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Fareed’s Global Briefing (Feb 23. 2024)

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Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good

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February 23, 2024

Fareed: Conflict Is the New Normal

“Looking at the crises proliferating around the world, it is clear that we are in an age of geopolitical tension that resembles the Cold War—a time of constant, continual threats to international order,” Fareed writes for CNN Opinion. “But this time, the West is treating each of these threats as one-offs to be dealt with separately in the hope that normalcy will soon return. But conflict is the new normal.”

Ukraine is struggling in its war against Russia’s invading army, Israel is waging a devastating war in Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’ horrific Oct. 7 massacres, and another conflict simmers with Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. Given all that, Fareed writes, it’s lamentable that the West hasn’t put itself on better footing.

Europe needs a better military-industrial base to meet the challenge from Russia, Fareed writes, and in the US, “congressional Republicans have decided to return to isolationism, hoping that they can bury their heads in the sand and the problems will somehow go away. It should be noted that contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand to escape threats. In fact, it would lead to their asphyxiation. Maybe the birds understand something congressional Republicans don’t.”

Ukraine, Two Years In

Two years ago Saturday, Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Now, The Economist suggests, Ukrainians are a bit more pessimistic than they were after the initial, successful defense—still hopeful about victory, but expecting it to take longer.

One good reason for pessimism is the faltering of US military assistance, which has stalled under opposition from congressional Republicans—a major concern at last weekend’s Munich Security Conference. As for the current battlefield status, CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen hears from retired Gen. David Petraeus in a CNN Opinion interview: “I’m not sure that either side is winning the war. The Russians obviously have been achieving incremental gains, and the Russians do have the initiative right now, having just forced the Ukrainians to withdraw from Avdiivka in the southeast. … One question, of course, is: might there come a point where the Russian people, particularly Russian mothers and fathers and wives, say, ‘Not my son, not my husband anymore’? And there have been modest demonstrations to bring the boys home, although that has certainly not reached substantial quantity nor been particularly influential.”

Keen war observer and British historian Lawrence Freedman writes for Foreign Affairs: “Ukraine certainly faces steep challenges. Given how stretched the country’s warfighting resources are now, there will be few opportunities for major operational moves against Russia in the year ahead. And if a major new package of U.S. aid dies in Congress, it could drastically impede Ukraine’s ability to cope and leave too much of the initiative with Moscow. But the West knows far less about the pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin faces and how that might intensify … If Russia cannot find a way to quickly take a large chunk of new territory without incurring huge losses in the process, it will be harder to hide the futility of the whole enterprise. As the West reassesses the extent and nature of its backing for Kyiv, it needs to recognize that this remains an incredibly difficult war for Putin to win, and one he might even lose.”

The Death and Life of the Two-State Solution

Almost since Oct. 7, and at least since Israel began its retaliation against Hamas in full, international commentators have argued Palestinian statehood is the best way to end this war. The scale of the brutality and devastation were matched, in a way, by the scale of the grand-bargain solution some observers proposed.

The two-state solution may have come up recently due to a lack alternatives, veteran former US diplomat Martin Indyk writes in a Foreign Affairs essay, arguing it could be propelled into reality by a new UN resolution.

It’s effectively dead, Marc Lynch and Shibley Telhami argue in another Foreign Affairs essay. The US should stop pretending otherwise and instead hold Israel accountable to international norms and laws regarding the war in Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian territories, they write. “The principal effect of talking again about two states is to mask a one-state reality that will almost surely become even more entrenched in the war’s aftermath.”

Others, like Indyk, see it differently. Soliciting a host of expert views, Foreign Affairs finds split opinions on whether Oct. 7 and the Gaza war have nixed the two-state solution for good. Among those views, Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz who joined Fareed recently writes somewhat hopefully that effecting a two-state solution “demands local, regional, and American support and willingness to confront its opponents, and Israeli and Palestinian readiness to forgo parts of the national ethos and compromise for better coexistence. The basic framework remains as it was in 2000, when President Bill Clinton laid out his parameters, and in 2002 when the Arab League accepted its peace plan.”

Russia’s Open Energy Secrets

The US and its European allies have sought to limit Russian energy profits via sanctions, in light of Moscow’s full-fledged war on Ukraine. Europe, impressively, has endured high energy prices in order to break its dependence on Russian natural gas. This Western energy offensive seems to be paying off, Anastasia Stognei writes for the Financial Times.

Stognei details how, early in the Ukraine war, Russia cut its own energy supplies to Europe, which juiced prices, and Russian profits stayed high. But since then, profits dropped 40%, Stognei writes, and Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom is now reeling. “Gazprom’s model, which consisted of generating excessive profits in Europe and then distributing them among contractors close to Putin . . . no longer exists,” Vladimir Milov, a former Russian deputy energy minister, tells Stognei.

Still, Russian energy is being sold—in some cases clandestinely. In August, Julien Bouissou, Riccardo Pravettoni and Francesca Fattori reported for Le Monde: “A ‘shadow fleet’ (of oil tankers) specialized in the legal but risky transport of Russian oil to Asia has emerged, with owners hidden behind shell companies and traders based in Dubai. … Traders would be the main beneficiaries of sanctions circumventions, according to (Ami) Daniel (co-founder and CEO of the shipping-oriented business-intelligence firm Windward): ‘Let’s say you’re a trader in Dubai and you buy Russian oil, you hire an old tanker to transport toward Malaysia, then you store it there for a month in an offshore tanker for a million dollars, then you transfer the oil to a second, then a third ship, falsify the documents for $100,000 and resell the whole thing in the West at a huge profit.’”

As salaciously, Joe Wallace, Anna Hirtenstein, and Costas Paris wrote for The Wall Street Journal this week of one “little-known trader … who swiftly assembled a clandestine trading and shipping empire that now moves vast quantities of oil to buyers in China, India and other new markets, according to people who have worked with or done deals with him. He cobbled together a fleet of aging tankers and disguised the trading by using a maze of companies registered in Dubai and Hong Kong, those people said.”

 

 

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