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

The Business and Market Fair that recently took place in Sanzule, Ghana featured local crops, livestock and manufactured goods, thanks in part to the Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), one of Eni's initiatives to diversify the local economy. The LRP program provided training and support to start new businesses to approximately 1,400 people from 205 households, invigorating entrepreneurship in the community.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

It's been two months since President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a bloody Turkish offensive in that region. (See our earlier coverage here.) What's happened since? A guide for the puzzled:

No "end date" for US troops in Syria – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said this week that the United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria. Back in October, President Trump pledged to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American troops deployed there. Since then, some American troops have left Syria altogether, while others were redeployed to defend nearby oil fields from ISIS, as well as from Syrian government troops and Russia. Now, there are roughly 600 American troops dispersed around Syria, and the remainder have been deployed in Iraq to stave off a potential ISIS resurgence. It's not clear if any troops have returned to the US. When asked about the chaotic comings and goings of US troops in Syria in recent months, the commander of US Central Command said frankly: there's no "end date" for American troops stationed there.

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Turkey's government has captured many thousands of ISIS fighters as a result of its operations in northern Syria. Many of these prisoners have already been deported to some of the more than 100 countries they come from, and Ankara says it intends to send more. There are also more than 10,000 women and children – family members of ISIS fighters – still living in camps inside Syria.

These facts create a dilemma for the governments of countries where the ISIS detainees are still citizens: Should these terrorist fighters and their families be allowed to return, in many cases to face trial back home? Or should countries refuse to allow them back?

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What's the difference between Alphabet and Google?

Well, Google is the search engine, YouTube, all the stuff you probably think of as Google. Alphabet is the parent company that was created four or five years ago. And it contains a whole bunch of other entities like Jigsaw, Verily - the health care company that Google runs, Waymo - the self-driving car unit. Also, it's important to know Google makes tons of money. Alphabet, all that other stuff loses tons of money.

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