Planet Watch
air pollution

Lower emissions from US power grid (at least)

The US Department of Energy released its preliminary estimate for the nation’s carbon emissions in the previous year. While falling far short of the kind of drop needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals, a dip in emissions was recorded—almost entirely due to changes in the electric power sector. US carbon emissions have been trending downward since 2007, when they peaked at about six gigatonnes. The COVID-19 pandemic produced a dramatic drop in emissions in 2020, bringing the yearly total to below five gigatonnes for the first time since before 1990, when DoE monitoring began. Carbon releases rose after the return to “normalcy“; 2023 marked the first post-pandemic decline. The drop is largely due to the phase-out of coal-burning power plants. However, electricity generation remains the second source of emissions, behind transportation. (Photo: Ralf Vetterle, Pixabay)

Planet Watch

Russia vetoes UN resolution to bar nuclear arms in space

Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution sponsored by the US and Japan which called on all nations to contribute to the peaceful use of outer space and to prevent a dangerous arms race in space-based weapons. The resolution reaffirmed the principles set out in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which compels states to “not place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.” The resolution was announced after the US accused Russia of developing an anti-satellite nuclear weapon to put in space. President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s ministry of defense have denied the accusations. Russia’s UN ambassador called the resolution a “cynical ploy.” (Photo via University of Portsmouth)

North Africa
Khalifa Haftar

War crimes suits against Libya’s Haftar dismissed

A US judge dismissed a group of civil lawsuits accusing Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar of war crimes. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case concerning crimes committed in Libya—even though Haftar has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the DC suburbs of northern Virginia. In the suits, first filed in 2019 under the Torture Victim Protection Act, the plaintiffs charged that family members were killed in bombardments conducted by Haftar’s forces on civilian areas of Tripoli that year. Plaintiffs noted that Haftar’s extensive properties in Virginia could have been used to compensate the survivors. The head of the Libyan-American Alliance, Issam Omeish, expressed his regret over the court’s decision, calling it a setback in the groups’ work seeking justice and accountability for rights abuses in Libya’s civil war. (Photo: Haftar with US embassy ChargĂ© d’Affaires Leslie Ordeman and USAF Lt. Gen. John Lamontagne, January 2023. Via Wikimedia Commons)

The Caucasus

Russia guilty of rights violations in Georgia conflict

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia’s occupation of two breakaway regions in Georgia systematically violated human rights. Georgia initially brought its case against Russia in August 2018, exactly 10 years after Russia invaded and began occupying the two Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia also established military bases in those areas and a border patrol to secure an “administrative boundary line” (ABL) around the regions. The process of “borderization” blocked free travel across the ABL, enacting a heavy toll on those living along the line. Villagers lost access to farmland, water sources, and means of income. In some cases, families were separated. Georgian Minister of Justice Rati Bregadze celebrated the court’s decision, calling the judgment an important step toward the ultimate goal of achieving the “complete de-occupation” of Georgia. (Map: PLC)


Mysterious drone strikes on Transnistria

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called for an investigation into a new drone strike on Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region, condemning the attack as “yet another provocation” in the enclave. The “kamikaze” strike targeted a Transnistrian defense ministry unit, resulting in damage to a radar station. The targeted facility is six kilometers from the border of Ukraine. This attack was the second to occur in Transnistria in less than a month. The region was similarly hit with a drone strike in March, causing a fire and resulting in damage to military property. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Pridnestrovian Moldovian Republic, as the breakaway government is called, condemned the strikes as “terrorist” attacks. Moldova’s Bureau of Reintegration Policy denies that Ukraine was involved in the incidents. The largely Russian-speaking breakaway region has been supported by Russia since the 1990s. The enclave hosts approximately 1,500 Russian troops. (Image: Wikipedia)

Central Asia

Tajikistan denies Moscow claim of mercenary recruitment

Tajikistan’s Foreign Ministry denied claims by Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev that Ukraine has been recruiting mercenaries for its military in the country’s territory. Patrushev charged that Kyiv’s embassy in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, has been recruiting Tajikistan nationals to join the International Legion of the Ukrainian army, in return for a pathway to Ukrainian citizenship. The allegations come as relations between Tajikistan and Russia are under strain following the deadly attack on the Crocus Music Hall outside Moscow, which was claimed by ISIS. The four suspected gunmen arrested in Russia are said to be Tajikistan nationals, and nine others were detained in connection with the attack in Tajikistan. Some Russian officials have alleged that several of those involved in the attack were recruited through the Ukrainian embassy in Dushanbe. Ukraine has denied any involvement in the attack. (Map: CIA via PCL Map Collection)


Slovakia: protests over government’s authoritarian tilt

Slovakia has seen mass protests in recent weeks over new authoritarian measures by the ruling populist government of Prime Minister Robert Fico. The government has dissolved the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which had indicted Fico’s chief of staff and imprisoned his former prosecutor general for corruption. The government is also proposing to dissolve the state broadcaster Slovak Television & Radio, and replace it with a new official media body that would be under closer government control. Critics see the move as facilitating propaganda for the ruling coalition, as well as disinformation and Russian influence. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


Crimea: 10 years of illegal occupation

Amnesty International states in a new report that during 10 years of illegal occupation, Russia has attempted to reshape the demography of the Crimean Peninsula. It has also suppressed Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar identities through “restrictions on education, religion, media, representative institutions, the judicial system, and cultural celebrations.” Amnesty called for Russia to cease its violations of international humanitarian law in all of Crimea. In Moscow, meanwhile, celebrations were held commemorating the 10 years of Crimea’s annexation. (Map via Wikimedia Commons)


US military kicked out of Niger

Niger’s junta revoked a security agreement with the US military shortly after a large American delegation visited the country. Junta officials said they were angered by the “condescending attitude” of the US diplomats, who wanted to convince Niger not to deepen ties with Russia and Iran, and to transition the country to civilian rule. The US has some 1,000 troops in Niger and a drone base near Agadez. It has used the base to surveil jihadist fighters but has not accompanied Nigerien forces on operations targeting militants. The junta’s decision is part of a broader pushback against Western militarization in the Sahel. French troops were told to leave Niger last year, having previously been booted out of military-ruled Burkina Faso and Mali, which are also facing jihadist insurgencies. (Map: PCL)

Watching the Shadows

Podcast: conspiracy theory and the Moscow terror

The deadly terror attack in a concert hall outside Moscow was immediately claimed by ISIS-K, the Islamic State network’s Afghanistan franchise. But just as quickly, the Russian and Ukrainian intelligence services accused each other of being behind it—the latter saying it was organized as a “provocation” to expand Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Putin’s rise to power, including his recent rise to outright autocratic power, as well as his various military adventures, have indeed been lubricated every step of the way by terror attacks. But who was actually behind the Crocus City Center attack may not really matter overmuch. If 9-11 was a “Reichstag Fire” for the hyper-interventionist aims of Dubya Bush, that analogy may prove to apply even more closely to the concert hall carnage serving the war aims and totalitarian domestic agenda of Vladimir Putin. Bill Weinberg discusses in Episode 219 of the CounterVortex podcast. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo: governor of Moscow Oblast via Wikimedia Commons)

Watching the Shadows

Moscow terror: ISIS, Ukraine or ‘false flag’?

A group of armed men opened fire at a concert hall in a Moscow suburb, killing at least 133 people and injuring scores more. ISIS-K, the Islamic State network’s Afghanistan franchise, quickly took credit for the attack. But just as quickly, the Russian and Ukrainian intelligence services accused each other of being behind it—the latter saying it was organized as a “provocation” to expand Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Putin’s rise to power, including his recent rise to outright autocratic power, as well as his various military adventures, have indeed been lubricated every step of the way by terror attacks. But who was actually behind the Crocus City Center attack does not really matter overmuch. Just as 9-11—whoever was behind it—served the hyper-interventionist aims of Dubya Bush and his administration, we may be reasonably certain that the concert hall carnage will serve the war aims and totalitarian domestic agenda of Vladimir Putin. (Image: Wikipedia)


UN calls for urgent action on escalating Syria violence

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report concerning the most severe escalation of violence in the country since 2020. Explosions during a military academy graduation ceremony in Homs triggered the escalation, which began in October, leading to a series of indiscriminate attacks by Syrian and Russian forces on opposition-held areas. The commission emphasizes that these attacks may constitute war crimes, targeting hospitals, schools, markets, and displaced persons camps. (Photo: Alex Madred/Pixabay)