Waving flags and singing the national anthem, thousands of Ukrainians braved the winter cold to march across Kyiv. | Photo Credit: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo

Weekly Recap: Feb 7 to Feb 13

14 Feb: Thousands of Ukrainians marched across the capital of Kyiv last Saturday (Feb 12) to show unity as fears of an invasion from Russia Looms. US President Joe Biden issued a warning last Thursday (Jan 10) to Americans in Ukraine to leave within 48 hours as Russia continues to threaten an invasion. Iran’s nuclear deal talks restarted last Tuesday (Feb 8) in Vienna, where delegates from Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, UK and Use to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal.

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North America:

  • United States (US) President Joe Biden issued a warning last Thursday (Jan 10) to Americans in Ukraine to leave within 48 hours as Russia continues to threaten an invasion. President Biden explained that should an invasion occur, the situation could “go crazy quickly” and the US will be unable to evacuate their citizens from Ukraine. However, a White House press release mentioned that the US and its allies will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia. 
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last Saturday (Feb 12) that the US plans to open an embassy in the Solomon Islands to counter China’s influence. The US has also promised more diplomatic and security resources to the region. While citizens of Solomon Islands cherished their history with Americans, they have been leaning towards China who has been aggressively seeking to engage elite politicians and businesspeople in the Solomons. The US previously had an embassy in the Solomon Islands for five years before it closed in 1993.
  • The Canadian police cleared protestors occupying a key bridge on the Canada-US border last Saturday (Feb 12) after a judge ordered an end to the four-day-long blockage of North America’s busiest land border crossing. The protestors set up truck blockades to express their opposition to Canada’s COVID-19 mandates which requires truckers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to cross the border. However, despite attempts to clear the scene, around a hundred protestors were still near the entrance to the bridge, preventing any flow of traffic in either direction.
  • US President Joe Biden signed an executive order last Friday (Feb 11) to secure Afghanistan funds for humanitarian aid and victims of the September 11 attacks in 2001. The total amount of frozen Afghan funds held in the US amounted to around US$7 billion (S$9.43 billion), which the US will use to benefit the Afghans and for Afghanistan’s future. However, allocations of the funds would be “pending a judicial decision”. According to a White House statement, such a move is to ensure aid is provided to the Afghans while keeping the money safe from the Taliban and other malicious actors.
  • Haitian factory workers gathered at an industrial park in Port-au-Prince last Monday (Feb 7) to protest for higher wages. While the police tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas last Wednesday (Feb 9) and Thursday (Feb 10), demonstrators persisted. They argued that their salary is insufficient for them to survive due to a sharp rise in inflation. 
  • A director of a Mexican online news site, Heber Lopez, was fatally shot at his office last Thursday (Feb 10), becoming the fifth journalist to be murdered in Mexico in 2022. Two suspects have since been arrested and investigations are still ongoing. According to the Mexican representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, this murder has made the first six weeks of 2022 “the deadliest for the Mexican press in over a decade”. 
  • The US Congress gave their final approval last Thursday (Feb 10) to the legislation that will ensure those who have been sexually harassed at work can seek recourse in courts. This is a milestone for the #MeToo movement which prompted a national reckoning over sexual misconduct. This measure will prevent employment contracts from forcing people to settle sexual assault or harassment cases through arbitration, which will benefit employers and prevent misconduct allegations from becoming public, rather than in court.
  • US climate envoy John Kerry’s visited Mexico last Wednesday (Feb 9) after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged to forge ahead with changes to Mexico’s power sector. According to Kerry, the US government is willing to help Mexico increase its usage of electric vehicles and renewable energy to meet climate goals. The meeting between the two countries comes despite rising tensions over Mexico’s plan to favour its state-owned electricity company and limit private and foreign firms that have invested in renewable energy. 
  • Former Nicaraguan presidential hopeful and journalist Miguel Mora was sentenced last Wednesday (Feb 9), to 13 years in prison for “conspiracy to undermine national integrity”. Due to undemocratic practices, the US and the European Union (EU) have slapped sanctions on members of Nicaguaran President Daniel Ortega’s government. Mora is the latest opposition political figure to be convicted and sentenced after trials lasting a few hours. Trials of 46 opposition figures, including seven presidential hopefuls started on Feb 1. 
  • US President Joe Biden spoke on the phone with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud last Wednesday (Feb 9) regarding intensified attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. President Biden has since reaffirmed the US’ commitment to support Saudi Arabia and defend its people and territory.
  • The US State Department offered up to US$10 million (SG$13.48 million) last Monday (Feb 7) for information which will lead to the location or identification of the leader of the Afghanistan affiliate of ISIL (ISIS), Sanaullah Ghafari. Information with regards to individuals responsible for the deadly bombing at Kabul airport last year is also welcomed by the US State Department.
  • Costa Rica is headed for a Presidential run-off as 88 per cent of ballots were tallied last Monday (Feb 7). Jose Maria Figueres, who served as the president between 1994 and 1998 is currently the front runner with 27.3 per cent of the votes. Outgoing President Carlos Alvarado’s party got less than 1 per cent of the votes, falling short of the necessary 4 per cent of the votes to receive state financing and will face a US$350,000 (S$471,698) punishment from the Supreme Elections Tribunal for campaign finance violations.
  • The Honduran Supreme Court reversed its decision to imprison six men arrested for their activism in a mining project in a national park last Thursday (Feb 10). While initially found guilty of criminal damage and illegal detention and facing up to 14 years in prison, their conviction was overturned a day after there was international outrage from the likes of Amnesty International. Many are hopeful that Thursday’s ruling is an indicator of changes in the political landscape for environmentalists. The conflict over the iron oxide mine owned by Inversiones Los Pinares dates back to 2013 when controversial zoning allowed the facility to be built in Carlos Escaleras National Park.

South America:

  • Brazil’s lower house approved a bill aimed at loosening control on pesticide approvals and use last Wednesday (Feb 9). Dubbed the “Poison Bill” by critics, it is said to pave the way for more dangerous pesticides to be used in one of the world’s largest agricultural producers with exports like coffee, soy, beef and chicken. Supporters of the bill claim it helps cut red tape and improves transparency. As soy and corn producers struggle to secure pesticide supplies, the receptiveness to the bill has grown in the past few weeks. 
  • Former Brazilian Leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who currently leads polls ahead of October’s election, proposed last Wednesday (Feb 9) to tax the rich more and the poor less if he won. He would also look into reducing fuel prices, heavier taxes on profits, and the adoption of a tax on dividends that do not exist in Brazil. He proposed to sell fuel from Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, at lower than market rates, which would mean cheaper fuel for Brazilian consumers but would also put a halt to the dividends Petrobras had been paying. 
  • Venezuelan gang leader Carlos Revette, known as El Koki, was killed in a police operation after being wanted for months, according to Interior Minister Remigio Ceballos last Tuesday (Feb 8). Authorities accused the gangs of crimes including drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion. At the time, the government was offering rewards up to US$ 500,000 (S$673,855) for Revette’s capture.
  • Peru’s President Pedro Castillo swore in his latest Cabinet last Tuesday (Feb 8), the fourth reshuffle since he took office in July last year. Castillo has faced a slew of crises, including impeachment attempts and criticism over his past choices for ministers, including the previous prime minister who lasted just three days after allegations of his domestic violence surfaced. 79-year-old Anibal Torres was sworn in as Prime Minister, who has been head of the justice ministry since the current government took power in July. Torres now has a month to get Congress’ vote of confidence for a new cabinet or be forced to make the fifth round of appointments.
  • Chilean truck drivers lifted road blockages in protest after the death of a colleague last Thursday (Feb 10). Three Venezuelans threw rocks at the trucker’s rig after he refused them a ride, which resulted in his death. Interior Minister Rodrigo Delgado met with the truckers’ union, where a state of emergency was promptly called in the north of the country. New measures that rolled out last Saturday (Feb 12) would allow soldiers to assist the police in the stepping up of road patrol from the ground and via aircraft. A new immigration law was also passed, giving authorities greater power to expel foreigners who have false papers or dodged immigration controls. 
  • The trial of Bolivia’s former interim president, Jeanine Anez, began last Thursday (Feb 10), as she was accused of coordinating the removal of her predecessor as Bolivia’s leader, Evo Morales. Anez, aged 54, has been held in pre-trial detention for the last 11 months and has gone through a number of hunger strikes. President Luis Arce’s spokesperson Jorge Richter said that Anez is being tried for the crimes of violating laws related to constitutional and legislative procedures for the appointment of a head of state, while Anez herself maintains she assumed the presidency without seeking it.

Asia Pacific: 

  • Due to rising tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border, Australia announced last Sunday (Feb 13) that it would be evacuating its embassy in Kyiv. Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne mentioned that their embassy staff in Kyiv have been directed to a temporary office in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, which is around 70km from Poland’s border. Australians have since been advised to leave Ukraine immediately by commercial means as soon as possible due to the unstable condition.
  • Hundreds of Hindu nationalist protestors marched in Gujarat last Saturday (Feb 12) after the Pakistan-based subsidiaries of several multinational companies (MNC) posted messages on social media in support of Kashmir. The messages were posted on Feb 5 to coincide with Pakistan’s Kashmir Solidarity Day, angering many social media users in India. The protests resulted in the closure of MNC stores involved in the social media posts. Companies such as Toyota, Hyundai and Kia have since apologised for the unauthorized post.
  • Around 120 people were arrested in New Zealand last Thursday (Feb 10) as police started using force to disperse a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic measures outside the parliament building. Similar to protests in France, protestors were inspired by trucker demonstrations in Canada. As police attempted to move into the crowd, two officers were allegedly assaulted by the protestors. While the number of protestors dwindled last Thursday (Feb 10)
  • Protests by Afghan refugees who have been in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for several months after fleeing Afghanistan last year were held last Wednesday (Feb 9). The protests were held at the centre where they were being housed due to frustration over the lack of communication over the resettlement process. While the refugees were appreciative of the care provided by UAE, they have become exasperated by the uncertainty. Some even complained about prison-like conditions in the centre.  
  • Indonesia signed a contract with France last Thursday (Feb 10) as Indonesia aims to upgrade its ageing air force fleet with multi-billion dollars for advanced fighter jets. This comes amid the rise in tensions in Asia Pacific. France’s defence minister Florence Parly said the contract for 42 aircrafts and their weapons was worth US$8.1 billion (S$10.92 billion). Indonesia could also purchase two Scorpene diesel-electric attack submarines from France. Additionally, the US also approved the US$13.9 billion (S$18.73 billion) sale of F-15 advanced fighter jets, engines and related equipment, including munitions and communications systems to Indonesia.
  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in told media outlets last Thursday (Feb 10) that should North Korea’s repeated missile launches breach their moratorium, the Korean Peninsula could end up where they were five years ago, where there were concerns of war. Hence, President Moon has called for dialogue and diplomacy to prevent it from occurring. Additionally, renewed tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have been a major setback for President Moon.
  • China suspended imports of beef from Lithuania last Wednesday (Feb 9) as tensions continue to loom due to the issue of Taiwan. However, the General Administration of Customs did not explain their rationale behind the suspension, which usually only occurs if there has been an outbreak of disease in livestock. The move comes after the United Kingdom (UK) announced last Monday (Feb 7) that it would support the EU’s case against China at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over Beijing’s alleged trade sanctions against Lithuania.
  • Hong Kong reported its first suspected COVID-19 death since September last Tuesday (Feb 8). The individual was a 73-year-old man who was chronically ill when admitted to the hospital last Tuesday (Feb 8). He was later preliminarily tested positive and required immediate resuscitation but died a few hours later. However, according to Hong Kong rules, further tests are still required to confirm if the man is COVID-19 positive. If he is indeed tested positive, it will bring Hong Kong’s death toll up to 214. Due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant, Hong Kong has tightened its COVID-19 measures to curb the spread.  
  • Australian Prime Minister Scott apologised in Parliament last Tuesday (Feb 8) to parliamentary employees after an inquiry found out half of them were bullied, harassed, and sexually assaulted. The inquiry came about after one of the former staffers, Brittany Higgins, said she was raped by a senior colleague in a minister’s Parliament House office weeks before the 2019 election. Higgins was present at the public gallery, along with three former staffers who had gone public with their own allegations. Following his comments, a statement from a cross-section of Australian political parties was released. It acknowledged and apologised for “an unacceptable history of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in parliament workplaces”.
  • During a media briefing last Monday (Feb 7), Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the country will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated tourists from Feb 21 onwards. This move will end some of the world’s strictest and longest-running pandemic travel restrictions as the Australian borders closed in March 2020 to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases.
  • Due to a spike in COVID-19 infections, Indonesia announced last Monday (Feb 7) that it will tighten social restrictions in Jakarta and Bali, and two other cities on Java Island. Other restrictions include limiting the number of people in indoor locations. While Indonesia’s transport ministry previously mentioned that foreigners and Indonesians returning to Indonesia would be temporarily banned, a new statement said those with the right paperwork could enter through Jakarta and Bali, and Batam and Tanjung Pinang in the Riau Islands.  

Europe: 

  • French police fired tear gas at demonstrators protesting against COVID-19 restrictions in Paris last Saturday (Feb 12). The demonstrators were inspired by the “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations in Canada last Tuesday (Feb 8). They are against rules requiring a vaccine pass to enter public places. Over 7,000 police officers have been deployed to key areas to prevent a blockage.
  • Thousands of Ukrainians marched across the capital of Kyiv last Saturday (Feb 12) to show unity as fears of an invasion from Russia looms. The Kremlin has amassed around 130,000 troops at the Russia-Ukraine border, causing Western countries to worry that a war might break out soon. However, the Ukrainians marching wanted to show that they are unafraid and will fight for independence and freedom. Veterans of Ukraine’s war in the east of the country were also seen at the march.
  • New satellite images collected last Wednesday (Feb 9) and Thursday (Feb 10) shows the new deployment and positioning of Russian military equipment and troops in multiple areas near Ukraine. This includes Crimea, Belarus, and western Russia in the Kursk area, thus putting Russia near the strategic city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest, which has a large Russian-speaking population. The deployment includes troops, vehicles and other equipment. Russia has also been conducting naval exercises in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. 
  • The UK Atomic Energy Authority announced last Wednesday (Feb 9) a major breakthrough in their quest to develop practical nuclear fusion. This has been hailed as a “milestone” on the path towards harnessing the power of the stars for cheap and clean energy on earth. International cooperation regarding fusion energy has been closer compared to nuclear fission as the technology will not produce radioactive material that can be weaponised.   
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the United Kingdom Parliament last Wednesday (Feb 9) that COVID-19 isolation rules could be lifted by end-February, a month earlier than expected. The move came after a drop in new infections and COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals since early January. Plans have also been made to switch from legal restrictions to advisory measures to treat COVID-19 as a flu. Rules for people travelling to the UK were also relaxed last Friday (Feb 11) where fully vaccinated travellers do not have to take COVID-19 tests before or after arrival, and those not yet fully vaccinated will not have to isolate, but have to take tests.
  • The first batch of US troops arrived in Romania last Tuesday (Feb 8) amid a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s border. Almost three thousand extra soldiers will be sent from the US to Poland and Romania to protect Eastern Europe from potential spillover from the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s build-up of troops has since sparked a diplomatic crisis, causing the US and Europe to fear that Moscow could be preparing for an imminent invasion of Ukraine. While Russia denied the allegations, it has explicitly opposed Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron met Russian President Vladimir Putin last Monday (Feb 7) to discuss tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border. President Macron is the most senior Western leader to meet Putin since Moscow starting moving troops near their border with Ukraine. President Macron has since claimed that he received personal assurances from President Putin that Russia will not escalate tensions. However, President Putin’s spokesperson told reporters last Tuesday (Feb 8) that Putin did not agree with President Macron to de-escalate.
  • US President Joe Biden met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House last Monday (Feb 7) to discuss growing tensions in Eastern Europe. The two countries are working intensely together to take the necessary steps to fight against Russian aggression against Ukraine. Since Europe heavily relies on Russian energy exports, the tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border resulted in European nations fearing that Moscow could cut off energy supplies.
  • A commission investigating child sexual abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church revealed last Thursday (Feb 10) that over 200 alleged victims came forward to share their stories. The investigation started in early January after a French report revealed that around 3,000 priests and religious officials sexually abused over 200,000 children in the past 70 years. They have since recruited help from charities, civic associations and parish councils to spread the word to victims who have yet to come forward.

Middle East:

  • Bahrain’s foreign ministry confirmed last Saturday (Feb 12) that an Israeli officer would be stationed in the Gulf state for the first time. This appointment is related to the work of an unnamed international coalition of more than 34 countries with the goal “to secure the freedom of navigation in the region”. Bahrain is one of four Arab states that have signed a United States-sponsored agreement to normalise relations with Israel in 2020.
  • Three members of the United Arab Emirates’ Federal National Council became the first Emirati delegation to visit Israel’s parliament last Monday (Feb 7), since the United States (US) brokered normalisation of ties in 2020 via the Abraham Accords agreements. Chairman of the council’s defence, interior and foreign affairs committee, Ali Rashid al-Nuaimi said that this was not a political agreement, but rather, was an agent of change for the region. Prior to the visit to the Knesset, the Emirati delegation visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.
  • Iran nuclear deal talks restarted in Vienna last Tuesday (Feb 8), where political delegates from Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States reconvene in Vienna to try to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran wants harsh sanctions imposed during Trump’s presidency to be lifted, while the Biden administration is prepared to lift those “inconsistent” with the deal. Analysts predict that these will be the last round of talks, although they note that a potential deal would be less beneficial, but the most realistic option currently. 
  • Hundreds of protestors gathered around a government-held city’s main square last Friday (Feb 11) in Sweida, a Druze-majority city in southwestern Syria waving a multicoloured Druze community flag. According to activists, they were denouncing corruption and worsening living standards. This comes in lieu of the cash-strapped government  dropping hundreds of thousands of people from a subsidy programme on essential items, including bread, diesel, cooking gas and petrol. Plagued by the pandemic, sanctions and the Syrian Revolution, the United Nations (UN) estimates over 90 per cent of the people to live in poverty, with many struggling to secure fuel for heating this winter.
  • According to Tunisia’s Justice Minister Leila Jaffel last Wednesday (Feb 9), President Kais Saied will not be dissolving the Supreme Judicial Council, but instead be reforming it after international criticism was sparked at its initial dissolution. The council would see its regulating laws amended, with a temporary judicial authority set up in the meantime. Supreme Judicial Council head Youssef Bouzakher called the move “a dangerous indication of the failure to abide by the country’s constitution, as the council will be transformed from an elected authority to a chosen council”, where Tunisia’s rule might return to long-time ruler Ben Ali. 

Africa:

  • Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who won the PEN Pinter Prize for international writers of courage has fled Uganda across the land border with Rwanda last Wednesday (Feb 9), after spending a month in jail. Rukirabashaija was arrested in late December for communication offences related to a series of tweets he posted about President Museveni and his son, an army general. Rukirabashaija claimed that he was tortured by an official during his time in detention, with photos of his mutilated back shocking many. The international community has taken notice, with the European Union’s (EU) delegation to Uganda issuing a statement of expressing concern over the situation. 
  • The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Uganda to pay the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) US$325 million (S$435 million) last Wednesday (Feb 9) in reparations for its role in the conflict there. The compensation came more than 15 years after the ICJ ruled that Ugandan troops had breached international law, and judges found Ugandan troops to be responsible for the deaths of 10,000 to 15,000 people in the eastern Ituri region. Uganda will be paying US$65 million (S$87 million) in annual instalments from 2022 to 2026 that would be encompassing damage to persons, property and resources. 
  • Military prosecutors in Burkina Faso called for 30 years of jail for former President Blaise Compaore last Tuesday (Feb 8) for the 1987 murder of his predecessor, revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara. Fourteen people, including Compaore, are being charged. Other individuals being charged includes the commander of Compaore’s guard suspected to have led the hit squad, as well as Gilbert Diendereone of the commanders of the army during the 1987 coup and the main defendant present at the trial. The revered Sankara was a Marxist-Leninist who rallied against imperialism and colonialism, and enacted social and fiscal policies like nationalisations, public housing and a ban on female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages. Sankara and 12 of his colleagues were gunned down by a hit squad on Oct 15, 1987, at a meeting of the ruling National Revolutionary Council.
  • The African Union (AU) suspended a debate last Monday (Feb 7), postponing the debate on Israel’s accreditation to the 55-member pan-African body after it was given observer status last year, a decision a few countries were against. The AU’s newly elected chairman Macky Sall confirmed the postponement of the vote to the next summit in 2023. In a statement, the Israeli foreign ministry said its admission would facilitate increased cooperation between Israel and African countries. Palestinian political party Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA), said the ruling  was in line with historical positions of the AU in support of the Palestinian cause against colonialism and apartheid.
  • Libya’s parliament appointed former interior minister Fathi Bashagha as Prime Minister last Thursday (Feb 10), in a bid to challenge interim premier Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s administration. This threatens to spark a new power struggle between the eastern-based assembly and Dbeibah’s administration based in Tripoli, in western Libya. Dbeibah was appointed Prime Minister last February in an UN-brokered, Western-backed political process. Libya has been reeling from conflict since the NATO-backed uprising toppled then killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
  • In a 149-page report released last Thursday (Feb 10), the Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed the human rights violation of 80 Cameroonian asylum seekers who were deported from the United States (US). In the last months of the Trump administration, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agency stepped up its deportations of African migrants where dozens of cases of alleged abuse and mistreatment by officers of the US were documented. Deportees were also reportedly abused by officials back in their home country after their forceful return. HRW and members of the Cameroon Advocacy Network (CAN), urged the American government to grant these deportees parole to return to the US. 
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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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