The fog of war is thick in Syria. A Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane was shot down over the Mediterranean late Monday night by Russian-made air defense systems operated by Syrian forces, killing 15 Russian servicemen. The incident reportedly occurred as Israeli F-16s were carrying out airstrikes in Latakia province. (Earlier, Moscow claimed a French frigate nearby was also launching a barrage of missiles, but Paris denied any involvement.) The Russian Defense Ministry put the blame squarely on Israel, saying Israeli warplanes used the Il-20 as cover for their operations, thus deliberately putting it in the line of fire. The ministry also claims that Israel warned Russia of the impending strikes less than a minute before they happened – not nearly enough time for the Il-20 to move to safety. Moscow has said it reserves the right to respond but has not elaborated on what that might mean. Israel and Russia have mostly been trying to stay out of each other’s way in Syria, and neither side has much appetite for a direct clash. But with so many conflicting interests between the two, run-ins like this are difficult to avoid.
Washington escalated the trade war again. Late Monday, the White House made good on its threats to impose 10 percent tariffs on some $200 billion in Chinese exports. The U.S. said the tariffs would increase to 25 percent if a deal is not reached before Jan. 1. The deadline here is important. It shields U.S. voters from the fallout of the trade war ahead of the midterm elections (as do exemptions on popular consumer goods such as Apple products). It also gives the U.S. more leverage in the event it declines to impose yet another round of sanctions on $267 billion in Chinese imports, as President Donald Trump threatened to do last month. Neither side will back down anytime soon.
On the Korean Peninsula, at least, cooler heads are trying to prevail. South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in Pyongyang for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Moon and Kim are scheduled to get at least a day and a half of face time – far more than is customary in inter-Korean summits – suggesting that this meeting will be more substantive than usual. Indeed, as talks between Washington and Pyongyang stall, the two Koreas are taking small steps toward reconciliation. The difference is that Seoul and Pyongyang mean to avoid war and lay the groundwork for eventual reunification – North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is something of a sideshow. Yet, the summit will reportedly focus primarily on denuclearization anyway, illustrating just how much both sides think progress toward those goals requires U.S. optimism about the prospects of diplomacy. The fate of the two Koreas is not solely theirs to decide.
- Turkey will reinforce troop deployments in Idlib and conduct joint patrols with Russia near the border of Syria, according to Turkey’s foreign minister. This comes a day after Turkey and Russia agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib. Iran, the U.S. and some Syrian opposition groups have thrown their support behind the agreement.
- The U.S. and India are reportedly set to sign a trade deal in the next few weeks. Lending credence to the report is a statement from India, which announced it would delay retaliatory tariffs on several U.S. exports until at least November.
- Nikki Haley, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, accused Russia of violating U.N. resolutions on North Korea.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are meeting in Moscow to discuss a host of issues, including natural gas supplies.
- The CIA is reportedly expanding its drone program to target Islamist militants in Africa.
- Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland returns to Washington this week to resume NAFTA talks.
- Turkey will reportedly enact new measures to help banks deal with the surge of bad loans – a byproduct of high interest rates and a plummeting currency – including a proposal to allow banks to transfer nonperforming loans to a state-designated “bad bank.”
- Armenia and Azerbaijan are holding back-to-back large-scale military exercises focusing on the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.