Saudi Arabia tries to attract more investors. With oil prices low, Saudi Arabia is making a strong push to draw investors to its oil industry. The kingdom issued a decree that aims to bring domestic business in line with international practices by focusing on issues such as protection and sustainability of investments, equality between investors, social and environmental standards, and knowledge and technology transfers. The decree’s timing coincides with analyst projections of slower growth for the Gulf Arab states because of oil production cuts. Saudi gross domestic product is estimated to grow by just 2.1 percent this year and 2.2 percent in 2020. Combined with middling oil prices and production cuts, these sluggish growth rates will make it difficult for the government to keep up public and social spending and to enact economic reforms. But the kingdom can still use its oil money to further its interests on the international stage, as its recent $10 billion investment to build an oil refinery in Pakistan attests.

Russia is getting serious about domestic threats. In a joint operation, security officials with Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, National Guard and Interior Ministry conducted raids in 32 regions across the country to target illegal military-grade civilian arms and black-market ammunition production and distribution chains. Authorities arrested 86 people and confiscated an assortment of rifles, handguns, explosives, weapons parts and even two rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The FSB also reportedly raided the homes of two Crimean Tatars – an ethnic group the Kremlin frequently worries it can’t control – suspected of being members of an illegal militia. The operations followed reports last week of bomb threats in several Russian cities, including Moscow, and, as standalone events, they wouldn’t necessarily raise an eyebrow. The increasing frequency of these kinds of pre-emptive raids, however, suggests the Russian government is growing more nervous about the risk of domestic attacks and unrest.

Iran touts its nuclear ambitions. Over the past two days, leaders of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran have revealed the country’s progress on its nuclear energy plans. Reports emerged yesterday that the organization would send about 33 tons (30 metric tons) of yellowcake, a uranium concentrate, to Isfahan province at the end of the month. And today, the organization’s head announced that Iran purchased a new reactor vessel three years ago, an acquisition he could not announce at the time. The AEOI also said centrifuges are operational and gearing up to enrich enough uranium to fuel the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the next 10 months. Iran has made similar announcements for various political ends over the years. The latest revelations will give the U.S. all the more incentive to take a tougher stance on the Islamic republic and on European efforts to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Honorable Mentions

  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry said rapidly deteriorating conditions in the demilitarized zones in Syria’s Idlib province are cause for concern and implied that Israel should end its airstrikes on the war-torn country.
  • For the first time, the Philippine navy will send one of its own vessels to a fleet review by its Chinese counterpart.
  • The Italian government issued temporary decrees to pass and implement two key components of its planned pension reform.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said his government would conduct a full review of its bilateral relations with the United States. Meanwhile, opposition figure Julio Borges said the U.S. would announce measures today to try to restore democracy in Venezuela.
  • Voters in the southern islands of the Philippines backed a referendum to create the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
  • Japan registered an $11 billion trade deficit in 2018 – its first in three years – along with slowed growth in its exports to China and the U.S.