UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief expressed strong hopes this week that the Ukraine war will end in 2023. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the Iranian government’s crackdown on demonstrators, urged all countries to fight terrorist threats from the extreme right and called on the international community to tell Israel’s new right-wing government that “there is no alternative to the two-state solution.”
In a wide-ranging end-of-year news conference Monday, Guterres said he sees no prospect of talks to end the war in Ukraine in the immediate future and expects the already escalating military conflict to continue. But he called for everything possible to be done to halt the most devastating conflict in Europe since World War II by the end of 2023 — which he strongly hopes will happen.
Achmad Ibrahim, AP file photo
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks ahead of the G20 Summit on Nov. 14 in Bali, Indonesia.
On other issues, Guterres urged Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to include all ethnic groups in the government, restore girls’ rights to education at all levels and women’s rights to work, and to stop all terrorist activity in its territory. He also reiterated the U.N.’s determination to pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, saying the international community must pursue this goal, which “is fundamental for peace and security in east Asia and in the world.”
The secretary-general also had some advice for the managers of all social media platforms including Twitter: You have a responsibility to preserve freedom of the press and at the same time ensure that hate speech and extremist views, including of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, don’t find their way onto your platforms.
Looking back at 2022, Guterres said “there may be plenty of reasons for despair” — geopolitical divides that have made solving global problems difficult if not impossible, a cost-of-living crisis, growing inequalities with most of the world’s poorest countries “staring down the abyss of insolvency and default,” with debt service payments skyrocketing by 35%, the largest increase in decades.
But as the year ends, he said, “we are working to push back against despair, to fight back against disillusion and to find real solutions.”
The secretary-general pointed to the historic agreement reached early Monday on protecting the world’s lands and oceans that provides critical financing to save biodiversity in the developing world, saying, “We are finally starting to forge a peace pact with nature.”
He also cited “a measure of progress” in some conflicts.
In Ethiopia, he said, “efforts by the African Union to broker peace are a reason for hope.” In Congo, diplomatic efforts led by Angola and the East African Community have created “a framework for political dialogue” to end the crisis in the country’s mineral-rich east. In Yemen, a six-month truce “delivered real dividends for people” and even though it wasn’t renewed, “there have been no major military operations” and flights and fuel and food deliveries are continuing.
Even in Ukraine, he said, the July agreements brokered by the U.N. and Turkey to restart grain deliveries from Ukraine and food and fertilizer exports from Russia “are making a difference.”
Without an immediate prospect for talks, Guterres said the U.N. is currently concentrating its efforts on expanding the initiative that has seen over 14 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain shipped from three Black Sea ports by increasing exports and inspections.
He said Russian wheat exports “have multiplied three-fold,” and the U.N. is looking into possibly exporting Russian ammonia — a key ingredient of desperately needed fertilizer — from a Black Sea port.
The U.N. is also very interested in accelerating the exchange of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war before Orthodox Christmas which both countries celebrate in January, the U.N. chief said.
On terrorism, Guterres urged condemnation of every form of extremism including neo-Nazism, white supremacism, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in Western countries and elsewhere in the world.
“This is clearly a threat, and we must fight that threat with enormous determination,” he said. Guterres pointed to the recent alleged coup plot in Germany in which more than 20 people linked to a far-right movement were detained as just one example of the threat to democratic societies around the world.
The secretary-general was also sharply critical of Iran’s crackdown on peaceful protesters, who took to the streets in September after the death of a 22-year-old woman taken into custody by the morality police and accused of not wearing her headscarf properly. Over 450 people have been killed and over 18,000 detained, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the protests.
“We are witnessing massive violations of human rights that we strongly condemned,” Guterres said, calling the Iranian government’s actions “totally unacceptable.”
On the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Guterres was asked about more than 200 Palestinians killed this year, most of them civilians, and Israel’s election of the most right-wing government in its history.
He said the U.N. has been very clear in condemning violence against the Palestinians and is concerned “because we believe there is no Plan B to the two-state solution, and we are very concerned with what the next Israeli government might do in that regard.”
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Although people outside Russia seldom see widespread opposition to government actions and policies there—largely because the government imposes significant restrictions on this type of expression—Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has stirred the pot of dissent.
The last time anti-war protests of the current caliber occurred in Russia was the last time Russia attacked Ukraine. In early 2014, Russia invaded its neighbor to annex the Crimean Peninsula. On March 2 of that year, the first of two large-scale anti-war protests occurred. The second came on March 15, 2015, with approximately 20,000 people in attendance. The event was so significant in Russian protest history that it has been dubbed the March of Peace.
Using various news sources, Stacker compiled a list of evidence indicating that many Russians are not entirely in support of the aggression on Ukraine. Whether the indicators are obvious or subtle, there's no denying that Russia is currently a country split by war.
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On Sept. 7, 2022, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a report on polls it conducted of Russian citizens about their opinions on the invasion of Ukraine. Though more than 50% of respondents still showed a favorable view of the Russian government and armed forces, 31% of respondents stated that Russia's military action in Ukraine made them fearful. Notably, younger Russians seem to harbor more negative emotions toward the war, with 37% of 18-24-year-olds reporting that the conflict made them fearful.
The same report dug into what specifically concerned Russian citizens. Approximately half of the respondents to the survey stated that they were very or quite concerned that Russia's foreign assets would be frozen. The concerns are well-founded, as soon after Russia officially invaded Ukraine, the G-7 moved to freeze all Russian assets harbored in its member countries. The U.S. has also imposed economic sanctions on Russia in addition to those it participated in through the G-7. However, the U.S. has had some form of sanction against Russia almost continuously since 2014.
On the flip side of the emotional spectrum, just 33% of 18-24-year-olds said they felt a sense of national pride following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, far lower than the overall 51% of respondents. The age group that reported being the proudest of the Ukrainian conflict was people 55 and older, 60% of whom said they felt a sense of national pride.
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Despite anti-war protests being illegal in the country, many Russian citizens have taken to the streets to voice their opinions against the war in Ukraine. Directly after the invasion began, thousands flocked to their city centers, and more than 53 cities had some form of staged protest. The Russian police arrested more than 1,700 individuals in those cities, with the majority of activity occurring in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
More recently, Vladimir Putin's announcement that he would impose a draft prompted a second wave of protests. The Dagestan region of Russia has been the focal point of these protests, as it is a primarily Muslim area and has seen a higher death toll from the war in Ukraine than any other region of the country thus far.
In just the city of Makhachkala, the capital of the Dagestan region, law enforcement has arrested more than 100 individuals. Citizens have even resorted to blocking roads to prevent enforcement officers from entering cities and towns to impose Putin's draft.
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On Sept. 21, 2022, Vladimir Putin announced that he had authorized the partial mobilization of Russia's military draft to continue the war in Ukraine. In addition to the protests against the draft that occurred almost immediately following that announcement, Google Trends data also indicated that searches for "how to break arm" massively spiked in Russia. A broken arm and other physical disabilities are grounds for being passed over by the draft until the arm heals. The willingness of individuals to take such drastic measures to avoid joining the military may indicate how much they oppose the war in Ukraine.
Beyond theoretical data, some draft-eligible Russians have physically left the country to avoid joining the Russian military. On Oct. 6, 2022, two Russian men arrived on an island off the coast of Alaska seeking asylum in the U.S. According to a spokesperson for Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the men explicitly stated they left their town in eastern Russia to avoid conscription. The Russians had traveled in a small boat across the Bering Sea.
Though Alaskan officials have expressed doubt that this situation will repeat itself, it is a reminder of just how close the eastern edge of Russia is to the western edge of the U.S.
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Though draft-eligible individuals certainly have extra motivation to flee Russia, many other Russians are also in a hurry to exit the country. In March 2022, within weeks of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Google Trends data showed a spike in searches for terms like "emigration" and "citizenship" in Russia. Both search terms demonstrate that leaving Russia may have been top of mind for many Russians as they watched the war in Ukraine unfold.
The thought of potentially fleeing Russia has undoubtedly turned into action for many Russian people. In just the first week after Russia invaded Ukraine, about 100,000 Russian individuals arrived in Kazakhstan alone. Because Kazakhstan is one of the larger countries that borders Russia and the two countries share many railways, it is taking the brunt of refugees and others seeking an alternative place to reside while war rages in Ukraine.
Some Russians may have the opportunity to enter countries farther west; however, the European Union is significantly restricting the number of refugees allowed to settle in its member countries.
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