Burkina Faso: Al-Qaeda affiliated militants carried out parallel attacks in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on Friday, March 2nd. They targeted the army’s headquarters and the French embassy, killing at least eight people. This attack is the most recent instance of unrest that has troubled the Sahel region of Central and West Africa in recent years. In response to increasing numbers of al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked rebels in the region, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania formed the G5 Sahel Force in 2017. The anti-terrorist force, which is comprised of 5,000 soldiers, is led strategically by France and backed financially by the U.S. Militants have now attacked Ouagadougou three times in the past two years, leaving over 50 dead. They claim the attacks are in retaliation to the Western-led fight against their groups in the Sahel, which has been spearheaded by France since its 2013 intervention to stop jihadists from taking control of neighboring Mali.
European Union: On March 2nd, 2018, President Trump announced a plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The announcement has been met with concern from several fronts, including the President’s own party. On March 6th, the European Commission presented member states of the European Union with a list of American products that could be subject to retaliatory tariffs, should the proposed American tariffs be implemented. The EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, stressed that any tariffs would be designed as a retaliation and not an escalation. It was also stressed that any retaliation would be in accordance with WTO rules, and that discussions were underway for challenging the issue with the WTO’s arbitration proceedings.
Italy: On March 6th, Italy held its parliamentary elections. The three main factions failed to secure enough seats to govern alone, and will need to form a coalition in both houses of Parliament that includes at least one of the two dominant factions which have split the country. The results indicate a sharp divide between northern and southern Italian voters. The two factions are the Five Star Movement, focusing on anti-establishment policies such as basic income for anyone below the poverty line, and the League, focusing on anti-EU and anti-immigration policies. The current Prime Minister, whose party will now likely be among the opposition parties, will continue to hold office until the new Prime Minister is appointed. For the moment, the different factions will begin negotiations to form the government. The parliament is scheduled to reconvene on March 23rd, where the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, will oversee the appointing of the new Prime Minister If no consensus can be found to form the new government, the President could call for another election.
Russia: On March 1st, President Putin spoke to a joint session of the Russian Federal Assembly on a variety of issues. Among other topics, President Putin spoke about new strategic weapons being developed to counter US ballistic missile defenses. The new weapons are claimed to be a direct response to the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and continued development of missile defense systems. However, the new weapons – which include a missile drone that would run on a miniaturized nuclear reactor and have virtually unlimited range – could have a more domestic purpose. Presidential elections in Russia are scheduled to take place on March 18th, with eight candidates running for office. Putin’s speech was largely comprised of domestic issues, and the new weapons serve to demonstrate to the voting population that Russia has reclaimed its greatness on the world stage to the voting population and hopefully boost voter turnout.
Venezuela: Last week, in an effort to solve the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro introduced the petro, a cryptocurrency tied to the price of oil, which accounts for 95 percent of the country’s exports and a quarter of its GDP. On March 6th, Venezuelan opposition lawmakers declared they believe that the new cryptocurrency is unconstitutional. Venezuela has experienced severe economic downturn and political turmoil since global oil prices plummeted in 2014. Its economy has shrunk by 30 percent, causing a humanitarian crisis due to food and medicine imports becoming too expensive. Maduro hopes the petro will help his government raise much-needed hard cash. However, U.S. lawmakers say that the move is designed to evade U.S. sanctions.
In 2017, in response to the regime’s use of violent tactics against protestors and extensive legislative corruption, the Trump administration sanctioned dozens of Venezuelan officials, including Maduro, and barred U.S. firms from buying new Venezuelan debt. U.S. officials believe the petro is merely a way for Venezuela to find new creditors. Maduro claims the petro raised over $735 million USD in pre-sale, but critics say it won’t attract significant investment, citing the fact that the government has yet to establish for what it can actually be exchanged. Opposition lawmakers do not currently hold sway in Venezuelan politics, but they worry that the petro is a fraudulent endeavor that will exacerbate the current crisis.