Hold Your Fire! (Season 2)
Hold Your Fire! (Season 2)
Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood host Hold Your Fire! CRISISGROUP
Podcast 20+ minutes

Hold Your Fire! (Season 2)

In Season 2 of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh speak to Crisis Group field analysts and special guests to get their unique, on-the-ground perspective on an array of world conflicts. They cover the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, military coups in West Africa and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 — and its global fallout. Episodes from other seasons of Hold Your Fire! can be found here: Season 1 and Season 3.

Season 2

Episode 41: Season Finale: Ukraine and an Unsettling Few Months in Global Politics

In a special Hold Your Fire! episode to mark the end of Season Two, Richard Atwood speaks first to Olga Oliker, Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia director, for an update on the war in Ukraine, and then to Comfort Ero, its president and CEO, to reflect back on a rocky six months. Olga talks about the latest from the front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine. She and Richard discuss what is happening in Russian-occupied territories, whether Moscow’s goals in Ukraine have evolved, and potential scenarios for the months ahead. They look at the impact of Western sanctions on Russia and prospects for getting Ukrainian grain out of Black Sea ports. They also zoom out, and reflect on European security and relations with Russia more broadly.

Richard and Comfort then look back at an unsettling few months in global affairs. They reflect on the West’s Ukraine policy and the dilemmas Russia’s invasion poses for an organisation like Crisis Group in trying to find a sustainable end to the war. They talk about the global fallout, particularly reactions from around the world and why many non-Western leaders have distanced themselves from efforts to isolate Russia, and feel Western capitals should be investing more into addressing a perfect storm of other challenges – price hikes in food and fuel, poor countries’ debt burdens and the climate emergency. They also survey some of the world’s other wars and crises, many in danger of being neglected as attention focuses on Ukraine.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

This is the last episode of the first season of Hold Your Fire!. Please do get in touch with any feedback for the hosts or ideas for the next season at podcasts@crisisgroup.org.

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 40: India’s Response to Russia’s War in Ukraine

Since late February, when Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border en masse, India has steered what it portrays as a neutral course on the war. It has abstained on UN votes condemning Russia’s invasion. New Delhi refuses to publicly blame Moscow for the crisis, even while emphasising India’s traditional respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has maintained India’s historically close ties to Moscow, increasing Russian oil imports and receiving Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on a diplomatic visit in April. Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended, along with his Argentinian, Indonesian, Senegalese and South African counterparts, the summit of the G7 — or Group of Seven — which brought together leaders from seven industrialised countries, mostly NATO member states. On the agenda were the Ukraine war, its wider ramifications and ways to tackle rising commodity prices, as well as other global challenges.

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks with Crisis Group trustee and former Indian Foreign Secretary and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon about India’s foreign policy and its response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. They discuss Modi’s participation in the G7 summit and look back at what has motivated New Delhi’s response to the war, particularly its relations with Russia. They talk about the key priorities driving India’s foreign policy and its security dilemmas in Asia, notably its border dispute with China in the Himalayas and its long rivalry with Pakistan. They discuss India’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, Japan and the U.S. and what role the Quad might play in Asian security in the years ahead. They also talk about the contrast between the way New Delhi and other non-Western capitals view the Ukraine war, especially Western sanctions against Russia, and the views among NATO leaders.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 39: Finland’s NATO Application, Western Policy in Ukraine and the War’s Global Fallout

NATO leaders meeting next week in Madrid have a lot on their agendas. Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered its fifth month, with fierce fighting continuing along front lines in Ukraine’s east and south. Media coverage increasingly suggests differences of opinion are hurting the unity NATO powers have displayed thus far during the crisis. The war’s global fallout is becoming ever starker, as a commodities crisis and cost of living hikes start to bite in different parts of the world. NATO leaders will also discuss Finnish and Swedish applications to join the alliance, a reversal of both countries' decades-long position outside NATO. Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine rapidly swayed publics in both countries toward membership. Hurdles remain, however: Türkiye has so far blocked the application, criticising, amongst other things, what it believes is too lax a policy within the Scandinavian countries toward the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkish insurgent group that Türkiye, along with other countries, lists as a terrorist organisation.

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks with former Finnish Prime Minister and Crisis Group trustee Alexander Stubb about the Finnish decision to join NATO, the war in Ukraine more broadly and its global ramifications. They break down the reasons behind the dramatic shifts in Swedish and Finnish public opinion, what a successful application would mean for the balance of force between NATO and Russia, and the likelihood of Turkish opposition scuppering their chances of membership. They talk more widely about NATO policy toward Ukraine, looking at how Western powers should respond to different scenarios. They also ask whether cracks are showing in NATO’s unity. They discuss global perceptions of the war and of Western policy, as an economic crisis partly fuelled by the war looms. They also look at why some leaders in the Global South have distanced themselves from the West’s efforts to isolate Russia and even blame Western sanctions as much as Russia’s aggression for fuel and food price hikes. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the war in Ukraine, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Ukraine country page and read our latest commentary, "Why Türkiye’s Hindrance of NATO’s Nordic Expansion Will Likely Drag On".

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 38: Rollercoaster Politics Ahead of Kenya’s August Elections

Kenya’s presidential race has been turned upside down. After a high-profile split with President Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto – despite being in government for the last nine years – is running on an anti-establishment platform. Having distanced himself from Kenyatta, Ruto is positioning himself as a man of the people, or the “hustler in chief”, opposing the political elite. Meanwhile, his main rival Raila Odinga – for decades an opposition leader and fierce critic of the government – has been endorsed by Kenyatta, thus becoming the establishment candidate. At the same time, while previous Kenyan polls have been shaped mostly by ethnic politics, the 2022 race has also seen economic issues come to the fore, with Ruto promising wide-ranging reforms. Whatever its outcome, the election matters not just in Kenya, but for the entire region, riddled by war and crises.

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director, Murithi Mutiga, to talk about the campaign thus far and what to expect from the election. They discuss how things got so bitter between Kenyatta and Ruto, and what the bad blood might mean for the outcome of the vote. They talk about the main issues dominating the election, as Ruto plays on people’s economic frustrations and Odinga portrays himself as a unifier. They also discuss the risks of a disputed outcome, in a country that has suffered terrible bloodshed after contested results in the past. They look at the impact on Kenyan politics of indictments against Kenyatta and Ruto by the International Criminal Court, which were dropped in 2014 and 2016 respectively. They also look at how Nairobi views the war in Ukraine and the impact of the commodities crisis that war has triggered.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Kenya, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Kenya country page, including our recent briefing “Kenya’s 2022 Election: High Stakes”.

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 37: Multilateral Peacemaking After Ukraine: A Look at Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya

How much have the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reverberated across other warzones? Moscow is involved in several of the world’s conflicts, and the breakdown of relations between Russia and the West could endanger peacemaking elsewhere. In Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, Russian peacekeepers monitor a ceasefire brokered by Moscow between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the 2020 war. Moscow is also co-chair, along with France and the U.S., of the Minsk Group, the main format for peace talks over Nagorno-Karabakh. In Libya, the Kremlin backs military commander Khalifa Haftar, who leads forces in Libya’s east. Moscow is the only capital in the world to recognise as Libya’s prime minister Fathi Bashagha, who heads a rival cabinet to the internationally recognised government in Tripoli.

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group’s teams on Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya respectively to discuss the Ukraine war’s impact on these crises and diplomatic efforts to resolve them. First, he talks to South Caucasus experts Olesya Vartanyan and Zaur Shiriyev about the role of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, how their presence is perceived by Armenians and Azerbaijanis in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how diplomacy around the conflict is evolving. After that, he speaks with Claudia Gazzini, Crisis Group’s Libya expert, about Russian involvement in Libya, the role of Russian private contractors from the Wagner Group and what motivated the Kremlin’s recognition of Bashagha. They also discuss how the Ukraine war has changed prospects for international diplomacy, given Russian involvement in previous talks aimed at helping resolve the conflict.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on these crises, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Caucasus regional page and our Libya country page.

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 36: Who is Rodolfo Hernández, Colombia’s “TikTok King”, and Can He Win the Presidency?

Colombians decisively rejected mainstream political parties in the first round of their presidential election last week, with two anti-establishment candidates advancing to the run-off on 19 June. Gustavo Petro, a leftist former guerrilla, promises to overhaul the country’s socio-economic system. He’s drawn fierce opposition from Colombia’s financial elites. His opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, known as the “King of TikTok”, has connected with voters through an astute social media campaign and is often compared to former U.S. president Donald Trump for his populist and sometimes outlandish rhetoric. The candidate that came in third in the first round of voting, establishment-backed Federico Gutiérrez, has thrown his weight behind Hernández, arguably making him the favourite. It remains unclear how Hernández will tackle Colombia’s most acute challenges, notably the inequality and corruption that drove country-wide protests last year and rampant insecurity in the countryside. In May this year, an armed strike organised by a former paramilitary, now criminal, group, the Gulf Clan, paralysed several regions in northern Colombia for days.

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group experts Elizabeth Dickinson, Senior Colombia Analyst, and Renata Segura, Deputy Program Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. They talk about the candidates’ campaigns and Colombians’ disenchantment with their political elite. They discuss the hurdles Petro will have to surmount to win the run-off. They chart Hernández’s meteoric rise and dissect some of his proposals. They assess Colombia’s worsening insecurity, as armed groups, from guerrillas to former rebels and criminal gangs, exploit the state’s absence in rural areas. They also discuss what the election of Hernández or Petro would mean for Colombia’s foreign relations and Latin American politics more broadly.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Colombia, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Colombia country page, including our recent Q&A “Colombia’s Election Clash Rattles a Fragile Peace”.

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 35: New President in Somalia, New Opportunity for Reconciliation

On 15 May, Somali lawmakers voted in new president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The peaceful vote and transfer of power drew a line under what had been a fraught, long-delayed and sometimes violent electoral process that repeatedly threatened to tip into a major political crisis. Defeating the incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as “Farmajo”, Hassan Sheikh became the first Somali to hold the presidency twice – having already served between 2012 and 2017. The new president promises reconciliation among Somalis and a new era of peace. But he faces daunting challenges. Foremost among them are deep divisions among Somali political elites, particularly between the capital Mogadishu and Somalia’s federal member states, or regions, and the long struggle against the Islamist militant group and al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group’s Senior Somalia Analyst, to talk about what the change in power means for Somalia. They discuss how it might impact domestic politics, notably the fraught dynamics between Mogadishu and federal member states. They look at how Somalia’s foreign relations might evolve: in the Horn of Africa, where Farmajo had forged tight links to Ethiopia and Eritrea; in the Gulf, where Farmajo’s close ties to Qatar had alienated the United Arab Emirates; and with Western governments that had grown impatient with his election delays. They then talk in depth about a forthcoming Crisis Group report on prospects for dialogue with Al-Shabaab. Omar and Richard map out the many challenges to such engagement: the troubled history of dialogue with Al-Shabaab, the group’s uncompromising nature, unpopularity and foreign ties, political fractures among other Somalis and resistance in regional capitals. They examine why, despite all the challenges, it would be worth President Hassan Sheikh testing the water with the group’s leaders to see what sort of compromise might be feasible. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on Somalia, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Somalia country page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report “Testing the Water: Considering Political Engagement with Al-Shabaab in Somalia”.

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 34: Shades of Jihad in Syria

On 3 February, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that American special forces had killed the leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), Abdullah Qardash, in a house where he was hiding out in Idlib province, in north west Syria. Idlib is held by another militant group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate and supposedly a sworn enemy of ISIS. Qardash’s killing came just after ISIS’s largest attack in the country for years on a prison holding many ISIS prisoners in the north east, and a two-week long pitched battle between ISIS and the mostly Kurdish forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), that control that area. Other ISIS attacks over recent years in the north east and the desert in central Syria suggest that despite having lost the territory it controlled for some years, ISIS remains a resilient insurgency. Moreover, its enemies are largely antagonistic toward each other and new fighting among them could open more space for jihadists. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group experts Dareen Khalifa, Senior Analyst on Syria, and Jerome Drevon, Senior Analyst on Jihad and Modern Conflict, about ISIS in Syria, its global footprint and the evolution of HTS. They assess the strength of ISIS, the nature of its insurgency and Qardash’s role before his death. They look at links between ISIS in Syria and affiliates in other parts of the world, notably Africa, where more local militants now fight under ISIS’s banner. They talk about the challenges faced by the largely Kurdish SDF, which leads the ISIS fight in the north east, their relations with Arabs in areas they control, their enmity with Turkey and their reliance on U.S. protection. They also discuss HTS and its rule in Idlib, where Qardash was killed, drawing on frequent visits to that area. They discuss the state of play in Syria more broadly – the U.S.’s presence in the north east, the uneasy ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia in the north west and the precarious calm that prevails after years of brutal war. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on Syria, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Syria country page.

You can also find a full transcript of this episode here.

Episode 33: A Perilous Free-for-all in the Eastern DR Congo?

Neighbouring states are fighting again in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In November 2021, Tshisekedi invited Ugandan units to cross into the DRC’s North Kivu province in pursuit of the ISIS-linked Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group blamed for a high profile attack last November in Ugandan capital Kampala. The following month, Burundian soldiers clashed with a Burundian rebel group also on Congolese soil. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has suggested that his country’s troops could soon also cross the border to battle Rwandan rebels, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), who are also based in the eastern DRC.

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Great Lakes expert Nelleke van de Walle to make sense of what’s happening. They discuss politics among Great Lakes leaders and Tshisekedi’s efforts to develop closer ties to his neighbours in an effort to stabilise the eastern Congo. They talk about the myriad rebel groups – Congolese and foreign – active in the area, and their local and regional ties. They discuss Kagame’s concerns and how Tshisekedi can better delineate the role of the thousands of Ugandan forces now in the DR Congo. They also discuss how the Congolese president and other regional leaders can dissuade Kagame from sending in Rwandan forces. They discuss the role of the DR Congo’s neighbours in the east, an area that has long suffered from foreign meddling and predatory rebel groups, and prospects for improving the lives of its inhabitants.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the fighting in the eastern DRC, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Great Lakes regional page and keep an eye out for an upcoming briefing on the conflict.

Episode 32: Taliban Rule in Afghanistan

It’s been almost nine months since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. What for years had been the world’s deadliest war is mostly over and the country is suffering considerably less violence, though reprisals against some former members of the security forces and attacks by the local Islamic State branch continue. Afghanistan is also in the grips of an economic crisis. The UN and humanitarian organisations managed to stave off a famine over the past winter. But the situation remains dire as the prices of staples rise and the Afghan central bank has collapsed. The economic squeeze largely owes to Western policy, particularly donors cutting off all but essential aid, and Western capitals seizing Afghanistan’s assets and applying pre-existing sanctions on the Taliban insurgency to the state as a whole. The Taliban’s decision, on 23 March, not to reopen girls’ secondary schools across the country, despite repeatedly promising to do so, has made it even less likely that donors will reverse course. That decision is only one of several recent edicts that suggest a harder line by the Taliban government.

This week on
Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Afghanistan experts Graeme Smith and Ibraheem Bahiss, both recently returned from their first trip to the country since the Taliban seized control. They talk about their time in the capital Kabul and how it compares to life before the takeover. They explain the impact of the country’s economic isolation, dependence on humanitarian aid and faltering central banking system — in particular the costs for millions of Afghans struggling to scrape by. They discuss in depth Western policies related to aid, the frozen assets and sanctions. They break down the Taliban’s decision to keep girls’ secondary schools closed and what that says about debates within, and the direction of, the Taliban government. They also describe resistance to that decision among many Afghans and prospects for teenage girls desperate to get back to school.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s extensive analysis on our Afghanistan country page.

Episode 31: Is the Danger of a NATO-Russia War Growing?

Ukraine’s war has entered a new phase, with Russia launching a major offensive in the east and south. This follows Moscow pulling back its forces from around Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, after fierce Ukrainian resistance and seemingly changing its immediate goals to focus on capturing more of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Kyiv’s Western allies have pledged to increase supplies of advanced weaponry to help Ukrainian forces fend off Russia’s latest offensive. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Olga Oliker, Crisis Group’s Europe & Central Asia Director, for the latest update on the fighting in Donbas, how Western capitals have responded and whether the risks of direct confrontation between NATO and Russia are growing. They discuss what’s happening on the front lines in Donbas and ask what the latest fighting says about Moscow’s tactics and goals. They talk about the likelihood of Russia trying to capture a land bridge across southwest Ukraine to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, as one Russian general has threatened. They also talk about policy in Western capitals, as NATO member states pledge to send more weapons to Kyiv, and how well Western leaders are balancing the need to support Ukraine while minimising risks of a NATO-Russia war that could rapidly turn nuclear. They also talk about the prospects of diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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

Episode 30: European Security and France’s Election in the Shadow of Russia’s War in Ukraine

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Gérard Araud, Crisis Group Trustee, distinguished French diplomat and former ambassador to both the UN and the U.S., to look at the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the war enters its second month and Russia launches a major offensive in Ukraine’s east and south, they discuss the dilemmas Western governments face in supporting Ukraine, while avoiding risks of direct conflict between NATO and Russia. They walk through different aspects of Western policy, from the provision of weapons to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia to diplomacy aimed at ending the war. They also reflect back on past decades of deteriorating relations between the West and Russia. They map out the war’s implications for Europe’s security architecture and transatlantic relations, and what it means for French President Emmanuel Macron’s vision of European strategic autonomy. They also discuss the French election and what a Le Pen presidency could bring for France and its place in Europe and the world. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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

Episode 29: Pakistan After Imran Khan’s Ouster: Tests at Home and Away   

On 10 April, Pakistani legislators passed a no-confidence vote that ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. The vote capped weeks of political turbulence, as a coalition of rival parties accused Khan’s government of chronic mismanagement amidst an intense economic crisis fuelled by soaring inflation. Khan has not gone quietly. Parliamentarians from his party walked out of the National Assembly in protest at the vote and thousands of furious supporters have taken to the streets. Khan accuses his successor Shahbaz Sharif of abetting a foreign conspiracy aimed at toppling him. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined from Lahore by acclaimed author, journalist and Crisis Group trustee Ahmed Rashid to talk about Pakistan’s political crisis, what it might mean for the country's stability and challenges for the Sharif government. They discuss Khan’s response to his ouster and how disruptive a force his movement might be in the months ahead. They look at his apparent fall from grace with the chiefs of Pakistan’s powerful military. They discuss the dilemmas facing Sharif, particularly, reviving a floundering economy, navigating relations with the military and containing rising Islamist militancy, all the while managing coalition politics. They also talk about the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine and its impact on a difficult foreign policy agenda: repairing relations with Western capitals, keeping China on board and managing what appeared to be warming ties to Moscow, alongside the traditionally bitter rivalry with India and complicated relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Pakistan country page and make sure to read our recent Q&A, “Imran Khan’s Fall: Political and Security Implications for Pakistan” , and our report, “Pakistan’s Hard Policy Choices in Afghanistan”.

Episode 28: Can a Truce and New Government Help End Yemen’s War?

On 7 April, the head of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi made the surprise announcement that he would cede all executive power to an eight-person presidential council. His handover comes only days after the start of a UN-mediated two-month truce between Huthi rebels and a fractious coalition of anti-Huthi forces backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Peter Salisbury, Crisis Group’s Senior Yemen Analyst, about what’s behind these two announcements and what they might mean for the war and prospects for peace talks. They break down how shifting battle dynamics may explain the truce, what exactly it entails for Yemenis and the likelihood of it holding. They also make sense of President Hadi’s handover of power and the evolving calculations in the Gulf, notably Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. They examine whether a government that is more representative of the balance of force among anti-Huthi factions on the ground could open space for credible peace talks and improve prospects of ending a war that has provoked one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Yemen country page, make sure to read our recent Q&A: ‘Behind the Yemen Truce and Presidential Council Announcement’ and check out our previous Yemen episode.

Episode 27: Can a “Humanitarian Truce” Help End Ethiopia’s Civil War?

After almost seventeen months of devastating civil war in Ethiopia, the federal government on 24 March announced what it called a humanitarian truce. The offer would ostensibly allow aid into Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has, in effect, been under a blockade for months and where millions face what the UN describes as a serious lack of food. The government’s unilateral truce declaration comes after its offensive in late 2021 pushed back Tigrayan forces, who had advanced to within striking distance of the capital Addis Ababa – the latest about-face in a war that has seen the balance of force between federal troops and Tigrayan rebels swing back and forth. It also comes alongside other signals that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed may have tempered his initial goal of crushing Tigray’s leadership. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood, Naz Modirzadeh and William Davison, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, discuss the causes and significance of the government's proposal. They map out the military dynamics on the ground and the evolving calculations of Tigrayan leaders, Prime Minister Abiy, other Ethiopian protagonists in the conflict and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, whose forces were also fighting alongside the federal troops against the Tigrayans. They talk about the role of foreign powers in supporting President Abiy Ahmed and in pushing for peace and break down how regional relations are shaping the conflict. They ask how optimistic we should be that the truce eases Tigray’s humanitarian disaster or even serves as a foundation for peace talks and how such talks might surmount the thorniest obstacles – notably resolving a territorial dispute in Western Tigray – to a political settlement.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ethiopia page.

Episode 26: Decoding Russia’s Nuclear Threats over Ukraine

Since Russian forces crossed en masse the Ukrainian border a month ago, the war has been overshadowed by Moscow’s nuclear menacing. Vladimir Putin has made thinly veiled threats of nuclear escalation as a way to deter other governments coming to Ukraine’s aid. He also announced he was placing Russian nuclear deterrence forces on “high alert”, though the meaning of that is not entirely clear. Recent proclamations by Russian officials that Ukraine might use biological and chemical weapons add to concerns that Russia is laying the ground for its own use of such weapons. 

In this week’s episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Olga Oliker, Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director, discuss the significance of Russia’s nuclear threats and what they aim to achieve. They talk about Russia’s nuclear doctrine and widespread perceptions in Western capitals about its “escalate to de-escalate” policy. Olya also runs through Moscow’s failure to conquer Ukraine quickly in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, backed by Western arms supplies, and what that might mean for the Kremlin’s calculations. They talk about the potential dangers of greater NATO involvement, scenarios that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons, what that would mean and ways of minimising risks of a catastrophic nuclear confrontation. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ukraine country page and make sure to read our recent statement, “Avoiding an Even Worse Catastrophe in Ukraine” and Olga’s recent piece for Foreign Affairs, “Putin’s Nuclear Bluff”.

Episode 25: The Fallout from Ukraine: Iran Talks Stalled; U.S. Woos Caracas?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Crisis Group’s Iran and Andes senior analysts Naysan Rafati and Phil Gunson to talk about the Ukraine war’s fallout on Iran nuclear talks and Venezuela’s crisis. Naysan discusses Russia’s role in the talks over Iran’s nuclear program, what Moscow’s latest demands regarding carve-outs from Ukraine-related sanctions entail and whether they could scupper efforts to get back to the nuclear deal. Phil talks through a surprise visit to Caracas by a high-ranking U.S. delegation – its meeting with Venezuelan officials all the more surprising given that Washington formally recognises an opposition leader as Venezuela’s president. They discuss Venezuela-Russia relations, prospects for U.S.-Venezuela bridge-building and for reinvigorating talks between the Venezuelan government and its opponents.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ukraine country page and make sure to read our recent commentary, ‘A Twist in Caracas: Is a Venezuela-U.S. Reboot on the Cards?’ and statement, ‘Avoiding an Even Worse Catastrophe in Ukraine’.

Episode 24: France’s Troop Withdrawal from Mali

On 17 February, President Emmanuel Macron announced he would withdraw all French troops from Mali after a deployment in the country of almost ten years. In early 2013, French forces together with Chadian troops ousted jihadists from cities and towns in northern Mali, which created space for a peace deal between Bamako and other, non-jihadist rebels. Since then, however, the French-led campaign against militants in the Sahel has struggled against local al-Qaeda and Islamic State branches. French operations have killed jihadist leaders, but militants have extended their reach from northern Mali to its centre and to parts of Niger, Burkina Faso and even Gulf of Guinea countries. Inter-ethnic violence has ballooned. Mali has also suffered two coups over the past couple of years. Relations between Paris and the junta currently holding power have deteriorated sharply, partly because Mali’s military leaders had agreed, mid-2021, to the deployment of Russian private military contractors to help fight jihadists. Popular anger toward France’s deployment has also mounted, seemingly partly fuelled by disinformation. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim and Richard Moncrieff, respectively Crisis Group’s senior Sahel analyst and interim Sahel director, about the French decision, its causes and its implications. They look at the collapse in relations between Bamako and Paris, the direction the junta is currently taking Mali and how other countries in the region have responded. They talk through what the French departure might mean for other forces, including the UN force in Mali and the G5 Sahel regional force. They also examine the repercussions for the balance of force between jihadists and their enemies in the Sahel and ask what a future French presence in the region might look like after the withdrawal from Mali. 

N.B. This episode was recorded before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel regional page. For our analysis of African perspectives of the Ukraine War, check out our commentary ‘The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis’.

International Women’s Day Special Episode: Can War Be Feminist?

Both our political mapping of conflict and peacebuilding efforts too often neglect the powerful role of gender dynamics in driving war. The identities of men and women shape their motivations and strategies at times of conflict, as well as the ways they experience violence, whether as victims, fighters or peacemakers. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Azadeh Moaveni, Crisis Group’s gender and conflict project director for a special episode for International Women’s Day to discuss the complex relationship between gender and conflict. They highlight some of Crisis Group’s recent work – discussing how women and girls experience Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis and their roles as insurgents and peace activists, as well as the story of women’s peacebuilding in Pakistan’s North West tribal belt, and how their hard-fought struggle for rights has shaped the prospects of a region mired in militancy and cultural conservatism. They also talk about the outlook for women across Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover, and the ongoing detention of ISIS-affiliated women and children in Syria, forbidden from returning to their home countries. They explore how considering gender can enrich our understanding of conflict resolution. They end with a discussion on several countries’ adoption over recent years of feminist foreign policies, what those policies entail and the value of framing foreign relations through a feminist lens. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s work on gender, make sure to explore our Gender and Conflict page and check out our recent reports: “Women and Peacebuilding in Pakistan’s North West” and “Rebels, Victims, Peacebuilders: Women in Cameroon’s Anglophone Conflict”.

Episode 23: The Ukraine War: A View from Moscow

Russia’s war in Ukraine thus far has not gone Moscow’s way. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have expected that Russian forces would capture Ukraine without much resistance, but Ukrainian forces have put up a fierce fight. The Western response has been more united than Putin appears to have anticipated. Russia faces economic isolation, after Western leaders have enacted crippling, far-reaching sanctions, shutting off the country from the global economy. They have also sent arms to Ukraine and deployed additional NATO troops in the countries on the alliance’s eastern flank. Yet for now nothing suggests the Kremlin will reverse course. Talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials continue, but have yielded little. Russia has stepped up its bombardment of Ukrainian cities. Casualties on both sides, and among Ukrainian civilians, are mounting. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined from Moscow by Andrey Kortunov, Crisis Group trustee, director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council and a leading expert on Russian foreign policy. They discuss Russian perspectives on the war, decision-making in the Kremlin, why President Putin appears to have miscalculated so badly and what the next few weeks might hold for the fighting. They look at the danger of the crisis escalating into a wider confrontation between Russia and NATO, potentially through one side misunderstanding the other’s intentions, and at ways to avoid that happening. Andrey also lays out what options exist for de-escalating the conflict and obstacles to that happening. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, visit our Ukraine regional page, and make sure to read our recent Q&A: “No-Fly Zone: War with Russia by Another Name” and our commentary: “The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis?”.

 Episode 22: Any Hope Left For Diplomacy Over Ukraine?

Fighting rages on in Ukraine. Despite massive advantages in fire and manpower, the Russian military is facing much fiercer Ukrainian resistance than Moscow appears to have anticipated and has stepped up airstrikes on Ukrainian cities. Diplomatic efforts still continue, with the two sides meeting to talk about humanitarian access. But casualties and the levels of destruction continue to rise. Western countries have responded with punishing sanctions, further NATO troop build-ups along the alliance's eastern flank and continued supplies of arms to Ukraine. Meanwhile, a UN General Assembly meeting on 2 March saw a large majority of states vote to condemn Russia’s aggression. Whether Moscow’s diplomatic and economic isolation will have any impact on the Kremlin’s calculations remains to be seen. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood discusses again the war in Ukraine and its fallout, in a two-part episode with Crisis Group experts, Olga Oliker, Europe & Central Asia director and Richard Gowan, UN director. Olga talks about the latest fighting dynamics, what the coming weeks could bring, the Western response so far and whether diplomatic efforts stand any hope of getting to a ceasefire or end to the fighting. Richard Gowan then looks at the overwhelming condemnation in the UN General Assembly of Russia’s aggression and reactions to the crisis from around the world. He asks what role the UN might play in Ukraine and examines the war’s potential impact on an already deeply divided Security Council and its conflict management more broadly. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, visit our Ukraine regional page, and make sure to read our recent commentary, ‘The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis?’ and our statement, ‘War in Europe: Responding to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine’.

Episode 21: Russia’s War in Ukraine

On Thursday 24 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the launch of, in his words, a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Russian airstrikes on military and other infrastructure near Ukrainian cities were followed by massive troop advances from the north, east and south. Despite fierce Ukrainian resistance, Russian forces have reached the capital Kyiv, where fighting rages on the city’s streets. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on all Ukrainians to arm themselves to defend their homeland. Notwithstanding months of warnings, as perhaps as many as 200,000 Russian troops have massed at the Ukrainian border, the Kremlin’s invasion has left Europe, and indeed much of the world, in shock. It seems inevitable that it will exact a terrible human toll. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and guest host, Crisis Group’s president & CEO Comfort Ero are joined by Olga Oliker, our Europe & Central Asia director to discuss Russia’s aggression. They look at what’s happening on the ground, what the next few days could bring and what happens if the Zelenskyy government falls and the Russians try to install a pliant regime in Kyiv. They talk about the mood in Moscow and reactions to Russia’s invasion from around the world, including in China. They also talk through the Western response – the extent and impact of sanctions, what a NATO build-up would entail and whether Western powers should back Ukrainian resistance and what that might involve. They discuss the impact of Russia’s invasion on wider global affairs.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, visit our Ukraine regional page, and make sure to read our recent statement ‘ War in Europe: Responding to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine’. Comfort and Richard also discuss the Ukraine crisis in their piece, ‘10 Conflicts To Watch in 2022’.

Episode 20: Can Western Diplomacy Still Avert War in Ukraine?

Russia has amassed over 150,000 troops at the Ukrainian border, fuelling growing fear that Moscow plans an attack. Russian leaders deny any such plan and in recent days, the defence minister has claimed that Moscow is pulling back troops and equipment as military drills come to a close. Other reports and satellite imagery suggest, however, that in fact more are arriving. At the same time, front lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region separating areas held by the Ukrainian government and those held by Russia-backed separatists have seen a barrage of shelling, raising further concern that Moscow might use the violence as a pretext for military action. All this comes after an intense few weeks of diplomacy by Western leaders aimed at deterring Moscow. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s president & CEO, are joined by Olga Oliker, Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia Program director, to talk about latest developments, what to make of the recent shelling on front lines in Donbas and whether there is anything more the West can do to stave off further military action by Russia. They talk through Russian demands, from a halt to NATO expansion to Ukrainian compliance with Russia’s interpretation of the Minsk agreements that aim to resolve the Donbas conflicts. They discuss Western efforts to deter Moscow and the degree of unity among Western capitals. They also talk about what a Russian invasion could look like in practice, its human toll and how Western leaders should respond. They also examine prospects for talks on the wider European security architecture if Russia does pull back. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ukraine regional page.

Episode 19: Turkey's Foreign Relations Balancing Act

This week, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Kyiv. The Turkish leader has previously offered to use his ties to Ukraine and reasonably cordial relations with Russia to mediate between the two. They’re unlikely to take him up on the offer, but Erdoğan’s trip was another sign of Turkish involvement in nearby conflicts over the past few years and its changing foreign relations. In late 2020, a Turkish military intervention in Libya propped up the UN-recognised government in Tripoli – an ally of Ankara – and created space for peace talks. At about the same time, in the Caucasus, Ankara backed Azerbaijan in the second Karabakh war of November 2020 that saw Baku recapture territory in and near the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region. In the war's aftermath, Turkey has started normalising relations with its old adversary Armenia. Over the past year, Turkey has also sought to build bridges to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, with whom relations were particularly fraught only a few years ago. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined from Istanbul by Nigar Göksel, Crisis Group’s Turkey director, to make sense of President Erdoğan’s foreign policy. They sketch out the motives for and implications of Turkish involvement in crises across the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus and the eastern Mediterranean, which include support for local forces in northern Syria and maritime disputes in the Mediterranean as well as the interventions in Libya and Azerbaijan. They discuss Turkey’s complicated relations with Russia, testy ties to Western capitals and signs of rapprochement with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel. They ask how much of the evolution in Turkey’s foreign relations is by design, reflects the evolving geopolitics of Turkey’s neighbourhood, or a bit of both. They talk about whether it marks a return to Ankara’s aspirations in the 2000s to have a zero-problems foreign policy. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Turkey regional page.

Episode 18: Another Coup in West Africa: The Burkina Faso Military Seizes Power

Burkina Faso is the latest in a string of African states to fall victim to a military coup. Late January saw Burkinabé soldiers oust President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, dissolve the government and suspend the country's constitution. Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, the coup leader, has promised to address burgeoning violence across much of Burkina’s countryside. Fighting between jihadist militants and the army, together with state-backed militias, has over the past few years killed thousands and displaced 1.5 million people. Many Burkinabé, frustrated at the government’s inability to curb violence, took to the streets in celebration at the military’s power grab. The Burkina coup is the fifth in Africa over the past year, part of a worrying uptick in military takeovers on the continent. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Rinaldo Depagne, Crisis Group’s deputy Africa director and an expert on Burkina Faso, to talk about the coup and its ramifications. They discuss the instability across parts of Burkina that fuelled anger within the population and military, paving the way for the coup. They talk about what Damiba and the military will do next, how his power grab might impact the country’s struggles against Islamist militancy and how it might shape politics in West Africa and the Sahel more broadly. They look at the Burkina coup alongside other military takeovers on the continent and discuss what is driving more frequent coups and the dilemmas the trend poses regional organisations, Western powers and the UN.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel regional page and keep an eye out for an upcoming Q&A. 

Special Episode: Ten Conflicts To Watch in 2022

As Russia appears poised for a military escalation in Ukraine, humanitarian catastrophe looms in Afghanistan and negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal enter crunch time, what should we worry about in the year ahead? Each year Crisis Group’s flagship publication 10 Conflicts to Watch, published with Foreign Policy magazine, looks at the trends, wars and crises that keep us up at night.

On this week’s Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and guest host Ásdís Ólafsdóttir, Crisis Group's Online Communications Manager, are joined by Comfort Ero, our new President & CEO, to talk about what we’re watching in 2022. They talk about big trends overshadowing global affairs: the impact of the pandemic and the climate crises on international peace and security, the human toll of the world’s worst wars, the major and regional power rivalries that hinder peacemaking and make for several increasingly perilous flashpoints, as well as the U.S.’s evolving global role one year into President Joe Biden’s tenure. They look up-close at the latest dynamics in individual crises, from Ukraine and Yemen to Afghanistan and Ethiopia, while sketching out some reasons for hope in an overall gloomy picture. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, make sure to explore the whole of our flagship commentary published with Foreign Policy magazine: "10 Conflicts to Watch in 2022". For some more hopeful news, you can also check out Crisis Group’s Twitter thread 10 Reasons For Hope in 2022.

Episode 17: Will the Iran Nuclear Deal Survive and What Happens if Not?

It’s crunch time for negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal. That deal, the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), curtailed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for substantial sanctions relief. In 2018, President Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the agreement. Four years later, Iran is closer than ever to being able to develop a nuclear weapon. While President Biden came to office vowing to rejoin the deal, months of sustained indirect talks in Vienna this year have made only slow headway. There is a real danger that talks collapse, Iran’s nuclear development continues and the U.S. faces a hard choice between accepting Iran as a nuclear threshold state – able to build a bomb even if not yet having done so – or trying to stop that happening, which could mean military strikes on Iran. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director Ali Vaez. They discuss the current state of negotiations in Vienna, impediments to the U.S. and Iran getting back to compliance with the deal, and strategic calculations in Tehran and Washington, as well as in Europe, China, Russia and the Middle East. They talk about where Iran’s nuclear program stands and what options exist if talks collapse. They also discuss what a potential military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities could look like and what risks it might entail. Ali also lays out how the parties could yet salvage the deal in a way that gives them enough of what they need even if not all of what they want.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Iran regional page. Make sure to look out for our report coming out on Monday, ‘The Iran Nuclear Deal at Six: Now or Never'.

Episode 16: Can the U.S. Address Migration’s “Root Causes” in Central America?

Over recent years, an estimated million and a half Central Americans have made the journey up to the U.S. seeking a better life. Many are fleeing political instability, corruption, poverty or gang violence and predation. In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega has veered toward dictatorship, locking up his rivals and dismantling civil society organisations after winning a fourth term in an election widely condemned as rigged. Ortega’s counterpart in El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, a social media-savvy millennial leader, has had some success in reducing phenomenal levels of violence, seemingly through deals with gangs. But he too, shows worrying authoritarian traits, dismissing Supreme Court justices in an apparent bid to stay in power. There have been bright spots. In Honduras, opposition candidate Xiomara Castro won a peaceful election only a few weeks ago. The ruling party accepted defeat, allaying fears of a political crisis. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Crisis Group’s Analyst for Central America, Tiziano Breda, and its Latin America Program Director, Ivan Briscoe. They talk about Nicaragua’s troubling direction under Ortega and how the outside world should respond. They also talk about Bukele’s record, what explains his popularity and his government’s controversial approach to gang violence. They discuss U.S. policy toward Central America under former President Donald Trump and what has changed under President Joe Biden and ask how much outside actors can realistically help mend the deep-rooted trends that drive migration. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Central America regional page.

Episode 15: Russia in Africa

After a post-Cold War hiatus, Russia is returning to Africa. Through both traditional diplomacy and the deployment of security contractors, Moscow’s influence on the continent is growing. Particularly controversial has been the role of the Wagner Group, a Russian military contractor. In the Central African Republic (CAR), Wagner forces have been at the forefront of operations against rebels. Overall, Russia’s muscular new visibility on the continent has unsettled Western powers. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Pauline Bax, Crisis Group’s senior Africa adviser, joins Richard Atwood and guest co-host Comfort Ero. Pauline has just written a piece on Russia’s role in CAR. They discuss how Russian mercenaries have shifted battlefield dynamics in that country in the government’s favour and popular perceptions of their gains, both in the capital Bangui and in areas affected by fighting. They discuss how Moscow, which had close ties to former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, has navigated Sudan’s revolution. They also talk about Russia’s emerging role in the Sahel, where it has sought to capitalise on anti-France sentiment to win influence. They ask what Russia’s aims are in Africa and what the impact of its increased presence is for Africans themselves.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Russia and Africa pages.

Episode 14: Will Russia Invade Ukraine?

Over recent weeks, some 100,000 Russian troops have massed on the Ukrainian border -- for the second time this year. Ukrainian officials warn of a potential Russian invasion; Western leaders warn of severe consequences if that happens. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia director, Olga Oliker, and Oleg Ignatov, senior Russia analyst. They discuss developments leading to the troop build-up: the breakdown of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian security forces; and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly testy statements about Ukraine’s relations with NATO member states. They look at what Putin may hope to gain with the troop deployments, whether Moscow is really prepared to use military force, what a military intervention might entail and how Ukraine and its Western partners might respond. They also look at what Western powers could do to deter an attack. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ukraine and Russia pages. 

Episode 13: Western Policy and Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Devastation. 

Afghanistan is on the brink of becoming the world’s worst humanitarian emergency. Western governments responded to the Taliban takeover in August by suspending aid, freezing state assets and imposing stringent sanctions regimes. The country’s economy was plunged into freefall as a result. Government salaries remain unpaid, the financial sector has collapsed and cash is in short supply. Millions of the country’s civilians struggle to access basic necessities and feed their families. The UN has already warned that half the country’s citizens are suffering from extreme hunger. Things only look set to get worse as winter sets in. 

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Afghanistan expert Graeme Smith about this crisis and the responsibility shouldered by Western governments. They talk about the Taliban’s refusal to do much in the way of compromise on draconian policies so far, especially limiting education for girls and women, curtailing women’s right to work and shunning demands for political inclusion. They discuss the dilemma facing Western governments, Washington’s status as an economic gatekeeper, the role played by the Europeans and how Afghanistan’s neighbours have responded to the Taliban takeover. They ask what Western policymakers, particularly in Washington, should do to help humanitarian organisations operate effectively and alleviate the looming emergency.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Afghanistan page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report. 

Episode 12: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte: Populist or Peacemaker?

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s term ends next June. Abroad, Duterte is arguably best known for a brutal anti-drug campaign which has killed thousands of people, prompting the International Criminal Court to open an official probe into alleged crimes against humanity. Yet Duterte has also nudged along a peace process in the Muslim-majority region of Mindanao, where Duterte himself is from, helping turn the page on a decades-long conflict that had killed 120,000 people. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Georgi Engelbrecht, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for the Philippines. They discuss Duterte’s legacy as his term comes to a close. They talk about the splits in Duterte’s own political camp, as his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, registers to run as vice presidential candidate on a rival ticket. They discuss the cost of the violent anti-drug campaign and Duterte’s popularity among Filipinos. They also talk about the peace process in Mindanao, the continued challenge posed by Islamist militancy and Duterte’s failed attempts to open talks with communist rebels. Lastly, they look at Duterte’s foreign policy and efforts to pivot toward closer relations with China. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Philippines page and read Georgi’s recent Q&A ‘The Philippines: Three More Years for the Bangsamoro Transition’.

Episode 11: Bosnia Unravelling? 

Bosnia faces what the current international High Representative to the country, Christian Schmidt, calls “its greatest existential threat of the post-war period”. It is grappling with dual crises that could upend the fragile status quo that has endured since the 1995 Dayton Accords ended Bosnia’s brutal civil war. In October, Milorad Dodik, the de facto leader of the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, vowed to pull out of state institutions, paving the way for independence or union with neighbouring Serbia. Meanwhile, Bosniaks and Croats have yet to resolve a longstanding electoral dispute and, divided, cannot join together to counter Dodik’s secessionist threats. Both Serbs and Croats threaten to boycott elections planned for 2022. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh and Richard Atwood are joined by Crisis Group Balkans expert Marko Prelec to talk about the crises. They discuss the motives for the Serbian drive for secession, the ongoing electoral dispute that has left Croats feeling disenfranchised, and the High Representative’s role. They look at quick fixes to calm both crises, the necessity but challenges of constitutional reform and revisiting the framework established at Dayton, and what international actors can do to help. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Bosnia And Herzegovina page and make sure to read our recent Q&A ‘Grappling with Bosnia’s Dual Crises'.

Episode 10: Will Tigrayan Rebels Attack Ethiopia’s Capital?

This week, as Ethiopia’s civil war enters its second year, Tigrayan rebels captured the strategically placed cities of Dessie and Kombolcha, only hours away from the country’s capital Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed imposed a state of emergency and exhorted citizens to take up arms to defend the capital. With Tigrayan forces at striking distance, is an all-out assault on the capital imminent?

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard is joined by Crisis Group’s Senior Ethiopia Analyst William Davison to discuss what might happen next. They discuss the factors explaining Tigrayan forces’ offensive, the strain on Ethiopia’s federal forces and the impact of Tigrayan gains on Prime Minister Abiy’s position and his ruling party. They look at the war’s international dimensions: Eritrea’s continued involvement, how Djibouti might respond were Tigrayan forces able to reach the Djiboutian border and seek to open supply lines, and the risk Sudan gets sucked in. They discuss what an assault on the capital by Tigrayan forces might entail and how that can be averted. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ethiopia page and read our latest briefing Ethiopia’s Civil War: Cutting a Deal to Stop the Bloodshed.

Episode 9: The Military’s Dangerous Power Grab in Sudan 

On 25 October, Sudan’s military leaders ousted the country’s civilian government, detaining Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several of his ministers. The coup took place two and a half years after a mass uprising that toppled long-standing ruler Omar al-Bashir. The military, fearful of losing their grip over the economy and of facing judicial action for abuses committed during Bashir’s rule and against protesters, had been reluctant partners in a transitional power-sharing government. Coming less than a year before a planned handover of power to civilians, the power grab was met with fury on the streets. Demonstrations have erupted in a defiant rejection of military rule. 

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz and Richard are joined by two Crisis Group experts, Murithi Mutiga, Project Director for the Horn of Africa, and Jonas Horner, Senior Analyst for Sudan, to talk about the coup, why it happened and what it means for risks of violence and Sudan’s future. They discuss potential splits within the security forces, the possible role played by outside governments, and the way the African Union and Western powers should respond. They also ask if Sudan’s generals have overestimated their hand and how to walk them back from the brink. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sudan page and read our statement ‘Reversing Sudan’s Dangerous Coup’.

Episode 8: U.S.-China Tensions and Beijing’s Show of Strength in the Taiwan Strait 

In recent weeks, record numbers of Chinese fighter jets have entered Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone in what appears to be a deliberate show of strength by Beijing. This comes at a time when tensions between Beijing and the U.S. are particularly fraught. A core part of Washington’s China policy seeks to deter China’s assertiveness in its neighbourhood, as Beijing expands its military presence within the first island chain, which stretches from Japan past Taiwan to the Philippines and Borneo in the South China Sea. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood is joined by Amanda Hsiao, Crisis Group’s Senior China Analyst. They talk about what Beijing hopes to achieve with the flights and how they’re perceived in Taiwan. They also discuss the military build-up in the region and how U.S. and Chinese militaries are more frequently coming into contact with one another. Amanda also talks through how Beijing views its relations with Washington and, with a virtual summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping scheduled for some time this year, prospects for dialling back tensions.  

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our China page. Make sure to check out Amanda’s recent Q&A

Episode 7: Cameroon's Forgotten Anglophone Conflict 

For almost five years, Cameroon’s western provinces have been wracked by a deadly separatist insurgency. In 2016, Anglophone protesters took to the streets angry at the increasing use of French in courtrooms and schools. The government’s crackdown fuelled support for separatism and the emergence of several separatist militias calling for a  new state: Ambazonia. Separatist forces attacked security forces and for years also enforced a school boycott, depriving hundreds of thousands of children of their education. For the most part, Paul Biya’s government has refused to talk directly to separatist leaders and has waged a brutal military campaign. Violence has killed thousands of people and displaced some 700,000 more. For now, no end is in sight. 

In the latest episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Arrey Elvis Ntui, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Cameroon, about the war, its toll and prospects for a settlement. They discuss the origins of Anglophone grievances and the motives of separatists and Biya’s government in Yaoundé. They also talk about the role women play in both the insurgency and peacemaking efforts. They ask what a peaceful settlement would look like, and the role Cameroon’s foreign partners could play in getting the parties to the table.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Cameroon page. Make sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming report. 

Episode 6: Lebanon is Falling Apart 

Lebanon is in the midst of what the World Bank describes as what could be one of the worst economic crises of the past 150 years. Over three-quarters of the population have been plunged into poverty, often struggling to obtain food, medicine and basic necessities amid rampant inflation, currency collapse and widespread shortages. State institutions, including the security forces and police, are increasingly strained. Unrest has mounted as political elites defer necessary reform. The newly appointed government has promised to break the deadlock but it is difficult to see the path out of the crisis, especially with elections only months away. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Naz and Richard are joined by Heiko Wimmen, director of Crisis Group’s Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon Project to discuss the country’s plight. They discuss the origins of the crisis, its everyday consequences for Lebanese citizens, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the role played by competing political factions, including Hezbollah. Three decades after the end of the devastating civil war, they ask what Lebanon’s economic implosion means for relations among the country’s sects and assess risks of violence.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Lebanon page. Make sure to look out for our upcoming report on the political and social ramifications of the crisis. 

 Episode 5: Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?

The war in the Sahel appears to have reached a stalemate. In Mali, fighting pits the Malian security forces, backed by regional militaries and French special forces and airpower, against an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist coalition, JNIM (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). Since Mali’s crisis in 2012-2013, efforts to defeat jihadist militants have only seen their influence expand. Violence has spread across the Sahel at terrible human cost. Two successive coups in Bamako, Mali’s capital, have fuelled political instability. French officials appear exasperated by the lack of progress. Yet militants themselves are also under pressure, with several leaders killed over recent years. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, to ask whether it is time for a new approach. They take stock of the insurgency’s current state, its aims and JNIM’s relationship with al-Qaeda. They discuss the future of the French presence and the consequences of the recent coups. They also speak at length about prospects for talks between the government and JNIM leaders, what such talks might entail and the challenges such a path would pose. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel and Mali regional pages as well as our work on Jihad in Modern Conflict. Be sure to keep an eye out for Ibrahim’s upcoming report.

Episode 4: Avoiding Another Afghanistan: Could Al-Shabaab Seize Power in Somalia? 

Many people in the Somali capital Mogadishu watched with apprehension as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. Could Somalia, struggling against its own Islamist insurgency – Al-Shabaab  – face a similar fate? In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Somalia, to discuss the resurgence of Al-Shabaab as political instability wracks the country and the withdrawal of African Union troops potentially looms. They discuss the state of the insurgency, the capability of Somali defence forces, the troubled relationship between the central government and Somalia’s regions, and the role of East African and other foreign powers. They also talk about whether there is any hope of a political settlement with Al-Shabaab.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Somalia and Horn of Africa pages. 

Episode 3: License to Kill: Lawyering in the War on Terror

Only days after the 9/11 attacks, Congress ushered in extraordinarily broad legislation that authorised President Bush to use military force in order to eliminate terrorist threats to the U.S. In this episode of Hold Your Fire! – the second in a podcast series looking at the legacy of the 9/11 attacks – Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Stephen Pomper, Crisis Group's Interim Chief of Policy, to discuss the lasting legacy of this Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). They discuss the forthcoming Crisis Group report on the topic, “Overkill: Reforming the Legal Basis for the War on Terror”, reflecting on how the AUMF became the legal basis for increasingly wide-ranging military actions embraced by successive administrations, from Bush to Biden, as the fighting against Islamist militants expanded in scope. They also discuss the role of law and lawyers in establishing the boundaries of presidential authority and the consequences of diminished congressional oversight.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our United States page. This episode also features as part of our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the "War on Terror”.

Episode 2: Al-Qaeda and ISIS twenty years after 9/11

On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a new episode of Hold Your Fire! looks at the shadow cast by the “global war on terror” across South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh discuss how Islamist militants – groups like al-Qaeda and later ISIS – have fared in twenty years marked by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the 2011 Arab revolutions, the war in Syria and U.S. counter-terrorism operations in many other corners of the world. They talk about al-Qaeda’s recovery after losing its safe havens in Afghanistan, its vicious local branch in Iraq and its expansion through affiliates elsewhere. They also discuss how al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch exploited the Syrian war and evolved into ISIS, and the later struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda. They take stock of where Islamist militancy stands today, with groups fighting in an increasing number of warzones across Africa and in light of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. They examine what efforts against militants look like today and some of the flaws of existing counter-terrorism policy.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

This episode is the first in a series on this podcast looking at the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the impact of the “global war on terror”. For Crisis Group's other publications on this topic, see our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the "War on Terror”.

Episode 1: Afghanistan: the Islamic State, still no Taliban government and a looming humanitarian catastrophe

After days of chaos at Kabul airport, including an attack by the Islamic State’s local chapter, the last American plane has left, ending the Americans’ twenty-year war against the Taliban. As yet, the Taliban have not announced a new government, and what its rule will look like remains unclear. Afghanistan’s neighbours, other regional powers and Western governments are still working out what engagement with the new government will entail. 

This week Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh welcome back Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss, who is joined by Graeme Smith, a long-time Crisis Group consultant on Afghanistan, to discuss where things stand. They talk about the Islamic State in Afghanistan, its battles with the Taliban and the Taliban’s relations with other transnational militants, including al-Qaeda. They also discuss the emerging resistance in the Panjshir valley, why the Taliban are taking time to form a government, the increasingly desperate humanitarian crisis and what the world can do to address it. They talk about how regional governments appear to be positioning themselves regarding Taliban rule, some of the dilemmas this poses for Western powers and how much the Taliban might be prepared to compromise in return for recognition, sanctions relief and aid. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Afghanistan page.

Special Episode: What Will the Taliban Do Next?

The Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan. A few days ago, insurgents entered the Afghan capital Kabul, topping off a week in which they had swept through cities and towns across the country. Back from a summer hiatus for this special episode, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss about some of the decisions the group will have to make. What will a Taliban government look like? Will the movement share power? What will its rule look like? Will it roll back some of the freedoms Afghans – women in particular – have enjoyed over the past two decades? How will it pay for the costs of running a state? What will its foreign relations look like? They unpack these key questions and what the days ahead could hold for Afghanistan. 


Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Afghanistan page.

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