Sri Lanka’s prime minister has told that nation’s parliament that the national economy has, for all intent and purposes, collapsed. Ranil Wickremesinghe informed lawmakers that Sri Lanka is “facing a far more serious situation beyond the mere shortages of fuel, gas, electricity and food. Our economy has completely collapsed.” Wickremesinghe’s remarks did not bring any new developments to light. In fact, the rather new prime minister’s words seem intended to remind lawmakers and his critics that the task of rebuilding Sri Lanka’s economic foundation will take time and much effort. After being in power for roughly one month, opposition party politicians are attempting to lay blame for the economic collapse upon Wickremesinghe’s shoulders. As the nation slides deeper into economic malaise, the politicians are attempting to cover their own backsides and assess blame upon others.
The collapse of the national economy came about at least partly due to a perfect storm of circumstances. Heavy debt, loss of tourism revenue, a foreign currency crisis and other pandemic-related impacts, as well as the soaring costs of commodities are the main ingredients of Sri Lanka’s economic nightmare. The nation is no longer able to buy imported fuel, even for cash, due to the heavy debt owed by Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. There are no nation-states or supranational bodies willing to provide fuel, creating significant fuel shortages.
The Sri Lankan government plans to call India, China and Japan to a donor conference in early August in an attempt to increase foreign financial assistance. An interim budget will be presented around the same time. This is hoped to help Sri Lanka’s position in negotiations with the IMF. August will be when geopolitics takes on a broader and more significant position in Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. India and Japan will seek to raise their influence with Colombo while simultaneously reducing China’s influence. India and Japan, as Quad members, have political and military incentive to work together and push back China’s inroads in Sri Lanka. Beijing is attempting to move deeper into the Indian Ocean and establish basing rights for Chinese warships in an area historically regarded as the Indian sphere of influence.
Decades-old tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are providing fuel for a diplomatic crisis that is threatening to escalate. Last month, M-23 rebels began an offensive against Congo. The Congolese government accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels. The Rwandan government, however, denies any ties with M-23, which is made up largely of members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is also a Tutsi. Congo has also directly accused Rwanda of making incursions across the border and vice versa. The new batch of tension is causing alarm in East Africa. So much so that Kenya is urging the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force to the border area.
Congolese rhetoric has grown sharper in recent days, as the government seeking to suspend all current agreements with Rwanda. If Rwanda wants war, “it will have war,” a spokesman for the military governor of Congo’s North Kivu province told thousands of protesters earlier in the week.
This morning the crisis escalated further when the DRC government ordered Congo’s border with Rwanda closed after a Congolese soldier was killed while attacking borders guards inside Rwandan territory. Two Rwandan police officers were injured when the Congolese soldier crossed the border and opened fire, before an officer on duty fired back and killed him 25 meters inside Rwanda, the Rwandan military said in a statement. The incident is being investigated further by the DRC and Rwanda, yet tensions appear likely to continue rising.
Admittedly, I have not kept up with the events in East Africa recently and this crisis has taken me a bit by surprise. I’ll keep an eye on it and do some research to try and get a better feel for the history behind the DNC-Rwanda tensions as well as this present crisis.
Comments made separately by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier on Friday make it appear likely the United States and the alliance will reject Russia’s demands that NATO expansion be halted. The two men stated that Russia will hold no influence on what nations NATO may consider for membership, effectively slamming the door on one of Vladimir Putin’s strongest for easing tensions with Ukraine. They each also warned of a “forceful” response to future Soviet military intervention in Ukraine. Blinken and Stoltenberg spoke following a virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers. This was the first in what will be a series of meetings over the next week intended to bring an end to the Russian military buildup on the Ukraine border, as well as Moscow’s increasingly forceful rhetoric.
The risk of a new armed conflict breaking out could grow exponentially if Putin’s demands for security guarantees are officially rejected by the US and NATO next week. Of course, many analysts, diplomats and military officers in the West are of the opinion that Putin is aware his demands will be rejected, and he will have a justification for military action down the line. This has likely been the Russian play since a number of details on its demands were made public. On the surface, it might seem to some parties that Russia is willing to negotiate in good faith. Yet the heart of its security concerns and subsequent demands to NATO is made up of points Moscow is aware that neither Brussels nor Washington can accept.
On Monday, US and Russian diplomats will open discussions in Geneva that are expected to center on Ukraine. Discussions between NATO and Russian officials in Brussels will follow, as will more in-depth talks in Geneva. NATO and the US have stated they’re open to discussing arms-control and other related topics.
As for what’s currently happening in Kazakhstan, we’ll discuss that tomorrow, along with the connection between events there, including the intervention by the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, and Ukraine.
Surreptitiously, tensions between Russia and Ukraine has been rising in recent weeks. While the rest of the world’s attention has been transfixed elsewhere, Kiev and Moscow appear to be gravitating towards another standoff at the very least. Or, perhaps the beginning of a new phase of the War in Donbass which is now threatening to reignite after an extended period of dormancy.
Last month, senior Ukrainian military leaders publicly expressed concern that Russia’s moves in Donbass were a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to NATO. Last week four Ukrainian troops were killed by artillery strikes fired by Russian forces. Then, earlier this week, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Ukraine, Ruslan Khomchak warned that a steady buildup of Russian forces is taking place in close proximity to the border.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has suddenly become chatty on the topic of eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to his German and French counterparts on Tuesday and discussed the escalating tensions with Ukraine. Putin views it as Kiev’s refusal to honor ceasefire guidelines agreed to last July. Yesterday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov expressed concern about the tense situation in that area and expressed concerns that Kiev might be looking to restart the conflict. “We express concern over the growing tension and express concern that one way or another the Ukrainian side could take provocative actions that would lead to war. We really don’t want to see that.”
Russia’s words reinforce a growing feeling that the Moscow is probing the resolve of the West, perhaps in preparation for a move in the near future. For the first time in years, Vladimir Putin and his government are facing substantial domestic issues. Upcoming legislative elections later this year and the Alexey Navalny situation continue to influence the Kremlin’s thinking. Rekindling the conflict in eastern Ukraine and causing an escalation that ultimately leads to Russian gains would go a long way towards placating nationalist voters and ensuring a wide victory at the polls in September.
There are also a host of other factors to be considered. However, at the moment anxiety is rising over the eastern Ukraine as the prospect of renewed fighting there has sudden become very real once again.
Indian and Chinese troops battled on Monday night in the same disputed border area these two nations fought a war over in 1962. Soldiers from the two ascendant, nuclear-armed Asian powers met brandishing rocks, and sticks. When the dust settled 20 Indian soldiers were dead, and according to Chinese state media 43 Chinese troops had died. It was the first fatal clash along the Line of Actual Control since 1975 and came after weeks of smaller incidents between Indian and Chinese forces at the border area. There is no independent confirmation on what brought about the skirmish but predictably Beijing is blaming India, and vice versa.
Following talks between Indian and Chinese general officers last week there was a feeling that the situation along the border was under control and could be managed until a diplomatic solution was found. Obviously, this is no longer the case. This clash was too large, and bloody to just sweep under the carpet and move forward. Lives were lost on both sides and even more significant to Beijing and New Delhi, national pride has been wounded. The fact that both Indian and Chinese leaders are nationalists will be a major factor in what comes next. Nationalism has been fueling Indian and Chinese policy moves at home and abroad to varying extents for some time.
This latest escalation has caught much of the world by surprise, myself included. The rest of the week’s posts will be dedicated to updates of the Himalayan crisis, and if time allows, a more in-depth analysis of what the near future could have in store.