Sailing by the bear. The United States has conducted a freedom of navigation operation near the Sea of Japan to challenge Russian maritime claims there. Though these kinds of operations are routinely used to counter Chinese claims in the Western Pacific, this was the first one directed at Russia since 1987. Soon after, the U.S. notified Turkey of its intent to sail a warship through the Bosporus and Dardanelles into the Black Sea, presumably in response to Russia’s recent seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. (Notifying Turkey is required under the 1936 Montreux Convention.) The U.S. and Turkey may be at odds on issues such as the Kurds and the Syrian war, but mutual enemies have a way of bringing countries together. Turkey, with its long history of conflict with Russia in and around the Black Sea, will likely welcome this show of force by the U.S.
The U.S.-China tech war gets personal. Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei and daughter of the Chinese tech giant’s founder, was detained in Vancouver on an extradition request by the U.S. Details on the arrest remain scant, but it’s likely related to Huawei’s alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran. As with the brief U.S. ban on exports of critical components to Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE, which was also accused of violating previous sanctions on Iran, the CFO’s detention is mostly about the U.S. giving its sanctions some teeth. But while the arrest isn’t explicitly a result of the trade war, it’s not a separate issue altogether. The U.S. has been sounding the alarm about the potential for Beijing to weaponize technology exports for cyberespionage and other nefarious aims. Within the past week alone, Washington persuaded New Zealand to block a major local wireless carrier from using Huawei equipment, and British national carrier BT said it would remove Huawei components from its systems. If the U.S. denies Huawei – the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment – access to the U.S.-made components on which it still heavily relies, it would harm China’s efforts to move into high-tech industries. Beijing is far more worried about this sort of battle than it is about any tariffs.
A Kurdish bus line. A new bus line from Iraqi Kurdistan to Kurdish cities in northeastern Syria has begun operating. Though it may seem like a minor development, it’s noteworthy because the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S. ally in Syria that is dominated by Kurds, will oversee it. This will surely frustrate Turkey. Ankara considers the Kurds in question terrorists, so it won’t be too happy to find them strengthening ties with Iraqi Kurds, with whom Turkey has comparatively better relations. Behind all this is Turkey’s fear that Kurds throughout the region will coalesce into an independent Kurdistan. So long as cross-border collaboration – tacitly OK’d by the U.S. – continues, Turkey will distrust Washington’s intentions. After all, the U.S. has already established new observation posts along the Syria-Turkey border, ostensibly to create a shield for Kurdish forces in northern Syria against future Turkish offensives.
A Catch-22 for U.S. banks. New and seemingly contradictory policies from the EU and the U.S. toward Iran have put U.S. banks in a difficult situation. Washington’s sanctions on Iran require U.S. banks to seize the assets of companies that do business with the country. But the European Union has prohibited banks from seizing the assets of such companies. Complying with U.S. sanctions, then, risks exposing U.S. banks to lawsuits in the EU, which could make it difficult to manage their European business operations.
Update on Iran. Eighteen Iranian lawmakers have resigned in protest over the termination of projects meant to supply water to Isfahan province. Farmers there have protested all year, saying the government has made the ongoing drought worse by mismanaging resources. In Sistan and Baluchestan province, on the other side of the country, a Sunni jihadist group recently attacked Iranian security forces. The attack took place at the port of Chabahar, a joint venture with India, which quickly condemned the attacks. On the oil front, meanwhile, Iran is asking fellow OPEC members for a waiver to supply cuts, claiming that it should be exempted because of U.S. sanctions on its exports. Iran is in dire economic straits, so we’re keeping an eye out for signs of more political upheaval.
- Scotland’s Parliament rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal.
- Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group in Syria, attacked the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front. Turkey and Russia are trying to uphold a deal from September that established a demilitarized zone in Idlib, but attacks like these will put pressure on Ankara to either take greater military action against HTS or again face the risk of a Syrian offensive on its own positions in Idlib.
- Russia has reinforced its southern military district, which abuts the Caucasus, with a new motorized rifle regiment.
- Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic warned that the formal creation of a Kosovar army could be cause for military intervention.
- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told foreign oil companies that they need to make investments and produce oil before new auctions or contracts will be awarded.