Adapted from "Enfrentamiento En Puerto Vallarta Deja A 6 Muertos Sicarios Del Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación. Entre Los 6 Sicarios Estaba “El Guayaba” Escolta De Los Hijos Del Mencho" by Gobiernogdl. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Australia and India agree to greater economic and security cooperation

On a trip to New Delhi, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced an agreement with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to strengthen economic and security cooperation between their two nations. The economic side of the agreement promised to finalise a long-stuck bilateral free trade agreement that could potentially double trade between the nations. Currently, India is Australia’s ninth-largest trading partner, and Australia is the only developed country with which India has an existing free trade deal. On security, both nations pledged to boost their defence cooperation with joint military drills and technology sharing.

The move comes as Australia seeks to reduce its economic reliance on China, its largest trading partner. The economic damage of China’s strict COVID-19 lockdown combined with its increasingly assertive foreign policy in the region has led Australia to seek new allies and partners. On top of strengthening existing ties with the UK and US, Australia is part of the “Quad”, a group consisting of the US, Japan, India, and Australia. The bloc of democracies aims to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region through economic and security cooperation. Albanese also described the deal with India as “an incredible opportunity” for Australia. As India appears set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation, and China downgrades its economic growth target, regional players like Australia are increasingly seeking to diversify their economic ties.

Pro-NATO, pro-EU Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wins landslide in election

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who has made a name for herself as one of Europe’s staunchest supporters of Ukraine, has won a resounding victory in elections for Estonia’s parliament, the Riigikogu. Her liberal Reform party achieved its best ever result with 37 out of 101 seats under Estonia’s proportional electoral system. The historically Russian-sympathising Centre party lost much ground, being ousted from second place by the far-right populist EKRE.

In a campaign dominated by the war in Ukraine, Prime Minister Kallas emphasised her pro-NATO, pro-EU stance and unwavering support for Ukraine. Under her leadership, Estonia has been the largest aid donor to Ukraine as a proportion of GDP, and accepted more refugees per capita than any other EU nation. Kallas has consistently led the charge on aid to Ukraine, being among the first to send weapons even before the invasion, and holds some of the most hardline pro-Ukraine views, supporting its full accession into the EU. The far-right opposition EKRE campaigned against Kallas, blaming her for record-high inflation among Eurozone countries and courting the Russian minority vote by pledging to stop taking in Ukrainian refugees.

The election results saw conservative and traditionalist parties fare poorly, while Kallas’ liberal Reform party and the new progressive Estonia 200 party won big. As leader of the largest party in parliament, Kallas is all but guaranteed to remain prime minister. No matter which parties end up in the governing coalition, Estonia is likely to remain one of Ukraine’s most vocal backers in Europe.

Ukraine clings on to control in Bakhmut

Ukraine has made a strategic decision to hold onto Bakhmut for as long as possible, reinforcing it with elite units, as Russian forces from the Wagner mercenary group entered its northern suburbs on Sunday. Ukrainian soldiers are being attacked from three sides by Russian forces who are trying to capture Bakhmut, a city in the eastern Donetsk region that has become focal to one of the longest and bloodiest battles since the war began. In the second week of February, pictures of blown-up bridges in Bakhmut, within Ukrainian-controlled territory, started to appear online, indicating that Kyiv was preparing its retreat from the city.

The city has now mostly been reduced to rubble but it remains strategically important as it would open up a pathway to further Russian invasion to nearby towns. This particular conflict has been very draining on the Russian side, with nearly 1,200 Russian soldiers recently killed in a single day around Bakhmut, according to Mark Milley, America’s top general, and Ukraine is suffering an estimated 100-200 casualties a day. Moscow is in need of a success as they face a loss of momentum in their offensive due to a recent spike in foreign military aid being given to Ukraine. Therefore, Ukraine’s strategy to hold on to the town is seen as more of a political than practical issue – Retreating from the city now, after so many soldiers died fighting to keep it, would be a hard reality to face.

Mexican president rejects ‘irresponsible’ calls for US military action against cartels

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has rebuked calls from U.S. lawmakers advocating military action in Mexico against drug cartels, describing the proposals as threats to Mexican sovereignty. The US proposals to take a tougher line on organised crime in Mexico came after the kidnapping of four Americans – two of whom were killed – in a northern border state.

A Texas Republican, Dan Crenshaw, on Wednesday released a message on Twitter asking Lopez Obrador why he opposes a proposal the congressman introduced in January authorising US military force targeting drug cartels in Mexico. In 2019, Donald Trump made a similar proposal after gunmen murdered nine American women and children from an isolated Mormon community in Mexico, but the plan went nowhere.

Experts say such a move would have limited impact on Mexico’s fragmented rival crime factions, arguing that although cartels often use terror tactics to impose control, they cannot be conflated with militants who seek political power and so use of foreign military power would not help. Lopez has also said that Republican lawmakers are not trying to help Mexico, but instead trying to “use Mexico for their propagandist, electoral and political purposes”.

South Korean citizens forced to work in Japanese factories during World War II to be paid compensation

This week, the South Korean government has agreed to pay compensation to citizens who were victims of Japanese forced labour in the Second World War. This has long been a source of tension between the two countries, with the new agreement being widely praised by officials. It has been hailed by US president Joe Biden as a “groundbreaking” step towards greater cooperation between ‘two of the United States’ closest allies”, something the US has been calling for in order to strengthen its position in Asia against Chinese dominance.

The plan laid out states that South Korea’s private sector will fund a public foundation for victims of this past injustice. However, it has immediately become controversial legislation among the South Korean public, as many do not believe Japan is being held accountable. The South Korean government will pay the compensation, despite Japan being the country that forced approximately 150,000 Koreans to work for them from 1910-1945, as part of their colonisation of the Korean peninsula. In 2018, the Supreme Court of South Korea did rule that Japanese companies should compensate 15 victims of forced labour, but the companies declined. As such, this recent agreement can be seen as South Korea capitulating to Japan, accepting responsibility for a problem not of their making.

That said, Japan’s justification for not paying any part of the compensation is that they already paid reparations to Korea as part of a 1965 treaty. The $300 million Korea received then was meant to settle the issue of forced labour and so Japan has refused to pay anything more. Notwithstanding the disagreements about this treaty in recent years, South Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol seems to have accepted that Japan has already contributed to this compensation.

Iran continues to enrich uranium far beyond the restriction of the 2015 Nuclear Deal

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had enriched uranium particles to 83.7%, verging on becoming weapons grade. The global nuclear watchdog contacted Iran for an explanation, being told that the result could be the result of “unintended fluctuations”.

In 2015, Iran made an agreement with the US, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia, which stated that uranium enrichment should not reach more than 3.67%—at which it can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, but not weapons. In return, the six countries would lift the economic sanctions they had put in place against Iran to deter nuclear development. In 2018, however, US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and restarted economic sanctions against Iran. This was enough to force the Iranian economy into a recession and so they began openly defying the deal and enriching uranium up to 60%.

In light of the recent findings from the IAEA, the UK, France and Germany issued a joint response, in which they expressed “grave concern” and stated that they were unconvinced by Iran’s claims of “unintended fluctuations”. It seems likely that the 2015 agreement will only be upheld again by Iran if the US lifts its economic sanctions. This remains unlikely, however, as current US president Joe Biden was heard labelling the previous deal as “dead”.