Nord Stream 1 Will Not Resume Operations On Saturday As Scheduled

Saturday’s scheduled resumption of operations for the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline has been put on hold. Perhaps indefinitely. Gazprom, the Russian energy firm in charge of gas exports via pipeline announced it has discovered faults during a three-day maintenance period that commenced on Wednesday. An oil leak at the Portovaya compressor station is being blamed as the main culprit. Gazprom has not given an estimate on when gas exports will resume. “Until the issues on the operation of the equipment are resolved, gas supplies to the Nord Stream gas pipeline have been completely stopped,” Gazprom said in a statement Friday.

It is not clear whether the pipeline is indeed suffering from maintenance issues or if this is simply the next stage of energy brinkmanship currently underway between Russia and Europe. The timing of the shutdown is suspicious as it comes  on the day G-7 nations agreed to impose a price cap on Russian oil to minimize Moscow’s ability to finance the war in Ukraine, and simultaneously act as a hedge on global inflation.

Germany is most anxious over Nord Stream 1. Despite efforts to obtain energy independence from Moscow, efforts by Berlin to secure other natural gas sources have not met with rapid success. Progress is being made, however not at the pace Germany was hoping. Therefore, with Nord Stream 1 closing down, the possibility of an energy crisis through the winter months now becomes a stark possibility.

Germany continues to say that the nation is well prepared to cope with a disruption in natural gas supplies. Over the last month the government has boasted about its preparations and growing amount of gas in storage. However, for the stored natural gas to last through the entire winter, usage might need to be limited. This will have a direct effect on the German economy and its population.

Ukraine Update 31 August, 2024: Counteroffensive Is Underway

Almost every major source now agrees that Ukrainian forces have launched their long-awaited counteroffensive in the southern area of the country. This is where the consensus ends. Judging by reports from reliable sources in the region, the counteroffensive has bogged down following initial successes and progress. The tone of Ukrainian government officials has also been dialed down to a degree. After announcing on 29 August that a new offensive in ‘multiple directions’ was underway, spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s southern command Natalia Humeniuk changed her tone. “We continue positional fighting and hold on to areas where we stand, trying to block the enemy from getting reinforcement. We are asking therefore for people to restrain from declaring liberated settlements – there are civilians there and the enemy may strike with missiles or from air.”  Not encouraging words by any stretch.

It is not entirely clear what the objectives of Ukraine’s counteroffensive are. An information blackout around southern Ukraine has been in effect since 29 August. Curbing information coming out of the warzone is quite useful to the government and military. Especially if the counteroffensive loses steam. It allows Kiev to soften the blow on national morale if the worst case scenario becomes true.

Today, both Russia and Ukraine have made a number of claims that remain unverified. However, if the counteroffensive does make substantial progress in the coming days the tone and veracity of each side’s statements will change to meet the new realities on the battlefield.

Mookie’s (Muqtada al-Sadr) ‘Retirement’ From Politics Is Causing Chaos In Iraq. Color Me Surprised

I was going to post a brief entry on the riots and violence in Iraq brought on by Muqtada al-Sadr’s abrupt retirement from Iraqi politics. But as the situation there seems to be stabilizing for now at least, I’m going to hold off on delving into Iraq’s ongoing political crisis and Muqtada’s role in it.

However, I will say that for anyone who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, the fact that Mookie’s (Mookie being Muqtada al-Sadr’s coalition-wide nickname back in the day) ‘retirement’ spurred swift violence and threatened to destabilize the entire country should come as no surprise. I’ll leave it at that for now. 😊

Expect to see a Ukraine update tomorrow. Looks like things are ramping up over there to an extent. Definitely worth a post.

China’s Influence In The Solomon Islands On The Rise

China’s influence in the South Pacific is on the rise and this should be causing concern in Washington and Canberra. Last week’s refusal by the government of the Solomon Islands to allow a US Coast Guard ship to make a scheduled port call on Guadalcanal has raised eyebrows around the region. A Royal Navy ship was also apparently denied a port call as well. The two ships were undertaking an international mission to prevent illegal fishing in the Solomon Islands area. The USCG ship sailed on to Papua New Guinea and put in at Port Moresby. It is unclear if the British ship followed suit.

China’s influence in the Solomon Islands stems from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signing a security pact with Beijing. The main fear attached to the pact is that it gives China the opportunity to establish a military presence in the Solomon Islands, in close proximity to Australia, New Zealand and Guam. Sogavare beginning to excel in the role of bootlicker to his Chinese allies. Earlier this month he did not attend a memorial service marking the anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, a major US victory in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. By continuing to thumb his nose at the United States, Sogavare appears to be attempting to gain favor with his Chinese allies. At the present rate it will likely be just a matter of time before Chinese fishing vessels start to visit the waters around the Solomon Islands. From there the tempo will increase, perhaps in a manner similar to what we recently saw in Sri Lanka.

The South Pacific certainly deserves some monitoring in the coming months.

Note: Ukraine seems to be heating up a bit, so that will be our next stop tomorrow or Wednesday.

The Next Strait Crisis: Political Posturing Phase Part II

Joe Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack seems to have been an off the cuff move by the American president. It certainly raised eyebrows and alarm bells across the world, signaling a shift in long-standing US policy. In one instant Biden removed all ambiguity over the US military’s role in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Or did he? Even now, weeks later, it’s difficult to determine how sincere Biden’s comments were. There was a considerable amount of backstepping by the White House in the days after Biden’s pledge especially on the matter of how the US now regards the One-China policy.

In the eyes of many in Taiwan and in other areas of the Western Pacific, the United States is now committed to Taiwan’s defense should hostilities break out. Biden’s pledge carries a considerable amount of weight. If China managed to call Biden’s bluff somehow, the ramifications the security and stability of the Western Pacific would be altered significantly and not in Washington’s favor. An outbreak of fighting between China and Taiwan would have a similar effect of US forces remained on the sidelines.

With a new Taiwan Strait crisis lurking on the horizon, the Biden Administration needs to come to terms with the fact its pledge might bring the US and China to blows.

Note: The week has sort of gotten away from me here. I was hoping to get this out earlier, but the opportunity never came about. I want to discuss the US pledge to defend Taiwan more. Hopefully I can get another more detailed entry out by the end of the weekend on this subject.