🌍 Tension between Serbia and Kosovo is bad for Europe
Plus: How Saudi Arabia infiltrated Wikipedia to enhance its image
Hi there Intriguer. Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was admitted to hospital in Florida yesterday as 1500 of his supporters were detained for their role in Sunday’s attempted coup. Missed among the shock and outrage at the events in Brasilia was a rioter wearing a stolen Supreme Court Judge’s robe listening to a fellow rioter make what we can only assume were highly technical points of law, and an overly-entrepreneurial cotton candy seller calmingplying his wares. Now we’re only missing Waldo.
Today’s briefing is a 4 min read:
- 🇽🇰 Is war in The Balkans likely?
- 🇸🇦 How Saudi Arabia infiltrated Wikipedia to enhance its image.
- ➕ Plus: The US gets a Speaker, how the papers are covering the Covid-19 outbreak in China, and Intriguers are almost perfectly split about the year ahead.
– VC & EP
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇨🇳 China: Newly-appointed Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang will visit several African nations from Jan 9-16 in his first official trip on the job. Qin was Ambassador to the US for just over a year before his promotion on 30 December. (China Daily)
- 🇸🇪 Sweden: Turkey has threatened to block Sweden’s NATO bid until it extradites a journalist Turkey says was involved in a 2016 coup attempt. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson says his country will refuse the request. (Deutsche Welle)
- 🇲🇾 Malaysia: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised to battle environmental “discrimination” against the palm oil industry during talks on Monday. (Hindustan Times)
- 🇨🇺 Cuba: Ana Montes, a US intelligence officer turned Cuban spy, has been released from US custody after two decades. Experts say Montes damaged US interests more than almost any spy in recent history. (Washington Post $)
- 🇧🇯 Benin: Opposition parties were allowed to participate in Sunday’s legislative elections for the first time in four years. Six million Beninese voted, and the results will be announced tomorrow (11 January). (Africa News)
🇽🇰 KOSOVO / ETHNIC TENSIONS
How likely is a new conflict in the Balkans?
Briefly: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced on Sunday (8 January) that NATO peacekeepers had rejected his request to allow Serbian forces to enter Kosovo. Vucic maintains that ethnic Serbs are under attack in Kosovo.
Tensions have been rising since 10 December when Kosovar officials arrested an ethnic Serb former police officer on terrorism charges. In response, some ethnic Serbs attacked European peacekeepers and Kosovar security forces and built barricades to block roads.
Why it matters: Serbia and Kosovo are required to ‘normalise relations’ before either country can join the European Union. Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo since it declared independence in 2008. Currently, 101 of 193 UN members recognise Kosovo’s statehood, including the United States and most EU countries.
Intrigue’s take: Instability in the Balkans could play into Russia’s hands. Experts Dejana Saric and Pierre Morcos argue that “Russia sees the Western Balkans as a buffer zone where it can preserve a sphere of influence and undermine the West […] it is imperative that Europe answers the calls across the region to speed up EU integration.”
Russia supported Serbia’s request to send forces into Kosovo but has denied it is trying to stir up trouble. With tempers also flaring in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, tensions in the Balkans are at serious risk of boiling over.
Also worth noting:
- Former UK Member of Parliament and ‘The Rest is Politics’ podcast host Rory Stewart thinks there is a 60% likelihood of war in the Balkans this year.
- NATO peacekeepers have been stationed in Kosovo since the alliance undertook a bombing campaign in 1999 to end inter-ethnic violence between ethnic Serbs and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians.
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: the Covid-19 outbreak in China. (We couldn’t find any mention of the outbreak in China’s ‘official’ newspaper, The People’s Daily, yesterday).
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🇸🇦 SAUDI ARABIA / MISINFORMATION
Saudi Arabia accused of infiltrating Wikipedia to launder its reputation
Briefly: ‘The Free Encyclopedia’ doesn’t charge, but it might not be as free as you think.
A new report from Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) alleges that Saudi Arabia recruited senior Wikipedia administrators to control information published about the country. Saudi officials allegedly pressured administrators to promote a rosy view of Saudi Arabia and delete any criticism of the government, including details about the persecution of political dissidents.
In December, Wikimedia announced it had banned 16 users operating in the MENA region for “conflict of interest editing on Wikipedia projects”. The company declined to share further details.
Intrigue’s take: As our sources of information become more decentralised and user-generated (think Twitter, Youtube, etc.), influence operations by state actors have become harder to identify and stop. This decreases users’ trust in open-source platforms like Wikipedia at a time when confidence in traditional media is already declining (which is why you read Intrigue!).
Our school teachers might have had a point when they said Wikipedia wasn’t a reliable source. 🤷♂️
Also worth noting:
- A former Twitter employee was imprisoned in the US for spying on Saudi Arabia’s behalf and sharing the personal information of “users of interest” – shorthand for political dissidents.
- DAWN was founded by Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist brutally killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
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📸 PHOTO OF THE DAY
Republican Kevin McCarthy required four days and 15 ballots to become the Speaker of the US House of Representatives last week, the longest such vote since 1856. A surprising number of Americans tuned in to watch the festivities on C-SPAN (a public tv channel that usually counts its viewers in the dozens) as late-night shouting matches on the House floor nearly turned into fisticuffs.
The political turmoil could have implications for US foreign policy. Many of the lawmakers who opposed Kevin McCarthy’s bid for Speaker also question US support for Ukraine, and could try to prevent President Biden from authorising further military aid.
If you thought American politics was chaotic already, the 118th United States Congress would like you to hold its beer.
➕ EXTRA INTRIGUE
We’re very online, so you don’t have to be:
🗳️ POLL TIME!
Should the EU make it easier for new countries to join?
*See yesterday’s results below your personalised referral section
Yesterday’s poll: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the year ahead?
🟨🟨🟨🟨🟨🟨 🤗 Optimistic! 49.5%
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 😥 Pessimistic. 50.5%
- 😥 corrieanddon: “Most countries have seen an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the richest elite. The US drive to corral China and Russia geographically and economically will drag the world into a downward spiral.”
- 🤗 Miguel: “There are challenging times ahead, but overall the positive still outstrips the negative, even if the media in general paints a grim picture everywhere.”