Kiribati’s lack of rain ‘a disaster’. Hundreds dead in Ethiopian massacre. Brazil’s brave land defenders murdered. By Jonathan Pearlman.

China, India step in to buy Russian oil refused by Europe

A Ukrainian soldier in an industrial area of the city of Sievierodonetsk.
A Ukrainian soldier in an industrial area of the city of Sievierodonetsk.
Credit: Reuters / Oleksandr Ratushniak

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, European nations have been reducing their dependence on Russian oil and gas. But new data this week showed China and India have been buying almost all the oil that would otherwise have gone to Europe. 

Chinese oil imports increased 28 per cent from April to May, helping Russia to replace Saudi Arabia as its largest supplier. India increased purchases by about 760,000 barrels a day and has reportedly resold some of this oil to the United States and Europe. 

A drop in oil exports could devastate Russia’s economy and threaten its ability to fund a prolonged war in Ukraine. Russia has been selling oil – its largest export – at a discount, though prices have surged since the war.

Viktor Katona, from Kpler, a firm that tracks shipping data, told The New York Times this week: “Asia has saved Russian crude production. Russia, instead of falling further, is almost close to its pre-pandemic levels.” 

In Ukraine, Russian forces have been intensifying shelling of towns and cities in and around the eastern Donbas region. On Tuesday, at least 15 civilians were killed during shelling around the city of Kharkiv. 

As Russia continued its grinding advance in the east, Ukraine this week said it was preparing an offensive to reclaim land in the south. 

Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, warned residents in Russian-occupied southern areas to evacuate potentially via Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014. 

“If possible, get out of there, especially if you have children,” she told reporters.

Tensions in Europe also increased this week as Lithuania said it would ban the transport of some goods from Russia to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave that is not connected to the rest of Russia. Lithuania said the measure was necessary to comply with European sanctions. 

On Tuesday, Moscow warned that Lithuania faced “serious” – though unspecified – consequences if it did not lift the ban. Lithuania, unlike Ukraine, is a member of  the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The neighbourhood 

Kiribati: The Pacific nation of Kiribati is battling a severe drought after enduring months without rainfall. 

Residents say there has been no rain this year in the nation’s main islands, causing shortages of drinking water. In some areas, residents are restricted to 90 minutes of tap water every two days. 

The government this month declared a state of disaster, saying the nationwide drought was expected to continue until the end of the year. It said the “disaster situation” was due to a lack of rainfall and increased salt levels in water reserves.

The head of the United Nations in Kiribati, Nick Rice Chudeau, said weather and rainfall patterns in Kiribati had become erratic in recent years, leaving the nation’s 115,000 residents facing longer and more intensive droughts.

“That is a symptom of the climate crisis that continues to impact already vulnerable communities in Kiribati,” he told Radio New Zealand.

Democracy in retreat 

Ethiopia: A massacre in a small town in western Ethiopia left as many as 320 people dead as ethnic tensions from a two-year civil war in the north spread into neighbouring regions.

The attack was blamed on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel group that represents the Oromo, the nation’s largest ethnic minority. The OLA has been fighting alongside Tigrayan rebels, who have been engaged in a brutal civil war since 2020 against the Ethiopian government in the northern region of Tigray. 

The massacre occurred in Tole, a town in the region of Oromia, and targeted ethnic Amharas, the nation’s second-largest minority. A resident of Tole, Abdu Hassen, told the DPA news agency: “My entire family is killed. No one was spared.”

Abdul-Seid Tahir, a witness, told Associated Press: “I have counted 230 bodies. I am afraid this is the deadliest attack against civilians we have seen in our lifetime.” 

Authorities, as well as witnesses, blamed the OLA for the attack. But the OLA denied responsibility, saying Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the attack. 

Ethnic violence has occurred with increasing frequency and brutality in Ethiopia, a nation of 114 million people. In March, Abiy’s government declared a ceasefire in Tigray. Fighting has eased, but the war there has left thousands of people dead and prompted millions to flee.

Spotlight: Amazon murders

On June 5, Bruno Pereira, a Brazilian indigenous expert and advocate, and Dom Phillips, a British freelance journalist, went missing during a four-day expedition through the Amazon jungle in a remote indigenous reservation in western Brazil. 

Pereira, who was 41 years old, had helped to protect isolated indigenous people from miners, loggers, fishermen, missionaries and drug traffickers. He had received numerous death threats. Phillips, who was 57, was a contributor to The Guardian and the Financial Times and was researching a book, to be titled How to Save the Amazon. He lived in Brazil and had made previous trips to the Amazon with Pereira.

The pair disappeared while travelling on a boat along the Itaguaí river, which winds through a region that has been the site of fierce tensions between indigenous groups and non-indigenous residents who have often defied laws barring them from fishing and hunting. 

After Pereira and Phillips went missing, indigenous groups launched a search and helped to find their backpack, clothing, laptop and other belongings. 

Police then revealed they had received a tip-off about a fisherman, Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, who had been seen brandishing a gun at the pair. It later emerged Oliveira had entered an indigenous reservation and been pursued by an indigenous patrol – an incident observed by Pereira and Phillips. After his arrest, Oliveira confessed and led police to a spot in the jungle where the bodies of the pair were buried. 

Two other people have been arrested, and five others are suspected of helping to hide the bodies.

The murders sparked protests in Brazil and prompted criticism of the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has backed opening the Amazon to development and has cut support and protections for indigenous communities. In 2019, shortly after Bolsonaro’s election, Pereira was sacked from his position in the government’s indigenous affairs agency, where he had helped indigenous communities to prevent illegal intrusions.

Each year, about 10 indigenous land defenders are murdered in Brazil.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 25, 2022 as "China, India step in to buy Russian oil refused by Europe".

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Jonathan Pearlman is The Saturday Paper’s world editor and the editor of Australian Foreign Affairs.

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