Death toll soars in Ukraine. Chinese sonar incident injures Australian divers. Genocide fears in Sudan. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Far-right ‘anarcho-capitalist’ wins Argentine presidency

A man with sideburns and wearing a suit walks in arm with a woman in a red dress.
The newly elected president of Argentina, Javier Milei, with his girlfriend, Fatima Florez.
Credit: AP Photo / Ramiro Souto

Spotlight: Argentina elects new president

Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian and self-described “anarcho-capitalist”, easily won Argentina’s presidential election after proposing a radical overhaul of the country’s ailing economy.

A former tantric sex coach and outspoken television commentator, Milei opposes abortion, has claimed climate change is a “socialist lie” and wants to scrap all gun laws and allow the sale of human organs. He defeated the economy minister, Sergio Massa, by 56 per cent to 44 per cent, attracting support for his anti-establishment campaign in a country in which the annual inflation rate is more than 140 per cent and 40 per cent of people live in poverty.

After his win, Milei said in a speech: “The changes that our country needs are drastic. There is no place for gradualism.”

Milei, 53, has proposed a radical brand of economic shock therapy, including abolishing the central bank, massive spending cuts, privatising state-owned companies and replacing the peso with the US dollar. Ahead of the election, a group of 100 international economists – including Thomas Piketty and Jayati Ghosh – warned Milei’s “simple solutions may be appealing” but would deepen inequality and were “likely to cause more devastation”. Milei has described Piketty as a “turd”.

Still, Milei, whose party does not have a majority in congress, may not be able to fully deliver his policies. Some of his proposals are probably unworkable: for instance, Argentina, with its limited access to international credit, is unlikely to be able to access enough US dollars to convert the currency. But analysts believe his presidency, which begins on December 10, is likely to be more erratic and unpredictable than that of Donald Trump.

Responding to Milei’s win, Trump said on social media: “I am very proud of you. You will turn your country around and truly Make Argentina Great Again.” 

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Russian and Ukrainian troops were locked in fierce battles along the Dnipro River this week as the United Nations warned civilian deaths in Ukraine were increasing due to abandoned explosives and Russia’s use of long-range missiles.

Russia claimed on Tuesday to have thwarted Ukrainian attempts to cross the Dnipro in southern Ukraine. The claim followed reports Ukrainian troops had crossed the river at various points and
gained a foothold on the Russian-occupied east bank. Such a move would mark a significant advance in Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

Meanwhile, Russia staged offensives in Ukraine’s north and east that involved massive artillery shelling across residential areas.

On Wednesday, the UN’s monitoring mission in Ukraine said in a statement more than 10,000 civilians had been killed since Russia’s invasion last year but the actual toll was likely to be “significantly higher”.

“Nearly half of civilian casualties in the last three months have occurred far away from the frontlines,” said Danielle Bell, who heads the mission. “No place in Ukraine is completely safe.”

As Ukraine’s counteroffensive has stalled, Kyiv has become increasingly concerned its foreign allies may reduce their military aid. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, welcomed visits this week by United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Lachlan Murdoch, the chair of News Corp and Fox Corporation, whose trip may have been designed to persuade wavering US Republicans to continue their support. Donald Trump, the frontrunner to be the next Republican presidential candidate, has criticised US aid to Ukraine.

Zelensky’s office said in a statement Murdoch’s visit was “a very important signal of support at the time when the world’s attention is blurred by other events”.

The neighbourhood

Australia: Anthony Albanese this week accused Beijing of “dangerous, unsafe and unprofessional” conduct after a Chinese warship reportedly emitted sonar pulses that injured Australian navy divers in international waters off Japan.

The incident occurred shortly before the Australian prime minister met Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco last week, but Albanese would not say whether he raised the matter.

“This is the sort of incident I’ve spoken about … why we need communication and guardrails,” Albanese told Sky News.

Australia said two divers were slightly injured while removing fishing nets tangled in the propeller of an Australian frigate and a clear warning had been sent that its personnel were underwater.

China’s defence ministry denied any misconduct, saying its vessel “kept a safe distance from the Australian ship”. It said Australia’s accusation was “reckless and irresponsible”.

Albanese travelled to Beijing  earlier this month in a visit that was seen as a move towards normalising ties after years of friction between the two countries.

The Coalition this week pressed Albanese to reveal whether he raised the incident with Xi. Albanese said Canberra had raised “strong objections” with Beijing but refused to reveal details about his conversations with Xi or with the Chinese foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi.

“I can assure you, we raised these issues in the appropriate way and very clearly, unequivocally,” he said. “China is in no misunderstanding on Australia’s view on this.”

Democracy in retreat

A brutal war between two rival militaries in Sudan has led to growing attacks on ethnic communities that have raised concerns about a potential genocide.

The war erupted in April between the national military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), an official but independent force, over plans to merge the two militaries as part of the country’s transition to civilian rule. The fighting began in Khartoum, the capital, but has since spread across the country, involving massacres of civilians, mass rape and widespread looting. More than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed, six million people have fled their homes and 25 million people need urgent aid.

The RSF, backed by Arab militias, has allegedly been conducting massacres around the Darfur region targeting the Masalit, a non-Arab community that supports the Sudanese military. The RSF recently took control of El Geneina, a city in Darfur, and went door to door killing civilians, according to non-government organisations that have monitored the fighting. Footage showed RSF soldiers rounding up a large group of civilian men and beating them with rifles. Several mass graves have been found in the region.

The RSF, which emerged from the militias accused of conducting a genocide in Darfur in the early 2000s, blamed the recent civilian killings on the Sudanese military. The RSF has allegedly received support from the United Arab Emirates and Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group.

A United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, warned in a statement last week that further mass killings could occur due to the “environment of complete lawlessness and impunity”. “The risks of genocide and related atrocity crimes in the region remain grimly high,” she said.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 25, 2023 as "Far-right ‘anarcho-capitalist’ wins Argentine presidency".

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