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Monday, May 24, 2021

What's Going On In The World Today 210524











Nagorno-Karabakh Is Moscow’s Latest Frozen Conflict

Russian peacekeepers have radically reshaped the region.

Dadivank, a beautiful Armenian monastery in the Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan, could be the world’s most fortified church: Its ancient ramparts bristle with sandbags and gun emplacements, and cloisters have been turned into an army barracks. Just six months ago, Armenian pilgrims could worship here freely and in peace. Now, the only way to visit is with a Russian army escort that leaves twice a month from Stepanakert, the regional capital of what remains of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, an Armenian breakaway region that controls just over two-thirds of Nagorno-Karabakh. The fate of this 12th-century monastery has become a flash point for the conflict over Armenian cultural heritage in land recently retaken by Azerbaijan.

As we stood in the courtyard of Dadivank after a recent Sunday service, Narik, my Armenian escort, pointed to the remains of an old water tower on a hill above us. “There is an Azerbaijani outpost right over there,” he said. “Careful, I bet they’ve got their rifles trained on us as we speak,” he added, a touch dramatically. 

As one drives into Stepanakert itself, a billboard with a stony-faced portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin glowers down. It reads “Man of the Year,” and the locals mean it seriously. The inhabitants of Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh regard Moscow as their last protector. Russia, for its part, has been increasingly cutting off and controlling the breakaway state, leaving Armenia more and more powerless in the region. 

Last month, the world’s attention was focused on Russia’s troop buildup on the border with Ukraine. But while international attention was distracted by what now seems to have been a fakeout, Russia was quietly consolidating control of another restive region in its environs: Nagorno-Karabakh.

The long-simmering conflict that erupted over the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh in September 2020 was a disaster for Armenia. Outside of significant loss of life—as many as 8,000 soldiers on both sides perished—Yerevan was forced to relinquish around a third of Nagorno-Karabakh in addition to seven Azerbaijani regions it had controlled since the first war over the enclave in the early 1990s. The Russian-brokered cease-fire that ended the latest skirmish mandated that a contingent of around 2,000 Russian peacekeepers control the new line of contact in the region…


Russia offers to help mediate in Armenia-Azerbaijan border row


Russia said on Wednesday it had offered to help mediate demarcation negotiations after Armenia accused Azerbaijan of a border incursion.

Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of sending troops across the border last week, highlighting the fragility of a Russian-brokered ceasefire that halted six weeks of fighting between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces last year. read more  

Azerbaijan has denied crossing the frontier and said its forces only defended their side. But Armenia said on Friday that Azerbaijan had failed to fulfil a promise to withdraw troops that had crossed the border. read more  

"Russia has offered first of all to provide assistance with the delimitation and demarcation of the border," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to Tajikistan…

Myanmar: U.N. General Assembly to Consider Arms Embargo

What Happened: The U.N. General Assembly announced it will consider May 18 a non-binding resolution to immediately suspend weapons sales to Myanmar’s military government, the South China Morning Post has reported. 

Why It Matters: The non-binding nature of the U.N. resolution and the robust military capabilities of the Tatmadaw mean the arms embargo will have little tangible impact on Myanmar’s ongoing post-coup crisis. However, the vote could once again put China in the position of having to mobilize against a resolution in the United Nations to defend its position as a friendly nation to Myanmar’s military government at a time when Beijing is also working to position itself as a neutral global leader amid the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Background: Myanmar’s government was overthrown in a Feb. 4 military coup, which has since caused considerable instability. The military’s violent crackdown on the opposition has so far killed hundreds of protesters and continues to draw international condemnation.





Norway to allow U.S. military to build on its soil in new accord

April 16, 20216:45 AM CDT

Norway, which shares a short border with giant neighbour Russia, said on Friday it has signed a revised agreement with the United States on how to regulate U.S. military activity on its soil. 

The agreement between the two NATO allies will let the U.S. build facilities at three Norwegian airfields and one naval base, but will not amount to separate U.S. bases, the government said. 

The deal made by the minority government of Prime Minister Erna Solberg must be ratified by Norway's parliament before coming into force. 

"The agreement regulates and facilitates U.S. presence, training and exercises in Norway, thus facilitating rapid U.S. reinforcement of Norway in the event of crisis or war," the government said… 

USS New Mexico docks in Tromsø as Norway, US bolster Arctic military ties


“We have been working hard with the preparedness and monitoring ahead of this port call,” said Inger Margrethe Eikelmann, head of the regional department of Norway’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA)... 


 ...US nuclear-powered submarines have over the last few years increased sailings in the north. Crew change and supply arrangements have until now been arranged in the fjords outside Troms in northern Norway. On Monday, however, the first docking took place, as the “USS New Mexico” came to Tønsnes municipal harbor some 10 kilometers north of Tromsø city center...


Germany detains suspects for stoning synagogue, burning Israeli flags

German police have detained more than a dozen men in three cities suspected of damaging a synagogue with stones, burning Israeli flags and starting a fire at a memorial for a Jewish house of prayer destroyed during the Nazi pogroms of 1938.

German politicians on Wednesday condemned the three separate incidents as anti-Semitic attacks, which coincided with escalating cross-border violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. 

Police said three men in their early 20s were detained on Tuesday night and released after admitting to throwing stones at the window of a synagogue in the city of Bonn and burning an Israeli flag. 

The suspects told police the Gaza-Israel violence had motivated them to throw stones at a synagogue…












Afghanistan’s Geography, 20 Years After the U.S. Invasion

 Geography and history have left Afghanistan a fractured landscape, the contours of which are re-emerging as the United States withdraws from its 20-year engagement. Landlocked in Central Asia, Afghanistan has a history of being a geographically fragmented nation with an equally fragmented society, with concentrations of ethnic, sectarian and clan affiliations that have long shaped the Afghan context. After the U.S.-backed invasion in 2001, the country’s otherwise warring populace was temporarily brought together through a newly established Afghan government backed by the U.S.-led coalition. However, Washington’s latest decision to end its 20-year occupation threatens to tear the delicate threads preventing the country from once again descending into civil war… 


Inside Washington’s Fight to Save Afghans Who Saved Americans

Afghan interpreters were promised U.S. visas. Now, red tape may cost them their lives.

In 1975, as the United States was hastily extricating itself from the Vietnam War, a junior U.S. senator gave a speech arguing against offering lifelines to Vietnamese allies as South Vietnam teetered on the precipice. 

“The United States has no obligation to evacuate one, or 100,001, South Vietnamese,” then-Sen. Joe Biden said. 

Now, as U.S. troops hastily withdraw from Afghanistan after two decades of war, President Joe Biden faces another major moral inflection point in U.S. foreign policy: Will Washington save the lives of Afghans who worked with the American military?

It’s a race against the clock and a battle against bureaucratic red tape, with life-or-death implications for thousands of interpreters and other Afghans who helped U.S. and coalition troops in exchange for visas to the United States. It is fueled by the specter of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan after U.S. troops withdraw and by a grim and growing death toll of Afghan interpreters who have been targeted by militants while awaiting their long-promised visas. 

The question over special visas for these Afghans has sparked a major political dust-up in Washington, with a growing chorus of lawmakers and U.S. veterans ratcheting up pressure on the Biden administration to take action. How the Biden administration makes—or breaks—promises to Afghan interpreters will have a major impact on the Afghanistan chapter of U.S. history, these lawmakers and advocacy groups argue…


Taliban and Afghan government negotiators meet in Doha


Taliban and Afghan government negotiators met in Qatar on Friday, the second day of a three-day ceasefire announced by the Taliban for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, both sides said after a long pause in peace talks between the two. ... "The two sides discussed the on-going situation of the country and emphasised speeding up the peace talks in Doha," the negotiating team representing the Afghan government said on Twitter.


Afghan police say Kabul mosque bombing kills 12 worshippers


A bomb ripped through a mosque in northern Kabul during Friday prayers, killing 12 worshippers, and wounding 15, Afghan police said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, the latest in a surge in violence as U.S. and NATO troops have begun their final withdrawal from the country, after 20 years of war. According to Afghan police spokesman ... the bomb exploded as prayers had begun. The mosque’s imam, Mofti Noman, was among the dead, the spokesman said and added that the initial police investigation suggests the imam may have been the target.... 

Afghanistan withdrawal up to 20 percent done


The U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is up to 20 percent complete with a little less than four months left in the effort, the Pentagon announced Tuesday. U.S. forces have shipped out approximately 115 C-17 loads of equipment out of the country, turned over more than 5,000 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency to be destroyed, and officially handed over five facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.




China increases spending 500% to influence America


New foreign-agent filings are finally detailing a massive Beijing propaganda operation that's fueled a sixfold increase in disclosed Chinese foreign influence efforts in the United States in recent years. Why it matters: Propaganda is central to China fulfilling its geopolitical aspirations, and its efforts to sow discord and disinformation in the U.S. have very real consequences for the American business, political and social climates.... State-run Chinese news service Xinhua is the latest to reveal some of the inner workings of its U.S. operations.


China rolls out rocket for Tianzhou-2 space station supply mission


China is set to launch the Tianzhou-2 space station cargo mission this week after rollout of a Long March 7 rocket at Wenchang spaceport. Rollout took place late May 15 Eastern (May 16 local time) at the coastal Wenchang satellite launch center... The roughly 13-metric-ton Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft will head to low Earth orbit to rendezvous and dock with China’s Tianhe space station core module. Tianzhou-2 will transfer propellant to Tianhe for maintaining its orbit and also deliver supplies to support crewed future missions.


Concerns grow over China nuclear reactors shrouded in mystery


Like many of the over 5,000 small islands dotting China’s coastline, the islet of Changbiao is unremarkable in its history and geography. Jutting out from the shoreline of Fujian province like a small right-footed footprint, it has only gained recognition recently – and even then among a small handful of experts – for being home to China’s first two CFR-600 sodium-cooled fast- neutron nuclear reactors. Currently under construction, the first of the two reactors is expected to connect to the grid in 2023; the second one around 2026. Together they will produce non-fossil- fuel-based renewable energy that could help China secure its energy needs while at the same time moving the country towards its 2060 carbon-neutral goal. 

China’s navy in live-fire drills across three theatre commands, hinting at moves to counter US


PLA Navy fleets attached to three of the Chinese military’s theatre commands have staged separate live-fire drills in recent days, state media reported. It [is] the second such drills in just over a month, with observers seeing the exercises as part of efforts to counter US military challenges. State broadcaster CCTV reported on Monday that the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern, Northern and Southern Theatre Commands held military exercises as part of “a comprehensive test of the overall operational capability of a naval formation in the context of actual combat”. It did not specify when and where the drills were carried out.




Agreement on restoring Iran’s nuclear deal ‘within reach’

Negotiators hope next round of talks in Vienna will lead to US lifting sanctions and Iran returning to full compliance.

Tehran, Iran – At the end of two more weeks of negotiations, representatives of world powers party to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal appear more certain that work to restore the landmark accord will soon succeed.

The fourth round of talks in Vienna began earlier in May, three years after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), imposing strict sanctions on Iran.

Following a Joint Commission meeting on Wednesday between Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union at the Grand Hotel – with the US still in another hotel – negotiators expressed optimism…

Iran has enriched uranium to up to 63% purity, IAEA says


"Fluctuations" at Iran's Natanz plant pushed the purity to which it enriched uranium to 63%, higher than the announced 60% that complicated talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday. Iran made the shift to 60%, a big step towards nuclear weapons-grade from the 20% previously achieved, last month in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz that Tehran has blamed on Israel and appears to have damaged its enrichment output at a larger, underground facility there.


Iranian Kurd dissident sets himself ablaze in Iraq


An Iranian Kurd seeking asylum in Iraq doused himself in fuel and set himself alight Tuesday near United Nations offices in protest against living conditions. Medics in Arbil treating Mohammad Mahmoudi, 27, said he was in a critical condition. Before setting himself on fire, Mahmoudi was filmed on a video posted on social media saying he had fled Iran because he was a critic of authorities in Tehran…

Two main contenders sign up for Iran's presidential election

May 15, 202111:03 AM CDT


Two of the main contenders to become Iran's president, hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, registered on Saturday to run in next month's election.

The June 18 election to succeed President Hassan Rouhani is seen as a test of the legitimacy of the country's clerical rulers who are hoping for a high turnout. Rouhani is barred by term limits from running again.

But voter interest may be hit by rising discontent over an economy that has been crippled by U.S. sanctions reimposed after Washington exited a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers three years ago.

Raisi is a 60-year-old mid-ranking cleric in Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim establishment. Appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as head of the judiciary in March 2019, he has emerged as one of the country's most powerful figures and a contender to succeed Khamenei…







Why Biden Can’t End Israel’s War With Hamas

There’s only one long-term solution to the conflict—and neither side is interested.

Impossible problems tend to inspire outlandish solutions. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a case in point: Just consider the Uganda Scheme(the early-1900s proposal to create a Jewish homeland in Africa) or former political advisor Jared Kushner’s more recent but equally absurd attempt to buy off the Palestinians with a little cash.

The Biden administration should keep the history of such gambits—and the fact that all of them failed—in mind this week as pressure mounts to intervene in the fighting. It’s easy to understand why leaders around the world want the United States to do something: The skirmish between Israel and Hamas has already killed more than 227 Palestinians and 12 Israelis, trashed Gaza’s decrepit infrastructure, sparked the country’s worst intercommunal violence since the 1930s, and torpedoed the formation of a historic Israeli left-right-Arab governing coalition to replace Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the recent election. Horrible as the situation is, however, getting too involved now would still be a mistake for Washington. While the two sides can be convinced to hit pause, there’s only one way to actually solve their fundamental dispute: a two-state solution. And that’s not in the cards anytime soon. 

The notion that a two-state solution—the creation of an actual, viable country called Palestine alongside a physically secure Israel—is the only way to finally resolve this very long, very bloody conflict may seem obvious. But it bears restating because it’s a truth all key leaders—in Israel, the United States, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the broader Arab world—have recently forgotten or simply ignored…









Did The West Promise Moscow That NATO Would Not Expand? Well, It's Complicated.

Some myths go back millennia. 

This myth, if it is one, goes back to 1990 -- and just over three decades later, it continues to form a central grievance in Russian President Vladimir Putin's testy narrative about Moscow's ties with the West. 

It's the question of NATO expansion -- an unhealed scab that, with Russian-Western relations at their lowest ebb since the Cold War, has been picked off yet again and is now bleeding into public view. 

Casting the issue into the spotlight this time was not an angry tirade from Putin but a report by the London-based think tank Chatham House, which, in a May 13 publication, aimed to dispel a host of what it called "myths and misperceptions" that have shaped Western thinking and kept it from establishing "a stable and manageable relationship with Moscow." 

One "myth" in particular kicked off a furious debate in e-mail threads, chat rooms, listservs, and on Twitter: "Russia was promised that NATO would not enlarge."

"The U.S.S.R. was never offered a formal guarantee on the limits of NATO expansion post-1990," John Lough, the research associate who authored the section, wrote. "Moscow merely distorts history to help preserve an anti-Western consensus at home..." 

Russia's northernmost base projects its power across Arctic


During the Cold War, Russia's Nagurskoye airbase was little more than a runway, a weather station and a communications outpost in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. It was a remote and desolate home mostly for polar bears, where temperatures plunge in winter to minus-42 Celsius (43 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) and the snow only disappears from August to mid- September. Now, Russia's northernmost military base is bristling with missiles and radar and its extended runway can handle all types of aircraft, including nuclear-capable strategic bombers, projecting Moscow's power and influence across the Arctic amid intensifying international competition for the region's vast resources.


Putin’s Shadow Warriors Stake Claim to Syria’s Oil

Companies linked to the Wagner group are snapping up oil and gas leases—with an eye to pumping influence, not oil.

A Russian company that recently struck a deal with the Syrian government for offshore oil and gas exploration is part of a network of companies that make up the shadowy Russian mercenary group known as Wagner, which has played a pivotal role in Moscow’s destabilizing activities around the world, according to emails and company records seen by Foreign Policy. 

The deal with the previously unknown Russian company Kapital, which was ratified by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in March, will theoretically see the Russian company explore for oil and gas in a 2,250-square-kilometer area off the coast of southern Syria. It threatens to cause a dispute with neighboring Lebanon, which has argued the area includes some of its waters. 

The deal comes as Moscow seeks to entrench its strategic foothold in Syria and, by extension, further expand its reach in the Eastern Mediterranean. It also underscores how Moscow continues to outsource its trickier foreign-policy objectives to private military contractors who offer a low-risk and versatile means of intervening around the globe while maintaining a thin veneer of plausible deniability. Best known for their mercenary activity, which spans the world from Sudan to Ukraine to Venezuela, Wagner operatives have also sought to exploit lucrative natural resource reserves in fragile states… 




Despite the Cease-Fire, Gaza Remains Primed for Another War

Israel and Gaza militants may have agreed to end their latest flare-up, but without a political solution to the greater Palestinian-Israeli conflict, grassroots violence and miscalculations by factions on both sides could still escalate into another war.  

On May 20, Israel and Gazan militants approved a cease-fire ending over a week of fighting after a military escalation erupted on May 10. The latest flare-up saw unrest in the West Bank and Jewish-Arab communities in Israel, as grassroots anger spread beyond the more traditional conflict zone along the Gaza-Israeli border. But as Gaza and Israel return to an unstable detente, anchored by a mutual desire to avoid an expensive conflict and held together by aid-for-peace arrangement, the underlying social drivers of another war are already in play.

  • Significant social unrest broke out in reaction to the Gaza conflict as far-right and ultranationalist Jews and Israeli Arabs clashed and rioted across the country in communities like Lod outside of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Tiberias, Acre and Beersheba. The fighting had no national leadership and was organized largely on social media.   
  • The conflict was sparked after Palestinian protesters in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem were forcefully cleared by Israeli police May 8-9. The police action provoked outrage throughout the Muslim world and was cited by Hamas as the rationale for the rocket and missile attacks on Jerusalem that followed… 




Suspected Pakistani spies use catfishing, stealthy hacking tools to target Indian defense sector


... Over the last 18 months, a spying group known as Transparent Tribe has expanded its use of a hacking tool capable of stealing data and taking screenshots from computers, according to research published Thursday by Talos, Cisco’s threat intelligence unit. Hackers also are going after additional targets beyond Indian military personnel, including defense contractors and attendees of Indian government-sponsored conferences. Talos did not mention Pakistan in its research, but multiple security researchers told CyberScoop the Transparent Tribe group is suspected of operating on behalf of the Pakistani government. Similarly, research from email security firm Proofpoint has previously linked a Pakistan-based company to the development of the group’s malicious code. Talos’ findings reflect a relentless appetite for defense-related secrets among hacking groups with suspected links to Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed neighbors prone to territorial disputes




Ex-Army Green Beret gets 15 years for Russian espionage


A former Army Green Beret who admitted divulging military secrets to Russia over a 15- year period was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison Friday on espionage charges. The sentence of 15 years and 8 months imposed on Peter Dzibinski Debbins, 46, of Gainesville, Virginia ... largely in line with the 17-year term sought by prosecutors. Defense lawyers sought a 5-year term. Debbins’ lawyer, David Benowitz, argued that Debbins caused minimal damage and that Russian agents had blackmailed Debbins by threatening to expose his same-sex attractions in a military era in which “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still in force....


Britain Sets Out Plans to Crack Down on Spying by Foreign States

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain set out plans to crack down on hostile activity by foreign states on Tuesday, introducing a proposed law to give security services and law enforcement new powers to tackle growing threats.

The bill will haul legislation into the modern age, updating archaic official secrets acts, some dating back more than hundred years, so that they are relevant to the threats posed in the age of cyber warfare, the government said…





DOJ: Cleveland man found guilty for plot to kidnap, possibly kill law enforcement to 'start an uprising'

CLEVELAND — A Cleveland man was found guilty for his plot to kidnap and attack law enforcement officers "in order to start an uprising." 

Christian Ferguson, 21, was found guilty by a federal jury of two counts of attempted kidnapping. 

In April 2020, the FBI received a complaint from a civilian regarding several "violent and extremist" posts in an online chatroom by an individual, later identified as Ferguson... 

Germany carries out raids on Hezbollah-linked groups

The three groups have been banned for allegedly collecting money for the families of Hezbollah fighters. The Lebanese militants have been active opponents of Israel.


Germany's Interior Ministry has outlawed three organizations accused of collecting money for the militant Iran-backed movement Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Bans against German Lebanese Family, People for Peace and Give Peace came into effect on Wednesday, but had already been pronounced in mid-April.

Police also conducted early morning raids at locations across seven German states, including Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland Palatinate.

"Those who support terrorism will not be safe in Germany, regardless of the garb in which their supporters appear, they will not find a place of retreat in our country," Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's spokesman said…





Russia's northernmost base projects its power across Arctic


An officer speaks on walkie-talkie as the Bastion anti-ship missile systems take position...



During the Cold War, Russia's Nagurskoye airbase was little more than a runway, a weather station and a communications outpost in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. It was a remote and desolate home mostly for polar bears, where temperatures plunge in winter to minus-42 Celsius (43 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) and the snow only disappears from August to mid- September. Now, Russia's northernmost military base is bristling with missiles and radar and its extended runway can handle all types of aircraft, including nuclear-capable strategic bombers, projecting Moscow's power and influence across the Arctic amid intensifying international competition for the region's vast resources...





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