Sunday 27 August – Sunday 3 September:
On Monday, the United Kingdom’s automatic flight planning system at the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) went down, leading to the cancellation of over 2,000 flights over the week – while thousands more were delayed. This is the worst outage at NATS in more than a decade and airlines are facing a bill of up to £100mn as passengers are allowed to claim the costs of accommodation and living expenses due to flight delays or cancellations. The country’s airspace was not closed, though the number of aircraft in the sky was restricted for safety reasons.
On Wednesday, military officers led by General Brice Oligui Nguema – commander of the Gabonese Presidency’s Republican Guard – seized power in the central African country of Gabon. The coup took place minutes after an announcement that incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba (known as Ali Bongo) had won re-election to secure his third term in office. The Bongo family ruled the country for 56 years from 1967, with Bongo taking over from his late father in 2009, but now Gabon has become the latest African country to see its government overthrown in a coup. This is the eighth coup in Africa in three years. Bongo has been placed under house arrest and Nguema was installed as head of state. While the coup was supported by cheering crowds at home, abroad there has been condemnation. On Thursday, regional group the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) urged the junta to return power to Bongo. Critics have accused the Bongo family of hoarding Gabon’s oil and mining wealth and spending lavishly on a luxurious palace as well as expensive cars and property in France and the United States. The junta has ordered the arrest of several cabinet members and Bongo’s son Noureddin Bongo Valentin on accusations ranging from embezzlement to drug trafficking.
On Wednesday, the Category 3 Hurricane Idalia made landfall in the state of Florida and moving into Georgia unleashing fierce winds, heavy rainfall and widespread flooding in the two states. The storm had sustained winds of 205 km/h (125mph). It’s estimated that the storm caused between $12 and $20 billion in damage to the states of Florida and Georgia. On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in the state to see the damage wrought by the hurricane. Biden said that no one “intelligent” could doubt that climate change was happening.
On Thursday, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles to simulate a nuclear strike on targets in South Korea. This was in response to joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea. “The KPA staged a tactical nuclear strike drill simulating scorched-earth strikes at major command centres and operational airfields of the ‘ROK’ military gangsters on Wednesday night” said state media KCNA. The missiles were launched from a site near Pyongyang and travelled 360 km (225 miles) before landing in the sea to the east of the Korean Peninsula. The launches took place under cover of darkness, hours after the U.S. deployed B1-B strategic bombers as part of the Ulchi Freedom Shield military exercises, which concluded on Friday.
On Friday, the Russian Federation announced that an advanced new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system called Sarmat (NATO reporting name ‘Satan’) had “assumed combat duty”. The Sarmat is one of the weapons Russian President Vladimir Putin promised would make Russia’s enemies “think twice” about threatening the country. The Sarmat missiles are launched from underground silos with a short launch phase – which gives little time for satellite-based surveillance systems to track its launch – and Russian officials claim that a single missile can carry up to 15 nuclear warheads, though Western military experts put that number at 10. The missiles were designed to replace Russia’s older generation of silo-based ICBMs which were designed and constructed in the 1980s. Russia has prioritised modernisation of its nuclear weapons to ensure it is not outmatched by the U.S. Each missile weighs more than 200 tonnes and has a range of 18,000 km (for reference, the earth’s circumference at the equator is 40,000 km). Russian news organisation TASS reported that “based on experts’ estimates, the RS-28 Sarmat is capable of delivering a MIRVed [Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles – each ‘vehicle’ is a nuclear warhead] warhead weighing up to 10 tonnes to any location worldwide, both over the North and South Poles”. On Friday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he was not able to confirm the Russian reports. The weapon was first tested in April of last year.
On Friday, Russian forces destroyed a naval drone that was targeting the Kerch Strait Bridge which connects the Crimean Peninsula to the Russian mainland. On Saturday, Russian forces destroyed two more naval drones that were targeting the bridge. The bridge is a crucial transport link to supply Russian forces north of Crimea.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan would meet on Monday in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi. The same day, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu in Moscow.
Early on Saturday morning, North Korea fired several cruise missiles towards the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, according to the South Korean military. The missiles were launched at approximately 04:00 local time. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that they were monitoring the situation and “maintaining a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States”.
On Saturday, thousands of people in the Nigerian capital of Niamey demanded that France withdraw its ambassador and troops from the country. There are still around 1,500 French soldiers in the country. Protesters gathered near a base housing French soldiers and held up banners which said “French army, leave our country”. Later it was reported that protesters broke through the barriers set up by Nigerian security forces and attempted to force their way into the base. The Nigerien military has since warned protestors not to enter the base, and has reinforced the area around the French base. Niger’s junta leaders have accused France of interference for supporting the former president Bazoum, who has been in custody since the coup on July 26. French President Macron has been in daily contact with the former president since he was detained.
On Saturday, India has launched its Aditya-L1 rocket at 11:50 local time. Aditya-L1 is named after both the Hindu sun god and Lagrange point 1 (L1) between Earth and our sun, where the gravitational pull from both bodies is equal. The rocket, launched just over a week after India’s successful unmanned moon-landing, is carrying scientific instruments to observe the sun’s outer layers. It will reach its destination in 4 months and travel 1.5 million km.
On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced he would seek to dismiss Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov in the biggest shake-up of Ukraine’s defence establishment during the war. Reznikov was appointed in November 2021 but has been dogged by allegations of corruption. Zelenskyy, in his nightly address said: “I’ve decided to replace the Minister of Defense of Ukraine. Oleksii Reznikov has been through more than 550 days of full-scale war…I believe the ministry needs new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society as a whole”. Reznikov will be replaced by Rustem Umerov, who heads the State Property Fund of Ukraine.
In the week ahead:
Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Monday in the southern Russian city of Sochi to negotiate a revival of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.