World update: August 24 2018



The hypothetical Republic of South Ossetia will celebrate its tenth year of “independence” on Sunday (Russia recognized said “independence” on August 26, 2008). It’s planning a big bash with a lot of high-profile guests: Nicolás Maduro, Bashar al-Assad, Daniel Ortega, the leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Very high profile, assuming any of them show up. Vladimir Putin definitely won’t be there even though he made the whole thing possible. Eurasianet reports that many South Ossetians don’t regret the decision to separate from Georgia but they are a little miffed that their economy hasn’t really grown much over the past 10 years. A lot of them would like to be annexed into Russia but Moscow hasn’t made any moves in that direction even though it does spend a lot of money on economic aid to the South Ossetians.


The Taliban on Friday renewed its pressure on the city of Ghazni, attacking three villages on Ghazni’s outskirts and cutting power to some parts of the city in the process. Afghan officials say their forces pushed the Taliban out of the villages and that they haven’t received reports of any casualties.

While Donald Trump reportedly revisits the idea of fully privatizing the US war effort in Afghanistan, it’s worth looking at how private contractors are already brutalizing people and complicating the war effort:

There are already more U.S. Department of Defense contractors than members of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and the continued privatization of warfare would allow increased opportunities for nepotism and corruption, lower accountability, and encourage human rights abuses through trafficking, all while making a peaceful end to the war less likely.

The outsourcing of the conflict to contractors has been criticized from numerous angles, including a scathing report from Congress’s Commission on Wartime Contracting. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has published dozens of reports on waste and corruption in U.S. spending in Afghanistan. A careful read of these reports shows that much of this happens through the lack of accountability and transparency that comes from the multiple layers of contracting, sub-contracting, sub-sub-contracting and downwards. Contracting firms will not hasten the end of the war, in part, because peace would mean an end of profits.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke by phone on Thursday and by Thursday night the Pakistani government was angrily disputing the US description of the call. According to State, the two men discussed terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil, a characterization that the Pakistanis now say is false. Good to see everybody getting off on the right foot here.

Khan’s first foreign trip will be to Saudi Arabia in early September. Khan needs to shore up the Pakistan-Saudi relationship amid Pakistan’s recent moves to strengthen ties with Iran and Qatar and Riyadh’s growing ties with India.


The US Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions on three Southeast Asian men–one Indonesian, one Malaysian, and one Filipino–on charges that they’ve been acting as recruiters for ISIS.


The Trump administration is continuing to express its unhappiness with both China and El Salvador for the Central American country’s decision to cut ties with Taiwan this week:

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the move of “grave concern” to the Trump administration and warned that the United States would reevaluate relations with its Latin American neighbor. She accused China of seeking to influence countries through “economic dependency” that leads to “domination, not partnership.”

“The United States will continue to oppose China’s destabilization of the cross-Strait relationship,” Sanders said of Taiwan, “and political interference in the Western Hemisphere.”

That last bit is particularly pointed and likely reflects the administration’s fear that Chinese influence is penetrating Latin America, which is apparently supposed to be an exclusive US colonial zone or something. Somebody might want to explain to President Trump that the US could more effectively counter Chinese influence in the Western Hemisphere if Trump didn’t treat every other country in the Western Hemisphere like shit, but the explanation probably wouldn’t take.


Trump on Friday announced (via Twitter, of course) that he’s told Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea next week as planned because he’s unhappy with the lack of progress on North Korean disarmament. Apparently without telling anybody!

That this pretty much represents the total failure of Trump’s post-Singapore North Korean diplomatic efforts is, apparently, lost on him, but that’s OK because if he ever does realize that this whole thing has flopped he might get really pissed off and that would be bad for everybody. Trump blamed China for interfering because it’s angry over Trump’s trade policy, then tweeted about how much he’s looking forward to meeting with Kim Jong-un again, effectively undermining his own attempt to play hardball with Pyongyang.


South Korea has apparently begun shipping relatively small amounts of raw materials to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions. Seoul officials claim the materials are for building a new office in North Korea focused on improving ties between the two countries, but still the report raises concerns that the US-South Korea relationship could be fraying as the two countries’ agendas toward North Korea diverge.


While Trump’s move on Friday could change this, apparently as North Korea’s relations with the US are improving its state propaganda has begun focusing on Japan as the country’s main foreign enemy. North Korean media has apparently made great hay out of the fact that the Japanese government has been nary an afterthought amid South Korean and US efforts to negotiate with Pyongyang. The North Koreans have to have a main foreign enemy, because apparently they adhere to the Nelson Muntz school of foreign policy:



As we all noted last night, eventually, Malcolm Turnbull is out as Australian prime minister and former Treasurer Scott Morrison is in.

Hell yeah baby. I mean, mate.

I don’t know that much about Morrison apart from the fact that he’s apparently the brains (figuratively speaking) behind former PM Tony Abbott’s harsh immigration policy, and yet he’s also somehow still more moderate than the two people he was running against to replace Turnbull. He narrowly defeated the most conservative of the three, fringe right winger Peter Dutton, 45 votes to 40, so he may not be that long for the job depending on how things go.

Morrison has promised “generational change” to [begin wanking motion] heal the rifts that have torn apart the Liberal Party and indeed Australia, blah blah blah something something let’s keep the non-whites out. He’s definitely not going to call for an early election on account of Australia has so many pressing concerns and also he might lose it.



The United Nations refugee agency warned on Friday that conditions for migrants in Libyan detention centers is “worsening…due to the increasing overcrowding and lack of basic living standards” in the facilities. These conditions have apparently led to riots and other acts of resistance among detainees, which has put both them and UN aid workers at risk amid clashes with Libyan security forces.


Fighters with a rebel group called the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) allegedly attacked Chadian soldiers earlier this week near the country’s border with Libya. The Chadian government is officially denying that any attack took place. Alex Thurston explains what the CCMSR is:

In Chad, a northern rebel movement is getting more attention, particularly after its recent attack on Kouri Bougri* – enough attention that President Idriss Deby referenced them in his 20 August Eid al-Adha/Tabaski speech, although they quickly rejected his call for them to lay down arms.

The movement is called the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (French acronym CCMSR). RFI says it is “the best armed” of Chad’s rebel movements, and quite possibly also the largest. Formed in 2016 in southern Libya, it includes a number of rebels who previously fought with other groups.

The group is apparently active in Libya as well as Chad and includes former rebel fighters from Darfur, in Sudan. A real multi-national affair.


One United Nations peacekeeper was reportedly killed on Thursday in an attack carried out by an anti-Balaka militia.


The DRC’s electoral commission has rejected former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba’s candidacy in this years still hypothetical presidential election. Though Bemba was acquitted of war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court, he still has an ICC conviction for witness tampering on his record, and that’s the justification the commission used to deny his candidacy. But since he’s a prominent opposition figure, this move will raise questions about whether this election, assuming it takes place at all, will be legitimate or rigged.


Unsurprisingly, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court has rejected opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s challenge and upheld President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s victory in last month’s presidential election.


Good news! It used to be a 13,000 or so mile ocean trek for goods to get from Europe to China and vice versa via the Suez Canal, but now that we’re melting the planet cargo ships can take a formerly frozen northern route that’s only 8000 miles long! And you all thought climate change was a bad thing! It’s going to make capitalism even more efficient! It’ll be totally great!


New US sanctions against Russia over the Skripal poisoning in the UK will kick in on Monday. That will begin a 90 day window, during which Russia can either admit that it was involved in the Skripal affair or face yet another round of sanctions.


Kosovo may be on the verge of a serious radicalization problem:

As it attempts to join the European Union, Kosovo has been under pressure to stamp out its radicalization problem — and authorities say they have succeeded. Since 2013, Kosovar police say they have indicted more than 120 terrorism suspects and arrested many more, including well-known conservative imams suspected of recruiting people to fight abroad.

“Now we don’t see terrorism as a threat,” said Kujtim Bytyqi, one of the government’s senior security policy analysts and the head of Kosovo’s strategy to counter violent extremism. “There is total silence. All imams, even if they want to say something, are afraid of the government.”

But many of those suspected terrorists, convicted under an older counterterrorism law in which prison sentences averaged between three and five years, are now being freed. And some say attempts to rehabilitate them have come up short.


Italian prosecutors are investigating whether Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s ban on allowing refugees to disembark at Italian ports amounts to illegally detaining them on their rescue vessels. The European Convention on Human Rights says that refugees who have been detained for 48 hours must be released and given a chance to apply for asylum. The question is whether not allowing refugees off of these rescue ships counts as detention. A rescue vessel, the Diciotti, is currently stranded in a Sicilian port while Salvini’s ministry denies it permission to dock. The 150 asylum seekers on board have reportedly begun a hunger strike to protest their treatment. Salvini insists he won’t allow the ship to dock unless the European Union changes its policies to implement a more equitable distribution of refugees throughout the bloc.



US officials are investigating Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s three stepsons over allegations that they tried to embezzle $1.2 billion from PDVSA, the state oil company. Prosecutors would hope to tie their corruption directly to Maduro.

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