Russia-Ukraine: Two years of war
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What We're Watching: Ukrainian shelter attacked, gas prices up, Iran nuclear deal rumblings

What We're Watching: Ukrainian shelter attacked, gas prices up, Iran nuclear deal rumblings

A satellite image shows the Mariupol Drama Theatre before the bombing.

Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

Another tragedy strikes Mariupol

A week after attacking a hospital in Mariupol, Russian forces on Wednesday reportedly targeted civilians again in the southeastern Ukrainian city by bombing a theater where up to 1,200 people were sheltering. The number of casualties is unknown, and the Kremlin denies any responsibility. Meanwhile, Mariupol remains encircled by Russians, which means the city’s 300,000 residents have nowhere to run. They are struggling with little access to electricity, food, or water — some are even melting snow to survive. Just a day after 20,000 city residents managed to flee through a humanitarian corridor, civilians are now stuck in the port city and risk becoming targets. The fact that the mighty Russian army is resorting to such brutal actions to conquer a mid-sized city suggests that the military campaign is not going to plan for Vladimir Putin.

Why won’t the Saudis help lower oil prices?

Oil prices are soaring. Since crude oil is used to produce gasoline, that means drivers are paying more at the pump. Americans may soon be paying $5 or more a gallon for gasoline. This will likely fuel Republican votes in November’s midterms as conservatives blame Democrats for the high prices. Why the sticker shock? Because the US has banned Russian oil imports and needs to fill the void. Britain has similar plans to phase out Russian oil. So the West is looking to Saudi Arabia for help. The kingdom leads OPEC and has responded to previous market shocks by increasing the oil supply to bring down gas prices. Trouble is, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been treated by the West like persona non grata over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. What’s more, the kingdom’s human rights record was further smirched by the recent execution of 81 men, making it even trickier for the West to extend an olive branch. Still, British PM Boris Johnson had a go: he visited MBS on Wednesday in a bid to woo Riyadh, but no major breakthroughs were announced. What can Biden do? “The Saudis understand their leverage … and would likely require a face-to-face meeting between the Saudi crown prince and Biden and a wider conversation about the bilateral relationship before considering oil policy changes,” says Eurasia Group expert Sofia Meranto. “But such a step would expose Biden to domestic criticism and appears unlikely unless oil prices increase more dramatically.”

Read Meranto’s views on why Saudi Arabia is reluctant to help here.

Close to a new Iran nuclear deal?

Negotiations over a return to the Iran nuclear deal took a major step forward on Tuesday when Russia reportedly withdrew its demand for guarantees that would protect its nuclear projects with Iran from Ukraine-related sanctions. Recent bargaining progress signals that the Biden administration and Iran’s supreme leader both want to get to yes, and the Russian climbdown may help finalize the deal soon. But don’t be surprised if Iran is involved in headline-grabbing provocations in the coming days. Supporters of the deal in Iran may take hostile actions to show they’re negotiating from a position of strength. Opponents of the deal in Iran (and maybe Israel) will try to create last-minute obstacles to progress. These motives may help explain why Iran launched missiles at a US consulate in the Iraqi city of Irbil last week as retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard a few days ago. Or why Iran may have launched a large-scale cyberattack on Israeli government websites this week just hours after it claimed to have exposed an Israeli plot against one of its uranium enrichment sites.


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