World update: October 17 2018



The Georgian Orthodox Church is apparently split internally over whether or not to recognize an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Politically this makes sense–while Georgia certainly has no love for Russia these days, it’s also in no position to antagonize Moscow.


A suicide bomber killed at least two Afghan civilians in an attack near the Bagram airbase in Parwan province on Wednesday. Bagram is of course the main NATO facility in Afghanistan. Two other civilians and three foreign soldiers were wounded in the attack, which was claimed by the Taliban.

The Taliban also claimed an attack that killed a parliamentary candidate and three other people in Helmand province. It’s the latest in a string of Taliban attacks meant to disrupt Saturday’s parliamentary election–attacks that, so far at least, don’t seem to be succeeding in their objective:

More than 2,500 candidates are running for 249 seats in Afghanistan’s parliament in Saturday’s election, despite campaign violence that already has killed 10 candidates and scores of supporters, Taliban threats to sabotage the polls, accusations of pre-election rigging and public cynicism after years of legislative vote-buying and obstructionism.

The risks are many, but so are the opportunities, whether to champion reforms or profit from wheeling and dealing. Many candidates have curtailed public events after half a dozen deadly attacks this month, and hundreds of polling places in high-risk districts will not open at all. The campaign, however, is in full swing.


Pakistani officials say they’ve undertaken an “active” campaign to search for 11 members of the Iranian security forces who were abducted by the militant group Jaish al-Adl on Tuesday and most likely taken across the border into Pakistan. Tuesday’s reports said that 14 Iranian security personnel were abducted, so I’m not sure if New Arab is working off of a different report or if something happened to three of them in the meantime.


Indian forces killed two suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba members and one “accomplice” in Srinagar on Wednesday morning (one police officer was also killed). The incident triggered protests across Kashmir, especially over the death of the third person, who locals said was just a civilian and had nothing to do with LeT.


Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen said on Wednesday that he is still planning to leave office despite having filed a challenge over the results of last month’s presidential election in the Supreme Court. Yameen says he has no “regrets” over his conduct in office despite all the petty authoritarianism and human rights violations. So that’s nice for him.


There is mounting evidence that weapons from the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand are making their way into Malaysia and into the hands of ISIS fighters:

The decades-old conflict between the Royal Thai Armed Forces and the National Revolutionary Front, or BRN, an umbrella organization of Thai Malay secessionists, has long flown below the international community’s radar. For Malaysian authorities, however, the festering insurgency on their northern border represents a growing threat to the national security of Malaysia itself.

The BRN’s need for weapons has led to a flood of firearms hitting southern Thailand’s black market. Many of those guns find their way to Malaysians aligned with the Islamic State, or ISIS.


The Trump administration says it will withdraw from the Universal Postal Union, a convention that was established in the Treaty of Bern in 1874. And you thought quitting the Iran nuclear deal was bad. The union’s terms let developing nations pay less for international shipping than developed nations, a condition that the administration says allows countries like China and Singapore to save considerably on their exports to the US. To be fair, there is an argument that any 144 year old treaty that still treats China like a struggling economy ought to be renegotiated, but it remains to be seen whether the bull in a china (forgive me) shop approach will get results here. And one side effect here is likely to be an increase in USPS international shipping costs–though, of course, that’s a feature for the folks at FedEx and UPS. Anyway, please enjoy this image of the UPU flag, which I just learned exists:

upu flag


Kim Jong-un appears to be holding out for an end to the Korean War before he agrees to disclose information about his nuclear arsenal:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un refused to submit a list of North Korea’s nuclear sites and inventory as requested by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during their talks in Pyongyang earlier this month, instead demanding a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War and the lifting of economic sanctions, Japanese, U.S. and South Korean sources with knowledge of U.S.-North Korean talks have told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

As the United States and North Korea remain divided over their key demands, the success of a second U.S.-North Korea summit likely depends on how much progress working-level officials can make in their immediate negotiations.

During their Oct. 7 meeting, Pompeo asked Kim to submit at least part of the nuclear list, a request the North Korean leader rejected, according to sources. “If we submit the list without first building mutual trust, the United States would only call it untrustworthy and demand we submit the list once again. If that were to happen, we would end up having a battle,” Kim was quoted as saying.

Kim insisted that it is necessary for the two countries to forge a relationship of trust before North Korea takes steps toward denuclearization.

That’s an entirely reasonable position. The problem is that the US views any step that might help build trust as an inherent concession to North Korea and won’t take any of them unless the North Koreans disarm first.



As Scott Morrison decides whether to move the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, he should probably decide whether the political bump it might give him at home and the goodwill it would earn him from the US and Israel is worth the financial pain. Specifically, there’s a very good chance Australia would lose a pending US$11 billion free trade agreement with Indonesia.



The AP is now reporting that last Friday’s US airstrike in central Somalia effectively destroyed an al-Shabab training camp and killed 75 recruits in the process, some of whom were being trained to carry out suicide attacks. US Africa Command has been citing a death toll of 60.


European Union foreign ministers agreed earlier this week to increase EU support for training and equipping the Central African Republic’s armed forces. The CAR’s civil war has continued mostly unabated since 2012, though at this point the combatants are so decentralized that it’s almost more like constant gang violence than a war. European leaders are concerned not only about the violence but about Russia’s growing presence in the country–Moscow signed a military cooperation agreement with the CAR government last year and has been pouring weapons (and possibly mercenaries) into the country. Russia views the CAR as a place where it can rebuild the kind of African footprint that the Soviet Union once had, and it would love to get its hands on the CAR’s natural resources, which include diamonds, gold, and possibly oil.


Al Jazeera reports on the latest round of violence in the anglophone parts of Cameroon:


The DRC is demanding that Angola investigate reports that its armed forces killed “dozens” of Congolese nationals earlier this month. The Angolan military is cracking down on “artisanal” diamond mining, an industry that has attracted many Congolese workers across the border. Angola says the Congolese were there illegally and blames Joseph Kabila’s government for displacing them into Angola amid its conflict with Kamwina Nsapu rebels in the DRC’s Kasai region.


Comoran soldiers killed two people on Anjouan island on Wednesday, as violent protests there continue over President Azali Assoumani’s plans to abolish term limits and remain in office. In addition to ending term limits, Assoumani wants to end the practice of rotating the Comoran presidency around the country’s three main islands, which could permanently exclude Anjouan from the presidency.



The Washington Post’s Rick Noack reports on the energy dichotomy in Europe, where countries in the east are looking for ways to decrease their dependence on Russian gas while countries in the west are eager for more of it:

Now the Baltic and Nordic states are trying to break free of their dependence on Russian gas imports. Finland and Estonia are building the Balticconnector, a major new pipeline between the two countries that could bring natural gas from the United States and other nations to Finland. It will be the first pipeline into Finland that does not originate in Russia.

Similar pipelines in the region have already forced Russian energy giant Gazprom to lower its artificially high prices, but the benefits are political as well as economic. “It’s the last step to undo the Soviets’ legacy in the region,” said Emmet Tuohy, a senior research fellow at the Estonian School of Diplomacy.

At the same time, much of the rest of Europe is preparing to tie its energy future even closer to Moscow. Russia is building its own pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, that could double the amount of natural gas it exports to Germany.

Eastern European countries also worry that Nord Stream 2 will allow Russia to bypass them and sell gas directly to Western Europe, giving Moscow more ability to cut Eastern European nations off from its gas supplies without incurring any problems with Germany, France, etc. The Trump administration has already weighed into this debate on the side of Eastern European countries, with Donald Trump essentially mocking Germany earlier this year for expressing concerns about the US commitment to Europe while looking to put more of its energy sector in Russian hands. The US of course wants Europe to buy more of its liquified natural gas instead of buying from Russia, but the cost of shipping LNG across the Atlantic is too high for the US to be a viable competitor for Russia in the European market.


A student at Kerch Technical College in Crimea went on a campus killing spree on Wednesday, murdering at least 18 people before committing suicide. He may have used explosives as well, it’s unclear. For a time this incident was being reported as a possible terrorist attack but authorities appear to have ruled that out as a motive.


British journalist Stephen Paduano reports on European efforts to woo businesses out of the UK on the eve of Brexit:

Leading the exodus of jobs and cash are London’s many investment banks and asset management funds, such as those above, which are expected to send 10,000 jobs and billions of dollars in annual tax revenue overseas. Not far behind the financial services sector is the manufacturing sector, as one recent reportshows a second consecutive month of staff cuts in factories across Britain. The technology industry, too, is feeling the pain of Brexit, as founders leave a United Kingdom that has lost its grip on foreign talent and capital. Perhaps the most disconcerting of all is the potential damage to the food services industry, whose farms and processing plants—largely of dairy, eggs, fish, and cereals—rely on a 40 percent EU-born workforce.

But Britain’s job losses are not just about Brexit. While the decision to leave the single market, resurrect tariffs with trade partners, and boot foreign workers has certainly left the U.K. a less desirable place to do business, much of the movement out of the U.K. has been a matter of pro-business reform and repositioning by EU competitors. The biggest winners of Brexit—Dublin, Frankfurt, and Paris—have proved to be at least as effective at pulling business in as the Brexiteers have been at pushing business out.



While Brazil will elect a new president in less than two weeks, incumbent Michel Temer is still in office and still as cartoonishly corrupt as ever. Brazilian police recommended again on Tuesday that Temer and several members of his inner circle be charged and have their assets seized over a new round of bribery allegations. Temer’s lawyers are asking the country’s Supreme Court to rescind the police report.


The latest Honduran migrant caravan now reportedly contains “several thousand” people, and although some migrants have apparently left Guatemala to return to Honduras it seems to be growing in size. This is unwelcome news to the Honduran and Guatemalan governments, both of which have been threatened with aid cuts by Donald Trump if they don’t stop the caravan from eventually reaching the US border.


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