- United States (US) Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last Friday (July 29), pressing Moscow to accept the US’ offer on releasing two American detainees in Russia. According to Blinken, the two parties “had a frank and direct conversation” while pressing the Kremlin to accept the proposal. This is reportedly the first conversation between the two parties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- The US head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned last Friday (July 29) that every American should pay attention to the monkeypox outbreak as the number of cases tops 4600, becoming the highest tally in the world. With nearly one million doses of the vaccine being made available, Dr Xavier Becerra called on every American to get vaccinated once they have access to the vaccine.
- New data released from the US Commerce Department last Thursday (July 28) showed that the US economy shrank from April to June this year. This means its economy has contracted for the second consecutive quarter of the year. According to Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, this is a sign of an impending recession, with forecasts of a 9.1 per cent inflation. However, the US’ official arbiter of recessions, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), has yet to confirm this news.
- The remnants of a Chinese space rocket’s uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere was scattered across the Indian and Pacific ocean last Sunday (July 31). According to experts at the Centre for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS), the Chinese space rocket did not have a typically controlled re-entry where operators can determine its landing point. An uncontrolled re-entry instead means its final landing place will not be known until just hours before it lands. This is not the first time a Chinese booster has been recorded to threaten populated areas, with similar uncontrolled re-entries taking place in 2021 and 2020.
- The US announced last Saturday (July 30) that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is beginning a five-nation tour in Asia and Africa this week, as the US, China, and Russia intensify their efforts in bids of gaining global influence. He is expected to visit Cambodia where he will attend a Southeast Asian regional security forum together with Chinese and Russian foreign ministers. There are no indications or reports of Blinken meeting his Chinese and Russian counterparts separately in Phnom Penh.
- Brazil reported their first case of death from monkeypox last Friday (July 29). The 41-year-old patient, who died from septic shock after being admitted to the intensive care unit, suffered from lymphoma and a weakened immune system. According to the Brazilian health ministry, around 1000 monkeypox cases have been recorded, with most of them occurring in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Currently, it is one of the countries along the US and Canada that have been most affected by the disease.
- The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Park Rangers on Mona Island found five migrants that drowned and 66 others that survived a human smuggling incident last Thursday (July 28). The public affairs officer for the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Jeffrey Quinones claimed that the smugglers forced the migrants to disembark, resulting in the five drowning. The victims of the incident are believed to be Haitians fleeing from gang-related killings and kidnappings in Haiti.
- Venezuelan Foreign Minister Carlos Faria and Colombian Foreign Minister-in-waiting Alvaro Levya announced in a joint declaration last Thursday (July 28) an agreement to re-establish diplomatic ties. Levya announced both parties’ interest in “progress[ing] on a work agenda towards the gradual normalisation of bilateral relations from August 7”. The two countries are to appoint new ambassadors once Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro takes office in August. Colombia and Venezuela had turbulent relations over the last few years due to Venezuela’s migrant crisis.
- At least 18 were killed last Thursday (July 28) in one of the deadliest raids in Rio de Janeiro, causing more unrest with regard to police violence. According to Rio authorities, the raid was a police operation targeting gang members, of which 16 were suspected criminals that were eventually killed in confrontations with police in Complexo do Alemao. The other two fatalities were a police officer and a woman. The targeted criminal group was said to have stolen cars, robbed banks, and invaded neighbourhoods.
- A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck off the coast of Tocopilla in Chile last Thursday (July 28). According to the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC), the earthquake had a depth of 80km, with the temblor epicentre about 33km to the west of Tocopilla.
- Chinese President Xi Jin Ping warned US President Joe Biden last Thursday (July 28) against “playing with fire” over Taiwan, adding that “[t]hose who play with fire will only get burnt”. Beijing has repeatedly affirmed the “one-China principle” and has stressed that China firmly opposes Taiwanese independence and interference from external forces. This comes after what Beijing has referred to as multiple US interference and dissent towards their principle.
- North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un condemned the US and South Korea last Thursday (July 28) during its anniversary of the armistice in 1953, accusing the US of “gangster-like behaviour”. The North Korean Leader said that North Korean armed forces “are thoroughly prepared to respond to any crisis” and that their nation’s nuclear war deterrence is also “fully ready to mobilise its absolute strength faithfully, accurately and promptly to its mission”.
- Former Philippine President Fidel Valdez Ramos passed last Sunday (July 31). He was a US-trained ex-general who played a key role in a 1986 pro-democracy uprising which ousted a dictator. President Ramos also oversaw a period of relatively steady growth that made him one of the few most effective leaders in the Philippines.
- Sri Lanka resumed discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last Friday (July 29) regarding a potential bailout after a new government had taken office. Discussions had previously started in April under former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had just sent his resignation last month. The Sri Lankan government hopes to secure an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to help battle the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
- The Japan Government urged its people to exercise the “highest level of vigilance” after the country reported a record high of 186,000 cases last Thursday (July 28). The surge in cases was attributed to the new wave of infections driven by the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant. People in Okinawa had been asked to avoid non-essential outings from last Friday (July 29) until mid-August, while only groups of up to four are permitted to eat at restaurants for a maximum of two hours.
- Germany’s defence minister committed 16 Biber bridge-layer tanks to Ukrainian forces last Friday (July 29), to “enable Ukrainian troops to cross waters or obstacles in combat”. According to the ministry, the delivery of the first six systems will take place this year, with the delivery of the remaining ten happening the following year. Since late June this year, Germany has sent nine Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery systems from its own army’s stocks to Ukraine which have been employed in the Russian invasion.
- Inflation in the Eurozone was reported on Friday (July 29) to have reached a record high of 8.9 per cent this month, nearing the United Kingdom’s (UK) 9.4 per cent rate. Despite the European Union achieving a gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 0.7 per cent, exceeding expectations of a forecasted 0.2 per cent increase, analysts suggested that recovery is likely to evaporate. This is mainly due to the higher prices, reduced flows of Russian gas, and supply chain problems, which further exacerbates inflation.
- Several Finland politicians raised opinions over halting the issuance of tourist visas to regular Russian nationals last Tuesday (July 26), to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While a cross-party majority in Finland’s parliament voiced strong support for tighter restrictions, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said last Wednesday (July 27) that Moscow would “react very negatively”. Neighbouring Schengen zone countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have already restricted visas.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last Tuesday (July 26) that Russia was deliberately cutting supplies of natural gas to impose a “price terror” against Europe. He said that “[u]sing Gazprom, Moscow is doing all it can to make this coming winter as harsh as possible for the European countries”, adding that more sanctions need to be imposed on Russia. The European Union states had previously agreed to curb their gas usage, forecasting a yield of enough gas savings to last through an average winter if Russia were to fully cut supplies in July.
- An Austrian firm, DSIRF, was reported by Microsoft last Wednesday (July 27) for deploying spyware at an unspecified number of banks, law firms, and strategic consultancies. DSIRF later said in a statement that the spyware “Subzero” had been developed exclusively for official use in states of the European Union (EU) and that it is “neither offered, sold nor made available for commercial use”. There were no indications whether EU member state governments were using the tool.
- President of France Emmanuel Macron had talks in Paris with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last Thursday (July 28) on diversifying Saudi Arabia’s energy supplies for European countries. According to the French President’s aides, Macron urged Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production in order to lower the prices of crude oil in Europe. With the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, European countries have been witnessing a decrease in oil and gas supplies, resulting in a spike in inflation levels. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that can increase its energy output.
- A Syrian cargo ship that carried stolen barley from Ukraine docked in the port of Tripoli last Thursday (July 28), according to the Ukrainian diplomatic mission in Lebanon. It was suspected that the ship carried 5000 tons of barley and flour respectively. It is currently unknown why the ship rerouted to Lebanon from its initial destination of Syria, and if it intended to offload the goods in Lebanon. In response, Ukrainian ambassador Ihor Ostash warned Lebanese President Michel Anon that buying stolen goods from Russia would “harm bilateral ties”.
- At least 17 people were killed while more than 40 were wounded in Syria’s Sweida due to clashes between armed residents and gangs supporting government security agencies, according to Sweida’s health directorate last Thursday (July 28). Tensions were high since last Monday (July 25) following the abduction of two civilians that were close to local armed groups. Coupled with the civilian’s enhanced frustration at government-backed fighters for executing arbitrary detentions, fights broke out last Tuesday (July 26) and lasted until last Wednesday (July 27). The Syrian government has not responded to the conflict.
- The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed to sign a deal on renewable energy following talks in Athens, Greece, last Tuesday (July 26). According to Saudi Crown Prince MBS, Saudi Arabia can provide Greece and Southwest Europe with “much cheaper renewable energy”. The visit was the Saudi Crown Prince’s first visit to the European Union since the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- Iran announced it had new ideas on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal last Tuesday (July 26), following a proposed final text from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on reaching an agreement. However, the timeline for sharing these ideas was not revealed. Borrell noted that the text which outlined the best possible deal was what he believed was feasible for all sides. Talks to restore the deal since April 2021 had been futile, with Iran and the US disagreeing on certain terms.
- At least four people were killed while several others were wounded in Guinea’s capital Conakry on the second day of anti-government protests last Friday (July 29). Protests against Guinea’s military government were spurred over the military government’s inefficiency in restoring civilian rule. The National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), an influential political coalition that called for the demonstrations to condemn the military, was joined by the former ruling Rally for the Guinean People, the National Alliance for Change and Democracy and their respective supporters.
- At least 32 people were killed in Madagascar last Friday (July 29), where local bandits who are known as “dahalo” attacked an area north of the capital in the Ankazobe district. According to the defence ministry’s statement, the incident included them setting homes on fire, which resulted in women and children being burnt alive. Defence Minister General Richard Rakotonirina said last Saturday that security forces had been deployed to the area to hunt down the perpetrators.
- Zambia’s Ministry of Finance said last Friday (July 29) that it has engaged with lenders to facilitate the formal cancellation of over US$2 billion (S$2.76 billion) in undisbursed loans to address the country’s debts. As of now, the ministry has cancelled some loan-financed projects and has changed the scope of other projects. Zambia was the first African country during the COVID-19 pandemic period in 2020 to default on its debts, with external debts totalling over US$17 billion (S$23.47) at the end of 2021.
- A total of 15 soldiers and three civilians were killed in two separate attacks by Islamist militants in southwest Mali last Wednesday (July 27). The first attack saw militants assaulting the military camp in Sonkolo, while the second attack saw them attacking a camp in the southwestern town of Kalumba. According to a statement made by the army, both attacks eventually ceased, with the army killing 48 militants in Sonkolo. Militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State have been raiding areas across Mali for the last few years due to an insurgency in the country.
- Algeria, Nigeria and Niger signed a memorandum of understanding to build a natural gas pipeline across the Sahara desert last Thursday (July 28). The estimated US$13 billion (S$17.9 billion) Trans-Saharan gas pipeline project could potentially transport up to 30 billion cubic metres of supplies per year to Europe, serving as a chance for Europe to diversify its gas resources. The pipeline is expected to span around 4000km, starting from Warri in Nigeria to Hassi R’Mel in Algeria.