Central Europe

Ukraine war portends new oil shock

Long-depressed oil prices are suddenly soaring in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with impacts already being felt globally. Kazakhstan, recently wracked by internal instability, is facing economic crisis as its crude exports are threatened. Most of these exports pass through a pipeline linking Kazakhstan's western oil-fields to Russia's Black Sea terminal at Novorossiysk. That terminal, owned by the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), lies within 250 kilometers of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, now besieged by Russian forces. This proximity is sufficient for tankers loading at the Novorossiysk terminal to incur a "war risk insurance premium." According to S&P Global Platts, the premium has been high enough to deter buyers since the Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched late last month.

Polish-Czech agreement on border coal mine

The government of Poland announced Feb. 4 that it has agreed to pay compensation in a dispute over the Turów open-pit lignite mine that lies close to the border with the Czech Republic. In return, Prague has withdrawn its complaint at the Court of Justice of the European Union. The dispute concerns the complaints of local farmers on the Czech side of the border that their water sources are going dry due to the mine's operations. The Turów Brown Coal Mine, owned by Poland's parastatal power company PGE, must pump water from the pit into the Lusatian Neisse River, draining the local aquifer. The mine has been expanding closer to the border, further enflaming the fears of the Czech farmers. The deal was protested by Greenpeace for failing to provide sufficient guarantees for protection of the watershed. (EuroNews, Jurist, Expats.cz, BBC News, EUReporter)

Rapid nuclear escalation, East and West

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Dec. 13 warned that Moscow will deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons if NATO does not accede to demands to stop arming Ukraine and guarantee an end to eastward expansion of the alliance. His remarks came days after US President Joe Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin held a two-hour video conference aimed at defusing tensions over the Russian military build-up along Ukraine's border, where the Kremlin is estimated to have amassed some 100,000 troops.

Escalation on the EU's eastern frontier

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

Podcast: climate change and the global struggle

In Episode 81 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the fast-mounting manifestations of devastating climate destabilization—from Oregon to Siberia, from Germany to Henan. In Angola, traditional pastoralists are joining the ranks of "climate refugees" as their communal lands are stricken by drought. In Iran's restive and rapidly aridifying Ahwazi region, protests over access to water have turned deadly. These grim developments offer a foreboding of North America's imminent future. Yet media commentators continue to equivocate, asking whether these events are "linked to" or "caused by" climate change—rather than recognizing that they are climate change. And the opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by last year's pandemic-induced economic paralysis, when already depressed oil prices actually went negative, is now being squandered. Oil prices are again rising, with the return to pre-pandemic dystopian "normality."

Syrian draft-resister wins landmark asylum case

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on Nov. 19 ruled that foreign military draft evaders may be entitled to asylum in the EU. In what was technically a preliminary ruling in an ongoing case, the court held that there is a "strong presumption" that people escaping military service under authoritarian regimes are entitled to asylum, if evasion is motivated by "political opinions, religious beliefs or...by membership of a particular social group." The ruling follows a referral from the Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht) of Hanover, Germany, seeking an interpretation of the EU Directive on International Protection. The Directive provides the standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons to be beneficiary of international protection in the European Union.

Poland: mass uprising for reproductive rights

Warsaw and other Polish cities have seen mass protests since the country's Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling that will virtually end legal abortion. Tens of thousands of protesters—the majority of them women—have taken to the streets of cities and towns across the country, in defiance of pandemic restrictions harshly limiting the size of gatherings. Their anger has been directed against the ruling conservative Law & Justice Party (PiS) and the Catholic church, which are seen as being behind the decision. Protesters have disrupted services and sprayed graffiti on the walls of Warsaw churches. On Oct. 27, clashes broke out in a number of cities between the demonstrators and far-right groups ostensibly organized to defend churches. Two women were also injured that day when a car drove through a group of protesters who were blocking a road in Warsaw.

One of Berlin's last surviving squats evicted

Hundreds of demonstrators confronted riot police in central Berlin the night of Oct. 9 to protest the eviction of one of the city's few remaining squats, a symbol of the German capital's once-thriving alternative scene. Hundreds of police were mobilized to remove residents of the Liebig34 squat in the hip and gentrifying Friedrichshain district of the former East Berlin. The eviction itself went off peacefully—but after dark, ranks of masked and black-clad protesters marched in a driving rain from the central Mitte shopping district with a banner: "Defend free spaces, remain on the offensive." Shop windows were smashed and cars set ablaze. Police charges were met with barrages of pelted bottles.

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