Azerbaijan Attacks, the West Watches

Happy Tuesday! In welcoming TMD’s new editor, James Scimecca, please also offer him a word of condolence for his New York Jets’ brutal loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night. Better luck on a night when Taylor Swift isn’t in attendance, James. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • The United Nations Security Council voted Monday to approve a U.S.-authored resolution to send a multinational force, led by Kenya, to Haiti. The force—while approved by the U.N. would not formally be under the body’s control—has authorization to deploy to Haiti for one year, with a review at nine months, to help Haitian leaders combat the gang violence that has destabilized the country. Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Alfred Mutua signaled the force could be in the country before the end of the year, though it was not clear how large the effort would be.
  • A publicly available summary of a classified State Department watchdog report published late last month suggested the Biden administration’s emphasis on projecting stability during the August 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan hampered efforts at the U.S. embassy in Kabul to adequately prepare for the drawdown. “[The Office of the Inspector General] found that embassy leadership expressed apprehension about taking overt actions in preparation for an evacuation, concerned that such actions would undermine diplomatic support for the government of Afghanistan and cause panic within that government, the broader Afghan population, and Embassy Kabul,” the inspector general report says. “Because of this effort to avoid signaling a lack of support for the Afghan government, communication with embassy personnel about the timing and scope of a potential evacuation was unclear.” A full and classified version of the report was provided to Congress and the State Department. 
  • The foreign ministers of all 27 European Union countries visited Kyiv Monday in a forceful show of European support for the war-torn country after the U.S. Congress failed to include additional aid for Ukraine in the last-minute deal to extend government funding. In neighboring Slovakia, meanwhile, the pro-Russian, leftwing, populist Smer party won this past Saturday’s elections. Smer party leader and former Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico campaigned on curtailing military aid to Ukraine and blocking Kyiv’s entry into NATO. The party must now form a coalition government. 
  • The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up an appeal from former Trump lawyer John Eastman, who played an instrumental role in crafting the legal theory that would have seen former Vice President Mike Pence reject electoral votes on January 6, 2021. Eastman was seeking to have the court scrub a ruling by a federal judge that forced him to release several of his otherwise privileged emails to Congress’ January 6 Select Committee, arguing that forcing their release under the so-called “crime-fraud” exception to attorney-client privilege “cast aspersions not just on Dr. Eastman but also on his former client, the former President of the United States who is a candidate for the office of President in 2024.” Justice Clarence Thomas recused himself from the court’s ruling. As is customary in such situations, he did not provide a reason for his recusal—but Eastman clerked for Thomas, and Thomas’s wife, Ginni, was in communication with Eastman in the leadup to January 6.
  • Former President Donald Trump appeared in a New York City court on Monday for the first day of a sweeping civil suit. The lawsuit, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleges Trump, his two eldest sons, and executives at the Trump Organization committed financial fraud and falsified business records. The judge overseeing the case, Arthur Engoron, issued a pretrial summary judgment last week ruling Trump had committed fraud by exaggerating his net worth on financial statements. The trial will now review six additional claims—including insurance fraud and conspiracy—and determine the damages owed related to last week’s fraud ruling. The outcome of the case could affect the Trump Organization’s continued ability to do business in New York. 
  • Two scientists—Katalin Karikó, who is Hungarian, and Drew Weissman, an American—were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for their research on messenger RNA, which was a crucial component in the development of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. “Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” the Nobel Assembly wrote.
  • GOP Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz on Monday introduced a “motion to vacate,” a procedural mechanism which could result in Kevin McCarthy’s ouster from his post as speaker of the House. In a speech on the House floor Monday evening, Gaetz accused McCarthy of negotiating a secret deal with President Joe Biden to fund aid to Ukraine after the speaker relied on Democratic votes to pass a continuing resolution to extend government funding until mid-November. The measure, which requires a majority to pass, must be voted on within two legislative days, and could trigger a vote that would remove McCarthy as speaker. Democratic leadership has not yet signaled whether or not it would support an effort to topple McCarthy. “Bring it on,” McCarthy said following Gaetz’s motion. 

The Long Fall of Nagorno-Karabakh

Armenian refugees wait in a square of Goris city centre on September 29. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)
Armenian refugees wait in a square of Goris city centre on September 29. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

An empty town square roamed by stray dogs. Chairs strewn about alongside abandoned luggage, bicycles, and strollers. Cars left deserted in the street. Such is the scene in Stepanakert—the capital of the ethnic Armenian-run region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed stretch of land generally considered to be part of Azerbaijan—after Azerbaijani military forces seized control of the territory in mid-September. The city that had a population of 75,000 people emptied, essentially overnight, leaving what the first journalists to access the area this weekend described as a “ghost town with no soul.”

On Tuesday, September 19, Azerbaijan—a Muslim-majority former Soviet republic in the Caucasus—launched what appeared to be the final stroke of a more than 30-year war with Armenian-backed separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, driving more than 100,000 people to flee across the border to Armenia. Azerbaijan’s attack increases the potential for escalation into a wider conflict with Armenia and spells failure for Western diplomatic efforts to prevent the use of hard power to resolve the territorial dispute, leaving Armenians who fled Nagorno-Karabakh separated from land their ancestors had called home for thousands of years. 

Sandwiched between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East lies Armenia—the world’s oldest Christian country. Azerbaijan borders Armenia to the East, and Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory within Azerbaijian’s borders, geographically separated from Armenia but still home to a majority ethnic Armenian population. Although it’s not officially recognized by any other country or international body as an independent state, the territory—also known as the Republic of Artsakh—boasted its own government and defense forces until this month.

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