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Conflict Monitoring Report: February 2024

Written by Mickey Beckmann, Elena de Mitri, Sara Frisan, Marnix Van t’Hoff, Jacob Dickinson


 

  • Russia-Ukraine: Avdiivka is conquered by Russia, a new Russian offensive is opened towards Kupiansk. 

  • Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah: Fighting is moving towards Rafah. Hezbollah fire rockets into Israel, Israel responded with airstrikes. Deterioration of humanitarian situation in Gaza. 

  • Myanmar: Civil war intensifies across the country as the military junta commits human rights abuses and calls for mass conscription.

  • Sudan: Clashes between the RSF and SAF continue, worsening the humanitarian crisis. 

  • Argentina: As the government reorganizes after Congress's rejection of Milei's controversial reform package, massive protests against rising poverty across Argentina.  

  • Senegal: Widespread protests as the President Sall delays election date.

  • Sahel - ECOWAS: Turmoil in West-Africa tests ECOWAS’s ability to uphold its goals of economic growth and the increasing of democratic practices.

  • North Korea-Russia: North Korea abandons commitment to re-unification and conducts live fire exercises against South Korea Yeonpyeong island.

  • DRC: The renewed advance of the rebel movement M23 in North Kivu triggers anti-Western sentiments and protests across the country. 

  • Indonesia: Ahead of announcing Indonesia's official election results, protesters challenge the victory of former general Prabowo Subianto.




Conflicts, February 2024


  1. Russia-Ukraine


February saw the end of Ukrainian control over Avdiivka, bringing an end to the almost 10 year battle over the city. Russia’s extensive use of fighter-bomber aircraft supported by A-50 AEW&C aircraft played a significant role in taking down the Ukrainian defenses. However, now that Ukraine has managed to destroy a second A-50, it seems to have halted A-50 operations for now. As Russia is unwilling to halt its glide bombing campaign, this has resulted in severe losses to Russian aviation in the past 2 weeks now that Ukrainian air defenses have breathing room. 


After the fall of Avdiivka, there was a potential for a Russian breakthrough at the Eastern front. However, it seems that the Ukrainian Armed Forces (ZSU) has succeeded in stabilizing the front line on prepared defenses behind Avdiivka. The Russian armed forces have opened a new offensive, along most of the Eastern front line. This offensive most likely aims to take Kupiansk, which in turn would allow for the staging of an offensive on Kharkiv. 


The intensification of Russian activity over the past month can likely be attributed to the elections coming in March, in order for Putin to be able to report positive news to the Russian people concerning the war. While this intensification has allowed Russia successes and gains, the long term effects of these actions could be negative for Russia. 


  1. Israel-Hamas-Hezbollah


In February, the conflict between Israel and Hamas entered its fifth month, with no clear end in sight. IDF main operations continued to move towards the southern part of the Gaza strip, with clearing operations still going on around Gaza City in the north. Ground operations in the first part of the month have focused on Khan Younis and the Nasser Hospital in the city, which the IDF claimed was used by Hamas as a hiding spot for militants and hostages. The next planned target is Rafah, a major city along the southern border with Egypt where 1.3 million displaced Gazans are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. While ground operations still haven’t started, Rafah has already been targeted with airstrikes. In the occupied territories of the West Bank, throughout the month Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians militants and many militants have been arrested. Talks about a ceasefire and hostage exchange deal for the month of Ramadan are slowly progressing with hope that they will reach a conclusion by the beginning of March.


The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has worsened since the previous month. Since February 9, there has been a consistent drop in aid deliveries. Humanitarian agencies complained about the difficulty of delivering aid into Gaza without any support from the IDF. The northern part of Gaza is in especially dire conditions, as it presents security challenges to aid delivery. The World Food Programme has stopped delivering aid to the north, while the UNRWA has warned that the suspensions of funds enacted by many countries will leave them unable to work after March. Nevertheless, the shortages of food, water and medical supplies affect the entire territory of the Gaza Strip, with a widespread risk of famine. As of 29 February there are more than 30,000 reported deaths in Gaza. 


Intensified clashes continued between Israeli forces and Hezbollah along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Israeli airstrikes have focused on southern Lebanon, but have also reached Baablek in eastern Lebanon, in an attempt to target members of Hezbollah and Hamas and Iran-linked individuals. Sporadic airstrikes are also directed at Syrian territory with the same purpose. In the meantime, France is trying to negotiate a deal to stop the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. 



  1. Myanmar 


With February 1st 2024 marking the three years since Myanmar’s military coup, the civil war intensified as the resistance and ethnic groups have beaten back the military junta on multiple fronts. Beginning at the end of October 2023, Operation 1027, a coalition of three resistance forces consisting of pro-democracy and ethnic groups captured Laukkaing, a city consisting of transnational criminal networks on the border with China, and several other significant military outposts. The military stepped up air and artillery strikes on villages and civilians in response. There are also reports of fighting in the western region of Rakhine State. Confronting multiple assaults across the country, the mass surrender and desertion of military troops has sapped morale among the junta’s military forces. To boost its military personnel, the junta has announced mass conscription for civilians residing in areas where the military has control in February 2024. The widespread horror at serving for a deeply unpopular military junta has led to a mass exodus of the population toward the Thai border. 


Outside actors' influence on the Myanmar military is limited given the self-sufficiency of the Myanmar military, though the renewed strength of rebel groups may give China a greater influence on the country. Beijing has achieved its goal of reducing cross-border transnational crime on the border with Myanmar, but remains concerned about the loss of cross-border trade with southwestern China. It has responded to the military’s attempt for help by negotiating two ceasefires, which quickly broke down. For now, it seems like China is seeking to maximize its leverage of individual groups rather than backing a particular side to protect its infrastructure  and investment interests in the country


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has remained divided on the issue of Myanmar, particularly with its normative claim to ‘non-interference’ in each other's domestic affairs. Earlier in February 2024, 9 members of the UN Security Council condemned the airstrikes made by Myanmar’s military against civilians, called for an immediate ceasefire, and humanitarian aid needed by more than 18 million people in the country and 2.6 million displaced since the beginning of the conflict. The conflict has claimed 50,000 lives, of which at least 8,000 are civilians. The fighting is likely to worsen as the humanitarian situation deteriorates and a peace plan continues to be ignored by the military junta. 



  1. Sudan 


As of February 2024, intensified fighting between RSF forces and Sudanese army has been ongoing in the states of Darfur, Kordofan and Khartoum, in southern and eastern areas of Sudan. Fighting has focused mainly around the cities of Khartoum and Al-Fasher with the Sudanese army claiming control of Omdurman on 17 February. Since 5 February the three main Sudanese telecom networks throughout the country have been deactivated, supposedly by the RSF. This heavily impacted the delivery of aid, external communications and electronic payments on which the population is heavily reliant. Blackouts are still ongoing in many parts of the country. Clashes also erupted in the Abyei region, which is currently disputed between Sudan and South Sudan and jointly managed by the two countries. 


The conflict has displaced 8.1 million people that fled both to other areas of Sudan and to neighboring countries. Most refugees come from Khartoum and Darfur. According to the UNHCR half of the Sudanese population needs humanitarian assistance, but many challenges prevent the delivery of the necessary aid. Severe lack of funding, insecurity and fuel shortages are all negatively affecting the work of aid agencies. Moreover, the SAF-linked Sudanese government has prohibited the delivery of aid through Chad, claiming that Chad is supporting the RSF. UN agencies have called for increased funding to meet Sudanese humanitarian needs, but managed to secure only a fraction of the funds needed. Expected reductions in harvests are likely to exacerbate the humanitarian emergency, as many parts of the country are on the brink of famine.Cases of cholera, dengue fever and other diseases are increasing and overcrowded refugee camps are especially at risk.  


Reports of ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity depict a worsening scenario. With diplomatic efforts failing to make SAF and RSF generals hold significant talks and neighboring countries allegedly influencing the conflict, it is very unlikely that violence will end soon. This will also affect refugee flows, as many try to flee the conflict ridden areas. 



Alerts, February 2024


  1. Argentina 


Since President Milei declared a state of emergency on December 20, 2023 and promulgated the Decree of "Necessity and Urgency" (DNU), significant protests have occurred nationwide in Argentina. Popular and opposition discontent arose from controversial provisions of the decree and the subsequent promulgation of a series of legislative reforms called Omnibus Bill. Milei's reforms focused on drastic deregulation claiming to lift the country's economy, including massive cuts in education, transportation, health, and substantial reductions in workers' rights. In response, on January 24, 2024, the General Confederation of Workers (CGT) called a nationwide strike, and several protests occurred in Argentina's major urban centers in January 2024. 


On February 2, 2024, while the House of Deputies was debating approval of the Omnibus Bill, hundreds gathered to demonstrate against Milei's austerity plan. Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Clashes with police led to 60 protesters being injured and dozens arrested. Despite its initial approval, the Omnibus bill failed article-by-article review, which was then rejected by the lower house of Congress on February 6, thus undoing its previous approval. President Milei reacted by cutting subsidies needed by Argentine governors for services, including transportation. This measure reignited labor union protests and strikes across the country. Also, the economic crisis and rising inflation meant that in January 2024, the poverty rate in the country reached its highest level in the last 20 years. 


While it remains unclear whether the administration will resubmit the reform package to Congress, the coming weeks will likely experience an escalation in protests demanding food aid and subsidies for the lower classes. Moreover, strikes and protests by labor unions, likely to continue, could result in more significant unrest and disruption of services in major urban centers. 


  1. Senegal 


Last year Senegal experienced intensifying political unrest, with June 2023 being one of the most violent months due to clashes following the conviction of Ousmane Sonko, an opposition leader of President Macky Sall. The months after have been characterized by further protests against high cost of living, youth unemployment, and accusation of systemic government corruption. Moving towards the scheduled elections on 25 February, tensions have been rising, led by the December 2023 decision of the Constitution Council to ban several prominent opposition leaders from running for elections. President Salls’ decision on 3rd February to delay the elections, and the vote by the Parliament to postpone them to December instead of August, created further protests and violence. This resulted in  the Constitutional Council’s verdict on 15th February of the delay being unconstitutional. The African Union, along with regional bodies and Western governments thereafter argued for free and fair elections as soon as possible. 


The election delay plunged Senegal into turmoil, questioning its status as the last bastion of West African democracy. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed its concerns. However, its impact seemed to hold little leverage in a time where it faced criticism with three member states - Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger - defying its demands and declaring late January to withdraw from the bloc, accusing ECOWAS of not assisting them in resolving insecurity issues. Multiple countries in the bloc faced military coups, often on a base of anti-French sentiments, and have developed closer relationships with Russia


These developments seem to disillusion a young generation of Africans with democratic practices. As such, Senegal will likely experience more tensions and protests in the upcoming period, especially as there is still no fixed agreement on the selection date. Discontent among the Senegalese population, skepticism on ECOWAS’s role and effectiveness, and increasing Russian influence in the region, will keep pressuring democracy in Senegal, also influencing anti-democratic tendencies in other West-African nations. 


  1. Sahel 


Amid persistence and strength of violent extremist organizations in the Sahel, the weakening leadership in regional efforts worsened in February. The turmoil in West Africa has brought the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) role and credibility into doubt. The military governments in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Niger, Chad, announced their withdrawal from ECOWAS at the end of January 2024 following the bloc’s imposition of sanctions on Niger in July 2023. These sanctions included closing all shared borders with the country, suspending financial transactions, and freezing the country’s assets in external banks. 


On 27 January 2024 Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali announced their plan to withdraw ECOWAS. Already in December 2023, the three governments expressed their intention to leave the West African Economic and Monetary Union and establish their own monetary union. The withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali from ECOWAS is likely to further weaken security forces facing various armed groups across the region. The withdrawal from Niger from ECOWAS limits joint task forces established to fight armed groups who travel across borders. The threat of a spread of jihadism and political instability from the Sahel is therefore likely to escalate. The hostility towards Malian and Burkinabe migrants in Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, and Senegal is also likely to increase. The economic consequences are likely to be dire, as halting free movement between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and the rest of West Africa could lead to significant economic repercussions for all countries involved.  


With these developments and the threat of countries leaving ECOWAS, the latter faces a dilemma. Either excluding states which practices are not in line with ECOWAS’s principles, or make compromises in its principles to preserve nominal unity. As of 24 February, ECOWAS has lifted  travel, commercial and economic sanctions earlier imposed on Niger, in a new push for dialogue. It is said by ECOWAS’s President Touray that the decision has been on humanitarian grounds to alleviate the hardship resulting from the coup in Niger. With about nineteen elections planned across Africa in 2024, it remains to be seen what degree of democratic governance will prevail by the end of the year. Anyhow, joint endeavors seem crucial for addressing the significant development and security issues that affect all nations in the region.


Updates, February 2024


  1. North Korea - Russia 


The Korean peninsula has seen high levels of tensions throughout 2024. On 5 January, North Korea conducted live fire exercises on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island, causing the evacuation of South Korean citizens and an artillery response from South Korea’s military. This comes after extensive North Korean long-range ballistic missiles tests and launching of two spy satellites to monitor South Korea and the US. The advance in North Korea’s technological capabilities and assertiveness is likely due to the close relationship developed with Moscow. In exchange for missile development, North Korea has supplied Russia with North Korean ammunition and artillery shells on the battlefields in Ukraine. In a pressing development, Pyongyang has abandoned its commitment to eventual reunification with the South and is speaking openly of a conflict with the South.  


Kim Jong Un’s motives are always opaque, but they could be a response to regional developments in Northeast Asia and a push for sanctions relief on the country. The closer relationships between South Korea and Japan, who buried the historical animosity for the time being with agreements on intelligence sharing in 2022, is causing alarm in Pyongyang. The pickup in North Korean activities is also used as a bargaining chip for further concessions on sanctions and other goals from its rivals. Indeed, Japan’s PM Fumio Kishida is expected to meet with Kim Jong Un to renegotiate the release of Japanese citizens abducted over 20 years ago in the coming month. While there are reports of planning for war, any determined escalation for an invasion runs the risk of nuclear escalation and possibly the intervention of the United States, which would end his regime. Nevertheless, missteps present a serious risk to the Peninsula. With both Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Yoon becoming more aggressive, there is a risk of disproportionate responses on the Korean peninsula. 


  1. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)


Massive protests erupted in the streets of Kinshasa in early February targeting UN MONUSCO mission buildings and Western embassies. Since February 9, 2024, the embassies of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the United States have been besieged by protesters burning flags outside foreign diplomatic missions. Protests are spreading across the country. On February 15, protests targeting embassies were reported in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu. The protesters are denouncing the Western complicity in the war in the eastern province of North Kivu, where the alleged Rwanda-backed group M23 intensified its advance surrounding the city of Goma. Since February 7, the resurgence of fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group has forced over 135,000 people to flee the region. Outbreaks of violence against civilians, including attacks on IDP camps, persist in North Kivu. 


Demonstrators accuse Western nations of indifference to the humanitarian crisis and involvement in the ongoing conflict in eastern DRC for supporting the Rwandan government, blamed for logistically and financially supporting the rebels. Although Rwandan authorities deny involvement with the armed group, multiple recent United Nations reports have extensively documented direct Rwandan military support for the M23 rebellion. Countries like Belgium and France have called on Rwanda to end its involvement. On February 17, the U.S. released a statement condemning Rwanda's support for M23. On February 12, South Africa announced the deployment of 2,900 troops to DRC until December 2024 as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC). In January 2024, while MONUSCO started the withdrawal operations, expected to be concluded by December 2024, the Congolese military announced a joint offensive with 16-member state SADC troops with a mandate mainly targeting the M23.


The protests come at a time of instability for the government. On January 20, 2024, Felix Tshisekedi was reappointed as President. During the election process, the opposition denounced irregularities and called for protests, promptly quelled by the government. Anti-Western protests could thus come at a convenient time for Tshisekedi, shifting popular discontent to the international community. Further protests are to be expected in the coming weeks. The question remains whether popular mobilization will lead the international community to take more concrete action toward Rwanda and the humanitarian crisis in DRC. Indeed, it is likely that the M23, which now holds control over access to the city of Goma, will continue its advance and widespread violence into North Kivu


  1. Indonesia 


February 14, 2024, Indonesian presidential elections saw the victory of the former Defense Minister under previous President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, and senior military commander Prabowo Subianto. The president-elect is a quite controversial political figure for his links with Suharto's infamous New Order, the military dictatorship which ruled from 1967 to 1998. The president-elect has been accused of mass disappearances, torture, and human rights violations during the dictatorship. The weeks leading up to the election were marked by protests over alleged corruption and rigging by the former President to impose Prabowo as the favored candidate. International observers, pro-democracy activists, and student associations blamed the Subianto-Jokowi alliance for undermining Indonesian democratic institutions and shifting Indonesia towards authoritarianism. 


In the wake of the election outcome, on February 16, hundreds took to the streets of the Indonesian capital to contest Prabowo's victory, demanding the elections authorities to prevent him from taking office. Indeed, Subianto's presidency is not official yet, as the official results could take up to a month to be released. However, given the support from the military and the former President, it is likely that the election results will be confirmed. Further civil protests are expected to occur in the coming weeks. Observers are concerned about the further deterioration of human rights and freedom in the country. Meanwhile, Indonesia's next President will also have to deal with other security challenges, including an independentist insurgency in Papua New Guinea, where a surge in violence has been reported. 




 
Conflict Monitoring Report_ February 2024
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About the authors 


Mickey Beckmann 

Mickey is currently enrolled in the master’s program Conflict Studies & Human Rights at the University of Utrecht. As of a young age she felt the need to help people in dire circumstances, which evolved into a deep interest and drive to address sociocultural and political issues related to conflict. Motivated to make the world a safer and more accessible place, she completed a bachelor in ‘International Relations in Historical Perspective’ at Utrecht University. Her main topics of interest are radicalization, extremism, terrorism, jihadism and conflict in the Middle East. In this regard, she wrote her master thesis on the mobilization of Islamic State Khorasan in Afghanistan, looking into the broad set of factors enabling this terrorist group to pursue violent action, thereby estimating the threat the group may pose in the coming years. Eager to broaden her knowledge of geopolitical conflict and security, during her internship at Dyami she will actively participate in writing collaborative publications and authoring articles, with a main focus on the region North and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Elena de Mitri 

Elena is a highly motivated person with a strong interest in international security. She holds a Master's degree in International Studies from the University of Turin, where she focused on regime changes and human rights. Her research during her master's studies delved deeper into the intricacies of human rights violations, with a specific emphasis on the war in Iraq. Her academic journey also includes a Bachelor's degree in Foreign Languages and Cultures, with a focus on the MENA region and muslim societies. Additionally she pursued a Minor in Gender Studies, enhancing her understanding of the intersectionality of various issues in international contexts. During her previous traineeship at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission she conducted research on terrorist groups, especially on jihadist groups and right-wing extremists.


Sara Frisan

Sara joined Dyami as a Junior Intelligence/Research Analyst post-graduate intern to deepen her passionate interest in conflict analysis and security. Sara recently completed her MA in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University and held an MA degree in International Sciences and Peace Studies. During her academic career, she conducted research in South America, primarily Colombia, on the dynamics of collaboration and resistance between civilians and non-state armed groups in violent settings. In her previous internship at the investigative think-tank InSight Crime, Sara developed some expertise on transnational organized crime and political-criminal alliances.




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