January 1, 2014

The European Union has probably never experienced anything like it before: Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government pretended to negotiate an association agreement, only to back out at the last minute. EU leaders felt duped; in Moscow, however, the mood was celebratory.

In his 2009 book, “The Next 100 Years,” George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor, wrote that by the end of the century Mexico will be the main power challenging the U.S. With $500 billion in trade with the U.S. (up from $75 billion two decades ago), with Mexicans spending twice as much on U.S. products as the Chinese, with over 33 million U.S. residents of Mexican origin, with the most frequently crossed international border in the world, it would be irresponsible to wait until the end of the century to pay attention to Mexico.

Oil and natural gas often drive world politics, for better and for worse. Such is the case today with natural gas in a little-watched nation, Azerbaijan. This former Soviet Republic is still in a transition to democracy – and what happens there matters very much to US interests, particularly when it comes to Russia. The United States must take a stronger role in addressing three key challenges in Azerbaijan: energy development, democracy, and peace.

Rarely covered in the English-speaking press because of its past as a Portuguese colony, the behavior of the government in Angola is becoming increasingly troubling. Crony capitalism isn't rare on the African continent—or indeed anywhere else in the world—but Angola's iteration is particularly extreme. Following a civil war that ran on and off from the nation's independence from Portugal in 1975 all the way to 2002, Angola’s elite—overseen by 71-year old President José Eduardo dos Santos—has fed greedily at a trough of oil and gas.

There is a submerged rock in the Yellow Sea that seafaring Korean families once believed to be the home of the spirits of dead fishermen. The rock’s name in English is Socotra Rock; in Korea, it’s referred to as Ieodo, and in China the Suyan Rock. Whatever the language, it’s at the center of a new global hot zone that is threatening to destabilize relations in East Asia.

Mexico's senate unveiled an historic energy bill Saturday (Dec 7) that goes further than expected to break the state's monopoly over the oil and gas industry. After months of negotiation between the ruling PRI party and the largest opposition party PAN, a bill was finally brought into the senate over the weekend. The right-wing PAN appears to have come out ahead with a pro-market bill.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had a good run over the past few months. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, landed on his doorstep, a gift from the PR gods. Agreement on Syria went from no chance to golden opportunity in the course of one afternoon. Forbes dubbed Putin the most powerful man in the world. Yet all these successes obscure a basic fact: Russia is running out of money.

Saudi Arabia dealt a high-profile snub to the international community and the United States on Friday when it turned down a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. The unprecedented move was a culmination of months of public derision directed toward the U.S. for its halfhearted approach to intervention in Syria, its tacit support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and, most recently, its overtures to Iran.