World update: March 13 2018



Another (likely) Taliban attack on a police checkpoint in Farah province left at least five police officers dead on Tuesday. Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis made a surprise visit to the country (always a good sign for the war effort when leaders have to duck in to the country without telling anybody) and said that “some groups of Taliban” have “expressed interest” in peace talks with Kabul. Clearly not all of them though, eh? There’s no word on whether Mattis, given the situation back in Washington, has given any thought to just, like, staying in Afghanistan for a while to chill out.


At least nine Indian soldiers were killed on Tuesday by a land mine placed by Maoist Nazalite rebels in Chhattisgarh state.


United Nations investigators are blaming Facebook for helping to incite violence against the Rohingya. Facebook says it’s working with local experts to tamp down on hate speech, but so far that doesn’t seem to be working.


The Monkey Cage looks at whether China’s decision to eliminate term limits means Xi Jinping has crossed the threshold into dictatorship. Their conclusion? No, or at least not yet. However, he could be on his way:

Here’s our take: Xi has not yet crossed the threshold into personalist dictatorship but is moving closer, and his regime demonstrates a number of characteristics of personalism. For example, personal loyalty to Xi dictates access to high office, and he largely controls appointments to the party executive committee and the security apparatus. But Xi doesn’t have his own security service or paramilitary loyal to him alone — like Putin’s National Guard, for instance.


We find that the process of personalization leads those at the top to increase their reliance on repression to maintain control, even when accounting for other factors that could affect this relationship, such as international conflict or domestic dissent. This is consistent with other research showing that personalist dictatorships repress more than party-based regimes.



The Carnegie Endowment’s Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck writes that the Algerian government’s self-appointed role as the final authority on religious matters is being challenged by extremists:

The beginning of the Arab uprisings in 2011 saw an upsurge in violent, extremist ideologies in the region. The state has emphasized strengthening its grip on religion and asserting its role as the only sponsor, promoter, and broadcaster of Islam in Algeria in order to counter those more radical ideologies. State institutions control the management of property held by religious and charitable institutions (Habus), oversee mosques and clerical staff, administer almsgiving and pilgrimages, issue theological interpretations and fatwas, and apply some versions of Islamic sharia.


But that power is not absolute and the official line is no longer indisputable. The state’s monopoly on religion is being contested by unofficial voices and institutions of various orientations in a vehement political battle over who should speak about religion in Algeria.


Opposition protests over local elections on February 4 are continuing and have begun to affect Guinea’s bauxite industry. Protesters have started putting up barricades to block trains carrying the rocks. Especially with the global decline in iron prices, bauxite (which contains aluminum and is crucial to the global aluminum industry) is probably Guinea’s most important export–the country sits on an estimated one-third of proven global bauxite reserves.


Sierra Leone’s presidential election is going to a March 27 runoff:

Opposition leader Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party led the field of 16 candidates with 43.3 percent in the first round of the vote, held last Wednesday, according to results announced by the commission in the capital Freetown.


Maada Bio, who briefly ruled the West African country as head of a military junta in 1996, will square off against first-round runner-up Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress, who took 42.7 percent.


With the Ethiopian military killing civilians–mistakenly or otherwise–in Oromia, the Kenyan Red Cross says that about 2000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Kenya since March 10.


The bodies of at least 41 more people have been discovered in Ituri province after an attack on Sunday. Fighting there between the Hema and Lendu peoples has killed at least 150 people since December.



The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen does an excellent job of explaining how Vladimir Putin spent his recent Megyn Kelly interview trolling the NBC reporter for his own political benefit:

Kelly spent a significant portion of her allotted time trying to pin Putin down on the topic of election meddling. “Why did you allow it?” she asked early in their discussion of the interference. Putin responded by saying that his interlocutor shouldn’t assume that he or anyone else in the Russian government knew what happened.


“Even if we suppose—I don’t know if they did something or not—but I simply know nothing about it,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the position of the Russian state.”


Kelly looked taken aback. “You are up for reëlection right now,” she said. “Should the Russian people be concerned that you don’t know what’s going on in your own country?”


The ritual Russia will undertake on March 18th can hardly be called an election—its outcome is preordained. Still, Putin is, in his own way, campaigning nonetheless, and the interview with Kelly is part of his campaign. Kelly’s question assumed that seeing their leader as competent was important to Russians, but Putin’s objective was different—he simply aimed to showcase his ability to evade the questions posed by the sleek American reporter.


Fighters with Ukraine’s National Militia, which is closely linked with the far right Azov Movement, want you to know that they are not neo-Nazis. They’re just staunch Ukrainian patriots who happen to think that the ideology of national socialism is misunderstood:

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with national socialism as a political idea,” says Alexei, another militia member, as the men move stealthily through moonlit trees frosted with ice. “I don’t know why everyone always associates it immediately with concentration camps.”

Well, I have some theories about that. Anyway, the militia members have all sworn allegiance to the head of the National Corpus party (and former Azov commander), Andriy Biletsky, who once said that Ukraine must “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen.” So there’s nothing problematic there.


Not having a good time right now

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is probably looking at an early election. His SMER-SD party’s Most-Hid party coalition partner is still looking to pull out of said coalition, which will cost Fico his parliamentary majority. They say they won’t pull out of the coalition if Fico calls for new elections, so he’s kind of stuck. SMER-SD and its other coalition partner, the Slovak National Party, could try to make a go of a minority government, but those tend to be difficult to maintain for obvious reasons. That’s particularly the case here, as in order to make a minority government work Fico would have to ask his center-left party to do business with the far right in return for the far right’s support in parliament.


Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far right League party and ardent opponent of the euro, says he doesn’t see Italy making a “unilateral” exit from the currency anytime soon. This is likely an attempt to make the League more appealing to potential coalition partners. The Five Star Movement softened its position on remaining in the euro earlier this year, also likely in order to broaden its political appeal.

Meanwhile, Five Star’s leader, Luigi Di Maio, is insisting that he should and will be Italy’s next prime minister. He’s not saying how he plans to put together the coalition to make that happen. While Five Star could be a potential coalition partner for the League and its center-right coalition, Salvini seems unlikely to give up his goal of being PM in order to accommodate Di Maio.


The UK is talking about new sanctions against Russia unless it can offer some explanation for the alleged poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter:

Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, summoned to the Foreign Office, was given until the end of Tuesday to explain what happened or face what May said were“much more extensive” measures against the $1.5 trillion Russian economy.


If no satisfactory Russian response is received by midnight London time then May will outline Britain’s response in parliament. She was due to hold a meeting of top security officials on Wednesday.


Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that the British response would be “commensurate but robust”.

May has been getting support from the European Union and, as of Tuesday, from a reluctant Donald Trump. On the other hand, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador on Tuesday to protest London’s accusations that Russia was behind the Skripal incident. Russia apparently wants samples of the nerve agent used on the Skripals in order to conduct its own investigation.

Meanwhile, things could be about to get worse: the body of Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile with close ties to the late Boris Berezovsky, was found hanged to death in his home in London on Monday night. Berezovsky was a Russian oligarch who had to hightail it out of Russia in 1999 over his souring relationship with Putin, and Glushkov served five years in Russian prison over his dealings with Berezovsky. At this point there’s no indication that Glushkov was murdered, but it’s certainly a possibility.

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