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  • OSINTSUM: Thursday 28 December 2023

OSINTSUM: Thursday 28 December 2023

Armenia/Azerbaijan peace deal looks close to completion, Swedish NATO membership one step closer, and Iran and Russia agree to trade in local currency

OSINTSUM
Global Situation Update
Thursday 28 December 2023

Headlines

Africa
Nigeria: Armed groups kill at least 160 in series of attacks
Uganda: Jihadists continue to attack civilian targets

Asia/Oceania
Azerbaijan: Armenian peace deal looks close to completion
Indonesia: Students force Rohingya refugees from temporary shelter
North Korea: Kim urged acceleration of war preparations
Russia: Almost all crude oil being exported to China and India
Russia: South Korea warned of potential retaliation for sanctions

China
China: US firm and individuals sanctioned for making human rights allegations
Hong Kong: Pro-democracy Civic Party disbands following crackdown on dissent

Europe
France: Plastic packaging ban for fresh produce comes into force in new year
France: Two Azerbaijani embassy officials expelled in tit-for-tat move
Poland: End of truckers' border blockade with Ukraine in sight
Sweden: Turkish approval of NATO membership moves closer

Latin America/Caribbean
Argentina: Thousands protest against deregulation and austerity
Brazil: Illegal mining in the Amazon increasing

Middle East
Iran: Agreement with Russia reached to trade in local currency
Iran: IRGC vows revenge over killing of senior commander
Israel: Iranian claims 7 October attack revenge for Soleimani killing denied by Hamas
Turkey: 71 Kurdish targets across Iraq and Syria struck

US/Canada
US: Proposal for G7 to explore confiscation of $300bn in Russian assets

Africa

Nigeria: Armed groups kill at least 160 in series of attacks
At least 160 people have been killed and another 300 injured in a series of attacks by armed groups in central Nigeria over the weekend.

The groups, known locally as "bandits", began their assaults in the Bokkos region of Plateau State and then moved into the Barkin Ladi area, attacking at least 20 separate communities.

At present, no connection with any jihadist groups has been made.

Analyst Comment: Citizens of north-west and central Nigeria have long suffered attacks from bandit militias operating from bases deep in the forests who loot villages and kidnap residents for financial reward.

Source: The Guardian

 

Uganda: Jihadists continue to attack civilian targets
Three people were burned alive in western Uganda on 25 December by members of the Islamic State's Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in its fourth attack in or near the Kibale National Park this month.

The group, known locally in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), has been conducting attacks in the region since June, killing at least 62 people.

It is believed the attacks are being carried out in retaliation for Uganda's joint operations with Congo against the group and its bases within the Congolese jungle.

Source: Long War Journal

 

Asia/Oceania

Azerbaijan: Armenian peace deal looks close to completion
A peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia looks close to being struck following a meeting between Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in St Petersburg on 26 December.

Several draft versions of a peace agreement have been exchanged, which underscore the need for mutual respect of territorial integrity, border demarcation, and the opening of communication channels.

The meeting followed a prisoner exchange on 13 December which saw 32 Armenian troops, mostly captured in 2020, released by Azerbaijan in return for the release of two Azeri soldiers by Armenia.

Analyst Comment: Any peace deal between the two parties would likely stop France's relationship with Azerbaijan deteriorating any further. Ties between the two countries have been eroded by French support for Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Source: The Guardian

 

Indonesia: Students force Rohingya refugees from temporary shelter
Hundreds of university students in Indonesia's western Aceh province stormed a temporary shelter for Rohingya refugees, forcing them to flee in the latest rejection of the minority by Indonesians.

The students entered a hall in state capital Banda Aceh where 137 Rohingya were staying chanting "kick them out" and demanding they be moved to a local immigration office ready for deportation.

The UN refugee agency condemned the incident, which it said was not an isolated act but a result of a coordinated online campaign of misinformation and hate speech against refugees.

Analyst Comment: Over 1,500 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Aceh since mid-November in the biggest such influx for eight years, with some ships being forced back into sea by locals.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and says it cannot be compelled to take in refugees from Myanmar.

Source: RFI

 

North Korea: Kim urged acceleration of war preparations
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has urged his Workers' Party of Korea to "further accelerate war preparations" at its end of year meeting.

He also stressed the "military situation" on the Korean peninsula had become "extreme" due to "unprecedented" hostile actions by the US.

His request came after he recently threatened that Pyongyang would not hesitate to launch a nuclear attack if provoked with nuclear weapons, and celebrated 2023 as a "year of great turn and great change" in which he saw "eye-opening victories".

Analyst Comment: Kim called for "an exponential increase of the country's nuclear arsenal" at last year's end of year meeting, having declared itself an "irreversible nuclear power" shortly before.

Source: RFI

 

Russia: Almost all crude oil being exported to China and India
Russia's oil exports are now almost exclusively being sold to China (45-50%) and India (40%) after sanctions imposed due to its invasion of Ukraine saw the proportion of its exports going to Europe reduce from 40-45% to 4-5%.

The figures were revealed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who added that the imposition of sanctions had accelerated Russia's push to build ties with Asian-Pacific nations.

Novak also said Russia was sticking to its supply cut obligations as part of the OPEC+ group of leading oil producers, and predicted Brent would be priced at $80-$85 per barrel next year in line with current levels.

Source: Reuters

 

Russia: South Korea warned over potential retaliation for sanctions
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said South Korea should not be surprised if Russia retaliates against Seoul for its recently increased sanctions.

Earlier this week South Korea said it was restricting the export of a further 682 types of goods deemed to have potential military applications to Russia, including plant machinery, rechargeable batteries, aeronautical components, and certain cars.

Zakharova said the restrictions would hurt South Korea's economy and that Russia reserved the right to take measures in response that would not necessarily be symmetrical.

Analyst Comment: When South Korea's new restrictions come into place in early 2024, the total number of goods banned from export to Russia and Belarus will be 1,159.

Source: Reuters

 

China

China: US firm and individuals sanctioned for making human rights allegations
China has banned a US research company and two individuals for making allegations of human rights abuses against it in relation to the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the country's Xinjiang province.

Los Angeles-based research firm Kharon, and its director of investigations Edmund Xu, and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies human rights analyst Nicole Morgret, have been handed travel bans and asset freezes.

The Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs said the sanctions were imposed in response to an annual US government report on human rights in Xinjiang, which accused China forcibly assimilating Uighurs and other Turkic peoples through the institution of forced labour.

Analyst Comment: China has long denied allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, saying the industrial-scale level of detention centres in the region is intended only to teach people job skills.

Source: AP News

 

Hong Kong: Pro-democracy Civic Party disbands following crackdown on dissent
Hong Kong's pro-democracy Civic Party has officially disbanded due to Chinese pressure, marking the end of what was once the city's second-largest opposition party.

The party was founded in 2006 by a group of lawyers, academics, and other professionals who were unhappy that Chinese promises of universal suffrage had not come to fruition almost a decade after the city's handover from the UK to China.

All of its members serving on the city's district and legislative councils had been ousted under Beijing's "patriots" doctrine - which bars anyone deemed "politically disloyal" from public office - by 2021, and recently the party was described as an "anti-China destabilising organisation" on Chinese television.

Source: France 24

 

Europe

France: Plastic packaging ban for fresh produce comes into force in new year
A French law banning the use of single-use plastic for packaging on fresh fruit and vegetables comes into force on 1 January next year.

The new legislation is aimed at helping France achieve its aim of becoming completely free of single-use plastic by 2040, and covers both plastic film and netting.

Items considered fragile, along with 29 other specifically-named foodstuffs including early harvest potatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms, are exempt from the ban.

Analyst Comment: Around a third of fresh produce in France is packaged in single-use plastic.

Source: WIO News

 

France: Two Azerbaijani embassy officials expelled in tit-for-tat move
France has expelled two Azerbaijani embassy employees in retaliation for the expulsion of two French embassy staff by Azerbaijan days earlier.

Azerbaijan expelled the French staff in protest at France's support of Armenia during European-mediated peace talks between the two Caucasus nations.

Analyst Comment: France is home to a large Armenian diaspora, and the two countries have recently signed defence agreements which will see the former supply millions of euros worth of military equipment and humanitarian supplies to the latter.

Source: France 24

 

Poland: End of truckers' border blockade with Ukraine in sight
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said his government is close to negotiating the end of a blockade by truckers on several Ukrainian border crossings which has been underway since 6 November.

Polish truckers are demanding the EU reinstate a system which required Ukrainian companies to obtain permits to operate within the bloc that was lifted in June 2022 to assist Ukraine in its efforts to combat Russia's invasion.

Tusk said it was unlikely any changes would be made before at least June 2024, but that he was hopeful other solutions that would make Polish truckers' lives easier would resolve the situation before the end of the year.

Source: Reuters

   

Latin America/Caribbean

Argentina: Thousands protest against deregulation and austerity
Thousands of union members and activists protested across Argentina yesterday (6 December) in opposition to new President Javier Milei's sweeping deregulation and austerity measures.

Milei's reforms are aimed at reviving the country's struggling economy, but opponents are unhappy they have been introduced without parliamentary approval by way of an emergency decree, and that they benefit business interests over workers' rights.

Milei's government said it would allow demonstrations to go ahead, but has prohibited the covering of faces or carrying of sticks, and threatened to cut off public aid payments to anyone blocking thoroughfares.

Analyst Comment: Since coming into office, Milei has devalued the country's currency, the peso, by 50%, cut transport and energy subsidies, and said his government would not renew the contracts of 5,000 recently hired state employees. He has also proposed repealing or modifying around 300 laws.

Source: ABC News

 

Brazil: Illegal mining in the Amazon increasing
Illegal mining in Brazil's protected Yanomami indigenous territory is on the rise again a year after 20,000 illegal gold and tin miners were expelled from the region.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made expelling the miners one of his first priorities after taking office in January, and by July only around 1,500 to 2,000 of them remained.

However, since the eviction operations were scaled back many have begun to return and government estimates suggest well over 4,000 are now operating there.

Analyst Comment: Many of the mining gangs operating in the Portugal-sized region are affiliated with organised crime networks, and are digging up mining equipment that was buried during the evictions.

The influx of outsiders into the region has been blamed for an increase in child mortality and diseases such as malaria among locals.

Source: The Guardian

 

Middle East

Iran: Agreement with Russia reached to trade in local currency
Iran and Russia have reached an agreement to trade in their local currencies instead of the US dollar according to Iranian state media.

The deal was agreed during a meeting between the countries' central banks' governors in Russia, and means banks and economic actors can now use non-SWIFT interbank systems to deal in local currencies.

The announcement follows the signing of a free trade agreement between Iran and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic union - comprising of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia - on 25 December.

Analyst Comment: The deal is further evidence of the increasing cooperation - both economic and military - between Iran and Russia. It follows an announcement in November that Iran had agreed to purchase Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters, and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft from Russia.

Source: Reuters

 

Iran: IRGC vows revenge over killing of senior commander
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has warned Israel it will take "direct" action to avenge the killing of senior commander Razi Moussavi.

Moussavi was killed by an Israeli missile strike near the Syrian capital of Damascus on 25 December according to state media, and his body has been taken to Iraq for funeral rites in Shiite Muslim holy sites ahead of his funeral which is planned for today.

IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif said the response to Moussavi's killing would be a combination of direct action as well as the action of others led by the Axis of Resistance.

Analyst Comment: Iran's "Axis of Resistance" is a network of regional proxy forces aimed at encircling Israel in a "ring of fire" comprised of heavily armed militias along its borders. The thinking behind it is that it will keep Israel busy on multiple fronts and prevent it from being able to mount an attack on Iran.

Source: RFI

 

Israel: Iranian claims 7 October attack revenge for Soleimani killing denied by Hamas
Hamas has denied a claim by Iran that the 7 October attack on Israel which left 1,269 Israeli's dead was conducted in response to the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in 2020.

Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) spokesman Ramadan Sharif said Hamas conducted the attack as a retaliation for the death of Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in January 2020.

However, Hamas said it "denied the validity" of Sharif's remarks, and stressed the incursion was carried out in response to "Israeli occupation and continued aggression" against Palestinians.

Source: Anadolu Agency

   

US/Canada

US: Proposal for G7 to explore confiscation of $300bn in Russian assets
The US has proposed that working groups from the G7 group of nations explore ways of seizing $300bn in frozen Russian assets.

The US has proposed moving forward with preparatory work so G7 leaders at a potential meeting on 24 February have options to consider.

The UK, Japan, and Canada have backed the proposals.

Analyst Comment: Some US officials have voiced concern that if a precedent for seizing funds is set, it may deter other nations from keeping money in the New York Federal Reserve or in dollars.

Source: Reuters

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