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Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro leaves his home following a search operation in Brasilia.

REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Bolsonaro’s home raided over alleged COVID vax fraud

Brazilian cops on Wednesday raided the home of former President Jair Bolsonaro as part of a probe into falsified COVID vaccine records.
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Reporter for U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich, detained on suspicion of espionage, leaves a court building in Moscow, Russia March 30, 2023.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

What We’re Watching: Moscow’s muscle flex, Bolsonaro’s return, Lasso losing his grip

Russia nabs US journalist

A Wall Street Journal reporter apprehended by Russia’s notorious Federal Security Bureau in the city of Yekaterinburg Thursday has appeared in court in the Russian capital on espionage charges, which the Journal has dismissed as bogus.

Evan Gershkovich, who works out of the Moscow bureau for the New-York based outlet and earlier this week penned a bombshell feature on how sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, was on a reporting trip when he was seen being escorted into an FSB van in scenes reminiscent of the Soviet era. Indeed, he’s the first US journalist to have been arrested by Russian authorities since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. The Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded his immediate and unconditional release.

The Kremlin claims that the 31-year-old reporter was “collecting state secrets” on behalf of the US government. But many analysts say this is likely an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to flex his muscles and gain some leverage amid reports that Russia is stalling in Ukraine, with one US general claiming that ongoing fighting in Bakhmut is a “slaughter-fest” for Moscow.

Putin may be looking to secure some sort of trade deal with the US, like he did last fall when Washington agreed to swap WNBA star Brittney Griner, held in a Russian prison, for Viktor Bout, a Russian citizen and notorious arms dealer held in US custody since 2008. But Griner was held for the lesser offense of possessing a small amount of weed oil. Espionage is a whole other ballgame.

We’ll also be watching to see whether US media outlets now respond by pulling reporters out of Russia. After all, the US State Department has urged all US citizens to leave the country fearing a situation just like this.

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A general view as North Korea fired two missiles from a submarine at an underwater target at an undisclosed location in North Korea March 12, 2023.

North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via REUTERS

Hard Numbers: North Korea goes ballistic about “puppets”, Iran pardons protesters, Lula sacks soldiers, Freddy ravages Southern Africa

2: In response to new military drills by “the US imperialists and the South Korean puppet forces,” North Korea on Monday announced it had tested two new cruise missiles, which it says it plans to fit with nuclear warheads.

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A new 1000 Naira note as the Central Bank of Nigeria releases the notes to the public, December 15, 2022.

REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

What We’re Watching: Nigeria’s dwindling cash/patience, Bolsonaro’s next move, China's diplomatic European tour, Armenia’s olive branch

Nigeria’s currency crisis

It’s a little over a week before voters head to the polls in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and temperatures on the streets are rising amid protests over a cash shortage. In November, outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari began a program of phasing out currencies of high denominations, saying it would help transition the country to a cashless economy and clamp down on the currency black market and inflation. The timing appears odd so close to an election, but Buhari’s explanation has been that the measure will curb vote buying. But fast forward three months, and banks are running low on cash, with people having to line up for hours to withdraw their own savings. After being told by the government to hand in large denomination notes in exchange for new wads of cash, many are being sent home empty-handed. This is particularly problematic because the West African country of more than 213 million is highly reliant on cash, with just 45% having access to a bank account in 2021. Violence is on the rise as frustrated Nigerians take to the streets, which presents increasing governance challenges ahead of the crucial Feb. 25 vote. In a bid to calm things down, Buhari announced Thursday that one of the three banknotes being phased out would remain legal for another two months. For more on what’s at stake, see this Q+A with Eurasia Group’s Africa expert Amaka Anku.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and daughter Kim Ju Ae attend a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea.

North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via REUTERS.

What We're Watching: Parade in Pyongyang, Lula in DC, China balloon capabilities

North Korea shows off ICBMs and ... a 10-year-old girl

North Korea's supreme leader made a big splash to mark the 75th anniversary of the army on Thursday by showing off his shiny new toys and — maybe — his heir. At a huge military parade in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un beamed as he saluted a whopping 11 nuclear-armed ICBMs capable of reaching the US mainland, the largest number the regime has ever assembled in public, just two months after he demanded an "exponential increase" in the country's arsenal of nukes. Because each projectile has multiple nuclear warheads, a flurry could overwhelm US air defenses. What's more, the army also displayed a mockup of a new solid-fueled ICBM, which theoretically would be easier and faster to launch. But what really caught the attention of North Korea watchers was the presence beside the supreme leader of Kim Ju Ae, his 10-year-old daughter. The young girl, believed to be Kim's second child, met North Korea's top brass on Wednesday and has been seen five times alongside her dad in just two months, fueling speculation that Kim might someday pick her as his successor. That would be a tectonic shift for North Korea, not because of her age — after all, her father grew up around generals — but due to the country's deeply patriarchal society. Still, what matters more than gender is being a Kim, and right now the country's second most powerful person is Kim Yo Jong, the supreme leader's famously feisty sister.

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US President Joe Biden, Mexican President AMLO and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau arrive for a joint news conference at the conclusion of the North American Leaders' Summit in Mexico City.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

What We’re Watching: Three Amigos huddle, Peruvian violence, East Asia travel curbs

Three Amigos talk and ... that's all, folks

Well, some progress is better than none at all — at least among “friends.” At their “Three Amigos” summit on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, and Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — known as AMLO — announced a slew of agreements on things like moving some US production of semiconductors to Mexico, cutting methane emissions to fight climate change, and installing EV charging stations on shared borders. But they failed to make significant headway on the thorniest issues: the record numbers of asylum seekers entering the US from Mexico; Mexican-made fentanyl causing a public health catastrophe for los gringos; and USMCA-related trade disputes such as Mexico's energy reforms or Canadian grumbling at the Biden administration's EV subsidies. Indeed, perhaps the best thing to come out of the summit is that Biden and AMLO — who had tense exchange on Day 1 — showed that despite their lack of personal chemistry, maybe they can be compadres after all.

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A member of the Federal Police looks on as supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro arrive on a bus after their camp was dismantled in Brasilia.

REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Are the men in uniform hurting Brazil's democracy?

Hardcore supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro ransacked Brazil's democratic institutions à la Jan. 6 on Sunday, and there’s strong anecdotal evidence that some members of the security forces didn’t do much to stop them.

It was, at a minimum, a dereliction of duty. Or perhaps it reflected their thinly veiled sympathy for what the protesters were trying to do: overturn the result of the 2022 election to reinstate Bolsonaro.

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Supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro are pictured through a broken glass as they demonstrate against President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva outside the Congress building in Brasilia.

REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Brazil's Jan. 6 came two days late

We warned you this might happen …

In Brazil's answer to Jan. 6, hundreds of supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the country's parliament, presidential palace, and Supreme Court on Sunday. The mob marched from army HQ in Brasília towards the heart of Brazilian politics, the Praça dos Três Poderes (Three Powers Plaza), where they broke police lines to enter the buildings housing the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers while being tear-gassed by cops.

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