🌍 Ukraine's secret peace talks

Plus: South Korea bans dog meat

Hi Intriguer. Those who know me know I love the weather. Not good weather; in fact, the more extreme, the better (it’s -49℃/-56℉ in Yakutsk, Russia, right now! 🥶). So, if you’re like me, take some time to explore this addictive map of global weather - just don’t blame me if you get nothing else done today.

In today’s briefing, we look at a secret meeting that took place in December in Riyadh (currently 21℃ and sunny, btw) to discuss what peace might look like in Ukraine (-3℃ and overcast).

Also, the New York Times released its always excellent “52 Places to Go in 2024” yesterday, so we’ve included a few other tasty morsels we’ve been consuming about the year ahead in travel.

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TODAY’S NEWS


UK and US repel largest Houthi missile attack. The US and UK navies shot down over 20 missiles and drones launched by the Houthis against commercial ships in the Red Sea on Tuesday. No damages or injuries were reported, but the intensity of the attack ups pressure on the Biden Administration to secure the international shipping route.

China and US militaries hold first formal talks in years. The two-day meeting comes after Xi and Biden pledged to resume military communications in November. The Pentagon stressed the importance of such talks “to prevent competition from veering into conflict”.

The EU scrutinises Microsoft’s Open AI funding. The European Commission announced it would investigate whether Microsoft’s $13B investment into the AI company amounts to an unofficial acquisition. The Commission said it would be comparing it to other similar deals.

Gang members storm Ecuador TV studios. The incursion, which interrupted a live broadcast, caused President Daniel Noboa to declare a state of “internal armed conflict”. Violence erupted across the country after news broke that a drug kingpin had escaped prison over the weekend.

The growth ain’t good. According to World Bank forecasts, the world economy is on track to experience its worst half-decade growth in 30 years. Global GDP numbers will slow for the third year in a row in 2024, ringing in at 2.4% before slightly improving in 2025.

TOP STORY

Ukraine and its allies held secret peace talks with Global South countries last month

Ukraine, its closest Western allies and a small group of Global South countries held secret peace talks in Saudi Arabia last month, according to a Bloomberg exclusive. Discussions focused on Ukraine’s views about possible talks to end the nearly two-year-old war.

The meeting in Riyadh was kept secret to allow as many countries as possible to attend without political blowback. Representatives from the G7 countries, Saudi Arabia, India, and Turkey showed up, whilst China, Brazil, and the UAE were absent despite being invited. Russia did not receive an invite. 

While the meeting didn’t result in a breakthrough, it signals an adjustment in how Ukraine and its backers are approaching the delicate question of ending the war. Perhaps that’s because things don’t look great for Ukraine right now:

  • Neither Ukraine nor Russia have made significant military advancements in the last year, and the frontline is unlikely to change much in coming months.

  • Kyiv’s allies are dragging their feet on providing more economic and military aid. President Zelensky returned from his US fundraising trip last month emptyhanded, and the EU is likely to miss its target of supplying Ukraine with one million artillery shells by March. 

  • Senior Israeli officials believe the Israeli-Hamas war could last for another year, continuing to divert attention and military support away from Ukraine’s cause. 

  • And elections in the US, the EU, and the UK in the next 12 months will cause further uncertainty about the medium-to-long-term picture for Ukraine.

Military analyst Jack Watling thinks the next few months could determine the future trajectory of the war: “The West, in fact, faces a crucial choice right now: support Ukraine so that its leaders can defend their territory and prepare for a 2025 offensive or cede an irrecoverable advantage to Russia.”

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

Last month’s meeting wasn’t the first time US and EU officials have spoken to their Ukrainian counterparts about what a peace deal might look like.

But this time, the broad invite list, along with reports that a group of more than 100 countries have been invited to meet next week in Davos, suggest that Ukraine is trying to establish the terms for an acceptable peace deal before the Kremlin has a chance to twist the narrative of its invasion.

If a peace deal is to be found - and it’s still a very big if - countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and India will be needed to convince Russia to accept a deal that is palatable to the Ukrainians. And on the other side, the US and other Ukrainian backers will be essential in persuading Ukraine that stopping the fighting might just be the lesser of two evils.

Also worth noting: 

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MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇵🇰 Pakistan: The country’s Supreme Court has ruled that people with criminal convictions can stand for election, clearing the way for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to run in the upcoming Pakistani elections. Sharif was removed as PM in 2017 and later convicted on corruption charges.

  2. 🇫🇷 France: Education Minister Gabriel Attal is the new French Prime Minister, and is the youngest and first openly gay person to hold the job. President Macron is hoping to revitalise his administration with a high-profile cabinet reshuffle.

  3. 🇲🇻 Maldives: President Mohamed Muizzu suspended three ministers after they made disparaging comments about Indian President Narendra Modi. The row has sparked calls to boycott Indian tourism to the Maldives, marking a new low in the bilateral relationship. 

  4. 🇨🇦 Canada: Canada’s anti-money laundering agency now relies on AI to detect suspicious transactions and fight financial crimes. Think tanks estimate between C$100B and C$130B is laundered in Canada annually.

  5. 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia: Germany will allow the sale of Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. Germany had initially opposed the sale on account of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, but “Saudi Arabia’s very constructive attitude toward Israel" in the current Gaza war changed Berlin’s stance.

EXTRA INTRIGUE

🏝️ What we’re reading about travelling in 2024: 

  • 52 Places to Go in 2024 (New York Times)

  • Inuvik festival: Celebrating the sun's return after 30 days of darkness (BBC)

  • Is the world ready for India’s middle class to travel? (McKinsey)

  • “Made in Dubai” is the next global brand (Skift)

  • The Biggest Travel Trends to Expect in 2024 (CN Traveler)

  • Where Did the Snow Go? (New York Times)

QUOTE OF THE DAY

South Korea’s lawmakers unanimously voted yesterday to make it illegal to breed, kill, sell, or distribute dogs for food. This change comes after years of pressure from inside and outside the country.

The consumption of dog meat in the country has been declining for years. According to a survey by Aware, an animal rights group in Seoul, 93% of adults in South Korea don't plan on eating dog meat in the future, and 82% support the ban.

Yesterday’s poll: Do you think landlocked nations should be granted sea access by their neighbours?

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ ⛔ No, tough luck (21%)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 💸 Yes, but only under strict (and possibly costly) conditions (40%)

🟨🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️ 🚢 Yes, trade is good for everyone (36%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (3%)

Your two cents:

  • ✍️ A.B: “For Strictly trade purposes. Yes for sure. Neighbours country can also benefit from it. (transportation network, tariff free trade and all the perks that come with it).”

  • 💸 V: “Port access fees. Selected port areas that are leased or partnered. Logistics costs borne by the partner nation.”

  • M.A: “There should be no such obligation; sovereignty is sovereignty.”

  • ✍️ L.S: “No worries! Rising sea levels should take care of the problem!”

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