Written by Sietske Moshuldayev
This May 2022 report highlights conflicts with diverse causes, threats and consequences. As the Russia-Ukraine war develops in Europe, the economic situation in Sri Lanka deteriorates amidst political challenges. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali face jihadist insurgencies, both causing international commotion. Costa Rica is experiencing increased cyber security threats, carrying lessons for other states. As for brief alerts: Israel and Palestine may continue to see deadly attacks, just as regional violence in Tajikistan may escalate. Additionally, challenges to the legitimacy of Pakistan’s central government will likely persist - much like in Somalia, but under very different circumstances. Finally, diplomatic spats in the Taiwan Strait are likely to continue. The conflicts described in more detail below - selected based on open-source intelligence gathering - do not intend to cover all ongoing crises around the globe but merely call attention to some of the most pertinent and interesting developments in the past weeks.
1. World Conflicts - May 2022
a. The Ongoing Russia-Ukraine War
With Mariupol and Kherson captured by Russian forces, Russian attacks in the Donbas are now at their most intense point, according to Ukrainian officials. Peace talks are largely stalled and Russia continues to publicly justify its ‘special military operation’, while Ukraine reiterates it will not accept territorial losses. Meanwhile, foreign companies continue to exit Russia as its citizens feel the impacts of Western sanctions. The EU will halt the import of Russian oil supplies via sea routes by the end of 2022, albeit the deal has shown rifts in EU unanimity. The US supports Ukraine financially and militarily and Finland and Sweden have applied for NATO membership this month. The next steps, however, are on halt due to objections from Turkey. As the war goes on, UN figures indicate approximately 6.8 million people have fled Ukraine, with some 2.2 million people having (re-)entered Ukraine and casualty figures rising. Simultaneously, the ripple effects of the war are still felt across the globe, especially worsening humanitarian conditions and food shortages.
b. Worsening Political and Economic Crises in Sri Lanka
Political and economic conditions continue to deteriorate in Sri Lanka as opposition demands for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign are not met and citizens face pressing shortages of energy, food and medical supplies. Following turmoil that started months ago, the country's contested Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa - the Presidents’ brother - finally resigned and was replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe. Wickremesinghe, who has already held the PM post five times and is now also Minister of Finance, intends to limit the Presidential powers and secure deals with the International Monetary Fund, Japan and China to support the country’s failing economy. These moves, however, do not yet seem to appease the disgruntled opposition and citizens as calls for the removal of the president remain. As an important warning for countries that face similar economic woes, such as Nepal, Sri Lanka’s crises are likely to see further escalations and require a close watch in the upcoming weeks.
c. Intensified Fighting in The Democratic Republic of Congo
Instability in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) worsened this month as militant groups intensified their attacks on local targets, then to be countered by government forces. On May 25th, M23 attacked an important military base in Rumangabo, signalling their most intense offensive since 2013. DRC’s army has reclaimed some lost territories but UN statistics indicate that the fighting in the meantime forced over 72,000 people to flee in just one week. With a total of 5.6 million people already internally displaced throughout the country and at least 120 active militant groups in the east, reignited attacks are troubling signs. These events have also further complicated ties between the DRC and Rwanda, the former accusing the latter of supporting M23. Various international actors have expressed their concern over the conflict yet it is likely that the ongoing conflict will see more violence and challenges in the upcoming weeks.
d. Shifting International Cooperation Efforts in Mali
Following heightened concerns last month, international efforts to bring stability to Mali have disintegrated even further. Mali has called off its defence accords with France and is also pulling away from the G5 Sahel, with which it was countering jihadist insurgencies in the wider area. Claiming it has seen no progress, this isolates the government from its neighbours as it has also accused the West of supporting an attempted coup this month. Meanwhile, the European Union has reaffirmed the suspension of its military training in the country, with Germany reducing its EU commitments but sending more support to the UN mission. Militant activity simultaneously continues to cause casualties and challenge the central government, with reports indicating at least 500 civilian deaths since the beginning of this year. As worsening instability in Mali is likely, neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin are also likely to see further increases in spillover militant attacks.
e. Threatening Cyber Attacks in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s President Rodrigo Chavez declared a national state of emergency on May 8th following cyber-attacks on at least 27 government institutions. The actions have been claimed by Conti, a Russia-based hacker group known for targeting Western states and businesses for money. Newly elected President Chavez, however, refuses to pay the 20 million USD ransom despite taxation systems, export services, health care institutions and other services being impacted since April 12th. Claiming to work with insiders, Conti has also threatened the overthrow of the government and has already released some stolen data. Even though Costa Rica is now collaborating with the US, Spain and Israel to ramp up their cyber defences, threats and impacts are likely to persist. Notably, states of emergency have not previously been declared following cyber-attacks and the ongoing cyber threat looms for other countries too, where hackers may similarly operate for ransoms or demand more politically-laden outcomes.
2. Brief Alerts - May 2022
a. Ongoing Israel-Palestine Tensions
Rifts between Israel and Palestine persisted this month as attacks and clashes led to deaths on both sides once again - including the sudden shooting of an Aljazeera reporter. Like last month, violent confrontations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque indicate that the conflict may see tensions rise further.
b. Regional Tension Escalates in Tajikistan
Disputes intensified in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast this month as local protestors demanding political change were brutally met by government forces. On different occasions, over 40 people died and (officially) 46 have been arrested. With tensions at their highest since Tajikistan’s 1992-1997 civil war and heated since events in November 2021, the Oblast may see further escalations.
c. Political and Economic Uncertainty in Pakistan
Violent clashes ensued in Islamabad on May 26th between government forces and supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted from office in April. Having set an ultimatum for new elections in June, Khan is likely to continue to challenge the legitimacy of the incumbent government. This comes as the country faces a growing economic crisis.
d. Insecurity Remains in Somalia
Despite appointing a new president and thereby securing an extension of International Monetary Fund loans, much remains uncertain in Somalia. Al-Shabaab militants continue to attack government and African Union peacekeeping forces, while critics are wary of the impacts of US troop redeployments. Instability is likely to persist.
e. Diplomatic Spats Concerning Taiwan
Sino-US relations were tested this month as US President Joe Biden indicated he would be prepared to use force to defend Taiwan, angering China. With pressure on Taiwan heightened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - due to fears of China doing the same - global and regional relations may see further intensifications, if not mixed signalling.
This past month has primarily seen a continuation of conflicts where armed confrontations were already ongoing, such as in Ukraine, Mali, Somalia and Israel and Palestine, or where tensions had already been brewing, such as in Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Pakistan and Taiwan. Others have seen intensifications in violence in recent weeks, such as in the DRC and Tajikistan. What will happen in these locations over the next weeks remains uncertain but it is likely that most situations will deteriorate. This may, too, be true for conflicts not considered in this report. As events play out in all conflicts, implications will undoubtedly fall upon both local and foreign groups, intentionally or unintentionally. In order to increase awareness and be well-prepared should escalations arise, these conflicts call for close monitoring in the upcoming weeks.
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.
This article was edited by Ruben Pfeijffer