Nicaragua’s government reaches out to the opposition. On Saturday evening, the Nicaraguan government released an official statement saying it had initiated dialogue with business leaders in the country’s private sector. Leaders of the Catholic Church reportedly also participated, underscoring the momentum behind the talks. A business leader told local press that that the discussions were cause for optimism – significant statement in itself, considering the role various private sector groups had played in sustaining the protests and criticizing the government back when they began in April 2018. This development comes a week after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega signaled to the Organization of American States that he might be willing to discuss reforming state institutions before the 2021 presidential elections. The U.S. ambassador released a statement in support of the Nicaraguan government’s “effort to re-establish negotiations” with the opposition – a far cry from last week when the head of U.S. Southern Command included Nicaragua on a list of six countries that threatened U.S. interests along with Russia, China and Iran. It’s a list that apparently both Nicaragua’s government and the political opposition prefer not to be on, now that the U.S. is demonstrating a new willingness to intervene in South and Central American affairs.

Is Russia wavering on Maduro? Russia has been one of the most important, stalwart supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. But over the weekend, an unnamed Gazprombank source told Reuters that the lender has frozen the accounts of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA to avoid running afoul of U.S. sanctions. Moscow hasn’t officially said anything about it, and PDVSA strongly denied the report, calling it right-wing American propaganda. At this point, it’s difficult to verify the report itself, but if true, the potential implications of the report are significant for the Maduro government’s future. One of the main ways the U.S. has been working to buttress opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaido has been to cut off the Maduro government’s sources of income. It also may suggest a basis for some kind of understanding or negotiations between the U.S. and Russia. That’s all mostly speculation at this point, but there’s enough smoke here to begin asking questions.

Australia under cyber fire. In an address to the Australian Parliament today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed that authorities believed that a Feb. 7 cyberattack, which breached the computer networks of Australia’s Parliament and major political parties, was carried out by a “sophisticated state actor.” The prime minister did not point directly to a specific state, but Australian media has made it clear that the government believes that China is the culprit. Morrison insisted that the attack had not compromised the integrity of Australia’s electoral system in advance of upcoming federal elections. This episode is the latest sign that relations between Australia and China are souring.

A quiet anniversary in China. Ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Sino-Vietnamese War over the weekend, Beijing had deployed extra security to a number of Chinese provinces to monitor veterans hoping to mark the anniversary, which the Chinese government does not officially observe. But aside from a few articles in the Hong Kong-based English daily South China Morning Post about veterans frustrated with the Chinese government’s lack of acknowledgment, the anniversary passed quietly. In the past, China has steered clear of the anniversary to avoid damaging diplomatic ties with Vietnam and to bring attention to the People’s Liberation Army’s success (or more precisely, the lack thereof), but this year fears also centered on whether the anniversary might encourage protest among Chinese veterans, especially in the wake of Xi Jinping’s PLA reforms and troop reductions. Meanwhile, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China’s Beijing Municipal Committee reported updates on an initiative to install police officers in Beijing in CPC cells overseeing communities throughout the city. The CPC continues to maintain control – and feels the need to deepen that control over Chinese society.

Honorable Mentions

  • Kenya reportedly expelled the Somali ambassador and recalled its own ambassador from Somalia. The government in Nairobi claimed it only summoned its ambassador over a maritime territorial dispute.
  • Saudi Arabia has pledged $20 billion in investment to Pakistan.
  • India and Iran have agreed to cooperate in combating terrorism in South Asia.
  • Jaish-e-Mohammed fighters in Kashmir attacked an Indian army contingent, killing four soldiers. It was the group’s second attack in the past week.
  • A Spanish warship ordering ships to leave anchorages on the eastern side of Gibraltar sailed away after being confronted by the Royal Navy.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told a European Commissioner official that Belarus is a “reliable partner for the European Union.”