THIS weekend saw the passing of the one-year mark since the Russian invasion and its war in Ukraine.

Even over the past few days, there has been no shortage of headlines reminding us of the high stakes in this war and its potential to reshape the wider geopolitical landscape.

One such example recently has been the dramatically increasing strain on relations between Russia and ­Moldova after the Moldovan president Maia ­Sandu (below) blamed Moscow for plotting to ­overthrow her country’s government by force to derail its aspirations of joining the ­European Union.

The National:

According to Sandu, Russia aimed to violently overthrow the country’s ­pro-European leadership with the help of saboteurs disguised as anti-government protesters.

Under the guise of “protests by the ­so-called opposition”, the saboteurs would aim to “overthrow the ­constitutional ­order and replace the legitimate power of Chisinau with an illegitimate one”, Sandu said at a press conference.

The move Sandu added was “one that would put our country at Russia’s ­disposal to stop the European integration process, but also so that Moldova can be used by Russia in its war against Ukraine”.

Her statement came after ­Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy ­recently told a European Union summit that Kyiv had “intercepted the plan for the ­destruction of Moldova by Russian intelligence”.

While the Kremlin has denied the claim, that didn’t stop it from issuing a statement last Thursday making a claim of its own in which it accused Ukraine of preparing to take over a Moldovan breakaway region that is home to one of the largest ammunition depots within the former Soviet Union.

It’s estimated that some 22,000 tonnes of ammunition are stocked there at a time when both Kyiv and Moscow are struggling to replenish their own dwindling stocks.

Moscow’s statement referred to ­Transnistria, a long, thin stretch of land between the Dniester River and ­Moldova’s border with Ukraine.

The ­region has been under Russia’s control ever since it broke away from Moldova in the 1990s ­following an armed conflict and is still home to 1500 Russian soldiers ­ostensibly there for peacekeeping purposes.

For years the Kremlin has sought to bring the tiny former Soviet country of Moldova back into Moscow’s sphere of ­influence to the extent of backing Transnistrian separatist rebels to bring pressure to bear on the government in Chisinau the Moldovan capital.

So jittery is Moldova right now over fears that Russia is trying to ­destabilise it by smuggling mercenaries into the ­country from elsewhere in Eastern ­Europe that it has so far banned citizens from Serbia, Belarus and Montenegro from entering the country unless they can prove a genuine need.

The move it says was aimed at ­blocking around 1000 Serbian football fans and five boxers from Montenegro after ­intelligence officials suspected there were Russian agents among them.

The National:

Adding to the tension, Russian ­president Vladimir Putin last Tuesday revoked a 2012 decree that had committed ­Russia to a settlement in Transnistria that respected Moldova’s territorial integrity so it’s ­little surprise the Moldovan government is ­getting nervous.

The order revoking the 2012 document was published on the Kremlin’s website and states that the decision was taken to “ensure the national interests of Russia in connection with the profound changes taking place in international relations”.

Wedged between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest nations and has been led since 2020 by President Sandu with strong US and EU backing. US president Joe Biden met her in Poland last Tuesday affirming his support following his visit to Kyiv.

Russia’s strategy in Moldova has ­focused on provoking an economic crisis by cutting off natural gas supply and then exploiting the political fallout.

Analysts said it is entirely possible that Moscow is using Moldova and separatist groups in its pro-Russian breakaway state of ­Transnistria to sow discord and disarm Ukraine from a new front.

At the start of the invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Transnistria was seen by military experts as a potential launch pad for Russia to capture southern Ukraine, but that threat has been ­significantly reduced as Russian troops have been pushed back into the south-east of the country.

That, however, has done little to ­reassure Moldovans who know that next door in Transnistria sits the biggest stockpile of ammunition in eastern Europe.

Guantanamo to Pakistan 

FOR two decades, they have been held in the notorious Guantanamo Bay military prison. All that ended last week however when the US authorities repatriated two brothers to their native Pakistan.

Abdul Rabbani, 55, and Mohammed Rabbani, 53, were arrested by Pakistani authorities in their home city of Karachi in 2002 before swiftly being transferred to US custody for allegedly operating al-Qaeda safe houses.

What’s remarkable about this story however and not a little disturbing is that both were held for those two decades without charge. In itself, that is not unusual in the history of Guantanamo but it has again raised questions over the running of such detention and interrogation programmes.

The National:

Human rights groups have long criticised the military prison and demanded its closure, citing reported abuses, torture, and prolonged detentions of inmates, many without charges or trial.

The Guantanamo camp was established by Republican president George W Bush in 2002 to house foreign terrorism suspects following the 2001 hijacked plane attacks on New York and the Pentagon that killed about 3000 people Explaining away the latest release of the brothers, the US Defence Department said their detention was “no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States”.

The Rabbani brothers were the latest inmates to have left Guantanamo Bay as part of US president Joe Biden’s efforts to shut the controversial detention facility.

A total of 32 detainees remain, of whom 18 are eligible for transfer, the Pentagon said in a statement.

At its peak in 2003, Guantanamo held about 600 people whom the US considered “terrorists”.

Supporters of using the detention facility for such figures contend it prevented attacks. But critics say it subverted human rights and constitutional rights and undermined US standing abroad.

As the two brothers landed at the airport in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on Friday, Pakistani senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, the chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the upper house of Pakistan’s parliament, confirmed their arrival in a tweet.

Khan said the men were “innocently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for 21 years”. “There was no trial, no court proceedings, no charges against them. Congratulations on their release. Thank you, Senate of Pakistan,” Khan wrote.

The brothers’ release is but the latest chapter in the story of Guantanamo Bay military prison and the so-called “War on Terror”. A story that haunts the US almost as much as it does those who were held and are still being held there.

Nigerian elections 

AFRICA’S most populous nation went to the polls yesterday to elect a new president. Nigeria is a country where two-thirds of the population of 213 million is under the age of 30.

It’s hardly surprising then that many election watchers say that the country’s youth will hold the key to yesterday’s ballot when results are released which is usually three to five days after the elections.

The National:

In all, 18 candidates are jostling to replace President Muhammadu Buhari (above, left) as he serves out the second of his constitutionally permitted two four-year terms.

Top contenders include Bola Tinubu, a two-term former governor of Lagos and a major stalwart of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party as well as the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Atiku Abubakar a former vice president who is gunning for the position a record sixth time.

One year ago, the election had all the makings of a contest between these two old political warhorses.

But it’s the leader of the Nigerian Labour Party, Peter Obi or “PO” on whom most eyes are now focused not least when it comes to factoring in the powerful voting bloc that is the country’s youth.

Obi, 61, appears to have been the biggest beneficiary of what some have described as a “youthquake” of an election, campaigning as he has on accountability in a country notorious for corruption not least in the political sphere.

This, along with widespread insecurity and the desperate state of the economy crippled by rising prices and high unemployment, are among the biggest concerns of voters.

The crisis-ridden oil-rich giant has long since stopped being the stabilising force it once was on a continent where coups, terrorism and Russian influence notably in the shape of the Wagner mercenary group are proliferating.

“Nigeria’s electorate is very young,” said Leena Koni Hoffmann-Atar, an associate fellow at the UK-based Chatham House think tank.

“And this is the turning point election for everyone who has come of age since 1999,” the Financial Times cited her as saying.

Obi faces long odds as a political outsider with relatively little cash in the campaigning war chest compared to his rivals and little base in Nigeria’s populous north, but the depth of youth frustration might just swing an election victory for him.

Many analysts say Obi’s support stems in part from protests in 2020 when young people across the country rallied against police brutality, demonstrating the power of mass mobilisation.

The protests ended after police opened fire, killing at least 15 people. Support for the challenger is generally strongest among educated urban Nigerians, many of whom, though well-qualified, are angry at the lack of opportunities.

But not everyone is convinced of Obi’s chances, insisting instead that much of the attention focused on him is a result of hype and the glowing press coverage by much of the Western media.

After five months of crisscrossing the country on the campaign trail, the coming days will tell whether the “youthquake” election will bring Obi to power.

Up until yesterday’s ballot, however, the race was so close that Nigeria could see its first runoff since democracy returned to the country in 1999.

Democracy 'on the brink' in Israel 

ISRAEL’S daily newspaper Haaretz ran a story the other day that had many Israelis sitting up and taking notice. Based on an interview with former Polish president Lech Walesa, it cited the former Nobel Peace Prize laureate warning Israelis not to allow their government to complete its plans for regime change.

“Tell your people that this must not happen because you might still end up like Poland,” Walesa told Haaretz last Monday.

In the interview, Walesa also acknowledged that the Poles have failed in their efforts to halt anti-democratic policy changes that the conservative right-wing Polish government has pursued since coming to power in 2015.

The National:

Walesa’s warning came in response to what many observers see as Israel’s political lurch toward the reactionary and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned neutering of the country’s judiciary.

Walesa’s criticism is not a lone voice. Inside Israel itself, there is mounting concern over what many see as a systematic erosion of the country’s democratic core by the most religious far-right ultranationalist government in the country’s history.

Last week, as has been the case repeatedly these past months, tens of thousands of Israeli protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem and other cities in some of the largest demonstrations seen in recent times.

Unusually for the region, these protests have nothing to do with Israeli-Palestinian issues per se, though things are far from quiet on that front with a dramatic escalation of violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

Instead, these protests are over plans for sweeping changes that include Netanyahu’s coalition government granting itself total control over the appointment of judges, all but eliminating the High Court’s ability to review and strike down legislation, and allowing politicians to appoint and dismiss their own legal advisers.

But criticism of the plans has not only come from citizens on the streets. Critics also include bosses from Israel’s industry sector, two former central bank governors, and the United Nations human rights chief.

Even Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, has said it is on the brink of constitutional collapse. Adding to the warning calls, former prime minister, defence minister and Israeli Defence Force chief of staff, Ehud Barak, last Thursday warned that Israel was facing “the gravest” national crisis since the outbreak of war in 1948 after it declared its independence, and now risked becoming a “de facto dictatorship”.

Strong words indeed in a country that has long held itself out as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, but words that an increasing number of Israelis are beginning to realise have a ring of truth.