Great troubles and their solutions. BNN’s summary of 2021 in global and Baltic news

Which events and processes come to your mind, when looking back at the year 2021, thinking about the Baltics, Europe and beyond? Do you remember vaccination campaigns and country rivalry, Afghanistan, migration or the climate conference? Maybe the topics of rising prices in energy and the shortage of goods and materials, or maybe it is NATO warning Russia about Ukraine? In the BNN, we see that the main international topics of the year fall into two blocs – crises and their solutions.
Political turbulence in Russia and the US
In January, Russia saw its opposition politician Alexei Navalny return home only to be detained in airport and later to be sentenced and imprisoned. The predictable detention did not keep him from making his loudest attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The video «Palace for Putin», was published on Navalny’s YouTube account and by the end of the year, has reached 120.4 million views
In the US, the year began with a nerve-racking change of presidents. Donald Trump representing the Republican Party left the office and the winner of the 2020 US presidential election, Joe Biden from the Democratic Party, became his successor. During the first year of the Biden presidency, the politician has put a lot of effort to change the foreign policy direction taken by his predecessor. The tone of bilateral and multilateral relations with traditional US allies and some of opponents has changed. Importantly, the country has returned to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Second year with Covid – from hope to Omicron
Photo: AFP/SCANPIXIn the first half of the year, the spread of Covid remained high in many countries in Europe and elsewhere, and the third wave of epidemiological restrictions remained in place. European Medicines Agency’s statements on the safety and efficiency of a number of Covid vaccines gave hope the restrictions would end. The launch of vaccination campaigns was accompanied by international rivalry for vaccine dose shipments and an intensified public interest in how people felt after the vaccination.
According to the EU European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, by the end of 2021, in EU and European Economic Area member states, 307 million people or 67.8% of the total population have been vaccinated against Covid. The death toll of the disease in the whole of Europe has meanwhile reached 1.6 million. The World Health Organisation has been relentless in saying that humanity with not win Covid and new virus mutations like the Delta variant and the Omicron variant will continue to emerge and spread globally unless a significant part of all nations of the world, primarily the risk groups, get vaccinated.
Ryanair flight, climate pledges and migration influx
Photo: REUTERS/SCANPIXIn May, the Baltic states and Europe was surprised to see a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius being diverted to Minsk and Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich – a passenger on the flight – being detained.
People protecting nature, was well as a series of natural disasters and Western politicians in 2021 have increasingly drawn public attention to the need for concrete action on two fronts: reducing global greenhouse gas pollution and protecting and restoring natural areas, which absorb the climate-damaging gases.
The EU showed determination in pursuing its political course of the green new deal, linking its strongest means of leverage, funding to member states, to real action in the area of climate protection. The EU committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. The US set a target of 50%-cut in emissions for the same period.
The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow ended with mixed emotions. Representatives of the world’s nations agreed to suspend by 2030 deforestation practices in regions important for global climate resilience, such as the Amazon and Siberia. A number of countries, including Poland, committed themselves to phasing out coal for energy production. Meanwhile, India and China failed to set ambitious goals for this decade. They announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to make the two major Asian economies climate-neutral by 2060 and 2070, respectively. According to experts, the pledges by China and India will not be sufficient to prevent global warming to over 1.5 degrees Celsius, measured from the pre-industrial, global, average temperature.
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In July and August, several thousand migrants from the Middle East and Africa sought to enter the Baltic region illegally from Belarus. In the autumn, the migration flow repeated in waves, but the largest influx of migrants was no longer to the Lithuanian or the Latvian border with Belarus, but to the border of Poland. Relations of the Baltic states and Poland with Alexander Lukashenko have deteriorated since the year 2020, when the countries refused to recognise Lukashenko as the winner of the 2020 presidential election in Belarus and condemned the violent repression of the political opposition. Without a meaningful conversation between the capitals, the Baltics and Poland accused Belarus of orchestrating this year’s migrant influx as a hybrid attack, but Minsk denied the accusations. In the end, migrants and the nerves of border guards and military personnel suffered most in the crisis.
Afghanistan – 20 years and rush of evacuation
Photo: AFP/SCANPIXThe summer that gave people a sense of normalcy after depressing periods of Covid restrictions ended with an August of major events in Afghanistan.
US President Biden had vowed to withdraw from the War in Afghanistan in 2020 after 20 years of military operations in the South Asian country. The withdrawal of US, NATO and allied forces from Afghanistan took place mostly in the spring and summer. In August, the West was taken by surprise, when the Taliban rebels quickly conquered the country, not meeting serious resistance from the Western-trained Afghan army and the democratic government in Kabul. Regardless of the country falling into the hands of the notorious military group, the US kept its promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by early September. The evacuation of military personnel and associated civilians was carried out at a massive scale. A tragedy in the process was the August 26 terrorist attack outside the Kabul airport, where 182 people got killed, including US troops.
Baltics: Elections, inflation and row between Vilnius and Beijing
Estonian President Alar Karis. Photo: EPA/SCANPIXOn August 31, the Estonian presidential election ended with Alar Karis, an academician and former Auditor General, being selected as the head of the state. The Estonian local government elections were held in October and resulted in the Centre Party losing its single-party dominance in the Tallinn local government.
In Lithuanian politics, the autumn was spent both dealing with the migration crisis and arguing with China. A representative office of Taiwan was opened in Vilnius. It angered Beijing to such an extent that it acted vigorously against the produce of Lithuanian companies’ entering China, expelled the Lithuanian ambassador and downgraded its diplomatic relations with Vilnius.
As the Baltic region faced very swift price increases for energy and other goods, Lithuania recorded the highest inflation in the whole of the euro area in November reaching 9.3%, according to Eurostat preliminary data.
Final turbulence came suddenly
Photo: Reuters/ScanpixThe end of November and the month of December in foreign news was marked by the omicron variant of the coronavirus and threats to Ukraine’s security.
Omicron – a new and highly contagious variant of the coronavirus arrived in Europe from South Africa. The Netherlands, Germany, France and other countries announced new restrictions, reducing the freedom of people to travel and gather indoors. As for regional security, the US raised its concerns that Russia had amassed near its border with Ukraine a large number of military personnel and serious amounts of military equipment. NATO foreign ministers met in Riga and Putin talked to Biden about ways to avoid a new conflict in Ukraine. Washington said it would not compromise on Russia’s geopolitical demands and that Ukraine was free to choose its friends and allies.
To end the BNN’s summary of the key international events in the year 2021, one has to say that the EU, as a bloc where the Baltic states continue to be a part of, has shown its ability to deal with the international issues and problematic processes. At times, the reaction came late. Rising prices in the region are yet to see the effects of national and EU decision making. The serious and sudden reductions in buying power is expected to increase pressure on national governments, the European Central Bank and the European Commission to do something about the economic processes in the euro area and the Baltic states.