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Monthly review October 2019

Monthly review October 2019

Europe

Riots in Catalonia

On October 14, riots broke out in the Spanish province of Catalonia. The large crowd of protesters blocked roads and railways in opposition to the state’s decision to imprison the former leaders of the Catalan government. The Supreme Court of Spain charged them in relation to illegal separatist activity. 

The Spanish authorities were unable to stop the riots, a fact which showcases a high level of support for separatist sentiments in Catalonia and the weakness of the Socialist Party government in Madrid.

Brexit flextension and snap elections

On October 28, EU Council President Donald Tusk announced that European leaders had agreed to delay the UK’s exit from the EU until December 31, 2019. The government was forced to ask for this delay at the request of parliament.   

Prime Minister Boris Johnson proved unable to pull Britain out of the EU by October 31 as promised… the politician’s greatest defeat since coming into office. Meanwhile, the political crisis in the UK continues. At the same time, Brexit’s opponents are skillfully weakening Johnson’s government and continuing to postpone the process.

However, on October 30, the Prime Minister managed to declare early elections for December 12 which could significantly strengthen his position– nonetheless, the results could exacerbate the political crisis even further.

Eurasia

Steinmeier Formula

On October 1, Ukranian President Vladimir Zelensky announced that the country had come to an agreement regarding the text of the so-called Steinmeier formula. The Steinmeier formula is a mechanism for enacting the law regarding local self-government in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. The idea was put forward by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany and current president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

A statement by the Ukrainian president marked the first diplomatic shift in the negotiations regarding the conflict in eastern Ukraine… however, the Ukrainian authorities have been unable to begin implementing the agreements due to disagreements such as the presence of Ukranian troops on the contact line in Petrovskoe and Zolotoe. Armed nationalist groups have heavily opposed any proposals to take such action. Thus, Kiev’s plans have gone unfulfilled due to the state’s powerlessness and lack of ability to find a compromise with the radical elements that dominate the political landscape in Ukraine.

Middle East

Operation “Peace Spring”: Turkey changes everything in Syria

On October 9, 2019, Turkey announced the launch of Operation “Peace Spring” in Syria. The main goal of the operation is to push Kurdish militants from YPG (which are associated with a terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party) from the Turkish-Syrian border. The Turkish operation in Syria became a catalyst for major changes in the balance of power in the country:

  1. Ankara forced US troops in the region to cease their active support of Kurdish militants and to move away from the border. US President Donald Trump and the Pentagon later announced the withdrawal of troops from Syria. US troops remain only in areas where oil production is taking place.
  2. Turkey’s military activity pushed the Syrian Kurds into negotiations with the Syrian government. Damascus has taken control of areas in the country’s north where the Americans used to be.

On October 22, Russian and Turkish presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks to negotiate the new zones of influence in northeastern Syria. Turkey, Syria, Russia and the Trump administration all came out ahead as a result of the negotiations.

Turkey gained new territory where some refugees from Syria will be able to resettle and established Security Zone near the border– plus, the Kurdish quasi-state in Syria was eliminated. The Syrian government subjugated the Kurds and expanded its zone of control. Russia has shown its capacity as an effective negotiator, appeasing both Ankara and Damascus. Russian military police successfully intervened and prevented a serious conflict between Syrian and Turkish forces.

The US was able to eliminate one of its central problems in relations with Turkey – Ankara’s support for the Syrian democratic forces. Despite the loud and aggressive statements addressed to Ankara at the beginning of the operation and after the announcement of US sanctions, Washington’s sanctions were soon lifted. Trump got the opportunity to demonstrate that he is fulfilling his campaign promises and reducing US military presence in Syria.

Iraq Protests: Symptoms of Colored Revolution

On October 1 in Iraq, following calls spread on social networks, anti-government protests broke out. The demonstrators were calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul- Mahdi. The protests swept Baghdad and the Shiite-populated areas of the country. Among the participants, youth prevailed. The protesters demanded an increase in the fight against corruption, a reduction in unemployment, and public utility infrastructure. The protests escalated into clashes with law enforcement. At some point, unidentified snipers started firing on security forces resulting in two deaths.

Not a single Iraqi party or political leader has come out in support of the actions. On October 9, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, amid protests in Baghdad, called on Prime Minister Mahdi to restrain and fight corruption in the country as the protesters were demanding. Ayatollah Ali Sistani also supported the protesters– he is considered to be the Shia spiritual leader most loyal to the US.    

The protesters are likely being manipulated. Foreign players are interfering in order to push out the Iran-friendly government of Adil Abdul- Mahdi in order to install a pro-American leader.  

The role of Muktad al-Sadr and Hadi al-Ameri, the leaders of the two biggest parliamentary blocs in Iraq, is still unclear. When the protests started they opposed the actions, but now they seem to be using the riots to push the government to resign.

Protests in Lebanon: Break the Shiite axis

On October 17, mass protests began in Lebanon. As was the case in Iraq, they are directed against the current government of the country. The protesters are angry about the introduction of new taxes, including the WhatsApp tax and austerity measures by the government. The protesters demand the creation of a “government of technocrats” and the resignation of the current cabinet. The Hezbollah Shiite movement, the leading political and military force in the country, on the one hand, supports the demands of the protesters, but on the other, strongly opposes their call to change the government.

Western-funded NGOs, as well as pro-Western Progressive Socialist Party, are participating in the protests.

On October 29, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri officially resigned, handing over power to the President of the country Michelle Aoun.

The aggravation of the political situation in Lebanon and the government’s resignation could have very dangerous consequences. The resumption of the civil war between ethnic and religious groups in the unstable country is one particularly dangerous possibility. The fragile balance was struck only in January 2019 when the government of Saad a Hariri came into power, despite the elections that were held in May 2018. 

Against the backdrop of the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, the United States and Israel may be interested in weakening Lebanon and Iraq to prevent the creation of a Shiite corridor from Iran to Lebanon with access to the Mediterranean Sea on the borders of Israel.

US troops in Saudi Arabia

On October 11, the US Department of Defense announced that it had increased its military personnel in Saudi Arabia by 3,000 over the past month. The Pentagon emphasized that ”since May, the Department of Defense has increased the number of Forces by Approximately 14,000 to the US Central area of the Command Responsibility.” The surge in US presence in Saudi Arabia is intended to put increased pressure on Iran. 

Baghdadi is dead, but ISIS lives

On October 27, US President Donald Trump announced that American troops had killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. According to the Americans, the leader of ISIS was hiding in the Syrian province of Idlib. The body of the leader was not shown: he was declared to have been buried at sea. However, the US military was allegedly able to obtain DNA samples. Despite allegations that this represents the “destruction” of the caliphate, ISIS units continue to operate in various regions of the world.

The operation to eliminate al-Baghdadi largely followed the same pattern as the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011. At that time, the body was not presented to the public; nor was any real evidence. However, Barack Obama used the fact that he had eliminated the Number One terrorist in the world in his re-election campaign in 2012. Al- Baghdadi’s assassination is now being used by Donald Trump to gain electoral support for his own re-election in 2020.

North America

Canada: Trudeau’s victory

On October 21, parliamentary elections were held in Canada. Although the Liberal Party of Canada’s Justin Trudeau won the majority of votes, he did not receive an absolute majority in parliament. Trudeau’s main opponents, the Conservatives, however, did increase their representation in the governing body. This will make it more difficult for the liberal prime-minister to govern the country. 

The Quebec separatist party “the Quebec bloc” also increased its seats in parliament, another factor which does not bode well for the authorities in Ottawa.

Trump: another impeachment investigation

In the United States this October, the Democrats continued their investigation into the possible impeachment of President Trump. However, they voted for impeachment proceedings to begin only on the 31. Several representatives of Trump’s administration were questioned. The most valuable information in regard to the proceedings, the texts of Trump’s negotiations with the leader of Ukraine, were provided by the former special representative of the State Department for Ukraine, Kurt Volker. Further evidence was provided by William Taylor, the US Chargé d’Affaires in Ukraine. 

The Trump administration, in turn, turned a review of the origins of the Robert Mueller investigation into a criminal inquiry. The political confrontation between Trump and the Democrats continues. So far, the US Deep State has played along with the Democrats… but the current administration hopes to use the law in its favor.

South America

Ecuador: Indigenous people vs Moreno

From October 3 to 14, mass protests took place in Ecuador. They were primarily caused by President Lenin Moreno’s decision to abolish fuel subsidies for citizens of the country. This decision was made on the recommendation of the IMF in the framework of neoliberal reforms. Most of the protesters were representatives of the indigenous population.

As a result of the protests, the government and the president were forced to leave the capital, Lima. Lenin Moreno accused Venezuela of fomenting protests. 

The government made some concessions to the protesters, but Moreno’s ratings (which were already low) fell even further. Protests in Ecuador demonstrate a rejection of neoliberal policies in Latin America and the weakness of the Moreno regime.

Peru: President versus parliament

On October 30, Peruvian President Vizcarra dissolved the country’s parliament. In response, MPs voted to remove him from power and appointed Vice President Mercedes Araoz as head of state. Although Araoz took her oath, by Tuesday evening she had announced her resignation and refusal to serve as president. 

Vizcarra dissolved the congress after deputies refused to support the reform of the constitutional court he had proposed. The President announced early elections on January 26th.

Representatives from the opposition, which has a majority in Congress, called his actions a coup d’état, and Wiskarra himself a dictator. However, the leadership of the army and police support Wiskarra. They put out a statement saying they consider him the legitimate president and commander in chief. The main political force that opposes President Wiscarra is the People’s Power opposition party led by Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori. Both father and daughter are now in prison for corruption.

Chile: protests against neoliberalism

On October 7, thousands of people went out to protest against the neoliberal policies of President Sebastián Piñera in Chile. The main cause of the demonstrations was severe economic inequality. The protests began in the capital Santiago as a coordinated campaign of high school students and public transport users in response to a price hike for the subway. 

On October 26 in the capital, more than a million people took part in a protest demonstration: the largest in the history of the country. Following the mass protests, Pinera fired the government. The protests in Chile, as well as protests in Ecuador, demonstrate the instability of neoliberal and pro-American governments in the region. 

Bolivia: elections at stake

On October 20, presidential elections were held in Bolivia. According to official figures, the incumbent president Evo Morales won the elections in the first round. He is one of the few socialist leaders left in Latin America, a supporter of sovereignty and opponent of US imperialism.

However, the opposition refused to recognize the election results and staged protests, accompanied by arson. The main opponent of Morales is Carlos Mesa, the former president in 2003-2005. He was remembered for having resigned three times amid mass protests over the government’s refusal to nationalize gas and oil fields. Mesa was accused of promoting the interests of American companies. The politician is now a member of the Washington-based non-governmental organization Inter-American Dialogue.

Evo Morales has accused Bolivia’s opposition of plotting a coup against him with some international support.

The United States, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina said they did not recognize the election results in Bolivia and demanded a second round. Bolivian protests are aimed at changing the regime and geopolitical course of the country.

Argentina: Peronists Return

On October 27, presidential elections were held in Argentina. The winner was the candidate from the Frente de Todos (Front for All) Peronist left alliance Alberto Fernandez. The former president of the country, Christina Kirchner, will become vice president. The liberal, pro-American candidate Mauricio Macri lost.

The defeat of Mauricio Macri was a defeat for both his neoliberal economic policy and geopolitical orientation toward the United States. The second-largest and largest Spanish-speaking country in Latin America now is leaving the orbit of US influence, which will significantly weaken the position of the United States on the continent.

At the same time, Mauricio Macri inherited from Fernandez and Kirchner a country in a state of severe economic crisis.

Asia

Modi and Xi Jinping: informal negotiations

On October 11-12, Chinese President Xi Jinping made an informal visit to India, where he met with his counterpart, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the second informal China-India summit. The leaders of the two countries discussed the possibility of strengthening ties in the economy and trade, as well as maintaining peace in the region.

Following the visit, Modi announced the “beginning of a new era” in relations between the two countries who have had long-standing territorial disputes. The rapprochement between Beijing and Delhi is radically changing the situation in the Indo-Pacific region. Both Great powers have demonstrated that despite the differences, they will not go over to an open confrontation and are ready to work together to strengthen the multipolar world order.

Hong Kong: protests continue

On October 23, Hong Kong authorities officially announced they would recall the controversial extradition bill. This document was the ostensible reason for the recent protests which have paralyzed life in the Special Administrative Region for the last six months. Despite the fact that the bill was canceled, the anti-Chinese demonstrations did not stop. Now, protest leaders advocate for an amnesty for detainees and the holding of elections: separatist slogans are also popular. The Crisis continues.

Africa

Tunisia: New president and parliament

On October 14, the second round of presidential elections took place in Tunisia. Independent candidate and law professor Kais Said was elected as the new head of state. The newly elected 61-year-old leader has conservative political views, but at the same time is about to introduce an “experimental form of direct democracy” in Tunisia. The fact that Said and the leader of the Heart of Tunisia party, media mogul Nabil Karoui (released shortly before the vote from prison) came out in the second round was a surprise to many. 

The unusual outcome of the elections shows the population’s disappointment in the traditional political elites. On October 6, parliamentary elections were held in Tunisia. The largest number of votes, 19.6%, was received by the Islamic party (associated with the Muslim Brotherhood) Ennahdha. The “Heart of Tunisia” party came in second.

Elections in Mozambique

On October 15, presidential elections were held in Mozambique. The current head of state, Filipe Nyusi of the “Front for the Liberation of Mozambique” ( ” FRELIMO ” ), was a clear winner. The ruling party won the parliamentary elections as well as the presidential and regional ones. FRELIMO won 184 seats in the Assembly of the Republic with 74% of the total votes. The leading opposition party, RENAMO, won 60 deputy seats, while the MDM party took 6.

Nevertheless, RENAMO refuses to recognize the election results. The next few weeks will be key for Mozambique. Filipe Nyusi and Osufu Momadin, on behalf of Frelimo and Renamo respectively, signed a reconciliation deal last August, ending the six-year-long civil war in the republic.  

A RENAMO breakaway faction calling itself the Renamo Military Junta, which initially opposed the election, might also complicate the situation in the country. There is a strong possibility that Islamic terrorist attacks in the resource-rich Cabo Delgado province will occur.

Russia returns to Africa

A summit was held on October 23-24 in Sochi regarding Russian relations with Africa. The heads of state and government of 43 (out of 54) African countries, 120 ministers and more than six thousand representatives from 104 states, including the US, Canada, Australia and leading European countries were invited to the event.

 The main outcome of the summit was a declaration signed by all participants, which outlined the ways for further development of cooperation between Russia and African countries in all key areas. In total, more than 500 different economic agreements were signed during the two days of the summit.      

Many African countries advocated for the creation of Russian military bases (CARs), the invitation of Russian military advisers ( Sahel countries ) and the expansion of military-technical cooperation. The results of the summit demonstrate that African countries are interested in developing relations with Russia and that Russia is returning as an active player on the continent. This should be taken into account both by the countries of the region and other countries trying to increase their influence in the region (such as Turkey, the US, the UK, France and Saudi Arabia).

Elections in Botswana

The ruling Democratic Party of Botswana won the general elections in the country which took place on October 23. In May 2019, former President Ian Khama left the party and offered his support to the new Botswana Patriotic Front. Khama is the son of the founder of independent Botswana Sir Seretse Khammam and an heir of the chiefdom of the Bamangwato people

However, the changes did not lead to a true change of power. As the president is elected by the parliament in Botswana, the current leader, Mokgweetsi Masisi, will remain at the head of the country.

Oceania

China: offensive on the Solomon Islands

On October 25, the government of the Solomon Islands declared a Chinese company’s lease on the island of Tulagi illegal. Solomons’ Central Province had leased the island to China Sam Enterprise Group for 75 years. Last month, the Solomon Islands’ government withdrew diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, a sign of China’s growing influence in the region. The head of the Pentagon, Mark Esper, publicly supported the authorities of the Solomon Islands and warned them against the further development of relations with Beijing. American and Australian experts suspect that China is preparing to establish a military base in the Islands.

 
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