🌍 Five insights from Prigozhin’s demise
Plus: BRICS get bigger
⏱️ Around the world in sixty seconds
🇧🇹 Bhutan: China and Bhutan agreed Thursday (24 August) to implement a “three-step roadmap” to demarcate their border. The pair have held dozens of bilateral talks since 1984 to determine the status of around 800 square kilometres of disputed territory.
🇳🇱 Netherlands: A court ruled Friday (25 August) that two Israeli military officers, including current opposition leader Benny Gantz, can’t be sued for ordering airstrikes on Gaza in 2014. The court said the men have immunity because they were carrying out government policies.
🇻🇺 Vanuatu: A court found on Friday that Prime Minister Kalsakau lost a no-confidence vote in parliament earlier this month after his decision to sign a security pact with Australia. The fate of the western-aligned Kalsakau now depends on a court appeal.
🇬🇹 Guatemala: The Organisation of American States (OAS) has demanded Guatemala provide protection for Bernardo Arévalo, the surprise anti-corruption candidate who won the country’s 20 August elections. The OAS said there were reports of a plan to kill Arévalo.
🇧🇭 Bahrain: More than 700 prisoners are participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions in Bahrain’s Jau prison. Many of the striking inmates have been in prison since 2011 for protesting the country’s monarchy during the Arab Spring.
🇷🇺 Russia | Geopolitics
Portraits of Yevgeny Prigozhin (L) and his deputy Dmitry Utkin (R) at a makeshift memorial in Russia. Credits: AFP
Five insights from Prigozhin’s demise
Moscow announced yesterday (Sunday) that DNA tests have confirmed the death of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in last week's downing of his private jet. Here are five quick takeaways on what this all means:
1) Wartime decisions have long tails: you can trace Prigozhin's death back to Ukraine's decision to defend its town of Bakhmut. It lost the town, but inflicted heavy losses on Wagner and inflamed the group’s rift with Moscow, leading ultimately (if unexpectedly) to Prigozhin’s mutiny and death.
2) Russia still sees value in mercenaries, it just doesn’t like losing control. After decapitating Wagner, Moscow’s challenge is now to co-opt it. But the group has its own loyalties and resources, so next steps will depend in part on individual calculations within Wagner ranks: fewer will trust Moscow now.
3) Wagner has seemingly been side-lined in Syria, and there are rumours Moscow wants the same in Africa. But Wagner provides security to multiple presidents there, and those ties will be tough to unwind. Plus, those regimes won’t want to leave a vacuum for insurgencies or regional intervention.
4) Prigozhin leaves behind a more paranoid and dysfunctional Russia, with elite infighting and instability now exploding into public view. Sheer self-preservation might offer a veneer of stability in the short term, but Russia’s elites will only get more jittery over the longer term.
5) As for Putin, his brand was always about restoring Russian order and greatness. But his invasion of Ukraine has seen Russia become a pariah abroad, while triggering instability at home. Prighozin’s defiance shattered Putin’s myth, and Prighozin’s death - no matter how spectacular - can't glue it back together again.
Intrigue's take: Whenever Putin's own end arrives, our sense is it'll be swift: Prigozhin’s fate indicates there's little value in negotiating first.
Also worth noting:
Moscow has said western claims that Putin was behind Prighozin’s presumed assassination are “an absolute lie”.
Initial US intel reportedly suggests an on-board bomb or sabotage were most likely responsible for the downing of Prighozin’s jet.
📰 How newspapers covered…
Japan’s decision to release treated wastewater from Fukushima
“China suspends all aquatic products from Japan over Fukushima contaminated water dumping”
“Fukushima: China accused of hypocrisy over its own release of wastewater from nuclear plants”
🤝 BRICS | Geopolitics
BRICS needs a new acronym
The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) agreed to welcome six new members at their summit in Johannesburg last week (22-24 August).
The expansion debate dominated proceedings, with China preferring a rapid expansion, while India and Brazil wanted a more incremental approach.
Ultimately China, accounting for around 70% of total BRICS GDP, won the day: by the summit’s end, Argentina, Ethiopia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the UAE had received invitations to join the BRICS in 2024.
Intrigue’s take: There are so many competing interests at play here:
🇨🇳 China sees BRICS as a way to project inevitability behind its rise
🇧🇷 Brazil is hedging its bets, but is mindful of China pushing too far
Ditto for 🇮🇳 India, which presumably accepted new members knowing they’d limit the bloc’s unity and effectiveness for China
🇷🇺 Russia sees BRICS expansion as a way to reduce its own isolation, and
🇿🇦 South Africa wins status by hosting a high-profile summit.
But after years of these summits, the BRICS are still searching for a coherent mission, a common purpose, and a meaningful track record. So even as it gets bigger, the BRICS bloc doesn’t appear to be getting any stronger.
Also worth noting:
In announcing the expansion, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the original members had “consensus on the first phase of this expansion process, and further phases will follow.”
The newly invited BRICS members have a combined GDP of around $3T (3% of global GDP).
➕ Extra Intrigue
Your weekly roundup of the world’s more curious news:
In Scotland, folks just kicked off (with the help of drones) the largest hunt for the legendary Loch Ness Monster in 50 years.
US authorities are asking people not to “kiss or snuggle your turtle”, following a multistate outbreak of Salmonella linked to small turtles.
In New Zealand, an outgoing parliamentarian has suggested the country should join Australia.
Norway is rebuilding a reindeer fence along its border with Russia, to stop the mammals from triggering compensation claims in Russia.
And around the world, why are parents cracking eggs on babies’ heads?
🗳️ Poll time!
Does the BRICS expansion make the bloc more formidable?
📸 Photo of the day
An opposition supporter at a rally ahead of last week’s elections in Zimbabwe.
Credits: Al Jazeera
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced on Saturday that President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, has won a second and final term in office. In response, the opposition has alleged “blatant and gigantic fraud”, and UN chief António Guterres voiced concerns about “the arrest of observers, reports of voter intimidation, threats of violence, harassment and coercion.”