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Global News Watch

Weekly Digest for the week of 18 February

Americas

Venezuela isn’t the only country with an embattled president, for Nicaragua has faced down massive anti-President protests last year, protests the government barely survived. Now,t he Nicaraguan government announced it has initiated dialogue with private sector business leaders, who support the year-long opposition to President Ortega. The Catholic Church is also participating. These developments come a week after the US named Nicaragua a ‘threat to US interests’. It’s interesting to note the significant role the Catholic Church plays in Nicaraguan politics, weeks after this digest reported on it doing the same in the DR of Congo. ADDENDUM: Post-release, it came to our attention that 2 protest leaders were sentenced to 200 years in prison this week as well.

Assorted Headlines
Unconfirmed reports that Russia’s Gazprom Bank has frozen Venezuelan state oil company accounts due to US sanctions. (Reuters)
– Venezuela has received 300 tons of aid from Russia. Meanwhile, the aid convoys meant from the US and its partners have been blocked, amid light clashes. It seems Russia is playing the aid game better, but as we mentioned earlier the US aid was never really about aid but posturing.
– Venezuela has shut downs its border with Brazil, and has deployed an S-300 system to cover it. (DefesaNet)
– Venezuela has cut all diplomatic ties with Colombia.


Europe

In this installation of the Anti-Huawei saga, Huawei scored a victory. Weeks of aggressive lobbying across Western capitals compounded by the coincidental release of local European investigations into the threat posed by Huawei offered a glimmer of hope for the embattled company. First, the British National Cyber Security Center has downplayed the threat posed by Huawei, raising the possibility that Britain might not block Huawei after all. Coming a week after news of escalating tensions between these two powers, London seems to be trying to avoid alienating Beijing unless absolutely necessary. In addition, Germany and New Zealand have also expressed doubts about the threat posed by Huawei. (Although NZ did place a ban on Huawei products in certain sectors.). It’s important to note that this is all talk, and nothing is certain unless it happens, because if we’re going to focus on talk then it bears mentioning that Vice President Pence explicitly said this week that the US will no longer share intelligence with nations that incorporate Huawei into ‘critical sectors’, which led to an immediate reaction by some Italian lawmakers calling for a Huawei ban. This fight is far from over.

Assorted Headlines
– Eight Labour MPs and three Conservative MPs announced they were quitting their party over their approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism (in the case of Labor). Instead of forming a new party, they will call themselves “The Independent Group” and are all in support of another EU referendum. It will be important to note if more MPs defect to this new grouping seeking to take advantage of the anti-Brexit sentiment in the UK.(Axios)
– Citing a shift to Electric Vehicles, Honda has announced it will shut down its only plant in the UK which employs 3,500 people.
– The Russian Ministry of Economic Development placed the total damage of sanctions at 6.3 billion$, with the metallurgy industry suffering the most at 4billion$. It’s important to remember that Rusal, Russia’s largest Aluminum producer, had to agree to US conditions to get sanctions removed just recently.


East Asia

Saudi Crown Prince MbS spent this week touring Asia signing gold-plated deals. For starters, he signed a deal to build a 10 billion$ petrochemical refinery with China which would eventually receive 70% of its petrol needs from Saudi Arabia itself. He also signed five memorandums of understanding worth 100 Billion$ with India and 20 billion$ worth of investments in Pakistan. It is notable that MbS not only refrained from criticizing China’s treatment of Uighurs, but also made a point to defend it. In earlier digests, we covered Saudi funding of the China-backed Gwadar port in Pakistan in a US-backed effort to get a foot in the door. During this visit, the Chinese notably praised Saudi funding of Gwadar port hinting that they don’t seem to mind this extra infusion of cash in beleaguered Pakistan, no matter the intent.

Assorted Headlines
– Australian PM announces a ‘sophisticated state actor’ hacked Australia’s Parliament and major political parties on Feb. 7. Australian media is reporting the government believes said actor is China, who has subsequently denied this. (GPF)
– Amid the aforementioned diplomatic spat, China has reportedly halted Australian coal imports that come through Dalian port. It also announced that it will limit 2019 coal imports to 12 million tons. (Reuters)
– China has reportedly established a military outpost in Eastern Tajikistan, on the Afghan border. It’s apparently been there for 3-4 years. (Washington Post)
– Malaysia’s FM has said that OBOR ‘East Cost Rail Link’ project, (the second biggest OBOR project by cost) has been revived and has entered its ‘last mile’. This follows reports we mentioned in previous digests of China compromising on the cost after Malaysia pulled out.
– India to buy 21 Mig-29s from Russia. (RIA)
– India has announced plans to divert water from Pakistan in response to the JeM Kashmir attack.
– An Anti Corruption push in North Korea has led to the arrest of 50 to 70 high placed officials since the end of 2018, most of them military who are opposed to rapprochement with the US. (WSJ)


Middle East

Israeli elections just got interesting. Earlier this week, PM Netanyahu has shown some success in negotiating joint tickets containing right and far-right parties to make his election more certain. In response, two parties on the left also united in a ‘Blue-white ticket’ which some polls say would cost Benjamin the election. So it’s safe to say, that for the first time, the Prime Minister’s future is less than certain. However, what’s more important to pause on is what the AIPAC lobby thinks, for it has denounced Netanyahu’s bid to form a “united ultra-right wing” party. Add that to the investigation hanging over his head and his new worthy opponent, it seems that the Prime Minister needs a win and fast.

Assorted Headlines
– According to Pakistan’s state bank governor, Pakistan has emerged from its balance of payments crisis.
– Iran’s parliament signs a bill to accept a 5 Billion$ loan from Russia. (GPF)
– Two terrorist attacks rock Cairo in one week. (Egypt Today)
– The SDF has warned that IS prisoners may pose a security risk to Europe shall they escape, while the US is simultaneously pressuring these countries to repatriate IS prisoners that happen to be European nationals. (Reuters)
– Turkey’s FM said his country is poised to start drilling for oil and gas off of Cyrpus’ coast, which would increase tensions between the two states. (Daily Sabah)
– The US is to keep a peacekeeping force of 400 in Syria, 200 in an unidentified location in the North East and 200 in the Al-Tanf outpost, presumably due to European refusals to maintain a presence shall the US leave. (AFP/WaPo/GPF)
– The European Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has given Iran an extension until June to meet its demands. As we covered in earlier digests, the FATF’s linking of the SPV to reforms causes furor in Iran, which probably resulting in Europe acquiescing an extension. (Al-Monitor)
– The US has ended its airstrikes against Taliban Opium labs as peace talks loom. Another obstacle threatening these talks is any potential Pakistani-Indian conflict, a fact Islamabad was certain to stress. (SF, Reuters)


Africa

Assorted Headlines
– Nigeria postpones elections (which were slated to begin on the 16th of February) due to logistical reasons. They kicked off yesterday, on Saturday, using technology that would make falsifying results harder. (Quartz Africa)
– Kenya expelled the Somalian envoy to Nairobi and recalled its ambassador to Somalia due to reports that Mogadishu is auctioning off oil blocks in disputed waters.
– Anti-government protests in Sudan have continued unabated as President Bashir declared a national emergency and disbanded the national government, state governments, and replaced governors with loyalist generals. The President also said he will suspend his bid to amend the constitution to allow him to run for another term. (SF/GPF)


Articles of the Week

– An article by the American Interest explores how the recent gas-related amendment passed by the EC is bad news for Gazprom: https://bit.ly/2Es3IOd
– Excellent commentary showing why the EU is no superpower, and why it won’t be anytime soon. It also draws interesting historical parallels. If you have to read one article from all of these, this one is the one: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/europe-not-exist/
– Original article that uses the Chinese New Year greetings sent to deployed ships to track the slowly expanding scope of the PLN: https://bit.ly/2BNJZXK
– Eye opening article by The Atlantic that makes the case for a transformed jihadism coming to a Middle East near you: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/sunni-jihad-turns-away-transnational-terrorism/582745/
– An excellent article on the Kashmir Crisis, and what drives and motivates each side of this conflict. https://warontherocks.com/2019/02/drivers-decisions-dilemmas-understanding-the-kashmir-crisis-and-its-implications/