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)

Europe
TurĂłw

Polish-Czech agreement on border coal mine

The government of Poland announced that it has agreed to pay compensation in a dispute over the TurĂłw open-pit lignite mine that lies close to the border with the Czech Republic. In return, Prague has withdrawn its complaint at the Court of Justice of the European Union. The dispute concerns the complaints of local farmers on the Czech side of the border that their water sources are going dry due to the mine’s operations. The TurĂłw Brown Coal Mine, owned by Poland’s parastatal power company PGE, must pump water from the pit into the Lusatian Neisse River, draining the local aquifer. The mine has been expanding closer to the border, further enflaming the fears of the Czech farmers. The deal was protested by Greenpeace for failing to provide sufficient guarantees for protection of the watershed. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Planet Watch
F-35A

Rapid nuclear escalation, East and West

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that Moscow will deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons if NATO does not accede to demands to stop arming Ukraine and guarantee an end to eastward expansion of the alliance. His remarks come amid tensions over Russian military movements near Ukraine’s borders, where the Kremlin is estimated to have amassed some 100,000 troops. Amid similar tensions over Chinese incursions into the Taiwan Strait, a Pentagon report warns that the People’s Republic is undertaking an expansion and “modernization” of its nuclear arsenal to “provide Beijing with more credible military options in a Taiwan contingency.” And the US is meanwhile replacing gravity bombs with digitally guided nuclear missiles on its new design of the F-35A fighter jet. (Photo of F-35A via Air Force Times)

Europe
poland border

Escalation on the EU’s eastern frontier

Tensions on the European Union’s eastern border escalated sharply as Polish border guards repulsed a wave of some 4,000 asylum seekers and migrants seeking to cross from Belarus. Poland has mobilized 15,000 soldiers to the region to prevent people from crossing, and Belarusian security forces are not allowing the migrants to turn back. The migrants are sleeping rough as temperatures plunge below freezing; a 14-year-old boy froze to death, becoming at least the eleventh person to have died attempting to cross the border. There are fears the situation could result in a military confrontation. (Photo: Visegrad24)

Greater Middle East
drone

Turkish drones decisive in regional wars

The Turkish military is unveiling a new upgraded “unmanned combat aerial vehicle,” the Bayraktar Akıncı, developed by private drone manufacturer Baykar Defense, which is owned by President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄźan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar. The Akıncı is a more advanced version of Turkey’s iconic Bayraktar TB2, able to fly higher and carry more missiles. The TB2 has been used by Ankara against Kurdish guerillas in northern Iraq, and against Syrian regime forces. Turkey has also provided the TB2 to various foreign militaries; it is held to have been decisive in Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenian forces in last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh war, as well as the Libyan government’s victory over the warlord Khalifa Haftar. Ukraine, having already tested an initial dispatchment of the drone, is now ordering 24 more for use in its war against Russian-backed separatists. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Watching the Shadows
Gitmo

Gitmo ‘forever prisoner’ petitions United Nations

Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah, who has been held for 19 years without charges or a trial, filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (UNWGAD) requesting intervention in his case. Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks and was held and tortured by the CIA in various top-secret “black sites.” The CIA originally believed that Zubaydah was a close associate of al-Qaeda, but after four years of interrogation, they concluded that he was not linked to the group. He was then moved to Guantánamo in 2006. The US government has justified Zubaydah’s continued detention by asserting its broad authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Under the AUMF, passed after 9-11, detainees can be held until the “cessation of hostile activities,” But Zubaydah asserts in his complaint that this “law of war” rationale is in conflict with international human rights laws. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Greater Middle East
Istanbul Convention

Turkey drops treaty on violence against women

Turkey withdrew from the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, popularly known as the Istanbul Convention, by presidential decree. The Istanbul Convention is the first legally binding instrument in Europe to combat violence against women. Turkey was the first country to sign the convention the day it was launched in the city of Istanbul in 2011. The withdrawal comes as femicides and domestic violence cases are on the rise in Turkey. Thousands immediately took to the streets in protest of President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄźan’s decision. (Photo via Twitter)

Europe
Warsaw

Poland: mass uprising for reproductive rights

Warsaw and other Polish cities have seen mass protests since the country’s Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling that will virtually end legal abortion. Tens of thousands of protesters—the majority of them women—have taken to the streets of cities and towns across the country, in defiance of pandemic restrictions harshly limiting the size of gatherings. Their anger has been directed against the ruling conservative Law & Justice Party (PiS) and the Catholic church, which are seen as being behind the decision. Protesters have disrupted services and sprayed graffiti on the walls of Warsaw churches. Clashes broke out in a number of cities between the demonstrators and far-right groups ostensibly organized to defend churches. Two women were also injured when a car drove through a group of protesters who were blocking a road in Warsaw.  (Photo: Notes from Poland)

Planet Watch
Warsaw riot

Biological police state preparations advance

As rising strongmen in places like Poland and Ethiopia exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to postpone elections and grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to “normality.” In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new “Alert Level 2” rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of “enforcement officers” to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (Photo of Warsaw police action via Twitter)

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)