In Other News – Putin & Ukraine, Violent attacks in Pakistan, & More – 1/21/2022

January 21, 2022

If Putin wants to invade Ukraine it won’t be sanctions alone that stop him. This week, at high-level discussions between the United States and Russia in Geneva, Moscow continued to insist that it wasn’t planning a Ukraine attack and restated its demands that the US-led NATO military alliance halt regional activity and never accept Ukraine as a member. Meanwhile, new satellite images captured Wednesday show additional Russian troops and equipment near the country’s border with Ukraine. Despite intense diplomatic efforts by Washington and partners to lower tensions, Putin seems to be enjoying the global spotlight and is carefully weighing his options as he considers next steps. Economic penalties alone are unlikely to deter Putin at this point, but he could be deterred by the possibility of a sustained resistance that would result in drawn-out fighting and a heavy Russian death toll. Nonetheless, it’s increasingly possible that Putin could test the waters with some trumped up provocation and see how his opponents respond. Taking a piecemeal approach would allow Putin to better assess what he’s actually up against − including isolation from the West or strong overt or covert Western military support to Ukrainian troops, that could threaten Moscow’s ability to prevail.

Violent attacks in Pakistan are steady but certain as Pakistan tries to keep diverse allies happy. This week, several violent attacks in Pakistan served as a reminder of the precarious security situation in the region and could be a harbinger of greater instability. Overnight attacks on Monday targeted police in Islamabad, and two policemen were later killed in attacks in the districts of Dir and North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan. These attacks were claimed by Tehrik-e-Taliban “TTP” or the Pakistani Taliban, who also claimed responsibility for attacks on Pakistani army personnel in late December. The TTP is reportedly growing stronger and headquartered in Afghanistan, but recent TTP-Islamabad negotiation attempts fell apart, and it seems that the Pakistani leadership isn’t willing to sacrifice good ties with the Afghan Taliban by pressing the issue. However, the TTP also presents a threat to Pakistan’s neighbors like India, as well as international investors like the Chinese who are vulnerable to the attacks while working in Pakistan on joint infrastructure projects. In addition to dealing with the TTP, Islamabad is also challenged by Baloch separatists, a group who just claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed several individuals in Lahore on Thursday, and previously attacked Chinese infrastructure project workers in southwest Pakistan last summer.

Lebanon’s increasing domestic woes could spiral into an international refugee crisis. In the aftermath of the Beirut port blasts of August 2020, the Lebanese government has been unable to pull the nation out of economic and political turmoil and has failed to provide citizens with fundamental services like healthcare, electricity, and food. A “day of rage” coordinated by Lebanon’s transport unions last week shut down transport routes and educational institutions, but thus far the strikes have failed to materialize in any government reforms. Since 2020, much of the Lebanese middle class has fled for the Americas, the Arab Gulf states, and Europe through a formal migration process. But with increasingly difficult economic socio-economic conditions challenging those who remain, a growing number of poorer and disheartened Lebanese, as well as Palestinian and Syrian refugees based within Lebanese borders, are reportedly planning to leave as well. This group is unlikely to have the resources needed to move via legal means, and it is anticipated that many will attempt to relocate to Europe via illegal sea routes, potentially creating a new migrant crisis. Despite international aid efforts over the past several months, and recent news that Jordan will sign a formal agreement next week to supply Lebanon with electricity under a US-backed regional plan, the situation is unlikely to stabilize soon, and ramifications of the domestic crisis are anticipated well beyond Lebanon’s borders.