CHINA:Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 20% of BRI projects had been “seriously affected” by the virus, with up to 40% being “somewhat affected”. All countries involved in the BRI have seen construction and supply chains halted or slowed by the pandemic. The largest decline in BRI investments was in energy investments.
IRAQ:Skirmishes between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have raised fears of a full-blown conflict in northern Iraq. The PKK has come under growing pressure from Turkey, who has built a close working relationship with KRG, with an oil pipeline allowing Iraqi-Kurdish authorities to market their oil exports independently of the federal government in Baghdad.
QATAR AND SAUDI ARABIA:Qatar and Saudi Arabia are close to striking a preliminary agreement to end a dispute that has pitted the Gulf neighbours against each other for more than three years. The expected deal comes after United States visit to the Gulf region, before the Trump administration leaves office in January.
EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN:Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took aim at Turkey, decrying Ankara for compounding tensions with other allies in the Mediterranean (and for buying a Russian-made anti-aircraft system).
NIGERIA: The Nigerian Army denounced that “there is an international conspiracy to cut Nigeria to size and compromise national renegades making attempts to destabilize and dismember Nigeria, if possible, in subservience to the international paymasters, who are the owners of Boko Haram”.
TAIWAN-US: Taiwan and the US are moving ahead with a plan to finance infrastructure and energy projects in Asia (and Latin America) to counter China’s global infrastructure BRI, amid concerns about Beijing’s commitment to international projects and worsening finances among developing countries.
PAKISTAN:China reaffirmed its support to Pakistan in fighting terrorist forces and stressed that any scheme to sabotage the building of an economic corridor linking the two countries will not succeed. Pakistani Foreign Minister said Indian intelligence agents were targeting development projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
China’s BRI progress has showed strong resilience despite coronavirus. Major projects are progressing smoothly. China-Laos railway, China-Thailand railway, Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, and Hungary-Serbia Railway are all making positive headway. The China-Europe freight rail service network has also expanded, reaching 21 countries and 92 cities.
MALAYSIA:Another Belt and Road project was canceled in Malaysia, after the government of the Malaysian state of Melaka terminated an agreement with the main developer of a BRI infrastructure project Melaka Gateway, raising questions about BRI future projects in the country.
REGIONAL:Central Asian NGOs experts are calling on their governments to strengthen oversight of Belt and Road Initiative projects as anger rises over their environmental and social impacts. Chinese investment in the region has mainly been in infrastructure and extractive industries, attracted by the region’s mineral deposits and hydrocarbons.
Russia’s Red Sea Base In Sudan Is A Recalibration Of Its Intra-Ummah Balancing Act
16 NOVEMBER 2020
Russia’s draft deal to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan amounts to a strategic recalibration of its careful “balancing” act between the GCC and Turkey after moving more closely to the latter following the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which in turn shows how important Moscow regards its “Ummah Pivot” as being by seeking to maintain equally excellent relations with all majority-Muslim countries without any of its bilateral relations being misperceived as directed against any third country in this civilizational sphere.
A Deal Three Years In The Making
Some observers were surprised byreportslate last week that a Russian government website published details of a draft deal pertaining to Moscow’s plans to open up a Red Sea naval base in Sudan, but this was actually something that’s been openly discussed for the past three years already. The author wrote about former President Bashir’s public invitation for Russia to do exactly just that during his visit to the Eurasian Great Power in November 2017 in his piece titled “Here’s Why Russia Might Set Up A Red Sea Base In Sudan”. The geopolitical situation has considerably changed since then following his overthrow last year, which the author also recently analyzed at length in an article about how “The Sudanese-‘Israeli’ Peace Deal Required Lots Of Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering”, but some of his insight from that time is still relevant.
For instance, Russia indeed hopes to gain influence along China’s prospectiveSahelian-Saharan Silk Roadthat he first identified in early 2017 and which is expected to terminate precisely in Port Sudan, which is where Moscow plans to open up its naval base. There are still domestic military dimensions to this draft deal which could be taken advantage of by Sudan, though not necessarily in terms of preventing the country’s further Balkanization considering therecent peace dealbetween its warring sides. More specifically, they likely relate to the “Democratic Security” strategies that the author summarized in his October 2019 piece written during the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit about how “Africa Needs Russia More Than Ever, And This Week’s Sochi Summit Proves It”, in which some hyperlinks are now broken but can still be accessed viaothersites.
The “Ummah Pivot”
The most pertinent point made in his prior topical analysis, however, relates to Russia’s “balancing” act. The hyperlinked piece from the preceding sentence introduced the author’s concept of the “Ummah Pivot”, which he describes as the recent prioritization of Russia’s relations with majority-Muslim countries stimulated by the West’s anti-Russian sanctions of the past six and a half years. Many observers predicted Russia to “pivot eastward” in the face of that economic warfare campaign, but in reality, the country ended up pivoting southward towards the international Muslim community (“Ummah”) in order to optimize its continental “balancing” strategy by incorporating a third element (the Ummah) into this supposedly binary choice between East (China) and West (EU).
The Unofficial Russian-Turkish Alliance
In the present geostrategic conditions, there’s little doubt after the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War that Russia and Turkey are the new power duo in the “Greater Mideast”, which the author coined “Putogan” in his latest analysis on the topic titled “Analytical Reflections: Learning From The Nagorno-Karabakh Fiasco”. Less than a week prior, he noted that “Russia & Turkey Stand To Lose The Most From A Biden Presidency”, predicting that the simultaneous pressure that might likely be placed upon them in that scenario could result in them being pushed into an unofficial alliance out of pragmatic necessity. That potential outcome would risk giving off the optics that Russia is a partisan player in the cold war between Turkey and the GCC, however, hence the need to preemptively recalibrate that aspect of its “balancing” act within its larger “Ummah Pivot”.
The Unofficial Russian-Emirati Alliance
Post-coup Sudan is practically a GCC protectorate nowadays, and it wouldn’t have been possible for Russia to clinch its draft deal for a Red Sea naval base in Port Sudan without the approval of the North African state’s new Gulf overlords. They seemingly understand the importance of improving military interoperability with Russia through the joint naval drills that they’ll likely carry out in the Red Sea upon this agreement’s conclusion. The UAE in particular is the most important extra-regional player in this strategic waterway as a result of its newly established bases in Eritrea and the de-facto independent Somali and Yemeni regions of Somaliland and South Yemen, as well as its hegemonic influence over Ethiopia afterbrokeringits historic peace deal with Eritrea two years back. Russia has also been seeking to cultivatecloserstate-to-statemilitaryties with the UAE as well.
The Syrian Convergence
Unofficially allying with the UAE in this trans-regional space could “balance” its unofficial alliance with Turkey elsewhere in the “Greater Mideast”, thus reinforcing the impression that Russia is indeed the neutral partner that it presents itself as being in the Ummah. This in turn preemptively thwarts any misperception about the grand strategic motives behind its “Ummah Pivot”, thus helping it to maintain its careful “balancing” act in thiscivilizational space. The two halves of its intra-Ummah “balancing” act might ultimately converge inSyriawhere Turkey and the GCC are intensely competing in this geostrategic state where Russian influence undoubtedly predominates. It would be a diplomatic masterstroke if Moscow was able to leverage its “balancing” act in pursuit of a lasting political solution there, though it’ll still take lots of time and skill to achieve, if ever.
TURKEY:As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Turkey will build a transit-loan based main container port in the Eastern Mediterranean, which will operate as a gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia.
PAKISTAN:The resurgence of religious-cum-sectarian attacks in Pakistan has been taking place exactly as the CPEC has been revived in the country. Baloch militant groups have been carrying out attacks in Gwadar – the heart of the CPEC – and elsewhere in the country in order to show their opposition. The Chinese, with heavy investments in Pakistan, are concerned about the security situation. Militant groups have carried out attacks against Chinese workers and installations in the past.