Earlier today, India announced it will be joining the US-led diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing after China included a soldier involved in the 2020 Galwan valley clash between Indian and Chinese troops. Qi Fabao, will be one of the torchbearers at the Opening Ceremonies. He is a PLA officer and back in 2020 served as a regimental commander in the Xinjiang Military Command. He suffered a considerable head injury in the Galwan skirmish. After learning of Qi’s inclusion, the Indian Foreign Ministry announced that its senior envoy to Beijing will not attend the Olympic ceremonies.
The US, Britain, Australia, and Canada are the core members of the diplomatic boycott with a number of other countries such as Denmark and Japan also refusing to send diplomats, ostensibly due to COVID-19 fears. Beijing has accused the US of politicizing sports with the boycott and vowed Washington “will pay a price for its erroneous actions.”
India’s decision to join the boycott, as well as China’s decision to include Qi Fabao in the Opening Ceremonies, threatens to shove the still-simmering border standoff and subsequent military buildup to the front burner. Chinese officials have not yet responded to India’s announcement, but this will change at some point soon, most likely. With China now on the center stage, Beijing will remain on guarded behavior, yet once the games end, it will react to India’s slight.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is making a concerted effort to downplay the threat Russia poses to his country at a time when the United States and NATO are growing more concerned about the possibility of a Russian attack. Kiev’s actions demonstrate Zelensky and his government does not consider the Russian threat to be as imminent. Despite the presence of 100,000+ Russian troops on the other side of the border, Ukraine’s government has taken no concrete steps to prepare its armed forces and population for potential conflict. Reserve formations have not been called up. Nationwide emergency response systems have not been tested and there are no indications of defensive preparations set to get underway anytime soon. While Zelensky and other government officials are urging Ukrainians not to panic, they’re also accusing the US of inciting widespread fears with its warnings of an imminent Russian attack.
Kiev is anxious not to provide Russia with any cause for launching an attack. It’s always a logical move to avoid provoking a hostile neighbor whenever possible. However, it also makes sense to start preparing in case the worst-case scenario comes to life, as well as not contradicting the position of a major ally publicly. Zelensky even compared his concerns to the recently released movie Don’t Look Up.
What he should’ve been doing instead is reading a history of July and August of 1939. Back then, Poland adopted a similar strategy to Ukraine’s present one. Warsaw bent over backwards not to provoke Germany. As the military buildup increased on its western border and Hitler’s rhetoric became more aggressive, Poland’s government practically curled up into a fetal position in an attempt to appease Berlin.
We all know how well that strategy worked for Poland in 1939. I can’t help but wonder if Ukraine is following down the same path in 2020.
It has been an active and eventful last thirty-six hours around the world and the trend will likely continue at least in the short term. Terrorism in Europe, and the growing possibility of a contested election in the United States are the main headlines dominating the headlines at the moment, but beneath the surface there are other issues worthy of a brief mention.
In Vienna the final casualty count for Monday’s terrorist attack in Vienna is four dead and twenty-two. Contrary to reports of multiple gunmen that went out as the attack was underway, there was only one shooter involved. The attacker was identified as Fejzulai Kujtim, a 20-year-old Austrian male of North Macedonian descent. He was convicted in 2019 for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison and released on parole last December. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack even though the link between it and Fejzulai is dubious at best. The Austrian government has also labeled the gunman as an Islamic terrorist and naturally considers the attack to have been of terror origin.
The Vienna attack came days after another Islamic terror attack in Nice, France. With much of the continent now going into another COVID-19 lockdown, there’s concern more attacks could be coming. In fact the United Kingdom has upgraded its terror level to ‘Severe’ in the wake of the Nice and Vienna attacks. This level indicates an attack is deemed highly likely. The move was sensible, given recent events. It is also quite logical to assume that more attacks will be coming in the days and weeks ahead.
In the United States, the 2020 presidential election has yet to be called. I will not delve too deeply into the situation at present except to say that the results may not be known for some time. It would appear that there are court battles looming that potentially may go all the way to the US Supreme Court. However, the election has affected global markets, and left many US allies wondering when the election results will be known.
I was hoping to get to the next installment of the Sino-Indian Crisis piece, but I’m still 24 hours or so behind schedule. It will be posted by Thursday morning. Apologies for the delay.
Fighting between Azeri and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh has continued into a fifth day with the intensity of the clashes increasing. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has stated the war will only end once his nation’s territorial sovereignty is restored. In other words the Azeri drive into Nagorno-Karabakh will not be coming to a halt in the near future. Armenia continues to resist and there are rumors circulating that the Armenian government is contemplating an official recognition Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. This might be viewed as a desperate move but with the fighting going decidedly in Azerbaijan’s favor so far, the Armenians might have little choice.
On the international front, Armenia has withdrawn its ambassador to Israel as a protest over Israeli arms sales to Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government has openly admitted using Israeli-made drones in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Both Azerbaijan and Armenia have defied international calls for a ceasefire. The United States, France, and Russia have condemned the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. In a joint statement, the leaders of the three nations have called for an immediate end to the fighting. “We also call on the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to immediately commit themselves to resume negotiations on the substance of the settlement in good faith and without preconditions,” the statement read. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went against the grain stating that a ceasefire was only possible when Armenia ended its ‘occupation’ of Azerbaijani territory. Erdogan’s comments were made shortly after France accused Turkey of transporting Syrian mercenaries to join the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied reports that Ankara has sent fighters to the Southern Caucuses.
This has been a busy weekend on the Korean Peninsula. On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in nearly a month, ending rumors and wide speculation that suggested the Supreme Leader had died as the result of a cardiovascular procedure early in April. Kim’s appearance at the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory north of Pyongyang has answered many questions, however, it is bound to create a new wave of them as well. Most of these will be about whether or not Kim recently had surgery, and what his present health condition is. The truth of the matter is that very few facts have escaped from North Korea aside from Kim being alive. On the subject of health, how North Korea is holding up in the midst of a global pandemic is unknown. Although the images, and video released on Friday show a relatively normal scene at Sunchon, there is growing concern that North Korea could very well be dealing with thousands of COVID-19 cases behind the propaganda wall put up by state media.
As if these issues weren’t enough to deal with, on Sunday North and South Korean troops exchanged small arms fire along the DMZ. There were no casualties or damage reported on either side. This was the first incident where the two sides exchanged fire since 2017. At the moment Sunday’s brief exchange appears to have been the result of an accident. Its timing though, provides plenty of food for the imagination. Some observers have openly wondered if there is indeed a tie-in between the shooting on the DMZ, and Kim Jong Un resurfacing.
Probably not. Kim Jong Un would probably prefer a more spectacular act of symbolism to show the world he remains in control of North Korea’s military. A ballistic missile test, or barrage of short-range rockets being fired into the waters off of the coast would fit the bill. If either one of those take place in the coming week, it will most likely be a direct message from Kim showing he has retained the control and loyalty of his armed forces.