Russia has so far issued almost 200,000 Russian passports to Ukrainians from the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. This undermines the Minsk peace process. The passportisation of the Donbas is part of a tried and tested set of foreign policy instruments. Russia is deliberately making it more difficult to resolve territorial conflicts in the post-Soviet space by creating controlled instability. This demonstrative intervention in state sovereignty exerts pressure on the Ukrainian central government in Kyiv. Domestically, Russia’s goal is to counteract its own natural population decline through immigration. Because of the war in eastern Ukraine, more and more Ukrainians have migrated to Russia; this was one of the reasons behind Russia revising its migration strategy in 2018. The liberalisation of citizenship legislation was aimed particularly at Ukraine. By delaying any resolution to the conflict, Russia achieves two objectives simultaneously: it retains permanent influence on Ukraine via the Donbas, and it becomes more attractive to many Ukrainians as a destination for emigration.
The yearlong offensive on Tripoli by Khalifa Haftar’s forces has suffered fatal setbacks, and Libya’s conflicts are changing shape. Russia’s and Turkey’s attempts at carving out spheres of influence are bound to collide with the interests of other foreign powers and with the fluidity of Libya’s political landscape. Haftar could face increasing challenges to his authority over eastern and southern Libya. Rivalries within the anti-Haftar alliance will also return to the fore. Foreign intervention and the deep rifts that the war has inflicted on Libyan society will be the key obstacles to a political settlement. Western states should focus on preserving Libya’s unity and countering Russian influence as a matter of priority.
The recent emergence of two splinter parties from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) points to a deepening crisis within the party and growing discontent toward party leader and president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although the leaders of the two new parties, Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, are both former high-ranking AKP politicians, they differ significantly in their style of politics and ideological leanings. Babacan is trying to position himself at the center of Turkey’s ideological spectrum and emphasize issues of good governance and the rule of law. Davutoğlu is aiming for the more conservative voters, focusing on the moral shortcomings of the current regime. Davutoğlu’s strategy has better chances in the short term, whereas Babacan is poised for a long game. The importance of both parties relies on their potential to attract votes from the AKP base. In a country that is deeply divided into two almost equal-sized camps that support Erdoğan and oppose him, even a small fraction of votes shifting from the AKP to the opposition can be a game changer.
Nine years into the (civil) war, Syria is in an extraordinarily poor position to confront the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead of the pandemic leading towards the uniting of local, regional, and international actors involved in Syria around a common purpose, conflict dynamics have hampered an effective response to Covid-19. Yet, the pandemic is unlikely to become a decisive turning point in conflict dynamics or an overall determinant of its future trajectory. Rather, in the mid-term, the relevant actors are likely to continue to follow their strategic interests in Syria, while some will have to adjust their operational priorities, as well as the strategies to pursue them, against the backdrop of the pandemic. Cooperation among external actors in solving the conflict is not set to get any easier. Trends of destabilisation and erosion of state capacity in the war-torn country are also likely to continue. Europeans should prioritise helping fight the pandemic in all areas of Syria and re-engage in diplomacy aimed at conflict settlement and the prevention of military escalation among involved actors.
On reaching the Horn of Africa, the corona virus will have encountered countries already facing a multitude of challenges. Prolonged armed conflict, drought and insecurity have turned more than eight million people into refugees in their own countries, and a further 3.5 million have fled to neighbouring countries where they live in overcrowded refugee camps. All the countries in this region are in a fragile state of political transformation or have been severely weakened by war and government failures. They possess neither the capacity to contain the Covid pandemic nor to mitigate the resulting unemployment, poverty and hunger. In order to guard against jeopardising the process of democratisation in Sudan and Ethiopia, special emphasis should be placed on social security systems and gaining the trust of the population. This requires an emergency aid package from abroad that will ensure the economic survival of all countries in the region. However, long-term support should be conditional on guaranteeing that most of the investment goes into developing state capacities for critical infrastructure and social security.
■ Although cross-border flight has been high on the international agenda for several years, the more wide-spread phenomenon of internal displacement has received scant political attention, despite the fact that it promotes conflict and hinders development.
■ The problem is exacerbated when internal displacement continues over an extended period. If a large population group is denied the ability to exercise its basic as well as its civil rights for years, there are high costs and political risks for society as a whole.
■ Internal displacement can have many causes. If it becomes a protracted phenomenon, this points to fundamental political shortcomings. Hence, the issue is a politically sensitive matter for the governments concerned, and many of them consider offers of international support as being undue interference in their internal affairs.
■ At the global and regional levels, legislative progress has been made since the early 2000s. However, the degree of implementation is still inadequate and there is no central international actor to address the concerns of IDPs.
■ The political will of national decision-makers is a prerequisite for the protection and support of those affected. This can be strengthened if governments are made aware of the negative consequences of internal displacement and if their own interests are appealed to.
■ The German government should pay more attention to the issue of internal displacement and make a special effort to find durable solutions. The most important institutional reform would be to reappoint a Special Representative for IDPs who would report directly to the UN Secretary-General.
Following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU), the Brexit negotiations are entering the decisive next phase: In a transition period of now only 10 months, the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom with regard to economic, internal security, and foreign policy as well as an overall institutional framework must be negotiated. But the signs point to confrontation. The main aim of the domestically strengthened British government is absolute dissociation from the EU; the list with potential points of conflict with the Union’s negotiation objectives is long. Together, the negotiators must find a new model of cooperation between partnership and competition.
The conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia over the distribution and use of the Nile water has entered a new phase. Questions about how and over what period of time the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will be filled are taking centre stage. Against this backdrop, the USA launched a new mediation attempt at the end of 2019. However, initial hopes of a swift agreement have not materialized. The longer substantial results are postponed, the more apparent it becomes that external mediation alone will not suffice to resolve the dispute. In order to defuse the conflict, it might be necessary for Egypt to compensate Ethiopia for concessions on the GERD. Germany and its European partners should provide Egypt with financial support for creating a compensation mechanism. This would promote stability in Europe’s conflict-ridden neighbouring region, and reduce migration pressure. But Europeans should tie financial contributions to clear conditions vis-à-vis Cairo, aimed at improving water management and overall governance.