Venezuela heats up. It’s been an eventful 24 hours in Venezuela. A contingent in the country’s national guard mutinied before authorities suppressed the uprising and arrested 27 soldiers. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, meanwhile, claimed that President Nicolas Maduro had caused a break in the military chain of command by illegally seizing power – an allegation the military denied – and promised deserters that a transitional government would grant them amnesty in exchange for their support. The opposition is planning to stage mass protests Wednesday and calling on the security forces to join in. (Coordination between military and civilian groups has helped overthrow previous Venezuelan governments.) In response, community groups allied with the government are ramping up street patrols and threatening to cut off protesters’ food supplies.
Deal or no deal on the Korean Peninsula. Seoul and Washington remain at an impasse over funding for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. The two sides have failed to agree on a replacement for an expired 2014 deal in which South Korea gave the United States about $850 million to support the deployment. (About 70 percent of that amount went toward wages and salaries for South Korean citizens who provided services for the U.S. military.) This is an important disagreement. Much of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s base want U.S. forces off the peninsula, and, knowing that, North Korea could try to make U.S. withdrawal a condition for upcoming denuclearization talks with the United States.
Mixed news from China’s economy. Official Chinese government data shows that growth in China’s retail and wholesale sectors slowed to 5.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, compared with 7.2 percent growth in 2017. Real estate growth, likewise, fell to 2 percent, down from 5.9 percent the previous year. The numbers reveal a more significant decline in these sectors – historically responsible for much of China’s economic growth – than in the economy overall, where growth slowed from 6.5 percent in 2017 to 6.4 percent in 2018. At the same time, however, China’s National Bureau of Statistics claimed that per capita disposable income increased by 6.5 percent overall in 2018 – and by 7.8 percent in urban areas. China’s efforts to attract more foreign capital also appear to be yielding fruit; in 2018, despite increased bond defaults, foreign investors’ holdings of yuan-denominated bonds grew by more than half over the year before, to 1.73 trillion yuan (about $260 billion). Even with the trade war and fears of Chinese economic malaise, foreign investors are increasing their exposure to China’s economy.
Putin is losing Russia’s trust. A report from the Russia Public Opinion Research Center finds that confidence in longtime President Vladimir Putin has fallen to 33 percent, its lowest level in 13 years. This is a stunning decline. At its peak, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2015 (and shortly before Russia’s campaign in Syria began), Putin’s trust rating hit 71 percent. Note that “trust” and “approval” ratings are different measurements: Approval rating measures respondents’ readiness to re-elect, while trust measures public support for a politician’s actions more generally. Putin’s approval rating is still around 60 percent. Regardless, the trend is the same for both figures. Even Putin’s popularity, which peaked at 90 percent following Crimea’s annexation, is suffering as Russia’s Syria intervention drags on and Ukraine is still mired in uncertainty.
- Brazil is planning to privatize and auction off 20 airports.
- Israel and Ukraine have signed a new free trade agreement that they hope will generate $1 billion in bilateral trade within five years.
- Mexico’s Interior Ministry released data Monday showing that the number of murders in the country rose by one-third in 2018, to 33,341 – a new high.
- Iran is trying to keep its access to international oil markets by selling crude oil to private companies abroad for re-export, but it found no private buyers for its first attempted sale Monday.
- The European Union sanctioned several Russian intelligence officials in response to the attack last year on a former spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom.
- Two ships near the Kerch Strait caught fire, leaving nearly a dozen sailors dead. The ships flew Tanzanian flags and were staffed with sailors from Turkey and India. Ukraine’s Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons claims the two tankers had been illegally supplying gas to Syria since 2016.