporters clearly seem to believe it was politically motivated.



  • 119,390 confirmed cases (+1382)

  • 1074 reported fatalities (+7)

European Union member states agreed in principle on Thursday to a new round of sanctions in connection with Belarus’s ongoing political crisis. Specifics are yet to be worked out, but this round would target institutional support for embattled President Alexander Lukashenko, including private companies that have ties to the Belarusian leader. The EU has already sanctioned dozens of senior Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko himself, over the disputed outcome of August’s presidential election and the harsh crackdown by Belarusian security forces since that vote.



  • 98,665 confirmed cases (+315)

  • 863 reported fatalities (+3)

The US Senate on Thursday confirmed diplomat James Story, who had been serving as the chargé d’affaires for the US mission to Venezuela, as Washington’s first ambassador to Caracas since 2010. Despite his new post, Story will work out of Bogotá since the US embassy in Venezuela is closed. It’s unclear whether he’ll remain in his position once Joe Biden (presumably) takes office.


  • 1,225,490 confirmed cases (+7487)

  • 34,761 reported fatalities (+198)

Thousands of people have reportedly taken to the streets of cities across Colombia to protest against the austerity agenda of President Iván Duque and his government. In addition to criticizing Duque for his government’s failure to stop rampant criminal violence, the demonstrators are also calling for better healthcare and improved benefits for small businesses and the unemployed.


  • 12,070,712 confirmed cases (+192,186)

  • 258,333 reported fatalities (+2065)

If you were beginning to suspect that part of the Trump administration’s agenda for the lame duck period is to manufacture a bunch of crises and create a bunch of faits accomplis in order to limit what the incoming Biden administration can do once it takes office, then, well, apparently you were right. At least two anonymous administration sources have said as much to CNN, and you can view Pompeo’s Israel visit (see above) in this light. The next couple of months should be a fun ride.

Finally, if (and I stress if) Joe Biden is looking to clean up the DC foreign policy establishment, Win Without War’s Kate Kizer has a good idea for where to start:

Thankfully the Biden-Harris administration has the opportunity to finally make progress in ending this cycle of impunity. While it is only a first step, the transition should start with a strong public ethics pledge for executive branch personnel that seeks to end the tyranny of conflicts of interests, the revolving door, and the institutional erosion brought about by pay-to-play politics across government.

While it won’t fully resolve the eroding influence of money on our political system, such a pledge is a necessary step towards accountability for the ways in which corporations and their tools of influence have manipulated the public and warped our public policy debates — national security among them — and, ultimately, limit their ability to do so in the future. It would also have the added bonus of building trust with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, a key necessity for governing.

Such an ethics pledge should build on, at minimum, the requirements of Executive Order 13490 issued by former President Barack Obama. In an ideal world, no political appointees would have worked for or served on the board of a for-profit entity that received money from the agency they would work in; has worked for or served on the board of an entity that received money from an undemocratic foreign government or its auspices; or has been affiliated with, is a member of, or received funding from organizations or individual donors to such entities that espouse hate, xenophobia, or racism against a particular group or community, in the last ten years.