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Canada: Freedom convoys and a new wave of protests
In the news
On 8 February, thousands of truck drivers in Canada, with heavy vehicles and rigs, blocked the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest route connecting Detroit to Windsor, Canada. On 7 February, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in the city over the protests against vaccine mandates. Mayor Watson suggested that the emergency was needed for police to control the protestors who are being called “volatile.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement: “Canadians were shocked and frankly disgusted by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital.”
Issues at large
First, the state of COVID-19 protests in Canada. The protests started in January when the Canadian government imposed a vaccine mandate, compulsory covid testing and quarantine on truck drivers entering Canada through the US-Canada border. A convoy of truckers protested this move, calling it a violation of rights. Under the banner “Freedom Convoy,'' a thousand truckers marched towards Ottawa from Vancouver. Reports of constant honking of truck horns, damage to monuments, and racial attacks followed. Small businesses and soup kitchens have been affected by the protestors who are threatening to close down shops or prohibiting people from commuting in peace.
Second, the copycat protests. Freedom Convoy attracted the support of numerous civilian groups, right-wing supporters, and anti-vaxxers, who made their support clear by joining the protesting drivers in Ottawa, a week later. Freedom convoy had used the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to fund their protests, which raised a total of CD 10 million. After the unlawful activities in the protests, GoFundMe has seized the funds and promised reimbursement to all who paid. There are similar attempts in the US, Australia and New Zealand. Protesters in New Zealand have marched up to Wellington in solidarity with the Freedom Convoy. Small and large vehicles drove around the cities with banners of “Unvaccinated Lives Matter ''and “Give us back our freedom,” echoing their support of the truck drivers who are demanding freedom from the government mandate of vaccines.
Third, the state response. The government took a strong stand against the protestors for blocking key roadways and disrupting civilian life. The Ottawa police mentioned no off-days for their officers in light of recent events. The protest has been declared “unlawful.” Eighty criminal investigations are underway, thousands of litres of petrol have been seized, and a hundred trucks have been reported to contain children in an unsafe environment.
First, the use of trucks and heavy vehicles is a new addition to the ongoing wave of Covid-19 protests. The Freedom Convoy protesting against compulsory vaccination and health mandates can indicate state failure to raise awareness about Covid-19 as an ongoing problem.
Second, the Canadian protests are giving way to protests in Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Referred to as the Copycat protests, they consist of anti-vaxxers, right-wing political and extremist groups, religious groups that do not agree with state-imposed health mandates and similar conservatives.
The Ukraine crisis: Dialogues, discussions, and diplomatic meets continue
In the news
On 8 February, the leaders of Germany, France, and Poland met in Berlin to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Polish President Andrzej Duda said: "We must show that we speak in one voice," showing a united goal of keeping peace in Europe. Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz talked about unexpected and far-reaching consequences on Russia if it violated Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
On the same day, Macron visited Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to further negotiations concerning Russia and Ukraine. Macron said "concrete, practical solutions" could de-escalate the crisis between the two countries. However, Zelenskyy said he does not "trust words in general," and hoped to see concrete de-escalation steps from the Russian side. Zelenskyy also mentioned how the talks with Macron were fruitful and expected another meeting soon by the Normandy group.
On 7 February, Scholz met with US President Joe Biden in Washington. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline (NS2P) was a key point of discussion as Biden said: "If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2…We will bring an end to it." Scholz's stance concerning the gas pipeline was ambiguous, but he said the US and Germany were acting together and if Russia was to attack Ukraine, both the countries would take stern steps against it.
On the same day, French President Emmanuel Macron met with his Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to de-escalate the Ukrainian standoff. Macron initiated the meeting, saying: "This discussion can make a start in the direction in which we need to go, which is toward a de-escalation." He further mentioned how Putin had assured him of continuing engagement diplomatically and indicated a desire to maintain the stability and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Putin commented: "A number of his ideas, proposals, which are probably still too early to talk about, I think it is quite possible to make the basis of our further joint steps."
Issues at large
First, the initiatives in Europe. The multiple meetings led by the leaders of France, Germany, Poland and Ukraine brings the focus to Europe. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier had reassured Russia of NATO's role simply as a defensive alliance. Moreover, the reappearance of the Minsk Agreements and the Weimar Triangle format indicates Europe's role and ambition in dealing with the crisis at hand.
Second, threats from the transatlantic partners. The US had ordered about 3,000 troops and military equipment that were to be deployed in Poland and Romania to protect NATO's eastern flank. At the same time, Germany sent 350 troops to Lithuania to reinforce the NATO battle group. NATO is also scheduled to extend its Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) strategy to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. The latest threat on the Nord Stream two pipeline will add to the frictions between the US, Germany, and Russia.
Third, mixed signals from Putin. Russia has been diplomatically engaging with the European countries, but at the same time, it has amassed 110,000 troops along the border of Ukraine. Putin had also accused Biden of not responding to Moscow's concerns and felt it was being ignored. Russia has been stressing adherence to the 1999 agreement, the violation of which was the basis of the Ukraine crisis. However, Russia also escalated by holding military exercises in Belarus after sending 30,000 troops. It had also sent nuclear-capable bombers to fly over Belarus amid tensions and talks.
Fourth, Macron's role and the emphasis on the Normandy format. Macron's role in accelerating discussions and in-person meetings has also increased Russian and Ukrainian trust in the Normandy format. The revival of the Normandy format can be seen as the next straw of practical engagements between Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France in the Ukrainian crisis.
First, two months into the crisis, the concerns have not been averted yet. But, the prospects to de-escalate the tensions in Ukraine have increased. The resurgence of the Weimar Triangle and the Normandy format has opened de-escalation channels.
Second, with the increase in options and Europe's initiatives, the US has been sidelined amidst the recent meetings and standpoints, as reflected in Sholz's ambiguous stance on the NS2P pipeline as Biden was clear on ending it if Russia attacked.
Third, Macron's diplomacy in Europe aligns with his push for the EU's strategic autonomy.
Fourth, Putin has been giving out mixed signals to either avert an immediate military confrontation or to use the opportunity to revisit and improve its relations with European governments.
Also from around the World
By Padmashree Anandhan, Sejal Sharma and Satyam Dubey
Peace and Conflict in East and Southeast Asia
China: Seoul accusation of cultural appropriation rejected as groundless
On 8 February, the Chinese embassy in Seoul called the accusation of ''cultural appropriation'' of Korean ethnic minority in China during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics groundless. The Chinese embassy, on its official WeChat account, said that they respect South Korean history, culture and traditions and also hope that the feelings of all ethnic groups in China including Korean ethnicity will be respected. The issue came in the limelight after South Korean ruling party lawmaker Lee So-Young criticized the Chinese move of exhibiting the Hanbok, the traditional costume of South Korea, among the costumes of Chinese minorities at the ceremonial opening function of the Beijing games. Some Seoul-based politicians and activists called this as Chinese tactics of ''cultural engineering''.
China: UN chief desired to allow credible human rights mission to Xinjiang
On 6 February, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his expectations during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, that Beijing should allow human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to make a credible visit to the Xinjiang region. The UN human rights commissioner has long sought the allowance to visit Xinjiang to investigate the cases of abuse against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. However, President Xi Jinping, on the sideline of the Beijing Winter Olympics, said that ''promoting democracy should be the priority of the mission rather than defaming the Chinese model of democracy which is even superior to the Western multiparty model.''
North Korea: US, Japan and South Korea to meet for talks on Pyongyang militarisation
On 7 February, baffled by the Pyongyang's back-to-back missile tests, the US, Japan and South Korea decided to hold a trilateral meeting in Hawaii this week to discuss the issue of contention. South Korean Foreign Ministry said that all three sides, including the special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, Noh Kyu-Duk, will hold a detailed and in-depth talk on finding a new way to have a dialogue with North Korea. All eyes are set on the trilateral meeting in Honolulu, whether it will succeed in producing a concrete outcome to enhance economic, military and diplomatic stress on North Korea to stop destabilizing the region.
Myanmar: Military junta torched hundreds of homes to crush the resistance
On 6 February, Myanmar villagers accused junta troops of burning hundreds of homes in the North-west regions of the country, intending to suppress the resistance. Local media reported that around 600 homes in the two villages had been torched into the fire which consumed properties and transports. The PDF fighters looking to crush the revolt against the military junta in Myanmar which replaced a democratically-elected government.
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
India: MEA objects to social media posts of South Korean auto companies on Kashmir
On 8 February, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) objected to the social media posts of the Hyundai Motor Company based in Pakistan. The post was found calling for “Freedom” for Kashmir to be “offensive.” Apart from Hyundai, other auto companies and US MNC’s situated in Pakistan such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, Japanese companies Osaka batteries, Atlas Honda Limited also posted similarly asking for solidarity and liberation for Kashmir.
Sri Lanka: Protest over the use of bottom trawling by Indian fishermen
On 4 February, northern Sri Lankan fishermen protested over the death of two fishermen from Jaffna. They blamed the Indian fishermen for engaging in a clash and protested against bottom trawling fishing used by the latter.
India: Students in Karnataka protest over wearing hijab
On 10 February, high schools and colleges in Karnataka were shut down due to student protests over wearing hijab. A section of the students are protesting to allow wearing Hijabs. The protests spread to other colleges across India.
Pakistan: Five soldiers killed in a clash with Afghan-insurgents
On 7 February, the attack on Angoor Tangi check-post by terrorists killed five soldiers. The firing continued for three hours and attempts were made to destroy the fence along the Pak-Afghan border. The terrorist group also suffered heavy casualties. Pakistan has reprimanded the attacks and has called on Afghanistan to curb them. Terrorist attacks have been on the rise in Pakistan since the Taliban came into power.
Afghanistan: UN report on state functioning following political change
On 7 February, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) monitoring team published a report claiming that foreign insurgent groups are at ease in the state, owing to the recent change in power. The report further mentions the possibility of Afghanistan becoming a shelter for these terrorist groups. The Islamic Emirate has denied these claims, stating that they are upholding their anti-terrorism commitments under the Doha Agreement
Peace and Conflict in Central Asia, Middle East and Africa
Kazakhstan: Fresh strikes and protests demanding jobs
On 7 February, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Zhanaozen town administration office demanding jobs from the local and central government in the local oil industry. Mayor Ibagharov promised to look into the matter; however, the protestors demanded immediate administrative action.
Azerbaijan: Captured Armenian soldiers repatriated
On 7 February, Azerbaijan sent back eight Armenian soldiers who were captured during the deadly conflict last year. Armenian casualties in the conflict included six soldiers with more than 30 servicemen captured, while Azerbaijan lost seven of its soldiers. This comes in light of the mediating talks held between the two nations to reduce border tensions. The group of soldiers included several servicemen who were involved in the mid-November border clashes. The plane used to transport the group was sent by France, as a statement to the European Union’s support for stability and prosperity in the region.
Syria: US raid kills ISIS leader
On 3 February, in an operation in the Idlib province, the US Special Operations Forces closed in on ISIS global leader Qurayshi, where he died by detonating a suicide vest. His wife and children were killed along with him. Other casualties in a two-hour-long operation include five combatants and four civilians, as reported by the Pentagon. However, the White Helmets, a Syrian Defence Organisation, claims the death of thirteen civilians which, includes six children and four women. Eight children were evacuated by the US forces from the combat site. Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdullah was the successor of al Baghdadi who was killed in 2019. He is the third leader of the terrorist group to die in a US operation, in the last decade.
Syria: 600 child detainees held in appalling conditions in ISIL prison
On 6 February, UNICEF reported about the terrible living conditions of the inmates held in the conflicted Ghwaryan prison amidst the Kurdish-ISIS clashes. The prison holds more than 3000 inmates, out of which 600 are children as young as twelve years old. These children aged between 12 and 18 were a part of displacement camps that housed thousands of child fighters. UNICEF has condemned the detention and called for immediate release and handing over of children to child protection agencies. It has also demanded that foreign children be repatriated.
Yemen: Civilian facilities used as missile launch bases by Houthi fighters
On 8 February, the government-controlled areas in the northern province of Hajjah were targeted by Houthi forces. The militia fired four ballistic missiles using the Hodeidah Port and Sanaa airport as launch bases. The opposing Saudi-led coalition hit military targets in Sanaa and destroyed a ballistic missile launcher in Al-Jawf, through airstrikes. The missile attacks are a part of the Houthi offensive against government forces who are trying to recapture Haradh, the largest land entry point to Saudi Arabia. The coalition has accused the Houthis of increasingly using civilian facilities as military bases and seeks to take substantial measures to reduce the threat to civilian life.
Africa: UN World Food Programme warns severe drought conditions
On 8 February, the UN World Food Programme issued a warning about the rising drought conditions in the Horn of Africa. It recorded that close to 13 million people from Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are experiencing severe hunger due to the adverse situation. The region is under duress due to failed rainy season, which has destroyed the crops, resulting in abnormal deaths of livestock. The Regional Director in the WFP Regional Bureau for Eastern Africa said: “Harvests are ruined, livestock are dying, and hunger is growing as recurrent droughts affect the Horn of Africa.” He also called for humanitarian support to form resilience for the communities in Africa. Apart from livestock, the impending famine has also affected pastoral and farmer populations in various parts of southern and south-eastern Ethiopia and south-central Somalia.
Sudan: Violent clash in Darfur
On 6 February, an unknown number of people were left dead and injured after a violent clash between military forces and armed groups at the United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) facilities centre in the Darfur region of Sudan. The military leader of Sudan said that the looting and attack led by the group forced the UN's World Food Programme to temporarily suspend operations in the Darfur region. Soon, a national joint force would replace the UNAMID peacekeepers. There has been an increase in violence and clashes in the Darfur region since 2020 after a deal was signed with former rebel groups and after ceasing operations of UNAMID in 2021.
Madagascar: 20 killed after Cyclone Batsirai hit the eastern coast of Madagascar
On 7 February, the tropical storm cyclone Batsirai hit Madagascar's eastern coast leaving behind 20 dead people and thousands displaced. The national meteorological department informed that it has caused little risk to other areas as it quickly moved towards Southwest across the island without touching the capital Antananarivo. The director-general of the National Office for Risk and Disaster Management said, "The first thing the government is doing is to look how to repair and rehabilitate the administrative buildings and zprioritizing hospitals as well as healthcare centres.
Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Ukraine: UK proposed a new military pact alliance for Kyiv
On 1 February, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Ukraine, where he proposed to form a military pact between Kyiv, Poland and the UK. Johnson also announced to provide Ukraine financial support of EUR 100 million along with anti-tank weapons and military training to Ukrainian Soldiers. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, even before the official presentation of the little alliance, called it a 'sign of hope' for Kyiv.
Europe: Cyberattacks disrupted oil companies' operations for several hours
On 4 February, several Europian based oil transport and storage companies faced cyberattacks that disrupted their IT operations. The Oiltanking in Germany, SEA-Invest in Belgium and Evos in the Netherlands reported that this was a coordinated cyberattack that affected the IT system, and the companies are working to get a backup. Though the IT systems of firms are operational, some of the dozen companies affected by these cyber-attacks were forced to operate at a limited capacity and investigate the incident.
Nicaragua: State to take over universities critical of the government
On 7 February, a legislation was passed allowing the government to take over the six universities which were shut down over anti-government sentiments last week. The incident follows a series of clampdowns on dissent by Daniel Ortega. Five foreign universities were also stripped off their permits on account of violations. The licences were linked to programs run by these universities in Nicaragua. However, the government has stated that the National Council of Universities will make sure that education is not affected for the 14000 students of these universities.
Nicaragua: Ortega condemns Salvadoran navy for trespassing maritime border
On 8 February, the Nicaraguan government criticized the El Salvadoran navy for violating territorial waters in the Gulf of Fonseca. The incursion seemed to be provoking in nature and involved several military vessels. The Gulf of Fonseca has been a subject of dispute for decades, including several decisions by the ICJ in the Netherlands, as it is shared by Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The incident comes in light of the bilateral treaty signed by Nicaragua and Honduras regarding jurisdictional waters in the Gulf of Fonseca, last year- to which El Salvador has refused to participate.
Caribbean: Many killed, injured due to mudslide
On 8 February, a mudslide triggered by heavy rains swept into a residential area in Risaralda, killing at least 14 people. In addition, 35 people were injured while one person has been reported missing. Mayor Carlos Maya has warned of further landslides and has asked the residents to evacuate to prevent a further threat to life. At Least 60 homes have been evacuated until now, while further assessment of damage and risks continues. Colombian President Ivan Duque expressed condolences to the families of the victims.