What We’re Watching: Castro steps down, US sanctions Russia, a crescent-shaped critter in Krakow
A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.
US hits Russia with sanctions: The Biden administration on Thursday announced a new wave of US economic sanctions against Russia, in retaliation for Russia's alleged backing of the SolarWinds cyberattack against American government agencies and large corporations, and the Kremlin's meddling in the 2020 election. Along with blacklisting a few dozen Russian companies and officials, the new measures prevent US banks from buying new ruble-denominated bonds, a measure meant to inflict pain on the Russian economy. For now, bond markets seem not be too worried, but one big question is whether the US is able to get its Asian and European allies to impose similar restrictions, which would hurt Moscow more. The Kremlin, which denies any involvement in cyberattacks or election shenanigans, has pledged to retaliate. There will certainly be lots to discuss if Vladimir Putin accepts Joe Biden's recent proposal to hold the first US-Russia summit since Helsinki in 2018.
The Great Croissant of Krakow: The Krakow Animal Welfare Society recently received an alarming phone call. Sharp-eyed locals in Poland's second largest city had spotted an unusual animal of some kind, sitting in a lilac tree near an apartment block. They were worried about what the strange creature might do next. Residents speculated that it might be some monstrous bird of prey, or perhaps an iguana on the loose from some far-off tropical country. They feared leaving their windows open. When animal rescue workers finally appeared on the scene, they quickly discovered that the dangerous beast was, in fact, a large croissant. Word on the street is that it had fallen into the tree from the windowsill of some thoughtful person who wanted to feed any birds of prey — or iguanas — that might happen by. Officials managed to surround and subdue the two-day old croissant, and we assume they then released it back into the wild. But don't let the happy ending lull you into complacency, Signal readers. If you see something, say something.