A Look Around Europe 6 September, 2022

Britain has a new prime minister, Gazprom is laying blame for Nord Stream 1’s maintenance issues on Siemens and the French president is imploring French citizens to cut energy usage by 10%. These are some of the events making news and shaping opinions around the continent today.

  • Boris Johnson’s successor has finally taken the reins of power in Great Britain. Liz Truss is now in charge and forming her government. Compared to Johnson, Truss seems almost demure, but when it comes to policy she’s a conservative firebrand. She comes to 10 Downing Street after spending less than a year as foreign secretary. During her tenure as foreign secretary, Russia invaded Ukraine. Truss was harshly criticized for a number of comments she made in the weeks leading up to the war and in the months since. Diplomatic faux pas’ more or less. Most of the criticism has come from the Russian government. Earlier today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the new British Prime Minister and said her reluctance to compromise will be of no help to Great Britain on the international stage. Time will tell if his words are correct.
  • A Gazprom senior executive stated today that pumping operations for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline will not resume until Siemens repairs or replaced faulty equipment. A turbine at Portovaya compressor station has developed an engine oil leak. Siemens claims the issue should not keep the pipeline closed. Gazprom and the Russian government appear to think otherwise. Winter is approaching and Europe is in the midst of its worst energy crisis. Germany claims the pipeline closure is the latest volley of actions and accusations between Moscow and Europe since the invasion of Ukraine.
  • France is adopting new steps as the energy crisis deepens. With energy prices surging, French President Emmanuel Macron announced Monday that his country will send natural gas to Germany if needed. In exchange, Germany will provide electricity to France if the need becomes necessary. Macron is also urging French citizens to reduce energy usage by ten percent during this crisis. Last Friday the French government announced that French electricity company EDF will restart all of its nuclear reactors by winter to help the nation through the worsening energy crisis. 

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.

Ukraine Update: 27 June, 2022

At the G7 Conference in Germany, the Group of Seven leaders are working on a new plan to minimize Russia’s oil profits as Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy continues to call for more arms as Russian air strikes continue across his nation. It has finally become clear to the G7 that Russia has been able to ride out the heavy sanctions placed upon it in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian oil sales have kept the nation afloat while causing a ripple effect of economic fallout from the conflict around the world.

Most G7 leaders are facing domestic political pressure as the conflict in Ukraine continues. The economic fallout mentioned above includes soaring inflation, runaway energy prices and the prospect of more significant hardships as the conflict goes on. To be sure, the Russia-Ukraine War has continued on far beyond the expectations of most analysts, observers and politicians. And while the G7 continues to pledge undying support for Ukraine in public, pressure is building behind the scenes for Western leaders to bring an end to the conflict and contain the spreading economic damage.

Zelenskiy has stated he wants to see the war conclude by the end of 2022. However, given the fact that Russia now has the initiative and Western populations are growing weary of the cost they are being forced to bear, a negotiated conclusion to the fighting appears more probable. Most likely one that cedes the Donbas to Russia in exchange for an end to the fighting.

Author’s Note: Apologies for the shortness of this update, I’m just getting over a stomach bug that kept me down for most of the weekend.

China Update 25 June, 2022: Xi to Hong Kong, More Taiwan Strait Incidents

Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Hong Kong next week to “attend a meeting celebrating the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland and the inaugural ceremony of the sixth-term government,” according to China’s Xinhua news agency. John Lee will be sworn in as Hong Kong Chief Executive, replacing Carrie Lam who has held the post since July 2017. The trip will be Xi’s first outside of mainland China since January 2020. As the number of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong have been rising in recent weeks, it was unclear whether Xi would visit the city. But with the 25th anniversary of the handover coinciding with the swearing in of a new Hong Kong Chief Executive, China’s leader obviously decided a day trip to the city is worth the risk.

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China’s military has called the recent transit of a US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft over Taiwan Strait as being a deliberate attempt to disrupt the regional situation and endangered peace and stability. On Friday the US Poseidon flew over the strait separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. The flight came one day after Taiwan was forced to scramble fighters to intercept twenty-two Chinese aircraft operating in the Taiwanese air defense identification zone. All of this activity around Taiwan Strait comes days after the US government rejected a Chinese claim that the strait is not international waters.

NATO and Russian Military Exercises in the Baltic Take On A Whole New Importance

We’re moving into military exercise season in the Baltic region. Every year at this time a number of modestly sized exercises crop up in and around NATO nations. Days later, similar exercises sprout up in and around Russia and Belarus. The dueling maneuvers increase in size and complexity, usually culminating on the NATO side with the commencement of BALTOPS, a major exercise held annually that involves ships, aircraft and equipment from over a dozen NATO member-states. This year, the spring exercise season’s stakes are considerably higher than usual given the continuing war in Ukraine, as well as the heightened tensions between Russia and the West. Both NATO and Russia will use the maneuvers to send a message to the other side, as well as work up their respective forces.  

Moscow got the jump on NATO by holding wargames in Kaliningrad which included simulated launches of SS-26 Stone (Iskander to the amateurs and social media ‘experts’) short range ballistic missiles. According to statements released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian forces in Kaliningrad practiced multiple strikes against simulated enemy missile batteries, airfields, protected infrastructure, military equipment and command posts belonging to a generic enemy. Russian personnel also roleplayed avoiding “a possible retaliatory strike” and working in areas of radiological and chemical agent contamination.

To put it in basic terms, Russian forces in Kaliningrad just ran a military exercise intended to work up its nuclear-capable forces and demonstrate how capable military personnel in Kaliningrad are when it comes to working amid a tactical nuclear or chemical exchange. The message here is simple; Russia takes the possibility of a limited nuclear war far more seriously than does NATO, and Moscow wants the world to be aware of this.

NATO also has several large-scale maneuvers set for this month and beyond. Arrow 22 is set to begin soon in Finland and will run for two weeks. British, US, Polish and Finnish troops will be taking part, as well as soldiers from other NATO members. The exercise is gaining more attention than usual owing to Finland and Sweden. Both nations are tentatively moving closer to applying for NATO membership as the security situation with regards to Russia continues to deteriorate in the Baltic region.