Hold Your Fire! (Season 3)
Hold Your Fire! (Season 3)
Podcast 20+ minutes

Hold Your Fire! (Season 3)

Join Crisis Group Executive Vice President Richard Atwood as he dives deep into the conflicts that rage around the globe. He speaks with Crisis Group field analysts and special guests to get their unique, on-the-ground perspective. Episodes from past seasons of Hold Your Fire! can be found here: Season 1 and Season 2.

Season 3

Episode 35: A Long War Looming in Sudan

Almost three months into the war in Sudan that has pitted the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) against the Sudanese Army, the fighting shows no sign of slowing. Khartoum remains the epicentre, but Sudan’s periphery, especially the West Darfur region, has seen a dramatic resurgence in intercommunal violence. Mediation efforts have thus far yielded little. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined again by Crisis Group’s Senior Sudan Analyst Shewit Woldemichael and Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director Alan Boswell to talk about the war. They discuss the tragedy unfolding in Darfur, where civilians have increasingly become the target of resurging ethnic violence. They talk about the latest battlefield dynamics between Sudan’s Army and the RSF in Khartoum and if either side stands a chance of prevailing militarily. They also discuss why mediation efforts by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and African leaders have made little headway and the consequences of a protracted war.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our Sudan country page.

Episode 34: Is This the End? Wagner in Russia, Ukraine and Africa

Over the weekend, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian private security company known as the Wagner Group, spearheaded an insurrection in Russia. In response to Kremlin moves to bring Wagner under the Russian army’s command and, according to him, attacks on a Wagner base by the Russian military, the group seized the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the main staging ground for Russia’s Ukraine war. Wagner forces then advanced to within 200km of Moscow before Prigozhin backed down and agreed to leave for Belarus and demobilise his forces involved in the uprising. Wagner’s future, particularly in areas of Africa and the Middle East in which it operates, is uncertain. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard speaks first with Crisis Group’s Europe & Central Asia Director Olga Oliker about what drove Prigozhin’s rebellion and what it means for the Kremlin and its war in Ukraine. Richard then talks to Sahel Director Jean-Hervé Jezequel and UN Director Richard Gowan about how the uprising might affect Wagner’s operations in Africa, particularly in Mali. They look at how the Malian transitional authorities’ ties to Moscow and Wagner have influenced Bamako’s foreign relations and their recent demand that the Security Council pull out UN peacekeepers from Mali. They also examine what the withdrawal of the mission might mean for the fight against jihadists in Mali and a peace process in the country’s north that is already under strain. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more in-depth analysis on the topics discussed in this episode, check out our Russia and Africa pages.

Episode 33: Blinken in Beijing: Will the Secretary of State's Visit Calm China-U.S. Tensions?

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Beijing, where he met with top Chinese foreign policy officials as well as President Xi Jinping. His trip, the first high-level visit in nearly five years, comes at a low point in China-U.S. relations, with the two giants at loggerheads over issues ranging from trade policy to Taiwan. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard talks to Amanda Hsiao, Crisis Group’s senior China analyst, about the takeaways from Blinken’s visit and the state of China-U.S. relations. They discuss the significance of Blinken’s visit, what motivated both sides to set it up, what was on the agenda and whether the trip signals a thaw in relations. They look at risks of a mishap between the two militaries escalating, as Chinese and American boats and planes operate in close proximity to one another in the Taiwan Strait and South and East China Seas. They also talk about the debate over China in Washington ahead of the 2024 elections and where the bilateral relationship might be headed.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our China and U.S. country pages.

Episode 32: Myanmar’s Forgotten War

In February 2021, Myanmar’s military seized power in a coup that plunged the country into a protracted crisis. Mass protests against the junta met a brutal crackdown and morphed into armed resistance, with new groups, known as people’s defence forces, fighting the army across swathes of rural Myanmar. Some of the country’s ethnic armed organisations, older rebel forces that have battled the Myanmar army for decades mostly from the country’s upland areas, have thrown their weight behind the new resistance. Others have sat out the fighting. The Myanmar military’s scorched-earth tactics entail airstrikes and other attacks that indiscriminately target civilians in an attempt to punish dissent and cut off support for the resistance. Outside efforts to halt the fighting and force the military to cede power have mostly been left to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and have made no headway.

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Richard Horsey, Crisis Group’s Myanmar expert, to talk about the war and why ending it is not a greater priority for global powers. They discuss how fighting between the military and resistance groups has evolved, the military’s brutal counter-insurgency approach and both sides’ calculations. They explore why some ethnic armed groups support the resistance while others have taken advantage of the crisis to consolidate their influence in other ways. They also talk about the international politics of the crisis: Russia’s support to the junta, China’s recent diplomatic engagement, thus far ineffective ASEAN diplomacy and Western powers’ half-hearted involvement. They discuss why a more concerted international effort could matter, notwithstanding the Myanmar military’s longstanding intransigence to outside influence. They also look at the war’s longer-term implications and why ending it should be a greater priority for the world. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our Myanmar country page.

Episode 31: Could Jihadists Seize Parts of Coastal West Africa? 

Recent years have seen increasing fear in some Gulf of Guinea countries, notably Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, that jihadists who have overrun much of the Sahel move south. Militants already operate in forested areas along the Benin-Burkina Faso border, and northern Benin and Togo have both seen an uptick in jihadist attacks. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Crisis Group’s Africa Deputy Director Pauline Bax and Sahel Senior Analyst Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim to discuss what’s behind militants’ southward march. They first look at how jihadists captured swaths of Burkina Faso, which borders several Gulf of Guinea countries and could serve as a gateway to coastal West Africa. They ask whether coastal governments should see the presence of militants in their north as spillover from the Sahel or a problem rooted in the local politics of often-neglected regions. They talk about how militants are recruiting and raising money. They also look at the policies of the different governments involved, coordination among them and the involvement of Western capitals and Russia, among outside powers. They look at how coastal countries in West Africa differ from their Sahelian neighbours and what they can learn from mistakes in the Sahel.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our Sahel and West Africa regional pages.

Episode 30: Libya: Political Gridlock, Regional Politics and Sudan’s War

Last week, Libya’s parliament fired one of the country’s two prime ministers, Fathi Bashaga. Libya for years has been split between two rival governments. An internationally recognised prime minister, Abdelhamid Dabaiba, sits in the capital Tripoli and a rival government, until recently headed by Bashaga, is based mostly in the east. Last summer, Bashaga, who was backed by Khalifa Haftar, a powerful commander from eastern Libya, tried several times to seize Tripoli by force. Those efforts failed, costing Bashaga a lot of support in the east. Over recent months, Haftar’s camp and Dabaiba have been holding quiet talks. Violence has mostly subsided and the country has experienced something of an economic upturn thanks to increasing oil revenues. Still, the political gridlock remains. The newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, has laid out a roadmap to elections, but his plan does not seem to enjoy much support from either camp.  

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Crisis Group’s Libya expert Claudia Gazzini, recently in Tripoli, to talk about Libya’s gridlock. They take stock of the dynamics between the rivalling political factions in the country, prospects for the Haftar-Dabaiba talks and also for elections. They discuss changing geopolitical winds in the region, particularly how better ties between Türkiye, which has long backed the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, and Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which back Haftar, have made foreign involvement in Libya less fraught. They also talk about Libyan factions’ potential links to the fighting in Sudan and the danger of spillover.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our Libya country page.

Episode 29: Riyadh and the World: What to Make of Saudi Arabia’s Recent Diplomacy

Saudi Arabia’s diplomacy is flourishing after a decade in which Riyadh has been entangled in regional conflicts and rivalries. Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has turned the page on the Gulf Cooperation Council dispute, opened talks with Huthi rebels in Yemen, agreed to re-open diplomatic relations with Iran and welcomed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad back to the Arab League.

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Abdulaziz Sager, Founder and Chairman of the Gulf Research Center and Crisis Group trustee, to talk about Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy.

They talk about Syria at the Arab League, last March’s China-brokered Saudi-Iran deal, how Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program might impact Saudi-Iran relations, and Riyadh’s talks with the Huthis. They also discuss the rapprochement within the Gulf Cooperation Council and Saudi Arabia’s hosting, with the U.S., of talks between Sudan’s warring factions. They examine how Riyadh is positioning itself in an era of friction between its traditional security partner, the U.S., and China, its most important market, and how it has navigated the collapse in Russia-West relations over Ukraine. They ask whether Saudi Arabia’s recent diplomacy represents a recalibration and if so, why the change and what is its significance. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our Saudi Arabia country page.

Episode 28: Fighting in Khartoum, Talking in Jeddah

Fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and a rival paramilitary outfit, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has torn apart Sudan for nearly a month. The capital Khartoum and its residents have borne the brunt of the violence, with millions caught in the city and supplies of drinking water, food and medicine running low. Hundreds of thousands have left their homes. This past week, the warring parties’ representatives have met in the Saudi city Jeddah for talks brokered by Saudi Arabia and the U.S., though observers remain sceptical that they will reach an agreement on a ceasefire, let alone an end to the war and transition to civilian rule.

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined again by Crisis Group’s Senior Sudan Analyst Shewit Woldemichael and Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director Alan Boswell to discuss how the fighting is evolving and prospects for the Jeddah talks. They discuss the clashes in Khartoum and in Sudan’s western Darfur region, the humanitarian fallout and the latest from Jeddah. They talk about the implications of including only the warring parties, rather than also civilians or other armed groups, in the talks, and of the Saudi-U.S. lead. They also talk about the risks of others getting involved, whether Sudanese rebels or outside powers, the longer the war drags on. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our Sudan country page.

Episode 27: What to Expect from Ukraine’s Counter-Offensive

As fighting rages in Ukraine, with high casualties but little ground gained or lost on either side, Kyiv seems poised to launch its much anticipated counteroffensive. New Western equipment, including tanks, has arrived and Ukraine appears to have struck Russian supply lines, including in Crimea. Russia, meanwhile, has dug in along key stretches of the front and upped attacks on Ukrainian towns and cities, mostly hitting civilian infrastructure. This past week also saw an alleged attempted drone attack on the Kremlin, with Moscow blaming Kyiv and Washington, both of which denied the accusation. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard speaks with Olga Oliker, Crisis Group’s Program Director for Europe and Central Asia. They look at what the counteroffensive might entail and what success would look like for Ukraine and its Western backers. They examine Russia’s calculations, the alleged drone attacks on the Kremlin and what it would take to lessen Moscow’s seeming determination to keep fighting. They also discuss debates in Western capitals about supplying Kyiv with advanced fighter jets, how the Ukraine war is playing out in U.S. politics ahead of the 2024 elections and what it all means for Western unity in backing Ukraine. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, be sure to check out our Ukraine country page and our commentary Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud: Russia’s New Vision for Taking on the West.

Episode 26: What Can Stop Sudan’s Devastating War

Sudan has entered its second week of fighting between rival military factions. Battles between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have torn apart cities and towns, especially the capital Khartoum, where millions of civilians are facing shortages of basic necessities. A 72-hour ceasefire between the rival forces has offered some respite, allowing many Sudanese to flee the country and diplomats’ and other foreign nationals’ evacuation. But clashes still continue and mediators have struggled to convince the two sides to get back to talks.

This week on
Hold Your Fire!, Richard speaks with Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group’s Africa Program director. They discuss what’s behind the power struggle between the Sudanese armed forces and the RSF, and between the men – General Abel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo – in command of each. They discuss the devastation a full-scale civil war would cause, efforts by the U.S., Gulf power and African leaders to mediate, and the conflict’s geopolitics and risk of outside involvement. They look back at how Sudan’s transition unravelled and the challenges facing talks and getting to civilian rule if the parties do get back to the table. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more in-depth analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, make sure to check out our Sudan country page and our latest statement; Stopping Sudan’s Descent into Full-Blown Civil War.

Episode 25: War in Sudan

Two rival armies are driving Sudan toward full-blown civil war. Fighting between the Sudanese armed forces, led by Abdelfattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary force led by Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, is tearing apart cities and towns across the country, including the capital Khartoum. The battles have already killed hundreds of civilians and left millions more facing shortages of basic necessities. This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Crisis Group’s Senior Sudan Analyst Shewit Woldemichael and Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director Alan Boswell to look at the background to the crisis and what can be done to halt the fighting. They look at evolving tensions between the army and the RSF since Sudan’s 2019 popular uprising, especially since the 2021 coup, when Burhan and Hemedti seized full control of the state from civilians with whom they had been sharing power. They explain the trigger for the fighting: a dispute over how to integrate the RSF into regular army ranks. They discuss how Hemedti, a figure from outside Sudan’s traditional Nile elites, emerged as an influential power broker and what he wants in the confrontation with Burhan. They also talk about the two military leaders’ foreign ties, the danger that outside powers will get sucked into Sudan’s conflict and prospects for mediation. Finally, they ask what went wrong with Sudan’s transition after the 2019 uprising and whether external actors, particularly Western governments, could have done more to prevent its collapse. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. 

For more in-depth analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, make sure to check out our Sudan country page and our latest statement; Stopping Sudan’s Descent into Full-Blown Civil War.

Episode 24: Drones and Diplomacy: Will Türkiye’s Elections Change its Middle Power Activism? 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in power for two decades, faces a stiff challenge in Türkiye’s forthcoming election, which will take place only a few months after devastating earthquakes killed some 50,000 people. The vote comes at a time of evolving Turkish foreign affairs. Some years ago, Ankara was boxed in, its relations with its neighbours, the Gulf and some of its Western NATO allies fraught. Today, things look different. Ankara has gone some way to repair ties in the region. Its support has been pivotal to partners in the South Caucasus and Libya. It has developed an indigenous drone industry, with weapons sales heightening Türkiye’s influence abroad. While the Ukraine war has tested Ankara's balancing act between NATO membership and ties to Moscow,  Erdoğan has notched up diplomatic successes, notably helping the UN broker a Ukraine-Russia deal that gets Ukrainian grain onto global markets via the Black Sea. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Nigar Göksel, Crisis Group’s project director for Türkiye to discuss Ankara’s foreign policy and whether a change in government would bring a change in policy. They look at Türkiye’s delicate balancing act in Ukraine, supporting Kyiv while keeping lines of communication open to the Kremlin. They discuss several hotspots where Türkiye is involved: the country’s struggles against Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq, its troops deployed to enforce a ceasefire in northwest Syria and its role in the standoff between Azerbaijan and Armenia. They talk about the dramatic expansion in Turkiye’s drone production and what influence weapons sales to many countries give Ankara. They also talk about  Erdoğan’s pivot away from “precious loneliness” toward mending relations with neighbours and Gulf capitals. They talk about what Turkiye’s more assertive foreign policy says about how non-Western middle powers can defend their interests in a changing global order. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more in-depth analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, make sure to check out our Türkiye country page.

Episode 23: Somalia’s Latest Battles Against Al-Shabaab

Over recent months, the Somali army, backed by clan militias, has recaptured areas in central Somalia from Al-Shabaab militants. Profiting from local anger at Al-Shabaab’s predation, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government has deployed Somali forces to Hirshabelle and Galmudug states, just north of the capital, Mogadishu, to fight militants. The campaign has reversed some of Al-Shabaab’s gains of the past few years, forcing the militants out of several areas, including some important towns. Yet big challenges remain. Al-Shabaab continues to mount resistance in parts of central Somalia. In recaptured areas, the government must ensure disputes among clans do not flare up again and show locals its value – in the short term by delivering aid and over time by reestablishing services like health and education. Fighting Al-Shabaab in its southern strongholds – the government’s planned next phase of operations – will likely be a tougher slog. The al-Qaeda linked insurgency has weathered previous offensives only to bounce back. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group's senior analyst for East Africa, about this latest fight against Al-Shabaab and the challenges that lie ahead. They discuss the clan politics in central Somalia that have enabled the government’s offensive. They look at the challenges in stabilising recaptured areas and curbing Al-Shabaab's formidable revenue generation, including its parallel tax system. They look at the drought blighting parts of the country and how Al-Shabaab’s predation, in combination with water shortages, has forced a wave of displacement. They also discuss fighting – separate to the war with Al-Shabaab – on the edge of Somaliland, a northern region that declared independence in 1991. They ask whether the latest offensive against Al-Shabaab stands any hope of dealing the Islamists a decisive blow, or whether it is better seen as a way to weaken the group and force it to negotiate. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more in-depth analysis of the topics discussed in this episode, make sure to check out our recent briefing, Sustaining Gains in Somalia’s Offensive against Al-Shabaab and our Somalia country page.

Episode 22: Iran: A Deal with Saudi Arabia, Closer Ties to Russia and the Looming Nuclear Crisis 

Last week, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to restore diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by China. The two countries had broken off ties in 2016, after Saudi authorities executed a prominent Shiite cleric and dissident, prompting protesters in Tehran to sack the Saudi embassy. Last week’s deal follows several rounds of talks, hosted by Iraq and Oman over recent years, between Iranian and Saudi officials. It comes at a time of deepening Iranian ties to Russia, with Iran sending weapons to help Moscow’s war efforts in Ukraine. In contrast, Tehran’s relations with Europe and the U.S. are at a new low, due partly to anger in Western capitals at the Islamic Republic’s brutal repression of the protests, often led by young women, that have engulfed the country over recent months. Western leaders are incensed, too, by Iran’s support for Russia in Ukraine. Talks over Iran’s nuclear program are on hold, even as it has advanced dramatically. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Ali Vaez, Crisis Group’s Iran project director and senior adviser to the president, to shed light on the Saudi-Iranian deal, Tehran’s evolving foreign relations and the looming crisis over its nuclear program. They discuss the recent agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and what both sides, and China, get from the deal. They look at efforts to end Yemen’s war and Iran’s influence over Huthi rebels. They talk about what is driving the change in Iran's relations with Russia. They also discuss Iran's worsening relations with Europe and the U.S. and prospects for diplomacy to head off a confrontation over its rapidly advancing nuclear capability. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation, check out our latest Q&A How Beijing Helped Riyadh and Tehran Reach a Detente and Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Iran country page. 

Episode 21: Will the Ukraine War Blow U.S.-China Relations Further Off Course?

The past few weeks have seen U.S.-China tensions ratchet up. In early February, a U.S. fighter jet shot down what Washington concluded was a Chinese spy balloon off the east coast of the U.S., prompting loud condemnations from Beijing. Later that month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after meeting with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference, warned that China was considering giving lethal aid to Russia for its war efforts in Ukraine. He warned of serious consequences for Beijing if that happened. U.S.-China relations had seemed to be looking up after a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jingping in November last year. These past few weeks, however, mark further deterioration, with some particularly harsh rhetoric from Beijing over the past few days. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Amanda Hsiao, Crisis Group's China expert, and Stephen Pomper, Crisis Group’s chief of policy, to talk about what to make of China's potential involvement in the Ukraine war, U.S.-China relations and tensions over Taiwan. They explore how Beijing sees its relations with Moscow, its stance on the Ukraine conflict and whether it is likely to send weapons, given it also appears reluctant to alienate Europeans. They discuss the spy balloon incident and heightened tensions between the US and China. They then talk about Chinese and U.S. policy toward Taiwan, particularly since the controversial August 2022 visit by then Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to the island, what to expect in the forthcoming Taiwanese presidential elections and how the Ukraine war is shaping calculations over the island.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our China and Taiwan country page, and for more analysis on global issues, see our Multilateral Diplomacy page. 

Episode 20: Another Year of War in Ukraine?

One year into Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, prospects for a settlement remain bleak. On 21 February, President Vladimir Putin announced in a belligerent yearly address that he would suspend Russia’s participation in New START, its last remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S. The speech followed U.S. President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv, during which he reaffirmed Washington’s determination to support Ukraine. Top U.S. officials also warned that China was considering sending “lethal support” to Russia’s war efforts, which thus far it has avoided doing. Fierce fighting continues along front lines in Ukraine’s south and east, with Russian forces making small gains but seemingly incurring massive losses. Whether they can break Ukrainian lines before the tanks that several Western nations have promised Ukraine arrive, and what difference those tanks will make on the battlefield, remain to be seen.

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Olga Oliker, Crisis Group's program director for Europe and Central Asia, joins Richard Atwood to assess where things stand. They discuss Putin’s yearly address and the significance of Russia suspending its participation in New START. They talk about the front lines in Ukraine and both sides’ ability to sustain their war effort. Olga talks about her recent visit to areas Ukrainian forces have recaptured from Russia and the challenges of reconstruction. They assess the mood in Kyiv, Moscow and Western capitals, and the potential impact of Chinese weapons and ammunition on the war. They also discuss both sides’ war goals, the difficulties of trying to hold the Kremlin accountable and what to watch in the months ahead.   

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Ukraine, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Ukraine country page.

Episode 19: Insecurity and Identity Politics Ahead of Nigeria’s Vote 

Nigerians will go to the polls on 25 February to elect a new president. The election is shaping up as a three-way contest between Bola Tinubu, a veteran Nigerian politician from the ruling All Progressives Congress party, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, and Peter Obi, who appears to have won over many young Nigerians. A cash crisis, caused by a bungled government policy to replace old banknotes, plus fuel shortages look set to complicate the vote. The country also grapples with an array of security threats – jihadist insurgencies in the north east, kidnapping and banditry especially in the north west, herder-farmer violence, and, in the south west, separatist violence, including against election staff. Despite a pact among the presidential candidates to avoid hate speech, their supporters often resort to divisive rhetoric.  

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Ayo Obe, Crisis Group’s Trustee and a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, and ​​Nnamdi Obasi, Crisis Group’s senior Nigeria adviser, about the forthcoming vote. They look at the three main contenders, their campaigns and their prospects. They also discuss the impact of rampant insecurity on the vote and why identity politics look set to shape this election more than previous ones. They talk about the potential fallout from the cash crunch, concerns about vote-buying and risks of post-election disputes. Finally, they reflect on incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari’s legacy and the challenges facing his successor. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Nigeria, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Nigeria country page, and our recent report Mitigating Risks of Violence in Nigeria’s 2023 Elections.

Episode 18: Mark Malloch-Brown on the Ukraine War and Challenges to Open Societies

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Mark Malloch-Brown, president of Open Society Foundations (OSF), Crisis Group trustee, and former UN Deputy Secretary-General and UN Development Programme administrator, about challenges facing open societies today. They talk about the erosion of democracy around the world, including in the West, authoritarians’ increasing global influence and the challenge some of the more competent autocrats’ governance poses. They discuss the war in Ukraine, Western support to Kyiv, risks of escalation as new weaponry pours in, and whether trying to hold the Kremlin accountable for the crime of aggression could close avenues to a settlement. They also talk about what Western powers and international financial institutions can do to help poor countries suffering from rising inflation, debt burdens and, often, stress related to climate change. They also discuss how organisations like OSF and Crisis Group, which in some ways reflect the heady assumptions of the post-Cold War years, should adapt to a world very different to the one many people back then expected to emerge. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Ukraine, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Ukraine country page, and for more analysis on global issues, see our Multilateral Diplomacy page.

Episode 17: Israel-Palestine’s Worsening Violence and Despair

On Friday last week, a Palestinian gunman killed seven civilians in occupied East Jerusalem, the deadliest such attack for years. The shooting came the day after a raid by Israeli forces in a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin, also the deadliest such operation for years. The week’s violence follows months in which more Palestinians died, according to human rights groups, than in the past almost two decades. More frequent Israeli raids, which Israel says aim to root out Palestinian militants behind an increasing number of attacks on Israelis, often provoke gun battles in West Bank cities. Militants have died, but also civilians, including many young Palestinians. In West Bank cities, new militias have formed, attracting young Palestinians angry not only at Israel but also at their own political leadership. Meanwhile, the new Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is the most right-wing in Israeli history and comprises openly Jewish nationalist and anti-Palestinian ministers, promises an even tougher line on Palestinians. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Mairav Zonszein and Tahani Mustafa, Crisis Group’s Israel/Palestine experts, about the latest spike in violence. They talk about Israel’s new government, its efforts to curb judicial power and what it might mean for policy toward the Palestinians. They also talk about Palestinian politics, many Palestinians’ disillusionment at their leadership, the emergence of new militias in West Bank cities and what might happen when ageing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas passes from the political scene. They ask whether there is any hope of change in policy from Washington and other Western capitals following U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the region this past week. They also talk about flashpoints in the months ahead.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation, check out our latest report Managing Palestine’s Looming Leadership Transition and Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Israel/Palestine page.

Episode 16: Great Lakes Tensions Spike After Rwanda Nearly Downs a Congolese Fighter Jet

On 24 January, Rwanda's defence forces fired a missile at a DR Congo army jet for allegedly violating Rwandan airspace. Congolese officials called the incident an “act of war”. The shooting has ratcheted up already high tensions between Rwandan and Congolese authorities, with the two governments at loggerheads since the resurgence of the M23 rebel group in late 2021. The M23 was defeated in 2013 but has re-emerged in the past year, taking control of significant areas in the eastern DR Congo’s North Kivu region. Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting the M23. Rwanda denies the allegations, though repeated UN reports offer strong evidence that the rebels are, indeed, supported by Rwanda. The fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands displaced, many in the last few months.  

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Richard Moncrieff, Crisis Group’s interim Great Lakes project director, about the resurgence of the M23 in the DRC and how the conflict could affect the stability of the wider Great Lakes region. They talk about the origins of the M23, what its leaders want and its ties to Rwanda. They discuss how the conflict has worsened already fragile Rwandan-Congolese relations. They also delve into the efforts of the East African Community to defuse tensions in the DRC, particularly Kenya’s military and diplomatic involvement in the region, and examine the risks that the crisis in the DRC could trigger a wider conflagration. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation, check out Crisis Group’s latest Q&A “A Dangerous Escalation in the Great Lakes” and our extensive analysis on our Great Lakes regional page.

Episode 15: Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2023

On this week’s Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s president and CEO, and Stephen Pomper, chief of policy, to reflect on 2022 and look ahead to 2023. They talk through “10 Conflicts to Watch”, Crisis Group’s yearly flagship commentary co-published with Foreign Policy magazine. They discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine, its global ramifications and what it says about global affairs today. They also take a look at other flashpoints on the list, which this year includes Ukraine, Armenia-Azerbaijan, Iran, Yemen, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sahel, Haiti, Pakistan and Taiwan. Lastly, they talk about how we put the list together and, despite a generally gloomy and unsettling year, where we can look for signs of hope. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, check out our flagship commentary, by Comfort Ero and Richard Atwood, with Foreign Policy magazine: “10 Conflicts to Watch in 2023” you can also check out Crisis Group’s Twitter thread 10 Reasons For Hope in 2023.

Episode 14: Can Foreign Forces Tackle Haiti’s Gangs?

Haiti has long suffered political crises, gang violence and natural disasters, but the past two years have been especially cruel. In July 2021, gunmen murdered then President Jovenel Moïse in his home in the capital Port-Au-Prince. Ariel Henry took over as prime minister, supposed to shepard the country to elections. But rampant violence renders a credible vote impossible, and Henry’s dismissal of the election commission has hardly helped. Gang violence has spiralled, as rival gangs battle for control of parts of Port-au-Prince. Some estimates suggest gangs control some 60 per cent of the capital, as well as all main roads leading to the city and, for almost two months, the country’s main port. Protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets, angered at the gang violence and at hikes in fuel prices, triggered by Henry’s removal of subsidies. With shortages of drinking water, cholera is spreading and difficult to curb in gang-controlled areas. In early October, Henry requested that foreign troops deploy to help Haitian police take on gangs. Many Haitians, including Henry’s political opponents, oppose another intervention after repeated failures of foreign involvement in the past, though some Haitians, particularly in areas most affected by gang violence, are more supportive, seemingly out of sheer desperation. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Renata Segura, Crisis Group’s deputy Latin America and Caribbean director, and Diego Da Rin, consulting Haiti expert, about the crisis. They talk about what life is like under gang control, the fight between the two main gang coalitions, G9 and G-PEP, as well as their leaders’ backgrounds and links to Haiti’s politics. They discuss Haiti’s political crisis and Ariel Henry’s rule since Moïse’s killing. They also talk about the prospect of foreign forces deploying to Haiti, the challenges any mission would face, and whether it could help loosen the grip of Haiti’s gangs over much of the country and bring a measure of stability for long-suffering Haitians.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Haiti, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Haiti country page.

Episode 13: No End in Sight in Ukraine?

Winter is setting in as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches. Recent months have seen Ukrainian forces advance, but whether front lines will continue to shift as the weather changes remains unclear. Russia, which has mobilised some 300,000 new soldiers in recent months, has reportedly sent them to the front lines with little preparation. It claims to have annexed large parts of its neighbour, brandishes nuclear threats and has embarked on a weeks-long bombardment of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing blackouts across much of the country. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking from a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Bucharest, accused Russia of “weaponising winter” to break the Ukrainian people’s will and the unity of Kyiv's Western backers. For now, however, Western capitals appear in no mood to reduce their support to Ukraine. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Olga Oliker, Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia program director, about where Russia’s war in Ukraine might be headed next. They talk about how the winter might affect battlefield dynamics and the impact of Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian energy infrastructure. They discuss whether Russia might yet gamble on using a nuclear weapon and what Western and other governments can do to deter that. They ask whether opinion around the world toward the war is changing. They look at NATO policy and what an acceptable settlement for Ukraine and Western capitals might look like. Finally, as U.S. President Joe Biden says he would be prepared to meet his Russian counterpart to talk about Ukraine, they ask whether any space exists for diplomacy to find a way to end the war. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Ukraine, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Ukraine country page.

Episode 12: Football and Politics in the Gulf

The 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off this week in the Qatari capital Doha. The tournament comes at a time of fast-evolving politics in the region. Just a few years ago, a spat within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) saw Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) break diplomatic ties with and blockade Qatar, frustrated in part by Doha’s support for Islamists across the Middle East and North Africa. The crisis was mostly resolved in early 2021, and diplomacy ahead of the World Cup has further calmed intra-GCC relations, though differences remain, particularly between Qatar and the UAE. The World Cup also comes amid other changes nearby: Iran is convulsed by mass protests; talks involving Tehran and world powers over Iran’s nuclear program have fizzled out; and Benjamin Netanyahu looks set to return to power in Israel at the helm of the most right wing government in the country’s history – all at a time when Gulf monarchies have taken some steps to calm tensions with Iran and, in some cases, improve relations with Israel. It also comes amid Saudi-U.S. friction. Riyadh’s decision, together with other oil producers, to cut oil production against Washington’s wishes has further tested relations that were already strained over the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, for which U.S. intelligence blames powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Joost Hiltermann and Dina Esfandiary, Crisis Group’s Middle East & North Africa director and senior adviser, respectively, to talk about the World Cup and Gulf Arab states’ external relations. They discuss how ties between countries in the region have evolved since the GCC spat and their different interests in the region. They examine how Gulf Arab countries view developments in Yemen and Iran and the changing relationship between some Gulf capitals and Israel. Finally, they look at the ups and downs of U.S.-Saudi ties during U.S. President Joe Biden’s tenure in office thus far. They talk about how Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are navigating Washington’s changing role in the region, big-power tensions and multipolarity. They discuss Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plans for Saudi Arabia and ask what the future holds for relations between Riyadh and Washington. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in the Gulf region, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Gulf and Arabian Peninsula regional page.

Episode 11: Finland's FM Pekka Haavisto on the Ukraine War, European Security and Peacemaking Elsewhere

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto for a wide-ranging discussion on topics ranging from the war in Ukraine to peacemaking efforts in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. They talk about Western support for Ukraine and the danger that Russia uses nuclear weapons. They discuss the role of diplomacy and prospects for a mediated settlement to the war. They also look at how the Ukraine war has affected popular opinion in Finland, the country’s application for NATO membership and the war’s impact on Europe’s security architecture more broadly. They discuss its global reverberations, including on peacemaking efforts elsewhere and how Western capitals have competed with Russia and China in their efforts to shore up support in the Global South. They discuss crises in the Horn of Africa, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s role in the region and prospects of peace in Ethiopia and Somalia. They also talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict and European policy in the Middle East. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the topics discussed in this episode, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our website.

Episode 10: Ethiopia’s Tigray War: After the Cessation of Hostilities, What Next?

On 2 November, the Ethiopian federal government and Tigrayan forces reached an agreement to cease hostilities and end almost two years of bloody war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. The truce came after the Ethiopian army, together with Eritrean troops and forces from the Amhara region, which borders Tigray, made rapid advances into Tigray over  recent weeks. It raises hopes that peace in Tigray might be within reach and that the region’s humanitarian crisis – amplified by a federal blockade on aid throughout much of the war – can finally be addressed. However, peace talks did not include Eritrea, despite its involvement in the war, and the deal includes no provisions about what will happen to the Eritrean forces in Tigray. It does involve other major concessions for the Tigrayans, who agreed to fully disarm within a month.  

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group’s Africa director, to talk about the cessation of hostilities and its implications. They talk about the events leading to the truce, Ethiopia’s recent offensive in the Tigray region, Eritrea’s involvement in the conflict and how all sides are likely to view and respond to the agreement. They address the role of the African Union and its envoy, former Nigerian President Olesugun Obasanjo, in brokering the agreement. They also talk about the influence of external actors in Ethiopia and how the support of countries like the United Arab Emirates and Türkiye for the Ethiopian government shaped battlefield dynamics. They ask what went wrong with a transition in Ethiopia that had generated enormous optimism in its early years, and what the coming years might bring for politics in the Horn of Africa at a moment of considerable flux. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Ethiopia, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Ethiopia country page.

Episode 9: Lula and Latin America’s Leftward Lurch

Last Sunday in Brazil, former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won a tightly fought presidential run-off against incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s supporters took to the streets in angry protest against Lula. Although Bolsonaro narrowly lost out, he and the populist movement he has whipped up enjoy considerable support, hold a legislative majority and several key governorships, and remain a powerful force in Brazilian politics. Lula’s success comes at the heels of another leftist victory in Latin America – that of Gustavo Petro in Colombia. Petro promises “total peace” in Colombia, pledging to talk to the country’s remaining guerrilla movement and even drug traffickers to bring peace to the country’s violence-torn countryside. Lula and Petro are part of a crop of new leftist leaders across the continent, which though themselves diverse seem to mark a departure from the old authoritarian left at the helm in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. To some degree, their coming to power narrows the polarisation in Latin America that has undercut regional cooperation and could reinvigorate efforts to resolve Venezuela’s protracted political standoff, curb the political repression by Daniel Ortega’s government in Nicaragua or tackle Haiti’s violent collapse. At home, though, Latin America’s new leftist leaders face huge challenges, with stagnant economies, big hikes in living costs and, in places, rampant criminal violence driving the discontent that right populists tend to profit from.  

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Ivan Briscoe and Renata Segura, Crisis Group’s Latin America director and deputy director, about Lula’s victory in Brazil and what the leftward shift in Latin American politics means for the region. They talk about the future of Bolsonaro and his movement. They also talk about Petro’s ambitious plans for Colombia but his seeming pragmatism in rolling them out, his restoration of relations with neighbouring Venezuela and how the U.S. has responded to his policies so far. They discuss if the new political leadership on the continent can help address some of the continent’s worst crises. They also talk about the continent’s political future – will left-wing governments endure or will the populist right bounce back? 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Brazil and Latin America, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Latin America and Caribbean regional page.

Episode 8: After the Crackdowns, is Chad’s Transition Unravelling? 

On 20 October, Chadian security forces killed more than 50 protesters on the streets of Chad’s capital N’Djamena and other cities and towns. Demonstrators had taken to the streets in anger at an extension of the country’s transitional period that allows President Mahamat Déby to hold power for another two years and then possibly contest elections, despite his previous pledges to stand down. Mahamat Déby assumed power at the head of a transitional military council after his father, Idriss Déby, who had ruled Chad for 30 years, died when Chadian forces were fighting rebels in the country’s north. Initially, Mahamat Déby seemed to mark a break from the past: space for political debate opened up, some exiled opposition leaders returned to Chad, and talks with rebels got under way. Over the past few months, though, the most powerful rebel groups have rejected the deal that emerged from those talks and, when a national dialogue started in N’Djamena, the main opposition party and civil society organisations chose not to participate. Then came the announcement that junta members, including Déby, could run for elections, which triggered protests and the crackdown. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Enrica Picco, Crisis Group’s Central Africa director, about where Chad’s transition is headed. They look at the violence against protesters and what options remain for the country’s political opposition. They also talk about the various Chadian rebel groups, many based in Libya and some of whose leaders are part of Deby’s family, that arguably pose a graver threat to Deby’s rule than his civilian opponents. They discuss Mahamat Déby’s ascendancy to power after the death of his father, the influence of Chad’s powerful military in backing him and how Déby has shaped politics in the country thus far. They also look at how regional actors, including the African Union, and other foreign powers, notably France, which traditionally enjoys close ties to the Chadian government, have responded to the violence. They discuss what people should be watching in the months ahead. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Chad, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Chad country page.

Episode 7: Can a New UN Envoy Help Resolve Libya’s Political Crisis?

Clashes between rival factions rocked Libyan capital Tripoli over the summer. The fighting pit forces loyal to UN-backed Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba against supporters of Fathi Bashagha, who last March was appointed prime minister by Libya’s eastern parliament and has formed an alliance with Khalifa Haftar, a powerful commander from the east. The clashes were triggered by a march on Tripoli by Bashaga’s loyalists, the latest in a series of attempts to oust Dabaiba, initially through political means and now by force. Armed factions in Tripoli came to Dabaiba’s defence and violence has now largely subsided, but Libya remains divided into rival governments. Foreign powers, who two years ago appeared to be putting aside their differences over Libya, are again divided on what the way forward should be. Turkey and Egypt, in particular, appear to be viewing the crisis in zero-sum terms, with Cairo particularly incensed by a maritime deal Dabaiba has just signed with Ankara. The new UN envoy, former Senegalese Minister Abdulaye Bathily, who formally starts his role this week, has his work cut out. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks with Claudia Gazzini, Crisis Group’s Libya expert, about the country’s impasse. They discuss prospects for resolving the standoff between Dabaiba and Bashagha and what their next moves, and those of Haftar, might be. They look at how foreign powers view the crisis, and the impact of Egypt-Turkey tensions and the latest maritime deal. They assess how likely another flare-up of violence is. They also examine whether the new UN envoy can mend the deep rifts that continue to divide the country and what his immediate priorities should be. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Libya, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Libya country page.

Episode 6: An Escalatory Spiral in Ukraine?

The war in Ukraine took another nasty turn this week. Last Saturday, a blast destroyed parts of the Kerch bridge, which links Russian-occupied Crimea with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the explosion and announced retaliatory strikes on cities throughout Ukraine. This latest escalation comes after Ukrainian military gains in September prompted Putin to announce a partial mobilisation of fresh Russian forces and the annexation of several partly Russian-held regions in eastern Ukraine. He also made his most explicit nuclear threats yet. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood speaks with Olga Oliker, Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia program director, to discuss where things stand on the battlefield, where the conflict might be headed and the peril of further escalation. They talk about Russia’s recent escalatory steps and Moscow’s announcement of General Sergey Surovikin, who led Russia’s brutal campaign in Syria, as new commander for Russia’s Ukraine operations. They also look at the growing criticism in Moscow of Russia’s war efforts. They examine what Putin’s repeated escalations in response to Ukrainian gains means for the risks of a direct confrontation with NATO and nuclear weapons use. They also discuss the divided response from European countries on whether to welcome in Russians fleeing the Kremlin’s mobilisation. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Ukraine, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Ukraine country page, our EU Watch List entry Walking a Fine Line in Ukraine and last week's episode of War & Peace Taking Stock of Russia’s Military Performance in Ukraine with RAND Senior Policy Researcher Dara Massicot.

Episode 5: Coup in Burkina, Russia in Mali and a New Chapter in the Sahel?

On 30 September, a group of young army captains, led by Ibrahim Traoré, seized power in Burkina Faso. They ousted Interim President Paul-Henri Damiba, who himself had come to power in a coup last January. In a televised speech, Traoré blamed Damiba for failing to check terrorism and violence. A few days before the coup, Islamist militants had attacked an army convoy carrying humanitarian aid to the besieged northern city of Djibo. The coup comes at a difficult moment not only for Burkina but also for the Sahel more broadly. Mali has also seen successive coups driven partly by anger at the government’s and its Western partners’ failure to contain rampant insecurity. Mali’s authorities have turned to Russia for help, with forces from the Russian security company, Wagner, which allegedly has close ties to the Kremlin, now reportedly fighting alongside the Malian army. Partly as a result, relations between Bamako and Western capitals, notably France, have tanked. French troops have pulled out of Mali after almost a decade of operations against militants. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group’s Sahel Project Director Jean-Hervé Jezequel to discuss what’s happening in Burkina Faso and the rest of the Sahel. They talk about Ibrahim Traoré, the coup leader, and why he seized power. They discuss how militant groups continue to extend their reach and recruit across rural areas of Burkina. They look at the legacy of a decade of French military operations in the region. They also explore Russia’s increasing influence and how governments should navigate the increasing acrimony between Russia and the West and avoid the region becoming a battleground for major powers. They explore what a strategy against Islamist militants that subordinates military operations to politics might look like. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Burkina Faso and the Sahel, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Sahel region page.

Episode 4: The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

On 31 July, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul. Zawahiri appears to have been living in a house maintained by the family of powerful Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. His death came almost a year after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban routed the former Afghan security forces and seized power. The Taliban’s uncompromising rule over the past year has seen girls denied their right to education, many other rights and freedoms curtailed and power tightly guarded within the Taliban movement. The Afghan economy has collapsed, owing in large part to the U.S. and other countries’ freezing Afghan Central Bank assets, keeping sanctions against the Taliban in place and denying the country non-humanitarian aid. Levels of violence across the country are mostly down, but Afghans’ plight is desperate, with a grave humanitarian crisis set to worsen over the winter. The Taliban’s apparent harbouring of Zawahiri seems unlikely to smooth relations between the new authorities in Kabul and the outside world. 

This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s broader foreign relations after Zawahiri’s killing. They discuss what his presence and death in Kabul mean for U.S. policy and what they say about the threat posed by transnational militants sheltering in Afghanistan. They look into how countries in the region are seeking to protect their interests in Afghanistan, including by engaging with the de facto Taliban authorities, and how those countries – particularly Pakistan, which has faced an uptick of violence in the past year – view the danger from foreign militants in Afghanistan. They also look in depth at Washington’s goals in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal and what balance it should strike between engaging the Taliban or seeking to isolate them. Just over a year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover, they reflect back on Washington’s decision to pull out troops. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s recent report Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban.

Episode 3: Back to War in Ethiopia

Just a few months back, a humanitarian truce in Ethiopia offered a glimmer of hope that an end might be in sight to the war in and around the country’s northern Tigray region. Fighting pitted the federal government, forces from the Amhara region, bordering Tigray, and Eritrean troops on one hand, against Tigrayan forces on the other. In March, the federal government and Tigrayan leaders announced a cessation of hostilities. Formal peace talks were supposed to follow. But the last few weeks have seen the truce collapse and conflict resume across several front lines, with Tigrayan leaders accusing Eritrean forces of advancing en masse. The return to the battlefield marks another nasty turn in a war that has had a catastrophic human toll – a UN report this week points to war crimes by all sides – but garners relatively little international attention. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood catches up with Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ethiopia William Davison to make sense of what’s happening. They discuss why the truce failed to hold over the summer, and notably why Tigrayan leaders chafe at the federal government’s refusal to restore basic services – electricity, telecommunications and banking – in Tigray. They talk about the war’s human toll and this past week’s UN human rights experts’ report. They examine the thorny challenges to peace talks, especially the disputed territory of Western Tigray, part of the region since the 1990s but captured by Amhara forces in the war’s early days. They talk about Eritrea’s role and whether the Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki would accept any deal that left the Tigrayan leadership in place. They also talk about both sides’ apparent goals – for the Ethiopian government and allied forces, subduing the Tigrayan leadership; for Tigrayan forces, breaking the siege – and why neither is likely to prevail militarily any time soon. Finally, they discuss the prospects for bringing the parties back to the table, and what foreign diplomats involved can do.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Tigray, check out Crisis Group’s recent statement: Avoiding the Abyss as War Resumes in Northern Ethiopia.

Episode 2: What to Watch at the UN General Assembly, plus Ukraine’s Kharkiv Offensive and the Armenia-Azerbaijan Border Clashes

World leaders are gathering this week in New York for UN General Assembly week, in an event that looks set to be overshadowed by Russia’s war in Ukraine and skyrocketing food and fuel prices. In a two-part episode, Richard talks first to Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director Olga Oliker to get the latest on Russia’s war in Ukraine, particularly how Ukrainian forces recaptured large chunks of Russian-held territory in the Kharkiv region in a matter of days, and what their advance might mean for the war. They also catch up on the recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and whether the fallout from the Ukraine war might have emboldened Baku.

Richard then talks to Crisis Group’s UN Director Richard Gowan about what we should be watching during UN General Assembly week. They talk about UN Security Council politics over Ukraine and how the world body, including the Secretary-General, has responded to the crisis more broadly. They also discuss other crises the UN is dealing with, from peacekeepers struggling in parts of Africa to UN envoys’ efforts in the Middle East and the UN’s role in Afghanistan. Lastly, they look at prospects for UN reform, what appetite there is on the UN Security Council, particularly among its permanent five members, for change and – more broadly – what we can expect of the world body in an era of fraught geopolitics and resurgent nationalism.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more analysis ahead of the UN General Assembly’s 77th session, check out Crisis Group’s special briefing: Ten Challenges for the UN in 2022-2023.

Episode 1: Iraq’s Political Crisis, Moqtada al-Sadr and a Divided Shia House

Almost a year since Iraq’s parliamentary elections in October 2021, the country’s political parties have struggled to form a new government. Despite doing well in the vote, the Sadrist Movement, led by powerful Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, has been thwarted in its attempts to build a governing coalition, thanks to a decision by Iraq’s Supreme Court. The court required a two-thirds quorum to convene parliament to select a president, who in turn would nominate the prime minister. In protest, al-Sadr threatened to quit politics and withdrew his deputies from parliament. Days later, his supporters, who had occupied parliament and entered the presidential palace, clashed with paramilitary groups loyal to al-Sadr’s Shia rivals. The fighting was the worst the capital Baghdad had seen in years. Violence has abated for now, but it is far from clear whether Sadr and his rivals can reach agreement on a way forward.

In our first episode of Season 3 of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group’s Senior Iraq Analyst Lahib Higel to make sense of the political turmoil engulfing the country. They talk about how the crisis came about and why Sadr’s attempts to form a government have failed. They discuss the opposition he faces from his main political rivals, the coalition of Shia parties known as the “Coordination Framework”, which is backed by Iran, and look at Tehran’s hand in the crisis and Washington’s influence on Iraqi politics more broadly. They talk about the prospects for rapprochement between al-Sadr and his Shia rivals, as negotiations on a new government look set to resume amid calls for early elections. They also assess risks of another bout of fighting. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Iraq, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Iraq country page.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.