🌍 Myanmar gets the silent treatment
Plus: Guns for gold.
Hi there Intriguer. Some huge news today… due to overwhelming demand, we’ve launched a podcast! Intrigue Outloud is now live, so subscribe on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Intrigue Outloud will include recaps of key stories from our newsletter, longer-form interviews with geopolitics gurus (maybe you?), and a few other goodies. Our first ep features Charles Dunst (The Asia Group) on democracy vs autocracy in the 21st century. It’s a cracker. We’d love to hear what you think!
Today’s edition is a 5 min read:
- 🇲🇲 Myanmar’s civil war is unlikely to end soon.
- 🇨🇫 Russian mercenaries stumble in the Central African Republic.
- ➕ Plus: A military coup unexpectedly brought democracy on this day in 1989, how the papers are covering Australia’s new $5 note, and some extra intrigue from Jeremy.
– VC & EP
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇪🇺 The EU: Top officials including President von der Leyen have travelled to Kyiv to show solidarity with Ukraine, as the war’s one year anniversary looms. The trip is also aimed at showing that the EU itself remains united (despite Russian efforts at division).
- 🇺🇸 The US: The Pentagon announced Thursday (2 February) that it’s tracking a Chinese spy balloon flying over the US. While it’s flying too high to pose a direct threat to air traffic, it’s a significant escalation just days before the US Secretary of State visits China.
- 🇲🇾 Malaysia: Malaysia’s PM is demanding Goldman Sachs pay a $2.5 billion fine for its role in a massive corruption case. Some of the cash stolen from Malaysian coffers ended up financing the film The Wolf of Wall Street, and the saga became a best-selling book.
- 🇸🇧 Solomon Islands: The US has reopened its embassy in Honiara after a 30-year hiatus, as DC seeks to compete with China’s influence in the region. The Solomons switched recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019, and China opened its embassy there in 2020.
- 🇪🇬 Egypt: Five people were arrested by Egyptian authorities after publishing a satirical video about a prison visit. The video has been watched over seven million times, and the satirists behind it are now facing charges such as ‘joining a terrorist group’.
🇲🇲 MYANMAR | COUP
Silence permeates Myanmar on two year anniversary of coup
Briefly: On Wednesday (1 February) anti-government protesters across Myanmar took part in a silent strike to mark the second anniversary of the military coup (which was unwittingly caught on camera by a fitness instructor). Businesses were encouraged to remain closed, while streets in the country’s main cities emptied out in defiance of the regime.
Popular resistance remains widespread, especially in rural Myanmar, where insurgent groups are now engaged in a civil war against the military. Over the past two years, the conflict has claimed the lives of around 30,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million.
On the world stage, the regime isn’t doing much better. The country’s military leaders have been isolated by the international community, though the ice appears to be cracking in parts. For example, Tatmadaw reps have been invited to a regional defence summit later this month, which the US and Australia will also attend (awkward). They’ll get a warmer welcome from China, whose state media infamously described the coup as a “cabinet reshuffle“.
Intrigue’s take: Since the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s economy has shrunk by a fifth, and one-third of the country’s population is now in dire need of aid. The Myanmar military has minimal support or funding, but maintains control partly because the resistance is fragmented both geographically and organisationally. All the while, the world seems unable (or unwilling?) to do much more than impose sanctions. And so the fighting continues.
Also worth noting:
- The military regime has extended a state of emergency for a further six months, effectively delaying the (sham) elections scheduled to take place before August.
- Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s leader who was ousted in the 2021 coup, has been condemned to serve 33 years in jail on a series of trumped-up charges.
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: Australia’s decision to replace the British monarch on its five-dollar note.
Links: The Times, Jamaica Observer, Financial Review
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🇷🇺 RUSSIA | MERCENARIES
Wagner Group’s campaigns in Africa will only get worse
Briefly: Rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) inflicted significant losses on Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group in the ongoing battle for control of mineral-rich regions in the country.
The Wagner Group, the infamous private military company on the frontlines of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has been a fixture in CAR since the government hired them in 2018 to defeat a years-long insurgency. But as one of the world’s poorest countries, CAR has offered to pay mercenaries with captured resources – think gold and diamonds – instead of cash.
Although mercenaries are illegal in Russia, Wagner formally registered as a Russian company last year, and even opened an office in St Petersburg. It has been accused of using increasingly brutal tactics in CAR as its momentum in the country has slowed.
Intrigue’s take: This won’t end well. Expert Colin Clarke sums it up perfectly (if alarmingly): “[T]he Wagner Group has acted in a predatory manner, siphoning resources in exchange for security. Once the resources and minerals are depleted, Russia will withdraw, leaving behind a volatile region that could develop into a safe haven and sanctuary for [militants].”
Also worth noting:
- Neighbouring Chad and Sudan agreed last month to join Wagner and the CAR to fight rebels near their shared borders.
- On Tuesday (31 January), UN human rights experts claimed that the Wagner Group has committed war crimes during its ongoing campaign in Mali.
📜 ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Military coups rarely go as well as Paraguay’s…
Alfredo Stroessner came to power in 1954 and ruled Paraguay ruthlessly until this day in 1989, when his closest confidant, General Andrés Rodríguez, initiated a coup to topple him.
To the surprise of almost everyone, Rodríguez then freed political prisoners, abolished the death penalty, and moved to hold elections on 1 May 1989. He won, in elections that were considered mostly free and fair, before declining a second term and handing power over peacefully to a successor for the first time in decades.
Remarkable as Paraguay’s democratisation may have been, the country still suffers from its dictatorial past: as a result of Stroessner’s spoils system, roughly 3% of the population own 85% of the land and resources.
👀 EXTRA INTRIGUE
Check out what Jeremy (our brand new managing editor!) has been loving lately. If you’ve got:
- 10 mins: check out Caleb Maru’s Twitter feed (he writes about startups and tech in Africa).
- 1 hour: listen to Eva Ayllón (I first heard this album when it played, for reasons now lost in the mists of time, just as Mark Zuckerberg entered the 2016 APEC Leaders Summit in Lima).
- A lazy afternoon: read The Hot Seat by Richard Woolcott, a legend of Australian diplomacy who passed away yesterday. His book is hilarious and inspired me to become a diplomat. Vale, Richard.
🗳️ POLL TIME!
Is Tom Brady retiring for good?
(Our resident New Englander insisted we run this poll)
Yesterday’s Poll: Will India decrease its reliance on Russian weapons?
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🔫 Yes, but only if the US is serious about offering an alternative (70%)
🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🚫 No, the defence ties between Russia and India are too strong (30%)
Your two cents:
- 🔫 S: “India appears to me as the quintessential realpolitik wild card in world politics today. I suspect the Russia relationship will go down a peg or two if India becomes solidly convinced that the US is the stronger bet as a military ally.”
- 🚫 J.L: “After all the sanctions on Russia, India will always get its best weapons deals from Russia”