Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
Threat of War over Ukraine, a Syrian trial in Germany, and Protests in France

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #107, 19 January 2022, Vol.2, No.43
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

D Suba Chandran, Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan, Padmashree Anandhan

Ukraine: Threat of Russian invasion
In the news
On 19 January, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reached Kyiv, as a part of his three-day tour to Kyiv, Berlin and Geneva, to discuss what the US sees as an imminent threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine. He met with Ukraine's President; a US State Department release claimed: "Secretary Blinken emphasized again that if Russia chooses the path of further aggression against Ukraine, the United States, together with our Allies and partners, will impose crippling costs on Russia's economy, reinforce NATO's presence in frontline Allied states, and increase defensive assistance to Ukraine above and beyond what we are already providing."
On 20 January, he would visit Germany "to discuss recent diplomatic engagements with Russia and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including Allies' and partners' readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia." On 21 January, in Geneva, he would meet the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov "to engage on areas of bilateral concern and urge Russia to take steps to de-escalate and remove its troops along Ukraine's border."

On 19 January, in Washington, the White House press secretary issued a warning: "President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies."

On the same day, the Russian news agency TASS quoted a Presidential spokesman saying: "We haven't yet received a written response to our questions…We hope to receive it these days." On 17 January, TASS also quoted the Russian Foreign Minister calling the Russian invasion "disinformation" and saying: "… by spreading complete disinformation that we are preparing a provocation all but attacking the Russian-speaking population in Donbass in order to obtain the pretext for that very invasion." He blamed the US, and said: "Washington is quite capable of simply forcing the Kiev regime to finally implement the Minsk Accords. This subject was also discussed during the Putin-Biden summit last June in Geneva. There we saw and heard the US' understanding of the essence of the Minsk Accords. Above all, [it lies] in Donbass' special status. And I hope that our American colleagues will occupy themselves with this."

Issues at large
First, the threat of Russian invasion. In recent days, there has been a series of reports about the likely Russian invasion of Ukraine. From the US to Europe, there is an urgency over the issue, as they consider Russia has amassed troops along Ukraine's border and expect Putin would "move in." Russia so far has rejected the statements and consider them as disinformation.

Second, the threat against the Russian invasion. During the recent weeks, there were a series of threats from President Biden to others in Europe, addressing Moscow against any military adventure against Ukraine. The US has been discussing sanctions against Russia if the latter invades Ukraine.

Third, the demands and counter-demands. The US and its allies in Europe want Russia to keep away from pressurizing Ukraine. Moscow wants written guarantees that Kyiv would not join the EU or NATO. Russia demands that Ukraine not be made a part of NATO. The draft proposals published in December 2021 refers to "ensure the security of the Russian Federation" and "refrain from any further enlargement of NATO, including the accession of Ukraine as well as other States." The US and its European allies consider it as a sovereign right of Ukraine to join the EU/NATO or not. Kyiv demands that Moscow does not meddle in its territory. A section within Ukraine wants to be with the EU, but the country is also facing a militancy in its eastern region Donbas.

Fourth, the failure of talks until now. A series of discussions were held in January 2022 in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna, involving actors from the US, EU, NATO and Russia. Ukraine was one of the primary focuses of these discussions. Both sides have not found a common path outside their stated positions.

In perspective
Russia considers Ukraine as a part of its "sphere of influence." The West (Europe and the US) refuse to accept the claim and want an open policy towards getting Ukraine into the EU and NATO. Will Russia invade Ukraine, and how far will the West go if Moscow decides to pursue that course? Much will depend on the meeting between the US Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Minister on 21 January 2021.

Germany: Trials and conviction of a Syrian military officer
In the news
On 13 January, a German court in Koblenz sentenced a former Syrian Colonel - Anwar Raslan, to life imprisonment for committing crimes against humanity in Syria in 2011-2012. 
On 14 January, the Delegation of the European Union to Syria released a statement on the verdict as a part of a broader approach. The statement considers the verdict as " important step towards the fight against impunity and to secure justice and accountability in Syria". The EU also reiterated its support to gather more evidence for future legal actions against the regime. Syrian opposition and rebels groups praised Germany's conviction of Raslan; they also called for justice against more senior targets. Syrian Front for Liberation's head party Mustafa Sejari said: "Justice begins by holding and pursuing Assad and his top henchmen, aides and supporters of his crimes."

Issues at large
First, Raslan's conviction. The ruling is considered a landmark judgment as the conviction is the world's first trial that prosecutes state-sponsored tortures in Syria under the Bashar al-Assad regime. Raslan was caught in Germany in 2019 as he sought asylum among other refugees fleeing from Syria. He was convicted for torturing at least 4,000 people in prison in Damascus. Raslan was also found guilty of 27 counts of murder, rape, and sexual assault. The case is a first of its kind as it implicates a high-ranking Syrian officer and targets a government still in power to be convicted for crimes against humanity. The Assad regime remains in control, preventing further actions against the leaders.

Second, looking beyond the ICC in Hague. Syria is not a signatory party to the International Criminal Court in Hague, which restricts its principles from being applied to the country. Even if the UN Security Council voted to refer the case to the ICC, Russia, and China, allies of the Assad regime would block the vote through a veto. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights hailed the German court's decision as this set an example of how national courts could play a crucial role in handling crimes outside the purview of their borders. The conviction also highlighted the limitations of international organizations and the restricted options left for victims to seek justice.

Third, Germany and the Universal Jurisdiction Principle. Germany has been playing an essential role in upholding the legal principle; some of the recent examples would include the following: cases of the Yazidis genocide in Iraq, the crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and now against the Assad regime.

In perspective
First, Raslan's case would serve as a judicial reference for more lawsuits against the Assad regime. Though this would not lead to the ICC questioning Assad or holding him accountable for the human rights violations, it will provide hope to the rebels, opposition groups, and individuals in Syria still suffering under the regime. Second, the Hague would continue with its role, but there would be a shift to national courts stepping up to play decisive roles for crimes against humanity. 

France: New round of protests over COVID-19 passes
In the news
On 16 January, the French government passed the legislation on the vaccine pass to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus. However, the move sparks tens of thousands of anti-vaccine protestors to demonstrate across cities of France such as Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Lille against the new vaccine pass. Earlier, France witnessed demonstrations, where more than 105,000 people protested against the new bill passed, introducing the new Covid pass. The signboards of the protestors read as "Liberte" and "no to vaccine passes."

Issues at large
First, the State's efforts. France and other European countries impose stricter Covid measures and stress on taking vaccines due to the faster spread of the Omicron variant. Close to 300,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in France in the past weeks. Despite 90 per cent of the population being vaccinated, the anti-vaxxers seem to be the trigger for the State to use legislation to pressurize the vaccines on its people.

Second, the debate over the conversion of the pass and the larger issue. Initially, people entered public spaces like restaurants, theatres, and bars using a negative test certificate. With the new law, people must show the fully vaccinated certificate to access the same. The larger issue is related to the freedom from these Covid measures, freedom to access the public spaces, and freedom to exercise their rights and liberty, which is now being taken away by the government in the name of vaccine laws.

Third, the protests across the transatlantic. The anti-Covid protests are not seen only within Europe but across the transatlantic. It can be mapped from New Zealand, Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom to Canada and the US. The severity of these protests may vary from country to country, but these protests are loud in the global North. 

Fourth, increasing aggression of the protestors. Although the protestors in France are observed to be less in number than other European states, in terms of aggressiveness, it tops the chart. No other members of the parliament or health minister have faced death threats or have come in direct contact with the protestors.

In perspective
The State, across Europe and elsewhere, is under pressure and has a tough choice to make. Should it aim to arrest the spread and increase the vaccination efforts or address the individual liberty of those unwilling to vaccinate? While the anti-vaxxers are on the streets, a large majority is apprehensive about not getting vaccinated. The State also has to address the issue of governance - whether to spend more energy on addressing the health issues or address the unrest in the streets.

Also from around the World
By Padmashree Anandhan, Sejal Sharma and Sruthi Sadhasivam 

Peace and Conflict in East and Southeast Asia
China: NBS reports an increase in population and fall in the birth rate in 2021
On 17 January, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported that in 2021 the overall population of mainland China increased to 1.4126 billion from 1.412 billion in 2020. The count includes 31 provinces of China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau. While the overall population showed an increase, the birth rate fell from 11.5 per cent to 10.62 per cent. It is blamed that the pandemic has led to job loss, pay cuts, and decreased household income, which has affected the willingness of young people to give birth. According to a professor with the Population Development Studies Centre at Renmin University Chen Wei: "In the next 10 to 20 years, China's natural population growth will not continue to decline, but will fluctuate around zero and see small drops, but there will not be rapid decreases."
North Korea: Ballistic missiles fired again
On 17 January, the South Korean military reported that North Korea had fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from the Sunan Airfield in Pyongyang. The missiles travelled about 380km (236 miles) to a maximum altitude of 42km (26 miles). This will be the fourth test conducted by North Korea in a month, indicating the rapid expansion of its nuclear weapons arsenal. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated: "We call on relevant sides to keep in mind the overall peace and stability on the peninsula." Japan deemed the launch a threat to peace and stability in the region. 
Taiwan: Chinese military aircraft enters the ADIZ again
On 17 January, three Chinese military aircrafts entered Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone for the fourteenth time in January 2022. Taiwan responded with radio warnings, sending an aircraft and deploying air defense missile systems. Sixty-one intrusions have been monitored this month. In contrast, in 2021, there were 961 instances of such incursions over 239 days, implying an increase.
Myanmar: Military imposes new charges against Suu Kyi
On 14 January, five new charges were added to Aung San Suu Kyi's sentence based on the allegations that she misused state funds to lease a helicopter, accepted bribes amounting to USD 600,000 as well as 11.4kg of gold bars. If convicted, she would face almost 160 years in prison. 
Myanmar: Airstrikes on Kayah State
On 18 January, the military used helicopters, jet fighters, and surveillance drones to attack civilian targets in various parts of Myanmar. These airstrikes have been conducted in Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, and Kayah states and Sagaing and Magwe. Myanmar's parallel National Unity Government called out the military regime for violating the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law by attacking its civilians.
Tonga: After the volcanic eruption
On 17 January, Australia and New Zealand sent surveillance planes to assess the damage levels in Tonga, triggered by the eruption of an underwater volcano. The explosion triggered tsunami waves in the Pacific Coast, disrupting communication with the island. Initial assessments stated no mass casualties; in a radio interview, Australia's minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, said: "We know there is some significant damage, and know there is significant damage to resorts." 
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
Pakistan: National Security Policy released
On 14 January, Prime Minister Imran Khan unveiled a 110-page national security policy covering 2022-26. According to the document: "Pakistan remains committed to normalization of relations with its neighbours based on mutual respect, sovereign equality, and a collective effort to find pathways for conflict resolution with the belief that shared economic opportunities are cornerstones for achieving prosperity in Pakistan and the region."
Afghanistan: Women continue to protest against the Taliban 
On 17 January, women held protests calling for support from the UN Secretary-General to release the central bank assets of Afghanistan. Apart from this, they also demanded bringing back the Ministry of Women Affairs to provide access to education and to represent women in the cabinet. 
Armenia: Agree to reopen negotiations with Turkey, after talks in Moscow
On 14 January, Armenia and Turkey decided to resume dialogue after their first round of talks in Moscow. The Armenian Foreign Ministry said: "Ruben Rubinian, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, and Serdar Kilic, a former Turkish ambassador to the United States, agreed during their meeting in the Russian capital that Turkey and Armenia should work to regulate ties through dialogue and without preconditions." Since the 2009 peace accord, this has been the first attempt to restore dialogue between the two states. In 2020, in the six-week conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, Turkey accused Armenia of seizing Azerbaijani lands, which caused friction in their relations.
Armenia: Three soldiers killed in the border clashes with Azerbaijan
On 12 January, the Armenian Defense Ministry reported that it found three bodies of its soldiers after the recent clashes near the border. It has blamed Azerbaijani forces for opening fire at the border area of Verin Shorzha near the eastern Gegharkunik Province. In response, the Azerbaijan Defense Ministry denied that it was only responding to the attack and did not provoke fire. The tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan have risen since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Peace and Conflict in Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
UAE: Houthi drone attack raises questions on security
On 17 January, a Houthi drone attack targeted a key oil facility in Abu Dhabi, killing three people and causing a fire to break out at the international airport. The attack drew international condemnation and a pledge for UAE retaliation. The Houthis see this as a successful military operation, raising concerns over the security of the UAE. 
Palestine: UNRWA declares support to counter chronic budget shortfalls
On 18 January, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA declared USD 1.6 billion for Palestinian refugees to mitigate "chronic budget shortfalls." Previously the funding was stopped due to a cut down from the US under President Trump. Now, President Biden has reinstated some funds.
Syria: UN condemns the killing of aid-worker
On 13 January, the OHCA reported the killing of an aid worker in al-Hol, followed by an attack on a health facility in the camp. It is the largest camp for displaced people and refugees in Syria. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis expressed concern over the events and offered condolences to the family. The humanitarian workers stopped operations for two days to review safety protocols given rising violence. 
Somalia: Explosion on high profile road
On 12 January, a car bomb explosion killed at least eight people in the capital Mogadishu. It is one of the latest series of attacks Somalia has suffered. Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. Somalia has been going through a political crisis where the current leader has overstayed power, leading to more dissent within political struggles.
Mali: protests emerge against the ECOWAS measures
On 14 January, Mali witnessed huge protests where people gathered against the stringent measures levied by the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) due to delayed elections. The signboards of the protestors read as "Down with ECOWAS" and "Down with France." Colonel Assimi Goita has asked the public to defend their homeland and disclosed that the interim government has already prepared a response plan for the sanctions. 
Sudan: Seven killed and several injured in pro-democracy protests
On 17 January, Sudan's military shot dead at least seven protestors to disperse the rallies. These killings raised the death toll to 71 since the protests started last October following the coup led by General Abdel Fattah al- Burhan. The latest rallies in the capital come ahead of the US Assistant Secretary and US-Africa envoy's visit to discuss the peaceful transition to a civilian government. With the resignation of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok earlier this month, the country has been swept into a political crisis leaving military head Burhan as the undisputed leader. 
Ethiopia: UN express concern over airstrike killing of the civilians
On 15 January, the UN human rights office stated that more than 100 civilians had been killed since January due to airstrikes in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The UN official has condemned the attacks faced by the Ethiopian people, urged for dialogue and promised to provide humanitarian aid to those affected.
Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
The UK: The government plans to prevent boat crossings from France
On 17 January, the UK administration decided to use military intervention to restrict migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats from France. Priti Patel, UK's Home Secretary deemed the Ministry of Defence as a "crucial operational partner" in protecting the English Channel against illegal immigration. The defense ministry has extended its support in establishing a more effective and efficient system, ensuring that people do not drown in the river. 
Russia: One year since Alexei Navalny arrests 
On 17 January, Navalny supporters marked one year of his arrest. He was accused of violating the parole conditions. The return of Navalny and arrest led to protests and clamp downed his political network. Russia has been under constant criticism on handling the case of Navalny. 
Russia: On deploying military hardware in Latin America
On 17 January, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov ruled out the possibility of not using Latin America as theater to deter and counter the US-led NATO march to Eastern Europe. He said: "I do not want to confirm anything … or rule anything out." 
The US: Gunman takes hostages from Texas Synagogue; demanded Aafia Siddiqui's release
On 15 January, a gunman from the UK, had taken four people as hostages for ten hours in a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, demanding the release of a Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui. The latter was jailed for attempting to kill the US Army officers in Afghanistan. Akram was seen firing several rounds of gunshots and ranting on a Facebook live stream calling for the release of Aafia. However, the Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller stated that the hostages were released unharmed by Saturday night and the hostage-taker was dead.
The US: Federal court rejects the appeal to block the Texas law on abortion
On 18 January, the federal court rejected the request of the abortion providers to block the Texas law on abortion. The court has said that it stands "consistent" with the previous judgement of the supreme court. It also added that it was necessary to prevent needless friction with the state court to interpret Texas law. So far, the high court has refused to block the Texas law twice and goes against the Roe v. Wade case, which assures the right to abortion around 23 weeks. 

About the authors
D Suba Chandran is a Professor and Dean at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Ashwin Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan are Research Assistants at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. Sejal Sharma is a postgraduate scholar at Pondicherry University. Sruthi Sadhasivam is a postgraduate Scholar at Christ University.

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