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Daily Memo: The Most Important Geopolitical Story in the World

All the news worth knowing this weekend.

|June 30, 2018

By GPF Staff

Now that the weekend is upon us, there are five stories from the past week that deserve revisiting – and no, not one of them concerns the EU migration summit.

The balance of power may be shifting in East Africa. Two major developments lead us to this conclusion: an Eritrean delegation traveled to Ethiopia for cordial peace talks, and Sudan and South Sudan tentatively reached a peace agreement. Central to both these deals is Ethiopia, which appears to be attempting to settle regional conflicts. It is far too early to say whether Ethiopia will be successful in this regard. It is not too early, however, to note Ethiopia’s reaction to foreign competition for resources and power in its neighborhood. This is the context for a number of seemingly unconnected stories emerging from this part of the world last week, and it’s a story to follow closely.

The Balkans bends but does not break. The European Union left aspiring members Macedonia and Albania at the altar when it declined to begin accession talks with them. Serbia and Kosovo continued to rile each other up. This time, the instigator was Kosovo, which barred Serbia’s defense minister from visiting a monument near Kosovo’s capital and which dispatched police forces north. Both developments are tied to the EU’s inconsistent involvement in the Balkans, and while neither is in itself a prelude to another Balkan war, they are exactly the kinds of incidents that set the stage for future instability.

The situation in southern Syria is deteriorating rapidly. At the beginning of the week, it appeared as though Russia was making headway in persuading some of the rebels to defect to the Assad regime. Kiss the ring, join the fight against jihadists, and all will be forgiven, or so the thinking went. But it doesn’t look like it will happen. The United Nations has reported that more than 160,000 people have been displaced from their homes as the Syrian army pushes toward the southern city of Daraa. If it becomes another Aleppo, the site of so much suffering, then perhaps the world will take notice. In the meantime, Israel is taking notice now, heightening its military alert status in the Golan Heights and sending high-ranking officials for direct talks with their U.S. counterparts. This intersects so many stories: migration, Israel-Iran, U.S.-Russia, and more. War does not observe weekends.

The Iranian government is buckling as problems mount for the Rouhani administration. A weak currency sparked protests among rank-and-file shopkeepers against the country’s poor economic performance. Top officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps made ominous statements. The president is rumored to be considering a Cabinet reshuffle and has remained defiant as ever, insisting that his government will not fall even as rumors surface that he may be impeached. If the situation sours, impeachment may be the best Rouhani could hope for. Iran has overextended itself in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and its overextension, along with the death of the Iran nuclear deal, is putting a great deal of pressure on the country that has become the center of gravity in the Middle East.

Last but not least, China remains a land of contradiction. The week began with police breaking up protests staged by army veterans. By midweek, President Xi Jinping was telling his country’s diplomats to remain loyal to the Chinese Communist Party – a sign of his strength or his weakness, depending on how you look at it. By the end of the week, we were investigating reports that at least one major Chinese city had failed to pay its civil servants on time. Is the government beginning to crack, as so many of its predecessors have, under the weight of such a large and diverse country? Or is Chinese power so palpable that none of this matters, even in the absence of a credible opposition? There is perhaps no more important geopolitical story in the world.

Weekend mentions

  • A spokesperson for the government in Tajikistan told local media that the situation on the border with Afghanistan was deteriorating. Though he denied that the government had dispatched troops there, the heightened activity on the border is undeniable. Spillover from Afghanistan to the rest of Central Asia has been mostly kept in check – if it’s picking up, we need to follow it, considering how unstable Central Asia already is.
  • The Russian government has released a new national anti-corruption plan, a not-so-subtle euphemism for political purges. It’s unsurprising but notable that Putin is going to try to surround himself with more “reliable” people.
  • Singapore’s deputy prime minister met with China’s vice premier yesterday and talked about enhancing cooperation on the One Belt, One Road initiative. This is probably marginalia, but in light of all that’s taking place in the region, China’s intentions here have to be parsed.