Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered his entire cabinet to resign on Thursday, citing its failure to improve and diversify the Kazakh economy. He subsequently appointed Askar Mamin to replace now-former Prime Minister Bakhytzhan Sagintayev. There is growing discontent within Kazakhstan about the country’s economic struggles and a lack of job creation.
The Indian government may retaliate for last week’s terrorist attack in Kashmir, which it blames on Pakistan, by diverting water from rivers that flow into Pakistan. The Indus River and many of its tributaries begin in India but flow primarily through Pakistan, where millions of people are heavily dependent on their waters. While it’s not clear how India could divert their waters, or really whether it can at all to any significant degree, and indeed India has threatened to do this in the past without following through. But this is still a very potent threat that carries enormous risk of escalation. With an election approaching, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to look like he’s responding strongly to the attack, but he’s reluctant to make a major military strike for obvious reasons. But cutting off a country’s water, or even idly threatening to do so, can lead pretty quickly to a military confrontation all the same. As triggers for war go, water is a pretty powerful one.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman arrived in China on Thursday on the next leg of his “Jamal Who?” Asia tour. He’ll be meeting with Xi Jinping on Friday to no doubt talk business deals, though Xi will be trying to balance Beijing’s relationship with Iran against MBS’s undoubted desire to undermine that relationship. MBS will most likely not ask any uncomfortable questions about all those Uyghurs the Chinese government is keeping in internment camps in Xinjiang, despite the Saudis’ self-appointed status as the leaders of the Islamic (Sunni, at least) world.
As the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi approaches, observers will be watching to see if this meeting produces anything more concrete than their first summit:
Last year’s meeting, while certainly historic, produced a communique that was extremely light on details. There has been little real progress made on the stated goal of denuclearization, with some moments of outright tension between Washington and Pyongyang. The second summit, scheduled Feb. 27 to 28, will need to flesh out the core of what denuclearization will look like — and chart a road map for the United States and North Korea.
Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, put it this way: “The Vietnam summit this month will determine whether real denuclearization of North Korea is possible ever, and how much Washington is willing to pay for it, while ensuring the regime’s survival and the country’s prosperity.”
One thing Trump and Kim may try to do is figure out what they each mean by “denuclearization.” Sure, this is something that should have been worked out before they met last year in Singapore, but better late than never, I guess? Getting everybody on the same page would itself be a monumental achievement, even if that were all the Hanoi summit were to accomplish. Ideally, though, they’ll also talk about the reported food shortages that have forced the North Korean government to halve daily rations to cope. North Korea says its 2018 food production was around half a million tons lower than it was in 2017, due to bad weather and an inability to import farming equipment and fuel because of sanctions. There’s some reason to believe they may be exaggerating the shortage in order to make a stronger case for easing sanctions, but this still sounds like a serious humanitarian crisis in the making.
The Sudanese government has reportedly begun rounding up leaders of the country’s various opposition parties in an effort to preempt protests against President Omar al-Bashir and his government. Always a great sign.
The “Libyan National Army” now says it’s seized control of the El Feel oil field in southwestern Libya. The LNA just claimed to have returned control of the larger El Sharara oil field to Libya’s National Oil Company, which says it’s trying to figure out what’s happening at both sites. Meanwhile, the LNA has also been engaged in a two-day battle with local fighters in the city of Murzuq, control of which is important in securing its hold over both nearby oil fields. At least three LNA fighters and 11 local fighters have been reportedly killed so far.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, preparing to run for reelection to a fifth term in April, will visit Switzerland for medical checkups on Sunday. Doctors reportedly expect to find that the 81 year old stroke victim is still
clinically dead in tip-top shape.
The Nigerien government says it will host a regional conference on Monday to discuss a $400 billion, 12 year effort to combat climate change. The conference will include representatives from 17 Sahel nations from the Atlantic coast to the Horn of Africa and includes investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to help local populations adjust to the inevitable climate-related catastrophes. The conference is well-timed, as a new report from CARE International finds that climate change was responsible for most of 2018’s humanitarian disasters, many of which were very underreported. Several of these disasters struck countries that lie partially within the Sahel belt across Africa, including Chad, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
A group of “bandits” reportedly attacked the village of Danmarke in northwestern Nigeria’s Zamfara province on Wednesday but were resoundingly beaten back by the village’s defense force. At least 59 attackers were killed in the fighting along with seven villagers. The villagers formed their own defense force out of a sense of frustration at the Nigerian government’s inability to stop violent raids in the region.
Ukrainian intelligence officials say that the Russian government is attempting to meddle in the country’s March election by bribing people to cast their votes for “a certain candidate.” They won’t say who that candidate is, which means it could be anybody and that might be the point. Any frontrunner who isn’t incumbent Petro Poroshenko, like current polling leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy, will now inevitably be the target of speculation as to whether he or she is the one Russia backs.
In a speech on Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he is closing the country’s border with Brazil and may close its border with Colombia. This is his latest step to block opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s effort to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela from both countries on Saturday.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega says he wants to “negotiate” with his political opponents now that protests against his presidency have died down/been suppressed. Ortega cracked down on a major protest movement last year, leaving over 300 people dead according to international human rights organizations.
Finally, we all know that Donald Trump is demanding that European governments take back foreign ISIS fighters captured in Syria. But did you know he’s being a hypocrite about it? I know, shocking! Hoda Muthana, who claims US citizenship and has twice received a passport from the US government to prove it, ran off to join ISIS back in 2014. She now says she realizes what a mistake that was and wants to return home, and so Trump had Mike Pompeo summarily declare that she’s in fact not a US citizen so that she can’t return. Weird.
Muthana’s father was a Yemeni diplomat, which would make her an exception to the birthright citizenship rule if he hadn’t ended his diplomatic service before she was born, but all available evidence says that he did. And, again, she’s twice gotten passports from the US government, which at the very least would seem to entitle her to the presumption of citizenship ahead of some kind of legal proceeding to come to a final determination. Muthana’s declaration that she knows she screwed up and doesn’t like ISIS that way anymore could be bullshit, and it would be entirely reasonable to bring her back to the US and put her on trial, but if Trump expects other countries to take their foreign fighters back then guess what he should be doing in this case? Be the change you want to see in the world, Donnie.
These cases preview what’s probably going to become a wave of new cases of people being rendered stateless as countries revoke their citizenship so as to avoid having to bring them home. Rendering someone stateless is supposed to be against international law, but as we all should know by now, that doesn’t really mean anything:
Under international law, it is illegal to strip someone of citizenship if doing so would leave that person stateless. But that does not mean governments cannot try to use loopholes to do just that.
“Measures depriving citizens of nationality on national security grounds are being used with increasing frequency across Europe,” Michelle Foster, director of the Peter McMullin Center on Statelessness in Melbourne, said in an email to WorldViews. “Indeed, the so-called foreign fighter phenomenon has led to [an] attempt to introduce and widen powers of citizenship deprivation beyond Europe, as well, including in Australia. Moreover, states are engaged in a cross-jurisdictional exchange, with many countries importing increasingly restrictive and discretionary policies from other jurisdictions.”
Foster noted that, in 2014, Britain added a “temporal predictive dimension to its dual citizenship determination, such that the secretary of state need only have reasonable grounds for believing that a person is able to become a national of another country.” In other words, the government can argue that the person it is trying to strip of citizenship is going to get citizenship elsewhere — giving the government grounds to revoke the person’s existing legal status.