Illustration by Ben Beechener
White House names first black Press Secretary
In a historic move, the White House has named its first black and openly gay press secretary. Karine Jean-Pierre was chosen by Biden on the 5th of May, and will replace Jen Psaki at the end of her time in the role next week. The press secretary acts as the face of the Biden administration, not only to America but to the whole world. Jean-Pierre has had a long career working in Democratic politics, most recently acting as Kamala Harris’ Chief of Staff. Jean-Pierre will become the face of an administration that is actively working to increase the number of black women in high power roles, including incoming Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and VP Kamala Harris. It’s up to you to decide whether these actions are purely performative or if they will create genuine, lasting change.
Israel moves forward in evicting 1000 Palestinians from the West Bank
Israel’s High Court has this week given its ruling on the planned evictions of 12 Palestinian villages consisting of around 1000 people in total, in the Masafer Yatta area of the West Bank, with the court approving the forcible deportation of the villagers in order to reappropriate the area into a firing zone for the Israeli military. The case, which has been ongoing for decades, has been contested between Palestinian villagers who claim settlements have existed in the area since 1948, with villages existing for 45 years, and Israel, predating the area’s designation of a Live Fire Zone in 1981 which is at the heart of the case. The justices ruled this week that there was no evidence of human habitation in the area before 1981 and that evictions were legal. The ruling has caused outcry within the Palestinian community and human rights groups over the largest deportation of Palestinians since 1967, that one of the judges is resident in a settlement in the West Bank widely considered illegal under international law, and that it seemingly violates international law around deportations, though the latter point was rejected by the court on grounds of the supremacy of Israeli law. Supra-national bodies including the United Nations and the European Union and most nation states including the United Kingdom, maintain that Israeli settlement building in the West Bank is illegal under what is classed as Israeli occupation of the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East War, though Israel denies the illegality of settlements.
Prime Minister of the British Virgin Islands arrested for drug trafficking and money laundering
On the 28th of April, the small territory of the British Virgin Islands was shocked by the largest constitutional crisis in its history as the island’s premier Andrew Fahie was removed after he was found to have taken part in a drug smuggling operation with Mexican cartels that sought to use the Eastern Caribbean Island as a staging port into the US. The legislature removed the premier and replaced him with his former deputy, Natalio Wheatley. The island’s politicians came together this week to form an emergency national unity government after a report suggested that the best way to restore order to the island would be to suspend its constitution for up to two years and enforce direct rule from London through the governor. The territory is what is known as an overseas territory which means that the Crown, advised by the British government, appoints a governor to represent the executive authority and that defence and foreign affairs are mostly in the hands of the British government. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is deciding what the immediate future should be for this territory in consultation with Amanda Milling, the UK minister for overseas territories, who visited the island this week.
Putin issues cryptic warning to Orban that the invasion of Ukraine will be over by May 9th
This week the Pope revealed to the Italian journal Corriere della Sera that during his meeting with President Victor Orban of Hungary in late April he was told that President Putin had a plan to end the war by the 9th of May. This being a highly symbolic date in the Russian state calendar, Victory Day, which commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War Two. Given the rhetoric coming out of Moscow since the beginning of the invasion claiming that the country was run by a group of neo-Nazi fascists, it seems like the Kremlin is seeking to further establish an inexplicable link between the Nazi regime in the 1940s and the democratic modern government of Ukraine. Russia’s diplomatic situation was not made any easier this week as Russian Foreign minister claimed that Zelensky was antisemitic and defended against the counter argument that the President was Jewish saying that “Hitler also had Jewish origins”. This statement understandably drew condemnation from around the world, leading to the government of Israel and the Chief Rabbi in Russia to demand a public apology. Later on, this week, Putin gave such an apology in an interview. It seems that the further the war goes on the harder it has become for the Russian Federation to justify its so called “special military operation” by pointing to the aims of “denazification” that they have always proclaimed was necessary. This latest failure of Russian diplomacy begs the question of how the Kremlin plans to keep up military morale and maintain its limited international support if the war extends past the 9th and its rhetoric flounders.
Russian activist Sofia Sapega sentenced to six years in prison
Russian student activist Sofia Sapega has been sentenced to six years in jail for running a Belarusian opposition messaging app channel. Sapega was arrested when a plane from Russia to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk. The diversion of the plane was denounced by Western authorities, with many seeing the ‘alleged bomb threat’ as a coverup for the authorities wishing to arrest Sapega and her journalist partner, Roman Protasevich. Since then she has been held by the Belarusian authorities, awaiting trial. The court found her guilty of inciting ‘social emnity and discord’ for her role in editing the Nexta Telegram channel, which published information since the protests against President Lukashenko in summer 2020. Lukashenko was elected President for the 6th time in August 2020, which prompted backlash and riots from the opposition. The decision has been condemned by the exiled Belarus opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Northern Ireland Assembly Elections
Elections held on May 6th for the Northern Ireland Assembly have resulted in the nationalist Sinn Fein becoming the largest party for the first time in their history, resulting in the possibility of their leader Michelle O’Neill becoming Northern Ireland’s only nationalist First Minister since the creation of Stormont in 1921. Though the party did not change their seat total, the unionist DUP, previously the largest party, lost three seats, putting them in a narrow 2nd place. The big winners of the night, though, were the Alliance Party, a cross-community non-sectarian party affiliated with the Liberal Democrats, who more than doubled their seat total putting them in third place. Next comes the negotiations for the re-formation of the Northern Ireland executive, which collapsed in February when DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned. Sinn Fein will nominate a First Minister, but the DUP, as the largest unionist party, will have to agree to share power and take the role of Deputy First Minister, a reversal of the previous executive.
Electoral Pact on French left
Four parties on the French left-wing (the socialist party, the greens, the communists, and Mélenchon’s France Unbowed) have agreed on an electoral pact for the upcoming parliamentary elections. After none of the 6 left-wing candidates made it through to the 2nd round of the Presidential election, the parties have made an agreement that will see them run as one bloc- “The Social and Ecological People’s Union”- with one common programme. This is set to include policies like price caps, a minimum wage increase, and lowering the retirement age to 60. The bloc also declared they were “ready to disobey” EU rules if necessary, on areas of ecological and social urgency, a move which has caused much controversy within the traditionally pro-European Green Party.
Final push as the Philippines heads to the polls
Sunday marked the last day of campaigning in the Philippines before the country goes to the polls to elect a new President on Monday. It is widely expected that Ferdinand Marcos Jr (known as Bongbong), son of the late dictator of the same name who ruled the Philippines between 1965-1986, will win the election. Monday will also see voting take place for the position of Vice-President, which is expected to be won by Sara Duterte-Carpio, running-mate of Marcos, and the daughter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte.
The election has been controversial both internally and internationally due to the alliance between two of the largest and most controversial political dynasties in the Philippines, and the rise to power by another Marcos. Despite the family fleeing the Philippines in 1986 after being forced from office during the People Power Revolution, the family was allowed to return in 1990s despite the looting of public funds thought to be in the billions of dollars and violent political repression, and has seen a return to politics in both Imelda Marcos, the widow of Marcos Senior, and Marcos Jr who have sought to rebrand the dictatorship in a favourable light including allegations of a concerted disinformation campaign on social media.
Chinese jets enter Taiwanese Air Defence Zone
On 6th May, 18 Chinese jet fighters and bombers entered the Taiwanese Air Defence Zone, an action which prompted Taiwan to scramble its own aircraft to warn away the Chinese ones. Though this is not the largest such incursion in recent times (39 aircraft made an entry into the zone in January), it is an occurrence that is happening ever more frequently and has sparked fears in the Taiwanese government that China might be planning an operation to mirror Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
UK and Japan form new defence pact
On Thursday, Japan and the United Kingdom agreed in principle to a joint defence pact which would allow increased bilateral training and deployment under a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA). The agreement marks developing cooperation between the two countries on security measures in the Indo-Pacific, including the announcement to pursue joint development of an engine generator for both countries’ next generation fighters, and tandem naval exercises.
The UK has been attempting to cultivate a stronger presence in the Indo-Pacific region as part of plans to shift focus to the region through developing ties with regional allies, explicitly outlined in the 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence and Foreign Policy. The UK is a member of the newly formed AUKUS pact, a three-way alliance in the Indo-Pacific which also includes the US and Australia, and has moved forward in developing ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economic bloc. Meanwhile, Japan, increasingly concerned with China’s military ambitions in the Indo-Pacific (particularly in the South China and East China Seas), has been looking to bolster defensive and economic ties with regional and international actors, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Japan, India, Australia and the US; and increase military training between the Japanese Self-Defence Forces and international partners.
Ebola outbreak in the DR Congo claims third life
A renewed outbreak of Ebola in the north-western states of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was first noticed in late April, has now resulted in a third death. This is the country’s 14th outbreak of the disease, with recent waves claiming as many as 2,300 lives, and the most recent ending in six deaths from eleven infected patients. The WHO has begun its response, tracking contacts of the confirmed cases and administering over 350 inoculations.