Ukraine, NATO: Friendly fire.
Also: Russia, China, the US, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Guatemala.
UKRAINE. NATO. Friendly fire.
Kyiv’s backers show signs of impatience.
Britain's defence secretary said "we're not Amazon" on Wednesday when asked about further assistance for Ukraine. Germany said it had detected explosives on a Ukraine-linked yacht believed to have destroyed the Nord Stream pipeline.
INTELLIGENCE. Volodymyr Zelensky said he was upbeat after the NATO Summit, but this is hard to square with the alliance’s communiqué, his body language, and the emerging disquiet from his backers. Joe Biden attempted to put a new spin through a speech aimed at Russia, but a new framework for countries to provide Ukraine with individual security deals is a continuation of the status quo. And a statement that F-16 jets were "likely" doesn't change a thing.
FOR BUSINESS. NATO is again signalling that support “for as long as it takes” does not mean forever. In characteristic bluntness, Hungary’s prime minister said NATO should promote a ceasefire, not ship weapons. Fellow NATO member Turkey reiterated a willingness to mediate as its president downplayed speculation of strained ties with Moscow. Investigations over Nord Stream bear watching. Proof of Ukrainian sabotage could further damage Kyiv’s standing.
RUSSIA. CHINA. UNITED STATES. Backchannels.
A spate of meetings is taking place.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Jakarta on Thursday for meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Russia’s spy chief said on Wednesday he recently spoke to his CIA counterpart about “what to do with Ukraine.”
INTELLIGENCE. Alongside Beijing and Moscow, Washington is an ASEAN dialogue partner and Blinken is expected to meet with his Chinese and Russian counterparts while in Jakarta. In the wake of Janet Yellen’s recent visit and his own of last month, Blinken is also expected to push Xi Jinping to travel to the US, not only to resolve bilateral irritants but the war in Ukraine. On Tuesday, Russian media reported that Putin had been invited to visit Beijing in October.
FOR BUSINESS. It is never bad when enemies speak, but the view may be different in Kyiv, which would prefer to be further in its counter-offensive before peace is explored. The US would ideally have Ukraine better positioned as well, but ahead of next year’s US elections, now might be the best time for Biden to begin talks. Much has been made of reports on Wednesday that Kyiv has won back 253 km2 since June. Still, that’s an area little larger than Palm Springs.
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RUSSIA. CHINA. INDONESIA. Three’s a crowd.
An unlikely trio suggests something bigger.
The foreign ministers of Russia, China and Indonesia met trilaterally on Wednesday, on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting. Wang Yi, China's top diplomat, said cooperation among the three powers would "boost regional peace”.
INTELLIGENCE. Indonesia rarely meets in “minilateral” formats unless in connection with ASEAN, which Jakarta is hosting. The trilateral with Russia and China was thus significant and, beyond talk on food and energy security, may signal Indonesia’s ongoing desire to be part of a Ukrainian peace deal. Last month, Indonesia's defence minister controversially proposed a demilitarised zone and a UN-monitored referendum in “disputed” Ukrainian territory.
FOR BUSINESS. Indonesia’s proposal was met with bemusement, not least due to its ignoring of similar arrangements in East Timor and West Papua. It may, however, take a country like Indonesia to make a deal. So far, it has avoided the Russia-related controversies of non-aligned peers like India, South Africa or Brazil. Further, it has a good track record of brokering peace in its own region, except perhaps for the current civil war raging in Myanmar.
MYANMAR. Come you back to Mandalay.
Thailand’s outgoing government wants to leave a legacy.
Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said on Wednesday he had held talks on Monday with Myanmar's coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Don said Suu Kyi “encouraged dialogue” with the junta..
INTELLIGENCE. Don’s secret visit to Myanmar, days before a meeting with ASEAN – which has so far failed to resolve the country’s civil war – was either an embarrassment to ASEAN host Indonesia or done with its blessing. Either way, Thailand’s outgoing military-backed government will want to use its links to Myanmar’s ostracised army to stabilise the border. It would also like to do at least one positive thing before a new administration takes power in Bangkok.
FOR BUSINESS. Myanmar has spent 53 of the past 75 years under a form of military government. And for much of the remainder, its democratic institutions have been kept under the army’s thumb. A democratic settlement won’t come easily for the country, which since a coup in February 2021, has been in civil war. In the meantime, China and India are courting all sides, worried that chaos at the fulcrum of South and East Asia could spill across their borders.
With the brevity of a media digest, but the depth of an intelligence assessment, Daily Assessment goes beyond the news to outline the implications.
THAILAND. More’s the Pita.
Bangkok’s establishment strikes back.
Pita Limjaroenrat, winner of Thailand's 14 May election, was sole nominee for prime minister on Thursday, when parliament will elect a new leader. Thailand's election commission on Wednesday recommended he be disqualified.
INTELLIGENCE. Thailand could be in crisis unless a deal is made between elite powerbrokers and the Move Forward Party, which Pita represents. Such deals are not uncommon, but the late intervention by the election commission suggests that the monarchy and military-linked establishment has been unable to find accommodation. Thailand's Constitutional Court also accepted a complaint on Wednesday against Pita's plans to relax lèse-majesté laws.
FOR BUSINESS. Caretaker prime minister and 2014 coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha announced his retirement on Friday. Should constitutional chicanery lead to violence on the streets, he may be called back. Thailand’s younger generation is unhappy with crony politics and an underperforming economy. The controversies of King Vajiralongkorn have broken the unifying role of the monarchy and perceptions of corruption have eroded respect for the military.
GUATEMALA. TAIWAN. Volcano in the rainforest.
A Central American country could erupt.
Guatemala's electoral court on Wednesday approved a runoff presidential vote for August between former first lady Sandra Torres and Bernardo Arévalo. The same day, the country's Attorney General’s Office ruled Arévalo's party invalid.
INTELLIGENCE. The seemingly contradictory rulings almost led to riots on the streets until heavy rain drove protesters away. Guatemalans, suffering years of misgovernance, corruption and endemic violence, were already sceptical of the polls. The first round received more protest ballots than votes for any one candidate. Guatemalans are also voting with their feet. The country is one of the largest per-capita sources of irregular migration to the US.
FOR BUSINESS. Should Arévalo be allowed to compete, his economic platform may not differ wildly from Torres, a fellow leftist, but unlike her, he has indicated he would switch Guatemala’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to China. Guatemala would join neighbouring countries Honduras and Nicaragua, which have made the switch in recent years, leaving Belize as Taipei’s last Central American ally (Paraguay and a smattering of Caribbean states also remain).
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