Iran has purged parts of its government in response to domestic unrest. Nearly 70 people, including members of the Tehran province city councils and the mayoral office in Zabol, were arrested over the weekend for corruption, smuggling and hoarding of goods. At least 100 more officials have been prohibited from leaving the country. The supreme leader and the minister of intelligence have come out in support of the purge. It would be tempting to dismiss this particular anti-corruption drive were it not for the scale. Earlier firings could be excused as a capitulation to the demands of protesters. The government’s actions over the weekend are clearly more proactive than that.
The purges alone won’t be enough to spare Iran from U.S. sanctions. Japan, South Korea and the European Union have ordered their banks to suspend activity in Tehran. China and Russia, however, are still open for business. Iran plans to cut the sale price of its oil to Asian markets in September, closer to the imposition of new sanctions that will target the energy sector, to attract business, but that may be too little, too late.
Beijing is increasingly giving in to the demands of the people. In northern China, authorities postponed the demolition of an iconic mosque after thousands of residents protested against its demolition (a particularly interesting concession, considering the government’s efforts to control religious activity). Beijing has also introduced new measures to mitigate the risks associated with peer-to-peer lending, including responding to investor inquiries and compliance inspections. Protesters have been demanding as much for days. President Xi Jinping is a consummate pragmatist, so his capitulations are not all that surprising. But they come amid reports that increasingly question his ability to control the government and maintain law and order. It’s unclear whether Beijing’s concessions, then, constitute a new strategy to control the people or are an illustration that Xi is already losing his ability to do so.
Syria and Turkey are on a collision course in Idlib. Syrian government forces have already positioned themselves along Idlib’s border and have begun to shell rebel positions. Turkey, meanwhile, has strengthened its position there by persuading some of its proxy groups, including the National Army and the National Liberation Front, to band together. Lurking behind the scenes is Russia, which has no intention of confronting Turkey and so is not expected to fight in any Idlib offensive. Maybe the Syrian government isn’t so chummy with Russia after all.
Belarus wants more control over its own economy. The country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, has again criticized Moscow for what he believes is unfair competition in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. He wants, among other things, to be able to sell state companies to Belarusian firms, not just Russian firms. Belarus’ economy has depended heavily on Russia’s for some time, but the president has only begun to complain now that Russia’s economy has taken a nosedive. Losing Belarus would be problematic for Russia as it provides a valuable buffer space between Moscow and Europe.
- South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang in September.
- Jordan’s Interior Ministry has concluded that those responsible for attacks over the weekend were Islamic State sympathizers but not an organized Islamic State cell.
- The five countries that border the Caspian Sea (Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan) have agreed to a special legal status for the body of water and surface water usage. The allocation of natural resources there, however, remains undecided (as does the issue of coastal boundaries) and will most likely be determined on a bilateral basis.
- Turkey will enact a series of aggressive measures meant to avoid financial collapse by increasing investor confidence and stopping the lira’s decline.
- Israel is on alert for renewed violence in Gaza, though the military has made no major movements. The government said it would only accept a full cease-fire from Hamas.