A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway Tuesday in Crimea. Russia has concentrated an estimated 100,000 troops with tanks and other heavy weapons near Ukraine in what the West fears could be a prelude to an invasion. | Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Weekly Recap: Feb 21 to Feb 27

Feb 28: US joined allies last Friday (Feb 25) in imposing stringent sanctions on Russia, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected Russia’s invitation for peace talks in Belarus last Sunday (Feb 27), Five staff of a medical charity were kidnapped last Friday (Feb 25) by armed men in Cameroon.

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North America:

  • US President Joe Biden selected Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson last Friday (Feb 25) to serve the US Supreme Court as the next supreme court justice who, if confirmed, will become the first Black American woman to do so in the courts over two-century history. Currently a federal appeals judge, Ms Jackson will take over Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in June following his retirement. Mr Biden further commented on his choice saying he “believes it’s time [for the court to reflect] the full talents and greatness of [America].”
  • Joe Biden’s government last Friday (Feb 25) joined hands with several other countries in imposing sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with hopes of increasing the pressure on Moscow to back down on its attack on Ukraine. Sanctions such as cutting off Russia’s largest bank from the US financial system and severing any ties to the US financial system have been put in place with the intention to impose major economic costs on the country and its people. 
  • The “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that prohibits any discussion regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary school classrooms passed last Thursday (Feb 24) in Florida’s House of Representatives in a 69-47 vote. The bill aims to remove discussions about LGBT topics in sex education at elementary levels due to such topics being deemed as not “developmentally appropriate for students”. Some critics say that the bill could potentially make it more difficult for LGBTQ youths who already encounter bullying from their peers. Additionally, the bill will also allow parents of elementary children to sue schools directly in the case where a teacher breaks the law. 
  • A Nicaraguan court last Friday (Feb 25) found seven critics of President Daniel Ortega’s government guilty of conspiracy. Among the seven who were convicted were Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Arturo Cruz and Felix Maradiaga — all presidential candidates during the 2021 elections. The human rights group Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, however, argued that the condemned were innocent of their alleged crimes. The seven critics are not the first group to be convicted in a wave of trials against opponents of Daniel Ortega’s government. 
  • Clashes between migrants and police in Tapachula, Mexico last Thursday (Feb 24) have resulted in more than 20 people being injured. According to Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), around 100 of these migrants that joined in on the protests came from Cuba, Haiti and other African nations. The violent protests arose from migrants attempting to cut queues for permits that would authorise them to travel further north into Mexico or the US. As the biggest in the country, Tapchula’s immigration centre has become popular and overly congested from an influx of migrants. 

South America:

  • Colombia, Argentina and Chile joined international efforts to condemn Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and called for the withdrawal of Russian troops last Thursday (Feb 24), as some Latin American countries stopped short of calling for Russia’s exit. Ecuador also condemned Russia, saying that it had violated international law and called for an end to the fighting. Meanwhile, Brazil was split on the issue as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was reluctant to address Russia’s actions last Thursday whereas Vice President Hamilton Mourao spoke against it. On the other hand, some Latin American countries like Peru and Paraguay were less harsh on their criticism and called for peace dialogues while Venezuela backed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions. 
  • Flash floods and landslides in Brazil that hit the municipality of Petropolis resulted in an additional death toll of 217 people as reported last Friday (Feb 25). As of writing, 33 people are still unaccounted for and 900 Petropolis residents are still stuck in emergency shelters. Displaced families are expected to receive financial aid of about 1,000 Brazilian reals (S$ 262) per month to find new homes. Experts attributed the cause of the floods to climate change and lack of land planning. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has pledged federal assistance to help residents and rebuild the affected areas.
  • Argentina continued to be plagued by wildfires as it spread through the region of Corrientes, ravaging at least nine per cent of its territory last Wednesday (Feb 23). According to official reports, the fires are destroying about 30,000 hectares a day and have cost damages of more than 26 billion Argentine pesos (S$ 330.2 million). Firefighters have just begun to arrive from Brazil, Bolivia and from all parts of Argentina to combat the fire.
  • The Colombian defence ministry made a statement last Thursday (Feb 24) that at least 23 dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were killed and five were injured in an operation by the Colombian armed forces along the Venezuelan border. Colombia signed a peace agreement with FARC in 2016 but some dissidents chose to ignore it. Many dissidents along with another guerilla group ELN took refuge and set up bases in Venezuela where Colombian authorities accused the Venezuelan government of backing them. 
  • Colombia’s constitutional court decriminalised abortions for women within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy last Tuesday (Feb 22). Since 2006, abortions have only been allowed in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is in danger or if there are pregnancy complications. This ruling was welcomed by pro-choice groups who called it a ‘historic achievement’. Causa Justa, a Colombian women’s rights coalition reported that at least 350 women were convicted for abortions between 2006 and mid-2019. 

Asia Pacific: 

  • Japan Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said last Sunday (Feb 27) that the country will coordinate closely with the other G7 nations in deciding whether to inflict additional sanctions against Russia as it continues its intervention on Ukraine. Meanwhile, the US, Britain, Canada and countries in Europe collectively moved to sever any connection between Russian banks and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) system last Saturday (Feb 26) as part of several sanctions against Russia’s capital Moscow.
  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Saturday (Feb 26) said in a phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that he will aid in peace efforts in the Ukraine crisis. Modi said further that India was willing “to contribute in any way towards peace efforts” and expressed his sympathies towards those who have lost their lives in the crossfire. As a response, the Russian Embassy in India’s capital New Delhi showed their appreciation on Twitter for India’s “independent and balanced” position in the vote. Additionally, teams have been sent to evacuate any Indian citizens in neighbouring countries Poland, Hungary and Romania who have asked for help. 
  • Australia opened its international borders last Monday (Feb 21) for the first time in nearly two years after imposing some of the world’s most stringent travel bans due to COVID-19. With the exception of Western Australia (which will only open its borders on March 3), travellers will be able to enter all states allowing double-vaccinated visitors to visit without the need to quarantine. As a result of the ban-lift, many families have been able to reunite after a long time apart. 
  • A 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck the shores of the western coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island last Friday (Feb 25) resulting in the deaths of at least seven people and 85 injured. The earthquake, which was also felt in neighbouring countries Singapore and Malaysia, prompted residents in some parts of Malaysia to evacuate from buildings despite its distance from the epicentre. There have been no reports of injuries or damages in both neighbouring countries. 
  • An unprecedented severe storm struck Australia’s northeastern city of Brisbane last Sunday (Feb 27) resulting in a death toll of seven people. The heavy rains led to evacuations, power outages and school closures as more than 1,400 homes were at risk of flooding and more than 28,000 stranded without power in the city. Famous tourist attractions such as the beaches on the Gold and Sunshine coasts have all been closed as a result of the catastrophe. 

Europe:

  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last Sunday (Feb 27) that Ukraine is ready for peace talks with Russia but rejects Russia’s offer of negotiating in Belarus. He listed alternative locations for negotiations such as the cities of Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku. Earlier, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that a Russian delegation arrived in the Belarusian city of Gomel and was waiting for Ukrainian officials. However, President Zelenskyy’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Ukraine wants only “real” negotiations and not ultimatums. 
  • Greece summons the Russian ambassador after Russia’s bombing of Ukraine killed 10 Greek nationals and wounded six last Saturday (Feb 26). Six Greek nationals were killed in the Sartana village and the other four in Buhas, located north of Mariupol. The Russian embassy in Athens expressed “deep sorrow” over the deaths but insisted that Russia only meant to target Ukrainian military units and installations.
  • Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last Saturday (Feb 26) that Moscow may respond to western sanctions by opting out of the last nuclear arms deal with the United States (US), cutting diplomatic ties with the western nations and freezing their assets. He also warned that Moscow may also restore the death penalty after Russia was removed from Europe’s top rights group. Western sanctions placed restrictions on the financial operations of Russia, imposed a ban on technology exports to Russia and froze the assets of President Putin and his foreign minister. Tougher sanctions are also being considered which includes kicking Russia out of SWIFT, the dominant system for global financial transactions. 
  • Ramzan Kadyrov, a Chenchen leader and an ally of President Putin said that Chenchen fighters had been deployed to Ukraine last Saturday (Feb 26). He boasted in a video that Chenchen units suffered no losses and said Russian forces could take large Ukrainian cities including the capital, Kyiv, but they want to avoid loss of lives.
  • SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk said on Saturday (Feb 26) that Starlink internet is available in Ukraine and more terminals are being sent to the country. Ukraine’s internet connectivity especially in the southern and eastern parts has been disrupted due to the invasion by Russian forces. Although satellite technology is costly, it can provide internet connectivity for people who live in rural areas where conventional cables do not reach as well as during natural disasters. 

Middle East:

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Russian President Vladimir Putin last Friday (Feb 25) on the phone that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are justified and are a “correction of history that restores post-Cold-War balance”. Damascus is an ally of Moscow which intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015 by launching air attacks as well as deploying 63,000 military personnel to support al-Assad’s forces against rebel factions. Russia’s intervention allowed al-Assad’s forces to regain control of lost territories. The Syrian war is estimated to have nearly half a million people killed and millions displaced since the anti-government protests in 2011. 
  • Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey is unable to stop Russian warships from accessing the Black Sea in a response to Ukraine’s request last Thursday (Feb 24), due to a clause in an international pact that states Russia’s warships have the right to return to their home bases. Many Russian forces landed at Ukraine’s Black and Azov Sea ports during the invasion. Turkey has control of the Black Sea under the 1936 Montreux Convention, allowing them to limit the passage of warships during wartime or if threatened. If Turkey decided to block off Russia’s access to the Black Sea, they would only be prevented from travelling in the direction away from their home base.
  • An estimated number of about 4,500 Lebanese are trapped in Ukraine as Russia’s bombardment continues. Some of the Lebanese families recently emigrated to Ukraine in the midst of Lebanon’s economic crisis. Lebanon’s foreign ministry last Thursday (Feb 24) said that it will form a crisis team of ministerial officials and Lebanese ambassadors from Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Romania to propose the next steps to be taken. The ministry has also set up a signup form and hotline for Lebanese in Ukraine.
  • The United States (US) issued new sanctions against alleged members of a network for financing Houthi rebels in Yemen last Wednesday (Feb 23). The US Department of Treasury made a statement that the network has transferred tens of millions of dollars to Yemen in support of Houthi leaders launching missile and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). US President Joe Biden last month considered redesignating the Houthis and their leaders as “terrorists” but a group of US senators led by Chris Murphy urged the Biden administration against this move as it will reduce peace prospects in Yemen.
  • Turkey’s ministry of justice sent a request to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to detain and repatriate a Turkish mob boss, Sedat Peker after Interpol issued a red notice for him. Peker, who was released several years ago, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2007 for crimes including forming and leading a criminal gang. Just last year in 2021, Peker began sharing videos on youtube which attracted millions of viewers making corruption and criminal allegations against top officials in the Turkish government which Ankara denied.

Africa: 

  • Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said last Thursday (Feb 24) that he will ban foreign funding for civil society organisations as he tries to transform the country’s politics after launching a one-man rule. Civil society organisations have played a significant part in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy. The president further said that the shift was necessary to halt foreign interference with the nation. He has since denied having any dictatorial endeavours. 
  • The government of Nigeria last Thursday (Feb 24) said that it will offer to evacuate its citizens from Ukraine amidst Russia’s invasion of Kyiv. A representative of Nigeria’s foreign ministry reassured its citizens in Ukraine that the government is taking measures to ensure the safe evacuation of those who choose to leave the country. Thousands of Nigerians including students reside in both Ukraine and Russia. 
  • Floods that occurred last week in Mozambique left 11 people dead and several thousand homeless as reported last Thursday (Feb 24). The floods are said to be a result of intense rains that were caused by Tropical Storm Dumako within the last week. According to a spokesperson for the national disaster agency, a total of 34 houses were completely destroyed with hundreds of others partially damaged or submerged. The weather phenomena that has been occurring since the beginning of the rainy season last October has affected more than 250,000 people. 
  • Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta officially seconded the succession of opposition leader Raila Odinga for this year’s August presidential elections. The president encouraged his supporters to support Mr Odinga’s bid saying that he had the country’s best interests at heart further stating that he would be at peace to hand him the baton and responsibilities of running the country. Many believe that this year’s elections will be Mr Odinga’s fifth and final time running for the presidency. 
  • Five staff employees of the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were kidnapped last Friday (Feb 25) in the Northern region in Cameroon known for the area in which the militant group Boko Haram operates. According to an MSF spokesperson, the kidnapping took place when the workers were organising humanitarian projects in the area. The act was done by armed men who broke into the staff’s living spots in the town of Futokol. The identity of the abductors and their motive for the kidnapping is not yet known. 
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