Arms for sale. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published its latest report on major arms purchases and transfers over the past five years. The top global arms exporters in 2014-18 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. Notably, the U.S. share of global exports increased from 30 percent to 36 percent, giving the U.S. a substantial lead over second-ranked Russia, whose arms exports decreased by 17 percent between 2009-13 and 2014-18. SIPRI attributes this decline to reduced arms imports by India and Venezuela, while Russia’s state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec said the data used questionable methodology and does not reflect reality. Whatever the case, this points to two important issues for Moscow. First, defense exports were seen as Russia’s preferred value-added export, and the decline in sales is a bad sign for Russia’s economy. Second, Russia is still the main arms supplier to India, but it appears the U.S. is gaining ground there.
Huawei headaches. In the latest drama surrounding Chinese tech giant Huawei, Washington raised the possibility of limiting intelligence sharing with Berlin if Germany were to use Huawei in the construction of its 5G network. This comes after German officials said there was no evidence to justify a ban on the company. The issue adds to the list of topics the U.S. and Germany do not see eye to eye on. The threat of changes in intelligence sharing must be taken seriously. Germany needs whatever help it can get to bolster its domestic security as foreign fighters make their way back to Europe. And the issue could have an impact on NATO cooperation. The organization is already on rocky ground, and restricting or downgrading intelligence sharing between two leading members would only further weaken the alliance.
Algerian protests. In response to nationwide protests, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he will not seek a fifth term in office. Bouteflika also postponed the April 18 elections but did not set a new date. The president, admitting that he’s been in poor health, said the remainder of his term will be spent on laying the foundations of a new republic. The decision may quell the protests, but Algeria will still have to figure out how to transition to a new government after Bouteflika’s 20 years in office. Stakeholders like the army will have an interest in preserving the old regime, while protesters will seek a complete overhaul. And there are potential international consequences. Russian media already expressed concern over the possible impacts on bilateral ties given how heavily Russia has invested in that relationship in recent years. There is also the question of how Algeria’s transition may affect other North African and Sahel governments, particularly Tunisia.
Golan Heights. Trouble is brewing in this small pocket of the Middle East – and, this being the Middle East, it implicates several outside powers. In a show of support for Israel, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said the White House may recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. It’s a stark contrast from a recent statement from the Syrian Foreign Ministry, which said it would attack Israel if it does not withdraw from the area. It’s not every day that Syria, typically a pawn in the games of much stronger powers, shows the gumption to attack a militarily superior enemy; it knows it would need foreign support to even consider such an undertaking. The war of words is probably bluster at this point, but even so, the discussion of conflict must include Iran. A Russian military expert told local media that the U.S. and Syria are only strengthening Iran’s positions in Syria, making it more difficult for Moscow to balance relations between Iran and Israel.
- Turkey has officially entered into a recession, according to official statistics agency TurkStat. The Turkish economy contracted 1.6 percent in the third quarter of 2018 and an additional 2.4 percent in the fourth.
- The Manbij Military Council and Russian commanders reportedly agreed to the deployment of Russian forces in Manbij immediately after U.S. forces leave.
- A group using the name “IRA” claimed responsibility for sending letter bombs last week to locations in London and Glasgow.
- In its first post-bailout monitoring report of the Greek economy, the International Monetary Fund warned that Greece’s ailing banking sector is a threat to growth. It emphasized that banks need more capital and warned of multiple risks that could derail the national budget.
- Georgia agreed to engage with Lithuania’s Regional Cyber Security Center (an agency set up with U.S. support), conduct joint cyber exercises and intensify cooperation in cyber defense.
- Chinese media outlets report that the government’s structural oil and gas reforms will take place around mid-2019. Last week, the National Development and Reform Commission stated its intention to establish a national oil and gas pipeline corporation, though it did not specify a timeline.
- The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on Evrofinance Mosnarbank, a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by Russia and Venezuela. The U.S. State Department also announced the withdrawal of remaining diplomatic personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.