The year of 2021 was full of worries and instabilities. The novel coronavirus new strains which appear on an annoyingly regular basis are still the number one concern.
The seizure of the Capitol in Washington at the beginning of the year triggered a large-scale domestic political crisis in the U.S. that resonated in many parts of the world during this year.
In these conditions, many old conflicts aggravated, and new players appeared in the geopolitical arena. Following is our review of the main politico-military events of 2021.
U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
The U.S. military completed the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in the fall of 2021. The withdrawal was not triumphant. Images of the chaotic escape and people falling from airplanes spread around the world.
Frank Mackenzie, Commander of U.S. Central Command, commented on the incident very neutrally.
“I’m here to announce the completion of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the end of the military mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans,” Mackenzie said.
The withdrawal looked like an escape. Fierce criticism fell on the Biden administration, even within the United States. Apparently, Washington had not expected Ashraf Ghani's troops to flee before the last American left Kabul. The U.S. operation, which killed 2,461 soldiers and wounded more than 20,000, ended in an ignominious escape and overall expenditure of more than $2 trillion.
The invasion of Ukraine that never happened
Ukraine has been alleging an imminent Russian attack for 8 years. The year 2021 was no exception. Political and military “pro-Ukrainians” repeatedly reported on the upcoming Russian-backed offensive by the Lugansk People's Republic, but the predictions remained predictions.
The first use of the Bayraktar TB 2 UAV in the Donetsk steppes did not lead to the elimination of Ukrainian statehood, nor did the abductions of LPR militiamen. Russian citizen Andrey Kosyak, an employee of the Joint Centre of Control and Coordination (JCCC), has been in captivity for 77 days.
On December 27, a Ukrainian special operations team kidnapped another LPR serviceman. Signs of struggle and bloodstains were detected at the place of captivity of LPR People's Militia Senior Lieutenant Filiponenko.
According to an LPR militia report, “physical and moral pressure is applied to the kidnapped serviceman, and prohibited medications are used to force him to give false testimony and create evidence to justify the criminal actions of Ukrainian fighters.”
Despite all the provocations, including those threatening the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, the “attack” announced by the Ukrainian establishment never happened.
Ethiopia VS Tigray
The conflict that broke out in the fall of 2020 lasted throughout 2021. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Army successfully advanced toward the Ethiopian capital as government forces surrendered en masse.
According to UN Secretary-General António Gutteres, a high-intensity battlefield displaced more than two million people and put hundreds of thousands on the brink of starvation.
To stabilize the situation, the government used fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles. By the end of 2021, the insurgents controlled Tigray province and several neighboring settlements. Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali said that the first phase of the military operation was over, though he did not clarify when the second and subsequent phases would be. At the moment, everything points to the fact that the conflict will continue in 2022.
The failure of the antiterrorist operation in the Sahel
Another high-profile retreat in 2021 was France's flight from Mali. The European state's armed forces are leaving military bases in the country after eight years of presence as part of Operation Barkhan.
According to a statement from the French Ministry of Defense, “following the settlements of Kidal and Tesalit, the territory occupied by Operation Barkhan forces in Timbuktu was transferred to the Malian armed forces on December 14. As in Kidal and Tesalit, this transition was done gradually and in coordination with the Malian army which has a reinforced garrison in Timbuktu, and with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which has deployed about 2,200 soldiers there,” says the communiqué.
Operation Barkhan, which began in 2014, not only failed to reduce the number of terrorists in the region but also did not prevent local al-Qaida* and IS (both terrorist organizations banned in Russia) from growing significantly. In search of a livelihood, impoverished Malians would join any force, often the terrorists, because of the weakness of the local authorities. The problem is that African politicians are not autonomous. Any action that differs from the vision of Paris is followed by a strengthening of terrorists or protests.
The status quo does not suit everyone and Africans are turning to the Russians in search of a new pole of power, looking back to the Central African Republic (CAR.) On November 11, the head of the Malian Foreign Ministry, Abdoulaye Diop, asked Russia for help.
Wagner Group in Africa
CAR President Faustin Arkange Touadera who was rescued by Russian instructors is one of the strongest politicians in Africa. He resisted the difficulties and held on to the presidency at a time of crisis. Now he is returning his country to peaceful life and many African politicians followed his example.
Several states wanted to hire the Wagner Group in 2021, but it is unclear whose offer it accepted. Despite the lack of official information we have numerous statements by European and American politicians and journalists concerned about the sudden independence of Africans in the choice of partners and allies.
For example, French Defense Minister Florence Parly urged Mali not to sign agreements with the Wagner Group. According to Bloomberg, Russian instructors are operating in Sudan, Madagascar, Angola, CAR, Zimbabwe, Libya, the Two Guinea, and even the DRC. As usual, the sources are not disclosed, and no evidence is presented either.
However, as a rule, evidence is not needed. Any Russian, especially with weapons, is considered a fighter of Wagner Group a priori, even if he is an active serviceman or an employee of another private company, not necessarily a military one. Effective performance causes popularity.
While Zimbabwe and Mozambique have AK-47, the brainchild of Mikhail Kalashnikov, on their official heraldry, the Wagner Group symbolic is finding its way into unofficial heraldry: an entire detachment of the CAR sported a variety of Wagner Group patch during the parade on Independence Day of the CAR.
What will the new year 2022 bring?
Russia will face many challenges in the coming year as will other countries. While Islamist terrorist groups are like new COVID-19 strains and threaten all of humanity, regional challenges are different for all countries. So, in the new year, we should most likely expect both new conflicts and the resurgence of old ones. Chances are there will be new crises.
* The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation recognized Al-Qaeda as an extremist organization banned in the territory of Russia on 13.11.2008; ruling No. 08-1956, entered into force on 27.11.2008