Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
United Kingdom: Harry Street
Today marks the eleventh day of war in Ukraine, following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the country last Thursday, which was deemed a special military operation by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Countries throughout Europe and beyond have strongly condemned the actions in Ukraine; however, the UK government insists on strengthening its sanctions on Russia in the coming days and weeks. Johnson has announced that the government will change laws to make it easier to sanction Russian oligarchs, many of whom are believed to be good friends of Putin and using the UK as a hub for money laundering. Enacting this change will add to the mounting pressure on Putin, following action taken by ministers last week to freeze assets of Russian individuals and companies with links to the president. Economic and financial sanctions on the Russian economy seem to be having little effect on Russia’s invasion, however, with troops seizing more Ukrainian land each day. With many fearing that stronger military action will be required to stop the war in Ukraine, the next few days will be vital for the UK government to make a meaningful influence on Putin’s next move.
Though it pales in comparison to the current experience of Ukrainians, British households are increasingly feeling a squeeze on their income as inflation continues to rise, making the living costs unsustainable for many. Reports show that many Britons are using their savings to cope with big rises in energy costs, food and fuel, which are the large drivers in the continually-rising inflation levels in the UK. On Friday, the Office for National Statistics published a report that highlighted 22 per cent of adults in the UK are spending their savings, and 21 per cent of under-50s are borrowing more on credit cards and loans. The war in Ukraine is adding to the inflationary pressures, with the oil prices surpassing the $100 per barrel mark this week, which was last seen in 2014. With many economists now predicting inflation to reach 8% by April, it will be of paramount importance on how the government and Bank of England will intervene to improve real income for millions of households.
Europe: Cameron Fulton
This week, news remains dominated by the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Regarding key updates from the invasion, the capital city of Kyiv, the port of Mariupol and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant will be discussed.
Regarding Kyiv, the 60km Russian convoy seemed to signal impending doom for the capital only a few days ago. Instead, the convoy has become a caricature of Putin’s proclaimed successful invasion. Dogged in the mud with food shortages, soldier discontent and regular delays, the convoy’s stalling has proven both Russian incompetency and the willingness of the Ukrainians to fight back. Though there is an inevitable end to this arrival in the capital, the delays will not only irk Putin but cost him too. It has been calculated that each day of war is costing the Russian army €20bn. Despite the heroic delay, unless peace talks gather pace, Kyiv will be unable to defend itself.
Considering the siege of Mariupol, the port city has been under constant artillery fire for the past 5 days at the time of writing. Humanitarian organisations have labelled it a ‘catastrophe’, with medicines, food, water, electricity, and heating all running out. The 400,000 inhabitants have been driven into shelters and cellars, as the Russians circle the city like sharks. Vadym Boichenk, the city’s mayor, has called it an attempted ‘extermination’. Peace talks seemingly led to an agreement of an evacuation, though this has now been terminated by the Ukrainians. They accuse Russia of violating the proposed ceasefire, attacking the escape route, and continuing artillery shelling of the city. Russia has responded arguing that Ukrainian forces are using the ceasefire to regain defensive positions. Mariupol could be a sign of what is to come for Kyiv.
Finally, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was attacked this week. And for the first time in history, an active atomic facility has therefore been targeted in war. The assault was widely condemned by world leaders and experts. Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, condemned: ‘Firing shells in the area of a nuclear power plant violates the fundamental principle that the physical integrity of nuclear facilities must be maintained and kept safe at all times’. President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, argued the attack risked the damage of ‘six Chernobyls’. Although experts argue this was perhaps an exaggeration of the effects, they were still firmly critical of the attack’s recklessness.
The west’s reaction has been firm, with cultural and economic sanctions. Experts say the restrictions to wealth and world markets have the potential to decimate the Russian economy, as the west begins a new style of war: financial. Elsewhere, a cultural and sporting boycott have isolated the Russian identity, in a soft power move to pressurise the Kremlin. The effects are not necessarily observable on the frontline, though in the long-term its effects on the economy will be devastating. In the age of globalisation, though Russia tries to prove otherwise, financial isolation and soft power usage are the core tenants of warfare. However, where this leaves the people of Ukraine is another matter entirely.
India: Rudra Sen
The Indian government has urged its Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to impose a temporary ceasefire in the northeastern city of Sumy as it attempts to evacuate hundreds of Indian citizens. Estimates suggest that Indians make up at least a quarter of the 76,000 international students in Ukraine. The Ministry of External Affairs has claimed that over 18,000 Indians have left Ukraine since the first travel advisory was issued by the Indian Embassy in Kyiv. The government also reported that over 30 flights under its mission to evacuate Indian citizens from Ukraine had been completed, while 18 more flights have been scheduled. Furthermore, the Indian government has rejected President Putin’s claim that thousands of Indian nationals were being held hostage by Ukranian authorities.
Africa: Laura da Silva
A jihadist attack on a military camp in Mali on Friday killed 27 soldiers. The West-African nation has been battling jihadist movements linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group for almost ten years. Currently, about two-thirds of Mali state territory is outside of state control. The Mondoro base, which was attacked on Friday, is near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and has previously been targeted by jihadists fighting the Malian state and foreign forces. The same base suffered an attack in September 2019 which killed 50 soldiers. Jihadist fighters began their operations in Mali in 2012 and since then their attacks have spread to Niger and Burkina Faso, where thousands of citizens have been killed or displaced. These attacks come as France has begun to withdraw its troops from Mali, after nine years of assisting with fighting the insurgency.
A humanitarian crisis is emerging in Burkina Faso, as residents of the Djibo region have been under siege by a group of extremists for at least two weeks. The extremists have cut off access to the town and are preventing residents from fleeing. Djibo locals warn that the lack of food and water could soon create a humanitarian disaster in the area. Violent extremism is spreading across the Sahel region of Africa, and has already affected people’s lives for almost a decade. Militant operations in Burkina Faso have caused devastation to the military and civilians alike. “By far the most atrocious attack occurred [in November 2021] in the northern village of Solhan where at least 160 people were killed and houses and the local market set ablaze”, reports The London School of Economics. Burkina Faso’s political instability became more turbulent at the end of January 2022 after yet another coup d’état, Burkina Faso has had only one democratic election that happened in 2015. These most recent attacks are only the beginning of a shift in militant action throughout the Sahel region, which threatens to spread into Benin and Côte d’Ivoire.
Middle East: Dhruv Shah
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has threatened to derail any talks to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, demanding guarantees in writing that sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine would not affect its trade with Iran. Specifically, Russia has called for its trade, investment and military cooperation with Iran to be protected by any future sanctions. The last minute demands are predicted to significantly hold up Iran’s nuclear deal, which was earlier described by France’s envoy as being “very, very close to an agreement.” This progress is now at risk due to Russia’s influence as one of the original signatories of the accords alongside, UK, France, Germany and China.
The global financial crimes watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has placed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on its grey list for greater scrutiny on matters of money laundering. The FATF has said that the UAE has made “a high level of commitment to working with the watchdog on anti-money laundering and terrorism financing.” Yet, this decision is likely to harm the reputation of the UAE. Despite their commitments, the UAE and Dubai have long garnered reputations for lax scrutiny in areas of the economy such as real estate. In 2020, the FATF urged the UAE to strengthen its anti-laundering operations, which was described as “limited.”
North America: Amelia Brown
The Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma, have agreed to settle with US states for $6 billion over OxyContin and its role in the opioid crisis in the US. Although the settlement required the Sackler family to issue a statement of regret for the role of OxyContin in fueling the crisis that killed over 500,000, they deny any wrongdoing or illegality. The judge overseeing the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy must still agree to the new settlement terms, which still precludes the Sackler family from all other present and any future civil liability claims–the suing states originally were opposed to this clause.
The job report from February was released Friday, showing over 670,000 new jobs added. The monthly wage stagnated last month after up and down fluctuations, and an overall 5.2% increase, over the last year. President Biden touted the increase in job growth since he took office, citing that 7.4 million new jobs have been created. Although the labour force participation rate has increased slightly, it still sits 2% below where it did pre-pandemic, as workers are still fighting for better pay and working conditions across sectors. However, the job growth is being used by Jay Powell, the Fed chair, to continue with the Fed’s plan to increase interest rates in an attempt to curb inflation.
The Canadian Immigration Minister announced Thursday that the federal government would waive all visa requirements for those fleeing Ukraine, and would be accepting an unlimited amount. With around 1.4 million Ukrainian-Canadians already, the country hopes to be able to help refugees settle in quickly and feel comfortable. A job posting for Ukrainian speakers to help with the visa applications was quickly filled by those waiting for more ways to help. The new path created for those fleeing the war in Ukraine will allow them to work, study, and live in Canada for up to two years, Although most visa requirements are dropped, background screening and biometrics are still required. Kits and personnel are set to go out to over 30 locations in Europe to assist the process. While some parties are calling for no visa to be necessary at all for Ukranians looking to enter Canada, the minister said that changing that system would take months to accommodate that and feels the urgency of the situation requires a faster route. The applications are set to open in two weeks for the Canada Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program.
Business: Aoife Doyle
David Malpass, the President of the World Bank has issued his growing concerns regarding the war in Ukraine and the consequences on the global economy. The most imminent concern is for the loss of life, with reports of civilian deaths from Russian missile attacks on residential areas. Mr. Malpass explains that the economic impact stretches beyond Ukraine’s borders and rises in energy prices and food will hit the poor the hardest, as does rising inflation. Both Russia and Ukraine are large food producers, accounting for 60% of global production of sunflower oil, and 25.7% of global wheat exports. Russian supplies of these commodities have been restricted due to the widespread sanctions imposed by other countries, and Ukraine’s ports have closed as a result of the invasion. There is no quick way for global supply chains to adjust to such a decline in supply, and as a result, prices will be driven up even further. The same is true of Russian energy supplies, where sanctions are preventing countries from using Russian products and thus increasing the global price of oil and gas.
War in the 21st century brings about its own nuances, but perhaps the most pursuant to modern-day is the announcement from Ukraine’s government that they will issue non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to fund its military as they defend their country from Russian invasion. NFTs are “one-of-a-kind” assets in the digital world that can be thought of as certificates of ownership for virtual or physical assets with the property of being bought and sold like any other asset. The statement came in the same week that the country raised more than 8.1bn hryvnia (£200m; $270m) from the sale of war bonds, each one-year bond having a nominal value of 1000 Ukrainian hryvnia (around £25; $33) and offering an 11% interest rate. These new ways of raising money to fund their military are a sign that the Ukrainian government is embracing digital assets, but there is currently no plan to sell fungible tokens, of which cryptocurrencies are a prime example. Nevertheless, the government are accepting cryptocurrency donations, as the official Twitter account linked addresses for two cryptocurrency wallets that collected $5.4m in Bitcoin, Ether, and other coins within eight hours. The World Bank and the IMF have also issued statements regarding their individual plans to issue a multi-billion-dollar package to Ukraine in the coming months.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
The refugee crisis following Russia’s invasion into Ukraine continues and ‘refugees fleeing Ukraine now represent the biggest movement of people in Europe since World War II’ reflecting the magnitude this event has had on human rights. Refugees are continuing to enter Poland (the country has been a large supporter of Ukrainian independence for decades prior to invasions) and other neighbouring countries and European rail operators are offering free services to these refugees and the EU agreed to grant these refugees residence permits thereby foregoing the need for them to request asylum. Germany, which has taken in more than 20,000 refugees, ‘reopened refugee shelters that were used at the height of the Syrian War’ to accommodate for incoming migrants. An urgent appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee (made up of the leading 15 charities in the UK) to help these refugees have raised over £85 million through donations in just over 3 days, with £143,000 being raised alone in the UK by residents; funds appear to be an easier mode of donation rather than goods due to the difficulty of transporting them to refugees.
International Women’s Day 2022 is an upcoming event on the 8th of March celebrating the achievements made by feminist movements, and the contributions made by them to society, but also recognising the issues that women still face today. For example, recognising the intersectionality that is essential to modern day feminism and the socioeconomic struggles faced by especially, trans women and women of colour; whilst also highlighting the need for everyone to embrace this day in order to enact real change. This day has preceded, here in the UK, by a Women’s march in London calling on the ending of male violence against women through mysigony and racism. It called for demands on ‘a clear dialogue from police on tackling these issues’ and the need for political leaders to truly take this responsibility on their shoulders.
Science & Technolgoy: Abi Byrne
Earlier this week leaders of 175 nations agreed to sign a treaty to tackle plastic pollution by addressing plastics’ entire supply chain. Delegates rose in a standing ovation as the resolution was adopted at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi Kenya. The resolution was fittingly approved by UNEA president Espen Barth Eide using a gavel made from recycled plastic. A negotiating committee will spend the next two years hammering out the final deal, with the treaty aiming to be implemented by 2024. Crucially, the treaty will be legally binding and will address the full ‘life cycle’ of plastics. Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, called the agreement the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris climate accord in 2015. “We now have one text. It speaks to full life cycle; it speaks to legally binding; it speaks to a financing mechanism; it speaks to understanding some countries can do it more easily than others,” says Anderson. “It has been a long, hard road, but I’m very happy.” It has been described as one of the world’s most ambitious environmental actions since the 1989 Montreal Protocol, which phased out ozone-depleting substances.
Europe’s British-built Mars rover, Rosalind Franklin, is very unlikely to launch this year due to the worsening diplomatic crisis over the war in Ukraine. The robot, which is part of a joint venture with the Russian space agency is due to launch on a Russian rocket in September and will rely on Russian hardware to land. The European space agency in a statement have said that the launch of its rover this year is now “very unlikely”, and “We are giving absolute priority to taking proper decisions, not only for the sake of our workforce involved in the programmes, but in full respect of our European values, which have always fundamentally shaped our approach to international cooperation”. Space exploration has historically been able to avoid the worst of Earth’s conflicts, even during periods of Cold war and the Crimean crisis, however the war in Ukraine has seen a markedly different approach. This likely suspension of cooperation with Russia raises many questions, including what will happen to the International Space Station, where operations are so entwined that neither Russia or Europe could feasibly cope without the cooperation of the other.