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Morning Brief

What to Watch in Ukraine’s Elections

Plus: The U.S. downs a drone in the Persian Gulf, more Brexit drama in the British Parliament, and the other stories we’re following today.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on June 18 in Berlin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on June 18 in Berlin. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Ukraine gears up for snap parliamentary elections, the United States downs a drone in the Persian Gulf, and more Brexit drama in the British Parliament.

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Novice Party Leads Polls in Ukraine

Ukrainians head to the polls on Sunday and look set to elect a parliament quite unlike any in the country’s recent history, after electing the comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelensky as president in April.

Polls show Zelensky’s Servant of the People party with a commanding lead, but it will likely have to form a coalition government. The Voice party, which is currently polling third, has been tipped as a potential partner. Both parties have eschewed established politicians in favor of new faces on their party lists.

Running a risk? Political inexperience is a risk in a country like Ukraine, which continues to struggle with endemic corruption cemented by oligarchs and an ongoing war with Russia. Ahead of the elections, Ukraine and Russia agreed to a prisoner swap involving 277 people detained in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Voting for change. Ukrainians’ willingness to place the government in the hands of novice politicians is symptomatic of the extreme discontent in the country. In March, a Gallup poll found Ukrainians’ confidence in their national government to be the lowest in the world for the second year in a row: Only 9 percent expressed confidence.

“We have had many experienced politicians over the past 20 years who have failed,” said Alyona Getmanchuk, the director of the Kiev-based New Europe Center. For many, a novice parliament offers the promise of a new start.

Amy Mackinnon

What We’re Following Today

U.S. shoots down drone. The United States reportedly shot down an Iranian drone on Thursday after it came within 1,000 meters of a Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz in the latest escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf. (Iran denies it lost a drone). The move came after the United States demanded that Iran release a foreign tanker that it had seized earlier in the week, which Iran said was smuggling oil. The downed drone is bound to raise concerns over military conflict in the Gulf as the remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal seek to ease tensions.

Brexit drama. Chancellor Philip Hammond, a key member of outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, told French and German journalists that he might be willing to vote with the opposition to topple a Boris Johnson government in a future no-confidence vote to prevent a no-deal Brexit. He said it is “absolutely necessary” to extend Britain’s EU membership beyond Oct. 31, adding that he would “take steps to avoid an exit without agreement apart from an explicit parliamentary approval.”

Hammond’s comments came after the House of Commons passed an amendment, by a large majority of 315-274, to make it more difficult for a future prime minister to suspend Parliament. Many Conservatives, including Hammond, defied the party’s whip by abstaining—and 17 Tories supported the measure, signaling to the next prime minister that forcing a no-deal Brexit through against the wishes of Parliament won’t be easy.

Negotiations over Sudan’s final transition deal continue. Negotiations continue today in Sudan over the constitutional declaration that would complete the power-sharing deal agreed between the country’s opposition groups and its ruling military council. On Thursday, in a powerful act of symbolism, thousands of protesters gathered in a public square where ex-President Omar al-Bashir held a final rally. “The joy will not be complete unless we win in the constitutional declaration tomorrow,” one protester told Reuters.

Detained Australian writer to be charged in China. Yang Hengjun, a Chinese Australian writer detained in China for the last six months, is soon expected to be formally charged with endangering national security, which carries a maximum life sentence. Yang, a naturalized Australian citizen, is a former diplomat known for his critical commentary. The case comes at a difficult moment in relations between the countries, as the Australian government pushes China to allow Uighurs to leave Xinjiang to reunite with family in Australia.

Keep an Eye On

Rand Paul and Mohammad Javad Zarif. Sen. Rand Paul has reportedly been tapped as an intermediary between the United States and Iran (although President Trump denies it) and, according to reports, might meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in New York. Zarif offered the outline of a possible deal with the United States on Thursday and told journalists that he would be “seeing people from Congress.”

Italy’s tenuous coalition. Italy’s coalition government is at risk of falling apart according to the leaders of the League and the Five Star Movement. The relationship between the two parties is deteriorating amid several disagreements—the latest over the new EU Commission president. Matteo Salvini, head of the League, faces pressure from his party to back out. 

The Hong Kong police force. Hong Kong’s police—long known as “Asia’s finest”—have built a reputation on the city’s public safety. But as protests continue, skirmishes between police and activists are fueling a leadership crisis within the 30,000-strong force. The riot-control tactics are a British colonial legacy dating back to protests in Hong Kong in the 1960s, Jack Hazlewood writes for FP.

Southeast Asia’s meth trade. A U.N. report released Thursday finds that the Asia-Pacific methamphetamine market has become the largest in the world—worth between $30.3 billion and $61.4 billion. Transnational cartels produce much of the meth in Myanmar and distribute it throughout the region, often laundering the money through casinos. 

Estonia’s president. Estonia’s far-right Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) tripled its seats in the country’s parliament this year, drawing public indignation from politicians including President Kersti Kaljulaid. In an interview with FP, Kaljulaid speaks about EKRE’s rise, countering anti-Europe sentiment, and Estonia’s digital politics.

U.S. arms sales to Colombia. The United States is keen to prevent Venezuela’s crisis from spilling into Colombia—an important ally—by beefing up its defenses. To do so, the U.S. Air Force has offered it the latest version of the F-16 fighter jet. Clinching the sale would be a diplomatic win, Lara Seligman reports.

For behind-the-scenes analysis on stories like this, subscribe to Security Brief Plus, delivered on Thursdays.

They Said What?

Police in the Philippines have been accused of manipulating data after they released new figures on the country’s three-year drug war, saying 5,526 people had been killed as of June 30. That number contradicts the previous official data (6,600 deaths). The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights puts the death toll at 27,000.

In a campaign speech on Wednesday, Boris Johnson—the favorite to become Britain’s next prime minister—criticized food safety regulations set by “Brussels bureaucrats” that add extra cost for smoked herring (kippers) producers. EU officials say the rules are actually British.

Tune In

Later today on FP’s podcast, First Person: Elliot Ackerman was awarded the silver star, bronze star, and purple heart for his role in the battle of Fallujah in 2004. He is also the author of a new memoir, Places and Names. This week, he sits down with deputy editor Sarah Wildman.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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