🌍 Six quotes from the Munich Security Conference

Plus: Navalny dies in Russian detention

Hi Intriguer. Diplomacy is often about hedging your bets, and two intriguing examples grabbed my attention over the weekend. The first was news that Japan has been hiring more lobbyists in Washington to ensure it’s ready if US voters elect a new government.

And the second example was on the side-lines of the Munich Security Conference (our lead story today), where a notable list of world leaders took the time to meet UK opposition leader Keir Starmer - capitals are starting to hedge on the possibility of a new UK government, too.

- Jeremy Dicker, Managing Editor

PS - This Friday we’ll release a special edition on the power players at the UN in New York. To say thanks for helping us grow, it’ll be free for any folks who refer at least one friend to Intrigue this week! Simply use your unique referral code at the end of today’s briefing.

TODAY’S NEWS

Israel threatens Ramadan deadline for Rafah offensive. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s war cabinet though not the final word, has said Israel will go ahead with its Rafah operation if Hamas doesn’t release all hostages by 10 March, the start of Ramadan. Prime Minister Netanyahu has also vowed to “finish the job” in Gaza despite international criticism of the human toll. Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organisation says Nasser Hospital, which had been the largest-remaining hospital in Gaza, is no longer operational following last week’s Israeli raid (which Israel says resulted in the detention of Hamas suspects).

China’s holiday spending tops pre-Covid levels. In a promising sign for China’s economy, spending and travel during recent Lunar New Year celebrations surged beyond levels last seen in 2019. The holiday is a key marker to track economic activity in China, though broader concerns about China’s economy remain - foreign direct investment there has now fallen to a 30-year low.

Ukraine retreats from Avdiivka. Ukraine says it withdrew its troops from its frontline town of Avdiivka over the weekend to avoid being encircled by Russian forces. Coming just ahead of President Putin’s re-election bid next month, the Russian advance reportedly came at a staggering cost to Russian forces, and is Russia’s most significant gain since its capture of Bakhmut last year.

Protests in Mexico against electoral overhaul. Thousands have marched against reforms being pushed by the president (‘AMLO’), accusing him of seeking to undermine the country’s electoral body ahead of elections this June. AMLO’s proposals include shrinking the number of counsellors heading the body, and moving towards the direct election of electoral judges.

Deadly assault in remote Papua New Guinea region. Dozens have been killed in an ambush in PNG’s remote Highlands region amid escalating local tensions over land and wealth distribution. Last year, authorities imposed a three-month lockdown to quell an earlier bout of violence in the area.

TOP STORY

Six quotes from the Munich Security Conference

Canva AI prompt: World leaders standing around a war game

The 61st annual Munich Security Conference took place in the city's Bayerischer Hof Hotel over the weekend, bringing together world leaders, ministers, spy chiefs, and more. Touted as the 'Davos of defence', its long-standing motto is "peace through dialogue".

Here are six of the weekend’s key quotes you need to know, and why.

  1. "Ukraine has already shattered myths" - Ukraine’s president, Vlodymyr Zelenskyy

Seeking to preserve Western support and push back against a narrative of Russian momentum, Zelenskyy outlined several Russian ‘myths’, including: that Moscow could take Kyiv in days (we’re now at day 726), and that Ukraine couldn’t export grain through Russia’s Black Sea blockade (Ukraine has resumed exports, and says it’s now sunk a third of Russia’s Black Sea fleet).

Zelenskyy got a standing ovation in the packed hotel hall - he’ll be hoping this applause translates into more European shells and American air defences.

  1. "What really provokes an aggressor is weakness” - Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas

Many Europeans voiced unease not only at Russia’s longer-term intentions, but also America’s longer-term staying power, and the pace of Europe’s response. Against this backdrop, there were some big announcements from the Czechs (finding 800,000 shells for Ukraine) and the Danes (donating all their artillery). But there was also a real sense that the EU still has a long way to go to convert its heft (more than ten times Russia’s GDP and triple its population) into military might.

  1. “Isolation is not insulation” - The US vice president, Kamala Harris

Reflecting a US election year offering very different visions for America’s role in the world, the US vice president’s speech sought to signal to allies and adversaries alike that US leadership is here to stay. But many will have been looking over her shoulder towards election day in November.

  1. "Hamas is an idea, and you don't kill an idea" - The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell

Borrell was voicing doubts about the feasibility - and disquiet about the cost - of Israel ending its conflict militarily. He and others instead urged a political offramp via a two state solution. But Israel's foreign minister said "we can't just leave Hamas there" (in Rafah), while the Palestinian Authority prime minister called on Hamas to join next week’s “Palestinian unity” talks in Moscow - but of course, the US, France, and others reject the idea of Hamas having a governing role.

  1. "Good partners provide choices, smart partners take some of those choices" - India’s foreign minister, S. Jaishankar

This was one of several lines Jaishankar deployed to account for the way India has, for example, pursued closer ties with the West while still buying Russian oil (and so financing Russia’s war). He went on to say, "if I am smart enough to have multiple options, you should be admiring me, not criticising me". India-watchers will be familiar with this transactional approach, which reflects India’s belief that its growing weight means it can avoid picking sides.

  1. "The world economy is like a big ocean that cannot be cut into isolated lakes” - China's foreign minister, Wang Yi

Wang used his speech to present China - in familiar terms - as a "force for stability", and defended China-Russia ties as serving the world’s "strategic stability". But his most direct remarks (including in a side-meeting with the US) actually referred to economic issues - he called on the US to lift sanctions, while warning that "de-risking" the US economy away from China would harm the US. His comments came as Beijing focuses increasingly on economic woes at home.

All in all, it was a lot. And few will have left the conference with a spring in their step. In fact, Lithuania's foreign minister said he was feeling downright gloomy.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

One line that really jumps out came from the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who saidit is time to do whatever it takes for Ukraine to prevail.”

Sound familiar?

That’s right - "whatever it takes" was the famous line that the EU's former central bank chief Mario Draghi deployed successfully in 2012 to ease the EU's sovereign debt crisis. The line worked because everyone knew Draghi and his bank had the tools to address the crisis, and the will to use them.

But when deployed in the context of security, and in 2024, this "whatever it takes" line can't have landed in the same way. There are still too many questions that the EU - and the broader West - is leaving unanswered.

Also worth noting:

  • Hours after news emerged of her husband's death in a Russian prison, Yulia Navalnaya (the widow of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny) spoke at the Munich Security Conference, urging the international community to fight against Putin's "horrific regime".

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Today, a growing community of more than 400,000 rely on The Dispatch to help make sense of a political world gone crazy. Get news and analysis that is more than a scripted reality show.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇨🇳 China: German investment into China reached an all-time high of $12.7B last year, despite Berlin cautioning companies against overreliance on China. At the same time, the number of German firms leaving China or considering doing so has doubled in the last four years.

  2. 🇬🇧 UK: The ruling Conservative Party has lost two previously safe parliamentary seats in by-elections held last week. The results are bad news for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who’s due to lead the Tories into a general election some time this year. 

  3. 🇮🇳 India: India’s main opposition party (‘Congress’) has said its bank accounts were frozen by federal tax authorities ahead of India’s general election in April or May. The party later regained temporary access to its funds, but not before accusing the ruling Modi government of undermining democracy.

  4. 🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago: Prime Minister Keith Rowley has warned that an oil spill from an unidentified vessel is causing a “national emergency. Authorities have fenced off the most affected areas, and are imploring tourists not to be discouraged.

  5. 🇸🇩 Sudan: Houthi attacks on Red Sea vessels are complicating emergency relief efforts in Sudan, with humanitarian organisations now forced to ship aid all the way around Africa. Half of the country’s 48 million people now need urgent food aid after fighting between two rival military factions broke out last year. 

EXTRA INTRIGUE

🤣 Your weekly roundup of the world’s more curious news 

PHOTO OF THE DAY

A photo of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was projected onto the Russian Embassy in London after news of his death broke. Credits: Reuters.

Russia’s prison authorities announced on Friday that prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny had died in an Arctic Russian prison. Navalny returned to Russia in 2021 after barely surviving a presumed poisoning by Russian intelligence. He was arrested upon landing, before receiving a 19-year terrorism sentence. 

Russia’s prison authorities say Navalny collapsed after a walk. His mother, who had seen him days earlier, said Navalny was “alive, healthy, and happy”.

Some 400 people have reportedly been detained across Russia for paying tribute to the late opposition figure.

DAILY POLL

Do you think Navalny's death could be a reckoning moment for Russian politics?

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Last Thursday’s poll: What do you think is Latin America's strongest economic suit?

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 ⛏️ Its mineral resources (52%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🌾 Its agricultural riches (11%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🎭 Its cultural exports (2%)

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🧑 Its young population (26%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 💻 Its fast-growing tech sector (3%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🗺️ Its tourism sector (4%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (2%)

Your two cents:

  • ⛏️ W: “Minerals will be a key factor in economic development due to the strategic competition between world powers.”

  • ✍️ B.P: “Economic diversity. Reliance on any single sector brings vulnerability.”

  • ✍️ A.D: “Ecological - I think people forget the importance of the Amazon rainforest. From tourism, to agriculture and mining, as well as the global weather effects. The Amazon provides huge potential.”

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