8 December 2018   Leave a comment

The yellow vest protesters filled the streets of France today and over 8,000 police officers were deployed on the streets of Paris.  The demands of the protesters have expanded beyond rescinding the fuel tax increases (which the government has already done) to include a raise in the minimum wage and a decrease in the retirement age.  The protests seemed to be targeting President Macron, but it is hard to tell since the protests remain unorganized.  But Macron came to power in 2017 and has dismantled some labor laws and reformed the railway system, both of which were unpopular with labor, and decreased taxes on the very rich which was unpopular with everyone except the very rich  Virtually all the major tourist sites in Paris were closed today for fear of violence.  US President Trump has characterized the protests as ones against steps to reduce the threat of climate change, using them to validate his position against the Paris Accords.  That interpretation, however, seems overstated.  The protests against the fuel taxes were juxtaposed with the decreases in taxes on the rich.  It seems as if the issue is more economic, a concern shared by protesters in Belgium and the Netherlands which did not have a fuel tax increase.

 

Protests in France

Image: Yellow vests protest against fuel prices in Paris

 

 

The US suffered a defeat at the United Nations as a resolution it proposed condemning Hamas did not pass with the required 2/3s vote, even though it received a majority of the votes cast.  The resolution was proposed by outgoing US Ambassador Nikki Haley and it condemned Hamas for firing rockets into Israel.   The General Assembly did pass a resolution favoring a Middle East peace settlement.  According to The Australian:

“The ­assembly also adopted by a wide margin of 156 to six with 12 abstentions a Palestinian-drafted measure, presented by Ireland, calling ‘for the achievement, without delay, of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East’ based on UN resolutions.

“The US, Israel, Australia, Liberia, Marshall Islands and Nauru voted against that measure.”

The US opposed the measure because it favors bilateral peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.  But it seems clear that the world does not hold out hope for such negotiations.  France has called for a lifting of the Israeli blockade against the Gaza Strip.

 

 

Spiegel has a very detailed analysis of the standoff between Russia and Ukraine over access to the Sea of Azov.  The article contains important information about which I was unaware such as the harassment of shipping through the Kerch Strait that has been ongoing since the building of the Kerch Strait Bridge by Russia in last May.  The effects of the bridge on Ukrainian trade was profound.  According to Spiegel:

“To understand this, one must look backward. Ukraine has in effect lost large parts of its coastline through the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass, but it has held onto the only deep-water ports in the Sea of Azov. One of them is Mariupol, the second-largest city in the region with half-a-million inhabitants. It has two enormous steel plants and the curious charm of a beachfront industrial city.

“It is almost a miracle that Ukraine has been able to hold onto the strategically important port city. Kiev had lost control over it in the spring of 2014. From Mariupol, Ukraine can export steel and iron manufactured by the country’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov. He’s the city’s biggest employer and practically runs the place. Mariupol and the neighboring port of Berdiansk are also transit points for wheat exports.

“That, at least, was the case until recently, when Russia made access to the Sea of Azov more difficult. The Crimean Bridge, which was inaugurated in May 2018, is too low for many of the Panamax-class ships that previously sailed to Mariupol and Berdiansk. And regardless, ships trying to exit and enter the strait have been getting jammed up because the traffic goes in one direction and pilotage is compulsory. Freight and crew members are forced to accommodate systematic inspections by FSB [Federal Security Service] border guards.”

Given this stranglehold, there is little Ukraine can do short of confronting Russia directly, a losing proposition without US and European support.  That support, however, is not forthcoming.

 

Kerch Strait Bridge

Posted December 8, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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