In the past two days, Russia’s foreign minister has met with the heads of state of Israel, Germany and France. The visits were unannounced. At first blush, it’s unclear what the sudden burst of shuttle diplomacy means. Several media outlets have speculated that Syria was the main item on the agenda. It’s possible, though, that the meeting with Israel and the subsequent meetings with Germany and France were unrelated – and that the foreign minister’s sit-downs with European leaders had more to do with Ukraine. We should be cautious not to read too much into meetings with foreign leaders – after all, Russia’s foreign minister gets around quite a bit. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that these meetings took place amid new developments in Syria, where Israel confirmed it shot down a Syrian fighter jet on Tuesday, and Ukraine, where Russia seems to be advocating a new referendum plan.
Speaking of France, French President Emmanuel Macron is in trouble at home. His approval ratings have dropped to 32 percent, according to an Ipsos poll. (For some perspective, that’s 7 percent lower than the approval rating of Nicolas Sarkozy and 6 percent higher than that of Francois Hollande at similar moments in their presidencies.) Macron has been met at every turn with opposition to his (long overdue) attempts to reform the French economy. Protests and low popularity are common enough in France, but now a new scandal has aggravated the situation: Macron’s bodyguard was caught on tape beating up a protester while wearing a police helmet. The opposition Les Republicains party has used this episode as an opportunity to seek a no-confidence vote against Macron’s government. Macron’s party holds majorities in both chambers of the legislature, so he’s well positioned to survive. Still, this is a sign that the opposition to Macron is getting more serious.
Last, China’s charm offensive in Sri Lanka appears to be paying off. A military attache in the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka said China would be giving the Sri Lankan navy a frigate as a “gift.” The attache also said the Chinese army would provide more training courses for Sri Lankan military forces. This comes just a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping offered Sri Lanka’s president a $295 million grant to commemorate the opening of a new hospital in the president’s hometown. It’s a curious development: Sri Lanka’s previous president was removed from office partly because the people believed he was too closely aligned with China, and the current president campaigned on a platform of keeping his distance from China. Now that Sri Lanka is wracked with Chinese debt, the new president has changed his tune, and the bilateral relationship appears to be picking up where it left off.
- Kim Jong Un has said that North Korea must better feed its soldiers so they “feel [the] loving care” of his father Kim Jong Il.
- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has offered to help Montenegro stop refugees from entering the country.
- The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has echoed the government’s threat to block the Strait of Hormuz. The IRGC had been uncharacteristically quiet on the issue until today.
- The Spanish government may be forced into early elections, according to several reports from Spanish media.