The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 15

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, May 8th, 2023

Good morning everyone,

The newsletter is now back on the morning schedule. Thank you again to everyone who provided feedback. One of the best parts about Atlas is how engaged the audience is, and for that we are extremely grateful.

Now let's get to the news. In Europe, Wagner threatens to leave Bakhmut, and France has quiet celebrations following months of protests. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia hosts peace talks for Sudan, relations with Syria normalize, and Jordan deals with a weapons smuggling politician. Over in Africa, police detain a cult leader, Libya threatens Christians, and Rwanda meets with the United Kingdom. In the Americas, the drug trade and border become hot-button issues as the United States prepares to deploy the military, and in Asia and Oceania, Korea continues to be dissatisfied with Japan while the Australian Prime Minister speaks in defense of Julian Assange.

As usual, it’s just another day at the office. Let's take a look:

- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, Trent Barr & the Atlas team

U.S. Prepares Military Aid Package to Taiwan

Sunday, May 7th, 2023: The Biden administration is planning to send a $500 million military and security aid package to Taiwan using the Presidential Drawdown Authority, according to Bloomberg News, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter. This aid package will use the same formula that has been used to supply Ukraine with military support to counter the Russian invasion.

One billion dollars have already been set aside for Taiwan by Congress as part of it’s 2023 budget. This package likely comes as a direct response to recent Chinese wargames, some simulating an amphibious invasion on the mainland across from Taiwan and others sending jets and ships through Taiwanese territorial waters. The Biden administration and Pentagon have both warned that China will likely invade Taiwan by 2027.

The exact content of the package is unknown, per the report, but will likely include equipment and weapons from US stockpiles. While a conventional conflict for Taiwan against China would likely be extremely ineffective, it is probable that the United States is sending weapons that will prepare the Taiwanese military for a guerilla style conflict with the much larger and technologically superior Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

In February, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he intended to make use of drawdown authority. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on whether the United States was moving ahead with the $500 million aid package. “Our approach remains consistent with longstanding US policy… We’re hard at work fulfilling our obligations under the TRA (Taiwan Relations Act), and we’re going to continue to do so,” the spokesperson said.

Taiwan has complained since the onset of the war in Ukraine last year of delayed or cancelled deliveries of vital military hardware. These delays were usually due to either supply chain disruptions or the continued strain on the United States’ military stockpile. Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Thursday that the delivery of 66 advanced new F-16Vs from the United States had been delayed due to supply chain disruptions, and the ministry was working to minimize the damage and "make up deficiencies." These delays play further into the Chinese belief that the United States will not stand as strongly for Taiwan as it has for Ukraine, with over 60% of Taiwanese citizens not believing the US will come to their aid.

Using a drawdown will let the US sidestep the often-lengthy process of contracting and producing weapons, which has resulted in what US lawmakers say is a $19 billion backlog in weapons that have been approved but not yet delivered to Taiwan. The request is likely to anger China and cut against President Joe Biden’s effort to restore stability to contacts with Beijing. The administration has requested a meeting between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Forum in Singapore in June.


May 6th, 2023 - The Berlin Administrative Court has overturned a police ban on the display of Ukrainian flags and symbols at Soviet War Memorials for May 8th and 9th, ahead of the commemoration of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany, but upheld a ban on the display of Russian flags and symbols. Last year, both were banned, but the court overturned the Ukrainian ban after a small hearing on an appeal from Vitsche, a group of Ukrainian activists in Germany.

May 8th, 2023 - France has put on a large display for the annual victory parade commemorating the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in Europe. However, it was notably quiet, as police prohibited gatherings near the Champs-Elysees and in Lyon as a result of the months-long protests against President Macron. President Macron laid a wreath beneath the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris, alongside French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

President Macron attends the parade (Photo from AP/Michel Euler).

May 5th to Present, 2023 - Wagner Leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has thrown out a series of conflicting statements regarding Wagner's future in Bakhmut. Initially, he stated that Wagner would be withdrawing from Bakhmut after the Russian Ministry of Defense continually failed to supply Wagner with the necessary ammunition to continue combat operations at full capacity, resulting in unnecessary casualties. He blamed Russian military leadership for this failure and stated that Wagner would withdraw from Bakhmut on May 10th. Soon after, Chechen leader Kadyrov stated his forces of the Akhmat battalion would be replacing Wagner forces, with them allegedly already on their way to do so. However, on May 7th, Prigozhin stated that he was in negotiation with the Russian MoD in order to receive proper ammunition supply, and there have been reports of small offensives by Wagner troops. Whether Wagner will still withdraw, play a smaller role in Bakhmut alongside Kadyrov and VDV forces, or maintain the status quo remains to be seen.

Middle East

May 7th, 2023 - Syria is officially rejoining the Arab League after a series of successful negotiations on the matter. Syria was suspended in 2011 after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, with the decision bringing 12 years of isolation to an end. A meeting was held in Jordan earlier to create a pathway to allow Syria to rejoin, and it’s success means Syria will be attending the May 19th Arab League Summit in Saudi Arabia. Notably, some members, such as Qatar, are still opposed to Syria's rejoining; however, the Arab League will allow Syria to become a full member once again.

The Arab League’s May 7th session ( Photo from Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

May 7th, 2023 - Imad Adwan, the Jordanian MP who was arrested a few weeks ago by Israel for smuggling weapons and gold into the West Bank, has been released by Israel and handed back to Jordan. He was arrested on April 23rd with 12 rifles and almost 200 handguns, as well as 100kg of gold, with Israeli authorities saying it was not his first such run. They further stated that several accomplices were also arrested. In Jordan, legislators have voted to remove Adwan’s diplomatic immunity, allowing him to soon be taken to trial by the State Security Court.

May 6th, 2023 - Saudi Arabia hosted talks between the Sudanese military and the Sudanese Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces after the two had been in heavy combat for several weeks. Though several ceasefires have been established, none have been kept successfully. The talks, held in Jeddah, are a joint US and Saudi-led initiative. Though the conflict threatens to throw Sudan into a full civil war, the talks are not to reach an end to the conflict but rather to open a humanitarian corridor to allow for the evacuation of civilians. Fighting is centralized in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, but humanitarian aid is unable to reach many of those in need due to ongoing fighting.


May 5th, 2023 - Paul Mackenzie, a Kenyan pastor, has had his detention by police extended as he faces potential terror charges due to his connection to the deaths of more than 100 people. The bodies of the 100 people were discovered on his 800-acre property, alongside 15 people still alive who were rescued by police, four of whom later died. The victims were all members of the same religious congregation, headed by Mackenzie, which largely operated out of the pastor's property. According to the few living witnesses, the pastor told them that if they starved themselves to death, they would be able to meet Jesus. The congregation is being referred to as a cult, as President William Ruto has announced a committee of inquiry into the incident, which will seek out anyone else involved.

May 4th, 2023 - President of Rwanda Paul Kagame and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met in London before the coronation of King Charles III. While the meeting was filled with high praise for the African country, with PM Sunak praising Kagame for his role as chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, hot on the discussion agenda was the Rwanda-UK immigration deal. The 140 million GBP deal seeks to send illegal immigrants who enter the UK either to Rwanda, where they will receive support, or back to their home country (if attainable). The deal has been heavily pushed for by the British and Rwandan governments but has faced several legal challenges as some both doubt the ethics of the deal as well as Rwanda’s accommodations for migrants.

President Kagame and Prime Minister Sunak (Photo from Urugwiro Village).

May 3rd, 2023 - Six Libyan citizens are facing the death penalty after they were arrested for converting to Christianity and preaching it to others. The six, a mix of men and women, are being charged under Article 207 of Libya’s penal code, which penalizes views or actions that "alter fundamental constitutional principles or the fundamental structures of the social order", or overthrow the state, as well as anyone who possesses books, leaflets, drawings, slogans, "or any other items". The Libyan Internal Security Agency (ISA) stated the arrests were to "stop an organized gang action aiming to solicit and to make people leave Islam". Libyan legislation oftentimes centers around Islam and has repeatedly been used to persecute minority religions.

The Americas

May 5th, 2023 - Packages containing 75lbs of Fentanyl and Methamphetamine were found smuggled within fuel resin on board a cargo ship intercepted in Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexico. The cargo was shipped from Qingdao, China before passing through Busan, South Korea according to Mexican Navy Secretary Rafael Ojeda. Ojeda has further stated that toxicology tests were undertaken after trained dogs raised “certain doubts”, and claimed the shipment came “several weeks ago.” “The product was contaminated,” the Secretary concluded on Thursday.

President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador has used this to assert Mexico’s innocence in the production of Fentanyl. President Obrador had previously requested Chinese assistance in curbing narcotics smuggling into the country in March after facing pressure from US politicians.

President Obrador (Photo from Julian Lopez / Eyepix Group / Sipa USA via AP)

The President told the press on Friday “In a very respectful manner, we are going to send this information to reiterate the request that they help us."

Chinese Spokeswoman Mao Ning has denied any trafficking into Mexico from China, saying “There is no such thing as illegal trafficking of fentanyl between China and Mexico. We two countries have a smooth channel of counter-narcotics cooperation and the competent authorities of the two countries maintain sound communication. China has not been notified by Mexico on the seizure of scheduled fentanyl precursors from China.”

Fentanyl is a prescription drug and opioid commonly administered to those suffering severe pain typically experienced after surgeries but is also administered to those with chronic pain.

Despite being a prescription drug, Fentanyl is also produced illegally as a powder within labs. This illegally produced Fentanyl is pressed into pills which look like normal prescription pills or is added to other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. This process of “cutting” Fentanyl into other drugs is cheaper for producers as it takes far less Fentanyl to produce a high than other drugs.

Fentanyl is responsible for up to 67% of all drug overdoses in 2021 alone and is the single largest killer of people under the age of 50 in the US according to the DEA.

This comes ahead of calls by both former President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers for military intervention in an effort to curb the smuggling of Fentanyl across the US-Mexico border.

Asia and Oceania

May 7th, 2023 - South Korea feels Japan has once again fallen short of any meaningful apology for the crimes committed by it's empire, as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed "sorrow" for forced laborers in Korea during Japanese colonial rule of the peninsula, dating from 1910–1945. "And personally, I have strong pain in my heart as I think of the extreme difficulty and sorrow that many people had to suffer under the severe environment in those days", said the Prime Minister. Japan has been infamously unapologetic for many of the crimes committed by the empire and, in some cases, in open denial of them. This has led to a number of diplomatic issues between Japan and Korea in the past, including when Japan refused to abide by a Korean court decision in 2018 that ordered two Japanese companies to properly compensate some of those forced Korean laborers who are still living. While the Korean government opened a local fund for those involved in the ruling, some have criticized it as the compensation comes from within Korea rather than from Japan.

Prime Minister Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (Photo from JUNG YEON-JE/Pool via REUTERS).

May 5th, 2023 - Continued American efforts to extradite Julian Assange from the UK to the US have drawn criticism from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who said "There is nothing to be served by his ongoing incarceration". Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, faces 17 charges of espionage in the US after WikiLeaks published an extensive amount of classified US documents in 2010. He sheltered for 7 years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom and has spent 4 years now in a UK prison. Assange is an Australian citizen. "I know it's frustrating; I share the frustration. I can't do more than make very clear what my position is, and the U.S. administration is certainly very aware of what the Australian government's position is", said Albanese.

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