In Other News – Putin and the Ukraine, Conflict Spills Over Yemeni Border, & More – 2/3/2022

February 3, 2022

No matter if Putin decides to invade Ukraine or not, his actions will have long lasting consequences. Putin has managed to command the world’s attention by amassing troops along the Ukrainian border, but by doing so he’s increasingly alienated Western nations and given them time to bond together in a more united front. Putin has particularly frustrated France and Germany and he’s only further isolating himself from the West as he continues to build-up troops while simultaneously holding discussions to reduce tensions.

The drawn-out build-up has also allowed Ukrainians to better prepare for an attack, and for the United States to bolster its NATO deployment in Eastern Europe and send even more sophisticated military equipment over to Ukrainian troops. Putin also likely recognizes that Ukrainians are better equipped to defend against a Russian invasion now than they were back in 2014, having a larger and more robust military force, and that national sentiment is also more united against him. Even if Putin invaded and achieved some degree of military success, he should anticipate continued resistance from the Ukrainian population.

The question now is not just if Putin will invade, but what else he will do to threaten the resolve of US and NATO allies. Moscow could try to wield economic and political damage on the West through weaponizing energy and waging disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, while also exhausting patience with constant destabilizing acts like bolstering its troops in Belarus. Putin isn’t going to give up easily on reclaiming his version of Russia, but the strength of his arsenal depends on the unity and endurance of those containing him.

Conflict spills over the Yemeni border as the United Arab Emirates is attacked, United States aims to balance support and political goals. In response to a recent spate of attacks directed at the UAE by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the United States is ramping up military support to the Emiratis. On Monday, Washington reported that US forces had activated Patriot missile defenses in the UAE, and on Wednesday US officials stated they would further deploy a guided missile destroyer and state-of-the-art fighter jets to help defend their Emirati partners. While the devastating conflict in Yemen has dragged on for years, and Saudi has faced Houthi attacks on its oil facilities and southern region, attacks on the UAE are notably rare. But in January the Houthis targeted the UAE three times, including a drone-and-missile assault on Abu Dhabi’s oil facilities and airport that killed three foreign workers, and a missile attack, that was thwarted, while the Israeli President was recently visiting. The escalation comes at a delicate time for Washington as negotiations to restore the Iran nuclear deal are reportedly in their final stage. While it’s currently unclear how the uptick in violence will impact the discussions, the attacks appear to have brought Saudi and the UAE closer together again as the Yemeni war is actively threatening security within their own borders.

Military coups in Africa appear off to the same rapid clip seen in 2021, paving the way for regional democratic decline. Last fall, after several coup d’états and coup attempts in nations like Chad, Mali, Guinea and Sudan, UN Secretary General Guterres expressed concern that “military coups are back” after a quieter period during the previous decade. The start of 2022 has already seen a successful coup d’état in Burkina Faso and a failed attempt in Guinea Bissau. Over the past few years there’s been a weak response by the international community to these unconstitutional takeovers, including inconsistent or inconsequential responses from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and France, among others. Indeed, strategic competition with China and Russia has also been prioritized over a dedicated effort to promote democracy in the region. But democratic decline in Africa is of concern not just because of the decrease in political liberties and civil rights of local citizens, but because democracy itself is still the best political system we’ve got to ensure inclusive development and future peace and stability. Further, without clear and firm consequences from the international community, leaders of brazen takeovers are empowered, and the democratic world misses an opportunity for growth and unity.