Written by Sietske Moshuldayev
Where several countries have seen a clear escalation in tensions over the past month, a majority of the conflicts covered in this report focus on situations where threats are looming, with potential exacerbations yet to come. Ten conflicts are briefly identified below based on global news monitoring and open-source intelligence gathering. In past weeks, Russian operations in Ukraine have continued, Wagner Group operations in Mali raised international concerns and Afghanistan experienced deadly militant attacks. North Korean nuclear threats have reinvigorated and a China-Solomon Islands security pact alarmed other regional players. Meanwhile, gang violence intensified in Haiti and the upcoming Somali presidential elections bolstered threat levels, amidst ongoing Israel-Palestine attacks. In addition, both Peru and Sri Lanka faced civil protests. Keeping track of further potential escalations among these conflicts is called for.
1. World Conflicts - April 2022
a. The Russia-Ukraine Crisis
Russian offensives in Eastern Ukraine have intensified as diplomatic talks continue to prove no alternative to the ongoing eleven-week conflict. With heavy fighting especially in Mariupol, cross-border distress was fuelled by Russian claims that Ukraine attacked its Belgorod region. Recent explosions in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria - which local and Russian media attributed to Ukrainian saboteurs - are also perceived as potential indicators of Russian military interest in pulling Moldova into the conflict. This month also saw Russia close-off gas pipelines to Poland and Bulgaria, with energy insecurity complicating unanimous support for a sixth European Union sanction packet. As NATO’s talks to admit Finland and Sweden to the military alliance advance, the United States and United Nations continue to penalize Russia while the threat of nuclear weapons still looms. With UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres visiting Ukraine end-April, various countries are re-opening their diplomatic missions in Kyiv. As the number of Ukrainian refugees nears 6 million and sanctions are expected to cause an economic recession for Russia, the conflict will likely continue to impact many beyond Ukrainian and Russian borders in the upcoming weeks.
b. Greater Security Concerns in Mali
International concerns over the stability and security in Mali have amplified this past month following indications of greater cooperation between Malian security forces and Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC). They are currently filling the void left by reduced European Union military commitment to the country, signalled earlier this year by the departure of French troops. Despite official Malian and Russian claims that Wagner Group only provides military instructors, the PMC fighters were reportedly involved in the killings of approximately 300 civilians in March. This month, the EU has halted part of their training of Malian forces and Germany has stepped out of its EU contributions to prevent its troops from collaborating with the mercenaries. Facing continued terrorist attacks, a worsening food crisis, economic sanctions and an uncertain future of the UN’s stabilization mission in the country, the extended Malian junta leadership seems to be leaning towards Russia to further secure their position.
c. Militant Attacks in Afghanistan
Militant activity continues to challenge Taliban control over Afghanistan and threaten the security of Afghan civilians. Following fatal explosions in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz, the deadliest bombing took place on April 29th at the Khalifa Sahib Mosque in Kabul where at least fifty people were killed. A week earlier, attacks at a high school in Kabul killed six and injured more than twenty people. With some explosions claimed by the Islamic State, Central and South Asian states are concerned about their border security and the potential overflow of militant activity. In the case of Pakistan, Afghan-based militants have already launched cross-border attacks. Pakistan retaliated through airstrikes, killing at least forty seven Afghans - most claimed to be women and children. Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to face international economic sanctions and criticism over their intensifying control over females in the country. In this context, the degree of the Talibans’ consolidation over the country remains disputable.
d. Revived North Korean Nuclear Threats
Several indications have given rise to concerns that North Korea may re-initiate its nuclear weapon testing in the upcoming month, despite its programme being on halt since 2018. North Korean President Kim Yong Un has promised to enhance the country’s nuclear programme, a month after claims of a successful intercontinental ballistic missile launch in March. One of fifteen missile tests this year already, the aforementioned launch signifies the first of its kind since 2017 - with the used missile known for its capability to carry nuclear weapons. The United States has issued a warning about nuclear tests as satellite images have shown the reactivation of North Korea’s testing site. This comes right as South Korea has inaugurated a new president who is more conservative and hardline on issues pertaining to its northern neighbour. In addition to US President Biden's scheduled visit to East Asia from May 20th to 24th, dynamics on the Korean peninsula may see frictions intensify.
e. Concerns over the Solomon Islands and China Security Pact
Diplomatic tensions in the South Pacific Ocean rose this month following the signing of a security pact between the Solomon Islands and China in mid-April. The pact, which comes three years after the Solomon Islands broke-off relations with Taiwan, has caused the United States, Australia and Japan to voice concern over potential Chinese military expansion in the region. China, however, has claimed that it does not seek to develop a naval base on the islands and the Solomon Islands have also stated that they will not permit this. Following the re-opening of its embassy on the Islands in February, the US has nonetheless additionally sent a top official to the islands and enhanced its cooperation with Papua New Guinea. As both the US and China continue to expand their influence in the region, it remains to be seen what further issues this new security arrangement may bring about.
2. Brief Alerts - April 2022
1. Intensified Gang Violence in Haiti
Gang violence in Haiti turned deadly at the end of April, forcing locals to relocate and threatening diplomats and tourists. With general violence occurring daily, Acting-President Ariel Henry’s term having ended in February this year and elections not yet rescheduled, the question remains as to who is to hold political power.
2. Violent Electoral Pressures in Somalia
Deadly Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks have targeted lawmakers and international peacekeeping forces in Somalia as presidential elections are coming up on May 15th. Amidst a worsening famine, continued IMF support is conditioned upon the installation of a new government by May 17th. With the loyalty of national security forces split between different political leaders, stakes are raised and the election process requires close monitoring.
3. Ongoing Israel-Palestine Escalations
Israel-Palestine relations remain tense as violent attacks on either side continue. Among other attacks, this past month saw weekly confrontations at the Al Aqsa mosque, injuring at least 57 and 42 people on different occasions. With various international actors condemning the ongoing attacks, stability is not yet in sight.
4. Civil Unrest in Peru
The Peruvian government imposed a short-lived state of emergency on April 5th in response to nationwide protests and strikes against increased fuel and fertilizer costs. With economic conditions under pressure from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis and recurring national political challenges, vulnerabilities may be exacerbated both in Peru and other South American countries.
5. A Heightened Crisis in Sri Lanka
Violent clashes ensue in Sri Lanka as the economic and political crisis deepens. Despite top-level officials resigning, protestors continue to demand President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also step down. With demonstrations likely to continue, these escalations have raised alarm in other countries with similar economic conditions, such as Nepal.
The above-mentioned conflicts indicate potential escalatory events across the globe. As international, regional and national players attempt to consolidate their power, civilians continue to be entangled and embroiled in the ensuing disputes, with their safety and security threatened. With developments in one conflict able to influence the course of others, such as the impact of the Russia-Ukraine crisis on global economic trends, monitoring multiple conflicts simultaneously is of high value. Similarly, discords reflecting decades-long historical contestations - in addition to other situations not covered in this report - require continuous close monitoring and preparedness for sudden aggravations.
About the author: Sietske Moshuldayev
Sietske has an international background and is inherently intrigued by the causes and consequences of geopolitical events. She has completed two bachelors at the University of Leiden (International Studies, BA & Political Science, BSc) and currently pursues a masters in International Security at Sciences Po, Paris. Having specialized in East Asian affairs for her undergraduate studies, she now focuses on global risks and risk management.