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.
Massive protests continue in Belarus and show essentially no indications of diminishing. This weekend in Minsk 100,000 Belarussians turned out to demonstrate against the regime of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. Demonstrators marched on Lukashenko’s residence in the capital city calling for the embattled leader to step down. The results of the presidential election in August proved to be the spark that ignited the current wave of protests in Minsk and across Belarus. The election is seen as rigged by many Belarussians. In it, Lukashenko was the victor by a considerable margin even though anti-Lukashenko sentiment in Belarus has been high.
Security forces cracked down on the protests this weekend. Hundreds of peoples were detained and arrested. Riot police used heavy-handed tactics to disperse and isolate groups of protesters. Barbed wire, and military vehicles armed with water cannons were deployed. Maria Kolesnikova, a senior opposition figure, was apparently apprehended by masked men, and thrown into a minibus that left the scene seconds later. Police deny bringing her into custody, leaving her fate unclear. The concern among other opposition members is that Kolesnikova is now in the custody of Belarussian State Security Committee.
Russia continues to monitor events in Belarus closely. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated last week that Russia might be compelled to intervene militarily in Belarus at some point, there are no indications of that occurring in the near future. Moscow is content right now with the situation as it stands. Lukashenko remains in control, however, that control could very well be slipping away at this time. Memories of Euromaidan have unquestionably formed in the mind of Putin, and other senior Russian officials. The uprising in Belarus bears some similarities to the 2013-14 Ukrainian revolution. This time around, Russia cannot afford to be slow off the starting blocks. If at some point the survival of Lukashenko and his regime becomes questionable, Putin will not waste any time moving to ensure Belarus does not fall into the West’s sphere of influence.
The expulsion of Evo Morales from the presidency of Bolivia marks the end of a South American leftist, authoritarian ruler who abused his power excessively, ignored the will of the people, and all but exiled democracy from the country. When all was said and done, Morales went a step too far and it was too much for the Bolivian people to take. The 20 October, 2019 election results were clearly fraudulent, and bent in Morales favor artificially. The people took to the streets in protest. Evidence of voter fraud surfaced, international pressure grew, and the protests continued, becoming larger, and now included police officers marching side by side with private citizens.
After 19 days of protests, the police and military demanded the resignation of Morales. He addressed the nation, announced he was resigning from office, and has disappeared from sight. Rumors are circulating that warrants for his arrest have been issued and he’s on the run, but there has been no confirmation. Mexico has offered asylum to the former president, and claims Morales is the victim of a military-backed coup.
What comes next for Bolivia remains to be seen. Morales was Bolivia’s longest serving president and his departure will leave a vacuum. The stage looks to be set for a period of unrest. In the streets, supporters of the former president are constructing barricades and preparing for a long, drawn out struggle. The political leadership picture is fluid at the moment. Along with Morales, a number of senior government officials also resigned, including the vice president. Questions about the nature of the upheaval also need to be answered. Was this a military revolt, or a democratic uprising?
As the questions are answered, and post-Morales Bolivia gets sorted out, it would be valuable to look around the rest of South America and wonder what comes next. There are other nations there contending with similar problems at the moment. South America is rife with instability, and leftist authoritarian leaders. If this can happen in Bolivia, it can easily happen elsewhere.
Venezuela, I was staring directly at you as I typed that last sentence.
In two and a half months Ukraine will hold a presidential election. Voters will go to the polls and decide if Petro Poroshenko will remain in office for another term, or if one of the many public figures challenging him will be chosen to succeed him. Judging from the most recent polling data, Poroshenko should be concerned. His popularity has dropped below ten percent and shows no sign of reversing itself anytime soon. Poroshenko’s failure to curb the rampant corruption in government is the main contributing factor to his anemic approval ratings. Most Ukrainians view the government as being no less corrupt than it was before the 2014 revolution, not a good sign for the incumbent president. There are other issues holding Poroshenko down. The war in the east is a major one. It continues on with no end in sight, and the current president has been ineffective when it comes to rallying the West around Ukraine’s cause.
To be fair, Poroshenko has not performed incompetently on the foreign stage, or when comes to the War in Donbass. However, his leadership has not enabled Ukraine to build a strong network of international diplomatic support. Nor has it helped to bring about a favorable permanent conclusion to the conflict in the eastern part of the country. Instead, Ukraine remains mired in a stalemate on the frontlines, and in diplomatic circles abroad. There’s a very good chance that Ukrainians will hold Poroshenko responsible for these setbacks when they go to vote on 31 March. But if they decide that he is not the right man to lead the country into the future, it brings about two critical questions to which there really are no answers for: Who will be selected to replace Poroshenko, and how will Russia respond to a new leader at the helm in Kiev?
The second question is the more crucial of the two. In all likelihood, the candidate who wins March is not going to tilt the balance of influence back in Russia’s favor. Therefore, he or she is going to have to find a way to contend with a more assertive Russia, and do so in a manner that neither compromises Ukraine’s position or escalates the situation. Russia’s actions in the past three months appear to be designed to place and keep Kiev at a disadvantage in the time leading up to the election, and in the period immediately following.
There is still plenty of time remaining between now and the election. Events in Ukraine and the Black Sea should be watched closely and with luck a clue of Russia’s future intentions could pop up.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory in Turkey’s presidential election. The Anadolu Agency reports that 95.5% of votes have been counted, and Erdogan has a 52.72% share of the national vote. If accurate, this means Erdogan will avoid a one-on-one runoff election with opposition candidate Muharrem Ince. Erdogan’s victory expands the grip on power he currently has on Turkey, however, this was by no means an easy victory. Political opposition in Turkey has been revitalized to a degree, and this is something Erdogan will have to contend with in the coming months and years. Fortunately for him, the People’s Alliance, a coalition made up of Erdogan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP) party, and the more conservative MHP party appears to have secured majority in parliament, giving him plenty of allies for any future political battles.
This election was unique in that it marked the first time Turkish voters have cast ballots for president, and parliament in a snap election. Erdogan had called for early elections in an attempt to neutralize opposition presidential candidates in the first round of the election, and obtain a parliamentary majority. At the moment it would appear that he has achieved both objectives, as well as ensuring that he will reap the benefits of enhanced presidential powers that the 2017 referendum are to give the winner of Turkey’s next presidential election. Erdogan had supported the referendum, and invested a large amount of political capital to ensure it passed.
So, what happens next? Erdogan has grandiose plans for Turkey, some of which make his neighbors uncomfortable. After the election results are officially certified, we will examine just what Erdogan’s victory means for Turkey, its neighbors, NATO, and the world.