Daily Memo: Islamic State in Africa, Ukraine’s President on Russia, the US and Russia in Syria

All the news worth knowing today.


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.

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