World roundup: September 22 2022
Stories from Armenia, Russia, Mexico, and elsewhere
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Apologies to those who prefer to listen to these roundups, but I am dealing with what feels like a cold and includes a sore, scratchy throat, so we will be foregoing my usual voice over and relying on Substack’s text-to-speech function for at least this evening and possibly longer.
THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
September 21, 1857: The Siege of Delhi ends with a British victory, snuffing out the last remnants of the Mughal Empire and doing much to undercut the 1857-1859 Indian Rebellion.
September 21, 1860: A combined British and French army defeats a Qing Dynasty army at the Battle of Palikao, named for a bridge in the eastern part of Beijing. The defeat caused the Xianfeng Emperor to flee his capital, leaving the city in European hands and hastening the end of the Second Opium War.
September 22, 1965: The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, fought over Kashmir, ends with a UN-brokered ceasefire. Although the outcome was indecisive, India was able to prevent a Pakistan-backed insurgency in Kashmir and demonstrate military superiority over its rival while sending the Pakistani economy into a rough patch. The war also caused India and Pakistan to look for new allies, as the US and UK imposed an arms embargo on both countries and criticized both the Indian and Pakistani governments for their conduct. Pakistan’s current relationship with China and India’s Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union developed as a result.
September 22, 1980: The Iran-Iraq War begins
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The Syrian Democratic Forces militia says its fighters thwarted an attempted Islamic State attack on the SDF’s al-Hol displaced persons/prison camp in northeastern Syria earlier this week, killing four IS members in the process. The SDF has been conducting operations to root out IS fighters inside the camp for the past few weeks and it’s likely this attack was retaliation or perhaps meant as a way to disrupt those operations.
One Israeli was reportedly wounded in a knife attack near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday. The alleged attacker was subsequently killed by police.
Responsible Statecraft’s Eli Clifton examines the potential links between former US Senator Norm Coleman’s role as a leading Republican Party fund raiser and his job as a paid lobbyist for the Saudi government:
Coleman enjoys a unique position of influence over congressional Republicans. He helped found the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, where he serves as chair of the board, according to a current biography on his law firm profile. Coleman also serves as chair of the American Action Network, a tax-exempt “social welfare group” — an IRS designation that allows political advocacy and requires no disclosure of funding. In other words, it’s a dark-money group.
In addition to sharing office space and staff, American Action Network and the Congressional Leadership Fund have deep financial ties. AAN, an IRS-designated 501(c)(4) group, has described the CLF as its “sister super PAC” in promotional material. The arrangement — a dark-money-to-PAC pipeline — is a common one, allowing the tax-exempt group to funnel dark money into the explicitly political coffers of the PAC.
AAN contributed approximately $30 million of CLF’s $165 million war chest in the 2020 cycle. That pattern has repeated itself in election cycle after election cycle. Since 2011, over $94 million in AAN dark money — overseen by a registered agent for Saudi Arabia — has flowed into the coffers of CLF and, from there, into ads and other support for Republican congressional candidates.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told reporters in New York on Thursday that he’s ordered an investigation into the death of 22 year old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iranian morality police.
He also, somewhat more ominously, warned those participating in the still-expanding and rapidly intensifying protests over Amini’s death to avoid “acts of chaos,” which I’m going to define as “anything Iranian security forces don’t appreciate.” At least 17 people have been killed in six (presumably at least seven by the time you read this) straight nights of protests, two of them members of Iran’s paramilitary Basij force and the rest, as far as I can tell, protesters. Iran Human Rights, an NGO headquartered in Oslo, says it’s aware of “at least 31 civilian deaths.” The Biden administration on Thursday blacklisted Iran’s morality police—honestly I’m a little surprised the US hadn’t already done this—along with seven senior individuals within Iran’s state security apparatus.
Although Russia and Armenia are bona fide treaty allies, Eurasianet’s Ani Mejlumyan reports that Russian media has taken a decidedly anti-Armenian perspective when it comes to reporting on the most recent outbreak of Armenian-Azerbaijani fighting:
In 2020, Russian state media for the most part supported Armenia in its war with Azerbaijan. While both sides’ positions were reported on, the coverage tended to be slanted in Armenia’s favor, and the hosts of Russian political talk shows were usually sympathetic to the Armenian side.
This time, though, the message is different. Russian state media have been downplaying Azerbaijan’s attack on Armenia, misrepresenting it and providing justifications for Moscow’s relative inaction.
On September 19, during an episode of the evening political talk show Time Will Tell, the host and guests were discussing the recent visit of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to Armenia. The host, Anatoly Kuzichev, drew attention to Pelosi’s most forthright comments during her trip: that Azerbaijan’s offensive was “illegal” and “deadly.” Kuzichev described Pelosi’s assessment as “incorrect” and “exaggerated.”
“I think that this is not formally correct, as I understand it, we are talking about the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh, aren’t we, Vlad?“ Kuzichev asked one of the guests, military analyst Vladislav Shurigin.
We were not, as it happens, talking about Karabakh, as this month’s clashes took place in Armenia proper. Kuzichev later apologized, but he’s one of several Russian media personalities to make this same “error” in recent days and it’s starting to look like they’re intentionally carrying water for a Russian government that’s decided that its relationship with Azerbaijan is strategically more important than its relationship with Armenia.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has offered to apologize to a judge he criticized and/or obliquely threatened during a much-publicized political rally last month. During the rally, Khan talked about the need to take unspecified “action” against Judge Zeba Chaudhry, language that Pakistani authorities took to be a threat against her. They subsequently charged him with both contempt of court and terrorism. The latter charge was quashed by the Islamabad High Court earlier this week and Khan’s offer of an apology was enough to convince the court to suspend his contempt proceeding. A conviction on the contempt charge would have barred Khan from holding political office for at least five years, so I suspect his apology is more a matter of expediency than genuine remorse. But what do I know?
A new study finds that over 1400 Chinese scientists left US institutions to return to China last year, 22 percent more than did so the previous year. The main cause for the increase appears to be some combination of COVID and the Trump administration’s “China Initiative,” under which its Justice Department began filing criminal charges against Chinese academics on dubious national security grounds. One assumes that, in a contest between the US and China for global supremacy (or whatever the “New Cold War” is supposed to be), it would be better for the US to have those Chinese academics here, working for US universities and/or companies, but I digress. The Biden administration hasn’t continued the “China Initiative” but it seems the damage, as it were, has already been done.
Unspecified attackers killed at least 14 people in two villages in central Nigeria’s Benue state late Wednesday. Another 15 people were wounded in the attacks. Authorities are characterizing the attackers as “Fulani herdsmen,” which would make sense as Benue is located along the central Nigerian band where violence between farming and herding communities is unfortunately somewhat commonplace.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Ethiopia delivered a report in Geneva on Thursday outlining evidence of a vast array of crimes against humanity committed by all the parties to Ethiopia’s ongoing Tigray conflict—the Ethiopian military, the Eritrean military, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. These include sexual violence, torture, murder, and the intentional starvation of civilians. The Ethiopian government has already rejected the report.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Congolese police opened fire on Thursday on a crowd of protesters in the town of Rutshuru, in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province, killing at least one person. The demonstrators were expressing anger over the Congolese military’s inaction in taking on the M23 militia, which has been occupying the nearby town of Bunagana for over three months now. The M23 emerged after years of relative inactivity late last year and went on a major offensive earlier this year. That conflict has subsided in recent weeks but Congolese authorities, who claim the militia is being supported by the Rwandan military, have opted not to try to roll back the group’s gains.
In news from Russia:
European Union foreign ministers, prompted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special address on Wednesday, are reportedly circling a new round of sanctions against Russia that would be by my count the eighth such round since the Ukraine war began. The headline in this tranche, which is not finalized, would be a cap on the price of Russian oil, along with additional individual sanctions and export controls. It very much remains to be seen whether EU members will actually be able to reach agreement on a new round of sanctions. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in particular has signaled resistance to new sanctions and has even argued for dismantling previously imposed sanctions, and overall the bloc’s enthusiasm for sanctioning Russia in ways that negatively impact European economies seems to be waning.
Speaking of Putin’s speech, his announcement of a partial mobilization has coincided with an apparent crush of people trying to get out of Russia. Long lines were reported Thursday at Russia’s land borders with Finland and Georgia, and the price of one-way plane tickets abroad has skyrocketed. The Russian government called claims of a mass exodus “exaggerated” on Thursday but didn’t deny that some people have been racing for the exits. They may be motivated to some extent by a lack of clarity in terms of how many people are being called into service. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu talked about 300,000 military veterans being recalled to duty, but Putin himself did not really talk about specifics in his speech. The independent media outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe reported that Putin’s mobilization decree opened the door to calling up as many as 1 million people, a claim the Kremlin denied on Thursday.
The human rights group OVD-Info says that Russian authorities arrested some 1310 people on Wednesday for protesting Putin’s mobilization announcement. It’s further claiming that some of those who were arrested were presented with draft papers. This is sort of a win-win from the Russian government’s perspective, since these people can now either be sent to the front or, if they refuse, charged with draft evasion.
Four occupied Ukrainian regions—Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia—will hold referendums on becoming part of Russia starting Friday and continuing through Monday. The Quincy Institute’s Anatol Lieven argues that Moscow may be orchestrating these votes as bargaining leverage, without intending to actually claim these places as Russian territory. I suppose we’ll find out one way or the other soon enough, but it could be worth making one last stab at trying to spark a peace process because if Russia does move forward with annexation the already seemingly slim chances for a near-term diplomatic resolution to this conflict will plummet.
Another new poll, this one from Datafolha, shows former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva slightly reversing the weeks-long contraction of his lead over incumbent Jair Bolsonaro as the October 2 election approaches. This survey has Lula ahead of Bolsonaro 47 percent to 33 percent in first round voting intentions, which is up from 45-33 in last week’s Datafolha survey and also puts Lula close enough to 50 percent to bring an outright first round victory into play, if these results are borne out in the voting. If there is a runoff, the survey gives Lula a 54-38 lead, which is unchanged from last week.
If you haven’t already had a chance, please checkout Alex Aviña’s newest FX column, on the militarization of Mexico’s “War on Drugs”:
As the opening story suggests, militarization itself is the problem. Pushed and prodded by the US government since the late 1940s to adopt militarized forms of interdiction that violently attack the supply of drugs—and using those campaigns to brutally assert state authority in rebellious, even insurgent, rural peripheries—Mexico’s efforts have produced more drugs, more narcos, more violence, more death. Indeed, popular dissatisfaction with these horrific consequences help explain AMLO’s overwhelming victory in the 2018 elections. A vast majority of Mexican voters demanded radical change.
I briefly mention the role of the US because the question of violence in Mexico is directly connected both to the USian demand for illicit narcotics and to the USian mass supply of military grade weapons to criminal groups south of the border—not to mention the use of drugs and drug wars to advance US imperial interests past and present. This debate, like others (climate change and migration, to quickly name two), highlights the difficulties faced by sovereign nations to mitigate and reform issues with key transnational components.
Finally, The Nation’s William Hartung outlines the biggest national security crisis currently facing the United States:
America has a national security problem. But it goes well beyond the challenges posed by Russia or China. The biggest threat is right here at home: the Pentagon’s stranglehold on our national budget, alongside the woefully inadequate investments in addressing urgent, nonmilitary problems like climate change, pandemics, and racial and economic injustice.
Nowhere are these misplaced priorities more evident than in Congress, where the House and Senate routinely add tens of billions of dollars to the Pentagon budget beyond what the department even asks for, in order to shovel funds to weapons contractors based in their states and districts. This year Congress is poised to push the budget to at least $850 billion. This is far higher than spending at the peak of the Korean or Vietnam Wars or the height of the Cold War.
The choice is clear: continuing to fund weapons companies and arms-related jobs in key states and districts to the exclusion of more important investments in our safety and security, or crafting a plan for defense that is actually grounded in what will make the United States and the world safer.
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