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Risk of new war on Putin’s doorstep as Azerbaijani forces strike Armenians

The Sydney Morning Herald

23-09-19 22:53

Azerbaijan has sent troops and launched artillery strikes into the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is controlled by separatist Armenian authorities. The move raises the threat of a new war with Armenia. Karabakh, a mountainous region in the South Caucasus, is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory. However, it is claimed by separatist Armenians who say the area is their ancestral homeland. The latest conflict has led to condemnation from the US, EU, France and Germany, and could have wider geopolitical implications in the region, which is crisscrossed with oil and gas pipelines.
Russia-North Korea military ties are cause for concern

Nikkei Asia

23-09-20 04:00

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently met in Russia to discuss arms deals, raising concerns about expanded military cooperation between the two countries. There are fears that Russia may provide technology related to missiles, satellites, and nuclear submarines in exchange for ammunition, which is in short supply in Russia. This violates UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit member states from trading arms with or providing military technology support to North Korea. Additionally, Russia has proposed holding joint military exercises with North Korea, which would be highly unusual for Kim's regime. After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, North Korea has shown dedication to nuclear weapons development, conducting training with cruise missiles for tactical nuclear attacks and launching a newly built "tactical nuclear attack submarine." The US has warned North Korea that it will face consequences if it provides military assistance to Russia. Japan's government should work to strengthen cooperation with like-minded governments to resist the military and economic coercion of authoritarian regimes.
Thai King’s son signals willingness to talk about country’s strict royal insult law as he attends lese majeste exhibition


23-09-20 03:36

The second son of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn made a surprise visit to a New York exhibition featuring the stories of people who have been prosecuted under the country’s harsh royal defamation laws, signaling a willingness to talk openly about the taboo topic. Thailand has some of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, and criticizing the King, Queen, or heir apparent can lead to a maximum 15-year prison sentence for each offense, which makes even talking about the royal family fraught with risk. Sentences for those convicted under Article 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code can be decades long and hundreds of people have been prosecuted in recent years. The exhibition, named Faces Of Victims Of 112, was held at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery at New York’s Columbia University by Thai dissident Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an outspoken critic of the Thai monarchy and a royal academic who himself faces charges under lese majeste.
‘We were abducted’, Filipino activists say – as security chiefs cry ‘fake news’

South China Morning Post

23-09-20 03:01

Environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano have been released by the Philippine military after being held for more than two weeks. The pair were abducted in Bataan province on 2 September while working with communities opposed to reclamation activities on Manila Bay. The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries for environmental defenders, with 11 killed in 2022, according to Global Witness. Castro and Tamano were released hours after appearing at a government press conference where they accused the military of the abduction, charges the authorities have denied.
Myanmar state media say 12 people are missing after a boat capsized and sank in a northwest river

Associated Press

23-09-21 09:42

Twelve people, including three members of the security forces, are missing after a boat capsized and sank in a river in the Sagaing region of northwestern Myanmar, state-run media reported Thursday. The vessel was part of a goods-carrying convoy that came from further north, and rescue operations are ongoing. Sagaing is a stronghold of armed resistance to the ruling military, which seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The Chindwin River, which flows through Sagaing, has become one of the major routes to transport food, reinforcements, and equipment for the army. Locally formed resistance groups along the river often attack military vessels and convoys.
Russian peacekeepers broker deal in Nagorno-Karabakh as Armenian separatist army to disband


23-09-21 08:14

Azerbaijan has achieved a major victory in the conflict over the breakaway republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, as separatist forces agreed to lay down their arms following a rapid military operation. A peace deal, backed by the Kremlin, has sealed the fate of the mountainous enclave, but it has emerged that several Russian peacekeepers were ambushed and killed. A formal peace deal is expected to be signed on Thursday by ethnic Armenian forces in an Azerbaijani town. The majority of Nagorno-Karabakh's population is ethnic Armenian, although the territory is considered to be Azerbaijani.
Congo army seeks insight into Islamist militants from women held captive


23-09-21 08:03

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, is reportedly receiving funding from the Islamic State (IS), according to UN experts. The ADF originated as an uprising in Uganda and has since pledged allegiance to IS. The group has been carrying out attacks on civilian and military targets in both Congo and Uganda. In response, the two countries launched a joint military operation in December 2021, with Uganda deploying over 1,500 troops into Congo. The Congolese army has been questioning women who have been freed or escaped from the ADF camps this year, as they often have valuable insight into the group's operations. The women have provided information that has helped with counter-insurgency efforts, such as revealing the location of ADF leaders and attackers' camps. The women also described the strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law within the ADF camps, including the requirement for women to cover their entire faces and the punishment of whipping for speaking to a husband who is not one's own.
Chinese navy aims to make students fighter pilots as ‘military mission is accelerated’


23-09-21 15:14

The Chinese navy has launched a recruitment drive targeting post-graduate students with science and engineering master’s degrees to become fighter pilots. The recruitment drive marks a new upper-age limit for recruits and the first time the navy has targeted such a highly educated group. The navy said it is “imperative” to attract more talent as Beijing accelerates military modernisation plans. Candidates must be male with a clean “political history” and no legal or disciplinary history. Once recruited, the individuals will undergo enlistment training and general military exercises before receiving aviation theory and flight training.
South Korean police charge US soldiers for dealing cannabis from military bases


23-09-21 14:57

US soldiers in South Korea have been accused of distributing or using synthetic marijuana that was allegedly smuggled into the country via the US military's postal service. After a four-month investigation, police arrested two people and charged 20 others, including 17 American soldiers. Police accused those involved of bringing the synthetic marijuana into the country via the military's postal system before distributing the supplies through social media platform Snapchat. All recreational use of cannabis is illegal in South Korea, where drug use remains a major taboo.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Will EU take on Azerbaijan?

Deutsche Welle

23-09-21 14:03

The European Union (EU) has been urged by leading members of the European Parliament to consider imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan over its recent military activities in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, the EU's national governments are seen as unlikely to take such action, given the bloc's gas supply deal with Baku, which was signed last year as a means of replacing supplies from Russia. The EU is currently involved in separate peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, although Azerbaijan is seen as being emboldened by its relationship with Turkey.
‘Need to breed’ fear of Nato conflict risk among Russian military, peers told

The Independent

23-09-21 13:45

A former NATO Secretary General has warned Russia's military hierarchy must be aware of the possibility of "an actual and not fictitious war" with NATO if they escalate matters in Ukraine. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen said that instead of the West being nervous of Russian escalation, the West needs to breed in the Russian military hierarchy the worry that if they overdo what is being done in Ukraine, then a war with NATO might be the result. This comes as Ukraine is pushing for NATO membership, although this remains a controversial issue among current NATO members.
A 9/11 Widow’s Plea to Biden Over a U.S.-Saudi Treaty

NY Times Opinion

23-09-21 13:31

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, Lorie Van Auken, a family member of a victim of the September 11 attacks, expresses her concerns about the potential U.S.-Saudi defense treaty. She points out that 15 out of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and argues that Saudi Arabia has hidden behind sovereign immunity to avoid accountability for the attacks. She questions whether it is appropriate to give more protections to those who allegedly aided and abetted in killing innocent people on 9/11. Van Auken argues that before any defense agreements are made with Saudi Arabia, the kingdom should be held accountable for its alleged role in the attacks. She concludes by stating that defense agreements and a lack of accountability will never be forgotten or forgiven by the families of the victims.
The Wagner Rebellion and the Stability of the Russian State

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

23-09-21 18:21

Several Western commentators view the recent Wagner Group rebellion as proof of the weak and ineffectual condition of the Russian state. The rebellion, one writer suggested, has “raised serious doubts about the stability of \[Vladimir Putin’s\] regime.” If the Russian state were stronger, and its authority more established, the rebellion would not have been possible.

But perhaps it is not only the existence of a rebellion which determines how far a state is in control of its internal affairs. The effectiveness of the state’s response may instead prove a better indicator. Viewed this way, our perceptions of the Russian state’s domestic impotence may be exaggerated. Russia’s domestic policy has been immune to many of the internal political and military pressures it has faced in the past 30 years. It may be worth recalling an old saying, which has been attributed to various European statesmen throughout history: “Russia is not as strong as it says; nor is it as weak as it looks.”

The Failed Rebellion

In a way, Putin’s regime ended the Wagner rebellion remarkably successfully. In the first place, the rebellion was almost totally bloodless. There were skirmishes between Russian and Wagner units, but no significant battles. The rebellion never actually made it to Moscow, either. If the objective was to secure more ammunition and better support from the Russian military, the Wagner Group failed in achieving it. Now most Wagner units have been moved to Belarus and are in possession of far fewer weapons than they had while fighting in, for example, Bakhmut. In spite, moreover, of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the Wagner Group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, there has been no major domestic agitation in Russia.

The independence of the Wagner Group has rapidly deteriorated since the rebellion. Preliminary efforts to integrate it into the broader structure of the Russian military may have failed, but edicts were issued which require all members of the Wagner Group swear an oath of loyalty to the Russian state. The oath was demanded only two days after Prigozhin’s death. It appears that it is the Wagner Group, and not the Russian government, which has been left weakened by the rebellion.

Throughout the rebellion, the loyalty of the army remained with the Russian state. To be sure, some Russian officers did refuse to follow orders to attack Wagner units on their “March for Justice.” But it should also be remembered that no Russian military elements mutinied or rebelled en masse, as has occurred many times before in Russia’s history. Russian military officials with links to Wagner—most notably Sergey Surovikin—have been removed from their positions without any serious resistance. Moreover, Putin personally praised National Guard Director Viktor Zolotov for his loyal assistance in securing the defense of Moscow during the rebellion. Zolotov informed journalists of a presidential decree which would strengthen the national guard, giving it “tanks and heavy weapons” with which it might crush any future rebellions. The Russian state appears to have used the rebellion as an opportunity to further strengthen its position.

Comparison with the Chechen Wars

The Russian Federation has not always, however, been so sovereign in its control. The most dangerous domestic problem it has faced since 1993 remains the Chechen crisis. Russia’s military and security services were still paralyzed by the collapse of the USSR when the army was sent into Grozny on New Year’s Eve 1994 to crush the semi-independent, breakaway Chechen Republic.

The Russian government and military struggled in Chechnya. More than 1,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded within the first 60 hours of the storming of Grozny alone, for example. Yet Russian policy in Chechnya at first appeared immune to the pressures of the crisis.

Senior Russian officials, like Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, appeared insistent on solving the problem on the battlefield rather than at the negotiating table.

Hostage-taking raids led by Chechen commanders—most notably Shamil Basayev—changed this. The Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis, in particular, helped to initiate a shift in Russian policy, which finally led to the 1996 Khasavyurt Accord, which ended the First Chechen War, and which became a formal treaty the following year.

The Wagner rebellion posed a far more serious threat to the Russian state than the Chechen insurgency did; in the former instance, Russia came close to a civil war. Yet despite this internal pressure, Russia did not enact any major changes to its policy, either towards Ukraine or Wagner. And while the conflict in Chechnya did constitute something of a civil war, the Chechen insurgency never posed as existential a threat to the Russian state as the Wagner rebellion did, and the Chechens still managed (initially) to force the hand of Russian policy.

Russian Authoritarianism Since 1994

What has increased Russia’s control of its internal affairs since 1994? One answer is the growth in the power of the security services during and after the Chechen wars. Vanora Bennett goes so far as to suggest that Russia’s security agencies were the only winners from the conflict. They went “from strength to strength,” ending up as powerful, if not more so, than they were in Soviet times.

Another factor is certainly the farcical nature of Russia’s democratic system. In Western countries, it is easy to separate the state from the ruling political party, but in Russia this is not so simple. The Russian state is in many ways synonymous with the term ״the Putin regime.” The lack of an effective political or popular opposition is consequently a significant contributing factor to the strength of the Russian security state.

Economically, the whole picture is less impressive, but even here, sanctions have not had the debilitating effect on Russia some may have expected. Diplomatically speaking, Russia’s relations with China, Iran, and North Korea have not been this intimate since at least Soviet times. Politically and militarily, Russia has been steadily securing and expanding its control of internal affairs ever since 1994. Thus, not even a heavily armed mercenary rebellion, which, after all, did enjoy some Russian military and popular support, could be considered even a minor success.

Russian Policy and Internal Pressure

Russian policy has, over the past 30 years, proven itself resistant to internal pressures, which has consequences for the war in Ukraine. The Russian security state’s control of the domestic situation has already demonstrated how energies for change that originate from within Russia often fail to force alterations in Russian policy.

But while the Russian state may indeed be strong, it is not necessarily flexible. Perhaps it is more brittle than we realize, firm but prone to shattering quickly and chaotically. So far, it appears that any changes to Russian policy must be affected from pressures applied externally. NATO and Ukrainian officials should bear this in mind when discussing plans to end the current war.

The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute.

Guinea’s leader defends coups in Africa and rebuffs the West, saying things must change

Associated Press

23-09-21 17:55

The head of Guinea's junta, Col. Mamadi Doumbouya, has defended recent military coups in Africa, claiming that they are attempts to save countries from presidents' "broken promises." He accused leaders in Africa of clinging to power by manipulating constitutions and called on global leaders to address the underlying causes of the coups. Doumbouya also rejected attempts by the West to intervene in Africa's political challenges, asserting that Africans are determined to take their destiny into their own hands. However, concerns remain about the effectiveness of military takeovers in addressing the challenges they claim to address.
Guinea junta leader denounces Western democracy amid wave of coups


23-09-21 17:53

Guinea's military leader, Mamady Doumbouya, criticized the Western model of democracy during his speech at the U.N. General Assembly. Doumbouya, who came to power in a coup, argued that the Western model does not work for Africa and that Africans should be allowed to design their own models of governance. He accused Western powers of being racist and condescending in their response to the wave of coups in West and Central Africa. Doumbouya also expressed his country's desire to maintain neutrality and not be forced to take sides in an ideological battle between global powers.
Senate confirms new army chief as one senator's objection holds up other military nominations

The Independent

23-09-21 17:36

The US Senate has confirmed three of the Pentagon’s top leaders after months of delays. Gen. Randy George was confirmed as Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Smith is expected to be confirmed as commandant of the US Marine Corps, and Gen. CQ Brown was confirmed as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville is still holding up hundreds of other nominations and promotions for military officers due to his objections to the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
Senate confirms new army chief as one senator’s objection holds up other military nominations

Associated Press

23-09-21 17:20

The US Senate has confirmed three senior Pentagon leaders after a delay caused by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville. The confirmations end months of delay and allow the military to move forward with filling leadership positions. Tuberville had held up over 300 nominations and promotions in protest at the Pentagon's new policy of paying for travel when a service member has to leave their home state to receive an abortion or other reproductive care.
South Korea Seeks Revived China-Japan Summit to Shore Up Ties


23-09-21 21:00

South Korea's ambassador to Japan, Yun Dukmin, has said that "high-level" talks are underway for a three-nation summit with China to take place this year, and that it would not harm ties with the US. Yun stated that discussions are going well and that a summit with Beijing would be beneficial for the stability of the region. South Korea is working to revive three-way summits among Japan and China that have stalled since 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The ambassador also discussed South Korea's dependence on China and the importance of the next few years for Korea's semiconductor companies.
EU Trade Chief Heads to China With Anti-Subsidy EV Probe Looming Over Relationship


23-09-21 20:00

The European Union's (EU) trade chief, Valdis Dombrovskis, is due to visit China this week to discuss the need for concrete agreements to reset their relationship. The EU is seeking to reduce its dependency on China whilst maintaining access to its market and fears that a new probe into Chinese electric vehicles could result in tariffs or other trade curbs targeted at industries beyond just cars. Dombrovskis will reportedly explain to his Chinese counterparts that the investigation will strictly follow procedural steps, including consultations with the authorities and companies, before any action is taken. China's tone towards Europe has hardened following the probe, which it has called "a naked act of protectionism." The EU will use the visit to try to cool down some of the fallout from the investigation. The visit comes as China and Russia forge a strategic partnership and deepen their trade ties, however, the EU is focusing on cracking down on Russia's ability to circumvent its sanctions by prioritising a list of 45 categories of "high-priority battlefield items" to target.
Zelensky leaves Washington with US$325-million in military aid, as GOP infighting risks further support

The Globe and Mail

23-09-22 01:24

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has left Washington with US$325-million more in military aid from U.S. President Joe Biden, including additional cluster munitions and anti-aircraft missiles, but infighting among congressional Republicans is jeopardizing the continuation of American support for Kyiv’s war effort.