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Weekly News Digest for February 25, 2022

Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith


North America


Biden Imposes Severe Sanctions on Russia after Invasion of Ukraine

On Thursday, President Biden announced sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine, cutting off its largest banks and oligarchs from the global financial system and preventing the import of American technology for its defense, aerospace, and maritime industries. Furthermore, the sanctions will limit 13 major Russian companies, including Gazprom, from accessing key financing in Western markets. The sanctions combined with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine caused the Russian stock market to fall over 30 percent on Thursday

However, many experts are skeptical about the sanctions’ severity. According to Sergei Guriev, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris, the sanctions will not result in a “macroeconomic meltdown” and might not deter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression. He argues that Russia has $631 billion in foreign currency reserves and a large sovereign wealth fund. To destroy their macroeconomic stability, he argues that the West would need to sanction Russia’s Central Bank and enact “an Iran-style embargo on energy exports.” Moreover, further escalation by President Putin could result in U.S. and European officials cutting off all Russian banks from SWIFT, the prominent Belgian money transfer system used by over 11,000 financial institutions globally.


Asia and the Pacific


Asian Powers Balance Relations with Russia Amid Its Invasion into Ukraine

Amid the crisis in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken calls from numerous world leaders. Two such leaders include Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yesterday, PM Modi called President Putin and urged an “immediate cessation of violence;” but, this move was unplanned. Only a day earlier, a Ukrainian ambassador begged PM Modi to intervene. Previously, PM Modi had not publicly commented on the invasion, and India had emphasized “the legitimate security interests of all parties” in a UN Security Council meeting. Beyond concerns of Indian nationals in Ukraine, what exactly prompted the call is unclear. Today, PM Khan will meet with President Putin in Moscow regarding investment in a gas pipeline. This is the first visit by a Pakistani leader to Russia in more than two decades, which indicates that the once cold relations are warming. Moreover, PM Khan has not made any public comments about the invasion. He did, however, state that his arrival came at a time of “so much excitement.”

Although the meeting between the two leaders was previously planned, the timing of these conversations is significant and elucidates a larger trend. Right now, some Asian powers are striking a delicate balance between their relations with Russia and the West. First and foremost, they are focused on direct security concerns, as seen in India’s concern for its citizens. To the greater point, though, these countries must carefully balance their strategic ties.

Despite wielding significantly more power, China is nonetheless considering this dynamic. On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also called Russian leaders. Since China holds security concerns and sovereignty objectives of its own, especially in East Asia and the Pacific, it has not condemned—and does not plan to condemn—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, China has emphasized that Russia should pursue negotiations over military conflict. China and Russia are currently closer than ever, but China certainly wants to avoid further straining its already tense relationship with the West.


Africa


U.S. Launches Drone Strike in Somalia Against Al Shabab

The United States launched a drone strike in Somalia, against Al Shabab militants this week, the first military action in East Africa since August 2021. Although the Biden administration has placed limits on drone strikes outside of active war zones since being in office, this attack was permitted because the Africa Command has the authority to conduct strikes under the circumstances of “collective self-defense”. Biden and advisers are currently in the works to introduce a Pentagon-backed proposal to restore military troops in Somalia to improve training and coordination with Somalian security forces. The number of military troops decreased after the Trump administration removed U.S. military forces. Since then, Al Shabab has capitalized on political instability in Somalia.


Europe


Russia Invades Ukraine, Targeting Kyiv and Military Infrastructure

Although for the past several weeks Russian President Vladimir Putin had stated that Russia did not intend to invade Ukraine, the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border has now evolved into a full military offensive. On Thursday, Russia unleashed airstrikes and missile strikes on Ukrainian territory, intending to destroy Ukraine’s military infrastructure while terrorizing citizens and Ukrainian troops in the process. Amid the aerial barrage, many citizens fled Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, which was specifically targeted by Russian forces through bombings and missile strikes as part of an attempt to dismantle Ukraine’s government. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remarked earlier on Thursday that Russia is not only targeting military bases but also civilians: 137 Ukrainians – consisting of both civilians and military personnel – have died and 316 have been injured. Furthermore, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that about 100,000 Ukrainians have now been displaced.

According to Ukrainian officials, Russia has also invaded the country’s territory near Belarus in the north, Russia in the east, as well as Crimea in the south. In this way, Russia is encircling the country to more effectively box in Kyiv and create several points of attack on the city. Moreover, Russian forces have taken over the former Soviet nuclear power plant in Chernobyl along with the surrounding exclusion zone. President Zelensky declared this attack on Chernobyl “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” as it risked a radiation leak that would be dangerous for much of the continent. He also called on Ukrainians to take up arms to defend the nation against the Russian attacks.

Putin has given several reasons to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since Ukraine’s former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ousting in 2014, Putin has accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists. Within the past week, Putin claimed that Russia could not feel “safe” because of a perceived constant threat from Ukraine. Further, he argues that his goal is to protect Ukrainians from genocide and the “demilitarization and de-Nazification” of Ukraine, despite no actual genocide. Putin wants to portray Ukraine as a country facing a large force of Nazis; however, the neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine is very small and far from influential. However, another justification is Putin’s longstanding opposition to Ukraine possibly joining NATO. Putin sees NATO as a serious national security risk, and if Ukraine joined the defense pact, it would “be a hostile act toward Russia.” In addition, Putin claims that the U.S. government pledged to Soviet leaders in the 1990s not to expand NATO east, while the U.S. denies the allegation. Since 1992, over a dozen countries east of Germany joined NATO. Putin’s specific strategy is unknown; Russia could be invading Ukraine to signal the seriousness of Putin’s opposition to NATO or to pressure Ukraine from joining NATO altogether.


Latin America and the Caribbean


Colombia’s Constitutional Court Decriminalises Abortion in the First 24 Weeks of Pregnancy

Since 2006, abortions have been allowed in Columbia only in the cases of rape, the woman’s life is at risk, or the pregnancy isn’t viable. The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Causa Justa group, whose aim was to remove abortion from the penal code. The group argued that because abortions are defined as a crime outside of the three cases above, doctors and patients are still often stigmatized. They continued that 90% of abortions are carried out clandestinely, putting the health and life of women at risk, especially of lower-income women. This court ruling hasn’t removed abortion from the country’s penal code entirely, but it is a “historical achievement.” The Court urged Congress to create legislation to protect the rights of pregnant women, including providing family services, eliminating obstacles to abortion care, and helping with adoptions.

Pro-choice activists say it is the latest in a series of victories in recent years, including a similar ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court in September and the legislation of abortion up to the 14th week in Argentina. The activist movement in the Catholic and conservative region has exponentially grown and now aims to expand abortion rights in Brazil, the region’s biggest nation.


Clashes Between Migrants and Police Leave 20 Injured in Mexico’s Border

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said migrants were trying to jump the queue for permits to allow them to continue their journey north in the town of Tapachula, Mexico’s southern border. According to the INM, about 100 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and countries in Africa joined the protests and threw stones and sticks at members of the National Guard. Official data suggests that the number of people requesting refugee in Mexico has almost doubled from 2019 to 2021, some with the goal of reaching the United States and others to stay in Mexico. The biggest immigration center located in Tapachula has become one of the main bottlenecks on migrants’ journeys.


Shooting in Haiti Wounded Three as Three-Day Strike Began

Men wearing police uniforms fired into factory workers demanding higher wages than those the prime minister announced last week. The men fired from inside a car with police license plates, wounding at least three people, including two journalists, although a police spokesperson could not be immediately reached. Earlier in the day, the police had also fired tear gas as protesters threw rocks and used trucks to block a main road near the international airport in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the country.


The Dominican Republic Begins Building Wall with Haiti to Reduce Irregular Migration

Dominican President Luis Abinaderattended the inauguration ceremony and began the pouring of concrete into what will be the wall. He stated “the benefit for both nations will be of great importance,” to stop irregular migration and the smuggling of goods and weapons. The development comes amid a worsening political and economic crisis in Haiti in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last July. Gang violence and political deadlock have also risen, and many Haitians have crossed the border into the Dominican Republic without legal documentation looking for jobs in agriculture and the construction industry. The migration of Haitians has occurred since 2010 when the island was struck with a 7.2 earthquake that killed approximately 316,000 people and left the country in a state of desperation. But governments in the region have tightened their border restrictions and made it increasingly more difficult for Haitians to settle in other countries.

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