Welcome to Axios World. It's our 43rd edition, and the last before I hand the keys to my brilliant colleague Shane Savitsky for two weeks and jet off on vacation.
I'll be reading along with all of you from France. Send tips and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and as always tell your friends and colleagues to sign up here.
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov in London. Photo: Scotland Yard via Getty Images
An international incident that resulted in one of the largest diplomatic expulsions in history began with a perfume bottle.
The latest: The leaders of the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Canada declared in a joint statement today that Russian military intelligence officers used a banned chemical weapon in an assassination attempt on British soil. "This operation," they added, "was almost certainly approved at a senior government level." Now, after a painstaking 6-month investigation, we know how it happened.
According to British authorities...
All along their journey — in train stations, outside shops and steps from the Skripals’ home — the agents were captured on CCTV.
Ellen Barry writes in the NYT...
What’s next: The Trump administration formally accused Russia of illegally using chemical weapons last month, triggering automatic sanctions and starting the clock on a 3-month period to decide from a menu of further punishments, some of which — like cutting off nearly all trade — are quite severe.
A Syrian rebel fighter in the Idlib province. Photo: Aaref Watad/AFP/Getty Images
With Syria's army preparing for a major offensive in Idlib province, the country's last opposition stronghold, the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey will gather in Tehran on Friday to discuss a path toward ending the 7-year civil war, Axios' Haley Britzky writes.
The big picture: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to strike a decisive blow in Idlib, but the three leaders meeting on Friday have clashing concerns and objectives. Meanwhile, the estimated 3 million civilians currently in the northwestern province — many of whom have already been displaced by the conflict — are in a precarious position.
"If major operations take place, we can expect a humanitarian catastrophe, and we would all want to see that be avoided.”— Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford
We've seen crises like this before, in eastern Ghouta and Aleppo. But what makes this different is that the people in Idlib have nowhere else to go. With the pro-regime coalition pushing on one side and Turkey saying it won't take in more refugees on the other, civilians in the area would be trapped.
The bottom line: Kozak believes that unless the Assad regime deploys chemical weapons in Idlib, the U.S. ultimately won't get involved.
Before meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Southern spy "Black Venus" was told to stay up late, shower, and dress neatly. He also hid a micro recorder in his penis.
Bolsonaro after being stabbed. Photo: Raysa Leite/AFP/Getty Images
Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right front-runner in Brazil's presidential race, was stabbed in the abdomen while campaigning today. He is receiving treatment.
Known for his nationalistic politics and history of offensive comments, Bolsonaro leads the polls now that former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is in jail on corruption charges, has been ruled ineligible.
The bigger picture: Michael McCarthy of American University writes for Axios Expert Voices that the race remains wide open, leaving the future of the world’s fifth-most populous country and eighth-largest economy mired in uncertainty:
Trump and Modi at ASEAN, Nov. 2017. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty
The U.S. and India agreed today to open a secure military communications hotline, a move that could allow the U.S. to sell India sensitive defense technology. The news comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis head to New Delhi for high-level talks.
The bigger picture: Gabe Lipton of GZERO Media writes in the latest Signal newsletter that in the most important geopolitical region in the world, the Asia Pacific, the Trump administration has its bets placed squarely on India.
On many fronts — particularly arms sales, where India went from importing zero U.S.-made equipment in 2008 to around $15 billion in the decade since — relations are on an upward trajectory.
But there remain points of friction, primarily on economic issues, that could ultimately limit the deeper cooperation envisioned in Washington.
Even if they can get along, there’s a broader question: Could India ever provide the U.S. the reliable foothold it wants in Asia? Here, the U.S. faces two problems.
Prizren, Kosovo. Photo: Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images
Kosovo and Serbia are attempting to end a decade-long stalemate with a deal that could mean redrawing their borders. Ryan Scherba of Balkan Insider emails with what you need to know ahead of talks tomorrow between the presidents of the neighboring countries:
Why it matters: Any redrawing of borders along ethnic lines in the region would call into question the borders of other countries in the region, most notably Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata, director of strategic planning at the National Counterterrorism Center, made the case yesterday at a conference hosted by the Institute for the Study of War that the U.S. approach to terrorism is "far too risk-averse."
Some of his key points...
The bottom line: “We have to be willing to try things we’ve never tried before, understanding that most of it won’t work.”
What remains of Brazil's national museum. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images
"Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media ... will be considered a cyber crime punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison and a fine of 3 million riyals."— Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor
Thanks for reading — Shane will see you Monday evening, and I'll be back in a couple weeks!