The World This Week

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The World This Week
Putin and Russia's New Ukraine Strategy

  GP Team

TWTW#183, 25 September 2022, Vol. 4, No. 32

Harini Madhusudan

Russia: The New Ukraine Strategy
What happened? 
On 21 September, during a televised address to the nation, Russia's President Vladimir Putin commented on three pressing issues of the ongoing war. Referring to the ongoing fighting in the Donetsk region, he stressed supplying military and other equipment to the volunteer units and the militia of the Donbas region. Next, Putin points out that the parliaments of the Donbas people's republics and the military-civilian administrations of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have decided to hold their referendums in the coming days. Following it, Putin announced a 'partial mobilization,' beginning the same day, and added that the defence industry enterprises would be responsible for increasing production and meeting the new demands. 
Putin explained, "Washington, London and Brussels are openly encouraging Kyiv to move the hostilities to our territory. They openly say that Russia must be defeated on the battlefield by any means, and subsequently deprived of political, economic, cultural and any other sovereignty and ransacked." Further, he claims that the West has resorted to nuclear blackmail, and promised to use all weapon systems available to Moscow to defend the country and its people. 

What is the background? 
First, a context to Putin's speech and the Ukrainian counteroffensive. It comes during the Ukrainian counteroffensive of late August. It led to the consolidation of the Russian troops in specific pockets of Ukraine. The Ukrainian counteroffensive is ongoing in the Russian-occupied regions in Kharkiv from the northeast, Donetsk in the north, and Kherson from the south. The active financial support of the West, the military equipment aide from NATO, and the support of highly efficient satellites, drones, artificial intelligence, and cyber capabilities supported by western commercial technology companies have aided the Ukrainian counteroffensive efforts and helped recapture an estimated 8000 square kilometres of territory, primarily in the northeast. These losses and the strong Western support for Ukraine have pushed Russia to consider dire measures. 
Second, the referendum in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Donbas regions. Though Russia formally recognizes the Ukrainian post-Soviet borders under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Putin is said to consider swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine to be Russian possessions lost due to mistakes by Soviet leaders Lenin and Khrushchev. On 20 September, the authorities of the occupied regions announced that referendums would be held between 23 September to 27 in Donbas and the military administrations of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Russia controls most of Luhansk and Kherson, around 66 per cent of Zaporizhzhia and 60 per cent of Donetsk. The referendums that began on 23 September are considered illegal under Ukrainian and international law. 
Third, partial mobilization. Putin's announcement aims to bring together 300,000 reservists. This is three times the size of the initial forces deployed by Russia in February and 15 per cent of Russia's estimated total conscription potential. In early July, Russia launched a volunteer recruitment drive unsuccessfully. Heavy losses during seven months of the war, the estimated loss is 6000- 20,000 troops lost based on Russian and US estimates and clear indications of a drop in morale. Ukrainian military intelligence revealed that Russia has deployed special units to fill in for deserters. On 20 September, Russia announced jail terms of 10-15 years for soldiers that surrender, desert or fail to report for military duty.
Fourth, Putin's response to the western nuclear threat. In his speech, Putin stated, "If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect Russia and our people - this is not a bluff." He claimed that the West was engaging in a ‘nuclear blackmail,’ accusing them of crossing every line. 

What does it mean?
The call for partial mobilization shows that Russia is willing to escalate their war efforts in the region despite the counteroffensive, with an expectation of a long-drawn war. The ongoing referendum paves the way for Moscow to bring the regions under the Russian Federation. If voted in favour of Russia, a dramatic escalation in the war after seven months is expected. The parties to the war continue to claim the referendum as being staged and call it a sham. 
Russia is witnessing sporadic protests against mobilization. Over 1000 protesters were detained, mainly in Moscow and St Petersburg. Many Russians were also seen attempting to flee the country through the borders of Finland, Mongolia, and Serbia; some are known to have fled to countries like Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. There remains a sense of rejection of the continuation of the war efforts of Russia and a fear of losing lives on the battlefield.

Also, in the news... 
Regional round-ups

East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Premier discusses bilateral relations and economic cooperation with Japan
On 22 September, China's Premier Li Keqiang addressed the high-level virtual dialogue between China and Japan and expressed the country's desire to upgrade all-round development and wide-ranging multi-level cooperation. At the meeting, Li focused on bilateral relations with Japan, economic and trade cooperation, global economic and financial issues, climate change and demography issues. Li said: "Over the past 50 years, China-Japan relations have made great progress overall. The two sides should strive for peaceful and friendly coexistence, abide by the principles set out in the four political documents between the two countries, view each other's development in an objective and rational way, and push for the steady and long-term development of China-Japan relations."

China: PLA condemns the US and Canadian vessels passing through the Taiwan Strait
On 20 September, a US Navy warship and a Canadian Frigate made their routine transit through the Taiwan Strait. China condemned the passing of the vessels in the Taiwan Straits and said that the Navy of the People's Liberation Army was closely watching the activity in the straits. Taiwan's Foreign Ministry also commented on the issue and said: "This operation through the Taiwan Strait is, even more, a concrete demonstration of the resolute opposition of democratic allies to China's expansion attempts."

North Korea: The US stands firm in its claims after Pyongyang denies arms trade with Russia
On 22 September, North Korea rejected the claims by Pentagon that it traded weapons with Russia amidst the war in Ukraine. The Vice Director General of the General Bureau of Equipment of the Ministry of National Defence said in a rare press statement that they had or will never trade arms and ammunition with Russia. He also noted that the claim by the US is a baseless rumour and propaganda against North Korea. To the press statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder responded that the US stands by its earlier claims.

UNGA: The US, Japan and South Korea to strengthen their trilateral relationship 
On 23 September, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Japan's Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and South Korea's Foreign Minister Park Jin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly plenary session in New York to discuss improving their trilateral relations and working together on regional and global issues. Blinken urged Japan and Korea to maintain the trilateral relationship to help defend against the threat posed by China and North Korea. They discussed North Korea's Nuclear capabilities extensively and measures to tackle any problems following North Korea passing parliament legislation that allowed Pyongyang to launch an automatic nuclear strike if the country felt threatened.

Singapore: Bilateral talks with India on clean energy and fintech
On 18 September, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discussed new areas of cooperation such as clean energy and fintech during a meeting in India. Modi was also briefed about the outcomes of the inaugural session of the India- Singapore Ministerial roundtable  held on 17 September. Both leaders hoped that the bilateral talks would help strengthen the relations between the two countries.

Philippines: President Marco visited Joe Biden in the sidelines of UNGA On 22 September, President Ferdinand Marco in the week-long visit to US, got reaffirmation from Joe Biden that the US will have iron clad commitment to defend the Philippines with regard to disputed South China Sea. Both the Presidents had their first bilateral talks and discussed the situation in South China Sea and US extended their support for freedom and navigation for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Vietnam: Trade agreement signed with UK 
 On 23 September, Vietnam signed the bilateral investment with Britain as part of carrying out ASEAN UK partnership dialogue. The action plan is focussed on the UK Vietnam free trade agreement in realizing the signing of 48 newly proposed agreements in the trade, development and infrastructure in Vietnam.

South Asia This Week
Nepal: China inaugurates China Council for Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification in Nepal
On 22 September, the President of the Overseas Chinese Association of Nepal inaugurated the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification in Nepal. The Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi also addressed the occasion and said: "The inauguration of China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification in Nepal is a move taken by overseas Chinese in the country to conform to the trend of the times by confronting "Taiwan independence" and supporting and advancing the motherland's peaceful reunification." The inauguration ceremony was attended by 200 participants.

India: MEA releases advisory for its citizen in Canada in light of recent anti-India activities
On 23 September, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India released a statement and advised to Indian nationals and students from India in Canada and those proceeding to Canada for travel/education are advised to exercise due caution and remain vigilant. Last week, MEA spokesperson had raised concerns on the Khalistan referendum issue. Temples and other symbols of Indian culture had been targeted and there is rise in hate crime against Indians. 

India: Foreign Minister hosts G-4 meeting on the sidelines of UNGA session
On 23 September, External Affairs Minister (EM) S. Jaishankar hosted and met with his counterparts from Germany, Brazil and Japan under The Group of Four (G4) banner following the BRICS meeting. The group is primarily focused on UN Security Council (UNSC) reform, and permanent membership of the body for G4 members, among others. EM shared the statement through a tweet which said: "Reiterated our joint commitment to work towards text based negotiations that leads to Reformed Multilateralism."

Pakistan: PM Shehbaz Sharif appeals to the world to undo 'climate injustice'
 On 23 September, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif while addressing the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly urged the world to undo the 'climate injustice' done to countries like Pakistan that make little contribution to global warming but face its worst consequences. He said, "Why are my people paying the price of such high global warming through no fault of their own?" adding, "Nature has unleashed her fury on Pakistan without looking at our carbon footprint, which is next to nothing. Our actions did not contribute to this." Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met with several leaders and officials along the sidelines of the UNGA meeting including President Joe Biden, President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Managing Director of the International Minority Fund (IMF) Kristalina Georgieva.

 Afghanistan: Officials call for reopening of schools and inclusive government during UNGA session
 On 20 September, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken while speaking at an event held on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly said that since the Taliban came to power, they have banned girls from going to secondary schools. He said, "(The) Taliban have denied women freedom of movement. They banned girls from secondary school classrooms. They prohibited women in the workplace." Similarly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Taliban to remove all restrictions on girls' access to education. Meanwhile, Afghan activist Somaya Faruqi while speaking at the session urged world leaders to protect girls' education and women's rights in Afghanistan. Separately, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani called on "all parties to preserve and build on the Doha Peace Agreement achievements, namely, preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists and radical individuals and groups." Similarly, German Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on the United Nation to "pay heed and take action when the Taliban deprive women and girls in Afghanistan of the most basic rights."

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Armenia-Azerbaijan: US Secretary of State hosts Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign minister in New York; Nancy Pelosi visits Armenia
 On 19 September, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. During the meeting, Blinken emphasized on the need to prevent further hostilities, underscoring the importance of returning to the peace process. Following the meeting, the US State Department spokesperson said, "They discussed next steps, and the secretary encouraged the sides to meet again before the end of the month." Earlier on 18 September, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi arrived in Yerevan. During her visit, she condemned the recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan and called that the border fighting was triggered by Azerbaijani attacks on Armenia.

Central Asia: Governments issue warning to citizens working in Russia amid partial mobilization calls by Moscow
 On 21 September, authorities in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan issued a warning to their citizen working as migrant labourers in Russia of serious consequences for joining the Russian military after Moscow announced a partial mobilization amid the war in Ukraine. Specifically, the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow warned their citizens with dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship that they are considered Russian citizens while residing in Russia, stating that they could face military service as part of the partial military mobilization decision by Moscow.

UNGA: Israel-Turkey talks and meeting on JCPOA
On 20 September, Israeli President Yair Lapid and Turkish President Erdogan met on the sidelines of the UNGA, for the first time since 2008. The meeting follows the complete restoration of the diplomatic relations between the two countries in August. The primary focus of the discussion was the energy sector, touted to be the most viable sector for diplomatic cooperation.
On the same day, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his delegation met French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel, and the EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell. The leaders discussed the revival of JCPOA and the technical issues associated with it. 

Palestine: Demand for justice for Abu Akleh
On 23 September, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in his address to the UNGA, called for justice for Abu Akleh, a journalist killed in cross fire by an Israeli soldier. He particularly demanded the US to pursue the case, as she was also an American citizen. Meanwhile, Akleh's family submitted an official complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to demand justice. The complaint is supported by the Palestinian Press Syndicate and the International Federation of Journalists. 

Tunisia: Ghannouchi released after interrogation
On 21 September, BBC reported that the Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi had been released by the counter-terrorism police after a night-long interrogation. Ghannouchi had been accused of smuggling jihadi fighters to Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, the Ennahda party criticized the detention and interrogation of Ghannouchi and former prime minister Ali Laarayedh, terming the moves a violation of human rights. 

Guinea: ECOWAS imposes additional sanctions
On 21 September, the Economic Community of West African States announced additional sanctions on Guinea's military government. The ECOWAS said the sanctions were placed to facilitate "the process of an early return to constitutional order in Guinea, a prerequisite for peace, stability and development" and directed Guinea to frame a reasonable timetable for transition. In response, Guinea's Prime Minister criticized the ECOWAS head labeling him a "puppet wearing the mantle of a statesman."

Europe and The Americas This Week
Ukraine: 215 prisoners of war from Russia return to their homes
 On 21 September, President Zelenskyy heralded the return of 215 people imprisoned under Russia's control. Among them, 188 people are part of the Azov battalion who had been involved in the siege of Mariupol, eight of them are injured soldiers from Olenivka, and the remaining are fighters from the National Guard, employees of the Security Service of Ukraine, its army and navy. Five of these combat commanders will be released from captivity in Turkey, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has guaranteed his personal protection for them, ensuring that they are kept in comfortable conditions. In exchange, Ukraine also returned 55 people to Russia, which included Putin-ally from Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk. 
 Turkey: Thousands of Syrian refugees form a convoy to walk into the EU
 On 21 September, The Guardian reported that thousands of migrants are assembling in Turkey to attempt and cross into the EU. Organized by Syrian refugees, the convoy is called the Caravan of Light and coordinated through a telegram channel with over 85,000 members. The organizers have asked the Syrian refugees to bring sleeping bags, tents, lifejackets, and canned food, and are expecting around 100,000 people to join. The members have begun their journey to Edirne city, which was designated as the meeting point, and will attempt to walk into Greece.
Hungary: Justice Minister demands more time before EU suspends funding
 On 20 September, the EU's Justice Minister, Judit Varga, addressed the EU's allegations against Hungary of democratic backsliding and their recommendation to suspend EUR 7.5 billion from Hungary's Cohesion Fund. Varga clarified that Hungary has submitted 17 measures, which will address all the grievances raised by the European Commission. She said that Hungary would need till mid-November to demonstrate that it is on the right track, as accelerated procedures to adopt laws and amendments also require new institutions, personnel, and time to be reflected. 
Spain: Wealthiest to be taxed one per cent to ease inflation
 On 22 September, Spain's government announced a temporary tax of one per cent on the wealthiest population of Spain. The tax comes as part of the measures taken by the government to help its people deal with rising inflation, like providing stipends to students to stay in school, making public transport free and subsidizing petrol. Finance Minister Maria Jesus Montero said that it was important for the government to finance aid to ease the pressure of inflation on the "middle class and workers." 
Europe: Environmental organization Feedback reports on EU's food waste
On 20 September, environmental organization Feedback EU released a report on how the EU's food waste exceeds its imports thereby affecting the EU food security. It found that EU, which had imported 138 million tonnes of agricultural products, close to 153.5 million tonnes of food were wasted every year. To address the issue, the European Environmental Bureau, which comprises 43 organizations in 20 EU countries, issued a statement urging the EU and European Commission to adopt a legal framework regulating the member states to cut down the food waste. It said: "We, the undersigned, support the below proposals, introduce legally binding targets for EU member states to collectively achieve a 50% reduction in EU food loss and waste by 2030, these legally binding targets should require 50 per cent reduction in all food loss and waste from farm to fork, and launch a review of expanding the scope of food waste measurement."
Europe: Global Fossil Fuel registry launched
 On 19 September, Carbon Tracker and the Global Energy Monitor ((Independent non-profit organizations funded by Europe and the US)) announced the launch of the Global Registry of Fossil Fuels. The database, which is a first of its kind, will record data regarding oil and gas reserves and production and emission details from over 50,000 fields across 89 countries. This database will cover 75 per cent of global fossil fuel production and reserves. The Global Energy Monitor said that data would be collected from various sources like governments, state-owned and private companies, media reports, NGOs and other on-the-ground contacts providing first-hand information. 
Ukraine: Electricity resumed in Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant says IAEA
IAEA reported on the resumption of electricity from the national grid directly, after engineers restored one of the four major external power lines. The 750-kilovolt line has begun providing electricity the plant requires to perform essential safety functions and for cooling the reactors. The plant has been non-functional since 11 September 2022 and the six reactors in ZNPP are still in a cold shutdown. On the same day, Ukraine's energy operator, Energoatom announced its supply to ZNPP, along with spare parts for the repair of the power lines. 

Russia: Lawmakers approve long jail terms for military surrender or refusal to serve
 On 20 September, the Russian lawmakers passed sweeping legislation that introduced jail terms of fifteen years for wartime acts, including surrendering. The bill introduces the concepts of "mobilization, martial law and wartime," which have previously not been mentioned in the Russian Criminal Code. The legislation stated that voluntary surrender and looting would be punished by 10-15 years of prison, respectively, and desertion during mobilization or wartime would be punished by up to 10 years. The law also revealed that the soldiers who refuse service could be jailed even without martial law. The State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, voted unanimously in favour of the bill.

Russia: UNHRC report on Russia releases preliminary report 
On 23 September, a team of United Nations (UN) experts on Friday released a preliminary investigation showing signs of war crimes by Russia during the war in Ukraine. The experts reported the signs of beating of detainees, electric shocks, forced nudity, and sex- and gender-based violence even on minors by Russian personnel. The Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine was set up by UNHRC this year, to investigate war crimes in Ukraine. So far, the report focuses on four regions – Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy. The investigators are said to have visited 27 towns and settlements as well as graves and detention and torture centres. They interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses and met with advocacy groups and government officials. Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, the report concludes that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. 

The US: Federal Reserve hikes policy rate by 75 basis points 
On 21 September, Federal Reserve of the United States hiked policy interest rate by 75 basis points for a third consecutive time since June and it has signalled more large increases in the months to come. The Fed decision has already put the global equities markets on the run. When the interest rate is increased in the US the investors pull assets away from the emerging markets. Due to high-interest rate capital flows more toward the American economy. The Fed chairman Jerome Powell declared that a soft landing of the economy was expected to fight inflation and bring stability. 

The US: President seeks support on the bill' Disclose Act' ahead of crucial voting on it in the Senate
On 21 September, US President Joe Biden urged the Republican Party to support the Disclose Act, which aims at fighting "dark money" by requiring political parties to reveal the names of big donors. He said: "Too often, powerful special interests use front groups to run these advertisements to win at any cost. Even foreign entities that aren't allowed to contribute to political campaigns use dark money loopholes and try to influence our elections."

The US: NASA notifies on cooperation with Roscosmos to take three cosmonauts to ISS
On 21 September, NASA shared a press release in which a Russian Soyuz MS-22 was pictured while taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The collaboration is for Expedition 67 in which crew members will conduct experiments that will study the aging of immune cells and the potential to reverse those effects during post-flight recovery. This expedition will include research investigations focused on biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development, providing the foundation for continuing human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.

About the Authors
Ankit Singh, Harini Madhusudan and Rashmi Ramesh are PhD Scholars in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Avishka Ashok, Abigail Miriam Fernandes, Apoorva Sudhakar, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishma Banerjee, Sai Pranav, Joel Jacob and Anu Maria are Research Associates at NIAS.

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