Ukraine: Friendly firing
Also: Russia, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, China, the DRC, and Venezuela.
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UKRAINE. Friendly firing
Talk of the military chief’s sacking sparks debate.
Volodymyr Zelensky was moving to replace Valeriy Zaluzhny as chief of the defence force, numerous Ukrainian social media accounts claimed on Monday. Zaluzhny posted a message to Telegram saying "our unity is our weapon."
INTELLIGENCE. Much of the chatter could normally be dismissed as Russian disinformation, particularly as it fell on Ukraine’s 22 January Unity Day holiday, marking the 1919 declaration of the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic. Yet fissures in the elite are real and the rise of Zaluzhny’s purported successor, 38-year-old military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov, has been conspicuous – including with a major profile in the Financial Times on Saturday.
FOR BUSINESS.As the war pivots from mass formations to guerrilla tactics, a new commander would normally make sense. Yet Zelensky would risk uproar within a demoralised army by sacking a popular general who is thought to have his own political ambitions. Much of the blame for Ukraine’s failed counter-offensive and controversial mobilisation has been blamed on Zaluzhny, but others, including MPs and ex-advisers, have blamed the commander-in-chief.
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RUSSIA. SYRIA. Golan flights
Moscow complicates Israeli actions in the Levant.
Moscow has commenced air patrols along the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria, Russian and Israeli media reported Monday. Russia's foreign minister met his Iranian, Turkish and Lebanese counterparts in New York on Monday..
INTELLIGENCE. Russia maintains a foothold in Syria and, while careful not to completely damage relations with Israel, has occasionally intervened when it senses its proxy is under threat. The deployment of helicopters along the ‘Bravo Line’ on the Golan Heights, however, may also be about Iran, which lost at least five officers after Israeli strikes on Damascus. For even if Moscow doesn’t wish to protect Tehran, it does have an interest in slowing further escalation.
FOR BUSINESS. Russia and Iran are reportedly close to finalising a major energy and trade treaty, which would also cover their growing military ties. Yet neither side completely trusts the other, and Russia has equally ambitious plans with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – all of whom are traditional Iranian foes. Putin and Netanyahu also have their longstanding friendship to keep in mind. Both have found each other useful as a bridge to their respective enemies.
IRAN. PAKISTAN. Chinese whispers
Beijing encourages a quiet reconciliation in a complex neighbourhood.
Tehran and Islamabad will return their ambassadors this week, a joint statement said Monday. Iran's foreign minister will visit Pakistan next week following last week’s tit-for-tat missile strikes. China said it was supporting the mediation.
INTELLIGENCE. China maintains close ties with both countries, and any enduring spat would be bad for Beijing. Yet its interests in Pakistan are complicated by an enduring US military presence and the present government’s pivot to the West after years of economic disaster. Elsewhere, Iran’s growing ties with India also complicate China’s efforts. These, in turn, are supported by Moscow, which tries to maintain equidistance between Delhi and Beijing.
FOR BUSINESS. A swift Iran-Pakistan rapprochement eases tensions in an already combustible region but the risk of further conflict cannot be ruled out. The Balochi militants at the centre of tensions on both sides of the border are, to varying degrees, said to be assisted by Indian intelligence. In 2016, Pakistan arrested an Indian naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, it claimed was working with separatists and spying on Chinese infrastructure developments.
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CHINA. DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO. Copperbelt and roads
Beijing and Kinshasa eye a "resource for projects" deal.
Recently re-elected President Felix Tshisekedi hosted Chinese special envoy Shen Yueyue on Sunday. During his inauguration speech on Saturday, Tshisekedi said China was discussing a $7 billion deal on minerals and infrastructure.
INTELLIGENCE. Building roads and rail in exchange for commodities has been an industrial model since King Leopold, but the DRC has few choices amid rampant corruption, dire poverty and unstable borders. China hopes to renegotiate a controversial $6.2 billion contract signed in 2008, which has produced little benefit to the Congolese. Beijing wants to retain influence in Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest state, and a key supplier of copper, cobalt and coltan.
FOR BUSINESS. China’s diplomacy in Africa has gathered pace since relations with Canada and Australia soured in 2017. Ties with the latter have improved, but Beijing wants to continue diversifying its mineral imports even if that means accepting more sovereign risk, whether iron and bauxite in Guinea or oil in Nigeria and Sudan. Beijing is also competing directly with Washington. Antony Blinken is currently on his own infrastructure-focussed tour of Africa.
VENEZUELA. The plots thicken
Maduro and his rivals keep each other busy.
Authorities arrested 32 soldiers and civilians on Monday over an alleged US-supported conspiracy to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro. Pro and anti-regime activists prepared mass demonstrations to commence on Tuesday.
INTELLIGENCE. On the anniversary of Venezuela’s 1958 coup, Caracas is on edge. Under a deal with the US – which has involved the return of some migrants but little else – free elections are supposed to be held this year. Yet from coup plots to threats against Guyana, Maduro is working hard to engineer force majeure. As each act of bad faith makes Biden look weaker, however, Maduro is indirectly helping Trump, who could well take the steps Caracas fears.
FOR BUSINESS. Venezuela is fuelling chaos on the US border, exacerbating gang warfare across the region and harming stability in the Caribbean, but many are choosing to do business anyway. Dollarisation is seeing the return of brands such as Zara after years of hyperinflation. The economy grew 5% last year after sanctions were lifted and oil firms returned. Interest has risen in the liquidated assets of Caracas-owned but Houston-based Citgo Petroleum.