The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 58

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, April 1st, 2024

Good morning everyone,

Hope you had a great holiday! Let’s jump right in today.

In Europe, NATO establishes a military base in Finland, the UNHRC condemns the UK’s migration plan, and Austrian authorities arrest a former intelligence officer.

Over in the Middle East, the ICJ instates more provisional measures against Israel, Japan reinstates funding to the UNRWA, and Turkish opposition parties secure a historic win in municipal elections.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Senegal’s opposition officially wins the election, Kenya begins handing over to families the bodies of the victims of a religious cult, and IGAD names a special envoy to Sudan as the Sudan war approaches the one year mark.

In the Americas, the Colombian government is allegedly planning to resume peace talks with the FARC, Venezuela’s opposition alliance announces a hurdle for the upcoming presidential election, and the Argentine government responds to the Venezuelan government cutting power to the Argentine embassy.

In Asia and Oceania, the Indian Navy continues it’s successful anti-pirate rescues, Filipino action groups appeal to the UN against China, and Thailand seeks closer military relations to South Korea.

It’s just another day at the office. Let's dive in:

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

Crocus City Hall Attack: More Information Unveiled

The burnt remains of the Crocus City Hall concert hall in Moscow, Russia. (Photo - N. Kolesnikova / AFP)

March 28th, 2024: (2 Minute Read) Russian authorities have detained a new suspect for allegedly financing the attack on the Crocus City Hall in Moscow, where 143 people were killed and more than 360 injured on March 22, marking this event as the deadliest attack in Russia in the last two decades. Among the victims, the Investigative Committee reported that 84 have already been identified, including 5 children aged between 9 to 16.

Following President Vladimir Putin’s allegations, investigations have focused on a possible Ukrainian link to the attack, initially claimed by ISIS. Russian officials assert they have discovered financial transactions and cryptocurrency transfers from Ukraine that were used to prepare the attack.

The head of the Russian intelligence service FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, has assured that the attack has been facilitated by Ukrainian and Western secret services.

Ukraine denies these accusations, stating they are efforts by Moscow to shift blame. The US, for its part, has dismissed these accusations as ‘nonsense and propaganda’.

The attackers, Muhammadsobir Fayzov, Shamsiddin Fariduni, Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, Dalerdzhan Mirzoev, have been identified as citizens of Tajikistan and are aged from 19 to 32 years old. Another suspect has been arrested in relation to the financing of the attack, as reported by the Investigative Committee of Russia on their Telegram channel.

Charges against those arrested include committing a terrorist act that resulted in death, which could lead to a life imprisonment sentence. Mirzoyev, Rachabalizoda, and Fariduni have already admitted guilt after being charged. Fayzov, on his part, was brought to trial in a wheelchair and remained seated throughout the session, appearing weak and requiring medical attention in court.

Limited information has been provided regarding the apprehended suspects, making it challenging to confirm any potential involvement from Ukrainian facilitators. ISIS claim of the attack however renders such a scenario highly unlikely.

Moreover, with official investigations now asserting the existence of a link with Ukraine, it is expected that the conflict in the Donbass region could intensify.


March 29th, 2024 - The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has issued a review of the UK in which it urges the nation to abandon its plan to deport illegal migrants and illegal asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. The UNHRC said they "regretted" the UK's plan as well as the UK's "efforts to adopt the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill despite the UK Supreme Court's ruling that the arrangement would not be compliant with international law." The UNHRC further called on the UK to withdraw the Safety of Rwanda Bill or repeal it in the event of its passage. The calls of the UNHRC come just over a week after the UK government's legislation meant to bring about the plan faced yet more setbacks when the House of Lords voted to instate several amendments, thus sending the Safety of Rwanda bill back to the House of Commons.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Rwandan President Paul Kagame meeting in London in May, 2023 (Photo from Urugwiro Village).

March 22nd, 2024 - Finland officially allowed NATO to establish a military base in the Scandinavian country on Friday. The agreement follows concerns from a variety of European powers, which have previously stayed neutral amid tensions between the West, the USSR, and its successor, the Russian Federation, regarding the possibility of Russian expansion into regions of Europe since the beginning of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict. The agreement, known as the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, alongside another agreement known as the Paris accord, permits NATO forces to officially deploy to Finland as well as create a multinational base of operations within the country. Finland has now joined their western neighbor, Sweden, in the transnational military organization after grueling two years of negotiations between members of NATO and the applicant’s governments, which previously resulted in the extradition of a number of former members of the Kurdish armed group known as the People's Defense Units (YPG) to Turkey in order for Sweden to be accepted into the organization.

March 29th, 2024 - Austrian authorities arrested a key former intelligence officer alongside another suspect following a raid at 12:00 local time on Friday. The former officer, Egisto Ott, had previously been arrested in 2021 in connection with the escape of Jan Marsalek to Russia in 2020. Marsalekto, the former COO of Wirecard, a payment processing company, had been working for Russia’s intelligence services since at least 2010 and was only caught by authorities after confessing that the company had been artificially inflating its value, with over two billion euros that had supposedly been held by the company being absent. Ott and another member of Austrian Intelligence, former department head Weiss, have been accused of selling information to Marsalekto, which would culminate in the dissolution of the Austrian Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism, of which both were members.

Middle East

March 28th, 2024 - Japan has announced that they are going to be reinstating funding to UNRWA, the UN organization that handles UN operations for Palestinians, including within Gaza. Japan joins a growing list of nations and groups that have reinstated funding for the UNRWA, with Canada, Sweden, the EU, and Finland also having recently reinstated funding. The Japanese announcement comes after Japan's Foreign Minister, Yoko Kamikawa, met with UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini in Tokyo in order to discuss the matter, as well as how UNRWA could be more transparent, particularly in regards to funding. Prior to Japan cutting funding to the UNRWA, they were their sixth largest donor, with the US, Germany, and the EU being their largest donors. Japan, along with more than a dozen different international entities, cut funding to the UNRWA after Israel made accusations that 12 UNRWA staff members were involved in Hamas' initial attack on October 7th. They later expanded the allegations, further claiming that over 450 UNRWA employees are involved with or co-operating with, in some capacity, Hamas and other Gazan militant groups. Israel has since further expanded its allegations, on March 30th, claiming that “more than 2,000 UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations.”

Japan's Foreign Minister, Yoko Kamikawa, pictured with the chief of the UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, in Tokyo (Photo from AFP).

March 28th, 2024 - The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has instituted further provisional measures against Israel, fulfilling a request from South Africa earlier in March for the court to do so. The additional measures are largely aimed at ordering Israel to expand aid entry into Gaza after repeated accusations that they are obstructing the entry of aid. The court has ordered Israel to take "all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in full cooperation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance." The further measures were instituted amidst increased reports of a famine within Gaza, a famine that the ICJ stated “is setting in.” Hunger issues are worst in the north of Gaza, where the UNRWA (the primary humanitarian organization in Gaza) has halted operations since February due to the untenable security situation as well as a lack of supplies. Hunger issues do also remain prevalent in the south, where a lack of supplies remains a common issue.

March 31st, 2024 - Turkish opposition parties saw massive successes in municipal elections held in the nation—success not seen since 1977. The election saw the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), secure 35 provinces throughout the country, compared to the ruling party's 24 provinces. Ankara, the Turkish capital, along with Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous metropolis, are both set to go to the CHP. As of 00:30 local time on April 1st, the CHP had won 37.22% of the vote compared to the AKP’s 35.91%, with 86% of ballots counted at the time. The CHP primarily saw success in the eastern portion of the country. The opposition’s victory represents a large loss for Erdogan’s AKP and also represents a larger shift in Turkish politics following the federal election that was hotly contested between the CHP and the AKP.


March 29th, 2024 - Senegal's Constitutional Council has affirmed the election results, which declare opposition leader Bassirou Diomaye Faye as the winner of the election with 54.28% of the vote, officially securing him a first-round victory. In second place is Prime Minister Amadou Ba, the ruling party's candidate, who secured 35.47% of the vote. PM Ba conceded on March 25th, the day after the election, after results showed Bassirou securing a majority. When Bassirou’s inauguration takes place on April 2nd, he will become the youngest elected president in Africa at 44 years old. He ran on a campaign to fight corruption within Senegal as well as tackle youth unemployment within the nation, a large issue where more than half of the country is aged 25 or younger. The opposition’s victory represents a big shift in Senegal, and potentially West Africa along with it.

Senegalese President-Elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye giving his first speech after being declared the winner of Senegal's March 24th Presidential election (Photo from John Wessels/AFP).

March 27th, 2024 - Kenyan authorities have begun handing over the first bodies of 429 victims of a Kenyan starvation cult, the Good News International Church, to family members following a several-month-long DNA identification process. The Good News International Church was a religious cult headed by self-declared pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, in which he convinced many of his followers to starve themselves to death, after convincing them they would meet Christ in heaven if they did so. Kenyan authorities arrested him in April 2023 after discovering mass graves on his property in the Shakahola forest. In total, following months-long excavations, 429 bodies have been found. While most of those found died of starvation, a number were found to have died of strangulation, suffocation, and beatings. A number of children were found among those exhumed from the forest. The trial for Mackenzie and his associates is to begin on April 23rd. He has been in detention since the initial discovery of graves in April of 2023.

March 27th, 2024 - The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an east African trade bloc, has named a special envoy to Sudan as part of the bloc's bid to seek an end to the war in Sudan, which is rapidly approaching the one-year mark. Lawrence Korbandy, a South Sudanese lawyer, has been named as the envoy and is reportedly tasked with putting "an end to the multi-tiered nature of the crisis, that is, humanitarian, security, economy, social, political; engulfing the Sudan." IGAD, of which Sudan is a member, has made a number of attempts to hold dialogue aimed at ending the war. However, previous and future attempts are complicated by the fact that Sudan's military government announced they were suspending cooperation with IGAD in January after accusing them of bias. The accusation came after IGAD had invited representatives of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, with whom the Sudanese military government has been at war since April 2023, to meetings it was trying to hold on the war in Sudan. Sudan's foreign ministry announced the suspension on January 16th, accusing them of "violating Sudan's sovereignty." IGAD is reportedly one of the international entities the US hopes to include in peace talks; it is hoping to restart after the end of Ramadan.

The Americas

March 29th, 2024 - Reports emerged on Friday that the Colombian government would restart peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s dissident Estado Mayor Central (FARC-EMC) faction following the suspension of an earlier ceasefire two weeks ago. The news agency that broke the story, Semana, a Colombian news outlet often considered one of the most influential in all of the Americas, claimed the move to reinitiate peace talks comes from government sources "close to this process." These sources claim that the peace talks would begin sometime in April, with meetings continuing in each department that the ceasefire was suspended in while they are expected to conclude by mid to late May. The alleged plan to reinitiate peace talks with the FARC comes as a surprise for many, with the relative shortness of the revived conflict leaving some wondering if this is the proper response to the armed group. However, some speculate that the talks were cleverly planned, noting that after the successful operations carried out by the Colombian military, President Petro and the Colombian government will be in a much stronger position for bargaining than previously seen.

Members of the FARC who were arrested in a recent military operation. (Photo - Fifth Division of the National Army/X)

March 26th, 2024 - The Argentine government denounced the cutting of power to the nation's embassy in Venezuela on Tuesday, stating that the cutting of power in connection with shielding political opponents was a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Power was suddenly cut in the embassy on Monday after the embassy accepted six members of the political opposition who have been issued arrest warrants. The six are members of Venezuela's leading opposition party, Vente Venezuela, with those seeking safety in the embassy being close allies to Maria Machado, the country's leading opposition candidate prior to her disqualification in February. "After issuing an arrest warrant, a siege began on the Argentine embassy in Caracas," said Omar González Moreno, a former deputy and one of the regional coordinators of the party's electoral command. "They have cut off our electricity. Refrigerators, water, and basic services." The five others consist of Magalli Meda, the campaign manager for Machado; Pedro Urruchurtu, the international coordinator of Vente Venezuela; Humberto Villalobos, an electoral expert; Claudia Macero, who is in charge of the party's communications; and a sixth unnamed person who requested anonymity due to security concerns.

March 25th, 2024 - Venezuela’s main opposition alliance announced that the group had failed to register the replacement candidate for Maria Machado due to what they claim is the fault of the government on Monday. The coalition stated they nominated a temporary candidate, Edmundo González Urrutia, a former diplomat, with the hopes of registering another candidate at a later date. The coalition further claimed that they were prevented from registering the previous night and were unable to visit the CNE’s office due to demonstrations organized by the current ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The announcement was issued in a press conference where both Machado and her replacement, Corina Yoris, spoke against the government’s choice to block Yoris from registering. Yoris claimed that the National Electoral Council (CNE) instituted the ban before stating that “If they [the CNE] deny my right to register, they are denying it to the entire country.” This follows a number of arrests by President Nicolas Maduro’s government to crack down on Venezuela’s leading opposition party, Vente Venezuela. Previously, authorities have arrested over 30 activists and political leaders, including key members of Vente Venezuela, in what they claim to be a “dangerous plot” against President Maduro.

Asia and Oceania

March 31st, 2024 - The Indian Navy successfully extracted a crew of twenty-three from an Iranian vessel named “Al Kambar” hijacked by nine armed pirates through “intensive coercive tactical measures,” which took around twelve hours. The Indian Navy inspected and cleared the entire vessel, deeming it fit for normal fishing duties. The operation took place Friday evening, which prompted the Indian Navy to dispatch personnel and vessels, led by INS Sumedha and aided by INS Trishul. Al Kambar was 90 nm southwest of Socotra when reports came in of suspected hijacking. India has recently taken part in many anti-piracy operations to promote maritime safety, particularly in the Indian Ocean region.

The Al Kambar vessel being stopped by the Indian Navy. (Photo - Indian Navy)

March 30th, 2024 - A Philippine political group called 1Sambayan said China should bring its Spratlys territorial claims to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). 1Sambayan claimed a ruling by a Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 stated the Ayungin Shoal falls within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). “Ayungin Shoal is submerged at high tide, outside the territorial sea of any high-tide feature, and thus forms part of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines,” 1Sambayan stated, defending the claim of the shoal belongs to the Philippines. They also denounced the harassment of Philippine vessels resupplying the BRP Sierra Madre by the Chinese Coast Guard on March 23rd, as well as increased aggression by China in the West Philippine Sea.

March 30th, 2024 - Thai Defense Minister Sutin Klungsang deliberated with the arms industry South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik, during an official visit to South Korea. Klungsang reportedly expressed interest in working with South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Admiration, stating: “The Defense Ministry is particularly interested in cooperating with the DAPA, and we expect mutual benefit for both countries in promoting the defense industry.” DAPA is a major part of the South Korean Ministry of Defense, which oversees the production of defense contracts. Shin briefed Sutin on the weapons systems of South Korea and expressed his hope that South Korean defense companies would take an interest in Thailand’s military. Sutin claimed his visit was aimed at exploring major defense companies and expanding opportunities.

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