Speaking for the first time since protests began in Iran last Thursday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Iran’s enemies for instigating the internal strife. He was quoted with the following statement: “In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence services to create troubles for the Islamic Republic.”
Although Khamenei did not specifically mention the enemies by name, his comment was designed to be a swipe at Iran’s traditional adversaries, namely Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. President Trump has been especially vocal with his support of Iranian protesters, tweeting his views as well as reminders that the United States is watching events in Iran closely. So is the rest of the world, for that matter. Khamenei had to release a statement of some sort in response to Trump’s comments. It comes as no surprise that his first public comment on the crisis was to blame the riots on Iran’s enemies. The statement was generic. When faced with internal unrest, Iran has a history of blaming its enemies for inciting it.
At least twenty Iranians have died in the protests and over 500 were arrested thus far. Those numbers will continue to rise as long as the unrest continues. This round of protests and riots is significantly smaller than those which took place in 2009. Back then, millions protested the results of the presidential election that gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term in office. Security forces eventually crushed the Green Movement following weeks of violent protests.
The current demonstrations are being fueled by economic hardship though and this reality is leaving Iran’s leadership somewhat unnerved. Economic problems have a way of spiraling into political chaos. Inflation and unemployment are rising, yet the government has been unable to do anything substantial to reverse economic conditions. Iranians are feeling the pinch and their frustrations have blossomed into anger against the government. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.
The protests going on in Tehran have surprised much of the world, and appear to have caught the Iranian government flatfooted. This round of protests has not stemmed from the questionable results of a presidential election, as the 2009 protests and subsequent Green movement did. This time around the grievances are economic in nature. Rampant corruption, and a declining standard of living are the causes that have brought Iranian citizens out to protest the government. The regime is likely to come down hard on the protesters. Security forces have been clashing with students around Tehran University and other parts of the capital. Those protests are expanding across the country right now. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, however, this challenge to the Iranian government is not likely to evaporate quickly.
The Trump administration warned Iranian leaders last night that the world is watching events unfold. It is unlikely that Iran’s government will pay heed to the US comments. They have already been labeled as ‘opportunistic’ in government statements. Iran has enough problems to deal with in the streets at the moment, though it would be useful to consider what, if any, impact the protests will have on Tehran’s ventures abroad. From its involvement in Syria and Yemen, to the regional confrontation with Saudi Arabia, Iran has been very active. Will that continue to be the case if the internal situation at home deteriorates?
Almost four years after the Maidan revolution swept Viktor Yushchenko and his regime from power, Ukraine is in the midst of another bout of political turmoil. Protesters have taken to the streets chanting “Bandits Out!” and protester tents have returned to Maidan Square. This time around, the scope of the protests is smaller than four years ago, but the target of the growing dissent is essentially the same: Government graft.
The current political drama’s impetus is Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia. He entered Ukrainian politics after Maidan to help combat corruption. He served as governor of the Odessa region before a falling out between him and his longtime friend, Ukraine’s current president Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili resigned from his post in 2016 and publicly accused Poroshenko of corruption and blocking reforms. Poroshenko responded in July by stripping him of his Ukrainian citizenship, opening the door for his potential deportation back to Georgia where Saakashvili is wanted on fraud charges. With the help of supporters, Saakashvili made his way back into the country late Sunday. Earlier this week, he held a rally in Kiev where he called for Poroshenko to be impeached. Two days later, he was arrested by security service agents, but a large crowd of his supporters blocked the van carrying him and freed him from government custody. Late on Friday, Saakashvili was arrested again and taken into custody, prompting crowds of his supporters to gather outside of the detention center where he is being held.
The draconian manner in which Poroshenko is handling this challenge to his position reveals the grim reality that the primary demand of Maidan has yet to be realized. Corruption is still prevalent, and the Oligarchic system remains in place. This situation would be bad enough even under peacetime conditions, however, the fact that Ukraine is mired in a nearly four-year long war against Russian-supported separatists exacerbates matters. The West has done little to assist in the corruption fight since Maidan, focusing its efforts on military and diplomatic assistance instead. Now, even those efforts have diminished. Europe is suffering from ‘Ukraine burn-out’ and the United States has still not adopted a thorough Ukraine policy. It was hoped that the Trump administration would make it a priority, but that has yet happen.
The turmoil in Ukraine could provide Russia with a window of opportunity as well. It is likely that right now in the Kremlin Vladimir Putin and his advisers are looking at the situation and working on a way to turn it to Russia’s advantage. The war in Ukraine has dragged on in stalemate for quite some time. Putin has been patiently awaiting the time when favorable circumstances could permanently change that.
That moment could very well be now.
Just under two days remain until Venezuela’s national vote to elect delegates for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. The world is watching events in the embattled South American nation closely, and many diplomats around the world are cognizant that Sunday’s vote could be the death knell for democracy in Venezuela. The once vibrant state is on a path that could make it the next Cuba, and there is little the outside world can do about it at this point.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered measures to ensure that the vote takes place with minimal domestic obstruction. The government announced Thursday night on state-run media a complete ban on demonstrations across the country for the next five days. The hope is that a ban will curtail opposition activity around the time of Sunday’s vote. On Sunday, Venezuelans will choose the delegates for the Constituent Assembly which will go about replacing the nation’s current constitution. Maduro’s opponents view the assembly as a move to effectively cement the president’s grip on power. There is no timeframe for remaking the constitution, it can theoretically take years. While it is underway, national elections would be cancelled, meaning next year’s presidential elections will not take place. This alone will give Maduro an extended stay in power until a new constitution guarantees him a leader-for-life status.
The US is beginning to take serious measures in regards to the situation in Venezuela. The State Department issued a travel warning on Thursday night. Dependents of US embassy staff in Caracas have been ordered out of the country, and restrictions on the movement of US diplomats around Caracas and the rest of the country were put into place. Earlier this week, President Trump announced a new round of sanctions on 13 Venezuelan officials. There is speculation that this is simply a precursor to a more comprehensive sanction program that will be put into place if Maduro goes forward with Sunday’s vote. Trump has stated that the US will not “stand by as Venezuela crumbles.”
The opposition movement in Venezuela has been energized by the results of Sunday’s unofficial referendum and are hoping it marks a turning point in its struggle against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Over 7.2 million Venezuelans cast votes, with the overwhelming majority were against Maduro’s plan to push forward with his plan to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution. On 30 July voters will elect delegates for a constitutional assembly. The assembly will be given the power to rewrite laws and many observers view it as nothing less than a power grab on the part of Maduro.
Venezuela continues to descend deeper into economic, and political chaos. Maduro is desperately clinging to the plan for a constitutional rewrite as his cure-all. Three months of unrest, and daily clashes between protesters, and security forces have taken a toll. A new constitution that neuters the power of his opponents in the legislature will pave the way for him to contend with the opponents on the streets once and for all. In spite of the growing turmoil, anti-government feeling, and the results of the referendum yesterday, Maduro’s position is relatively stable for the time being. There are no imminent threats to his rule. Despite the efforts of anti-Maduro lawmakers and their supporters, the current president appears likely to remain in power at least through the end of the summer.
A primary reason for this has been the opposition’s disorganization and lack of unity. The opposition is comprised of people from every facet of Venezuelan society. Unfortunately, there is no fabric to mesh together. No individual leader, or leadership council to coordinate the various groups. In the absence of a cohesion, the opposition’s efforts have been restricted mainly to street protests. In their own right, the protests are powerful, but without a political element to guide and lead them, the throngs of people taking to the streets are little more than an unruly mob. Maduro’s bands of thugs have intimidated the political opposition to a large degree. Pro-government thugs regularly assault opposition lawmakers, and on one occasion Maduro even sent a group of them to the National Assembly where they entered and beat a number of lawmakers bloody.
The political chaos might end up being overshadowed by even more economic despair soon enough. Venezuela’s foreign reserves are now down to less than $10 billion. In short, the country is on the verge of going broke. If that happens, all bets are off as to what happens next.