The Islamic State in Africa. The Islamic State appears to be increasing its presence in Africa. Its latest activities suggest that it’s following through on the attrition campaign it announced on June 1. In yesterday’s memo, we noted that IS supporters in Sudan called for jihad against the country’s Transitional Military Council. In addition, the group has claimed responsibility for high-profile attacks in three other African countries in the last 24 hours. In Libya, IS took credit for two attacks on Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army in Derna. The group’s West Africa affiliate claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on June 1-3 in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state. Meanwhile, the IS Central Africa detachment attacked members of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s military in the village of Rowangoa. Most notable, however, is the revelation of the Islamic State’s presence in Mozambique, which it said was an expansion of its Central Africa “province.” The group highlighted its success in repelling an attack by the Mozambique army in a village near the northern port of Mocimboa da Praia. While Mozambique is a Christian-majority country, its Muslim population is concentrated in the north where this attack and others have occurred. Lastly, while the group’s presence in Somalia is not new, U.S. Africa Command claimed that IS was recruiting enough new fighters there to offset losses it’s incurring from U.S. airstrikes.
Zelenskiy on Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is continuing the rhetorical tradition of his predecessors. On a trip to Brussels, Zelenskiy discussed whether his country might be ready for negotiations with Moscow. But he also discussed large-scale NATO drills in the Black Sea, expressed his opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and came close to accusing Russia of aggravating the conflict in the Donbass region. It’s clear the new Ukrainian president isn’t ready to make concessions or change Kiev’s position on the conflict in eastern Ukraine; while he declared Kiev’s readiness to fulfill the stipulations of the Minsk agreements, he said on June 5 that Ukraine’s delegation to Minsk would submit new proposals for a cease-fire in Donbass.
The U.S. and Russia in Syria. Citing a senior Trump administration official, Reuters reported that the U.S. may be seeking cooperation with Moscow to limit Iran’s involvement in Syria. The U.S. proposal is supposed to be issued at a summit later this month in Jerusalem. On June 2, London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat wrote that part of the proposal entails the United States’ acceptance of Bashar Assad’s control in Syria if Russia is willing to help push out Iran, and that it would entail cooperation with Israel. Radio Farda, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe’s Iran branch, reported that Russia has denied that any sort of agreement has been reached. Working together to expel Iran from Syria would provide the U.S. and Russia with a new area of cooperation and would fit, as we’ve written, with Russia’s long-term goals for Syria.
Russian gas and Moldova. Moldova may be without Russian natural gas supplies next year. The country’s contract with Gazprom expires on Jan. 1, 2020, and the two sides have yet to agree on its replacement or extension. Moscow hopes that its gas will continue to flow through Ukraine, though that contract, too, expires at the end of 2019. An added problem is that Russian gas also goes through the breakaway territory of Trans-Dniester, which has debts to Gazprom that its president says he has no intention of paying.
The EU vs. Italy. Continuing what it started just over six months ago, the European Commission on Wednesday called for the opening of a so-called excessive deficit procedure against the Italian government. The commission noted that Rome had not met spending targets that were agreed to as part of a compromise in December; the deficit this year is projected to reach 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, despite the government saying it would stick to a comically precise 2.04 percent. The time frame of the process is flexible, but Brussels could require Rome to set aside a non-interest-bearing deposit of up to 3.5 billion euros ($4 billion), equivalent to 0.2 percent of Italy’s GDP, as soon as next month. Meanwhile, plans by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini – who is widely seen as the real shot-caller in Rome – to form a coalition to remake the European Union from within suffered twin blows on Wednesday, when Poland’s Law and Justice Party and the U.K.’s Brexit Party said they would not join a Salvini-led euroskeptic coalition in the European Parliament. The game for Italy now – as it was last winter – is to score as many political points and win as many concessions as it can before the markets force it to back down.
- About 120,000 people protested in Prague on Tuesday, demanding the resignation of the billionaire Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. If that number is accurate, it would be one of the largest protests since 1989.
- The Pakistani military voluntarily reduced its defense expenditure to help support the government as it faces financial constraints. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the money will go toward development projects in Balochistan. The need to trim budget expenditures is related to Pakistan’s recent $6 billion aid package from the International Monetary Fund; in the past, civilian leaders have generally avoided cutting defense spending to meet IMF terms.
- The European Commission warned that Greek tax cuts and pension payouts announced last month threatened fiscal targets that Athens had agreed to with eurozone lenders.
- A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft was intercepted by a Russian Su-35 over the Mediterranean Sea in what the U.S. Sixth Fleet claims was an unsafe interaction because of the high-speed pass that came close to the U.S. intelligence plane. Both aircraft were in international airspace.
- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is hosting last-ditch talks with Mexican officials hoping to stave off 5 percent tariffs on Mexican imports to the U.S. expected to be implemented next week.
- The U.S. Commerce Department released plans to ensure the country’s supply of rare earth elements and end dependence on imports amid Chinese threats to ban U.S.-bound exports of the minerals, which are critical to a wide range of commercial and military applications.
- Israeli news agency Kan claims that the U.S. will publicly present evidence proving Iran’s ties to the tanker attacks near the United Arab Emirates within the next two days and that Mossad played a critical role in collecting the intelligence.
- Trade war fears are prompting investors to cut and run in China, which saw $12 billion in capital outflows in April and May, the largest since China launched its stock connect program five years ago to allow easier access for foreign investors to Chinese equity markets.
- Venezuela’s oil exports fell 17 percent in May.
- A decline in its exports has led South Korea to its first current account deficit in seven years.
- China has recommended 25 different pesticides to be used to combat the spread infestation of armyworm, which has now spread to 18 of its provinces. Beijing is strongly encouraging municipalities to assist local farmers in learning how to use these pesticides.
- China is planning to divert existing inventories of U.S. soybeans to state stockpiles rather than processing to ensure it has some supplies remaining if the U.S. implements additional tariffs.
- According to a report by accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young, foreign direct investment projects in Britain fell by 13 percent last year.
- U.S. H-1B visas, which are granted to foreign workers with unique skills that are difficult to meet in the domestic market, fell by 10 percent last year.
- China launched its first sea-based carrier rocket from the Yellow Sea, carrying telecommunications, weather and space-observation satellites.