January 12 – Russia
Politics: constitutional changes
Russian President Vladimir Putin unveils the proposal of sweeping constitutional changes that will shift power from the presidency to parliament. Following his announcement, the entire Russian government resigns, including Putin’s close ally Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. However, President Putin appoints him to the position of Vice Chairman of the National Security Council chaired by Putin. As Putin has already served two consecutive terms as president (the current one ends in 2024), he would have to step aside according to the existing constitution. It is expected that the constitutional changes will allow Putin to stay in power or retain significant influence indefinitely. He says that people will have a chance to vote on the changes.
Vladimir Putin: 20 years in 20 photos
January 31 – United Kingdom / European Union
Politics: leaving the EU
After 47 years as a EU member, the United Kingdom officially is leaving the European Union. The year 2020 will be a transitional period for the UK and most things will stay the same while the country negotiates its new relation with the EU. Free movement of people between the UK and Europe will continue, trade will continue without checks and tariffs, and the UK will follow the EU’s rules and regulations and pay into its budget. What is changing is that the UK will no longer be part of the EU institutions and all UK members of the European Parliament lose their seats automatically. The UK can now start negotiating its own trade deals with other countries, including the EU.
After Brexit Day, Britain still has to work out its future relationship with the E.U. (video 5:29 min)
February 7 – Italy
Global health – Coronavirus, or Covid-19
Dr. Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who issued the first warning about the deadly new coronavirus outbreak contracts the virus while working at Wuhan Central Hospital and dies. He had sent out a warning to other doctors on December 30, but the Chinese authorities ordered him to stop “making false comments”.
(Feb 26): The novel coronavirus, now named Covid-19, has been spreading quickly from China to other parts of the world raising fears of global pandemic. China is still the country affected the most, with 77,000 infections and 2,600 deaths. It has built several new hospitals and quarantine centers for infected patients. But the virus has now spread to 30 other countries infecting 1,200 people and killing 20. The worst affected countries right now are South Korea, Japan, Iran, and Italy, where authorities resort to drastic measures to contain and limit the speed of spread of the virus. Around 7,700 troops have been quarantined in South Korea after 11 service members were infected. In Italy, where confirmed cases surged from three to more than 200 in just three days, the government put several small towns on lock-down with their residents not allowed to leave without special permission. It also cancelled many activities, sporting events, and festivals even outside the zone. The United States has 14 confirmed cases so far, some of them unexplained, which raises concerns about the virus spreading within communities. Stock markets fall sharply amid fears of economic impact of the virus. Also, Brazil confirms its first coronavirus case, becoming the first country in Latin America with the outbreak.
(Feb 28): Within just a few days, Iran reports 388 new cases of the illness and 34 deaths, which makes it the country with the highest number of deaths outside China.
More about coronavirus from CDC: source and spread, risk assessment, illness severity Coronavirus and Economic Impact (video: 11:04)
February 8 – Ireland
Politics: Irish elections
The Irish people vote in a special election to the Dáil (the Irish parliament) after Prime Minister Leo Varadkar asked the country’s president to dissolve the parliament in January.
Background: Fina Gael party has been leading a minority government since 2016, with Varadkar as prime minister since 2017. With one of the fastest growing economies and good performance in Brexit negotiations, he is looking for a stronger mandate for his party to govern. The main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, attacks the governing party that it has failed to tackle Ireland’s most pressing issues, such as poor-quality health services, growing homelessness due to unaffordable housing, spike in costs of living, and crime.
Results: Each of the three largest parties win between 20 to 25 percent of the total vote. After losing 12 seats, governing Fine Gael finishes third with 35 seats, while the main opposition Fianna Fáil finishes first with 38 seats (both centrist parties). The biggest win is for the Left-leaning Irish Republican Party, Sinn Féin, which managed to position itself as an anti-establishment party taking advantage of people’s frustration with social problems unresolved for years by the governing party. Brexit – the main focus of Leo Varadkar while in power – was barely an issue in the campaign. Sinn Féin gains the most seats – 37 (from 22 before), finishing second and breaking the two-party system. To secure a majority, a government needs the support of at least 80 parliamentarians. After the last election in 2016, it took 70 days to negotiate and form a government. Before the election, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had ruled out a coalition with Sinn Féin, citing its tax policies and IRA past as deterrents.
Profile of Irish political parties
March 8 – Italy / Spain / UK / France / Russia
Global health – Coronavirus, Covid-19
Italy issues a lockdown to quarantine around 16 million people in the country’s northern Lombardy region that includes Milan and Venice, as confirmed cases surpass 5,800 and more than 230 people die from the virus. As new cases soar in just a few days, Italy extends the lockdown to the entire country to curb the virus’s spread.
(Mar 14): Spain records a spike of nearly 2,000 new cases. With more than 3,800 total confirmed cases and at least 84 deaths, the country enacts a partial lockdown restricting people from leaving their homes with an exception of going to work and getting necessities. In the country’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy residents have their temperature checked at supermarkets and pharmacies.
(Mar 23): The U.K. issues a three-week national lockdown enforced by police to limit people’s movement.
(Mar 25): All EU countries, and more than 150 countries worldwide, are affected by the pandemic.
(Mar 30): Russia’s capital, Moscow announces a lockdown restricting freedom of movement for the city’s 13 million residents.
(Mar 30): France reports its highest jump of coronavirus cases in a single day, with the total number of 44,550 confirmed cases and 3,024 deaths.
(Mar 31): New coronavirus cases in Spain increase by more than 9,000 in the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to more than 94,000. The death toll in Spain rose to 8,189. In the meantime in Italy, the outbreak is reaching a plateau, as the country’s death toll rose to more than 12,000.
History of Past Pandemics
How the Virus Got Out (graphic presentation)
How South Korea Flattened the Curve
March 9 – Turkey / European Union
In response to the continued migrant crisis, five of the european countries (Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal) agree to take a total of 1,500 unaccompanied children from Greece where migrant camps are overcrowded. At the same time, tens of thousands of new migrants are trying to cross into Greece from Turkey after Turkey announced it would no longer honor the 2016 deal with the EU at curbing illegal migration from its territory. Turkey says it is housing 3.7 million Syrian refugees, but also migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and West Africa, and accuses the EU of not doing enough.
7 videos guaranteed to change the way you see refugees from UNHCR
The Long Journey – A Syrian Family’s Europe Passage (video from UNHCR 15:01 min)
April 2 – Spain / Italy / Russia / UK / France / Austria / Germany / European Union
Global Health – Coronavirus, or Covid-19
– Spain’s death toll from Covid-19 reaches 10,000, making it the second country in the world (after Italy) to reach the grim milestone. The country extends lockdown measures to the end of April.
– Russia extends the country’s work-from-home guidance until the end of April.
(Apr 13): With more than 98,000 confirmed cases and 14,967 deaths, France extends the coronavirus lockdown measures until May 11.
(Apr 14): Some businesses in Italy are permitted to reopen.
– Austria begins lifting coronavirus restrictions, allowing shops to open for the first time since mid-March. But the citizens are asked to continue working from home, wearing masks to curb new infection.
(Apr 15): Romania becomes the first European Union country to ban the export of agricultural goods — specifically barley, oats, corn, rice, wheat flour, oilseed and sugar — to countries outside the bloc to secure domestic supply during the pandemic.
– As some European countries are ready to reopen, Belgium, with its population of 11.5 million and 4,440 deaths from the virus, becomes the country with the second-highest death rate in the EU, trailing only Spain. The high rate is explained by different calculation that includes those suspected of having died from the virus.
(Apr 19): Europe surpasses 100,000 coronavirus deaths across the continent. European events such as Wimbledon tennis tournament, the Tour de France, the Cannes Film Festival, Oktoberfest, and San Fermin Bull Run are either canceled for 2020 or postponed due to the pandemic.
(Apr 20): Spain allows children aged 12 and under to leave their homes after five weeks under lockdown. However, the country’s strict social-distancing measures will remain in effect until at least May 9.
– Smaller shops in Germany begin to reopen as the country eases some of its coronavirus restrictions.
(Apr 25): The U.K.’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 20,000, making it the country with the fifth-highest virus death numbers in the world, after the U.S., Italy, Spain and France.
(Apr 29): Spain announces a four-phase plan to return to normality by the end of June. At first, businesses that operate via appointment will reopen on May 4.
(Apr 30): Russia reports a record 7,099 new coronavirus infections, bringing the country’s total number of cases to more than 100,000. Russia’s total number of fatalities has risen to 1,073.
– Germany continues to ease lockdown measures, allowing church and religious services to take place and reopening playgrounds, galleries, museums, and zoos. Concerts and major sporting events, however, will remain closed.
Why Germany’s Coronavirus Death Rate Is Low from NYT
Naples feels the cost of Italy’s lockdown (video: 5:09 min)
Two US towns, two very different experiences
April 12 – Russia / Norway
In coordination with the United States, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia, and other allied oil producers in a group known as OPEC Plus agree to reduce their production by 9.7 million barrels a day in May and June, about 10 percent of the world’s output. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic demand for oil worldwide fell by 35 percent. This is the largest production cut ever negotiated in an effort to stabilize the oil prices and help struggling economies in the Middle East and Africa, but also oil companies around the world that employ 10 million workers. Other oil countries outside OPEC, such as Canada, Brazil, Norway, and the United States, have been also cutting production. The oil prices that used to go above $100 a barrel are expected to stay below $40 for some time.
More on how a drop in oil prices caused by the Covid-19 pandemic affects various economies
May 2 – Europe
Global health – coronavirus, or COVID-19
Spain’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 25,000. The total number of coronavirus cases in the country also rose to 216,582.
(May 4): Around 4 million Italians return to work after Italy eased some conditions of the country’s eight-week lockdown. Its coronavirus daily new cases and fatalities declined for the first time since March 10.
(May 6): The European Commission forecasts that the European economy will contract by a record 7.5 percent this year in a recession brought on by the pandemic.
(May 10): U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveils a plan for easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions that includes a five-level alert system. The announcement comes as the country’s death toll continued to rise to nearly 32,000.
(May 11): Russia outbreak becomes the world’s third largest after Italy and the U.K.
– France begins to lift lockdown measures, allowing stores, factories and other businesses to reopen for the first time in eight weeks. Bars, cafes, restaurants, museums and cinemas remain closed.
(May 26): Sweden’s government defends its response to the COVID-19 global pandemic despite the Scandinavian country reporting one of the highest mortality rates in the world with 4,125 fatalities, or about 40 deaths per 100,000 people.
(May 31): Pope Francis delivers his first address in three months from his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, as Italy’s lockdown comes to an end. Francis said that people are more important than the economy, as countries decide how quickly to proceed with reopening the economies from coronavirus lockdowns.
Sweden’s Different Coronavirus Response
June 1 – Europe
Global Health: coronavirus, or COVID-19
Russia records more than 400,000 total coronavirus infections with only Brazil and the U.S. recording more. The epidemic grows in regions outside of Moscow.
(Jun 3): Italy reopens its airports after two months of strict lockdown, allowing Italians to move freely between regions.
(Jun 8): Countries across Europe continue to ease their coronavirus lockdowns, with Ireland, Belgium, Denmark and Spain all relaxing their rules.
(Jun 8): A new modeling study of lockdown impacts in 11 nations by researchers at Imperial College London found that wide-scale lockdowns, including shop and school closures, reduced COVID-19 transmission rates in Europe enough to control its spread and may have averted more than three million deaths.
(Jun 9): Russia’s capital, Moscow, ends lockdown with some businesses allowed to open despite reporting 1,000 daily new coronavirus cases.
(Jun 30): The European Union approves a list of countries from where travelers will be allowed to visit the Union when it opens its external borders on July 1. The United States is not on this list. The list includes South Korea, Japan and, with a caveat, China. Those countries have been able to bring the coronavirus under control. (See article below)
Our new normal in pictures
One graphic explains why Americans are facing an EU travel ban
EU Sets New List Of Approved Travel Partners. The U.S. Isn’t On It
June 19 – Europe: Belarus
Elections and anti-government protests
Police in Belarus arrests protesters and journalists, including a reporter from Radio Free Europe, during a hundreds-strong rally against President Alexander Lukashenko’s reelection campaign for a sixth term. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. His main rival Viktor Babaryko, as well as other opposition activists, journalists, and bloggers, have been recently arrested on trumped-up charges.
Belarus suffering “brutal crackdown” as presidential election approaches – BBC News (Video 4:07 min)
June 25 – Europe: Russia
In a national referendum, 78 percent of the Russian voters approve more than 200 amendments to the Constitution of Russia. One of them will see presidential term limits reset, allowing President Vladimir Putin to run for the country’s top position again in 2024 and in 2030. Other changes grant former presidents immunity from prosecution, enshrine a reference in the constitution to God, offer pensions protection, and define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. The opposition says the referendum is illegitimate because of irregularities that include voter coercion and multiple voting. A video published by the opposition shows one polling station submitting ballots on behalf of a family that never voted before.
Will Putin rule Russia forever? BBC News (Video 11:33 min)
July 7 – European Union
Global Health: Coronavirus, or Covid-19
Three months into the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden records 5,420 deaths; however, per million people, Sweden has had 40 percent more deaths than the United State, 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland and six times more than Denmark. At the same time, the country has not registered any economic gains, with the economy contracting and unemployment growing. Unlike its neighbors that imposed strict lockdowns, quarantines, banning large groups, and closing shops and restaurants, Sweden had a different approach to the pandemic. It allowed life to go on unchanged relying on individual responsibility and hoping the strategy would lead to the population developing herd immunity.
(Jul 21): European leaders agree to create an $887 billion recovery fund to rebuild EU economies devastated by the coronavirus. The European Union will borrow the money in the financial markets and hand it out as budgetary support to member states, some in grants and some in the form of loans. Allocations of recovery money will be tied to the economic harm done by the pandemic in individual member-states.
More on Sweden’s approach to Covid-19
Did Sweden’s coronavirus strategy succeed or fail?
August 9 – Belarus
Belarus’s main opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, rejects the official results of the presidential elections, accusing President Aleksander Lukashenko of rigging the vote. The incumbent, who has been in power for the last 26 years and is often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, was claimed to have won 80.23 percent of the vote, a figure widely seen as not credible. Foreign independent observers were not allowed to participate, but an alternative exit poll suggests that Tikhanovskaya won an overwhelming majority of the votes. In response to the alleged rigged election, more than 200,000 people come out onto the streets across Belarus demanding Lukashenko’s resignation. The government responds with violent suppression of the protests, deploying water canons, stun grenades and rubber bullets against the demonstrators.
The most striking images from Belarus protest
August 20 – Russia
Poisoning of opposition leader
Traces of the nerve agent Novichok used to poison Russia’s main opposition leader, anti-corruption activist, and a leading critic of President Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny, were found on a water bottle in his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk where he stayed before falling ill and collapsing on the plane. After two days in the hospital in Russia, he was transported for treatment to a hospital in Germany, where it was determined that he was indeed poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent. Navalny’s team accuses President Putin of ordering the poisoning.
More about Alexei Navalny
What is Novichok nerve agent
How does the Novichok nerve agent work? (Video 1:01 min)
August 28 – Europe
Europe is grappling with a second coronavirus surge. Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany are recording the highest number of new coronavirus cases since March or April. France introduces a mandatory mask wearing while in public in Paris and its suburbs. The UK continues to be hit by local outbreaks. Cases are also rising in the country. Spain also is registering a spike of new cases. However, Spain’s Director of the Center for Health Emergencies says the situation is different; today only 4 percent of infected people die compared to 12 percent in March during the peak of the pandemic. Also, only 1.6 percent of the cases were asymptomatic then, while in August 56 percent showed no symptoms.
The world’s top developed economies are all officially in a recession due to the pandemic. Canada France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States report that their economies shrank dramatically in the first half of 2020, although each at different speeds. Between April and June, the U.S. economic output shrank by 9.1 percent, Canada recorded the sharpest decline in records dating back to 1961, 11.5 percent, while the United Kingdom has fared the worst with its economy shrinking by 20.4 percent in the same period of time.
More on the state of the world’s top economies during the pandemic
September 1 – Europe
Global Health: Coronavirus, or COVID-19
After reopening their economies, European countries are experiencing a sharp rise in the number of new coronavirus cases. More than half of the new cases reported through the week ending August 23 are from Spain (21%), Russia (16%), France (10%), and Ukraine (6%).
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson rescinds some of the eased lockdown measures and adds new restrictions, such as working from home and closing pubs and restaurants earlier. He also warns that these measures could last up to six months if conditions do not improve, saying the country was at a “perilous turning point.”
September 4 – Serbia / Kosovo
Serbia and Kosovo agree to normalize their economic relations as part of U.S.-brokered talks. The deal covers a range of economic activities, including investment, creation of jobs, as well as rail, road, and air cooperation. In addition to the economic deal, Serbia agrees to move its Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Also, Israel and Kosovo agree to mutual diplomatic recognition. However, the economic agreement does not include “mutual recognition” between Serbia and Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after nine years of violent crackdown by Serbia on Kosovo separatist movement and ethnic cleansing of Kosovars who are predominantly Albanian. Kosovo has been recognized by most of the Western countries, including the United States, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China, as well as ethnic Serbs in Kosovo have not.
More on Kosovo
October 18 – Europe
Global Health: Coronavirus, or Covid-19
Cases of coronavirus and hospitalizations are rising in Europe. Great Britain is imposing new restrictions, and France is placing cities on “maximum alert.” Germany and Italy set records for the most new daily cases.
(Oct 26): With one of the world’s highest infection rates, Spain declares a state of emergency and orders a nationwide 11pm curfew.
(Oct 29): With deaths from Covid-19 increasing by 30 percent and hospitalizations reaching their highest levels since spring, World Health Organization (WHO) says Europe is at the epicenter of this pandemic once again. However, it also states that nationwide lockdowns should be viewed as a last resort because of the economic toll and effects on mental health.
November 9 – Armenia / Azerbaijan
The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan sign the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement, an armistice brokered by Russia that ends 44 days of fighting over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Several previous ceasefires, including one mediated by the United States, have failed. Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted on September 27 with both sides accusing each other of firing first shots. Several thousand people have died on both sides. Tens of thousands have fled their homes. According to the ceasefire deal, Azerbaijan will hold on to several areas that it gained control of during the conflict and Armenia will withdraw troops from them. About 2,000 Russian peacekeepers will monitor the truce.
Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, but is inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians and under control of Armenian separatists. The conflict goes back to 1988 when both countries were still part of the Soviet Union. The Karabakh Armenians demanded that the region be transferred from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the conflict escalated into a full-scale war in the early 1990s.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict explained
November 12 – Africa / Europe
A motorized rubber raft carrying 120 migrants from the coast of Libya to Europe, the world’s deadliest passage on the Mediterranean Sea, capsizes drowning at least 74 people. The Libyan Coast Guard and fishermen rescue the remaining migrants. Most of these migrants were from Nigeria, Gambia and Burkina Faso. At least 900 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe this year.
Libya is home to about 700,000 to one million migrants, mainly from Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Syria and Mali who came to Libya to work but have been forced to slave work, experience harassment, torture, and trafficking.
More about who the migrants are
How the migrant crisis looks five years on
November 18 – Germany / United Kingdom
Global Health: Coronavirus, or COVID-19
Two American and German companies, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, develop coronavirus vaccines that are 95 percent effective and have no serious side effects. After receiving emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the companies will be ready to deliver up to 50 million doses by the end of the year, and up to 1.3 billion by the end of next year. The vaccine has been developed in a record time, less than a year, a process that usually takes years.
The University of Oxford in the United Kingdom also developed the coronavirus vaccine, which shows for now to be 70 percent effective. AstraZeneca Company pledges to make three billion doses for the world next year.
Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine named Sputnik V was registered for emergency use in August, although it had only been tested on a few dozen people. The vaccine is now offered for general public despite being in the midst of trials to check that it’s safe and actually works.
How the vaccine was developed in record time
More on Covid-19 vaccines and how they work
More on Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine
December 14 – Russia
Politics: Russia’s opposition leader Alexey Navalny
An investigation by the group Bellingcat, an independent international collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists, pieces together how Russian Security Service (FSB) followed and constantly watched Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny even prior to his poisoning in August 2020. Navalny has been working to expose corruption among the Russian political elites and oligarchs since being denied the opportunity to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential election and to campaign against the governing United Russia party.
More about an investigation into Navalny’s poisoning
An interview with Alexey Navalny about the poisoning
Russian spy revealing how Navalny was poisoned
December 20 – United Kingdom
Global Health: Coronavirus, or Covid-19
Total infections around the world reach 76 million.
(Dec 22): The United Kingdom identifies a new variant of the coronavirus that is more contagious and genetically distinct from, more established variants. In response, the UK tightens restrictions and imposes new lockdowns over Christmas, while some European countries and beyond announce a ban travel on the U.K.
Tracking the Covid-19 outbreak globally
More on the new variant of the coronavirus
(Dec 26): The European Union begins its vaccination campaign with the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to more than 450 million people in 27 countries that comprise the Union. Scientists say the vaccine should also work against the new, more infectious variant of the virus.
December 24 – United Kingdom / European Union
After months of negotiations and just a week before the end of the transitional period, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom agree to a post-Brexit trade deal that includes issues such as fishing rights, future business rules, aviation, and security relations.
Details of the Brexit trade agreement