Weekly Global Briefing: World News You Missed This Week
Russian/Turkish arms deals, renewed uncertainty in Romania, and cholera outbreak in Yemen
Turkey and Russia are negotiating a deal for the latter to supply Ankara with their S-400 aircraft missile defense system. Turkey began negotiations with Russia after deals to acquire missile systems from France and China fell though over the last two years. The deal for the warheads, radar, and other hardware is reported to cost about $2.5 billion.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the S-400 is a mobile surface to air missile system capable of striking aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as ground targets. It has a maximum range of 400 km. Operational for 10 years, it is the Russian counterpart to the Patriot system, used by NATO. Russia has also sold the S-400 to China and India. If the deal is realized, Turkey will be the only NATO country to employ the S-400.
The deal is the pinnacle of a stark two-year turnaround in relations between the two nations. In 2015, Turkey and Russia were close to a conflict when Turkey downed a Russian jet flying into its airspace. Much has changed since then. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin now have more mutual interests than differences. They are both seeking to create dictatorships, and are going to great lengths to stifle democratic institutions and opposition in their respective countries. They also seek to expand spheres of interest over old enclaves; Russia in Ukraine, Turkey in the Middle East, and both in the Balkans respectively.
The Western condemnation each has received for their transgressions has brought the two closer together strategically. Last year, they signed a gas pipeline deal that would bring Russian gas to Europe by bypassing Ukraine. In May, both countries, along with Iran, agreed on de-escalation zones in Syria, allowing them to dictate the nature of the conflict going forward.
Putin-Erdogan relations are certainly a development to monitor. When autocrats become friends, the world is seldom better off.
2. Romania’s PM Ousted
Last week, Romania’s Social Democrat Party (PSD) won a no confidence vote against their own Prime Minister, ousting Sorin Grindeanu in a landslide vote, with 241 MPs voting for and only 10 against the motion. Today, President Iohannis Klaus appointed Mihai Tudose, the former economy minister, as PM. Mr. Tudose now has 10 days to form a new cabinet.
The vote marks the latest twist in a six month PSD term full of scandal and crisis. After coming to power in December with a solid 45 percent of the vote, the PSD quickly squandered their political capital. Several weeks after the election, the party decided to enact a decree to essentially decriminalize low-level corruption, under the guise of prison overcrowding. This was not looked upon favorably in one the EU’s most corrupt countries. Massive protests were the biggest Romania had seen since the fall of communism.
Though the government pulled the decree back, the turmoil didn’t stop there. Relations between Mr. Grindeanu and PSD’s party leader, Liviu Dragnea, became fraught. Mr. Dragnea, himself convicted of voter fraud, felt Mr. Dragnea was not fulfilling the party’s platform. Many believed the vote was initiated by Mr. Dragnea in order to rid himself of Mr. Grindeanu. Whether Mr. Tudose will prove more compliant remains to be seen.
Americans might look favorably at the notion of a vote of confidence given its current predicament, but such measures are not without their drawbacks. The continued political uncertainty threatens to hinder Romania’s growth, currently one of the most robust, at 5.6%. The next government has a chance to finally right the ship, or witness more protests on Bucharest’s streets.
3. Yemen is Facing the World’s Worst Cholera Outbreak
Yemen’s two-year conflict has resulted in more than just casualties of war. The World Health Organization is reporting that the Arab world’s poorest country is also suffering from the worst outbreak of cholera in the world, with about 200,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, with an estimated 5,000 more people infected each day. Both the WHO and UNICEF are working to stem this tide, but Yemen’s crumbling health and water infrastructure, combined with chronic food shortages, make this incredibly difficult.
Cholera is an infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Most infected people do not show symptoms (but can still carry the bacteria and transmit it via their feces), but in some cases acute diarrhea may develop, causing severe dehydration and death, if left untreated. Children are particularly susceptible to developing such symptoms.
Cholera spreads most quickly in conflict and other humanitarian crisis areas, as they often lack adequate water and sanitation facilities. One of the last prominent outbreaks occurred in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, after infected UN soldiers improperly disposed of latrine waste. While treatment is fairly inexpensive (most people are simply given oral rehydration solution, which costs pennies), it can be difficult to administer in such circumstances because of shortages of hospital staff and a lack of medical facilities and basic infrastructure. Eradicating the disease in a community once it is present requires investment in clean water sources and adequate sanitation facilities.
Yemen has been in and out of civil war between the north and south parts of the country for much of the past 50 years. The two sides unified in 1990, under Ali Abdullah Saleh, but the battle lines never disappeared. Saleh held onto power until he was deposed in 2012 during the Arab Spring. The latest iteration of the conflict began in 2015, when rebels from the northern Houthi sect, reportedly supported by Saleh, took the capital of Sana’a.
The Houthis, bankrolled by Iran, have since been fighting government forces, based in the southern city of Aden and supported by Saudi Arabia. The resulting instability has allowed Al-Qaeda and Islamic State to take control of vast areas of the country, and the US has conducted scores of drone strikes in those areas against them. These strikes have gotten more numerous, and more dangerous to civilians, under President Donald Trump With so many warring factions, the conflict-and all of its consequences- is unlikely to be settled anytime soon.