Thursday, February 9, 2023

This week in international affairs: what you need to know

April 7, 2022
International Affairs reporter Lily Guiney breaks down major events going on in the world right now.
International Affairs reporter Lily Guiney breaks down major events going on in the world right now. —
Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

Global news can be a daunting thing to keep up with, especially in today’s world. Here’s a rundown of the international affairs stories that will hit your timelines and news notifications this week, condensed into just what you need to know.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Now a week into the second month of Russia’s war in Ukraine, capital city Kyiv and its suburbs have been declared free of Russian forces after a series of successful offensives by the Ukrainian military. According to a database compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, refugee counts are now reaching past four million people displaced, many having fled to neighboring countries Poland and Slovakia. 

As the tide of the war shifts to the embattled south of Ukraine, experts and heads of state have raised concerns about human rights violations by the Russian military as it leaves cities. President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Monday that reports of indiscriminate killings of civilians are tragic, but “unfortunately not surprising.” The president himself has spoken about the need for a war crimes investigation into Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military.

“You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden said on Monday morning. “Well, the truth of the matter- we saw it happen in Bucha- he is a war criminal.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for further sanctions on Russia in the hopes of curtailing human rights violations, but continues to say that what Ukraine ultimately needs is Western military equipment and action on previous security promises. 

"As a president, I'm not satisfied with just assurances," Zelensky said.

Truce in Yemen’s civil war

Warring parties in Yemen have agreed to a two-month ceasefire this week, the first such agreement since the beginning of the civil war in 2016. The United Nations humanitarian office estimated in Dec. 2021 that since the beginning of the conflict, nearly a quarter of a million people have died, including over 3,000 children. 

The vicious fighting between the Saudi-backed official government and Iranian-supported Houthi rebels has devastated Yemen’s civilians with famine, airstrikes and lack of access to critical services like health care and clean water. 

UN officials and world leaders praised the news of a ceasefire, emphasizing the significance of peace in Yemen at the outset of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. UN special envoy Hans Grundberg announced the agreement on April 1.

"The parties accepted to halt all offensive military air, ground and maritime operations inside Yemen and across its borders," Grundberg said. 

The ceasefire means that key points of travel in and out of the country will be reopened after years of restricted access, including all commercial flights and Red Sea ports used for fuel ships. Roads leading in and out of besieged cities will also be unblocked, allowing humanitarian aid to travel the country with greater ease. 

Pakistan’s Supreme Court decides the future of Parliament

In an attempt to head off a vote of no-confidence, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan moved to dissolve the country’s parliament and hold early elections. The success of this attempt will be decided this week by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, and has already led to increased partisan tension between Khan’s party and the opposition.

Khan has said that opposition attempts to stop his dissolution of the national assembly are orchestrated with the help of the U.S. government to oust him from office. Pakistani Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said in press statements leading up to this week that the court has concerns about the constitutionality of Khan’s intended actions. 

In an interview with the New York Times, Yasser Kureshi, a postdoctoral fellow in constitutional law at the University of Oxford noted Pakistan’s history of sporadic military rule as a sign of what could come if the court decision takes too long. In cases of political turmoil or deadlock, the military could install a head of state and take control of the country’s affairs. 

“Historically, the longer such a constitutional deadlock carries on, the greater chances of some kind of military intervention,” Kureshi said. 

Germany and other EU countries prep for gas shortages

In a change to oil contracts, Russia has demanded that oil purchased by “unfriendly” countries be paid in rubles as opposed to the native currency of the buyer, typically euros or US dollars. Many in Western Europe, Germany in particular, are now bracing for gas shortages due to governments’ refusal to pay with Russia’s extremely-devalued currency. 

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“We are not going to accept a breach of the private contracts,” said German finance minister Robert Habeck. 

The German government has assured citizens that the current actions being taken are preventative, and that imports are continuing regularly. Germany is noted among EU countries for its dependence on Russian oil, with 55%of its supply arriving to the country via pipelines from Russia at the outset of 2022, a figure which fell to 40 percent when the invasion of Ukraine began. 

Germany, in conjunction with the European Union, has taken the first steps in rationing gas in anticipation of further retaliatory measures from Russia for EU sanctions. According to statements obtained by Al Jazeera, the country’s gas reserves are currently operating at 25% of its pre-war capacity. 

Summit between Israel and Arab states increases tensions with Palestine

The days since March 22 have been the most deadly in years for the conflict between Israel and Palestine, with 12 Israeli citizens killed by militants and 6 Palestinians by Israeli police and military forces. The violence comes in conjunction with a landmark summit hosted by Israel with key Arab and US officials, which experts say signals a new desire from Israel to establish itself firmly as a Middle Eastern power player. 

Five of the killings took place in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak, a previously-sheltered enclave for highly religious Jews. The others occurred in the coastal city of Hadera and the quiet southern city Beersheba. The attacks in Bnei Brak and Hadera were both carried out by individuals with automatic weapons, while the Beersheba attack was a stabbing. Israeli officials confirmed that six men believed to be Islamic extremists were killed by military forces last week in the West Bank. 

While these attacks on Israeli civilians were largely shocking to the nation and the international community, the already-strained relationship between Israel and Palestine is known to become increasingly volatile during the month of Ramadan, which coincides with Passover and Easter this year. The holy city of Jerusalem, already contested, draws thousands of religious visitors during Ramadan and Passover, often leading to increased conflict between Israeli and Palestinian groups. 

Former Israeli intelligence director Avi Dichter said in broadcast interviews over the weekend that the recent attacks show a new and concerning pattern of terrorism in which militants use automatic weapons rather than low-tech methods like car ramming or stabbings.

“We are in the midst of a very difficult wave of terror with different characteristics than previous waves,” Dichter said.


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