World update: May 14 2018

FYI, tomorrow night’s updates will be it until next Tuesday. For family reasons I’ll be unavailable later this week, and I need a day or two to wrap up a few obligations beforehand. It also feels like a good time to take a little break. Not that I don’t enjoy doing this but between the blogging and the podcasting and the essays, etc., it can get a little overwhelming after a while, especially after a week like last week.



New Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had his first audience with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday on the sidelines of a Eurasian Economic Union summit in Sochi. Pashinyan promised to be a good client and, for example, to keep Armenia in the EAEU even Pashinyan has criticized that body in the past. Pashinyan still seems a bit cooler about Armenia’s close ties with Russia than his predecessor, but his move from backbench opposition politician to prime minister seems to have come along with the understanding that he needs to manage that relationship very carefully.


A Saudi investment fund has agreed to buy a controlling stake in Tajikistan’s Tojiksodirotbank, which has been floundering for at least three years and has failed to attract any foreign investment in that time. Naturally, for the Saudis this purchase is much less about acquiring a new economic asset than it is about crowding Iranian influences out of Central Asia.


A small explosive device went off in Kabul on Monday, wounding one person but causing no further casualties.


Joseph Emanuel Hall, the US military attaché who struck and killed a Pakistani man in a traffic accident in April, was allowed to leave Pakistan on Monday. Pakistani authorities had previously barred Hall from leaving Pakistan while a court determined whether diplomatic immunity should apply in his case.


The Guardian’s Libby Hogan reports on the war in Myanmar’s Kachin state:

For centuries, the Kachin, who number about 1,600,000, lived in relative peace in the northern Myanmar mountains near the border with China. After Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948, they were promised equality and self determination. However, conflict broke out after the military seized control in 1962 and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) was formed to defend Kachin land.


When Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2016, it was hoped she would put a stop to the fighting. But, as with the Rohingya crisis to the south, the situation has worsened.


Aung San Suu Kyi has called on rebel armed groups to sign a National Ceasefire Agreement – which was brokered between Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government and eight rebel groups in October 2015 – but the KIA is unwilling to lay down arms while the military bombs Kachin villages.

Apart from holding Myanmar together, the military is intent on prosecuting the Kachin war because the state is home to some of the country’s most valuable natural resources, particularly amber and jade.


I don’t know if this is a new trend in Indonesian terrorism or what, but over the past two days two sets of terrorist attacks have been undertaken in Surabaya by entire families, including their small children. The attack against a police station in the city on Monday involved a family whose eight year old child was the only one to survive. The family responsible for Sunday’s church attacks turns out not to have recently returned from Syria, as earlier reports said, but they were connected with Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, an ISIS-linked group. ISIS in fact has taken responsibility for Monday’s bombing, which killed at least 10 people including the bombers, as well as Sunday’s church bombings.


Monday’s local elections capped off what has been a fairly violent campaign season:

At least 33 people have been killed and 19 others wounded in several poll-related incidents ahead of Monday’s nationwide local elections in the Philippines, the country’s police chief said.


Police chief Oscar Albayalde said on Monday that 18 incumbent local officials, four candidates, three former elected officials and eight civilians were among the dead since the campaign season kicked off on April 14.

Believe it or not, though, by Philippine standards this election was pretty peaceful. Over 100 people were killed in election-related violence in the run up to the country’s 2013 local elections.


The official closure of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site is scheduled for next week, but 38North says satellite imagery shows the North Koreans are already dismantling the site:

After initial reporting of plans to allow experts and media personnel to observe the closing of North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site,[1] now scheduled for next week,[2] commercial satellite imagery from May 7 provided the first definitive evidence that dismantlement of the test site was already well underway.[3] Several key operational support buildings, located just outside the North, West and South Portals, have been razed since our last analysis. Some of the rails for the mining carts, which had led from the tunnels to their respective spoil piles, have apparently been removed. Additionally, some carts seem to have been tipped over and/or disassembled, and several small sheds/outbuildings around the site had been removed.


Other more substantial buildings around the facility remain intact, including the two largest buildings at the Command Center, and the Main Administrative Support Area. Moreover, no tunnel entrances appear to have yet been permanently closed. This may be because on May 12, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced that the final dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test ground would be witnessed by foreign journalists and would involve the “collapsing all of its tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.”



Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is reportedly in talks with the Oromo Democratic Front exile opposition group, which is made up of leaders of the former Oromo Liberation Front. Ahmed has said he’s committed to democratic reform, and these talks seem to the the first step toward bringing the Oromian opposition into the political system.


The DRC’s latest ebola outbreak has killed at least 19 people across 39 reported cases since early April.



The European Union may move to levy penalties against Poland in a matter of weeks unless the Polish government takes steps to reverse policies that have infringed on the independence of the country’s judicial system. The European Commission could bring its case against Poland to the EU’s general affairs council meeting next month to begin the process of invoking article 7, the clause of the EU charter that allows the bloc to sanction member states seen to be backsliding on democracy.


The Five Star Movement and the League asked for and received more time on Monday to negotiate their coalition government. The two parties are thought to be close to agreement on a program for their joint governance, but they are now hung up on choosing a prime minister.


The Catalan parliament chose a new regional president on Monday, Quim Torra, which should mean an end to the region being directly ruled from Madrid. Torra, however, is a hardline Catalonian separatists, so the good times may not last that long.



The Lima Group, a gathering of mostly Latin American countries formed to manage the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, urged President Nicolás Maduro on Monday to postpone the country’s May 20 presidential election. They argued in a statement that the election has “been called by an illegitimate authority,” presumably Maduro himself or his Constitutional Assembly. The group’s members promised to take unspecified actions if Maduro does not delay the vote.


At LobeLog, Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe ask whether the Republican Party has sold its Middle East policymaking process to the highest bidders:

Mega-billionaire and the Trump campaign’s single biggest donor Sheldon Adelson has pledged to contribute $30 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) Super PAC to defend the Republican majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 election cycle. Having already influenced Trump’s policy on the Middle East, what more does Adelson expect to receive in return for his investment?

And finally, here’s a little good old-fashioned nuclear hypocrisy to close out your night:

For the White House, these have been dramatic days for nuclear disarmament: First President Trump exited the Iran deal, demanding that Tehran sign a new agreement that forever cuts off its path to making a bomb, then the administration announced a first-ever meeting with the leader of North Korea about ridding his nation of nuclear weapons.


But for the American arsenal, the initiatives are all going in the opposite direction, with a series of little-noticed announcements to spend billions of dollars building the factories needed to rejuvenate and expand America’s nuclear capacity.


The contrast has been striking. On Thursday evening, hours after Mr. Trump announced that his meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, would take place on June 12 in Singapore, the Pentagon and the Energy Department announced plans to begin building critical components for next-generation nuclear weapons at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

In our defense, Iran and North Korea might actually try to use their nukes, something we all know the United States would never do.

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