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CWA # 174, 26 October 2019

The World this Week
The new Turkey-Russia axis in the Middle East, Trump Impeachment inquiry, Protests in Latin America and the Oil spill in Brazil

  GP Team

This edition of the World This Week (TWTW) looks at the following four issues: Putin-Erdogan meeting leading to a new Russia-Turkey axis in the Middle East; a new twist in the impeachment inquiry against Trump in the US; a new oil spill in Brazil; and a series of protests across Latin America in Bolivia, Haiti and Chile

Harini Madhusudhan, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer, Nidhi Dalal and Rashmi Ramesh
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS
 

Turkey-Russia Axis in the Middle East, and a new reality for the Kurds
What happened?
Putin and Erdogan, Presidents of Russia and Turkey, respectively, met at Sochi for seven hours to discuss the “Operation Peace Spring.” They agreed that the operation would continue in a limited area, and Moscow understands the reasons behind the Turkish military incursion into Syria. “Ultimately, the country must be freed from illegal foreign presence,” said Russia. After the truce ended, they would patrol the borders together. Civilians in the Kurdish areas were seen hurling insults at a US troop convoy that crossed from northern Syria into Iraq, trying to vent anger over a withdrawal they see as a betrayal. Syrian military units moved into several villages in northeast Syria as part of the agreement with the Kurds. 

After the meeting concluded, it was decided that the Kurdish forces would have to be beyond thirty kilometres from the border. The Syrian army would be deployed at the border, and there would be joint Russia-Turkey Patrols along the border. Part of the outcomes was the statement that called the US stance on Syria, “Too fluid and contradicting.”

What is the background?
The US Vice President Mike Pence brokered a truce in the recent aggression by Turkey on the Syrian border. Closer to the end of the truce, Putin and Erdogan met at Sochi and discussed on the essential matters at the region. The agreement announced that six days from then, the Russian and Turkish forces would jointly start patrolling a narrower, ten-kilometre strip of land in the “safe zone” that Ankara wants in northeast Syria. US Vice President Mike Pence voiced his support for the establishment of the safe zone. 

The US withdrawal from northern Syria has been heavily criticized by various communities, the US lawmakers, some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, and is seen as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who have helped the United States fight Islamic State in Syria. 

Turkey has sought a “safe zone” along the 440 kilometres border with northeast Syria, but its assault is primarily focused on the two border towns in the centre of that strip, Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad. The Syrian and Russian forces have entered the two border cities, Manbij and Kobani, which lie within Turkey’s planned “safe zone” and are to the west of Turkey’s military operations. Erdogan has stated that he could accept the presence of Syrian troops in those areas, as long as the YPG are pushed out.
 
What does it mean?
Russia and Turkey’s friendship is making the news for the second time this year. First was when Turkey chose to forego the US fighters and went with Russian technology, and the second one is during this confrontation. Game theory suggests that Turkey went with the most reliable option at the moment, and this might be seen as a win-win situation for all except the Kurds. The deal between Russia and Turkey can be seen as a significant blow to the self-determination movement of the Kurds. The US stance, as well as the outcomes of Turkey-Russian bonhomie, have sufficiently pushed the Kurds to a corner. One must wait for what would be the next move of the Kurds. 
  
Trump impeachment inquiry gets critical with Ambassador Taylor’s testimony 
What happened?
On 22 October 2019, Bill Taylor who is presently the acting US ambassador to Ukraine was reported to have prepared a detailed testimony which confirmed President Trump’s attempts to pressurize the Ukrainian President into instigating a probe over Joe Biden’s son by withholding military aid. The diplomat’s testimony further went on to contradict Trump’s denial over the alleged claims. Popular media reports suggested that the Democrats consider this as the gamechanger and have been further pushing it to quicken the impeachment proceedings.
 
What is the background?
On 24 September 2019, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi had announced that an inquiry would take place as a part of impeachment proceedings. The impeachment proceeding against Donald Trump was launched by the democrats after an alleged phone call that the President had made to his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky on 25 July this year. A whistleblower complaint following this conversation further revealed that the US President was heard asking Zelensky for favours in the upcoming 2020 American Presidential elections. 

According to reports, Trump had asked Zelensky to launch a corruption scandal against Joe Biden, the 2020 presidential candidate from the Democratic Party and his son Hunter Biden who holds business interests in the Ukrainian region. Trump had held the prospects of a possible military aid for Ukraine. The scandal, if triggered, would have boosted the potential of Trump being re-elected in the upcoming Presidential elections. 


What does it mean?
First, the latest push for the Presidential impeachment by the Democrats shows the further increasing divide between the Congress and White House. Trump’s increasingly personalized policies with no account for the institution has primarily pushed domestic politics into disarray. Also, this testimony has given the Democrats, the much-awaited opportunity to act against Trump’s indecisive policies and quicken the impeachment.

Second, this testimony has only further confirmed what seemed uncertain in the past weeks ever since an impeachment inquiry was announced. This means that Trump’s arguments and his threat against the investigators to hamper the process has repeatedly failed him.

Finally, while the domestic situation in the US is taking an upturn when the 2020 presidential elections are already around the corner, it is also important to note that the present legal push is undermining America’s political position both internationally and more specifically at the domestic level, as getting rid of Trump might not be a solution to the larger political phenomenon he represents.
 
Latin America on fire: Protests rock Chile, Bolivia and Haiti
What happened?
A state of emergency has been declared in Chile. Facing the worst unrest in almost thirty years, Chile is under the grip of violent protests and curfew. Most of the deaths happened during the loot and burning in Santiago city. In six days of protests, the police have made more than two thousand arrests. Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera has apologized and promised of economic reforms. Considering the violence and number of causalities, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has decided to send a team to Chile to investigate human rights abuses against the demonstrators. A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate charges of homicide and sexual abuse by the police in thirteen districts of Santiago. 
 
In Bolivia, suspecting fraud in the recently held elections, there have been protests against the incumbent President Evo Morales. Protestors have burned several buildings including electoral offices, and there have been reports of civilian deaths over the week. The President has rejected all allegations, while the second-placed candidate Carlos Mesa has demanded a second round of voting. Mesa’s demands have been supported by the US, Argentina, Columbia and Brazil. 
 
Haiti has been facing protest, demanding that President Jovenel Moïse step down because of corruption. Protestors have clashed with the police, that has left about twenty civilians dead. A Haitian senator opened fire on the protestors gathered around the Parliament building, injuring a journalist in the process. Catholic leaders have taken to streets calling for a solution to the crisis that has gripped Haiti. 

What is the background?
In Chile, the movement started with a students’ protest against the hike in subway fares. Since then, the protests have engulfed the country with people joining protests to express their dissatisfaction. Chile is one of the wealthiest in South America; it also has the most significant divide between the rich and the poor. The hike in subway fares was just an opening of a deep wound of economic inequality in the country. Protestors have targeted markets, petrol pumps, and metro turnstiles; they have more also resorted to looting and burning. 
 
In Bolivia, polling for the Presidential election of the President had closed on Sunday, and the results of quick count predicted a second-round vote. The official website had stopped operating for almost 24 hours, and when it resumed, there was a lead of ten per cent in the votes for Evo Morales. Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU had called for re-count to restore the faith of the people in the legitimacy of the electoral process. Morales has rejected complaints of rigging. He has been at the helm President since 2006 and has been criticized for trying to alter the presidential term limits. 
 
In Haiti, there has been intense corruption and economic slowdown during the past few years. Inflation has been rampant. People have been protesting since February 2019; however, this has been the longest one, lasting for more than six weeks. The security situation had declined after the withdrawal of United Nations peacekeepers. The democratic process has been under attack by a breakdown of social order and recurring military coups. 
 
What does it mean?
In Chile, the President’s plans for economic reformation have been rejected by the protestors. People want a proactive government role in managing the rich-poor divide. Government’s attitude is not addressing the unrest. Though the resignation of President seems unlikely, the government will have to pursue better social policies. It will also have to make decision making accessible to people to maintain order. 
 
In Bolivia, people’s trust in the democratic electoral process has dwindled after the discrepancies in the process. Not only has the process of the election been questioned, but also the credibility of the institutions are under threat. The unrest is likely to continue until the popular trust in the institutions and the government are restored. 
 
In Haiti, the unrest will not decline until there is a solution to political dysfunction. The anti-government protests will continue until there is an agreement between the government and the people. The government has to take measures to close the divide between political elites and the common masses. The government will have to provide long term solutions for the crisis in educational, social, medical and economic sectors.
 
Brazil’s mysterious oil spill 
What happened?
After a disastrous summer wildfire in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil is in the midst of another environmental catastrophe that has appalled both its citizens as well as the international community. Since early September, barrels of oil has been washing ashore mysteriously. The oil spill that initially affected twelve beaches has spread across 2000 kilometres in 200 beaches of nine coastal states. Around 600 tonnes of oil have washed ashore so far.
 
The scientific community has failed to understand the reason. Samples have been sent to laboratories to determine the source of the oil. Initial results from Brazil’s environmental agency is unable to match the chemical composition of the oil to those available in Brazilian oil fields. The Federal University of Bahia reported the same. The Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute in the United States is also testing the samples to determine the source of the oil spill. 
 
What is the background? 
Oil spills have occurred across different periods in history. Some of the most toxic and most significant oil spills have taken place in oceans, rivers, on land and in forests. The Mingbulak oil spill of 1992 that happened in Uzbekistan is the most significant such accident on land. It caused massive fire, which took around two months to be doused. The Kolva River in the Russian Arctic was much affected by a large-scale oil spill due to leakage in the pipeline. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Persian Gulf War oil spill in West Asia are perhaps the two most significant incidents that caused widespread harm. 
 
What does it mean?
Brazil recently gained attention for its lack of willingness to combat the wildfires in the Amazon. The current oil spill has once again pushed the government in a tight spot. The far-right government has to answer many questions regarding climate change. While Amazon fire was dubbed as an “internal” matter, the oil spill is now being called as a “criminal activity” aimed at jeopardizing an upcoming multi-million dollar auction event for distributing oil prospecting rights. The government also has blamed neighbouring Venezuela. However, Venezuela denied the allegations. 

The blame game and persistent state of denial is a matter of concern. The delay in response to the oil spill has dismayed the environmentalists, scientists and the Brazilians. The international community is criticizing the authorities for lack of appropriate mechanisms to manage incidents of this kind. Due to delayed response, citizens formed a group - Coast Guardians, to clean the beaches physically. Online propagation has helped them garner more funds to procure safety equipment required while cleaning. 

This is not the case with Brazil alone. Developing countries lack mechanisms to control and respond to oil spills. For instance, the oil spill in Nigeria in 2006, led to 47 million gallons of oil leaking into the Niger Delta region. According to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation estimates, it is not uncommon to find hundreds of oil spills each year. Brazil’s neighbour Peru had an oil spill in June 2019, due to a leakage in the pipeline and a large part of the Amazon forest was affected. Indigenous communities depending on the forest and the rivers say that this is a regular occurrence. In 2018, another South American country Colombia had an oil spill into the Magdalena, the main river of the country. It led to the death of more than 2000 animals and severe health issues among the indigenous people. 

These incidents neither gained international traction, nor the assistance required to clean the affected areas. The governments are financially incapable, technologically backward, and there is also a lack of understanding about the seriousness of the issue. The disaster management mechanisms fail to provide safety for the people and animals vulnerable to oil spills and also fail in providing alternatives for livelihood in case of accidents. 

On the other hand, the oil spills in developed countries gain much-required attention and are capable of handling such issues. A classic example is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, said to be the worst in the history of the United States. Technologies such as dispersants, bioremediation, solidification and vacuum suction were used to clean the east coast within two months.  The oil spill is also part of disaster management, and there is a clear distinction between the developed and the developing world in this regard. 

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