The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 16

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, May 15th, 2023

Good morning everyone,

It’s been a busy week. The big news comes from Turkey, where the elections that could shape the future of both Europe and the Middle East yield interesting results. However, in Europe, Russia holds a Victory Day parade, Ukrainian President Zelesnkyy visits his neighbors, and China sends leaders to Ukraine for peace talks. Meanwhile in the Middle East, Israel and Palestinian groups battle it out, Elon Musk defends censorship on Twitter on behalf of Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority heads to the United Nations. In Africa, more parties join the conflict in the DRC, the US apologizes for accusations against South Africa, and the war in Sudan continues. Over in the Americas, a Brazilian fishing ship was caught smuggling drugs, a terrible accident occurred in Mexico, and Title 42 ends in the US, leading to border issues. Then in Asia and Oceania, Japan prepares for the G7 Summit, China goes after potential spies, and the Pacific Islands are rocked by an earthquake.

It’s just another day at the office. Let's dive in:

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

Turkish Presidential Elections Update

(Photo - Reuters)

Sunday, May 14th, 2023: As vote counting wrapped up Sunday, it became clear to the world that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not have the mandate he was thought to have. Neither Erdogan nor his opponents reached the 50% threshold necessary for election, and so he and Kemal Kilicdaroglu are heading to a runoff election, set to be held on May 28.

State-run news agency Anadolu has Erdogan polling at 49.5% of the vote, with Kilicdaroglu slightly below at 44.89% as of 99.89% votes counted, though these numbers are from a preliminary count and differ slightly from the official numbers released by the Turkish Supreme Election Council (YSK).

The YSK confirmed that the Presidential race will be heading to a run-off election after they announced there were only 35,000 votes left to count, with the final, official government number putting Erdogan at 49.51%, and Kilicdaroglu at 44.88%.

This failure puts Erdogan’s 20-year rule in danger, with his opponent threatening to undo much of the work President Erdogan has achieved in his incumbency. Turkey has become increasingly authoritarian under Erdogan’s rule, alienating NATO allies and waging war on the Kurds and Syrians in northern Syria. Kilicdaroglu promises a more democratic structure, a resolution to the ongoing economic crisis, and an answer to where Turkey sits between NATO and Russia.

Both candidates refuse to concede the election, with accusations of fraud being thrown about and both sides claiming to be winning. Sinan Ogan, the candidate currently sitting in 3rd place, has claimed there have been “manipulations” in counting overseas ballots.

"We have heard that some manipulations were carried out in the overseas vote counting processes. Vote counting is not done in a healthy environment. I warn the YSK. Take the necessary measures immediately and ensure that the vote counting processes are carried out quickly. In addition, we will not allow a fait accompli with a manipulation of foreign votes. Do not stress the environment. This is up to the second round," Sinan Ogan wrote via Twitter.

Turks also voted to elect a new parliament, with a tight race formed between the People's Alliance, made up of Erdogan's conservative Islamic AK Party (AKP), the nationalist MHP, and others, versus Kilicdaroglu's Nation Alliance, formed of six opposition parties, including his own moderate Republican People's Party (CHP), established by Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Parliament’s votes currently sit with AKP at 35.58%, CHP at 25.33%, MHP at 10.07%, IYI at 9.69%, YSP at 8.81%, and TIP at 1.73% of seats in the parliament.

In Turkey, the president and parliament are elected for five year terms.


May 9th, 2023 - Russia held its annual victory parade, one of its smallest ever. Though it had over 10,000 attendees, and 125 vehicles involved, only one tank was present. A WW2 era T-34 tank, followed by a column of armoured vehicles. The parade was marked also by a striking speech from Russian President Putin, in which he likened the present conflict to the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany. Notably, the parade also featured no aircraft presence.

May 15th, 2023 - President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the UK today after separate trips to France, Germany, and Italy. He met with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who promised Ukraine more missiles, as well as attack drones. The move has, of course, drawn criticism from Russia, though they have states that they don’t believe it will alter the war at all. “Britain aspires to be at the forefront among countries that continue to pump weapons into Ukraine. We repeat once again, it cannot yield any drastic and fundamental influence on the way the special military operation is unfolding. But, definitely, it leads to further destruction, further action. It makes this whole story for Ukraine much more complicated”, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

President Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Sunak in Aylesbury, the UK (Photo from Carl Court / Pool via AP).

May 15th, 2023 - Li Hui, the Chinese special representative for Eurasian affairs, is set to soon visit Ukraine, among several European nations, on a "peace" tour. He is first headed to Ukraine, then to Poland, France, and Germany, before lastly heading to Russia. Hui will be the highest-level Chinese politician to visit Ukraine since the beginning of the war. The visit comes a few weeks after Xi Jinping and Zelenskyy held their first wartime phone call close to the end of April. While China has offered no explicit condemnation of Russia’s invasion, they have put forward a number of proposals for peace, which is to be the key purpose behind this visit.

Middle East

May 13th, 2023 - Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad established a very shaky ceasefire after several days of fighting between the two, with well over 1,000 rockets fired from Gaza and a multitude of Israeli airstrikes resulting in both civilian casualties and the deaths of several PIJ leaders. The ceasefire has seen a number of violations, with rockets fired a mere 7 minutes after it took effect and Israeli airstrikes soon after, though it has significantly reduced the fighting. The ceasefire was an Egyptian proposition.

Rockets fly from Gaza toward Israel on May 13th, 2023 (Photo from Mahmud Hams/AFP).

May 14th, 2023 - One day before the Turkish federal elections, Twitter and Elon Musk announced that they would "restrict access" to certain content ahead of and on election day. President Erdogan, who was lagging behind opposition leader Kilicdaroglu at the time, requested the action. The move has received a large amount of criticism, to which Elon Musk has come to the censorship's defense. When one political columnist mentioned Elon Musk in his critique of the decision, Musk replied, "Did your brain fall out of your head, Yglesias? The choice is have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets. Which one do you want?".

May 15th, 2023 - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is headed to the UN for its very first commemoration of what Palestinians refer to as "Nakba", or "Catastrophe", on its 75th anniversary. Nakba commemorates the exodus of Palestinians after the UN partition of Israel and Palestine in the wake of the Israeli Independence War. Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour said "It’s acknowledging the responsibility of the U.N. for not being able to resolve this catastrophe for the Palestinian people for 75 years", marking the commemoration as significant. Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, has called the commemoration an "abominable event", and a "blatant attempt to distort history".


May 9th, 2023 - The South African Development Community has announced that it will be joining the steadily growing list of players in the conflict in the Eastern DRC. The SADC will be deploying troops in order to engage against the M23 rebel group in hopes that they can bring a moderate sense of stability to the region ahead of the DRC’s elections in December. The Eastern DRC already has deployments from MONUSCO (the UN’s mission in the DRC) and the East African Community Regional Force, both of which have drawn criticism from the Congolese government for not directly engaging M23 rebels.

A group of M23 rebels as they withdraw from a town close to Goma, under agreements with the EACRF (Photo from Moses Sawasawa/AP).

May 12th, 2023 - Reuben Brigety, the US Ambassador to South Africa, has apologized after claiming that South Africa in December loaded a ship with weapons and shipped them off to Russia. A Russian ship, named the "Lady R" docked in Cape Town in December, but South African authorities have stated there are no records of any arms transfer, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has ordered an inquiry into the incident. South Africa has pursued a policy of non-alignment in the war in Ukraine and has both a large trade network with the West and its BRICS membership, putting it in an interesting position.

May 15th, 2023 - As the conflict in Sudan continues, General Abdel Fattah Burhan has announced that the Sudanese government is freezing all bank accounts held by Rapid Support Force members. The freeze also affects any companies held by the group. So far, over 600 people have been confirmed killed in the conflict, which has temporarily slowed down after both sides signed a pact in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday allowing for safe passage for civilians and humanitarian organizations. Though initially the talks were purely for the civilian crisis, international players hope to turn them into a wider truce. A number of ceasefires were established, all of which fell, usually within hours.

The Americas

May 12th, 2023 - Spanish authorities seized a Brazilian-flagged fishing boat smuggling cocaine off the coast of the Canary Islands near northern Africa this Friday. The 82-foot Brazilian ship was carrying 1.5 tons of cocaine hidden within the engine room. Authorities arrested six people: five Brazilians and a Venezuelan national. Authorities have noted that smugglers often switch cargo while in the Atlantic to reach European markets with more ease. Brazil has emerged as a major cocaine exporter as early as 2019, overtaking previous major exporters such as Columbia and Ecuador in Spain and Belgium, two of the largest gateways for drugs in Europe.

Spanish police perform a test on the drugs found on the intercepted Brazilian fishing vessel in Gran Canaria, Spain, May 12, 2023. (Photo- REUTERS/Borja Suarez)

May 14th, 2023 - An accident involving a semi-truck and van claimed 26 lives Sunday morning in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, nearly 30 minutes outside the city of Ciudad Victoria, the state’s capital. The truck carrying the trailer was not at the scene of the accident, according to responding authorities, leading some to speculate on a hit-and-run situation. The van involved was part of a private transportation company with some passengers, including children, according to the Tamaulipas Security Minister. The minister has further stated that all the victims are most likely Mexican nationals, as no foreign IDs have been recovered from the scene. The location of the semi driver is unknown to authorities at the moment.

May 11th, 2023 - Canada has called the military into action to assist in fighting wildfires in Alberta on Thursday. The call comes amid over 100 cases of wildfires in the province following high temperatures with minimal rain. The fires have displaced approximately 16,470 people as of Thursday. 200 soldiers have been deployed, with another 100 on their way, according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The military will "provide firefighting support and airlift resources, assist with the evacuation of isolated communities, and help keep people safe," he said earlier this week on Twitter. The soldiers will establish a base of operations before moving into the most affected areas of Grande Prairie, Fox Creek, and Drayton Valley, according to Alberta's provincial government. Alberta is an important province, being one of Canada’s leading oil producers, accounting for 80% of the nation’s oil production as of 2020.

Asia and Oceania

May 14th, 2023 - U.S. President Joe Biden will meet privately with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday ahead of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima. The discussions will likely revolve around solidifying the two nations positions before heading into the summit, which will likely see Ukraine, Chinese aggression, and economic issues as chief among the group’s concerns. The United States has been shoring up the alliance with Japan in hopes of a mutual deterrence against China, with Japan, in turn, remilitarizing from decades of pacifism to meet the rising Chinese threat.

President Joe Biden meets Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the Oval Office on January 13, 2023. (Photo - AP/Evan Vucci)

May 14th, 2023 - China has sentenced a 78 year old US citizen to life in prison on spying charges. John Shing-Wan Leung, who holds permanent residency in Hong Kong, was detained April 15, 2021, by Chinese counterintelligence in the southeastern city of Suzhou. As is common among espionage charges, the Chinese government has not released any details or evidence about the case, with many experts speculating the move is highly political.

May 11th, 2023 - A 7.6-magnitude earthquake has struck the Pacific island nation of Tonga, sending noticeable shockwaves as far as Samoa. According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake struck at 1602 GMT, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) off Tonga's remote volcanic island of Niuatoputapu, at a depth of 210 kilometers (130.5 miles). No tsunami warning has been issued. Earthquakes are common in this region of the world, known as the "Ring of Fire", due to frequent tectonic activity, which encompasses both Tonga and Samoa.

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