They’re small, but there have been some signals from Baku lately suggesting that Azerbaijani officials see an opening to improve relations with Armenia under (still relatively new) Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan:
Senior Azerbaijani officials have been making unusually positive statements in recent weeks. In December, President Ilham Aliyev tweeted that “The year 2019 will give a new impetus to the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process.” Also in December, following a meeting with his Armenian counterpart, Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said that “we have reached a mutual understanding for the first time in a long time.” It was not clear in either case what specifically prompted the optimistic remarks, but they both attracted attention as a markedly positive rhetorical shift.
There also have been personnel reshuffles in Baku’s foreign policy apparatus that suggest an increased willingness for dialogue on Baku’s part. In late December, a young diplomat, Tural Ganjaliyev, was chosen to head the government’s organizationrepresenting Azerbaijanis displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, replacing an older official widely regarded as incompetent and unable to effectively represent the organization.
The body of Javid Noori, a government worker and journalist kidnapped and then evidently killed by the Taliban days ago in Farah province, was delivered to his family on Tuesday. The Taliban kidnapped around 30 other people along with Noori on Saturday and their fates remain unknown.
Indian shelling on Wednesday reportedly killed a woman in the Pakistani part of Kashmir.
Garment factory workers have been protesting since the weekend outside of Dhaka, demanding higher wages. The Bangladeshi government has said it will think about raising the country’s minimum wage, but that hasn’t been enough to satisfy the protesters, who came out in force again on Wednesday and were met with tear gas by police.
Kim Jong-un’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping ended on Wednesday, and the North Korean leader returned to Pyongyang with Xi’s public support for a second Kim-Donald Trump summit. As we noted yesterday, the timing of this summit–with US trade negotiators in Beijing trying to hammer out an agreement with their Chinese counterparts–was undoubtedly intended to show Trump that Xi still wields considerable influence over Kim and can gum up those US-North Korea talks if the trade talks really turn sour.
At Fellow Travelers, John Carl Baker outlines how the left can capitalize on the thaw in relations with North Korea without having to accept all the Trump-related baggage that goes along with it:
Yet viewing this historic moment solely through the lens of Trump obscures the broader picture. Together the Koreas have forged an opportunity not only for peace but for addressing the North’s nuclear weapons program, a longstanding US goal. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s vision of a simultaneous dual-track process is now underway, with the US leading on nuclear negotiations and the Koreas handling peninsular concerns. Trump may be at the helm of the former by necessity, but he should not be allowed to take center stage in a drama in which he is at best a supporting character. Foregrounding Trump negates the agency of those on both sides of the demilitarized zone – and risks spurning left solidarity with the Moon administration in favor of scoring minor partisan points.
He argues that the key, and this is radical but bear with me, is for the US to support a Korean-led process instead of trying to control things itself.
Multiple foreign diplomatic facilities in Melbourne and Canberra reportedly received packages containing “hazardous material” on Wednesday and had to be evacuated. The material was marked “asbestos” on at least some of the packages, but it’s unclear if that’s what it really was. On Thursday, Australian police arrested a man in connection with the incidents and say he may have sent similar packages to a whopping 38 embassies and consulates. So far 29 of the packages have been found.
Sudanese writer Nesrine Malik believes the current round of protests against Omar al-Bashir are broad-based enough to represent a genuine threat to his continued rule:
For the past two weeks, citizens protesting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his government have taken to the streets of several Sudanese cities, including the capital, Khartoum. These are not the first protests Bashir has encountered. But the current wave of demonstrations has been unique. It reflects a broad cross-section of Sudanese society, is fueled both by organizational planning and spontaneous emotion, and poses a serious threat to the regime.
There’s both a long and a short historical background to the protests. The long history spans the past 30 years: Bashir’s government, which came to power via military coup in 1989, has ground Sudanese society to a nub. The country’s basic institutions—Sudan’s civil service, its economy, its education system, its military, its very culture—were degraded to better maintain the government’s grip on power and to ensure its monopoly on the means of economic extraction.
US Africa Command says it carried out another airstrike on Tuesday that killed six al-Shabab fighters in southern Somalia. As with its strikes on Sunday and Monday, and all its Somali strikes really, Africa Command says that no civilians were killed or wounded. I’m sure it checked carefully to make sure.
Gabon’s ruling Democratic Party says that President Ali Bongo will be returning to the country “soon.” Of course they’ve been saying that since Bongo reportedly suffered a stroke while in Saudi Arabia in October, and he’s still not back (he’s reportedly recovering in Morocco). Bongo’s extended absence contributed to an attempted coup earlier this week.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Congolese elections officials have declared opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the country’s December 30 presidential election. And to put this in professional international relations terms, the shit may well be about to hit the fan.
Speculation is rife that Joseph Kabila’s preferred candidate, Emmanuel Shadary, lost so badly that even Kabila’s machine couldn’t cover it up, and so he cut a deal to hand the presidency to Tshisekedi. Speculation is even rifer (?) that the real winner of the election was another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, actually won the election–the DRC’s conference of Catholic bishops is saying that its vote count shows Fayulu to have been the winner–but Kabila allegedly views Tshisekedi as the lesser of two evils, and has therefore thrown the election in his favor.
DRC authorities began calling out riot police in advance of the announcement to protect election officials in Kinshasa, so they were clearly aware of the potential for unrest after the result became public. If there’s a widespread belief that Fayulu has been cheated–the candidate himself is already calling the announced results an “electoral coup”–then I think it’s fair to say there’s going to be trouble.