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The World This Week
Two years after the coup in Myanmar, and the EU-Ukraine Summit
TWTW#201, 5 February 2023, Vol. 5, No 5.
TWTW#201, 5 February 2023, Vol. 5, No 5.
The EU-Ukrain Summit 2023
On 03 February, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky held a joint summit with the EU since the war began. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and foreign policy chief Josep Borrell along with 15 other EU leaders took part in the summit. In a joint statement: “The EU reiterated its unwavering support and commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.”
The Summit focused on ways to increase support for Ukraine, creating pressure on Russia to end the war, Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU and global food security.
On 03 February, in an address, Von der Leyen said: “We will introduce with our G7 partners, an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February, we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place.” Zelenskyy said: “Today's Summit is the 24th EU-Ukraine Summit. This is a powerful symbol that we will overcome any obstacles to strengthen our partnership and integration.”
On 02 February, in an interview reported by RT on a question over which country could be the next “Anti-Russia, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded that after Ukraine it would be Moldova.
What is the background?
First, the state of diplomacy in Europe against Russia. Since the war began critical points such as imposing sanctions, an energy price cap and military support to Ukraine have tested the unity of Europe against Russia. Amongst the EU member states, the Baltics and Balkan countries which sought to increase their military to secure themselves, Germany has been on the frontline in giving military assistance to Ukraine. Whereas Ukraine has been proactive in demanding the most advanced weapons since the beginning, Europe has also shown hesitance due to fear of war escalation. To assess if the expectations of Ukraine to counter have been met by Europe or not, the expectations at the military, humanitarian, and intelligence have been met in due time while economic recuperation or effectiveness of the sanctions remain to be seen. The only difference would be the time of delivery and the potential capacity of the weapon system given.
Second, Russia’s redlines. The cause of the war being Ukraine’s NATO membership, joining EU or Ukraine’s growing closeness with the EU agitates Russia. Ukraine joining the EU would not only cut down the possibilities of Russia’s geopolitical ambitions but also bar its equation with Europe. Therefore, Ukraine’s steps toward joining the EU or NATO is a great concern and a redline for Russia.
Third, determined Ukraine and a balanced EU. Ukraine has been forward to fasten its membership in the EU. The key focus of the summit has been to discuss on the regulations to be met and to show how Ukraine is ready to fulfil the conditions, but the EU can be observed to have taken a balanced and steady approach towards Ukraine. The key conditions have been the judicial reforms, political independency, “alignment with the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP),” and media legislation. While all the condition must be met, the EU has been positive in terms of facilitating trade and economic development of Ukraine. Therefore, in legal terms, the EU seem to be resisting in fast-tracking the accession process considering the complex procedure, but in the phase of war it has kept Ukraine in its primary agenda. This is mainly to keep Russia under check.
What does it mean?
First, Europe’s move to the center. The summit was to display its strength of diplomacy to keep Russia at the edge to prevent further escalation of the war. It is also to assure Ukraine its support in the war, despite its demands for increased sanctions and advanced weapons having been met or delivered only at EU member states prolonged decisions. Europe ensures to take a balanced step in handling both Ukraine and Russia, but can be observed to be slowly moving into the center of the conflict as its role in the military, and humanitarian aspects increase.
Second, a waiting game for Ukraine. The demand list keeps extending for Ukraine to counter Russia. Ukraine is in dire need of extensive support for Europe at a rapid phase. While Europe manages to meet the demands at later stage, as the war prolongs Ukraine seems to be stuck with no resolution but to be vulnerable to the attacks, and sustain its defence against Russia. Until there is a tough stance from Europe or negotiable talks with Russia, it would be a waiting game for Ukraine.
Myanmar: Two years since the coup
Bibhu Prasad Routray
In Myanmar, a violent game of attrition is at play, with one adversary waiting on the other to blink first. However, it isn’t a mere contestation of wits, but a brutal civil war, which claims victims each day. Two years since the early morning coup on 1 February 2021 that prevented the democratically elected NLD from assuming power, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) continues to unleash a ruthless stabilisation campaign against the opposition. The latter’s violent resistance too has peaked. The stalemate has been catastrophic for the country. Worse still, it has the potency of dragging on well into 2023.
Major developments in the last two years
The statistics recount a funereal reality. Two years since the coup, close to 3000 people have been killed during the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy activists, according to the monitoring group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. A total of 17645 people have been arrested, out of which 13825 are still detained or sentenced. Through its courts, the military has not just inflicted prolonged prison sentences on former state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, other politicians and dissenters, it has also executed many prominent pro-democracy activists, in complete disregard to international opinion.
And yet, there is little prospect of the military eliminating its adversaries whom it repeatedly describes as ‘terrorists’. The opposition, which started its campaign to restore democracy by peaceful means, now predominantly relies on armed attacks on the military and people associated with it, thereby reducing vast areas in central and peripheral Myanmar such as the Sagaing region, Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine states to war zones. The parallel National Unity Government (NUG) of the opposition has gradually managed to emerge as the umbrella organisation of all the dissenting People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) and the Ethnic Armed Organisation (EAOs).
Disposition to extend the boundaries of brutality in its bid to pacify the ‘disturbed areas’ is the striking feature of the campaign led by the Tatmadaw. Its aerial attacks, allegedly using Russia-provided choppers and planes, have claimed hundreds of innocent victims and led to the wanton destruction of civilian properties. Reminiscent of the scorched earth policy pursued against the ethnic armed organisations in the past decades, its violent campaign has further led to a one-and-a-half million internally displaced population. Around 40,000 homes have been burned down, and eight million children no longer have access to schools. According to the UN, 15 million people are precariously short of food.
The World Bank has predicted Myanmar’s economy to grow at only 3 per cent, at the same rate it performed in 2022. The level of economic activity is still over 10 per cent below where it stood before the pandemic and the military takeover. An array of sanctions imposed by countries like the US, UK, Canada, and Australia may have partially hurt the Tatmadaw’s business interests, although by no means has crippled it.
A state of normalcy, which the Tatmadaw has tried projecting despite vast areas of the country being in flames, is mostly due to the military and economic assistance it continues to receive from countries like China and Russia. Domestically, its attempts to divide the opposition by seeking the loyalty of some ethnic groups, extreme Buddhist associations like Ma Ba Tha, and former NLD politicians has continued and may have partly succeeded.
Issues in Myanmar
Three primary issues mark the conflict in Myanmar.
Firstly, the Tatmadaw is trying to radically transform the political landscape in the country. The coup was a strategy to do precisely that by upstaging the NLD which had gathered 80 per cent of the popular votes in the 2020 elections. By prosecuting Suu Kyi and sentencing most of her party members to long prison terms, the military wants to make the NLD politically irrelevant. It plans to hold an election in 2023, designed, in all probability, to install a military-backed civilian government. Many countries have rightly speculated that the election will be a sham exercise.
Secondly, there is no meeting ground between the military and the opposition NUG. Full restoration of democracy has been the latter’s demand so far. Even though the military has admitted to having been caught by surprise by the nature and scale of resistance, it has steadfastly refused to negotiate with its opponents, as it promised to do in a meeting with neighbouring countries shortly after the coup. This is a recipe for long-term instability.
Thirdly, unity of effort and a common vision for an end game in Myanmar are the missing elements in the divided stance of the regional countries and the international community including the UN. That makes the punitive sanctions imposed by individual countries on the Tatmadaw functionaries less impactful and liable to be circumvented.
Forecast for 2023
Apart from the reasons mentioned before, two principal factors could determine the developments in Myanmar in 2023.
Firstly, the proportionality of capacity among conflicting parties prolong the civil war situation. The PDFs have managed to vastly upgrade their war fighting capacities over the months. Their guerrilla urban war techniques and insertion of drones into their armoury make them worthy opponents of the military. This could make the military’s efforts against the opposition much more brutal, without producing the desired results. Its capacity to hold the elections in 2023 looks doubtful, as the PDFs continue to systematically attack and assassinate officials associated with the election preparation.
Secondly, in contrast to the Chinese and Russian strategic backing of the Tatmadaw, the West and the UN’s move on Myanmar has largely continued to remain normative and hence, lack teeth. Unlike the ongoing Ukraine war, there is no overt measure to augment the fighting capacity of the opposition in the country. The PDFs appear to be receiving some covert military assistance from unknown sources. That has increased their fighting capacities, but isn’t enough to pressurise the Tatmadaw significantly. In December 2022, US President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes the Burma Act. The Act allows the US government to spend US$50 million annually from 2023 to 2027. Another US$220 million is budgeted for humanitarian aid to Myanmar for the 2023 fiscal year. That, however, is unlikely to decisively shift the stalemate in favour of the opposition, and may even lead to competitive assistance to the Tatmadaw from its allied countries.
Myanmar could well be staring at a bloody 2023, with mounting human costs.
Also in the news...
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Ground stations in Antarctica to support ocean monitoring satellites
On 2 February, Reuters quoted China Space News agency on the recent tender won by China Aerospace and Technology Group Co. to build two permanent Chinese stations in Antarctica. The move comes after, a state-owned Swedish space company denied to renew the contract to provide to help Chinese spacecraft and transmit data.
China: Foreign Ministry responds to US military for shooting down airship
On 4 February, the US military fighter jets shot down a balloon over the Atlantic Ocean on suspicion of being a spy vessel. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s responded to the US military and said: “The spokesperson of US Defense Ministry has said that the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. Despite this, the US has obviously overreacted by insisting the use of force and seriously violated international practice.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry also insisted that airship strayed into the US airspace due to force majeure and was an accident. The spokesperson further called on the US to properly handle the incident.
China: Vice Foreign Minister discusses deepening relations with Russia
On 2 February, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu met with Russia’s Foreign Minister and other officials during his two-day visit to Moscow. The leaders discussed China-Russia relations, regional and global issues and agreed to advancing bilateral coordination between the countries. Ma said: “China is willing to work with Russia to implement the consensus reached by the top leaders of the two countries and to make new progress in bilateral ties in the new year.” The visit is one of the regular meetings between diplomatic departments in China and Russia.
South Korea: Foreign Minister emphasizes extended deterrence with the US
On 3 February, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin announced that the country was committed to strengthening “extended deterrence” with the US against North Korea. The statements come after Park’s meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington. Park said: “The Republic of Korea and the US will continue our watertight coordination to achieve genuine peace on the Korean peninsula. We are committed to strengthening extended deterrence while maintaining a robust combined defence posture. Any provocations by North Korea will be met with a firm and united response.”
ASEAN: Chair to begin negotiations with China on Code of Conduct in SCS
On 4 February, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi addressed the ASEAN ministerial retreat in Jakarta and expressed the organisation’s commitment to implementing the Declaration of Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, signed in 2002. The ASEAN Chair will initiate new rounds of negotiations with the member states and China from March 2023. Retno said: “The commitment of members to conclude the negotiation of the COC as soon as possible is obvious, bearing in mind the need to have a substantive, effective and actionable COC.”
South Asia This Week
India: Investigative report from the US causes route in Adani shares, loses USD 58 billion
On 3 February, Gautam Adani who had become third richest in the world with a fortune of USD 121 billion, cancelled its share sale worth INR 20,00 crore (USD 24 billion) as it lost USD 58 billion in a stock market route after Hindenburg published a report on levelling accusations of corporate malfeasance against the Adani Group.
Sri Lanka: SLNS Samudura takes part in Pakistan’s Naval exercise ‘AMAN’
On 31 January, The SLNS Samudura sailed from Colombo to the port of Karachi to participate in the multinational naval exercise AMAN hosted by the Pakistani Navy. The ship will participate in the eighth AMAN on behalf of the Sri Lankan Navy by order of the Navy Commander. The theme of this year’s exercise is “Together for Peace and Security”, and it would be held in Karachi from February 10 to 14, with 110 navies participating in the multinational naval exercise. The exercise primarily focused on maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean region and includes both port and maritime phases. SLNS Samudura will participate in a series of naval exercises, including Maritime Security, Counter-Piracy and Humanitarian Assistance, Replenishment at Sea (RAS), Manoeuvre and Formation, Gunnery Training, and Visiting Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercises on AMAN 2023.
Sri Lanka: 75th Independence Day ceremony starts
On 4 February, the 75th Independence Day celebrations began after President Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived at Galle Face Green and hoisted the national flag. President Wickremesinghe in his special address said that all of us are responsible for the economic crisis and no particular individual can be blamed. He added that a system change is needed to come out of the current economic crisis. He said: “All areas of this political system, the legislature, parliament, Executive, state machinery, etc. should be modified to suit the modern era.” He said that because of the harsh measures, every citizen now has basic needs. He asked every citizen to work together to make Sri Lanka the most developed country in the world by 2048.
Maldives: Foreign Minister travels to Sri Lanka on Official visit
On 2 February, Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid Travelled to Sri Lanka at the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart Ali Sabry to attend the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the independence of Sri Lanka. During his visit, Minister Shahid will pay a courtesy call on Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Foreign Minister Sabry. He will also visit the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka and meet with the Maldivian community living in Sri Lanka.
Pakistan: IMF calls for strict action to bridge the fiscal gap
On 31 January, a delegation led by IMF Mission Chief Nathan Porter held a meeting with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and other ministers in Islamabad. During the meeting, they discussed Pakistan’s economic and fiscal policies and the reforms required to complete the ninth review of a USD seven billion loan programme. In a press release, the finance ministry stated that in the meeting FM Dar briefed the delegation about the government’s fiscal and economic reforms in various sectors, including energy, and measures to bridge the fiscal gap and stabilise the exchange rate. Additionally, FM Dar also told the IMF that reforms were being introduced in the power sector and a “high-level committee has been formed for devising modalities to offset the menace of circular debt in the gas sector.” He assured the IMF that Pakistan would complete the ongoing programme and was committed to working together to reach an agreement to complete the ninth review under the Extended Fund Facility.
Afghanistan: US special envoy visit Pakistan, Germany and Switzerland to discuss ways to ease the Afghan crisis
On 29 January, US special envoy for Afghanistan, Thomas West began his three-country visit to Pakistan, Germany and Switzerland. During the visit, he consulted with partners, Afghans and humanitarian organisations on the mutual interests in Afghanistan. In Germany, West met with several senior officials and discussed ways of bringing Afghan women back to work. In Pakistan, he met with Chief of Army Staff Syed Asim Munir, special envoy for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq and Foreign Minister Asad M. Khan and discussed ways to discuss ways in which Washington and Islamabad can refine a unified regional and international response to the plight of women and girls’ rights in Afghanistan.
Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan: Presidents sign over 20 bilateral agreements, including border delimitations
On 27 January, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov signed over 20 bilateral agreements during talks in Bishkek. Of the agreements signed, the most significant was a protocol on the exchange of resolutions to ratify the agreements reached in November 2022 on the delimitation of several disputed segments of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. The other agreements included a deal for an auto-assembly plant and a textile factory in Kyrgyzstan and the easing of cross-border travel for citizens among others.
Israel: Protest and tussle continues over changes in the power of judiciary
On 2 February, Israel’s attorney general Gali Baharav-Miara, in an official legal advisory to the justice minister, said that the cabinet should not go ahead with the judiciary overhaul, warning that it could scrap the system of checks and balances, giving unprecedented power to the government. As a consequence, human rights and clean governance may be eroded. Simultaneously, thousands of people are protesting across Israel opposing the ‘reforms’ proposed by the government. The weekend protests continued for the fifth straight week
Israel: Biden and Jordan King discuss the status quo
On 2 February, US President Biden met Jordan’s king Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein in White House, and he assured his support for the legal status quo of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The recent visit of Israeli national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s recent visit to the compound and the Israeli police stopping Jordanian envoy from visiting, resulted in a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Lebanon: Currency devalued to tackle the economic crisis
On 1 February, Lebanon devalued its currency for the first time in 25 years. The move weakened the currency by a whopping 90 per cent. The Lebanese Central Bank said that the new official rate is 15,000 Lebanese pounds per US dollar as opposed to the previous pegged rate of 1,500 pounds per dollar. The pound has been crashing in the past few years and the state is experiencing an economic meltdown since 2019. The exchange rate in the parallel market where most trade takes place has always been higher, and prior to devaluation, it was at 60,000 pounds per dollar. Officials noted that this is a move towards unifying an array of rates that emerged during the crisis.
Israel: Chad and Sudan move towards normalizing relations with Israel
On 1 February, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office announced that Chad will inaugurate its embassy in Tel Aviv, five years after establishing diplomatic relations. The announcement came in the wake of Chadian President Mahamat Deby’s visit to Israel. On 2 February, the Israeli foreign ministry announced that Sudan and Israel have finalized a deal to normalize diplomatic relations. The announcement came after foreign minister Eli Cohen visited Khartoum and met Sudan’s Sovereign Council Head General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. However, the agreement’s signing ceremony will take place when the Sudanese military transfers power to a civilian government.
Libya: Gas deal with Italy faces opposition from Tripoli minister
On 30 January, BBC reported that several leaders in Libya had rejected a USD eight billion gas deal signed by Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Italy's state-run energy firm ENI. Libya's oil and gas minister said the deal to develop and explore two Libyan offshore gas fields "lacks equality between the Libyan and Italian sides." The minister termed the deal "illegal," claiming the NOC had bypassed the oil and gas ministry and had also raised the Italian side's shares to 37 per cent from 30 per cent. However, the NOC chairman maintained that the NOC "works according to the law, and whoever sees this procedure as illegal must go before the court."
Morocco: Spanish PM visits Rabat marking new turn in relations
On 2 February, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrived in Rabat and met Morocco's Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch amid thawing relations between the two countries. France24 quoted Sanchez: "We are going to avoid anything that may offend the other, especially with regard to our respective spheres of sovereignty." Sanchez's visit is the first high-level visit since 2015; Sanchez emphasised the "enormous unexplored potential" of Spain-Morocco relations and said the meeting indicates a consolidation of a new stage in bilateral ties. On the same day, at least 20 deals were signed on investments, energy and education.
Europe and The Americas This Week
Belarus, UAE and Zimbabwe: Strengthening long term relationship
On 03 February, The Belta reported Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s visit to Zimbabwe secured the foundation for cooperation between UAE and Zimbabwe. Eight bilateral agreements were signed in Harare which stated encouragement and mutual protection of investment. They also stated a joint commission for cooperation, avoiding double taxation and prevention of tax invasion and the agreement to twin the cities of Minsk and Harare. A Zimbabwean embassy is to be opened in Belarus in order to enhance cooperation.
Europe: Imports from China increased by 34 per cent in 2022
On 02 February, Euractiv reports that according to Chinese customs statistics there has been an increase in exports of 34 per cent from the Xinjiang province of China to EU members in 2022. A contradictory result to the mutual sanctions imposed between EU and China in 2021 over the prosecution of Uygur Muslims. The exports reached USD 1.1 billion in 2022 as Germany imported 1,750 tons of lithium-ion electric accumulators vital for green transition and electric vehicles. The dilemma the EU encounters are to be sustainable and conscious of human rights infringement or to ensure material flow for the growth of the industry.
The US: Fighter jets shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon
On 5 February, the controversial Chinese spy balloon which entered US’s airspace was shot down off the coast of South Carolina. President Joe Biden had issued orders to take down the balloon while China defended that it was used for meteorological and scientific purposes and had accidentally strayed into the US airspace.
The US: Federal reserve hikes interest rate by 25 basis points, points to reining in inflation further
On 1 February, the US central bank announced a quarter-point hike to the benchmark lending rate taking the rate to a target range of 4.50-4.75 per cent. Fed officials have expressed determination to stay the course, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell telling reporters in December that "the historical record cautions strongly against prematurely loosening policy." Pressure has mounted on the bank to slow, or stop, its rate hike campaign, as the higher borrowing costs hurt sectors such as housing and the US economy slows sharply.
Space: Green hued comet crossing northern and southern skies, to give insight into primordial solar system
On 2 February, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) or otherwise termed as green comet was nearest to earth in its orbit crossing the inner solar system. It will be seen near to Mars on 11 February. The comet is seen once in 50,000 years has attracted attention of stargazers and scientists alike. According to Reuters report, the trail of the comet will unravel new discoveries about premordial solar system.
Science: Scientists create amorphous ice in a bid to study ice water properties of icy moons of solar system
On 3 February, Live Science reported on research published in the journal Science about medium density amorphous ice. Using ball milling process, scientists shook ice vigorously with steel balls in a container cooled to -200 degree Celsius and fashioned fine white powder ice, the expected result was crystalline ice, rather the result was liquid water at low temperatures, ice with density of liquid water.
About the Authors
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray is Director of Mantraya, Goa. He was formerly a Deputy Director at the National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India.
Rashmi Ramesh and Ankit Singh are PhD scholars in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Avishka Ashok, Padmashree Anandhan, Anu Maria Joseph, Apoorva Sudhakar and Sethuraman Nadarajan are Research Associates at NIAS.
Harini Madhusudan, Rishika Yada, Sneha Surendran, Prerana P, Sreeja JS and Padmashree Anandhan
Rishika Yadav | Research Assistant, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore
Rishika Yadav and Nityashree RB | Research Assistant and Research Intern, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore
Padmashree Anandhan | Research Associate National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
Harini Madhusudan, Rishma Banerjee, Padmashree Anandhan, Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan, and Avishka Ashok
Padmashree Anandhan and Rishma Banerjee
Emmanuel Selva Royan
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan
Angelin Archana | Assistant Professor, Women’s Christian College, Chennai
Shreya Upadhyay | Assistant Professor, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore
Uma Purushothaman | Assistant Professor, Central University of Kerala, Kerala
Debangana Chatterjee | Assistant Professor, JAIN (Deemed-to-be University), Bangalore
Himani Pant | Research Fellow, ICWA, Delhi
Emmanuel Selva Royan
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan
Joeana Cera Matthews
Joeana Cera Matthews
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan
Joeana Cera Matthews
Joeana Cera Matthews
Joeana Cera Matthews
Chetna Vinay Bhora
Joeana Cera Matthews
Joeana Cera Matthews
Keerthana Rajesh Nambiar
Chetna Vinay Bhora