Morning Brief

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Assad Set to Tighten Grip in Today’s Rubber-Stamp Election

Western nations have already denounced the election, which is set to continue Assad’s 21-year rule.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad talks to the media.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad talks to the media.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad talks to the media after casting his vote at a polling station in Douma, near Damascus, Syria, on May 26. Louai Beshara/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is expected to sweep a so-called election, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko makes first remarks since Sunday’s flight “hijacking,” and a date is set for the Biden-Putin summit.

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Assad Heads for Fourth Term

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Syrias Bashar al-Assad is expected to sweep a so-called election, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko makes first remarks since Sundays flight “hijacking,” and a date is set for the Biden-Putin summit.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Assad Heads for Fourth Term

Syria’s presidential election takes place today across government-controlled areas of the country as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is all but assured of a fourth term.

Western countries have already denounced the election. “For an election to be credible, all Syrians should be allowed to participate, including internally displaced Syrians, refugees, and members of the diaspora, in a safe and neutral environment,” the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy said in a joint statement on Tuesday. “Without these elements, this fraudulent election does not represent any progress towards a political settlement.”

Regardless of its credibility, the vote underscores Assad’s resilience 10 years after the Syrian conflict began with the 2011 Arab Spring protests and 21 years after he took over from his father and former Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad. Today, he presides over a broken country, with much of the land east of the Euphrates River controlled by Kurdish fighters, with smaller pockets elsewhere in both Turkish and rebel hands.

Economic collapse. Assad, along with the two nominal challengers in today’s vote, Abdullah Salloum Abdullah and Mahmoud Ahmad Marie, have vowed to turn around Syria’s economy. The country’s currency has collapsed in recent years, and neighboring Lebanon’s economic crash and the freezes it has placed on Syrian accounts have made matters worse. Syria’s pound traded at 47 to 1 U.S. dollar before the conflict; the ratio is now 4,000 pounds to 1 U.S. dollar.

The toll taken on Syria’s population has been severe; 13.4 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. Ninety percent of Syrian children are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund.

Russian assistance. Assad can largely thank Russia for his survival, and payback seems to be trickling in. Last week, Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon broke the news of a recent offshore oil and gas exploration deal signed between the Syrian government and an affiliate of the shadowy Wagner group, a network of Russian private military contractors active in Syria, Libya, and Sudan. “The deal comes as Moscow seeks to entrench its strategic foothold in Syria and, by extension, further expand its reach in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Mackinnon wrote.

With today’s election a foregone conclusion, Assad will soon be leaning on Russia again at the U.N. Security Council, where a decision on whether to continue allowing U.N. aid to cross into Syria via the Turkish border at Bab al-Hawa is due in July. Russia maintains the crossing violates Syria’s sovereignty and all aid should be distributed from areas under Assad’s control. The Trump administration managed a one-year extension when the issue came up last July, and it will likely be on the agenda when Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with U.S. President Joe Biden in June.


What We’re Following Today

Blinken upgrades Palestinian ties. The United States will reopen its Jerusalem consulate—a key diplomatic office serving Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem—U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Jerusalem on Tuesday, undoing the Trump administration’s decision to shutter the office in 2018 and merge it into the new embassy that was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Blinken announced a further $40 million in aid to the Palestinians, including $5.5 million in emergency assistance for Gaza.

Speaking alongside Blinken on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his view on U.S. efforts to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “I can tell you that I hope that the United States will not go back to the old JCPOA because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy,” Netanyahu said. Blinken continues his Middle East tour today with a visit to Egypt and Jordan.

Armenia-Azerbaijan tensions. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of killing one of its soldiers in a shootout on Armenia’s eastern border. Armenia said Azerbaijani forces were the first to shoot in the latest ratcheting up of tensions between the two countries following an alleged Azerbaijani incursion into Armenian territory earlier this month. Azerbaijan has denied the incident took place. “According to our information, the incident involving the death of an Armenian soldier was an accident, and it has nothing to do with the Azerbaijani side,” Azerbaijan’s ministry of defense said in a statement

Lukashenko speaks. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko will deliver remarks to Belarus’s parliament today in his first public statement since the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich after Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory in the August 2020 presidential contest, has urged Western countries to do more to punish Lukashenko’s government. “Suspension of flights over Belarus doesn’t solve the real problem. The problem is the terrorist regime that rigged elections last year,” she said in a call with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.


Keep an Eye On 

The Biden-Putin summit. U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16, the White House confirmed on Tuesday. The meeting will take place after Biden attends a G-7 summit in the United Kingdom. “The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, adding there were no preconditions for the meeting.

Dutch climate ruling. A Dutch court will rule today on whether the Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, has a legal responsibility to combat climate change. The case was brought by the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth and alleges Shell is violating human rights by continuing to extract fossil fuels and is thereby working against the goals of the Paris Agreement. Although the ruling will only be legally binding in the Netherlands, the case is being closely watched by environmental campaigners around the world.


Odds and Ends

The moon is 240,000 miles away, but 100 Australians will get a chance to see it from 43,000 feet closer today as they take off in a three-hour flight to nowhere in the skies above Sydney. The flight coincides with the red blood super moon, a rare event when a lunar eclipse takes place while the moon is on its closest path to Earth, and tickets (with prices ranging from $386 to $1,162) sold out in less than 30 minutes. The flight has been designed for the “optimal flight path” to view the moon, according to Qantas, the airline hosting the flight, and comes complete with an on-board astronomer to educate passengers.

Colm Quinn was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2020 and 2022. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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