Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.
Oleg Deripaska (R) with Vladimir Putin at the 2014 APEC summit in China. Photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Russia watchers tend to believe it will be Russia’s elites, and not its people, who eventually remove Vladimir Putin from power.
The big picture: The U.S. and Europe know Putin is not going to change his stripes. They’ve been deploying sanctions in an effort to increase the pressure on him, in part by deepening fissures within Russia’s power structure.
Zoom out: Nigel Gould-Davies of Chatham House said today at a Wilson Center event that Russia’s elites are in an “unprecedentedly uncomfortable position” as access to the Western institutions they rely on to secure their wealth is severed.
Between the lines: That’s not to say sanctions will tip the scales, says Alina Polyakova of Brookings: “The political will isn’t there to push as hard as they’d have to to convince the oligarchs Putin can’t guarantee the security of their assets.”
Zoom in: That brings us to Deripaska. He’s among the most powerful oligarchs in Russia and was one of a number of influential Russians sanctioned last year due to ties to Putin.
Western business interests aren't the only factors blunting the force of sanctions. At the Wilson Center event, Daniel Ahn, former chief economist at the State Department, presented findings that show the Kremlin is bailing out firms hit by sanctions to the tune of “$13 billion and growing.”
The bottom line: While the West may not be able to destabilize Putin through sanctions, “we know we can weaken him,” says Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council.
Trump and Putin at the G20. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Image
As expected, the Trump administration announced it is pulling out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. And as expected, Vladimir Putin followed suit.
What’s next: The treaty includes a six-month window before withdrawal is finalized, but U.S. officials don't expect Russia to return to compliance.
"Let's be clear: If there is an arms race, it’s Russia that started it.”— Senior U.S. official to reporters
What to watch: “Attention will now turn to the remaining U.S.–Russian nuclear arms control agreement: the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” Steven Pifer of Stanford writes for Axios Expert Voices. “New START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] expires by its terms in two years but can be extended by up to five years.”
Laurel Miller, a former State Department official responsible for Afghanistan and Pakistan now at International Crisis Group, explains the divided response to reports of a breakthrough in U.S.-Taliban talks for Axios Expert Voices:
Background: "Divergent views on whether to negotiate have long stymied Afghanistan peace efforts. The U.S. has vacillated on talking to the Taliban, usually trying to gain a battlefield advantage beforehand. The Trump administration has run through this cycle, first increasing troops and bombing to gain a military upper hand, then last fall opting to prioritize diplomacy instead."
What’s next: "The U.S. reportedly floated a troop drawdown timeline and the Taliban a pledge to prevent terrorists from using Afghan territory. However, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, including a ceasefire and Taliban commitments to negotiate with the Afghan government over the country’s political future. For the Taliban, those are tough lines to cross."
A rally in support of Guaidó in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Europa Press News/Europa Press via Getty Images
Thirteen European countries today recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president — though opposition from Italy helped prevent a unified front in the EU, the Washington Post reports.
What to watch: The world is waiting to see whether the Venezuelan military will abandon Maduro, but for now “politicians are still writing the storyline,” American University’s Michael McCarthy writes for Axios Expert Voices:
On Sunday, Nayib Bukele, the 37-year-old former mayor of San Salvador, won a first-round victory in El Salvador's presidential election, handily vanquishing candidates from the country's two major parties, Daniel Erikson of the Penn Biden Center writes for Axios Expert Voices:
Why it matters: "El Salvador is a longtime ally and free-trade partner of the U.S., but recent relations have been tense owing to the outgoing government's close ties with Venezuela and its decision last August to drop diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of China."
Bukele campaigned on an anti-corruption, anti-establishment platform. It's easy to see why.
One of the key global trends we're tracking is urbanization, particularly in the developing world. Axios' Erica Pandey took a fascinating look at what it means for workers:
Background: During the industrial revolution, hundreds of U.S. and European cities turned themselves into prosperous manufacturing towns. After World War II, Japan used the same export-led growth strategy to rebuild itself. More recently, China did the same and lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
By the numbers: The world's fastest-growing cities are stretched too thin to serve their gargantuan populations. The crisis will only deepen as they grow, says Anjali Mahendra, co-author of a new report from the World Resources Institute.
The bottom line: "There’s still a lingering belief that the next success story will be an exporter," says Karen Harris, managing director of Bain Macro Trends. But in many of the world's poorest, biggest metro centers, "you've created a labor force without anything to apply it to."
Go deeper: Read Erica's full piece.
Pope Francis arrives today in the UAE. Photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images
"... because I want to be able to watch Iran."— Trump to CBS' Margaret Brennan on why he wants to keep troops in Iraq
"Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues. The U.S. is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities, we live here. ... It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran."— Iraqi President Barham Salih on Monday, in response:
Thanks for reading — see you Thursday evening!