World update: February 23 2018

We’re going to go with a single update again today, mostly because your bloghost is not feeling so hot today but also because I think we can get away with it.



Turkish forces shelled a convoy heading into Afrin on Friday (killing at least one person) that was carrying…well, take your pick. Turkey says it was carrying weapons and reinforcements for the YPG and its allies, while the YPG says it was carrying food and medicine for the Afrin civilians who keep getting killed even though Turkey insists that it’s not targeting civilians. At the risk of blowing your minds, I’m going to suggest maybe it was carrying both.

The UN Security Council postponed a vote on a 30 days Syrian ceasefire on Friday when it became clear Russia would veto the measure under discussion. As previous Syrian ceasefires have mostly tended to collapse within hours or days anyway, I’m not sure it matters. But negotiations will likely continue to see if there’s a way to draft a resolution that’s acceptable to the Russians.


Speaking of Security Council resolutions that aren’t going anywhere, Russia also seems to be holding up a draft resolution that would condemn Iran for violating a UN weapons embargo against the Houthis. It would not, of course, condemn Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or the United States for any of their Yemeni war crimes. I wrote about this selective horse shit at LobeLog on Friday:

In drafting a resolution seeking to condemn Iran for its role in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, the United States—along with its UN Security Council allies Britain and France—seems to have cherry-picked information from a UN report that condemned all actors in that war for violations of international law. Rather than draft a resolution reflecting the broad range of crimes that have been committed in Yemen, the Trump administration chose to selectively pick out only those crimes that could be attributed to Iran while ignoring arguably more heinous crimes attributable to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, including the internationally recognized government of Yemen.


The State Department announced on Friday that it plans to open the new US embassy in Jerusalem in May. So I guess all of Rex Tillerson’s talk about how it would take years to prepare a site was Fake News, eh? The embassy will initially operate out of the US consulate in Jerusalem but will eventually move to a new building that will probably be paid for by Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson because fuck it, why not?


The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international agency that monitors financial crimes like money laundering and terrorist financing, punted on a couple of important decisions on Friday. In one, it opted to issue another six month suspension on sanctions against Iran, which had been after a full removal of sanctions but was unlikely to get one given the Trump administration’s efforts to lobby the FATF to reimpose them. A suspension was probably as good an outcome as Tehran could have gotten. But it’s probably not good enough to encourage Western banks to increase their engagement with Iranian businesses, and therefore not enough to meet Iranian demands with respect to the nuclear deal.



The FATF also reportedly decided, at Washington’s urging, to return Pakistan to its “gray” list of countries that have money laundering and/or terrorist financing problems, but to wait three months to do it in order to give Islamabad a chance to address the agency’s concerns. This is slightly different than the interpretation that Islamabad offered earlier this week, when it said the FATF was going to defer putting Pakistan back on the list and revisit the issue at its next meeting in June. The net effect might be the same though–either way Pakistan has three months to make a good impression if it wants to avoid sanctions. This report is unconfirmed and the FATF didn’t make any formal announcement about Pakistan on Friday.


Human Rights Watch reported on Friday that satellite imagery shows the Myanmar government bulldozing entire Rohingya villages in Rakhine state–at least 55 so far–presumably to erase evidence of the military’s ethnic cleansing efforts.


Beijing’s big international plans are being threatened by its own protectionism. While China expects other nations involved in the Belt and Road Initiative to open up their own domestic markets to Chinese goods and services, it has been exceedingly reluctant to return the favor. Consequently, those other nations may begin adopting quid pro quo measures that treat Chinese firms the same way their firms are treated in China, and that would really imperil the whole BRI effort.


The United States levied new sanctions against North Korea on Friday, the largest set of penalties ever according to Donald Trump:

The measures target 27 shipping companies and 28 vessels, registered in North Korea and six other countries, including China. The Treasury Department said the shipping firms are part of a sophisticated campaign to help North Korea evade United Nations sanctions restricting imports of refined fuel and exports of coal.


Illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil and coal on the high seas have allowed North Korea to avoid the worst of the pressure from sanctions against its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The smuggling has been linked to China and Russia, increasing tensions with the United States.

Enforcing restrictions on these ship-to-ship transfers is going to be difficult, since it will require interdicting and boarding vessels at sea and those things can be viewed as acts of war. The measures also risk upending the recent Olympics-based wave of good feelings that has eased tensions on the Korean Peninsula.



The US and Germany are collaborating on a plan to install sensors in a still-under-construction fence along Tunisia’s border with Libya. The high-tech barrier is meant to keep militants, drugs, and migrants from crossing into Tunisia from Libya.


The French military says its soldiers killed “around ten” Islamist militants in an engagement along the Mali-Niger border last weekend and several others from a “different” extremist group in an operation along the Algerian border last week. They apparently didn’t specify what groups were attacked but it’s likely the attack near the Algerian border was against al-Qaeda in Mali while the attack near the Nigerien border could have been against ISIS in the Greater Sahara.

Meanwhile, the G5 Sahel counterinsurgency force seems to have done pretty well for itself at a donors conference on Friday:

“This is not about charity, this is a partnership,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat told reporters in Brussels. EU funding is to double to €100 million ($123 million) for the G5 Sahel force, made up of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The force needs €400 million euros and, later on Friday, Mogherini said €414 million had been pledged.


The total “goes far beyond our initial expectations,” Mogherini said.


The government of Djibouti decided on Friday to terminate a contract with Dubai Ports World to operate its Doraleh Container Terminal. There was no official reason given for the decision, but it’s believed that Dubai Ports World offered the government of Ethiopia the use of a new facility it’s building in Somaliland at favorable rates. Almost all of Ethiopia’s imports currently come in via the Doraleh facility, and shifting some portion of them over to Somaliland would significantly impact Djibouti’s economy. Tensions have been rising between Djibouti and the UAE for some time, so this development is not entirely out of the blue.


Al-Shabab carried out two bombing attacks in Mogadishu on Friday, striking near the presidential palace and Somalia’s national intelligence agency. At least 18 people were killed in the blasts and several attackers were killed by Somali forces.


Al Jazeera reports on the ongoing militia fighting and displacement in the CAR:



Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says that his department is working on a new package of additional sanctions against Russia for…well, whatever. Certainly its efforts to muck around with the 2016 election. And, you know, go nuts I guess. But this thing the Trump administration does where it keeps very publicly slapping Russia’s wrist over and over again for the same offense every time there’s a development in the Mueller investigation is getting to be pretty transparent, you know?



Well, you may not have Michel Temer to kick around for very much longer. He announced on Friday that he is not a candidate and “won’t be a candidate” in Brazil’s October 7 presidential election. He will be…missed? By somebody?

Well, maybe not.


Nicolás Maduro’s desire to move Venezuela’s 2020 legislative election up to April to coincide with this year’s presidential election ran into a roadblock on Friday at the country’s election council. The council said that it is “not prepared to hold the presidential election together with other elections that are technically more complicated,” which would seem to be pretty definitive. The council could presumably still move up the date of the legislative election, but it seems like April would be unrealistic.

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