Shinzo Abe (1954-2022)

I was shocked and saddened to learn that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated at a political event Abe was a towering figure in Japanese politics. The longest serving prime minister in Japan’s history. His accomplishments through the nine years he was in office have significantly shaped Japan’s trajectory for the coming decade at least.

Abe reestablished Japan’s position of prominence on the world stage economically and geopolitically. Under his leadership, Japan reinterpreted the pacifism-centered nature of its constitution. He was convinced Japan had to do more in order to counter China’s growing strength and influence in the Western Pacific. Along with leading the charge to change the constitution, Abe also championed a major defense buildup. This was also aimed at countering China’s power.

He was a nationalist at heart who refused to tread lightly when it came to Japan’s World War II history. In this regard he was the polar opposite of most Japanese prime ministers since 1945. Many of his predecessors apologized profusely to China and South Korea for Japan’s horrid actions and crimes against its people in the war. Abe did not disregard Japan’s past actions, however, he did not dwell on them profusely. The result was a chilly relationship with erstwhile ally South Korea and a deep freeze with the People’s Republic of China.

China has not shed a tear for Abe’s passing. Chinese social media has been filled with celebratory posts and comments. The South Korean people have been somewhat more subdued, but there is little sadness for Abe across the Sea of Japan.

Ukraine Update 6 July, 2022

-The city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region will be the next objective for Russian forces operating in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Russian forces are closing on the city with units from the Western and Eastern Groups of Forces now just 10 miles from there. Ukrainian forces in and around Sloviansk are digging in and preparing for the enemy assault, which is expected to begin within two days. The city’s mayor has ordered an evacuation of all remaining residents. The effort to clear out Sloviansk began rather later than expected, partly owing to the widening gap between events on the ground and how they are being reported by the Ukrainian and Western medias. The articles and reports coming from a number of media groups and journalists are borderline pro-Ukrainian propaganda, based on reports from Ukrainian government officials and the military instead of facts.

-Revised forecasts by economists indicate Russia is heading towards a less severe recession than forecasters had originally expected. Rising oil production in Russia has done much to offset the economic sanctions put in place by the United States and Europe as well as by other nations around the world. It also speaks volumes for the degree of preparedness Russia had gone to in order to make its economy as sanction-hardened as possible.  In the months leading up to war there was a considerable amount of speculation that Russia’s economic security had been fortified to an extent. A fair number of US and European economists and analysts rejected the notion and continued forward with their belief that the weight of global sanctions would do severe damage to the Russian economy and deter Moscow from embarking upon a course of belligerence for very long.

It would appear they were wrong.

Ukraine Update 3 July, 2022: Lysychansk Falls

Twenty-four hours after the fact, the Ukrainian military confirmed on Sunday that the city of Lysychansk is now entirely under Russian control. The news was released as reports from third-party and independent sources made it clear Ukrainian forces were withdrawing from the city as Russian troops entered in large numbers. “After heavy fighting for Lysychansk, the defense forces of Ukraine were forced to withdraw from their occupied positions and lines,” read a statement released by the Ukrainian general staff. “In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw.” The general staff’s statement also spoke of Russian advantages in aircraft, artillery, troop numbers and other forces.

The capture of Lysychansk comes one week after Russian forces captured its sister city of Severodonetsk. Ukraine no longer has a foothold in the Luhansk province. It is now effectively under the control of Russia. With the situation in the east looking bleak for Ukraine, the United States and European nations will be under pressure to provide more powerful weapons to Ukraine in even greater numbers. At this point in the conflict, however, Western unity is starting to sag under the weight of the economic fallout. Behind the scenes, a new push for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to reach a negotiated settlement with Russia will be getting underway soon.

Unfortunately, Zelenskiy is not likely to cave into any potential Western demands on negotiations anytime soon. For whatever reasons, the Ukrainian leader still seems to think he is holding a handful of trump cards and has the upper hand despite the battlefield setbacks. He is also appearing more and more out of tune with real world events when he makes public appearances. For example, earlier today Zelenskiy denied that Lysychansk was completely in Russian hands. While giving a news conference with Australia’s prime minister, who was visiting Kiev, the Ukrainian leader said fighting was taking place on the outskirts of the city. His remarks came as the Ukrainian military was releasing the statement discussed above.

The badly timed comments make Zelenskiy seem either out of touch or reluctant to publicly admit bad news to the people of his country. It is important to keep public morale up, but not by repeating outright lies and propaganda. On this topic, Ukraine’s president has much to learn yet.

30 June, 2022 Brief Update: Turkey Lifts Objections To NATO Membership For Sweden and Finland

Earlier this week, the prospect of Sweden and Finland becoming full North Atlantic Treaty Organization members cleared a major hurdle. Turkey lifted its veto of the two Scandinavian nations joining the alliance. The relationships between the governments of Sweden and Finland and NGOs deemed terrorist threats by Turkey threatened to derail the membership plans completely. Following weeks of debate and hours of negotiations, the three nations came to an agreement. Finland and Sweden will lift their arms embargoes on Turkey, strengthening laws against Kurdish militant activists that Ankara deems to be terrorists, and holding honest discussions over Turkish extradition requests for suspected Kurdish fighters.

Turkey won out. A statement released by President Erdogan’s office said as much. Now Erdogan is expected to push US President Joe Biden to push for a sale of F-16s to Turkey. Biden has stated the potential F-16 sale is separate from the NATO matter, but many experts believe the sale will go through for the sake of alliance unity in the aftermath of Erdogan accepting the new NATO applicants.

Ukraine Update: 27 June, 2022

At the G7 Conference in Germany, the Group of Seven leaders are working on a new plan to minimize Russia’s oil profits as Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to call for more arms as Russian air strikes continue across his nation. It has finally become clear to the G7 that Russia has been able to ride out the heavy sanctions placed upon it in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian oil sales have kept the nation afloat while causing a ripple effect of economic fallout from the conflict around the world.

Most G7 leaders are facing domestic political pressure as the conflict in Ukraine continues. The economic fallout mentioned above includes soaring inflation, runaway energy prices and the prospect of more significant hardships as the conflict goes on. To be sure, the Russia-Ukraine War has continued on far beyond the expectations of most analysts, observers and politicians. And while the G7 continues to pledge undying support for Ukraine in public, pressure is building behind the scenes for Western leaders to bring an end to the conflict and contain the spreading economic damage.

Zelenskiy has stated he wants to see the war conclude by the end of 2022. However, given the fact that Russia now has the initiative and Western populations are growing weary of the cost they are being forced to bear, a negotiated conclusion to the fighting appears more probable. Most likely one that cedes the Donbas to Russia in exchange for an end to the fighting.

Author’s Note: Apologies for the shortness of this update, I’m just getting over a stomach bug that kept me down for most of the weekend.