Written by Daan Vegter, Alessia Cappelletti, Thomas Courtier, Adriaan Kolkman – December 2022
October and November’s conflicts and alerts/developing situations highlighted:
Russia-Ukraine: Ukrainian forces push back on Russian troops
Yemen: Failed extension of the ceasefire
Ethiopia: Peace agreement in Tigray, but fighting started in Oromia
Turkey-Syria: Istanbul bomb attack and Turkish offensive into Kurdistan
Iran: Anti-government protests following the death of Mahsa Amini
China: Anti-government protests following harsh Covid lockdowns
Iran-Azerbaijan: Heightened tensions between the countries as Iran closes ties with Armenia
Pakistan: protests following Khan’s assassination attempt
Colombia: Colombian government and ELN resume peace talks in Caracas
World Conflicts – October-November 2022
The Russia-Ukraine War
In early October, the Ukrainian army completed their counter-offensive towards Lyman, capturing the town with little resistance. The capture of Lyman posed a major loss to Russian forces as the city acted as their logistics and transportation hub. A week later, a substantial explosion partially destroyed the Kerch bridge, the sole land connection between mainland Russia to Crimea. Not only was the explosion on the bridge a logistical setback for Russia, but it also was a symbolic loss because the bridge represents the ‘reunification’ between the two lands. Russia responded to this attack by barraging Ukraine with missiles on October 10, striking cities and important (energy) infrastructure. Throughout the rest of October, Russia kept targeting more Ukrainian infrastructure with missiles.
In November, the Ukrainian armed forces continued to push their counter-offensive in the south of Ukraine. This led to the retreat of the Russian army from Kherson and the Ukrainian army recaptured the city. Although the recapturing of Kherson itself went with little resistance, the fighting prior to this was heavy. On November 15, Russia launched its largest missile attack yet on the whole of Ukraine. Major cities and energy facilities were hit. During the midst of the attack, missiles also landed across the border in Poland, killing two Polish citizens near the border with Ukraine. Since Poland is a NATO country, a response by organization was feared. However, preliminary research showed that the missiles were likely to have been surface-to-air missiles used by the Ukrainian armed forces. These missiles were fired due to the large-scale Russian attack, and are likely to have missed their target, landing in Polish territory.
The repeated attacks by Russia on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure show that Russia is willing to ‘weaponize the winter.’ Without sufficient energy supplies, not only the Ukrainian armed forces but also Ukrainian civilians will either freeze or starve to death as temperatures in the country keep dropping. Russia hopes that this will slow down the Ukrainian armed forces or create a strong sentiment against the war among the citizens of Ukraine, turning the war into a war of attrition.
Images by Institute for the Study of War and AEI’s Critical Threats Project retrieved from Critical Threats.
In April 2022, Yemen’s Government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi rebels called for a two-month truce, which was then extended two times until October 2nd, 2022. However, the negotiations for a further extension failed and the truce ended. Since then, Houthi rebels have targeted oil terminals and ports controlled by the Yemini Government. Clashes between Saudi-backed militias and Houthi rebels have also reportedly killed eight people.
Although a full-fledged conflict has not developed at the time of writing (06/12/2022), the failed truce extension and the new attacks by Houthi rebels have raised fears that frontline fighting will resume in the country. The UN special envoy for Yemen is pushing for new talks and a new ceasefire, it is unlikely that a new truce will happen in the near future.
On November 2, 2022, the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the north of Ethiopia, signed a peace agreement after two years of war. The deal was brokered by the African Union and mediated by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. In the agreement, both parties agreed to the permanent cessation of hostilities, protection of civilians, and provision of humanitarian access and the demobilization of the TPLF as the most important points. The agreement comes at a time when millions of people have been displaced and are in need of humanitarian assistance.
However, although the fighting between the Ethiopian government and Tigray has settled, fighting in the Oromia region, south of Addis Ababa, has increased. In the first week of November, several dozen have reportedly been killed by government drone strikes, the victims being mostly civilians. Oromia is the largest Ethiopian state and has steadily been growing their army, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which is the military wing of the opposition party. With fighting ending in Tigray, the government can now shift its focus on Oromia, which will likely lead to further hostilities in the region.
On November 13, 2022, a bomb explosion in Istanbul killed six people and injured more than eighty. Although Kurdish groups denied responsibility, the Turkish government has blamed the Kurdish separatist organizations, PKK and YPG. In retaliation, the Turkish government carried out air attacks in Syria and Iraq on Kurdish positions. The Turks claim they killed 184 Kurdish militants, although the Kurds say only civilians were killed in the attacks. Since then, Turkish President Erdogan has announced that Turkish forces are planning a ground offensive against the Kurds in Syria.
The international community is calling for Turkish restraint. Russia, long-standing ally of Bashar al-Assad, urges Turkey to de-escalate because it does not want the situation in Syria to deteriorate. Given Moscow’s support to the Syrian regime and the war in Ukraine, if the conflict in Syria escalates due to the Turkish offensive, Russia will most likely not be able to contain the conflict. The United States is also calling for Turkey to stop their offensive. The US has worked for years with Kurdish militias to quench Islamic State fighters; attacking Kurdish forces could therefore jeopardize years of progress in counter-terrorism operations. The Turkish airstrikes are also threatening US troops working in the region, with recent airstrikes landing as close as 300 meters from US military personnel.
On the 16th of September, 2022, Mahsa Amini died in custody at the hands of the Iranian Morality Police. Following her funeral on the 17th, protests erupted in her home city of Saqez, the Kurdish city of Sananda, and in Tehran. While the protests were initially peaceful, the strong handed approach of the Iranian Police and Revolutionary Guard Corps in subduing social unrest caused the death of a few dozen civilians in the first weeks. These events led to an aggressive expansion of protests over the month of October, predominantly in the western Kurdish region of Iran. Like the protests in September, they resulted in civilian deaths.
Although these protests started out as anger due to the death of Amini, they have since developed into general anti-government protests, with the Iranian people demanding more freedoms and a regime change. While deadly protests are not a novelty to Iran, the manner in which these recent protests are being put down is creating a socio-political climate that is likely to tip into armed revolt against the regime in Tehran. However, the opposition/protesters are not currently unified or organized in a conventional manner and, short of a handful of incidents, the vast majority of Iranian Government security forces/militias remain loyal to the regime in Tehran. While the long-term prospects for the Iranian Government are currently unknown, it is likely that there are many more violent days to come.
Brief Alerts – October-November 2022
Since January of 2020, Chinese citizens have been living under some of the harshest Covid-19 lockdown measures under what is known as the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ‘Zero Covid Policy.’ While small scale protests have occurred since the policy’s implementation, in the last weeks of November, a large outburst of anti-Zero Covid protests have occurred in major Chinese cities. Additionally, in late November, factory employees' protests against low pay and harsh conditions quickly escalated into an outcry against the state. All the demonstrations have been met with violence by Chinese security forces, and vigils were organized in multiple cities – which have also been suppressed. The harsh treatment of mourners, plus Covid-19 protestors, have jointly started chanting for the resignation of the CCP’s president, Xi Jinping. However, it is unlikely that the unrest will prompt change in the Chinese government. Instead, it is plausible that a harsh and swift response will be applied by the various governments of cities across China, and perhaps some political figures are moved in order to quell criticism.
In the Southern Caucasus, Iran has been increasingly siding with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, heightening tensions with Azerbaijan. In mid-October, Iran’s military conducted a large-scale drill close to its border with Azerbaijan, even practicing crossings of the river dividing a large portion of their border. In early November, Azerbaijan started military drills in the south of the country and detained 19 people suspected of espionage on behalf of Iran. The drills and arrests come as Iran has been critical of Azerbaijan’s intentions for establishing a new transport corridor that would connect Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave. This corridor would pass along Armenia’s border with Iran and block Tehran’s connection with Yerevan. While escalation to war is unlikely, the two countries have increasingly been using hostile rhetoric and carrying out military drills in the border region. If Iran continues to support Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a military response/action cannot be ruled out.
On November 3, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former prime minister was shot and wounded in a failed assassination attempt that killed a supporter and injured a dozen others. Khan staged protests and marches against the government of Shehbaz Sharif, who took office in April of this year after a no-confidence motion against Khan. At the end of October, Khan announced a march on Islamabad to ask for snap elections in which analysts believed Kahn would be the favorite to win. Sharif and the current government want elections to be held in accordance with the constitution, after August 2023. Whereas the former PM has been calling for protests since April, the rhetoric used in October has been more provocative and tensions rose even further in the aftermath of the shooting. Due to the havoc these protests created, Khan called them off on November 26 and announced that his party, ‘Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’, would resign from all provincial assemblies to push for early elections. However, it is unclear whether protests and riots will resume. If so, Pakistan may witness more violence which will further hinder the fragile state of its economy.
On 21 November, new peace talks started in Caracas between the Colombian Government and the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN). After the former peace talks were suspended in 2019, newly elected left-wing President Gustavo Petro pushed for new talks. The peace talks are part of the ‘total peace’ policy run by President Petro that promotes negotiating with rebels and criminal groups to end nearly sixty years of war in the country. Both the ELN and Colombian Government say they are willing to build a democratic peace as they stated in a joint declaration. Negotiations do not mean that military actions against the rebels will cease.
About the authors
Daan Vegter Daan interns as an intelligence analyst at Dyami. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University. Experienced in analyzing large datasets and doing research on international terrorism, civil wars and emerging security threats. Although originally Dutch, Daan has also lived in the United States and Sweden.
Alessia Cappelletti Alessia is Intelligence Analyst and Project Coordinator at Dyami. She has field experience in South America, Colombia especially, and has experience in researching organized crime and conflicts. Her academic background includes conflict analysis, international humanitarian law, and criminology.
Adriaan Kolkman Adriaan is a contributing analyst at Dyami. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Global Studies at Gothenburg University in Sweden. Previously, Adriaan completed a Bachelor in Safety & Security Management in the Netherlands. He has experience working in the private security industry in South-America, and while having Dutch and Swedish nationality, he also lived in Suriname and several countries in the Middle-East.
Thomas Courtier Thomas Courtier is a master’s graduate from the War Studies department of King’s College London. He has studied the intricacies of irregular-warfare across Africa, the Middle-East, and Asia. Coincidently, many of his studies focused on the effects of aerial warfare in asymmetric environments, which has aided him in his work at Dyami.