Hard Numbers: Accusations fly over Russian air crash, diplomats get a booze spot in Riyadh, Korea’s Dior look is a bad one, Egypt catches strays from Houthi resistance, prices stay spicy in Mexico
74: The death toll from Wednesday’s fiery crash of a Russian military plane near the Ukrainian border is up to 74. At least 65 of them were Ukrainian POWs set to be released as part of a prisoner exchange. Moscow says Kyiv shot down the plane, while Kyiv says Moscow was responsible for properly identifying the aircraft as it flew through a warzone. Both sides have been ramping up air attacks – and air defenses – as the ground phase of the war has become a rat-infested stalemate.
1: There will finally be at least one (but only one) store where foreign diplomats can buy booze in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The location – which will cater strictly to non-Muslims vetted by the foreign ministry – is set to open in the coming weeks. The move is part of the Kingdom’s cautious ongoing efforts to liberalize its strict Islamic social rules in order to attract more tourism and non-oil investment.
2,250: The bag is back in Seoul. Last year, a video emerged showing the South Korean first lady accepting a $2,250 Dior purse as a gift from a prominent Korean-American pastor. “Don’t keep doing this,” she tells him, “never buy something as expensive as this.” In recent days, that scandal has roared back as President Yoon Suk Yeol reportedly squabbles with members of his party over how to address the issue ahead of legislative elections scheduled for April.
40: Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea are meant to pressure Israel into stopping its siege and invasion of Gaza, but the knock-on effects of that strategy are catching other countries in the crossfire. Egypt’s receipts from the Suez Canal – a major source of Cairo’s hard currency – are already 40% lower than last year, as higher risk (and insurance premiums) scare companies away from the waterway.4.9: Inflation continued to creep upward in Mexico in January, with consumer prices rising 4.9% on an annual basis in the first half of the month, higher than analysts expected. This is the fifth straight half-month period in which prices have risen, casting doubt on the possibility of the central bank easing rates in the coming months. Mexico will hold a general election in June.