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Conflict Weekly, Vol.2, No.48, 23 February 2022

An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Russia’s Ukraine salami slicing and Canada’s freedom convoy protests

Special Editorial:
As Russia invades the Ukraine

This is a tough evening. Developments in Ukraine during the last couple of days have been fast-paced. Between the finalization of this issue and its publishing, Russia has taken major military measures in Ukraine. Before we could finalise the implications of Russia recognizing the two separatist regions in the Donbas region, Putin has decided to attack Ukraine.

As we are to publish the issue, there are reports about Russian missile attacks on several cities of Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv. Clearly, the military targets for Russia are no more restricted to the Donbas region; the missiles are reaching the state capital. From the UN to the EU, leaders have condemned the Russian action, and have threatened heavy economic sanctions.

The immediate questions are: Will the threat of economic sanctions be sufficient to deter President Putin, any further? How far will Russia go? Is he looking for a regime change in Kyiv through force? Is Russia likely to occupy the Donbas region and beyond? How is Ukraine likely to respond to the Russian invasion? And how far, will the rest of Europe and the US go, to stop Putin? Will the long stability that Europe witnessed since the Cold War come to an end on 24 February 2022? And will what happens in Europe, stay in Europe?

Warm regards
D. Suba Chandran
Professor & Dean, School of Conflict and Security Studies
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), IISc Campus, Bangalore
& Editor, Conflict Weekly

Russia’s Ukraine salami slicing 
In the news

On 21 February, Russian President Putin signed an executive order recognizing “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” – two regions in eastern Ukraine, that were waging a separatist war with Kyiv. Two separatist leaders Denis Pushilin (Donetsk), and Leonid Pasechnik (Luhansk) were with Putin in Moscow for the event. On the same occasion, Putin also signed two separate agreements – “Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance” with  the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Lugansk People’s Republic.” The treaty “reaffirms the policy of the Russian Federation to develop comprehensive, forward-looking cooperation” “provides for broad cooperation in the political, economic, social, military and humanitarian areas” with the two regions. On 22 February, the Duma ratified the order. 

On 21 February, a White House statement on Biden’s discussion with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy affirmed “the commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” It also said: “President Biden strongly condemned Russian President Putin’s decision to purportedly recognize the “independence” of the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine. He updated President Zelenskyy on the United States’ response, including our plan to issue sanctions. President Biden reiterated that the United States would respond swiftly and decisively, in lock-step with its Allies and partners, to further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

On 22 February, UN Secretary General Antonia Guterres on the crisis said: “Let me be clear: the decision of the Russian Federation to recognize the so-called “independence” of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions is a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Such a unilateral measure conflicts directly with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations – and is inconsistent with the so-called Friendly Relations Declaration of the General Assembly which the International Court of Justice has repeatedly cited as representing international law.  It is also a death blow to the Minsk Agreements endorsed by the Security Council. The principles of the UN Charter are not an a la carte menu. They cannot be applied selectively.”

On 22 February, the White House announced its intentions to “impose significant costs on Russia for Russia’s actions.” The statement read: “Today, the administration is implementing the first tranche of sanctions that go far beyond 2014, in coordination with allies and partners in the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Australia. And as President Biden promised, we worked with Germany to ensure the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will not move forward.” 

On 23 February, a White House release had President Biden’s statement, that read: “Since Russia began deploying troops to the Ukrainian border, the United States has worked closely with our Allies and partners to deliver a strong, unified response. As I said when I met with Chancellor Scholz earlier this month, Germany has been a leader in that effort, and we have closely coordinated our efforts to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia further invaded Ukraine. Yesterday, after further close consultations between our two governments, Germany announced that it would halt certification of the pipeline. Today, I have directed my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers. These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”

Issues at large
First, the Russian salami-slicing in Ukraine. It all started in Crimea in 2014; following an invasion by armed men in February 2014 in the region, the Crimean Supreme Council held a controversial referendum, that saw more than 95 per cent of people voting for acceding to Russia. The accession happened on 18 March 2014. After annexing Crimea, Russia started looking at the two separatist regions – Donetsk and Luhansk, referred to as the Donbas region of Ukraine. Ever since the annexation of Crimea, the pro-Russian separatists in the above two regions within the Donbas were fighting against the Ukraine state. The Minsk Protocol signed in September 2014, which included Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), called for a ceasefire, decentralization of power, and continued consultations. The separatists from these two regions were supported by Russia; their leaders finally signed the two agreements with Putin on 21 February 2022, after the latter recognized the independence of LPR and DPR.

Second, the failure of the Minsk agreements. The 2014 agreement collapsed subsequently, as violence resumed in the Donbas region. In February 2015, following intense diplomatic efforts led by the leaders of Germany and France and Russia, the Minsk-II agreement was signed. Besides the above three, Ukraine and leaders of the two separatist regions from Luhansk and Donetsk were also a party to the agreement. The slow progress in the Minsk agreements was a part of multiple discussions and meetings between Europe and Russia.

Third, the new security demands by Russia, and the limits of diplomacy. Tensions over Russia’s demands on Ukraine’s future (vis-à-vis EU and NATO) became a primary concern between Russia and Europe, and also between Russia and the US. Russia wanted certain written guarantees over the same, and is against Ukraine joining the EU and NATO. During the last few weeks, multiple discussions were held at the organizational levels between Russia and the OSCE, and at the leadership levels between Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, between the French President Macron and the Russian President Putin, and between the German Chancellor Olaf Schulz and Putin. The primary difference is over the future of Ukraine. Russia started massing troops along the borders, and conducting military exercises in Belarus, while the West has been threatening with sanctions. Kremlin’s decision to recognize the two regions on 21 February should underline the limits of diplomacy, and also the threats of sanctions. 

In perspective
First, a resurgent Russia willing to risk sanctions and use force. President Putin is looking forward to asserting Kremlin’s claims over the region. Though these have been the Russian concerns since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Putin is now sending a message to Europe and the US that he is willing to achieve those claims through military action if necessary. This is a new assertive Russia, post-1991, the rest of the world has to take notice and get ready to respond. Second, Putin questions not only Ukraine’s sovereignty but also the international order, law and norms. As the UN Secretary-General commented regarding the principles of the UN Charter, international law and norms cannot be pursued as an a la carte menu and applied selectively. The global response to Ukraine will be the biggest challenge to the international and European orders since the Cold War. Third, Putin’s challenge in Europe will upset the US calculations not only in Europe but also elsewhere; it would undermine Biden’s efforts to keep the primary American focus on China and pull him down in Europe. Fourth, China may emerge as the biggest beneficiary; without firing a single shot, it would pin the US back in Europe, as happened during the Cold War era, and have a larger political space elsewhere. This would also prevent the US from having a larger push in the Indo-Pacific.


Canada: Imposition of national emergency, and the future of freedom convoy protests
In the news
On 21 February 2022, Canada’s House of Commons voted to support the federal government in extending the Emergency Act. The 185-151 result made it clear that the lawmakers supported the government’s attempt to curb the Freedom Convoy protests. The Emergency Act was imposed by Prime Minister Trudeau last week to end the mass protests against Covid-19 and vaccination mandates. It is an unprecedented use of the Act that will give the Prime Minister special powers for 30 days. These powers include a ban on public assembly, travel restrictions, and the use of specific properties.
 
On 18 February, the emergency was invoked by Trudeau. Referring to the recent measures, Ottawa’s Interim Police Chief, Steve Bell, said: “Despite the successes of the past few days, we still require these measures to prevent unlawful protesters from returning.” Since last Friday, the streets have been cleared by several federal forces, and police have reported 196 arrests and towing of 115 vehicles.
 
Issues at large
First, The Freedom Convoy protests. Started as a rally of truckers protesting with their vehicles, the protest swept through Canada in early January following the compulsory vaccination of truck drivers crossing the US-Canada border. What started with truck drivers snowballed into a public outrage of right-wing groups using racist symbols, honking trucks on the road, and attacking small businesses. The city of Ottawa had the highest concentration of protestors resulting in public violence and property damage. The key route of Ambassador bridge was shut down by rigs on 8 February. The protests have continued for over two weeks and spread to all major cities of Canada. It became a reminder of the general frustration regarding pandemic restrictions, not only in Canada but parts of New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. 

Second, the State response. The Freedom Convoy protests brought out conflicting reactions from different political and social groups in Canada. The liberal government saw the protests as an attack on democracy and was concerned about public safety. The opposition groups in the Parliament were unsure of invoking an act that was never used to control the situation. They sought solutions through temporary blockades and restrictions. However, when the blocking of the Ambassador bridge posed an immense traffic problem, the opinions changed. The motion of invoking the Emergency Act was passed in the House of Commons that won by a majority. The opposing New Democratic Party leader saw the Emergency Act as a chance to clear out protestors who “undermined democracy.”

Third, the emergency act. It was imposed during the First and Second World Wars. It gave the cabinet special powers of restrictions on the grounds of public welfare. In 1970, this Act was used for the last time during the “October Crisis,” which gave the police power to suspect, arrest and detain anyone. The Act was repealed in 1988 and replaced by the Emergencies Act. Trudeau defended his decision by saying that the country’s situation “is still fragile.” At present, the Act can be justified as it has helped clear out protestors from the most important areas of the country.

In perspective
While there is talk of the Freedom Convoy protests coming to an end in Canada, there have been copycat protests in New Zealand and Australia against vaccine mandates. There may be a larger political repercussion regarding public health and mandates that were a common feature of the pandemic. Second, the three-week-long protest exhausted Ottawa police and called the protests a “siege.” It was not an easy task for the police and security forces to address the protests; how to deal with the protestors who are using the strategy as a part of their fundamental right is a big question for liberal democracies.


Also from around the World
By Padmashree Anandhan, Sejal Sharma, and Satyam Dubey

 
Peace and Conflict in East and Southeast Asia
China:
Beijing accuses Canberra of flying aircraft close to Chinese vessels
On 22 February, China denied Australia’s accusation that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy flotilla had spiked a laser at their patrol aircraft. China reciprocally claimed that the Australian P-8 anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft flew very close to Chinese vessels and also dropped sonobuoys. China warned Australia that these intentional and provocative moves could lead to a misunderstanding and misjudgment and ultimately threaten both sides. China’s Ministry of National Defence, Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, said: “During the entire course, the Chinese vessels maintained safe, standard and professional actions, which conform to the relevant international law and international practice.”
 
New Zealand: Clashes between protestors and police intensify
On 22 February, the protests in New Zealand against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate intensified. A protester drove a car towards a police line, narrowly missing officers from crushing, while other protesters sprayed human faeces on New Zealand police against the installation of barriers around the convoy. The protest camps have been present outside Parliament for the past two weeks. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: “What’s happening in Wellington is wrong. Protesters had taken things too far and needed to return home.” Police Assistant Commissioner, Richard Chambers, called the behaviours of certain groups disgraceful and said: “Our focus remains on opening the roads up to Wellingtonians and doing our absolute best to restore peaceful protest.” 
 
Myanmar: UNHRC reports secret supply of weapons by Russia and China
On 22 February, the UNHRC reported that Russia and China were found to be supplying fighter jets to the regime that is capable of being used on civilians. It urged the UNSC to help stop the transfer of weapons. Another report from a US Congressman said that Serbia was also amongst those which has been supplying weapons since the military takeover in Myanmar. So far, in Myanmar, the internal situation has been chaotic since the coup, leading to protests and numerous killings of civilians. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry said: “China has always advocated that all parties and factions should proceed in the long-term interests of the country.” According to Serbia’s Foreign Minister: “examined the new situation very carefully and in March last year made a decision not to deliver weapons to this country either under previously concluded agreements or new export requests.”
 
Peace and Conflict in South Asia
Nepal:
Violent protests outside Parliament over the US grant
On 16 February, the protesters in Kathmandu demonstrated against the US-funded infrastructure program in Nepal; they were dispersed by the police through water cannon and tear gas. The US government-led aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), agreed to provide assistance of USD 500 million in grants specially focussed on funding some road improvement projects and an electricity transmission line in Nepal. The issue was scheduled to be presented and discussed in Nepal Parliament, but it was postponed just because of discontent among different political parties. On the claims of the programme being Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, the US officials assured that the grant in assistance was only to bring development to Nepal.  
 
Afghanistan: Taliban deploys special forces in border provinces near Central Asia
On 16 February, the Taliban government has established several military units in Afghanistan in the border provinces in the north, northeast, and west and deployed 4,400 additional troops in the region bordering Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. The Taliban insisted that it deployed the ‘special forces’ to strengthen domestic security. Zabihullah Mujahid, chief Taliban spokesman and deputy information minister, said: “the deployment of the strong forces is a response to certain [security] needs. It’s not a threat to any other country; in fact, it will be to the benefit of security in the region.” While Afghan military expert Omar Sapi said: “the Taliban, which recently emerged from many years of war, has no interest in entering another one.”
 
Peace and Conflict in Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa
Yemen:
Humanitarian crisis sees new lows with the intensifying war 
On 22 February, the Saudi-led coalition launched 24 operations targeting the Houthis in Hajjah province. There was substantial damage to the Houthi militia in life, and 11 military vehicles were destroyed. The bombing also led to civilian causalities where ten people, mostly women and children, were wounded while a 12-year-old girl and a 50-year-old woman were killed. Furthermore, a drone launched by the Houthis targeting the King Abdullah airport in the Jizan province was intercepted by the coalition. However, 16 people, which included foreign nationals, were injured by shrapnel during the aerial bombardment. Amidst these escalations, in the region’s long-running war, the toll of civilian casualties last month has been the highest in the past three years. The UN has warned of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Yemen owing to the increasing funding gaps, which could leave eight million civilians without any aid. 
 
Syria: Funding cuts force charity hospitals to cease operations 
On 16 February, in the disputed region of Idlib, living conditions continued to worsen as the region experienced funding shortages for humanitarian assistance. Most of the population in the region consists of internally displaced families relying on charity hospitals for aid. The budget cuts have led to a reduction or complete closure of operations in more than a dozen charity hospitals, hinting toward a medical crisis. This downsizing of international aid comes in the light of the ongoing financial crisis in the region. More hospitals are suspected of shutting down, eventually leaving the civilians in despair. 
 
Syria: Israel launches third missile attack 
On 23 February, the Syrian military reported a missile attack near the Quneitra province. The attack was carried out from the Golan Heights and caused some physical damage; however, no casualties were reported. The latest missile attack is the third aerial strike by Israel this month. There was no immediate confirmation report from the Israeli officials. 
 
Burkina Faso: Explosion in gold mining site kills 59 people  
On 22 February, the explosion, believed to be caused by the stocking of chemicals used to treat gold at the mining site in southwestern Burkina Faso, has killed around 59 people and left more than 100 others injured. A forest ranger who is the witness of the explosion at the mining site, Sansan Kambou, informed that: “I saw bodies everywhere. It was horrible.” Burkina Faso is the fastest growing gold producer in Africa, and topping the list of exports shows that it is the mainstay of Ouagadougou’s economy.  
 
Nigeria: Military airstrike wounds 12 children
On 20 February, seven children were killed and five wounded in an air attack by the Nigerian military. The Governor of Maradi Chaibou Aboubacar said that the airstrike took place in Nachade village, a few kilometres away from the Nigerian border, which mistakenly resulted in the victimization of 12 children. Nigerian Director of Defence Information Major General Jimmy Akpor said: “As a matter of policy, the Nigerian Air Force does not make any incursions into areas outside Nigeria’s territorial boundaries. That’s our policy.”  
 
Ethiopia: Addis Ababa opens mega-dam despite condemnation  
On 20 February, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad inaugurated a mega-dam on the river Nile to produce electricity from its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) Sudan and Egypt, its neighbours, consider as a blockade to cause severe water shortage downstream. Abiy said: “Ethiopia’s main interest is to bring light to 60 per cent of the population who is suffering in darkness, to save the labour of our mothers who are carrying wood on their backs to get energy.” Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Hassan Shoukry, accused Addis Ababa of ‘persisting in its violations’ of the deal signed between three countries in 2015 prohibiting any of the parties to take unilateral action on the river water use.  
 
Somalia: Suicide bomber killed 13 people on the eve of voting   
On 19 February, 13 people were killed after a suicide bomber in central Somalia detonated an explosive in a restaurant full of politicians and local officials. The attack was led by Al-Shabab, an extremist organization that monitors armed groups online, which had claimed its responsibility. The attack took place despite tightened security in Beledweyne on the eve of the completion of a first round of voting for parliamentary seats in the constituency. A Police spokesman said: “the blast caused huge damage as the dead were mostly civilians along with two deputy district commissioners and 20 others were wounded in Beledweyne.”  
 
Mali: Soldiers and rebels killed in clashes near Burkina Faso border  
On 19 February, in a clash with the rebel groups in the northeast of the West African nation, eight Malian soldiers lost their lives, and about 14 others got injured, as informed by the Defence Ministry. Also, the Malian Army gunned down 57 rebel fighters who targeted the troops in the tri-border area near Burkina Faso. Mali is considered the epicentre for the Sahel-wide conflict, which has killed until now, thousands of soldiers and around two million civilians displaced from this region. The latest rebel attack comes after Mali’s ruling military government requested France to withdraw their troops from its territory and do it without any delay, which highlights the breakdown in relations between Paris and Bamako.
 
Peace and Conflict in Europe and the Americas
Europe:
CRRT team formed to respond to cyber-attacks launched against Ukraine
On 23 February, a team of European countries has been formed a cyber rapid-response team (CRRT) to defend Ukraine from future cyber-attacks. The group includes Lithuania, Croatia, Poland, Estonia, Romania, and the Netherlands, formed after a series of Russian attacks launched on Ukraine’s banking sector. In a recent tweet of the Lithuania Defense Ministry: “In response to Ukraine request, [we] are activating [a] Lithuanian-led cyber rapid-response team, which will help Ukrainian institutions to cope with growing cyber-threats. #StandWithUkraine.” The response team will look into various cyber-expertise, forensics, vulnerability assessments to detect and respond to cyber-threats. 
 
Europe: UEFA to reconsider game venue due to Ukraine crisis
On 22 February, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has said that the season’s Champions League final game will not be held in St Petersburg due to the crisis situation between Ukraine and Russia. It said: “closely monitoring the situation” and “any decision would be made in due course if necessary.” At the same, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented that football tournaments have no possibility to conduct games in Russia, which has violated sovereignty. The European football governing body will decide based on the scenario and opt for another venue to hold the league match. 
 
Europe: Petrol prices increase over fears of a shortage of supply due to the Ukraine crisis
On 22 February, with the fear of interruption of oil and gas supplies due to the Ukraine-Russia crisis, the prices of the fuels shot up. Despite the west’s attempts to use economic sanctions and create a block for the Russian pipeline. As a result, the prices have then weakened. According to Manulife Investment Management, Sue Trinh: “Measures forcing the country to supply less crude or natural gas would have “substantial implications” on oil prices and the global economy.” The warning on the increase of petrol prices was issued earlier, citing the crisis situation. 

Germany: Russia’s license to operate Nord Stream 2 pipeline suspended
On 23 February, Germany announced to halt the approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline after Russian troops moved into Ukraine. Russia, upon recognition of the separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, ordered for its troops to enter Ukraine. The US, the UK, Poland and the rest of the European countries have condemned the move and have levied strict sanctions on Russia. The case of Germany, which has withstood the pipeline going against other western powers, has now taken a decision to suspend the licensing. Thereby, Russia will not be able to operate until the reversal of the decision. 
 
The US: Three white men involved in the killing of Arbery found guilty
On 22 February, three white men, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Roddie Bryan, in the trial for killing a Black man Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty. The judgment came as they were found to be violating the civil rights of Arbery due to his race. The defense attorneys of the accused opposed that the men had not been chased because of his race but out of suspicion of crimes taking place in the neighborhood, which was a mistake. According to the prosecutor Tara Lyons: “All three defendants told you loud and clear, in their own words, how they feel about African Americans.” In accordance with the trial, three men stand guilty as per the federal hate crimes and will be sentenced to life in prison.
 
The US: Navy’s 5th fleet plans to launch a joint fleet of unmanned drones 
On 22 February, the Bahrain-based US Navy’s 5th fleet announced the launch of 100 unmanned drones for close surveillance of the region’s volatile waters. The joint fleet of drones, both submersible, and sailing, would intensify the naval capabilities amidst tensions surrounding Iran’s nuclear deal. The drone force is expected to be in action by 2023. Furthermore, Israel will likely join the drone task force in the region.    

Argentina: Raging wildfire ravages land and wildlife 
On 21 February, the largely rural province of Corrientes saw eight separate fires that destroyed at least 800,000 hectares of land. Fires that started in mid-January have destroyed large swathes of farming regions and wetlands abundant in wildlife, incurring a loss of more than USD 260 million. The region has been struggling with high temperatures and drought-like conditions owing to the La Niña climate phenomenon, adding to the untenable wildfires. Efforts to control the situation have continued with the help of volunteers and firefighting units from Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. 
 
Mexico: Brawl erupted between migrants and immigration authorities
On 23 February, hundreds of migrants got into a row with the Mexican National Guard troops and immigration authorities over the laxity in the visa process. The migrants in Tapachula have been complaining for months about the lack of progress regarding their asylum requests. What initially started as a protest outside the immigration office eventually escalated into protestors burning tires and blocking the road for several hours. Migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and African Nations threw sticks and stones at the authorities. However, no injuries have been reported. 
 
Ecuador: Two bodies found hanging from bridges amidst soaring drug violence
On 14 February, on the outskirts of the port city of Guayaquil, two bodies were discovered hanging from a pedestrian bridge. The victims are suspected of having been killed as a consequence of the rampant drug violence in the region. The families reported the victims to be missing for three days before they were found. The murders are suspected to be linked to the recent seizure of illegal contrabands in Guayaquil or as an intimidating tactic to ward off rival gangs. The suburb Duran, where the bodies were found, has been plagued by violence and shootings between rival cartels since last year. 


About the authors
D Suba Chandran is a Professor and Dean at the School of Conflict and Security Studies. Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Assistant at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Sarasi Ganguly, Sejal Sharma and Satyam Dubey are postgraduate scholars at Pondicherry University. 

Kontakt

Peter Rimmele