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05/05/2019

April 2019 – geopolitical events

April 2019 – geopolitical events

Europe  

Assange arrested

On April 11, Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, was arrested in London after Ecuador revoked political asylum earlier granted to the journalist. Since 2012, Assange has been held in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  

Britain is likely to extradite Assange to the US against Assange’s wishes. Assange is accused in the United States of cyber espionage.  Assange is accused of conspiring with WikiLeaks informant Chelsea Manning to steal and publish secret government documents and faces prison time of up to five years.

The President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, and the staff of the Ecuadorian embassy accused Assange of espionage, hacking and inappropriate behavior to justify their decision to cancel his political asylum. However, experts point out that Assange’s extradition coincided with a large IMF grant to Ecuador, leading many to believe a deal had been worked out behind the scenes.

Assange’s extradition shows that in Latin America the balance of power has changed in favor of the US. Ecuador had previously maintained sovereignty against the US’ demands but has now been more or less bought out.

Finland: Social-democrats and nationalists make electoral advances

On April 14, parliamentary elections were held in Finland. The Social Democratic Party claimed the majority of seats. However, the True Finns, a nationalist party, came in close second, with an only 0.2% difference in votes (17.7% against  17.5%). The leader of the ” True Finns” Jussi Halla-who achieved a record number of votes, pulling in more than 30.5 thousand.

The success of the “True Finns” is indicative of the fact that the party is experiencing a renewal. In 2017, it replaced almost its entire leadership and most of the parliamentary factions entered the ruling coalition and created a new party, Blue Future. However, this political force failed in the latest elections and will not enter the new parliament. This shows that the electorate in Finland is opting for radical right-wing populism specifically.  

Spain: victory and new problems for the ruling Socialists

On April 28, parliamentary elections were held in Spain. The ruling Socialist Party won a clear victory but did not receive an absolute majority of seats in parliament. They must now either choose minority rule or forming a coalition with the far-left “Podemos” party and ethnic minority grouping, including Catalan separatists. Spain’s foreign policy is unlikely to change, and the country will continue to be a moderate ally of the US.

One of the most discussed results of the elections was the advancements made by the right-wing Vox party, which entered the Parliament for the first time winning over 10% of the vote.  The party demonstrated itself to be an anti-establishment, populist, anti-leftist and anti-immigration force. Some experts say their victory shows that Spain has joined the Pan-European trend of rising populism.

Eurasia  

Erdogan in Moscow  

On April 8, Turkish President Recep Erdogan visited the Russian capital Moscow, where he took part in in the eighth meeting of the Russian – Turkish Cooperation Council.

Presidents Putin and Erdogan discussed the details of the “Turkish Stream” and NPP “Akkuyu” projects, the possibility of the use national currencies in bilateral trade and the contract for the supply of Russian anti-aircraft  C- 400 missile systems to Turkey, as well as efforts to normalize the situation in Syria. In particular, the creation of a constitutional committee and the resolution of the problems of the de-escalation zone in Idlib were discussed.

Another topic of conversation was the liberalization of visas and travel between the Russian Federation and Turkey. The results of the visit demonstrated the importance of Turkey in Russia’s foreign policy, the stability of the Astana negotiating format on Syria and the readiness of Moscow to take into account Turkish interests while preserving Ankara as friend and partner.  

Ukraine: Presidential comedy

On April 21, the second round of presidential elections was held in Ukraine. Comedian Vladimir Zelensky was declared the winner, gaining more than 70% of the vote. In June, he must replace incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.

The election result demonstrates the fatigue of the Ukrainian population from the militant nationalist rhetoric of the current president. However, Zelensky’s team has repeatedly stated that Ukraine’s orientation towards the US and the EU will remain unchanged. In domestic policy, we will see the strengthening of the position of the oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, who supported Zelensky.

Middle East

Elections in Israel: New term for Netanyahu  

On April 9, parliamentary elections were held in Israel.   The right-wing “Likud” party led by Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again received a majority in the Knesset. Netanyahu is likely to form a government coalition with other right-wing parties. On April 30, Netanyahu was again sworn in as Prime-minister.

A 5th term in office for Netanyahu means the continuation of his hard-line policies toward the Palestinians and more aggression in the Middle East as a whole. It is also a clear victory for US President Donald Trump, who sees Netanyahu as a personal ally. Netanyahu’s rivals were more critical towards Trump and were oriented toward the US Democratic establishment

Iran: preparing for a counter punch

On 28 April, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated that Tehran is considering withdrawing from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons ( NPT ) in answer to the tightening of the United States’ sanctions policy.

On May 22nd, US Secretary Michael Pompeo reported that Washington would not extend the regime of exceptions from the oil embargo against the Islamic Republic. Since last November, US sanctions against Iran’s oil buyers did not extend to China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece. Earlier in the month, the US labeled the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)  as terrorist an organization, the first time the US has named a part of another government’s military as a terrorist formation.

The growing confrontation between the United States and Iran makes the situation in the Middle East very unstable.  The allies of the United States who want to maintain friendly relations with Iran are in a particularly complicated situation, Turkey being a prime example. Turkish leadership has previously stated that it is ready to create a special trade mechanism to circumvent the US sanctions against Iran. If this happens, there will be another nexus of disagreement between Washington and Ankara.    

North America   

Publication of the Muller Report  

On April 18, the United States published an abridged version of Robert Mueller’s report on the results of his investigation of alleged Russian intervention in the US presidential election in 2016. Publication of the report was caused by the pressure of Democrats controlling the lower house of Congress. They hoped the document would contain proof of “collusion” between President Donald Trump’s team and Russia. However, Special Counsel Mueller did not find any evidence of collusion… nonetheless, political opponents of Trump wanted to see if there were any facts that could be interpreted differently or used against the president.

With regard to possible obstruction of justice by Trump, the Special Counsel, without bringing charges against Trump, did not officially declare his innocence. The publication of the report sparked new accusations against Trump and demands to impeach him, but actual action seems less likely than ever.

“Sleepy Joe” enters the race

On April 25, the ex-vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, announced his intention to run for the Presidential elections in 2020. In his video announcement, Biden said that Donald Trump threatens American values of freedom and democracy and promised to protect them. Currently, Biden is the most popular candidate among candidates for the presidency of the Democratic Party. According to polls, his rating is even higher than Donald Trump’s rating.  

Biden’s nomination for US presidency demonstrates the inability of the Democratic establishment in the United States to offer a real alternative to Trump. Joe Biden is a typical representative of this establishment, an old liberal centrist and a globalist in his views. Even older than Trump, by 2020, he will be 78 years old. He is not supported by the more radical more left-wing and younger part of the Democratic electorate.

Latin America

Venezuela: attempted military coup  

On April 30, Venezuelan authorities declared that an attempted military coup had taken place in the country.  At about the same time, the self-proclaimed interim “president” of the republic, the speaker of the National Assembly Juan Guaido, released a video surrounded by armed figures in military uniforms announcing the final stage of “Operation Freedom,” ie a military overthrow of the government. He claimed that part of the national military supported him.  

The coup was unsuccessful, and very few soldiers ended up defecting to help Guaido’s Washington backed uprising. However, a new escalation of the conflict in Venezuela could result in continued violent conflicts. Intervention by the armed forces or special services of the USA, Colombia and Brazil is still possible.

Asia  

Elections in Indonesia: Islam and China in focus

On April 17,  general elections were held in Indonesia. According to the country’s central election commission, the current president, Joko Widodo was reelected for a new term.

His opponent Prabowo Subianto however, disputes the results. The campaign was marred by identity politics and geopolitics. Joko Widodo was criticized for a policy of rapprochement with China. He was also opposed by Islamic conservatives, who voted massively for Prabowo Subianto and spread false rumors about the president

Widodo’s victory means that Indonesia will continue foreign policy aimed at economic development and courting China. However, there are also possibilities that opponents of a geopolitical alliance with China (IE the US) will try to destabilize the situation in the country, using the religious factor.

Sri Lanka: Bloody Easter

On April 21, as Catholics and Protestants from all over the world celebrated Easter, explosions thundered in several Catholic churches in Sri Lanka. As a result, 321 people were killed, and about 500 were injured. This is the largest terrorist act in the history of the country and the first to be directed against the Christian community.

On April 23, ISIS took responsibility for the terrorist attack. Sri Lankan authorities accuse local Islamists from the Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Watania movement of working with them to carry out the terrorist attacks.  

The attacks in Sri Lanka indicate the spread of the pseudo-Islamic radicalism of ISIS in South Asia. The attack itself is an obvious test of strength. One of the main intentions of the terrorists is to stir up enmity between the religious communities of the island. Earlier, the Muslim community and Christians stood apart from the bloody confrontation between the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamils on the island. The new terrorist attacks lay the groundwork for new conflicts.

Kim Jong Un: from Russia with hope

On April 25 in Vladivostok, the first talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un took place. The sides discussed issues of bilateral cooperation, as well as topical international problems, primarily the settlement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.   

The Heads of State also noted the need to provide Pyongyang with security guarantees for disarmament and the completion of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The parties did not discuss the specifics of the conversation.

However, that talk is of great importance in the context of the failure of the last meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. North Korea is engaged in solving the problems of the peninsula with both South Korea, and some of the leading world powers.

Moscow and Beijing generally adhere to similar positions, speaking in favor of a phased denuclearization process in exchange for concessions from the United States and the lifting of sanctions against Pyongyang.

One Belt, One Road Forum in China  

On April 26-27, Beijing hosted the “One Belt, One Road” forum, in which leaders from nearly forty countries took part. Nearly three hundred agreements worth over 60 billion dollars were signed. The country – participants of the”One belt – one-way” initiative also agreed to strengthen cooperation on land, air and sea, as well as in the digital realm. The results of the forum show the steady growth of China’s influence in Eurasia, despite the opposition of its main geopolitical opponent – the United States.     

Africa  

Aggravation in Libya  

On April 4, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, ordered an attack on Tripoli, currently under the control of the national unity government of Faiz Saraj.   

Before the attack on Tripoli, Khalifa Haftar took control over the eastern, southern, and part of the western glitter of Libya. Haftar is supported by the UAE and Saudi Arabia (where he was on the eve of the attack), as well as by Egypt. He also maintains close ties with France and Russia.  

The government in Tripoli enjoys the support of Qatar and Turkey. The United States calls on Haftar to stop the attack but has not directly interfered. However, the Libyan National Army failed to put the Libyan capital under its control effectively. It’s evident that a state of civil war will continue in Libya over the next year.

Military coup in Sudan

On April 11, a military coup took place in Sudan. Sudanese President Omar al – Bashir, who ruled for 30 years, was ousted and the military took power.

Sudan was gripped by protests starting in December 2018 which began with economic demands but grew into a demand for the resignation of al – Bashir.  After his dismissal, protests nonetheless continued. The military declared its readiness to negotiate with the opposition for the peaceful transition of power.

Immediately after the removal of Bashir, there was a redistribution of power among the military who displaced him. On April 11, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, who had been the Minister of Defense and the Sudanese Vice – President, declared himself the de facto head of state. On April 12, Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf resigned as chairman of the Transitional Military Council and appointed as his successor Lieutenant – General Abdel Fattah al – Burkhan, who served as inspector general of the armed forces. On April 13, the Head of the National Security and Intelligence Service Salah “Gosh” Abdullah retired… he had earlier been the one suspected of organizing Bashir’s displacement.

In 2011, according to Wikileaks, Ghosh had already planned a military coup against Bashir. However, Gosh had close ties with the CIA and Bashir not only did not challenge him in court but also resigned as head of the special services.

Under Omar Bashir, Sudan pursued a multi-vector foreign policy plan. Despite accusations of genocide in Darfur and the US sanctions, the state has never lost contact with the United States. Close ties were also maintained with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates… Sudan had even participated in the war in Yemen and their side.

On the other hand, relations with Turkey, which rented an island in the Red Sea from Sudan and Russia, have improved over the last two years. The President of Sudan became the first Arab leader to visit Syria and President Bashar al-Assad since the war in Syria began in 2011.   

Since the coup d’état, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have declared support for the Sudanese Military Council and allocated 3 billion dollars to the cause. Russia also announced support for the new government. On April 17, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Mikhail Bogdanov held talks in Khartoum with the new leadership of Sudan. On April 21, the leadership of Sudan announced that its delegation was invited to the United States to discuss lifting sanctions.  

There is a serious geopolitical struggle for Sudan underway. The influence of neighboring states, such as Egypt, is of great importance. It is likely that this may endanger Turkey’s position, as Ankara’s interests are diametrically opposed to those of Egypt in the region.

The USA and the UK should also be watched closely. According to many experts, these countries actively supported the protests. As the protests continue, a powerful lever of influence on the situation in the country remains in the hands of Washington and London.

 
United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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