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CWA # 852, 8 December 2022
Conflict Weekly #153, 8 December 2022, Vol.3, No.36 An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office
Conflict Weekly #153, 8 December 2022, Vol.3, No.36
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office
Russia: Drone attacks escalate the Ukraine war
In the news
On 5 December, the Russian Defence Ministry reported an alleged Ukrainian drone strike on the Russian airbases in Ryazan and Saratov. The drones were identified as “Soviet-made jet drones,” targeting the Dyagilevo airfield in the Ryazan Region and the Engels airfield in the Saratov Region located 300 miles from the Ukrainian border. According to the Ministry, the strike did not affect its aviation as the drones were shot down by the air defences and reported only slight damage to two aircraft, the death of three service members, and the injury of four other members.
In response to the drone strike, Russia carried out missile attacks on “energy objects” using strategic bombers across Ukraine resulting in power outages in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Sumy, and Odessa regions. Ukraine has made no claims about the drone attacks. However, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal confirmed the functioning of the power grid despite the missile attack target on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
On 6 December, the Russian Governor of Kursk city claimed another drone attack on an airfield in Kursk which set ablaze oil storage near the airfield. Remaining cautious of the recent escalation, the UK Ministry of Defence said, “if Russia assesses the incidents were deliberate attacks, it will probably consider them as some of the most strategically significant failures of force protection since its invasion of Ukraine.” On the other hand, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the US would not stop Ukraine from building its own long-range strike capabilities, while the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken remained ambivalent: “We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia.”
Issues at large
First, the geography of the Ukraine war. On 24 February, the war began with the Russian military breaching Ukraine's territory in the DPR and LPR regions. With the Donbas region coming under Russian control, the war began to spread to key port cities of Mariupol, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and Mykolaiv extending to Odessa in the southern axis and a simultaneous rapid development in the northeast axis from Kharkiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv, and extending further to Kyiv in March. This advancement began to slow down in April when Ukraine's forces put up a strong defence in the northeast region of Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy. This first turning point in the war weakened the Russian posture in the northeast axis with a heavy concentration of Russian forces only in Kharkiv and the southern axis and seriously challenged Russia’s goal to capture Kyiv in western Ukraine. Since then, regular exchange of attacks between Ukrainian and Russian forces continued in the region until the end of August when Ukraine’s strong counteroffensive in early September resulted in the successful recapture of 8,000 sq km in Kharkiv and Kherson. The next turning point happened in November when Russia withdrew from Kherson into the eastern bank Dnipro River, providing a strategic opportunity for Ukraine to launch attacks into the Donbas and recapture Zaporizhzhia where Russia maintains a stronghold. The latest drone attacks into Russia’s farthest regions have raised serious concerns about the scope of the war.
Second, the strained Russian offensive. The nature of the Russian offensive seems to be fluctuating since September. During April and May, there was a steady movement of the troops away from Chernihiv into Kharkiv and Russia began to face challenges from August onwards in terms of logistics, restocking of the military, and positioning of the personnel. This forced Russia to concentrate its forces on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in November. Since the withdrawal, Russia has diversified its offensive targeting energy grids, infrastructures, and the cyber domain; on the ground too, the attacks have been more sporadic or reactive in nature.
Third, military aid from the west. The west has held a very defensive posture when it comes to sending military equipment and arms to Ukraine. During the course of the war, the type of military support has transformed from medium to high-range weapons systems such as the Howitzers, HIMARS, air defence systems, battle tanks, and drone technologies. In addition, the west continues to augment Ukraine's offensive capacity through regular intelligence support, satellite imagery, and military training, all of which have boosted Ukraine’s military strength.
First, a tipping point or a deviation. There has been slow but a steady improvement in Ukraine’s military strike capacity and range between April and October. The first turning point for Ukraine was its counteroffensive starting from April onwards until November and its ability to launch precision strikes on Russian military bases and supply routes providing a strategic advantage to its troops in eastern Ukraine. Although the drone attacks into Russian territory remain to be claimed by Ukraine, it can be a tipping point that can change the course of the war. For the escalations and turning points in the war, the west’s support has been crucial. The recent drone attacks on its territory may not be a deviation but could serve as a strong warning for Russia.
Second, probable future scenarios for Russia. Russia’s last resort to secure its position in the northeast axis of Ukraine through mobilisation and martial law did not materialize and has ended up being a failure. The increasing support from the west to Ukraine and Russia’s continued challenges in replenishing its weapon and material supply and troops are set to strain Russia’s hold in eastern Ukraine. In the months ahead, Russia can be expected to adopt more off-ground or non-military tactics while it stocks up its military supplies.
Third, the future of western military support. The military support from the west to Ukraine has ranged from ground, maritime, and air defences supplies to intelligence support with the principal goal of bridging the asymmetry. It remains to be seen if the west will come together to put troops on the ground.
Regardless, the west can be expected to continue preventing escalations and reigning in the possibility of direct military engagement between both parties while securing energy and cyber infrastructures and waiting for the sanctions to take effect.
Also, from around the World
Avishka Ashok, and Sai Pranav, Joel Jacob, Sethuraman N, Akriti Sharma, Abigail Fernandez, Rashmi Ramesh, Apoorva Sudhakar, Anu Maria Joseph, Padmashree Anandan, Harini Madhusudan and Madhura Mahesh
East and Southeast Asia
China: CPC withdraws the zero-COVID policy and introduces new norms for pandemic control
On 7 December, China’s National Health Commission released a 10-point announcement withdrawing the zero-COVID policy and presented a new set of lenient norms to control the pandemic. The development came after numerous protests broke out in cities across China and resulted in an emergency meeting where the authorities agreed to ease the COVID-19 restrictions. The World Health Organization (WHO) Emergencies Director Dr Michael Ryan appreciated China’s decision to loosen its policy.
China: Foreign Ministry expresses concerns over Japan’s increased defence budget
On 6 December, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning commented on Japan’s defence budget and called it a dangerous development that causes serious concerns for Japan’s neighbours. Mao accused Japan of hyping regional tensions to seek military breakthroughs while consecutively increasing its spending in the past decade. This comes after Japan announced its decision to increase its military spending from USD 295 billion to USD 318 billion over a period of five years.
Mongolia: People protest against rising corruption and soaring inflation
On 5 December, thousands of people protested against the alleged corruption in the coal industry and the soaring inflation in the Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar. They protesters demanded the dismissal of the Mongolian Parliament and justice against the corrupt officials. The weakening economy and the soaring inflation rate which reached 15.2 per cent this year due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine have frustrated the people. The protesters are also expressing anger against the “coal-faction” who have allegedly scammed billions worth of coal. The protests began to take a violent turn when the police attempted to disperse the crowds.
Japan: House of Councillors adopts resolution on human rights violation in China
On 5 December, Japan’s House of Councillors adopted a resolution on human rights in China and expressed concerns over the violation of rights in Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning reprimanded the resolution for ignoring the basic facts, being based on disinformation and interfering in China’s internal affairs. Further, Mao pointed fingers at Japan’s aggression during the world wars and said: “Pointing fingers at other countries will not cover up Japan's past. Politicizing and instrumentalizing human rights issues to hurt China's image and stall China's development will not succeed.”
North Korea: Pyongyang responds to Seoul’s military drill with artillery rounds
On 5 December, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that North Korea had fired 130 artillery rounds at two sites from the east and west coast simultaneously. The shots were fired into the maritime buffer zone with South Korea. North Korea said that the shots were a warning against South Korea's military exercise with the US, terming the drill provocative. Seoul responded by stating that Pyongyang had violated the 2018 agreement.
Japan: Tokyo increases defence expenditure for five years to JPY 43 trillion
On 6 December, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that the government would boost its defence budget by 56 per cent over five years to JPY 43 trillion. The government plans to increase the defence expenditure to two per cent of Tokyo’s GDP by 2027. Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada stated that the increase in defence expenditure was to ensure Japan’s safety and security from Chinese and North Korean threats. He said that both countries threaten regional peace and Japan wanted to prepare defensive measures to counter it.
Japan: Tokyo dispatches two fighter jets for an air force exchange with Manila
On 7 December, Japan’s two F15 fighter jets arrived in the Philippines for an air force exchange to increase mutual understanding between the countries. It was the first time since the Second World War that Japan dispatched a fighter jet to the Philippines and to an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) country. The unit-to-unit exchange aimed at strengthening bilateral relations and ensuring regional security against China’s looming threat. Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force (ASDF) is working with the Philippines Air Force (PAF) to strengthen its air defence and enter defence cooperation between the countries.
Australia: US to increase rotation of defence forces
On 6 December, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin announced that Washington would increase the rotation of defence forces in Australia following the Australia-US Ministerial Consultation (AUSMIN). A joint statement from the US and Australia outlined China's threat to regional peace as the reason behind the increased presence of the US in Australia. Further, Austin invited Japan to participate in military and naval exercises with the US and Australia to strengthen the trilateral relations. The US and Australia also called on North Korea to engage in talks for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and addressed Pyongyang's threatening missile launches. Both countries also condemned North Korea’s human rights violations and urged the implementation of the UN sanctions on Pyongyang.
Indonesia: Mt Semeru Volcano eruption raises highest level warning
On 5 December, the Mount Semeru volcano erupted, sparking evacuations on Java island. As the activity of the volcano has escalated, a warning of the highest level was issued. Meanwhile, no injuries were reported but nearly 2000 people were evacuated from the surrounding areas. People were asked to keep a distance of at least eight kilometres as hot avalanches of lava poured from Semeru. Hundreds of rescuers were deployed in the worst-hit village Sumber Wuluh where volcanic debris buried houses on their rooftops.
Thailand: At least three killed in explosion near railway
On 6 December, at least three people were killed and four others were injured in a bomb blast on the railway side of Songkla in the southern province. The explosion happened when seven state railway employees were fixing a section of the track. The railway track had been damaged in another bomb blast happened on 3 December, which derailed a freight train.
Indonesia: Parliament criminalizes sex outside marriage
On 6 December, the parliament passed the new criminal code banning citizens and foreigners visiting the country from having sex outside marriage. The legislation also curtails public demonstrations and cohabitation of unmarried couples in Indonesia. On the same day, small rallies against the legislation were held in Jakarta. The Guardian quoted rights groups that said the development indicates a move towards fundamentalism in Indonesia, which had been appreciated for its religious tolerance and secularism.
India: Interstate border clashes reported between Karnataka and Maharashtra
On 6 December, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike members pelted stones on Maharashtra state vehicles. The violence was due to the unresolved interstate border dispute related to the Belagavi district. On 30 November, the Supreme Court was scheduled to conduct a hearing on the plea filed by Maharashtra claiming parts of the district. Thereafter, the visit of two Maharashtra ministers to Karnataka was cancelled.
India: Chinese vessels renters the Indian ocean ahead of missile tests
On 6 December, a Chinese Yuan Wang 5 surveillance vessel entered the Indian Ocean coinciding with India's long-range missile tests. In November, a similar vessel entered the Indian Ocean which again coincided with missile tests that were deferred. India had issued a notification for a no-fly zone over the Bay of Bengal for a possible missile launch. In August, the same vessel resulted in a diplomatic friction between the two countries.
Sri Lanka: OCHA ROAP says nearly three in ten households face food scarcity
On 6 December, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' (OCHA) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP) released a report revealing that three out of ten households in Sri Lanka consume insufficient levels of food. The report outlines that the ongoing multidimensional crisis in the country is one of the worst since its independence in 1948. According to the World Bank, Sri Lanka faces 85.6 per cent of food inflation and ranks the sixth highest food price inflation in the world. The harvest for the last two seasons were reduced by 40-50 per cent. The OCHA ROAP report stated that several food security and nutrition assessments are underway or planned. The data collected from the field is currently analysed to fulfil future needs for humanitarian aid.
Pakistan: UNICEF regional director assures polio eradication by 2023
On 4 December, UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia George Laryea-Adjei expressed hope of eradicating polio from Pakistan by 2023. Adjei stated that the polio programme in the country is “back on track” and that Pakistan was in a better position to eradicate polio than a year ago. He said, “We are using all available resources and services at our disposal to reach every girl and boy in Pakistan with life-saving vaccines and protect them against the entirely preventable disease.” He lauded the efforts of the health workers struggling to administer vaccines throughout the country. This comes as Pakistan reported 20 cases of polio in 2022 when compared to one case reported in 2021.
Afghanistan: US Special envoy visits Japan, India and UAE
On 1 December, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West began his official visit to Japan, India, and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan. During his visits, he met with the political representatives of the countries and discussed the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan, the protection of Afghans’ rights, and shared security concerns. West also met with the Afghan diaspora in UAE and discussed matters related to challenges regarding human rights, business, politics, and media.
Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa
Israel- Palestine: Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians continue
On 3 December, Israeli warplanes attacked targeted sites in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket that landed in southern Israel during the same week. The warplanes targeted a weapons facility and underground tunnel belonging to Hamas. On 5 December, clashes broke out in the Bethlehem Dheisheh refugee camp following a road construction project that facilitates settlers. During the clash, Israeli forces fired, and a 22 year old man was killed after being hit by four bullets in his chest. The firing rendered six others injured.
Iran: Crackdown against protesters continue
On 5 December, the BBC reported that a 27 year old man Noormohammadzadeh, one of the six protesters sentenced to death, was subjected to three rounds of mock executions. Mock execution is a form of psychological torture, where a person is made to feel that his execution is taking place, but is not carried out in reality. Meanwhile, Amnesty International condemned the human rights abuses and said that at least 21 protesters are at risk of being sentenced to death. On 6 December, five people were sentenced to death for allegedly killing a member of Basij, a paramilitary force affiliated with the IRGC. Prosecutors said that Ajamian was stripped naked, chased with knives and killed by a group of protestors paying tribute to another slain protester Hadis Najafi in Karaj, Tehran. On 6 December, Arab News reported that a group of 1200 university students in Iran have been struck by a food poisoning outbreak. Students at Kharazmi and Arak Universities blamed the authorities for deliberate food poisoning and protested by discarding the food provided to them.
Chad: Hundreds sentenced to jail for anti-government protests
On 5 December, 262 people were sentenced to two or three years in jail for the anti-government protests in October which witnessed over 50 casualties. The developments come after a mass trial held in the Koro Toro prison held on 2 December. Al Jazeera reported that the defendants were sentenced on charges of "unauthorised gathering, destroying belongings, arson and disturbing public order." The public prosecutor said that apart from the 262 people, 80 were given suspended terms and 59 were cleared of all charges; 83 minors will be tried and will be tried later in a special juvenile court. Meanwhile, several lawyers criticised the mass trial with the defence lawyers terming it "illegal" and others boycotted the proceedings. The Chad Bar Association labelled the trial a "parody of justice."
Sudan: Military signs agreement for a civilian transition
On 5 December, Sudan’s pro-democracy coalition Forces of Freedom and Change and the military signed an agreement to restore civilian rule in two years that would lead to an election. However, protesters in capital city Khartoum challenged the agreement and called the military to be accountable for the coup as well as the death of anti-coup protesters. The deal doesn’t cover security reforms leaving public concern that it would leave the military powerful and disrupt the democratic transition. A Forces of Freedom and Change spokesperson said: “The goals of the agreement are establishing a fully civilian authority, creating a free climate for politics, and reaching a final agreement with the widest political participation.” The African Union, Arab and western countries have been pressuring both sides for negotiations. Meanwhile, the UN and the US welcomed the agreement.
South Sudan: Opposition alliance urges government to intervene violent clashes in Upper Nile
On 6 December, the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), a group of 10 opposition political parties urged the government to intervene in the ongoing violent clashes in the northern Upper Nile state. The Ceasefire Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM), an international ceasefire monitoring agency reported “renewed fighting” between the national army and the opposition forces in Maiwut and Fshoda regions. Though details regarding the number of casualties were not provided, the agency said: “it was concerned that these incidents might pose a real threat to the implementation of the revitalised peace agreement.”
Ethiopia: Federal troops deployed in Oromia to contain violence
On 6 December, BBC reported that federal troops had been redeployed in the Oromia region to contain the repetitive attacks by armed groups. Amhara militants are blamed for the recent attacks that killed dozens and displaced thousands in Anger Gute and Kiramu border towns in Oromia region. However, the Amhara community who are a minority in the region blamed Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebels for the attacks. Residents have been blaming the government for failing to protect them as violence in Oromia has been overshadowed by the conflict in Tigray. Besides, local authorities say that there is an urgent need for humanitarian aid as the roadblocks put up by the armed groups are hampering movement in the region.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: M23 ready to withdraw, says spokesperson
On 6 December, the M23 spokesperson announced the armed group's willingness to disengage and withdraw from the territories it controlled in eastern DRC. The spokesperson said the M23 would also support the regional attempts at establishing peace in the east. The development came alongside the conclusion of week-long talks between former Kenyan President and mediator Uhuru Kenyatta and almost 50 armed groups operating in the DRC; M23 did not participate in the talks. The M23 spokesperson instead requested a meeting with the East African Community and Kenyatta.
Europe and the Americas
Sweden: SIPRI finds increase in the global arms sales in 2021
On 5 December, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released a report on the performance of the top 100 companies in the arms industry in 2021. It said Russia was the prime supplier of raw materials and was facing the challenge of stagnation in the arms production. The report said Russia's sales increased only by four per cent due to the war. The US accounted for 40 of the total 100 firms and comprised half the global arms sales, leaving out North America where sales fell by 0.8 per cent. In the case of Europe, the ship building industry recorded increasing sales whereas the aircraft industry had low performance. In Asia and Middle East, arms sales had a 6.5 per cent growth in the Middle East, followed by China with 6.3 percent. The report identified supply chain issues, Ukraine war sanctions, and the COVID-19 pandemic as major reasons behind the reduction in the arms sales.
Russia: President signs law criminalising distribution of ‘LGBTQ Propaganda’
On 5 December, Vladimir Putin signed a law completely banning distribution of materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations, transgenderism, and pedophilia. The law, which has been approved by the upper and lower chambers of Russian Parliament during the last week of November, allows foreign offenders to be expelled from Russia. This applies to cinema, media, literature, and the internet, and advertisers. Previously, a law in 2013, had banned the distribution of LGBTQ materials to minors, and the new law applies to all ages, and broadens the content that is regulated. A breach would result in a fine of RUB 400,000 for individuals and up to RUB four million for corporate entities.
Russia-Japan: Mobile Coastal Defence Missile System deployed on northern Kuril Islands
On 5 December, the Russian defence ministry announced the deployment of a mobile coastal defence missile system as part of its strategically located chain of islands stretching between Russian Kamchatka Peninsula. The Russian Bastion systems with a flight range of up to 500 km (310 miles) were deployed on the island of Paramushir, revealing that “a military camp was set up on Paramushir with facilities allowing for year-round service, accommodation, recreation and food for personnel.” The territorial dispute in the region dates back to the end of World War II, when the Soviet troops seized the Southern Kuril Islands which Japan calls its Northern Territories.
Colombia: Landslide caused by heavy rains in Pueblo Rico kills around 34
On 6 December, Colombia’s national agency for managing risks and disasters (UNGRD) reported that around 34 people died in a landslide caused by heavy rains near Pueblo Rico. The landslide hit a bus travelling from Cali to Condoto burying the passengers on board.
Colombia: Dissidents attack in Cauca leaves six soldiers dead
On 6 December, the government reported that six soldiers were killed in an attack by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Cauca. Colombian President Gustavo Petro said that the military will continue its operations against “illegal armed groups” and added that such operations will not stop until the dissident groups show a “will to negotiate for peace.” This comes as the government started peace talks with the National Liberation Army.
Colombia: President labels imprisoned Primera Linea members as “peace managers”
On 3 December, President Gustavo Petro designated the people imprisoned for participating in the 2021 anti-government protests as “peace managers.” The people imprisoned are a part of the Primera Linea group which led the protests in 2021. The opposition criticised this decision saying that they were imprisoned not for protesting but for committing crimes and breaking the law. Colombian Justice Minister Nestor Ivan Osuna said that this does not award the protestors amnesty or pardon and that they are still charged and are being investigated for committing crimes during the 2021 protests.
Canada: Government to freeze assets of Haitian businessmen
On 5 December, the Canadian government announced that it will freeze the assets of three Haitian businessmen, suspected of aiding the criminal groups in Haiti. The local assets of Chairman of GB Group Gilbert Bigio, Reynold Deeb and Sherif Abdallah will be freezed by the government for enabling “illegal activities of armed criminal gangs.” Neither of the businessmen nor the government have issued any statement regarding the sanctions.
Mexico: Three separate gang violence incidents claim nine lives in two days
On 4 December, the Zacatecas government reported that a judge was shot dead by a criminal gang. On 6 December, the prosecutors reported that eight people were killed in two separate incidents of gang violence in Acapulco. The prosecutors reported that five men were fatally shot in a resort bar in Acapulco where three died on spot and two died outside and at a hospital. The prosecutors reported the death of three other people who were fatally shot in Acapulco.
Honduras and Jamaica: Partial state of emergency announced to curb gang violence
On 6 December, a partial state of emergency was announced in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula to curb gang violence and promote economic development. The Honduran police chief Gustavo Sanchez said that 1000 police officers will be deployed in both cities. Sanchez added that the officers will arrest identified members of criminal groups and those who appear suspicious. A similar measure was introduced by the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness who announced a partial state of emergency in Kingston and six other parishes. Holness said that this measure was introduced to reduce murder rates in the region and to curb gang violence. Jamaican authorities said that it will arrest people and search buildings without warrants.
About the authors
Rashmi Ramesh, Akriti Sharma and Harini Madhusudan are Doctoral Scholars at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies. Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Apoorva Sudhakar, Avishka Ashok and Padmashree Anandan are Project Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Anu Maria Joseph, Joel Jacob, Sai Pranav and Sethuraman N are Research Assistants at the School of Conflict and Security Studies. Madhura Mahesh is a research intern at the NIAS.
D Suba Chandran
D Suba Chandran
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
D Suba Chandran
NIAS Africa Team
NIAS Africa Team