India Chooses Sides
Where Other Countries Stand
U.N. Helicopter Shot Down in Congo
France Retreats from Mali
Multiple Shootings in Israel
Yemen and Saudi Arabia Hold Ceasefire for Ramadan
History's Mysteries: Margaretha Zelle a.k.a. 'Mata Hari"
What is the Russia Ukraine Update?
This week, peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have ratcheted up....or have they? Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Russian troops would pull back from Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv. However, most analysts believe this is a stalling tactic in order for Russian troops to regroup and formulate a better plan of attack on the city.
Is it that they just do not believe anything Putin says, or is there a precedence for Putin doing this?
Those analysts, myself included, would point to Syria as the test case for everything Russia will do in Ukraine. For the most part, the tactics have been eerily similar. There have been massive disinformation campaigns and bombings of hospitals holding civilians in need of care.
Since 2012, Russia and the U.S. held multiple peace talks and agreed to some ceasefires in Syria. However, those talks were mainly used to regroup and focus troops in other locations in Syria--much like analysts believe is happening now in Ukraine. So I would caution everyone to be a little skeptical these talks will lead to real peace in the region.
How have the peace talks really been going this week?
The talks have not gone well. This includes some unverified reports of the possible poisoning of some of the mediators. Earlier this month, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and Ukrainian negotiators suffered a suspected poisoning after meetings as part of talks to end the war in Ukraine held in Kyiv. The mediators experienced peeling skin, red eyes, loss of eyesight, and headaches. All parties flew to Istanbul, Turkey, to be treated. As of right now, it is unclear who was behind the attack or what type of poison might have been used.
Are they ok?
They are on the mend, but it looks like those Soviet Era tactics are getting used again.
Has Belarus joined Russia in Ukraine?
While the government has been keen to stay out of the fighting militarily, Belarusian dissidents have aligned with the Ukrainian military to help push back Russian troops. It will not be long before Belarus will join Russia in Ukraine.
Does that change the minds of NATO countries avoiding entering the war to help Ukraine?
I do not think so. NATO continues to push sanctions as the best way to defeat Russia. While sanctions can be useful, Russia has options outside of NATO to help fund the continuation of the war.
India Chooses Sides:
What are the countries that may help finance this?
Well, we all know where China stands. That one is obvious. Elsewhere, India’s government is considering a proposal from Russia to use a system developed by the Russian Central Bank for bilateral payments. This is because the nation has expressed interest in buying oil and weapons from a Russian country reeling from sanctions.
How would that even work?
The plan involves Indian rupee to Russian ruble payments using Russia’s System for Transfer of Financial Messages or SPFS. This system is similar to the SWIFT system that Russia has been banned from utilizing. No final decision has been taken and the matter will probably be discussed when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives in India for a two day visit on Thursday.
Won’t there then be sanctions on India?
It is very likely. I'm sure Russian Central Bank officials are likely to discuss those details. Also, the Reserve Bank of India regularly meets with executives from its banking system to discuss similar matters regarding Russia.
Where Other Countries Stand:
Are there any not-so-obvious countries helping Russia financially?
While Western European countries have outwardly stated they are in solidarity on massive sanctions in Russia to hold the nation accountable for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, their actions have been anything but consistent. Australia, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. have banned the import of Russian oil purchases in the wake of the Russian aggression. But companies in Germany, Greece, and Italy have continued to purchase Russian oil to help decrease the steady rise in energy prices.
They seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
It is a tough time for many of those European nations that got involved with Russian oil and natural gas. This had been the main cause for concern of the NORD Stream 2 pipelines in Germany. Analysts identified that nations relying on Russian energy supplies would be less inclined to promote harsh sanctions towards Russia. We are seeing that play out in Germany.
U.N. Helicoptor Shot Down in Congo:
What happened in Congo with a U.N. helicopter?
This week Congo's Army announced rebels in the eastern portion of the country shot down a
United Nations helicopter carrying eight peacekeepers and U.N. observers. There were no survivors.
What were the U.N. peacekeepers doing in Congo?
The helicopter was carrying out reconnaissance for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo with another helicopter. The U.N. peacekeepers on the helicopter were assessing the movements of populations that had been attacked by a rebel group in order to coordinate humanitarian assistance.
What is going on in Congo?
Several armed groups are vying for control of its mineral-rich lands. In 2012, the M23 rebels, the group that attacked the U.N. helicopter, controlled large areas of eastern Congo. This included the capital of Goma. The M23 group was driven out of Congo in 2013 and chased into neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. Its fighters have since come back to wage attacks. Since December, security in the country has deteriorated despite the many military operations carried out by the Congolese security and defense forces. I do also want to add that the M23 rebels have denied any involvement in the attack, and the U.N. continues to investigate the crash.
France Retreats from Mali:
Staying in Africa, what is the latest on France's military operations in Mali?
As we spoke about last month, France officially pulled out of Mali. This allowed the Russian Mercenary Wagner group to take over. Since then, the number of Wagner personnel in Mali has increased from 40 to over 1,000. All of that is following French President Emmanuel Macron's announcement in February that multiple obstructions by Mali had made it impossible for France to continue its mission there.
So what is next for France on the African continent?
France is pooling all their resources around Niger to continue its French counterterrorism operation on the continent. As of right now, France is reorganizing troops in the Western Sahel to continue the counterterrorism fight after a military coup in Mali has made it difficult for the French forces to remain effective in the region.
While Niger already acts as an important air hub for most Western Forces, the country will now be placed at the heart of France’s counterterrorism operation. A new command center is to be set up in the capital Niamey.
Lost in all this are the people of Mali. They are dealing with increased violence in the region since France decided to move troops to Niger. Central Mali militants have stepped up their use of sieges and other forms of collective punishment against communities resisting their rule. Aid groups have requested nearly $700 million to meet the growing needs of those communities. Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine and increasing droughts in other regions of Africa have taken extensively from the pool of aid money available to nations reeling from increased terror attacks on the continent.
Multiple Shootings in Isreal:
Can you give an update on the crisis in Israel?
Of course. Israel is dealing with multiple shooting deaths over the last week. On Tuesday of this week, five people were shot dead by a Palestinian gunman near Tel Aviv. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades--which is associated with the Palestinian Fatah movement--took responsibility for the attack. They said it was "a clear message written in blood in response to the Negev summit."
What was the Negev Summit?
It is an annual summit conference with its primary purpose being to establish an international alliance against the nuclear program of Iran.
The Palestinian Fatah Movement is aligned with Iran, correct?
Yes. They have aligning beliefs that Israel is the cause of all problems in the Middle East. Iran seeks an independent Palestinian state established at Israel’s expense while also using the Palestinian nationalist movement to export its Islamic Revolution.
Yemen and Saudi Arabia Hold Ceasefire for Ramadan:
So there no peace this week?
At least in Israel. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have started talks on an agreement of peace for the Ramadan season.
What are the dates for Ramadan this year?
As I am sure you already know, Islam uses a lunar calendar. This year Ramadan starts on the evening of Saturday, April 2nd. Ramadan lasts 30 days and ends at sundown on Sunday, May 1. While the Houthi rebels in Yemen have refused to enter in to this peace agreement, Saudi officials released a statement announcing the cessation of military operations in Yemen beginning Wednesday, March 30. Only time will tell how this plays out, but I highly doubt many observing Muslims will even be interested in conflict during the holy month of Ramadan.
As someone who studied Arabic with practicing Muslim instructors during Ramadan, not a lot gets done during the fasting period. The time should be used for prayer, reflection, and enhancing community engagement. While violence does still occur, it is nowhere near the scale of violence during a typical month in war torn Middle Eastern countries. The conflict is not over, but we should see less violence, especially in that region.
History's Mysteries: Margaretha Zelle a.k.a. 'Mata Hari"
This week we will discuss possibly the most well-known female spy in. Her name is Margaretha Zelle. However, the name most commonly associated with her is Mata Hari. She was born 7 August 1876, in the Netherlands. At the end of the 19th century her family fell apart, and she was sent to live with her godfather in the Dutch city of Sneek.
At that point, she studied to be a kindergarten teacher. However when the headmaster began to visibly flirt with her, she was removed from the institution by her godfather. At 18, she answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper placed by Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod, who was looking for a wife.
He used a newspaper to place an ad for a wife?
That is so wild to me on many levels. A man bold enough to take out an ad requesting a wife, and for a woman to see that ad and think," That’s my man right there."
I don’t think it would go over too well in the 21st century.
I agree with you. Overall, that marriage was a disaster. Rudolf was an alcoholic and physically abusive. She quickly left him. In correspondence with her relatives in the Netherlands in 1897, she revealed her new artistic name, Mata Hari. In 1903, she moved to Paris where she performed as a circus horse rider using the name Lady MacLeod. By 1904, with her stage name Mata Hari she began to rise to prominence as an exotic dancer. Later she fell in love with a Russian pilot named Captain Vadim Maslov. He was shot down and badly wounded in 1916 and this is where Mata Hari’s spy story begins.
Mata Hari was so in love with Maslov that she requested permission to visit her lover at the hospital where he was staying near the front lines. Upon arrival, she was met by agents from France's external military intelligence agency. They told her that she would be allowed to see Maslov if she agreed to spy for France.
Once she agreed to be a spy for France, the French asked that she spy on the German Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm. Previously, she had performed several times for the crown prince. She had built a rapport with him, and the French believed she might be able to obtain information by seducing the Crown Prince for military secrets. The French were unaware that the Crown Prince did not have much to do with the running of the 5th Army. So they offered her one million francs if she could seduce him and provide France with good intelligence about German plans.
During her attempts to gain access to the Crown Prince, she apparently offered to share French secrets with Germany in exchange for money. It is unknown if this was a ploy to gain access or if she was indeed a double agent. In 1917, radio messages to Berlin described the helpful activities of a German spy code-named H-21, whose biography so closely matched Mata Hari that it was patently obvious that Agent H-21 could only be her. French Intelligence intercepted the messages and put two and two together. The messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by French intelligence, suggesting that the messages were contrived to have her arrested by the French.
On 13 February 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at the Hotel Elysée Palace on the Champs Elysées in Paris. She was put on trial on 24 July. She was accused of spying for Germany, and consequently causing the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. Although the French and British intelligence suspected her of spying for Germany, neither could produce definite evidence against her.
She is quoted as responding to the allegations by saying, “A harlot? Yes, but a traitoress, never!” Due to the state of France at the time, the new French government attempted to make an example of the person they believed to be the cause of French losses in WWI. That scapegoat would be Mata Hari. She was executed by a firing squad of 12 French soldiers just before dawn on 15 October 1917. It is believed that she was not bound and refused a blindfold. She then defiantly blew a kiss to the firing squad. Although news reports following her execution claimed she had admitted spying for Germany, Mata Hari made no such admission. She maintained throughout her ordeal that she had never been a German spy.
Adding to her mystery, the Museum of Anatomy in Paris lost her embalmed head as early as 1954 and have still been unable to find the rest of her body which was donated in 1918.
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