Your Tuesday briefing: Europe is approaching an oil embargo


Good morning. We are talking about the forthcoming EU oil embargo, a plane crash in Nepal and Afghanistan’s struggle for its poppy fields.

The bloc is about to agree on a sweeping oil embargo, the most far-reaching attempt to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The embargo would deprive the Kremlin of a significant revenue stream and accelerate Europe’s independence from Russian fuel. Here are live updates.

If the embargo is passed, it would entail high economic costs for the EU, which gets about 27 percent of its crude oil imports from Russia and a larger share of its oil products. Since the war started and oil prices rose, member states have spent about $23 billion on Russian crude each month. The embargo would hurt Russia, but the damage would be slow until the restrictions take effect.

And it also has political interests. The negotiators were forced to capitulate to Hungary’s demand for an indefinite exemption from the measure. Prime Minister Viktor Orban is taking advantage of cheap energy – and his ties to the Kremlin. Hungary’s exemption will have little financial impact due to the country’s small size, but it does indicate how much Orban has broken away from the rest of the bloc.

To fight: Russian troops on the outskirts of the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk are advancing from two sides, while an explosion Monday in Melitopol, a Russian-controlled city in Ukraine, appeared to target a pro-Kremlin regional leader. A French journalist was killed by shrapnel in the east.

Diplomacy: As Ukraine demands swift access to EU membership, moral questions are raising practical concerns. The bloc is looking for an alternative route for Ukraine and other countries on the periphery of Europe.

At least 21 bodies have been recovered from the wreckage of a plane that crashed into the rocky heights of the Himalayas on Sunday. One person is still missing, but authorities do not expect any survivors.

The plane, operated by Tara Air, was en route to Jomsom, a picturesque tourist destination popular with trekkers. The flight usually lasts about 30 minutes, but the plane crashed in bad weather.

“No one is alive,” said Narendra Shahi, an international mountain guide, who was sent to the crash site as part of the rescue operation. “The plane crashed into pieces. It’s so heartbreaking.”

Details: There were 22 people on board, including 13 Nepalese, four Hindu pilgrims from India and two German trekkers.

Safety: The route is considered one of the riskiest in Nepal: planes have to fly through narrow valleys, where visibility is often a challenge, and pilots have to deal with outdated planes and often bad weather. The EU has banned Nepalese airlines from its airspace due to their poor safety record.

The Taliban are trying to fight the multi-billion dollar drug trade in Afghanistan. In April, the government banned poppy cultivation and violators were punished under Sharia law.

But eradicating opium will be difficult. Farmers use cheap and highly efficient solar panels to power the water pumps that irrigate poppy fields and cash crops such as wheat and pomegranates. Subsistence farmers use them on vegetable gardens. The panels, which also supply the houses with electricity, are now a defining feature of life in southern Afghanistan.

The Taliban have targeted some solar-powered pumps. A regional leader ordered that they be confiscated so newly planted poppies would die. But widespread action would exacerbate Afghanistan’s post-war economic collapse — the UN estimates 23 million Afghans suffer from acute food shortages — and thwart Pashtun farmers, a key Taliban constituency.

Facts: Thanks to the pumps, the population of previously uninhabited desert areas in Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz provinces rose to at least 1.4 million with the expansion of arable land.

Finance: Opium sales make up 9 to 14 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, compared to the roughly 9 percent that provide legal exports of goods and services.

Background: In the 1990s, the Taliban reduced opium cultivation. But after the US-led invasion in 2001, opium taxes and smuggling helped fuel the group’s rebellion. Extermination would have to face commanders complicit in the trade at a time when the movement faces internal discontent as its money dries up.

Six years ago, an Indian couple funded their son’s lavish wedding after spending their savings on his pilot training in the US. Now they are suing him and their daughter-in-law for not having a child yet.

The Orlando Museum of Art says Jean-Michel Basquiat created 25 paintings currently on display, admitting the works were recovered in 2012 in a storage facility in Los Angeles.

The owners of the paintings, who are trying to sell the works, agree. If authentic, the Basquiat paintings are estimated to be worth about $100 million.

But the FBI isn’t so sure. The agency’s Art Crime Team investigates the authenticity of the paintings, interviews people in art and design, and issues a subpoena for “all” communications between the museum’s employees and the owners of the artworks “alleged to be artist’s.” Being Jean-Michel Basquiat.”

A few caveats: One designer said the FedEx font on a piece of cardboard, purportedly painted by Basquiat, wasn’t used by the company until 1994—six years after the artist’s death. Art dealer Larry Gagosian, who then hosted Basquiat, said the origin story of the paintings was “highly unlikely.” And two of the owners have spent time in prison under different names for drug trafficking.

The specific focus of the FBI investigation and who the agency is targeting is not clear. But the intentional sale of art known to be fake is a federal crime.

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