Bulgarian President Snubs NATO Summit Proposal;US Military Seeks New Allies in Africa After Setbacks;Boeing Astronauts Stranded on ISS Due to Technical Glitches:Defense Briefing20240628

Welcome to our show, Defense Briefing, I’m your host: Liang Jun. Today, we’ve got a mix of intriguing and critical updates from around the globe. First off, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has declined to lead Bulgaria’s delegation to the NATO summit in Washington, D.C., citing a lack of consultation over the country’s official stance and commitments related to the Ukraine conflict. This move has sparked criticism, particularly from pro-Western factions within Bulgaria who accuse Radev of serving foreign interests over national ones. Bulgaria, which joined NATO in 2004, finds itself in a contentious position amid ongoing geopolitical tensions. In another significant development, the US military is on the hunt for new partners in Africa after facing major setbacks. General C.Q. Brown Jr. recently made history as the first US military chief to visit Africa for an annual conference with African military commanders. This visit underscores the shifting focus of US military strategy as competition with Russia and China intensifies. The US has had to withdraw from several African nations due to political instability, leaving it scrambling to reestablish a foothold in the region. And lastly, two Boeing astronauts, Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore, have had their stay on the International Space Station extended due to technical issues with Boeing’s new CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Originally scheduled to return to Earth on June 13, the astronauts are now stuck in space as NASA and Boeing investigate problems like helium leaks and a malfunctioning thruster. This unexpected delay is being used as an opportunity to delve deeper into the spacecraft’s issues. Please stay tuned for more details on these stories and other important updates.

Associated Press: Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has declined the government’s proposal to lead the country’s delegation to NATO’s upcoming summit in Washington, D.C. Radev’s decision stems from not being consulted on Bulgaria’s official stance and commitments regarding the Ukraine war. This refusal has ignited further debate between Bulgaria’s pro-Russian and pro-Western factions. Critics accuse Radev of aligning with Kremlin interests, especially after his remarks suggesting that military aid to Ukraine would only prolong the conflict. Delyan Peevski, a prominent pro-Western politician, condemned Radev’s refusal as a betrayal of Bulgaria’s Euro-Atlantic values. Despite the largely ceremonial nature of the presidential role, Radev’s stance carries significant weight in a country with deep historical ties to Russia, even as it has been a NATO member since 2004.

Foreign Policy: The U.S. military is seeking new alliances in Africa following significant setbacks in the region. U.S. Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr. visited Botswana for a conference with African military leaders, marking a shift in Washington’s approach to engage more equally with African nations. This comes after a series of coups toppled U.S.-backed governments in the Sahel, notably in Niger, where the U.S. had invested heavily in counterterrorism efforts. As terrorist threats increase, the U.S. aims to reestablish its presence by fostering new partnerships. However, experts criticize the U.S. for not sufficiently reassessing its counterterrorism strategies and for prioritizing military spending over diplomatic and development efforts. The Pentagon’s focus on counterterrorism contrasts sharply with the limited funding for democracy promotion and governance, signaling the need for a more balanced approach to U.S.-Africa relations.

Al Jazeera: NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore are stranded aboard the International Space Station (ISS) due to technical issues with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Initially scheduled to return on June 13, their mission faced delays due to helium leaks and thruster malfunctions. The Starliner experienced multiple failures during its journey and docking attempts, prompting NASA and Boeing to use the extended time to address these issues. Williams and Wilmore, both seasoned astronauts with extensive spaceflight experience, are contributing to the troubleshooting efforts. NASA’s chief aeronautics engineer, Steven Hirshorn, explained that the problematic thrusters and helium systems are part of the service module, which will burn up upon reentry, making in-space analysis crucial. NASA aims for a safe return in early July, emphasizing a data-driven approach to resolve the spacecraft’s issues.

South China Morning Post

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky urged European Union leaders to honor their commitments to supply military equipment to Ukraine, emphasizing the urgency of these promises not just for saving lives but for dismantling Russia’s war ambitions. During an EU summit in Brussels, Zelensky highlighted the critical need for air defense and immediate battlefield support. The EU and Ukraine signed a 12-page document encapsulating their mutual security commitments, including long-term military aid, training, and rebuilding efforts. The EU also pledged to assist with cyber threats, mine clearance, and reforming Ukraine’s security sector. This agreement comes as Ukraine embarks on EU membership talks, a significant step after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Zelensky expressed gratitude for the EU’s support, while the bloc stressed the need for Ukraine to tackle corruption before joining.

The Globe and Mail

A World War II bomb discovered near Tesla’s factory in Gruenheide, Germany, will be safely detonated this weekend. The 250-kilogram bomb was found in the forest adjacent to the U.S. electric vehicle manufacturer’s plant, as reported by local media. Authorities are managing the situation, though the public order office was unavailable for comments. Since February, climate activists have been protesting the factory’s expansion in the same forest area. Unexploded bombs are not uncommon in Germany, a country that saw extensive bombing during the war, leading to frequent discoveries of such ordnance.

BBC

Tanya Nasir, accused of falsifying her qualifications for a senior nursing position, claimed she had served in an army field hospital in Afghanistan. Nasir, 45, alleged she was a Colour Sergeant and later a Captain, working near the front lines in “Helmith” Province in 2010. Facing nine counts of fraud, Nasir denied all charges. Her employment at the Princess of Wales Hospital ended after discrepancies in her CV emerged. Despite claiming extensive military service, including deployments in Kosovo and Sudan, investigations revealed she had never been an Army member. Nasir’s story unraveled further under questioning, with inconsistencies about her service number and deployment details. The trial continues as she maintains her innocence, despite overwhelming evidence challenging her claims.

BBC: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent remarks signal that the intense phase of fighting in Gaza might be nearing its end. The Israeli military’s current operations in Rafah have been portrayed as their last major ground offensive, despite significant international opposition. The campaign has seen extensive strikes resulting in high civilian casualties but lacks the relentless bombardment of earlier assaults. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claim significant degradation of Hamas battalions in Rafah, potentially leading to a declaration of mission completion. However, for Gaza’s residents, the ordeal continues with daily strikes and high casualty rates. Netanyahu’s strategy involves maintaining the freedom to strike Gaza even after troop withdrawal. In Washington, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant discussed “Phase C” of the campaign, indicating a less intensive stage but a preparedness for various scenarios, including potential escalations on Israel’s northern border with Hezbollah. Despite discussions of a ceasefire, neither Israel nor Hamas seem ready to fully embrace it, leaving Gaza’s future uncertain. Netanyahu’s vision includes maintaining military control and establishing a civilian administration with regional backing, but the persistence of guerrilla warfare suggests a long road ahead.

Washington Post: As the U.S. presidential debate between President Biden and former President Trump approaches, key issues for undecided and sporadic voters, dubbed “Deciders,” include the economy and foreign policy. A recent poll shows that 60% of Deciders consider the economy extremely important, followed by threats to democracy, crime, racism, immigration, and abortion. Historically, debates have focused heavily on the economy, particularly during the 2008 financial crisis, and foreign policy, especially post-9/11. Health care has also been a major topic, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 debates highlighted climate change, with Biden promising to reenter the Paris Accords. Crime and immigration have been recurring themes, with spikes in mentions during the 2016 Trump-Clinton debates. Abortion, now a significant issue following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and threats to democracy, particularly after the Jan. 6 insurrection, are newer concerns. The 2016 debates were the first to address election interference, a topic that remains relevant today.

Nikkei Asia: North Korea claims to have successfully tested a multiwarhead missile capable of striking multiple U.S. targets simultaneously. However, South Korean officials doubt the validity of this claim, questioning the missile’s technical capabilities. The Korean Central News Agency reported that the missile, launched using a medium- to long-range ballistic missile engine, successfully guided multiple warheads to different targets. The test also included a decoy warhead to complicate interception efforts. This development is part of North Korea’s five-year defense plan to equip intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with multiple independent reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology, which only a few countries possess. The test aimed to enhance North Korea’s offensive capabilities against the U.S., complicating defense efforts for South Korea and Japan. However, South Korean military analysis suggested the missile might have exploded early in its flight, casting doubt on the success of the test. Experts believe it was an early-stage attempt rather than a successful MIRV test.

In a surprising discovery, Palolo resident Yujing Shentu and her family found over a hundred grave markers from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as Punchbowl, in their yard. These markers, memorializing soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War, as well as their spouses and children, were being used as stepping stones. Shentu’s father stumbled upon them while doing yard work in 2019, noticing the engraved names when he flipped the stones over. The markers included names like Thomas J. Scully, who died just before the end of World War II, Rear Adm. Fred Wallace Connor, and Georgina Freitas. Despite the discovery, how these markers ended up in Palolo remains a mystery. Some markers appear to be duplicates, possibly due to typos or updates needed when a spouse was later buried with the deceased. Punchbowl officials, including spokesperson Gene Maestas, confirmed the markers date back to when the U.S. Army oversaw the cemetery before 1973. Current policies dictate that grave markers set for disposal should be crushed beyond recognition, adding to the puzzle of how these markers were repurposed as stepping stones. The previous homeowner, Faith Martin, had noticed the markers but didn’t think much of them, while Shentu, valuing the legacy and respect for the deceased, hopes the markers serve as a reminder of the importance of peace.

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