control of oil
This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)
Amid a new eruption of massive protests and deadly street clashes in Venezuela comes word that General Motors says it will immediately halt operations in the country after its plant in the industrial hub of Valencia was unexpectedly seized by authorities. GM described the takeover as an "illegal judicial seizure of its assets," and pledged to "vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela" to challenge the expropriation. (CNN, NBC, April 20) But the news comes along with even more unexpected indications of quiet overtures between the governments of Nicolás Maduro and Donald Trump...
Seven of Burma's hold-out ethnic rebel armies formed a new committee this week to prepare collective talks with the government in anticipation of the next round of peace negotiations. Participating groups in what is now being called the "Northern Alliance" were the Kachin Independence Organization/Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA), Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The meeting was held in Pangkham, administrative capital of the UWSA-controlled territory. After eight other northern ethnic armies have signed peace deals in recent years, these groups remain officialy at war with the Tatmadaw, the government's armed forces.
The Benghazi Defense Brigades seized Libya's key oil ports from warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity forces, and urged the Tripoli-based "official" Government of National Accord to take control of the country's long-contested "oil crescent." The militia apparently took Ras Lanuf and other key oil terminals to press demands for displaced persons from Benghazi, long contested by Haftar’s forces and Islamist factions, to be able to safely return to their homes. "We will not stay inside the oil crescent region, once we secure it back from Haftar’s mercenaries, we will hand it over to the legitimate official authorities," the Benghazi Defense Brigades said in a statement. (Libyan Express, March 4)
At the order of President Trump, US Treasury Department on Feb. 3 placed sanctions on 25 individuals and companies connected to Iran's ballistic missile program or providing support to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Qods Force. The sanctions came two days after after Tehran conflrmed the Jan. 29 test launch of a Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile from its base at Semnan. The IRGC statement said that the test did not violate the nuclear deal that took effect last year. The missile apprently flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a re-entry vehicle. "As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice," National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said in response to the test. (Jurist, Tehran Times, NCRI, 38North, The Naitonal Interest, NYT, Fox News)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Feb. 2 ruled that it has the authority to adjudicate a dispute over a stretch of water in the Indian Ocean that is potentially laden with oil and gas. Somalia asked (PDF) the ICJ to rule on the dispute in 2014 after negotiations with Kenya broke down over the 100,000-square mile stretch. The ICJ rejected Kenya's claim that a 2009 agreement (PDF) between the two countries to settle the dispute through negotiations deprives the court of jurisdiction in the matter. Kenya's attorney general, Githu Muigai, stated: "Kenya maintains the view that litigation can resolve only one aspect of a wide range of complex issues the parties must agree upon." This decision allows the case to proceed, with no date set as of yet for the trial to begin.
Iran's government and companies close to the elite Revolutionary Guards have signed major economic contracts with Syria, gaining control of large areas of the country in what appear to be lucrative rewards for helping President Bashar Assad regain control of territory from rebels. Five memorandums of understanding were signed during a visit by Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis to Tehran on Jan. 17, including a licence for Iran to become a mobile phone service operator in Syria, and phosphate mining contracts. "We greatly appreciate Iran's major role in combating terrorism and standing by the Syrian people in every way, politically and economically," Khamis said. Syria will give Iran 5,000 hectares of land for farming, and 1,000 hectares for setting up oil and gas terminals. A deal was also signed on providing lands for animal husbandry.
Several states across Mexico have been shaken by days of angry protests in response to a jump in the price of gasoline sparked by a new deregulation policy. Protests, road blockades and civil strikes are reported from 12 states since the new policy was instated Jan. 1. Looting was reported in Hidalgo, Veracruz and México states, with over 350 stores sacked. Several federal police agents were briefly taken hostage by protesters when they tried to break up a roadblock in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo. Two protesters were killed in the Ixmiquilpan clash, while one Federal District police officer is reported dead in rioting on the outskirts of Mexico City. Police also fired in the air to scatter protesters in Ecatepec, México. Nearly 900 have been detained nationwide. (Sol de Mexico, Jan. 6; Animal Politico, Jan. 5; Apro, Jan. 4)