The threat spectrum

Planet A

International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol has warned against investing in new oil and gas ventures, a move that would overwhelm current carbon budgets needed to keep temperatures rises to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. Birol further argued that nations seeking to replace Russian fossil fuels with new oil and gas facilities wouldn’t have the desired effect of lowering energy prices because it would be many years before production began.

Birol’s statements were included in a Guardian investigation, which revealed companies were planning major ‘carbon bomb’ projects. Carbon bombs are projects capable of pumping out at least 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes, which is equivalent to about 18 years of today’s global emissions. The investigation also found that nearly 200 carbon bomb projects are planned or have already begun production.

The addition of more such projects would likely have a disastrous impact on attempts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Democracy watch

Following the re-election of Hungary’s Viktor Orban for a fourth consecutive term as prime minister last month, the European Parliament released a draft report characterising Hungary as a ‘hybrid regime of electoral autocracy’. While not labelling Orban a fully fledged autocrat, the report asserts that his administration’s abuses of power are sufficient to disqualify Hungary as a democracy, despite its holding ostensibly democratic elections.

Outside the European Parliament, experts concur that Orban has triggered a decade of ‘severe democratic backsliding’ in Hungary. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, which tracks global democratic trends, says Hungary has experienced steep declines in electoral legitimacy, judicial independence and media integrity since Orban’s 2010 election.

This ‘backsliding’ is particularly troubling in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a member of the European Union, Hungary can unilaterally vote down petroleum sanctions critical to Europe’s response to Russian aggression. Should Orban further consolidate himself as an immovable pro-Putin autocrat in the EU’s ranks, Russia will profit from the internal obstacles impeding comprehensive EU sanctions.

Information operations

Top pro-Kremlin Telegram channels in Russia have more subscribers, more views and gain followers faster than their counterparts that are critical of the Kremlin, according to a new study by Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab).

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has tightened its control over popular social media networks including Facebook and TikTok. With a history of being leveraged as a communication tool for opposition movements and records of refusing calls to moderate content, Telegram has been seen by NiemanLab as a potential key channel to reduce disinformation and its impact.

However, after analysing the top 50 Russian channels in TGStat’s news and mass media category, DFRLab discovered that the pro-Kremlin channels outperformed channels critical of Kremlin across a variety of metrics, including views, shares, reach, number of subscribers and growth in followers.

This imbalance makes it more difficult for Russian users to access accurate information on the Russia–Ukraine war.

Follow the money

Sanctions targeting Russia’s oil and gas sector in response to President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine have caused the Biden administration to look for energy security closer to home. Negotiations between Venezuela and the US resurfaced this week on the easing of sanctions imposed in 2019 against Nicolas Maduro’s regime for human rights abuses and antidemocratic actions. The embargo on Venezuelan oil crushed the country’s economy but failed to topple Maduro’s authoritarian leadership.

The Biden administration’s recent engagement with Maduro, despite its recognition of Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, represents a major foreign policy shift and the discussions have been met with significant criticism from Maduro’s opponents. Some commentators have been urging the US to remain committed to its economic stance against authoritarianism. They argue that easing sanctions regardless of democratic progress in Venezuela will undermine the global democratic movement and have little effect on global oil supplies.

Terror byte

Ten people were killed on Saturday in a racially motivated terrorist attack in a majority African American neighbourhood in Buffalo, New York. The suspect, Payton Gendron, is in detention while officials build a case to prosecute him for hate crimes and a potential terrorism charge as well.

A manifesto believed to have been written by Gendron first appeared online two days before the shooting, and has since been disseminated through encrypted messaging platforms such as Telegram and Signal. The manifesto clearly articulates his motivation, with numerous references to white-supremacist tropes such as ‘white replacement theory’, which claims that the low fertility and high immigration rates of Western countries threatens their cultural identity. It is similar in content to that written by Brenton Tarrant, the gunman of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, whom Gendron acknowledges played a pivotal role in his ideological formation.

As the cyber constellation of white-supremacist actors expands, so too does the danger of disaffected individuals being radicalised. This latest attack points to the urgent need for direct and early intervention to counter the dissemination of these radicalising narratives.