January 16 – Kosovo
A prominent Kosovo Serbian politician Oliver Ivanovic is assassinated outside his party office in the town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. Mitrovica is divided between Albanians and Serbs. Ivanovic was the leader of a Kosovo Serb party called Freedom, Democracy, Justice. After the Kosovo war in 1999, Ivanovic was accused of crimes against ethnic Albanians and sentenced by the EU court to nine years. Later, an appeals court overturned the verdict. Kosovo used to be a territory within Serbia until it unilaterally declared independence in 2008. So far is has been recognized by 115 countries, including the United States. Serbia and its ally Russia do not recognize it as an independent state. Ninety-three percent of Kosovo’s population is ethnic Albanians with ethnic Serbs amounting to only 1.5 percent who are residing mostly in northern Kosovo, which includes the town of Mitrovica.
Why Do Serbia and Albania Hate Each Other?
January 22 – European Union
The European Union imposes sanctions on Venezuela’s seven senior officials accused of human rights violations and corruption. Their assets will be frozen and they will are banned from traveling in Europe. One of them is the country’s second most powerful leader and the head of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party, Diosdado Cabello. The United States has already imposed similar sanctions on dozens of Venezuelan officials, including President Nicolas Maduro. The purpose of these sanctions is to undermine Maduro’s power and display the opposition to his policies. Years of mismanagement and falling oil prices have caused severe economic and political crisis that triggers almost daily anti-government popular protests. (January 19): As economic and political crisis deepens in Venezuela, many Venezuelans flee the country, with most of them to neighboring Colombia. At the end of 2017, there were about 470,000 Venezuelans living in Colombia, most illegally. (24 January): Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly orders new elections that must take place before April. President Maduro says he will run for another term in office. At the same time the country’s opposition is fractured, with many activists either in jail or in exile.
March 4 – Germany
After five months of political negotiations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) form a coalition government with Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD has been internally divided with its more radical part opposing the coalition, but 66 percent of its members voted in favor. Angela Merkel, who has been in power for the last 12 years, will keep the position of the Chancellor. She faces strong opposition in the parliament especially from the nationalist and anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which won almost 13 percent of the seats.
March 4 – Russia / United Kingdom
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are critically ill after being found on a bench in the United Kingdom’s city of Salisbury. The British authorities determined that the couple was poisoned with a rare military-grade nerve agent developed in secret by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. It was designed to escape detection by international inspectors, but its existence was revealed by defectors. Russia denies any involvement. Sergei Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence colonel who was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006 for passing secrets to the British intelligence. In 2010, he was given refuge in the UK as part of a “spy swap” in exchange for Russian spies arrested by the FBI.
(March 15): The leaders of the UK, the U.S., France, and Germany sign an extraordinary joint statement that holds Russia responsible for the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil. It also urges Russia to provide full disclosure about the Novichok nerve agent and its program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
(March 26): The UK expels 23 Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s alleged use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, a British citizen, on British soil. In a joint action, more than 100 Russian diplomats from 22 European countries, the U.S. and Canada are expelled. NATO also expels seven Russian representatives and limits the size of Russia’s mission to 20, down from 30.
What is the Novichok nerve agent?
Putin, power and poison: Russia’s elite FSB spy club
March 18 – Russia
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is reelected for another six-year term with 76 percent of the vote with the 67 percent turnout. International election observers determine that Russia’s presidential vote was conducted in an orderly fashion but lacked genuine competition. The main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was not allowed to participate because of an embezzlement conviction that he said was manufactured by the Putin government.
Vladimir Putin: Russia’s action man president
April 3 – Latvia
Latvia introduces the language reform, which will make the Latvian language compulsory in all post elementary schools beginning next year. Latvia’s Russian minority amounts to 26 percent and many people within it do not speak Latvian. As Latvian is the only official language and knowledge of it is required for Latvian citizenship, 13 percent of the country’s population has non-citizen status. Latvia says that language reform will improve access to equal opportunities for all citizens, but Russia calls the reform discriminatory and the forceful assimilation of Russian-speaking people. Russian parliament encourages the government to impose economic sanctions on Latvia and calls for boycott of some of its goods.
More on the issue of Russian minority in Latvia
April 8 – Hungary
Hungary’s parliamentary elections bring big victory to Prime Minister Victor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz–KDNP alliance party. The alliance preserves its two-thirds majority and Orbán will remain Prime Minister for a third consecutive term. Fidesz wins 67 percent of the vote which gives it 133 seats in the 199-seat parliament. They won two-thirds victories at both previous elections, in 2010 and 2014. The nationalist Jobbik party comes in second with 13 percent of the vote and the Socialists third with 10 percent, which gives them 26 and 20 seats in the parliament. Orbán and Fidesz campaigned primarily on the issues of immigration promising to defend the country’s borders and block migration by Muslims. Orban is known to be a Eurosceptic who opposes further EU integration and praises Russian leader Vladimir Putin. He is popular as during his time in office he oversaw strong economic growth (3.2 percent growth in 2017), growing wages and low unemployment.
April 15 – Russia
A Russian investigative journalist Maxim Borodin dies after falling from his fifth-floor apartment in Yekaterinburg. The editor in chief of Novy Den, where Borodin worked, says she rejects the idea that Borodin committed suicide. Borodin wrote investigative articles on the government scandals, including Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the Syrian government troops. Officially, Russia’s military role mainly takes the form of air strikes. Some of these private military contractors were killed in Syria in a confrontation with U.S. forces in February this year. Much of Russia’s media is controlled by the state. In Freedom House ranking, Russia’s media are not free, with 83 points out of 100. Violence against journalists is common. There have been widespread reports of attacks, arrests, and threats against professional domestic and foreign journalists and social media users.
April 16 – United Kingdom / The Commonwealth
The United Kingdom hosts the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting where leaders address the shared global challenges and agree to actions on how to create a better future for all. The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states and is home to 2.4 billion people. At the close of the summit, the leaders issue a Communiqué that outlines the Commonwealth’s agreements and commitments. Some of them include an agreement to ratify and implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to address the stigma around disability, to strengthen the international response to the movement of refugees, to adopt a Declaration on the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment, to adopt the Commonwealth Blue Charter on sustainable development and protection of the world’s oceans, to implement the Chemical Weapons Convention, to work together to combat climate change – particularly with reference to small island developing states, as well as to counter extremism and human trafficking.
About the Commonwealth
April 17 – Armenia
After finishing two consecutive 5-year terms as president, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is appointed Prime Minister. The opposition accuses him of switching positions to stay in power and calls for protests. Mr Sargsyan has been criticized that during his tenure he failed to address the country’s widespread poverty and continuing Armenia’s tensions with Azerbaijan over the break-away Nagorno-Karabakh region and the Armenian military occupation of surrounding lands. He was also criticized for his close relations with Russia, where Vladimir Putin also switched between the positions of president and prime minister to stay in power.
(April 21): After several days of mass street protests, Serzh Sargsyan resigns and his Deputy Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan takes over.
May 8 – France / United Kingdom / Germany / Russia
United States President Donald Trump announces that he will withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, one of the most important foreign policy achievements of his predecessor President Barack Obama. He says the agreement was flawed. The United States will now re-impose the sanctions on Iran from before the deal and is considering new penalties. European companies will also have to stop their operations in Iran, or they will face American sanctions. The sanctions on oil will require European and Asian countries to reduce their imports from Iran. Both U.S. Western allies and Iran accuse the U.S. of violating the accord and not honoring international treaties.
The Iran nuclear deal took over two years to negotiate and was signed between Iran and so called P5+1, the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany. Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
(May 11): France, Britain and Germany say they will work with Iran to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement. They also condemn the U.S. threat to re-impose sanctions on European companies that have engaged in multi-billion dollar deals with Iran since the agreement. They say they will work to block these measures. They also warn that discarding the agreement will lead to rising oil prices and fuel an arms race in the Middle East.
Key details on the Iran nuclear deal
May 14 – Spain
The parliament of Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia swears in its new separatist leader, Quim Torra, who vows to continue the region’s fight for independence from Spain. He takes over from Carles Puigdemont who is in self-imposed exile facing charges of rebellion and sedition in Spain. He fled after declaring Catalonia’s independence following the October referendum with pro-independence results. Since then, Catalonia has been under Spain’s direct rule.
Background on Catalonia’s bid for independence
May 24 – Russia
Dutch-led international investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines passenger plane MH17 in 2014 concludes that Russia is directly responsible for the deployment of Russian-made Buk missile installation that was used to shoot down the plane. The investigators have evidence that all the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile in the rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine were part of the Russian armed forces. All 298 passengers on the plane were killed. Russia continues to deny any involvement. The Netherlands and Australia also say that the incident violated international law and plan to hold Russia formally responsible.
June 1 – European Union
The United States President Donald Trump imposes trade tariffs on the European Union, Canada, and Mexico, which include a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum sent to the U.S. The Trump Administration cites national security as a reason for the tariffs. The critics and opponents of the tariffs dismiss this argument by saying that these countries are the U.S. main allies with military cooperation. They also warn that the tariffs will raise prices on a wide variety of products for American consumers. The move angers the allied countries that are preparing retaliatory tariffs on a range of U.S. goods.
(June 15): President Donald Trump imposes 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of variety of Chinese goods. Trump says the tariffs are necessary to punish China for its unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft. The critics of the tariffs worry that the tariffs will hurt American businesses, farmers, workers, and consumers and will lead to trade wars. China vows to retaliate.
(June 22): The European Union imposes retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods worth $3.1 billion. These products include bourbon whiskey, motorcycles and orange juice. Also Mexico imposes its tariffs on products ranging from steel to blueberries and bourbon.
(July 1): Canada calls the U.S. tariffs illegal and unjustified and implements retaliatory 25 percent tariffs on U.S. metal products and 10 percent on more than 250 various products, such as beer kegs, whiskey and orange juice.
Basic ideas explained: trade wars, tariffs and protectionism
U.S. top trading partners
June 1: Italy
After inconclusive parliamentary elections in March and months of negotiations, Italy forms a coalition government with two election main winners, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the right-wing League. The new Prime Minister is Giuseppe Conte who is an independent and a compromise choice. During the campaign, these two anti-establishment parties promised to pull Italians out of poverty by providing a basic income for the poor, given that the recipients actively look for a job, reforming the pension system, and cutting taxes. Both parties are also strongly anti-immigrant, calling for more EU help for Italy, which is the main destination for migrants from North Africa, and deportations of 500,000 undocumented migrants. They also want the European Union to stop the austerity measures and the renegotiation of Italy’s debt. The 2008 financial crisis was devastating for Italy. Its economic growth only now reaches the pre-recession levels, the unemployment is still at over 10 percent, and the government debt has reached 130 percent of national output (second highest in the EU after Greece).
Italian economy in charts
June 12 – Macedonia / Greece
Macedonia and Greece agree to Macedonia’s new name, the Republic of North Macedonia. Macedonia was formed as a new country after the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, but Greece consistently blocked its recognition because of its name. One of Greece’s provinces that borders Macedonia has the same name and Greece has feared Macedonia’s possible territorial ambitions. When Macedonia became a candidate for membership in the EU and the NATO, Greece blocked the start of negotiations. At the United Nations, Macedonia was admitted under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, also used by the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO. If the new name is approved by the Macedonian people in a referendum and approved by the Greek parliament, this will conclude a 27-year long dispute between the two countries.
Background of the dispute
July 8 –Turkey
Right before the swear-in ceremony of Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyin Erdogan, for another term in office, more than 18,600 public employees are dismissed by decree. This is the latest purge triggered by a failed coup in Turkey in 2016. Among the dismissed are thousands of police officers, military, judiciary, teachers, and academics. Three newspapers, one TV channel and 12 associations are also closed. Since the coup attempt, Turkey has been under an emergency rule and the government has fired more than 125,000 people. Under last year’s controversial constitutional changes, the post of prime minister has been abolished and more powers have been given to the president.
Who has been affected by Turkey’s crackdown since 2016
August 12 – Russia / Azerbaijan
The leaders of five states surrounding the Caspian Sea – Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkmenistan – sign the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea after more than 20 years of disputes and negotiations on demarcation of the sea. The Caspian Sea is the largest inland water of body in the world without outflows and is located between Europe and Asia. It has vast oil and gas reserves, as well as a wealth of fish, including different species of sturgeon which is highly prized for its caviar.
The new deal gives the Caspian Sea a “special legal status” meaning it is not classified as a sea or a lake. Its surface will be in common usage, giving freedom of access for all five states that border it beyond territorial waters. The seabed, however, with its resources, will be divided up. The convention also sets national quotas for fishing and includes a clause that does not allow non-Caspian countries to deploy military forces on the Caspian Sea.
The Caspian: Sea or Lake?
August 27 – Russia
A new set of U.S. sanctions against Russia comes into effect in response to Russia’s use of an internationally banned nerve agent in an attempt to kill a former Russian spy turned double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain’s town of Salisbury. The nerve agent called Novichok is a military-grade chemical weapon developed in the former Soviet Union. These new sanctions terminate assistance to Russia except for urgent humanitarian issues, end some arms sales and financing, restrict access to U.S. credit or other financial assistance, and prohibit the export of restricted goods or technology to Russia. Another set of sanctions will be imposed on Russia after 90 days if Russia does not allow inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to confirm that it no longer has chemical weapons. Russia rejects the accusations and says the sanctions will only create more tension between the two countries.
More on Russia sanctions from the U.S. Department of State
September 1 – Europe
More than 100 migrants die and 276 are rescued off Libya’s coast when one of the rubber vessels carrying the migrants towards Europe deflates and sinks in the Mediterranean Sea. The rescued are taken back to Libya to a detention center. According to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), by the end of July, 2018, 55,001 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea mostly via Spain, Italy, and Greece. That total compares to 111,753 at this time last year, and over 250,000 at this time in 2016. At the same time, in 2018 alone, 1,504 men, women and children died while crossing the Mediterranean. These migrants who flee wars and poverty come mostly from Sub-Saharan African countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Senegal. Some of these migrants are kidnapped in Libya for ransom or slave work in other North African countries.
Migrant slavery in Libya
September 12 – European Union / Hungary
More than one third of the members of the European Parliament votes to pursue disciplinary action against Hungary for violation of human rights, the rule of law and democratic values, the EU’s core values. Hungary’s government under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is accused of attacking the media, minorities, and packing the courts with the government-friendly judges, as well as its hardline approach to immigration. It introduced a law which makes it a criminal offence for lawyers and activists to help asylum seekers. If the vote leads to punitive measures, Hungary’s rights within the EU could be suspended, including its voting rights.
The man who thinks Europe has been invaded
November 25 – Russia / Ukraine
Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) border patrol fires upon and captures three Ukrainian Navy vessels that were sailing from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the narrow Kerch Strait off the coast of Crimea. Russia detains 23 Ukrainian crew members; six of them wounded. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula by force, which continues to be internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. While Russia maintains that the Ukrainian ships illegally entered its territorial waters, Ukraine accuses Russia of violating international law stating that under a 2003 treaty, the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov are supposed to be shared territorial waters for both countries. As a result of the incident, Ukraine declares martial law along the border with Russia and in Black Sea coastal areas for a month. This incident serves as a reminder that the tensions between Ukraine and Russia over access to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov remain high.
November 25 – European Union / United Kingdom
The European Union and the United Kingdom reach two agreements on the UK’s exit from the Union and on the future relations between the two sides. However, the withdrawal agreement has yet to be approved by the British Parliament in December and then by the European Parliament. According to the withdrawal agreement, the UK’s departure from the Union will take place on March 29, 2019 with a 21-month transition period during which the UK will remain under the EU’s regulations. The UK will also pay the EU a financial settlement of $50 billion. The agreement covers such issues as what happens to UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK. It also proposes a method of avoiding the return of a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Labour Party and other opposition parties in the UK Parliament say they will vote against the deal. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, said “the agreement gives us less say over our future, and puts jobs and living standards at risk.”