Nicola Biggerstaff – 16 September 2022
As the British media focusses on other things, here at Common Weal we are continuing to work hard to bring you the most up-to-date coverage of current events. As such, I thought I’d take some time to bring you some of the goings on from around the world which may have flown under the radar this week.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to gather pace, as they recently recaptured up to 6,000 square kilometres of land east of Kharkiv in just five days, including the towns of Izyum and Kupiansk. By launching a disinformation campaign claiming the Ukrainian focus in the summer months would be on the southern region near Kherson, Russian forces were redeployed, leaving counterparts in the east ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught.
As the Ukrainian army were warmly welcomed back by the citizens of the affected region, it signals an end to the stalemate and claims of Russian supremacy.
The highly publicised southern counteroffensive is ongoing, if at a slower pace. This all comes following the ‘postponement’ of the Kremlin-sanctioned referendum on the occupied territories annexation to the Russian Federation.
The Russian failure has sparked rare cases of criticism in Moscow, going so far as for some officials to directly call for Putin’s resignation, as recent developments now bring any potential success in the Donbas into question.
This month’s devastating floods have already taken the lives of 1,400 people and affected up to 33 million (1 in 7). The cost of damages has already tripled from previous estimates to $30 billion USD, with officials now saying that the floodwaters may not recede for up to six months and the resulting threats to infrastructure and public health from waterborne disease remain an extreme threat.
The West has been criticised for their lack of response to the humanitarian crisis, which many directly link to the impact of climate change, since Pakistan contributes just 0.5% of global Co2 emissions.
If you are able, please consider donating to the relief efforts organised by the Disasters Emergency Committee, a coalition of leading UK charities. Or donate to the appeal via the Red Cross here, or via Islamic Relief UK here.
While the more recent conflicts from the 1980s onwards have been concentrated in the territorially contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, the most recent lasting for six weeks from September 2020, this latest activity represents a worrying escalation between the two states.
Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave within Azerbaijan populated by majority ethnic Armenian people, who self-govern unofficially as the Republic of Artsakh. The most recent conflict saw Azerbaijan take over swathes of the region outright, with military support from Turkey ensuring a peace agreement by November 2020 which saw these gains officially secede to Azerbaijan. This most recent outbreak of violence is claimed to be in retaliation to Armenian aggression, but this remains unfounded.
Historically sensitive within the context of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-23 under the Ottoman Turks, and with continuous Russian influence over both nations, the conflict could be deemed a flashpoint for proxy conflict.
The recent clashes will be a topic for discussion at the upcoming UN Security Council meeting following a phone call between Emmanuel Macron, current President of the UNSC, and the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
Azerbaijan, with the help of Russian peace-brokering, claimed they are ‘in control’ of the situation.
The civil conflict began in November 2020 when tensions over federal government reform dating back to 2018 boiled over, with steady escalation from defying federal government action to financial sanction, leading to total armed conflict. Leaving thousands killed and over two million displaced (of a population of five and a half million), the conflict has also on occasion spilled over into the southern neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
Read here for more information on the origins of the conflict.
A nationwide referendum on the 4th of September rejected historic constitutional reform. An overwhelming 62% of almost 13 million voters (with a turnout of 85%) decided to keep their Pinochet-era constitution in place, as opposed to the new one drafted by a delegation established in light of the protests in 2019 against the rising cost of living and inequality which killed dozens.
The proposed constitution aimed to tackle social and gender equality as well as climate change, but conservative critics argued that it was ‘poorly written’, and the enshrined guarantees for the country’s indigenous population would cause unnecessary division.
While this rejection was predicted by polling experts, it still represents an uncertain future for Chile. While the delegation still has the power to draft further legislation, therefore giving potential to another referendum on a new draft, the sheer scale of the rejection could indicate a reluctance among the population to embrace change.
It could also serve as a litmus test for President Gabriel Boric, who only assumed office in March of this year. A failure on his part to pass progressive reforms could become as poisonous to his legacy as Brexit to a UK Prime Minister.
On a lighter note, the President’s speech on the day of the vote was delightfully upstaged by a surprise guest.
Regional lockdowns continue to bite and infringe on the freedom of residents. The latest in the cities of Chengdu and Guizhou come only a few months after a full lockdown in Shanghai.
The government’s zero-Covid policy requires whole areas to be locked down in the event of as little as a handful of positive cases, however this has caused extensive food and fuel shortages in the cities as people are left physically unable to leave their homes. Allegations have even been made of elevators being switched of in apartment blocks to prevent people leaving.
Officials are under pressure to keep outbreaks contained ahead of the National Party Congress next month, an event held once every five years. By controlling both localised outbreaks and dissent from oppressive lockdowns, the Party firmly maintains their grip on power.
Additionally, a UN report earlier this month has found ‘serious human rights violations’ against ethnic Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
Concerns were raised as early as 2018, when aerial images showed the construction of so-called ‘re-education camps’ in the area, in which allegations of torture, enslavement, forced sterilisation and assault of Uighur people have been made against the communist regime. Beijing denies the ‘farce’ allegations.
Finally, the recent General Election has shown a worrying spike in popularity for the far-right.
The Sweden Democrats, whose party roots go back to the neo-Nazi movement of the late twentieth century, have swung the overall vote to such an extent that legislative power now lies with the right wing bloc for the first time in over a hundred years with a three seat majority. Their influence on the legislative agenda could prove fatal to Sweden’s global image of social progression.
With a proportional representation voting system, election results in Sweden often lead to coalition deals with multiple parties, on the same side of the political spectrum, to form a government.
While Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson conceded defeat and resigned on Wednesday night, coalition talks between right wing party leaders, including SD’s Jimmie Åkesson, began on Monday when polling made their victory tenable, but still too close to call officially.