Russia remains united, says Putin. Major Israeli operation in the West Bank. Musk v Zuckerberg. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Widodo and Albanese put co-operation first in talks

Two middle-aged men wearing suits stand in the rain with umbrellas. Sydney harbour is in the background.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Indonesian President Joko Widodo at Admiralty House, Sydney, on Tuesday.
Credit: David Swift / Getty Images

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Vladimir Putin insisted this week Russia remained united following an armed rebellion by the Wagner Group mercenary force, as Ukraine claimed its counteroffensive had started to make territorial gains.

At an online meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Russian president told fellow leaders such as China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi that Russia was “more consolidated than ever”. He also used the summit to urge other nations to trade in their own currencies rather than in American dollars, claiming Moscow was resisting Western sanctions and emerging stronger than before the war.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, who launched a short-lived rebellion last month before fleeing to Belarus as part of a deal with the Kremlin, appears to be refusing to dismantle the group. Wagner was seeking recruits to fight in Ukraine this week, even though the mercenaries are supposed to either join the Russian military, return home or go to Belarus.

“Soon you will see our next victories at the front,” Prigozhin said on the Telegram app.

Ukraine’s military said this week its counteroffensive had started to gain ground in the eastern Donetsk and south-eastern Zaporizhzhia regions.

Oleksiy Danilov, a senior Ukrainian official, said on Tuesday Ukraine had successfully targeted the Russian army’s equipment, fuel depots, artillery and air defences.

“The last few days have been particularly fruitful,” he wrote on Twitter.

The neighbourhood

Indonesia: Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during a three-day visit to Sydney this week that led to deals on climate investment and improved visa access for Indonesian travellers.

Following talks that appeared to focus primarily on economic co-operation, Widodo urged Australia to collaborate with Indonesia on producing electric vehicle batteries. The two countries have vast quantities of crucial elements for EV batteries: Indonesia is a major nickel producer and Australia is a major lithium producer.

“Indonesia and Australia must build a more substantive and strategic economic co-operation through the joint production of EV batteries,” Widodo said at a press conference held with Albanese.

The Australian prime minister promised to explore battery production with Jakarta and announced plans to invest $50 million in “clean-energy focused” start-up enterprises.

The cordial talks between the pair were noticeably free of the sort of diplomatic rifts – over issues such as live cattle exports – that have hampered previous meetings.

Responding to longstanding Indonesian concerns about difficulties in obtaining travel visas, Albanese said Indonesian business travellers would be entitled to five-year visas – up from three years – and frequent travellers would be able to access a 10-year visa.

The pair also announced Western Sydney University, Deakin University and Central Queensland University planned to build campuses in Indonesia. Monash University opened a campus in Jakarta in 2021.

Before his visit, Widodo said he accepted Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a deal with the United States and Britain but cautioned against moves that could lead to a regional arms race.

Widodo, whose second and final term as president ends in October next year, is due to visit Australia next March for a summit of South-East Asian leaders.

Conflict zone

Israel: The Israeli military this week launched a major operation in the Palestinian city of Jenin following months of escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

The two-day raid, which involved more than 2000 troops, marked Israel’s biggest operation in the West Bank since 2002. Twelve Palestinians and an Israeli died, and about 3000 residents of Jenin fled.

Israel said the raid targeted a weapons factory and an operations centre used to stage attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has come under pressure from far-right politicians to respond strongly to recent violence, warned on Tuesday the raid was not a “one-time action”.

The United Nations said it was alarmed at the scale of Israel’s operation, particularly the use of air strikes. The raid occurred in Jenin’s densely populated refugee camp, which houses about 14,000 people.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh denounced the raid as an invasion that destroyed houses and infrastructure, rejecting statements from the United States and other countries that backed Israel’s right to defend itself. “It is the Palestinian people that have the right to self-defence,” he said in a tweet. “There is no such right for an occupying power.”

Following the raid, a Palestinian injured eight Israelis in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv and militants in Gaza fired rockets at Israel, prompting Israeli air attacks.

The past 18 months have been the bloodiest for both sides in years. So far this year, the conflict has resulted in the deaths of 140 Palestinians and 26 Israelis.

Spotlight: Musk v Zuckerberg

United States: Since Elon Musk took over Twitter last October for $US44 billion, the social media platform has experienced – even by Musk’s standards – a tumultuous ride, possibly towards oblivion.

Musk has sacked staff, spread right-wing conspiracy theories, lost advertisers, reinstated Donald Trump (who stayed away, saying “they have a lot of problems”), removed content moderation restrictions and, most recently, placed daily limits on the number of tweets users can read. In March, Musk said the platform was worth $US20 billion; last week, analysts valued it at $US15 billion.

Now, Musk’s long-time rival, Mark Zuckerberg, has launched a Twitter rival, called Threads. The “text-based conversation” platform was launched on Wednesday. Zuckerberg said on the app he believed it will attract more than one billion users. “Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it,” he said. “Hopefully we will.”

In 2019, Zuckerberg’s Meta launched an app also called Threads to try to rival Snapchat, and it is currently promoting a video format called Reels to compete with TikTok.

Other Twitter rivals, such as Mastodon, surged in popularity after Musk’s takeover but have since struggled to retain users. But Threads will be able to draw on Meta’s vast user base on its main platforms, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

A senior manager at Meta, Chris Cox, told an internal meeting the firm was responding to demand for a Twitter-style app that is “sanely run”.

Meanwhile, Musk, the world’s richest person according to Forbes’ The World’sReal-Time Billionaires list, and Zuckerberg, the seventh richest, are reportedly planning to compete directly in a mixed martial arts bout. Musk initially declared in a tweet he was “up for a cage fight” with Zuckerberg, who responded: “Send me the location.”

Zuckerberg, who is 39 years old, has trained in mixed martial arts and jujitsu. Musk, 52, has said he does not exercise, but trained with a professional fighter this week and then tweeted: “The obvious conclusion is that I need a *lot* more training.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 8, 2023 as "Widodo and Albanese put co-operation first in talks".

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