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Biden’s ‘posturing’ on Russian oil risks wider conflict: Analysts | Oil and Gas News

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New York City, US – US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on Russian oil and gas imports to the United States in retaliation for Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, injecting more uncertainty into how the conflict and energy crisis will be resolved.

The US’s European partners followed with pressure of their own. The United Kingdom said it would phase out imports of Russian oil and oil products by 2022, while the European Union said it would slash Russian gas imports to Europe by 66 percent by the end of the year.

Russia plays a pivotal role in the global energy supply and destabilisation could send shock waves through the global economy – one that is already reeling from supply shortages, bottlenecks, and price pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The US imported an average of 209,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil and 500,000 bdp of other petroleum products from Russia in 2021, according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.

Only one percent of Russia’s oil exports went to the US market in 2020, according to the US Energy Information Administration. For the US, that volume makes up 8 percent of its total oil consumption. But analysts warn that this could have deeper consequences.

“This is mostly US posturing,” Jim Krane, an energy fellow at Rice University in Houston, Texas, told Al Jazeera. “But it does risk a wider conflict within oil markets and higher oil prices for American consumers.”

On Tuesday following Biden’s remarks, global benchmark Brent crude soared 7.35 percent to $132.27 a barrel while US West Texas Intermediate spiked 7.26 percent to $128.07.

“Russia could retaliate by reducing exports further or cutting exports to US allies,” Krane said.

Russia’s oil and gas industry was omitted in the initial sanctions the West imposed on Moscow, aimed at crippling Russia’s financial and tech sectors and pressuring a shift in the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Oil giants British Petroleum and Shell had said last week that they were pulling business out of Russia. Shell took it a step further on Tuesday, announcing that it would stop buying Russian oil.

As hostilities in Ukraine continue amidst three rounds of unsuccessful negotiations and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls for further action from the West, analysts warn that punishing Russia may have long-term economic blowback on the rest of the world.

‘One of the largest energy supply shocks ever’

Russia has hit back, threatening on Tuesday to retaliate to Western sanctions by halting flows through Nord Stream 1, a pipeline providing Europe with gas.

Russia supplies 40 percent of Europe’s gas. Germany, which has expressed reluctance to ban Russian energy exports, relies on Russia for almost 50 percent of its natural gas.

The 4.3 million bpd of US crude imports to the West from Russia in January 2022 will not be quickly replaced by other sources, Rystad Energy, a Norway-based research firm, said in a note following Biden’s remarks.

“Given Russia’s key role in global energy supply, the global economy could soon be faced with one of the largest energy supply shocks ever,” analysts at Goldman Sachs warned on Tuesday.

Even if countries release their strategic petroleum reserves – crude that can be tapped in times of emergencies – and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pumps more oil, prices are likely to stay high.

On Tuesday, Brent hit a high of $133.15 and WTI inched closer to $130 a barrel. It was not long ago that analysts wondered whether oil would top $100 a barrel.

To help stabilize prices, the US does have the capacity to boost its shale oil output, but Reed Blakemore, deputy director at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, told Al Jazeera it’s more complicated than just turning on the faucet and letting the shale flow.

“You need the labour, you need fracking sand which is actually incredibly expensive right now. There are logistical and infrastructure components associated with turning on shale production in the US. That will take some time,” he said.

‘Biden has been unsuccessful at encouraging partners in the Gulf’

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait could potentially ramp up production by 2.1 million barrels per day from current levels within a couple of months, Goldman Sachs estimates.

But other analysts say “Don’t count on it.”

“Biden has been largely unsuccessful at encouraging partners in the Gulf – the Saudis, the UAE, to put more barrels on the market,” Blakemore said.

“It’s going to take a lot more than anybody expects to get Saudi Arabia to put more barrels on the market because it’s going to have to tap into its spare capacity, which Riyadh has treated as a national security priority,” he added.

Also there’s oil-rich Iran and Venezuela, adversaries the US has turned to in recent weeks.

Reaching a nuclear deal with the Iranians could bring extra barrels to market. The US lifting sanctions on oil imports from Venezuela could also help plug the crude hole.

For Russia, China could end up playing a crucial role in absorbing oil the US has barred, analysts told Al Jazeera. “The pipeline infrastructure from Russia to China exists, but whether or not it can handle that much additional supply flow, we just do not know. Physically shipping oil from Russia to China will take some time,” Blakemore said.

Rising costs for consumers

American consumers are already feeling pain at the pump. Petrol prices have surged to a record high since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24. US inflation at 7.5 percent – its highest in 40 years – could get worse.

“Oil is a base commodity,” Blakemore told Al Jazeera. “It’s a key piece of global shipping and trade, getting goods from A to B, and manufacturing products we use every day.”

The gauge of global food costs has jumped to a record, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The surge in food prices is disproportionately affecting poor countries in the Middle East and Asia. The pace of food inflation is also threatening the currency value of emerging economies.



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How much do Australian voters care about climate change? | TV Shows

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On Thursday, May 19 at 19:30GMT:
More than 17.2 million Australians are set to vote during this week’s elections – and for the first time, climate change could shape the outcome in a major way.

Massive deadly bushfires in 2019 and destructive flooding in 2021 have changed many Australians’ outlook on climate action. Polls show an increasing number of citizens believe that global warming “is a serious and pressing problem” and that “we should begin taking steps now, even if this involves significant costs.”

Despite this growing support for stronger climate policy, neither major party has pledged ambitious reform. Both Liberal Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese support a net zero carbons emissions policy by 2050, which analysts say isn’t bold enough. And though 29 percent of Australians cite climate change as their most important issue, most candidates are not talking about it, for fear of alienating voters in coal mining towns.

That’s one big reason why so-called “teal independent” candidates are gaining traction around the nation. This group of nearly two dozen, mostly female candidates are running on an anti-corruption, pro-climate action platform. Political experts say that if a major party fails to secure a majority in Parliament, these independents could tip the balance of power after negotiating more climate-friendly policy outcomes.

Other issues at stake in this year’s elections include the soaring cost of living, government corruption and tackling gender and racial inequality.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll talk about the major issues sending Australians to the polls, and what it could mean for the country’s climate policy. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Kishor Napier-Raman, @kishor_nr
Federal Politics Reporter, Crikey

Intifar Chowdhury, @intifar2210
Associate Lecturer & Youth Researcher, Australia National University (ANU)

Kate Crowley, @Kate__Crowley
Associate Professor, University of Tasmania





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Sri Lankans honour Tamil victims of civil war after 13 years | Tamils News

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Sri Lankan protesters have lit flames and offered prayers remembering thousands – including ethnic Tamil civilians – killed in the final stages of the country’s decades-long civil war.

It was the first-ever event in the island nation where mostly majority ethnic Sinhalese openly memorialised the minority group.

Protesters gathered outside the president’s office in the main city of Colombo on Wednesday, floated flowers in the nearby sea and prayed for all those who died in the 26-year civil war, including Tamil civilians, Tamil rebels and government soldiers.

The head of the separatist Tamil Tiger movement, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was shot dead by security forces on May 18, 2009, bringing a formal end to the bloody ethnic war.

‘Highly welcome’

“This is highly symbolic and very important for Tamils,” said legislator Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a parliamentarian from the northern Tamil heartland of Jaffna.

“In previous years, there were private memorials held in secret, but this public event is highly welcome.”

A Christian nun sings hymns as activists observe a minute silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka's civil war.
A Christian nun sings hymns as activists observe a minute silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war at the ongoing anti-government protest site in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

Clergy from Buddhist, Hindu and Christian communities offered prayers in Colombo and lit a clay lamp for those who perished in the civil war.

“I am a Sinhalese by birth. Today we held a memorial for all those who were killed 13 years ago, Sinhala, Muslim, Hindu and everybody as a result of state terrorism and terrorism by non-state groups,” said Sumeera Gunasekara, a social media activist who participated in the event.

“There are still those who are grieving because of these events and as a Sinhalese I have a right to share in their grief, because I believe in the religion of humanity more than any other.”

Actress Kaushalya Fernando said she came to remember the victims of a war created and mishandled by politicians.

“The significance of this place is that we are not here as different ethnic groups but as Sri Lankans.”

The protesters also shared rice porridge, the only food the people could have in the final stages of the fighting because of the heavy blockade of supplies.

The country’s main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), said the commemoration showed the majority Sinhalese were willing to support reconciliation after decades of ethnic war.

“This gives us a lot of hope and I hope that Tamil people will also reciprocate,” said TNA spokesman M A Sumanthiran.

“There may be pitfalls along the way, but this is a very good start.”

Human rights activists observe a minute of silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka's civil war.
Human rights activists observe a minute of silence in remembrance of victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war at the ongoing anti-government protest site in Colombo [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

The civil war killed 100,000 people, according to the United Nations estimates. The actual number is believed to be much higher. A report from a UN panel of experts said at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the fighting alone.

Since Sri Lankan troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, Sri Lankan authorities had widely prohibited Tamils from publicly remembering their family members and have denied allegations that Tamil civilians were killed.

Human rights groups have since accused the country’s military of killing civilians towards the end of the war, in which the rebels fought for a separate state for the Tamil minority.

Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist, make up nearly 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. Tamils, mostly Hindu, represent 15 percent of the population.

UK Tamils seek justice at London vigil

Tamils who resettled in the United Kingdom after fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war also held a vigil in London on Wednesday, with some likening the island nation’s current economic crisis to the conditions they faced during the decades-long conflict.

The gathering of Tamils seeking justice for those from their community who were killed in the South Asian country during the war, coincided with Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 that has forced out its prime minister.

Sri Lanka vigil in London, UK
People attend a demonstration to remember those who died in the Sri Lankan civil war on the 13th anniversary of its end, in London, UK, May 18, 2022  [REUTERS/Muvija M]

“The current crisis in Colombo reminds me of our struggles during the war. Shortage of fuel, food, medicine – the Tamil-dominated parts of Sri Lanka faced the same issues then as what the entire nation is facing today,” said Thanikai, 42, who came to the UK eight years ago.

“We need justice for all the people who were killed.”

The UN has accused both sides of war crimes and has been given a mandate to collect evidence. The UN has also warned the failure of Sri Lanka to address past violations has significantly heightened the risk of human rights violations being repeated.

“My parents and friends are still in Sri Lanka but I have been too scared to go back,” said Elilarasi Manoharan, who attended the peaceful demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square to mark the 13th anniversary of the end of the war.

“But now with the economic crisis and the changes we are seeing, maybe if the Sri Lankan system changes it will open up doors for us to be able to visit our loved ones.”

Sri Lankans have been protesting for more than a month, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and holding him responsible for the country’s worst economic crisis in recent memory.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a key role as a top defence strategist to his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is credited with leading a military campaign to defeat the rebels.

The two leaders were hailed as heroes by the Sinhalese but allegations of mishandling the economy and corruption have led to their fall from grace.

Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister last week amid violent protests, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been staying in his fortified residence for more than a month. He has been forced to take a backseat, having appointed a new prime minister to handle the economy.

Sri Lanka, near bankruptcy, has suspended up to $7bn of foreign loan payments due to be repaid this year because of a foreign currency crisis. The country must repay $25bn as foreign debt by 2026 out of a total of $51bn.

It has led to limited imports with no petrol in filling stations. Other fuel, cooking gas, medicine and foods are in short supply, forcing people to stay in long lines to buy the limited stocks.



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‘Shattering the palace’: Young women take up Thailand reform call | Protests News

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Bangkok, Thailand – Tawan Tuatulanon glanced out of her vehicle’s rear window and noticed that state security forces were following dangerously close. She began recording a Facebook live video on her phone as she and her fellow monarchy reform activists discussed how they might evade the threat.

“The police are following us again,” 20-year-old Tawan told her live audience on Facebook last month. “This is not okay,” she murmured as the vehicle raced down a highway in the capital Bangkok.

Minutes earlier, the team of activists had been involved in a small scuffle at a protest where demonstrators were openly criticising the royal family near a royal motorcade. Three underage demonstrators were arrested, including a 13-year-old. During the attempted arrest, Tawan was hit in the eye by police and bruised her wrist and arm as she tried to protect the protesting children.

Already accustomed to the almost constant surveillance from intelligence officers, plainclothes police were now in pursuit of her team. The group pulled off the expressway and drove into a residential area. They then decided to get out of their vehicle and confront the apparent undercover officers.

“Why are you following us? Why don’t you come out and talk to us face to face?” Tawan barked at the police who hid inside their large black truck, and as a crowd of onlookers gathered. Eventually, the officers left.

Days after the incident on April 19, Tawan was arrested for allegedly violating her bail conditions in an ongoing royal defamation case related to a public poll she organised in February that questioned the Thai monarchy. Criticising the king, or ‘lese-majeste‘, is an offence punishable with up to 15 years in prison. Royal defamation under the Thai criminal code is referred to as Section 112, or as the public calls it simply “112.”

Changing tactics

Tawan is part of the underground anti-monarchy group, Thaluwang, a name that translates to ‘Shattering the Palace’.

It is made up mostly of young people in their 20s, using performance art, provocative stunts and other unusual tactics to question the king’s immense hold on power, actions that were taboo until only a couple of years ago.

A portrait of Maynu with pink hair and wearing a black face mask
Maynu wanted to be a game developer but joined  Thaluwang because she thinks Thailand needs to be reformed to give young people the opportunities they crave [Maynu via Facebook]

Also in the group is 18-year-old Supitcha ‘Maynu’ Chailom.

Maynu caught the country’s attention when she was photographed raising the three-finger salute in front of hundreds of university students in a symbol of defiance taken from the Hunger Games movie that has since come to define opposition to authoritarian regimes across Southeast Asia.

Now one of the prominent faces of a movement that wants to modernise the country, it was the group’s focus on intersectionality and gender equality that initially appealed to her.

“Thaluwang also supports gender equality and women’s rights, so this is one reason why I became involved in the organisation,” Maynu told Al Jazeera. Before joining the anti-government movement, Maynu had dreams of becoming a video game developer and designer. But now she says there are more important things to do.

“This country lacks space for young people’s dreams, games are still demonised in the press and blamed for many issues without looking at how parents raise their children and how this country does not support young people,” Maynu said. “So all of this combined has contributed to where we are now, and a few problematic institutions are still holding back Thailand, and they are powerful and scary to confront.”

Thaluwang has moved away from mass protests and speeches delivered to large crowds, instead adopting tactics that legal experts say are difficult to define as illegal. The approach is intended to make activists less vulnerable to legal harassment, but the crackdown has continued.

“We have observed that Thai authorities have increased undue restrictions on the right to protest,” Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director, told Al Jazeera. “During the last few months, authorities have charged, detained and imprisoned activists, including children, denying them their right to bail or imposing harsh bail restrictions on them. Activists have reported surveillance and harassment.”

Faced with a lese-majeste charge – the latest in a long line of monarchy reform activists who have come under legal pressure – Tawan told Al Jazeera that she is not afraid.

“Especially regarding 112, my case really highlights how problematic the law is in Thailand,” she said. “Many people see us as young people who are just expressing our opinions. So I don’t see how doing this by definition is an insult to the monarchy. And if it is, then this will make people understand that this law needs to be abolished even more.”

Thaluwang runs a questionnaire on the street in Bangkok, asking passers-by to show their opinion
Thaluwang has turned away from traditional street protests to try other ways of getting its message across [Ginger Cat/Al Jazeera]

Colonel Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that authorities are merely upholding the law.

“We were carrying out arrest warrants as they were wanted for violating serious laws,” said Kissana, referring to the arrest of Thaluwang activists in late April.

“We respect their rights as stated by the constitution. We are committed to protecting the people and believe in human rights. But if you violate the law, we have no choice but to enforce the law by our legal means.”

Years of resistance

For the past two years, protesters have been calling for former coup leader and now Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, and for new elections to be held. But it is their calls for royal reform that have sent shockwaves through the country.

Calling for public scrutiny of the Thai king broke longstanding taboos surrounding the monarchy in 2020, and mass protests sparked heated public debate over the role of the royal palace in the country’s politics.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who took the throne in 2016, is often criticised for his lavish lifestyle with estimates of his wealth starting at about $30bn. But critics say he is also bringing back absolute monarchy and controls the country’s military-backed leaders, a system that a new generation of Thais argues must be reformed for the nation to move forward.

For years, researchers have documented intimidation and surveillance of government critics at home, in the workplace and on university campuses.

But even with the democracy movement’s main leaders arrested, rights groups say the authorities have carried out surveillance, legal harassment and arrests of critics at an unprecedented level.

In interviews with more than 12 Thai activists over the past six months, Al Jazeera has documented allegations of surveillance and harassment, with some even speaking of physical torture or assault for demonstrating.

“Apart from using legal means to harass activists, the state authorities also harass citizens who simply post their opinions on Facebook,” said Wannaphat Jenroumjit, a lawyer for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who works directly on ‘112’ cases in relation to activists calling for royal reform.

“They [the police] do so by following them or approaching them directly, or intimidating their family, or neighbours, telling them they are on the police watch list. But this sows suspicion among the community against them.”

Tawan, in a black t-short with red print gives the three-fingered Hunger Games salute which has become a symbol of resistance in Asia
Tawan makes the three-fingered Hunger Games salute, which has become a symbol of resistance among pro-democracy groups from Myanmar to Hong Kong [Ginger Cat/Al Jazeera]

Tawan and Maynu both say they have experienced intimidation.

Maynu has been followed by security forces and was verbally abused when she spent a day in detention.

Tawan says she has been pursued by police on numerous occasions. On one occasion, she told Al Jazeera, 10 officers entered her home and tried to convince her parents to force her to stop. Another day, two men on motorcycles almost ran her off the road, she claimed.

‘Costs for society’

According to THLR, at least 1,787 people have been prosecuted for participating in the Thai protests from 2020 to 2022. The group has documented at least 173 cases where people were charged with royal defamation over the same period.

Pikhaneth Prawang, another lawyer for TLHR, warns the approach could have broader implications for the country.

“Since the resumption of the use of ‘112’ at the end of 2020, the number of cases rose sharply,” Pikhaneth said.

“We’re seeing it used not only to target leaders, but now we’re seeing common people targeted as well. We are worried about how far this could go. Such a campaign could lead to high costs for society.”

Such costs could include a system where public trust is undermined, particularly in the judicial system. A continued erosion of trust could,  Pikhaneth fears, “lead to chaos in the future.”

Days after speaking to Al Jazeera in April, multiple Thaluwang activists were arrested.

Maynu has been released on bail, but Tawan is still in detention and on hunger strike.

Over the last two weeks, three other women who represent Thaluwang have also been detained without bail, including a 17-year-old girl. In response, dozens of protesters demonstrated in front of the United States embassy on May 11, handing in a petition calling on the US to urge Thailand to release political prisoners and stop the use of 112.

Before she was arrested, Tawan told Al Jazeera that despite the pressure, she would not be deterred.

“We have been followed by police and it makes us feel unsafe,” Tawan said. “But with Section 112, I’m still not afraid. If anything, it makes me feel that I need to fight even more, and I’ve mentally prepared myself to soon be in jail. So you could definitely say that I am a very different Tawan than I was before.”



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