The Turning of the Sphere

Multinational aerial operation occurs in Syria

A joint U.S., U.K., and French multinational aerial operation occurred in Syria on April 13 (EST) in response to a chemical weapons attack carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The chemical attack occurred in the city of Douma with at least forty killed and at least five hundred treated for symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals. Blood and urine samples taken from victims obtained by the U.S. tested positive for chlorine gas and a nerve agent.

U.S. Ambassdor to the United Nations Nikki Haley noted that Washintong estimates that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons at least fifty times in the current civil war. French President, Emmanuel Macron stated that he had proof that Bashar al-Assad’s forces carried out the chemical attack. The Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, bizarrely claimed that the United Kingdom “staged” the chemical attack in Syria, after having previously denied that any such attack took place. Karen Pierce, the U.K.’s ambassador to the U.N. responded that this claim was “grotesque” and “a blatant lie.”

During the joint military operation, the U.S., France, and the UK employed precision missile strikes on facilities associated with developing and deploying chemical weapons. The U.S. deployed B-1B Lancer long range bombers and launched Tomahawk cruise missiles from three destroyers and a Virginia-attack class submarine. Additionally U.S. forces deployed Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range for the first time in combat. British Tornado and Typhoon jets launched Storm Shadow missiles and French Mirage and Rafale jets fired SCALP-EG missiles at selected targets also.

Numerous reactions came in from around the world. The Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia, and the German Chancellor, issued statements in favor of the airstrikes as did the governments of Japan and Ukraine. Jens Stoltenberg, the thirteenth Secretary General of NATO, declared that all NATO states supported the airstrikes and he issued a personal statement in favor of the operations. Donald Tusk the European Council President said that the EU, “will stand with our allies on the side of justice.” Turkey, Israel, Kosovo, and several other states also declared approval of the operation. Vladimir’s Putin’s government in Moscow issued harsh critical statements of the attack, but seemed to limit itself to verbal and symbolic denunciation. Notably, the Pentagon reported a 2000% increase in activity from pro-Kremlin trolls immediately prior and after the aerial operation against Assad’s chemical weapons facilities. Moscow has often deployed various troll farms (such as the Internet Research Agency) in large numbers during peak moments of its informational warfare campaigns in an effort to influence opinion in various publics and affect perceptions.

Moscow deploys nerve agent in Salisbury against former Russian spy and many states respond with diplomatic measures

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian colonel and spy, and his daughter Yulia fell extremely ill after coming into contact with a deadly nerve agent, Novichok.  Traces of the nerve agent were detected in the Mill pub, an Italian restaurant called Zizzi, the bench on which both individuals started to lose consciousness, and at Skripal’s home, where the highest concentration was found.  In response to this chemical attack many states which are allied to the UK expelled varying numbers of Russia diplomatic staff.  On March 26, the U.S. government announced that it would expel sixty Russian diplomats from the United States.  This follows expressions of support by France, Germany, and many European states, for the UK’s position that the Kremlin ordered the assassination attempt.  Moscow denies that it had any role in the deployment of Novichok and has crafted various alternative scenarios or alleged sources of the nerve agent.  The Kremlin also mobilized its extensive public relations machinery and troll farms to support Moscow’s various positions and redirect attention away from Vladimir Putin’s government.  Moscow announced it will expel Western diplomatic staff from Russia in response.  London also announced a “fusion doctrine” and that it would initiate a counter-propaganda war against fake news, including such spread by the Kremlin.

Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, a police officer who responded to the attack, became ill and was hospitalized after exposure to the nerve agent.  He later was released from the hospital.  Sergei and Yulia Skripal are still slowly recovering from the nerve toxin.  There is a risk that the Skripals’ exposure to Novichok may cause permanent brain damage.

This incident is the latest in a series of events and developments that have damaged relations between Western countries and Russia’s government under Vladimir Putin.

North Korea launches another ballistic missile

North Korea fired another ballistic missile as part of a series of launches that Pyongyang has undertaken.  These launches have increased tensions with South Korea, Japan, and the United States.  The Pentagon believes that the missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile that fell into the Sea of Japan and within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that the missile was launched from Pyongsong, a city in South Pyongan Province.  Seoul has conducted a missile firing exercise in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile launch.

The U.S. is due to restore and test the Cold War era statewide nuclear attack sirens in Hawaii on Friday.  This alert system will notify residents if a missile is headed towards the Hawaiian islands.

Robert Mugabe resigns as president of Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe has resigned as president of Zimbabwe following the initiation of impeachment proceedings against him.  Zimbabwe’s parliament started impeachment proceedings against Mugabe today.  Robert Mugabe, who held the office of presidency for thirty seven years angered many former allies when he sought to name Grace Mugabe as his political successor.

Zanu-PF revokes Robert Mugabe’s status as party leader and issues ultimatum

In another blow to Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF revoked his status as the party’s leader.  The ruling party also expelled several of its members who are close to Grace Mugabe, including minister of higher education Jonathan Moyo, finance minister Ignatious Chombo, Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, foreign affairs minister Walter Mzembi, among others. Zanu-PF also issued an ultimatum for Mugabe to resign as head of state within twenty four hours or else face impeachment. The next presidential election is scheduled for 2018.

Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe teeters on the brink of its end

The army of Zimbabwe seized power from Robert Mugabe on Wednesday after the president fired Emmerson Mnangagwa, the country’s vice president, to pave the way for his wife, Grace Mugabe, to be made his successor to the presidency.  Following this maneuver, and the house arrest of Robert Mugabe, a growing number of officials from the ruling Zanu-PF have called for the president to step down and increasingly open opposition to his rule has manifest among the public.  Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since the country’s independence in 1980.  According to some reports, Zanu-PF will host a meeting on Sunday to dismiss the longstanding President and to reinstate Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president.  Another possibility making the rounds is that the army will demand that Robert Mugabe agree that Grace Mugabe will exit politics and then serve out the rest of his term, which ends next year.

Japan’s general election outcome

The Japanese general election of 2017 resulted in incumbent Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party retaining it supermajority status.  North Korea’s ballistic missile program featured substantially as topic of the campaign.