Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
West warns Russia over Ukrainian aggression and South Korea and North Korean agree on end-of-war declaration in principle

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #101, 16 December 2021, Vol.2, No.37
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Ukraine: The West warns Russia over Ukrainian aggression
In the news
On 14 December, commenting on possible nuclear missile launches, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: “Lack of progress towards a political and diplomatic solution to this problem will lead to our response being of a military and technical military nature.”

On 13 December, the EU foreign minister imposed sanctions on the Russian-based Wagner Group, accused of acting on behalf of the Kremlin.

On 12 December, following the G7 foreign ministers’ meet, the group released a statement that read: “Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response.”

On 11 December, US President Joe Biden stated: “I made it absolutely clear to President Putin… that if he moves on Ukraine, the economic consequences for his economy are going to be devastating, devastating.”

On 10 December, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned: “Aggression needs to come with a price tag, which is why we will communicate these points ahead of time to Russia.” On the same day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated: “I do not rule out a referendum on Donbas in general… It might be about Donbas, it might be about Crimea, it might be about ending the war in general.”

Issues at large
First, the recent crisis. The second troop buildup this year, latest statistics show about 100,000 troops along the border; it is expected to go up to 175,000 according to US intelligence. The standoff, however, is not only about military might, energy plays a very important role in the unfolding of the crisis. The activation of Nord Stream 2 implies a greater security concern for Ukraine as it reduces the volume of gas Ukraine transits. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed the “vulnerable security situation” that would arise on the launch of the pipeline, leading to an increased vulnerability to “potential Russian aggressive actions”.

Second, the Minsk process. If the Minsk Protocol I failed as a ceasefire agreement, Minsk Protocol II saw its failure via lack of implementation. The shooting in the region has never really stopped. Allegations also exist on Russia not having fulfilled its commitments as part of the Minsk agreements. In an attempt to resolve the crisis, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for the revival of the Normandy format talks. The format which involves leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia has not taken place since 2019. 

Third, Russia’s endgame. The West’s military proximity concerns Russian President Vladimir Putin; security seems to be his primary concern as NATO advances geopolitically. In Putin’s words, acceding Ukraine into the organization is a “red line”. Alternatively, Russia eyes Ukraine’s east – Donetsk and Luhansk – along with the already annexed Crimean Peninsula. The separatists in this region only make it easier for Moscow. Any attempt to oppose Russian efforts could be met with costly consequences such as seen in the case of Georgia’s Saakashvili. 

Fourth, the Western response. Besides the widespread condemnation, deterrence has been the West’s sole response. Burdened with the responsibility of having to engage post a Russian invasion, the subsequent fear of the measures to be considered leaves them in a dilemma. Their limited response also attributes to the fact that a tough stance could break into an all-out war that is detrimental for the region. 

In perspective
First, the larger picture. Unlike all the other times Russia has militarized the borders, the growing concerns over their latest build-up may attribute to the potentiality of the situation. The West remains unaware of what such a situation would include. Deterrence measures seem to be the only hail Mary. 

Second, the growing tensions between Russia and the West. From the Belarusian migrant crisis to now the Ukrainian border standoff, Russia and the West are experiencing severely strained ties. As Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda suggested, the agenda behind Russian efforts at destabilization could be to “test the unity of the West”. It is imperative that the latter does not fail this. Meanwhile, both sides are to keep in mind the invasion’s collateral damage will exceed potential gains.

North Korea-South Korea:  President Moon Jae-in announces end-of-war declaration in principle
In the news
On 13 December, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that the US, China, and North Korea have agreed in principle on declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. Moon made the remarks while addressing a joint press conference with the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra, Australia. Moon said: “The US, China, and North Korea have all expressed their agreement in theory, in principle.” Moon commented: “However, because North Korea is demanding the fundamental withdrawal of the US’ hostile policy toward the North as a precondition, we have not been able to enter talks.” He assured that South Korea will work until the end to bring the parties to an agreement and “An end-of-war declaration is not the ultimate goal.”
Moon further added: “on top of signifying the end of the unstable armistice regime that has continued for nearly 70 years, it can serve as a momentum to restart talks between South, North and the US.”

Issues at large
First, the bilateral ties between North and South Korea. The Korean War ended in 1950-53 with an armistice and have been officially at war for 70 years. After the War, the first major contact between the two states after the war was in 1972- a short-lived dialogue between the two Koreas. In the 1990s, there were significant signs of rapprochement between North and South Korea which led to a pact of reconciliation and non-aggression in 1991. By the 21st century, the belief in the unification of the Korean peninsula surfaced. The relations starting deteriorating in 2007 and continued spirally downwards till 2011. In 2011, Kim Jong-Un came into power and accelerated the weapon development. In the two last decades tensions have risen multiple times reaching their highest points later simmering down.

Second, President Moon’s determination to the end-of-war declaration. The end-of-war declaration means different things to the parties involved. For South Korea, the declaration serves as Moon Jae-in’s last opportunity to make a significant change in the security tensions in the Korean peninsula and also make history before his term comes to an end. With respect to Seoul’s relation with the US vis-a via China, South Korea performs a balancing act between the US, its security ally, and 
China, its economic partner. Moon has always been keen to act upon the end-of-war declaration with the US was due to repeated military provocations by Pyongyang. 

Third, North Korea’s deadlock situation. In September 2021, Pyongyang rejected President Moon’s calls for an official declaration claiming it is a hostile policy by the US. For Pyongyang, the focus was on lifting the economic sanctions rather than ending the war. The efforts made are in order to de-escalate the ongoing arms race in the Korean peninsula taking gradual steps towards denuclearization. North Korea has been developing and testing nuclear and ballistic missile range which presents a threat to the region. 

Fourth, the US-China tangent. Beijing and Washington are the two important variables in easing or escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula. China chose the finest option of playing indifferent and accepting Seoul’s proposition to the end-of-war declaration but having its own reservations. The US sees the end-of-war declaration as a path to denuclearize North Korea and seek South Korea as their natural ally. Thus, Washington is trying to narrow Seoul’s economic dependence on Beijing. 

In perspective
First, the end-of-war declaration has limited impact. With this new development, the US has to withdraw 28,500 troops from the Korean peninsula before Pyongyang has been denuclearized. There is no denying that countries including South Korea, North Korea, Japan, China, and US would be affected by the declaration but the impact would be rather marginalized.

Second, Moon’s political legacy. As Moon’s presidential term winds up in March 2022, he hopes to bring North Korea to the negotiating table before completing his term. However, the conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty which is a challenge for South Korea. 

Also from around the World 
By Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Peace and Conflict from East and Southeast Asia
China: Nanjing Massacre of 1937 commemorated on 13 December
On 13 December, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council observed the anniversary of the 1937 Nanjing massacre carried out by Japan, wherein 300,000 people lost their lives. Xinhuanet reported the address of Vice Premier Sun Chunlan to the 3,000 people who participated in the commemoration. Sun opined that the commemoration reflected China’s determination to learn from history to carve a bright future. In 2014, 13 December was declared the Memorial Day for the Nanjing massacre victims. 

Taiwan: China makes 12th intrusion into ADIZ, says National Defense Ministry
On 14 December, five People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s aircraft entered the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) of Taiwan. Taiwan News referred to the Ministry of National Defense which said that in retaliation, Taiwan had sent an aircraft issuing radio warnings to the PLAAF aircraft. This is the 12th intrusion in December, with 49 Chinese planes recorded to have entered the ADIZ.

Myanmar: US looks for additional steps to pressure junta; violence continues in different parts of the country
On 15 December, during his visit to Malaysia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US was deliberating on additional steps that could be taken to pressure the Myanmar junta and place the country on a democratic path again. The development came after the US, UK and Canada, marking the Human Rights Day on 10 December, imposed sanctions on entities related to the Myanmar military, on grounds of human rights abuses. In another development, an NGO based in the UK submitted evidence to the International Criminal Court (ICC) against coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing, claiming that he had a role in crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, violence in Myanmar continued; on 13 December, the junta troops burned down around 100 houses in a raid in Sagaing Region. On 14 December, in the Yangon Region, civilian resistance groups, the Hmawbi Township People’s Defense Force and the Hmawbi Offspring Force claimed an attack on the motorcade of two ministers of the military government. 

Indonesia-Malaysia: At least 11 Indonesian migrants die after boat capsizes in South China Sea
On 15 December, officials from Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency said at least 11 people were killed and 25 missing after a boat with 50 Indonesian migrants on board capsized in the South China Sea. The Malaysian Army’s Third Infantry Division spokesperson said the Indonesians had sailed from the Batam island along the Singapore Strait. The spokesperson said those rescued would be interrogated before deportation. 

Asia and the Pacific: Climate change impacts millions across countries in the region
On 15 December, a press release from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported that over 57 million people in Asia and the Pacific suffered the impact of climate-related disasters in 2021. The press release reports Indonesia to be the worst affected in Southeast Asia with over a million being impacted by the floods in November alone. Similarly, close to a million people were affected by floods in Thailand, half a million in the Philippines, and floods disrupted the lives of 125,000 people in Myanmar. Storms and rising sea tides also caused massive flooding in the Pacific Island countries. 

Peace and Conflict from South Asia
India: Farmers withdraw from protests sites and borders
On 15 December, the last batches of farmers protesting at Delhi borders have vacated the Uttar Pradesh border site (UP Gate) at Ghazipur. This comes after Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organisation of 40 farmer unions decided to suspend the farm protest at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur after three controversial farm laws were repealed by Parliament, followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on the same. The three borders among others have been sites of protests for the farmers who have been protesting against the farm law since 26 November 2020.

India: Two policemen killed as militants opened fire in Srinagar
On 13 December, two policemen and 14 others were injured after militants opened fire at a police bus in Srinagar. According to the police, the attack was carried out by an offshoot of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). The attack coincided with the 20th anniversary of the terror attack on Parliament and is the first major attack on security forces since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the Lethpora car bombing that killed 40 CRPF personnel in 2019. Following the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “He has also expressed condolences to the families of those security personnel who have been martyred in the attack.”

Pakistan: TTP withdraws ceasefire agreement with the government 
On 9 December, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced an end to the ceasefire with the Pakistani government, accusing the latter of going back on the promises made in the initial stages of peace talks. The TTP claimed that the government not only failed to implement the agreement reached but instead the security forces conducted raids in Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Swat, Bajaur, Swabi and North Waziristan and killed and detained militants, adding, “Under these circumstances, it is not possible to extend the ceasefire.” This decision comes as a major setback for the government’s efforts to secure a peace agreement with the militants. 

Afghanistan: Afghans’ face ‘Avalanche of Hunger and Destitution,’ says WFP
On 14 December, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director Mary-Ellen McGroarty said: “Afghanistan is facing an avalanche of hunger and destitution the likes of which I have never seen in my twenty-plus years with the World Food Program,” adding that the WFP urgently required USD 220 million each month in 2022 for 23 million Afghans. According to a WFP survey, an estimated 98 per cent of Afghans are not eating enough, with seven in 10 families resorting to borrowing food, which pushes them deeper into poverty. 

Echoing the same, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, said that Afghans “today face a profound humanitarian crisis” that also threatens very basic “human rights.” She added: “Economic life is largely paralysed with the collapse of the banking system and a severe liquidity crisis. With winter having arrived, women, men, boys and girls face severe poverty and hunger, and limited and deteriorating public services, particularly health care.” 

Peace and Conflict from Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Armenia-Azerbaijan: Pashinian, Aliyev meet in Brussels for EU-mediated talks
On 14 December, the press release from the European Council said Council President Charles Michel had hosted the Armenian Prime Minister and Azerbaijani President in Brussels to discuss the situation in the South Caucasus. PM Nikol Pashinian and President Ilham Aliyev were assured of the European Union’s commitment to assist the two countries in overcoming their conflict. Meanwhile, the two leaders “reconfirmed that key commitments undertaken in the framework of the two trilateral statements of 9 November 2020 and 11 January 2021 would be honoured and that understandings reached in Sochi on 26 November 2021 should be built upon.”

Syria: Syrian Democratic Forces claim to have killed five suspected IS terrorists
On 13 December, five suspected Islamic State terrorists had been killed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the Deir el-Zour province, with the help of US-led forces. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in the raid carried out by the SDF, civilians were also killed. The Observatory said the raids targeted a wanted IS terrorists who fled the scene; following this, the suspect’s father and brother were captured and killed. Other activist and media groups reported targeting of civilians who resisted or hid from the SDF raid. 

Israel-UAE: Israeli PM visits Abu Dhabi, meets Crown Prince
On 13 December, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed. The meeting was historic as it marked the first visit by an Israeli leader to the UAE and The New York Times said it signified a “rapid realignment of the Middle East.” The news report quoted from a joint statement by the two leaders who termed the meeting “another milestone in the development of warm relations and a tremendous partnership forged between the two countries.” In another development, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN told Arab News Israel will secure its recognition by all countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, “as soon as Israel implements the elements of the Saudi peace initiative that was presented in 2002.”  

Mali: In a significant development, French troops leave Timbuktu base
On 14 December, French troops began leaving the military base in Timbuktu after handing over the base to the Malian military. The development has been described as a significant one; the French mission in Mali began in 2013 in Timbuktu. Al Jazeera quoted the head of French Operation Barkhane: “This is ultimately the aim of Operation Barkhane: To allow Mali to take its destiny into its own hands … but always in partnership.” General Etienne du Peyroux said French troops will be present in Mali “in a different way.” 

Sudan: Latest wave of violence in West Darfur leaves over 100 dead
On 10 December, Al Jazeera reported statements of the West Darfur Doctors Committee which said that at least 138 people had been killed in the latest spree of violence in different parts of West Darfur. As many as 88 were killed in the Kreinik area, 5 in Jebel Moon, and eight in Sarba locality. Fighting between armed camel herders reportedly began on 17 November in the Jebel Moon region. The UN estimates that the violence in Jebel Moon alone has resulted in the displacement of over 10,000 people. 

Nigeria: Increasing insecurity in the north sparks protest 
On 10 December, Sahara Reporters reported that the Coalition of Concerned Northern Nigerian Groups had commenced a protest in capital city Abuja against the increasing insecurity across Nigeria, especially in the north. The development comes after gunmen shot dead at least 16 people in a mosque on 8 December in Niger state. The news report says protesters carried placards reading: “#SaveTheNorth; #NorthernLivesMatter; #NorthIsBleeding; #SecureOurLives; #EnoughIsEniugh; and #NoMoreBloodShed.” In neighbouring Katsina state, a senior government official was shot dead by gunmen.

Africa: Number of hungry people in Africa on the rise, says latest report 
On 14 December, a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization reported the launch of a digital report which highlights the rising number of people exposed to hunger in Africa. The problem has been fuelled by “conflict, climate change and economic slowdowns including those triggered by COVID-19.” The deterioration of the hunger situation in the continent was recorded to have worsened the most in the 2019 to 2020 period. The report outlines: “In 2020, 281.6 million Africans were undernourished, an increase of 89.1 million over 2014,” adding, “About 44 percent of undernourished people on the continent live in Eastern Africa, 27 percent in Western Africa, 20 percent in Central Africa, 6.2 percent in Northern Africa, and 2.4 percent in Southern Africa.”

Peace and Conflict from Europe and the Americas
The UK-EU: Goods exported from Ireland to Great Britain to be temporarily exempted from border controls
On 15 December, the UK and European Union decided that goods exported from Ireland to Great Britain will be temporarily exempted from new border controls. According to the UK government, the decision was a “pragmatic act of goodwill” which can help maintain space for continued negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol. Brexit Minister Lord Frost stated “This is because there are specific treaty and legislative commitments to 'unfettered access' for goods from NI, because there are currently 'standstill' arrangements in place for operating the protocol, and because negotiations on the protocol itself are still under way and will not be definitively completed by 1 January.” Meanwhile, Ireland’s foreign affairs minister stated that the EU and the UK could reach an agreement on medicine supply for Northern Ireland this month, adding that the EU was “anxious” to move forward unilaterally if the UK does not agree on an approach.

Belarus: Former Belarusian Presidential candidate and opposition leader jailed for 18 years
On 14 December, the government sentenced Sergei Tikhanovsky, the husband of the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Belarusian Presidential candidate and opposition leader who rallied mass protests against Alexander Lukashenko to 18 years in jail. He was charged with organising mass unrest and inciting social hatred. Following the sentence, Sviatlana via Twitter said: “The dictator publicly takes revenge on his strongest opponents,” adding, “While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue repressions in silence. But the whole world watches. We won't stop.”

Arctic: Highest heat temperature recorded in the region, says WMO
On 14 December, The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a UN agency stated that the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, 38C (100F). The WMO, stated that the extreme heat was “more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic,” adding that this was the first time the agency has included the Arctic Circle in its archive of extreme weather reports. WMO Secretary-General said: “This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations reported to the WMO archive of Weather and Climate Extremes that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate.”

The Vatican: Officials apologises for taking down LGBTQ resource
On 14 December, a Vatican department apologised for “causing pain to the entire LGBTQ community” after it removed from its website a link to resource material from a Catholic gay rights advocacy group. Following criticism on social media, the website of the Synod of Bishops issued the apology and restored the link. A communications manager of the Synod said, “This brought pain to the entire LGBTQ community, who once again felt left out,” adding, “I feel that I must apologise to all LGBTQ people and to members of the New Ways Ministry for the pain caused.”

Serbia: Protests block roads to protest lithium mine project
On 11 December, environmental protesters blocked roads in Serbia in protests against plans for lithium mining. The protests who have been on the streets for the third consecutive weekend want the government to ensure that there is no possibility of companies starting mining projects arguing that extracting lithium causes huge damage to mined areas. 

Hungary: Anti-LGBTQ+ law breaches human rights standards, says Council of Europe’s Venice Commission
On 14 December, the constitutional law experts of the Venice Commission stated that recent amendments to Hungarian legislation related to sex-education programs in schools and the presentation of sexual content in the media “fail to comply with the positive obligation of Hungary to ensure that the educational system provides children with objective and non-biased information on gender identity and sexual orientation.” The commission stated that the amendment adds to establishing a “threatening environment” in which LGBT children can be subject to bullying and harassment, adding that they “leave space only for one-sided and biased teaching, opening doors to stigmatization and discrimination” of LGBT people.

Colombia: Police responsible for “massacre” in 2020, says report
On 13 December, a report published after an independent investigation backed by the mayor of Bogota’s office and the United Nations stated that the Colombian police were responsible for the deaths of 11 protesters during anti-police protests in September 2020. Carlos Negret, a former ombudsman of the South American country who led the investigation, said: “It was a police massacre” adding, “A decisive political and operational leadership, based on rights, was needed at national and local levels to avoid this happening.” The report at the end said: “This investigation concludes that the national police openly abandoned the principles of proportionality.”

About the authors
Joeana Cera Matthews and Keerthana Nambiar are a postgraduate scholar in the Department of International Relations, University of Mysore. Apoorva Sudhakar and Abigail Miriam Fernandez are Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS.

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