Syria: Thick on the battleground.
Also: Iran, the Caucasus, Russia, Central Asia, the US, Venezuela and Indonesia.
SYRIA. Thick on the battleground.
Multiple actors complicate a volatile situation.
A US F-16 shot down a Turkish drone over northeast Syria on Thursday as it neared US troops. The same day, at least 100 were killed in a drone attack at a Syrian military college in Homs, while Turkish airstrikes killed 11 in Syria's north.
INTELLIGENCE. Long at the crossroads, Syria now hosts a series of intersecting proxy wars between Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel and Russia. While a NATO ally, Turkey is fighting Kurdish militias the US supports to fight jihadists. While neutral towards Moscow, Israel has come close to killing Russian advisers working with Syria’s military. And as Syria attempts détente with the Sunni Arab world, Iranian proxies are making things hard for everyone.
FOR BUSINESS. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was quick to speak with Turkey's defence minister after the incident, but without such channels, the escalatory risks are significant, as Ankara and Moscow found in 2015 when Turkey downed a Russian jet. More than in Ukraine or the South China Sea, Syria remains the likeliest location for a superpower flashpoint. And with multiple parties at cross purposes, it may also remain intractable for years to come.
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IRAN. THE CAUCASUS. Corridors of power.
Tehran hedges in a changing neighbourhood.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told Armenia's security chief on Wednesday that Tehran opposed an Azerbaijan-Turkey corridor along the Iran-Armenian border. Raisi met Azerbaijani officials on Thursday after agreeing to joint naval drills.
INTELLIGENCE. Like Russia, Iran is traditionally friendly to Armenia but wants to repair ties with Azerbaijan, particularly now the war in Karabakh is over. Though Iran won’t relish a Turkey-sponsored transit route, the “Zangezur corridor”, along its border, it needs stability on the Caspian Sea, which is increasingly important for trade with Russia. While Azerbaijan has strong political ties to Turkey, it shares a Shiite faith with Iran, whose population is 16% Azeri.
FOR BUSINESS. As elsewhere in the Caucasus, relations between Iran and Azerbaijan are changeable. Earlier this year they looked beyond repair. Now they are talking military cooperation. After abandoning Armenia and withdrawing from Karabakh, Russia is now eyeing a naval base in the breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia (presumably out of the range of Ukrainian drones harassing Crimea). Such shifts will continue to complicate investment in the region.
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RUSSIA. CENTRAL ASIA. Thinking about the Russian Empire.
Putin speaks his mind and plans a trip.
Vladimir Putin on Thursday said Russia could “theoretically” revoke ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and it was trying to end the war in Ukraine. Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday said Putin would visit the country on 12 October.
INTELLIGENCE. In a keynote speech in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin also said Justin Trudeau was an idiot, Yevgeny Prigozhin's plane went down due to drunken games with grenades, and Russia had tested a nuclear-powered missile. While all these should be taken with a grain of salt (a nuclear-powered missile seems a problem in search of a problem), he projected confidence after recent setbacks in Crimea. He also hailed Russia’s growing ties with China.
FOR BUSINESS. Putin’s visit to Kyrgyzstan – his first abroad since an ICC arrest warrant – also projects confidence, but after the US and Germany hosted Central Asian leaders in recent weeks, Russia is on the backfoot. The West does not yet match Moscow’s influence, and growing trade is more about finding a backdoor to Russia, but Beijing is ascendant in the region. China recently postponed a Kyrgyz rail project, but it is now the country’s top investor.
UNITED STATES. VENEZUELA. U-turn.
Changes at the border could come at a cost.
White House officials on Thursday said deportation flights to Venezuela would resume, following talks with Mexico and Colombia. Joe Biden on Thursday said border walls don’t work, despite a federal tender on Wednesday for a new barrier.
INTELLIGENCE. After granting half a million Venezuelans working rights last month, Washington has received pushback from border electorates, as well as countries like Mexico, under increasing strain from transiting migrants. And despite promising "not another foot" of walls under his watch, the White House is now using Trump-era funds to build one, as Democrat mayors like New York's Eric Adams visit Latin America, begging migrants not to come.
FOR BUSINESS. Policy shifts are common, and a border crisis was intolerable a year from elections, but it’s uncertain how long, or for what, Venezuela will cooperate, particularly as its own political cycle heats up. Caracas on Thursday issued a warrant for former opposition leader Juan Guaido, in exile in Miami. Last week, Chevron was reported to be planning a boost to Venezuelan production, but this could require new licences from Washington and Caracas.
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INDONESIA. Where there’s smoke.
Land clearing and corruption shroud the region.
Indonesia shot back at Malaysia on Friday after its neighbour urged action on forest fire haze in Sumatra. Indonesia's agriculture minister resigned on Thursday after anti-graft investigators probed appointments at his department.
INTELLIGENCE. Peat forest fires, due to land clearing for palm oil and farming, are a seasonal irritation for Indonesia’s neighbours and a contributor to global carbon emissions. Like counterparts in Brazil, President Joko Widodo has struggled to balance his task of improving Indonesia’s attractiveness to foreign trade and investment with the pro-development concerns of rural voters. Corruption is another common concern that Jakarta is no closer to resolving.
FOR BUSINESS. Widodo can’t run again but is positioning his sons for promotion ahead of February’s elections. Malaysia’s complaints and Syahrul Yasin Limpo’s resignation will be long forgotten, but megaprojects like the planned capital of Nusantara, in the forests of Borneo, need foreign support. China will remain Indonesia’s best bet. It’s the top buyer of palm oil, thanks to EU restrictions, and built Jakarta’s high-speed train, despite a $3 billion overrun.