ASIA China (Security threat level – 3): On 23 November...
Colombia (Security threat level – 4) : As of 0500 local time (1000 UTC) on 28 February 2022, a strike by motorcycle taxi drivers is underway in the city of Cartagena to protest new restrictions that prohibit motorcycles from using the city’s main roads. The Cartagena Motorcyclists Association announced that it will block 33 intersections, including Avenida Pedro de Heredia, Bocogrande, Castillo San Felipe, El Centro, Retorno del Pozón, Ronda Real, Salidas del Pozón, Castellana, Terminal de Transporte, Los Ejecutivos, La Bomba del Amparo, and El Mercado de Bazurto. Protesters have set up a number of roadblocks, causing severe transportation disruptions. There have been reports of scuffles between police officers and protesters; however, no casualties have been reported.
Australia (Security threat level – 2): Over the weekend of 26-27 February 2022, heavy rains and subsequent flooding resulted in the evacuation of approximately 15,000 people in the suburban areas surrounding the eastern city of Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland. According to local officials, at least eight people died in the flooding, while more than 2,000 homes and 2,300 businesses remain submerged underwater. The Brisbane River, located northwest of the city center, was expected to peak at 4 m (13 ft). Local authorities have stated that the passenger terminals at Brisbane Airport (YBBN/BNE) will remain open throughout the next several nights to accommodate passengers who are unable to leave the facility due to extensive flooding and road blockades. Severe rainfall is expected to continue in the coming days and may affect additional areas closer to the city center.
New Zealand (Security threat level – 1): On 28 February 2022, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced that some fully vaccinated travelers will no longer be subject to coronavirus-related self-isolation requirements upon arrival in New Zealand, effective 2 March. Initially, the isolation requirement will be annulled for inbound New Zealand and Australian citizens. Subsequently, as of 4 March fully vaccinated essential workers will no longer be required to isolate upon entering the country. The announcement follows a significant increase in COVID-19 testing capacity following the introduction of rapid antigen testing in mid-February. Cabinet members will now consider reducing isolation requirements for foreign tourists in the coming months, depending on the epidemiological situation of coronavirus, both globally and domestically.
France / Finland (Security threat levels – 3 / 2): On 27 February 2022, Air France suspended passenger flights to and from Russia, China, South Korea and Japan in order to avoid overflight in Russian airspace amid rising tensions between the EU and Russia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Airline officials stated that the temporary flight suspensions to China, South Korea and Japan will only be in effect until alternative route options are available. Air France will continue to travel to all other destinations in Asia.
In related developments, Finnair officials announced the suspension of passenger and cargo flights to the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai; the Japanese capital Tokyo; and the South Korean capital Seoul until further notice. The airline has also suspended flights to Russia from 28 February to 6 March. Finnair will continue to operate passenger and cargo flights to all other Asian countries.
Ukraine (Security threat level – 5): As of 28 February 2022, fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continues in the northwestern part of the capital Kyiv. Heavy gunfire and explosions resulting from Russian artillery and rocket strikes were reported in Kyiv; however, Russian forces have so far failed to enter the city. Russian forces appear to have largely paused their efforts after failing to advance into the city proper over the weekend of 26-27 February amid significant resistance from Ukrainian forces. The majority of Russian troops reportedly remain near Hostomel’s Antonov Airport (UKKM/GML), located nearly 40 km (25 mi) northwest of downtown Kyiv. In northeastern Ukraine, Russian forces entered Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, located approximately 40 km from the Russian border, for the first time on 27 February. Intense fighting then ensued between Russian and Ukrainian forces in the streets of the city. The local governor later stated that Ukrainian forces repelled the attack and were in full control of the city. According to a Ukrainian official, Russian rocket strikes killed dozens of people in Kharkiv and wounded hundreds more. Meanwhile, intense shelling was reported in the city of Chernihiv, located approximately 150 km northeast of Kyiv, where multiple homes and a commercial building were damaged. Elsewhere in the country, Russian forces on 27 February seized control of the southeastern city of Berdyansk, located on the coast of the Azov Sea. Overall, Russian forces have been unable to make anticipated strategic gains in Ukraine over the past five days as evinced by the current Ukrainian control of most major locations, including Kyiv.
Conflicting estimates of injuries and deaths continue to emerge. The Ukrainian Ministry of Health announced that 354 civilians have been killed and 1,684 others have been injured amid clashes between Ukrainian and Russian soldiers since 24 February. Meanwhile, the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) estimated that 102 non-combatants have been killed and 304 others have been injured in the clashes. However, the injury and death tolls are likely much higher. OHCHR also reported that more than 500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine to bordering countries. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims that more than 5,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since Russian forces began an invasion in Ukraine.
On the diplomatic front, Ukrainian and Russian representatives held a meeting near the Pripyat River on the Ukraine-Belarus border on 28 February to begin negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing conflict. The latest reports indicate the initial meeting has ended, but further details are not immediately available. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko promised the safe passage of Ukrainian officials to Belarus, but missiles were fired from Belarus into Ukraine hours later on 27 February. Despite the latest efforts for negotiations, the overall rhetoric significantly escalated over the past weekend. Russian President Vladimir Putin placed nuclear forces on higher alert on 27 February, citing the increasingly aggressive measures that NATO and Western countries are taking against Russia. Meanwhile, Belarus held a constitutional referendum on 27 February in order to revoke the country’s non-nuclear status. The referendum passed with a 65% affirmative vote. Passage of the constitutional amendment now allows for the presence of Russian nuclear arsenals in Belarus. Lukashenko has threatened to allow Russian nuclear missiles in the country if Western countries place nuclear-capable missiles in Poland or Lithuania. In other developments, U.S. officials warned that Belarusian troops could be deployed to assist Russian forces in Ukraine on 28 February.
Following severe economic sanctions imposed by Western countries, Russian officials closed the Moscow Stock Exchange on 28 February as the ruble depreciated by approximately 30%. Russian officials doubled the central bank’s interest rate to 20%, compared with the previous rate of 9.5%, to offset the effects of stringent sanctions on Russian banks. Officials made the decision to double the interest rate after several Russian banks were banned from using the banking payments system of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a popular intermediary company that facilitates secure transactions among 11,000 banks globally. Additionally, British Petroleum, a prominent U.K. energy company, announced that it will sell almost 20% of its shares in Russian oil. Equinor, a Norwegian energy corporation, will also divest its shares in Russian energy.
Belarus (Security threat level – 3): On 26 February 2022, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk issued a Security Alert warning its citizens to immediately evacuate Belarus, which reads in part as follows: “The Department of State Travel Advisory for Belarus advises U.S. citizens not to travel to Belarus and urges U.S. citizens in Belarus to depart immediately.
“Minsk International Airport is operating with international flights to limited destinations, and land borders with Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland are open and operating at normal capacity.
“U.S. citizens should be aware that due to ongoing Russian military hostilities in Ukraine there is heightened tension in the region, the situation is unpredictable, and Minsk airport and Belarusian land border operations could change without significant notice.
“U.S. citizens should avoid public demonstrations as potential harassment targeted specifically at foreigners is possible.
“The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine or emergency services to U.S. citizens in Belarus is severely limited due to Belarusian government limitations on U.S. Embassy staffing.”
Analyst Comment: On 14 February the U.S. Department of State had updated its Travel Advisory for Belarus “to recommend U.S. citizens depart the country due to the military buildup in southern Belarus.”
Russia (Security threat level – 3): On 27 February 2022, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a Security Alert regarding limited flight availability throughout the country, which reads in part as follows: “An increasing number of airlines are cancelling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines. U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available
“The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the Department of State’s Travel Advisory level for Russia is at “Level 4: Do Not Travel.” Click here for the full text of the Travel Advisory for Russia.”