Syria
Syria oil map

Trump lays claim to Syrian oil

Before Donald Trump left the London NATO summit in a huff, he made the startling claim at a press conference that the US can do “what we want” with the oil-fields it now controls in northeast Syria. This faux pas, jumped on by the British tabloid press, recalls Trump’s 2016 campaign trail boast of his plans for Syria: “I’ll take the oil”—and turn the seized fields over to Exxon. A military showdown over the oil looms, as all sides to the conflict await the new order that will emerge from the current scramble for northern Syria. A contest between the US and Russian-backed Assadist forces is a terrifying possibility. One restraining factor is that the US holds the fields jointly with Kurdish forces—and Washington, Moscow and Damascus alike are attempting to groom the Kurds as proxies. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

North Africa
drone

Drone wars over Libya

With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (Photo of Wing Loong II drone via Xinhua)

Syria
Russian missile

Russia admits: Syria is test war for weaponry

Russia has effectively used the Syrian war to perfect weaponry, Moscow’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu boasted. Russia intervened in support of the Bashar Assad regime in 2015 and has since been held responsible for some of the most devastating aerial bombings experienced by civilians since the onset of the conflict more than eight years ago. Shoigu said around 300 weapons had been “fine-tuned” through the Syria intervention, including the Kalibr cruise missile, generally launched from Russia’s war fleet off Syria’s coast. Previous to use in Syria, Shoigu said, technical difficulties meant the Kalibr missile often missed targets, but that is no longer the case. (Photo of Vityaz missile launcher via Wikipedia)

Watching the Shadows
Ukraine

Trump’s phone call: the view from Ukraine

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has finally announced an official impeachment inquiry after reports surfaced that Donald Trump called on a foreign power to intervene in the upcoming election. Trump placed a hold on $391 million in aid to Ukraine just over a week before a July phone call in which he apparently urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden—the son of former US Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s likely opponent in next year’s race. This pretty clearly constitutes use of military aid to Ukraine as a bargaining chip—or an outright bribe. This is not the first time Ukraine’s internal war has become a football in American politics. (Map via Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

Europe

Russia completes Crimea-Ukraine border wall

Russia completed a high-tech security fence along annexed Crimea's border with mainland Ukraine. The fence, more than 60 kilometers long, is topped with barbed wire and equipped with hundreds of sensors. Russia's FSB security agency called the fence a "boundary of engineering structures," and said it is necessary to prevent "infiltration attempts by saboteurs," also citing traffic in drugs, arms and other contraband. The statement boasted of "the most complicated system of alarm sensors in the Isthmus of Perekop," the stretch of land where annexed Crimea borders the Ukrainian mainland. (Photo via ??? ???????)

Central America

UN protests Nicaragua ‘anti-terrorism’ law

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for a law approved in Nicaragua, ostensibly aimed at money-laundering, arms-trafficking and terrorism. The statement warned that the definition of "terrorism" under the law is dangerously "vague," and that it could be used to suppress opposition. The law defines as "terrorism" any damage to public or private property, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly financing or aiding so-called "terrorist operations" can also face up to 20 years. The law was introduced in April, just as Nicaragua's political crisis was breaking out. The OHCHR noted that the law was passed by a National Assembly "almost completely controlled" by the ruling Sandinista party. (Poto via Noticiias ONU)

Central America

Podcast: Nicaragua and political deja vu

In Episode 10 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the re-emergence in the news of three figures associated with the drama that played out over revolutionary Nicaragua in the 1980s. Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua then, is again today, and just faced massive protests calling for his ouster. Oliver North, who headed the Reagan White House covert operation to destabilize Nicaragua's Sandinista regime back then, was just named as head of the National Rifle Association. And Luis Posada Carriles the right-wing Cuban terrorist who was part of North's private spy network back then, just died. Historical ironies abound. North, who supported a counter-revolutionary terrorist network in Nicaragua (the "contras"), now baits nonviolent gun-control activists as "terrorists." Ortega, whose government distributed land to the campesinos in the '80s, is now seizing land from campesinos for his monstrous inter-oceanic canal plan. And the conspiracy theory popular among the NRA's white heartland base about the government preparing to disarm the populace and detain resisters in military camps has its roots in the actual FEMA martial law plan drawn up by Oliver North, to be implemented in the event of a US invasion of Nicaragua—with Central American refugees to be detained in military camps. A final irony is the NRA-Russia connection, which comes as Nicaragua is cooperating with a resurgent Russian military presence in the Caribbean. Vladimir Putin recently became the first Russian (or Soviet) leader to visit Nicaragua. So is it possible that we are today so far through the proverbial looking glass that Oliver North and Daniel Ortega are now on the same side? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Image: Wikipedia)

Syria

Assad turns oil over to Putin for military protection

Bashar Assad arrived in Russia to publicly thank Vladimir Putin for his military support in the ongoing re-conquest of Syria—prominently including the deployment of new missile systems. Undoubtedly discussed behind closed doors was the  new “energy cooperation framework agreement” between Moscow and Damascus, under which Russia is to have exclusive rights to exploit oil and gas in Syria. (Photo of Vityaz missile launcher via Wikipedia)

North America

Podcast: Politics of the Second Amendment

In Episode Four of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg makes the case that the Second Amendment is a non-grammatical muddle of obfuscation—because the issue was just as contentious in 1789 as it is today, and the Framers fudged it. That’s why both the “gun control” and “gun rights” advocates can claim they have the correct interpretation—as they each advocate solutions that, in their own way, escalate the police state. In the wake of the latest school massacre, youth activists are pressing the issue, and this is long overdue. But the discussion that needs to be had would explore the social and cultural roots of this peculiarly American pathology. Listen on SoundCloud, and support us via Patreon.

Afghanistan

NATO claims crackdown on Taliban hashish

With Afghanistan's opium output now breaking all previous records, hashish continues to remain an important sideline for the country's warring factions—and to hear the US tell it, it's the ultra-puritanical Taliban that are responsible for it. Recent NATO raids have claimed massive hash hauls from the hideouts of the Taliban's elite "Red Units." Operation Resolute Support commanders now say the Taliban have become a "narco-insurgency." (Photo: NATO)

Europe
Ukraine

US anti-tank missiles to Ukraine: why now?

The US has approved the sale of $47 million worth of anti-tank guided missiles to Ukraine, for use against Russia's "volunteer" mechanized units in the breakaway Donbass region.  While the news was of course met with glee in Keiv, Russia's Foreign Ministry warned that Washington has "crossed a line." Is this to be read as a White House green light for Ukraine to re-escalate the war and launch a new offensive for the Donbass? Or is it just a propaganda move by Trump to shake the perception that he is "Putin's puppet"? (Map: CIA)

Greater Middle East

UK court approves arms sales to Saudi Arabia

London's High Court of Justice ruled that the UK can continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia, rejecting a case asserting that the weapons have been used in the commission of war crimes in Yemen. A substantial portion of the court's reasoning is contained in a "closed judgment" document only available to the government's legal team and a security-cleared "special advocate" for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).