World update: April 10 2018

I’m posting a little earlier than usual this evening because I’ve decided to give this whole “sleep” thing another look. In fact if I can manage it this might become the norm going forward.



Eurasianet reports that Armenia and Azerbaijan are competing over the right to serve as Iran’s main economic artery northward to Russia. Armenia is throwing significant resources into a free trade zone on its side of the Iranian border, but so far it seems to be losing the race to Baku:

In January, Tehran accepted a $500 million loan from Baku to construct a 205-kilometer railway from Rasht to the Azerbaijani border (known as the Rasht-Astara line). Then in March, the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan all met in the first-of-its-kind quadrilateral meeting.


In a statement following the meeting, the four sides hailed “the significant steps taken to increase the transit potential of the four countries […] favorably situated on international transit corridors in order to integrate their national transport infrastructure.” They also pledged “further enhancement of cooperation for implementation of new projects in order to develop transport infrastructure and increase transit potential of the four countries […] starting from the Iranian ports of Bandar-Abbas and Chabahar at the Persian Gulf through Rasht-Astara connecting to [the] Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.”


Azerbaijanis interpreted that as a signal that Tehran was privileging Azerbaijan over Armenia in its transit to the north. “The way out of Iran is Azerbaijan,” said Azerbaijani MP Rasim Musabekov.


The Myanmar military has sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years in prison for massacring 10 Rohingya last September. I guess everybody who just assumed Myanmar soldiers would be allowed to get away with brutalizing the Rohingya with impunity will have to eat a little crow. It turns out that some of them will only get away with near impunity instead.


Reuters attempts to explain why Prime Minister Najib Razak’s coalition is likely to win next month’s Malaysian election even though Najib is unpopular and mired in a massive corruption scandal. The answer boils down to a combination of a decent economy, weakness among the opposition, media suppression, and the fact that Najib’s government has gerrymandered the shit out of Malaysian political districts.


Thai police say they shot and killed two suspected Muslim separatists in Pattani province on Tuesday. The rebels attacked a police unit using an improvised explosive and were killed in the ensuing gunfight. This comes a day after three separate bombings in southern Thailand injured 12 people.


China has filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization over proposed US steel and aluminum tariffs. However, Xi Jinping announced on Tuesday that China would be reducing tariffs by some unspecified amount on certain US imports, which may ease the chances of a trade war. He also promised better protection for intellectual property, another key bone of contention with Washington:

The stock market, as you might expect, loved this news:

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un finally made a public comment on Monday that hinted at the possibility of a meeting with US President Donald Trump. He told a meeting of party officials that there was a “prospect” for dialogue between North Korea and the United States, though he did not mention the potential summit specifically.


The cloud of scandal hanging over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is getting bigger:

The Asahi newspaper said that a former Abe aide, Tadao Yanase, had told local authorities in 2015 that a plan by Abe’s friend for a veterinary school in a government-designated deregulation zone was a “prime ministerial matter” and they should work hard to realise it.


Abe has denied that he ever instructed officials to give preferential treatment to his friend, Kotaro Kake, the director of school operator Kake Gakuen, who wanted to open the school – Japan’s first new veterinary school in more than 50 years.

Abe’s party is hemorrhaging support in the polls and there are growing calls for him to resign as these alleged incidents of cronyism begin to pile up.



The United Nations says that “armed groups” are running Libya’s prisons and brutalizing prisoners. The grim situation is the result basically of years of chaos and a succession of weak governments allowing militias wide latitude to do whatever they want in return for nominal loyalty. Those militias have thus been empowered to detain people for, well, pretty much anything, but generally some political grievance or another. At least 37 people were allegedly tortured to death inside Libya’s prisons last year alone.


In contrast, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ordered on Tuesday the release of all of the country’s political prisoners. Bashir has been working overtime in the past couple of years to ingratiate himself with the West and especially with the United States so as to have sanctions against Sudan removed. So far it’s working, though Sudan still hasn’t been removed from the US list of terrorism sponsors. Most of Bashir’s success has come via cooperation in counterterrorism work, but human rights remain one of the West’s main complaints against him.


With leaders of his National Liberation Front party suddenly urging him run for a fifth term as Algerian president next year, somebody pulled the husk of Abdelaziz Bouteflika out of deep freeze on Tuesday and paraded it around in front of a few cameras and a small crowd in Algiers. Now it’s back into the chest until next year’s proof of life demonstration. There seems to be a general feeling that, although he’s really never been much more than a figurehead and is barely even that nowadays, the transition from Bouteflika is going to be a serious hurdle for the FLN, which isn’t popular with young Algerians and has deliberately starved the Algerian economy of foreign investment while its own top officials have gotten rich. So they’re going to keep “Weekend at Bernie’s”-ing him for as long as they possibly can.



This is kind of refreshingly candid:

Morocco’s minister for human rights admitted his country could do better in the way it deals with civil rights in the disputed Western Sahara, as the North African kingdom warned it could act against the Polisario Front independence movement in the region.


Mustapha Ramid told The Associated Press on Monday that Morocco is “working to enhance the institutional framing of human rights. Morocco is not hell for human rights, but it is not a heaven.”


Ramid spoke days after Morocco’s foreign minister warned that all options, including military action, are on the table if the United Nations doesn’t act against alleged plans by the Polisario Front to build military posts in U.N.-monitored buffer zones in Western Sahara.

Morocco continues to deny the people of Western Sahara a referendum to determine their own future, either as part of Morocco or as an independent nation. So yes, not a heaven for human rights.


The UAE says that the nearly $10 million that Somali security personnel seized on a flight from Abu Dhabi to Mogadishu on Sunday was bound for the Somali army, to help with training and supplies, and was definitely not headed for UAE-backed separatists in Somaliland, how dare you even suggest such a thing. And, I mean, who among us hasn’t sent aid to the struggling military in another country in cash, stuffed into a bunch of unmarked bags on a commercial flight, without telling anybody it was coming? Let he who is without sin, etc.



The ruble has been dropping for a couple of days now, presumably due to new US sanctions and the threat of still more of them. Nevertheless, Russian authorities are dismissing the decline as a normal market fluctuation and say they are working to insulate the Russian economy from the sanctions’ bite.


Hold on, though, because Kiev now says that it’s going to sanction the same Russian oligarchs the US just hit last week. That’ll, uh, really show them. I guess.


If you’re worried that French weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are being used against Yemen, relax. French President Phonos Emmanuel Macron has devised a foolproof scheme to protect the Yemeni people via word salad:

Seventy-five percent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a YouGov poll found. Several rights groups also have warned of possible legal action if the government does not halt its sales.


“Since the start of the conflict in Yemen, France has adopted a very specific process whereby all sales of military equipment are analyzed on a case-by-case basis and on the basis of reinforced criteria that reflect respect for international humanitarian law and the risk of harm to civilian populations,” Macron said at a news conference alongside Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Oh, there’s a process to analyze the prospective transactions on the basis of criteria reflecting respect for international law and norms? Well I for one am satisfied. Carry on, mon dieu.



At a time when several Latin American leaders have been caught up in corruption scandals (or, mostly, one scandal, the Odebrecht/Operation Car Wash debacle), The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson looks at the prosecution of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and its likely effect on Brazilian politics:

Latin America’s politicians, in other words, are not scoring very well in the honesty game, but perhaps it can at least be said that the justice system is prevailing in their countries. Or is it? In some instances, the evidence for the alleged corruption is clear, but in some it is not, as in the case of Kuczynski, where there was no clear proof of guilt but he was forced to resign after his political enemies launched a concerted campaign against him. There is a similar sense of a political vendetta at work in the case of the former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. On Saturday, amid high drama and widespread protests by his supporters, Lula, as he is known, who is seventy-two, turned himself in to begin serving a twelve-year prison sentence on corruption charges, after the Supreme Court denied his appeal for a writ of habeas corpus. Lula, who led Brazil from 2003 to 2011, as the head of the left-wing Workers’ Party, which he founded, is not only one of the most charismatic public figures in Latin America but is still the most popular politician in Brazil. He was planning to run for the Presidency again, and, according to the polls, if elections were held tomorrow, he would win by a wide margin. But the elections are scheduled for October, and, with his imprisonment, Lula is, most likely, out of the running.


Seusis Hernandez, a former FARC negotiator turned soon-to-be FARC representative in the Colombian congress, has been indicted by a grand jury in the United States for trying to bring cocaine into the US for sale. He’s now in Colombian custody awaiting extradition, and the reason I note this is because FARC is insisting that this is a violation of their peace agreement with the Colombian government. The government says it’s not, since the terms of that agreement with respect to adjudicating cases against FARC members only applied to crimes committed before the agreement was reached, and Hernandez has been arrested for a crime committed after the agreement was reached. The point is this could be a pivotal event in Colombia, and not in a good way.

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One thought on “World update: April 10 2018

  1. Okay, the Iran-Armenia thing is kind of dopey.

    The Armenia-Iran border is rugged and quite far from anywhere interesting. Currently it’s served by a single bad two-lane road which is closed in winter. It accounts for less than 10% of Armenia’s external trade. A rail line between Iran and Armenia is technically possible but makes no economic sense whatsoever. Armenia is a lower middle income country with less than three million people, and most of the population lives in the north, far from the Iranian border.

    The Meghri FEZ… uh huh. The existing Armenian FEZs have accomplished nothing. It’s really hard to see how Meghri will be different. And even if it somehow was, a modest bump of Iranian investment in southern Armenia is not going to be geopolitically transformative.

    Note that Armenia’s economy is dominated by a handful of “import barons” who control the flow of goods into Armenia from Georgia, the only year-round land link and the corridor for ~90% of the country’s foreign trade. These guys helped torpedo a possible opening of Armenia’sborder with Turkey back in 2010. If an all-season high-throughput land link with Iran was ever on the table, they’d either take it over for themselves or they’d torpedo that too.

    Finally, if Iran really wants to increase trade with Russia / Eurasia… they both have ports on the Caspian Sea. Put stuff on a boat and sail it up to Astrakhan, boom, done. The Azerbaijan rail link is nice and will probably turn a profit, but it’s not even really necessary. And an Armenian rail link is right out. Barring some weird geopolitical convulsion, that’s probably never going to happen.

    Doug M.

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