The threat spectrum

Planet A

The first-ever Middle East and North Africa Climate Week, organised by UN Climate Change, has just wrapped up in Dubai. The event followed on from last year’s global effort on regional collaboration on climate.

Urgent action is needed to support adaptation to climate change in the water-poor Middle East. Strategies should address regional climate modelling that warns temperatures could reach up to 60°C during heatwaves, exceeding the human survivability threshold.

The disruption that climate change will bring to food and water systems is expected to further fuel regional conflicts, the growth of extremist groups and the mass displacement of populations. Collaboration between regional partners on climate is therefore critical to the security of North African and Middle Eastern nations.

As an example of what can be achieved, EcoPeace, an Israeli–Palestinian non-governmental organisation, recently brokered an energy-for-water agreement between Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE and Jordan will supply renewable energy to Israel in exchange for water from Israel’s desalination plants.

Democracy watch

Last week, the US officially declared that the Myanmar military committed genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, five years after more than 740,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in successive waves of displacement.

Despite calls from human rights advocates, the Trump administration declined to refer to the atrocities as genocide, instead describing the operation as ‘ethnic cleansing’, which is less well defined in international law. The decision was based partly on the prediction that the Myanmar civil administration was transitioning towards democracy, a hope that was largely dashed after a military coup toppled the democratically elected government last year.

Rohingya refugees welcomed the Biden administration’s decision, but warned that unless it’s followed by concrete steps and actions, the suffering will continue. Given ‘the very little possibility’ of Myanmar’s domestic legal proceedings delivering justice, the change in language lays the groundwork to hold the military junta to account at the international level.

Information operations

The British government has provided the BBC with emergency funding of £4.1 million ($7.2 million) to support its Ukrainian- and Russian-language news services. The additional resources are intended to help the national broadcaster combat Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns.

The announcement came just days after the UK Ministry of Defence accused the Russian government of being behind several propaganda videos featuring doctored clips of British cabinet ministers. The BBC’s revenue comes mainly from a licensing fee that has twice undergone major revisions by Conservative governments in recent years. In January, the government confirmed the freezing of the BBC’s licencing fee, expected to amount to a budget cut of £2 billion ($3.5 billion) over the next six years.

The emergency funding reflects a growing awareness of the important role public broadcasters play in countering disinformation narratives, especially those propagated by authoritarian regimes.

Follow the money

Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agents in Moscow have seized millions of dollars worth of Swiss-made Audemars Piguet watches. While Russian authorities cited customs offences as the official reason behind the seizure, Swiss government officials say it was likely a retaliation for sanctions Switzerland imposed following the invasion of Ukraine.

When the sanctions were first introduced in February, Audemars Piguet, one of the biggest Swiss watchmakers, suspended exports and ‘temporarily’ closed its two Moscow outlets. In March, following the imposition of additional Western sanctions and withdrawals of foreign businesses from Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that allowed the government to seize hundreds of commercial US- and European-owned aircraft.

While it’s not clear whether the watch seizure was another instance of the enforcement of Putin’s new asset-seizure law or some form of undisciplined FSB looting, it highlights just some of the challenges faced by the many foreign companies attempting to withdraw from Russia.

Terror byte

Despite repeatedly preaching about the importance of his campaign to ‘denazify’ Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has reportedly deployed thousands of mercenaries to try to break the invasion’s ‘burgeoning stalemate’.

Social media reports have corroborated the presence of mercenaries in eastern Ukraine, and UK intelligence suggests that Putin has brought the Wagner Group into the war. The Wagner Group is a Russia-based private paramilitary force that has been linked to far-right and white-supremacist elements worldwide. While private militaries are prohibited by Russian law, the Wagner Group has represented an ‘unofficial foreign policy tool of the Kremlin’ since 2014, illegally operating in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya.

The Wagner Group’s unorthodox skillset allows Putin to pursue objectives unattainable through conventional military tactics. The company’s affinity for covert operations poses legitimate threats to Ukraine’s military technology and possibly even President Volodymyr Zelensky’s life.