Since its invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia’s international clout has dropped tremendously. Many nations Moscow considered to be friendly have jumped ship and disavowed having any sort of relationship with Russia, whether economic, diplomatic, or military. Except for China, Cuba and a handful of other staunch allies, Russia is very much alone. North Korea is not one of the nation-states shunning Russia however, and its loyalty is being rewarded. In a letter to Kim Jong Un for Korea’s Liberation Day, Vladimir Putin said closer ties between Moscow and Pyongyang are in both countries’ interests and will help strengthen the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the Northeastern Asian region. Kim replied with his own letter, reminding Putin of the long friendship shared between North Korea and Russia. The burgeoning relationship really caught the world’s attention in July when North Korea officially recognized two Russian-backed breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine as sovereign nation-states.
Russia is not the only power competing for North Korea’s attention. South Korea is also trying to entice Pyongyang into closer relations as well as eventual denuclearization. Today South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered comprehensive economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Pyongyang has been quiet over the summer. The underground nuclear test many analysts were expecting never came about. With numerous crises going on simultaneously around the world, Kim Jong Un has been operating under the radar for the most part. With Seoul and Moscow now visibly courting the North, expect this to change in the coming weeks and months. North Korea will be back on the world’s radar scopes for better or worse by late September.
-The city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region will be the next objective for Russian forces operating in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Russian forces are closing on the city with units from the Western and Eastern Groups of Forces now just 10 miles from there. Ukrainian forces in and around Sloviansk are digging in and preparing for the enemy assault, which is expected to begin within two days. The city’s mayor has ordered an evacuation of all remaining residents. The effort to clear out Sloviansk began rather later than expected, partly owing to the widening gap between events on the ground and how they are being reported by the Ukrainian and Western medias. The articles and reports coming from a number of media groups and journalists are borderline pro-Ukrainian propaganda, based on reports from Ukrainian government officials and the military instead of facts.
-Revised forecasts by economists indicate Russia is heading towards a less severe recession than forecasters had originally expected. Rising oil production in Russia has done much to offset the economic sanctions put in place by the United States and Europe as well as by other nations around the world. It also speaks volumes for the degree of preparedness Russia had gone to in order to make its economy as sanction-hardened as possible. In the months leading up to war there was a considerable amount of speculation that Russia’s economic security had been fortified to an extent. A fair number of US and European economists and analysts rejected the notion and continued forward with their belief that the weight of global sanctions would do severe damage to the Russian economy and deter Moscow from embarking upon a course of belligerence for very long.
At the G7 Conference in Germany, the Group of Seven leaders are working on a new plan to minimize Russia’s oil profits as Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to call for more arms as Russian air strikes continue across his nation. It has finally become clear to the G7 that Russia has been able to ride out the heavy sanctions placed upon it in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian oil sales have kept the nation afloat while causing a ripple effect of economic fallout from the conflict around the world.
Most G7 leaders are facing domestic political pressure as the conflict in Ukraine continues. The economic fallout mentioned above includes soaring inflation, runaway energy prices and the prospect of more significant hardships as the conflict goes on. To be sure, the Russia-Ukraine War has continued on far beyond the expectations of most analysts, observers and politicians. And while the G7 continues to pledge undying support for Ukraine in public, pressure is building behind the scenes for Western leaders to bring an end to the conflict and contain the spreading economic damage.
Zelenskiy has stated he wants to see the war conclude by the end of 2022. However, given the fact that Russia now has the initiative and Western populations are growing weary of the cost they are being forced to bear, a negotiated conclusion to the fighting appears more probable. Most likely one that cedes the Donbas to Russia in exchange for an end to the fighting.
Author’s Note: Apologies for the shortness of this update, I’m just getting over a stomach bug that kept me down for most of the weekend.
As the United States continues to supply Ukraine openly and generously with weapons and other materials in the midst of its war with Russia, it appears Moscow is rekindling a military relationship with Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government recently announced a new military collaboration with Russia. Beginning in July, more Russian troops, aircraft and ships will start arriving in the Central American nation. Officially, the Nicaraguan government is labeling the program a “military exchange, instruction, and training initiative to support humanitarian aid operations.” Between the lines, however, is the unstated intention to transform Nicaragua into a hub for Russian forces in the Caribbean region. Coincidentally, the announcement comes as relations between Managua and Washington continue to deteriorate. Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, certainly to friend of the United States, will use the program to annoy the US and relieve Nicaragua’s economic troubles, which he blames the United States for.
NATO expansion and the war in Ukraine are providing Russia with all the motivation needed to project military power in the backyard of the United States. This strategy is similar to the one pursued by the Soviet Union in the 1980s during Ortega’s first tenure as Nicaragua’s leader. During that period of time, the US mined Nicaraguan harbors to harass and dissuade Eastern Bloc shipping and undertook other covert activities to frustrate Soviet efforts to establish a toehold in Central America. The effort was ultimately successful, though it nearly caused the downfall of the Reagan administration through the Iran-Contra affair.
This time around, geopolitical dynamics are somewhat different, yet the US would be wrong to ignore an increased Russian presence in Nicaragua. Especially given the free rein the Nicaraguan government appears ready to allow Russian forces to operate with. Decree 10-2022 approved by the Ortega-controlled legislature authorizes Russian military forces to “patrol” Nicaragua’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Even though Russia has lost tremendous amounts of international support and respect, the prospect of MiGs and Russian warships operating in such close proximity to US waters and territory is too tempting to pass up. For Ortega, the new phase of military cooperation between Russia and Nicaragua gives him a propaganda victory which could entice otherwise reluctant international companies and nation-states to invest in Nicaragua.
It has been some time since I posted an update on events in Ukraine. Quite honestly, it was becoming tedious to cover nothing but the conflict in Ukraine for weeks on end. Especially once the Russian offensive in the north was spent. From then it was clear this war was fated to drag out relentlessly for months. Possibly even beyond a year. As it stands at the moment, Russia’s offensive in the east is making gains. Although Western media attempts to water down this news, the fact of the matter is that Russian forces are advancing and capturing territory in Luhansk and Dontesk, as well as north of Crimea where a rejuvenated southern front is now active.
As the war continues on, Ukraine finds its military in need of more resupply. Although little is mentioned openly about Ukrainian military losses and consumption, it is clear the need for fresh ammunition and weapons systems is increasing. To help, the United States has committed to supplying a limited amount of HIMARS rockets and launch vehicles to Ukraine’s army. The HIMARS rockets are very capable and have a long range that could enable them to reach targets in Russia. Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy assured the US that he will not target Russian territory with HIMARS.
On Sunday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine and the West that if long range weapons are sent to Ukraine, Russian forces will expand their target list. To back up the warning, explosions rocked Kiev as the capital city was attacked for the first time in weeks. Russia claims it attacked tanks supplied by European nations, while Ukrainian government spokesmen said a railway repair plant.
With the possibility of the conflict in Ukraine expanding as a result of Putin’s warning, Today’s DIRT will be going back to providing a Ukraine Update once every 2-3 days, as well as entries on other events in the world.