North Africa
Haftar

Libya: Blackwater CEO trafficked arms to Russia-backed warlord

Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government—and is also being aggressively backed by Russia. (Photo via ISS Africa)

Syria
Derik

US forces sent back in to northern Syria?

Two days after President Biden’s inauguration, a large convoy of US military vehicles reportedly entered northern Syria from across the Iraqi border. The convoy, consisting of some 40 trucks and armored vehicles accompanied by helicopters, was reported by Syrian state media, citing sources on the ground. The putative sighting raises speculation that Biden is reversing the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, which had been ordered by Trump in 2019. The report comes as the uneasy peace between Kurdish forces in the region and the Assad dictatorship is breaking down, with new fighting in the town of Qamishli, shattering a de facto power-sharing arrangement. (Photo: North Press Agency)

Europe
crimea

ECHR to rule on Russian rights violations in Crimea

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced that it will hear a case by Ukraine alleging human rights violations by Russia in the Crimean Peninsula. The peninsula was unilaterally annexed by Russia in 2014. Soon after Russian forces seized control there, Moscow oversaw a referendum in which Crimea, which has a Russian-speaking majority, voted to join Russia. The results of this referendum were deemed illegal by Ukraine and the West. In addition to the legality of the annexation, human rights violations in the peninsula have been a cause of great concern. There have been claims of violations on 12 counts, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and persecution of Crimean Tatars. The issue was brought forth by Ukraine for adjudication by the ECHR, which has agreed to take up the case. (Photo: chief39/Pixabay)

Planet Watch
United Nations

Treaty on prohibition of nuclear arms takes force

The first nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades has come into force, following its 50th ratification last October, which triggered the 90-day period required before the treaty entered into effect. The UN completed negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at its New York headquarters in July 2017. The treaty constitutes “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination.” However, the US and the world’s eight other nuclear powers—Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel—have not signed the treaty. (Photo: Pixabay)

The Andes
sillazo

Bolivia: Evo Morales warns of new coup

Former Bolivian president Evo Morales, back in his country from exile in Argentina after October’s elections returned his Movement to Socialism (MAS) to power, warned of the ongoing danger of a new coup d’etat and asked his followers to debate how to best defend new President Luis Arce and the “process of change.” The comments came at a meeting of the MAS in Chapare region, Morales’ traditional heartland of support. Recalling his own ouster in November 2019, Morales said: “The issue of the coup is still compelling; it is an ideological, programmatic struggle; it is a cultural, social, communal and, of course, an electoral struggle.” Invoking divided loyalties in the military, he added: “I am also convinced that in the Armed Forces there are not only those who respect and admire the MAS, but there are also anti-imperialist soldiers.” However, he added that “they are not many,” and others have “submitted to the North American empire.” (Photo: Los Tiempos de Cochabamba via Twitter)

Watching the Shadows

Podcast: Rule of the Strongmen

In Episode 59 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of Trump’s evident preparation for a coup d’etat and what could be a culminating moment for the current crisis of American democracy. In the context of this dilemma, he discusses two very timely new books with similar titles that both examine the mechanics by which dictators seize and maintain power: Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis and Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Image via Macmillan)

North Africa

Libya: Turkish troop presence threat to ceasefire

Libya’s eastern warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive last year to capture the capital Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), threatened to launch attacks on Turkish forces if Ankara doesn’t withdraw troops and mercenaries sent in to back up the GNA. Haftar’s comments came in response to the Turkish Parliament’s move to extend for 18 months a law that allows the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya. Turkey’s defense minister responded that any attack by Haftar on its personnel would be met with force. “A war criminal, murderer Haftar and his supporters must know that they will be seen as a legitimate target in case of any attack on Turkish forces,” Hulusi Akar said in an address to Turkish units in Tripoli. The ultimatum is a threat to the ceasefire that has largely held since it was signed in October. (Map: CIA)

Europe
Ukraine

ICC prosecutor to open investigation into Ukraine

The International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor said that a preliminary examination has found that there is a reasonable basis to believe crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed in Ukraine, justifying the opening of an investigation. The preliminary examination was opened in 2014 when Ukraine, not formally a member of the ICC, lodged a declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, accepting the jurisdiction of the court over possible crimes committed on its territory. Some of the war crimes allegations concern Crimea, a Ukrainian territory that was unilaterally occupied and annexed by Russia in March 2014. Ukraine is accepting the court’s jurisdiction while Russia does not, which could open a dilemma for the ICC. (Map via Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

Africa
Somaliland

Russia seeks naval base in Sudan —and Somaliland?

Just after Russia finalized plans to establish a naval base on the Red Sea in Sudan, Moscow’s UN ambassador for the first time weighed in diplomatically on the dispute between Somalia and the separatist enclave of Somaliland, urging both sides to find a compromise solution. The move sparked speculation within the region that Russia is seeking a second naval facility at Somaliland’s port of Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden which guards the southern mouth of the Red Sea. This would allow Russia to establish a counter-presence to US, French and Chinese bases in Djibouti, just across the land border to the northwest, as well as Turkish military forces in Somalia proper to the south. (Map: Somalia Country Profile)

Watching the Shadows
Kremlin

Katie Halper: ‘Useful Idiot’ or Russian ‘infiltrator’?

Popular vlogger and comedian Katie Halper, whose journalistic take-downs of the Democratic Party establishment have been deftly exploited by the Kremlin propaganda machine, wears the accusation that she is a “useful idiot” for Russia as a badge of pride—”Useful Idiots” is actually the sarcastic name of the podcast she co-hosts with the equally problematic Matt Taibbi. We’ve always wondered if such figures really are useful idiots, or something more sinister—knowing propagandists for Vladimir Putin’s reactionary global ambitions. The debate has suddenly exploded onto the left-wing vlogosphere. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Caucasus
Nagorno-Karabakh

Azerbaijan to investigate possible war crimes

The prosecutor-general of Azerbaijan announced that his office is looking into allegations of war crimes during the recent conflict between his nation and Armenia over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has already raised the alarm about possible war crimes, issuing a statement decrying indiscriminate artillery shelling of populated areas, use of cluster munitions by both sides, and videos on social media that appear to show summary executions of captured Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijani troops. The two nations agreed to a Russian-brokered peace agreement last month, under which several districts that Armenia had seized from Azerbaijan after the fall of the Soviet Union would be returned by December. (Map: Wikipedia)

Central Asia
kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: ‘authoritarian’ new constitution unveiled

Lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan unveiled a new constitution, drawing criticism over the expansion of presidential powers. Shortly after the draft was released, politicians and activists expressedconcerns that it could lead to full-blown authoritarianism. Among many changes, it reduces the size and power of parliament, with responsibilities transferred to the presidency. One section banning anything that contravenes “generally recognized moral values and the traditions of the people of Kyrgyzstan” has especially raised human rights concerns. Among those pushing for the new charter is Sadyr Japarov, who briefly served as acting president after escaping from prison during unrest in the wake of the contested October parliamentary elections. He resigned to run for president, which the current constitution barred him from doing while serving as president. Elections for both the presidency and approval of the new constitution are to be held in January. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)