Every Friday, we will bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.
1. The United States and Russia announce plan for humanitarian aid and cease-fire in Syria, to start in a week. The plan will allow medical services, humanitarian aid, and other resources to reach besieged areas that house starving civilian populations. The plan does not call for a total cease-fire, as the so-called Islamic State and the al-Nusra front are not included in the plan. Hostilities against those two groups will continue. When announcing the plan, Secretary Kerry expressed some uncertainty as to whether all parties would honor the ceasefire. On Friday, the UN suggested that aid may start flowing into besieged areas in Syria within 24 hours.
2. Venezuela inches toward the brink of insolvency. Low oil prices have been driving Venezuela into the world's worst recession; the IMF is predicting that the Venezuelan economy will contract by 10% this year. In addition, the Venezuelan currency, the bolivar, is effectively in freefall, dropping 80% relative to the dollar since last year. But up until this point, Venezuela has avoided defaulting on its national debt. Analysts are now predicting this week that a national default is only a matter of time.
3. Satellite imagery may show mass grave outside of Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. Unconfirmed reports had been circulating within the country that over 50 people had been killed in political clashes. Burundi has experienced significant political turmoil after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to seek a third term in office.
4. Short of the 1000-year anniversary, the Pope and Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church agree to meet face-to-face. Although there has been some lower level coordination between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the leaders of the two churches have not met in person since the Great Schism in 1054. The two will meet in the airport in Havana, a symbolic location due to the historic ties of both the Catholic church and the Russians over the years. Commentators have offered different reasons for why the two will finally meet, but the plight of Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the Middle East has been a major shared agenda between the two churches in recent years.
5. Foreign Policy reports that a Russian gas company is operating a gas plant controlled by … the Islamic State. In an unbelievable story, Foreign Policy reports that the Tuweinan gas facility, which is located 60 km outside of the so-called Islamic State's "capital," Raqqa, is being run by a Russian gas company with ties tro Vladimir Putin. According to a Syrian rebel leader, “[the Islamic State] allowed the Russian company to send engineers and crew in return for a big share in the gas and extortion money.” This incident shows the complexity of the situation in Syria, where economic ties link together parties otherwise locked in battle. The story also highlights the fact that while Russia entered the Syrian theater under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State, its true ambitions seem to be propping up its ally, the Assad regime.
Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].