TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian Blogger Faces Second Round of Public Flogging

Raif Badawi Saudi Blogger Protest Vigil
Ensaf Haidar (C), the wife of the Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi, holds a vigil urging Saudi Arabia to free her husband in Montreal on Jan. 13, 2015. Clement Sabourin—AFP/Getty Images

He has been sentenced to 1,000 lashes, to be carried out over the next 19 weeks.

Saudi activist Raif Badawi is set to be flogged 50 times again on Friday, after being sentenced in May 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a fine of more than $260,000 for setting up the Saudi Arabian Free Liberals Forum. The blog, which championed free speech, was shut down following his arrest in 2012

Badawi’s punishment began last week when he was lashed 50 times outside al-Jafali mosque in his home city of Jeddah after last week’s Friday prayers. The floggings attracted international attention because they followed heated debate on the topic of freedom of speech, after the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.

Canada, the U.S., Germany, Norway and other Western governments have issued statements calling for Badawi’s punishment to be dropped, although the U.K. has so far refused to publicly condemn the authorities in Riyadh.

Unless a prison doctor decides Badawi’s health is too poor to continue, he will continue to be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks.

Badawi’s wife told Amnesty International that she fears her husband may not be able to physically endure a further round of lashes. “International pressure is crucial,” she said. “I believe if we keep up the support it will eventually pay off. We must keep fighting.”

TIME energy

Could ISIS Attack Saudi Arabia’s Oil?

oil-industry-well-pumping
Getty Images

After all, a failed 2006 Al Qaeda attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing facility spiked oil prices by 3.4 percent

What will it take for oil prices to rise?

Oil companies have little incentive to turn off the taps, given that low oil prices are providing sharply lower revenues for them. It makes more sense for individual companies (and countries) to continue to produce flat out from existing production and hope for their competitors to go out of business.

With that mentality, oil prices could stay low for an extended period of time.

However, the one thing that could abruptly force oil prices up could be an unexpected geopolitical flashpoint. Violence in Libya since December has knocked a significant portion of their oil output offline. But surprisingly, oil markets have hardly noticed.

Perhaps it would take a much larger threat to global oil supplies to pull oil prices up from their doldrums.

What if, say, Saudi Arabia were to experience a wave of violence, disrupting the notion that one of the world’s largest oil producers is safe from all the turmoil seen in neighboring countries? This is an unlikely scenario, as the Saudi Kingdom is armed to the teeth and keeps an iron grip on the nation’s security.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is at the top of ISIS’ hit list. The group’s leader has called Saudi Arabia “head of the snake and stronghold of disease.” Much of that has to do with Saudi Arabia’s cooperation in combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The feeling is mutual — the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia labeled ISIS as the “greatest enemy of Islam.”

While there has been little news about the presence of ISIS in Saudi Arabia, the militant group has conducted several attacks there over the past year. The group released a video on December 1 depicting the murder of a Danish national, which apparently occurred inside Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, Sputnik News reported that ISIS launched an attack on Saudi border guards on Jan. 5. Three guards were killed after a militant detonated a suicide belt. The ISIS attackers were Saudi nationals.

Saudi Arabia’s involvement with the military campaign in Iraq and Syria, which involves military cooperation with the United States, fuels anger among its own population. This presents ISIS with a recruitment opportunity within Saudi borders.

Several thousand Saudi nationals have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the Saudi government has even resorted to implementing a “counseling and care” program for returning fighters to reintegrate them into society. The Saudi government has stated that 12 percent of returning fighters have “relapsed,” and returned to “terror-related activities.”

What if ISIS attacked energy installations? The Jan. 5 attack at the border was a worrying, albeit, small warning of what is possible. As the largest exporter of crude oil in the world, an attack on oil-related facilities — even if unsuccessful — could rattle the markets. After all, in the immediate aftermath of a failed 2006 Al Qaeda attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing facility oil prices spiked 3.4 percent.

Abqaiq is the world’s largest processing facility, and if the 2006 attack had succeeded, it could have sent oil prices to unfathomable heights.

The government has stepped up security over the last decade at critical energy structures, and built in redundancy in order to ensure an outage won’t disrupt exports. But the 2006 attack was not an anomaly. In 2010, Saudi Arabia arrested 113 suspected Al Qaeda suspects for planning attacks on oil installations.

The Saudi government has weakened Al Qaeda but ISIS presents a new threat. In Nov. 2014, the leader of ISIS called for attacks on the Saudi Kingdom.

For now, there is no evidence that any Saudi oil production is at risk or that ISIS is even planning substantial attacks on Saudi oil fields or infrastructure. The attacks at the borders have been narrow in scope and mostly unsuccessful. Even if the group is considering something more ambitious, it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia would allow ISIS to succeed.

Moreover, low oil prices are hurting the finances of ISIS — the group gets much of its cash from smuggling and selling oil. Reliable data is obviously hard to come by, but it is safe to assume ISIS is likely fetching less money for its contraband than in months past, lowering its ability to stage large-scale attacks in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, it is important to note that even if an attack somewhere around the world knocked some oil production offline, it would not affect oil prices quite as dramatically as it would have a few years ago before the shale revolution. There is a considerable amount of slack production that would cushion any price rise.

Still, should the appearance of stability in Saudi Arabia begin to crack due to an ISIS attack, that would inject a whole lot of uncertainty into the market.

This post originally appeared on OilPrice.com.

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TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Cleric Declares All Snowmen Abominable

UK Hit By Heavy Snow Fall
DORKING, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 19: A family of snowmen sit on Box Hill on January 19, 2013 in Dorking, United Kingdom. Heavy snow around the UK caused hundreds of flight cancelations at Heathrow, with more travel disruptions expected during a snowy weekend. Approximately 3,000 schools were closed in England, Wales and Scotland. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

Asks followers to resist the urge to build them

A prominent Saudi cleric triggered a minor backlash on social media when he advised his followers not to build a snowman, “even by way of play and fun,” claiming the practice was forbidden under Islamic law.

Sheikh Mohammed Saleh al-Munajjid made the pronouncement shortly after a winter storm dusted the northern reaches of the Arabian peninsula with snow, Reuters reports.

Munajjid, fielding questions on a religious website, replied that any representation of a man, including a snowman, violated the kingdom’s strict ban against figurative depictions of the human form.

“God has given people space to make whatever they want which does not have a soul, including trees, ships, fruits, buildings and so on,” he said.

The interpretation proved contentious on social media, where some commenters posted derisory images of snowmen, while other’s commended the cleric for his “sharp vision” against Satanic temptations.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME Markets

Saudi Prince Says We’ll ‘Never’ See $100 Oil Barrels Again

Al Waleed Bin Talal Visits Zaatari Refugee Camp In Jordan
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal visits Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees northeastern Jordan Jordan Pix—Getty Images

"You better believe it is gonna go down more," Alwaleed bin Talal said

Saudi royal prince Alwaleed bin Talal says in a new interview that the days of $100-a-barrel oil are a thing of the past, as oil prices continue to drop around the globe.

Asked by USA Today if prices, recently below $50 a barrel, would continue to plunge, Talal answered:

If supply stays where it is, and demand remains weak, you better believe it is gonna go down more. But if some supply is taken off the market, and there’s some growth in demand, prices may go up. But I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore. I said a year ago, the price of oil above $100 is artificial. It’s not correct.

He also categorized theories that the U.S. and Saudis are colluding to keep prices low to hurt Russian President Vladimir Putin as “baloney and rubbish.”

Read more at USA Today

Read next: France Mobilizes 10,000 Troops to Protect Sensitive Sites

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TIME energy

Saudi Arabia Facing Largest Deficit in Its History

map-flag-saudi-arabia
Getty Images

Oil prices have been dropping since June because of a market glut

The nearly 50 percent plunge in the price of oil during the past six months is expected to leave oil-rich Saudi Arabia with its first budget deficit since 2011 and the largest in its history.

The budget, announced on Dec. 25, will include spending during fiscal 2015 of $229.3 billion, higher than in 2014, despite revenues estimated at only $190.7 billion, lower than in the current fiscal year. That would leave a deficit of $38.6 billion.

Oil prices have been dropping since June because of a market glut, caused in part because of prodigious oil extraction in the United States from shale formations.

As a result of this glut, OPEC was urged to cut production levels at its Nov. 27 meeting in Vienna in an effort to shore up prices, but wealthy members of the cartel, led by Saudi Arabia, decided to keep production at its nearly two-year-old level of 30 million barrels a day.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi has since explained that the OPEC strategy was to reclaim market share. Fracking has made the United States, once the cartel’s largest customer, nearly self-sufficient in oil. But fracking is expensive, and many believe it can’t be profitable if the price of oil falls much below its current level of around $60 per barrel.

Oil is the principal, if not the only, resource in Saudi Arabia, so it’s clear that the price of oil has a strong influence on how the country’s annual budget is drawn up. Different analyses, however, provide different answers to how Riyadh has forecast the commodity’s value. Four of these reports say the Saudi budget is predicated on oil averaging $55 to $63 per barrel in 2015.

One, from the Saudi investment bank Jadwa Investment, said the budget shows that the kingdom expects its oil exports to average $56 per barrel in 2015. Monica Malik, the chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, agrees, putting Saudi oil expectations at $55 per barrel.

The National Commercial Bank, the largest financial institution in Saudi Arabia, said the Finance Ministry expects a price of $61 per barrel. And Emad Mostaque, an oil strategist at Ecstrat, which consults for emerging markets, said the kingdom expected a price of $63 per barrel.

One particularly knowledgeable analyst is John Sfakianakis, the former chief economic adviser to the Saudi Finance Ministry. He told the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that the budget is predicated on oil prices that are appreciably higher, averaging about $75 per barrel in 2015 while keeping production steady at 7 million barrels per day.

“What happened is a surprise to some extent, for amid this huge decline in the price of oil, the majority of people believed that the Saudi budget would base its projected revenues on $60 per barrel,” Sfakianakis said.

“When Saudi Arabia bases its projected oil revenues for next year on $75 per barrel, it is sending a strong message to the market that it expects oil prices to rebound next year,” Sfakianakis said.

This post originally appeared on OilPrice.com.

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TIME World

These Are the Top 10 Geopolitical Risks of 2015

Protesters hold a banner as they march during a demonstration against the visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens.
Protesters hold a banner as they march during a demonstration against the visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens. Milos Bicanski—Getty Images

TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer provides a guide to the global storylines of the year, beginning with an unstable Europe

International stories rise and fall so quickly in today’s media. On Monday, it’s civil conflict in Ukraine. On Tuesday, it’s the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). By Wednesday, the headlines are on to something else. Amid the global whiplash, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger picture. So as the new year begins, it’s useful to take a broader look at where these stories are headed—and to track the next wave of market-moving surprises in international politics.

Every January Eurasia Group, the political risk consultancy I founded and oversee today, publishes Top Risks, a roundup of the geopolitical trends we consider most likely to change our world in the coming year. This ranking reflects our forecast of which global storylines are most likely to play out over the next 12 months, which will have biggest impact on the markets and politics—and where we can expect surprises.

In 2015, political conflict among the world’s great powers is in play more than at any time since the end of the Cold War. U.S. relations with Russia are now fully broken. China’s powerful President Xi Jinping is creating a new economy, and the effects will be felt across East Asia and the rest of the world. Geopolitical uncertainty has Turkey, the Gulf Arab states, Brazil and India hedging their bets.

But the year’s top risk is found in once placid Europe, where an increasingly fractured political environment is generating new sources of conflict.

1. The politics of Europe

European economics aren’t as bad as they were at the height of the eurozone crisis in 2012, but the politics of the continent are now much worse. Within key countries like Britain and Germany, anti-EU political parties continue to gain popularity, undermining the ability of governments to deliver on painful but needed reforms. Friction is growing among European states, as peripheral governments come to increasingly resent the influence of a strong Germany unchecked by weak France or absent Britain. Finally, a resentful Russia and an aggressive ISIS will add to Europe’s security worries.

2. Russia

Sanctions and lower oil prices have weakened Russia enough to infuriate President Vladimir Putin, but not enough to restrain his actions. Moscow will continue to put pressure on Ukraine, and as a result, U.S. and European sanctions will tighten. As Russia’s economy sags, Putin’s approval ratings will depend increasingly on his willingness to confront the West. Western companies and investors are likely targets—on the ground and in cyberspace.

3. The effects of China slowdown

China’s economic growth will slow in 2015, but it’s all part of Xi’s plan. His historically ambitious economic reform efforts depend on transitioning his country to a consumer-driven economic model that will demand levels of growth that are lower, but more sustainable. The continuing slowdown should have little impact inside China. But countries like Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand, whose economies have come to depend on booming trade with a commodity-hungry China, will feel the pain.

4. The weaponization of finance

For the moment, the American public has had enough of wars and occupations, but the Obama administration still wants to exert significant influence around the globe. That’s why Washington is weaponizing finance on a new scale. The U.S. is using carrots (access to capital markets) and sticks (varied types of sanctions) as tools of coercive diplomacy. The advantages are considerable, but there is a risk that this strategy will damage U.S. companies caught in the crossfire between Washington and targeted states. Transatlantic relations could suffer for the same reason.

5. ISIS, beyond Iraq and Syria

ISIS faces military setbacks in Iraq and Syria, but its ideological reach will spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa in 2015. It will grow organically by setting up new units in Yemen, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and it will inspire other jihadist organizations to join its ranks—Ansar Bayt al Maqdas in Egypt and Islamists in Libya have already pledged allegiance to ISIS. As the militant group’s influence grows, the risk to Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt will rise.

6. Weak incumbents

Feeble political leaders, many of whom barely won reelection last year, will become a major theme in 2015. Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan will each face determined opposition and formidable obstacles as they try to enact their political agendas.

7. The rise of strategic sectors

Global businesses in 2015 will increasingly depend on risk-averse governments that are more focused on political stability than on economic growth, supporting companies that operate in harmony with their political goals and punishing those that don’t. We’ll see this trend in emerging markets, where the state already plays a more significant role in the economy, as well as in rogue states searching for weapons to fight more powerful governments. But we’ll also see it in the U.S., where national security priorities have inflated the military industrial complex, which now includes technology, telecommunications and financial companies.

8. Saudi Arabia vs Iran

The rivalry between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia is the engine of conflict in the Middle East. Given the growing reluctance of Washington and other outside powers to intervene in the region, increasingly complex domestic politics within these two countries and rising anxiety about the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, we can expect Tehran and Riyadh to use proxies to fuel trouble in more Middle Eastern countries than ever in 2015.

9. Taiwan/China

Relations between China and Taiwan will deteriorate sharply in 2015 following the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s landslide victory over the ruling Nationalist Party in local elections this past November. If China decides that its strategy of economic engagement with Taiwan has failed to advance its ultimate goal of reunification, Beijing might well backtrack on existing trade and investment deals and significantly harden its rhetoric. The move would surely provoke public hostility in Taiwan and inject even more anti-mainland sentiment into the island’s politics. Any U.S. comment on relations between China and Taiwan would quickly increase resentment between Beijing and Washington.

10. Turkey

Lower oil prices have helped, but President Erdogan has used election victories in 2014 to try to sideline his political enemies—of which there are many—while remaking the country’s political system to tighten his hold on power. But he’s unlikely to win the authority he wants this year, creating more disputes with his prime minister, weakening policy coherence and worsening political unpredictability. Given the instability near Turkey’s borders, where the war against ISIS rages, that’s bad news. Refugees from Syria and Iraq are bringing more radicalism into the country and adding to economic hardship.

TIME energy

Did the Saudis and the U.S. Collude in Dropping Oil Prices?

From left: Bahraini Oil Minister Abdulhussain bin Ali Mirza stands with Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi during the 10th Arab Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi, on Dec. 21, 2014.
From left: Bahraini Oil Minister Abdulhussain bin Ali Mirza stands with Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi during the 10th Arab Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi, on Dec. 21, 2014. MARWAN NAAMANI—AFP/Getty Images

The Saudis and OPEC have a vested interest in taking out higher-cost competitors who will certainly be hurt by the lower price

The oil price drop that has dominated the headlines in recent weeks has been framed almost exclusively in terms of oil market economics, with most media outlets blaming Saudi Arabia, through its OPEC Trojan horse, for driving down the price, thus causing serious damage to the world’s major oil exporters – most notably Russia.

While the market explanation is partially true, it is simplistic, and fails to address key geopolitical pressure points in the Middle East.

Oilprice.com looked beyond the headlines for the reason behind the oil price drop, and found that the explanation, while difficult to prove, may revolve around control of oil and gas in the Middle East and the weakening of Russia, Iran and Syria by flooding the market with cheap oil.

The oil weapon

We don’t have to look too far back in history to see Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and producer, using the oil price to achieve its foreign policy objectives. In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat convinced Saudi King Faisal to cut production and raise prices, then to go as far as embargoing oil exports, all with the goal of punishing the United States for supporting Israel against the Arab states. It worked. The “oil price shock” quadrupled prices.

It happened again in 1986, when Saudi Arabia-led OPEC allowed prices to drop precipitously, and then in 1990, when the Saudis sent prices plummeting as a way of taking out Russia, which was seen as a threat to their oil supremacy. In 1998, they succeeded. When the oil price was halved from $25 to $12, Russia defaulted on its debt.

The Saudis and other OPEC members have, of course, used the oil price for the obverse effect, that is, suppressing production to keep prices artificially high and member states swimming in “petrodollars”. In 2008, oil peaked at $147 a barrel.

MORE OPEC Ministers Decry Price War Conspiracy Theories

Turning to the current price drop, the Saudis and OPEC have a vested interest in taking out higher-cost competitors, such as U.S. shale oil producers, who will certainly be hurt by the lower price. Even before the price drop, the Saudis were selling their oil to China at a discount. OPEC’s refusal on Nov. 27 to cut production seemed like the baldest evidence yet that the oil price drop was really an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

However, analysis shows the reasoning is complex, and may go beyond simply taking down the price to gain back lost marketshare.

“What is the reason for the United States and some U.S. allies wanting to drive down the price of oil?” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro asked rhetorically in October. “To harm Russia.”

Many believe the oil price plunge is the result of deliberate and well-planned collusion on the part of the United States and Saudi Arabia to punish Russia and Iran for supporting the murderous Assad regime in Syria.

Punishing Assad and friends

Proponents of this theory point to a Sept. 11 meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi King Abdullah at his palace on the Red Sea. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, it was during that meeting that a deal was hammered out between Kerry and Abdullah. In it, the Saudis would support Syrian airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS), in exchange for Washington backing the Saudis in toppling Assad.

If in fact a deal was struck, it would make sense, considering the long-simmering rivalry between Saudi Arabia and its chief rival in the region: Iran. By opposing Syria, Abdullah grabs the opportunity to strike a blow against Iran, which he sees as a powerful regional rival due to its nuclear ambitions, its support for militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and its alliance with Syria, which it provides with weapons and funding. The two nations are also divided by religion, with the majority of Saudis following the Sunni version of Islam, and most Iranians considering themselves Shi’ites.

“The conflict is now a full-blown proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is playing out across the region,” Reuters reported on Dec. 15. “Both sides increasingly see their rivalry as a winner-take-all conflict: if the Shi’ite Hezbollah gains an upper hand in Lebanon, then the Sunnis of Lebanon—and by extension, their Saudi patrons—lose a round to Iran. If a Shi’ite-led government solidifies its control of Iraq, then Iran will have won another round.”

The Saudis know the Iranians are vulnerable on the oil price. Experts say the country needs $140 a barrel oil to balance its budget; at sub-$60 prices, the Saudis succeed in pressuring Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, possibly containing its nuclear ambitions and making the country more pliable to the West, which has the power to reduce or lift sanctions if Iran cooperates.

Adding credence to this theory, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a Cabinet meeting earlier this month that the fall in oil prices was “politically motivated” and a “conspiracy against the interests of the region, the Muslim people and the Muslim world.”

Pipeline conspiracy

Some commentators have offered a more conspiratorial theory for the Saudis wanting to get rid of Assad. They point to a 2011 agreement between Syria, Iran and Iraq that would see a pipeline running from the Iranian Port Assalouyeh to Damascus via Iraq. The $10-billion project would take three years to complete and would be fed gas from the South Pars gas field, which Iran shares with Qatar. Iranian officials have said they plan to extend the pipeline to the Mediterranean to supply gas to Europe – in competition with Qatar, the world’s largest LNG exporter.

“The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline – if it’s ever built – would solidify a predominantly Shi’ite axis through an economic, steel umbilical cord,” wrote Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar.

Global Research, a Canada-based think tank, goes further to suggest that Assad’s refusal in 2009 to allow Qatar to construct a gas pipeline from its North Field through Syria and on to Turkey and the EU, combined with the 2011 pipeline deal, “ignited the full-scale Saudi and Qatari assault on Assad’s power.”

“Today the U.S.-backed wars in Ukraine and in Syria are but two fronts in the same strategic war to cripple Russia and China and to rupture any Eurasian counter-pole to a U.S.-controlled New World Order. In each, control of energy pipelines, this time primarily of natural gas pipelines—from Russia to the EU via Ukraine and from Iran and Syria to the EU via Syria—is the strategic goal,” Global Research wrote in an Oct. 26 post.

Poking the Russian bear

How does Russia play into the oil price drop? As a key ally of Syria, supplying Assad with billions in weaponry, President Vladimir Putin has, along with Iran, found himself targeted by the House of Saud. Putin’s territorial ambitions in the Ukraine have also put him at odds with U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of the EU, which in May of this year imposed a set of sanctions on Russia.

As has been noted, Saudi Arabia’s manipulation of the oil price has twice targeted Russia. This time, the effects of a low price have hit Moscow especially hard due to sanctions already in place combined with the low ruble. Last week, in an effort to defend its currency, the Bank of Russia raised interest rates to 17 percent. The measure failed, with the ruble dropping another 20 percent, leading to speculation the country could impose capital controls. Meanwhile, Putin took the opportunity in his annual televised address to announce that while the economy is likely to suffer for the next two years and that Russians should brace for a recession, “Our economy will get diversified and oil prices will go back up.”

He may be right, but what will the effect be on Russia of a sustained period of low oil prices? Eric Reguly, writing in The Globe and Mail last Saturday, points out that with foreign exchange reserves at around $400 billion, the Russian state is “in no danger of collapse” even in the event of a deep recession. Reguly predicts the greater threat is to the Russian private sector, which has a debt overhang of some $700 billion.

“This month alone, $30-billion of that amount must be repaid, with another $100-billion coming due next year. The problem is made worse by the economic sanctions, which have made it all but impossible for Russian companies to finance themselves in Western markets,” he writes.

Will it work?

Whether one is a conspiracy theorist or a market theorist, in explaining the oil price drop, it really matters little, for the effect is surely more important than the cause. Putin has already shown himself to be a master player in the chess game of energy politics, so the suggestion that sub-$60 oil will crush the Russian leader has to be met with a healthy degree of skepticism.

MORE OPEC Calls For Widespread Production Cuts

Moscow’s decision on Dec. 1 to drop the $45-billion South Stream natural gas pipeline project in favor of a new pipeline deal with Turkey shows Putin’s willingness to circumvent European partners to continue deliveries of natural gas to European countries that depend heavily on Russia for its energy requirements. The deal also puts Turkey squarely in the Russian energy camp at a time when Russia has been alienated by the West.

Of course, the Russian dalliance with China is a key part of Putin’s great Eastern pivot that will keep stoking demand for Russian gas even as the Saudis and OPEC, perhaps with U.S. collusion, keep pumping to hold down the price. The November agreement, that would see Gazprom supply Chinese state oil company CNPC with 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year, builds on an earlier deal to sell China 38 bcm annually in an agreement valued at $400 billion.

As Oilprice.com commented on Sunday, “ongoing projects are soldiering on and Russian oil output is projected to remain unchanged into 2015.”

“Russia will go down with the ship before ceding market share – especially in Asia, where Putin reaffirmed the pivot is real. Saudi Arabia and North America will have to keep pumping as Putin plans to uphold his end in this game of brinksmanship.”

This post originally appeared on OilPrice.com.

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TIME Saudi Arabia

Two Female Drivers Will be Tried in a Saudi Terror Court

Mideast Saudi Arabia Women Driving
This Nov. 30, 2014 image made from video released by Loujain al-Hathloul, shows her driving towards the United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia border before her arrest on Dec. 1, 2014, in Saudi Arabia. Loujain al-Hathloul—AP

The two women have been in detention for nearly a month

A Saudi terrorism court will try two women who were detained after defying a ban on female drivers in the kingdom.

Activists say their cases have been transferred to a specialized court that deals with terrorism cases because of comments the two made on social media, the BBC reports.

Twenty-five-year-old Loujan al-Hathloul was arrested on Dec. 1 after attempting to drive to Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). And 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi, a Saudi journalist who lives in the UAE, was also arrested as she arrived border.

“This is not an isolated case,” Saudi activist Hala al-Dosari told the BBC. “This is just a way to really curb the momentum of campaigning and [the] engagement of citizens.”

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving.

[BBC]

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Won’t Cut Oil Production to Boost Prices

Ali Ibrahim Naimi
Saudi Arabia's Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali al-Naimi attends the opening day of 10th Arab Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 21, 2014 Kamran Jebreili—AP

Global oil prices are tanking, but OPEC is holding firm on not slashing production to buoy prices

Saudi Arabia will not cut oil production to boost depressed prices, a reversal in the kingdom’s usual policy of moderating supply to control prices and sending a strong message about the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) strategy for dealing with a slumped oil market.

Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali al-Naimi told reporters on Sunday that even if non-OPEC countries cut production, Saudi Arabia would not follow them, Reuters reports. Other ministers, including from Kuwait and Iraq, repeated the Saudi minister’s insistence on retaining steady production levels.

A boom in U.S. shale-gas production has flooded the global oil market and sent gas prices tanking.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Saudi Arabia’s refusal to cut oil production has led to speculation that the world’s top petroleum exporter could be seeking to knock gas prices even lower, testing U.S. shale-gas producers resolve to keep pumping. Saudi Arabia has denied any such plot and American officials have reiterated that the U.S. maintains close and friendly relations with the kingdom.

[Reuters]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The cheap oil American consumers are enjoying might be the result of an existential battle between Saudi Arabia and ISIS.

By James R. Rogers in First Things

2. Turns out the busts of the first dot-com era were great ideas.

By Robert McMillan in Wired

3. The return of American manufacturing and a skilled population hungry for jobs is reviving the Rust Belt.

By Joel Kotkin & Richey Piiparinen in the Daily Beast

4. Climate change might transform coal, oil, and gas reserves into financially-troubled stranded assets.

By Andrew Freedman in Mashable

5. A nonprofit boarding school for girls in Afghanistan is working to upend education there.

By Susan Daugherty in National Geographic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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