• OSINTSUM
  • Posts
  • OSINTSUM: Wednesday 17 January 2024

OSINTSUM: Wednesday 17 January 2024

French cement manufacturer fails to get crimes against humanity charges thrown out, Iranian strikes kill two children in Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia still open to normalising ties with Israel if peace with Palestinians achieved

OSINTSUM
Global Situation Update
Wednesday 17 January 2024

Interested in receiving the OSINTSUM on a daily basis? Email [email protected] for more information



Headlines

International
Energy: Oil falls due to slow Chinese growth and a strengthened US dollar

Africa
Comoros: Incumbent Assoumani wins fourth term in disputed presidential election
Niger: Deal to strengthen military ties with Russia confirmed
Sudan: Ties with IGAD suspended after RSF leader invited to summit

China
China: Philippines ambassador summoned over Taiwan congratulations
China: Slowest economic growth outside of pandemic years since 1990 recorded
Nauru: Chinese state media quickly establishes presence after Taiwan switch

Europe
Europe: Voters now split along five major issues according to survey
France: Cement maker Lafarge charged over crimes against humanity in Syria
Italy: Migrant rescue ship operations hindered by government policy
Poland: National broadcaster at forefront of culture war following Tusk reforms

Israel/Hamas Conflict
Israel: Security minister calls for occupation of Gaza
Jordan: PM says peace with Israel remains strategic policy in spite of Gaza conflict
Saudi Arabia: Foreign minister says normalisation with Israel possible if Palestinian issue resolved

Middle East
Pakistan: Iranian strikes kills two children in airstrike on Balochistan province
Saudi Arabia: Minister of commerce confirms BRICS membership not yet official
Yemen: Houthis to be relisted as specially designated global terrorists by US

Russia/Ukraine Conflict
Russia: Ukraine peace meetings derided as "pointless" by Moscow
Ukraine: Recent Russian airstrikes caused significant increase in civilian casualties



International

Energy: Oil falls due to slow Chinese growth and a strengthened US dollar
The price of oil fell by over $1 earlier today due to a slowdown in economic growth in China (the world's second-largest consumer of oil) and increased investor confidence in the US dollar.

The slowdown in Chinese growth has caused a concern over future demand, while the strengthened US dollar has increased investors appetite for risk, and means even the ongoing Red Sea crisis has not been enough to raise oil prices despite increased delivery prices and shipping times caused by tankers having to reroute.

Brent crude futures dropped by $1.19, or 1.5%, to $77.10 per barrel this morning, while US West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell $1.21, or 1.7%, to $71.19.

Source: Reuters

 

Africa

Comoros: Incumbent Assoumani wins fourth term in disputed presidential election
Incumbent Comoros President Azali Assoumani has won a fourth term in office in an election in an election described as "fraudulent" by opposition candidates.

Assoumani received 63% of the vote according to the east African archipelago's electoral body Ceni, but turnout was put at just 16% and allegations have arisen of ballot stuffing and polling centres closing early.

International poll observers have said the vote was free and fair despite the claims from opposition candidates to the contrary.

Analyst Comment: Assoumani - the current chairman of the African Union - was able to seek a fourth term after a controversial referendum saw the removal of presidential term limits in 2018, which led to widespread protests.

Recent comments by Assoumani suggest he is closer to India than China, unlike the president of fellow Indian Ocean archipelago nation the Maldives who is building ties with China at the expense of his country's previous relations with India.

Source: BBC News

  

Niger: Deal to strengthen military ties with Russia confirmed
Niger and Russia have agreed to strengthen military cooperation in a move which is further evidence of the African nations gravitation away from relations with the EU since its military coup last year.

Russia's defence ministry said the two parties' militaries had "agreed to intensify joint actions to stabilise the situation in the region" after a visit by Nigerien Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine - who was installed by Niger's military government following the coup - to Moscow.

In a separate meeting, Zeine held a discussion with Russian officials covering economic, trade, and investment relations, which will likely see an increase in Russian investment in Niger.

Analyst Comment: Since the coup took place, Niger has ended security agreements with EU nations, with its former major defence partner France completing its withdrawal of forces from the nation in December last year.

Russia has been undertaking a policy of undermining Western interests in Central and Western Africa, and has been supplying military support to some nations in the region via its mercenary group Wagner.

Source: Barrons

  

Sudan: Ties with IGAD suspended after RSF leader invited to summit
Sudan's government has suspended ties with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) after it invited the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to an upcoming summit.

IGAD is bloc comprising of eight East African nations, and is attempting to mediate between Sudan's army and the RSF to bring an end to the country's nine-month long civil war.

The Sudanese foreign ministry - which is aligned with the country's army - released a statement saying IGAD inviting RSF leader General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo to the summit without consulting Sudan's government was a "violation of Sudan's sovereignty". IGAD is yet to comment on the statement.

Analyst Comment: The announcement comes after Dagalo recently finished a tour of Africa where he met with government officials from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, and Djibouti.

The RSF appears to have taken the upper hand in the civil war over the past two months, taking significant advances eastwards and northwards across the country's central belt.

Source: AP News

 

China

China: Philippines ambassador summoned over Taiwan congratulations
China has summoned the Philippine ambassador in protest at Manila sending congratulations to the winner of Taiwan's recent presidential election, accusing it of interfering in Chinese internal affairs.

Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos sent Taiwan's pro-independence President-elect Lai Ching-te a note congratulating him on his victory on Monday, which led Beijing to warn Manila "not to play with fire" in an exchange likely to increase the already deep tensions between the two countries.

The Philippines' Foreign Ministry said Marcos remarks were a recognition of the Philippines and Taiwan's "mutual interests", which include the 200,000 Filipino workers which reside in Taiwan. It added that "nevertheless", the Philippines "reaffirms" its adherence to the One China Policy.

Analyst Comment: Recent hostile engagements between Chinese and Filipino ships in and near territory the South China Sea claimed by both countries has led to a deterioration in relations.

Other international leaders which have offered Lai their congratulations include the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa.

Source: Al Jazeera

  

China: Slowest economic growth outside of pandemic years since 1990 recorded
China has recorded its slowest annual economic growth excluding the pandemic years since 1990 according to official figures, driven by factors including its property crisis and global turmoil.

The country's National Bureau of Statistics  reported that its gross domestic product expanded by 5.2% to reach $17.6tn last year, which is better than the 3% recorded in 2022 when Covid restrictions hindered economic activity but the lowest since 1990 when the pandemic years are not taken into account.

Despite beating the target of "around 5%" set by Beijing, the figures are likely to increase pressure on officials to implement further stimulus measures to try and increase business activity and get consumers spending again.

Analyst Comment: A growth figure of 5.2% would be looked at as a massive success by governments in the US and the EU - which both average at least two percentage points lower - but is significantly down on China's performance in the 2010's where it was consistently around 6 or 7%.

Source: France 24

  

Nauru: Chinese state media quickly establishes presence after Taiwan switch
A reporter from China's official news agency Xinhua landed in the Pacific island of Nauru earlier today, days after it announced it was cutting ties with Taiwan in favour of China.

Chinese state television outlet CCTV was even quicker to establish its presence, filing a report from the island on Monday when Nauru's government announced they would no longer recognise Taiwan.

Mao Ning, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, today said the resumption of ties between the two nations would "bring unprecedented development opportunities to Nauru".

Analyst Comment: Taiwan believes China orchestrated Nauru's announcement to distract from the victory of pro-independence candidate Lai Ching-te the previous day.

The Pacific Islands are the subject of an "influence war" between the West and China, with each party attempting to curry favour with governments of islands in the region in return for being allowed to establish a presence there.

Source: Reuters

 

Europe

Europe: Voters now split along five major issues according to survey
European voters are now divided over five main issues according to a recent survey, and are no longer simply able to be divided into either left or right wing or pro- or anti-EU camps.

The authors of the study say the climate crisis, the 2015 migration crisis, global economic problems, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic are the main issues that voters feel most significantly affect their views.

The report, called A Crisis of One's Own: the Politics of Trauma in Europe's Election Year, suggests mainstream political parties may struggle to garner support by focusing on issues such as the future of the European project and that they should instead concentrate on voters' most urgent concerns.

Analyst Comment: The survey polled people in nine of the EU's 27 member states representing 75% of its population, as well as citizens of the UK and Switzerland.

15 European nations are holding elections this year, including Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Croatia, Lithuania, and the UK, as is the European Parliament.

Source: The Guardian

  

France: Cement maker Lafarge charged over crimes against humanity in Syria
France's highest court has rejected a request by French cement manufacturer Lafarge to throw out a charges of crimes against humanity against it for its involvement in the Syrian civil war.

The ruling is not a verdict on guilt, but means a years-long probe into the company's criminal liability for crimes against humanity can continue. The company did, however, get the court to drop charges that were being levelled against it for endangering the life of its staff.

It is still unclear whether the prosecutors will wrap up the investigation and send the case to court for a ruling on whether the company is guilty of the accusations.

Analyst Comment: Lafarge is accused of paying armed groups - including Islamic State and al Nusra Front - the equivalent of $5.92m to allow staff, customers, and suppliers pass through checkpoints during the civil war between 2013 and 2014.

Source: France 24

  

Italy: Migrant rescue ship operations hindered by government policy
Rescue vessels operated by migrant charities are being routinely impounded and assigned to ports in central and northern Italy as part a policy aimed at reducing the flow of migrants into Europe.

Premier Giorgia Meloni's government says the policy, which also forbids aid groups' ships from carrying out multiple rescue operations without authorisation, is intended stop the rescue missions which it says only encourage more migrants to attempt dangerous crossings from North Africa and reduce migration pressure on southern Italy.

Migration official Sara Kelany said that many of the groups organising rescue missions in the Mediterranean also have a stated political aim of changing EU migration policies, and were therefore political actors within the dynamics of immigration.

Analyst Comment: Being sent to ports in central and northern Italy means vessels are hundreds of miles and several days away from traditional rescue hotspots on the migration route from North Africa to Italy.

Over 60% of the 260,000 people who came to Europe across the Mediterranean from North Africa last year arrived in Italy according to the UN, while over 3,000 of those attempting the crossing drowned.

Source: NPR

  

Poland: National broadcaster at forefront of culture war following Tusk reforms
Reforms by Poland's new Prime Minister Donald Tusk have seen a power struggle break out as he attempts to restore balance in the media and end partisan bias.

Public broadcaster TVP, which had become blatantly partisan in its support of Poland's right-wing populist former government, has been surrounded by metal barriers and police officers to protect it from protesters unhappy that its former management was sacked at Tusk's request.

Protesters claim Tusk is a "traitor" and a "German agent", slurs state TV was promoting for years before the change in government late last year, and carry portraits of two former MP who were imprisoned this month for abuses of power.

Analyst Comment: As well as media reforms, former European Council President Tusk also plans to undo controversial changes to the country's judiciary which the EU says politicised Polish courts.

Source: BBC News

  

Israel/Hamas Conflict

Israel: Security minister calls for occupation of Gaza
Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has criticised the country's decision to withdraw an army division from Gaza and stated  it should instead be looking to occupy the Palestinian enclave.

He said that a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel yesterday was evidence a presence on the ground was needed for obtaining intelligence and asserting control, and to realise combat goals.

Ben-Gvir's comments are evidence of a divide between Israel's lawmakers, and are in contrast to Defence Minister Yoav Gallant's comments on Monday (15 January) that the "intense manoeuvring stage" of Israel's military offensive would "end soon".

Analyst Comment: On Monday, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said its 36th division, which is made up of armoured, engineering, and infantry companies, had withdrawn from Gaza after 80 days of fighting.

The withdrawal has been seen as the most significant sign yet that Israel is moving to the new phase of fighting that officials had been talking about.

Source: CNN

  

Jordan: PM says peace with Israel remains strategic policy in spite of Gaza conflict
Jordan's Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawaneh has told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that peace with Israel remains his country's strategic choice despite its operations in Gaza.

However, he warned that any efforts to drive Palestinians to Jordan - which shares a border with the West Bank - from Israel would be a violation of its peace treaty with the Jewish nation and pose an "existentialist threat" that Jordan would "have to react to".

He added that despite the policy of maintaining peace, multi-million dollar joint venture projects which involved the trade of water and energy between the two countries were effectively suspended due to the Gaza conflict.

Analyst Comment: Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty known as the Wadi Araba Treaty in 1994, which ended the state of war that had existed between them since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Source: Reuters

  

Saudi Arabia: Foreign minister says normalisation with Israel possible if Palestinian issue resolved
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has said his country may be willing to normalise relations with Israel if it reached an agreement with Palestinians that recognised their statehood.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Saudi Arabia agreed "regional peace includes peace for Israel, but that could only happen through peace for the Palestinians through a Palestinian state".

He added that regional peace through the creation of a Palestinian state was something Saudi Arabia had been working on with the US, and that if it was achieved Saudi Arabia would "certainly" recognise Israel as part of a wider political agreement.

Analyst Comment: The recent Gaza conflict put pre-existing US-backed plans for Saudi Arabia to join the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco in normalising ties with Israel on hold.

Saudi Arabia - the most powerful country in the Arab world and home to Mecca, the most sacred site of the Islam - views normalisation of relations with Israel as a key step in achieving a defence pact with the US.

Source: Reuters

  

Middle East

Pakistan: Iranian strikes kills two children in airstrike on Balochistan province
Pakistan says Iranian air strikes on its mountainous Balochistan province have killed two children and injured three others, adding that the attacks violated its airspace.

Iran's top diplomat in Islamabad has been summoned over the incident, which Pakistan's Foreign Ministry described as "completely unacceptable" and warned of potential "serious consequences".

Iranian state media outlet IRNA said the strikes targeted two bases of armed group Jaish al-Adl, which operates in Pakistan, while another Iranian state media outlet Press TV said they were carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Tehran is yet to make an official statement on the strikes.

Analyst Comment: Iran fired missiles into Northern Syria and Erbil, Iraq, on Monday. Iraq's government described the attack on Erbil, which killed several civilians, as a "blatant violation" of its sovereignty and recalled its ambassador from Tehran.

Source: Al Jazeera

  

Saudi Arabia: Minister of commerce confirms BRICS membership not yet official
Saudi Arabia's Minister of Commerce Majid al-Kasabi told the World Economic Forum that the kingdom has been invited to join BRICS, but has not yet officially joined the bloc.

Al-Kasabi's comments contradict the statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin at the start of the year - when Moscow assumed presidency of the bloc - in which he claimed Saudi Arabia had joined along with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.

It also contradicts a statement which was put out on Saudi state TV earlier this month that appeared to confirm the country had joined the bloc. The statement was removed from the TV network's social media shortly after being made. As yet the Saudi government has not confirmed any further details on the matter.

Analyst Comment: Saudi Arabia's consideration of BRICS' offer to join and its warming ties with China, which are likely driven by fears that the US is less committed to Gulf security than it has been in the past, have caused concern in Washington.

Source: Al Arabiya

  

Yemen: Houthis to be relisted as specially designated global terrorists by US
The US is expected to announce plans to redesignate the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel group in Yemen as specially designated global terrorists after its recent attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

The group was delisted as a foreign terrorist organisation and a specially designated terrorist organisation in February 2021 in an attempt to make it easier to get food imports and humanitarian aid into Yemen and alleviate the country's humanitarian crisis.

However, drone and missile attacks on at least 22 vessels - both military and civilian - in the Red Sea by the group since 19 November when it seized the British-owned Galaxy Leader cargo ship, have forced the US into reversing this decision.

Analyst Comment: The listing of an entity as a specially designated global terrorist means it is denied access to formal financial systems and isolated from sources of funding, as well as acting as a warning to any potential associates.

Source: AP News

  

Russia/Ukraine Conflict

Russia: Ukraine peace meetings derided as "pointless" by Moscow
Russia's foreign ministry has described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's plan to resolve the countries' two-year conflict as "pointless" and having no hope of succeeding.

Ukraine invited officials from dozens of countries - but not Russia - to Davos, Switzerland for the fourth in a series of meetings to discuss Zelenskyy's peace plan, which calls for a full Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, recognition of its 1991 post-Soviet borders, and a mechanism to hold Russia accountable for its actions.

A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry following the meeting claimed there was a "growing understanding" that peace could not be achieved by following what it called "the Zelenskyy formula".

Analyst Comment: This most recent meeting appears to show evidence of Ukraine's attempt to garner more support from the global south, with representatives from 18 Asian nations, 12 African nations, and six South American nations in attendance.

Zelenskyy has repeatedly ruled out any possibility of negotiations with Russia while its troops remain in Ukraine.

Source: Reuters

  

Ukraine: Recent Russian airstrikes caused significant increase in civilian casualties
A UN report says that Russia's recent wave of missile and drone strikes on Ukraine over the past few weeks has caused a significant rise in civilian casualties, reversing a previous downward trend.

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) said that 101 civilians were killed and 495 were injured  in December alone, a 26.5% month-on-month increase in verified casualties from November. The actual figure will be higher as there are still many cases requiring verification.

The figures mean that since Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, 10,191 civilians are now known to have been killed as a result of the conflict and another 19,139 have been wounded. Again, these figures are an undercount due to many reports requiring verification.

Analyst Comment: Russia has stepped up its aerial bombardment of Ukraine in recent weeks, likely in an attempt to overwhelm and wear out, as well as probe for weaknesses in its air defence systems.

Source: Radio Free Europe

 

Join the conversation

or to participate.