Ukraine Update 31 August, 2024: Counteroffensive Is Underway

Almost every major source now agrees that Ukrainian forces have launched their long-awaited counteroffensive in the southern area of the country. This is where the consensus ends. Judging by reports from reliable sources in the region, the counteroffensive has bogged down following initial successes and progress. The tone of Ukrainian government officials has also been dialed down to a degree. After announcing on 29 August that a new offensive in ‘multiple directions’ was underway, spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s southern command Natalia Humeniuk changed her tone. “We continue positional fighting and hold on to areas where we stand, trying to block the enemy from getting reinforcement. We are asking therefore for people to restrain from declaring liberated settlements – there are civilians there and the enemy may strike with missiles or from air.”  Not encouraging words by any stretch.

It is not entirely clear what the objectives of Ukraine’s counteroffensive are. An information blackout around southern Ukraine has been in effect since 29 August. Curbing information coming out of the warzone is quite useful to the government and military. Especially if the counteroffensive loses steam. It allows Kiev to soften the blow on national morale if the worst case scenario becomes true.

Today, both Russia and Ukraine have made a number of claims that remain unverified. However, if the counteroffensive does make substantial progress in the coming days the tone and veracity of each side’s statements will change to meet the new realities on the battlefield.

Mookie’s (Muqtada al-Sadr) ‘Retirement’ From Politics Is Causing Chaos In Iraq. Color Me Surprised

I was going to post a brief entry on the riots and violence in Iraq brought on by Muqtada al-Sadr’s abrupt retirement from Iraqi politics. But as the situation there seems to be stabilizing for now at least, I’m going to hold off on delving into Iraq’s ongoing political crisis and Muqtada’s role in it.

However, I will say that for anyone who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, the fact that Mookie’s (Mookie being Muqtada al-Sadr’s coalition-wide nickname back in the day) ‘retirement’ spurred swift violence and threatened to destabilize the entire country should come as no surprise. I’ll leave it at that for now. 😊

Expect to see a Ukraine update tomorrow. Looks like things are ramping up over there to an extent. Definitely worth a post.

China’s Influence In The Solomon Islands On The Rise

China’s influence in the South Pacific is on the rise and this should be causing concern in Washington and Canberra. Last week’s refusal by the government of the Solomon Islands to allow a US Coast Guard ship to make a scheduled port call on Guadalcanal has raised eyebrows around the region. A Royal Navy ship was also apparently denied a port call as well. The two ships were undertaking an international mission to prevent illegal fishing in the Solomon Islands area. The USCG ship sailed on to Papua New Guinea and put in at Port Moresby. It is unclear if the British ship followed suit.

China’s influence in the Solomon Islands stems from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signing a security pact with Beijing. The main fear attached to the pact is that it gives China the opportunity to establish a military presence in the Solomon Islands, in close proximity to Australia, New Zealand and Guam. Sogavare beginning to excel in the role of bootlicker to his Chinese allies. Earlier this month he did not attend a memorial service marking the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a major US victory in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. By continuing to thumb his nose at the United States, Sogavare appears to be attempting to gain favor with his Chinese allies. At the present rate it will likely be just a matter of time before Chinese fishing vessels start to visit the waters around the Solomon Islands. From there the tempo will increase, perhaps in a manner similar to what we recently saw in Sri Lanka.

The South Pacific certainly deserves some monitoring in the coming months.

Note: Ukraine seems to be heating up a bit, so that will be our next stop tomorrow or Wednesday.

The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part II

Joe Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack seems to have been an off the cuff move by the American president. It certainly raised eyebrows and alarm bells across the world, signaling a shift in long-standing US policy. In one instant Biden removed all ambiguity over the US military’s role in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Or did he? Even now, weeks later, it’s difficult to determine how sincere Biden’s comments were. There was a considerable amount of backstepping by the White House in the days after Biden’s pledge especially on the matter of how the US now regards the One-China policy.

In the eyes of many in Taiwan and in other areas of the Western Pacific, the United States is now committed to Taiwan’s defense should hostilities break out. Biden’s pledge carries a considerable amount of weight. If China managed to call Biden’s bluff somehow, the ramifications the security and stability of the Western Pacific would be altered significantly and not in Washington’s favor. An outbreak of fighting between China and Taiwan would have a similar effect of US forces remained on the sidelines.

With a new Taiwan Strait crisis lurking on the horizon, the Biden Administration needs to come to terms with the fact its pledge might bring the US and China to blows.

Note: The week has sort of gotten away from me here. I was hoping to get this out earlier, but the opportunity never came about. I want to discuss the US pledge to defend Taiwan more. Hopefully I can get another more detailed entry out by the end of the weekend on this subject.

The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part I

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen took advantage of the sixty-fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis to warn China that it will defend itself and inflict heavy casualties upon an invader in the event of an attack. Tsai’s remarks come during a tense period of time in the region following US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan earlier this month. In response to the visit, China flexed its military muscle with a series of large-scale military exercises in and around Taiwan Strait.

Tsai has pointed to these maneuvers as proof of China’s intent to permanently change the status quo in the Strait and around the Western Pacific. At the same time, Taiwan’s leader is moving to encourage the country’s ‘democratic partners’ to stand together in defiance of Beijing’s intentions. Her attempts are focused firmly upon the United States. US politicians are also maneuvering and the same holds true for the Chinese.

We are on the verge of the Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis and all of the major players are presently posturing for the drama to come. Beijing, Washington and Taiwan are emphatically presenting their respective positions to the rest of the world. As mentioned above, Taiwan is also making efforts to compare its current plight to that of Ukraine in hopes of generating international support.

Following Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, China is forced to determine just how ‘official’ Pelosi’s discussions and activities were. Beijing has viewed the United States as gradually moving away from the One-China Policy for years now.  Pelosi’s visit, coupled with the stream of other less-known US politicians visiting Taiwan in recent weeks could signal that the policy is for all purposes now dead. If this is the view being taken in Beijing, China will need to formulate a forceful response to demonstrate its displeasure with the perceived US shift.

The Biden Administration is caught in an unenviable position. Pelosi’s visit has placed the White House squarely in a box and is pushing the United States closer to a possible confrontation with China.  I’ll discuss that more in the next post either tomorrow or Thursday.