Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in "free-fall," and predicted to lead to the largest "annual contraction in history." Bloomberg reports that oil traders fear that demand "may contract by the most ever this year, easily outstripping the loss of almost 1 million barrels a day during the great recession in 2009 and even surpassing the 2.65 million barrels registered in 1980, when the world economy crashed after the second oil crisis." (OilChange)
Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that he has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). "I made the offer to Mr. Putin that if he gives financial support, we can do the construction, and through the oil obtained here, we can help the destroyed Syria get on its feet," Erdogan told reporters March 10. (Al Monitor) The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF has been selling oil from the Deir ez-Zor fields to the Assad regime. A regime-aligned entity called the Qatirji Group is reportedly brokering the deal. (VOA)
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report March 2 charging that Russia is responsible for war crimes in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The report focuses on indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas from July 2019 through January 2020, and apparently intentional attacks by "pro-government forces" on civilian targets such as hospitals and medical facilities. The commission focused on two incidents in which it found substantial evidence that Russian warplanes were directly involved in the bombing of civilian areas.
Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks like it is set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is the clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. Turkey's military shot down two regime warplanes over northwest Idlib on March 1, hours after Assadist forces brought down a Turkish drone over the region. The Damascus regime said the pilots parachuted to safety. At least 34 Turkish troops were killed in air-strikes in Idlib n the previous days. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
Ukrainian lawmakers from the ruling party this week proposed resuming the water supply to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, leading to public outrage. After Russia's 2014 seizure and unilateral annexation of Crimea, Ukraine ceased supplying water to the arid peninsula. Before the occupation, water was supplied from the Ukrainian mainland through the North Crimean Canal. Today, a dam blocks the canal on the de facto border with Ukraine's Kherson Oblast. The shortage of water has hurt Crimean agriculture and industry, although most households rely on local wells. MPs from the ruling Servant of the People party proposed either selling the water to Crimea or using it to leverage a withdrawal of Russian military forces from the conflicted Donbas region in Ukraine's east. But Refat Chubarov, the Crimean Tatar leader who was exiled from the peninsula by Russia after the take-over, responded that any agreement to supply water to Crimea, regardless of the conditions, would be a betrayal of the 500,000 Tatars living in the peninsula. (EuroMaidan Press)
Police in southern Russia on Feb. 13 raided the homes and office of activists who provide legal and psychological assistance to survivors of human rights abuses and domestic violence, Human Rights Watch reports. The raids took place in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt, two cities in Dagestan, a republic in Russia's Northern Caucasus region. The activists targeted are members of the Stichting Justice Initiative (SJI), a nongovernmental organization representing victims of rights abuses in the North Caucasus and survivors of domestic violence. Police seized computers and electronics containing documentation pertaining to their work. The court order sanctioning the search and seizure contained no information about any specific alleged offense that would have justified the action. Instead, it quoted generic provisions of the Law on Law Enforcement Operations, and the need to check allegations of involvement with organizing mass riots and financing of extremist activities—without reference to any factual grounds necessitating the searches.
A senior UN official charged Feb. 16 at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and that they must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that "the arms embargo has become a joke." Williams' comments follow a UN Security Council resolution passed just a week earlier expressing "grave concern" for the humanitarian situation in Libya, noting especially "deteriorating living standards and insufficient provision of basic services" and "the situation faced by migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people." The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are said to be supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo "by land, sea and air," Williams said. (Jurist)