The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 52

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, February 19th, 2024

Good morning everyone,

Let’s jump right in today.

In Europe, European farmers have agreed to discussions with EU authorities after weeks of protests, a Russian opposition presidential candidate is given bad news, and a key Ukrainian town falls to Russia after heavy fighting.

Over in the Middle East, Israeli strikes in Lebanon kill several civilians, a report blames Israel for gas line explosions in Iran, and the UAE places restrictions on the US military within its borders.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Senegal’s government is forced to hold elections sooner rather than later, two South African soldiers are killed in the DRC, and Haiti announces developments regarding Kenya’s deployment to the nation.

In the Americas, Colombian troops move against a narco-terrorist group, thousands protest against the President in Mexico, and Venezuela exiles UN Human Rights workers there.

In Asia and Oceania, Australia votes to help Julian Assange, the Philippines claims Chinese artificial islands, and Japan wants to meet with North Korea.

All in all, it’s just another day at the office. Let's dive in:

- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, Trent Barr, & the Atlas team

Alexei Navalny Dead in Confinement

(Photo - AP)

February 16th, 2024: (1 Minute Read) Russia’s prison service has announced that Alexei Navalny, a key opposition figure in Russian politics and an anti-Putin activist, has died in prison.

Navalny was serving an initial 19-year sentence in an Arctic penal colony for charges related to extremism. The Russian government has previously been reluctant to provide much information on his whereabouts and condition, often moving him around and refusing his contact with the outside world.

Russia has stated they have no information on Navalny’s cause of death, and thus, the exact circumstances of his death remain presently unclear. However, they did state that he “felt unwell after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness” and was unable to be resuscitated. Navalny’s mother said that she had seen him on Monday and that he was “alive, healthy, and cheerful".”

In 2020, Navalny survived an assassination attempt that used Novichok nerve agents, which western governments blamed on the FSB. After recovering in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested and sentenced to a combined 30 years in prison for fraud and extremism. He and his supporters maintain that the charges were false and politically motivated.

Alexei Navalny was 47 years old and had been one of the most prominent voices in Russia speaking against Putin.


February 17th, 2024 - The European Union has rescinded a controversial climate change policy targeting farming following weeks of protests against the proposed policy. The bill sought to cut down the output of nitrogen as well as limit the use of chemical pesticides by 2030, a bill that will now be dropped as discussions between EU authorities and farmers are underway. However, the proposed bill may have had more far-reaching consequences, as right-wing parties across Europe have rallied behind the farmers, seeing a surge in popularity afterwards. Meanwhile, parties that have thrown in their support have seen a massive decline in the polls, possibly hinting at a change in Europe’s political landscape soon. Most notable is the rise in popularity of the German right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has seen a massive surge in popularity in recent years, rising from a mere 10% in 2021 to just over 20%, passing the mainstream Social Democratic Party by 2024.

Alice Weidel, AfD’s co-chairwoman alongside AfD leader Alexander Gauland. (Photo - DW)

February 15th, 2024 - Russia’s Supreme Court denied opposition runner and anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin’s appeal to be brought back onto the ballot on Thursday. Nadezhdin submitted two challenges to the Supreme Court regarding the Electoral Commission’s disqualification due to the candidate including the names of dead people in the list of supporters' signatures he had presented in support of his presidential run. Despite Nadezhdin stating that his campaign has a “zero chance” of running against Putin, the ex-candidate has vowed to continue fighting to run for office. Nadezhdin was one of the few candidates to oppose Russia’s war in Ukraine and one of the few that analysts believed stood a chance of running against Putin. However, despite his disqualification, Nadezhdin lauded his running as a win for Russia, with the support he received showing how many others are against the Russo-Ukrainian war.

February 17th, 2024 - After 10 years, the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka fell to Russian troops when its Ukrainian defenders withdrew in order to prevent their complete encirclement. The capture and withdrawal come after several weeks of equipment and ammunition shortages reported by Ukrainian soldiers in the town. Both sides have reported distinctly high casualties in the long battle for the town; however, Russia’s extremely aggressive and frequent attacks, similar to those seen in the battle for Bakhmut, have led to theirs being notedly higher, according to experts. Avdiivka has been fought over since the breakout of the Donbas war in 2014.

Middle East

February 14th, 2024 - Israeli strikes in southern Lebanon have left 10 civilians dead. One of the strikes collapsed part of a building, killing seven members of the same family, including a child. In a separate strike, a woman and her two children were killed. Hezbollah vowed a response to the attack, with senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Nabil Kaouk stating that Hezbollah was “prepared for the possibility of expanding the war” and vowing to counter “escalation with escalation, displacement with displacement, and destruction with destruction." Since the beginning of the Israel-Gaza war on October 7th, more than 75 civilians have been killed by Israeli strikes in Lebanon, with an additional 250 injured.

A photo of the partially collapsed building in the Lebanese city of Nabatieh. The collapse led to the deaths of seven civilians (Photo - EPA).

February 16th, 2024 - According to the New York Times, which cited two western officials and an IRGC source, Israeli operatives were behind the sabotage of Iranian gas lines earlier in the week. Iran’s oil minister, Javad Owji, said that the explosions that disrupted the lines were part of “the enemy's plan… to disrupt the flow of gas in winter to several main cities and provinces in our country." Publicly, Iran referred to the attack as a “terrorist attack” but did not outright blame Israel. Israeli officials have not commented on the gas line explosions.

February 16th, 2024 - Several Arab nations have enacted a series of restrictions upon which operations the US can carry out from their territory, following soaring tensions between the US and Iran in recent weeks. In the UAE, the US is now unable to use its territory to launch strikes against Iran, Syria, Iraq, and the Red Sea region. These restrictions come as many of these states are seeking a more neutral stance in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East while also aiming to shield themselves from any potential retaliatory actions from Iran. The UAE has faced backlash from several nations for allowing the US to conduct strikes from bases within the country.


February 16th, 2024 - Senegalese President Macky Sall has vowed to hold presidential elections “as soon as possible” after the nation's Constitutional Court ruled a government bill delaying the election by 10 months as unconstitutional. Originally, the election was to be held on February 25th, but was delayed until December 15th. The government voted to delay the election pending a parliamentary inquiry into the independence of two of the Constitutional Court's judges after two key opposition leaders were not included in the list of 20 candidates for the election. However, critics have accused President Sall and the ruling party of attempting to hold on to power, as they fear losing the election. No date has been set for the election, after it was deemed returning to the February 25th timeline would be “impossible”.

A photo of Senegalese President Macky Sall (Photo - Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg).

February 14th, 2024 - The South Africa National Defence Force reported the deaths of two of their soldiers and the injuries of three more in a mortar attack upon one of their military bases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The soldiers were deployed as a part of the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) intervention force in the DRC. Their statement notably did not say who was responsible for the attack; however, it did state that the injured soldiers were evacuated to a hospital in Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, to receive treatment. The DRC's M23 rebels have recently been operating approximately 25 kilometers from Goma and are a potential culprit for the attack. The two deaths mark the very first publicly announced fatalities of the SADC's deployment since they began military operations in the DRC last month, on January 16th.

February 15th, 2024 - The Haitian government has announced that high-ranking officials from both Kenya and Haiti have met across three days in the US in order to discuss what they both hope is Kenya's imminent deployment as the head of an intervention force to Haiti. The officials are meeting in order to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding between the two nations and in order to set a deadline for the Kenyan deployment. Haiti said that the "intense discussions" being held were in an attempt to satisfy the legal needs of both Kenya and Haiti, particularly after Nairobi's High Court declared the deployment as unconstitutional. Haiti's government stated that "a final decision on the text should come early next week as well as its signature by both parties,"  raising hopes that the deployment will finally be realized soon. The deployment would see Kenya deploy 1,000 police officers as the head of a UN force to Haiti in order to fight against the myriad of gangs within the nation.

The Americas

February 18th, 2024 - Over 200 Colombian soldiers will be deployed to the nation’s northern departments of Bolívar and Antioquia following the killing of five soldiers in a government raid on Clan del Golfo, a narco-paramilitary organization active in the region. The soldiers were killed sometime between Friday and Saturday by the Jorge Arboleda sub-structure of Clan del Golfo, specifically the leaders Luis Daniel “Chuzo” Terán Baldovino and Carlos Alberto “Azulejo” Segura Ramírez. Clan del Golfo is known to run a multitude of criminal operations, which include illegal mining, kidnapping, and ransoming, as well as drug trafficking, with the group controlling key smuggling routes through the Caribbean to the US. This follows an announcement by the Colombian government earlier this month regarding the revival of Operation Agamemnon, an operation intended to take down key leaders of Clan del Golfo, which led to the arrest of Antonio Usuga “Otoniel” David, an internationally wanted criminal with multiple INTERPOL red and blue notices.

Members of Clan del Golfo marching through the Colombian wilderness. (Photo - Colombia Reports)

February 18th, 2024 - Tens of thousands of protestors convened in cities across Mexico on Sunday to protest President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador following controversial policies he has pushed to enact during his presidency. Organizers claim that nearly 70,000 protestors marched in Mexico City, a claim that has not been verified by independent sources and is contested by Mexico City’s government, which claims that only 90,000 marched in the city. Among the policies Obrador has suggested are broad constitutional reforms, which critics claim are an attempt to sway voting power in his party’s favor. These include seeking to cut the number of politicians in Congress as well as severely limiting organizations in place to ensure the President is held accountable. These suggested reforms come ahead of the nation’s presidential elections in June, with some analysts believing that it is all a ploy to garner support for his successor, Claudia Sheinbaum.

February 15th, 2024 - The Venezuelan government demanded that UN human rights staff leave the country within 72 hours on Thursday, suspending the organization’s operation within the country. The decision follows both the US and the UN voicing concerns regarding the detention of human rights activist Rocio San Miguel, who was detained on Sunday for allegedly plotting to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro. The government further stated that they plan to review the future of the UN within the country over a period of 30 days. Additionally, this comes after a recent visit by the UN's special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, who deemed the government’s food program failed to address the causes of hunger while also being susceptible to political abuse. UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani voiced her disappointment in the government’s actions before reiterating that the UN’s “guiding principle has been and remains the promotion and protection of the human rights of the people of Venezuela.”

Asia and Oceania

February 18th, 2024 - Members of Australia’s Parliament voted to pass a motion calling for the repatriation of controversial journalist and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who is an Australian Citizen. In two days time, London judges are to decide whether Assange has the right to appeal his extradition to the United States, which was previously denied by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel in 2022. Assange is wanted by the United States on one count of computer misuse and 17 counts of breaching the 1917 Espionage Act. The motion was passed 86 for and 42 against, by Andrew Wilkie, an independent lawmaker, who stated “if Mr Assange is extradited to the US, it would be a direct attack on media freedom, as it would set a frightening precedent for all journalists that they too are at risk of being locked up, just for doing their job.” 

Julian Assange speaking in 2009. (Photo - New Media Days / Peter Erichsen / Creative Commons)

February 19th, 2024 - A paragraph inserted in Philippine Senate Bill 2492 under Committee Report No. 172 grants ownership to all artificial islands constructed within the Philippines’ Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) in a hearing on February 13th. The Exclusive Economic Zone refers to waters around 200 nautical miles (229 miles) from their shores. Specifically, the amendment says, “All artificial islands constructed within the Philippine EEZ shall belong to the Philippine government.” Senator Francis Tolentino proposed this addition to the bill, and no senators made any objections to the paragraph. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri responded with a “very good amendment” and declared it passed due to no opposition. The senate bill will clarify the extent of a country’s maritime boundaries and what legal powers the Philippines can wield within them.

Feburary 14th, 2024 - The Japanese Prime Minister (PM), Fumio Kishida, said that he wants to hold a summit with North Korea due to “signals” his government has received since the beginning of this year. Kishida said the potential summit will be based around negotiating the release of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea between 20 and 30 years ago. During an appearance before the Diet, the Japanese Parliament, last week, Kishida said it was crucial for him to reach out to increase “top-level ties” with North Korea. He also mentioned that the country should not waste any more time increasing these ties. Kishida’s government began efforts to reach out to North Korea after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a condolence letter after the Noto earthquake last month. The government is using various backchannels, including China, to discuss the possibility of holding the summit and has said that they will give no concessions. However, various officials following the backdoor discussions said that the major issue is that Kim does not want to discuss the abductee issue.

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