Dictator Bashar al-Assad flew to Vladimir Putin's summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on the prosecution of the Syrian war and their future plans for the country. Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, following his March re-election (amid waves of protest), and (of course) thanked the Russian military for its support in re-conquering Syria. "Stability is improving," Assad told Putin at he opening press conference. Invoking the intermittent Russia-brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan (now largely irrelevant, that most of the country has been re-conquered), Assad added that "we have always wholeheartedly supported the political process, which should proceed in parallel with the war on terrorism." (Reuters) As Assad arrived in Sochi, Putin announced that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent stand-by in the Mediterranean to counter what he called the "terrorist threat" in Syria. (Moscow Times)
Egypt's chief prosecutor on May 7 referred 555 individuals suspected of joining a local affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS) group to military court. The charges against them arise out of a series of attacks carried out by dozens of small militant groups situated in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. The suspects will faces charges for the planned and executed killings of security personnel, attacks on military checkpoints, and the destruction of a gas pipeline between Egypt and Jordan carried out over a series of 63 attacks.
Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)
Seemingly irregular oil contracts have emerged as a factor in the ongoing political scandal that last week brought down Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Following accusations from left-opposition congressmember Manuel Dammert (Nuevo Perú), state agency PeruPetro admitted that hours before leaving office on March 21, Kuczynski had issued a Supreme Decree initiating the process of approving five offshore oil concessions with a private company—but without the involvement of PeruPetro in vetting the contracts, as required by law. Calling the deals "lobista," Dammert is demanding that new President Martín Vizcarra declare the contracts void. The exploration contracts for blocs off the coast of Tmubes region are with Irish company Tullow Oil, They still must be approved by the ministries of Energy & Mines and Economy & Finance. (Gestión, March 29; TeleSur, March 26; Gestión, March 24)
Legal proceedings continue in Bagua, a town on the edge of the rainforest in Peru's Amazonas region, against 25 Awajún and Wampis indigenous activists over deadly violence at a pumping station for the North Peru Oilduct in June 2009. Station 6 had at that time been under occupation by indigenous activists opposed to expansion of oil operations into their Amazonian homelands. Violence broke out at the occupied pumping station on June 5, 2009, when word reached the activists there of that morning's Bagua massacre, precipitated by National Police attacking an indigenous roadblock outside the town. Ten agents of DINOES, the National Police elite anti-riot force, were slain in the clash at Station 6. Prominent indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, already cleared of charges connected to the violence at Bagua, is now among those being tried for the bloodshed at Station 6. The trial at the Bagua Penal Chamber opened Jan. 9, with the defendants facing possible life terms for kidnapping, armed rebellion, riot and other charges. (La República, Ideele Radio, Lima, Jan. 9)
The company operating Libya's biggest oilfield, Sharara, announced March 4 that it had been shut down after a citizen closed the pipeline that pumps the field's oil to al-Zawiya refinery. The field is run by a joint venture between Libya's National Oil Corporation with Spain's Repsol, French Total, Austria's OMV and Norway's Statoil. The individual, named as Hatem al-Hadi from Zintan, claimed the pipeline passes through his land and caused environmental pollution, the Mellitah Oil & Gas consortium said in a statement. The same person reportedly closed the pipeline last year and then reopened after the company pledged that his six hectares of land would be cleaned. The company has apparently failed to follow through on its promise. With this latest closure of the Sharara field, Libya's oil output dropped to a six-month low of 750,000 barrels per day, after reaching 1 million bpd last year.
Colombia's government is under pressure from both the United Nations and impacted communities in the conflict zones to rebuild a ceasefire with the ELN guerillas and return to the dialogue table. A 100-day ceasefire that began in October ran out Jan. 10, and ELN fighters within hours attacked the Caño Limón oil pipeline in Casanare department, forcing a suspension of pumping operations. The guerillas also attacked a military base in Arauca department. President Juan Manuel Santos immediately responded by recalling his peace negotiator Gustavo Bell, who had been in Quito to begin the fifth round of talks with the ELN delegation. Santos said Bell was recalled to Bogotá "to evaluate the future of the process." ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán reacted in an official statement, pledging: "We maintain our determination, previously expressed, to agree on a new bilateral ceasefire." (El Colombiano, Jan. 11; Al Jazeera, El Tiempo, Reuters, BBC News, Jan. 10; El Teimpo, Dec. 1)
As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."