- EU looks to east Mediterranean as gas alternative to Russia WaPo
European leaders visiting Israel on Tuesday expressed hope that natural gas supplies from the eastern Mediterranean could help reduce dependence on Russia as the Ukraine war drags on.
Israel has emerged as a gas exporter in recent years following major offshore discoveries and has signed an ambitious agreement with Greece and Cyprus to build a shared pipeline. New supplies could help Europe ramp up sanctions on Moscow.
“On the energy front, we will work together in using gas resources of the eastern Mediterranean and to develop renewable energy,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at a joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart, Naftali Bennett.
“We want to reduce our dependence on Russian gas and accelerate energy transition toward the climate objectives we’ve given ourselves,” he said.
Bennett said Israel was working to make natural gas available for Europe. His office said the two leaders also discussed shipping natural gas to Europe through Egypt.
Heat Wave Spreads Across Europe as Summer Highs Come Early Bloomberg
Europe imports more South African coal as Russian ban looms Reuters
European countries, scrambling to secure alternatives to Russian coal, imported 40% more coal from South Africa’s main export hub in the first five months of this year than over the whole of 2021, figures obtained by Reuters showed on Wednesday.
- EU lawmakers form cross-party coalition to block gas and nuclear from green taxonomy Climate Home News
The cross-party coalition has put forward an objection against a European Commission proposal, tabled at the end of last year, to include fossil gas and nuclear power in the EU’s list of green investments as “transitional” sources of energy.
The objection was submitted ahead of a vote in the Parliament’s economy and environment committees, which are meeting in a joint session on Tuesday (14 June) to decide their stance on the proposal.
Regardless of the outcome, the motion will then be submitted again for a decisive vote at the Parliament’s July plenary, which will have the final say on the matter.
A simple majority – or at least 353 MEPs – is needed in plenary to kill the proposal and the joint committee vote is seen as a dress rehearsal for this.
“For us, of course, it is not acceptable to qualify gas and nuclear as sustainable and allow the green finances for the future to finance those projects,” said Christophe Hansen, a Luxembourgish lawmaker from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in Parliament.
“That is not saying that we will not need, in the next years, gas and nuclear,” Hansen said. “But we just are of the point of view that we shouldn’t misuse or greenwash the sustainable finance to do so.”
It is very rare that such a broad spectrum of political groups opposes something “with the same voice,” said Silvia Modig from the Left, adding: “I hope that tells you how seriously the Parliament takes this effort”.
- Ukraine Has Begun Moving Sensitive Data Outside Its Borders WSJ
Ukrainian government officials have begun storing sensitive data outside the country to protect it from Russian cyber and physical assault, and are negotiating with several European nations to move more databases abroad.
Since the start of the war, around 150 registries from different government ministries and offices, or backup copies of them, have been moved abroad or are in discussions to be transferred, said George Dubinskiy, Ukraine’s deputy minister of digital transformation.
Previously, much of the government’s information trove was held in data centers in Ukraine, and needed first to be moved to the cloud before backup copies could be transferred, he said. The government prioritized important databases to move from old legacy data-storage systems, and created copies of those registries for storage in clouds outside Ukraine, he said.
Russian telegram: Over 100,000 people have applied for Russian citizenship in Zaporozhye region.
By @JamesGoblin: Medvedev commenting on Ukie lend-lease plans (possibly paid for till 2024): “Who said Ukraine will exist on the world map in two years?” source
Russian oil production has jumped 5% so far in June as China and India continue snapping up discounted barrels Business Insider
Russia is cutting 40% of one key pipeline’s natural-gas supply to Germany because a piece of equipment is stuck in Canada Business Insider
In a June 14 tweet, Gazprom wrote that Germany’s Siemens Energy has failed to return a gas compressor unit “in due time” after it was sent for repair. As a result, it said it can supply a maximum of 100 million cubic meters of natural gas each day into the Nord Stream pipeline — down from 167 million cubic meters per day.
- Ruble returns to multi-year highs RT
The ruble soared on the Moscow Exchange on Tuesday, setting new highs against the dollar and the euro. The rally comes as Russia’s central bank has restored its key interest rate to pre-war levels.
The Russian currency briefly touched 55.63 rubles to the dollar on Tuesday, its strongest exchange rate against the US currency since February 2018. The ruble was also trading below 58 against the euro, close to a seven-year high reached in May. The Russian currency gave up some of the gains later in the session.
The currency retained support from capital controls and Russia’s strong trade account, economists say. The accelerated growth was also driven by the rising price of oil and the start of the June tax period for exporters.
Last week, the Russian central bank slashed its key rate to 9.5%, noting that inflationary risks for the country continue to subside. The regulator more than doubled rates in February, from 9.5% to 20%, after Russia was hit with an avalanche of sanctions by the US, the EU, and other countries. The hike was intended to prop up the ruble, which had fallen to record lows. The Russian currency has since become the world’s best performing currency this year, according to Bloomberg.
- Russia blacklists British media and military figures RT
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has barred 49 British nationals from entering the country.
The list, released on Tuesday, includes defense industry officials, representatives of the British Armed Forces, as well as 29 journalists and heads of major news outlets such as the BBC, The Financial Times, Sky News, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent, Channel 4 News, and The Guardian.
Two former Moscow correspondents of the latter outlet are included: Luke Harding and Shaun Walker. Harding had previously been briefly expelled from Moscow, in 2011, due to visa violations. Long time The Moscow Times columnist, and trenchant Russia critic, Mark Galeotti, is also included. He is currently employed at RUSI, a defence sector lobby group funded by the US State Department, the British and Qatari governments and weapons contractors – such as BAe Systems and Lockheed Martin.
Other prominent media figures blacklisted include Financial Times writer Gideon Rachman, Sunday Times regular Dominic Lawson and BBC correspondent Orla Guerin.
The ministry released a statement on its website explaining the decision and stating that it believes “the British journalists on the list are involved in the deliberate dissemination of false and one-sided information about Russia and the events in Ukraine and Donbass.” “With their biased assessments, they also contribute to fueling Russophobia in British society,” the statement added.
- Germany boosts energy security with $10 bln Gazprom Germania plan Reuter
Germany will put Gazprom Germania, the energy business abandoned by Russia’s Gazprom in April, under long-term administration and back it with a loan of around 10 billion euros ($10.4 billion) to help bolster the security of Europe’s energy supplies.
The energy trading, storage and transmission business, which Gazprom ditched following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, will be renamed Securing Energy for Europe GmbH, the German government said in a statement
Russian telegram: fuel prices are so high that ambulances are not being allowed to go out unless it’s an urgent call.
Fuel crisis prompts firewood rush in EU state RT
Latvians are forming lines to receive state permits to collect firewood, as the country struggles with an energy crisis after abandoning Russian sources.
Sea level rise in England will force 200,000 to abandon homes, data shows The Guardian
UK disposable income to fall at fastest rate since 1950s – report RT
The UK is poised to enter a ‘household recession,’ as soaring prices weaken consumer confidence and force people to cut back on spending. That’s according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a leading business group that speaks for 190,000 UK businesses, in an economic forecast issued on Monday.
CBI analysts estimate that due to high inflation, real household disposable incomes will drop by 2.3% by the end of the year, which would mark the largest annual decline since record-keeping began in the mid-1950s.
- European court blocks UK deportation flight RT
A handful of illegal migrants, whom the British government wanted to fly to Rwanda to process their asylum petitions, have been saved from deportation at the last moment. An injunction issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) kept their flight on the ground on Tuesday.
The takeoff was canceled while the plane’s engines were already running, Reuters reported. The aircraft was supposed to take eight migrants to Africa in what would have been the first flight of this kind. Initially, Britain wanted to haul some 30 people to Rwanda in a pilot run.
The interim measure was applied in relation to a single case involving an Iraqi man, whose application for asylum was deemed inadmissible by the British authorities and whose case is under review by the UK High Court.
Asia and Oceania
- China is taking center stage at this year’s ‘Russian Davos’ as Western nations stay away Business Insider
Putin’s annual economic forum, the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), kicks off on Wednesday but is largely lacking any notable Western attendees.
Most Western leaders and business executives will be missing from the conference amid harsh sanctions against Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
High-level representatives from 40 nations are expected to attend the conference alongside 1,244 Russian companies and 265 foreign companies, Reuters quoted Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov as saying.
Among the very few Western leaders due to attend is the CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, who is speaking on two occasions. In addition, senior figures from the French-Russian, Italian-Russian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canada Eurasia Chamber of Commerce Industry will also be present, according to the forum’s program.
China, Turkey, India, and the United Arab Emirates are among the nations attending the forum, which has previously played host to Western leaders such as Angela Merkel and ex-IMF chief Christine Lagarde.
Russian officials have attempted to dismiss the lack of European and US delegates and highlight other regions such as China and the Middle East. According to Reuters, Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday: “Foreign investors are not only from the United States and European Union.”
Insider previously reported that business leaders had concerns about attending the forum due to the sanctions against Russia. Some planned to leave the conference early to avoid Putin’s speech on Friday, while others requested their name tags were covered so that they could not be identified, per reports.
- China Bolsters Cooperation with Central Asian Nations NEO
Amidst the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, on June 8, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held the third “China+Central Asia” Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
Although similar meetings have taken place before, this summit has become urgent due to the recent depreciation of national currencies in the former Soviet republics, soaring food prices and economic woes triggered by, among other things, the events in Ukraine. Given that China has become a leading economic partner of Central Asian countries long ago, they count on its support.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, the Chinese top diplomat said that the mechanism for the “China+5” foreign ministers’ meeting was established two years ago. “Over the past two years, we have worked together to fight the pandemic, focus on economic recovery and promote regional stability, achieving tangible results. At the beginning of this year, the heads of state of the six countries jointly announced the building of a China-Central Asia community with a shared future, charting the course for cooperation among the six countries and ushering the China-Central Asia relations into a new era,” he said. The diplomat also pointed out that regardless of the shifts in the global landscape China will always firmly support Central Asian countries in safeguarding their sovereignty, pursuing development paths suited to their national conditions and building a solid Central Asia.
As the Chinese media emphasized, many hope that this third “China+C5” meeting in Beijing will serve to ramp up bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Central Asian countries in energy, trade and food supply sectors. This is also true for the security amidst the events in Ukraine, although experts doubt that Beijing is ready to get heavily engaged in security matters. While putting emphasis on the development of economic ties with Central Asian countries, China apparently isn’t sure about Russia’s commitment to play a serious role in Central Asia as it hasn’t solved its European issues yet.
- Call for urgent action as Australia faces biodiversity crisis Al Jazeera
Conservationist Gregory Andrews has warned Australia’s biodiversity is the “worst it’s ever been” and that the new Labor government will have to work hard to address the damage done to the environment.
- Oil giant BP buys into $36 billion Australian renewables project Jakarta Post
Fossil fuel giant BP revealed Wednesday it was taking a 40.5 percent stake in an Australian energy project being billed as one of the world’s largest renewable power stations.
BP said it would operate the $36 billion “Asian Renewable Energy Hub”, an array of solar and wind facilities sprawled over 6,500 square kilometres (2,509 square miles) of Australia’s sparsely populated west coast.
The project is expected to have a generating capacity of 26 gigawatts, exceeding China’s vast Three Gorges hydroelectric dam – which is by some measures the world’s largest existing power station.
It would also produce 1.6 million tonnes of green hydrogen each year, with plans to export much of this to major Asia-Pacific markets such as Japan and South Korea.
- Looming debt crunch positions Laos as next possible Asia default Bangkok Post
Laos, with dwindling cash reserves and surging inflation, is facing some of the same strains that pushed Sri Lanka to default and threatens Pakistan’s balance of payments.
Fuel shortages across the Southeast Asian country of 7.5 million people is the latest sign of distress, the result of elevated oil prices and a plunging currency. Most worrying is a debt load that dwarfs its cash pile, a challenge for the secretive communist regime that’s had an ironclad grip on power since 1975.
“It is on the brink of default,” said Anushka Shah, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, which downgraded Laos’s credit rating on Tuesday one notch to Caa3, citing weak governance, a very high debt burden and insufficient foreign exchange reserves to cover maturing external debt.
According to the World Bank, as of December the country had US$1.3 billion of reserves on hand while external debt repayments total roughly that same amount every year until 2025, the equivalent of about half total domestic revenue.
- Indonesia leader to meet Putin in Moscow Bangkok Post
Indonesian President Joko Widodo will visit Moscow for a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on June 30, according to a Russian news agency.
“This is going to be a very important visit” and the Russian government is “preparing for it now,” Russia’s Tass news agency reported late Tuesday in a dispatch from Moscow, quoting a Kremlin source.
The report did not provide details, but the visit may be linked to a Group of 20 (G-20) summit that the Indonesian president, popularly known as Jokowi, will host Nov 15 to 16 on the resort island of Bali.
Indonesia has invited Putin, as well as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the summit despite the war-hit Eastern European country not being a member of the G-20. Both leaders have confirmed their attendance.
- South Korean truckers end week-long strike Iraqi News
South Korean truck drivers will return to work Wednesday after reaching an agreement with Seoul to end an eight-day protest over wages and fuel costs that had snarled global supply chains.
The truckers’ industrial action had disrupted production and shipments for the crucial steel, petrochemical and automobile sectors, in an early test for new President Yoon Suk-yeol who has vowed to deal with labour disputes “strictly”.
- Venezuela president in Qatar for unannouned visit Inquirer
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro arrived in Qatar on Tuesday for a surprise visit to the energy-rich Gulf state that has in the past helped his country’s beleaguered economy.
Maduro was shown by the official Qatar News Agency being welcomed at Doha’s international airport by Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi, the minister of state for foreign affairs.
Diplomatic sources said the Venezuelan leader, who is on a Middle East tour that represents a rare foray onto the international stage, would be in Qatar for two days.
Maduro was in Iran at the weekend, and signed a 20-year-cooperation agreement with the Islamic republic. He was in Kuwait on Monday and had earlier been in Algeria and Turkey.
Alongside Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey, Iran is one of Venezuela’s main allies. And like Venezuela, it is subject to tough US sanctions.
Qatar is a major US ally. But in 2014 Maduro said that Qatari banks were helping with substantial loans as his South American nation, which depends on oil for revenues, went into economic free-fall.
- Pakistanis told to drink less tea as nation grapples with economic crisis Egypt Independent
- Afghans are Coming to the St Petersburg Economic Forum NEO
Representatives of Afghanistan have been invited to this year’s St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). Their delegation will be represented by Jamal Nasir Garwa, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of Kabul in Moscow. That being said, Russia shows it is not cooperating with the Taliban, who are still banned by both the UN and the Russian Federation, but with Afghanistan, economic relations with which can be beneficial under certain conditions. That is why it was not the Taliban (their movement is banned in the Russian Federation) who were officially invited to the SPIEF, but representatives of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries. Although Afghanistan’s share of Russia’s foreign trade is insignificant (it is not even in the top 100 trading partners: in 2020, it ranked 106th out of 241 countries, according to Federal Customs Service data), Moscow has demonstrated to Afghanistan’s current businessmen that SPIEF is the right place for them to discuss business issues with partners not only from Russia.
- Will Erdogan be the biggest winner in the Ukraine crisis? Responsible Statecraft
Just a few months ago, Turkey was in a bit of a tough spot. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s years-long move away from Western liberalism had rendered Ankara the black sheep of the NATO family. President Joe Biden put a fine point on this when he called Erdogan an “autocrat” during the campaign and left him out of last year’s much-touted Summit of Democracies.
And as tensions grew between Russia and Ukraine, many in Washington predicted that Turkey would be the big loser. As one scholar put it, the crisis “could spell the end of the long-running balancing act between NATO and Russia.”
But international events have a way of confounding expectations. As the war in Ukraine nears its fourth month, Turkey’s international standing has risen thanks to a careful strategy in which Ankara has armed Ukraine with cheap drones, joined some (but not all) Western sanctions, and sat down with Russian leaders whenever possible. Experts say this approach has allowed Turkey to do the unthinkable: Maintain strong relationships with both NATO and Russia as the threat of a new cold war looms.
“Turkey is a geostrategically important country, and this particular episode has really elevated its position,” said Sibel Oktay, a professor at the University of Illinois and a non-resident senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
As Oktay implies, Turkey’s efforts to balance between East and West are nothing new. Istanbul straddles the Bosporus Straits, the strategic waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Since Russia is the main naval power on the Black Sea, Turkey has had no choice but to deal with it over the years. The two countries are now major trading partners, and Russian tourists flock to Turkey’s Aegean coast every summer.
Of course, Turkey also has a border with Europe and a long history of relations with the continent. Ankara has been part of NATO since 1952, and its proximity to Russia and large military make it arguably the second most important member of the alliance.
Erdogan, who is not known for his subtlety, wasted no time in putting that newfound standing to the test when Finland and Sweden announced they wanted to join NATO. Turkey immediately objected to their bids, noting that the two countries had given refuge to members of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group that Turkey and most Western countries have designated as a terrorist organization.
The objection led to consternation among some, who see the move as divisive and risky at a time when NATO has to show a united front. As Mustafa Gurbuz, a professor at American University, said in an email to Responsible Statecraft, some observers may begin to see Turkey as “Russia’s trojan horse within NATO, rather than the other way around.”
- Saudi Arabia Bets Big On Blue Hydrogen Oil Price
While the world begins to build the infrastructure of a future hydrogen economy, the economics of global trade in carbon-free hydrogen are becoming more clear. Among countries expected to find significant opportunities in that future market is Saudi Arabia.
According to a recent report from a notable Riyadh-based research institute, green hydrogen produced from electrolysis could begin to ship to the Port of Rotterdam in 2030 at prices quite competitive with European hydrogen, depending partly upon the shipping method used.
The researchers also see significant potential for hydrogen in KSA’s domestic industry. Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels could replace gray hydrogen, strengthening Saudi export potential in a range of products as more costs are imposed on carbon emissions worldwide.
They see great potential for both blue (with carbon capture) and green (with renewable energy) hydrogen, with technology and production costs gradually falling for both types. Their outlook for blue is more positive than that of some recent analyses, which foresees green hydrogen beating blue on price in many regions of the world by 2030.
But Saudi Arabia’s apparent advantages in producing low-cost hydrogen of both types may allow it to develop each for the long term. Therefore the researchers advocate a balanced approach, anticipating regional specialization within the country.
- EU: Algiers’ move to freeze trade with Spain violates EU-Algeria Association Agreement Bilaterals
EU Foreign policy Chief Josep Borrell and Executive Vice-Pdt of European Commission, Valdis Dombrovskis, have voiced concern over Algeria’s unilateral decision to suspend the Friendship Treaty with Spain, saying the Algerian move of halting transactions with Madrid is a “violation of the EU-Algeria Association Agreement, in particular in the area of trade and investment”.
Algeria suspended the Treaty in retaliation against Madrid’s support of Morocco’s autonomy plan offered for the Sahara under the sovereignty of the North African Kingdom.
The EU has warned that the Algerian vindictive measures “would lead to a discriminatory treatment of an EU Member State and adversely affect the exercise of the Union’s rights under the Agreement”.
Billionaire investor Leon Cooperman predicts US stocks will plunge 40% in total as the economy crashes into a recession Business Insider
No recession alarm bells for Corporate America … yet CNN
There’s a 50% chance of an economic recession but it will likely be mild, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman says: ‘I’m pretty relaxed’ Business Insider
‘Stagflation’ fears are at their highest since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, Bank of America survey says Fortune
Puerto Rico lifts fuel taxes for 45 days as gas price soars Seattle Times
Puerto Rico’s governor signed a measure Tuesday suspending taxes on gasoline and diesel for 45 days amid the worldwide surge in petroleum prices.
The U.S. territory currently imposes a tax of 16 cents per gallon of gasoline and 4 cents per gallon of diesel.
- Tornado Alley’s eastward shift threatens millions of Americans Al Jazeera
For decades, the most active tornado zone in the US – known as Tornado Alley – has been located more than 1,000km west of Trotwood, largely in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. But the danger zone appears to be shifting, as evidenced recently by devastating tornadoes in Michigan and Minnesota.
Indeed, a growing bank of research is finding that highly destructive tornado activity is moving eastwards into states with denser metropolitan populations, putting millions more people at risk of severe weather events.
“[The shift to the east] seems to be a consistent trend in the modelling … Warmer temperatures, more moisture coming off the Gulf of Mexico seem to be supporting that,” Perry Samson, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Michigan, told Al Jazeera.
- Fire, floods, extreme heat: climate disasters ravage US France24
A series of slow-motion disasters is gripping the country as it enters summer, with warnings of misery for months to come in some areas.
Around 120 million people were under some sort of advisory as a heatwave scorched the Upper Midwest and the Southeast.
“A dome of high pressure is expected to generate well-above-normal to record-breaking temperatures across the region both today and tomorrow,” with heat indices “well into the triple digits in many locations,” the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
Parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio were warned to expect the mercury to reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius).
NWS meteorologist Alex Lamers said the high pressure dome was sparking extreme events around its periphery.
“A lot of times you get a pretty big heatwave and if you look around the edges of that you’ll see thunderstorms and tornadoes, flash flooding, extreme rainfall,” he told AFP.
- ‘The New Normal’: 100 Million+ People Across US Face Extreme Heat Common Dreams
The climate crisis continues to bite in the U.S. this week with nearly one-third of people in the country living under heat advisories and warnings on Tuesday as high temperatures were reported from the Gulf Coast to the Upper Midwest and across the Southeast.
More than 107 million people are being advised to stay indoors as possible to avoid record-setting heatwaves that have been reported across the country in recent days, moving eastward and expected to continue for at least the next two weeks.
Medicare for All Could Have Prevented More Than 338,000 US Covid Deaths: Study Common Dreams
U.S. and partners enter pact to secure critical minerals like lithium Reuters
The United States, Canada and other countries have established a new partnership aimed at securing the supply of critical minerals, which are essential for clean energy and other technologies,as global demand for them rises, the State Department said on Tuesday.
Demand for the minerals, such as nickel, lithium and cobalt, is projected to expand significantly in the coming decades.
Massive amounts of these minerals will be needed to meet the United States' emissions reduction goals, Jose Fernandez, under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment at the State Department, said in a telephone interview.
“You will need six times more lithium by 2050 than you use today in order to meet the clean energy goals,” Fernandez said, speaking from Toronto. Canada “is an important supplier of critical minerals,” he added.
The minerals are key inputs in batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels, and are also used in products ranging from computers to household appliances.
The Minerals Security Partnership will aim to help “catalyze investment from governments and the private sector for strategic opportunities … that adhere to the highest environmental, social, and governance standards,” the State Department said in a statement.
Canada has large deposits of nickel and cobalt, while the United States does not, Wilkinson said.
The Minerals Security Partnership, in addition to Canada and the United States, includes Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the European Commission.
- Poll: Half of Americans now predict U.S. may ‘cease to be a democracy’ someday Yahoo
A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that most Democrats (55%) and Republicans (53%) now believe it is “likely” that America will “cease to be a democracy in the future” — a stunning expression of bipartisan despair about the direction of the country.
Half of all Americans (49%) express the same sentiment when independents and those who do not declare any political affiliation are factored in, while just a quarter (25%) consider the end of U.S. democracy unlikely and another quarter (25%) say they’re unsure.
At the same time, however, a large number of Americans seem indifferent to the high-profile hearings by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol — an effort to get to the bottom of one of the most dramatic assaults on the democratic process in U.S. history.
In fact, the new survey of 1,541 U.S. adults — which was conducted from June 10 (the day after the committee’s first hearing) to June 13 (the day of its second) — found that fewer than 1 in 4 (24%) say they watched last Thursday’s initial primetime broadcast live. Only slightly more (27%) say they caught news coverage later. Nearly half (49%) say they did not follow the hearings at all.
- US allows energy transactions with sanctioned Russian banks RT
The US Treasury Department on Tuesday issued a general license authorizing energy-related transactions with sanctioned Russian banks through December 5. The previous license was due to expire on June 24.
According to the document, published on the department’s website, transactions will be allowed with Vnesheconombank, Otkritie, Sovcombank, Sberbank, VTB, Alfa-Bank, and the Central Bank of Russia.
“For the purposes of this general license, the term ‘related to energy’ means the extraction, production, refinement, liquefaction, gasification, regasification, conversion, enrichment, fabrication, transport, or purchase of petroleum,” the statement reads.
- Canada to scale back vaccine mandates RT
Canada is set to lift a series of vaccine mandates for travelers and government employees, reversing course on controversial policies that triggered mass nationwide protests earlier this year.
The mandates will be phased out on June 20, meaning unvaccinated federal personnel and certain transportation employees can return to work, while Canadians traveling domestically will no longer have to show proof of vaccination, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc told reporters on Tuesday.
“Today’s announcement is possible because Canadians have stepped up to protect each other,” LeBlanc said. “We are now able to adjust our policy because we have followed consistently the best advice from public health authorities.”
- As bitcoin craters 65% from its high, El Salvador’s finance minister said the fiscal risk is ‘extremely minimal’ Business Insider
Bitcoin has cratered as investors shed riskier assets amid Fed rate hikes, and El Salvador has seen its token holdings plunge.
The Central American country — which made the cryptocurrency legal tender in September — has purchased 2,301 bitcoins since then, per Bloomberg data. In that time, the token has dropped about 50% and is now at its lowest since 2020.
Still, El Salvador’s Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya expressed little concern Monday.
“When they tell me that the fiscal risk for El Salvador because of Bitcoin is really high, the only thing I can do is smile,” Zelaya said at a press conference, Reuters reports. “The fiscal risk is extremely minimal.”
He cited an earlier estimate from Deutsche Welles that said El Salvador’s portfolio had lost $40 million in value: “Forty million dollars does not even represent 0.5% of our national general budget.”
- Mexico condemns Western policy on Ukraine RT
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has slammed Western countries for their approach to the conflict in Ukraine, suggesting that waves of foreign arms shipments will only result in more bloodshed.
“How easy it is to say: ‘There I send so much money for weapons, I provide the weapons and you provide the dead.’ It is immoral,” he said, adding “Couldn’t the war in Ukraine have been avoided? Of course. The policy failed and look at the damage it causes, the loss of human lives.”
The president did not elaborate on how the hostilities could have been averted, but went on to say that “the same policy must no longer continue,” claiming it is driven by “elites” and not “the people.”
- Guyana Could Overtake Brazil As South America’s Top Oil Producer Oil Price
Global energy supermajor ExxonMobil and its partners Hess and CNOOC have made an astonishing number of high-quality oil discoveries in offshore Guyana. In April 2022 Exxon announced that it made three more discoveries in the 6.6-million-acre Stabroek Block, where it is the operator holding a 45% interest with 30% owned by Hess and the remaining 25% held by CNOOC. The discoveries were made at the Barreleye-1, Patwa-1 and Lukanani-1 well all of which lie to the east of the Liza oilfield and Payara development. That brings the number of oil discoveries thus far this year in offshore Guyana to five and a total of at least 31 discoveries in the Stabroek Block since 2015. Exxon estimates that those latest discoveries give it around 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil resources in the Stabroek block. This is the world’s largest oil discovery in two decades.
- The War in Ukraine Points to Major Changes in the Future Structure of Power in the World NEO
In the past week or two there has been subtle change in the nature of western reporting of the conflict. The New York Times for example, arguably the most influential of the Western media, has questioned the ongoing American involvement in the conflict. This is significant as the New York Times is widely regarded as reflecting the level of support in the United States government itself. The disquiet felt by the New York Times as to the direction of the war is yet to be reflected at the highest levels, that of the president and the Secretaries of State and Defence. The Secretary of Defence as recently as a fortnight ago was talking about the removal of President Putin from his role as head of the Russian government.
Such statements reflect the profound ignorance of the realities of Russian power that characterises the United States attitude to all matters Russian. Even if Putin were to succumb to the multiple illnesses ascribed to him by the Western media, there is absolutely no guarantee that he would be replaced by someone more amenable to the Western view of the world. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be the case. Putin is in fact a very cautious man who took eight years to be finally pushed into a decisive response to constant Ukrainian provocations, exemplified by their total disregard for the Minsk agreement.
Russian willingness to compromise now seems to have vanished. They will in all probability extend their control beyond the Donbass to include the whole of eastern Ukraine which has a border with the sea. It seems likely that Poland and Hungary will also reclaim territory that was historically part of their respective nations. Ukraine as a viable State will likely vanish. They have only themselves to blame.
The end of the war also marks the demise of United States influence on the country. The United States was never interested in an independent and democratic Ukraine. It was always a vehicle for their anti-Russian ambitions. This view is reinforced by the aforementioned comments of United States Secretary of State for Defence. The demise of the United States’ anti-Russian ambitions using Ukraine as a vehicle is to be welcomed. The failure of United States and European sanctions against Russia has also been a salutary lesson to both parties. Russian sympathy toward Europe seems to have vanished. They have only themselves to blame.
What we are now witnessing is an increasingly united Third World finally calling and working toward an end to the Anglo – United States influence that has been such a baleful influence upon their ambitions for so long. The repercussions of the Ukraine war upon the rest of the world have barely begun.
The Ukraine War
- Zelensky will have to negotiate with Russia at some point: Macron Jakarta Post
“The Ukrainian President and his officials will have to negotiate with Russia,” said Macron, while on a visit to Romania and Moldova.
- US to send heavy guided missiles to Ukraine RT
The US is sending Ukraine heavy guided missiles with a range of 70km for use with the HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl revealed on Tuesday. The White House previously said that HIMARS launchers would be provided with “battlefield munitions,” widely understood to be unguided rockets with a shorter range.
- Howitzers soon to be ready for use in Ukraine, Germany’s defense minister says Reuters
The training of Ukrainian troops on German howitzers will soon be completed, paving the way for the use of the weapons in the war in Ukraine, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Tuesday.
“The training on the Panzerhaubitze 2000 will soon be completed so that it can be used in battle in Ukraine,” Lambrecht told reporters during a visit to a military base in the western German town of Rheinbach.
The Panzerhaubitze 2000 is one of the most powerful artillery weapons in Bundeswehr inventories and can hit targets at a distance of 40 km (25 miles).
Germany pledged in May to supply Kyiv with seven self-propelled howitzers, adding to five such artillery systems the Netherlands have promised.
Kyiv needs 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1,000 drones among other heavy weapons, Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Monday.
Well, only 988 to go!
- Russia’s much-touted Su-57 stealth fighter jet doesn’t appear to be showing up in Ukraine Business Insider
If you can’t see them, then that must mean that they’re working.
- Ukraine has enough ammunition but needs long-range weapons -Zelenskiy Reuters
Ukraine’s military has enough ammunition and weapons, but needs more long-range weapons, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Danish journalists on Tuesday.
“We have enough weapons. What we don’t have enough of are the weapons that really hits the range that we need to reduce the advantage of the Russian Federation’s equipment,” Zelenskiy said at an online press briefing organized by Danish publishing house Berlingske Media.
I really don’t think you have enough ammunition.
- Commander gives estimate on Britons fighting for Ukraine RT
As many as 3,000 British nationals are fighting alongside Ukrainian troops against Russian forces, Britain’s The Independent newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing a foreign volunteer unit commander.
- Russian border comes under fire from Ukraine RT
A border checkpoint in Russia’s Kursk Region was attacked by Ukraine on Wednesday morning, according to local governor Roman Starovoyt.
“There were no casualties or destruction” as a result of the incident, the governor said.
- Russians control 80 percent of key Ukraine city, cut escape routes Politico
Russian troops control about 80% of the fiercely contested eastern city of Sievierodonetsk and have destroyed all three bridges leading out of it but Ukrainians were still trying to evacuate the wounded, a regional official said Tuesday.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the eastern Luhansk region, acknowledged that a mass evacuation of civilians from Sievierodonetsk now was “simply not possible” due to the relentless shelling and fighting. Ukrainian forces have been pushed to the industrial outskirts of the city because of “the scorched earth method and heavy artillery the Russians are using,” he said.
About 12,000 people remain in Sievierodonetsk, from a pre-war population of 100,000. More than 500 civilians are sheltering in the Azot chemical plant, which is being pounded by the Russians, according to Haidai.
A Russian general, meanwhile, said a humanitarian corridor will be opened Wednesday to evacuate civilians from the Azot plant. Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said evacuees would be taken to the town of Svatovo, 60 kilometers (35 miles) to the north in territory under the control of Russian and separatist forces.
He said the plan was made after Ukraine called for an evacuation corridor leading to territory it controls.
- Humanitarian corridor opens in Severodonetsk RT
The Russian military opened a humanitarian corridor for trapped civilians to leave the besieged Azot chemical plant in the city of Severodonetsk on Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, Moscow said Kiev had asked it to provide safe passage for civilians wishing to leave the plant. It requested that non-combatants would be allowed to flee to the Ukrainian-controlled city of Lisichansk on the other side of the Seversky Donets River, the Russian military said.
However, this plan was rejected on the basis that it was physically impossible, given that all bridges connecting the city to Lisichansk had been destroyed. Moscow also claimed the proposal could be a scheme to enable blockaded Ukrainian troops to escape the Azot plant.
Instead, the Russian side agreed to allow civilians leave in the other direction to the town of Svatovo, which is controlled by the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR).
The humanitarian corridor will remain in place for 12 hours from 8am local time, a statement from the Russian military said. The provision of safe passage was confirmed on Wednesday morning by a spokesman for the LPR militia.
- How Ukraine’s ‘women warriors’ are playing a vital role in the war WaPo
In 2016, Ukraine expanded the list of positions for servicewomen. Ukrainian women can now hold 63 more positions, including as marksmen and snipers. The changes were the result of military experience: When Russia attacked Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas two years earlier, many servicewomen working, for example, as cooks or liaison officers were actually performing military duties in combat positions. But their payments and titles did not reflect the fact they were risking their lives. The rules were changed to adapt to this new reality.
“In my philosophy, it’s normal. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman — you protect the future of your children,”
There are 37,000 women in the Ukrainian army, and more than 1,000 have already become commanders, according to Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.
- A Link to Besieged Ukrainians Is Cut, as Allies Question Strategy NYT
The last bridge to the last city standing between the Russian army and control of easternmost Ukraine has collapsed, as soldiers engaged in pitched street battles for what little is left of the city and scores of civilians remained stranded under unrelenting bombardment.
Even after the final remaining bridge between the city, Sievierodonetsk, and Ukrainian-held territory to the west was toppled, Ukrainian officials insisted that supplies could still reach their soldiers fighting in the ruined city. But evacuating civilians and wounded troops may become far more challenging, and it appeared increasingly unlikely that the city’s outgunned defenders could hold out for long.
Almost four months after the forces of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, attacked, Ukraine has been largely reduced to harrying the better-equipped invader, making each patch of ground as bloody for it to win as possible, but failing in recent weeks to secure any decisive victories, and losing many of its own soldiers and citizens in the process.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, insists that his country may yet prevail if it is given more powerful weaponry, but as Western military leaders prepared to meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, some officials sounded dubious, with talk again turning to what an end to the war might look like — and how to bring it about.
Still, American officials appeared at pains on Tuesday not to overstep.
“We’re not going to tell the Ukrainians how to negotiate, what to negotiate and when to negotiate,” Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, said at a security conference in Washington. “They’re going to set those terms for themselves.”
The fall of Sievierodonetsk would put Mr. Putin an important step closer to seizing Ukraine’s industrial heartland, the eastern Donbas region, where he has directed Russia’s assault after failing early in the war to take the largest Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv.
In one Donbas province, Luhansk, Russian troops and their separatist allies now hold all but a small pocket containing Sievierodonetsk and, across the Siversky Donets River, the city of Lysychansk. And they control more than half of a neighboring province, Donetsk.
It was unclear whether it was Russians or Ukrainians who, late Monday or early Tuesday, toppled the last bridge across the river between the two cities, which was already barely usable. It was also unclear which side might pay a higher price for its loss.
Destruction of the bridge raises the risk to Ukrainian forces of being trapped in Sievierodonetsk. But it could also complicate the Russian advance, making it more difficult to mount a frontal assault on Lysyschansk, which lies on higher ground — an attack would require the Russians to expose their troops while crossing the river below.
Some Western officials say Mr. Zelensky may not have a viable strategy to win the war. The Ukrainians have had some success fighting at relatively close ranges, and the Russians have countered by relying on their immense advantage in longer-range artillery and missiles, pounding cities and towns to rubble before sending in troops.
But a war of attrition — Ukraine has been losing as many as 200 soldiers a day in the fighting — favors Russia for the simple reason that it has more soldiers to lose. And, Mr. Zelensky has said, Mr. Putin has shown he is willing to treat his own troops as “cannon fodder.”
Climate and Space
- The world’s largest trees are struggling to survive climate change WaPo
They are the largest trees in the world, living monuments with massive trunks and towering canopies that can thrive for 3,000 years. But ancient sequoia trees, which have been decimated by severe wildfires around California’s Sierra Nevada, are struggling to keep up with ever worsening conditions. And this summer, they could face their worst fate yet.
The trees, which grow in a narrow band of the Sierra Nevada, are accustomed to frequent wildfires — their tree rings show fire recurring every six to 30 years. But the worsening intensity of recent blazes have been too much for them to handle. Since 2020, three fires have resulted in the loss of 13 to 19 percent of the entire population, said Christy Brigham, chief of resources management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.
- What Is Holding The Hydrogen Boom Back? Oil Price
Hydrogen power has been on the market for decades but has never really been able to break the glass ceiling of mass-market appeal, mainly due to a host of technical and cost issues. But some experts now believe that the hydrogen economy is ready for take-off, with Goldman Sachs predicting hydrogen generation could become a $1 trillion per year market. The EU has hatched a highly ambitious plan to install 40 gigawatts of electrolyzers within its borders and support the development of another 40 gigawatts of green hydrogen in nearby countries that can export to the EU by 2030. The EU has also pledged to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year and has doubled down on green energy fuels by increasing renewable hydrogen production.
But for all the buzz surrounding green and blue hydrogen, few low-carbon hydrogen project financing deals have actually been closed to date. That’s the case because financing low-carbon hydrogen projects requires cataloging and allocating risks in a manner that is familiar to project financiers–something that is proving to be a hard nut to crack because expectations around how financing and offtake deals will be structured tend to vary widely.
- Strange ‘starquakes’ discovered by survey of galaxy RT
A trove of data collected by the European Space Agency (ESA) through its Gaia space observatory has been released on Monday, revealing “starquakes” on thousands of stars across the Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers say the phenomenon is more like a stellar-scale tsunami than earthquakes which shake the base of a planet, as main sequence stars have no crusts (although neutron stars can undergo extremely powerful quakes).
The newly observed oscillations provide a hint of what is happening under the star’s surface, analogous to the way seismologists use tremors on Earth to deduce its internal structure.
Astrophysicist Conny Aerts, a member of the research team, said: “Gaia is opening a goldmine for ‘asteroseismology' of massive stars.”
Dipshittery and Cope
- Sanctions On Russian Oil And Gas Didn’t Work, And Now We Know Why. Forbes
Sanctions have been applied by the West to reduce their purchase of Russian oil and gas. Russian oil is more important because Russia’s export revenue of oil and its liquid products is much greater than the export revenue of natural gas.
The US and Poland stopped their imports of Russian oil, but these were nor large fractions of their energy consumption. Lithuania, Finland and Estonia achieved sharp percentage reductions of more than 50%. The UK announced it would stop importing Russian oil by the end of 2022. German imports from Russia are down from 35% at the beginning of the war in Ukraine to 12% now. The EU countries agreed to a stoppage by end of 2022 but allowed a few waivers for countries like Hungary and Slovakia.
In May 2021, the Russian export revenues were EUR 633 million/day (note: currently 1 EUR is close to the value of 1 dollar). Between May 2021 and May 2022, export volumes dropped by EUR 95 million/day. The discounted price of Russian oil, etc, led to a drop of EUR 101 million/day. So far, it seemed the sanctions were working.
But then the increasing price of fossil fuels on the global market overwhelmed both these effects and resulted in an increase of export revenue to Russia of EUR 447 million/day. Russia’s average export prices were an average 60% higher than last year. By May 2022, the export revenue had increased to EUR 883 million/day – an increase of 39% from pre-war May 2021.
The price of oil today is above $120/barrel. And Russia is pulling in almost EUR 1 billion/day, or $1 billion/day, in export revenues from fossil fuels. With that, you can pay for a huge war effort aimed at Ukraine.
President Putin had claimed that embargoes by the West on Russia’s oil and gas would backfire and lead to global price increases. This seems to have come true, although it’s hard to tease out the different causes of increasing global demand for oil and gas.
The EUR 93 billion that Russia took in from fossil fuel exports in the first 100 days of the war is close to $1 billion/day with the current exchange rate. About 60% of this came from the EU, which is why it’s a big deal for the EU to stop buying oil and gas from Russia. Note that coal is a very small fraction of fossil fuels exported by Russia.
The split in this EUR 93 billion export revenue is as follows: crude oil: 46 billion, oil products: 13 billion, pipeline gas: 24 billion, LNG: 5.1 billion, and coal: 4.8 billion.
In this period, China, Germany, France, India, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia all increased their imports of oil from Russia. China is the largest importer now, since Germany has cut back.
India is a chameleon. They imported nothing in January 2022, but this shot up to 28 million barrels of crude in May 2022. The country now buy’s almost 20% of Russia’s crude exports. This is controversial since significant amounts of products from India’s refineries are then exported to the US and Europe, according to CREA. This isn’t supporting the sanctions.
Another aspect that seems to have been overlooked is tanker shipping of crude oil from Russia. This has become critical. CREA said that in the April-May period almost 70% of shipping was carried by tankers that belonged to EU, UK, Norwegian, and Greek companies – with Greek tankers carrying over 40% of the Russian crude. This door needs to be closed.
In a further revelation, CREA pointed out that in the first two months of the war, 23 large companies purchased fossil fuels from Russia. And that 15 of those companies were still buying in May 2022. These included big oil companies: Exxon, Shell, Total, Repsol, Lukoil, Neste, and Orlen.
- Russian Troops Sabotage Their Own Missile System to Sell as Scrap Metal, Says Ukrainian Intel Yahoo
Pure projection, given that we know that Western arms are being sold on the black market in Ukraine.
- Russia will soon struggle to make enough military equipment to sustain its war in Ukraine, UK intel claims Business Insider
Really? We’re doing this again?
Russia is likely to struggle sustain its military through the grinding war in Ukraine because of difficulty producing equipment, British intelligence claimed on Tuesday.
In its daily update on the conflict, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said Western sanctions and “lack of expertise” within Russia could hamper production.
It highlighted high-quality optics and advanced electronics as areas where Russia was mostly likely to struggle, which it said could “could undermine its efforts to replace equipment lost in Ukraine.”
The update said that a recent announcement of massively increased defense spending in Russia would only partially address the problems it predicted.
The update cited an announcement made by a Russian official who said he expected defense spending in 2022 to increase by 600-700 billion rubles ($10.5-$12.3 billion).
- Five Blunt Truths About the War in Ukraine NYT, by our favourite author, Bret Stephens.
The Russians are running out of precision-guided weapons. The Ukrainians are running out of Soviet-era munitions. The world is running out of patience for the war. The Biden administration is running out of ideas for how to wage it. And the Chinese are watching.
False. True. True. True. True, but probably not in the way you think.
Moscow’s shortfalls with its arsenal, which have been obvious on the battlefield for weeks, are cause for long-term relief and short-term horror. Relief, because the Russian war machine, on whose modernization Vladimir Putin spent heavily, has been exposed as a paper tiger that could not seriously challenge NATO in a conventional conflict.
Horror, because an army that cannot wage a high-tech war, relatively low on collateral damage, will wage a low-tech war, appallingly high on such damage. Ukraine, by its own estimates, is suffering 20,000 casualties a month. By contrast, the U.S. suffered about 36,000 casualties in Iraq over seven years of war. For all its bravery and resolve, Kyiv can hold off — but not defeat — a neighbor more than three times its size in a war of attrition.
I’m confused as to what Bret thinks war is. “The Russians, with their pathetic military, are just killing Ukrainians en-masse in far greater numbers than the Russians being killed, and slowly marching forward. This isn’t how war has always worked throughout history, where you’re instead supposed to use your massive air force to drop chemical weapons and depleted uranium on the country, scarring their populace for generations down the line, before you lose anyway."
That means Ukraine needs to do more than slow down the Russian Army. It needs to break its spine as quickly as possible.
But that can’t happen in an artillery war when Russia can fire some 60,000 shells per day against the roughly 5,000 that the Ukrainians have said they can get off. Quantity, as the saying goes, has a quality all its own. The Biden administration is providing Ukraine with advanced howitzers, rocket launchers and munitions, but they aren’t arriving fast enough.
Now is the moment for Joe Biden to tell his national security team what Richard Nixon told his when Israel was reeling from its losses in the Yom Kippur War: After asking what weapons Jerusalem was asking for, the 37th president ordered his staff to “double it,” adding, “Now get the hell out of here and get the job done.”
The urgency of winning soon — or at least of putting Russian forces into retreat across a broad front, so that it’s Moscow, not Kyiv, that sues for peace — is compounded by the fact that time isn’t necessarily on the West’s side.
Sanctions on Russia may do long-term damage to its capacity to grow. But sanctions can do only so much in the short term to dent Russia’s capacity to destroy. Those same sanctions also exact a toll on the rest of the world, and the toll the world is prepared to pay for solidarity with Ukraine isn’t unlimited. Critical shortages of food, energy and fertilizer, along with the supply disruptions and price increases that inevitably follow, can’t be sustained forever in democratic societies with limited tolerance for pain.
Meanwhile, Putin appears to be paying no great price, whether in energy revenues (which are up, thanks to price increases) or in public support (also up, thanks to some combination of nationalism, propaganda and fear), for his war. Hoping he might die soon of whatever disease might be ailing him — Is it Parkinson’s? A “blood cancer”? Or just a Napoleon complex? — isn’t a strategy.
What more can the Biden administration do? It needs to take two calculated risks, based on one conceptual breakthrough.
The calculated risks: First, as retired Adm. James Stavridis has proposed, the U.S. should be prepared to challenge the Russian maritime blockade of Odesa by escorting cargo ships to and from the port.
That will first mean getting Turkey to allow NATO warships to transit the Turkish straits to the Black Sea, which could entail some uncomfortable diplomatic concessions to Ankara. More dangerously, it could result in close encounters between NATO and Russian warships. But Russia has no legal right to blockade Ukraine’s last major port, no moral right to keep Ukrainian farm products from reaching global markets, and not enough maritime might to take on the U.S. Navy.
It does, however, have enough nukes to end human civilization. However, that’s only a minor concern.
Second, the U.S. should seize the estimated $300 billion in Russian central bank assets held abroad to fund Ukraine’s military and reconstruction needs.
I first proposed this in early April, and Harvard’s Laurence Tribe and Jeremy Lewin laid out a convincing legal case several days later in a Times guest essay. The administration has cold feet on grounds that it could violate U.S. law and set a bad financial precedent — which would be good arguments in less dire circumstances. Right now, what’s urgently needed is the kind of financial wallop to Russia that other sanctions have failed to inflict.
It would be pretty funny if you actually went ahead and did that and further damaged the global financial system. You know what? Go ahead. Russia’s doing fine without it and it’ll make the West collapse that much sooner.
Which brings us to the conceptual breakthrough: The fight in Ukraine will have a greater effect in Asia than it will in Europe. The administration may reassure itself that it has sufficiently bloodied the Russian military that it won’t soon be invading anyone else. That’s true as far as it goes.
But if the war ends with Putin comfortably in power and Russia in possession of a fifth of Ukraine, then Beijing will draw the lesson that aggression works. And we will have a fight over Taiwan — with its overwhelming human and economic toll — much sooner than we think.
The bottom line: The war in Ukraine is either a prelude or a finale. President Biden needs to do even more than he already has to ensure it’s the latter.
- Putin likely still wants much, if not all, of Ukraine, Pentagon official says Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin likely still wants to capture much if not all of Ukraine but has had to narrow his tactical objectives in war, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said on Tuesday.
“I still think he has designs on a significant portion of Ukraine, if not the whole country. That said, I do not think he can achieve those objectives,” Kahl said, speaking at an event hosted by the Center for New American Security.
“They may make tactical gains here and there. The Ukrainians are holding up. I do not think the Russians have the capacity to achieve those grandiose objectives.”
- In Ukraine, is the balance tipping in Moscow’s favor? Not yet. WaPo
Russian military advances in eastern Ukraine this month have raised growing concern in the West that the balance of the war is tipping in Moscow’s favor. But Biden administration officials think these fears are overblown, and that Ukrainian defenses remain solid in this ugly war of attrition.
“We share the concerns, but for now we believe the Ukrainians are well-positioned and equipped to hold off the advances, while the Russians have their own sustainment challenges,” a senior administration official told me Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials have argued that they need more heavy weapons, fast, to hold the line against the Russian offensive in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in the east. To take just one example, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior Ukrainian official, tweeted this week that his country needs 300 multiple-launch rocket systems, or MLRS — nearly 30 times what’s on the way.
The example illustrates a weapons-supply problem that worries many American experts. Just four MLRS rocket launchers have actually been delivered, officials say, with eight more arriving soon. “Twelve is not enough. Not even close,” counters retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who commanded U.S. Army troops in Europe. “It seems like we keep pulling our punches, and all that does is prolong the war.”
Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, told me he agrees the administration needs to accelerate weapons deliveries. “We’re not in the ballpark of what we need to stop the Russians,” he contends. “It’s like we’re measuring in teaspoons rather than pouring in buckets-full.”
Administration officials are right that this isn’t a time for panic about Ukraine. But President Biden needs to demonstrate, in a way that gets attention in Kyiv and Moscow, that he is truly prepared to deliver on his promise to give Ukraine “the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression,” as he put it in his May 31 op-ed in the New York Times. He can underline that statement by providing Ukraine with more weapons, more quickly, as it battles a brutal Russian offensive.
Pentagon officials say that more weapons are coming, in future presidential drawdowns from U.S. supplies. But they caution that delivery and training take time. The first Ukrainian MLRS team is scheduled to complete training on Wednesday, and it will be deployed next week, according to officials briefed by the Pentagon. Another Ukrainian team will start training as soon as the first one finishes.
The Ukrainians also complain that they don’t have enough heavy artillery and are running out of ammunition for the tubes they do have. Pentagon officials say the situation is more complicated. The Ukrainians are indeed short of ammo for their old, Soviet-era artillery, which fires 152 mm shells. The United States has scoured the globe looking for shells to fit these tubes, and has prodded producers in former Warsaw Pact nations, such as Bulgaria and Romania, to restart production.
To provide Ukraine with reliable artillery, the Pentagon two months ago began shipping modern, American-made M777 howitzers, which fire 155 mm shells. The United States has delivered more than 100 of them, and the total from all Western suppliers is about 200 tubes — equivalent to the firepower of 10 artillery battalions. The Ukrainian artillery barrages have been so intense that several dozen of the M777 tubes have burned out and are being repaired.
Ammunition for the M777 howitzers appears adequate, officials briefed by the Pentagon say. The United States initially supplied 250,000 rounds, and at the current burn rate, the Ukrainians have a roughly 30- to 40-day supply. More is coming, with U.S. defense contractors working triple shifts, and the Pentagon expects to provide a steady 20- to 30-day stockpile for Ukraine going forward.
Meanwhile, Russian losses of soldiers and equipment have been staggering. The Pentagon estimates that the Russians have lost 2,600 armored vehicles, or about 30 percent of their inventory. That includes about 1,000 tanks and 1,600 armored personnel carriers. The Russians have also fired nearly 70 percent of their precision-guided munitions, and because of Western sanctions, Moscow may be unable to resupply those critical munitions.
From the first days of the war, Pentagon officials have feared that the Ukrainians could be encircled in the east in a classic “double encirclement” pincer movement. But Ukrainian counteroffensives have disrupted the Russians at the two points of the pincer, Kharkiv near the Russian border and Kherson near the Black Sea. The Russians haven’t responded nimbly.
“The Russians don’t have the ability for the maneuver warfare they would need for a massive breakthrough,” Hodges told me Tuesday. He argues that Russian performance in this war shows they lack the command-and-control, logistics and integrated air-land tactics for such a complex assault.
The crucial variable in this long, brutal war may be “strategic patience,” in the words of retired Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan. The Ukrainians aren’t winning right now, but they aren’t losing, either. And they should have a lot more weapons arriving soon.
- The 19th-Century Technology Driving Russia’s Latest Gains in Ukraine: Railroads WSJ
The Primitive Technology Driving Ukrainian Trench Defense in the Donbass: Shovels
Russian forces have advanced in eastern Ukraine over recent weeks behind overwhelming artillery barrages, a shift in fortunes made possible by better access to rail lines delivering tons of ammunition and other supplies.
Trains are the Russian military’s go-to method for moving troops and heavy weapons. In Ukraine’s industrialized Donbas region, dense rail networks have played to Moscow’s advantage.
Russia’s military depends so heavily on trains that it maintains an elite Railroad Force, a service branch once common in countries through World War II. The unit has camouflage-painted armored train cars equipped with antiaircraft cannons and artillery to guard supply trains, and its troops are trained to repair bombed tracks while under enemy fire. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it has restored 750 miles of track in the land corridor it now controls in Ukraine’s southeast.
“Even if Ukrainians destroy rail lines, it will just slow the Russians, not stop them,” said Alex Vershinin, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who has analyzed Russian military logistics.
But Russia’s heavy reliance on train transport, a 19th-century technology, reveals critical gaps in its logistics, the coordinated transfer of supplies. Russia’s struggle to supply troops away from rail lines has slowed its invasion and contributed to catastrophic failures in its early offensives to take Kyiv and Kharkiv. It could also shape the conflict going forward.
Literally what the fuck are you talking about? LITERALLY WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
Unlike the U.S. and other countries that have adopted modern military logistics, Russia has largely remained wedded to traditional Soviet-era methods. It isn’t just a sign of the military’s failure, according to Western officials. The shortfall results from a lack of modernization in Russia’s economy.
Russia boasts one of the world’s largest military forces, equipped with nuclear submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles, but it has few shipping containers, forklifts or pallets of the kind the U.S. is using to speed supplies into Ukraine, according to logistics experts.
Instead of the heavily mechanized logistics system used for decades by Western businesses and militaries, Russia’s military relies on bountiful conscript labor to move gear, much of it packed in unwieldy coffin-size wooden crates.
“The U.S. has built logistics like we are short of people, and Russia has done it like manpower is free,” said Trent Telenko, who spent 33 years at the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Management Agency and has studied Russian military logistics.
Supply-chain management is a booming field in much of the world. Yet in the World Bank’s most recent Logistics Performance Index, from 2018, Russia placed 75th out of 160 countries, between Paraguay and Benin. Germany ranked first, the U.S. 14th and China 26th.
Russians load cargo manually into railway vehicles that travel its national rail system, which forms the backbone of the country’s freight network. Railways reach deep into sparsely populated corners of Siberia, with many lines built by Gulag slave labor under Stalin. The U.S.S.R. used train tracks with a wider gauge than Western Europe, in part to thwart invasion. In recent years, that disparity has slowed rail commerce with other countries, further isolating Russia’s logistics industry.
Despite being the world’s largest country by land area, Russia has only 963,000 miles of highway, according to 2020 figures from Russia’s state statistics agency. That leaves some smaller cities without access to large delivery trucks. The U.S., with less than 60% the area of Russia, has 4.2 million miles of highway, according to government data.
Russia’s lack of civilian trucks is mirrored in its military, which has long faced vehicle shortages. Western intelligence analysts during the Cold War could judge Soviet battle readiness by seeing if army trucks were deployed to help farms collect the harvest rather than move troops.
- The World Can Stave Off Putin’s Food Fight Bloomberg
Russian forces have bombed grain silos and farms and plundered Ukrainian wheat, which US diplomats say Moscow is now trying to sell on. Ukraine’s Black Sea ports are blocked by mines to protect the shoreline from attack by Russia’s navy, which is also bottling up shipments. And yet, if President Vladimir Putin is to be believed, Western selfishness and sanctions are to blame for the current food crisis that is driving up prices — not Russia’s invasion of one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, maize and sunflower oil.
Maybe you shouldn’t have mined your ports? I don’t know. I’m not sure how Russia is to blame for that.
Putin is attempting to blackmail the West into lifting punitive measures, and that’s to be expected. But more worrying is the Kremlin’s amplification of the lie that rich nations are meddling and punishing with no concern for the poorest. In the emerging world, populations are already skeptical of Western motives, not to mention highly sensitive to rising food costs, and its governments fear that the combination of pandemic scars and expensive shopping baskets will lead to protests.
Why on earth would developing countries be skeptical of Western motives? That doesn’t sound right. Aren’t we a shining beacon of freedom and democracy to our sla– I mean, friends in the global South?
“The conflict is in Europe, but the implications and damage are global,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a security gathering in Singapore this weekend, in a speech that underlined the risks ahead with pointed reference to Sri Lanka’s unrest and Pakistan’s soaring inflation.
Spotting an opportunity to divide, the Kremlin is stoking these concerns and spreading distrust at a time when Ukraine is in desperate need of practical support, and a wider coalition is essential to isolate Russia economically. More assertive food diplomacy is overdue.
Wealthy nations sanctioning Russia must make clear they recognize that the concern over global hunger is not unfounded — freedom is not free — and confront the question of costs, along with the reason for bearing them in terms that will resonate. Russia is fighting a war of conquest against a country it sees as a colony, something familiar to many in the emerging world.
Oh my fucking god.
As President Volodymyr Zelenskiy put it to that same Singapore audience, quoting Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew, “if the big fish ate the small fish and the small fish ate shrimps” many would be vulnerable.
But wealthy nations can also defuse some of the panic: The issue here is not shortage, but access and price. They must support Ukraine in its urgent efforts to get grain and other piled-up products out of the country, whether through land or sea, while also preparing to provide support for farmers and buyers if that becomes too costly to be practicable. The international community must simultaneously keep trade and other barriers down for food products and inputs, making sure (in particular for fertilizer) that over-compliance with sanctions does not make a bad situation worse.
- Sweden’s Faux Neutrality Couldn’t Survive Putin’s Ukraine War WaPo
Is there life after empire? I pondered the question last week at the Engelsberg Seminar, a gathering of academics, journalists and policy makers held in a disused ironworks two hours by car from Stockholm. Sweden once controlled vast stretches of northern Europe. It then contented itself, after a series of military defeats, to a more modest existence as a small neutral power with a healthy welfare state.
Judging from the quantity and quality of champagne consumed at Engelsberg, life after empire can be pretty sweet — so long as some other superpower can keep your world from falling apart. For generations, a nominally neutral Sweden could thrive only by aligning itself quietly, if unmistakably, with the American empire. Today, the country’s push for North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership is making that alignment explicit.
Sweden was once a mighty empire. During the 17th century, it was the leading Protestant power in continental Europe. After the Thirty Years’ War, it controlled much of Scandinavia and the Baltic region, as well as territories wrested from the Holy Roman Empire.
Decline set in only decades later. A disastrous defeat at the hands of Peter the Great — whom the Russian ruler President Vladimir Putin now emulates — at the Battle of Poltava in 1709 set off a long imperial retrenchment that eventually left Sweden as it is today. During the 20th century, Sweden was often seen — and saw itself — as the quintessential neutral state, one that sat out the world wars and the Cold War so that it could tend its own garden instead.
It has been a pretty nice existence. Sweden boasts the world’s 20th-highest per capita income. It pairs a robust capitalist economy with generous social-welfare provisions. The country is famous for high levels of social capital and domestic cohesion, which enabled a remarkably light-touch approach to managing the Covid pandemic, with day-to-day life continuing largely as usual. Corruption and crime are low, even though the latter is rising.
Sweden has done great, despite no longer being a great power. Which is perhaps why most Swedes seem not to miss the old empire much.
Yet Sweden’s story isn’t quite as simple as it might seem. Neutrality could be very profitable: The country infuriated the British during World War II by selling critical commodities to both sides. Yet that neutrality could also be precarious, as when the government felt compelled to let German troops cross Swedish territory on their way to attacking the Soviet Union.
And that stance could hardly have saved Sweden had Nazi Germany won the war and established its mastery over Europe. Adolf Hitler, who had little regard for the rights of smaller states, would not have left that country alone for a minute longer than he found convenient. The Swedish balancing act was only possible so long as the most aggressive, brutal states did not gain a preponderance of power.
Sweden tacitly recognized as much during the Cold War, when it was neutral in theory but never in practice. The country developed deep intelligence cooperation with the US and NATO; it allowed Western forces to quietly use Swedish facilities and developed a high degree of interoperability with them. Sweden even reportedly enjoyed loose security guarantees — an “invisible alliance,” as one journalist later put it — from Washington and NATO.
A vulnerable Sweden would have faced existential danger in a world where the Soviet Union was ascendant, which is why Stockholm reconciled itself, if only informally, to American hegemony.
Today, Sweden is abandoning the last vestiges of neutrality in applying (along with Finland) to join NATO. But as officials in Stockholm told me, the reason Sweden can so easily be fast-tracked for membership — assuming a diplomatic dispute with Turkey is resolved — is that it has been such a close cousin of the alliance for years. The move into NATO may be a bold leap away from Sweden’s self-image as a neutral power, but it is a small step in view of the longer-running realities of cooperation with the alliance.
Sweden brings real military heft, from its high-quality air combat and undersea warfare capabilities to its vital strategic geography in the Baltic. And the country has good, specific reasons to take this step. The Defense Ministry is worried about Russian designs on strategically situated Gotland Island, as well as ongoing Russian encroachments in Swedish waters, airspace and cyberspace.
These concerns, of course, have been amplified by the invasion of Ukraine, showing that a country lacking formal security guarantees is guaranteed nothing — and that the stability of the international system that allowed Sweden to thrive is no longer assured.
Sweden’s NATO bid thus represents an open recognition of something its leaders have long understood: Small and medium countries can only succeed in a world where the balance of power is held by those who would protect their freedom rather than those who would destroy it. The Swedish empire is long gone. Fortunately for Sweden, the American empire isn’t.
- Biden officials worry their Russia sanctions were so powerful they also brought economic suffering to the US, report says Business Insider
I hate it when your sanctions are so strong and effective that they do much more damage to you than the country you’re trying to sanction. The US is really suffering from success here.
Officials in President Joe Biden’s administration are acknowledging that their sanctions on Russia inadvertently brought economic suffering on the US, Bloomberg reported.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US banned Russian oil imports, forbade US companies from doing business with Russian entitles, and sanctioned dozens of individuals.
At the time, the Biden administration predicted that the impact of those sanctions on the US would be minimal — if it could ensure they didn’t affect US food and energy security, Bloomberg reported.
However, rising energy and food costs in the US have become two of the main drivers of inflation, which hit a 40-year high this month.
- Trump and Sanders Opened Doors. Inflation Is Closing Them. NYT
It’s a well-known phenomenon that when conditions dramatically worsen for people in a country, they tack towards the center and towards good fiscal policy and reject attempts to improve their conditions using policies that could - gasp - increase the national debt.
There were many bad things about the period in American politics between Donald Trump’s escalator descent in summer 2015 and the arrival of the Covid pandemic: chaos, polarization, corruption, hysteria, the usual list.
But one notable good thing about that period was the return of intellectual ferment and policy ambition. Effectively, both Trump and Bernie Sanders demonstrated that more things were possible in American politics than had appeared the case in the dreary mid-Obama era, and populists and socialists rushed to fill the space they’d cleared — with ideas for right-wing industrial and family policy, with Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
But you could argue that what really created this new sense of possibility, what helped Trump defeat the Republican establishment and lifted the Sanders campaigns in 2016 and (prepandemic) 2020, was the sense that America had more room to just spend money than the establishment in the Obama era had believed.
When deficits skyrocketed during the Great Recession, not just Tea Partyers but also lots of respectable centrists assumed that there were real inflation and debt-crisis risks on the horizon. In this landscape, Washington became obsessed with fiscal grand bargains, and any kind of policy innovation seemed to require brutal pay-fors: If you wanted new liberal social programs, you needed sweeping tax increases; if you wanted “reform-conservative” support for work and family, you needed sweeping entitlement reform.
Except that the inflation expectation was wrong, and the American economy chugged along below full capacity. As this became apparent, the green-eyeshade spirit gradually dissolved, and socialism and populism took over for the Simpson-Bowles commission and Paul Ryan’s budgets. The idea of pay-fors didn’t go away entirely: One obstacle to the major infrastructure bill that Trump promised and never delivered was congressional Republicans posturing as deficit hawks, and Sanders famously feuded with Elizabeth Warren over how to pay for their overlapping Medicare proposals. But mostly Republicans returned to a deficits-don’t-matter insouciance, while the left had its own intellectual apparatus, modern monetary theory, to justify spending to the moon.
In certain ways the policy response to the pandemic was the apotheosis of this trend: bipartisan spending bills, extraordinary spending levels, negligible concern about the deficit. But today the Covid relief bills look like an endpoint as well as a peak. In effect, the temporary crisis spending filled in all the fiscal space that policy entrepreneurs had envisioned being filled by permanent commitments. We saved businesses and propped up (and then some) state and local governments; we didn’t institute Medicare for All or a permanent expansion of the child tax credit.
And then, at last, inflation made a comeback — and just like that, the era of free-lunch policymaking came to an end.
That end may not be permanent; we don’t know yet what the inflation rate or the economy will look like in 2024. But right now it feels as if both ambitious socialists and creative populists had a window of opportunity for unconstrained policymaking that opened in the mid-2010s, lasted through the Trump presidency and slammed closed under Joe Biden.
An atmosphere of constraint does not preclude all legislative creativity. There are certain things that Democrats can fund just by raising taxes on the rich, for instance, and perhaps some version of Build Back Better that balances new spending with upper-bracket tax hikes can still emerge from the long courtship of Joe Manchin. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney’s family-benefit proposal pays for itself with reforms to the welfare state and the tax code; presumably other ideas from the populist right could do the same.
But given America’s existing fiscal commitments, the return of inflation deals a real blow to grand ambitions on the left, because there are few signs that the median voter (or the typical wealthy Democratic donor) is prepared to accept tax increases on the scale required to pay for the full Sanders or Ocasio-Cortezan agenda. It also creates substantial problems for politicians trying to hold together a downscale-upscale coalition on the right. Ron DeSantis, for instance, has flourished by attacking wokeness in schools while also raising teacher salaries, but it’s hard to imagine his donors would be enthusiastic about a similar approach nationally if it required higher taxes on the rich.
This doesn’t mean that either populism or socialism is about to disappear. As Patrick Brown writes in Politico, with the ebbing of libertarian and corporate influence on the party, Republicans seeking a working-class conservatism have a more “open ideological field” for their ambitions than in the past. And there’s a similar dynamic among Democrats, where the key inflation hawks in the Biden era have been gadflies like Manchin and Larry Summers, with the core of the party, relative to the Obama era, standing way off to the left.
But fiscal conditions, the inflation rate and donor pressure still matter, no matter which ideological faction has the upper hand. And there are a lot of ways for ideology to manifest itself, some of them requiring less fiscal space than others. What happened on the left after Sanders lost to Biden and the George Floyd protests took off in 2020, the dramatic shift from economic to cultural revolution, offers a case study in how radical energy gets redirected into culture war when its economic ambitions seem blocked off.
The right has long experience with this kind of redirection, and ample enthusiasm for cultural conflict. So expect more of it, from both sides, under conditions of fiscal constraint. And expect a slow-dawning realization among the serious-minded socialists and populists that the best time to carry out their big ideas, the best moment for a radical policy departure, may have already come and gone.
Bloomerism and Hope
- Seven Stars Bakery Workers In Providence Announce Union Drive Popular Resistance
Providence, Rhode Island – Workers at three Seven Stars Bakery locations in Providence, Rhode Island publicly announced their intent to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 on June 10 after they issued a letter to ownership seeking voluntary recognition.
Workers began organizing six months ago when one of the longest serving employees was turned down for a raise, despite years of stellar performance. In response, a group of workers across several locations began talking about how they could improve conditions together.
- Local Organizations Unite Against Housing Crisis Popular Resistance
On Saturday, several local organizations kicked off their plan to end the growing housing and homelessness crisis in Oakland.
Gathering in Oscar Grant Plaza, in front of the new art installation that calls out police murders of Black people, the groups sought to mobilize the crowd around another kind of racialized violence: displacement. “The stress of worrying about being evicted creates health problems that are killing people. It’s not just gentrification. It’s genocide,” said Sharena Thomas. She is one of six organizers, now known as Moms 4 Housing, who sparked an international call to make housing a human right with their occupation of a home in West Oakland in 2019.
Speakers painted a devastating picture of the housing crisis in Oakland: an estimated 4,000 people unhoused, a quarter of whom are children and almost three quarters of whom are Black. A 24% increase in homelessness—and 800 deaths on the streets—in the past three years. And the so-called “CARE courts” proposed by Governor Gavin Newsom to address homelessness only threaten to restrict the rights of the unhoused even further, say these activists.
“This piece of legislation that we’re fighting against at the state level is incredibly damaging for the unhoused community; incredibly damaging for Black, Brown and Indigenous communities; incredibly damaging for people with disabilities, especially those with mental health disabilities,” said Anti-Police Terror Project Policy Director James Burch. Rather than funding much-needed resources for the unhoused, the legislation will spend $65 million to build a court system that will funnel unhoused people in conservatorships that remove decision-making power over their own care. “I have been doing this for a while and nothing scares me more than this piece of legislation. Nothing.”
- China and Russia are building bridges. The symbolism is intentional CNN
For decades the Amur River has separated modern China and Russia – its waters cutting though more than 1,000 of their roughly 2,500 border miles. But it’s always lacked one thing: a vehicle bridge.
Now – as Russia’s economic isolation in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine pushes it closer to Beijing – that is changing, with fanfare.
Last Friday, Beijing and Moscow feted the launch of another new link – what state media on both sides have called the first highway bridge over the Amur – with rockets trailing colorful smoke bursting overhead, and local officials applauding from the riverbanks, while their superiors beamed in from Moscow and Beijing on giant television screens specially brought in for the day.
A second crossing, the only railway bridge to connect the countries across the river, is expected to open soon.
For that maiden highway journey last week, eight freight trucks from China and eight from Russia drove in procession over the kilometer-long bridge, each bearing two oversized national flags on either side of their cabs, as they glided by each other in choreography captured by aerial drones.
The Chinese freighters carried electronics and tires, the Russian ones soybean oil and sawn timber, according to Moscow. And if any viewers were in doubt about the symbolism – coming as the war in Ukraine has left Moscow desperate to show it still has friends and trade partners – a Russian deputy prime minister filled in the blanks.
“The Blagoveshchensk-Heihe bridge has special symbolic significance in today’s disunited world. It will become yet another thread of friendship linking the people of Russia and China,” said Yury Trutnev, the Kremlin’s envoy to the Russian Far East.
The $369 million project connects the twin cities of Heihe city in China’s Heilongjiang province with the Amur region’s capital Blagoveshchensk in the Russian Far East. Moscow expects it to clear some 4 million tonnes of goods and two million passengers each year when fully operational.
That is likely to further boost bilateral trade between China and Russia, already forecast to climb as Moscow increasingly looks to Beijing for economic partnership, though questions remain over how far China will go to support its sanctions-hit neighbor.
- London Rail Workers Speak Out Ahead Of National Strike Popular Resistance
Rail workers across London spoke to campaign teams from the World Socialist Web Site ahead of the largest national rail strike since 1989.
50,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will strike on June 21, 23 and 25, against wage, job and pension cuts. The government is planning an historic attack on the industry under its “Great British Railways” scheme. RMT and Unite members on the London Underground and train drivers represented by the ASLEF union are also due to walk out.
Reporters found a widening demand for united strike action to confront this threat in transport and throughout the working class. The rail strikes are part of a broader movement of workers across the UK and internationally, driven by spiraling inflation and the impacts of the pandemic and NATO-Russia war in Ukraine.
Campaign teams distributed the statement “UK rail strikes announced: workers demand action in ‘summer of discontent’.” They discussed the necessity for workers to take the struggle into their own hands through the formation of rank-and-file committees cutting across artificial divisions imposed by the unions and mounting a political fight against the Johnson government and its Labor Party partners.
All workers spoke anonymously for fear of victimization.
A member of train crew said, “The government are trying to put together this Great British Railways plan which is bad for workers. It is about cutting jobs and downsizing. I am worried that there are going to be a lot of job losses. The cost of living is going up, wages are not going up—that is what strike is about. I could have retired last year, but due to the cost of living I am still here working.”
One member of station staff commented, “We cannot survive on our wages; the wages are crap. We are on the lowest grade of pay it is a nightmare job.”
An Atalian Servest (LNER contractor) cleaner told our reporters, “We are represented by RMT but were not called to strike. Last time RMT called a cleaners’ strike they cancelled at the last minute and imposed inferior negotiated terms. Both the union and management are mistreating foreign workers who try to bring up their rights by saying they don’t understand them.”
“We are very low paid and wages are going downwards. We worked under COVID but were not paid extra. We are not given rail passes to travel to work. We are severely understaffed, with no organization, no supervisor even. When the supervisor is there, he doesn’t help at all, and it would be much better if they had an extra cleaner instead.”
The article goes on, describing workers' stories.
- Turkey Rains On NATO’s Parade Popular Resistance
On May 18, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Norwegian named Jen Stoltenberg, stood on a stage, flanked by the ambassadors to NATO of Finland and Sweden, Klaus Korhonen and Axel Wernhoff, respectively.
It was one of those made-for-television moments that politicians dream of — a time of high drama, where the ostensible forces of good are faced off against the relentless assault of evil, which necessitates the intervention of like-minded friends and allies to help tip the scales of geopolitical justice toward those who embrace liberty over tyranny.
“This is a good day,” Jen Stoltenberg announced, “at a critical moment for our security.”
Left unsaid was the harsh reality that hundreds of miles to the east the military forces of Russia and Ukraine were locked in deadly combat on Ukrainian soil. Also left unsaid was the role played by NATO in facilitating that conflict.
But the gathering had not been convened for the purpose of self-reflection on the part of the civilian head of NATO. Instead, it was to commemorate the furtherance of the very same policy of expansion of the alliance which had helped trigger the ongoing fighting between Ukraine and Russia.
“Thank you so much for handing over the applications for Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO,” Stoltenberg continued. “Every nation has the right to choose its own path. You have both made your choice, after thorough democratic processes. And I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO.”
The day prior, May 17, Finland’s parliament voted 188-8 to join NATO, breaking its multi-decade tenure as a neutral country. Finland’s actions followed a similar debate and vote on the part of the Swedish legislative body, the Riksdag.
Both nations cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as their respective motivation to transition from neutrality to membership in an alliance whose behavior has itself transitioned over the years. From an exclusively defensive identity, NATO has embraced expansion both in terms of its own size and in its scope — by undertaking military operations outside of the confines of Europe that were both offensive and designed to promote political change in the targeted countries.
The historical ignorance captured in the actions of Finland and Sweden was astounding regarding the role played by NATO in triggering the very conflict political leaders cited as the reason to seek the protection of alliance membership. It was as if a family whose house had been set afire sought shelter in the home of the arsonist in order to shield itself from the services of the fire department.
There was also an absolute ignorance of their own respective histories. The idea that Finland would cite Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine as the trigger for breaking its decades-long pledge of neutrality is particularly troublesome. It is as if Finland forgot its own troubled past, in particular its role in the so-called War of Continuation in 1941-1944, where Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany in its war of subjugation against the Soviet Union, following the 1939 Soviet attack on Finland.
Finnish troops participated in the siege of Leningrad, where over a million Soviet civilians lost their lives. Only by pledging to become neutral in perpetuity did Finland avoid the logical consequences of its actions, namely dismemberment and elimination as a sovereign state. The Soviet Union and later Russia both were adamant in making sure Finnish soil would never again be used as a launching pad for foreign aggression against Russian territory. Finland appears to have forgotten both the pledge it had made, and the reasons behind that pledge.
Sweden, too, cites the Russian military invasion of Ukraine as the reason for ending centuries of neutrality. But the Swedish politicians behind this decision have yet to explain what exactly it is about the Russian action that sets it apart from, say, the behavior of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
If the slaughter of tens of millions of civilians and the destruction of nations were not enough to push Sweden off its neutral perch between 1939-1945, it is hard to see how Russia’s actions, which did not take place in a vacuum, but rather in the context of eight years of conflict in the Donbass which killed over 14,000 people and the threat to Russian security posed by an expanding NATO, could be cited in good faith as a legitimate cause of action.
“You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg continued. “And your membership in NATO would increase our shared security.” That he said this with no apparent recognition of the irony contained in those words, and that the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden were able to avoid shuffling in embarrassment, is a testimony to either hubris-driven self-delusion, collective ignorance of historical context, or both.
Stoltenberg moved on to the final scene in this one-act drama.
“The applications you have made today are an historic step,” he told the Nordic ambassadors.
Stoltenberg closed the made-for-television family special with words that would soon come back to haunt him. “All Allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together. And we all agree that this is an historic moment, which we must seize.”
A happy ending? Not so fast. Enter Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who decided he would crash Stoltenberg’s scripted moment. Not all NATO members were in accordance with the bid by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. Since NATO is a consensus-driven organization, all it takes to ruin this made-for-TV moment was one disaffected member. That member was Turkey.
“As all NATO allies accept Turkey’s critical importance to the alliance,” Erdogan wrote in a guest essay he penned for The Economist on May 30, “it is unfortunate that some members fail fully to appreciate certain threats to our country. Turkey maintains that the admission of Sweden and Finland entails risks for its own security and the organization’s future. We have every right to expect those countries, which will expect NATO’s second-largest army to come to their defense under Article 5, to prevent the recruitment, fundraising and propaganda activities of the PKK [the Kurdish People’s Party], which the European Union and America consider a terrorist entity.”
Erdogan called for the extradition from Sweden of “members of terrorist organizations” as a pre-condition for Turkey considering its application for NATO membership. Erdogan also demanded that both Sweden and Finland end their respective arms embargoes against Turkey, imposed in 2019 in response to Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria that targeted Kurdish groups affiliated with the PKK.
“Turkey stresses that all forms of arms embargoes — such as the one Sweden has imposed on my country — are incompatible with the spirit of military partnership under the NATO umbrella. Such restrictions not only undermine our national security but also damage NATO’s own identity.”
As things stand, neither Finland nor Sweden appears prepared to accede to Erdogan’s demands. Despite high-level meetings between delegations from both Finland and Sweden with Turkish officials, no headway appears to have been made.
According to Fahrettin Altun, an adviser to Erdogan, neither Finland nor Sweden have put anything discernable on the table. Turkey, Altun told a Swedish newspaper, needs more than just words. “It is not right that Finland and Sweden waste NATO’s time at this critical moment,” Altun declared.
Complicating matters further is the fact that Turkey appears to be on the cusp of launching a major military operation into northern Syria specifically targeting the very Kurdish group — the People’s Protection Units, or YPG — that Erdogan accuses both Finland and Sweden of supporting.
Stoltenberg had hoped that he could use the applications of Finland and Sweden as a foundation from which he could project an atmosphere of strength and optimism around which NATO could plot a path forward.
Instead, the NATO secretary general will preside over an organization at war with itself, unsure of its future and unable to provide a cohesive answer to the problems with Russia which originated from the very policies of expansion Stoltenberg was trying to continue through the now abortive membership applications of Finland and Sweden.
- ‘Summit Of Exclusion’ Backfires On Biden Popular Resistance
While hosting the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last week, the Biden administration sought to ostracize Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela by excluding them due to an alleged “lack of democratic space and human rights situations”. The resulting backlash caused these three countries to be the most discussed topic inside and outside the summit venue, as governments and social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean questioned whether the United States has the right or moral authority to pass judgment on the form of government each nation chooses. There was also plenty of skepticism about whether the Organization of American States (OAS), which has served as an instrument for advancing US hegemony in the region, really promotes the interests of the countries of the hemisphere. American scholar and activist Cornel West called this “a Malcolm X moment” in which the chickens are coming home to roost. How did we get here?
The United States has targeted Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela for regime change, particularly through economic warfare in the form of unilateral coercive measures, commonly called sanctions. The U.S. now wields illegal sanctions on over a third of humanity living in 42 countries. This blunt instrument seeks to push a nation’s population to revolt against its government, and sanctions were stepped up against Venezuela even during the time of pandemic. Though the tactic rarely succeeds, as the Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan people know, sanctions impact the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, particularly children, and cause thousands of deaths, in contravention of the Charters of the United Nations and the OAS. Consequently, sanctioned countries have been looking for ways around the U.S. dollar-dominated banking system. They were further pushed towards this when the U.S. undermined that very system by confiscating the gold and foreign reserves of Venezuela, then Afghanistan, and now Russia, as economist Michael Hudson has explained.
The Biden administration should have realized by now that nations are no longer blindly following its orders to isolate countries it seeks to punish. For example, although corporate media depict a world united against Russia since February 24 of this year, a vast majority of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (in this case representing the majority of humanity), have refused to impose sanctions on Russia. And when it comes to following Washington’s dictates on voting at the U.N., the picture is not as black and white as it is painted in the global North.
In the recent U.N. General Assembly vote about Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council—a campaign led by the U.S.—although 92 countries followed Uncle Sam’s lead, 82 countries (including giants such as India, China, Brazil, and South Africa) either abstained or voted against the U.S. initiative. They clearly represent the overwhelming majority of humanity, and actually include 13 countries in the Americas. Of course, the strongest precedent for rejection of U.S. policy has been 29 years of near-unanimous annual votes in the U.N. General Assembly demanding the lifting of the criminal U.S. blockade on Cuba.
The exclusion of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba from the Summit of the Americas caused several heads of state to boycott the summit, with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador leading the way by saying that the selective invitations showed “disrespect of countries’ sovereignty and independence”. The presidents of Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines followed his example, while El Salvador and Uruguay stayed away for their own reasons. During the June 6-10 gathering, diplomats representing several governments used the podium to denounce the exclusion of the three countries and called for an end to sanctions, especially the blockade on Cuba. They also questioned whether any country has the right to judge the democracy of other nations, and called for a revamping of the OAS as an inter-American institution. These remarks were echoed by the heads of state of Belize, Argentina, Chile, and several CARICOM countries. It is as if Washington were unaware that there has been a second emancipation underway in Latin America for more than two decades, and that U.S. efforts to turn back the clock on the advance of regional independence and the diversification of trading partners only serve to further undermine its waning influence in the region.
News reports after the Summit of the Americas ended questioned the validity of what is purported to be the Biden administration’s greatest accomplishment during the gathering—a declaration on migration —because it was discussed in the absence of the leaders of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the main sources of migration to the U.S. in recent years. It is in any case an extremely paltry initiative that is unlikely to have any significant effect on numbers heading north.
The People’s Summit for Democracy in Los Angeles, endorsed by over 250 grassroots organizations and attended in-person and on-line by thousands, had strong participation from tenants’ rights groups that criticized the U.S. government for staging its event in the city with the highest homelessness rate in the country. The three-day event included teach-ins and protests with speeches denouncing the U.S. government hypocrisy of claiming to be a champion of democracy and human rights abroad while racism, poverty, voter suppression and an inequitable justice system afflict millions at home. Despite the LAPD’s refusal to grant a permit, the event culminated in a protest outside the Biden administration’s summit, prominently displaying the flags of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The final declaration of this alternative summit states:
“This Summit we have built together has been a bridge across organizations, movements, regions, languages, and borders. We are creating bonds between us and unity across our different struggles. While the time we have spent together is coming to a close, we affirm the ongoing fight for a more just world and rededicate ourselves to it.”
The People’s Summit ended up generating a situation contrary to the wishes of the Biden administration. On Friday, April 10, thousands walked the streets of Los Angeles demanding an end to the blockade against Cuba, as well as an end to economic warfare against Venezuela and Nicaragua. A massive mobilization that contrasted with the vacuum at the Summit of the Americas inside and outside the venue.