February 4, 2022
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on Ukraine’s border crisis, protests surrounding China’s Winter Olympics, and diplomatic barriers to Myanmar’s military government.
On Monday, a UN Security Council meeting included tense exchanges between the ambassadors for the US and Russia. After the meeting, Ukraine’s ambassador told reporters that no provocations would come from Ukraine. On Tuesday, President Putin publicly addressed the situation for the first time since December. He blamed the US for trying to pull Russia into conflict, and he also stated that he hopes for continued dialogue over the situation. Also on Tuesday, it was announced that Ukraine is seeking a trilateral partnership with Poland and Britain in order to boost security amidst the buildup of Russian troops on its borders. On Wednesday, it was announced that President Biden has approved the deployment of 3,000 US troops to Poland, Germany, and Romania in an effort to bolster NATO countries in Eastern Europe. The Secretary-General of NATO accused Moscow of amassing around 30,000 combat troops and modern weapons in Belarus over recent days. Though Moscow has not stated the number of troops in Belarus, Russia’s Defense Minister has said that the number of soldiers is below the 13,000-troop maximum agreed upon by the OSCE in 2011.
On Tuesday, at least six people were killed in Guinea-Bissau in a failed attempt to overthrow President Umaro Sissoco Embalo. In the past 18 months, three countries in West Africa, including Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, have experienced a military takeover, prompting the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to say it was following the Guinea-Bissau situation “with great concern.” On Thursday, West African leaders held an emergency summit in Accra to assess the bloc’s actions moving forward in light of the growing number of successful and unsuccessful coups in the region. ECOWAS chairman Nana Akufo-Addo said the 2020 coup in Mali had proved contagious to the entire region, adding that the trend “must be contained.” So far, the bloc has placed sanctions on Mali and Guinea, suspended Burkina Faso from ECOWAS, and is considering imposing sanctions on Burkina Faso.
Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf visited Kabul on Sunday for talks on how to handle engaging with Afghanistan economically, and how to address the massive ongoing humanitarian crisis. He met with several senior Taliban officials, and both sides said that positive progress is occurring. Both sides agreed to coordinate in order to facilitate travel at Border Crossing Points. They are also talking about initiating barter trade, and the talks have an economic focus to them.
Despite the Taliban announcing general amnesty for people affiliated with the prior government, or US-led coalition forces, the UN has found that this is not the case. There are credible allegations that since the August 15th takeover, over 100 government officials, security forces and others have died as a result of extrajudicial killings. In addition to this, former government members have dealt with “enforced disappearances and other violations impacting the right to life and physical integrity”. The UN is also documenting arrests, murders, and violence against human rights activists carried out by the Taliban.
Due to a Covid outbreak among MPs, Iran’s Parliament has suspended sessions temporarily. At least 47 members out of 290 have tested positive so far, prompting it to cancel public sessions this week. Currently 10 lawmakers are hospitalized, and numerous staff have also been infected. Only 65% of the Iranian population is vaccinated so far as Iran is in the grips of a 6th wave of Covid.
Iran has made significant advances in their nuclear program since 2015, making it easier for them to create a nuclear bomb. This leaves the US and allies pushing for a revived deal that will increase the “breakout period” required for Iran to assemble a bomb. There are only a few weeks left before the Vienna talks come to an end and it’s too late to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Around 60 Turkish aircrafts and drones attacked Kurdish militant training camps and shelters in northern Syria and Iraq. These strikes are part of a larger campaign by Turkey against militant Kurdish groups that Turkey regards as terrorists. The Turkish Defense Ministry justified this attack because their goal was to protect Turkey’s borders from “terrorist attacks”. Iraq condemned this strike as a violation of their sovereignty. About 80 targets were destroyed.
Sunni leader Saad Al-Hariri’s announcement that he would not be running in the May elections upended the Lebanese political sphere. However, the Iranian-backed political party Hezbollah said on Sunday that it saw no reason to delay elections. Many are concerned that this move by Hariri may be a tactic to delay elections, after his disagreements with Hezbollah over Iranian influences in politics.
Lebanon says that it will not hand over Hazbollah’s weapons in a meeting with other Gulf countries. Former Lebanese Foreign Minister George Kordahi’s criticism of the Riyadh-led military invasion in Yemen led to a suspension of diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and allies. Current Foreign Minister is in meetings with Gulf Arab states to mend these ties, but is rejecting implications that Hezbollah will give up any weapons, or end its existence. However, due to Gulf concerns, Lebanon has said that it will not be “a launchpad for activities that violate Arab concerns”.
Crackdowns continue on protestors in Sudan as the resistance committees take center stage and draft a charter setting out demands, and also meet with top international diplomats from around the world. Resistance members have upended their lives, some no longer sleeping at home to avoid arrest, to protest the military coup which took place in October. Some members of committees have even been killed. The total death toll in the protests, by the military, as of January 24 had risen to 79.
Rwanda has reopened its Gatuna border to Uganda after 3 years of closure due to “harassment” of its nationals by Ugandan officials. Currently, “trucks, Rwandan citizens, returning residents, are crossing to Rwanda.” This border closure cost Uganda about $18 million dollars per annum, before the closure Uganda was earning $20 million from exports to Rwanda but in 2020 that number was only $2 million. Rwanda was quick to note that though trade can resume, the diplomatic issues of Rwanda nationals being harrassed and their domestic affairs being meddled with by Uganda have not ended and a solution still needs to be worked towards. This comes as Uganda seeks to increase trade and exports instead of relying on loans.
Uganda is investing in oil. On February 1, a ceremony was held to officially launch the 10 billion dollar Lake Albert development project, which includes the Tilenga and Kingfisher upstream oil projects in Uganda and the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania. The project is expected to be completed by 2025. Uganda is also getting a foothold in the energy market, with Egypt handing over a solar power plant to Uganda in increased cooperation efforts between the two nations.
The Federation of Zimbabwe Educators Union announced on Tuesday that its members, including teachers, will not be able to report for duty on Monday February 7 due to eroded salaries. They are demanding that teachers’ salaries be restored to pre-pandemic pre-October 2018 levels which was around 540 USD, ensure that schools can follow proper covid-procedures, and that up to three children of a teacher who is government-employed should have school fees waived. The union further stated that February 7 will be a day of action and there will be an online protest in support of these demands to keep the education system from deteriorating further.
Bolivia received an extradition request for Bolivia’s former Anti-Drug Chief Maximiliano Davila, stated Bolivia’s Minister of Foreign Relations Rogelio Mayta. The US is accusing Davila of conspiring to import cocaine into the US and conspiring to use and possess machine guns. The US Department of State is offering a reward of up to $5,000,000 for information leading to his conviction.
This week the US Cuban embargo turned 60. Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio said, “The United States has a disastrous record in terms of human rights… the United States has no right to give lessons to anyone.” The US has also ramped up criticism of Cuban authorities following the arrest and trials of participants of the anti-government protests last July.
The Nicaraguan National Assembly outlawed 14 nonprofit organizations, including five private universities. These organizations were outlawed after a government inquiry concluded that they “did not comply with financial reporting requirements,” an argument frequently used to ban groups that criticize the government. One of the banned universities, the Polytechnical University of Nicaragua, held several anti-government protests in 2018.
On Tuesday, Nicaragua started trials against political prisoners. Some of the prisoners standing trial are journalist and Nicaraguan opposition figure Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, leaders of the opposition group Unamos Ana Margarita Vijil and Dora María Téllez, and young activists Yader Parajón y Jaser Vado.
Last week, the US conducted a military operation to kill or capture ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in Syria. The special forces raid resulted in the death of the terrorist group leader. President Joe Biden stated that “This operation is testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world.”
US officials claim they have evidence of a Russian plan to make a fake video of a Ukrainian attack using corpses, footage of blown-up buildings, fake Ukrainian military hardware, Turkish-made drones, and actors as a pretext for an invasion. This accusation comes at a time of escalating tensions, with the US formally approving the deployment of 3,000 US troops to Poland, Germany, and Romania.
India joined the US-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics after China let soldier Qi Fabao participate in the Olympic torch relay. Qi Fabao, regarded as a hero in China, fought with Indian troops in the Galwan Valley, a border region contested by the two countries. Canada, Australia, and Britain are the other countries participating in the diplomatic boycott.
President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping will be meeting in person before the opening ceremony of the Olympics. This meeting will mark the first in-person meeting President Xi has held in two years, and the meeting is expected to be a public display of geopolitical amity between the two powers. The Chinese and Russian leaders have discussed the situation in Ukraine, and China expressed “understanding and support” for Russia’s position on security regarding Russia’s relationship with the United States and NATO and has joined Russia’s efforts to block action in the United Nations Security Council.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Home Affairs, Caspar Tsui resigned on Monday after attending a party where two people tested positive for Covid. Hong Kong has some of the strictest Covid restrictions in the world, and leader Carrie Lam said Tsui “bought the government into disrepute”. Twelve other government officials were also at the party, but since they only briefly appeared, they were not reprimanded. None of them tested positive and all have issued public apologies.
Christian religious leaders are petitioning Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam to drop charges against activists jailed under the National Security Law. Lam is a devout catholic and these religious groups are hoping to encourage her to be more active in asking the Chinese government for amnesties.
Indonesia will reopen its popular vacation island of Bali to foreign visitors from all countries. This follows similar announcements from other countries in the region, though it also coincides with a rise in Indonesia’s Covid-19 cases this month. While most adults in Indonesia are vaccinated against the pandemic, a new study published in New Mandala shows that there are significant inequalities amongst populations differing in income, education level, age, geography, political affiliation, and social media usage.
One year after the military coup in Myanmar, the United States, Britain, and Canada have imposed sanctions against Myanmar officials. The sanctions focused on judicial officials involved in the prosecutions against ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Washington also imposed sanctions on a Myanmar army directorate, an alleged arms dealer and his sons, and KT Services & Logistics Company Limited and its CEO.
The first anniversary of the February 1st 2021 coup in Myanmar was marked by demonstrations both by protesters and military supporters. Various city streets fell quiet as activists urged people to close businesses and stay indoors as a silent method of resistance. A man in the central town of Kyaukdataung set himself on fire in protest of unreliable power supplies, and was reported to be in serious condition in the hospital. Pro-junta events included rallies with dancing and photographs of the junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.
The foreign minister appointed by Myanmar’s military junta has been blocked from attending an upcoming meeting of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A non-political representative from Myanmar has been invited to attend instead. This comes after the UN Security Council called for an end to violence in Myanmar and the release of political prisoners including ousted leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
Bombers set off at least 13 blasts in a town in southern Thailand overnight, and police killed two suspected insurgents in a separate raid after a 20-hour siege in a nearby province, authorities said on Saturday. As with most attacks in Thailand’s deep south, there was no claim of responsibility. The violence came weeks after the government reopened a dialogue with insurgents from a Malay-Muslim minority in the southern part of the Buddhist-majority country.
On Saturday, Mae Ramphueng Beach in eastern Thailand was declared a disaster area due to an oil leak from an underwater pipeline in the Gulf of Thailand. The leak, which is from a pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company Limited, began last Tuesday and was brought under control by Wednesday. However, the oil has since drifted to more coastal areas. Aircraft have been dropping chemicals to mediate the clearing of the oil, working with 200 navy personnel and 150 people from Star Petroleum. Authorities are trying to prevent the oil from reaching the shore of a small bay on the popular resort island of Koh Samet, as it could cause heavy damage to the shallow water corals that are in the small bay.
As Russian troops continue joint military exercises with the Belarusian military, Estonian Ambassador to the United States suggests that these exercises could be pretext for a large permanent Russian contingent in Belarus. This would significantly disrupt defense calculations in the region and require the neighboring nations to rethink their own military positions. One European diplomat, however, said both Europe and the United States “have underestimated, not to say largely ignored, the strategic and military consequences of the Russian de facto political and military takeover of Belarus, which has been ongoing since 2020 and is now being finalized, with their joint exercise as a highly symbolic crowning event.” In fact, the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reviewed live-fire exercises in person in Belarus on Thursday.While the talks with Russia are not yielding any major results, the United States is reportedly imposing visa restrictions on Belarusians as a result of the Belarusian government’s efforts to “silence dissent,” standing in solidarity with athletes who fear returning to their nation, however, the US failed to mention who the visa restrictions would apply to.
While the military build-up continues in nearby Belarus, increasing tensions between Russia and the West, Russia made a statement saying “In the fundamental interests of European security, it is necessary to formally disavow the decision of the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit that ‘Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members.” Despite the 2008 agreement, the Georgian government has strayed farther from NATO members’ ideals. Specifically with the leader of the United National Movement being arrested in 2019 and the arrest of former President Mikheil Saakashvili of the UNM after his return to Georgia. The current governing party, the Dream party, has garnered open critique from the western NATO allies.
Besides foreign policy dissonance in the past few years, the past few months have brought major inflation to Georgia. Utility prices have gone up 44.8%, the past month alone saw a 13.9% rise in consumer prices from the same period last year. Former President Saakashvili has pitched a plan online to combat inflation, including generic suggestions such as reducing corruption, but also ideas for infrastructure projects, and divorcing politics from big money.