Special Coverage

On Our Radar

On Our Radar scans conflicts and crises around the globe every week and features some of the hotspots Crisis Group's analysts are closely watching. Whether an under-reported trend or a headline-grabbing development, our field experts explain why it matters or what should be done. 

28 January 2023

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN  The EU on Monday announced its plan to establish a civilian monitoring mission in Armenia that will conduct routine patrols with the aim of fostering stability along the border with Azerbaijan, including in the areas that have witnessed hundreds of casualties since the 2020 war. Crisis Group experts Olesya Vartanyan and Zaur Shiriyev say the mission is a bold step to help prevent tensions spiralling into renewed conflict and get EU-mediated peace talks back on track. The mission, however, would enjoy better prospects of success if the EU can secure Baku’s cooperation and agreement on regular meetings to discuss incident prevention.

BURKINA FASO  The government on Monday formally requested French military forces – some 400 soldiers operating in the country since 2018 as part of efforts to combat jihadist groups – to leave the country within a month. Crisis Group expert Rinaldo Depagne says this decision was motivated by several reasons. The government wants the country to defend itself and promote a patriotic spirit, to look for new external partners to get easier access to military equipment and to satisfy its political base. The announcement followed protests in the capital Ouagadougou against the presence of French forces. 

CAMEROON  Canada last week announced an agreement between the Cameroonian government and several Anglophone separatist groups to engage in a peace process facilitated by Canada to end the brutal conflict ongoing since 2017. The Cameroon government's spokesperson, however, denied that Canada was assigned the role of facilitator. Crisis Group expert Arrey E. Ntui says discreet, low profile consultations between the parties have been ongoing for about two months. The formal announcement of the peace process was supposed to mark a rare, positive step by the parties aimed at ending one of the world’s most neglected conflicts. The surprise rebuttal from Yaoundé highlights divisions within the government and that intense diplomatic effort is required to secure Cameroon’s support.

21 January 2023

DR CONGO  The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for a blast at a church in Kasindi city in the country’s east on Sunday, which killed at least fourteen people and wounded dozens. Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says the blast was almost certainly conducted by the ISIS affiliate Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan-origin, multinational jihadist group which operates in DR Congo’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces. The church attack is only one of a number of recent atrocities, and more than a year of joint Ugandan and Congolese army operations seem to have done little to dent its operational capacity.  

LIBYA  The speaker of Libya’s House of Representatives, Aghila Saleh, on Wednesday announced that UN-backed talks between his Tobruq-based parliament and the rival Tripoli-based assembly had reached a dead end. The objective of those talks, ongoing for the past eight months, was to amend a draft constitution that – if approved by the assemblies – was meant to chart a roadmap toward elections and unify a country that has been divided into two parallel executives since last February. Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini says the announcement is not necessarily bad news. The talks between representatives of the two assemblies were controversial from the outset, and participants did not appear to be willing to negotiate in good faith. The UN envoy now has an opportunity to chart a fresh roadmap toward elections in consultation with Libya's politicians. 

TUNISIA  Thousands of protesters gathered in the capital Tunis on Saturday, the twelfth anniversary of the departure of the autocrat Ben Ali, to rally against current President Kais Saied’s power grab and deteriorating economic conditions. Crisis Group expert Michael Ayari says many citizens describe their daily lives as unbearable amid shortages of essentials, the rising cost of living, crumbling state institutions, increasing corruption, spreading delinquency and a country drained of its best-skilled workers due to legal and illegal migration to Europe. Saied is increasingly isolated and the worsening economic situation could fuel new popular protests, further polarise political elites and cause violence.

14 January 2023

AFGHANISTAN  An explosion near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the heart of downtown Kabul on Wednesday injured at least 40 people, according to a nearby hospital. Taliban officials claimed that only five people were killed but the death toll may rise. Crisis Group expert Graeme Smith says the Islamic State’s local branch, the Islamic State Khorasan Province, claimed the attack. The group is broadening its recruitment beyond traditional supporters in the eastern provinces to benefit from anti-Taliban sentiment in other parts of the country. Still, overall violence remains at low ebb during the winter months, and it’s unclear whether armed resistance against the Taliban will gain traction when the weather improves enough to allow fighters greater mobility. 
ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN  Azerbaijani-supported activists maintained a blockade of the only road that connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. In the entity’s main town of Stepanakert, which is home to roughly half of the mountainous enclave’s Armenian population of 120,000, food shelves are bare and locals queue for hours to buy scarce goods from nearby villages. Schools have shut due to a lack of food, and residents say they can no longer find painkillers, much less medication for diabetes, cancer and other illnesses. Crisis Group’s expert Olesya Vartanyan says the urgent humanitarian situation comes amid an ongoing crisis in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan and after their failure to sign a peace deal in 2022. If the sides do not find a way to resume contacts, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to continue to deteriorate. 
ETHIOPIA  Fulfilling a key clause of the November peace deal, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has begun surrendering heavy weapons to federal forces. Crisis Group expert William Davison says this is another important step that will bolster a still fragile peace process. Critically, the truce is holding, aid is entering Tigray, and the federal government is restoring services, indicating that federal-Tigray relations are improving. But outstanding challenges remain, including the continued presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray and Amhara region’s control of the disputed Western Tigray area.

7 January 2023

COLOMBIA  President Petro on 31 December announced a six-month ceasefire with six armed groups, including National Liberation Army (ELN), two Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident groups and two post-paramilitary groups. The ELN, however, denied a ceasefire had been agreed, prompting the government to clarify that it will be discussed in the ongoing peace negotiations with the group but other armed groups had agreed. Crisis Group expert Renata Segura says the episode marks the government’s first major misstep in the current peace process with the ELN, although no lasting damage may have been done. As most violent altercations in Colombia are between criminal organisations, and not between the state and armed groups, securing the buy-in of the other actors is an important development that could offer immediate relief to conflict-ridden areas.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE  National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir became the first minister in almost five years to enter Jerusalem's Holy Esplanade (the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex). The move, which the Palestinian Authority called an “unprecedented provocation” and Hamas labelled crossing a “red line”, sparked international condemnation, including from Israeli friends the U.S., Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonszein says Ben-Gvir did not enter the compound for religious reasons, nor as a message aimed at Hamas. Rather, he sought to set a precedent for further change to the historic status quo. As an epicentre of friction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with violent clashes as recently as May 2021, any Israeli effort to change the status quo or claim sovereignty over the Holy Esplanade almost certainly will trigger violence far beyond Jerusalem. 

UKRAINE  Ukrainian artillery struck a Russian military base in occupied Makiyivka, a suburb of Donetsk, on New Year’s Eve. A Ukrainian Army Telegram channel said that some 400 mobilised Russians had been killed, while Russia this week admitted 89 had died. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says the strike, which was conducted using the U.S.-supplied HIMARS system, marks the highest number of Russian fatalities in a single incident that Moscow has admitted since the war began. The subsequent blame game among Russian military observers points to persistent disciplinary and logistical problems that may be leading Russian commanders to concentrate large numbers of troops, even within range of Ukrainian artillery.

24 December 2022

AFGHANISTAN  The Taliban authorities announced Tuesday that they would ban women from attending university “until further notice”. Damaging as this misogynistic policy will be to Afghan women, says Crisis Group expert Graeme Smith, it will also hinder the country’s economic recovery from decades of war. Afghanistan already suffers from shortages of female health care workers, teachers and other professionals, many of whom fled after the Taliban’s 2021 takeover for fear of precisely this sort of draconian measure. This move will compound these problems; it may also bring new sanctions. With the Taliban signalling that they will keep the country isolated, international donors should focus on rebuilding livelihoods in order to minimise the population’s suffering. 

PERU  Protests rocked the country for a second week as Congress approved interim President Dina Boluarte’s proposal to hold early elections in April 2024. Boluarte assumed office on 7 December in the wake of her predecessor and running mate Pedro Castillo’s bungled attempt to dissolve the legislature. Lawmakers impeached Castillo for this illegal gambit; he now faces eighteen months in pretrial detention. (Mexico has offered him asylum and granted it to his family.) Unrest has persisted in several southern regions following the legislators’ decision. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche says many Peruvians remain deeply dissatisfied with the country’s political institutions. They are demanding Boluarte’s resignation, snap polls in 2023 and justice for the 27 people killed in clashes with police since Castillo’s ouster.

SUDAN  This week marked the four-year anniversary of the popular uprising that unseated Sudan’s long-time president, Omar al-Bashir, coinciding with a deadline for reaching an agreement to form a civilian government after fourteen months with the military in charge. On 5 December, the military concluded an initial framework deal with a civilian coalition. This agreement has significantly divided Sudanese political actors, delaying the conclusion of talks and inadvertently extending the military’s de facto rule. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says it is critical for all actors to make concessions during the next round of negotiations in order to reach a final accord that has broader legitimacy. The framework agreement, despite its flaws, is an opportunity to form an inclusive civilian government that should not be squandered. 

U.S.-UKRAINE  Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy got a warm reception in Washington Wednesday on his first trip outside the country since Russia’s all-out invasion on 24 February. At a White House meeting, U.S. President Joe Biden affirmed Washington’s continued support for Kyiv, including a Patriot missile battery, reiterating that the U.S. will back Ukraine in the war “as long as it takes”. That evening, Zelenskyy spoke to a joint session of Congress, thanking the U.S. for its massive assistance to date. Displaying awareness of scepticism in the Republican caucus, he stressed that the aid was “not charity” but “an investment” in mutual security objectives – and also not enough. Crisis Group experts Olga Oliker and Michael Wahid Hanna say both presidents scored important political victories: Zelenskyy laid down markers for additional assistance Kyiv hopes to receive down the road, while Biden won a show of bipartisan unity behind his Ukraine policy. Congress will vote on a new aid package before January, when the Republicans will take over the lower house.

17 December 2022

INDIA-CHINA  Indian and Chinese troops clashed along the disputed border in Arunachal Pradesh state in the east last Friday, severely injuring around 30 Indian and likely as many Chinese troops. Both sides reportedly fought with non-lethal weapons such as sticks, nail-studded clubs and tasers to bypass agreements forbidding the use of firearms and blamed each other for the incident. Crisis Group expert Praveen Donthi says though face-offs are common between the troops along the disputed border known as the Line of Actual Control, this is the biggest since the deadly clash in June 2020. It does not portend well for relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which are already under severe stress, and marks the new normal of “no war, no peace” between the two powers.  

KOSOVO-SERBIA  Serbs barricaded highways and border crossings in northern Kosovo in protest against the arrest of a former police officer suspected of taking part in attacks on election officials, and against the presence of heavily armed Kosovo police in Serb-majority areas. The EU and the U.S. embassies in Belgrade and Pristina called on protesters to remove the barricades. Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec says that the EU-led negotiations aimed at normalising the Belgrade-Pristina relationship and securing autonomy for Serb-majority areas in Kosovo continue, while both sides are resorting to unilateral acts on the ground in an attempt to improve their positions in the talks.

PERU  After President Castillo attempted to shutter Congress and rule by decree, Congress impeached him and swore into office Vice President Dina Boluarte as his replacement. His removal sparked nationwide protests demanding the chamber’s dissolution and general elections, which intensified this week with attacks on police stations and Boluarate declaring a 30-day state of emergency. Clashes between protesters and police have killed eighteen and injured hundreds. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche says the wave of violence comes at a time when citizens’ confidence in Peruvian democracy and political actors has severely deteriorated as politicians have failed to address growing challenges, such as high levels of extreme poverty and unprecedented levels of food insecurity. Many see general elections and all-inclusive dialogue as the only exit from the crisis.

10 December 2022

EL SALVADOR  President Bukele announced a military operation involving 10,000 police officers and soldiers against gangs in the country’s most populous city of Soyapango. The operation, branded as a new phase of the government’s security strategy, takes place under a state of emergency imposed in March in response to a sudden uptick in gang violence. Crisis Group expert Tiziano Breda says that the operation, while unlikely to lead to a permanent weakening of gangs, is designed to be a public display of the government’s power and control. Unless it is coupled with efforts to improve services and offer opportunities to youth targeted by gang recruitment, such heavy-handed methods are unlikely to yield anything but a temporary reprieve in violence.

SAUDI ARABIA  China’s President Xi commenced his first visit to the kingdom since 2016. The three-day trip is aimed at boosting and diversifying economic ties beyond oil. Crisis Group expert Anna Jacobs says Xi’s visit symbolises Riyadh’s desire to diversify its relations amid an increasingly multipolar world order and tensions with the U.S. The latter stem from the kingdom’s concerns over Washington’s commitment to its security and U.S. disquiet over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and prosecution of the war in Yemen. Ties further frayed following the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production, which Washington saw as helping Russia mitigate the impact of sanctions. The U.S. will be closely observing agreements made during Xi’s visit, especially those related to defence, arms sales and nuclear power.
SOUTH SUDAN  At least 10,000 civilians in Kodok – the capital of Fashoda county, in Upper Nile state – are at risk of attack by Nuer militia forces from northern Jonglei state. Aided by several Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) soldiers, the militias since early October have repeatedly targeted the local ethnic Shilluk population, displacing tens of thousands. The local Shilluk militia, the Agwalek, has fought the Nuer militia forces. Crisis Group expert Ferenc David Marko says the state government has declared it cannot resolve the crisis, while the small UN peacekeeping force in Kodok is severely understaffed and may fail to deter an attack. The federal government has deployed limited armed forces, but it remains unclear if they are willing, or even able, to protect civilians. External stakeholders, including regional and donor powers, should press Juba to intervene to prevent further bloodshed, while the UN should reinforce the area with more peacekeepers and provide protection for humanitarian relief.

UKRAINE-RUSSIA  Russian authorities accused Ukraine of attacks on three Russian air bases near the cities of Saratov, Ryazan and Kursk on Monday and Tuesday, which killed three people and damaged several aircraft in Russia’s strategic bomber fleet. Kyiv acknowledged the attacks but did not take direct responsibility. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says the strikes once more reveal that Ukraine has long-range capabilities that Russian intelligence seemed to be unaware of and its air defence unprepared for. Whether Kyiv can use such capabilities repeatedly to eventually shift the military balance remains unclear.

3 December 2022

ISIS  The Pentagon said Wednesday former Syrian rebels had killed Abu al-Hasan al-Hashemi al-Qureishi, the top leader of ISIS, in a mid-October operation in Daraa province in southern Syria. ISIS had released an audio recording earlier that day announcing his death. Crisis Group expert Jerome Drevon says al-Qureishi’s demise is another setback for the jihadist group, whose previous chief was killed in February, and which has largely gone underground since losing its last territorial seat in 2019. Yet ISIS remains resilient in Syria, particularly in the centre and north east, where it conducts regular raids while accumulating resources and strengthening its support networks.

PALESTINE  Nine Palestinians were killed this week in confrontations with the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank. An Israeli soldier was badly injured when a Palestinian (later shot dead) rammed into her with his car. A total of 211 Palestinians and nineteen Israelis have lost their lives in Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2022 to date, making it the conflict’s deadliest year since 2006. Beyond the daily violence and indignities of the occupation, several factors are contributing to the heightened tensions, says Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa. Among them are stepped-up Israeli raids, arrests and killings of Palestinians and the bleak prospects for positive change on the ground, given the potential for a new far-right Israeli government with an openly annexationist agenda. 

SOMALIA  Al-Shabaab fighters stormed a hotel in Mogadishu Sunday night, initiating a siege that lasted until the following evening. At least eight civilians, a police officer and five militants died. The Islamist insurgency has ratcheted up its attacks in the Somali capital, mounting a lethal assault on another hotel in August and killing more than 100 people in a bombing of a busy intersection in October. The latest hotel siege is worrying evidence of the militants’ continued ability to strike the city, says Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood, even in districts heavily guarded by security forces. It comes amid a fresh government offensive aimed at rooting Al-Shabaab out of rural areas in central Somalia.

26 November 2022

COLOMBIA  The government this week reopened peace talks with its last remaining leftist insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN). The talks are the centrepiece of President Petro’s plan to seek “total peace” through dialogue with all armed and criminal groups. Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson says that there are enormous expectations riding on the negotiations in conflict-affected communities, both to lower violence and to set the tone for a broader de-escalation. Colombia’s conflict is no longer a fight between the state and armed groups but rather between rival groups, who fight amid and atop the civilian population. The government’s focus on initial humanitarian agreements with these armed and criminal groups could be a first step toward reducing the devastating impact.

IRAN  The government’s crackdown on nationwide anti-government protests continues, especially in Kurdish-majority regions. Tehran also began enriching uranium to 60% as its fortified Fordow plant and promised to install more advanced centrifuges in response to a censure vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says relying on brute force to suppress protests has only deepened domestic anger and mobilised sweeping international condemnation. The lack of progress on resolving outstanding safeguards concerns deepens the impasse around Iran’s nuclear activity. Combined with an array of Western sanctions over Tehran’s arms provision to Russia, the trend lines across intersecting domestic, nuclear and regional fronts give ample reason for concern in the weeks ahead.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE  Unclaimed bombings at two bus stops in Jerusalem during Wednesday’s rush hour killed one Israeli teenager and wounded at least eighteen. Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonzsein says the attacks take place against a backdrop of heightened tensions and volatility. For months Israel has conducted raids in the northern West Bank, which is witnessing its deadliest wave of violence since the Second Intifada. In recent weeks there has been an uptick in Palestinian attacks on Israelis, just as Knesset members are in the process of assembling Israel’s most far-right government ever. The explosions signal a more organised effort to target civilians that will likely provoke a harsher Israeli response, perpetuating a deadly cycle of violence.

19 November 2022

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO  Tens of thousands of villagers in North Kivu province have fled fighting between M23 rebels and the Congolese army in the past week. The UN estimates that 188,000 people have been displaced since the M23 launched an offensive on 20 October. Battles are so intense that humanitarian agencies are unable to aid many of those in need. Congolese authorities continue to accuse neighbouring Rwanda of backing the insurgents, a charge Kigali denies. As the rebels draw closer to Goma, North Kivu’s capital, Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says African-led diplomacy is badly needed to avert the humanitarian catastrophe that would follow the city’s fall.

TÜRKIYE  A bomb went off Sunday in Istiklal Street, a bustling commercial avenue in Istanbul, killing six and injuring 81. No one has claimed responsibility, but authorities quickly blamed the PKK, the Kurdish insurgency that has been battling the Turkish army for decades, and the YPG, its Syrian affiliate (though they did not exclude an ISIS connection). Police arrested a woman, charging her with detonating the explosives. Ankara also excoriated Washington, which is backing the YPG in its fight with ISIS in Syria. The Turkish government sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK; it believes that the group’s quasi-autonomy in Syria is encouraging Kurdish militancy in Türkiye. Crisis Group expert Berkay Mandıracı says the attack raises public expectations that Ankara will carry out a wider incursion into northern Syria to roll back the YPG.

UKRAINE  Russia launched more than 90 missiles at Ukraine on Tuesday, and sent in several drones, in what was likely its largest single aerial attack since its all-out invasion in February. The projectiles hit several power plants, plunging parts of Kyiv and other cities into darkness amid the winter chill. What seems to have been a Ukrainian air defence rocket – fired during the Russian barrage – landed in Poland, killing two. Warsaw and its NATO allies responded by urging calm. Russian bombardment continued later in the week, taking at least two Ukrainian lives. Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker says the incidents underline not only the war’s human costs but also its escalatory risks: when Moscow mounts such massive air assaults, the odds of a stray missile, Russian or Ukrainian, hitting a third country go way up.

U.S.-CHINA  Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping spoke for three hours Monday in their first in-person meeting since assuming leadership of their respective nations. The meeting, held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia, produced agreement to resume dialogue on a variety of issues, including guiding principles for the bilateral relationship and global challenges such as climate change, economic problems and food insecurity. Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao says the meeting marked a positive shift in tone, signalling willingness on both sides to find ways to prevent U.S.-Chinese competition from spiralling into conflict. Plenty of differences remain, including over Taiwan, but the meeting was a step in the right direction. 

12 November 2022

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN  Foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Washington, DC, this week for bilateral talks following border clashes in September that killed almost 300 military personnel and civilians and injured over 550. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says the meeting shows the two sides are back on track in their discussions on a potential peace deal. Armenia, which proposed that the talks take place in Washington, is seeking a foreign guarantor to ensure the potential agreements are implemented, as its traditional backer Russia appears ineffective in preventing Azerbaijani attacks both in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the border while it continues its war in Ukraine. While the talks are a positive step, the sides appear a long way off from meeting the end-of-year deadline for a peace deal.

COP27  The 27th annual UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) kicked off on Sunday in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh. The Egyptian presidency is determined to focus on drumming up greater financial support for states struggling with the effects of climate change. Crisis Group expert Champa Patel says it is critically important that there is also a focus on how climate-financing mechanisms can reach the most vulnerable who are affected by both conflict and climate-related stresses. Our analysis shows that countries affected by both climate change and conflict receive on average only one third of the climate financing collected by countries free from conflict, with the most violent countries of all receiving only one fifth. In order to protect the most vulnerable, effective climate adaptation requires understanding the specific ways in which climate stressors exacerbate conflict risks.

PAKISTAN  Former Prime Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan was shot and wounded in a botched assassination attempt in Punjab’s Wazirabad city on 3 November. The attack, which claimed the life of one PTI supporter and wounded several party leaders, came during Khan’s “long march” to Islamabad to demand snap elections. Crisis Group expert Samina Ahmed says the attack has sparked protests countrywide and more violence could be on the cards. Khan has vowed to continue protests until the coalition government agrees to early elections and has blamed the government and a senior military officer for the assassination attempt, significantly heightening tensions between Khan and the Pakistani military, the country’s most powerful institution.

5 November 2022

BLACK SEA  This week, Russia briefly suspended its participation in the Black Sea grain deal – the set of agreements permitting Ukraine to export its harvest by sea. Moscow made the move after a Ukrainian drone attack on its fleet in Sevastopol but relented after Kyiv offered assurances that food delivery ships would not be used for military purposes. Russia may also have wanted to deflect criticism that it was cutting food supplies to poor countries in Africa and the Middle East. Moscow has engaged in stop-start cooperation in humanitarian programs before, says Crisis Group expert Richard Gowan, such as in Syria. It may make further threats to block the exports in order to gain concessions from Kyiv and the West.
BRAZIL  Workers’ Party candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidential run-off Sunday, in a result swiftly recognised by Washington and key Latin American capitals. Outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro has not formally conceded defeat, but on Tuesday evening he ordered the administrative transition to proceed, curbing speculation that he would contest the outcome through formal channels. Such questions had been mounting as supporters of the far-right incumbent blocked more than 200 roads and railways throughout the country. Though protests may continue, says Crisis Group expert Ivan Briscoe, the rapid outside recognitions of Lula’s victory were important in heading off a possible constitutional crisis, as was the authorities’ smooth handling of the tally and the public acceptance of the result by prominent Bolsonaro backers, including São Paulo’s governor.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO  M23 rebels took several towns in North Kivu province last week, reportedly advancing to positions kilometres away from Goma, the region’s capital and commercial hub. Congolese authorities, who claim that neighbouring Rwanda backs the insurgents, expelled the Rwandan ambassador and recalled their own from Kigali following the fighting. Kigali denies the accusations, and charges Kinshasa with harbouring perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says regional mediation is urgently needed to defuse the Congolese-Rwandan tensions, which threaten to expand the wars in the country’s troubled east.
ETHIOPIA  African Union peace envoy Olusegun Obasanjo announced Wednesday evening that federal and Tigray regional leaders had agreed to a “permanent cessation of hostilities” at talks in the South African capital Pretoria. The deal comes after a fresh federal offensive, backed by Eritrean and Amhara regional troops, had raised fears of even greater bloodshed, including mass civilian casualties, in Tigray. It provides for Tigray’s forces to disarm and to cede the region’s highways and airports to federal control. For its part, the federal government has promised a restoration of services and “unhindered” shipments of humanitarian aid to Tigray, which it has blockaded since late 2020. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says the truce is desperately needed, but it remains too early to tell how committed the parties are to carrying out the deal’s terms. 
KOREAN PENINSULA  A test-fired North Korean ballistic missile landed near South Korean waters Wednesday, just over 55km east of the coastal city of Sokcho. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol denounced the “provocation”, as the South’s military, vowing to respond “firmly”, fired three air-to-ground missiles into seas near the North. Pyongyang later shelled a “buffer zone” near the maritime border, explicitly violating a September 2018 inter-Korean military agreement. Crisis Group expert Chris Green says the North Korean actions, in concert with U.S.-South Korean military exercises that are also under way, are fostering an atmosphere of escalation that will not lead to war but does raise the risk of miscalculation.
SOMALIA  Two car bombs blew up outside the education ministry building in Mogadishu last Saturday, killing more than 100 people, mostly passers-by, and injuring some 300 more. The country’s main Islamist insurgency, Al-Shabaab, took responsibility, accusing the ministry of waging a “war on minds” with a curriculum the group considers un-Islamic as well as “recruiting students” to counter its activities. It was the deadliest Al-Shabaab attack in the capital since 2017. Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says the bombings show Al-Shabaab’s continued reach months into a renewed government offensive. The group will likely conduct more such operations as the government’s campaign expands.

29 October 2022

CHAD  The government brutally repressed protests last Thursday organised by civil society and opposition groups calling for a return to civilian rule, killing at least 50, wounding 300 and arresting 500, as authorities suspended seven opposition parties. Prime Minister Kebzabo announced a curfew in the capital N’Djamena and Moundou, Doba and Koumra. Crisis Group expert Enrica Picco says the unrest followed the conclusion of the national dialogue earlier this month, which extended the Transitional Military Council by two years, maintained its leader Mahamat Déby as head of state and permitted him to run for president at the next elections. The outcomes heighten fears among many Chadians of a dynastic power grab and risk further fuelling tensions, which may presage further protests and, in turn, government repression.

IRAN  Marking 40 days since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s death following her detention by morality police, thousands of protesters marched in the capital Tehran and locations countrywide, including Amini’s hometown Saqqez in the Kordestan region. The same day, the U.S. issued a third batch of sanctions in response to the government’s ongoing crackdown and Germany announced that there would be no “business as usual” with Tehran. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says the state’s coercive response is likely to further fuel anti-government sentiment and deepen the country’s social, economic and diplomatic isolation.

KOREAN PENINSULA  North and South Korea traded warning shots across their disputed maritime border on Sunday, after what was purportedly a North Korean merchant vessel crossed the shared Northern Limit Line. South Korea’s navy acknowledged its ships pursued the North’s vessel back over the line. Crisis Group expert Chris Green says cross-border incursions of this kind do not yet form a pattern of North Korean behaviour and it is too early to state categorically that the incident was intentional. It must be seen, however, in concert with rising rhetorical tensions and in the context of the rapid pace of Pyongyang's missile testing this calendar year. If the maritime border incursion was indeed an intentional provocation by the North, it suggests further and more serious inter-Korean clashes may lie ahead, with the contested West Sea once again an area of particularly acute risk.

22 October 2022

ETHIOPIA  Federal and allied forces this week continued their advance into Tigray, capturing Shire city on the north-western front as well as Alamata and Korem on the southern front. The war has suspended what was previously only a trickle of humanitarian aid into Tigray. Crisis Group expert William Davison says further Tigrayan resistance is highly likely despite the losses they have endured, and there is a real danger of atrocities against civilians by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops and their allies. The federal government may also make greater demands of Tigray’s government, such as disarming its forces and surrendering its leaders, which the latter are likely to reject, boding ill for African Union-brokered peace talks scheduled for 24 October.

LEBANON  Parliamentarians this week failed for the third time to elect a new president ahead of the expiry of incumbent Michel Aoun’s term on 31 October. Should Aoun’s successor not be appointed in time, Lebanon will plunge into yet another presidential vacuum, almost certainly creating constitutional uncertainty and even more political polarisation. Crisis Group expert David Wood says that the political drama will distract attention from what should be Lebanon’s main priority, namely addressing the country’s crippling socio-economic crises as living standards continue to nosedive for most Lebanese. While political elites bicker, angry citizens have held up banks demanding access to their money, cholera has returned for the first time since 1993, and boats with Europe-bound migrants aboard continue to depart from the coast.

UKRAINE  The Russia-installed head of Kherson region on Wednesday said the Russian military would evacuate up to 60,000 civilians out of Kherson city, amid reports that Russian forces there face a precarious military situation with Ukrainian forces continuing their counteroffensive. Forcibly deporting civilians from occupied territories to the territory of the occupying force can constitute a war crime under the Geneva Convention. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says the civilians will have to rely on ferries for the risky crossing of the Dnipro River as road and rail bridges toward the Russian rear are damaged. At the same time, Russia continues missile barrages and drone attacks across Ukraine, targeting energy infrastructure with the aim of wearing down Ukrainians by creating an unlivable situation.

15 October 2022

ISRAEL-PALESTINE  Tensions and violence continue to rise in the Israeli-occupied West Bank amid near-daily incursions by Israeli security forces, particularly in the northern cities of Jenin and Nablus, and surrounding areas. Over 100 Palestinians have been killed this year in altercations, and Israeli security services report a significant uptick in Palestinian shooting attacks. Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa says the West Bank has not seen this level of violence between Israeli forces and Palestinians since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Israel’s current strategy has proved counterproductive, with Palestinian paramilitary groups becoming more organised and more active over the last year, drawing in young Palestinian men who see no future in the evolving situation, while Palestinian leaders are embroiled in infighting over who will succeed ailing President Mahmoud Abbas. In this political uncertainty, chances of more widespread violence can only increase.

MYANMAR  Regime leader Min Aung Hlaing has moved to exert his authority over the military-established Union Solidarity and Development Party ahead of next year’s planned elections, says Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey. At the party’s conference last week, nearly a dozen leaders including the chair were replaced with Min Aung Hlaing loyalists. At the same time, the regime continues its persecution of the winners of the 2020 elections, with Aung San Suu Kyi convicted on corruption charges on 12 October – her thirteenth conviction since the coup in February 2021. She was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, meaning that she now has to serve a total of 26 years, with a series of further charges still pending.

PAKISTAN  Thousands of residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat Valley took to the streets to protest the return of Pakistani Taliban militants to the region, demanding protection from extortion and a surge in militant attacks that have killed local politicians and police personnel. Crisis Group expert Samina Ahmed says locals are angered by the state’s complicity in allowing the Pakistani Taliban to return. Although there is no official acknowledgement, the group’s return was likely part of their ongoing negotiations with Islamabad conducted under the aegis of the Afghan Taliban. Without preconditions and oversight, their resurgence threatens a return to the dark days of the past when they ruled the region and imposed their harsh version of Islam on Swat’s society. 

8 October 2022

BRAZIL  Former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva on Sunday won more votes than any candidate in history, surpassing President Bolsonaro by over 6 million ballots. Gaining 48 per cent of support, however, was not enough to secure the overall majority needed to avoid a run-off. The elections showed that despite the challenges Brazil has faced in recent years, bolsonarismo is strong. Not only did the incumbent president fare much better than polls had suggested, his party won six new seats in the Senate and 22 in the House of Representatives. Crisis Group expert Renata Segura says if Lula prevails in the second round as predicted, Bolsonaro might refuse to accept the results and his supporters could take to the streets. Even in the event of a smooth transition of power, Brazil is highly polarised and the new administration will face an opposition that will be much more active than anything Lula saw during his previous terms in office.

KOREAN PENINSULA  Following a series of missile launches in late September, North Korea on Tuesday fired what appeared to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan for the first time since 2017. The missile flew some 4,500km, marking the longest flight of a North Korean missile. Crisis Group expert Chris Green says Pyongyang’s decision to launch the missile over Japan on an extended trajectory marks a notable step-change compared to the recent spate of missile launches, all of which fell in nearby waters after flying 650km or less. Although the North Korean foreign ministry blamed the U.S. and South Korea, saying that its launch was simply a response to allied military exercises, by acting without any regard for the people or territory of Japan and much less for shipping or aviation, the country’s leadership has demonstrated that it is clearly now in escalatory mode.

YEMEN  The six-month-old UN-brokered truce expired on 2 October but has yet to collapse. Negotiations are ongoing after the government accepted and the Huthis rejected an updated UN proposal. The Huthis made new demands relating to the disbursement of salary payments to the defence and interior ministries. They want these funds, alongside civil service salaries in areas they control, to be deposited in a U.S. dollar account they control. Crisis Group expert Veena Ali-Khan says violence is yet to exceed levels seen during the truce itself and the UN may still be able to secure a truce extension. The current deadlock appears to be part of a Huthi bargaining strategy, based on their perception of relative strength, to reap greater economic benefits from an extended truce. But the longer the impasse drags on, the greater the risk that hostilities will resume and possibly trigger renewed escalation, thereby diminishing Yemenis’ hopes for a nationwide ceasefire.

1 October 2022

BALTIC SEA  Two explosions Monday damaged the Nord Stream pipelines, which carry Russian natural gas to European markets, causing leaks into international waters off a Danish island. Russia had switched off the pipelines earlier in September amid tensions with the West over its war in Ukraine. European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg both described the blasts as "sabotage". The press quoted unnamed European leaders pointing the finger at Moscow, which denied any role, suggesting instead that Washington had most to gain from damaging the pipelines. Crisis Group expert Giuseppe Famà says the incidents will not only add immediate pressure on European gas prices but also cast Nord Stream's future into doubt as Europe strives to diversify its energy supply sources in order to curb its dependence on Russia.

IRAN  Anti-government protests entered their third week, amid widespread outrage at the 16 September death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in police custody. Severe restrictions on internet access make it difficult to fully assess the scope of unrest, but it appears to be nationwide, as Iranians voice multiple longstanding grievances. Security forces have cracked down hard, killing at least several dozen, and injuring or arresting many more. The government's repressive response has brought broad international condemnation, including fresh U.S. sanctions. Crisis Group expert Naysan Rafati says the iron fist may suppress the mass expression of dissent, but there is little sign the government is willing to address the underlying causes.

RUSSIA  Russians continued to leave the country, packing flights and lining up for hours at crossings into countries such as Georgia, to escape President Vladimir Putin's order mobilising 300,000 men for the front in Ukraine. The mobilisation order, like Moscow's announcement that it was annexing partly occupied Ukrainian territory, is an escalation, says Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker, but also evidence that Russia's war effort is struggling. European countries should let fleeing Russians apply for asylum rather than barring the door, as many are doing at present, both for humanitarian reasons and to degrade Russia's war machine. They should also take steps to relieve the burden of receiving the Russians on front-line countries within and outside the European Union.

UKRAINE  Russian President Vladimir Putin signed "treaties" Friday to annex four eastern Ukrainian territories, following the Kremlin's sham referendums in occupied parts of those regions, which it said yielded over 95 per cent support for absorption into Russia. The four regions are Donetsk and Luhansk, parts of which have been under Russian-backed separatist control since 2014, as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, portions of which Russia occupied after launching its full-scale invasion in February. Any voting that took place was coerced, often at gunpoint. In a speech, Putin vowed to use any and all means to hang on to the Ukrainian lands. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, blasted the annexation as a violation of international law's most basic principles. The bigger Russia’s provocations, says Crisis Group expert Alissa de Carbonnel, the more important it will be for the West to react with the balance of resolve, unity and prudence that has marked its response to date.

24 September 2022

ETHIOPIA  Fighting between a federal coalition and Tigray forces continues to escalate. After Eritrea called up some reservists to support Ethiopian forces last week, Tigray's government on Tuesday claimed Eritrea launched a “full-scale” offensive across multiple border crossings in the north. Crisis Group expert William Davison says a decisive military blow will probably not be landed anytime soon and external actors' concerted diplomatic efforts may not bring a breakthrough, meaning this phase of the destructive civil war could well become protracted. It could also morph into even more of regional conflagration with the involvement not only of Eritrean forces, but also Sudanese armed actors should the fighting become focused on the disputed Ethiopia-Sudan border, where Eritrean troops are present and Amhara region has taken over a large area that used to be under Tigray's administration.

RUSSIA  President Putin announced mobilisation in Russia for the first time since 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. The Defence Ministry is planning to mobilise at least 300,000 soldiers for the war with Ukraine. Crisis Group expert Oleg Ignatov says mobilisation is a major escalation by the Kremlin, driven by fear of defeat in Ukraine, and points to Russian determination to escalate the conflict rather than seek its end. Since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has faced consistent shortages of personnel, but it is not clear that mobilisation will be sufficient to solve its problems, which also include logistics and equipment gaps, as well as a motivated Ukrainian military supplied by the West. Thus far, the order has led to widespread but relatively small-scale protests in Russia as well as evasion and attempts to leave the country by those subject to the order.
UNITED NATIONS  World leaders met for the first full-scale in person session of the UN General Assembly in New York this week. There was an inevitable focus on Russia’s war on Ukraine. Many non-Western leaders, such as Senegalese President Sall, called for immediate negotiations to end the war. But their European counterparts, including Ukrainian President Zelenskyy appearing by video link, emphasised that Russia is not at present ready for real talks. U.S. President Biden had tough words for Russia too, but also spoke at length on the need to address poorer countries’ concerns over food price increases. Crisis Group expert Richard Gowan says that Biden and other Western leaders’ focus on food security was well calibrated to appeal to the Global South, and UN members are likely to condemn any effort by Russia to annex Ukrainian territory in the weeks ahead.

17 September 2022

AFGHANISTAN  The Taliban and Pakistani forces clashed on Wednesday in the eastern border province of Paktia as the Taliban accused Islamabad of erecting a military post on the border. Crisis Group expert Graeme Smith says tensions between the sides have been simmering for months and have occasionally escalated into armed clashes. Pakistan has grown frustrated with the sanctuary that Afghanistan’s new rulers have afforded the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which is orchestrating a deadly cross-border campaign in Pakistan. Islamabad and the Taliban also disagree over the Durand Line, which the Taliban rejects as the official border and Pakistan continues to fence. The skirmishes take place as Taliban also battles the Islamic State's local branch and armed resistance forces in the north. 

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN  In the first large-scale escalation since the 2020 war, fighting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani troops this week killed at least 135 Armenian and 77 Azerbaijani soldiers. The hostilities erupted along multiple parts of the border and included heavy Azerbaijani shelling and drone strikes reaching civilian settlements and key towns inside Armenian territory. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says that the ceasefire that was agreed on the second day of fighting remains fragile and could easily collapse into renewed clashes with Azerbaijani forces potentially taking over more territories inside Armenia. 

IRAN  The International Atomic Energy Agency expressed ongoing concern around the lack of Iranian engagement on an investigation into past activities at undeclared sites. 23 out of the 35 members comprising the agency's Board of Governors on Wednesday supported a statement by the U.S., UK, France and Germany urging Iran to resolve all outstanding safeguards issues. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says the fate of the investigation has been a key sticking point in efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran's demand for the probe to be closed runs counter to the IAEA's mandate, and the continued impasse makes the deal's revival unlikely before the U.S. midterm elections, if at all.

10 September 2022

BURKINA FASO  An improvised explosive device targeting a supply convoy travelling between the northern towns of Bourzanga and Djibo killed at least 35 civilians on Monday. The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) group – a coalition of four jihadist groups formed in 2017 – has imposed a blockade on Djibo and frequently targets convoys seeking to deliver supplies. Crisis Group expert Mathieu Pellerin says this attack stands out because it specifically targets civilians as opposed to the army. If JNIM conducted the attack, its motivations may be varied. The group may have sought to kill suspected informants linked to the army, show that the state’s strategy of escorts cannot secure local populations, or signal to authorities that despite the recent surrendering of a JNIM unit in the area, the group retains its ability to launch deadly attacks.

HAITI  Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities on Wednesday to demand de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation and to protest against mounting insecurity, chronic fuel shortages, and soaring prices of goods. Crisis Group expert Renata Segura says these protests and a series of demonstrations held during August might indicate the reversal of a downward trend in the number of protest actions over the past year. Demonstrations are likely to continue in the run-up to 17 October, when a general strike is planned and by which time Henry must update the UN Security Council on the process of finding an agreement to overcome the political stalemate that has reigned since the assassination of then President Jovenel Moïse in July last year.

TÜRKIYE-GREECE  President Erdoğan accused Athens of militarising what should be demilitarised Eastern Aegean islands, threatened to “do what was necessary”, and warned of a “heavy price” should Greece harass Turkish F-16 fighter jets. The latter warning follows Ankara's accusation that Greece in August used the Russian-supplied S300 air defence system to lock on to Turkish jets in the region. Ankara appealed to the U.S. over the incident. Crisis Group expert Nigar Göksel says the war of words between both sides has been escalating for several months. Aside from the dispute over the sovereignty and alleged militarisation of islands close to Türkiye, irregular migration flows and Ankara’s energy exploration activities around Cyprus have recently fueled the harsh rhetoric. Tensions could further increase ahead of scheduled general elections in both countries in 2023.

3 September 2022

ETHIOPIA  Federal troops and Tigray regional forces returned to front-line fighting in Amhara-Tigray border areas last Wednesday, shattering the March ceasefire. This week federal forces conducted an airstrike on Tigray’s capital Mekelle and Tigray forces launched an offensive in northern Amhara region. Fighting spread on Thursday to north-western Tigray, with Tigray's authorities saying Eritrea's military was part of a major federal offensive, and fronts also opened on Tigray's southern boundary with Amhara and on the Ethiopia-Sudan border. Crisis Group expert William Davison says the return to hostilities follows the hardening of positions on both sides in recent weeks, notably over whether the African Union or Kenya should lead the peace process and Tigray’s demand that the federal government lift a blockade before talks begin. With the risk that fighting protracts into a period of sustained conflict, the UN, African Union, European Union and U.S. envoys should press both sides to de-escalate. Neither is likely to achieve their political objectives on the battlefield. 

LIBYA  Armed groups supportive of Sirte-based Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha tried to enter Tripoli on Saturday in a failed attempt to remove the rival interim government led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dabaiba. Pro-Dabaiba units managed to repel the attack, leaving 32 dead and around 160 wounded. Crisis Group expert Riccardo Fabiani says that while violence has subsided, tensions between the two camps remain high. A lack of domestic consensus on a way out of the political crisis that was sparked by the appointment of the rival government in March 2022, combined with the absence of a new UN special representative for Libya who could help mediate, risks fuelling a new round of violence in the near future.

UKRAINE The Ukrainian army on Monday announced the beginning of a counter-offensive around the southern city of Kherson, which Russia occupied in early March. Kyiv cautioned against expectations of a swift breakthrough. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says while Ukrainian forces have spent weeks targeting Russian supply lines with artillery and sabotage operations in preparation for the attack, it is unclear whether they possess the necessary advantage in troops and firepower to retake Kherson. At the same time, Russian forces also face significant challenges. More than 20,000 Russian soldiers occupying the western bank of the Dnipro River are reliant on bridges in their rear that are damaged and under frequent artillery fire, complicating their ability to resupply or retreat. 

20 August 2022

MALI  The last French soldiers left Mali Monday, as Paris relocated the bulk of the force carrying out Operation Barkhane, its counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel, to Niger. French troops had been fighting Islamist militants in Mali since 2013. Paris decided to withdraw them as its ties to Malian leaders frayed, following two coups in Bamako in 2020-2021 and the government’s decision to employ Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in its battle with the jihadists. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says the rupture with Paris comes amid trouble in Bamako’s relations with other Western powers engaged in the country, including as part of the UN mission, and with neighbouring countries leading efforts to persuade the authorities to move toward elections. 

MEXICO  The government dispatched army units to Ciudad Juárez, on the U.S. border, following an explosion of criminal violence on 11 August that left eleven people dead, nine of them civilians. The killing began as a prison riot involving rival criminal groups and spilled out into the streets, with members of the Los Mexicles organisation shooting seemingly haphazardly at nearby establishments, including a radio station and several convenience stores. Crisis Group expert Falko Ernst says the events underscore the dilemmas Mexican policymakers have faced for decades in dealing with organised crime. Security responses are certainly necessary but in themselves have proven inadequate to stop the proliferation of criminal groups that feed on social ills like inequality and lack of alternative livelihoods.

PALESTINE  The death toll from Israel’s bombardment of Gaza on 5-7 August rose to 49, with numerous civilians, including seventeen children, among the dead. The escalation occurred after Israeli security forces arrested an Islamic Jihad cell leader in the West Bank town of Jenin on 2 August. The group vowed retaliation, which Israel said it attacked to preempt. In response, Islamic Jihad fired more than a thousand rockets at Israel, but the projectiles caused no Israeli casualties, with many intercepted by Israeli air defences and some falling in Gaza itself. Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa says the hostilities, while of shorter duration than previous rounds involving Hamas, show that the threat of longer, deadlier exchanges is ever present as long as the coastal strip remains under siege, with its population trapped and impoverished. 
European Union-facilitated efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal are continuing after the U.S., Iran and other parties convened in Vienna earlier this month for four days of negotiations, in which some of the remaining gaps narrowed. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says the seeming new momentum in the talks is a marked change from what previously appeared to be near-total deadlock. But disagreements over the scope and viability of U.S. sanctions relief mean that success is far from assured.

6 August 2022

DR CONGO  A confidential UN Group of Experts report that was leaked on Thursday reportedly provided evidence of Rwandan military operations on Congolese soil since November 2021 and the Rwandan army’s alleged support to the M23 militia, a Tutsi-led group that re-emerged late last year. It also reported that the Congolese military fought alongside the FDLR, a remnant of the Rwandan Hutu militia responsible for the 1994 genocide. Crisis Group expert Nelleke van de Walle says these revelations could further increase tensions between Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame who have been at loggerheads for months, accusing each other of supporting rebel groups. Regional mediation efforts have so far not been able to de-escalate the situation. Solving the diplomatic rift between the two neighbours is also high on the agenda of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will visit both the DRC and Rwanda next week.

IRAN  Negotiators of the U.S., Iran and the 2015 nuclear accord's other signatories resumed talks in Vienna on Thursday in the latest effort to revive the deal. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says since that last meeting in March, when the technical provisions of a deal were nearly complete, gaps have widened on key issues of sanctions relief, guarantees and IAEA investigation into past activities at undeclared Iranian nuclear facilities. That the parties are convening again implies at least some headway has been made on the remaining issues, but it is unclear if the bottom lines of the U.S. and Iran can be reconciled. The past weeks have demonstrated what an alternative to a revived deal looks like: more U.S. sanctions and more Iranian nuclear escalation.

NAGORNO-KARABAKH  Azerbaijan this week launched a new military operation following a significant build up of its forces near the front lines in recent weeks. Baku’s forces on Wednesday advanced near the main road that connects the entity with Armenia and along two other front lines, while launching drone attacks that de facto authorities in Stepanakert said killed two of its soldiers and wounded 19. Baku reported at least one of its soldiers was killed on the same day. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says the flare up in areas that have remained largely calm since the 2020 war has raised fears in Yerevan and Stepanakert of a broader Azerbaijani offensive in the coming days to seize more territory. Baku may be attempting to force Armenia to soften its position on a number of issues in the ongoing negotiations to settle the post-war issues, including Armenia's demand for Nagorno-Karabakh to be assigned special political status. 

23 July 2022

SOUTH SUDAN  South Sudan's leaders are debating this week a controversial proposal to extend their time in power beyond February 2023, when the 2018 peace deal's transitional period was supposed to end after national elections that have yet to be scheduled are unlikely to occur any time soon. Earlier this month, the U.S. announced it had withdrawn funding for the ceasefire monitoring body in the country, citing a lack of progress on the peace deal provisions. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says the looming end of the peace deal is ratcheting up political tensions in the country and forcing the parties to negotiate new timelines for elections and other key promises they've made, such as for a new constitution and unified national army.

TAIWAN  Reports this week indicated that U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a delegation to visit Taiwan next month. Pelosi would be the highest-ranking U.S. lawmaker to embark on a trip to Taiwan since a former speaker of the house visited the island in the 1990s. Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao says given U.S. military warnings against the trip, the risks of a Taiwan visit by Speaker Pelosi are evident. Even if China does not respond with escalatory measures immediately, the visit would exacerbate existing tensions and contribute to Beijing’s perception that it must respond resolutely down the line to make clear its determination to bring Taiwan under its control and deter what it sees as Washington’s chipping away at the status quo.

UKRAINE  After its capture of Luhansk region late last month, Russia continues operations to bring the remainder of Donetsk region under its control, while Ukraine has announced plans for a counter-offensive to liberate the Black Sea coast. This week, Kyiv's forces attempted to cut off the southern Russian-occupied city of Kherson from supplies and stepped up their attacks. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says a large-scale counter-offensive would come with the risk of heavy battlefield losses that could blunt Ukraine's defensive capacity.The announcement on Friday of a grain deal between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN – which could allow Ukraine to export grain stuck in its ports via the Black Sea – might lead decision makers in Kyiv to wait and see before undertaking a major southern operation. The resumption of food exports could prove crucial for Ukraine's battered economy as well as global food security, but would rely on a fragile truce in the Black Sea, something Ukraine might be hesitant to jeopardise.

16 July 2022

BRAZIL  Marcelo Arruda, a local official from the leftist opposition Workers’ Party, was shot dead Saturday on his fiftieth birthday by a supporter of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is running for re-election in October against the Workers’ Party candidate, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. The gunman, a federal prison guard, had been asked to leave Arruda's birthday celebration at a sports club because he was shouting pro-Bolsonaro slogans. Crisis Group expert Ivan Briscoe says the killing is a deeply worrying sign that the president’s backers may disrupt the election with violence, particularly because Bolsonaro has repeatedly cast aspersions on the voting system’s integrity. 
HAITI  Rampant gang violence and runaway inflation have combined to produce a growing socio-political emergency in Haiti. Over the last week, more than 50 people have been killed in gun battles between rival criminal organisations in the capital Port-au-Prince and other major cities where the state has lost its grip. Meanwhile, food prices have shot up by 52 per cent in the last year, putting some 1.3 million people “one step away from famine”, according to a World Food Programme official. The UN renewed its political mission in the country Friday, despite protests from Haitian civil society groups that have come to distrust outside intervention. Many say it is time for Haitian-led solutions to the country's problems, Crisis Group expert Renata Segura points out, but with the state virtually collapsed and deep polarisation impeding the formation of a new government, the scenarios are grim.
UNITED STATES  As part of his first Middle East visit as president, Joe Biden travelled to Saudi Arabia Friday for bilateral meetings, including with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and a summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries plus Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. The visit reflects a pivot from his campaign rhetoric describing the kingdom as a “pariah” following the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Crisis Group expert Michael Wahid Hanna says the trip was hastened by the spillover effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Concerned about soaring energy prices and Riyadh’s overall approach to Moscow, the Biden administration is keen to tamp down tensions despite criticism for seeming to forsake its pledges to centre human rights. The domestic political costs could be notable or minimal depending on whether the visit produces concrete achievements on energy production, human rights, regional security and/or normalisation with Israel.
U.S.-SYRIA  A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command said a U.S. airstrike Tuesday killed Maher al-Agal, whom the Pentagon calls the top ISIS commander in Syria. One of Agal’s lieutenants died the next day of his injuries. The strike occurred in Jindayris, a town in the north west near the Turkish border. Crisis Group expert Dareen Khalifa says the significance of Agal’s death should not be downplayed. Yet it may not disrupt the ISIS insurgency in Syria for long, as the group does not depend solely on individual leaders for operational effectiveness. Instead, it relies heavily on a network of decentralised cells that do not need specific orders from above to carry out their small-scale raids.

9 July 2022

COMMODITIES  A worldwide “cost-of-living crisis” drove 71 million people into poverty in the first three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, according to a UN Development Programme report released Wednesday. The UN classifies all those getting by on $3.20 per day or less as living in poverty. The rate of increase in poverty numbers is faster than that in the initial eighteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant lockdowns. Crisis Group's President and CEO Comfort Ero says the Ukraine war’s supply disruptions, as well as sanctions imposed on Russia, have exerted upward pressure on food and fuel prices, hitting poorer countries in eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East the hardest. Wealthier nations should marshal more of their resources to help those in need.

LIBYA  A wave of protests aimed at the political establishment has swept cities controlled by the country’s rival governments as Libyans vent their frustration with the lack of progress in unifying national institutions as well as difficult living conditions. Demands vary from place to place but include fresh elections, removal of foreign military personnel, action to counter inflation and improvement in public services. Crisis Group expert Riccardo Fabiani says the demonstrations show that Libya’s stability remains as precarious as ever. To avoid a relapse into violence, international actors should renew their efforts to push the two political camps to agree on an electoral path forward.

PALESTINE  Algeria hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh Tuesday for their first face-to-face meeting since 2016. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune hopes to unite Abbas’s Fatah faction with Hamas before November’s Arab summit in Algiers, which he intends to take up the question of Palestine. But the initiative faces major challenges, says Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa. Neither party has a pressing interest in reconciliation, with Hamas rising in popularity at the expense of Fatah, which is increasingly reliant on the West and Israel.

UZBEKISTAN  President Shavkat Mirziyoyev declared a month-long state of emergency in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous area with the constitutional status of “republic”, following deadly clashes between protesters and security forces last week. Eighteen people were killed and 243 injured in the unrest. The president also dropped proposed constitutional amendments that would have weakened Karakalpak autonomy and promised public consultations on the issue. With little media coverage of the incident, says Crisis Group expert Alissa de Carbonnel, it is hard to know exactly how the violence started and how serious the risk of a reprise may be.

2 July 2022

ETHIOPIA-SUDAN  The week saw worrying escalations in al-Fashaga, a swathe of fertile land disputed between Ethiopia and Sudan. First, Sudan accused the Ethiopian army of executing seven of its soldiers on Sudanese soil and displaying the bodies in Ethiopia; Addis Ababa heatedly rejected the account, claiming the soldiers were killed in a clash with a local militia on its side of the frontier. Then, on Wednesday, locals reported firefights as Sudanese units advanced on two villages held by Ethiopian troops. Khartoum denied any such operation, but reportedly took hold of a border town. The situation is highly dangerous, warn Crisis Group experts Alan Boswell and Will Davison. Al-Fashaga lies next to Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia where the civil war that raged last year is still smouldering. The two cross-cutting conflicts – together with tensions over Ethiopia’s huge new dam on the Nile – could further destabilise the Horn of Africa.

G7 Leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Germany vowed to “stand with Ukraine as long as it takes” in resisting Russia’s invasion. They also pledged $4.5 billion to bolster global food security amid spikes in prices of food, fuel and fertiliser exacerbated by the war. The U.S. is to supply half this amount and has promised an additional $2.76 billion to follow. Crisis Group expert Champa Patel says the G7’s attention to the commodity crisis is welcome but insufficient in its sole focus on emergency aid. The West should also do what it can to tackle supply chain disruptions to ease the flow of staple goods around the world.

IRAN-U.S.  Following a visit to Tehran by the EU’s top diplomat, Iranian and U.S. officials convened in the Qatari capital Doha Tuesday and Wednesday for indirect negotiations aimed at breaking a months-long impasse around reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Multilateral talks paused in March with an agreement nearly ready, but political obstacles – chiefly, the U.S. designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organisation and Iranian demands for economic guarantees – prevented it from going forward. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says the lack of a breakthrough in Doha shows that despite the benefits both sides would derive from a deal, neither appears to have the political will or the flexibility to concede on remaining issues of disagreement.

MIGRATION  Authorities found 51 migrants dead of heat exhaustion, dehydration and related causes in the back of an airless lorry abandoned on an interstate highway near San Antonio, Texas, on Monday. Most of the migrants – men, women and children – were from Mexico and Central America. It is the deadliest single human smuggling incident in U.S. history, coming amid a surge of attempted border crossings. Crisis Group expert Tiziano Breda says the horrific incident illustrates the impossibility of suppressing northward migration in the Americas when Mexicans, Central Americans and others are willing to take such risks to escape increasing privation and violent crime in their home countries. 

25 JUNE 2022

ECUADOR  Nationwide protests against President Lasso’s government led primarily by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) began on 13 June over rising prices of fuel, food and other basics. The violence escalated this week, resulting in four dead, more than 100 people detained and 120 police officers seriously injured. Crisis Group expert Nora Brito says CONAIE and other organisations met multiple times with government officials in 2021 but received no response to their demands. Lasso this week accused protesters of seeking only “chaos”. With the president facing multiple challenges, including the economic effects of the war in Ukraine, inflation, institutional inefficiency, chronic inequality, corruption and an uptick in homicides, there is growing uncertainty about his future if he delays negotiations. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the government may increase repression or violent protests could prompt the military to pressure Lasso to resign.

GEORGIA  Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in the capital Tbilisi on Monday in support of joining the EU. The protests followed the EU Commission’s report that recommended the bloc postpone giving Georgia candidate status and instead offer a “conditional perspective” requiring the government to pass reforms aimed at making institutions stronger and more democratic. Georgia submitted its membership application in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says the protest was one of the biggest in Georgia’s 31 years of independence, confirming the widespread public support for joining the EU. Protesters also expressed anger toward the political leadership, which they see as responsible for the political failures that led to the EU’s decision.

SRI LANKA  Amid the UN’s warning of a “full-blown humanitarian crisis” and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s lament that the economy “faced a complete collapse”, already waning hopes for root-and-branch political reform were dashed. After the opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) proposed a 21st amendment to the constitution aimed at abolishing the executive presidency – a key demand of the unprecedented island-wide protest movement – the speaker of the house on Tuesday announced the Supreme Court’s ruling that any such amendment would require both a two-thirds parliamentary majority and approval through a referendum. The cabinet the previous day had approved a less far-reaching amendment in which the president would retain considerable powers. Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan says the failure of established institutions to respond positively to widespread demands for “system change” adds to growing risks that social tensions born of economic desperation could turn violent.

18 June 2022

COLOMBIA  Two outsider presidential candidates – leftist senator and former mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro and populist real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernández – face off in a second round vote to elect Colombia's next president on Sunday. Crisis Group's Elizabeth Dickinson says that the incoming president will face deep political polarisation and deep public anger at worsening living conditions, as well as a burgeoning conflict in the countryside. With much of the implementation of a 2016 peace agreement with former FARC rebels pending, the next four years will be decisive in determining whether Colombia can finally consolidate peace or whether people in rural areas continue to suffer worsening violence.

IRAQ  Government formation efforts have now entered their ninth month with little progress on the horizon. In a dramatic announcement, Sadr, leader of the largest block in parliament, announced the withdrawal of his 73 MPs. Although their resignations are yet to be approved, the move has yet again taken Sadr’s Shiite rivals by surprise. These parties are uneasy about a scenario in which Sadr does not participate in government, as he is likely to stir unrest in the streets through demonstrations. Crisis Group expert Lahib Higel says that despite the current deadlock, several options remain on the table. Parliament’s recess will give Iraq’s political elites another opportunity to agree on a consensus government. Sadr may consider an out-of-parliament opposition more advantageous to his populist legitimacy. And Sadr's Shiite rivals may try to form a two-thirds quorum to elect a president. That course, however, will require that the Sunni and Kurdish factions allied to Sadr consent. The last option is new elections.

SUDAN  A land dispute between members of Gimir and Rezeigat Arab communities in Um Hereez village in Kulbus locality, West Darfur, escalated into fighting that killed at least 125 people and injured dozens, mostly Gimir, during the first two weeks of June. An estimated 50,000 people have been displaced to nearby villages, and at least 25 Gimir villages have reportedly been burnt and looted. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says the conflict has delayed a humanitarian assessment by UN OCHA in the region, including in Kereneik locality, where an earlier eruption of violence in May between Arab nomads and ethnic Masalit groups killed at least 179 people and displaced 125,000. Community leaders from both sides have established a committee to evaluate the affected areas and called for a de-escalation of violence.

11 June 2022

IRAN  In a 30-2 vote (with three abstentions), the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors on Wednesday passed a resolution censuring Iran's lack of cooperation in answering agency safeguards concerns on activities at undeclared sites. Ahead of the vote, Iran vowed to respond harshly and set about installing advanced centrifuges and removing two cameras. On Thursday, it removed 27 IAEA cameras. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says the ramping up of nuclear activity and dialling down of international oversight underscores the urgency in reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiations around which have stalled in recent months. 

U.S.-LATIN AMERICA  Leaders from countries in the western hemisphere met in Los Angeles for the ninth Summit of the Americas, where the rift between many Latin American countries and the U.S. was obvious. The U.S. decision to not invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua resulted in the presidents of Mexico and Honduras staying home in protest, while the presidents of El Salvador, Bolivia and Guatemala declined to participate for other reasons. Crisis Group expert Renata Segura says the polarisation was also evident in the summit’s civil society forum. Many local activists lamented the missed opportunity to demand that governments engage productively with their respective opposition and guarantee free and fair elections. Local groups working with migrants also demanded that the focus be not solely on those arriving at the U.S. border, but rather on the millions of refugees from Venezuela and elsewhere who have fled to other countries within the region. 

YEMEN  The government and the Huthis on 2 June extended a UN-mediated truce for two months just hours before the deal’s expiration. The ceasefire, which has been in place since 2 April, has led to a 50 per cent drop in civilian casualties. Crisis Group expert Veena Ali-Khan says while the truce extension is a crucial step toward the sustained reduction of violence, it does not necessarily bring both parties closer to a permanent deal to end the war. Some provisions – such as reopening the roads in and around Taiz, a government-held city besieged by Huthis where the situation remains volatile – are unfulfilled. Without progress in Taiz, the truce will remain fragile and may fail to kickstart talks toward a more formal ceasefire and political transition.

4 June 2022

ISRAEL-PALESTINE  Thousands of right-wing Israelis marched waving Israeli flags through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City Sunday. The annual demonstration marks the 1967 seizure of East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied (along with the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights) in violation of international law ever since. The event attracts far-right youth, including Jerusalem and West Bank settlers who openly call for expelling Palestinians from the occupied territories. Chants included "Death to Arabs!" and "Shireen is dead!", a reference to Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, whom a CNN investigation has found was likely "shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces" on 19 May. Last year, the march was one in a series of events in East Jerusalem prompting Hamas to fire rockets at Israel, helping set off an eleven-day war. It probably will not lead to escalation this time, says Crisis Group expert Laure Foucher. But the steady erosion of the status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites is a ticking time bomb, especially with diplomatic attention focused elsewhere.

SUDAN  General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the ruling Sovereign Council, announced Sunday that he was lifting the state of emergency in place since the military grabbed sole power last October. Regular mass protests have taken place throughout the country since the coup, bringing a crackdown that has left nearly 100 dead, including two young men killed by security forces Saturday. The demonstrators call for full restoration of constitutional government in civilian hands. Burhan promised to free protesters now in jail as a prelude to talks with political parties about getting a transition to civilian rule on track. Rolling back the state of emergency was long a demand of the military's domestic and external critics, says Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell, but the generals have yet to show they are willing to step back from either repressive tactics or their dominant political role.

UKRAINE  In a speech to Luxembourg's parliament Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded with Western countries to send higher-grade weaponry to help Ukrainian forces fight the Russian invasion. He said Russia is now in control of roughly 20 per cent of Ukraine's territory following this week's battles in the east. The U.S. announced Tuesday it was shipping advanced rocket launchers to Kyiv, and Germany said it would make its most up-to-date air defence system available. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says the West should keep up its arms deliveries, while avoiding direct engagement of their own or allied forces in the war. But as Ukraine asks for heavier and more sophisticated weapons, Western partners should improve oversight of the transfers.

21 May 2022

GEORGIA  Breakaway territory South Ossetia's de facto president Anatoly Bibilov announced last Friday a referendum scheduled for 17 July on whether the region — which Moscow recognised as an independent state in 2008 — should accede to the Russian Federation. Bibilov was defeated in second-round elections earlier this month by Alan Gagloev, who will take over as de facto president next week. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says that if the referendum goes ahead, the majority of the local population of some 30,000 people will certainly vote in favour of joining Russia. But whether Moscow promptly proceeds with annexation depends on its readiness to revise the status quo that has been in place for almost fourteen years and risk precipitating a new crisis in another post-Soviet state, which could divert its focus from the war in Ukraine.

LIBYA  The political crisis took a violent turn on Tuesday when Fathi Bashagha, prime minister of the government that recently won a vote of confidence in the Tobruk-based parliament, entered Tripoli in a failed bid to install his government in the capital. Armed groups loyal to the Tripoli-based interim government of Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dabaiba opened fire, forcing Bashagha to retreat to the central city of Sirte, where he announced his government would be based instead. According to Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini, Bashagha’s move can only deepen Libya’s political crisis, which erupted on 1 March when Libya split into two rival governments following legal disputes on the validity of the parliament's confidence vote in favour Bashagha, whom the pre-existing Tripoli-based government refused to recognise as legitimate. It is likely that the two camps' positions will harden further, complicating UN-backed efforts to negotiate a way out of the impasse. To prevent a return to fighting, the two governments and their respective backers should embark on talks aimed at forming a new unity government.

UKRAINE  Heavy fighting continued in the east, where Ukrainian forces appear to have escaped the threat of encirclement and Russian forces made small gains in the northern portion of Donbas, focusing their advances on Severodonetsk and Lysychansk – the two largest towns in Luhansk region under Ukrainian control. The Seversky Donets River, which Russian forces made a costly and failed attempt to cross last week, forms much of the front line. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says Ukrainian forces lost their last toehold in the south of Donbas this week after the Azov Battalion holed up in Mairupol's Azovstal steel mill surrendered and nearly 1,000 of its fighters were transported to Russian-held areas where they face an uncertain fate. In the north, Ukrainian forces launched a series of successful counter-offensives. Most notably, Kyiv's forces reached the Russian border north of Kharkiv on Monday, winning Ukraine’s second largest city a much-needed reprieve from Russian artillery bombardment.

14 May 2022

COLOMBIA  Militants of the post-paramilitary Gulf Clan armed group on 5 May declared an “armed strike” that shut down almost a third of the country for four days, in what they said was retaliation for the extradition to the U.S. of the group's captured former leader, known as Otoniel. Crisis Group analyst Elizabeth Dickinson said the strike was an alarming demonstration of the Gulf Clan's presence and control just ahead of presidential elections later this month. The Colombian state could do little to stop Gulf Clan partisans from patrolling rural areas, setting up illegal checkpoints, and threatening the population. This latest incident only adds to the urgency of addressing a deteriorating rural security situation by focusing more on protecting civilians. Colombia's next president will have to address this head on.

EGYPT  Two attacks within one week in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula killed sixteen security forces personnel. The Islamic State claimed one of the attacks, which killed eleven soldiers and marked the deadliest assault in the region in four years. Crisis Group expert Riccardo Fabiani says the sudden spike in violence in the Sinai Peninsula comes after several months of relative calm. The lull in fighting had seemed to indicate that the Egyptian army's tactics were working and the resettlement policy for local residents, who were gradually allowed to return to their villages and take up housing in new residential units built by the army, could finally move forward. The latest episode, however, seems to show the limits of this containment strategy. For example, civil society groups have criticised the heavy-handed approach to resettlement. These attacks also jeopardise the army’s progress over the past few years and risk prolonging the seemingly endless war against jihadism in the Sinai peninsula.

SRI LANKA  The months-long crisis escalated sharply this week, as deadly violence ensued after government-backed thugs attacked the peaceful encampment of protesters in Colombo. Arson attacks followed on dozens of politicians’ homes, including the residence of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa after he was forced to resign on Monday. Mahinda was replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe – a former prime minister widely seen as close to the Rajapaksa family. Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan says after a turbulent week of unrest that killed at least nine people, Wickremesinghe’s appointment offers some chance of at least temporary stability and a coherent economic policy. It will, however, anger the protest movement by dashing hopes of forcing President Rajapaksa’s resignation and abolishing the executive presidency. Overall, short-term emergency action has trumped the demands for deeper political reform.

7 May 2022

IRAQ  The military on Sunday clashed with fighters of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBŞ), an Iraqi Yazidi group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in a village near Sinuni, a small town in the northern parts of Sinjar district. The fighting killed at least two Iraqi soldiers and two YBŞ militants, injured around a dozen civilians and displaced an estimated 3,000. Crisis Group expert Lahib Higel says the army operation came several weeks after a Turkish offensive against PKK fighters in the Kurdistan region, some of whom sought refuge in Sinjar. Another trigger was the near-completion of a concrete wall built by the government between Syria and Iraq to keep out what it calls “malign actors”. While it is primarily referring to ISIS, the government intends for the wall to also restrict cross-border PKK movements and smuggling. The YBŞ has staged demonstrations against the wall and attacked federal forces in recent weeks.

SOMALIA  Al-Shabaab on Tuesday raided a base operated by the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) in El Baraf, a town north of the capital Mogadishu. The ensuing firefight reportedly killed at least 30 ATMIS soldiers from Burundi, before Al-Shabaab temporarily took control of the facility. Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says the attack suggests Al-Shabaab is becoming emboldened, as this is their most significant attack on an AU base since at least 2019. It also comes as the mission is struggling to get off the ground after it was re-hatted from AMISOM earlier in April. 

TURKEY  President Erdogan on Tuesday announced a new policy to facilitate the voluntary return of one million Syrian refugees to Idlib province in Syria, where Ankara is overseeing the construction of thousands of new homes intended to house returnees. Crisis Group expert Nigar Göksel says the announcement comes amid rising anti-refugee sentiment among the population and across the political spectrum, including within both leftist and right-wing opposition camps, which has been particularly felt by Turkey's 3.6 million Syrian refugees and irregular migrants from Afghanistan who likely total hundreds of thousands. The deteriorating economy and manoeuvring in the run up to elections scheduled for June 2023 have heaped pressure on the government to expedite refugees' return, even as many voters and politicians blame the EU for getting Turkey in this predicament by not admitting its fair share of refugees.

30 April 2022

ETHIOPIA  Seventy-four trucks carried food and other vital supplies into Tigray Monday, the third UN convoy to reach the northern region since Addis Ababa declared a humanitarian truce on 24 March. Federal authorities had been blockading Tigray almost continuously since civil war broke out in late 2020. Meanwhile, as reported by the Associated Press, Tigray health officials released a study saying at least 1,900 children under five have died of malnutrition in the region since June 2021. Crisis Group expert Will Davison says vastly greater amounts of food aid are needed to stop this toll – which may be an undercount – from mounting further.

MOLDOVA  Explosions of unknown provenance were reported Monday and Tuesday in Mayak, a village in the breakaway region of Transnistria. This region declared itself an independent republic in 1991. Its claim remains unrecognised, though Moscow has stationed troops there in support of the de facto leadership since 1992. A Russian commander said last week the Russian army might seek to establish a land bridge between Transnistria and the parts of southern Ukraine it presently occupies. Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker says there is no evidence as yet that the blasts are tied to the Ukraine war, but they illustrate the escalation risks inherent in that conflict.

RUSSIA-EUROPE  Russian natural gas export monopoly Gazprom said Wednesday it would cut off supply to Bulgaria and Poland, citing the two countries' refusal to pay in rubles. In March, President Vladimir Putin ordered European Union customers to pay in the Russian currency, in a bid to blunt the impact of Western sanctions and to disrupt European efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy imports. The Polish prime minister said the Kremlin is retaliating for Warsaw's own sanctions imposed Tuesday on Russian individuals and firms, including Gazprom. Crisis Group expert Alissa de Carbonnel says Moscow is seeking to exploit European states' varying degrees of vulnerability on energy security to weaken European unity and resolve in supporting Ukraine.

SUDAN  Aid organisations serving displaced people in West Darfur said assailants hit the province's Kreinik town with heavy weapons Sunday, reportedly killing 168 and burning down numerous dwellings. Further attacks occurred over the week, driving the total death toll over 200. Tens of thousands have fled. Fighting in Darfur has been increasing since UN peacekeepers departed the region at the close of 2020, despite a peace deal including Khartoum and Darfurian rebels that October. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says authorities have shown little capacity or will to contain the violence since the peacekeepers left.

23 April 2022

ISRAEL-PALESTINE Violence escalated significantly last Friday at occupied East Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade. Palestinian youths threw rocks and fireworks to which Israeli police responded by firing sponge-tipped bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, injuring 150 Palestinians; police also arrested nearly 500. Meanwhile, Gaza remained quiet, save for a few rockets fired from the territory that prompted retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonszein says the Holy Esplanade remains a dangerous flashpoint, as Israel seeks to assert total control while Palestinians fear Israel will further limit their freedom of movement and confine them to closed-off areas to enable access by Jewish worshippers. While Israeli leaders have pledged to uphold the historic status quo and respect freedom of worship at the site, extremist Jewish groups – protected by the Israeli government – have incrementally eroded mutually accepted limitations at the expense of Palestinians seeking unhindered access to Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest in Islam.

SRI LANKA Police on Tuesday fired on crowds in the central town of Rambukkana protesting fuel price increases, killing one and wounding more than a dozen. After domestic outrage and international condemnation, President Rajapaksa the next day promised an “impartial and transparent” inquiry. Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan says Rajapaksa’s appointment of a new and smaller cabinet, which retains his brother as prime minister, has failed to placate what has become an unprecedented, multi-class and multi-ethnic protest movement triggered by the rapidly accelerating economic crisis. While many fear the president and his allies in the security forces may yet turn to widespread repression, so far they have pulled back each time they appear to be ready to escalate – likely in part so as not to jeopardise desperately needed financial help from the International Monetary Fund, with whom negotiations began on Monday.

THAILAND A unit of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) carried out a double bombing last Friday in southern Thailand’s Pattani province that killed one civilian and wounded three police officers. The attack came two weeks after the Thai government and the main insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, agreed to seek political solutions based on public consultations and a reciprocal reduction in violence from 3 April to 14 May, as part of the resumption of talks after a two-year hiatus. Crisis Group expert Matt Wheeler says the attack signals PULO’s displeasure at the current talks, from which it has been excluded. It also underscores the risk posed by spoilers and the importance of inclusivity to a successful peace process.

16 April 2022

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan held this week their first publicly announced telephone call in over 30 years. Crisis Group experts Olesya Vartanyan and Zaur Shiriyev say that the call is an important and much-needed milestone in the sides' bilateral engagement, especially following the eruption of deadly hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone last month. The call follows last week’s talks in Brussels, where the parties agreed to prepare a comprehensive peace deal and work to set up a joint commission on demarcating their common border. While such efforts could lead to an important breakthrough, tensions persist on the ground and there has been no public sign of progress on setting up the Joint Border Commission ahead of the end of April deadline. 

DR CONGO Following violent clashes in late March with security forces in the east that triggered massive displacement of civilians and a string of attacks since November that claimed many casualties, the M23 rebel group announced a unilateral ceasefire in early April. The group withdrew from many recently conquered territories while maintaining its positions on strategic hills. Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says the risk of renewed fighting remains real, as the group's unilateral announcement could be a strategy to consolidate its forces for another attack. Rebel and government troops remain just three kilometres apart and close to densely populated areas, which will likely feel the brunt of renewed clashes. Both parties should engage in talks aimed at a lasting bilateral ceasefire.

WESTERN SAHARA The Polisario Front this week severed diplomatic ties with Spain. Crisis Group expert Riccardo Fabiani says the move is a response to Spain resuming relations with Morocco and declaring its support for Rabat's “autonomy proposal” to settle the Western Sahara conflict. It also follows the decision of Algeria – the Polisario Front’s chief supporter – to recall its own ambassador from Madrid. This diplomatic crisis is likely to further entrench Morocco and the Polisario's respective positions and reduce the already dim prospects of de-escalation and resumption of talks in the short term.

UKRAINE Signs emerged of an imminent Russian attack in the east after Moscow moved long convoys of military hardware from Kyiv and Ukraine's northern border into the Russian-controlled areas in the east, and appointed Aleksandr Dvornikov, a General with a reputation for brutality earned in Syria, as the invasion's new commander. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says Russia will attempt to gain control over the entirety of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the territories it claims are independent people's republics under its protection. This latest operation – if successful – might permit President Putin to portray the war as a victory and may also be aimed at encircling parts of the Ukrainian army stationed in the east. Ukraine's forces will employ some of the heavy weaponry freshly delivered by Western partners in their efforts to rebuff the attack.  

9 April 2022

RUSSIA-UKRAINE  The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia Wednesday, including measures targeting its two largest banks and family members of President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other officials. In a speech announcing the penalties, President Joe Biden accused Russia of “war crimes” as reports emerged of gruesome killings in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv from which Moscow recently withdrew its forces. Western sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, says Crisis Group expert Alissa de Carbonnel, and will be even more corrosive over the long term. But how much they are affecting the Kremlin’s decisions is unclear. Although likely a long way off, the prospect of sanctions relief tied to specific Russian actions can serve as an incentive if and when substantive talks move ahead on ending the war and its atrocities. 

MALI  Human Rights Watch released findings Tuesday accusing Malian soldiers and Russian Wagner Group military contractors of a massacre in Moura, a town in the country’s centre, where the government has been fighting Islamist militants. The group said the army and Wagner engaged in “deliberate slaughter” of some 300 civilians. Other sources put the number as high as 500. The ruling junta in Bamako said its forces killed 203 people, all of them insurgents. Amid calls for an investigation from Western governments, it announced its own enquiry, but denied that Wagner is assisting its counter-insurgency campaign. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says protection of civilians and accountability must be at the heart of any effective strategy to push back against the militants, who will use government abuses in their recruitment drives no matter which outside power Bamako decides to ally with. 

ISRAEL-PALESTINE  Four attacks by Palestinians inside Israeli cities in the last two and a half weeks killed fourteen Israelis, marking the largest such wave in years. Israeli security forces have stepped up operations in various West Bank locales, arresting over 150 Palestinians since 31 March and killing three Palestinians in Jenin in clashes with a local militia affiliated with Islamic Jihad. Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonszein says the attacks have shaken the sense of stability that Israelis have become accustomed to, and taken Israeli intelligence by surprise, as it has trouble anticipating and foiling such attacks. Meanwhile, Jerusalem has remained relatively calm during the first week of Ramadan, as police have refrained to an extent from exerting the type of force they used in April-May 2021, which in part triggered the deadly escalation with Hamas in Gaza. 

2 April 2022

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO  The Congolese army said M23 rebels attacked its positions in the eastern part of the country Monday, in the latest of clashes that have been escalating since November. The next day, the military also accused the insurgents of downing a UN helicopter. With backing from Rwanda and Uganda, M23 mounted a large-scale revolt against the government in 2012; its defeated remnants took refuge in those two countries. Now it has apparently regrouped, says Crisis Group expert Nelleke van de Walle, threatening to aggravate tensions among Kinshasa, Kigali and Kampala that had seemed to be subsiding.

EL SALVADOR  Parliament declared a state of emergency Sunday following a spate of gang-related killings. It also increased jail sentences for gang-related crimes as well as for just belonging to gangs, including for under-age persons. Among other restrictions on civil liberties, the state of emergency suspends freedom of assembly and allows police to make arrests without a warrant. At least 3,000 people have been detained so far. According to authorities, gang members murdered 76 people on the preceding Friday and Saturday alone. Previously, the government had been touting a drop in the homicide rate, which it attributed largely to security measures. Crisis Group expert Tiziano Breda says the killing spree suggests instead that gangs reduce or ratchet up levels of violence according to their own calculations. The government’s response risks setting off a confrontation with the gangs after a period of relative stability.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE  Russia seemed, at least verbally, to narrow the objectives of its military campaign in Ukraine as talks got under way this week in Istanbul. If previously the aim was regime change in Kyiv, now it appears to be -- at least judging from the recent statements -- Ukrainian neutrality in Russia’s competition with the West as well as recognition of Russian control of Crimea and the independence of the self-declared republics in Donetsk and Luhansk. These last two items still ensure that Russian and Ukrainian positions remain far apart, and fighting continues, including around Kyiv. If the Kremlin has indeed lowered its ambitions, says Crisis Group expert Oleg Ignatov, it likely did that due to Ukraine’s stiff resistance, for which it was unprepared. Nor does Moscow seem ready to carry out the full-scale mobilisation of the Russian economy and society that pursuing its original goals would require.

26 March 2022

UKRAINE  Russian forces issued an ultimatum for Ukrainian forces to surrender in the besieged port city of Mariupol, which city authorities rejected. Russian forces subsequently entered the city and established a degree of control over evacuation routes. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says Russian forces continue to relentlessly bombard the city where thousands of civilians have been killed and over 200,000 residents remain isolated with no access to essential services or food. The devastation is likely to continue and worsen. Elsewhere in the south, Ukrainian troops on Thursday attacked Russian ships moored in Berdiansk, a port city occupied by Russian forces during the invasion’s first week, and claimed to have destroyed a landing ship and damaged two more vessels.

SRI LANKA  The government deployed soldiers to maintain order among the thousands waiting in long lines for petrol and other essentials. Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan says public anger and growing protests have been sparked by chaotic and corrupt governance and unprecedented shortages of food, fuel and electricity – the result of years of growing debt, the massive loss of revenue and foreign currency due to COVID-19, and repeated policy mistakes rooted in economic nationalism. The deployment of soldiers risks generating more problems than it solves. The government’s long-awaited request this month for assistance from the International Monetary Fund will offer no immediate relief from shortages, high prices and power cuts. Amid political paralysis, tensions are likely to remain high.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - SYRIA  In his first trip to an Arab state since 2011, Syrian President Assad arrived in the UAE last Friday and met Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The U.S. said it was “profoundly disappointed”. Crisis Group expert Dina Esfandiary says while the UAE has been normalising its relations with Assad for some time, inviting him to visit was a significant step, especially as the cracks in the relationship with the U.S. become more visible in light of the disagreements over the Ukraine crisis.

19 March 2022

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC  After multiple postponements, President Touadéra this week announced a political dialogue with the opposition and civil society scheduled for 21-27 March. The announcement comes one year after Touadéra secured a second term in elections that were marred by electoral irregularities, widespread armed group violence and low voter turnout. Crisis Group expert Hans De Marie Heungoup says although the dialogue does not include armed groups, it has the potential to reduce longstanding tensions between the government and opposition, and persuade the latter to participate in local elections in January 2023. The government should seize the chance to discuss improvements to the electoral system, political freedoms and boost its inclusivity by appointing opponents to government positions. 

TURKEY-GREECE  Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Turkish President Erdoğan met in Istanbul on Sunday for their first face-to-face meeting since June 2021, arranged at short notice amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. Crisis Group expert Nigar Göksel says the meeting signals willingness on both sides to engage constructively while agreeing to disagree on thorny issues concerning their Aegean Sea dispute. The high-level contact will significantly boost trade ties at a time when Turkey faces mounting economic pressure and also paves the way for the next round of military-to-military talks scheduled in April. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the NATO allies and the alliance at large recognise the need to show unity, maintain calm in the Eastern Mediterranean and support Ankara's role in maintaining the balance of power in the Black Sea. 

12 March 2022

KOREAN PENINSULA  The U.S. Directorate of National Intelligence warned this week that North Korea could be preparing an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) or nuclear test this year for the first time since 2017. Pyongyang has conducted nine missile tests so far this year, including seven in January – a record for a single calendar month. Crisis Group expert Chris Green says a nuclear test is not likely to happen in the short-to-medium term, but Pyongyang’s thinly veiled threat to end its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM testing reflects its discontent at the failure of diplomacy since the abortive U.S.-North Korea Hanoi summit in February 2019. It forms part of a strategy to incrementally raise the stakes by military means, whilst also fostering tensions on the Korean peninsula in advance of conservative Pesident-elect Yoon Suk-yeol taking power in Seoul in May. 

PAKISTAN  The Islamic State claimed a suicide attack on 4 March during Friday weekly prayers at a Shia mosque in Peshawar that killed 63 people and injured more than 190, the worst sectarian attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s capital and one of the worst in the country’s history. Crisis Group expert Samina Ahmed says counter-terrorism police claimed the operation had been planned in Afghanistan and identified the suicide bomber as an Afghan refugee in Pakistan, which is a worrying sign that the Islamic State’s local franchise has the capability to conduct major attacks deep inside Pakistani territory. Meanwhile, opposition parties this week submitted a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, who now seeks to dissuade disgruntled members of the ruling party from helping the opposition reach the 172 votes required to remove him from office.

VENEZUELA  The Maduro government released two U.S. citizens imprisoned in the country following a visit by the highest-level U.S. delegation in over five years. Crisis Group expert Phil Gunson says the direct, high-level contact between Washington and Caracas offers the possibility of a breakthrough in negotiations to resolve Venezuela’s protracted political conflict, by putting on the table a significant easing of U.S. sanctions in return for oil amid skyrocketing prices in the U.S. and elsewhere. Talks between the two governments are ongoing, as are discussions with the Venezuelan opposition on going back to the negotiating table. There is a real danger, however, that Washington might settle for cosmetic changes on the political front in order to address its domestic energy issues.

5 March 2022

CLIMATE  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the second part of its Sixth Assessment Report on Monday. It stated unequivocally that climate change threatens humanity and all life on the planet, with climate hazards poised to exacerbate conflict risks, increase food insecurity and force mass migration. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the report “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership”. Crisis Group expert Ulrich Eberle says links between climatic distress and conflict are increasingly devastating in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, Central America and other regions. Decision-makers must consider conflict-sensitive adaptation strategies, as it is impossible to protect many exposed to climate change without addressing the deadly violence that also plagues them.

FOOD INSECURITY  The Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens the food supply of countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Together, Russia and Ukraine grow nearly 25 per cent of the world’s wheat. War and sanctions have driven prices sharply upward and could cause prolonged interruptions of exports. Cash-strapped states like Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia import huge percentages of the grain they need to feed their citizens from the eastern European breadbaskets. Crisis Group experts Kevin Mazur and Rafael Duran warn that wheat shortages and price spikes are likely to deliver economic shocks, worsening the already challenging living conditions and exacerbating political tensions in these countries.

MEXICO  Authorities questioned the veracity of videotape appearing to show a massacre in San José de Gracia, a town in Michoacán, a state where more than a dozen illegal armed groups contend for control. Footage broadcast in the media appeared to show Jalisco Cartel New Generation gunmen killing as many as seventeen participants in a wake for a member of a rival coalition called the United Cartels. Yet when officers arrived at the scene, they found shell casings but no bodies. Crisis Group expert Falko Ernst says the incident is the latest example of how homicide victims are either hidden or deliberately displayed to the public in order to avoid or prompt state action. The government’s doubt that the killings took place suggests it intends to downplay the continued bloodshed in the country. Absent far-reaching security-sector and socio-economic reform, criminal groups are likely to keep expanding their territorial and economic footprint through violence and intimidation.

26 February 2022

UKRAINE  Russia in the early hours of Thursday launched a multi-pronged military assault on Ukraine, threatening the largest European conflict in a generation. Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker says that President Putin has chosen a path marked by risk and uncertainty. While Ukraine is overmatched by the Russian military, its soldiers and civilians are putting up strong resistance. And if Russia succeeds, toppling a government and creating something viable in its place are two very different things. Nor is it clear how the Russian economy will bear the sanctions imposed by increasing numbers of states—and those to come. This war, if it continues, will also spark far more of the NATO troop build-up on Russia’s borders that Putin wants to reverse. War in Ukraine and military build-up in Eastern Europe guarantee future crises, each potentially more volatile. 

SOMALIA  An Al-Shabaab suicide bomber attacked a restaurant in Beledweyne city on 19 February, killing at least 18 people, including politicians and government officials. The attack came one day before indirect elections kicked off in the city, which had been complicated by ongoing political tensions between a local community and the Hirshabelle state administration. Federal government troops deployed to Beledeyne in January as a means to facilitate the polls. Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says the attack highlights how Al-Shabaab has stepped up violence targeting the electoral process over the past month across Somalia. While Al-Shabaab's violence threatens those involved, it has not forced the process to halt. Yet it sends a message about the government's inability to insulate even a limited political exercise from the group's wrath.

YEMEN  The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday sanctioned a complex network of businesses and individuals it said were part of an Iranian funding channel for the Huthis. Crisis Group expert Peter Salisbury says the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers are likely to argue this is insufficient as they continue to press for Huthi terrorism designations abroad, in particular a Foreign Terrorist Organisation designation in the U.S. It is part of their broader campaign of military, economic and political pressure on the group, which until late 2021 appeared to hold the upper hand in Yemen’s now seven-year-old war. Emirati officials at the UN are also pursuing a new resolution to expand an arms embargo and provide broad new authorities for international maritime interdictions in and around Yemeni waters.

19 February 2022

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO  President Tshisekedi deployed some 5,000 republican guards in the capital Kinshasa over the weekend in a show of force likely aimed at demonstrating his control of the military. Speculation over a suspected coup had gripped Kinshasa last week after security forces arrested Tshisekedi’s main security adviser Francois Beya, allegedly because of his loyalty to former President Joseph Kabila. Crisis Group expert Nelleke van de Walle says the loyalty of the army, which was built up by Kabila during his eighteen years in power, has been a lingering question since Tshisekedi assumed office in 2019. A possible attempt by Tshisekedi to purge suspected Kabila allies from the security forces could prompt a reaction from senior army officers, many of whom are deployed in the east of the country where they allegedly benefit from local war economies.

HONDURAS  Police arrested former President Juan Orlando Hernández on Tuesday, one day after the U.S. Department of Justice requested his extradition on drug-trafficking and weapons-related charges, and less than three weeks after he left office. Crisis Group expert Tiziano Breda says Hernández likely now faces months of legal battles as courts in Honduras consider the U.S. request. While Hernández’s arrest sends a clear message that government officials in the country and across the region are not immune to possible prosecution (even if abroad), it nonetheless reveals the weaknesses of the judicial system in Honduras, which has not been able to uproot institutional collusion with criminal groups that goes well beyond Hernández. The newly installed government of Xiomara Castro will face an uphill battle to tackle these criminal networks and the culture of impunity that enables them to thrive.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE  Tensions in the occupied East Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah rose this week amid the continued threat of evictions alongside a recent home demolition, ongoing police brutality, clashes between Israeli settlers and local Palestinian residents, provocations by right-wing Israeli politicians and threats by Palestinian armed factions. Crisis Group experts Mairav Zonszein and Tahani Mustafa say that Sheikh Jarrah has remained a flashpoint since last spring, when it became emblematic of the Palestinian struggle. Another conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions in the West Bank and Gaza could be triggered by events on the ground, such as the eviction of the Salem family from their home slated for March, a fatal attack on Israeli Jews in the neighbourhood, or a retaliatory rocket fired from Gaza. 

MALI  France on Thursday announced the withdrawal of its military forces, nine years after they deployed to stem the spread of jihadist groups initially operating from neighbouring Algeria and Libya. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says France's withdrawal follows a diplomatic row in recent months between Paris and Bamako. Faced with the choice of withdrawing or being expelled by the ruling junta, France took the decision to pull out, dragging European countries in its wake and effectively ending the multinational Takuba task force. The long period of French presence failed to stem the spread of jihadist violence, and the redeployment of French and European efforts to neighbouring countries leaves international presence in the Sahel in flux.

12 February 2022

HAITI  Monday marked the legally defined end of Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s mandate in office. Henry has led the country since President Moïse’s assassination last July and has faced mounting pressure to step down as his opponents deny the constitutional basis of his premiership. Henry – who enjoys international support and has promised to convene elections and conduct a constitutional reform – remains at loggerheads with civil society and political groups, some of which last month put forward their own transition plan that Henry immediately rejected. Crisis Group expert Renata Segura says that Haiti's first urgent task is to address the governance crisis. There is no sitting president or Supreme Court and there are only ten elected senators. Without basic functioning institutions, Haiti cannot address the enormous security challenges posed by gangs, which control large parts of urban centres and terrorise the population. 

IRAN  Negotiators from Iran and world powers returned to Vienna on Tuesday to resume the eighth round of talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says that while the discussions in recent weeks have been substantive, key gaps remain on critical issues like the scope and sustainability of U.S. sanctions relief, and rollback of Iran's nuclear advances. Resolving these differences would require all sides to demonstrate more flexibility. Western governments are particularly concerned about the pace of progress, which could render what remains of the deal's existing framework moot within weeks. 

LIBYA  The Tobruk-based House of Representatives on Thursday tasked former Tripoli-based Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga with forming a new cabinet, a divisive move that raised fears that the country could once again split into two rival governments, based in the two cities, as was the case between 2015 and 2020. Current Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dabaiba called the decision illegitimate. Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini says that the risk of parallel governments is probably off the table for now, because Bashagha will still need to secure a vote of confidence for his yet-to-be-named cabinet in two weeks' time – and his success in doing so is not a foregone conclusion. That said, the decision to appoint yet another interim government rather than move ahead with elections, which are now indefinitely postponed, is a blow to the UN-backed roadmap. 

5 February 2022

GUINEA-BISSAU  Heavy gunfire broke out Tuesday near a compound where President Umaru Sissoco Embalo was chairing a cabinet meeting. Hours later, he appeared on video saying all was under control after “an attempt to kill the president, the prime minister and all the cabinet”. He promised a thorough investigation, adding that “people involved in drug trafficking” may have been responsible. Sissoco said eleven people were killed in the incident, though medical sources mentioned only eight. A number of alleged plotters were reportedly arrested. Bubo na Tchuto, a former naval chief of staff who served time in the U.S. on cocaine trafficking charges, was released after interrogation. Opposition parties expressed scepticism about the president’s narrative of what happened. Crisis Group expert Vincent Foucher says the episode remains shrouded in mystery. 

HONDURAS  President Xiomara Castro was sworn into office last week in a ceremony attended by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and other foreign dignitaries. Castro pledged to reduce economic inequality and to fight the corruption that she says afflicted the Honduran state under the former ruling National Party. Her program is broadly popular at home and welcomed abroad, says Crisis Group expert Tiziano Breda, but she may have great difficulty carrying it out. Due to a split in her Libre party, two congressional leaderships were elected in parallel sessions. Both claim legitimacy, presaging political deadlock and legal uncertainty.

MALI  Authorities expelled the French ambassador Monday three days after France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called Mali’s military-run government “out of control”. Bamako characterised these remarks as “outrageous and hostile”, giving the French envoy 72 hours to depart. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says relations between the two countries have been deteriorating over the last two years, in which time the Malian armed forces have staged two coups. Following this latest sharp turn for the worse, Paris says it is reviewing the status of its own military mission in Mali, which is helping the government fight jihadist insurgents. Other European countries are reconsidering their military presence as well.

U.S.-AFRICA  The string of military takeovers in Africa over the last year has highlighted Washington’s reluctance to use the term “coup” in reference to the events. The U.S. did not label the Sudanese generals’ October 2021 power grab a coup, for instance; nor did it immediately do so when Burkina Faso’s army deposed an elected president in January. Crisis Group expert Sarah Harrison says Washington’s reticence about the term relates to a U.S. law that requires suspension of direct assistance to foreign governments when the State Department formally determines a coup has occurred under the terms the law spells out. Officials are loath to use the word publicly without a legal determination. The policy ramifications of cutting off assistance under the law include the potential to damage ties with U.S. partner countries that might look to other major powers for stronger bilateral relationships.

29 January 2022

BURKINA FASO  A group of military officers on Monday staged a coup by forcing President Kaboré to resign. The plotters announced the suspension of the constitution, the dissolution of parliament and the government, and promised a return to the constitutional order within “reasonable time”. International partners, including West African bloc ECOWAS, the African Union, UN and European Union, all condemned the coup. Crisis Group expert Pierre-Elie De Rohan Chabot says that the coup follows months of mounting popular anger and discontent in the barracks against the authorities’ inability to handle the jihadist threat in the country. Following power grabs in Mali and Guinea, this coup risks further normalising forceful takeovers in West Africa, presenting an additional challenge for ECOWAS amid worsening political and security crises in the region.

TAIWAN  The defence ministry on Sunday reported that dozens of Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, the largest-scale Chinese incursion since October 2021. Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao says the notable increase in the number of Chinese military aircraft in Taiwan's air defense identification zone took place shortly after the U.S. and Japan conducted a major military exercise in the Philippine Sea. Beijing was both sending a political signal in response to exercise and using the opportunity to train on a larger scale with more fighter jets and a bomber. 

UKRAINE  Representatives of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine met on Wednesday in Paris for the first in-person Normandy Format talks on the Ukraine peace process since January 2021. Negotiators spoke for eight hours before emerging to reaffirm their commitment to the Minsk deals as the basis for further negotiations, despite disagreements on how they should be implemented. They also voiced their support for observance of the now-frayed June 2020 ceasefire deal and agreed to meet again in two weeks time in Berlin. Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker says the lengthy discussions and limited results reflect the distance between the parties, but in light of a continuing Russian build-up near Ukraine and tense diplomatic engagement between Moscow and Western capitals, the fact of the meeting, and the promise of more negotiations, is positive, but overall the standoff is still extremely dangerous and the menace of a Russian escalation in Ukraine still looms.

22 January 2022

SUDAN  Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Khartoum on Monday to demand the military step down after it seized power in October. Security forces fired into crowds, killing at least seven protesters and prompting protest organisers to announce two days of strikes and civil disobedience. Crisis Group expert Murithi Mutiga says the security forces’ brutal response to protests will harden opposition to the ruling generals and complicate efforts, coordinated by the UN, to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.

WESTERN SAHARA  Recently appointed UN Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura continued his trip to the region this week, meeting the leader of the pro-independence Polisario Front in Algeria after he met Moroccan officials last week. Crisis Group expert Riccardo Fabiani says while the visit was exploratory, it was the first by a UN envoy since 2019 and signals renewed international engagement with the Western Sahara conflict. It was all the more important given the current state of high tensions between Algeria and Morocco. Prospects for resuming UN-led talks for now remain unlikely. 

YEMEN  The Huthis on Monday claimed missile and drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that killed three people. The attacks came amid a series of advances by UAE-aligned forces in Yemen, which have repelled Huthi forces from Shebwa governorate and prevented the Huthis from making further progress in neighbouring Marib. Crisis Group expert Peter Salisbury says the attacks demonstrate the Huthis’ frustration at their recent setbacks in Shebwa. He does not foresee the UAE overtly increasing its role on the ground in Yemen, where it exerts considerable influence over key armed factions but does not have boots on the ground.

15 January 2022

U.S.-RUSSIA  U.S., European, and Russian officials embarked on a series of diplomatic meetings with Russian officials this week in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna. The meetings follow months of mounting fears of a Russian offensive against Ukraine and Moscow’s demand for negotiations with the U.S. on halting, and in some ways rolling back, NATO's eastward expansion. Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker says the meetings ended without any agreements, and with Moscow stating that it sees no reason for further talks. It was never likely that this week’s talks would lead to resolution but if discussions do in fact cease, the risks of conflict are indeed higher.

KOREAN PENINSULA  North Korea conducted a hypersonic missile test on Tuesday, the second such test of 2022, and launched two suspected ballistic missiles on Friday. Crisis Group expert Christopher Green says this month’s tests are in line with goals outlined by leader Kim Jong-un last year at the Eighth Congress of the ruling Workers’ Party. There will certainly be more testing in the year to come, though the tempo and intensity could be affected by the outcome of the South Korean presidential election in March. The pandemic is a factor too: it has drastically constrained North Korean trade and already prompted Pyongyang to announce that it will stay away from the Beijing Winter Olympics. 

SOMALIA  Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and state leaders on Sunday agreed to complete the indirect elections of the Lower House of Parliament by 25 February. The process has been repeatedly delayed and marked by serious manipulation, while the re-emergence in late December of a power struggle between Roble and President Farmajo also threatens stability. Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says another electoral delay appears likely as what has hobbled the timeline over the past six months is unlikely to be overcome in the next six weeks. Somalia's leadership has also done little to address ongoing electoral irregularities, meaning forthcoming polls will likely continue to suffer from serious political interference. Meanwhile, the protracted rift between Roble and Farmajo raises the risk of confrontation in the capital, as both leaders attempt to ensure security forces respond to their direct control. 

8 January 2022

AFGHANISTAN  War has killed more than 28,000 children in Afghanistan since 2005, the most in any country in the world during that period, according to a UNICEF report released at the new year. Millions more children – and adults, too – are at risk of starvation as the country’s humanitarian crisis continues to deepen. Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss says heavy snows and flooding in parts of the country are exacerbating shortages of food and shelter. The root of the emergency, however, is not a lack of supplies but the economic collapse after Western countries cut off non-humanitarian aid and applied sanctions (with limited exemptions) to the Afghan state following the Taliban’s takeover. Renewing assistance, and easing the restrictions, grows more urgent by the day.

HAITI  The office of Prime Minister Ariel Henry alleged that gunmen tried to assassinate him Monday during a ceremony marking the island nation’s independence. Police have issued arrest warrants for unnamed suspects. The next day, U.S. Homeland Security agents apprehended a Colombian national at the Miami airport upon his arrival from Panama, charging him with involvement in the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. It appears that the U.S. will assume the main role in the Moïse investigation. Crisis Group expert Mariano de Alba says the confluence of events underscores the instability plaguing Haiti, with gang violence a particularly pressing challenge.

SUDAN  Protesters marched on the presidential palace Tuesday, two days after Abdalla Hamdok resigned as prime minister of the military-run interim government. The generals had appointed Hamdok on 21 November last year after removing him and his civilian cabinet in the 25 October coup. The Sudanese Professionals’ Association, a key component of the broad-based movement opposing the military takeover, vowed that street demonstrations would continue until “victory is achieved” in establishing civilian rule after the downfall of long-time strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Crisis Group expert Alan Boswell says Hamdok had little popular backing to form a new government as the generals violated their agreement with him and security forces cracked down, killing 56 people in post-coup protests to date. More violence is likely as the unrest goes on. 

UKRAINE  U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sunday, the second time in two weeks the two leaders have discussed Moscow’s large troop buildup on the Ukrainian border. Biden told Putin that Washington would react “decisively” if Russia were to ramp up its aggression against Ukraine, where it has been backing separatists since 2014. Tough talk may not be enough to deter the Kremlin, says Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker. Russia seeks both a more compliant Ukraine and substantial changes in the European security order, such that NATO forswears enlargement to the east and force presence on the territory of new members. Negotiations will continue in January, but the risk of escalation remains real.

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