January 12 – Turkey
A suicide bomber walks up to a tour group standing in Sultanahmet Square near the Blue Mosque in Tukey’s city of Istanbul and blows himself up, killing 12 people and injuring 15, all foreign tourists. The deadly attack happens in the area heavily guarded by Turkish security forces. The bomber is a Syrian member of the self-proclaimed Islamic (IS). In response to the bombing, the Turkish government arrests 68 suspected terrorist in raids across the country.
January 16 – France / Italy
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announces that Iran has taken adequate steps toward implementing the nuclear deal, allowing for the United Nations to lift sanctions against it. The agreement was reached in July. Lifting sanction will release billions of dollars of Iran’s frozen assets abroad, allow Iran to sell its oil and gas to other countries, open Iran to foreign companies for investment, and will allow Iran to trade with other countries and use the global banking system. (January 16): Iran releases four Iranian-Americans from prison in exchange for seven Iranian citizens imprisoned in the United States for violation of sanction against Iran. Among the freed Americans are Jason Rezaian, a journalist for the Washington Post, who was accused of espionage, and Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor, imprisoned for proselytizing Christianity in Iran. (January 23): Iran and China sign 17 agreements aimed at boosting trade and economic relations between the two countries. (January 25): Accompanied by a 120-strong delegation of the country’s government ministers and businessmen, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives in Europe on a state visit, the first one in 16 years. The purpose of the visit is to discuss trade relations with Italy and France, such as a $24 billion deal to purchase 118 Airbus planes.
February 11 – European Union
Defense ministers from the 28 NATO-member countries announce the immediate deployment of NATO ships to the Aegean Sea to help stop smuggling of migrants from the Middle East and South Asia to Europe. The Aegean Sea, the waters between Greece and Turkey, is a target area for smugglers. NATO also extends its cooperation with the European Union’s Frontex border agency.
February 16 – Russia
Three countries from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Venezuela – and Russia agree to freeze oil production at the January 2016 level. Oversupply of oil has led to drop in oil prices by 70 percent since 2014. For oil producing and exporting countries, this means a significant drop in revenue, forcing them to cut spending and introduce unpopular reforms.
February 19 – United Kingdom / European Union
United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron and the European Union negotiate a new agreement ahead of a referendum in the UK on its continued EU membership scheduled for June. The agreement that gives the UK “special status” is accepted unanimously by both sides. It includes restrictions on benefits for migrants that would discourage the migrants from coming to the UK. It also amends the EU treaties, stating that references to the “ever-closer union” do not apply to the UK.
February 27 – Russia
The partial ceasefire for Syria comes into effect. It was brokered by the United States and Russia with the Syrian government and Syria’s main rebel groups. It excludes, however, Islamic State (IS) and the Nusra Front with links to al-Qaeda. (February 29): The United Nations (UN) starts aid deliveries of food, water, medicine, and other necessities to tens of thousands of Syrians who are trapped in besieged areas.
March 7 – European Union / Turkey
The European Union (EU) and Turkey reach an agreement on how to handle mass migration of refugees to Europe. About 134,900 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe so far this year. More than 400 have died making the journey. The vast majority of the migrants arrive through Turkey, which already hosts 2.6 million migrants. Under the deal migrants who arrive in Greece, but their asylum application is rejected will be sent back to Turkey. In return, for every migrant returned, the EU will resettle Syrian migrants living in Turkey. The two sides also agree to reopen Turkey’s accession negotiations as soon as possible, and to work with Turkey to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria.
March 14 – Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that Russia has accomplished its objectives in Syria and begins withdrawing its forces from the region. Russia conducted air strikes in Syria for about six months, helping the government of President Bashar al-Assad regain some the country’s territory from Islamic State (IS) and anti-government rebels.
March 22 – Belgium
Three coordinated terrorist suicide bombings take place in Belgium’s capital, Brussels killing 32 people and injuring more than 300, with 62 critically. Two nail bombs are detonated at the Brussels Airport and one at Maalbeek metro station, located near the European Commission headquarters in the center of Brussels. The attacks are linked to November’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Islamic State (IS) claims responsibility for the attacks as retaliation for Belgium’s participation in the coalition against IS. Belgium closes the airport and raises the terror threat level to its highest level. Police in Belgium, but also in France and Germany conduct raids, arresting a number of suspected jihadists. In an effort to prevent any future similar airport bombings, Belgium introduces new stringent security checks for the international airport.
March 24 – Bosnia-Herzegovina
After eight years of trial, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague (ICTY) convicts Radovan Karadžić for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and sentences him to 40 years in prison. Karadžić is the former President of Republika Srpska (RS) within Bosnia-Herzegovina and Supreme Commander of its armed forces during the Bosnian war from 1992 until 1995. He is found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, where more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred, and of persecution, extermination, deportation, ethnic cleansing, and murder of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in areas claimed by Serb forces. His crimes against humanity relate to the siege and shelling of the city of Sarajevo that lasted several years and left nearly 12,000 people dead.
April 26 – Ukraine
Ukraine marks the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the worst nuclear catastrophe in history. Thirty years ago on this day, a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the city of Pripyat located in what was then the Ukrainian Republic of the Soviet Union spewing radioactive particles into the atmosphere for 10 days. The radioactive cloud spread over much of the western Soviet Union and Europe. During the accident, 31 reactor staff and emergency workers died and thousands more deaths have been linked to the disaster. Tens of thousands of people from the area were evacuated. After 30 years, the surrounding area is still highly radioactive. The town of Pripyat is an abandoned, uninhabitable ghost town. It is believed that there is about 200 tons of the uranium still left in the damaged reactor. In 2010, works began to replace the original now-crumbling sarcophagus that was put over the collapsed reactor after the explosion. The new $2 billion-giant arch, about the size of Norte Dame, will be slowly inched over the reactor on specially constructed tracks, which will contain the radiation for the next 100 years.
May 10 – France
Following weeks of street protests and opposition in his own party, French President Francois Hollande and his government bypass the parliament and force unpopular labor market reforms through a decree. This pro-business legislation aims at stimulating the economy by relaxing France’s restrictive labor laws and making layoffs easier. The government hopes that this will encourage hiring and improve the unemployment rate, which for the past five years has been stuck above 10 percent.
May 22 – Austria
In the run-off to the presidential elections in Austria, Green Party member Alexander Van der Bellen, standing as an independent, defeats the far-right Freedom Party candidate, Norbert Hofer, by fewer than 31,000 votes. Bellen campaigned on the pro-European Union platform, while Hofer supported the anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiments. Although the presidency in Austria is largely ceremonial, the outcome of the election illustrates sharp divisions of the Austrian electorate.
May 24 – Serbia
Serbia’s Progressive Party wins the parliamentary snap elections with 48 percent of the votes. Its leader, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, called the snap election two years early, seeking a mandate to continue reforms that would bring Serbia into the European Union. The Progressive Party-led coalition retains its parliamentary majority, winning 131 of the 250 seats. The Socialists come second, winning 11 percent of the vote, and the ultra-nationalist far-right Serbian Radical Party comes third with 8 percent. The Radical Party campaigns on the platform of Serbian nationalism and the goal of creating a Greater Serbia. The party is against Serbia’s membership in the European Union, but advocates closer ties with Russia instead.
June 1 – Switzerland
Switzerland opens the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which cuts through the Alps. It is 35.5 miles long and up to 1.4 miles deep. It took 17 years to build it at the cost of $12 billion. The tunnel will considerably speed up transportation of goods, which previously had to be taken by trucks. Estimated 260 freight trains and 65 passenger trains will go through the tunnel each day.
June 23 – United Kingdom / European Union
A referendum in the United Kingdom on its membership in the European Union results in 52 percent of voters in favor of leaving versus 48 percent in favor of remaining in the EU, with a turnout of 72 percent. The event is referred to as Brexit. Prime Minister David Cameron announces he will step down by October as he failed to convince the voters about the importance of being part of the EU. The Leave campaign triumphed in England and Wales, where in some areas people voted by over 70 percent to leave. In contrast, the Remain campaign dominated in London, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar, as well as the city of London. The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon says that Scotland might refuse consent for legislation required to leave the EU and will hold another referendum on independence from the UK. The UK joined the EU in 1973 what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). Its withdrawal from the EU has been a political goal pursued by various individuals, such as former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and political parties such as UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by Nigel Farage. The European Union leaders call on the UK to start the process of withdrawal as soon as possible, but it is expected to take at least two years. Withdrawal from the European Union has been a right of EU member-states since 2007 under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, but so far it has never been used. Before the start of any negotiations between the UK and the EU, the UK first has to invoke the Article 50. This is expected to happen after a new Prime Minister is selected later in 2016.
June 27 – Turkey
Turkey and Israel reach a deal to normalize their relationship after the killing of 10 Turkish activists in the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip by Israeli soldiers 6 years ago known as the Mavi Marmara incident. Both countries agree to restore their diplomatic relations. Israel agrees to pay $20 million in compensation and allow Turkey to continue infrastructure projects in Gaza, such as residential buildings, a hospital, a power station and a desalination plant for drinking water, as well as other type of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Turkey, on the other hand, agrees to pass legislation that will protect Israeli troops from legal claims over the Mavi Marmara incident, and to prevent any military action or fundraising by Hamas in Turkey.
June 28 – Turkey
Three suicide bombers attack Turkey’s international airport in Istanbul during a busy travel day, killing 41 people and injuring 239. The police kill all three attackers. Istanbul’s Ataturk airport is the third busiest in Europe, serving more than 61 million travelers a year. All three attackers are from the former Soviet Union area: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia’s North Caucasus region, but Turkey believes that Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization was behind planning the bombings. IS targets Turkey for its close relations with the Western governments and NATO. This is the fourth major terrorist attack in Turkey this year, crippling the country’s tourist industry.
June 30 – European Union / Turkey
The European Union re-opens accession talks with Turkey, getting ready to negotiate Chapter 33 – Financial and budgetary provisions. Membership negotiations with Turkey started in 2005 and so far out of 35 Chapters necessary to complete the accession process, 15 have been opened and one has been closed. Turkey’s membership in the EU is controversial among many EU members.
July 1 – Austria
Austria’s Constitutional Court annuls the results of the May presidential election after finding irregularities in counting absentee votes in 14 out of 20 electoral districts. The rerun of the election is scheduled for October 2. During the May run-off, Alexander Van der Bellen, a member of the Austrian Green Party, but running as an independent, narrowly defeated Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party of Austria, with 50.3 percent of the vote. The Freedom Party contested the results.
July 13 – United Kingdom
As a result of the last month referendum narrowly approving the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron submits his resignation. His successor is Home Secretary Theresa May, who was confirmed as the leader of the Conservative Party. Although Theresa May supported the UK staying in the EU, she and her new cabinet will have to oversee negotiations of the UK’s withdrawal from the Union. The uncertainty following the referendum outcome sends shock waves through the UK’s economy, causing a slowdown in economic activities and a decline of the British pound to $1.28, the lowest level since 1985.
July 14 – France
A delivery truck deliberately ploughs through crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, killing 85 and injuring 307. The truck driver, a Tunisian resident of France, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, is killed after a shootout with police. Islamic State (IS) claims the responsibility for the attack. In response to the attack, the French government extends the state of emergency, declared following the Paris attacks, for another three months. Police arrests five suspected accomplices. Since the beginning of 2015, France has been a target of increasing number of terrorist attacks.
July 15 – Turkey
A faction within Turkey’s military armed forces stage a coup d’état against the government and tries to seize control of several key places in the capital, Ankara, Istanbul and other places. The group of the plotters says that the reason is an erosion of secularism, the elimination of democratic rule, a disregard for human rights under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Thousands of people respond to President Erdogan’s call to stand up against the coup and take to the streets in protests. Within hours the troops loyal to the president put down the coup, but not before 290 people die and over 1,400 are injured in violence between the two sides. The coup is followed by mass arrests. More than 6,000 people are detained, 2,800 military officers are arrested, 8,000 police officers are removed from office, 2,700 judges and 1,500 finance ministry staff are sacked, and more than 21,000 teachers are fired with their teaching certificates revoked. The government accuses Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled Turkish Islamic preacher and the head of a popular movement Hizmet, of being the coup’s mastermind and accuses the U.S. (where he has lived since 1999) of protecting him.
August 26 – France
France’s court suspends a ban on wearing a full-body swimsuit called burkini introduced by a mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet town. The court ruled that the ban breached the rights of personal freedoms and thus is illegal. The burkini ban ignited a fierce debate in France and abroad about secularism, cultural expression and Islamophobia.
August 29 – Europe
In coordinated rescue operations, Italian coastguards, humanitarian organizations, such as Proactiva Open Arms and Doctors Without Borders, as well as the European Union’s border agency Frontex save about 6,500 migrants on overcrowded boats floating to Europe about 13 miles north of the Libyan coast town of Sabratah. Most of these migrants are from Eritrea, Somalia and other West African countries. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), so far in 2016 more than 297,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea and more than 3.200 have died or are missing while making this trip.
More about Mediterranean migrant arrivals in 2016.
September 12 – Russia
After months of negotiations, the United States and Russia broker a ceasefire agreement in Geneva for Syria between the Syrian government forces of Bashir al-Assad and the various opposition groups such as the Free Syrian Army and the hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham. According to the deal, if the ceasefire holds for seven days, the U.S. and Russia will join forces to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State (IS), al-Nusra Front, and other jihadist groups. The truce excludes action against these terrorist groups. The ceasefire is also designed to deliver urgently-needed humanitarian aid to civilians in places under siege, such as the city of Aleppo. (September 19): The Syrian government declares the ceasefire over, which was poorly adhered to, with Syrian military incidents of bombings and blocking convoys with humanitarian aid. The ceasefire suffered a set-back when a US-British coalition mistakenly killed at least 60 Syrian government soldiers in an airstrike aimed at IS militants.
September 18 – Russia
Russia’s pro-Putin United Russia party wins 54.2 percent of votes in the country’s parliamentary elections, which raises its number of seats in the 450-seat parliament from 238 to 343. The Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) each win 13 percent of votes. A Just Russia party wins 6 percent. All these parties support Vladimir Putin. None of the opposition parties wins 5 percent threshold required to get the parliament representation. For the first time since it was annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Crimea votes in a Russian election. Votes from all its constituencies go in support of United Russia party.
September 28 – Ukraine / Russia
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) consisting of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine concludes that the Malaysian plane MH17 that fell in eastern Ukraine in 2014 killing all 298 people on board was downed by the Russian-made Buk missile. The surface-to-air missile was fired from Russian-backed, separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. The rebels used the BUK launcher that was brought from Russia and then returned to Russia after the plane was shot down. Ukraine hails the findings as proof of direct Russian involvement in the incident. Russia denies that any of its weapons were taken to Ukraine.
October 3 – Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin suspends an agreement with the United States on the disposal of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. Signed in 2000 and amended in 2010, the deal called for the disposal of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium from each country, the material big enough to build 17,000 nuclear warheads. The cancellation of the deal, once an example of successful post-Cold War cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, shows a corrosion of the relations between the two sides.
October 4 – Turkey
Almost three months after Turkey imposed the state of emergency after the failed July coup, Turkish police raids and closes down TV stations, including an opposition and pro-Kurdish channel IMC TV, and suspends more than 12,000 police officers who are accused of links to the exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The government accuses Gulen of being the mastermind behind the coup. The state of emergency allows the government to rule by decrees without the need of legislative approval. In the last three months, more than 81,000 people have been arrested or suspended in wide-sweeping purges. Turkey’s government also declares that the current state of emergency will be extended by another three months.
October 24 – Norway
The Norwegian government says that it invited 300 US troops to be stationed at the Vaernes military base around 620 miles from the Russian border. The troops will be deployed in January 2017 and the program will be evaluated later that year. So far the United States stored military equipment in Norway, which is a NATO member, but not troops. Recent conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea have raised tensions between Russia and the West.
See a map with a route of Russian warships passing Norway and other European countries on its way to Syria.
October 26 – France / European Union
The French authorities dismantle the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais which housed about 7,000 migrants in squalid conditions. It is estimated that about a 1,000 of them are unaccompanied minors. The migrants were moved to shelters and reception centers across France. Refugees, mainly from the Middle East and Africa, first set up the Jungle makeshift camp in 2002 in Calais close to the English Channel hoping to reach the United Kingdom. Many of them wanted to join their families that are already in the UK and tried to smuggle themselves in cargo vehicles entering the English Channel. The “Jungle” migrant camp became a symbol of the European Union’s failure to solve the migrant crisis.
Smoke over the Calais “Jungle” camp video (1.42 min)
October 27 – Russia
The United Kingdom deploys hundreds of troops and military personnel to the NATO member-countries in eastern Europe as part of the NATO’s plan to strengthen its presence in the region. These troops will join other already stationed in the Baltics, but also Poland and Romania. From 2017, NATO will have four multinational battalions in the eastern Europe led by the U.S., UK, Canada, and Germany with 1,000 troops each. It also plans to strengthen its presence in the Black Sea region. The largest buildup of NATO troops since the Cold War is in response to Russia’s significant military buildup near its western border, tripling its defense spending since the year 2000, and its aggression against Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
See map of Russia’s anti-NATO troops reinforcement.
See map of NATO troops deployment in eastern Europe.
October 28 – Russia
For the first time since the beginning of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in 2006, Russia is not elected as the Council’s member and is replaced by Croatia. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations, which consists of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, despite criticism, is elected and will serve another 3-year term until 2019. In June 2016, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued a joint statement condemning Saudi Arabia for human rights violations in its military campaign in Yemen and in its own country, with reports of jailing of the opposition, torture, discrimination, and conducting 157 executions just in 2015. As a member of the UNHCR, Saudi Arabia uses its power to block any investigations into these allegations. The two organizations called for Saudi Arabia to be suspended from UNHRC.
More about the membership in UNHRC
November 13 – Moldova
Pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon defeats pro-European candidate, Maia Sandu, and wins Moldova’s presidential election with 52 percent of the vote. During his campaign, he blamed widespread corruption on the pro-European Union parties and vowed to restore close ties with Russia. Moldova depends on loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), approved before the election to help the country survive its financial shock of 2014 caused by massive bank fraud that led to the disappearance of $1 billion equal to about one-sixth of the country’s GDP. As a result, the country’s three banks collapsed, plunging the country into financial and political turmoil.
December 19 – Turkey / Russia
An off-duty Turkish police officer fatally shoots Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, as revenge for Russia’s involvement in bombing the city of Aleppo in Syria. The assassination takes place during an opening of an art exhibition in Ankara, Turkey. Both Russia and Turkey agree that this is a provocation and will not influence their cooperation that they see important for the Middle Eastern region.
Video of the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey
December 29 – Turkey / Russia
Russia and Turkey mediate a new ceasefire agreement between the Syrian Government and the opposition groups. The two countries, who support different sides in the Syrian conflict, act as guarantors, while Iran acts as a signatory to this trilateral agreement. The ceasefire comes into effect on December 30. The ceasefire excludes groups designated by the UN as terrorist, such as Islamic State (IS), Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (previously known as Nusra Front), and other jihadist groups. According to the deal, both sides also agree to enter peace talks scheduled for January 15 in Kazakhstan. The Assad regime will bring Russia as its ally, while Turkey will side with moderate anti-Assad rebel groups. The United States, which has led an anti-Assad international coalition to fight IS in Syria, has been sidelined by Russia and Turkey and excluded from these negotiations. The US President-elect Donald Trump says that after taking the oath of office, he will cooperate with Russia in Syria in defeating Islamic State (IS).
December 29 – Russia
The United States expels 35 Russian diplomats, closes two compounds used by Russia for intelligence gathering, and broadens sanctions on Russian entities and individuals as punishment for interfering in the US November presidential elections, an effort to undermine the US election processes and institutions and aggressive harassment of U.S. officials in Russia. In a statement, President Barack Obama says that “all Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions”. The Russian hacking included spearphishing, targeting government organizations, think-tanks, universities, political organizations, and corporations, steeling information from these organizations, and then public release of some of this stolen information. The US intelligence agencies, including the FBI and CIA, conclude that the hacks were aimed at causing damage to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help to install Donald Trump as president. Some lawmakers call for Congress to establish a committee to examine the cyber attack and Russian’s efforts to interfere in the U.S. election. The Russian government, as well as President-elect Donald Trump dismiss the hacking claims.