China, the US: Opioid wars.
Also: the EU, Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Ethiopia.
CHINA. UNITED STATES. Opioid wars.
New battlelines are drawn in foreign and domestic policy.
Washington on Tuesday imposed sanctions on a number of Chinese firms it accused of illicit fentanyl proliferation. US officials met with Mexican counterparts on Wednesday to discuss narcotics trafficking and other security concerns.
INTELLIGENCE. Beijing has long been blamed for the opioid crisis, but this is the biggest step to do something. Coming amid attempts from other parts of the administration to ease tensions, China appears to have been wrongfooted, with its embassy describing the moves as “smear and slander.” Mexico, which has made similar complaints of the US, has been quick to point the finger. Even El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel says it opposes fentanyl.
FOR BUSINESS. Fentanyl, a synthetic drug 50 times more potent than heroin, can be made without Chinese (or Mexican) factories. But as deaths skyrocket and fuel high-profile crime, the White House needs to be on the front foot in what is now a key election issue. Better health coverage could stem the tide, but political polarisation makes this near-impossible. Healthcare workers meanwhile began on Wednesday the largest strike in the sector’s history.
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EUROPE. Ahead of the wave.
Leaders seek a migration deal ahead of EU elections.
EU states agreed on Wednesday to change how they share irregular migration funding and relocation burdens. Tunisia on Monday rejected an instalment of maritime security funds, calling its migration deal with the EU into question.
INTELLIGENCE. This isn’t the first time the EU has claimed a breakthrough on migration. And it likely won’t be the last time both sides are left disappointed. The EU is united that a solution must be reached before June 2024’s European Parliament elections, but in EU terms this is not an acute enough timeline to force a deal. In the meantime, existing deals within and beyond the bloc are under strain, and border checks are rising within the Schengen Area.
FOR BUSINESS. Politicians are as motivated by the far-right parties sweeping polls as migrants crossing the sea. But problems could worsen. Pakistan on Tuesday said it would soon deport around 1 million Afghans. Many of the 100,000 Armenians who fled Karabakh will head to Europe. Populists are making hay. France’s National Rally gained three senators last month. Alternative for Germany is polling at 23%, despite an attack on its leader on Wednesday.
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UKRAINE. RUSSIA. Black Sea, black swan.
Things go unusually well for Kyiv on the water.
Kyiv said on Wednesday that 12 cargo vessels were poised to head to Ukrainian ports under its new Black Sea corridor. The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday said Russia had relocated several warships from Crimea to Novorossiysk.
INTELLIGENCE. Russia claims to have thwarted a commando landing at Crimea, but amid reports of record Ukrainian strikes, as well as recent hits on Sevastopol, Kyiv is making real gains in the Black Sea. It’s just as well, for amid wavering Western support, Volodymyr Zelensky must show battlefield success that has been lacking elsewhere. The Institute for the Study of War estimated last week that Russia had still made a net territorial gain in the year to date.
FOR BUSINESS. Problems in Crimea may look embarrassing for Moscow, but the victories may prove pyrrhic for Kyiv should limited armaments be depleted on largely symbolic targets. And the outcome of Congress’s speaker election next week may prove more decisive, despite the White House promising on Wednesday to find a way to fund Ukraine regardless. Frontrunner representative Steve Scalise wants further aid. His main challenger, Jim Jordan, is opposed.
MOLDOVA. Shor patrol.
Chisinau tries to block a pro-Russian movement.
Moldova's constitutional court on Tuesday ruled that members of the banned pro-Russian party Shor could run as independents or members of other parties. Moldova's parliament on Wednesday moved to overturn the ruling.
INTELLIGENCE. Moldova's government wants to join the EU and avoid a pro-Russian election upset, as happened in Slovakia on the weekend. And, with a sliver of Russian-controlled territory in Moldova's east, Chisinau most of all wants to avoid a Ukraine-style scenario on its territory, home to a 15% Russian-speaking minority (excluding the 400,000 residents of breakaway Transnistria). Shor, and its allies, risk this and are prominent in the country’s south.
FOR BUSINESS. Moldova is one of Europe's poorest states with a GDP per capita similar to Iraq. While EU assistance is likely to help it grow 2.5% this year, this follows a 5.9% decline in 2022 due to the war in Ukraine. After Romania, Russia remains its second-largest trading partner, which Chisinau is trying to change. Its energy minister said on Monday Moldova would no longer buy gas from Russia, but industry insiders walked back the comments on Tuesday.
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ETHIOPIA. Forgiven and forgotten.
Old crimes are brushed aside as new realities take shape.
The EU announced €650 million in aid for Ethiopia on Tuesday, three years after cutting assistance over human rights. A UN inquiry into atrocities during Ethiopia's two-year civil war lapsed on Wednesday with no state willing to extend it.
INTELLIGENCE. Ethiopia, hosting the African Union and the continent’s second-largest population, has significant diplomatic sway. Neither the BRICS nor the West – courting Africa over Ukraine – were willing to rock the boat, despite UN investigators on Tuesday reporting that abuses were not just widespread but continuing. The 2020-22 Tigray War killed perhaps 600,000. New fighting in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Gambela regions has flared up in recent months.
FOR BUSINESS. Next to war-torn Somalia and Sudan, few states are willing to risk further destabilising Ethiopia, home to 90 languages and 80 ethnicities. And despite its problems, it is also a rising economic power, with a large textiles sector, investment from China and the West, as well as one of the world's biggest hydroelectric projects. Owing almost $14 billion to China, Ethiopia last month secured a one-year repayment reprieve from Beijing.