Now is the Springtime of Our Discontent

The cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing that flower anew every spring. Around the world there are several international crises and conflicts that reliably heat up as the weather changes. Here’s a look at three important ones to keep an eye on in the coming months:


In Afghanistan, when the snows melt, the fighting gets worse. The Taliban have already begun their perennial “spring offensive” and fresh violence could doom already fragile hopes for a new political breakthrough. Earlier this year, the weak US-backed Afghan government offered a comprehensive peace to the Taliban, but the group has refused to put down its arms or talk with Kabul until US forces leave the country — which isn’t in the cards. With Islamic State affiliates also increasing attacks, the situation in Afghanistan will only deteriorate further in the coming months.

Warmer weather also means more refugee flows across the Mediterranean to Europe. While those flows have fallen since Italy and Libya reached an accord on controlling migrant smuggling in early 2017, fresh political uncertainty in Libya could make things more difficult this summer, and even a modest uptick in arrivals will ensure that refugee policy remains a hot-button issue across Europe. Nowhere is that more true than in Italy itself, which has yet to form a government after an election defined by anti-immigrant furor.

Lastly, to Nigeria, where clashes between nomadic herders and farmers in the central and southern parts of the country have left nearly 10,000 dead since 2011. Desertification of pasture lands in northern Nigeria has forced herders to stay in central zones deeper into the spring, leading to conflict with local farmers. The violence, which now rivals the war with Boko Haram in severity, is likely to affect Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election — it is concentrated in several swing states. President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking re-election, has been slow to react.

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It looks like China's leadership has finally had enough of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

In a speech on Thursday to the national people's congress, a symbolic confab of the country's ruling elite, Premier Li Keqiang announced a new national security law that would outlaw secessionist activity and criminalize foreign influence in Hong Kong. The measure, an explicit response to recent pro-democracy protests there, would also permit mainland China's security agencies to operate openly in the city.

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Indonesia becomes an epicenter: Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is now considered an epicenter of the pandemic, after it suffered its biggest daily surge in cases Thursday with over 900 new infections. The country of 260 million has the largest outbreak in Southeast Asia, recording about 20,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, though a recent study suggested that as few as 2 percent of the country's coronavirus infections may have been reported. When pressed on why Indonesia is experiencing a surge in cases while the curve appears to be flattening in neighboring countries, Indonesian health authorities blamed the public's flouting of social distancing guidelines. But critics say the government has sent wishy-washy messages on how to stop the disease's spread, as demonstrated by the fact that only four of Indonesia's 34 provinces have applied widespread social-distancing restrictions. Meanwhile, as the country's 225 million Muslims prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan this weekend, popular markets have been overwhelmed by shoppers buying food and clothing, with little guidance or enforcement of large-scale social distancing measures. Indonesia's public health system is grossly underfunded, and experts warn that given the shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and staff, the situation could deteriorate fast in the coming weeks.

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This is not the 2020 that Vladimir Putin had in mind.

As the year started, Russia's president was crafting plans for changes to the constitution that would permit him to stay in power for (at least) another 16 years. A rubber stamp public referendum was to be held in April. Then, in May, he was to welcome foreign leaders to Moscow for a grand celebration (parades, concerts, fireworks, and a reviewing stand atop Lenin's Mausoleum) marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.

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