Planet Watch
Tengiz

Ukraine war portends new oil shock

Long-depressed oil prices are suddenly soaring in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with impacts already being felt globally. Exports from Kazakhstan and the Caspian Basin are virtually paralyzed, as the Black Sea pipeline terminal delivering the crude to Western markets is incurring a prohibitive “war risk insurance premium.” Berlin has suspended the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is to carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany—and Russia has retaliated by threatening to cut gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 line. In his executive order barring Russian oil and gas imports to the US, President Biden issued a warning to the oil companies, urging that the war should not serve as an excuse for price-gouging. But it is actually the oil futures market that plays a determinant role in fixing the international price. There’s a big psychological element involved, which is why every escalation in the Middle East (without fail) jacks up oil prices. A war in Europe will almost certainly mean another oil shock, with grim implications for the world economy and Biden’s political chances. (Photo of Kazakh oil-field via Wikimedia Commons)

Europe
Belarus

Belarus ‘votes’ to abandon nuclear-free status

Amid an atmosphere of repression, Belarus voted in a referendum to approve constitutional changes that consolidate the power of long-ruling strongman Alexander Lukashenko—and drop the country’s nuclear-free status. On the eve of the vote, Lukashenko expressed his willingness to redeploy nuclear arms in the country’s territory, saying: “If [the West] transfers nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania, to our borders, then I will turn to [Vladimir] Putin to bring back the nuclear weapons that I gave away without any conditions.” After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus ceded the nuclear weapons deployed on its territory to Russia, and the Belarusian constitution declared that the country would remain a “nuclear-free zone.” This clause has now been expunged from the document. (Map via PCL Map Collection)

East Asia
kurils

Submarine incident in flashpoint Kuril Islands

Amid quickly escalating tensions over Ukraine, Russia lodged a diplomatic protest with the US embassy in Moscow, claiming that a US nuclear submarine penetrated Russian territorial waters near the Kuril Islands. According to Moscow’s Defense Ministry, a Virginia-class US Navy submarine was detected off Urup Island, where Russia’s Pacific Fleet was conducting exercises. The Defense Ministry said the submarine was chased off by Russian vessels, and retreated at “maximum speed.” The statement accused the US of a “violation of Russia’s state border.” Media accounts did not emphasize that whether this purported incident indeed took place in Russian waters is questionable, as the Kurils are in part claimed by Japan—a dispute which has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from entering a treaty to formally end their World War II hostilities. Russia over the past weeks has conducted naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean, the North Sea, and northeast Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Pacific and Sea of Okhotsk, where the Kurils are located.  (Map: International Kuril Island Project)

Planet Watch
Ghana soldiers

Growing police-state measures in face of COVID-19

As nations across the globe remain under lockdown, more sweeping powers are being assumed by governments in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing demands for relief from poor barrios running out of resources under his lockdown orders, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to shoot protesters in the streets. Police have opened fire on lockdown violators in Nigeria, Ghana and Peru. In Tunisia, remote-controlled wheeled robots have been deployed to accost lockdown violators. States of emergency, including broad powers to restrict movements and control the media, have been declared from the Philippines to Serbia. Amnesty International warns that the restrictive measures could become a “new normal.” (Photo: Pulse, Ghana)

Syria
Syria oil map

Kurds betrayed in new Russo-Turkish alignment?

Moscow hosted the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria’s Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said the discussions included “the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian component.” This is a reference to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which is ideologically aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned Kurdish revolutionary organization in Turkish territory. The YPG made a separate peace with the Assad regime to resist the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory last year. It should come as little surprise that Assad is now considering their betrayal in exchange for some kind of peace with Turkey.  (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Planet Watch

Will world war be October surprise?

Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet is preparing to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China, after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea. Meanwhile, NATO is planning to conduct its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, Trident Juncture 2018, along Norway's border wth Russia. This comes as Washington and Moscow are odds over missile deployments, accusing each other of violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Watching the Shadows

Lithuania, Romania guilty in CIA torture case

The European Court of Human Rights found that Lithuania and Romania had violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by allowing secret CIA prisons to operate on their territory. Lithuania had allowed the CIA to open a "black site" on its territory, where the CIA subjected the applicant, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn AKA Abu Zubaydah, to "ill-treatment and arbitrary detention." Lithuania must pay Husayn 130,000 euros ($150,000). The applicant in the Romania case, Abd al-Rahim Husseyn Muhammad al-Nashiri, was transported to a "black site" on that country's territory territory, and faced capital charges in the US. The court apprehended Romania for transferring al-Nashiri to the US when it was likely he would face the death penalty. Romania must pay the applicant 100,000 euros ($115,000). Both men remain interned at Guantánamo Bay. (Photo: WikimediaCommons)

Syria

Russian Cossacks fight in Syria?

Mystery continues to surround the US air-strikes on Syria’s Deir ez-Zor governorate, which Damascus called a “brutal massacre” of pro-regime troops. While the Kremlin denies that its troops were involved in the incident, survivors are said to be receiving medical treatment at Defense Ministry hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg. And the Kaliningrad-based Baltic Cossack paramilitary group issued a statement claiming its members were among those who “died for the Fatherland, the Cossacks and the Orthodox faith” in Deir ez-Zor. One of the slain was named by the group as a veteran of the war in Ukraine. (Image: Voices from Russia)

Afghanistan

ICC to investigate US war crimes in Afghanistan

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made a formal request to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by US the military in Afghanistan. The investigation would also examine crimes at secret CIA detention facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. The request cites articles of the Rome Statute concerning murder, torture and unlawful imprisonment. It marks the first time ICC prosecutors have targeted the United States.

Syria

Syria: will peace plan mean world war?

Russia announced that it is sending forces to police the “de-escalation zones” in Syria—which could provide a spark for massive escalation.

Europe

Trump-Putin breach portends global catastrophe

The Flynn resignation has been followed by a fast and dramatic escalation of US-Russia tensions, with Pentagon troops deployed to Romania and a near-skirmish in the Black Sea.

Greater Middle East

Syria: nuclear flashpoint

The breakdown of US-Russia cooperation over Syria comes as Moscow moves missiles to the Polish border and withdraws from an agreement on plutonium disposal.