This week has seen an array of nations work to press their dominance and secure strength, from India gaining advanced technology on fighter jet engines to the Polish President equating Russia to a “wild pig.” Meanwhile, the Ukrainian counter-offensive is still in the probing stage, with little active movement along the front as NATO nations eagerly await their next Secretary-General.
Despite all that the news, most attention has been centered on the Russian paramilitary Wagner Group declaring war against the Russian Defense Minister for allegedly working to dismantle Wagner. These accusations have been denied, but nevertheless a convoy of heavy military equipment entered Russia and after seizing the control center for the special military operation into Ukraine, the Wagner forces got within 200km of Moscow before agreeing to halt their advance after the head of Wagner Yevgeny Prigohzin talked to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
This has been a strong event that has left many wondering, including the US intelligence apparatus.
I have written my weekly Europe column, but it does not focus on the Wagner Group’s rebellion.
A Shadow Storm
Last month it was announced that the UK would break an impasse over providing long-range weaponry to Ukraine when it was announced that the UK would be handing over an undisclosed amount of Storm Shadow cruise ,issiles, the first long-range missiles of any form to be provided to Ukraine.
This broke down another barrier with the west providing arms to Ukraine, with NATO’s unofficial ban on providing fourth-generation fighter aircraft being broken when it was announced training and the transfer of some F-16’s would likely occur.
There has now been movement of storm shadows for a couple weeks and the impact on the battlefield is starting to culminate. On June 18th Ukranian officials announced the destruction of a large-scale ammo depot in the occupied town of Rykove in the Kherson Oblast. Satellite imagery would later show a large fire was present and the secondary explosions of ammunition inside the depot lasted for over six-hours.
Later in the week the Chonger Bridge would get hit by a storm shadow, with the Russian-appointed head of the Kherson Oblast Vladimir Saldo admitting on Friday, “I am often asked what is happening now with the bridge across the Chongar Strait. Unfortunately, the bridge is much more damaged than we thought. In the next 15 to 20 days, while the damage will be getting assessed, the bridge will not be suitable for movement.” He then proposed attacking a bridge around Moldova for retaliation while failing to point out how Moldova was involved.
Russian circles also became worried this week when a radar video of a Russian Pantsir-1 air defense system failed to incept a storm shadow despite the system having a direct lock on the missile and firing two interceptor missiles at it, showing the cruise missile is likely more resilient to Russian air defense than previously thought.
These events could help accelerate other western nations providing long-range weaponry, with the Germans sitting on a stockpile of Taurus missiles that have similar capabilities of storm shadows. There is also a renewed call for US ATACMS which can hit further behind enemy lines than either of the aforementioned missiles, but the U.S. has continuously refused to transfer ATACMS. While there has been no official change in policy, many picked up on the next draft budget written by the US House allocating $80,000,000 for funding of ATACMS.
It is expected that at the NATO Vilnius summit there will be much discussion of this among other topics such as a roadmap for Ukraines potential accession into NATO.
Twitter Hasn’t Impressed Europe
In an attempt to protect cybersecurity and clamp down on dangerous rhetoric and misinformation the European Parliament passed a cyber safety bill, the Digital Services Act, which will enter effect on August 25.
This has levied stress on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook which must work to comply with these rules are become at risk at being regulated and downsized in Europe, a flourishing market for the platforms.
The EU has tasked EU Commissioner Thierry Barton to visit the tech firms in the Silicon Valley to conduct a stress test to see if the platforms are up to standard of the DSA.
After doing a test with Twitter Barton came to the conclusion that Twitter did not pass the stress test and still has reforms to be done to be up to par. Barton would then go on to elaborate about how Twitter has a strong commitment to adhering to the new legislation, but still has work cut out for them.
Twitter’s Global Affairs Movement Team commented on the matter saying Twitter is “on track to be ready when the DSA comes into force.”
Germany Seeks More Skilled-based Migration
With nations like Denmark and Italy leading Europe’s push to stamp out illegal migration, Germany is working on securing more immigration – if they are skillful. Germany will move to a Canadian-based points system for immigrants that will determine the migrants skills and qualifications.
The bill was controversial with the Christian Democration Union (CDU/CSU) and Alternative for Deutschland (AFD) voting against the bill, but it passed with the support of left-of-center parties and the pro-market Free Democratic Party (FDP).
This could produce more migration, with several points of criteria like a required minimum wage being lowered or scrapped.
This legislation is in response to panic within Germany that with a large generation of workers entering retirement there will be a loss in the workforce. While many German governments like Angela Merkel’s resisted expanding immigration there has been enough fear to permit the changes, as well as a greater tolerance in German society. In the 1960’s guest migrants to Turkey would regularly face discrimination and were seen as a menace to German society by many. It is now seeming that with the impending labor shortage and expansion of tolerance throughout many parts of Europe there could be a greater sentiment towards migration in Germany.
India Gets Revved up
This past week saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit Washington to visit President Joe Biden.
The meeting has been hyper-focused on following US Secretary of State Anthony Blinkens visit to China earlier this month. Blinken largely came empty handed out of his meetings in China, and Biden directed critical remarks at the Chinese leadership following Blinkens returns.
With the US and China on particularly icy relations the US has looked to gain allies in Asia, and branch out from their traditional allies like Japan and South Korea. One country that has seen a strengthening bilateral relationship with the United States is the Philippines, with the new President being a strong American ally and allowing the expansion of American troop.
While the US works to seek smaller-scale allies, they also are looking at a nation with a breadbasket of human capital, a promising industrial sector, and a population that rivals China: India.
That is why India is now gaining access of a technology transfer of Boeing’s jet engine, which will allow for indigenously-produced planes that are purposed for the Indian Air Force to be fitted with state-of-the-art engines.
This is a major step because the US is now giving a direct technology transfer to a nation that has historically gotten their arm shipments imported from Russia, from the S-400 air defense systems that straddle the border of India and China, to getting Russian tanks and small arms. The Institute Montaigne estimates that 70-85% of equipment fielded by the Indian Armed Forces is of Russian origin.
India now produces their own T-90 tanks but with a Russian-granted license to manufacture them. This is just one example of how it will tough to wean off of Russian military hardware, but India is rapidly working to diversify their armed forces equipment.
The United States is working to exploit this and in exchange is hoping for greater economic cooperation with India as well as more leverage with India on national security matters in Asia like North Korea and China, a country that India is locked in a long-running border dispute with.
In the Cold War, Pakistan worked to help the United States while India and Russia had a working defense arrangement, but it is now Pakistan looking to other partners while Modi is pushing India ever more so in a western orientated direction.
Following the decision of Australia to reevaluate the construction of a Russian embassy several embassy staff members have been squatting at the site to protest the change.
Last month, Australia feared that Russia moving their embassy from a suburb of Canberra to right around the Australian Parliament was a national security matter. A major reason for the concern was that the Russian and Chinese embassies would be in close proximity to one another.
Australia says the site is secure, but it is reported that police have not engaged in trying to remove the Russian officials because they have diplomatic immunity. Russia also barred forty-eight Australians from entering Russia out of retaliation for Australias sanctions against them.
China is feeling the heat, with record temperatures reaching across the country, with the capital of Beijing recording the hottest temperature the city has faced in more than sixty years, with temperatures peaking at 105.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
This comes after Shanghai recorded their hottest day in May last month and as authorities have issued warnings to stay inside and reduce electricity usage, with simulations already showing many parts of China do not have enough energy infrastructure to support the stress it could face and there could be catastrophic consequences for the grid.
There have been reports of death, infrastructure struggling, and even melted roads since the onset of the heat wave.
The heat wave is expected to last until late June at the earliest.
Mission Not Accomplished
Following last weeks trip by African leaders to Ukraine and Russia to mediate a peace settlement, there appeared to be no concrete evidence of positive change. Zelenskyy and Putin both adamantly fought against ceding land for peace, and Africa is still tainted in the eyes of the West for not supporting Ukraine more proactively.
There was further scrutiny levied when the US Ambassador to South Africa recently accused South Africa of loading a Russian ship with South African arms and ammunition in December of 2022. This has rankled US trust with South Africa, and this did not bode well for President Ramaphosa who was the de facto leader of the delegation.
It will be interesting to see if there is any policy changes with how the African nations deal with both nations following the trip.
One-Round in Sierra Leone
Despite the expectation that there neither candidate would attain the 55% required to avert a run-off, incumbent President Julius Maada Bio secured a second term.
Provisional results showed Bio getting around 56% while his strongest opponent Samura Kamara received 41% of the vote. The vote was described as mostly fair by election observers, however Kamara accused security forces of surrounding his party’s headquarters unjustly. He further declared in a tweet that the results were “not credible”, but failed to elaborate on how they were not credible.
Sierra Leone has faced issues with democratization, however the nation has not faced the political violence other regional neighbors like Burkina Faso and Mali have endured. Bio’s main policy was a push for more kids to be educated in the country, while Kamara focused on an anti-corruption grassroots movement.
Bio was previously President of a military junta in the 1990’s, but transferred power for a civilian President to assume office.
On May 18th, thirty-one people perished when they went to a closed-off mine in South Africa to look for unmanned resources.
South Africa faces a major issue with illegal mining. In addition to it being illegal and dangerous, many of the miners are armed which make police intervention difficult. The mines also are not supervised and regulated since they are unused.
These events helped cause the event in the Free State province of Africa when the miners died in a ventilation shift that was filled with methane. The concentrations were too high for the miners and all of the miners are assumed to be dead.
The miners are also reportedly from neighboring Lesotho which straddles a border with the province. The previous owners of the miner is Harmony Gold, which has looped in the authorities to handle the case as they see it as a criminal matter.
Continuing Hondarus’s long-running issue with prison violence, last Wednesday saw a massive prison fight break out between the notorious gangs of MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang.
The violence was at a women’s prison around 25 kilometers north of the Honduras Capitol of Tegucigalpa. The incident started after one of the rival gangs taunted the other, which in turn led the other gang to set fire to the mattresses of the rival gang. Many who died burned from a massive fire that broke out in the prison, but others were stabbed and shot.
Some of the victims were not affiliated with either gang, but got in the fray of violence. This has led Honduras President Xiomara Castro to fire the Security Minister of Honduras and vow for a drastic response.
Castros Government has been working to curry favor with global nations, with Honduras being in the midst of a balancing act between China and the US, who worked on opposing sides when Castro made the decision to back Chinas vision by cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan and announcing they believed in a unified China.
Castro is still relying on Western economic support, but incidents like these will not spur investment into the nation and harm the nation’s reputation.
Many were surprised to see anti-establishment lawmaker Bernard Arevalo proceed to the run-off for the Presidency of Guatemala.
Many nations have become worried about the perceived backsliding of democratic norms in Guatemala, where a conservative establishment has worked to crack down on dissent. This fear was bolstered when electoral authorities barred two anti-establishment candidates from running, including an indigenous rights activist.
While establishment favorite and former First Lady Sandra Torres finished first, Arevalo did not track far behind her. Torres is popular for introducing antipoverty programs with her husband when she was First Lady, but anti-corruption activists believe she would be the face of the status quo.
The run-off could be close, but Torres having a large mold of the establishment behind her could give her the edge she needs. If Torres wins, it could lead to further alarm about democracy in Guatemala, however if Arevalo or, “Tio (Uncle) Bernie” as he is commonly called it could lead to dysfunction between him and the conservative institutions of the nation.
Last Tuesday saw the U.S. state of Virginia hold their primaries for state legislative elections. The primary saw influential moderate Chap Peterson be defeated in the D.C. suburbs, prolific Tweeter Louise Lucas win her primary against a more centrist Democrat, and saw a slew of far-right candidates lose to more moderates.
You can view all the key results here.