NOTHING NEW IN THE EAST
US defence chief to visit Ukraine as country marks independence
Jim Mattis arrives in Kiev today just in time to commemorate 26 years of Ukrainian independence from the USSR. The US Defence Secretary will hold talks with President Petro Poroshenko and his defence minister, Stepan Poltorak.
Beyond its independence, Ukraine has little to celebrate these days. Two and a half years after the signing of the second Minsk agreement, the ceasefire that it set out to achieve has become a mere pipe dream.
Indeed, the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels in the country’s east seems more deadlocked than ever. With neither France nor Germany able to broker a ceasefire, Mattis’ visit may signal increased US involvement, with both the Pentagon and the State Department having devised plans to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons. While President Trump only reluctantly signed a bill approving new sanctions against Russia, advocates of the move, like Senator John McCain are becoming louder.
It is hard to foresee how Moscow would react if the US were to supply defensive weaponry to Kiev; it’s an incalculable risk, one that may well trigger even greater Russian involvement.
Note: a previous version of this brief indicated Ukraine was celebrating 16 years of independence today. Ukraine has been independent for 26 years. The text has been updated to reflect this.
Australia’s deputy PM holds breath as High Court deliberates
Australian Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce faces preliminary High Court hearings today on his eligibility to sit in parliament.
Joyce has announced he possesses New Zealand citizenship via descent; under Australia’s constitution, this bars him from sitting in parliament. While Joyce insists he was unaware of this, his position is now under serious threat.
With a single-seat majority, PM Malcolm Turnbull’s government is in a precarious spot. Should Joyce be forced to resign, Turnbull’s coalition must reach to a third-party MP—adding uncertainty to a future legislative agenda. Making matters worse, two government senators are under a similar cloud.
Doubts over Joyce’s status were revealed to Wellington by an opposition Australian Labor Party staffer. Turnbull’s government has criticised Labor, with FM Julie Bishop calling Leader Bill Shorten’s actions “highly unethical”.
The High Court will likely rule in Joyce’s favour, explaining his resistance to standing down. Even if the High Court does rule against him, Labor’s attempt to permanently topple Turnbull should fail—Mr Joyce is immensely popular in his home constituency and would win the following by-election.
TENSIONS AND CELEBRATIONS
Cracks emerge among anti-government forces in Yemen
Pro-Houthi, anti-Saudi demonstrations are expected in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a today alongside 35th-anniversary celebrations of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party.
The Houthis and Saleh’s Yemeni Republican Guard are currently allied together against the internationally recognised Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
However, tensions between Saleh and the Houthis are on the rise. Having never fully seen eye-to-eye, the parties disagree on strategy against the Aden-based government—leading the Houthis to execute pro-Saleh forces. After Saleh called the Houthis a “militia”, they retaliated further by destroying posters advertising today’s anniversary.
The demonstrations may inevitably turn violent, signalling the deepening rift within the anti-government cause. Despite this seeming disadvantage, Tehran has continued effectively supporting the Shiite Houthis with weapons and cash.
Meanwhile, a recent study estimated that while Riyadh spends up to $200 million per day waging war within its southern neighbour, such efforts fail to significantly strengthen the Yemeni government’s position —leaving the result a probable stalemate.