Edge of Change 017
13 July 2018
This piece, first published in June 2018, has been republished following the tragic death of three Russian journalists of the highest caliber in Central African Republic. The author discusses the role of so-called “Wagner”, a private military unit now ubiquitously claimed to be on the forefront of Russian geopolitical affairs but without any official recognition or legal status. While there is numerous evidence of the unit’s active role in Donbas, Syria and now in some parts of Africa, it functions as an effective invisible arm of Kremlin; moreover, the vague status it has conforms to the hybrid strategy pursued by Moscow. Though mercenary fighting is prohibited by the Russian legislation, the last case of actual prosecution of someone fighting on the “right” side (the one favoured by Russia) dates back to 2014.
26 July 2018
The trial of an ethnic Kazakh woman from China on charges of illegally crossing the border between the countries has become a major headache for the government in Astana, which finds itself caught between Beijing and its own public. China is demanding that the woman, Sayragul Sauytbay, be deported back to China, where her lawyer believes she would face a death penalty for exposing "state secrets" concerning "re-education camps" for Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang. The case is feeding anti-Chinese sentiment in Kazakhstan and, depending on the ultimate outcome, could spark widespread protests.
Her lawyer, Abzal Kuspan, wants to declare her a political refugee as a way of winning her freedom, and has submitted documents to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Almaty.
26 July 2018
When the Northern League linked up with the Five Star Movement (M5S) to form Western Europe’s first all-populist government of recent times, it was clear which one would be a junior partner: the League had won barely half as many votes at the general election in March. Yet in the absence of the new Prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, it was the League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, who came to chair the new government.
His authoritarian manner and origins on the left; the combination of a nationalist agenda and a lower-middle-class power base; the hostility to outsiders and ethnic minorities: it all adds up to a profile disturbingly reminiscent of the 1920s. “For electoral reasons, but also out of conviction, he has adopted a language that pleases those who look back nostalgically at fascism,” says another of his biographers, Alessandro Franzi. But, he cautions, Mr. Salvini is “very cynical and very opportunistic”, far from a convicted firebrand nationalist he is often considered.
27 July 2018
Jeffrey Stacey describes a possible scenario that Russia could attack Montenegro – the newest member of NATO – and deal a harsh blow to the West. He argues that Washington will not honour Article 5 of the NATO treaty and join its allies in coming to Montenegro’s aid. Without American involvement in an operation by the NATO Response Force, Europe would likely back off and abstain from responding to a surprise assault. Russia’s attack would not be undertaken with land-based forces that would have to travel through multiple countries; instead, it would likely come by sea and air.
If this happens this would not be for the first time. Montenegro holds Moscow responsible for attempting to carry out a coup against the current president, Milo Djukanovic (when he was still a prime minister), on election day in October 2016, accusing 14 individuals—Russian and Serbian nationalists, including two members of the GRU—of planning to attack state buildings and kill Djukanovic.
27 July 2018
Eleven months after violent crackdowns on Rohingya villagers, refugees living in camps in Bangladesh are beginning to grapple with questions of their future. Although they have fled mass atrocities in Myanmar and now have shelter, food, and access to medical services in Bangladesh, many are talking about going home. The author discusses the current situation with the Rohingya refugees whose leaders have recently rejected a secret repatriation agreement signed by the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh with the UN. They say that it fails to provide citizenship guarantees for the Rohingya, who are not recognized under changes made to Myanmar’s 1982 nationality law. Some fear that the purpose-built facilities for returning refugees in northern Rakhine may be used to hold returnees in permanent camps, as has been government policy for Rohingya internally displaced persons in central Rakhine state since intercommunal clashes in 2012.
27 July 2018
Newcomers to Pakistani politics greeted the outcome of Wednesday’s general election—an apparent victory for the former cricket star Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party—with optimism. They were quick to note that Pakistani authorities focused on increasing female participation, both as candidates and as voters. The Wall Street Journal gushed that Khan’s apparent victory will “break the country’s two-party system”. However, the election will ultimately mean little for Pakistani policies at home or abroad. The army will call the shots on the country’s relations with Afghanistan, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, keeping on fighting its proxy wars in Afghanistan and India. Khan’s room for maneuver will be very constrained. He can make noise that is supportive of the army’s policies or generate friction against them- but in the latter case, the military may undermine him just as it has done with the other politicians who tried to change the rules of the game.
27 July 2018
Last month, within days of taking office, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced his government’s intention to exhume the remains of Francisco Franco. Just as controversial is Sánchez’s proposal to transform the remains’ current resting place, the Valley of the Fallen, into a memorial for the victims of the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship.
To outside observers, the news of Franco’s exhumation and the controversy around it give rise to obvious questions: Why was Franco spared the popular infamy at home accorded to fellow fascist leaders Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and why is the status quo about how Franco has been memorialized, getting upended now? Answering these questions requires delving into the peculiarities of how Spain became a democracy in the late 1970s and the unusual choices about the country’s dark and painful history made by the politicians and the public as part of the democratic transition.
30 July 2018
The tense relationship between the United States and Turkey is reaching an inflection point. As the Turkish government has taken an increasingly authoritarian turn and made questionable foreign policy choices in recent years, Washington has tried to exercise strategic patience and engage Turkish leadership to resolve differences between the two countries. The United States is concerned about mass arrests undertaken since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, as well as Ankara’s political and military rapprochement with Moscow, including plans to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Russia that would not be interoperable with NATO and could compromise the security of F-35 stealth fighter jets. These plans have raised broader questions about whether Turkey is shifting its strategic orientation away from the alliance.
The author argues that Turkey is too significant a partner to lose out, but Washington should learn how deal with the current government from Germany’s or Russia’s experience, combining principled approach on major issues with strategic patience. She argues that a measure of economic sanctions could work well in the current situation.
31 July 2-18
A thought-provoking piece at the Economist discusses the problem of using artificial intelligence in politics. The author argues that this is not an issue of the future- parts of public politics have already become technified, bringing the examples of social media targeting during the 2016 U.S. election campaign or use of holograms by running candidates around the world. However, although AI looks to be an inevitable future of all the spheres of human activity, one should bear in mind that while human progress can benefit from technologies, its essence has always been and will be based on human intelligence; politics has many dimensions that are inextricably linked with making ultimate choices that cannot be digitalized.