Written by Daan Vegter and Alessia Cappelletti
Conflict Monitoring Report - September 2022 covers five conflicts and three brief alerts:
Ukrainian forces pushed back the Russian military, triggering a ‘partial mobilization’ in Russia. This led to protests and refugees fleeing Russia.
Violent mass protests broke out in Iran after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody of the Iranian morality police.
Fighting in Ethiopia resumed in the Tigray region between the government forces and TPLF.
Military clashes on the border of Azerbaijan and Armenia resulted in almost 200 deaths in a matter of days.
Deadly clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan military resulted in 94 dead and over 100 injured. 37 of these deaths were civilians.
With a nudge from Russia, Turkish and Syrian officials have been in talks in hopes to normalize the relations.
Colombia and Venezuela re-opened their shared border for trade.
Mass exodus of Russians fled to Kazakhstan.
World Conflicts - September 2022
1. Russia - Ukraine
Over the last month, the Ukrainian armed forces have significantly pushed back the Russian offensive. The first major Ukrainian counteroffensive started on September 6. By September 13, President Zelenskyy claimed that Ukrainian armed forces recaptured 8000 square kilometers from Russian troops. Although it is hard to confirm data of military casualties on both sides due to widespread misinformation campaigns, it can be assumed that Russia suffered heavy losses during the latest Ukrainian counteroffensive.
A signal for this is the ‘partial mobilization’ Putin announced on September 21, as it shows that Russia is in need of new troops. 300,000 Russian reservists have been called to battle. However, there are also reports of people receiving draft notices who are not in army reserves and arriving at the border, making it unclear as to how many people actually get drafted for the war. This has sparked protests across Russia with people demonstrating against the draft. However, the Kremlin has cracked down on the protesters, arresting over 2300 people. People have also been fleeing Russia to neighboring countries like Finland, Georgia and Kazakhstan in order to avoid the draft.
What are the consequences?
A new influx of Russian troops may intensify the war in Ukraine. In the upcoming months, heavy fighting is expected to happen at the front, as Ukraine is eager to retake occupied territory before winter sets in. One scenario is that Russia will dig in at their current positions with the new recruits, trying to hold the line until winter freezes the battlefield. Offensives will then resume once winter has passed. Winter will pose a challenge for morale on both sides. The internal conflicts and protests in Russia indicate that the morale of conscripts is not particularly high already, which may pose a threat to future Russian defenses.
On September 16, 2022, protests broke out in Iran, after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody of the Iranian morality police. Amini was arrested on charges of violating the country's headscarf laws. Reports of Amini indicate that she died from blunt force trauma to the head, which caused a skull fracture, although authorities claim she died of ‘pre-existing conditions.’ Soon after her funeral, protests broke out in the Kurdistan province of Iran, quickly spreading to 80 cities across Iran. Women are burning their hijabs in public places in support of Amini and protests have turned against the regime. However, the government has reacted violently toward the protesters, using live ammunition to fire directly at protesters in some instances. At the time of writing, at least 76 protesters have been killed by Iranian security forces. After three weeks, there is still no end in sight for the protests and the Iranian state doubling down on the protesters, the situation will likely aggravate.
3. Ethiopia: Tigray
In late August 2022, fighting resumed in the Tigray region of Ethiopia between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), after having signed a truce in March of this year. On August 24, shots were fired in the region, where both parties blamed the other for the incident. Since then, multiple deadly clashes have been reported in the region, escalating the conflict into a full scale war. There have also been multiple airstrikes by the Ethiopian government in the region whereby civilians were killed. In mid September, TPLF forces were ready to start an African Union (AU) led peace process after having suffered heavy losses due to drone strikes. However, the Ethiopian government continued drone strikes in the region, signaling no willingness to start a peace process. This may indicate that the Ethiopian government's strategy is to obliterate the TPLF forces.
Recent reports claim that Eritrea has now joined the conflict, fighting alongside the Ethiopian government in a full-scale offensive against the TPLF. Satellite images taken on September 26, 2022, show large-scale mobilization of Eritrean forces alongside the border with Tigray, indicating an escalation of conflict in the near future.
4. Azerbaijan - Armenia
On 12 September 2022, clashes erupted on the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of attacking its territory, while Azerbaijan claims it was responding to Armenia’s provocations. The clashes proved to be extremely violent, costing the lives of more than 180 people in a matter of days. Multiple efforts to broker peace between the two countries have ended in failure, with one ceasefire lasting only minutes until violence erupted again. Although the clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia most likely stem from the conflict surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh region, these flashpoints took place along the two countries’ international border with shelling and drone strikes. As of the publication date, both countries accuse each other of breaking the ceasefire signed in November 2020, continuing the violence in the region.
5. Kyrgyzstan - Tajikistan
Clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan broke out on 14 September, when border authorities reportedly opened fire along the disputed border. At least 94 people were killed and more than 100 injured, resulting in the deadliest clash in years. Of these, at least 37 civilians were killed in the clashes, Human Rights Watch reports. The two countries blamed each other for the violence but reached a ceasefire agreement on 16 September.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan share a 1000 kilometers border, a third of which is contested, and clashes between the two countries are common. Following these recent outbursts of violence, the heads of the Kyrgyz and Tajik security services signed a protocol on September 25, agreeing to vacate four border posts on each side of the border. However, due to the low levels of trust on both sides of the border, clashes are likely to reoccur.
Brief alerts and situations to look out for
On 28 September, Colombia and Venezuela re-opened their shared border for trade. Borders between the two countries had been closed for seven years for cars, freight, and even for commercial flights (which also will resume soon). During this time, the frontier saw a spike in violence and smuggling, as criminal groups fought to control the routes. In his campaign, newly elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro said he would re-establish diplomatic relations with Venezuela - severed under the previous presidency - as a step to the end of the conflict. However, Colombia still faces many challenges. Petro’s reforms were not welcomed by everyone, and thousands marched on 26 September against proposed tax reforms, which are set to increase taxes for high incomes and eliminate exemptions. Additionally, Petro is distrusted within military ranks and the United States is concerned about his embrace of the Latin American left and tacit misalignment with US defense cooperation.
2. Kazakhstan - Russia
On 21 September, President Putin announced a “partial” mobilization of its civilian population. On paper, this means that Russia will call up reservists, people who have had prior military service, and civilians who have skills essential to the war effort. In reality, a blanket call ups for civilians has occurred, which sparked a mass exodus of fighting-aged males (18-57) to the neighboring countries such Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Turkey, whose governments responses have been mixed. Kazakhstan, a former long-standing Russian ally that has spent the prior 18 months distancing itself from Russia, has stated its support for Russian migrants crossing the border. This developing situation has led to mild tensions at border checkpoints, from both Russian security forces and protestors from the recipient countries; and has the capacity to escalate .
As Russia is pulling out of Syria, Moscow hopes to normalize Turkish-Syrian relations to secure its position in the country and stabilize the region. Talks with high Turkish (intelligence) officials, including the Undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization, suggest that higher political talks may occur soon. Since 2015, Russia and Iran have been backing the Syrian government, while Turkey aided the rebel forces opposing Assad. A rapprochement between the Syrian and Turkish governments would drastically change the dynamics of the decade-long Syrian civil war, potentially have repercussions on the Kurdish population in Syria, and impact civilians escaping the war.
About the authors:
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 is Intelligence Analyst and Project Manager of DEWIS. She has field experience in South America and she has conducted research on geopolitical shifts, especially Russian and Chinese interests in South and Central America and organized crime and illicit flows around the world. Her academic background includes conflict analysis, international humanitarian law, human rights protection, and criminology.