So That Was 2021! Trump Leaves White House, Taliban Retakes Kabul, But Mostly That Infernal Virus
12:00 GMT 31.12.2021 (Updated: 10:28 GMT 01.03.2022)
The year began with a riot at the Capitol in Washington DC and ended with President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin holding talks, but what happened in between and how many people died from COVID-19?
Years come in all shapes and sizes - 1918 and 1945 were both pretty big ones globally and 2001 turned out to be a pretty significant year for the United States, Afghanistan and ultimately Iraq.
There was no way 2021 was in the same league as those red-letter dates, but it was a very significant year for certain people - Joe Biden, Angela Merkel and Max Verstappen, for example.
So what were the highlights of the year?
January - Capitol Riot
2021 began with Donald Trump in the White House, still refusing to admit he had lost the presidential election.
On 6 January, thousands of Trump supporters from across the United States, including members of the right-wing Proud Boys, came to Washington DC to take part in a rally.
© AP Photo / John MinchilloIn this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. U.S.
In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. U.S.
© AP Photo / John Minchillo
Trump told the rally the election had been “stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats” and he said: “We fight. We fight like hell and if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”
Trump supporters, some of them carrying Confederate flags and Gadsen flags, converged on the Capitol and broke through the flimsy police cordon, entering the building as Vice President Mike Pence presided over a Senate session.
Pence was evacuated by his bodyguards and the senators, including Nancy Pelosi, fled the mob as they began breaking in through windows and kicking open doors.
Moments later, Trump supporter and US Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, 35, was shot dead by a security guard as she attempted to break through a door into the chamber of the House of Representatives.
Brian Sicknick, a police officer who was pepper-sprayed by the rioters, suffered two strikes and later died.
© AFP 2022 / STEPHANIE KEITHA right wing protester holds a sign about Ashli Babbitt while participating in a political rally on July 25, 2021 in New York City.
A right wing protester holds a sign about Ashli Babbitt while participating in a political rally on July 25, 2021 in New York City.
When he was accused of fomenting the riot, Trump pointed out he had told his supporters to make their voices heard “peacefully and patriotically”.
Two weeks later, Joe Biden entered the White House, and Trump became the first outgoing President in 150 years to refuse to attend his successor’s inauguration.
Trump is still being investigated for his role in the Capitol riot and his alleged failure to take action.
February - Myanmar Coup And Protests
On 1 February, a military coup d’etat in Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - ousted the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing claimed there had been voter fraud in the November 2020 election, which saw the NLD defeat pro-military candidates.
General Min Aung Hlaing named himself prime minister for a year and promised new elections in 2022.
But thousands of protesters came onto the streets of the biggest city, Yangon, and there were also demonstrations in the capital, Naypyidaw, and in Mandalay and several other towns.
The military reacted violently, shooting and beating protesters.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), which is based over the border in Thailand, says more than 1,300 people have been killed since the coup and 11,000 have been arrested.
In June, General Min Aung Hlaing gave an interview to Sputnik and said the protesters’ goal was to get other countries to interfere in Myanmar’s affairs as he accused Britain and the US of wanting to put its puppets in control of the country.
March - Beginning Of The End For Bibi
On 23 March, Israelis went to the polls for the fourth time in two years and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally lost power.
The Likud Party of “Bibi” - as he is universally known - lost seven seats and was unable to cobble together another coalition government.
© REUTERS / WAMIsrael's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shakes hands with United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, UAE June 29, 2021.
Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shakes hands with United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, UAE June 29, 2021.
Eventually, after months of haggling, Yair Lapid, the leader of the liberal Yesh Atid party, agreed to a deal with Naftali Bennett, whose conservative Yamina bloc had gained seats.
In June, Bennett became the prime minister but will hold the post only until August 2023 when he will hand the position over to Mr Lapid.
The coalition also includes Labor, the Blue and White Party, Yisrael Beiteinu and the United Arab List and is likely to be as unstable as the four previous governments.
Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem broke out in May after six Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah were ordered to be evicted to make way for Jewish settlers.
Hamas in Gaza soon became involved and fired dozens of rockets into Israel, with the Israelis retaliating with air strikes.
March - Stuck In Suez
A few miles west there was another international crisis in March, but this time it had nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians.
On 23 March, the Ever Given, a 1,312 foot-long container ship, got stuck in the Suez Canal while travelling from China to the Netherlands.
The vessel became wedged in the canal after running aground.
© REUTERS / MOHAMED ABD EL GHANYA view shows the ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, after it was partially refloated, in Suez Canal, Egypt March 29, 2021.
A view shows the ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, after it was partially refloated, in Suez Canal, Egypt March 29, 2021.
For the next six days a huge traffic jam was created in the canal, the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean as 372 vessels queued to get through the waterway, which gives ships a short cut in the route between Asia and Europe.
They included 180 bulk carriers, 24 crude oil tankers, 98 container ships, and 29 ships carrying Liquefied Natural Gas or Liquefied Petroleum Gas.
The Ever Given was impounded by the Egyptians, who demanded US$550 million in compensation but was eventually released in July after a deal was made with its owners and insurers.
April - Fans Reject Super League
Twelve of Europe’s richest clubs wanted to be even richer and in April they floated plans for a European Super League.
AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur wanted to set up a league which would operate in a similar way to the NFL in the United States, with no promotion and relegation.
The slogan was: “The best clubs. The best players. Every week.”
But the idea went down like a lead balloon, especially in England, where supporters held demonstrations at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Within days the six English clubs had pulled out of the Super League and, in the case of Liverpool, begged the forgiveness of their fans.
Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward was forced to resign.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus soldiered on for a few days until it became clear the idea was a non-starter.
May - The Roman Protasevich Affair
A Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, after a bomb threat was made and a military jet scrambled.
© REUTERS / RAMIL NASIBULIN/BELTAJailed Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich takes part in a press conference about the forced landing of the Ryanair passenger plane on which he was travelling, in Minsk, Belarus June 14, 2021
Jailed Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich takes part in a press conference about the forced landing of the Ryanair passenger plane on which he was travelling, in Minsk, Belarus June 14, 2021
Once the plane, operated by Ryanair’s Polish subsidiary Buzz, was on the ground the Belarusian authorities detained two of its passengers, Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
The couple, who had been living in Vilnius, were returning home after attending an economic forum in Athens and Protasevich, a Belarus-born journalist who co-founded the banned Telegram channel Nexta, claimed the bomb threat was a ruse.
Protasevich is still waiting to find out what he will be charged with but earlier this month Sapega, who is Russian, was charged with incitement of social enmity and discord; violation of information security, regulations on handling personal data and threats against law enforcement officers.
In June, sanctions were imposed on several Belarusian individuals and entities by Britain, Canada, the US and the European Union in retaliation for the Ryanair incident.
The then-UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said: “The Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of airline passengers and crew in a shameful ruse to snatch Roman Protasevich. We will hold the regime to account in co-ordination with our allies including through further banning travel, freezing assets and cutting off oil export revenue streams.”
July - The Pegasus Scandal
A major investigation, published by various media platforms and rights groups, said spyware made by an Israeli cyber company, NSO, had been used to hack the phones of political leaders, journalists, and activists across the globe.
It was reported Pegasus can be installed remotely without the need to trick a user into downloading it and once it is on, the smartphone is effectively a pocket spy. Pegasus can switch on a phone's camera or microphone and steal data from the phone without the owner being aware.
Opposition MPs in Hungary demanded an inquiry after a investigation by a group of media outlets claimed Viktor Orban’s government bought the Pegasus malware to spy on journalists, politicians and businessmen who had been critical of the prime minister.
It was also claimed Pegasus was used to spy on Princess Haya - the ex-wife of the ruler of Dubai - and her divorce lawyer Fiona Shackleton.
Germany’s then-Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said: “It is important that software designed for specific situations does not fall into the wrong hands...It should not be sold to countries, where judicial oversight of such attacks may not be available.”
July/August - Tokyo Olympics
After being delayed by 12 months by the coronavirus pandemic, the 32nd Olympiad took place in and around Tokyo.
But COVID-19 restrictions meant empty stadiums and masks being worn on the podiums.
Tokyo was picked over Istanbul and Madrid for the honour of hosting the games but by the time they started on 23 July, it probably felt like a poison chalice.
Certainly public opinion in Japan was divided, with many people against the Games taking place because of the fear of spreading the virus.
The Games themselves provided the usual drama - Norway’s Karsten Warholm broke his own record over the 400m hurdles and compatriot Jakob Ingebrigtsen won the 1,500m while Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah won gold in the 100m and 200m and led the 4x100m women’s team to victory.
July/August - Haiti Hit By Double Whammy
In the early hours of 7 July, a band of hired assassins burst into the home of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and gunned him down in front of his wife, Martine, who survived her own injuries.
It was later reported the President’s left eye had been gouged out by the killers, during the attack in the exclusive Pelerin 5 neighbourhood.
© AP Photo / Joseph OdelynSuspects in the assassination of Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, among them Haitian-American citizens James Solages, left, and Joseph Vincent, second left, are shown to the media at the General Direction of the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 8, 2021
Suspects in the assassination of Haiti's President Jovenel Moise, among them Haitian-American citizens James Solages, left, and Joseph Vincent, second left, are shown to the media at the General Direction of the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 8, 2021
© AP Photo / Joseph Odelyn
The attackers were soon rounded up by Haitian police and turned out to be 26 Colombians - mostly former soldiers - and two Haitian-Americans who claimed they had been hired on the internet to provide translation between the Spanish-speaking Colombians and French-speaking Haitians.
An investigation led to Christian Emmanuel Sanon, 63, a Florida-based Haitian-American doctor who reportedly hired the assassins and apparently harboured ideas of being installed as President himself.
One of the Colombians reportedly described them as “useful idiots” who had been duped.
But Haiti had further misfortune around the corner.
At 8.30 a.m. on 14 August a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti.
The quake, epicentred on the Tiburon peninsula in southern Haiti, would claim the lives of 2,000 Haitians.
August - Taliban Retakes Kabul
In Afghanistan - as in Vietnam almost half a century before - the United States had grown tired of a war against an invisible, ideologically-driven enemy fighting on its home territory. Incoming President Joe Biden sped up the withdrawal of US forces, while still claiming the government of President Ashraf Ghani, 72, was motivated and well-armed enough to stave off the threat of the Taliban*.
© STRTaliban members inspect near the site of a blast in Jalalabad on September 18, 2021.
Taliban members inspect near the site of a blast in Jalalabad on September 18, 2021.
In January 2021, there were 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan but that number had declined significantly by the time the Taliban began their final offensive in May.
By July, the Taliban had taken the cities of Kandahar and Herat and morale in the US-backed Afghan National Army had collapsed.
The Taliban made dramatic progress in early August but British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab went on holiday to a five-star resort on the Greek island of Crete, apparently oblivious to the hundreds of British citizens trying to get out of Kabul.
After the Taliban captured Kabul on 15 August and then took the international airport, Raab came under intense pressure because of the Foreign Office’s tardy response and he was eventually reshuffled by Boris Johnson, being demoted to Justice Secretary.
On 26 August, a suicide bomber killed 95 people, including 13 US military personnel, after detonating a device at the Abbey Gate entrance to the airport.
Four days later the last US soldier, Captain Chris Donahue, left Afghanistan for good.
September - AUKUS Alliance Targets China
In September 2021, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Scott Morrison announce the formation of a new pact, AUKUS, specifically aimed at countering Chinese influence in the Pacific.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said AUKUS "seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race".
© AFP 2022 / DREW ANGERERARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 22: Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on September 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.
ARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 22: Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on September 22, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.
But the Chinese were not the only ones who were infuriated by the pact.
AUKUS will involved the Americans sharing their knowhow on building and operating nuclear submarines with the Australians and after signing it, Mr. Morrison said he would be pulling out of a deal his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, had made in 2016 for the French to build 12 submarines for the Australian Navy.
The torpedoing of the deal, which was worth 31 billion euros to the French, was greeted angrily by President Emmanuel Macron’s government.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described it as a “stab in the back.”
October - Russian Movie Director Films In Space
Russian actress Yulia Peresild and movie director Klim Shipenko arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on 5 October to create the world’s first feature film shot entirely in space.
Having completed filming of The Challenge, Peresild and Shipenko touched down on Earth together with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy on 17 October.
Peresild, 37, who starred in the Oscar-nominated Russian movie The Edge in 2010, plays a cardiac surgeon who has to perform open-heart surgery in zero gravity to save the life of a cosmonaut.
© Sputnik / Ramil SitdikovActress Yulia Peresild of the ISS Expedition 66 prime crew puts on her spacesuit at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The launch of the Soyuz MS-19 mission to be involved in making the feature film "The Challenge" aboard the International Space Station is scheduled for 5 October 2021 at 11:55 Moscow time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome
Actress Yulia Peresild of the ISS Expedition 66 prime crew puts on her spacesuit at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The launch of the Soyuz MS-19 mission to be involved in making the feature film "The Challenge" aboard the International Space Station is scheduled for 5 October 2021 at 11:55 Moscow time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome
© Sputnik / Ramil Sitdikov/
The Russians beat a rival project by American star Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman, which would use Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets.
Liman meanwhile had a dig at Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who took “tourists” including William Shatner - who played Captain Kirk in Star Trek - on an orbit of the Earth on his Blue Origin craft.
“I’m a bit snobby about it because Blue Origin is not going very high. Like, it’s space, but it’s not. I really think the moon or beyond is space,” said Liman.
December - Auf Wiedersehen Angela
After 16 years as the Chancellor of Germany, and the most dominant political figure in the country, Angela Merkel finally left office on 7 December.
Merkel, a former scientist who grew up in communist East Germany, was a protégé of Helmut Kohl, who was himself in power for 16 years.
© AP Photo / Geert Vanden WijngaertEuropean Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during an informal EU summit on migration at EU headquarters in Brussels, Sunday, June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during an informal EU summit on migration at EU headquarters in Brussels, Sunday, June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Pool)
© AP Photo / Geert Vanden Wijngaert
She led the Christian Democratic Union to four election victories before handing over her position to Armin Laschet, who narrowly lost at the polls on 26 September 2021.
After a great deal of horse-trading, the SPD leader Olaf Scholz was finally named Chancellor in December at the head of a coalition which includes the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats.
The CDU will be in opposition for the first time since 2005 and the world waits to see if Scholz, a former mayor of Hamburg, will steer Germany in a different direction.
December - Putin Chats With Biden Over Ukraine
Tensions between Russia and the Ukraine have been growing again, with Kiev refusing to accept the reunification of Crimea with the rest of Russia.
The Ukrainians and their friends in Western intelligence agencies have been claiming President Vladimir Putin is preparing his troops to invade Ukraine in early 2022.
The US has threatened to send troops to eastern Europe if that happens.
On 7 December, Joe Biden and President Putin talked by secure video call - months after they had their first, highly-anticipated summit in person in Geneva, Switzerland.
© REUTERS / HANDOUTU.S. President Joe Biden holds virtual talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Ukraine, during a secure video call from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2021.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds virtual talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Ukraine, during a secure video call from the Situation Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2021.
The White House said: “President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy.”
In response, Putin said NATO was making dangerous attempts to expand eastward and was building up its military potential at Russian borders. Putin said he wanted “reliable, legally fixed guarantees” that NATO would not expand to the east and would not deploy offensive weapons in countries bordering Russia.
But Mostly It’s Been COVID
But 2021 was, like 2020 before it, dominated once again by the dreaded coronavirus, which has killed 5,388,000 people globally.
COVID-19 worries continued to prevail over political and economic discourse around the world.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus which causes COVID-19 is actually called SARS-CoV-2.
© REUTERS / DADO RUVICA test tube labelled "COVID-19 Test Positive" is seen in front of displayed words "OMICRON SARS-COV-2" in this illustration taken December 11, 2021
A test tube labelled "COVID-19 Test Positive" is seen in front of displayed words "OMICRON SARS-COV-2" in this illustration taken December 11, 2021
The original form of the virus emerged in China but various variants have cropped up to keep the scientists on their toes.
Alpha (spotted first in Britain) and Beta (which originated in South Africa) were first designated in December 2020 and, in January 2021, Gamma popped up in Brazil.
The Delta variant, which emerged in India, caused havoc for much of 2021 but at the end of the year it was Omicron, which was spreading like crazy and forcing countries like the Netherlands to go back into full lockdown.
*The Taliban is an organisation under UN sanctions for terrorist activities.