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Monthly Review November

Monthly Review November

Europe

Triumph of the Right in Spain

The Eurosceptic right-wing Spanish party Vox was the main winner in the recent parliamentary elections in Spain, which took place on November 10. VOX won 52 seats in parliament, becoming the third most powerful political force in Spain. Compared to the elections had been held in April, VOX increased the number of seats in parliament by 28 seats.

The Socialist Workers Party of Spain won 120 seats, while the right-wing People’s Party won 88.  The leftist ” Podemos” bloc came in fourth with 35 seats. The results of parliamentary elections (already the second to take place this year) indicate that it will not be easy for anyone to form a viable government. The domestic political situation in the country is complicated by the growing sympathy for Euroskeptics and populists from VOX, as well as for the mass protests of the separatists in Catalonia. The traditional political parties have been unable to cope with the crisis.

Germany: fighting spirit

On November 25, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced that Germany should be allowed to open foreign military missions, something which has been prohibited since World War 2.

Angela Merkel’s successor admitted that the presence of the German army could be strengthened in Mali. Spiegel previously reported on Berlin’s plans to expand its contingent in this country by around 500 people.

Experts believe that the words of the minister correspond to the general course of Berlin, which in recent years has sought to participate more actively in solving world problems. According to analysts in regard to the possible expansion of the army’s foreign missions, Kramp- Karrenbauer also pushed his own goals, positioning himself as an active politician worthy of becoming the successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

NATO’s brain death

On November 7, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that NATO was dying.  “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” the French president said in an interview with the Economist. According to Macron, contradictions within the Alliance have reached such a level that the participants might have to reconsider the usefulness of NATO in general. One of the reasons for this situation is the inconstancy of the alliance’s “American partners,” the politician said.

Macron’s position has been heavily criticized by the leadership of Germany, representatives of the US and NATO itself. However, at the same time, the future head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, a politician close to Angela Merkel, called on Europe to “learn the language of power.” In both cases, the Frenchman and the German expressed the desire of continental Europe to increase its status in relations with the United States. However, Macron was far more courageous in his criticism.

Paradoxically, the liberal Macron is now the main supporter of Euro-continentalism in the EU. On the one hand, this is evidence of the objective geopolitical interests of Europe… on the other hand, the fact that the populist Donald Trump is at the head of the United States plays a role. Given the situation, following the United States could imply the path toward a populist revolution in the old world, which the European elites desperately oppose.

Eurasia

Lukashenko strengthens his grip on power

On November 17, parliamentary elections were held in Belarus. Not a single opposition party was included in the preliminary list of elected deputies. The new deputies represent the Belarusian Patriotic Party, the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, the Liberal Democratic Party, as well as the Belaya Rus public association. Control over parliament was retained by President Alexander Lukashenko. The election was criticized by the EU and the OSCE. However for the Belarusian President these elections are an important step before more vital ones – the presidential election in the second half of the next year.

Moldova: the new government

On November 14, the new government of Moldova took oath. The government was formed following the results of a government crisis, after a vote of no confidence led by Maya Sandu was submitted to parliament. Sandu is the leader of ACUM  – the pro-European liberal  bloc. Since June, it has been in a tactical coalition with the  Party of Socialists of President Igor Dodon, who prefers a more multivector foreign policy. The purpose of the coalition was the removal from power of the Democratic Party of the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who is now on the international wanted list.

Now, however, the weakened Democratic Party has offered support for the new government, which is headed by Ion Gicu – an ally of Igor Dodon. As a result, the president managed to gain control over the government and significantly strengthen his power. The new government aims to build pragmatic relations with other countries, including Turkey.

Georgia: protests

On November 14, new opposition protests began in Georgia. The demonstrations were motivated by the parliament’s inability to adopt amendments to the Constitution introducing a proportional electoral system. About 20 political groups have united against the ruling Georgian Dream party, including pro-Western NGOs and the United National Movement party of ex- President Mikheil Saakashvili. Protests continue, despite attempts by the authorities to disperse them.

The US Embassy in Georgia has called on the Georgian parliament to pass a proportional election system law. The introduction of such a system in the elections next year may strengthen the positions of opposition parties, which are even more pro-American than Georgian Dream. Protests can be perceived as a form of pressure on the Georgian authorities from the West. Naturally, local political forces will use them to strengthen their positions.

Azerbaijan and Armenia: Exchange of Journalists

On November 17-18, Azerbaijan and Armenia exchanged visits by groups of journalists. A journalist from the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) was also present in the Armenian delegation. In turn, Azerbaijani journalists visited Nagorno-Karabakh.

Earlier, the foreign Ministers of both countries agreed to the exchange, and the OSCE acted as mediator. This exchange is the first of its kind since 2001, it is an important step towards normalizing relations between the two countries. However, true peace is likely impossible as long as Azerbaijan fails to regain control over occupied Nagorno-Karabakh.

Azerbaijan: toward new elections

On November 28, the political council of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party put forward an initiative to hold early parliamentary elections. As of yet, the exact date of new elections has not been determined.

This decision was motivated by the fact that the current composition of the Milli Majlis is not in compliance with the policies pursued by the head of state – President President Ilham Aliyev. The current parliament was elected in 2015; there have been significant changes in the country’s policy since then. Azerbaijan has begun to work more closely with Russia, an unsuccessful coup attempt took place in Turkey in 2016 which revealed the need to cleanse friendly countries from the influence of Gulenism…. also, significant dialogue has been established between the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia.

According to some reports, people associated with the Gulen movement remain in the Azerbaijani parliament. President Ilham Aliyev is pursuing a policy of renewal, within which new people who are inclined towards more constructive work can enter parliament.

Middle East

Erdogan in the US

On November 13, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to the United States. During the event, US President Donald Trump offered Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan a $100 billion trade deal. The situation with the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems was also discussed. Trump’s reception of Erdogan proves that the US is aiming to maintain allied relations with Turkey, despite recent problems. It seems that it is more important for the United States to maintain relations with Turkey than it is for Ankara to maintain relations with Washington

Nevertheless, it cannot be said that Erdogan’s visit to the United States reduced Turkish-American contradictions. The United States expressed concern about Turkey’s move to deploy the S-400 air defense system. Washington continues to try to convince Ankara not to put these systems into service. US senators are still threatening sanctions for disobedience. Turkey, in turn, demonstrates that it is not ready to make a symbolic concession to the United States and abandon promising weapons. November 26, the Turkish President called on the people and business circles of the country to abandon the dollar. This would be an overtly anti-American attack, although at present it is only rhetoric.

Iran: new protests

On November 15, mass protests began in Iran. The demonstrations were motivated by a sharp increase in gas prices. The difficult economic situation of the country, which is severely worsened by US sanctions, also contributed to the protests. The country’s authorities, in order to prevent their influence on protests from abroad, temporarily restricted access to the Internet. On November 20, President Hassan Rouhani announced the protests had come to an end. Western media took advantage of the situation to demonize Iran, spreading unverified information about the victims.

Nevertheless, the relatively quick completion of the riots indicates the stability of Iran’s state system compared to Iraq or Lebanon, where similar riots have been going on for the second month.

It is likely that protests in Lebanon and Iraq could have inspired the protests in Iran. Objectively, the demonstrations in all three countries are in the hands of the United States and Israel, which seek to prevent the strengthening of Iran and the creation of a Shiite land corridor from Iran to Lebanon – to the Mediterranean Sea and the Israeli border.

However, the inefficient management of Hassan Rouhani’s reformist economy was one of the main factors that contributed to the protests. Iranian supporters of a moderate course towards the West have proven to be ineffective managers, and are now struggling to cope with the country’s governance in the face of external pressure and an unfavorable economic situation.

US: another gift to Israel

On November 18, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States did not consider the creation of Israeli settlements on the West Bank as contrary to international law.

According to Pompeo, the issue of legality or illegality of the construction of each particular settlement should be decided by Israeli courts. At the same time, the United States does not believe that a change of position on the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank will adversely affect a peace in Palestine. Pompeo also emphasized that the decision of the United States on settlements should not be considered as a precedent in resolving similar situations in other parts of the world.

The US decision was naturally approved by Israel. However, the Arab world predictably took Pompeo’s statement indignantly. Washington’s new decision is designed to help strengthen Netanyahu’s support in Sami Israel. It also demonstrates that the United States relies specifically on Israel in the Middle East and expects that the Arab allies will also be forced to come to terms with Israel’s dominant position.

Syria: Kurdish extremists against the Turks and Russians

On November 18, during a joint Russian-Turkish patrol in Syria, Kurdish extremists set fire to the Russian Typhoon armored car. The car was pelted with stones and Molotov cocktails. This is not the first attack on a patrol this month. Earlier, the Kurds threw stones at Russian vehicles and attacked Turkish cars.

On November 1, Russia and Turkey held the first joint patrol near the Syrian-Turkish border. Thus, Moscow and Ankara began to implement the next item from the joint memorandum signed on October 22 in Sochi.

The actions of the Kurds, which are incited by the PKK – PYD, demonstrate the aggressive intentions of this political force and the unpreparedness for peace.

Israel: charges against Netanyahu

On November 21, the Israeli Attorney General has filed charges of corruption with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The head of state is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu denied the allegations and accused the attorney general of attempting a coup d’etat.

The charges against Netanyahu, on the one hand, are based on concrete examples of corruption. On the other hand, the more liberal and globalist part of the state apparatus, the Israeli deep state, is using the situation to rid themselves of the right-wing Israeli leader.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu enjoys widespread public support, and it will not be easy to remove him. His opponents will likely try to use the scandal in order to bring down the Likud party’s ratings on the eve of the inevitable new elections. Netanyahu’s side will likely respond by taking extra-aggressive actions against Iran, Syria and the Palestinians, justifying their actions by saying these forces are a threat to Israel’s security. Security issues have long provided the basis for Netanyahu’s popular support.

Trump in Afghanistan

On November 28, US President Donald Trump made an unexpected visit to Afghanistan. There, he spoke to the US military and said that representatives of the Taliban want to make a deal with the United States. However, the Taliban said it’s too early to talk about resuming talks with the Americans.

During a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani, Trump noted that he plans to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 12-13 thousand to 8.6 thousand.

According to experts, the Taliban is not prepared to make any serious concessions and is in no hurry to negotiate with the United States. At the same time, on the eve of the presidential election, Trump is seeking to show that he is taking steps toward ending the unpopular decades-long war in Afghanistan.

However, the goals and objectives of the United States in Afghanistan are not reflected in the proposed withdrawal. Washington wants to maintain a manageable level of instability in Afghanistan in order to justify a minimum military presence in the country.

Iraq: Another Shiism

On November 29, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi declared that he will resign after two months of anti-government protests. His decision comes after the Supreme Ayatollah of Iraq, Ali Sistani, urged parliament to consider withdrawing its support for Abdul Mahdi’s government.

On November 27, mobs of thugs burned the Iranian embassy in the holy Shiite city of Najaf. This is not the first attack of its kind: on November 4, protesters tried to attack the Iranian consulate in another holy city for Shiites – Karbala. The protests in Iraq are increasingly taking up an anti-Iranian focus. At the same time, the main centers of protests are in areas inhabited predominetly by Shiites.

The Supreme Ayatollah of Iraq, Ali Sistani, after the US invaded his country, spoke out in favor of cooperation with the occupiers. Now he is sympathetic to the protesters. Sources say that it was precisely Sistani’s people who carried out the pogrom in Najaf. However it is also possible that these rumors have been spread in order to raise tensions between Shia-Muslims in Iraq and Iran.

Several things can be distinguished in the anti-Iranian component of Iraqi protests:

Domestic dissatisfaction with the difficult economic situation, corruption and the close ties of the ruling class to Iran.

The issue of national prestige: Iraqis occupied by the US perceive the strengthening of Iran, with which they fought in the late 1980s, as another occupation.

The issue of the struggle for influence within the Shiite world: Ali Sistani perceives Iran as a threat to his spiritual authority in Iraq.

Theological differences: In Iran, after the 1979 revolution, the religious-political concept of velayat-e faqih Ayatollah Ali Khomenei was established, which proclaimed the need for leadership of the state by clergy. However, earlier Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr had developed a more democratic concept of velayat-ul-umma, which posited only general guidance from the clerics. The concept of an Islamic state as it is understood in Iran is opposed to the idea of “civil state” proposed by Sistani ‘s mentor Ayatollah Abul Qasim al-Khoei.

The geopolitical factor: the split between the Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is skillfully fueled by forces interested in ensuring that the Shiite world does not act as a single geopolitical force: the United States and Israel.

North America

US: Impeachment hearings

In the United States, the process of impeachment of President Trump continued throughout November. The public impeachment hearings started on November 19, wherein Donald Trump and his opponents continued to exchange accusations and insults. Nevertheless, the proceedings did not have a significant impact on the processes in the country and in the world. The Democrats, however, will continue the impeachment procedure.

Drug cartels as “terrorists”

On November 26, US President Donald Trump announced that he intends to recognize the Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. In addition, he emphasized that he had already proposed to the Mexican authorities to introduce American units and “clean it out.”  Drug cartels directly threaten US security, they have de facto control over much of Mexico. However, declaring them to be terrorist organizations will not end their influence immediately. It will, however, give the US the right to conduct military operations on Mexican territory without the permission of the government. In addition, the United States may initiate sanctions against any person or company in Mexico on charges of aiding terrorism.

The main goal of designating the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations is to exert pressure on the Mexican leadership, which, under President Manuel Lopez Obrador, pursues an independent policy. For example, Mexico recently has sheltered the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who was recently ousted by a US-led coup.

South America

Brazil: Lula is free

On November 9, former Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was released from jail. He left and spent 580 days in prison under accusations of corruption. The day before, the Supreme Court made a decision allowing Lula to be released until a final review of his appeals. He still runs the risk of going to jail for 17 years. The liberation of Lula gives hope to his Workers Party for a return to power, but there is still no certainty.

Coup d’etat in Bolivia

On November 10, under pressure from the military, Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to resign. During the previous month, ultra-right circles associated with the United States tried to overthrow Morales by fomenting protests throughout the country, but were unable to achieve their goal. Morales has received political asylum in Mexico, where is currently in hiding. He is calling his ouster a coup.

The deputy speaker of the parliament, Janine Agnes, has come to power in Bolivia as an interim president. However, the removal of the president did not stabilize the situation. Supporters of Evo Morales have since took to the streets. The are mostly indigenous people, cocoa producers. The new leadership of the country has accused Morales of destabilizing the situation and barred him from participating in the elections. They have used lethal force against Morales’ supporters, leaving dozens of people dead. The putschists gave the army carte blanche to quell protests by force. The United States is calling the coup in Bolivia a victory for democracy.

The coup has a clearly pro-American character, its leaders are from the right-wing, who had earlier recognized the presidency of Juan Guaido in Venezuela and expelled Cuban diplomats from the country. However, they have been unable to stabilize the situation. Society in Bolivia is split – white Creoles form the basis for the support of the coup, while indigenous communities remain in support of Morales.

Protests in Colombia

On November 21, mass protests began in Colombia, which grew into riots and clashes with the police. A curfew was imposed in the capital of Colombia, Bogota. On the night of November 22-23, three people were killed in a car bomb explosion near a police station in Santander de Quilichao, where violent clashes between radical right and left radical groups had previously taken place.

The protests are a response to the liberal economic reforms of President Ivan Duque. Protesters, in solidarity with supporters of Evo Morales in Argentina, have been waving Andean flag. The bulk of the protesters in Colombia are students and union members.

The general situation in the country plays a significant role in the unrest. Duque cannot cope with the drug mafia, and the level of crime and violence.

Asia

Protests in Pakistan

From November 1 to November 13, a protest against Prime Minister Imran Khan was held in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. 100,000 people took part in it, mainly supporters of the movement “Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam ( Fazl ).” The protest was led by the leader of the party – the conservative cleric Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. The main demands are the resignation of Imran Khan and the limitation of the influence of the military in the country. The protests were supported by representatives of other parties, relying on traditional clan groups, which the populist leader Imran Khan had previously squeezed out of power. However, neither civilian nor military authorities have made concessions to the protesters.

The bulk of the population of Pakistan refused to support the opposition. People still believe in Imran Khan, and openly ignore the protest campaign run by the “old families” and clergy who have joined them.

Hong Kong: US intervention

On November 27, US President Donald Trump signed into law on the protection of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act requires the presidential administration to report on the situation in the autonomous region of China and, if necessary, impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations. In addition, the level of trade relations between the United States and Hong Kong will depend on how the US authorities estimate the level of Hong Kong’s independence from China

This bill is an act of direct US interference in China’s domestic affairs. The law provoked the indignation of the Chinese side and Hong Kong authorities. The US’ decision is intended to support the protests in Hong Kong, which the authorities of the autonomous region of China have been unable to stop. The position of the protesters is strong, as was evident in the results of the local elections held on November 24, where opposition forces made major gains.

Africa

Namibia: President vs. dentist

On November 27, presidential and parliamentary elections began in Namibia.  The current head of state Hage Geingob (Hage  Gottfried Geingob) was re-elected for a second term, and the ruling party SWAPO – “People’s Organization South-West Africa, Namibia” – will retain a majority in the National Assembly. However, the independent candidate and dentist  Panduleni Itula came in second with a quarter of the vote. His success is a symptom of the growing dissatisfaction with the authorities.

Libya: everything on Sarraj

On November 28, the leader of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Sarraj met in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As a result of the meeting, the countries signed the memorandum on limiting jurisdiction and mutual understanding on security and military cooperation.

The Turkey-Libya memorandum on maritime delimitation implies recognition of the exclusive economic zones of the two countries. Thus, Turkey, in the person of the government of western Libya, consolidated its claim to the waters and shelf of the Mediterranean Sea, which has rich hydrocarbon reserves.

The second document on security and military cooperation is aimed at training Libyan security forces. Turkey can use this agreement to increase military support for the Sarraj government, up to the sending of its military units to Libya.

The Turkish position logically follows from the confrontation with supporters of Marshal Khalifa Haftar (who currently controls eastern Libya), Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE… and who is now fighting troops loyal to GNA. However, this one-sided position also has its drawbacks. Ankara runs the risk of losing everything if it does not establish contacts with the Haftar government, at least at a minimal level. 

Oceania

Bougainville Island: A prospect of independence

On November 23, an independence referendum began on Bougainville Island, which is currently a part of Papua New Guinea: the results will be announced no earlier than December. According to surveys, 93% of the population of the island are ready to vote for independence. A struggle between the US and Australia on the one hand and China on the other has already begun for influence on the new state.

China has been strengthening its influence in this part of the Pacific for some time. Evidence of this is that the neighboring Solomon Islands in the past few months have refused Taiwan’s diplomatic recognition and discussed the possibility of a long-term lease of one of the islands of the archipelago to China.

Bougainville has one of the world’s largest copper deposits and has geographic advantages, positioned in the waters separating Asia and the Americas.

Australia: Manchurian candidates

On November 23, Australian media reported that Wang Liqiang, who identified himself as a former Chinese spy, surrendered to the Australian Security and Intelligence Service (ASIO). Wang Li Tsang said he was a senior Chinese intelligence official and was responsible for political influence operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. His tasks allegedly included interference in elections. China has denied that the man ever worked with Chinese intelligence.

Earlier, the former ASIO chief Duncan Lewis said the Chinese government was seeking to “take over” Australia’s political system.

Fears of Chenese spies in Australia  grew even stronger when Australian intelligence agencies announced at the end of the month that they were investigating an alleged plot to plant a Chinese spy in the nation’s parliament. Bo “Nick” Zhao, a luxury car dealer, told ASIO last year that China’s intelligence services had tried to recruit him for this purpose. He was later found dead in his hotel room.

China rejects all of these allegations. While China is Australia’s largest trading partner, the Australian authorities are still aligned with United States, which negatively affects Australian-Chinese relations. The country’s elites are trying to instill a fear of the Chinese in the country, which makes the accusations suspect.

 
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