Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, and as the ensuing war raged, the year saw some of the worst natural disasters on record, including wildfires in southern Europe and floods that submerged a third of Pakistan. The death of the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II spelled the end of an era, and a brave new protest movement emerged in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini. FRANCE 24 takes a look at the top news stories of 2022.
Russia invades Ukraine and war returns to Europe
Early in the morning on February 24, the Russian troops that for months have been building up along Ukraine’s northern fringes finally get the go-ahead to cross the border and stage a full-scale invasion. But Russia meets a tougher resistance than expected. And after a failed attempt to take the capital Kyiv, the Russian forces are forced to retreat to the south and east to instead concentrate and “liberate” the regions where they have made some headway, which include the self-proclaimed pro-Russian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. In September Moscow illegally annexes the two regions, along with Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, despite not being in full control of them.
Fears that Vladimir Putin is in fact planning a wider European invasion prompt the West to supply Ukraine with equipment and arms, and the transatlantic military alliance NATO to massively beef up its European presence.
The Russian war machine is calculated and brutal, purposefully targeting both civilians and civilian infrastructure, leaving a long trail of war crime accusations behind it. As the year comes to a close, the war has killed thousands of civilians and displaced some 14 million Ukrainians, of which 7 million have taken refuge in other countries.
From June to August, Europe is plagued by a series of record heatwaves, with the mercury frequently hitting 40 degrees Celsius or more. The highest temperature is registered in Pinhao, Portugal, on July 14, where 47 degrees Celsius is recorded. According to experts the heatwaves are linked to climate change in Europe.
The lack of rain in between the heatwaves leads to widespread droughts, which in turn result in some of the worst wildfires in history. In France alone, 62,000 hectares go up in flames – seven times that of an average summer – and thousands of people are forced to flee their homes.
Global inflation surges
Already at the outset of the year, the world starts to feel the pinch of higher inflation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdowns have led to a global supply shortage of construction materials, chips and energy, causing overall prices to rise.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and western sanctions on Moscow, then add to the pain, also affecting global prices for oil, natural gas, fertiliser and food. The latter is heavily affected by Russia’s on-and-off blockade of Ukrainian ports, and thereby the country’s grain exports.
According to the International Monetary Fund the global inflation rate rose to 8 percent in 2022, compared with 3.4 percent in 2021. In Europe, it soared to 9.1 percent from 3.1 percent, and in the United States to 8.2 percent from 4.7 percent.
On July 7, Britain’s then prime minister Boris Johnson finally bows to the pressure and announces he will step down as the country’s leader as soon as a replacement has been found. A string of scandals, including damning reports of parties being held at Downing Street during lockdown, and that he was aware of sexual harassment allegations made against a senior official he appointed, results in nearly 60 members of his cabinet walking out on him, leaving him with little choice but to quit.
Johnson is replaced by Liz Truss on September 5, but her tenure is short-lived: after presenting a huge economic package consisting of mostly unfunded tax cuts, the British pound plunges on the back of a spooked market and the economy takes a major hit. After just six weeks on the job, Truss announces she will call it quits.
On October 25, Rishi Sunak, the runner-up in the leadership contest to replace Johnson, takes office as the country’s first prime minister of colour, and its third prime minister of 2022.
Pakistan’s devastating floods
From mid-June and into October, Pakistan is hit by its worst floods in history, caused by a heavier than normal monsoon downfall, coupled with the melting of glaciers. The floods, which at one point are said to submerge as much a third of the country under water, leave more than 1,700 people dead and at least 2 million homeless.
The floods come on the heels of a scorching heatwave that scientists say can be linked to global climate change. Local deforestation also contributes to the vast destruction of the floods, which affects 33 million people in total, and leaves farm fields devastated and hundreds of thousands of livestock dead.
Government officials estimate the reconstruction and economic costs of the disaster to account for as much as 10 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product.
On August 8, a team of FBI agents search Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida as part of an investigation into whether the former US president mishandled government documents. In all, the agents remove 20 boxes of materials, including a handwritten note, information regarding France’s President Emmanuel Macron and some documents marked “top secret”. The warrant reveals that the FBI is also investigating whether Trump violated the Espionage Act, which prohibits the gathering, transmitting or losing of defence information.
The search marks a significant escalation in one of the many federal and state investigations Trump is already facing. But despite the increasing legal woes hanging over him, Trump in November announces his intention to run for president in 2024.
On December 22, he faces yet another backlash when the House select committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol in 2021 publishes its final report, squarely blaming the violent events on “one man” – Trump – and recommending he should be barred from ever holding office again.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II
On September 8, Queen Elizabeth passes away of old age at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. At 96, and after 70 years on the throne, she is Britain’s longest reigning monarch, and her death triggers the start of a 10-day national mourning period.
The Brits pour into the streets to mourn the death of their beloved queen, and on September 19, she is given a state funeral and is buried at the King George VI Memorial Chapel alongside her husband Philip after services in Westminster Abbey and the St George Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Charles III, Elizabeth’s eldest son and the country’s longest serving heir apparent, accedes the throne upon her death, at the age of 73. A coronation ceremony for Charles III and his wife Camilla is set to take place in Westminster Abbey on May 6, 2023.
On September 16, 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini dies in a Tehran hospital under suspicious circumstances after being arrested by morality police for not wearing her hijab, or headscarf, properly. While authorities claim she died after suffering a heart attack and falling into a coma, several witnesses claim Amini was severely beaten by officers prior to her collapse in the police station.
Amini’s death causes an uproar in Iran and leads to giant, nationwide protests, demanding increased rights for women and the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Women, and even schoolchildren, play a key role in the protests, during which many can be seen burning their hijabs or cutting their hair.
The government responds by brutally cracking down on the protests, calling them “hybrid war” carried out by dissidents and foreign countries.
According to Iranian human rights activist groups IHR and Hrana, more than 450 protesters have been killed, including dozens of minors, and nearly 18,500 people have been arrested as the year draws to a close. Two young protesters, Mohsen Shekari, accused of rioting and attacking security forces, and Majidreza Rahnavard, accused of stabbing two security forces members to death, have been executed after being convicted of “waging war against God”. Their trials and executions prompt worldwide condemnation and sanctions.
After multiple “will he or won’t he” twists, SpaceX and Tesla billionaire Elon Musk finally goes ahead and buys the microblog platform Twitter for $44 billion on October 27 after being threatened with a lawsuit should he withdraw from the deal.
The entrepreneur takes the reins in a forceful way, starting off by firing the CEO and other top executives and making himself “Chief Twit”. He then goes on to lay off almost half of Twitter’s workforce via email, and gets rid of contract content moderators as well as an independent advisory group that helps Twitter address hate speech, child exploitation, suicide, self-harm and other serious issues the platform often needs to deal with. Musk also announces that users will have to start paying for their blue verification check marks via a special subscription, and that suspended accounts, including that of Kanye “Ye” West and former president Donald Trump, will be reinstated as part of his new “freedom of speech” policy.
Users rage against the new policies, forcing Musk to halt the blue check mark subscription service. Ye doesn’t last more than two weeks before he is kicked off the platform again after tweeting an image of a swastika combined with the Star of David.
Things come to a head in mid-December, when the billionaire suspends the accounts of several journalists, accusing them of sharing private information about him and his family’s whereabouts. The move is condemned by both the United Nations and the European Union, with the latter threatening sanctions.
On December 19, Musk launches a Twitter poll asking whether he should step down as CEO, and promises to abide by the results of the poll. Some 57.5 percent vote in favour, with Musk responding he will step down as soon as he finds someone “foolish enough” to take the job.
On October 29, as tens of thousands of party-goers gather in the narrow streets of Seoul’s popular Itaewon district to celebrate Halloween, a crowd crush leaves more than 150 people dead, most of them in their teens or twenties, and almost 200 more injured.
Although no one specific reason has been pinpointed to explain the deadly crush, witnesses say it occurred after people poured into a particularly narrow and sloping alley that lacked escape routes, resulting in people essentially becoming trapped at the narrow segment of the street.
The incident is South Korea’s deadliest since the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry, when 304 people died, mainly high school students.
Lula beats Bolsonaro in tight Brazilian election
On October 30, and with less than two percentage points to spare, Brazil’s leftist leader and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva defeats far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the country’s tightest election race yet.
The results keep Brazil on edge, as Bolsonaro then remains silent for 48 hours. For months he has claimed that the country’s electronic voting system is plagued by fraud and his supporters stand ready to take to the streets should he urge them to. Finally, Bolsonaro authorises his government to begin preparing for a presidential transition, but still doesn’t concede defeat.
At the end of November, Bolsonaro challenges the result, claiming that some of the machine votes should be “invalidated”, but the complaint is unlikely to go very far since Lula’s victory has already been ratified by The Superior Electoral Court (TSE).
On December 7, China announces that it is going to relax the stricter parts of its draconian “zero Covid” policy. The move comes barely a week after China becomes the scene of the biggest demonstrations it has seen in decades, with people spilling into the streets nationwide to protest the controlling and suppressive lockdown measures that have separated families, and even left some people dead.
As part of the new rules, people who have tested positive for Covid-19 but who only have mild symptoms are now allowed to isolate at home, rather than in state facilities; lockdowns are restricted to more targeted areas, rather than whole neighbourhoods and cities; and mass-testing only applies to “high-risk” areas. The eased rules also mean the Chinese can travel more freely.
The news is greeted with cheer, but also fear, since the Chinese have abided by the strict rules for almost three years. At the end of December, China is hit by a huge backlash: Some 37 million people are reported to have been infected with Covid-19 in a single day. Minutes from an internal meeting of China’s National Health Commission also show that around 248 million people, or about 18 percent of the population, are likely to have been infected since the start of December.
The US nuclear fusion breakthrough
On December 13, the US Department of Energy announces a “major scientific breakthrough”: American researchers have successfully managed to produce more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.
The news makes headlines around the world since the breakthrough could respond to the world’s desperate need for an unlimited, clean power source to end its reliance on fossil fuels. Aside from fusion being carbon-free during operation, it has many other advantages too: it poses no risk of nuclear disaster and produces much less radioactive waste.