What We’re Watching: Venezuela Unplugged

Is Moscow Dropping Maduro?
Moscow has removed the bulk of its defense advisers from Venezuela, because the cash-strapped regime of Nicolas Maduro can't pay them, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Adding to the intrigue, later in the day, President Donald Trump cryptically tweeted that he'd received word from Russia that "most of their people" had left the South American nation. The Kremlin's support has been crucial for Maduro – who has so far faced down a challenge from opposition leader Juan Guaido – and until now, Venezuela has spent a lot of money on Russian weapons. But if the cash is running dry and Moscow's support is fraying, will this alter Maduro's calculus? More importantly, will it alter the calculus of the generals whose continued support is keeping him in power?


Weather Report from the new "Arab Spring": Shots fired, elections cancelled
Earlier this spring, popular protests in both Sudan and Algeria ousted strongmen who had ruled for decades, creating hope for change in two countries burdened with notoriously repressive regimes. But in both cases, the military men who propped up those regimes have held on to power, angering street protesters who want systemic change rather than just a change of faces at the very top.

Over the weekend, that difference of aims turned deadly in the Sudanese capital, when soldiers opened fire on protesters who have camped outside the military's HQ for two months demanding a swift transition to civilian rule. Meanwhile, in Algeria, an interim government made up of old regime figures cancelled fresh elections scheduled for next month after hundreds of thousands poured into the streets to denounce them as a regime-controlled sham.

What we're ignoring

Reports about the purge or execution of North Korean officials – Last week, a South Korean paper quoting a single source reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was so annoyed at the failure of his Hanoi summit with Donald Trump that he'd executed several of his nuclear negotiators and sent his top diplomat, Kim Yong-chol, to a re-education camp. Plausible enough for a guy who's reportedly executed dozens of people, including his own family members. But then, over the weekend, North Korean media showed Mr Kim (the diplomat) seated contentedly alongside Dear Leader Kim at a concert. Either his stint in the camp provided him a remarkably quick reeducation or this is a reminder that it's almost impossible to know what is really happening inside a society as grotesquely repressive and secretive as North Korea's

America's internet giants are being pulled into political fights right and left these days. Speech – what can be said, and who can say it – is increasingly at the center of those controversies. Consider these two stories from opposite sides of the world:

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Italy's prime minister resigns – Giuseppe Conte, the caretaker prime minister appointed to mediate an uneasy governing alliance between Italy's anti-establishment 5Star Movement and the right-wing Lega party, resigned on Tuesday. Rather than wait for a no-confidence vote triggered by the rightwing Lega Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Conte stepped down on his own terms. Salvini, who's popularity has been rising, had hoped that by triggering snap elections he could get himself appointed prime minister, will now have to wait for Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, to decide what comes next. While Lega and smaller right-wing allies want a new vote, center and left-wing parties are apparently working to see if they can form a majority coalition – perhaps including 5Star -- that would allow Mattarella to appoint a new government without fresh elections. We're watching to see how the dust settles in Europe's third-biggest economy.

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300: The US tested a new medium-range cruise missile on Sunday that flew more than 300 miles. This marks the first time the US has tested a weapon that would have violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War era pact that was officially abandoned three weeks ago, sparking fears of a new global arms race.

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