Mueller fallout. For the most part, the completion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report does not intersect with the issues GPF tracks; his investigation has been a primarily domestic affair, even if a particularly dramatic one. That said, the report’s conclusions, at least as revealed by the U.S. attorney general over the weekend, suggest that while Russia did indeed use propaganda and hack Democratic Party organizations with the goal of undermining American public confidence in the presidential election results, no one in the Trump administration “conspired or knowingly coordinated” with Russia in these activities. Russian media and even Russian representatives in the country’s upper house of parliament are now speculating that perhaps the report’s completion will lead to improved relations between Russia and the United States. Our advice? Don’t hold your breath. After all, the report did confirm yet again that Russia interfered in a U.S. presidential election with malign intent, to say nothing of the myriad strategic disagreements between the two sides.
Russian jets in Venezuela. Two Russian military planes landed in Caracas on Saturday. According to Russia’s Sputnik news agency, they were sent to “fulfill technical military contracts.” A Venezuelan official told The Associated Press that the aircraft was carrying Russian military officials who had come to discuss everything from equipment maintenance to strategy, though the AP also noted these reports could not be verified. This comes almost a week after Russian and U.S. officials met in Rome to discuss the Venezuelan crisis and failed to come to an understanding, and amid a flurry of Russian statements about doing “everything possible” to prevent a U.S. military intervention in the country. It would seem that Russia is not considering abandoning its Venezuelan ally anytime soon.
Expanding U.S. presence in the Arabian Sea. The U.S. and Oman signed an agreement on Sunday giving the U.S. Navy access to the Omani ports of Duqm and Salalah. The U.S. already has access to three air bases in Oman, but the port deal has reportedly been in the works for the past six years. U.S. officials have emphasized that the agreement to access to the ports, which are close to the Strait of Hormuz, is important for U.S. efforts to contain Iran. But the ports are well-suited for the U.S. also because of their proximity to the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Bab el-Mandeb – all vital sea lanes and, not coincidentally, areas where China has been slowly establishing deeper ties of its own.
Another Gazan attack near Tel Aviv. A little over a week after the Israel Defense Forces dismissed the firing of two long-range rockets at Tel Aviv as “simple incompetence,” unidentified militants fired another long-range rocket at Israel’s largest city early this morning. The rocket struck a house in the small Israeli town of Mishmeret – which is roughly 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Tel Aviv. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was cutting short his current visit to the United States and that after a quick meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, he would immediately return to Israel to oversee its response. It is election season in Israel, which further complicates matters here, but if rocket fire at Tel Aviv from Gaza continues, it is only a matter of time until Israel intervenes with force.
German optimism? GPF readers have likely become accustomed to our pessimistic views on the German economy, and recent data suggests our pessimism is warranted. But we would be remiss if we did not flag the fact that the Munich-based think tank Ifo Institute reported that the German business climate index rose significantly, indeed, a point more than the consensus forecast. That said, this latest indicator comes just a few days after IHS Markit’s purchasing managers’ index survey indicated a third consecutive month of contraction in German manufacturing contracts. It also comes amid reports that the European Commission is increasingly worried about the “dramatic” cooling of Italy’s economy, with the European Commission’s latest growth predictions likely necessitating a new fight with Italy over its government budget. We remain skeptical.
Keeping an eye on the Turkish lira. The embattled currency rebounded earlier today after finishing last week with a 4 percent drop against the dollar – the biggest plunge for the lira since last summer’s currency crisis. Turkish elections are coming up on March 31 and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has demonstrated before that it prefers economic stability heading into elections, so expect the government to use whatever monetary tools are at its disposal to keep the lira from fluctuating too much. The Turkish government is going above and beyond this time, with the Turkish Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency announcing that it had put JPMorgan Chase and other unspecified banks under investigation for causing and exploiting the currency crash.
- North Korea sent officials back to the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong three days after pulling out all staff from the office.
- A South Korean court approved the seizure of assets belonging to the Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Koreans for their forced labor during Japanese colonial rule.
- Turkey and Russia have opened discussions about passport-free travel between the two countries.
- The spokesperson for Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front said the party had withdrawn support for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s proposal for a national dialogue conference.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron are meeting in Paris today.
- New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced she would travel to China this Sunday to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
- The Afghan Taliban carried out a major attack in Helmand province on Friday; the details are still scant but suggest another defeat for the Afghan Security Forces.