This is the start of a new series covering the previous week’s most important news and events from across the world. The aim is to publish this every Monday and cast a look ahead at some of the week’s coming events.
Sunday 26 February – Sunday 5 March:
This week the foreign ministers of the G20 Nations met in Delhi, India for their annual meeting on issues related to international financial stability, economic growth, and sustainable development. The hosts, whose “intention to continue playing the voice of the Global South and raising issues pertinent to the region” by ensuring “questions relating to food, energy and fertiliser security, the impact that the [Ukraine Conflict] has on these economic challenges that we face” would receive their due focus, has been overshadowed by the Group’s failure to reach a consensus on the conflict. This follows last week’s meeting (in Bengaluru, India) in which G20 finance ministers similarly failed to provide a joint statement on the conflict. India is not bowing to US pressure to take a harder line against Moscow.
Turning to Ukraine, the Battle for Bakhmut is ongoing. Private Military Company Wagner Group (or as they refer to themselves, “the musicians”) have seemingly ground down Bakhmut’s defenders and threaten to encircle the city’s defenders. The engagement, which is likely the largest battle of the 21st century, began seven months ago on August 1 2022. Much of the current Russian advances seem to be driven by Wagner rather than by the Russian military. This is likely due to Wagner commander’s having greater freedom in assaults than regular forces, which must follow defined regulations and the orders of – often – incompetent commanders. Ukraine has so-far refused to give up the city and the Russians are not in control yet. Elsewhere in Ukraine, the Battle for Vuheldar (further south) has been described by Russian military analyst Michael Koffman as “Russian tanks and BMPs running into mines across open terrain. Stopping. Getting hit by ATGMs and artillery. Then trying to assault again the next day after UA units replace mines in the field. It’s far from smart, but it’s no epic tank battle.” Despite these defeats – and reportedly the loss of at least 100 tanks – the Russian Defence Minister has visited the Donetsk region within the last few days, and continuous fresh troop arrivals from the Vostok (“east” in Russian and signifying troops from the Russian eastern military district in Siberia) grouping all point to a significant assault in the near future. While some commentators have pointed out that this might be a ruse, past Russian performance would not suggest that this is the case. A year into the conflict, and it remains Russia’s war to lose.
In Greece a head-on collision between two trains (one a passenger train, the other carrying freight) occurred in south of the Tempi Valley in Thessaly. The collision killed 57 people and 48 are currently in hospital, making it the deadliest train crash in Greek history. An audio recording of one of the train drivers being told to ignore a red light has sparked protests in Athens, leading to clashes with police. The Larissa station master who gave the driver the order has been charged with mass deaths through negligence and causing grievous bodily harm through negligence. When arrested he blamed the collision on a technical fault, though he later admitted to “making a mistake”. From all over the world, condolences have poured, and a three-day period of mourning is under way in Greece.
Turkey’s (or Turkiye as they now seem to be calling it) earthquake woes have not let up. There have been at least 14 earthquakes in the past week, ranging around a magnitude of 4 on the Richter scale, following last month’s devastating earthquake which killed over 44 000 people in Turkey and Syria. Tens of thousands of people have been made homeless – the situation is so bad that even some Syrian refugees are returning to Syria rather than remain in Turkey.
In Israel, political tensions over judicial reforms appear to be reaching a boiling point. Protesters against the Netanyahu government’s planned reforms have turned violent, with police responding by firing water-cannons and using stun grenades against protestors blocking a highway in Tel Aviv. Protestors were also involved in brawls with the police outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem. Also fanning the flames has been “unusually intense” Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank as Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinians and Israeli police. The Netanyahu government claims the reforms are meant to limit the power held by “un-elected judges”, while critics say that the reforms are a plot to undermine the corruption charges against Netanyahu and will slide the country towards a dictatorship.
The oil price dropped on reporting by the Wall Street Journal that the United Arab Emirates was considering leaving the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Nations (OPEC), before first Reuters and then Bloomberg refuted those claims. Oil recovered all loses by Friday closing.
In Iran, reports of a mysterious spate of mass illnesses affecting hundreds of girls in multiple cities is causing panic and alarm as the same time as continuing anti-government protests about women’s veils. The incidents first began in November of 2022 but seem to have escalated. The impacted girls have reported strong chemical or perfume smells and “rotten tangerines” which cause headaches and nausea – and even temporary paralysis. Iranian authorities say they suspect this to be a case of mass poisoning. Though no group has claimed responsibility, there is speculation that hard-line Islamist may be throwing some type of poisonous gas into schools causing the girls to fall ill. Iranian Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi confirmed the poisonings were deliberate, telling state-linked media “some people wish to stop the girls from going to school”, but did not elaborate further. While there have been no confirmed deaths, there have been numerous hospitalisations. The story became even more bizarre after Iranian President Abraham Raisi said on Friday in a televised speech that the poisonings were a “security project to cause chaos in the country whereby the enemy seeks to install fear and insecurity among parents and students”. This is usually how Israel and the US (the Small and Great Satan, respectively) are referred to.
Turning to the United States, Donald Trump has once again made headlines with his attendance and speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this weekend in Washington. There he announced, “We are going to finish what we started…We’re going to complete the mission.” The capacity crowd in the ballroom chanted “Four more years!” In a video released on Friday, Trump promised a “quantum leap” in American living standards. Part of the plan involves the building of up to 10 new “Freedom Cities” cities on a tiny fraction of the third of the American landmass currently owned by the Federal government. He also vowed to “totally obliterate the Deep State”. His potential Republican challenger, Florida governor Ron DeSantis meanwhile was in Texas over the weekend where he spoke at Republican Party fundraisers. Trump and DeSantis both are scheduled in the coming days to visit Iowa, which holds the first Republican nomination contest next year.
For parents worried about the effects that TikTok is having on your children, there is positive news as a committee of the US House of Representatives has voted in favour of granting President Joe Biden the power to ban TikTok from the United States, as well as crack down on other Chinese economic activities in the United States. With tensions between the two powers souring from the recent spy balloon fiasco and tensions over Taiwan, this may not be an unlikely outcome – recall that judges repeatedly blocked former President Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok.
In China the National People’s Congress has begun its annual parliamentary session – the body is expected to grant Chinese President Xi a third term in power – and has announced an economic growth target of 5 percent. This is a far more modest growth target than those set in recent years and indicates that the Chinese economy – while still growing – has been hit hard. Reports that China may be willing to supply Russian military forces threaten to curtail this growth even further as the United States has threatened severe sanctions.
Upcoming in the week ahead:
International Women’s Day will be on Wednesday the 8th of March. For any men reading this I would not suggest that you ignore this day – for your own safety!