1. Earthquake tragedy intensifies in Turkey and Syria
A week after the massive earthquake that wreaked havoc on the Turkish-Syrian border, the death toll is beginning to stabilise, and the true scale of the tragedy that unfolded in the early hours of Monday morning is beginning to sink in.
New official figures now put the total number of dead at 33,000 (29,700 in Turkey and 3,500 in Syria respectively). It seems that the toll has been slightly worse than expected, as the first hours after the earthquake have passed, which are key to the rescue of survivors trapped under the rubble.
On the other hand, international assistance has been key throughout the first days. The assistance provided by EU countries, as well as some Middle Eastern countries, in rescue efforts and in the construction of temporary residential camps for those who have lost everything, have been key to keeping the situation from spiralling out of control. Other gestures, such as the easing of US economic sanctions on the Al-Assad regime, are intended to help in the medium- to long-term reconstruction of the areas affected by the earthquake.
Such has been the hecatomb that the earthquake seems to have put even the war in Syria on the back burner. In the area of Turkish Kurdistan bordering the quake, Kurdish forces have announced a ceasefire, accompanied by a pledge not to attack or move through the quake-affected areas. At the opposite extreme appears to be the behaviour of the jihadist group in Ibid, a territory controlled by rebel factions, where Hayat Tahrir al SahmThe Syrian government is threatening not to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, both from international organisations and from the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad.
Typical geopolitical tensions also seem to have eased between Turkey and its neighbours, Greece and Armenia, which have facilitated the passage of humanitarian aid across their usually strict borders.
Developments over the past few days remain to be seen. The earthquake has also caused some new tensions. In Syria, it adds to the misfortunes of a region tormented by war in recent years, besieged in no man's land by government forces, rebels and Turkish militias. In Turkey, some sections of the opposition are already blaming the government for the poor infrastructure, and some of these construction companies are already being fined or closed down.
2. US and Canada shoot down up to 4 balloons in their air zone
Last week a news item worthy of a movie caught the attention of the presenter. The US authorities had warned of the presence of an unidentified aerial object in their airspace. After shooting it down, it was found to be none other than an air balloon.
Over the past few days, both US and Canadian authorities have sighted more and more of these objects, until the fourth such object was shot down in Lake Huron, near Michigan, on Monday.
While the confusion continues, Canadian and US intelligence services continue to gather information about the devices and their purpose. It should be recalled that the authorship of these same balloons was tentatively acknowledged by China, which stated that they were devices made for the purpose of gathering meteorological information, an explanation that (evidently) has not convinced the United States.
In other surprising news, the Chinese government itself has claimed the discovery of another unidentified aerial object over its airspace, this time over the Yellow Sea, near Qingdao.
These mysterious developments coincide with increased Chinese and Japanese military operations, the latter with direct US support and collaboration, in the South Sea of East Asia, a territory of geopolitical tensions and disputes for decades. We will see how this escalation of tensions plays out in the coming weeks.
3. Arms shipments in Ukraine become more complicated
A year into the Russo-Ukrainian war, arms support for the country led by Volodomir Zelenski seems to be faltering. After weeks of tense negotiations, and with the push from the Americans, the Germans relented on their intention to send tanks to the country. LeopardThe two sides are seen as key to the development of the conflict in the coming weeks.
But not everything has gone as expected. What was expected to be an avalanche of support for the sending of more than 100 tanks, mainly from the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany, has been received with a certain coolness. Only Poland, which maintained a resolutely bellicose position throughout the conflict, Portugal and Canada have joined the initiative (and with rather limited contributions).
On the other side, countries such as Sweden, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands indicate that they are willing to help, but do not specify when or how. This attitude has caused some unease in Germany, which has already asked for greater resolve.
In view of the situation, and in view of the Russian offensive expected at the end of February, which we mentioned last week, Germany has opted to send the older Leopard tank models as well, with a total of some 80 Leopards to be delivered later this year.
4. Economy: Brussels is optimistic: Europe dodges recession and predicts higher growth for Spain
The storms seem to be abating. From Brussels, it was confirmed yesterday that the spectre of recession has been averted, albeit "just barely". Thus, the GDP rate is not expected to fall, but is expected to increase by 0.9%. With regard to the Spanish economy, it seems that the forecasts are also improving, expecting growth of 1.4% (four tenths of a percentage point higher than the 1% previously expected). This places Spain among the countries that will grow the most within the EU, ahead of, for example, Italy (0.8%) or France (0.6%).
According to the EU, the reasons behind Spain's growth in this difficult year marked by war have been the recovery of tourism (weakened in previous years by the COVID crisis), an increase in private consumption, the moderation of inflation and the momentum of the recovery plans, which have facilitated both national and foreign investment in the Iberian territory.
Even so, the EU has pointed out that optimism should not run out of control and result in counterproductive policies, such as excessive wage increases, which could lead to price rises.
On a more European note, there is also good news. The EU seems to assume that we have reached the inflation ceiling and that inflation is starting to moderate. In addition, energy prices also seem to have stabilised, facilitated by lower energy use due to a winter that has not been as harsh as expected.
All in all, the new economic forecasts have been greeted with cautious optimism in Brussels, which notes that "we have to be cautious, but we are confident" in the words of finance minister Pascal Donohoe.
5. Photovoltaic self-consumption doubles by 2022
Last year, a combination of factors led to an unprecedented increase in the installation of photovoltaic self-consumption systems. The soaring prices due to the war, combined with the subsidies of the Next Generation seem to have accelerated the transition to these new forms of consumption.
Last year alone, there were more than 200,000 installations in Spain in homes and 23,000 in businesses. These figures increase the number of homes with this technology to 300,000, as well as 54,000 companies. It is estimated that the capacity to generate energy would reach almost 2% of the national demand.