November saw further military escalation and setbacks in Syria, particularly after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane it claimed had violated its airspace. Meanwhile, several countries faced extremist attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS), including in Lebanon, France and Bangladesh. Violence also rose in Turkey between the state and Kurdish insurgents. In Venezuela, political tensions and violence increased ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 6 December and could worsen, while both Nepal and Kosovo faced deepening political crises. In a positive step forward, Burkina Faso and Myanmar experienced peaceful and openly-contested elections last month.
Despite another round of diplomatic efforts to find a resolution to the Syrian conflict during talks in Vienna on 11-14 November, the shooting down by Turkey of a Russian military plane on 24 November, which it alleged had illegally entered its airspace and ignored warnings, was a further sign of how internationalised the Syrian war has become, and how dangerous it can still get. Throughout the month, Russia continued its military escalation, deploying jets and launching cruise missiles simultaneously against rebels on multiple fronts. Crisis Group has long argued that all regional and international parties to the conflict must come together on a compromise solution to calm the Syrian war, not add fuel to its flames.
Turkey’s downing of the Russian jet triggered a diplomatic standoff between the two countries, with Russia announcing a series of sanctions against Turkey on 29 November. Meanwhile, within Turkey, violence between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish security forces increased following the 1 November snap general elections, with some 24 civilians, seventeen security forces members and nineteen PKK insurgents reported killed in clashes. On 4 November, President Erdoğan underscored the government’s decision to shun negotiations with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and opt for continued military operations against the Kurdish group.
Elsewhere, IS or its backers managed to strike violent attacks in Lebanon, France and Tunisia. In Lebanon, at least 40 people were killed and over 200 injured in a double suicide bomb attack on 12 November in the predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Bourj al-Barajneh in Beirut’s southern suburb. IS claimed responsibility, triggering renewed fears about the ability and intent of jihadi groups to expand operations in Lebanon, and for many observers highlighting the limitations of the government’s “security plan”.
In France, 130 people were killed and hundreds injured in Paris following coordinated terrorist attacks on 13 November claimed by IS. French President Hollande declared France was at war with IS, and launched several airstrikes on IS strongholds in Syria and Iraq. On 17 November, Russian President Putin ordered the Russian army to coordinate with the French military as “allies” on a joint action plan. On 20 November, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling on countries around world to take “all necessary measures” to fight IS. Crisis Group’s President and CEO has warned that while military action “needs to be taken”, the goal must also be to encourage Arab countries “to stop the polarisation and the wars that are critical to the violent Islamists’ success” and, where appropriate, to “convince outside powers like Iran and Saudi Arabia to support more inclusive regimes”.
Bangladesh also faced violent extremist attacks amid a continued deterioration in law and order. The government continued its crackdown on dissenting views, and executed two prominent opposition figures convicted by the controversial International Crimes Tribunal of committing war crimes during the 1971 war of independence.
Political tensions also rose in Venezuela, Nepal, and Kosovo. As Venezuelans prepare to vote in parliamentary elections on 6 December, the country remains deeply polarised with very little space afforded to the opposition to campaign. On 25 November, local opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance political leader Luis Manuel Díaz was killed during a campaign event, one of several campaign incidents involving firearms and activists allegedly from President Maduro’s ruling party. Crisis Group has warned that the Maduro government is creating conditions in which violence can easily recur, and has called upon the international community, particularly Venezuela’s neighbours, to insist on adherence to widely recognised electoral standards.
In Nepal, Madhesi groups continued their protests over provisions in the new constitution, while the blockade on the border with India continued. On 22 November, four protestors were killed by police, bringing the total of protest-related deaths since August to 49. Talks on 18 November between the government and the coalition of Madhes-based parties ended inconclusively. Meanwhile, opposition parties in Kosovo continued to block the work of parliament in protest against the August EU-backed agreement with Serbia on Serb-majority municipalities.
In contrast, and in a positive step forward, Burkina Faso’s presidential and legislative elections were held peacefully on 29 November, and Myanmar held its first openly-contested general election in 25 years on 8 November. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy secured majorities in both upper and lower houses. The election was widely regarded as credible, although hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingyas and a similar number of ethnic minority voters in conflict-affected areas were excluded from the polls.
Improved Situations: Burkina Faso, Myanmar
Conflict Risk Alert: Venezuela Read the full report here