World update: June 22 2018



ISIS’s Amaq news agency is claiming that ISIS carried out an attack against Syrian Democratic Forces personnel in Raqqa on Thursday, which if true would be the group’s first attack in the city since leaving it last October. So far I’ve seen no independent confirmation of anything like this having happened.

Meanwhile, the Syrian military continues to advance in the southwestern part of the country. The ubiquitous barrel bomb has reportedly resurfaced in Daraa province, though so far there are no reports of any barrel bomb-related casualties. While the violence is escalating, Damascus seems to be ramping things up at a relatively slow pace, perhaps to allow rebels a chance to surrender.


Civilians in Hudaydah (there are an estimated 250,000 of them still in the city) are losing power and access to clean water as the coalition offensive continues. The coalition maintains that it has no plans to attack Hudaydah’s most heavily populated areas, but that won’t make any difference if people start dying from, say, cholera. On the plus side, I guess, UN envoy Martin Griffiths says that he’s had “constructive engagement” with the Houthis about turning Hudaydah’s seaport over to UN control, which would eliminate the need for the coalition to attack there and preserve Yemen’s main point of entry for humanitarian aid. It would also, presumably, remove any justification for the coalition’s blockade of the port, which Amnesty International says has been slowing humanitarian aid shipments down for months.


Lots of last minute election takes if you’re into that sort of thing. I think they mostly repeat things we’ve already talked about here but by all means feel free to read about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s big post-election plans, the opposition’s chances, and the importance of the Kurdish vote.


Good news–one more serial human rights abuser has agreed to reduce its involvement with the United Nations Human Rights Council:

Diplomats said Friday that Israel has temporarily reduced its participation with the U.N.’s main human rights body, days after the United States pulled out largely over its allegation that the Human Rights Council is biased against Israel.

The diplomats in Geneva, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Israel had “lowered” its participation at the council to align its stance more with the U.S. position.

The diplomats cautioned that the move was not definitive and could change from day to day. Israel is not one of the council’s 47 member states, but has participated like most other countries as an observer.


Representatives from the six remaining participants in the Iran nuclear deal met in Vienna on Friday, where Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told the others that the deal is “in the intensive care unit.” Araghchi suggested that Iran could withdraw from the accord in a matter of weeks.



A Friday morning Taliban attack in Badghis province reportedly killed 16 pro-government militia fighters.


An Indian government raid in the Srigufwara region of Kashmir on Friday escalated into a gun battle in which at least six people–four separatists, an Indian police official, and one civilian–were killed. The battle spawned anti-government protests in Srinagar in its aftermath.


No foreign policy here, but this is pretty wild:

A certain Chinese noblewoman—potentially Lady Xia, grandmother to the first emperor of China—had a menagerie buried with her in her tomb: a leopard, a crane, an asiatic black bear, a lynx, and, most notably, a gibbon. That gibbon was part of newly identified, now-extinct genus and species, researchers reported Thursday. The existence of a previously unknown gibbon that lived just 2,200 years ago suggests that throughout history, humans may have caused even more ape extinctions than we thought.

“We assumed all of the [gibbon] species alive today were the ones alive in the past,” said James Hansford, a zoologist at the Zoological Society of London who studied the gibbon skeleton. “But the fact that we’ve discovered this new genus indicates there was at least one or maybe more gibbons that we had no idea existed. They’re far more vulnerable to human impact than we thought before.”


North Korea and South Korea have agreed to a new round of family reunifications next month, so that’s good news. Meanwhile, Donald Trump extended US sanctions against North Korea on Friday, citing North Korea’s status as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” Which is expected, but it’s also a bit jarring given all the bragging Trump has done since his June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un.



There are some mixed messages emerging from Wednesday’s meeting between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar. On the one hand, the two men have agreed to meet again in Khartoum on Monday, which makes this quite a flurry of diplomatic activity given that they hadn’t met in almost two years prior to this week. On the other hand, Machar’s rebels have already thrown cold water on the idea of a peace deal and South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei made it clear on Friday that Kiir has no interest in returning to any kind of national unity government with Machar. However, both sides have some motivation to try to figure this out, because other East African countries are talking about imposing sanctions if the civil war continues.



Next week the European Union will extend through January its sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.

As we all know the World Cup is going on in Russia. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is using the tournament to bolster his international image:

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week welcomed visitors, viewers, and players from around the world to an “open, hospitable, and friendly” World Cup — Russia’s first as host, and an event that Moscow is keen to leverage for diplomatic purposes. But there’s one man even more eager to take advantage of the cover of the cup — Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s strongman, a longtime sports enthusiast who is using the tournament to reach out to potential allies in North Africa and the Middle East.

Chechnya is hosting the Egyptian national team for the duration of its stay in Russia. The republic, which is situated in Russia’s North Caucasus region, has acted as a training ground and temporary base for the team as it works its way through its three group stage matches.

This newfound sporting connection between Chechnya and Egypt is the latest evidence of Kadyrov’s growing ambitions in the region and the broader Muslim world, and of his increasing use of sports to further his political interests at home and abroad — including by building direct diplomatic relations between Chechnya and foreign governments and by increasing foreign direct investment in the republic.


Even as he contemplates spending 42 months or so in prison over a conviction for abuse of office–pending appeal of course–Social Democratic Party boss and parliament speaker Liviu Dragnea swears that his party will work harder than ever to decriminalize corruption. What a great mission statement. Dragnea wants to be prime minister but needs to decriminalize his own past corruption in order to make that happen, though amazingly he’s trying to dress this effort up in nice-sounding language about fairness and justice.


Journalists Michael Colborne and Maxim Edwards look at the close–and getting closer–relationship between the Bosniak population and Turkey:

In the minds of many Bosniaks, who make up half the population of the country, Turkey has long been their best friend, not to mention a protector. Rizvan Halilovic, chairman of Bosfor, an organization for Turkish-Bosnian friendship, is keen to list off in detail the long-standing historical, cultural, and religious links between Turkey and Bosnia, which was part of the Ottoman Empire for more than four centuries. That legacy is still on full display throughout the country: Ottoman-era mosques and their trademark minarets — some reconstructed after the 1990s war with Turkish help — dot many of Bosnia’s small towns and villages, and Turkish influence on the local language and cuisine is unmistakable.


Angela Merkel is under a great deal of domestic political pressure to get the EU together on a new immigration agreement at the bloc’s emergency summit on Sunday, but she’s definitely managing expectations. Merkel says that Sunday’s meeting is only “an initial exchange with interested member states” and that it will not result in a formal agreement.


The AP has a helpful explainer on the deal Greece cut this week to exit the cycle of bailouts and austerity that has crippled its economy. The upshot is that Greece has a chance to stabilize itself now, but it’s by no means a certainty that it will.


He may be President of the Rich, but even some of France’s richest citizens are criticizing Emmanuel Macron’s focus on making life easier for them while telling everyone else to get bent:

Perhaps only in France would a billionaire and one of the nation’s most powerful bankers both publicly chastise the president for neglecting ordinary people.

But such is France’s professed attachment to its egalitarian tradition that such unlikely critics took aim at Emmanuel Macron on Friday over his promotion of a more meritocratic culture.

“Macron doesn’t understand the little people. I’m afraid he’s leading France toward a system that leaves the least favored behind,” Le Monde quoted Francois Pinault, whose business empire includes the Gucci fashion house, as saying.

While Macron is using public money to buy new dinner plates for his residence and a new swimming pool for his summer retreat, the head of the Lazard investment bank is telling people that France’s president “lacks an essential social dimension and a policy to fight against inequalities in all forms.” Amazing.


Airbus says it wants “clarity” on the UK’s Brexit outlook or else it will pull out of Britain and take about 14,000 jobs with it. It is unlikely to be the last multinational with operations in Britain that will be demanding some clue as to how Brexit is going to shake out, but frankly if Theresa May’s government had any idea what it was doing I suspect we’d have seen some evidence of that by now.



Brazil’s political chaos and the massive Odebrecht corruption scandal may be leading to a very dark place:

Furious at corrupt politicians and fearful of deteriorating security, many Brazilians are calling for a military intervention to clean house of crooked leaders and crack down on heavily armed drug gangs.

While chances of a military takeover in Latin America’s largest nation are small, the calls have become such a part of the national discussion that several generals have felt compelled to deny any interest in such a move — though that hasn’t kept them from sounding off on politics in a way that raises questions.


Al Jazeera reports that many Nicaraguans are applying for passports in an effort to escape the violence that’s gripping the country:


In a welcome development that will hopefully be the first of many similar incidents, the United Nations issued a new report on Friday slamming the United States for failing to address its own rampant inequality and persistent poverty:

The excoriating report on the state of the US nation was delivered to a packed hearing of the human rights council on Friday by the UN’s monitor on extreme poverty, Philip Alston. In what is now turning into a battle of words between the US government and international observers, Alston hit back at criticisms that had been leveled at him the previous day by Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN.

Haley complained that it was “patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America”. She accused the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights of political bias and wasting UN money by carrying out a six-month investigation into poverty and inequality in America, saying he should have focused instead on countries like Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Addressing delegations from 46 countries gathered in the chamber of the human rights council, Alston fired back that “when one of the world’s wealthiest countries does very little about the fact that 40 million of its citizens live in poverty, it is entirely appropriate for the reasons to be scrutinized”. He said that the “massive tax cuts” promoted by Trump would “overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy” while other policies pursued by the US government would stigmatize and punish millions of low-income Americans.

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