UN General Assembly Returns Next Week Amid Serious Challenges

With UN General Assembly set to get underway next week,  UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledges the glut of troubles facing the world at the moment. He described the state of the world as “A time of great peril.” Fair description considering the wars, economic crisis, poverty, climate chaos and other issues in play across the planet right now. The question is: What is the United Nations prepared to do about it?

Guterres is calling for cooperation from UN member-states, while acknowledging the global response to these crises has been weakened by a number of mitigating factors. In an interview with NPR, the secretary-general admitted that the supranational body’s ability to contend with matters such as the Ukraine-Russia War and the energy crisis now brewing in Europe is limited. More to the point, Guterres doesn’t expect UN efforts to result in progress to be made on many fronts.

This will be the first in-person General Assembly since 2019. During the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath many leaders attended remotely. 140 world leaders are expected to attend, a marked increase from 2021’s 80. There will be one exception granted though. Today, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy was granted permission by the UN General Assembly to address the body via video link.

Azerbaijan-Armenia Hostilities Flare Up Once Again

Fighting has erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the most violent clashes since the conclusion of their 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Each side placed responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities on the other. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia claims fifty of his country’s troops were killed in overnight clashes with Azeri forces. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry in turn, offered an explanation which accused Armenia of conducting ‘large-scale provocations’ that prompted retaliation. Earlier today, Pashinyan claimed the tempo of hostilities had decreased somewhat, however, Azeri attacks on Armenian positions continue.

The Russian foreign ministry has announced it brokered a ceasefire between the two nations early Tuesday, although this has yet to be independently confirmed. There is a considerable number of Russian peacekeepers to the region and Moscow has made great efforts to be viewed as the arbiter in the Caucuses, a volatile area.

Russia’s engagement in Ukraine and the recent battlefield setbacks it has suffered there might have enticed Azerbaijan and Armenia to act with less caution. This sudden escalation is leading to concern that Russia could find itself engaged in a second war near its border. It is in Moscow’s best interest to prevent a fresh conflict from breaking out now. Especially with Vladimir Putin set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday at the Shanghai Cooperative Organization meeting in Uzbekistan.

European Energy Concerns Deepen

For months European Union officials have claimed the Union should prepared if Russia decides to halt gas shipments to Europe indefinitely. However, Gazprom’s decision halt Nord Stream 1 deliveries, ostensibly due to needed turbine repairs, has shown the earlier EU confidence might’ve been premature. Energy markets are volatile right now with prices surging. If this was not bad enough, many European energy companies are facing margin calls at the worst possible time. Collateral cash is not available in the amounts needed, mainly owing to the volatility of energy markets, which has been sparked in-turn by the energy. The chips are down, and the red light is flashing on the continent as leaders and energy ministers try and come to terms with the crisis now staring directly at them.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo warned today that swift action must be taken to prevent a broad economic shutdown continent-wide. “A few weeks like this and the European economy will just go into a full stop. Recovering from that is going to be much more complicated than intervening in gas markets today. The risk of that is de-industrialization and severe risk of fundamental social unrest.” De Croo made these comments in an interview with Bloomberg. Tomorrow 27 EU energy ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss a plan for intervention in European energy markets. As some analysts have said earlier this week, Europe is now facing a “Lehman Event” and swift intervention could be the only tool strong enough to stave off major disaster.

Even though European officials continue to claim gas storage supplies are sufficient enough to get EU nations through the winter, there’s increasing worry that if even one member-state must resort to blackouts and other energy restrictions it will create a domino-effect throughout the entire EU. Given the current state of energy in Europe this is a very possible prospect once winter sets in.

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. 

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.