Russia

Oil prices surge: vindication is tedious

Well, we hate to say "We told you so," but... We told you so. We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, that thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production, the price was now immune to Middle East instability, dramatic spikes and "oil shocks" forever banished. Well, futures for Brent crude just hit $63.37 per barrel, with the spot price for West Texas Intermediate at $57.34. (Panorama.am, Investing.com) Creeping toward the $100 per barrel we were so recently assured was a thing of the past. OilPrice.com blames Trump's announcement that the US will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which has of course unleashed unrest in the Palestinian territories and instability fears across the Middle East. But the jump really began almost exactly a month ago, seemingly prompted by the leadership purge in Saudi Arabia. That brought the Brent crude price up to $62, its highest level since July 2015. (The Guardian, Nov. 6)

Bolivia hosts 'Gas OPEC' summit —amid dissension

The four-day summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) opened Nov. 21 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra—central hub of the country's hydrocarbon-rich eastern lowlands. President Evo Morales took the opportunity to boast of his "nationalization" of Bolivia's hydrocarbon resources. But the summit comes as member nations are bitterly divided by diplomatic tensions. Established in Iran in 2001, the GECF consists of 12 members: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates. An additional seven observer nations are Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway, Oman and Peru. The UAE and other Gulf States are currently at odds with Qatar, with diplomatic relations suspended since June.

Syria: 'de-escalation' zones become kill zones

When the Astana "peace" deal for Syria was announced earlier this year, we predicted that the proposed so-called "de-escalation" zones would actually become kill zones. A condition of every "ceasefire" agreement sponsored either by Russia (like the Astana pact) or the US is that the rebels declare war on the Qaeda-linked factions to have emerged from the (now ostensibly disbanded) Nusra Front. But already beseiged by the Assad regime and Russia, the rebels are in no plight to do so—they've been put in an untenable situation. It was clear the Astana plan was not about peace but about propaganda—providing a cover for continuance of the war. So we were grimly vindicated to see the Nov. 18 New York Times headline, "Marked for 'De-escalation,' Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks."

Russia vetoes Syria chemwar investigation —again

The Russian Federation on Nov. 17 vetoed a measure before the UN Security Council (UNSC) that would have extended the mandate of a UN panel investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria for 30 days. The UNSC had established the Joint Investigative Mechanism with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2015 with a two-year mandate following the use of chemical weapons in Syria in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Anarchist historian arrested in Belarus police raid

Riot police raided a bookstore in the Belarusian city of Hrodno on Oct. 9, interrupting a lecture by anarchist historian Pyotr Ryabov, who was visiting from Moscow State Pedagogical University, and arresting him on the pretext of breaking up a "unsanctioned mass gathering." Ryabov, who had been giving a presentation on "Libertarian Social Thought," was convicted two days later on charges of "hooliganism" and sentenced to six days in jail. He promptly went on hunger strike. Belarusian human rights activist Alyaksandr Vaytseshyk, who came to the hearing to support Ryabov, was detained on the scene and charged with contempt of court. Ryabov's supporters picketed the Belarusian embassy in Moscow Oct. 13 to demand his release. (ContraInfo, Oct. 14; LibCom, Oct. 13; RFE/RL, Oct. 12)

Further internationalization of Syrian war

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that Turkey is conducting a "landmark" military operation in Syria's Idlib governorate, extending the area brought under the control of Ankara and its rebel allies in last year's Operation Euphrates Shield against ISIS. Now the target is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). a formation led by militias to emerge from the former Nusra Front, some with apparent ties to al-Qaeda. (Al Jazeera, Oct. 9; Daily Sabah, Oct. 7) The Euphrates River has emerged as a border between Turkey's de facto "buffer zone"in northern Syria and areas still under Kurdish control—for now. However, Kurdish enclaves still remain west of the river, including the likely flashpoint town of Afrin. (See map.)

Trump and Putin team up to destroy Syria

A rare on-the-scene BBC report from Raqqa reveals a grim picture of the ISIS "capital" under months of relentless US bombardment and siege by US-backed ground forces.  Reporter Quentin Sommerville depicts a "city fit for no-one," neighborhoods desolate and "ruined." Once you are inside the city, "[a]head lies nothing but destruction and grey dust and rubble. This is a place drained of colour, of life, and of people. In six days inside Raqqa, I didn't see a single civilian... It seems that not a single building has escaped the onslaught. Many have been crushed, flattened, or knocked to one side by the Western coalition's air strikes and artillery. It is a barrage that never ceases. More than two dozen air strikes a day, and hundreds of shells fall on the city." All this to defeat an ISIS force that by now is thought to number only some 400 fighters.

Crimean Tatar leader sentenced to prison

Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov was convicted by Russian-appointed judges in Simferopol Sept. 27 on spurious "separatism" charges, and sentenced to two years. An outspoken critic of Russia's occupation of peninsula, Umerov was arrested late last year, forcibly interned in a psychiatric facility, and then charged on counts of separatism, and forbidden to leave the country. The European Union condemned his sentencing as "a violation of human rights," while Human Rights Watch called it "ruthless retaliation" for his opposition to Moscow's annexrtion of Crimea. Umerov was deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Majlis, which has now been officially suspended by Moscow. (UNPO)