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In 2020, the world faced a new unprecedented challenge – the pandemic of a previously unknown coronavirus, which recalibrated the usual life of all the countries, having significantly destroyed their economies and disturbed their citizens' patterns of life. The outgoing year also left a large footprint in the international context – new presidents were elected in the United States, Moldova, Bolivia and Peru; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe quit his post; the United Kingdom left the EU; relations between Russia and the European Union went south; the security and disarmament system continued to collapse; and a new wave of terrorist attacks swept over Europe. That's what w are going to be talking about.
Let's start, perhaps, with the main thing – the pandemic. In March this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an outbreak of a new coronavirus infection type a pandemic. To curb the spread of the unexplored virus, unprecedented measures were taken across the globe – as early as in March, the countries started closing borders, ceased air and sea passenger traffic.
Moreover, the authorities of many countries were forced to introduce total lockdowns, shutting down shops, restaurants, theaters and museums, stopping the work of transport, blocking access of fans to stadiums and sports grounds, moving staffers to remote work and dramatically curtailing people's movement across the cities. The devastating pandemic wave inflicted a serious blow to the global economy, with oil prices having fallen below zero in April, record losses suffered by the global aviation industry, tourism, small and medium-sized businesses.
Many international forums and sporting events have been cancelled or postponed over the COVID-19 pandemic. The world had to get used to living in a new reality and move to the online mode of existence. Thus, it was for the first time in history that high-level meetings of the UN General Assembly were held in a virtual format, as well as other international summits like the G20, the EU, APEC, BRICS, SCO, CIS, CSTO and others.
According to the WHO, the number of detected coronavirus cases exceeded 80 million worldwide, with a death toll accounting for over 1.8 million people, unfortunately. The world is still taking pains to develop vaccines to fight the disease. A number of those, including three Russian vaccines, have already passed three stages of testing and are being applied in the real world.
However, even the coronavirus pandemic failed to distract the world community's attention from the US presidential election, which made it into history for shattering several records at once. First and foremost, the turnout appeared the highest over the past 120 years, with a total of more than 160 million people having cast their votes (some 67% of the population), including remotely or via mail. Another remarkable thing was the candidates' age: as of the election date, i.e. November 3, the incumbent Republican President Donald Trump was 74, and Democrat winner Joe Biden was 77. On November 20, he turned 78 to become the oldest president in America's entire history. And his Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman to hold the post.
At midnight of January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom left the European Union (Brexit) after three and a half years of grueling negotiations. The country had been staying part of the union for 47 years. However, there was no complete integration into Europe, with the United Kingdom retaining its currency and failing to enter the Schengen area. While the transition period continues until December 31 this year, the EU regulations continue to apply in Britain; it remains member of the single market and trades with the union without duties and quotas. At the very tape on December 25, London and Brussels finally entered a deal on future relations, including a free trade agreement.
During the outgoing year, Russia's relations with the European Union have been deteriorating noticeably. The downfall of relations escalated after the West accused Moscow of poisoning Alexei Navalny. Russia denied all the accusations and sent several requests to Germany, where Navalny was undergoing treatment, requesting data on the basis of which such conclusions were made. However, Berlin has not unfolded information so far. The EU imposed sanctions necessitated by the Navalny situation on six Russian citizens and a scientific institute, with the Russians banned from entering the European Union's territory. Moscow took countermeasures against a number of Germans and French. Moreover, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov allowed for ending dialogue with the EU.
Unfortunately, the system of collective security and disarmament kept collapsing throughout the outgoing year. US President Donald Trump went on with his earlier course to withdraw Washington from international arms control treaties: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) were followed by the Open Skies Treaty (DON). The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (new START or START-3) due to expire on February 5, 2021, is also jeopardized. This is the last agreement curbing the global arms race.
Last autumn, a new wave of terrorist attacks swept through Europe, revealing that the threat of religious extremism is still high in the region. France was first to suffer a number of terrorist attacks: on October 16, history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in the Conflans-Sainte-Honorine commune outside Paris; on October 29, a knife-armed man attacked people in the Nice Notre-Dame Basilica, killing three people; the same day, Avignon, Lyon and Paris saw the police prevent several more attacks. Austria also faced a terrorist attack, with a series of shooting raids taking place downtown Vienna on the evening of November 2. Among the targets was a synagogue. The shooting resulted in four deaths and 22 injured people.
In the Caucasus, it was restless either. September and October saw a large-scale armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijani forces and armed formations of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), which became the region's largest, longest and bloodiest since the end of the Karabakh war in 1994. There were multiple fatalities on both sides. The bloodshed was stopped due to Russia's efforts alone, with a truce agreement signed and Russian peacekeeping forces introduced to the NKR to help ensure peace and order here.
Speaking about the events of 2020 in the world, it should not go unspoken that Israel initiated a peace-making process with its neighbors in the Middle East. In January, the United States presented a plan to resolve the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, that was dubbed the "deal of the century" and totally leaved out the Palestinian interests. However it be, Israel got its relations back on track with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco after that. It should be noted that Turkey and Iran as preeminently Sunni monarchies strongly oppose this normalization, considering it a betrayal of the struggle for Palestine. Besides, Tehran deems Israel trying to form a coalition against it and causing a split in the Muslim world.
One of the main surprises of 2020 world politics was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's sudden resignation over health problems. Abe was a veteran of Japanese politics: he led the Cabinet for almost eight years, longer than any of his predecessors in the country's post-war history. The new leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan and Prime Minister is Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who said he intended to "inherit and develop" Abe's political effort. This also applies to the issue of striking a peace treaty with Russia. Suga has already voiced his intention to close the chapter on his country's territorial issue with Moscow.
Unfortunately, the Christian world lost one of its key shrines this year – the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. In July, the Turkish State Council overruled the 1934 decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum, after which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree to turn the cathedral into a mosque and start Muslim services there. The first namaz in 86 years took place on July 24. Orthodox clerics took this news painfully, urging to reconsider this decision and preserve the cathedral's status of as a museum. The Kremlin called the Turkish authorities' decision a domestic matter of the country. At the same time, Moscow considers it important that Hagia Sophia be preserved as a world cultural heritage site.