Adrian Olivier,

Sunday 17 September – Sunday 24 September:

On Monday, Iran and the U.S. freed captives as part of a Qatari-mediated prisoner exchange. Both countries released five hostages each, in what is a positive first step, but does not indicate a thaw in relations. The five American former detainees arrived at Doha International Airport in the Qatari capital after arriving from Tehran as well as two of the five Iranians – three Iranians decided not to return to Iran. As part of the prisoner exchange deal, $6bn of Iranian assets in South Korea were unfrozen and transferred to Qatar, with the Iranians confirming the receipt. 

On Monday, the State Security Service of Georgia (SSG) accused the deputy chief of Ukraine’s military counterintelligence, Giorgi Lortkipanidze, who used to be Georgia’s deputy interior minister, of plotting “destabilisation aimed at a violent overthrow of the government”. The SSG also said anti-government protests “are being planned for October and December, when the European Commission is set to publish its decision on Georgia’s EU membership application”, with the plot “being carried out with the coordination and funding from a foreign country”.

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of involvement in the killing of a Sikh leader in the Canadian state of British Columbia in June of this year. No arrests have yet been made and the accusations are based on human (HUMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) shared between the members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance. Five Eyes includes the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. India has outright denied any information was officially shared and called the accusations “absurd”. A spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that “No specific information has been shared by Canada on this case, either then or before or after”. Though U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he “want[s] to see accountability”, the U.S. – and the other members of Five Eyes – have not condemned India for the killing because India is a vital part of Western strategy in the Indo-Pacific to build a counterweight to China. Canada’s accusations have strained relations between the two countries and both have expelled senior diplomats. 

Beginning on Tuesday, the General Debate of the United Nations began, with world leaders in New York City for the week. This is the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The presidents of the U.S. and Ukraine gave their speeches on Tuesday. On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – representing his president – said the West is “truly an empire of lies” and said power was slipping out of Washington’s hands. Lavrov called for a reforms of the global governance architecture and ended his speech with an appeal to prevent a large scale war “humanity is at a crossroads…It is in our shared interest to prevent a downward spiral into large scale war.”

On Tuesday, Azerbaijan sent troops into the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh in what it called “an anti-terrorist operation”. The Azeri operation was launched in response to the killing of four Azeri soldiers and two civilians by landmines, which Azerbaijan says were planted by Armenian saboteurs. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said it was intended to “disarm and secure the withdrawal of formations of Armenia’s armed forces from our territories, [and] neutralise their military infrastructure”. Azerbaijani forces on Tuesday seized more than 60 military posts and destroyed up to 20 military vehicles with other hardware, the ministry said in a statement. Armenia’s foreign ministry condemned the attacks and said Azerbaijan had “unleashed another large-scale aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, aiming to complete its policy of ethnic cleansing”. The state news agency quoted the presidential administration as saying that Azerbaijan would continue the operation “until the end” unless “Armenian military units” surrender and give up their weapons. By Wednesday, Azerbaijan said it had regained full control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Karabakh officials said their forces were outnumbered and had no choice but to surrender. In a speech on Wednesday evening, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said his forces had “punished the enemy properly” and that Baku had restored its sovereignty “with an iron fist.” 

On Tuesday, Houthi leaders returned home to Yemen after a productive negotiation with the Saudis. Houthi leaders had arrived in Saudi Arabia the week before in what was the first such official visit to the Saudi kingdom since war broke out in Yemen in 2014. Discussions included a timeline for the removal of foreign troops from Yemen and the negotiators will meet again “soon”. The Houthis are an Iranian-backed group and these negotiations are part of a wider rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The talks are reportedly focused on a full reopening of Houthi-controlled ports and Sanaa airport, payment of wages for public servants, rebuilding efforts, and a timeline for foreign forces to quit Yemen. An agreement would allow the United Nations to restart a broader political peace process involving other parties to the Yemeni conflict, including the Yemeni government and southern separatist forces.

On Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) concluded its September meeting without announcing any new interest rate hikes. The group’s statement said “The Committee seeks to achieve maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run. In support of these goals, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 5-1/4 to 5-1/2 percent.” The central bank’s latest economic projections showed one more quarter-point rate hike this year.

On Wednesday, Britain’s King Charles III and Queen Camilla arrived in France for a state visit. The three-day trip began with the King and Queen touching down at Orly airport, near Paris, where they were greeted by the French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, before driving to a ceremonial welcome at the Arc De Triomphe in Paris. On Thursday, the King gave a speech to the French Senate – the first time a member of the British Royal Family spoke from the Senate Chamber. 

On Friday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a crowd at an election rally “I … want to tell President Zelenskyy never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN”. This was in reference to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky’s criticism of Warsaw for continuing to ban Ukrainian grain imports at the United Nations’ General Assembly this week, saying the dispute was “political theatre” and that “some of our friends in Europe” have “made a thriller from the grain”. Poland and Ukraine have had their relationship strained over the imposition of restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports – which cannot leave through the Black Sea. Poland, along with Slovakia and Hungary, have argued that cheaper Ukrainian grain is being sold locally and hurting their farmers. The grain is meant to pass through to the west, not be sold in these countries. The prime minister had previously said on Wednesday that Poland would no longer send weapons to Ukraine amid the grain dispute. “We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons”. Also on Friday, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda appeared to try to ease tensions by saying “I have no doubt that the dispute over the supply of grain from Ukraine to the Polish market is an absolute fragment of the entire Polish-Ukrainian relations…I don’t believe that it can have a significant impact on them, so we need to solve this matter between us.” Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said Poland wanted to see “a strong Ukrainian state emerge from this war with a vibrant economy”, and that Warsaw “will continue to back Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO and the EU”. However, he noted that there had been a “radical change in Polish public opinion’s perception” of Ukraine. 

On Saturday, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived in the port city of Busan in South Korea. The Ronald Reagan will take part in joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. The joint military drills will boost military readiness in the face of growing North Korean threats. 

In the week ahead: 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will visit South Korea next week after attending the state funeral in Tokyo of slain former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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