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10/01/2018

Monthly Review: September 2018

Monthly Review: September 2018

Europe

The Elections in Sweden: populists and the possibility of joining NATO

On the 9thof September, Parliamentary elections took place in Sweden. The parties of the ruling “red-green bloc” – the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Sweden, the Left Party (PL) and the Party of Environmental Protection (EPP) won with a slight advantage over the opposition center-right alliance – the Moderate Coalition Party (UCP) The Liberal Party (PL), the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), the Center Party (PC) – with a result of 40.7% to 40.2%.

At the same time, the opposition populist right-wing party the “Swedish Democrats”, which does not belong to any bloc, managed to gain 17.8% of the vote, which is almost 5% more than in the previous elections.

The Swedish Democrats have already expressed their readiness to support a right-wing coalition. Since the future of the government will depend on their vote, the populists in Sweden have significantly strengthened their influence. The right-liberal coalition is far more positive regarding the idea of Sweden joining NATO than the Swedish Social Democrats are.

Soros v. Hungary

On September 12th at the plenary session of the European Parliament, the majority of the deputies voted to initiate a procedure for sanctions against Hungary. Hungary is accused of departing from the EU’s governing ideology. The basis for this vote was the report of an MEP from the Netherlands, Judith Sargentini, whose name had previously surfaced in open-ended correspondence with George Soros’ the Open Society Foundation. However, the imposition of sanctions (or loss of voting rights)is unlikely. All the members of the EU Council would have to vote for it, excluding Hungary itself, and the Hungarian leadership is already supported by Poland. However, the initiation of sanctions against Hungary demonstrates the existence of a serious split between the countries of the Visegrad Group, which are oriented toward preserving sovereignty and conservatism, and the rest of the EU. It is worth noting, however, that the conservative Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurtz, went against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in this matter.

The informal EU summit on September 19: a complete fiasco

On September 19th and 20th in Salzburg Austria, an informal EU summit took place. Brexit and the refugee problem were the main topics for discussion. No significant progress was made. French President Emmanuel Macron tried to take the lead in opposing the plans of Theresa May regarding Brexit, but she refused any concessions. The failure of the summit indicate a deep paralysis in the internal structures of the EU.

Erdogan in Germany

From September 27th to September 29th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Germany. Despite the ideological differences between Berlin and Ankara (granting shelter to Kurdish terrorists and members of FETO in Germany), opposition to US policy is forcing both countries to converge and take a path increasingly independent from the US foreign policy. The meeting was only made possible due to f this common opposition, although the liberal public of Germany and those close to Merkel opposed it. The result was the strengthening of German-Turkish ties. The countries have agreed to work together on the issue of the development of energy projects (Turkish flow and Nord Stream-2). The expansion of economic assistance from Germany to Turkey and German investments are the main concrete result of the visit, and will be an important source of revenue for the Turkish economy, which is experiencing difficulties due to the weakening of the lira in the wake of US sanctions.

The referendum in Macedonia: under NATO pressure

September 30, 2018 in Macedonia was a referendum on changing the name of the country to “Northern Macedonia” and entering NATO and EU. Only 34% of registered voters came to polls (highly low turnout), majority of whom voted for changing the name of country. Due to the fact that referendum is only consultative, it is possible that Macedonian government will ignore position of majority, who abstaining from voted rejected the idea. Highly likely that official Skopje will try to change the name of the country using parliamentary mechanisms.

This is a requirement of Greece, which instead guarantees Skopje admission to NATO. The referendum was held in an atmosphere of unprecedented pressure from politicians of the EU and NATO countries that supported the change of the name of the country and its inclusion in the North Atlantic Alliance. Inclusion of Macedonia in NATO is consistent with the plans to expand the bloc to the east, in order to prevent the strengthening of the influence of Moscow and Beijing. However, hasty actions threaten a new conflict inside the country, which will only exacerbate the confrontation between the Albanians, who fully supported  referendum and came to the polls (25% of the population of Macedonia) and the Macedonian Slavs, for whom the name change is a rejection of national identity and who boycotted voting.

Eurasia

CIS Summit in Dushanbe

On September 28th in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, a summit of the heads of state from the Commonwealth of Independent States took place. Questions regarding economic and political cooperation, as well as cooperation in the field of security, were on the agenda. Negotiations between the leaders demonstrated that, in addition to Russia, regional centers such as Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have also acquired a special significance. There are several engines of integration of the post-Soviet space. Among the bilateral talks, a meeting between president Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, was of particular importance. Leaders of the conflicting states agreed on measures to ease tensions at the border and establish a direct hotline between them.

Azerbaijan and Turkey: strengthening ties

On September 15th, Turkish President Recep Erdogan visited Baku. He took part in events dedicated to the centenary of the capture of Buck in 1918 by Ottoman troops and the transfer of the capital of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic to the city. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev noted the fraternal ties of the two countries. Apart from the ceremonial events, Aliyev and Erdogan discussed issues of cooperation and regional security, demonstrating their continued fraternal alignment.

Middle East

Summits in Tehran and Sochi: The Astana format is preserved

On September 7th, 2018, a trilateral summit of the Presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran was held in Tehran. The main topic was Syria, and in particular the situation in Idlib. The main result of the meeting was the introduction of a truce within this zone.

Ten days after the talks in Tehran, Rejep Erdogan and Vladimir Putin met in Sochi. The Presidents of Turkey and Russia agreed to create a demilitarized zone in Syrian Idlib, where Turkish and Russian troops will be introduced. At the same time, Turkey assumed a mission of deactivating militants and terrorist groups within this area. Russia, in turn, guaranteed peace, and kept the Syrian army off the offensive, which is important for Turkey, because Idlib is full of forces loyal to the Syrian opposition.

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran demonstrated that they are able to solve complex issues and make mutual compromises in order to preserve the Astana format. This “block of three states” is showing that their alliance is an effective tool for resolving complex issues in Syria.

Iran hits the Kurds

On September 8th, 2018, the forces of the Guard Corps of the Islamic Revolution carried out a missile attack on formations of the Kurdish separatists based in northern Iraq. The missiles hit the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) in the town of Koya. Iran has not attacked the Kurdish formations since 1996. Iran’s actions demonstrate that Tehran considers the threat emanating from the Kurdish radicals significant, and that they are ready for military measures similar to those Turkey is undertaking in Syria and Northern Iraq.

IL-20: Israel vs Russia

On September 17th, 2018, a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by a Syrian air defense missile as a result of provocative actions by the Israeli Air Force who were carrying out an attack over the Syrian province of Latakia. Russia immediately accused Israel of provocations, and blamed the country for what had happened. Israel, however, did not apologize, and attempted to shift the blame on the Syrians and Iran, whose positions the Israeli planes were bombing on September 17 when the incident occured.

The downing of the Russian airplane and the death of 15 military personnel threatens otherwise good relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv, which may limit Israel’s possibilities for action in the region, especially in Syria and Lebanon. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia will supply Syria with S-300 air defense systems capable of effectively repelling Israeli attacks.

Disorders in Basra: an element of the “The Greater Middle East” plan

Since the beginning of the month, riots have been continuous in the southern Iraqi port city of Basra and the surrounding areas. The protesters burned the consulate of Iran, shouted slogans of “Iran out” and attacked the field of the Russian oil company Lukoil. The main reason for the unrest is the worsening economic situation in the country. The situation is, however, actually a result of actions by the pro-American Abadie government. Provocateurs are skillfully redirecting the protests to target Iran. There are, nonetheless, also anti-American forces present at the demonstrations. The US Consulate was subjected to rocket fire.

Basra is important both from the point of view of the extraction of Iraqi oil and its export by tankers abroad. The protests were supported by the famous Iraqi politician Muqtada al-Sadr and former President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masud Barzani. They can use the situation for domestic political purposes, and in the interests of foreign policy actors. Last year, Sadr visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Barzani closely allied himself with the Americans and the Israelis.

The protests in Basra, as well as the intensification of the separatist movement in southern Iran, may well be part of the American-Israeli plan for the Greater Middle East. It foresees the creation of an Arab state from the southern provinces of Iran and Iraq.

Pro-Saudi separatists hit Iran

On September 22nd, during a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, a terrorist attack took place. Four people were killed in the attack, among them children. Iran accused Arab separatists for the incident. The separatists are supported by Saudi Arabia and the countries of the West. Responsibility for the attack was taken by the organization “Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahvaz”, connected with Saudi Arabia, although DAESH also tried to take responsibility. Tehran blamed Saudi Arabia and western countries for supporting terrorist organizations in Iran. The incident shows the possibility of using separatist forces against Iran (Arabian, Baloch and Kurdish).

The Continuation of the Turkish-American confrontation

In September, relations between the US and Turkey remained at a strained peak of hostility due to US President Donald Trump’s decision to raise tariffs on steel and aluminum. Earlier this month, President Erdogan called for the dollar to be abandoned as a reserve currency. Later, Erdogan commented on Trump’s speech at the UN General Assembly, noting that the position “I’m strong, then I’m right” is unacceptable. In general, the US’ refusal to make concessions and recognize Turkey’s right to pursue an independent foreign policy, especially with regard to its partnership with Iran, Russia and the EU, has been the main irreconcilable difference.

Africa

Sudan: anti-crisis government

On September 14, the ruling Sudanese National Congress formed a new government in the hope of overcoming the serious economic difficulties facing the country. Sudanese President Omar Bashir had already dissolved the previous government. The new cabinet will be headed by the former head of the Ministry of Land Reclamation and Electric Power Industry Moataz Mohammed Musa. The president also replaced the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the ministers of economy, finance, as well as the minister of oil, gas and mineral resources. Systemic rotation of staff and a reduction of their number are part of the new strategy for improving life in the country.

Mauritania: parliamentary elections

The ruling party of Mauritania, The Union Pour la Republique, won parliamentary elections, which were held in two rounds on September 9 and 15. The Union Pour la Republique now has 89 seats in the National Assembly. Its closest competitor is the Islamist party of Tawassoul (guided by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood movement) with 14 seats. The election results show that the country’s president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is confidently holding power in his hands. Local elections also recently took place. In most local councils the ruling party won the elections, but these elections also showed a significant rise of Tawassoul in the capital of the country – Nouakchott, where the race was very tight.

Eritrea and Ethiopia: a treaty of peace

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abi Ahmed, and the president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, signed an agreement on peace between the two states on Sunday, September 16. The ceremony in Jeddah was attended by the King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud and Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres. The peace agreement, as well as the opening of the border between the two countries on September 10, is following a six-month course aimed at improving relations initiated by Addis Ababa. Among the external actors, the improved relations are beneficial to China, which is gaining access to the sea for its projects in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. The latter, together with the UAE, on the contrary, intend to go through Ethiopia deep into Africa and consolidate their positions in Eritrea.

Asia

Third Inter-Korean Summit

On September 18-20, the third inter-Korean summit of the year took place in Pyongyang. During the talks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-inachieved important results.

North Korea has dismantled the Tongchang nuclear test site and stopped the operation of the experimental nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-inalso pledged to withdraw armed forces from the demilitarized zone, create buffer zones on the border and in the coastal waters, where military and naval exercises will be prohibited. The leaders of North and South Korea also resumed economic cooperation in the areas where such cooperation is possible in compliance with UN sanctions against the DPRK. However, further progress depends on the will of the US and the concessions that it will make for the DPRK.

Shinzo Abe re-elected head of the Liberal Democratic Party

On September 20th, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, was elected for the third time as chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan, confirming his right to be the head of government. He can lead the country for another three years, after which he will no longer be able to hold the post of prime minister. The elections testify to Abe’s strong position within his own party, but raise the question of his possible successors.

The Maldives are drifting towards India

On September 23, presidential elections were held in the Maldives. A candidate from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, was the winner, receiving more than 58.3% of the vote. Solih is a supporter of improving relations with India and the United States. His main rival, acting president of the Maldives, Abdullah Yamin, focused on deepening ties with China and Saudi Arabia. It is expected that the political course of the Maldives after these elections will become more pro-Indian.

North America

NAFTA on the verge of disruption

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the elected president of Mexico, believes that it is necessary to maintain the tripartite format of the NAFTA North American Free Trade Agreement. Obrador announced this in Queretaro on Friday, September 28. Earlier, Mexico and the United States held negotiations on the revision of the trade agreement and reached a number of compromises. Canada, however, refuses to make any concessions to the United States, required by President Trump.  On September 27th, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, announced that he would not sign unprofitable agreements. Previously, an unsuccessful meeting took place between Trudeau and Trump in New York. Now it depends on Canada whether NAFTA will remain in place or be split up into several unconnected agreements between Mexico and the USA, Mexico and Canada and Canada and the USA. In any case, the level of economic integration in North America will decrease as a result of Trump’s protectionist policies.

USA: Struggle for the Supreme Court

On September 28, the US Senate Judiciary Committee approved the candidacy of Brett Kavanaugh as a member of the US Supreme Court. However, the Senate’s vote has been postponed, pending an FBI investigation against Brett Kavanaugh. The applicant for the position of the supreme court judge has been accused of sexual misconduct, that allegedly took place 35 years ago.

It is important for the President of the United States and the Republican Party to have their candidate for the post of Supreme Judge in place before the congressional elections in November 2018. However, the Democrats, whose supporters are pushing the accusations, are trying to disrupt the appointment, as it will strengthen the Republican influence in the country’s judicial system. In the US political system, it is the Supreme Court that has the final say on many controversial issues. Now it is the FBI who determines who gets control over this lever of power.

Latin America

Venezuela: the threat of a coup

On September 25th, US President Donald Trump said that the Venezuelan leadership could be defeated by a military coup. The statement was made the day after the introduction of the new sanctions. Washington accuses Caracas of violating human rights and creating a disastrous economic situation in the country. Earlier, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro discussed the possibility of external intervention against Venezuela. Undoubtedly, the reaction of the public is being studied. The discussions around the situation are intended to create space in public discourse for the support of US military action against Venezuela. If not now, an armed intervention is likely in the near future.

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