The World This Week

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The World This Week
Russia’s Ukraine invasion: Three days later

  GP Team

The World This Week #159, Vol. 4, No. 08

Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan, Padmashree Anandhan, Joeana Cera Matthews and Harini Madhusudan

The road to invasion

On 22 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared to recognize the independence of the two breakaway regions of Eastern Ukraine as independent entities. However, Donestk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic recognition was met with new sanctions from the US and Europe. Also, on the same day, Putin ordered troops into eastern Ukraine for peacekeeping duties. Putin said: “… take a long-overdue decision to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.”

On 23 February, Moscow responded to the sanctions imposed by the US and the other Western countries. Russian Foreign Ministry said: “There should be no doubt - sanctions will meet a strong response, not necessarily symmetrical, but well-calibrated and sensitive for the American side,”

On 24 February, Putin declared war on Ukraine and warned other countries not to interfere in Ukraine. He mentioned that if other countries intervened, they would face “consequences they have never seen.” After his announcement, air sirens in Ukraine went off, which indicated the capital was under attack. Putin claimed he wanted to demilitarise the former Soviet state but not occupy it. 

On 26 February, Putin warned Finland and Sweden said they would face serious “military consequences” if they joined NATO. Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated: “We regard the Finnish government’s commitment to a military non-alignment policy as an important factor in ensuring security and stability in northern Europe.”

Shocked, but holding up. So far

On 24 February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared a state of emergency. On 27 February, the interior minister verified the entry of Russian troops into Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. The foreign ministry claimed that Ukraine’s air force had taken down a cruise missile targeted towards Kyiv by Russia’s TU-22 bomber from Belarus on the same day. According to Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson said: “This is another war crime committed against Ukraine and its people.”

As per the UN report, the invasion has killed close to 200 Ukrainians and estimated more than 120,000 people to have left the country. With the worsening conflict situation, and a series of attacks launched by Russia, the government of Ukraine and the President continue to hold a confident stand to fight against Russia. While the skirmishes and missile attacks occur, exchange occurs between Russia and Ukraine on the ground; on the other side, both parties are also targeting each other in cyberspace. The Ukrainian government has come forward to involve individual hacking groups present in the underworld to strategize the tracking of Russian troops. 

Ukraine has also refused Russia’s call for a meeting in Belarus.

In the middle
Donetsk and Luhansk 

Although the Russian recognition of the pro-Kremlin proxy states of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as “independent” pleased these territories, it made Minsk II irrelevant. The Minsk Protocol constituent of Minsk I and Minsk II, were created to end the conflict in the disputed Donbas region. Since their self-proclaimed independence from Ukraine in 2014, the two regions have existed in a grey zone; however, the Kremlin’s recognition changed this status quo. Nonetheless, the Donbas remains under Ukraine according to international law. 

The Kremlin has primarily backed the separatists in the Donbas region. The militias are wholly armed by Kremlin, while many Russian soldiers are stationed here. The Russification process of the region was also easy, given its predominant language was Russian. However, the ambiguity regarding the autonomy of the separatist-led Donbas against the claims of Russian proxies still looms large. Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik – leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk, respectively are considered Kremlin loyalists and have on multiple occasions raised suspicions of coordinating acts with the Kremlin. Despite the allegedly limited autonomy, they have both expressed a desire for the Donbas to be a part of the “renewed Russian empire” while supporting imperialism. 

The US: 
Sanctions, sanctions, and more sanctions

On 22 February, US President Joe Biden said that Putin’s orders or sending troops to Ukraine were “…the beginning of a Russian invasion”. He also mentioned that the US would add more sanctions if Russia continued its aggression toward Ukraine. 

On 23 January, the White House released a statement that said: “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.” Biden also announced sanctions on Nord Stream 2, its companies, and the CEO. 

On 24 February, Biden announced another round of sanctions against Putin and his allies and said: “He’s going to begin to see the effect of the sanctions.” The sanctions were not limited to Russia and even expanded to Belarus and Putin’s close aides. 

On 25 February, the White House announced sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and members of the national security team.”

On 26 January, the US removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT banking system. The US, Canada, the UK, and the EU released a joint statement: “We commit to ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system. This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally.”

NATO and EU: 
Finally, the Russian threat is staring in the face

NATO allies have activated their defence plans by deploying the NATO Response Force. US, Canada, and the European Allies have deployed thousands of troops at the NATO borders. They have actively placed up to 120 ships through the High-North and the Mediterranean, 100 jets operating at 30 different locations, and three strike carrier groups. 

Member countries have individually come forth and offered their support for the Ukrainians. For example, Germany, Netherlands and other EU countries announced they would send weapons aid to Ukraine, a few EU countries have closed their airspace to Russian aircraft, East European members of NATO have offered to provide oil and other supplies to Ukraine, many neighbours have prepared to welcome refugees, and while the bigger powers in the two alliances have made strong political moves, the smaller members have done their bit in showing support to Ukraine. The EU has also placed sanctions on Russian access to supplies from the rest of Europe. Additionally, many high profile sports and entertainment events like the Champions League, Eurovision Song Contest, and Formula 1 have announced changes to their schedules. The UK has announced asset freezes of major Russian companies and individuals with ties to London. 

While the military engagement continues in Ukraine, a parallel engagement on the internet is on full-scale. Many citizens have complained of information blackouts. Globally too, misinformation and hysteria surrounding the invasion continued. The cyber attacks on both sides continued with myriad complaints of attacks on crucial websites reported during the week. The most significant effect was felt in the financial and energy markets. The first day of the invasion saw a shock across the financial markets but recovered after the sanctions were announced. The NATO, EU, and the US have considered using the SWIFT payment system to further pressure Russia.  

The bordering countries have begun to accept people fleeing the region for safety. Many students and citizens of other nationalities have also been instructed to move to border regions to seek services and return to their countries. The EU announced its preparedness to accept refugees from Ukraine. The European Commission announced a financial aid package for Ukraine.  Countries like France and Italy have separately promised financial aid and assistance to Ukraine to defend their territory. 

Ukraine has hoped for NATO membership for many years. With the region holding ground, the support offered by NATO and EU, though meaningful to the cause, falls short of their expectations. Ukraine could certainly use military aid at its borders to stand firmly on par with Russia, maybe not the NATO troops directly, but any form of military help from its Eastern European neighbours. 

From UNSC and the rest of the international community
What next

On 26 February, UN Security Council attempted to pass a resolution against Russia to bring an instant end to the attacks launched on Ukraine and to withdraw troops. Out of 15 member states of the UNSC, 11 voted in favour, while China, India and the UAE refrained from voting. The resolution failed to be passed as Russia vetoed it. 

So far, the UN has only functioned as a humanitarian aid organisation, estimating deaths and displacements. It is yet to perform a responsible role in convening world powers to take a step towards ending the conflict situation in Ukraine. According to the recent statement by Secretary-General António Guterres: “All concerned in this conflict must respect international humanitarian law and guarantee the safety and freedom of movement of UN staff and other humanitarians. Especially in a moment like this, it is important to remember that the UN…is tens of thousands of women and men around the world.”

Alongside the imposition of sanctions, international governments have called for an immediate ceasefire as they close their airspace to Russian aircraft. Protests have erupted worldwide, with non-resident Ukrainians, anti-war advocates and others demonstrating against Russian aggression. Besides its economy, Russian actions have also affected its cultural activities and sports. Poland and Sweden boycotted the World Cup play-offs against Russia, while the UEFA Champions League finals in St Petersburg were shifted to Paris. The Formula One Grand Prix in Sochi was cancelled, adding to Russia’s exclusion from participating in the Eurovision Song Contest 2022. The International Ski Federation and the International Tennis Federation also cancelled their respective events in Russia.

First, implications for the European and global security order. Russian aggression in Ukraine is termed to have created the ‘greatest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War.’ The present crisis needs to be analyzed beyond Ukraine. Russia is playing a long game, bound to affect Europe’s post-Cold War security order. Alliances will aim to protect those already aligned with them over further inclusivity of those that are not. Military strength will soon be the determinant of political relations. Separately, the destabilization effect on fragile crisis regions worldwide will be immense. 

Second, migration and the human cost. The knock-on effect of the crisis is the refugee influx to a Europe that was already facing a migrant crisis. The refugee inflow into the EU concerns those countries bordering Russia and Ukraine like Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova. The UN’s allocation of EUR 17.9 million for increased humanitarian operations will be a meagre amount for the millions of people fleeing Ukraine. Human lives are at stake in the crossfire of political and expansionist ambitions. 

Also, in the news...
By Ashwin Dhanabalan, Angkuran Dey and Meghna Manoj

East and Southeast Asia This Week
Myanmar: Military regime supports Russian invasion of Ukraine 
On 25 February, Myanmar’s military Council Spokesperson, General Zaw Min Tun, stated reasons for the military government of Myanmar supporting Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. He mentioned: “No. 1 is that Russia has worked to consolidate its sovereignty…I think this is the right thing to do. No. 2 is to show the world that Russia is a world power.” However, the National Unity Government (NUG) countered his statements and condemned the unprovoked acts of war against Ukraine. 

Cambodia: PM Ismail Sabri Yakoob visits Phnom Penh
On 25 February, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh. The visit was intended to revitalize relations between the two countries and soften their differences within the ASEAN. However, the meeting was overshadowed by the developments in Ukraine and Myanmar. The joint statement mentioned: “Both leaders exchanged views in a frank and candid manner on regional and international issues of common interest and concerns such as Myanmar issues, South China Sea, and geopolitical rivalry among major powers.” Nevertheless, the statement made by the two leaders had no mention of Ukraine.

Indonesia: A 6.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Sumatra
On 25 February, the western coast of Sumatra was struck by a deadly 6.2 magnitude earthquake that left seven people dead. In addition, several properties were damaged in the area, and the quake triggered a landslide in the West Pasaman district. The tremors were also felt in the nearby cities of Padang in the West Sumatra province and Pekanbaru in Riau province. The Chief of the National Disaster Management Agency, Suharyanto, stated: “For now we have information that two people died and 20 others were injured.” 

South Asia This Week
Afghanistan: India sends wheat and medicines to Jalalabad 
On 22 February, India sent 50 trucks through Pakistan to Afghanistan to assist the country through its economic crisis. Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay said: “I thank the Indian government for the generosity displayed at a time when more than 20 million Afghans are facing a crisis or the worse levels of food insecurity in more than three decades.” Pakistan permitted the trucks to collect wheat from India through the frontier crossing at Attari-Wagah, after which they headed to Jalalabad via Pakistan’s Torkham border. 

Afghanistan: Taliban’s calls for a peaceful resolution in Ukraine
On 26 February, the Taliban recommended that the conflict in Ukraine be resolved through mediation and peace. The government conveyed their distress over casualties caused by the invasion and suggested that both Kyiv and Moscow refrain from violence. The Taliban stated: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in line with its foreign policy of neutrality, calls on both sides of the conflict to resolve the crisis through dialogue and peaceful means.” They also indicated their worry for Afghan students and migrants living in Ukraine and urged both governments to consider their concerns. 

Pakistan: PM Imran Khan visits Moscow
On 25 February, Prime Minister Imran Khan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow amid rising tensions in Ukraine. The two leaders were set to discuss issues on Afghanistan, issues of Islamophobia, and a gas pipeline yet to be finalized with Moscow. The Russian Presidency stated: “The leaders of the two countries discussed the main aspects of bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on current regional topics, including developments in South Asia.” Concerning the Ukrainian invasion, Khan mentioned that his government did not support the invasion, but at the same time, he did not want to blame anyone for the hostilities. 

Nepal: New Delhi and Kathmandu agree on new energy projects
On 25 February, at the Nepal-India Energy Joint meeting, the two countries agreed to invest more in the hydropower sector. Indian Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation released a statement: “There has been a consensus between the two sides that India would approve Nepal’s proposal to export power to India from various hydropower projects in Nepal at the earliest as per India’s existing rules on power trade.” Joint Secretary of the Ministry Chiranjeevi Chataut mentioned that the approval would accelerate the process of initiatives before the monsoon, allowing Nepal to export power to India. 

Nepal: Delhi and Kathmandu agree on new energy projects
On 24 February, former Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli held a virtual meeting with the Minister of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Song Tao. PM Oli said: “For a long time, bilateral relations have been progressing based on mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit….” The meeting took place on the same day when Beijing had warned Nepal about US’ coercive diplomacy. This is the second time China has mentioned the US’ coercive diplomacy and insisted on ratifying the MCC.

Sri Lanka: Navy arrests Indian fishermen for poaching near Jaffna
On 19 February, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested six Indian fishermen while patrolling in the northwestern seas, near the Kovilan Lighthouse in Jaffna. In February, the number of fishermen arrested reached 29, with six boats being impounded. The concern over arrests of the fishermen on both sides was also highlighted when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Sri Lankan counterpart G L Peiris met on 06 February. 

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week 
Uzbekistan: PM Sardor Umurzakov visits Kabul
On 23 February, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Sardor Umurzakov met with the acting head of the Afghan interim government Mohammad Hassan Akhund in Kabul. After the leaders of the two countries met, the Uzbek government announced to resume food cooperation with the neighbouring country of Afghanistan. In addition, the Uzbek Ministry of investments and Foreign Trade released a statement mentioning: “Further steps have been outlined to resume cooperation to ensure food security, accelerate the resumption of economic activity and maintain sustainable peace in Afghanistan.” The leaders had also discussed the revival of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway line and the Surkhon-Puli-Khumri power transmission line. 

Turkey and Armenia: Special representatives meet to normalize ties
On 24 February, Ankara and Yerevan conducted a second round of talks in Vienna to restore relations. Special representatives for the normalization process from both countries mentioned that the main objective is to restore ties. This comes after the significant fall-out that had happened over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The talks were aimed at the re-establishment of diplomatic and economic relations, the opening of borders, and the setting of infrastructural projects. As a result, the respective governments have already resumed flights, and additionally, Armenia removed a ban on Turkish goods as a part of the process.

Turkey: Erdogan looks at improving ties with Africa
On 22 February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Dakar as a part of his 4-day trip across Central and West Africa. Erdogan, along with Senegalese President Macky Sall, issued a joint statement saying: “We will continue to enhance our relations with African countries based on sincerity and solidarity.” Sall also praised several Turkey-based business firms investing in Senegal and other African countries and hoped the economic relations would get bolstered in the coming decades.   

Iran: Internet control bill approved by the parliamentary Committee
On 22 February, a special Parliamentary Committee approved the outlines of the contested Protection Bill. The Bill was introduced three years ago but was shelved due to backlash. As reported by Al Jazeera: “Proponents of the bill stress its main goal is to regulate cyberspace by introducing necessary protections from harmful content and to support local businesses.” However, later the Bill was overturned by the parliament’s regulations department. Nevertheless, the bill proponents have hoped to push the Bill into implementation by 20 March. 

Iran: Tehran blames NATO for the crisis in Ukraine
On 24 February, Tehran mentioned that it was against the war in Ukraine but primarily blamed the presence of NATO in the region. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian claimed that the invasion of Ukraine was rooted in the provocations from NATO. He also urged for a ceasefire in Ukraine and suggested a peaceful resolution. Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh declared that: “the Eurasia region is on the verge of entering a pervasive crisis.”

Iran: Tehran declares to continue enriching uranium up to 20 per cent
On 26 February, Iran announced that it would continue to enrich uranium to 20 per cent purity even after the sanctions were lifted. Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Head Mohammad Eslami said: “(Uranium) enrichment ... continues with a maximum ceiling of 60 per cent, which led Westerners to rush to negotiations, and it will continue with the lifting of sanctions by both 20 per cent and 5 per cent.” The announcement contrasts as Iran is set to revive its 2015 deal which restricts the purity with which it can enrich uranium by up to 3.67 per cent only. 

Syria: Assad commended Moscow on its invasion of Ukraine
On 25 February, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a telephonic conversation, praised Ukraine’s invasion by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Syrian Presidency stated that: “Syria stands with the Russian Federation based on its conviction that its position is correct and because confronting NATO expansionism is a right for Russia.” Assad also blamed the Western countries for using dirty tricks to support the terrorists in Syria and the Nazis in Ukraine. 

Mali: Regime approves a new charter for democratic transition
On 21 February, the lawmakers of Mali approved a plan allowing the transitional government to rule for up to five years. The plan was headed by Colonel Assimi Goïta and was adopted by the120 members of the 121 seated interim parliament who voted to approve the bill. The bill was passed in examining the draft law on the revision of the transition charter. However, the new charter does not mention when the next Presidential elections will be held. Nevertheless, it states that the serving President Kornel Goïta will not participate. 

Ethiopia: The Grand Renaissance Dam starts electricity production 
On 20 February, Ethiopia started electricity production from its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. The initiation comes despite objections from its downstream neighbours of Sudan and Egypt. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed officially inaugurated the multibillion-dollar project. It is expected to double Ethiopia’s total electricity output. He further stated: “Ethiopia’s main interest is to bring light to 60 per cent of the population who is suffering in darkness, saving the labour of our mothers who are carrying wood on their backs to get energy.” 

Burkina Faso: Panel backs a 30-month transition delay until elections
On 24 February, a panel appointed by the military government recommended a 30-month delay until the next elections. The 15-person panel included military officers and technocrats appointed by the coup leader and current President Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. The panel had been tasked to chart a return of the West African country to its constitutional order. The report submitted by the panel has also called for setting up a transitional government consisting of 20 members and a transitional parliament of up to 50 members.    

FIFA: Suspension of the Zimbabwean and Kenyan football federations
On 25 February, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) suspended the membership of the Zimbabwean and Kenyan associations due to continued government interference in the functioning of these countries’ bodies. The FIFA President, Giovanni Infantino, while announcing the suspension, stated: “We had to suspend two of our member’s associations, Kenya and Zimbabwe, both for government interference in the activities of the football associations of these (countries). As a result, associations are suspended from all football activities with immediate effect.”

Europe and the Americas This Week
Ukraine: Kyiv releases warning over increasing radiation levels near Chernobyl
On 25 February, the Russian military took over the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, raising fears of an ecological disaster. The Ukrainian authorities have sent out a warning that radiation levels in the area have breached control levels. However, the Russian military has denied the allegations and has continued to insist that the radiation levels are normal. The State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine stated: “The control levels of gamma radiation dose rate in the Exclusion zone were exceeded.”

Denmark: Copenhagen to deploy its soldiers in Estonia
On 24 February, Denmark’s Chief of Defence General Flemming Lentfer announced that the country would deploy 200 soldiers to Estonia and utilize two F-16 fighter jets for policing the Polish airspace. This comes when Denmark is seeking to increase its contribution to NATO forces in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Furthermore, the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen stated: “Denmark will also make preparations to be able to receive refugees from Ukraine as well as send humanitarian aid to Ukraine and neighbouring countries.”

The US: President Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court
On 25 February, US president Joe Biden announced the nomination of a federal judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the Supreme Court. She would take over from the retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer; this makes her the first Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court. President Biden praised her for displaying “extraordinary character” and also stated: “she will bring to the Supreme Court an independent-minded, uncompromising integrity.” Brown was a former public defender and has also served as the trial court judge in Washington for eight years before being elevated to the US Court of Appeals.    

The US: Fresh set of sanctions on members of an illicit financing network of Houthis
On 23 February, the US government imposed another set of sanctions on people who are a part of an illegal group that supports the Houthis financially. The US Department Of Treasury stated: “…has transferred tens of millions of dollars to Yemen via a complex international network of intermediaries in support of the Houthis’ attacks….” These sanctions were intended for the companies and ships that assisted in smuggling products like petroleum and others in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia to financially back the activities of the Houthis. 

Colombia: Bogota decriminalizes abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy
On 23 February, a ruling by the Colombian constitutional court legalized abortions in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Before the court ruling, abortions were only allowed in Colombia in cases of rape. The historic ruling was welcomed by pro-choice groups, who hailed it as “a historic achievement.” However, the Archbishop José Luis Rueda of the deeply conservative Catholic Church in the country expressed his opposition and stated: “the Catholic Church would continue to proclaim, defend and promote human life from gestation until natural death.”  

About the Authors
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Joeana Cera Matthews is a Postgraduate scholar from the Department of International Relations at the University of Mysore. Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan are Research Assistants at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Angkuran Dey, and Meghna Manoj are Postgraduate scholars at the Center for South Asian Studies at Pondicherry University. 

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