Enemy's Enemy's Friend's Enemy: Post-ISIS Syria

Enemy's Enemy's Friend's Enemy: Post-ISIS Syria

Over the past three weeks, the war in Syria has taken a(nother) turn for the worse. Israel, Russia, and Turkey have all lost aircraft there. US-led forces have clashed directly with Russian-backed pro-regime militia fighters, Assad’s air force is ferociously pounding rebels, jihadists, and civilians in Idlib province, and Turkish troops are advancing against US-backed Kurdish militants along the northern border.


Why now? The kaleidoscope of interests in Syria is shifting again, in part because ISIS — the one constant enemy of everyone’s friend’s enemy’s friend — has been largely defeated, at least militarily.

But with ISIS out of the picture and the Assad regime’s survival now all but assured, the various players and proxies are pressing to maximize their leverage ahead of any peace settlement. In brief, who wants what?

Assad: reclaim as much territory from rebels and jihadists as possible ahead of peace talks that will doubtless confirm him as the leader of post-war Syria. For now this means bombing Idlib, one of the last strongholds of the insurgency and Al Qaeda-affiliated militants.

Turkey: prevent US-backed Kurdish militants from translating their military success against ISIS into external support for an autonomous Kurdish statelet in Northern Syria.

Russia: broker a settlement that makes Putin look like a wise and indispensable statesman on the global stage, while also securing Syria as a lily-pad for projecting Russian military power into the region.

Iran: secure Syria as a client state that acts both as a permanent land corridor linking Iran with its proxies in Lebanon and opens another proxy front line with long-time adversary Israel.

Israel: prevent Iran from doing just that — the downed Israeli jet was returning from a mission to bomb targets in Syria after Israel spotted what it said was an Iranian drone crossing into Israeli airspace.

Syrian Kurds: history hasn’t been kind to the hardy Kurds, but they’ll give it a go again: they want to translate their military success into political autonomy… this time inside Syria.

The United States: unclear — Trump has framed the United States’ relatively limited involvement primarily in counter-terrorism terms, leaving uncertainty about what, precisely, the US wants out of any political settlement. Washington’s initial “Assad must go” position is obviously a non-starter now.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

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