CLAIRE BERLINSKI, PARIS
🚗 Let’s experiment with a shorter format.
I was very sad this weekend because four of you cancelled your subscriptions without telling me why.
My brother thought it was because Global Eyes is too long. He says there’s just too much information. There are too many links. Its arrival in his mailbox feels like a chore, he told me. It takes him hours to read everything. He said he wants a newsletter that saves him time, rather than adding to the list of things he needs to do. Also, he wants me to explain what the items I include mean, rather than expecting him to read them all and come to his own conclusions.
So let’s try doing it that way today. I’ll just cover the five most important stories from each region, and I’ll include fewer links and slightly more commentary. If you like it better this way, that’s great—it’s less work for me! If you don’t, let me know. We can also do a mixture. Tell me what you like and we’ll do it—we aim to please.
Just please, please stop unsubscribing. It makes me so upset.
🇪🇺🇬🇧🇷🇺🇺🇦 Europe, Ukraine, and Russia
🇫🇷 Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right … Did you see what those French voters did? I knew they were dying to screw Macron up, but I thought they’d maybe they’d do it by handing NUPES a bigger victory than the polls indicated.
Nopes! The French voters were even more irascible than I imagined. They so badly wanted to give Macron the finger that they paralyzed their own government.
Not only did they refuse to give Macron the majority he needs to legislate, they split their protest vote between the far left and the far right—and the far right did much better than the polls had indicated. (There seems to be a major shy-voter issue when it comes to polling this, which is puzzling because the far right underperformed the polls in the presidential election.)
For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, the far right surged into the Assemblée Nationale. RN, formerly and better known as the National Front, won 89 seats. In the last election, they took only six.
Jérôme illustrated the situation thus:
You can still listen to Saturday’s French Election Twitter Summit here. Note that none of us saw this coming. So much for our punditry chops.
This was our official comment on the results:
Anne-Elisabeth: Bloody f*ck, eh?
(A stunned silence descended.)
Macron’s advisers are now thinking about dissolving the Assemblée Nationale in a year. They’ve (melodramatically, I must say) called the results “hell,” “hyperviolent,” and “Dantesque.” If they do dissolve the assembly, we’ll have to break our promise to put the #FrenchElectionTwitterSummit away until 2024.
It is a huge setback for Mr. Macron, who was penalized by the protest vote, after his reelection to the Elysée, almost two months ago. He now finds himself in a nightmare scenario, unable to implement his policy agenda without enough support in the Assemblée Nationale to pass his bills. His campaign’s failure contrasts with the breakthrough of the left-wing NUPES alliance led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which won 142 seats, and an unprecedented performance from the far-right Rassemblement national, which got 89 seats. …
At the top of the government, there is expected to be a “total paralysis” of the Assemblée Nationale, which could lead to an institutional crisis. “This gives a useless and ungovernable Parliament, because neither the NUPES nor we are able to build alliances to reach 289 votes,” said one advisor, who said Mr. Macron has, from now on, only one option: “dissolving the Assemblée Nationale in a year.” Article 12 of the Constitution allows for this. In the meantime, the members of the majority expect a country in deadlock, with the government unable to carry out its policies.
This prospect filled the NUPES with joy:
Jean-Luc Mélenchon will not be prime minister. But the disappointment was overcome in a few seconds at the headquarters of the left-wing NUPES coalition, given the scale of the defeat inflicted on Emmanuel Macron. As the first projections at 8 pm gave just under 150 seats to NUPES, the activists in the room were screaming with joy. But what made them particularly happy was the announcement of the defeat by NUPES candidates of heavyweights in the Macron cabinet: President of the LREM (Mr. Macron’s party) group in the National Assembly Christophe Castaner, President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand and Environment Minister Amélie de Montchalin.
“This is a totally unexpected situation, absolutely unheard of, a total debacle of the presidential party,” Mr. Mélenchon declared from the podium.
As it did Marine Le Pen:
Ms. Le Pen, satisfied to have made “Emmanuel Macron a minority president” when she herself had said in May that he would automatically get his absolute majority, looked ahead on Sunday in her role as president of the RN alliance. “We will be a firm opposition, without compromise.”
But NUPES’ ecstasy was short-lived, because less than 24 hours after this, their alliance imploded:
Just before 3 pm, on Monday Mr. Mélenchon left [his party] headquarters. … “The NUPES should form a single group in Parliament,” he declared. “I am not proposing a merger,” he said, suggesting that each should keep a “delegation,” like in the European Parliament. …
The attack was immediate. One by one, the Socialist, Green and Communist heads said “no.” “The left is plural, it is represented in its diversity in the Assemblée Nationale. It is a force at the service of the French people. Wanting to remove this diversity is a mistake, and I oppose it,” tweeted Valerie Rabault, the president of the Socialist group in the previous legislature. Socialist spokesman Pierre Jouvet added: “There will be a Socialist group.”
At least the #FrenchElectionTwitterSummit called that right—though we figured NUPES might survive a week, at least, before dissolving into bitter infighting and recrimination.
Mais qui QUI aurait pu le voir venir ? La surprise est totale !
— Lily (@Caroline_Cts) June 20, 2022
“But who, who could have seen this coming? The surprise is complete!”
Anyway, the people have spoken. France is officially ungovernable.
🇬🇧 United Kingdom
Boris Johnson’s government has pushed through legislation to rip up its own post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Protocol. The EU has threatened legal action, accusing the UK of breaching international law. Peter Hain, who served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2005 to 2007, is cross: I negotiated a Northern Ireland deal that worked. Johnson’s Putinesque strategy will wreck it.
The truth is Northern Ireland always was going to be Brexit’s achilles heel. Because after Brexit, Europe’s external frontier had to be somewhere. For England, it would be Calais. For Northern Ireland, it would be either across the island of Ireland—toxic, unthinkable and undeliverable in Brussels, Dublin and Washington DC because it would ditch the Good Friday peace process. Or in the Irish Sea, which Boris Johnson casually opted for “to get Brexit done”.
Also, Arron Banks lost his libel suit against Carole Cadwalladr:
For three years, as a friend and colleague of Cadwalladr’s, I’ve seen how lawyers have dominated her life. Discussion of Russian influence on British politics was chilled, not only by Banks’s action but by the Kremlin’s pet energy company Rosneft and several Russian billionaires suing Catherine Belton and the publishers of Putin’s People; a post-Soviet mining conglomerate’s action against Tom Burgis and the publishers of his study of kleptocracy; and the general fear the lawyers incubate that if you take on the super-rich you risk losing everything.
Here’s Cadwalladr’s column about it: Arron Banks almost crushed me in court. Instead, my quest for the facts was vindicated:
I had been braced to lose and I knew exactly what would happen if I had. The headlines I would face, the accusation that I was—what my detractors have always claimed—a “conspiracist,” the social media shitstorm that would ensue. I had no doubt about how devastating it would be because every step of this litigation has felt as if it was aimed at trying to crush me. In large part, it’s succeeded. …
I don’t know if it was because these smears against me stuck or if our entire press had been rendered mute in the face of Banks’s legal threats, but the near total silence around this case has been one of its most extraordinary aspects. One month before Russia invaded Ukraine, as part of the legal action, documents disclosed by both me and Banks provided new insight about the relationship between the biggest funder of the Brexit campaign and the Kremlin in a multimillion pound trial against a journalist that 19 press freedom organizations said they believed was an abuse of law. Much of this went wholly unreported. Save for the Guardian, not a single mainstream news outlet covered any of it.
The judgment is long, but worth your time:
- In the TED Talk Ms Cadwalladr addresses political profiling of the electorate, the use of such data to micro-target voters with tailored political advertisements that are not visible to others, and so cannot be challenged, breaches of data protection and electoral laws, the difficulty ascertaining who placed such advertisements and the source of their funding, and the risk of interference by authoritarian states, in particular Russia, in elections in western democracies. Ms Cadwalladr draws connections between the result of the EU Referendum and the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency. …
- Based on her investigation, Ms Cadwalladr had reasonable grounds to believe that (i) Mr Banks had been offered ‘sweetheart’ deals by the Russian government in the period running up to the EU Referendum, although she had seen no evidence he had entered into any such deals; and (ii) Mr Banks’s financial affairs, and the source of his ability to make the biggest political donations in UK history, were opaque. Most importantly, when Ms Cadwalladr gave the TED Talk the Electoral Commission had announced, following a one-year investigation, that it had reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Banks was not the true source of the £8 million loans/donations, but rather the source was a non-qualifying company, Rock Holdings, which is based in an off-shore, non- transparent, jurisdiction. In addition, when she gave the TED Talk, the matter had been referred to the NCA and that organization was investigating.
Kaliningrad and the Suwałki Gap
On Saturday, Lithuania began implementing a ban on the transit by rail of sanctioned goods—coal, metals, construction materials, and more—to Kaliningrad. They more or less shut down the railway linking the Russian exclave to Russia proper. About half the goods Kaliningrad imports come via this route. And while it’s possible to work around this by sending more maritime vessels through the Baltics, what happens when the northern part of the sea freezes, as regularly in the winter it does?
This has major potential to be the next big flashpoint. Kaliningrad is, basically, Russia’s aircraft carrier—a place to position weapons so that they can easily strike Europe. Russia is calling it a blockade, which in truth it partly is—although the movement of people and un-sanctioned goods continues, so legally it isn’t. In calling it a blockade, however, Moscow is indicating that it views this as an act of war.
What does it propose to do about it, though? I can’t imagine Putin is eager to open up another front, especially since it’s pretty clear at this point that if he tangles with NATO, we’ll relieve him of what remains of his military. On the other hand, remember everyone who said he wouldn’t invade Ukraine because that would be crazy?
Russia’s foreign ministry summoned the EU’s ambassador to Moscow to protest the situation. The Head of the Commission of the Council of the Federation of Russia said the European Union must end the blockade of Kaliningrad or Russia will “solve the issue of transit by any means necessary.”
Putin’s press flack, Dmitry Peskov, similarly threatened retaliation:
“This decision is really unprecedented. It’s a violation of everything. We consider this illegal. The situation is more than serious … We need a serious in-depth analysis in order to work out our response.”
Panic-buying in Kaliningrad. Really hope Brussels, Warsaw, Vilnius, Berlin and Stockholm are focused on what is unfolding there right now https://t.co/VAxpw8hxso
— Alexander Clarkson (@APHClarkson) June 19, 2022
The Guardian reports that “much of the panic in the exclave appeared to have been prompted by calls for calm from the region’s governor, Anton Alikhanov, on Saturday.” (Apparently, everyone there understands very well the principle that if the Russian government says something, it means the exact opposite.)
The next and most obvious Russian move would be to cut off gas supplies, completely, to Germany. I hope everyone is prepared for this and will not pretend that they are surprised.
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) June 20, 2022
Putin has already cut gas deliveries to Europe sharply. The Nord Stream pipeline (Number 1) is now only carrying 40 percent of the gas it usually does, which reduces deliveries to France, Italy, Austria, and Germany. Gazprom has already halted deliveries to Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark.
And what is Europe doing in response? Firing up the coal stations:
Austria plans to covert a shuttered power plant to again burn coal. Poland aims to subsidize coal used for home heating. The Netherlands on Monday decided to scrap earlier plans to limit production from its four coal-fired power stations. “If these were not special times, we would never do this,” said Climate Minister Rob Jetten. …
“I don’t understand that the Green climate minister prefers to let more coal plants run longer, rather than carbon neutral nuclear power plants,” Jens Spahn, deputy head of the Christian Democrats in parliament, told German television on Monday.
Neither do I.
In any event, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, is threatening to retaliate for Kaliningrad:
Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions. Appropriate measures are being worked out in an interdepartmental format and will be taken in the near future. Their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves is quoted in this piece in Politico about the Suwałki Gap, which Politico rightly terms “the most dangerous place on earth.” (By the way, did you know that we owe the phrase “Suwałki Gap” to him? I didn’t. I thought that was what everyone had always called it.)
The worry is that in a conflict with the West, Russia could sweep into the corridor simultaneously from the east and the west, severing the European Union’s Baltic countries from their allies to the south. “It’s a huge vulnerability because an invasion would cut off Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the rest of NATO,” said Ilves. Such a move would also result in an immediate faceoff between Moscow and NATO’s nuclear-armed members, pushing the world to the brink of world-ending confrontation. …
Just as Putin is trying to create a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea peninsula, taking the Suwałki Gap, which is named for a prominent town on the Polish side of the border, could link Russian troops in Kaliningrad, a key Russian outpost, with those stationed in its de facto protectorate Belarus.
The Russian-Ukrainian war may alter Moscow’s risk calculation regarding Nato’s Eastern flank. It may conclude that the West is too risk-averse to stand up to Russia elsewhere. To substantially reinforce the eastern flank is therefore a de-escalating move.https://t.co/Rrki8ePK7g
— Ulrich Speck (@ulrichspeck) June 20, 2022
I agree completely with Ulrich: We need to reinforce this region immediately. Failing to do so is inviting catastrophe.
Can we, though? This seems to me a plausible explanation of the reason for the delays in getting weapons to Ukraine’s eastern front. It’s logistically extremely difficult. The author is addressing this explanation to the chorus—including me—who’s “wailing and complaining: it’s not enough, it’s too late, it’s taking too long, why won’t they do more, etc, etc, etc.”
… This operation is massive, it’s ongoing, and it’s been running full-speed from before the start of the war. And those shipments have always reflected Ukraine’s biggest priorities. They’ve called the shots. There were other priorities earlier in the war, but it wasn’t only until recently that they were in a place to beg for MLRS.
Related, people are complaining that it’s taking too long to get these HIMARS to Ukraine. People think three weeks is too long. I can’t believe that they’ll get HIMARS to the front in three weeks! Or better yet, I can believe they can get the launcher there, but as noted, the real challenge is in the rocket pods. An empty launcher is useless. A launcher that fires 1-2 fire missions then sits around for a week waiting for the next ammo shipment is a little useful, but mostly useless. HIMARS and M270 MLRS will have the impact we want it to have only if it is accompanied by an endless stream of rocket pods. That is what is going to take three weeks to set up, to establish those logistics.
So I wonder how long it would take us to reinforce the Suwałki Gap?
This RUSI analysis, which argues the West may no longer have the industrial capacity to fight a large-scale war, seems relevant: The Return of Industrial Warfare: Can the West still provide the arsenal of democracy?
The war in Ukraine has proven that the age of industrial warfare is still here. The massive consumption of equipment, vehicles and ammunition requires a large-scale industrial base for resupply—quantity still has a quality of its own. The mass scale combat has pitted 250,000 Ukrainian soldiers, together with 450,000 recently mobilized citizen soldiers against about 200,000 Russian and separatist troops. The effort to arm, feed and supply these armies is a monumental task. Ammunition resupply is particularly onerous. For Ukraine, compounding this task are Russian deep fires capabilities, which target Ukrainian military industry and transportation networks throughout the depth of the country. The Russian army has also suffered from Ukrainian cross-border attacks and acts of sabotage, but at a smaller scale. The rate of ammunition and equipment consumption in Ukraine can only be sustained by a large-scale industrial base.
This reality should be a concrete warning to Western countries, who have scaled down military industrial capacity and sacrificed scale and effectiveness for efficiency. This strategy relies on flawed assumptions about the future of war, and has been influenced by both the bureaucratic culture in Western governments and the legacy of low-intensity conflicts. Currently, the West may not have the industrial capacity to fight a large-scale war. If the US government is planning to once again become the arsenal of democracy, then the existing capabilities of the US military-industrial base and the core assumptions that have driven its development need to be re-examined.
Ukrainian officials say Russia is positioning heavy military equipment in Luhansk. They’re also saying that the coming week will be decisive for control of Severodonetsk. Taking full control of the city would be a major victory for Russia. Russian forces now control all of the city save for the Azot industrial zone.
In better news, Ukrainian forces have successfully used their new Harpoon anti-ship missiles to engage Russian maritime forces, destroying a Russian vessel on a resupply mission to Snake Island. They have “largely neutralized” Russia’s ability to control the sea and project maritime force in the northwestern Black Sea, according to the UK Defense Ministry: Russia is no longer able to threaten Odessa.
🧵 Donbas and Kherson: a tale of two fronts, by Mike Marten:
While everyone has been talking about the Donbas, something much more significant has been happening in the South. The Ukrainians are mounting a counter-attack toward Kherson. This has been going on for about three weeks. I’ll come to that in a bit, but first I want to make some assessments about why everyone is going on about Donbas.
Firstly, it is where Putin has declared his objectives to lie—taking the whole of the Donbas is the Kremlin’s recently downsized objective in this war. Secondly, the Ukrainians have hyped it to the max and are using it as a lever to drag more weapons out of the West (“this is where the future of Ukraine will be determined,” etc.—if only you would give us some more rockets). To be fair, I’d be doing exactly the same thing if I were them
Thirdly, there are loads of reporters there, like bees around a honeypot. They’ve been in the Donbas ever since Putin announced it as his goal. Previously they were in Kyiv, but then moved. We get a distorted view of the whole conflict, because of the density of reporters there.
Fourthly, there is a significant loss of life occurring there, both of Russian and of Ukrainian troops. Who knows how many, but maybe 150 a day each? Understandably this drives media attention. But as I’ve said previously, the south is where the real strategic play is—around Kherson. Why?
Kherson was the first major settlement captured by the Russians in the early days of the war because some Ukrainians government officials switched sides. The Russians have held it ever since. It’s a super important city as it is the only city on the North/West bank of the Dnipro river (which is a massive river that cuts Ukraine in half from Crimea to Kyiv). Look at this, it’s mega:
If Russia continues to hold, then it makes further operations in Ukraine easier in this war, or in any future wars. But if the Ukrainians push them back it means the Russians don’t hold any major settlements, and they’ve lost their toe hold North and West of the Dnipro, Significantly, as well, Kherson opens up the door to Crimea for the Ukrainians, and also will (with a bit more attacking) enable them to control the water supply to Crimea. That’s obviously a big deal. So overall, Kherson is much more important militarily than what’s going on in the Donbas, but Putin has decided that his objectives are the Donbas, so everyone focuses on it.
But the Ukrainian objectives are not to stop Putin taking the Donbas. Their objectives are to kick Russian forces out of the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Obviously, to do this, they don’t need to follow the same sequence of objectives that Putin has. They have decided to take advantage of Russia stripping forces out of the South (to try and make progress in the East), to try and take some real targets of strategic value in the south
So what is actually going on in the Kherson front? Territory taken back in the last three weeks (in blue)—current front line is red—Kherson and Dnipro in orange.
NB: this is more territory than the Russians have taken in the East, by the way.
What else are we seeing? Ukrainian partisan attacks against Russians and collaborators including a bomb attack today against a car carrying the Head of Kherson prison who had switched sides:
The traitor #Sobolev‘s vehicle after the explosion earlier today in #Kherson. A very small charge, it seems.
Glory to #Ukraine ✊🏻🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/vs0aURPX7L
— Canadian Ukrainian Volunteer 🇺🇦🇨🇦✊🏻 (@CanadianUkrain1) June 18, 2022
Russian arms dumps being blown up (three days ago?) and helicopters being shot down (yesterday). We are also seeing absolutely nuts Russian bot activity on Twitter at the suggestion that Kherson is the main front and not Donbas. Some of the most intense that I’ve seen in the conflict.
Seems the Russian government wants the narrative that Ukraine is on the ropes in Donbas—because it causes people who should know better to start saying stuff like “Ukraine should sue for peace and give up territory.” These people paint themselves as realists, but the Ukrainians—ultimate realists—know that concessions now will embolden Putin, or the next leader, to come and have another go. The only option for Ukraine is complete defeat of Russia within Ukrainian borders. They know—like the Finns do after 1941—that the only way to ensure peace from Russia is to hand them their arses on a plate.
Back to Kherson: It’s not clear what will happen here, but it is fairly clear to me that the Ukrainians are taking advantage of Putin’s focus on the Donbas to bleed them dry there (reports of civilians being conscripted and sent to front without training), in order to make militarily significant gains in the south.
Who knows whether the Ukrainians will make it to Kherson. Performance so far in the war (and Russia’s) suggests that the Ukrainians will make it. The Ukrainian government has warned civilians to leave Kherson in light of the coming assault—they know what happened to civilians in Bucha just before the Russians pulled out. They are obviously confident of taking it.
I find it odd that the media is so fixated on Donbas—but then the media has a bias for loud things that go bang, casualties, and humanitarian situations. But this does not make for a sound analysis of strategy. And as for weapons deliveries because this is the topic du jour: Artillery is fine and useful and will enable the Ukrainians to do counter battery fire against the Russians. But artillery isn’t that much use I reckon in taking Kherson—why would you want to shell your own city? This weapons delivery stuff seems ever so slightly behind the picture. If I were the Ukrainians, I would be asking for armed micro drones and electronic warfare kit and counter battery radars and secure comms for partisans. Maybe they are asking for these things under the table. I would also be asking for stuff for the next stage of the war, not this stage of the war. If Donbas grinds to a halt into a slugfest, but Kherson opens up—then where are the vehicles for the Ukrainians to make advances? I mean, asking for artillery now, when its going to arrive in a month seems a bit stupid. But as with most of these things, what is said in the media and reality are two different stories.
Dagestani Governor Sergei Melikov is gaining influence at the expense of Chechnya’s loathsome leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kazakhstan dustup: The president of Kazakhstan surprised everyone at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum by saying Kazakhstan doesn’t recognize the Luhansk People’s Republic or the Donetsk People’s Republic as independent. He was actually sharing the stage with Putin when he said the right to self-determination, guaranteed by the United Nations, was in conflict with the right of states to their territorial integrity, which is why Taiwan, Kosovo, Abkhazia or South Ossetia aren’t recognized: “This principle obviously applies to such quasi-state territories as Donetsk and Luhansk,” he said.
He also contradicted Putin’s assertion that the West’s best days are behind it. True, there was a crisis, Tokayev said. “But at the same time, you have to see that the US and the West as a whole are solid in terms of economic development.”
Putin didn’t care for these comments. He threatened to invade Kazakhstan. Then he suspended the shipment of Kazakh oil.
I found this article about the average Russian’s worldview interesting:
[T]he propaganda in Russia is extremely effective. The most surprising thing for the Western observer may be just how significantly the Russian media is focused on the West—every day in the news, in late night shows, even in entertainment talk shows one way or another the common enemy is mentioned. Try remembering, when was the last time you saw something about Russia on your TV (outside of the current war, of course)? I bet it is almost never. In Russia, it is the complete opposite—they are so obsessed with the West that watching Russian TV you may think the whole world only revolves around the confrontation between Russia and the West. This topic permeates the whole essence of modern Russian reality. Which is logical. If this topic is abandoned, what is left? Nothing, just observing the wrecked roads, which the authorities really don’t want you to think about.
A long war
Boris Johnson published an essay in the Sunday Times warning that the West must steel itself for a long conflict:
Imagine for a moment that Vladimir Putin’s visions of glory were to come true. Suppose he was free to keep all the areas of Ukraine now controlled by Russian forces. What if no one was willing to lift a finger as he annexed this conquered territory and its fearful people into a greater Russia. Would this bring peace? Would the world be safer? Would you be safer?
In our hearts we know the answer. Such a travesty would be the greatest victory for aggression in Europe since the Second World War. We know Putin would not stop at dismembering Ukraine.
Other news from Europe:
- Ursula von der Leyen thinks the EU should be able to make foreign policy decisions without the unanimous agreement of its members. (It’s that or throwing Hungary overboard.)
- The Bulgarian government is about to collapse.
- Rail strikes: passengers face disruption as Britain’s biggest walkout in decades begins.
🇨🇴 Angry voters strike again. Gustavo Petro won in Colombia, becoming the its first left-wing president-elect since the 1930s:
In the lead-up to the country’s presidential election, members of Colombia’s high society braced for disaster. A habitué of the gentlemen’s clubs of Bogotá noted a tide of “catastrophe-minded hysteria” rolling through the salons. Businesses introduced special clauses permitting contracts to be struck down if the worst came to pass. Bleak mutterings circulated through the military barracks. The source of such widespread dread went by one name: Gustavo Petro, a former urban guerrilla, a socialist, and the leading contender in the race.
Those alarmed at the prospect of a Petro victory have had their fears confirmed. The 62-year-old Petro will be the country’s next leader, having defeated his opponent, Rodolfo Hernández—a 77-year-old real estate tycoon and relative political novice—in the runoff vote. This follows Hernández’s extraordinary upset victory in the first round of voting in late May, when he beat out Federico Gutiérrez, the center-right hopeful backed by the traditional parties, by espousing one message: “Colombia is captured by thieves.” But Hernández’s gambit finally failed him, and Colombia will soon be governed by its first leftist president.
Petro was a big fan of Soleimani, apparently:
Soleimani era el arquitecto de la derrota de ISIS, el fundamentalismo islámico fascista, en Irak, con los Kurdos y los Sirios árabes lograron la victoria sobre un gran enemigo de la Democracia.
EEUU agradece su esfuerzo asesinándolo. EEUU solo fortalece lo peor de medio Oriente https://t.co/6e3Gr0rw3a
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) January 3, 2020
“Soleimani was the architect of the defeat of ISIS, fascist Islamic fundamentalism, in Iraq, with the Kurdish and Syrian Arabs achieving victory over a great enemy of democracy. The US shows its appreciation of his effort by assassinating him. The US only strengthens the worst of the Middle East.”
Well, I suppose opinions on that vary.
Petro’s victory, the Washington Post writes, “unthinkable just a generation ago, was the most stunning example yet of how the pandemic has transformed the politics of Latin America.”
The pandemic hit the economies of this region harder than almost anywhere else in the world, kicking 12 million people out of the middle class in a single year. Across the continent, voters have punished those in power for failing to lift them out of their misery. And the winner has been Latin America’s left, a diverse movement of leaders that could now take a leading role in the hemisphere.
Shall we start a pool? How many days until we see the headlines, “Colombians disappointed by Petro’s failure to … ”
I know, I know. That’s cynical. But if you’re my age and you’re not cynical about the latest Latin American socialist darling of the Western media, I can’t help you. Place your bet in the comments. The winner will get … something.
🇪🇨 Thousands of indigenous people and members of other disgruntled groups marched into Ecuador’s capital on the eighth day of protests against high fuel prices. The Ecuadorian president, Guillermo Lasso, expanded a state of emergency and established a curfew in Quito. The protests have cost the economy tens of millions of dollars:
The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) – credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005 – called the protest as Ecuadorans increasingly struggle to make ends meet. Indigenous people comprise more than a million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants, and their protest has since been joined by students, workers and others feeling the economic pinch. “We have reached out, we have called for dialogue, but they do not want peace,” Lasso said in a video on Twitter Monday. “They seek chaos. They want to eject the president.”
🇧🇷 The head of Petrobras resigned because Bolsonaro blamed him for the high price of gas. It’s really fascinating to watch people blame people who clearly can’t be to blame for rising prices, isn’t it? It’s as if no international news is penetrating, anywhere. No one seems to be noticing that food and fuel inflation are global phenomena. Surely Bolsonaro does know this, right? He’s just scapegoating this guy because his electorate doesn’t know it.
Between this and the protesters who think rioting and grinding their economy to a halt is a terrific way to lower the price of fuel, I start to wonder if democracy can really work.
Maybe it was always a stupid idea.
🇺🇸 Hoboken hasn’t had a traffic death in four years, and they’ve cut the number of crashes and injuries to a tiny fraction of those in areas with similar populations, like the 10009 or 11213 zip code regions. They’ve used a street planning technique called “daylighting.”
Few drivers park next to crosswalks in Hoboken, because they can’t. Those spots are blocked off with bike racks or planters or storm drains or extra sidewalk space for pedestrians or vertical plastic pylons that deter all but the boldest delivery-truck drivers. Stand at a corner, and you can see what is coming toward you, and drivers can see you too, and you don’t have to step out into the road and risk your life to do it.
If we know this works—and this certainly seems like high quality evidence that it does, as these things go—then we can also say that from now on, the responsibility for traffic fatalities largely falls upon city governments that fail to implement exactly these changes. The families of people who are killed should sue the pants off city officials if they’ve failed to follow suit.
🇲🇱 More than 130 Malian civilians have been “systematically” killed by al-Qaeda:
Suspected jihadists massacred more than 130 civilians over the weekend of June 18 and 19 in neighboring central Mali towns, the latest mass killings in the Sahel region. Local officials reported scenes of systematic killings by armed men in Diallassagou and two surrounding towns in the Bankass Circle, a longtime hotbed of Sahelian violence.
“They have also been burning huts [and] houses and stealing cattle. It’s really a free-for-all,” said a local official who for security reasons spoke on condition of anonymity. He and another official, who like him had fled his village, said the death toll was still being counted on Monday.
🇨🇩 Here’s another Congo-M23 conflict explainer from Reuters. You probably don’t need it if you’ve already read mine, but there are a few more details about M23.
🇬🇳 Guinea-Bissau has been in turmoil since its president escaped a coup attempt in February. A 600-man ECOWAS stabilization force, with troops from Nigeria, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana, has just been deployed to try to settle things down.
🎁💸💰 Glencore pled guilty in the UK to massive bribery in Africa. They apparently paid more than US$28 million to secure preferential access to oil in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and South Sudan. They’re also paying US$29.6 million to Brazil’s national oil company to compensate them for defrauding the company, and about US$10 million in civil penalties in Brazil.
📈 Glencore trading profit is on course to smash through record. (I don’t think these civil judgments do a thing to deter bribery. The industry is just too lucrative.)
🇧🇫 Burkina Faso’s army ordered civilians to evacuate two massive “military interest zones”—about 13,000 square kilometers, in total—in preparation for an operation against Islamist insurgents. Burkina Faso has been plagued by this insurgency, involving both al Qaeda and ISIS, since 2015. Nearly two million people have been displaced. You’ll remember that recently there was an attack in the north that killed more than a hundred and displaced thousands more. Last January, there was a coup; the junta promised to improve security. But it hasn’t worked. The attacks have only become worse.
🇳🇬⛪️ The Christian Association of Nigeria reports that eight people were killed and 38 kidnapped 38 in an attack on two churches in the northern state of Kaduna.
🌊🇧🇩🇮🇳 Massive floods have killed dozens and displaced hundreds of thousands in Bangladesh and India.
🇨🇳🐕 386 dogs have been rescued from a truck heading to China dog meat festival. The poor little things don’t look like strays to me—they look as if they were stolen pets. I can hardly bear to read that story.
🇰🇵🦠 North Korean state media claims the country’s Covid19 fatality rate is 0.002 percent, which would make it the lowest in the world. This doesn’t really make sense, since they have no vaccines and the world’s worst healthcare system. South Koreans expect Kim will soon declare victory over the virus. The media will attribute this victory to his strong and clever guidance. No one is quite sure what’s going on:
Whatever the real situation is, outside monitoring groups say they haven’t detected signs of anything catastrophic in North Korea. “If a large number of people had died, there would have been some pieces of evidence, but there hasn’t been any,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea. During a huge famine in the 1990s, for instance, rumors of widespread death and of people abandoning bodies spread outside of the country, into China and South Korea.
🇰🇵🚀💣 It’s time to start worrying about North Korea again. While the eyes of the world have been focused on Ukraine, Kim Jong Un has been testing missiles at an alarming rate.
🇨🇳🧧🏭 Industrial Policy. China’s trade surplus hit US$292 billion in the first five months of the year—more than double its pre-pandemic level. A new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies catalogues the massive industrial subsidies that support China’s export machine:
Even using a conservative methodology, China’s industrial policy spending is enormous, totaling at least 1.73 percent of GDP in 2019. This is equivalent to more than $248 billion at nominal exchange rates and $407 billion at purchasing power parity exchange rates. This is higher than China’s defense spending for 2019, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated at $240 billion at nominal exchange rates.1 Alternative data and assumptions, including for China’s below-market credit, subsidies to non-listed private firms, government guidance funds, and state-owned enterprise net payables, would result in larger aggregate estimates.
Other news from Asia:
🇮🇷🇺🇸🚤 An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat buzzed a US warship in the Strait of Hormuz. You can watch the encounter here.
🇮🇱🗳 The Knesset will be dissolved and Israel will have its fifth election in three years:
The development comes after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Monday that he would disband his alliance of eight ideologically diverse parties, a year after taking office, and send the country to the polls. A series of defections from his Yemina party had stripped the coalition of its majority in parliament. Bennett cited the coalition’s failure earlier this month to extend a law that grants West Bank settlers special legal status as a main impetus for new elections. His key ally, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, will become the caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed in the aftermath of elections, which are expected to be held in October.
🇮🇱🗳 It seems the whole house of cards was brought down by a Yamina party Knesset member, Nir Orbach, who refused to promise not to vote with Likud to bring down the government before Biden’s arrival:
Bennett decided he had had enough of the constant political machinations rocking his fragile multiparty coalition since it took office exactly one year ago. He would rather go down in history as the leader who took on Iran with unprecedented intensity, than as a leader blackmailed by a little-known politician (Orbach) who rode into the Knesset on his coattails last year.
🇮🇱🇺🇸 Israel’s defense minister says that under US sponsorship, Israel and Arab states have already begun cooperating on air defense. Benny Gantz told the Knesset that the partnership, which he called “Middle East Air Defense,” is “already operative and has already enabled the successful interception of Iranian attempts to attack Israel and other countries.” The program seems to be the fruit of a Biden administration interagency working group set up to coordinate Israeli officials’ responses to Iran’s missile threats throughout the region.
American allies in the Middle East pressure Biden to come up with strategy for containing Iran. They assume the talks on the JCPOA will fail. They’re wondering what Plan B looks like.
If any more of you leave without so much as saying goodbye, though, I’ll crawl under my bed and refuse to come out.
Claire Berlinski is the editor of the Cosmopolitan Globalist.
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