Italy saw a major shift to the right with Silvio Berlusconi becoming prime minister on April 14. The coalition Berlusconi has formed is the most conservative that Italy has seen in years (see story, page 26).
Two weeks later, Gianni Alemanno became Rome’s first right-wing mayor in 15 years. Alemanno has pledged to take a tough stance against immigration and crime. In the celebrations after the election, Alemanno supporters gave their hero a stiff-armed salute, while shouting “Duce, Duce.” Alemanno’s politics did at one time have similarities with Mussolini’s: He was once the youth leader of the Italian Social Movement, a neofascist group.
These individuals are sure to bring Italy more in line with the Vatican and right-wing national governments in Europe. Watch for the swing right to affect all of Europe.
Relations between Europe and Russia continue to make news. Russia was relieved nato did not put Georgia and Ukraine on the path toward EU membership at April’s nato summit in Bucharest. However, nato leaders did agree that the states would one day join the alliance. Russia consequently took steps to keep Georgia out of nato permanently.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are breakaway provinces in the former Soviet nation of Georgia battling for independence. Both the European Union and the NATO alliance are opposed to the fragmentation of Georgia, however. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and a NATO spokesman have warned Russia against boosting its troops in Georgian breakaway regions. Nevertheless, in response to a supposed threat to the Abkhazian people from the Georgian government, on May 1 the Russians added more troops to the approximately 2,000 they already had in Abkhazia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned of possible “retaliatory measures to protect the lives of our citizens” in the event of Georgia’s use of force. Russia is clearly still intent on expanding its presence into the Caucasus. By supporting the Abkhazian breakaway movement, Russia seems to be duplicating with Georgia what the EU did with Serbia and Kosovo. As Russia tries to draw both Abkhazia and South Ossetia back into its political sphere, tensions with the EU are bound to increase.
Another source of contention between Europe and Russia is that Europe has concluded a deal that may finally free it from dependency on Russian gas. Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov, met with the EU commissioner for external relations on April 9 and agreed to have 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas available for export to Europe by 2009. If gas from Turkmenistan is assured, then investors will be more eager to back pipes traveling from Europe to Turkmenistan, such as the Trans-Caspian pipeline and Nabucco. If Turkmenistan pulls through, this development could be a major step forward for Europe. Russia wants to prevent this from happening. For analysis on how the tussle over energy will play out between the great powers, visit theTrumpet.com to read “The Battleground” from the March 2006 Trumpet.
The U.S. is encouraging Europe to strengthen its military. “Building a strong nato alliance also requires a strong European defense capacity,” President George W. Bush said before nato’s recent summit. “So at this summit I will encourage our European partners to increase their defense investments to support both nato and EU operations.” Although American defense planners and officials have traditionally feared a strong, independent EU military, apparently this view is changing substantially; Washington is seeing an expanded EU military as complementary, rather than threatening, to its own.
Europe is rising as a world power as the United States declines. Watch for an energetic Europe and a resurgent Russia to take on more aggressive roles globally.
Rumors of peace deals are again circulating in the Middle East. Hamas has said it is agreeable to a six-month cease-fire if Israel lifts its blockade on the Gaza Strip. However, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal followed the announcement up by saying that such a cease-fire is “a tactic in conducting the struggle”—in other words, more a part of conspiracy to commit murder at a later date than part of an honest pursuit of peace.
Also, in secret talks between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority negotiators, Israel offered to surrender the strategic Atarot Airport, in northern Jerusalem, to Palestinian control. The Palestinian Authority, however, remains a staunch enemy of Israel, despite the pseudo-moderate face it presents to the West. On Lebanese television on April 9, the pa’s ambassador to Lebanon declared the Palestinians’ goal to throw the Jews out of all of Israel and also said, “I salute any [military] operation that makes Israel pay a heavy price.” Hardly an organization to be conceding strategic assets to.
It has also emerged that Israel is discussing a peace deal with Syria—one that would involve Israel relinquishing the Golan Heights.
In the midst of these talks about peace in the Middle East, there have been rumblings of war. Israel carried out its largest-ever civil defense exercise in early April, and Syria amassed troops on its border with Lebanon, seemingly in preparation for an Israeli clash with Hezbollah. Stratfor reported April 25 that Hezbollah has reshuffled and streamlined its organization in order to prepare for war with Israel. It also reported that Hezbollah military officials have been meeting regularly with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers and readying to launch raids behind Israeli lines if hostilities break out. Iranian military experts are in Lebanon’s northern Bekaa Valley training Palestinian terrorists and members of Hezbollah foreign operation cells.
Iran commemorated its annual Army Day on April 17 with a military parade outside Tehran. The Islamic Republic’s real offensive capability, however, lies in its terrorist proxies. Iran supports both Shiite and Sunni groups throughout the Middle East in its effort to extend its influence in the region. Iranian proxy Hezbollah has been wooing Sunni religious scholars in Lebanon—paying them to make pro-Hezbollah statements and so on—as part of Tehran’s efforts to bridge the divide between Shiites and Sunnis and thus expand its influence. Stratfor sources report that Tehran is now also using the Lebanese Hezbollah to train an Iraqi branch of Hezbollah. In congressional hearings in April, U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus outlined Iran’s orchestration of the violence in Iraq—which is certainly not a new phenomenon.
Iran is also seeking to increase its regional influence. At the end of April, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, increasing the Islamic Republic’s political, economic and cultural ties with the United States’ most important allies in the region. The trip shows just how little influence the U.S. has on its “allies.” It certainly cannot count on Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka to help contain Iran.
In other Mideast news, President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party won a landslide victory in Egypt’s April 8 municipal elections, gaining 92 percent of the vote. Voter turnout, however, was a paltry 3 percent. Moreover, because the Egyptian government prevented most potential Muslim Brotherhood candidates from running, the MB boycotted the elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, a staunch Islamic conservative party, is increasingly popular in Egypt—which is why the ruling regime cracked down on it so hard in the run-up to the elections, arresting hundreds.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin passed the presidency on to his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, on May 7, he assumed two vital government posts. Putin announced on April 8 that, in addition to becoming the prime minister of Russia, he would also take on the newly created post of chairman of the United Russia party. By accepting the leadership of United Russia, Putin is accepting leadership over the majority of the Russian legislature and thus giving himself the power to pass legislation, override presidential decisions, legally impeach politicians, and amend the constitution. Such powers are reminiscent of how the general secretary of the Communist Party used to run the Soviet Union. In Soviet times, it did not really matter who was president or prime minister—he who ruled the Communist Party ruled the Soviet Union.
Russian and Japanese officials have never signed an official peace treaty ending World War II because of a territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands on Russia’s east coast. After initial successful meetings between the two nations’ foreign ministers on the issue, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda met with Putin in Moscow on April 26 to discuss the status of these islands, and they formally agreed to accelerate the negotiations. The signing of a peace treaty between Japan and Russia would mark the beginning of a new era of Asian cooperation. As Japan starts to look on nations like Russia and China as allies, it will have fewer qualms about breaking its already-strained relationship with the United States.
Food shortages throughout Asia are growing more severe as nations like China and India ban exports of wheat and rice. At the end of April, the Indian government decided to impose a $200-per-ton export duty on basmati rice, after already having completely banned all exports of non-basmati rice. Considering that India is the world’s third-largest rice exporter, these protectionist measures will squeeze rice supplies around the world. Indeed, such bans are already hurting net food importer nations like Japan. As Japan experiences dairy product shortages and skyrocketing wheat and beef prices, the Japanese government has been forced to use ¥55 billion from its emergency reserves to feed its people. The fact that 80 percent of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply shows that food shortages are no longer only a Third World phenomenon.
South Africa continues to face increasing food costs, with thousands of union workers in Johannesburg protesting against high prices in April, another instance of the global reaction to dwindling supplies of vital food staples.
Kenya finally swore in its new government on April 17, ending months of crisis and affording a return to corruption as usual. As Stratfor put it, “In the long term, the politicians will be too busy focusing on the lucrative aspects of their positions to resolve the tensions and inequalities that led to Kenya’s post-election crisis.”
The post-election crisis in Zimbabwe continues without meaningful progress, and the opposition appears to be losing its will. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai called for a protest on April 14, but fear of reprisals outweighed the people’s desire to oppose President Mugabe. Interestingly, some of the soldiers patrolling the streets, according to Zimbabwejournalists.com, were Chinese. China also caused a media frenzy in April by attempting to send weapons to Zimbabwe. China has a long history of support for President Mugabe and a desire to secure resources in Africa. President Mugabe’s opposition is threatening to refuse a runoff election, claiming that Tsvangirai has already won and that any results of a runoff would be fraudulent. This strategy is likely to leave President Robert Mugabe in power ad infinitum. Meanwhile, President Mugabe has reappointed his cabinet.
On April 22, German President Horst Köhler received Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Berlin with military honors. Kagame’s trip, his fourth official visit to Germany, came only two months after Köhler visited Rwanda. President Kagme had two main objectives: first, to woo German businesses to invest in Rwanda; second, to discuss establishing military relations. Germany seeks closer ties with Rwanda for strategic purposes and to gain access to resources. It seeks to counter China’s inroads into neighboring Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both enemies of Rwanda. By supporting Rwanda, Berlin is empowering a traditional enemy of a China-aligned nation and is looking to stake its own claim in the region.
Leaders from 14 African countries attended the first African-Indian summit in New Delhi in April. Like Europe and China, India wants to secure additional African resources. India’s prime minister promised more than $500 million in development aid and $5 billion in credit lines to Africa. Currently, India trades $30 billion per year with Africa.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced on April 3 that he would nationalize the cement industry. Then on April 9, he nationalized steel giant Ternium Sidor, a move that will displease Argentina, a majority stakeholder. While the Argentine government has traditionally spoken favorably of Chávez’s administration, now it could be in the same situation as Mexico and France, both of which have threatened a legal response to Chávez’s nationalization of their industries in Venezuela. On April 11, he continued the nationalization process by sending the military to seize 30 sugar farms.
Brazil has discovered its largest oil reserves yet: 33 billion barrels in the offshore Carioca oil block. Exploration of this area has only started, and this is the third major find. This could put Brazil’s oil output on par with Saudi Arabia’s. As Europe rises as a superpower, Latin America is important as a supplier. This one find, if estimates are correct, holds twice as much oil as all of Europe combined.
In 2009, the lease will expire on the last remaining U.S. military base in South America. Ecuador does not intend to renew the lease, and the U.S. has no plans to replace the air base. Instead, drug surveillance flights will run from Key West, Fla., El Salvador and Curaçao. As the U.S. leaves Latin America, watch for Europe to fill the vacuum.
Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic priest, won the presidency in Paraguay on April 20. Like many recently elected leaders in Latin America, Lugo leans left politically. He is the first leader in 62 years not from the country’s ruling party. You can expect the Vatican to use its influence with the former priest; in Latin America, Catholicism often outweighs politics.
In late April, the Bush administration briefed Congress members on the details behind Israel’s strike on a Syrian facility last September. The closed-door briefings represented the official break in an unusually tight silence by the White House, Israel and even the Syrians over the affair. The briefings confirmed the initial assumption, that the facility was a nuclear weapons reactor built with the help of North Korea. A month after the Israeli strike, the Spectator quoted a “very senior British ministerial source” as saying, “If people had known how close we came to World War III that day there’d have been mass panic.”
President Bush also met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office in April and said a Palestinian state was a “high priority” and that he was “confident we can achieve the definition of a state” by 2009.
Earlier in the month, beltway insiders fawned over the visit of Pope Benedict xvi to Washington. Media outlets including the Washington Times reported the minutiae of the visit, a curious departure by journalists, who are not typically fans of religion. The reportage on the “Holy Father’s” “apostolic voyage” recalled the media frenzy during Pope John Paul II’s funeral.
But journalists were not the only ones excited about the visit, which included only the second-ever visit of a pope to the White House. President George W. Bush and his wife met Benedict at Andrews Air Force Base next to “Shepherd One,” a courtesy rarely afforded by the president to any dignitary. For his papal mass at Nationals Park with 46,000 people, both houses of Congress shut down. Later he visited New York City and the United Nations. Benedict praised certain elements of American history and life and apologized for the priesthood sex scandal that has rocked American Catholics, but also issued some sharp criticisms, indicating American culture was partly to blame.
Democratic leaders spent early April grilling Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker regarding the state of affairs in Iraq. Petraeus pointed to the troop surge as successful and said Iraqi Security Forces were holding their own against insurgent militias in Basra and stressed the danger of Iran; Democrats continued to make a case for withdrawal despite the top general’s warning that such pullout plans would open the door wide for Iran and terrorist groups to grasp control of the country.
Congress is now admitting it “overreached” in its ethanol enthusiasm. The Washington Times reported, “Members of Congress say they overreached by pushing ethanol on consumers and will move to roll back federal supports for it—the latest sure signal that Congress’s appetite for corn-based ethanol has collapsed as food and gas prices have shot up” (May 1).
As retail gas prices are pushing toward $4 a gallon and beyond, consumers are feeling the pinch. Truckers, whose diesel is even more expensive, are seeing their profit margins disappear in some cases. In protest, 250 freight truckers drove at 20 miles per hour on Interstate 75 near Atlanta at the beginning of April. Protests and short-term strikes also hit Port of Tampa and Charleston, West Virginia. At the same time, stores across the nation renowned for amber waves of grain are implementing a measure unprecedented in recent times: food rations (see article, page 9). For over 12 years, the Trumpet has predicted that food shortages, which have recently intensified across the globe, will come to America.
In Britain, the European Union may not allow the Bank of England to lend money to Britain’s banking sector. European regulators could be prepared to block the linchpin of a government plan to bail-out Britain’s money markets. The news has troubling implications for Britain’s sovereignty, which may already be further gone than most Britons realize.