Breakthrough as Germany and US to Send Tanks to Ukraine

After months of dithering, Germany has finally agreed to send main battle tanks to Ukraine, in tandem with the US. The breakthrough came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attracted criticism from Kyiv and Western allies for refusing to send tanks without the US doing so first, and his new defence minister disappointed allies when tanks were again refused at a meeting of Ukraine military backers last week. Scholz’s hesitancy stemmed from a mixture of German wariness of militarism, fear of provoking Russia, and divisions within his Social Democratic Party.

While the US pressured Scholz to send the German Leopard 2A6 to Ukraine, US officials were reluctant to send their M1 Abrams tank, which they argued were harder for Ukrainian forces to maintain, as the US is the only primary user. Conversely, about 2,000 Leopards are used by armies across Europe, meaning Ukraine would have a larger pool of parts and technical expertise to draw from. Only after long negotiations between Scholz and Biden did both nations agree to act in lockstep, with the US and Germany sending an initial 31 Abrams and 14 Leopards, respectively. This mimics a similar simultaneous move earlier this year when the US and Germany jointly announced deliveries of infantry fighting vehicles to Kyiv.

The move also allows European allies with German-made tanks to send their own, previously lacking Berlin’s necessary approval to export them. Already, allies are pooling together around 80 Leopard tanks for immediate delivery. Kyiv and some NATO countries see this move as a precedent for more advanced equipment, with President Zelensky calling for Western jets and missiles to help Ukrainian forces dislodge Russia from the remaining occupied territories.

Looming Political Gridlock as the US Hits Debt Limit

The US Congress is gearing up for high stakes negotiations to lift the debt ceiling after the US’ national debt exceeded the last set limit of $31.4trn last week. The debt ceiling is the US’ statutory limit to the total national debt, and must be lifted or suspended to avoid the US defaulting, which would cause global economic catastrophe. The US has not run a budget surplus since 2001, meaning the size of the national debt has only grown since. As such, the debt limit has been raised 20 times and suspended on seven occasions since 2002.

In the last decade, the debt ceiling has morphed from a routine procedure into a political bargaining chip, as it must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. When Congress is split politically, as it was in 2011, 2013 and is now, Republicans have threatened to not lift the ceiling to extract political concessions. In 2011 and 2013, the Republican controlled House used these threats to strong-arm the Obama administration into enacting their desired spending cuts, causing a crisis in international markets as the prospect of the US defaulting became real. 

After winning a slim majority in the 2022 midterm elections, House Republicans have begun voicing their demands to President Biden, and lawmakers are gearing up for tense negotiations. However, after a brutal and fraught speaker election in which deep party divisions were revealed, Republicans are already disagreeing on what they want: fiscal conservatives wish for deep spending cuts to balance the budget, while Trump and others are calling to protect Social Security, Medicare, and defence spending. In this particularly divided Congress, the US seems to be in for another round of dangerous economic brinkmanship.

France Withdraws Troops from Burkina Faso

France has announced the withdrawal of their military forces and ambassador from Burkina Faso upon the request of the local government. They agreed to withdraw all troops, who were stationed to help fight islamic insurgencies, within a month. Burkina Faso, which has been facing an Islamist insurgency by groups linked to the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda, ended the military agreement that allowed a French mission to battle jihadists on its territory.

France and Burkina Faso have had an agreement since 2018 that has allowed French troops to be stationed in Burkina Faso. France reportedly has around 400 special forces in the country to fight militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Late last week, residents in the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, protested for their departure.

According to CNN, protests are reportedly at least partly linked to the idea that France has not done enough to tackle an Islamist insurgency that spread from Mali. Mali, like the Central African Republic, is now reportedly working with the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group also operating in Ukraine. Although Burkina Faso has denied reports that it, too, will turn to the Wagner Group, AFP reports have already shown officers from Wagner present in the country. Public opinion is also very pro-Russian, with photos from the anti-French protests showing some demonstrators waving Russian flags.

Zelensky Leads Anti-corruption Drive in Ukraine

So far, eleven officials have either resigned or been sacked from the Kyiv administration in a drive by President Zelensky to tackle government corruption. Kyiv is trying to quickly restore public faith, but the serious allegations come at a bad time, as they follow announcements of more military aid from major Ukrainian backers.

Several claims have surfaced thanks to an investigative journalist, Mykhaylo Tkach, for the news website Ukrayinska Pravda. He has recently reported that President Zelensky’s deputy head of office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, quit two months after Tkach reported that he’d moved his family to the mansion of a well-known property developer. After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last February he became a frequent spokesperson for the government. The journalist also published footage which appeared to show the official driving an expensive Porsche during the ongoing war. Meanwhile, Mr Tymoshenko has denied doing anything wrong.

Zelensky has since vowed to take a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, a problem that has plagued Ukraine since independence, saying “I want it to be clear: there will be no return to the way things used to be”. Despite the significant government reshuffle, the situation has led to some politicians in the US calling for aid to Ukraine to be restricted.The US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, said during a conference in Kyiv on Monday: “There can be no place in the future Ukraine for those who use state resources for their own enrichment. State resources should serve the people”.

Egypt on the brink of economic collapse

Despite promises made by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to revive the economy, Egypt is facing a deepening economic crisis. In the wake of internal issues like political unrest and corruption, and external issues of COVID-19 and the threat of a global recession, food prices have doubled, and salaries have halved. The value of the Egyptian Pound has dropped to record low levels and inflation has risen to roughly 20%. Forced to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2022 for the fourth time in six years, Egypt is the fund’s second biggest debtor, highlighting the severity of the situation the country is facing. 

Alongside the pandemic greatly disrupting Egyptian tourism, and the war in Ukraine affecting wheat supplies to the country, Sisi’s autocratic government has also presided over the increasing economic dominance of state and military-owned enterprises. Depressing the private sector and discouraging foreign investment, the country has become reliant on foreign credit to survive.

Sharing similar tones to the economic crisis Lebanon has faced since 2019, Egypt is a country facing economic turmoil. In Lebanon, the crisis drove locals to rob their own banks in attempts to withdraw their savings, and oversaw the country’s middle-class increasingly pushed into debt. 

However, despite the issues it is facing, Egypt is in a more stable situation than Lebanon. Whilst its economic situation is unlikely to improve in the coming years, Egypt has access to great sources of cash revenue: Earning money from the Suez Canal, tourism, and export industries. Cairo has also promised reforms, making several concessions to the IMF, including increasing the flexibility of its foreign exchange rate and promising to control the Egyptian military’s economic empire.

Israeli Raid Kills Nine Palestinians

In the deadliest attack into the Jenin refugee camp in nearly two years, nine Palestinians have been killed in an Israeli military raid. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) has since commented that its troops were acting to arrest Islamic Jihad “terror operatives” planning “major attacks” in the area. The IDF said that forces surrounded a building, reported as being used as a hideout, and neutralised three armed suspects. Reporting heavy gunfire and loud explosions, battles raged between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces. 

Having identified three of those killed as Magda Obaid, 61, Saeb Izreiqi, 24, and Izzidin Salahat, 26, the Palestinian health ministry also reported a further twenty wounded. Magda Obaid’s daughter has said that her mother lived near the house that was the site of the attack and was shot in the neck when she looked out of her window, alarmed at the sound of gunfire.

The Palestinian authorities have since announced the ending of their coordination with Israel on security matters. A statement has announced that the decision has been made “in light of the repeated aggression against our people, and the undermining of signed agreements.” The history in this area matters, with such decisions to end the coordination occurring following the rising tensions in the West Bank. 

In recent years, Israel’s military raids have increased in frequency, leading to gunfights with armed Palestinians. The Israeli military describes its aim in the region as an anti-terrorism offensive following the attacks in Israel in recent years. Many people in the area relate their current experiences to April 2002, when Israel launched the Battle of Jenin which resulted in the death of 52 Palestinian’s and 23 Israeli soldiers. Destroying the Jenin camp, the sheer size of destruction forms part of the collective memory of the area.