Africa
Somalia

Podcast: Somalia in the Great Game

In Episode 122 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the ongoing conflict in Somalia in light of both climate change and Great Power politics. Despite a pseudo-withdrawal of US forces, the Pentagon continues drone strikes against the Shaabab insurgents—as the Horn of Africa faces it worst drought in a generation, with millions on the brink of extreme hunger and possible starvation. A paradox of the situation is that “government-controlled” Somalia (the southern third of the country) is not controlled by any government, but wracked by insurgency. In contrast, the unrecognized de facto independent state of Somaliland in the north is a bastion of comparative stability and even social progress. Reports of Russian designs on Somaliland as a potential site for a naval base threaten to draw it into the imperial contest for control of the strategic Horn. Progressives in the West can demand international recognition for an independent and non-aligned Somaliland. We can also loan solidarity to the Sufi resistance now fighting both the Shaabab and the “recognized” Mogadishu quasi-government. Most importantly, we can support the secular and pro-democratic voices of civil society that are standing up for human rights and basic freedoms at great risk to themselves, and in spite fo everything. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map via Wikimedia Commons)

Africa
niger

French forces out of Mali, into Niger

Lawmakers in Niger have approved a bill that clears the way for more foreign troops to be deployed in the country, which is fighting several jihadist insurgencies. The move comes as French and European forces withdraw from neighboring Mali, having fallen out with the ruling junta there. Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum had already announced plans in February to absorb some of the departing soldiers. But passing the bill through parliament formalizes the decision, amid rising anti-French sentiment in the country and the wider region. (Map: PCL)

Afghanistan
kunar

Pipeline plans threatened by Af-Pak border clashes

Afghanistan authorities say some 60 civilians, including five children, were killed as Pakistan launched air-strikes across the border on Khost and Kunar provinces. The strikes follow a series of attacks on security forces by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Pakistan’s borderlands. The escalation was harshly condemned both by the Taliban regime and the Afghan permanent mission in the United Nations—the loyalty of which remains unclear more than six months after the Taliban takeover. The new tensions come a week after top diplomats from China, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and other regional states met for a summit in China’s Anhui province on reviving the long-stalled Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which would deliver Central Asian gas to world markets through Afghan territory. (Photo via Khaama Press)

Central Asia
russia

Podcast: the looming breakup of Russia

In Episode 118 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the possibility that Putin’s criminal adventure in Ukraine could backfire horribly, actually portending the implosion of the Russian Federation into its constituent entities, the “autonomous” republics, oblasts and krais. Troops from Russia’s Far East were apparently involved in the horrific massacre at the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. But indigenous leaders from Siberia and the Russian Arctic are breaking with Moscow over the Ukraine war. Rumblings of separatist sentiment are now heard from Yakutia (Sakha), Khabarovsk, KalmykiaKamchatka, TatarstanTuva, the Altai Republic, and the entirety of Siberia. China, which controlled much of what is now the Russian Far East until the 1850s, has its own expansionist designs on the region. Frederick Engels called for the “destruction forever” of Russia during the Crimean War, but it may collapse due to its own internal contradictions rather than Western aggression. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map: PCL)

Europe
stalin

Podcast: is ‘Neither East Nor West’ still possible?

In Episode 117 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg recalls the history of the Neither East Nor West position taken by anarchists and anti-authoritarians in the Cold War—seeking to build solidarity between anti-war and left-libertarian forces on either side of the East-West divide. With the world now arguably closer to military confrontation between nuclear-armed powers than it ever was in the (first) Cold War, is such a position still possible? The recent controversy surrounding a planned art show in New York City featuring the work of Russian anti-war artists crystalizes the dilemma. Weinberg also explores the paradoxically parallel thoughts of democratic socialist George Orwell and conservative moralist CS Lewis, both writing in the era of fascism, on the dangers of a “pacifist” position that abets aggressive war and totalitarianism. It is critical that progressives in the West avoid this trap by supporting the courageous Russian anti-war protesters—not (as some have) the war criminal Vladimir Putin. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: Budapest 1990, Reddit)

Europe
Crimean war

Podcast: Ukraine & ‘the Russian menace to Europe’

In Episode 116 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg provides an overview of geostrategic and political thinking on the criticality of Eastern Europe and especially Ukraine, from the Crimean War to the contemporary catastrophe. Despite contemporary misconceptions, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels shared the perception of a “Russian menace to Europe” with theorists of Western imperialism such as Halford John Mackinder, Lord Curzon, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Nicholas J. Spykman, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Arch-reactionary or openly fascist conceptions of “Eurasianism” were taken up by the German Karl Haushoferand the Russians Mikhail Katkov and Ivan Ilyin—the latter a formative influence on Alexander Dugin, the intellectual mastermind of Vladimir Putin’s revanchist imperial project. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map of Crimean War theaters via Wikimedia)

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)

North Africa

Libya’s two prime ministers

Libya’s eastern-based parliament chose a new prime minister for the country, former interior minister Fathi Bashagha. The only problem… Libya already has an interim prime minister: Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, chosen by a UN-led process to head the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. Dbeibah was supposed to guide the fractured country through presidential elections in December, but they were postponed after contestation over the rules governing the process. Dbeibah had promised not to run for president but put his hat in the ring anyway, with the rules apparently mandating that he step down as prime minister three months before the polls—which he did not do. The Tobruk-based parliament says the deadline means Dbeibah’s time is up, but he says he won’t hand over power until elections take place. He reportedly survived an assassination attempt shortly before the parliament’s move to replace him. None of this bodes well for Libyans’ long quest for a united country. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

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)

Central Asia
GBAO

Tajikistan: internet darkness in Gorno-Badakhshan

Human Rights Watch urged Tajikistan’s authorities to restore internet connectivity in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO, by its Russian acronym), and called on the national government to ensure due process for detained political activists. The trouble in the GBAO began in late November, when the shooting of a local man during an arrest sparked protests in the regional capital, Khorog. Protests calmed several days later, after local authorities vowed to undertake an investigation into the shooting, as well as the deaths of two demonstrators. The government also pledged that it would not prosecute arrested protesters, and would restore internet connectivity—but two months on, it has not done so. The GBAO is the home of the increasingly restive Pamiri ethnic minority, and was recently the scene of Russian-led military maneuvers on the border with Afghanistan. (Map: Wikipedia)

Europe
Ukraine

Podcast: Ukraine between East and West

In Episode 108 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the frightening East-West escalation over Ukraine. Beyond the front-line on that country’s eastern borders, the forces of Russia and its allies and those of NATO are preparing for war from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. The “anti-war” (sic) left in the US is, with perfect predictability, lining up with Russia. Contrary to pseudo-left misconceptions, the post-Cold War promises to Russia that NATO would not expand east were never formalized. However, the promises made to Ukraine that its sovereignty and territory would be protected were formalized. The prevailing double standard on the Western “left” sensationalizes a “Nazi” threat in Ukraine while ignoring the actual consolidation of fascistic dictatorships in Russia and Belarus. Putin’s propaganda, spread by the Kremlin media machine, is an exercise in fascist pseudo-anti-fascism. Ukrainian socialists and democratic-left forces advance a “Neither East Nor West” position that demands solidarity against Russian aggression from the world anti-war forces. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map via Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)