Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 16 May 2017: Donald Trump accused of sharing highly-classified allied intelligence with Russia, humanitarian situation in Yemeni capital further deteriorates, Chinese president announces further investment in ambitious Belt and Road Initiative

The weekly briefing, 16 May 2017: Donald Trump accused of sharing highly-classified allied intelligence with Russia, humanitarian situation in Yemeni capital further deteriorates, Chinese president announces further investment in ambitious Belt and Road Initiative

by Kirsten Winterman, Raphaël Zaffran and Matthew Clarke

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Soldiers in Ivory Coast mutiny for second time in six months; Somali government signs security pact with international partners to build national force to fight al-Shabaab.

Americas: Donald Trump accused of sharing highly-classified allied intelligence with Russian foreign minister and ambassador; former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva appears before federal judge leading investigation into large-scale corruption scandal.

Asia-Pacific: Chinese president announces further investment in ambitious Belt and Road Initiative; Islamic State suicide bomber injures deputy chair of Pakistan’s upper house.

Europe and Central Asia: UK’s National Health Service one of several high-profile victims of global ransomware attack; Kyrgyz president recommends that defamation lawsuits against US-funded Radio Azattyk are dropped.

Middle East and North Africa: Thousands protest in Tunisian capital over government’s proposed amnesty for corrupt business people; Humanitarian situation in Yemeni capital further deteriorates after outbreak of cholera.

Africa

Ivory Coast

The government of the Ivory Coast launched a military operation on 14 May after soldiers in several cities, including the second largest, Bouake, took to the streets over a pay dispute. Government forces were dispatched after six people were wounded during a demonstration on 13 May. The soldiers mutinied on 11 May over unpaid bonuses that the government had promised in January to calm an earlier rebellion. Tensions appear to have flared after a spokesperson for the soldiers announced that they would not be demanding the remaining bonuses that were due under the arrangement. The soldiers involved in the mutiny claim that they had not been consulted on this matter. They have denounced the agreement despite talks on the 15 May and government claims that the situation has been resolved. The second mutiny in less than six months has led to fears of further violence and insecurity echoing the country’s 10-year civil war that ended in 2011.

Somalia

The Somali government signed a security pact with international partners at a conference attended by over 40 countries and co-hosted by Somalia and the United Kingdom in London on 11 May. The pact aims to build a national Somali force to fight the militant group al-Shabaab by providing support and training to Somalia’s army and police force to enable them to take over the roles currently undertaken by the African Union. The conference also addressed the pressing humanitarian situation in Somalia, where a potential famine threatens around half the population after a prolonged drought. The head of the UN, António Guterres, called for additional funds to support Somalia, taking the appeal total to $1.5 billion. However, Somalia’s president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, told the conference that unless the United Nations lifts the arms embargo against his country the conflict is likely to continue. Despite the president’s appeal, it is unlikely that the UN will lift the embargo anytime soon because of fears that imported weapons could end up in al-Shabaab’s hands.

Americas

United States

On 9 May, the US president, Donald Trump, fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, in a highly-controversial move that has provoked widespread outcry over the apparent overreaching of the executive branch. Trump justified the unexpected decision by citing a recommendation from the deputy attorney general and pointing to Comey’s poor handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. However, the suspicion is that this is a crude move to sabotage the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign team’s alleged links to Moscow and Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election. It is possible that democrats will use the FBI director’s removal as grounds to start building a case to eventually impeach the president for obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, Trump has ignited fresh controversy by allegedly sharing, without permission, highly-classified allied intelligence with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting at the White House. The revelation will make intelligence agencies and governments around the world increasingly wary of sharing sensitive information with their US partners for fear that the White House may deliberately or inadvertently reveal it to Russia and, in turn, its allies Iran and Syria.

Donald Trump's behaviour will make intelligence agencies around the world wary of sharing sensitive information with their US partnersClick To Tweet

Brazil

On 10 May, the former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva appeared before Judge Sergio Moro, the federal judge who is leading the investigation into a large-scale corruption scandal in Brazil. The Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation involves Brazilian construction companies that are accused of paying bribes in return for contracts with government-owned companies, such as the semi-public oil company Petrobras. Lula arrived at his hearing in Curitiba carrying a Brazilian flag and accompanied by a small crowd of supporters. His belligerent testimony was later made public. Lulu hopes to run for a third term in the 2018 presidential elections, which he will be unable to do unless he is cleared of all corruption charges. The investigation into the former president is likely to galvanise an already polarised country, as many Brazilians still see Lula as the defender of the poor, while others see Judge Moro as a gatekeeper of Brazilian democracy.

Asia-Pacific

China

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has announced plans to further invest in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which he articulated in September 2013 as the Silk Road Economic Belt. The ambitious initiative involves a series of overland infrastructure projects and maritime routes that will allow China to export excess manufacturing and industrial capacities into Central Asia and farther westwards and import energy and raw materials from the Middle East and Russia. At a conference to promote the project, attended by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Xi announced £96 billion of spending commitments, including £7 billion for international development, to boost the critical infrastructure of countries along the route. If Xi’s strategy is successful, it will put in motion a veritable global Chinese supply chain and see China becoming the centre of the two largest trade routes – the new Silk Road and current South China Sea routes – giving it both considerable economic benefit and significant geopolitical influence.

China's Belt and Road Initiative could create a veritable global Chinese supply chainClick To Tweet

Pakistan

A suicide bomber injured the deputy chair of Pakistan’s upper house, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, in an attack on the senator’s convoy on 12 May that killed 25 people and injured more than 40 others. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack in Balochistan province. This is the third attack in the province in six months that Islamic State has claimed responsibility for. Haideri is the general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) – an Islamist Sunni party that is part of the ruling coalition and had previously been allied with the Taliban. Haideri is one of the more senior officials to be targeted by militants in Pakistan in recent years. He is well-known for his anti-US views, and has strongly advocated that Pakistan withdraw from the war on terror. The attack further reveals the tensions in Pakistan between Islamic State, political Islamist groups and extremist groups such as the Taliban.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

A widespread cyber-attack has infected computers in 150 countries with the WannaCry ransomware. The hacker group The Shadow Brokers released the initial infection vector based on leaked NSA hacking tools in April, and WannaCry began infecting computers worldwide on 12 May. The ransomware is spread via spear phishing emails and encrypts a victim’s data and exploits a Microsoft vulnerability to spread to other computers on the same network. The most significant known victims so far are Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) and the Russian interior ministry, though 29,000 institutions in China, including government agencies, are reportedly affected. Other high-profile victims include FedEx and Telefónica. However, none of the affected organisations are thought to be the target of the attack, which, despite its unprecedented scale, appears to be a low-level attempt to extort $300 or $600 in bitcoin payments from victims to unlock their infected systems. The initial attack has been slowed after a British cybersecurity researcher found and activated a kill switch in the malware; however, there are fears that a second wave of the attack will begin with the new working week and the possible release of adapted versions of the malware without the kill switch.

Kyrgyzstan

On 12 May, the Kyrgyz president, Almazbek Atambayev, recommended that the defamation lawsuits against Radio Azattyk be dropped. The station is the Kyrgyz service of the US-government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The Kyrgyz prosecutor general’s office had filled the suits after Atambayev accused Radio Azattyk of slander when it relayed the opposition’s complaints about the arrest of its leader, Omurbek Tekebayev, in late February. Technically, the prosecutor general’s office is independent from the president’s office, but it is likely taking instructions directly from Atambayev. It is unlikely that the move resulted from a change of heart on the part of Atambayev, but that both the lawsuits and their withdrawal were intended as a shot across the bow of independent broadcasters in the country. This will likely deter some Kyrgyz media organisations that might be tempted to criticise Atambayev ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 19 November.

Middle East and North Africa

Tunisia

Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the country’s capital, Tunis, on 13 May to protest against the ‘economic reconciliation’ bill. The government’s proposed law will grant amnesty to business people accused of corruption when former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was in power. The government claims that the bill is a way of encouraging the accused to release monies back into Tunisia’s ailing economy. However, critics of the bill say that the amnesty is a backwards step from the 2011 revolution that ousted Ben Ali. The controversial bill has been stuck in parliament for the last two years. A number of prominent opposition politicians have been involved in the protests, including the leader of the Popular Front, the leader of the Ettakatol party and the leader of the People’s Movement party. Protests are likely to continue as the bill goes through the committee stages of parliament.

Yemen

The humanitarian situation in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, has further deteriorated after an outbreak of cholera. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, there were 115 deaths from cholera between 27 April and 13 May, and there are now over 8,500 suspected cases across Yemen. This is the second outbreak of cholera in Yemen in less than a year. The fighting between Houthi rebels and security forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi together with the Saudi-led coalition has severely damaged health facilities across the country, and it is estimated that fewer than half are fully functioning. Yemen is also on the brink of famine, with two-thirds of the population facing severe food shortages. The humanitarian crisis is highly likely to escalate unless significant international action is taken.

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