Sunday 14 May – Sunday 21 May:
On Sunday Turkish voters went to the polls in their 22nd presidential election. With the votes counted, neither candidate had the more than 50 percent necessary to win outright. Incumbent President Erdogan led the first round with 49.52% of the vote, while his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu, received 44.88%. As a result, there will be a second round of elections on Sunday 28 May. This is the 22nd presidential election in Turkey, which normally occur every five years, since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan is the favourite to win the second round of elections and has been in power for more than 20 years – the longest in history of any Turkish president. He has served as prime minister, president and survived an attempted coup in 2016, which gave him the support to strengthen his grip on power. Erdogan performed better than expected in the first round – his political alliance secured its majority in the 600-seat parliament, and he maintained his support bas in the Anatolian heartland, while winning his important home city of Istanbul (Constantinople). Defying expectations, Erdogan did well in areas hit by the recent earthquakes, where people were apparently happy with his promises (rebuilding all houses within a year). If Erdogan wins, this would be his third term as president, and he has promised to relieve rising cost of living, subsidise energy bills, increase pensions, salaries, the minimum wage and lower interest rates. Kemal Kilicdaroglu has promised “If our nation says second round, we will absolutely win the second round…This will for change in society is higher than 50 percent.” The change he refers to is a return of a “strong parliamentary system”, a solution to the Kurdish minority who desire statehood in southeastern Turkey, the return of Syrian refugees and better relations with the West.
On Tuesday morning Ukraine’s capital Kiev was the target of an intense missile strike campaign by the Russian Federation. Russia launched cruise missiles and ballistic missiles from multiple directions in the eighth aerial attack of May on the capital. Ukraine claims that it downed all 18 incoming targets – nine Kalibr cruise missiles launched from Russian ships in the Black Sea Fleet, three Iskander ballistic missiles and six Kinzhal (“hypersonic”) ballistic missiles launched from MiG-31K aircraft. The Kinzhals are often referred to erroneously as “hypersonic missiles”, but they are hypersonic in the way that ALL ballistic missiles are hypersonic. “Hypersonic missile” actually refers to hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV) – a type of warhead that can maneuver and glide at hypersonic speed, while significantly changing their trajectories after launch. The Iskander ballistic missiles are also hypersonic – indeed Iskander and Kinzhal share a similar design, but Kinzhal is smaller and faster. Ukraine’s Air Force also shot down six Iranian-made Shahed drones and three reconnaissance drones. Ukraine claims this was done using the Patriot missile system – designed to shoot down ballistic missiles (which are always hypersonic). Russia has said that during the attack it destroyed the only Patriot missile defence system in Kiev. Ukraine and the United States acknowledged that the Patriot system was damaged but not destroyed and has been subsequently fixed.
US officials believe the Russian military has been able to pick up on signals that are emitted from the Patriot, allowing them to target the system using Kinzhal missiles (NATO classification “Killjoy”). The Patriot battery is large and stationary and the Russians have been expanding their missile attacks – likely in an attempt to overwhelm Ukrainian air defence and force them to launch costly missile defence rockets. These Russian missile strikes have been targeting command and control centres in Kiev and elsewhere. Western supplies of missiles have kept Ukraine’s missile defence functioning under the heavy Russian assault. Tuesday morning’s attacks occurred as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned to Ukraine from a trip across Europe. During his trip, he received further military support – France pledged dozens of light tanks and armoured vehicles, Germany pledged 2.7 euros and the United Kingdom pledged hundreds of air defence missiles and long-range attack drones.
Kiev, along with Odessa, was targeted by Russian missiles again on Thursday.
On Friday, Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad attended his first Arab League Summit in over a decade, after the organisation welcomed him back in a clear signal that he is recognised as the winner in his country’s brutal civil war. The regional bloc’s 32nd summit of its 22 members was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia once backed the opposition in Syria’s civil war, but Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) was seen embracing and kissing the Syrian President. Al-Assad told attendees “I hope that it marks the beginning of a new phase of Arab action for solidarity among us, for peace in our region, development and prosperity instead of war and destruction,”, while warning of the dangers of “expansionist Ottoman thought” – referring to Turkish incursions into Syria, as well as Turkish support of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. MBS said he hoped Syria’s “return to the Arab League leads to the end of its crisis”.
During his speech, Assad said that Syria would always be a part of the Arab world, but “It is important to leave internal affairs to the country’s people as they are best able to manage them”. Also in attendance was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who attended in person in his first visit to the Middle East since Russia’s invasion began on February 24 2022. Zelensky was there to build support for Kiev amongst Arab states at the invitation of Saudi Arabia on his way to the G7 (Group of Seven) meeting in Japan. “I am grateful to Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud for supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and for his principled position in the framework of international organisations,” Zelensky said while at the same time accusing some Arab states of turning a blind eye to Ukraine’s suffering.
Starting on Friday and lasting until Sunday, the 49th G7 (Group of Seven) nations of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States (with the European Union as a “non-enumerated member”) met in the Grand Prince Hotel in Hiroshima Japan. This year, eight other countries including Australia and India have also been invited. President Joe Biden surprised the other guests when he announced that the U.S. is prepared to allow some Europeans countries to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets. The U.S. will discuss with allies in the coming months on how to supply the jets to Ukraine, though the U.S. is not expected to send its own jets. Though not the most advanced U.S. fighter, the F-16 carries powerful radar that can spot targets from hundreds of miles away and modern missiles and other technology that American officials do not want duplicated or falling into hostile hands. Zelensky welcomed “the historic decision of the United States and POTUS to support and international fighter jet coalition. This will greatly enhance our army in the sky” on twitter. Zelensky, also in attendance, had back-to-back meetings with world leaders and “worked the room” for more support for Ukraine.
The G7 leaders spent much of the first day discussing the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive and unveiled a list of new sanctions against Russia as they crack down on third-party nations who have been supplying Russia with technology in violation of sanctions. They also seek to reduce Russia’s ability to fund its war – to that end Britain said it would implement bans on Russian diamonds, copper, aluminum and nickel. Diamonds are Russia’s largest non-energy export, with around $4.5 billion and are an important source of funds which the West hopes to target. Australia also sanctioned Russian minerals exports and the U.S. is determined to prevent Russia from being able to acquire semiconductors and other high-tech goods from G7 nations. 70 additional firms and 200 individuals have been sanctioned for violating American export bans. Prohibited goods and technologies are reaching Russia through middlemen who are harder to track. American Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement that the new sanctions would take aim at components Russia needs to build a drone that is currently being deployed in Ukraine. American sanctions also target Russia’s ability to drill for oil and gas and cut off what little financial services and financing remains to Russian businesses.
In a statement about China, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared China “poses the biggest challenge of our age to global security and prosperity. They are increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad.” Sunak said that the G7 nations would pursue a common approach to China that would “de-risk’, not decouple them from China. “With the G7, we are taking steps to prevent China from using economic coercion to interfere in the sovereign affairs of others,” he added.
In the week ahead:
Turkey will hold the second round of its presidential elections on Sunday 28 May.
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