World update: May 30 2017


Well, this might actually be good news:

The US military has successfully carried out its first-ever missile defense test involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile, in a major milestone for a program meant to defend against a mounting North Korean threat.

The US military fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-type weapon from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It then fired a missile to intercept it from Vandenberg air force base in California.

The Missile Defense Agency said it was the first live-fire test against a simulated ICBM for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) and hailed it as an “incredible accomplishment”.

“This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” Vice-Admiral Jim Syring, director of the agency, said in a statement.

There are plenty of caveats here–these results need to be repeated before the GMD can be considered reliable, and that assumes that the Pentagon didn’t game this test to ensure success, something it’s done before. So it’s probably best not to put too much stock in these results, though I’m sure the Pentagon already is.



UPDATE: After this went live, around midnight, the BBC reported that a “huge explosion” hit Kabul in the area of the city that houses many of its foreign embassies, which is also near the presidential compound. Reuters says that “houses hundreds of meters away” had their windows blown out and doors blown off their hinges. Preliminary reports have at least 50 people killed and wounded in the blast but obviously that’s likely to change. Here’s a photo of the blast’s aftermath:

It’s late and I’m fading, but I’ll have more on this in tomorrow’s update.

Polish and Afghan special forces, with the aid of US air support, were able to free 11 people who had been held prisoner by the Taliban for four months in Helmand province on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan’s Peshawar province, gunmen killed an aide to recently rehabilitated Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. It’s not clear who carried out the murder or why, but Taliban retribution for Hekmatyar’s decision to make a deal with Kabul is certainly not out of the question.

Finally, the contours of a deal that will allow embattled Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum to go into exile in Turkey are being revealed. Dostum, who should be on trial for kidnapping and torturing a political rival last November, is ostensibly in Turkey for “medical treatment,” but in reality he seems to have fled potential prosecution with Kabul’s blessing, since the Afghan government can ill afford the additional unrest that Dostum’s prosecution would probably cause among the country’s Uzbek community. In exchange for taking Dostum it, it seems Ankara is demanding that it be given control over 12 schools in Afghanistan affiliated with Turkey’s Public Enemy #1, Fethullah Gülen. Turkey has been leveraging trade deals in return for control over Gülenist schools all over the world, but in this case Dostum has given them all the leverage they need.


The United Nations has appointed three people–Indian human rights lawyer Indira Jaising, Sri Lankan lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy, and Australian consultant Christopher Dominic–to lead its investigation into allegations that the Myanmar army committed crimes against humanity during a crackdown against the Rohingya community late last year.


The Philippine military is still struggling to clear Marawi of the remaining Maute Group fighters who have been terrorizing the city for the past week. It’s reportedly cleared about half of the city, but the insurgents have broken up into small groups which makes it harder for Philippine forces to track them down. There are growing concerns that the chaos might spread to nearby Iligan City, as many people displaced from Marawi have fled there and it’s possible that insurgents have been traveling among them. The Philippine government is calling on the remaining Maute fighters to surrender, but somehow I suspect that call will fall on deaf ears.


The South Korean military is undertaking an investigation of the THAAD missile defense system recently installed there by the US, after President Moon Jae-in was “shocked” to find that has been deployed with its full complement of six launchers, rather than the two launchers it was supposed to deploy with. The Pentagon insists that its THAAD deployment has been “very transparent,” but it might want to check with Seoul on that.



Thousands of people are continuing to demonstrate in the city of Hoceima over the government’s arrest of activist Nasser Zefzafi on Monday. There have also been pro-Zefzafi marches in Casablanca and Rabat. Zefzafi has been leading protests over government corruption and economic failures since last October.


Sudan-Egypt relations, already tense over the Halayeb Triangle territorial dispute and accusations from Khartoum that Egypt has been aiding Sudanese rebels, are about to get worse. The Sudanese government has banned the importation of Egyptian animal and agricultural products, ostensibly over health concerns. It’s unlikely to go over well in Cairo.


A group of 13 South Sudanese soldiers is on trial for a July 2016 attack on a group of five foreign aid workers. The soldiers are accused of murdering the group’s local contact and raping the aid workers.  The trial is considered a major test for Salva Kiir’s government and its ability–and willingness–to prosecute war crimes by its own personnel.


Speaking of past war crimes, a UN commission has documented a long series of potential crimes against humanity committed between 2003 and 2015 by both sides of CAR’s long-running and ongoing civil war. There are no real institutions in place in CAR to prosecute these cases, but they could form the basis for a truth and reconciliation commission if the country eventually pulls itself together.



Russia and Ukraine had a spat on Twitter today–no, really, @Russia and @Ukraine got into it–and, you know, who gives a shit, except that it included this so I guess I’m Team Ukraine now:

They were fighting because, during his visit with French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned the origins of Russia-France relations going back to “Anne of Russia,” a princess who married the Capetian King Henry I in 1051. The problem here is that “Anne of Russia” is more accurately called “Anne of Kiev,” as in the Ukrainian capital, and she was a princess of the Kievan Rus’. Russia and Ukraine both claim their roots in Kievan Rus’, and they’re both right, but it’s a sore spot for both countries because for some reason they’re unable to accept a shared history (@Russia’s brotherly words aside) and each feels the need to prove its primacy. Like I said, who gives a shit. Except I can kind of understand Ukraine’s sensitivity here, given that Moscow has been abusing history to justify its annexation of Crimea and attempts to maybe/possibly annex eastern and southern Ukraine (or, in Moscow’s terminology, “Novorossiya”)


Incoming Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić stepped down as prime minister on Tuesday in preparation for assuming his new office, which is statutorily ceremonial but will still carry considerable authority because of Vučić himself, on Wednesday. In his remarks to the press he didn’t say much of note, except for suggesting that Balkan states still waiting for EU membership–Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo–should form a regional economic bloc while they wait (and, potentially, as leverage with Brussels). The formation of such a bloc would require political concessions–most especially, it would require Serbia and Kosovo to figure out a way to live with one another–that might in themselves bring those countries more in line with EU requirements.


New Macedonian PM Zoran Zaev is expected to have his cabinet approved by parliament on Wednesday, which would mean Macedonia has a functioning government again for the first time since January 2016, when the last one was forced to resign amid scandal.


Spiegel has the view from Germany about Angela Merkel’s weekend remarks about Europe and its relationship to the US. Given the source I think it’s particularly important to highlight what it says about Merkel’s comments in the context of German politics:

Merkel’s appearance was the clearest indication yet that foreign policy and the future of the European Union will be vital issues in the campaign. The SPD had been hoping that it could score points against Merkel on the basis of her erstwhile even-handed approach to Trump. But now, Merkel has positioned herself more clearly than ever before as Europe’s defender in the face of the Trump challenge — a role that her SPD challenger Martin Schulz had been hoping to play. The SPD can do little more than agree with the chancellor. On Monday, Schulz tweeted “the best response to Donald Trump is a strong Europe” — which is essentially exactly what Merkel said.

The reverberations from Merkel’s comments–and, frankly, their over-analysis–continued on Tuesday, with the most entertaining development coming, surprise surprise, out of the Trump administration. This morning, President Trump tried, in his always diplomatic way, to reach out to Berlin:

Problem exacerbated, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, then briefed the media this afternoon on Trump’s “fairly unbelievable” “bond” with Merkel. Naturally. One thing I’ll give this administration credit for is that they never go small. When these guys lie, it’s never “sure President Trump and Chancellor Merkel get along,” it’s always “President Trump and Chancellor Merkel are actually deeply, passionately attracted to each other and have spoken frequently about their mutual desire to move to Tahiti and engage in a torrid affair.”

Germans, who smartly pay more attention to what Trump says than to what he makes his flunkies say on his behalf, are struggling to understand how the same guy who bent the knee to the Saudis last week could be such a dick to Europe. Which is not to say that Europe is above reproach or that it deserves American fealty or whatever, but the contrast is pretty stark.


There are growing concerns about–guess who–Russian interference in Italian politics:

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi complained privately to his counterparts about Russian meddling in his country’s politics by supporting anti-establishment parties. And websites controlled by a leader of the Five Star Movement, one of Italy’s most popular anti-establishment parties, have spread reports published on Sputnik Italia, an Italian version of the Russian state-funded news operation.

Russia “has invested a lot in influencing public opinion in this country,” said Celia Kuningas-Saagpakk, the Estonian ambassador to Italy. She previously worked in her country’s Foreign Ministry, where she covered Russia and monitored its strategies and propaganda tactics in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The effects of Russian attempts to influence Italy can already be seen. Long shaky, Italian politicians across the spectrum, ever mindful of business ties and energy deals, are wobbling more than ever on the hard line the European Union has taken toward Moscow since its land grab in Ukraine in 2014.

The Five Star Movement leads in public opinion polls ahead of Italian elections later this year, and they support engaging Russia while cutting ties with the US. They also support pulling Italy out of the Euro, which probably isn’t a bad idea except when it’s maybe being done at Vladimir Putin’s behest.


French police have seized 300 pounds–750,000 (!) pills–worth of Captagon that somebody was attempting to smuggle out of Lebanon. Captagon, the brand name for the amphetamine fenethylline, is being manufactured on a massive scale in Syria because it’s the upper of choice for many of the militias there (including ISIS). The drug’s import on that kind of scale into France would be cause for considerable concern, but French authorities believe that this shipment was ultimately bound for Saudi Arabia.


After 16 arrests and a week spent frightening the British public about how the Manchester Arena bomber’s accomplices might still be out there planning more attacks, British authorities now say they believe Salman Abedi “acted largely alone.” He bought the bomb components himself and appears to have been mostly by himself in the days leading up to the attack.




Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, seen above after he’d ceased to be of use to the Central Intelligence Agency, died on Monday at the age of 83. Noriega ruled Panama for most of the 1980s, and prior to that he was a key intelligence asset for the US, whose drug trafficking was, to be charitable, overlooked because he helped the US run arms to anti-Communist insurgents in Central America. He was ousted in a 1989 US invasion, probably after his work for other intelligence agencies had become known and definitely after President (and former CIA boss) George H.W. Bush learned that the American public thought he was a wimp and decided to send thousands of other people to beat up on a tiny country to prove his toughness.


Well, the proposed laptop ban on all flights coming into the US is no more…at least for now. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security have reportedly assured the European Union that there will not be an expansion of the ban to cover flights from Europe. European officials had raised a number of concerns, certainly over passenger convenience but also over the threat posed by storing potentially hundreds of lithium ion batteries in the cargo hold of large passenger jets.

I don’t have much on the Russia investigation front tonight. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen–the first-order scumbag of “spousal rape is not a real thing” fame–has been asked to provide information to the House and Senate intelligence committees that are investigating the case. He’s apparently declined their request, which means he’s likely to be subpoenaed. Additionally, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has reconsidered his decision not to provide personal and business documents requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee and will produce at least some of the paperwork the committee had requested.

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