From Ukraine, Karabakh to Pakistan: 10 conflicts the world can’t ignore in 2023
2022 witnessed the war that shook up the global order. For months, Russia had been amassing troops at its border with Ukraine. Yet a full-scale war seemed unimaginable but all that changed on 24 February when Russia invaded its neighbour.
As the world steps into 2023, the war also enters another year.
But the Ukraine war isn’t the only conflict that has been extended, several other wars that predate the Russian invasion, go on.
Peace continues to elude Yemen and Ethiopia’s Tigray. At the same time, there are fears of widespread violence in Pakistan which is set to hold general elections this year.
Every year, the not-for-profit Crisis Group curates a list of 10 conflicts to watch. Here’s a look at the rankings by the Crisis Group with additional analysis by Firstpost.
Global attention continues to remain on the Russia-Ukraine war which took another turn on 2 January 2023 when Several Russian troops were killed in a Ukrainian airstrike on a camp in the Moscow-controlled Donetsk region.
In a rare admission, Kremlin said that 63 of its personnel were killed in the strike while Kyiv claimed the death toll to be at around 400.
Notably, Russia said that Ukraine used US-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers in the attack. Kremlin has been accusing Washington and NATO of direct involvement in the war.
According to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Moscow is preparing to ramp up its attack on Ukraine using Iranian-made exploding drones.
Though Russia has cut down on the rhetoric of using nuclear weapons against its non-nuclear armed neighbour, experts warn that it’s still too early to rule out anything.
With no serious attempts at peace, the war is likely to continue with its consequences being felt across the world be it financially or diplomatically.
Russia and Ukraine aren’t the only former Soviet nations at war. The re-escalation of tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be described as a fallout of an extended Ukraine war.
In 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
The conflict, which international observers say was triggered, by Azerbaijan saw Armenia cede most of the territories it held since the 1990s to Baku.
However, full-scale fighting stopped in a Moscow-brokered peace deal in September 2020. As part, of the agreement, Russia deployed 5,000 peacekeepers in the Armenian-populated enclave.
The most serious escalation since the 2020 war happened in September 2022 when Azerbaijan attacked Armenian cities.
What is notable is that the attack coincided with the Russian troop drawdown in Karabakh. In September 2022, Moscow shifted some of its soldiers from Karabakh to the Ukraine frontlines to battle a successful counteroffensive by Kyiv.
As its strongest ally continues to be engaged on the Ukraine front, Armenia finds itself alone against much more powerful Azerbaijan.
The Crisis Group has kept Iran on the third spot of conflicts to keep an eye on in 2023. It said that Tehran’s “supply of weapons” to Russia, the ongoing anti-regime protests and the limbo over Iran nuclear deal talks have left the Islamic republic isolated.
Iranian security forces continue to crack down on protesters. Nationwide demonstrations began after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the morality police allegedly for wearing a loose hijab.
According to rights groups, security forces have killed over 500 protesters so far. Despite calls from activists, Western nations continue to maintain diplomatic ties with Tehran.
Experts believe that the West wants to keep negotiations open in a bid to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“Given today’s poisonous relations, prospects for talks to defuse the nuclear crisis appear dim. But at least gaining an understanding over each other’s red lines could help keep a lid on tensions until there is more space for de-escalation and substantive diplomatic engagement,” the Crisis Group said.
A civil war broke out in Yemen- the Arab world’s poorest country in 2014 when Iran-backed Houthi rebels toppled the internationally recognised government supported by Saudi Arabia.
Soon Yemen turned into what experts have called a “proxy war” between Tehran and Riyadh.
In October 2022, a truce between the Houthis and the internationally recognised government brokered by the UN ended. Heavy fighting has not resumed since but there’s still no sign of peace.
According to the Crisis Group, a key bone of contention between the Houthis and Saudi in negotiations was the former’s demand that the government pay “salaries to rebel military and security force.”
War engulfed Ethiopia’s Tigray in late 2020 when the region’s ruling party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front attacked several Ethiopian Army military bases.
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel peace laureate reacted by sending the army to Tigray. What ensued was large-scale fighting between the Ethiopian Army and militias supporting it, and the TPLF and its allies.
Ethiopia’s neighbour Eritrea sent its troops to fight alongside the Ethiopian Army.
The warring sides signed a peace deal in November 2022 in South Africa.
However, the Crisis Group says that peace is fragile. The Eritrean Army have not left the Ethiopian territory and the Tigray rebels are yet to hand over their weapons.
6. Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes
The situation deteriorated in the war-scarred Democratic Republic of Congo with the resurgence of the dreaded M23 rebel group.
The question is how the rebels resurfaced.
According to the UN, M23 is backed by DRC’s neighbour Rwanda. but why would Rwanda back these rebels?
The Second Congo War (1998-2003) is widely known as the Great War of Africa because of the involvement of Congo’s neighbours in the conflict.
Something similar though on a smaller scale is happening here. In 2022, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi urged Ugandan troops to fight the Allied Democratic Forces, a group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, the Crisis Group said.
This irked Rwandan president Paul Kagame who saw the involvement of Uganda as undermining Rwandan influence over DRC.
DRC will go to polls and the already existing local tensions coupled with outside involvement can further complicate the situation.
7. The Sahel
Africa’s Sahel region comprises Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Terrorist groups like ISIS, and Al-Qaeda continues to make inroads in several Sahel countries where the control of government is weak and clashes between local communities are rampant.
Of particular concern are Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, the Crisis Group said. Terror groups control almost 40% of Burkina Faso’s territory.
The Caribbean nation has been controlled by violent gangs since the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in July 2021. The interim government led by PM Ariel Henry though backed by the US, remains widely unpopular at home.
Haiti’s gangs have for long enjoyed political patronage but now they are becoming more powerful than the forces that once controlled them.
In 2022, the country’s largest gang G9 seized a major oil terminal after Henry’s government lifted oil subsidies. It was only after months-long battle that the government was able to recapture the terminal.
At least half of the country’s population is facing acute hunger, Crisis Group said.
The situation has become so bad that in October 2022, Henry called for foreign military support. The move has been seen with scepticism both at home and abroad.
Several locals oppose outside intervention while foreign powers are also wary of sending their troops to the country.
Elections are often a violent phase in a politically unstable country. Pakistan is a case in point. The country’s former PM Benazir Bhutto was assassinated during poll campaigning in 2007.
Last year, ex-PM Imran Khan survived an attempt to his life during a rally.
Pakistan, a country where the army controls politics, the upcoming elections is an event to keep an eye out for.
Khan who fell out of the army’s favour was ousted from power through a no-confidence motion in the parliament. The Opposition parties then formed a coalition government led by Shehbaz Sharif. However, Khan still remains a popular leader and since his ouster has become an outspoken critic of the army.
Meanwhile, the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan or the TTP has ended a ceasefire with the Pakistani government and has ramped up terror attacks across Pakistan.
Last year, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in what was the highest-level visit by an American official to the self ruled-island in 25 years.
Unsurprisingly, the visit riled up China which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.
China responded with large-scale military drills. Despite this, a war seems unlikely anytime soon.
Beijing has been closely watching the Russia-Ukraine War. Though it has not condemned Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, it has also refrained from providing any weapons to Moscow.
Despite Pelosi’s visit, Washington has shied away from recognising Taiwan.
According to the Crisis Group, Beijing can turn more belligerent if the economic and political situations at home become volatile.
“Should Beijing’s internal economic and political woes mount, a more forceful show of resolve is possible, particularly if the U.S. is seen to be pressing its advantage at a time of perceived Chinese weakness,” it said.
Read the Crisis Group report here