World update: April 27 2018



Interim Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan refused to meet with opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan on Friday to try to ease the country’s ongoing political turmoil. He later complained that Pashinyan and the opposition have been “monopolising the political process.” Karapetyan’s Republican Party has led the Armenian government since 1999, just to provide some context to that statement. Mass protests continued across the country on Friday and will continue through the weekend. Parliament will choose a new prime minister on May 1, and at this point it looks like Pashinyan will be tapped in large part to appease the protesters.


As you might expect, events in Armenia are getting a lot of attention from Azerbaijan, and almost everybody feels something about Serzh Sargsyan’s ouster:

For those dissatisfied with the rule of their own longtime leader, President Ilham Aliyev – who was just elected to his fourth term in office – the events in Yerevan have occasioned jealousy. For others, concerned above all about the ongoing simmering war with Armenia, the change in power represents a chance for peace.

Pashinyan in particular seems to have attracted a lot of attention, mostly from Azerbaijanis who wish their own opposition leaders were as effective. The departure of Sargsyan, who is from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, was directly involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh War, and took a hard line in relations with Azerbaijan, might open a window for negotiations, though Pashinyan’s views on Nagorno-Karabakh don’t seem much more flexible than Sargsyan’s.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put on quite a show on Friday in the demilitarized zone:

Kim and Moon greeted each other warmly, and Moon even made an apparently unplanned trek into North Korea–admittedly, he just took a couple of steps over the border, but symbolically it was pretty amazing. All the symbolism aside, however, their summit resulted in a number of big, dramatic pledges–“denuclearization” and a peace treaty that finally ends the Korean War–and almost no details about those pledges might become reality. The pledges themselves do matter, and the symbolism does matter, but there’s a lot of work to be done before the good feelings that this summit has created can be translated into actual substance.


The Japanese military says it needs a new air superiority fighter. They want the F-22, but the US won’t sell it to them and anyway if would be difficult for Lockheed Martin to suddenly start manufacturing new F-22s when that program has been mothballed for as long as it has. Instead the US wants to sell them F-35s, but given the strong evidence that the F-35, whatever it might actually be, is not an air superiority fighter, Japan doesn’t want F-35s. So there’s a strong possibility that, unless it can develop its own air superiority fighter, Japan will ask Lockheed to build it a whole new fighter that combines the superior airframe of the F-22 with some of the more advanced elements of the F-35. This could lead to an awkward situation whereby Japan has a new fleet of fighters significantly superior to either the F-22 or the F-35, while the United States, you know, doesn’t. Kudos once again to the Pentagon for coming up with a way to greatly enrich defense contractors for producing something, the good old F-35, that doesn’t actually serve any purpose.



Khalifa Haftar’s return to Libya on Thursday was punctuated by a televised address that was intended to put to rest any rumors of his incapacity. Haftar was coming back after receiving some kind of presumably urgent medical care in Paris, though the nature of that care is unknown. Rumors were that he’d suffered a stroke, but his recovery suggests that it wasn’t that serious. Haftar is now saying that he was in Paris for a checkup, but the sudden/emergency airlift that took him from Jordan to France earlier this month suggests that’s a cover story.


The first session of Sierra Leone’s new parliament didn’t, uh, go so well. Police were called in to remove 16 members of the opposition All People’s Congress from the chamber for disruptive behavior, which triggered a walkout by the rest of the party’s legislators. The APC is upset over a court ruling earlier in the week that barred 14 of its members from participating in the opening session over accusations from the rival Sierra Leone People’s Party that they’d broken the law by drawing government salaries during the campaign. They’re also angry over the election earlier this week of SLPP member Abass Bundu as the new parliament speaker, even though the APC is the largest party in the parliament.


Angolan President João Lourenço took another step toward purging his predecessor, José Eduardo dos Santos, from power on Friday when he was named to replace dos Santos as president of the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). His appointment will become official in September. Dos Santos had expected to hang on to considerable authority even after he left the presidency, through his party leadership and the positions his children, José and Isabel, held running the country’s sovereign wealth fund and its state oil company, respectively. But Lourenço has had both of them removed from their perches, and now appears set to boot the elder dos Santos from his.



Russian authorities said on Friday that they’ve broken up an ISIS cell that was planning to carry out attacks during this summer’s World Cup in Moscow.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington on Friday to meet with Donald Trump. Unlike French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week Merkel’s was a working visit only, not a fancy state visit. Anyway the two of them seemed to be having a really good time:

Donald Trump and Angela Merkel worked hard to present a united front on Friday but could not mask deep differences in substance and style.


Although the two leaders stressed the US and Germany’s close ties, their low-key meeting offered a stark contrast to the lavish state visit of French president Emmanuel Macron – and their body language was distinctly colder.

trump merkel april 2018
Colder? Really?

They seem to have gotten nowhere on either of the issues on the agenda–trade and the Iran nuclear deal–with Merkel mostly throwing up her hands and saying that Trump will do what Trump wants to do.



Brazilian President Michel Temer is having to deny yet another corruption allegation, this time involving bribes that he may have laundered through real estate transactions in return for concessions at Brazilian ports. Temer’s corruption has reached almost cartoonish levels, though he remains protected from prosecution by his allies in congress.


Having gotten Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to back down from his plans to raise payroll taxes and cut social security benefits, Nicaragua’s newest political force–a seemingly disorganized movement of student activists–has a new challenge ahead of it:

Days of rallies forced Mr. Ortega to withdraw his social security cutbacks, release detained protesters and allow a television station back on the air.


But now a critical stage in the standoff begins. Can the students, who astonished and awakened this Central American nation of six million people, transform their street activism into actual political change?


The protesters at the Polytechnic University, many of whom are not even enrolled here, are convinced they can get a new electoral council chosen, which would lead to early presidential elections. They also insist that top police leaders be replaced, and that the killers of the protesters be brought to justice, among other demands. After days of refusing, the students have agreed to negotiate with the government.


Finally, US and European authorities say they struck a major blow this week against ISIS’s online propaganda operations:

The two-day “simultaneous, multinational takedown” targeted major Isis-branded media outlets like Amaq, the news agency used by the group to broadcast claims of attacks and spread its message of jihadism, as well as lesser propaganda channels including Bayan radio, Halumu and Nashir news, Europol said.


The agency said in a statement that the operation, led by Belgian prosecutors and involving teams from Bulgaria, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Romania, the UK and the US, was aimed at severely disrupting the propaganda flow of Isis, hampering its ability to broadcast terrorist material for an undetermined period of time.


It said French, Romanian and Bulgarian police had quantities of digital evidence, while law enforcement officers in the Netherlands, US and Canada captured Isis servers and Britain’s counter-terrorism internet referral unit identified top-level domain registrars abused by Isis.

The data captured in this operation could help identify potential attackers in Europe and elsewhere around the world.

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