Trade partners see red over Europe’s green agenda

“The EU’s carbon border levy is the latest, and most symbolic, measure to upset the EU’s trade partners. The idea is that producers importing carbon-intensive products into the bloc will have to buy permits to account for the difference between their domestic carbon price and the price paid by EU producers.

The goal of the levy, called the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), was to level the playing field for EU producers and avoid companies moving their production over lower climate standards — so-called carbon leakage. For Brussels, the sense of climate urgency is too high to wait for others to follow suit, or to reach a deal at the multilateral or global level.”

“Brazil, South Africa, India and China have jointly expressed their “grave concern regarding the proposal for introducing trade barriers, such as unilateral carbon border adjustment, that are discriminatory.” The measure is likely to be challenged at the World Trade Organization.”

“The carbon border levy is far from the only measure to make exporting to the world’s biggest trading bloc harder.
Brussels’ Farm to Fork strategy seeks to prioritize sustainability in agriculture by slashing pesticide risk and use in half by 2030. A plan announced last September to ban imports of products containing residues of harmful neonicotinoid insecticides from 2026 has drawn “unprecedented” criticism from other countries, according to a senior European Commission official.

As the Green Deal tightens rules on pesticide use in the EU, new trade barriers are going up, said Koen Dekeyser of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM). “Certain farmers can make those investments. Other, more small-scale farmers are likely to seek other markets, for example in Asia,” said Dekeyser.

The EU’s effort to stop deforestation is likely to have similar results.

Under new rules, it will be illegal to sell or export certain commodities if they’ve been produced on deforested land.”

What to know about the $60 price cap, the plan to limit Russia’s oil revenues

“These are some of the biggest sanctions to date, as Europe — once the destination for about half of Russia’s oil exports — further weans itself off Russian energy. And Europe, along with the United States and other major economies, like the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and Australia, have agreed to a maximum of $60 per barrel on Russian seaborne oil, which means anyone who still wants to buy Russian oil has to pay that price or less, if it wants to ship cargo through operators or insurers based in the EU or other countries who signed on to this price cap.”

“There are a lot of unknowns, but this is a dramatic and unprecedented move by the US and its partners — especially given how dependent Europe was on Russian energy. “If anyone told you a year ago that the EU is going to effectively eliminate its dependence on fossil fuel imports from Russia, over a period of a year, you would have thought they’re a complete lunatic,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
It’s true that Europe continued to buy a lot of Russian oil and gas in the first half of the year, even after Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s also true that Moscow itself cut off supplies of natural gas, giving Europe little choice but to find alternatives. But even so, it’s a real and rapid scrambling of a relationship, and the EU has largely (if not perfectly) been decreasing its Russian fossil fuel imports with the expectation of the ban and other measures. Starting in February, the EU will also ban oil product imports from Russia.”

“There are already caveats. Though Russia isn’t exactly going to be transparent about this, the $60 price cap appears to be about what Russia is already selling its oil for, which means Russia’s oil revenues are unlikely to nosedive immediately. Some countries, like Poland, pushed for a much lower cap, and Ukraine has also said this doesn’t go far enough. There are also some questions around enforcement, as shippers have to attest they are abiding by the price cap, and negotiators ended up weakening some of the penalties for violators.

But the US and its allies were trying to strike a balance through a mechanism that hasn’t been attempted before. They wanted to avoid completely disrupting global oil markets while applying more pressure to Russia’s oil profits. The cap is not firmly set, and is subject to a review every two months. That means it — and its enforcement mechanisms — are likely to be tinkered with depending on how this all plays out.

“This is about balance. It was never about not having any Russian oil on the market. It was about balancing supply and demand but also balancing the need to limit Mr. Putin’s ability to profit. And again, we think that $60 per barrel will do that,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said on a press call Monday.

“It doesn’t mean that that cap can’t be adjusted going forward as we see the way it’s being implemented, and as we see how the Russians might react to it,” Kirby added.”

“Here’s how it’s supposed to work in practice: Any actor in a jurisdiction of the price-cap coalition that transports, insures, or finances the shipment of Russian oil by sea, can only do so if the price per barrel is $60 or less.

The reason the coalition thinks it could work is because a lot of maritime operators, insurers, and reinsurers are based in Europe and the United Kingdom — or as Myllyvirta put it: “The two big things are Greek ships and UK insurers.” That market domination would make it costly and cumbersome to insure your ship against an oil spill, say, or find an available tanker that doesn’t fall under a jurisdiction that’s adopted the price cap.”

“Russia has said it will not sell oil subject to the price cap, even if it has to scale back production. But this is easier said than done because Russia still needs oil buyers, like China and India, who now have a lot of leverage. “Am I going to buy [oil] at anything above 60 bucks, knowing that’s the only option Russia has? Are you going to do Putin a solid and say, ‘No, I’ll pay you $65, I’ll pay you $70.’ I’m not sure why they would, especially because they have all the cards,” Smith said.”

“Russia is under unprecedented financial and energy sanctions, especially for an economy of its size. Russia has weathered a lot of that pressure so far, and its energy and resource exports are a huge reason why. Still, sanctions are undoubtedly having an effect. Russia’s economy has shrunk. Import bans on advanced technology are forcing Russian manufacturers to scale back features — no airbags in cars, for example — because they can’t get parts. That is also affecting Russia’s ability to make advanced weapons. And even if Russia was buoyed by its oil and gas sales, those are declining, and Russia has been heavily taxing some of its oil and gas industries to try to raise more revenues. That can’t work forever, either.”

“there are still more sanctions to impose on Russia — we’re not at the level of an Iran or a North Korea yet — but that would come with repercussions for the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world, all of which is struggling with inflation and rising food and fuel prices.”

License to kill: How Europe lets Iran and Russia get away with murder

“Europe — the staging ground for most Iranian operations in recent years — has been afraid to make Tehran pay. Since 2015, Iran has carried out about a dozen operations in Europe, killing at least three people and abducting several others, security officials say.”

““If the Islamic Republic doesn’t receive any punishment, is there any reason for them to stop taking hostages or kidnapping or killing?” she said, and then answered: “No.””

“Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa. In Colombia, police arrested two men in Bogotá on suspicion they were plotting to assassinate a group of Americans and a former Israeli intelligence officer for $100,000; a similar scene played out in Africa, as authorities in Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal arrested five men on suspicion they were planning attacks on Israeli targets, including tourists on safari; in February of this year, Turkish police disrupted an intricate Iranian plot to kill a 75-year-old Turkish-Israeli who owns a local aerospace company; and in November, authorities in Georgia said they foiled a plan hatched by Iran’s Quds Force to murder a 62-year-old Israeli-Georgian businessman in Tbilisi.
Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: They won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program and renewing business ties.

Unlike the U.S. and Israel, which have taken a hard line on Iran ever since the mullahs came to power in 1979, Europe has been more open to the regime. Many EU officials make no secret of their ennui with America’s hard-line stance vis-à-vis Iran.

“Iran wants to wipe out Israel, nothing new about that,” the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told POLITICO in 2019 when he was still Spanish foreign minister. “You have to live with it.””

“the dictatorship’s rationale for such killings has been to protect itself.

“The highest priority of the Iranian regime is internal stability,” a Western intelligence source said. “The regime views its opponents inside and outside Iran as a significant threat to this stability.”

Much of that paranoia is rooted in the Islamic Republic’s own history. Before returning to Iran in 1979, Khomeini spent nearly 15 years in exile, including in Paris, an experience that etched the power of exile into the Islamic Republic’s mythology. In other words, if Khomeini managed to lead a revolution from abroad, the regime’s enemies could too.”

Can Ukraine’s infrastructure survive the winter?

“The scale of the destruction makes quick repairs impossible. Replacement parts are not often readily available. Energy infrastructure also remains vulnerable: A lot of it is big and out in the open; once hit by a missile and fixed, it can be hit again. “It’s not possible to repair quickly after it’s been damaged,” said Volodymyr Shulmeister, founder of the Infrastructure Council NGO and former first deputy minister of infrastructure of Ukraine from 2014 to 2015. “There were some spare parts, some electric power stations has been repaired, but there will be new problems coming from the air.”
That is on top of all the other destruction Ukraine accumulated in months and months of war: houses and apartment buildings, bridges, roads, railways. There is always collateral damage in conflict, but Russia’s attacks on non-military critical and energy infrastructure are intentional. “This is not a new tactic for Russia,” said John Spencer, a retired Army officer and chair of urban warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum. “If you think about what they did in Chechnya, and in Syria, to basically bring the civilian population to such despair that they’re willing to capitulate.”

Moscow’s targeting of infrastructure, which some have argued amounts to war crimes, is an effort to undermine Ukraine’s economy and deprive people of essential services — heat, water, electricity — as winter approaches. Russia is struggling against Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the east and south, and so Moscow is trying to extend the war and spread out that pain across Ukraine, not just in war zones. All of it will make Ukraine even more reliant on aid from the West, which is dealing with its own inflation and energy crises. “Russians are actually now acting very cruel, but also in a very well-thought-through way,” said Andriy Kobolyev, former chief executive officer of Ukraine’s largest national oil and gas company Naftogaz.

In areas closer to the fighting, the infrastructure destruction is even more extreme, but also harder to fully assess. Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of destroying “all the critical infrastructure: communications, water, heat, electricity,” before retreating from Kherson last week. In Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, Russia cut off the city’s water supply months ago; salt water had run through the taps for months, and potable water is now just being restored. Zelenskyy said in early November, before the latest round of air strikes, that Russian attacks damaged about 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure; precise data on how badly and where is hard to get, in part because Ukraine is closely guarding that information as a matter of national security.”

3 ways of looking at Putin’s barbaric escalation against Ukrainian civilians

“Eight months into the war, Ukraine is now on the offensive. Their forces seem better armed, better trained, and better motivated, and most military analysts are predicting further Ukrainian territorial gains before the onset of winter. Russia’s partial mobilization looks like a logistical mess. Only four countries voted with Russia in the latest United Nations General Assembly vote condemning its attempted annexation of Ukrainian territory.
An underrated source of power in world politics is a reputation for effectively wielding power. This means Russia is in serious trouble.

What was supposed to be a lightning-fast decapitation of the Zelenskyy government has turned into a costly conflict with an opponent out-fighting and out-thinking Russians on the battlefield. Even before the recent strikes on civilians, Putin was forced to acknowledge that key partners like China and India had started making noises indicating dissatisfaction with the war.”

“Russia very much wants to remind friends and foes alike that it still can project destructive power. And while bombing civilians seems to have minimal military value, Russia might believe it to be an effective signal that bolsters its nuclear threats. After all, the logic runs, if Russia demonstrates that it is unconcerned about the norms and laws governing the use of conventional force, that sends a message that it is likewise unconcerned about the norms and laws governing the use of nuclear weapons.

And the more credible Russia’s nuclear threat is, the more it can rely on that tool as a form of coercive bargaining.”

“Even autocrats need to placate supporters among what political scientists call the “selectorate” — the people or group who, in practice, select a state’s leader. In a democracy, the electorate is the selectorate; in a more authoritarian regime, the selectorate is smaller and murkier. Regardless of regime type, a ruler needs to command a winning coalition with the selectorate.

Who are the actors in Putin’s coalition? A recent Institute for the Study of War (ISW) analysis of Russia’s information space concluded that there were three key pillars of support for Putin: “Russian milbloggers and war correspondents, former Russian or proxy officers and veterans, and some of the Russian siloviki — people with meaningful power bases and forces of their own. Putin needs to retain the support of all three of these factions.”

The reverses on the battlefield in the east and south of Ukraine cost Putin some support among his selectorate. According to the Washington Post, “A member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has voiced disagreement directly to the Russian president in recent weeks over his handling of the war in Ukraine.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the Post that was “absolutely not true,” even while acknowledging, “There is disagreement over such moments. Some think we should act differently. But this is all part of the usual working process.”

This jibes with the recent public criticisms by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Evgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization, about the way the war has been prosecuted. ISW reported similar discontent from nationalists and military bloggers.

As ISW writes, this dissension has a feedback effect that erodes Putin’s standing: “Word of fractures within Putin’s inner circle have reached the hyper-patriotic and nationalist milblogger crowd, however, undermining the impression of strength and control that Putin has sought to portray throughout his reign.”

Striking Ukrainian civilians with missiles makes sense for Putin within this domestic context. After the bridge attack, there were calls from Russian nationalists to escalate the conflict. They want the gloves to come off in the fight against Ukraine, advocating for ever more brutality. The rocket attacks against Ukrainian cities will placate Putin’s nationalist supporters for the time being, and allows his subordinates and surrogates to make the case on television that they are responding to reverses on the battlefield. Putin’s promotion this week of Gen. Sergei Surovikin, known as “General Armageddon” for his brutality in Syria, will also bolster his standing with nationalists.”

“Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his research with Amos Tversky demonstrating that most humans do not make decisions based on rational choice, but rather use a collection of cognitive shortcuts known as prospect theory. A central tenet of prospect theory is that individuals will be risk-averse when they are winning, and risk-tolerant when they are losing. In other words, when someone faces a setback relative to the prior status quo, they are more willing to take risks in an effort to “gamble for resurrection.”

This seems to describe Putin’s behavior over the past few months.”

“the West should hope Russia’s actions are explained by Putin’s individual psychology. Both the international and domestic explanations suggest that Putin will double down on aggressive actions. At the global level, Russia keeps getting humiliated by UN General Assembly votes. At the domestic level, Putin will need to amp up the barbarism to maintain nationalist support as Russian fortunes in Ukraine continue to deteriorate.

Only Putin’s reputed procrastinating tendencies suggest a return to Russian lethargy in adapting to Ukrainian military successes. It would be ironic indeed if the greatest gift Russia can give Ukraine is Vladimir Putin’s torpor.”