- Last week North Korea cut ties with South Korea, leading to fears of rising tensions on the peninsula
- On Tuesday, fears were further stoked when the country blew up an inter-Korean Liaison Office on the border.
- The North is mad about balloons traveling from the South that contain leaflets and information critical of the regime.
The North Cuts Ties
At 2:50 pm local time, people at Daeseong-dong – a village in South Korea that sits just across the border from Kaesong – heard a series of explosions. Surveillance footage and subsequent statements have revealed that North Korea destroyed the inter-Korean joint liaison office building. This is just the latest in a series of escalations the North has been engaged in since early June.
Prior to this, North Korea had declared South Korea an “enemy’ and cut off communication between the two nations at the beginning of the month.
The recent escalations started over balloons sent out by North Korean defectors living in the South. The existence of these defectors, and the South’s open embracing of them, adds a lot of tension to the relationship.
These balloons are also seen as a massive provocation by the North because of the content attached to them. Sometimes activists will attach USB’s with shows, movies, and news articles from the rest of the world. More often, though, it’s leaflets with anti-North Korea messaging and news.
North Korea claims that these balloons violate a 2018 deal made between Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In.
After the last round of balloon at the end of May, North Korea finally reacted. On June 4th, Kim Yo-Jong, the Supreme Leader’s sister and de-facto second in command, had this to say about the balloons and the groups behind them in a statement on official North Korean news outlets.
“Human scum little short of wild animals who betrayed their own homeland are engrossed in such unbecoming acts to imitate men. They are sure to be called mongrel dogs as they bark in where they should not.”
“I would like to ask the south Korean authorities if they are ready to take care of the consequences of evil conduct done by the rubbish-like mongrel dogs who took no scruple to slander us while faulting the “nuclear issue” in the meanest way at the most untimely time.”
It’s unlikely that these balloons are the only thing to upset the North. They have a history of complaints against other actions they perceive as aggressive; notably the joint US-South Korean military drills held every year.
Relations have continued to sour since the last Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam. And as of June 16th, North Korea still haven’t haven’t answered multiple routine calls from different South Korean agencies and the military; putting talks that were started in 2018 back to square one.
However, South Korea has tried to adhere to the 2018 deal that prevented propaganda balloons from going north. In the past, the government would partake with their own balloons and other provocative acts – like playing music across the border. However, these recent balloons were from private groups, which complicate things because South Korea does allow for the freedom of speech and expression.
In the past the country has stated that because of those reasons, they wouldn’t take action. Just a day after Kim Yo-Jong issued her statement South Korea’s Ministry of Unification announced that they were taking the balloon-groups to court to get them to stop. The government also plans to move legislation forward that would ban the leaflets.
Joint Inter-Korean Liaison Office
This past weekend, we saw even further escalations when Kim Yo-Jong said: “Before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen.”
That office has been officially closed since January over coronavirus concerns, but, in reality, it hasn’t been used since March 2019 after the failed Trump-Kim Vietnam summit. As of today the site as been destroyed.
The destruction caused the Blue House to host an emergency meeting about the situation, where afterwards officials said:
“The destruction … is an act that breaches the hope of all people wishing for the development of inter-Korean relations and a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
“The government makes clear that all responsibility caused by this rests totally with the North Korean side. We sternly warn that if North Korea takes steps further aggravating the situation, we will respond strongly to it.”
This isn’t the first time North Korea has closed themselves off after opening up to negotiations. It’s also previously happened in 2010, 2013, and 2016.
Where is Kim Jong-Un?
Amid the escalations, there are rumors from as far back as April that Kim Jong-Un is either dead, sick, or hiding in a villa. As with many rumors out of North Korea, it’s hard to know for sure. There are have been statements from the leader, as well as photos and appearances that were allegedly taken recently.
This seems to contradict the reality that Kim Yo-Jong, his sister, seems to be making the decisions right now. Normally, official threats to South Korea are done by the Supreme Leader, not an underling.
Some experts don’t think this is because Kim Jong-Un is dead or sick, but rather a calculated move to bolster his sister’s credibility with other high-ranking officials and generals in North Korea.
North Korea is known for it’s extremely patriarchal society, and a woman in a high-ranking position is nearly underheard of. However, Kim Jong-Un may have a soft spot for his sister, in addition to the fact that leadership in North Korea is a family affair.
Both Jong-Un and Yo-Jong both spent many years in Switzerland together during their youth to be educated. Other photos and videos seem to show the two working closely together.
So it’s possible that these recent statements are a move by the Paektdu blood-line, the decedents of Kim Il-Sung, to secure their hold on the country.
See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (Chosun Ilbo) (Financial Times)
E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention
- The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
- Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
- Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.
Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.
The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.
- Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
- Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
- First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
- Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
- Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.
Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.
First Step For Biden
These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.
One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”
“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.
The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.
He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.
Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria
- On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
- The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
- Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
- The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Striking Back Against Militias
The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.
The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.
Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.
For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.
Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.
In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.
Public Perception in a Downward Spiral
Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.
Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation
“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”
Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”
However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.
All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.
“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh
Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School
- Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
- Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
- Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
- According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.
Abductions Before Dawn
Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.
They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.
Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.
This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.
In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.
Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?
Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.
Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.
Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.
The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.