Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Saturday that a peace agreement with Russia will be contingent upon all Russian forces leaving Ukrainian territory. The remarks were made while speaking to Chatham House, a British think tank. Zelenskiy also said, “I was elected by the people of Ukraine as president of Ukraine, not as president of a mini-Ukraine of some kind. This is a very important point.” Indeed, it is. However, Russia shows no signs of letting up, as the situation in Mariupol has revealed. It’s not very realistic to think Moscow would be willing to return to pre-23 February boundaries willingly.
Evacuation efforts in Mariupol have concluded. The last women, children and elderly civilians left Azovstal steelworks earlier today, leaving only Ukrainian soldiers in the sprawling steel plant. With the civilians having left, Russian forces are expected to redouble their efforts to capture the plant and break the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city.
The fate of the Russian frigate Admiral Makarov remains unknown at the present time. The Ukrainian government and military claim the ship was struck by an antiship missile near Snake Island yesterday. Russia has denied the claim, of course, and today released pictures of the frigate supposedly back at its homeport of Sevastopol.
Russian forces launched a missile attack against the Ukrainian port city of Odesa earlier Saturday. Ballistic missiles targeted a furniture factory and damaged nearby buildings. There has been no word on casualties. As fighting in Mariupol draws to a close, expect Russia to pay more attention to Odesa and other targets along the Black Sea coastline west of Crimea.
North Korea is adopting a stringent position on the recent AUKUS security deal in which the United States and Great Britain will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia. Pyongyang has stated that it believes the deal holds the potential to spark a nuclear arms race and destabilize the balance of power in the Western Pacific. “These are extremely undesirable and dangerous acts which will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and trigger off a chain of nuclear arms race,” a North Korean foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by state media. “It is quite natural that neighboring countries including China condemned these actions as irresponsible ones of destroying the peace and stability of the region and the international nuclear nonproliferation system and of catalyzing the arms race.”
North Korea does not have nuclear-powered submarines and its inventory of platforms capable of delivering nuclear warheads is open to speculation. Therefore, the North really doesn’t have a dog in this race. So, why would it take the time to come out in opposition to the AUKUS deal if it has very little to do with Pyongyang? The answer to that is simple: Regional prestige. North Korea views itself as a major player in Asian geopolitics. In reality, the warnings by the North are little more than grandstanding and a ham-handed attempt to attract more attention to recent ballistic missile and alleged cruise missile tests. This latest round of weapons tests by North Korea attracted little attention from the United States, much to Pyongyang’s disappointment. Kim Jong Un’s regime is undoubtedly hoping its words will succeed where its missile launches failed.
As for the AUKUS deal, its plain to see that China is its intended target, not North Korea.
In a previous article I spoke a bit about how preserving one’s honor, aka saving face, is so significant in Middle Eastern politics. Given all of the troubles already facing it, the Iranian government probably does not want to spark a major war right now. Yet it could not simply allow the Soleimani killing to go unpunished. Tehran had to find an action that would allow it to save face with its allies and Iranian-supported proxy forces around the world, and satisfying internal elements such as the IRGC without inviting major US military action. The missile attacks against Irbil and Al Asad yesterday give the appearance of a compromise. The number of ballistic missiles used was limited, and the target selection demonstrates Iran’s desire not to inflict US casualties. Damage was caused against facilities used by US forces in Iraq, hopefully satisfying the desire for revenge among IRGC officers and troops loyal to Soleimani.
On the heels of the missile attacks are rumors that the IRGC intelligence organization arrested upwards of 50 IRGC commanders who were the most fervent followers of Qasem Soleimani. If true, this demonstrates the regime’s desire to control escalation, and prevent Soleimani’s faction from making unauthorized attacks against US targets in the Persian Gulf region. It also highlights the Iranian government’s main priority at the present time: Survival.
Then there is the Ukrainian airliner crash on the outskirts of the airport in Tehran last night. That will be discussed later, though at the moment it would appear to be a tragic accident at the wrong time.
More updates will come later in the day as time allows.
As US containment efforts press ahead at full speed, the Iranian government continues to counter with thinly veiled threats against US interests in the region. First it was the Strait of Hormuz, followed by promises of an upsurge of assistance to the Syrian government in its campaign against western-backed rebel militias. Now, Iran is placing ballistic missiles in areas of Iraq controlled by its Shiite proxies, and is developing its ability to manufacture more missiles there. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is well established in these areas, and has overseen the program since it began roughly three months ago. Iranian officials have stated off the record that the purpose of the missile placement is to serve as a hedge against any attacks against their country. Nominally, control of the missiles will be placed in the hands of the IRGC, with the Shiite proxy groups having limited involvement. In the event of heightened tension, or a crisis, however, all of this could change if Iran does start to assist the Shiite proxy groups with constructing their own missiles.
Iran has provided ballistic missiles for the Houthi rebels, their proxy group in Yemen. The Houthis periodically launch missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has been targeted most frequently, though the Houthi attacks against the Saudi capital have caused only minimal damage, and disruption. By putting a similar capability in the hands of Shiite proxies inside of Iraq, the Iranians are extending the range of its shorter-range ballistic missiles to include Israel.
Along with acting as a deterrent, these missiles could also be used in attacks aimed at destabilizing the region, or damaging US actions aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The aggressive missile policy runs the risk of pushing tensions between Washington and Tehran even higher. August has seen a sharp rise in the language, and actions of the actors involved in the Iran drama. Unfortunately, based on the way things look now on the first day of September, there does not appear to be any signs of de-escalation in the near future.
The week is off to an active beginning on a host of fronts around the world. From London to Riyadh and further on to Beijing geopolitical screws are turning, a diplomatic crisis is deepening, and the two year anniversary of a conflict has been marked in an explosive manner.
Russian Diplomats Face Being Expelled Across Europe and North America
Dozens of Russian diplomats will be expelled from European nations and the United States as the fallout from the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil continues to expand. Over twenty nations have sided with Great Britain, including the United States and many of its European allies. More than Russian 100 diplomats are being declared persona non grata and formally deported. The consensus among Great Britain’s allies has been that Russia is responsible for the nerve-agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Russia denies any involvement in the matter and has called the latest expulsions a ‘provocative gesture.’ Moscow also vowed retaliation.
Speculation Places Kim Jong Un In Beijing
Rumors of a senior North Korean delegation, possibly led by Kim Jong Un, broke today when photos of a special North Korean train arriving in Beijing came to light. The train is one used in the past by North Korean leaders for travel around North Korea and beyond. Photos of the train in Beijing were provided by Japan’s Nippon Television. The train was reportedly met at the train station by an honor guard, and line of VIP automobiles.
If Kim is present in Beijing, the timing is interesting. North Korean and South Korean officials are scheduled to meet next week to prepare for a meeting between the leaders of both nations in the near future. Beyond that is the potential meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump that is in the works.
Houthi Ballistic Missiles Strike Saudi Arabia
On the second anniversary of the start of the Yemen war, Houthi rebels launched a volley of Iranian-manufactured ballistic missiles against four Saudi Arabian cities. Missile trails, and spectacular explosions lit the night sky over the Saudi capital. Four missiles were intercepted over Riyadh. No vital targets were struck, according to Saudi officials, though one civilian was killed and a handful injured. Missiles were also launched at the southwestern cities of Khamis Mushait, Najran, and Jazan. No damage or casualties were reported there. If the Houthis were hoping for a propaganda victory from the attack they couldn’t be more wrong. The missile strike has been condemned around the world and serves as a shining example of why the Saudi war effort must be continued.