Vanuatu to revisit security pact. Gabon general sworn in as president after coup. Armenian enclave cut off by Azerbaijan. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Putin wants North Korean weapons as Ukraine surges

Kim Jong-un in a beige suitm holding hands with a navy officer in a white uniform. Behind them, a crowd in white uniform applaud.
Kim Jong-un visits the naval command of the Korean People’s Army to mark Navy Day.

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, is expected to make a rare visit to Russia to discuss supplying weapons to support Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The proposed visit, to attend the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok next week, was announced by United States officials, but was not confirmed by Pyongyang or Moscow.

Kim, who has not left North Korea since 2019, reportedly plans to ask for access to Russian technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines. Russia is seeking North Korean ammunition, which was largely developed based on Soviet hardware and is compatible with Russian weaponry.

US officials said Russia had been forced to “desperately” turn to countries such as North Korea because its weapons supplies had been hampered by international sanctions and export controls.

On Tuesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters North Korea would “pay a price” if it agreed to provide weapons.

Russia has been looking to boost its stock of weapons as it faces intense fighting in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian troops are slowly advancing after breaching Russia’s first line of defence in the south, and, further north, have been gaining territory around the city of Bakhmut.

Ilya Yevlash, a spokesperson for Ukrainian troops, told national television on Tuesday: “We are pressing our offensive in the Bakhmut sector and our defenders are advancing confidently metre by metre.”

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian parliament voted to dismiss defence minister Oleksii Reznikov, who resigned hours after President Volodymyr Zelensky announced plans to replace him. The move was seen as part of a bid by Zelensky to combat corruption amid growing concerns among Ukraine’s Western backers about allegations of widespread graft. Reznikov insisted his resignation was not connected to corruption. 

The neighbourhood

Vanuatu: Sato Kilman, Vanuatu’s new prime minister, plans to “revisit” a security pact signed with Australia amid concerns the deal was not properly considered by parliament and risks angering China.

Kilman was elected on Monday after a court validated a no-confidence motion against the former prime minister, Ishmael Kalsakau. The motion was lodged by opposition leader Bob Loughman, who cited concerns about the security pact reached with Australia last December.

On Tuesday, Kilman told ABC News parliament was unlikely to ratify the deal, saying Kalsakau should have consulted more widely before signing it.

“I think at some point the government will need to revisit the thing, to see whether it is a good thing for Vanuatu or not,” he said.

“If it is not all good, and there needs to be some changes, then we speak with Australia to see what we can do together to make it something workable.”

The deal has been seen as a win for Canberra in its effort to counter Beijing’s growing reach in the Pacific.

Kilman, who is serving his fourth term as prime minister, insisted Vanuatu was not taking sides in the geopolitical rivalries engulfing the region.

“We are not pro-West, we are not pro-Chinese, we adopt a non-aligned policy,” he said.

Democracy in retreat

Gabon: General Brice Oligui Nguema was sworn in as interim president of Gabon this week after seizing power in a coup, declaring the army had given the people back “their dignity”.

Nguema deposed president Ali Bongo Ondimba, hours after Bongo was declared the winner of a disputed election. The Bongo family ruled the oil-rich West African nation for almost 56 years.

Nguema, a cousin of the Bongo family, was a trusted guard and aide of Bongo’s father but fell out with Bongo, who succeeded his father in 2009. The former president is believed to be under house arrest.

On Monday, Nguema promised to free political prisoners, introduce a new constitution, and hold “credible” elections, though he gave no indication of when a new ballot will be held. He said he had saved the country from bloodshed after elections that were “obviously loaded”.

“With the new government, made up of experienced people, we’re going to give everyone a chance to hope,” he said.

Residents in Gabon appeared to welcome the removal of the Bongo dynasty, though opposition figures have called for an immediate election and pointed out that the country is still being ruled by a member of the Bongo family.

The coup has been condemned by the United Nations, the African Union and France, the former colonial power. It was the eighth coup in West and Central Africa since 2020.

Spotlight: Warnings of a looming genocide

Azerbaijin: For three months, the 120,000 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh – a small enclave inside Azerbaijan that has an Armenian-majority population – have been cut off from the outside world.

In a move that has raised concerns of a potential genocide, Azerbaijan has been blockading the only road that connects the enclave to Armenia. The siege began in December but was tightened in June to exclude all traffic, including aid vehicles, which has left residents with dwindling supplies of food, water, medicine and electricity.

A local journalist in the enclave, Irina Hayrapetyan, told the BBC via a recorded message: “People are fainting in the bread queues … I know a case when a pregnant woman lost her child because there was no petrol to get her to hospital.”

Azerbaijan has offered to open access to a road that connects it to the enclave – but the residents have refused, fearing this will lead to complete Azerbaijani control.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said in a report on his website last month that the blockade was a genocide and Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, should be investigated by the court.

“The starvation of the ethnic Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh represents the archetype of genocide through the imposition of conditions of life designed to bring about a group’s destruction,” he wrote.

For decades, Nagorno-Karabakh, which is recognised internationally as belonging to Azerbaijan, has been the subject of tensions and fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In 2020, a war erupted, which resulted in Azerbaijan making gains in and around the enclave. The two sides have since been negotiating a lasting settlement.

The US has urged Azerbaijan to reopen access to the enclave, saying humanitarian conditions there were deteriorating. Some observers believe food supplies could be depleted within weeks. Azerbaijan claims it is blockading the road to Armenia to prevent smuggling of weapons.

For Armenians, the prospect of a mass starvation has revived memories of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-16, which led to the deaths of an estimated 600,000 Armenians – some estimates say as many as 1.2 million – who had been living in the Ottoman Empire.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 9, 2023 as "Putin wants North Korean weapons as Ukraine surges".

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