Happy Thursday World readers and welcome aboard for our lucky 188th edition. It's a jam-packed 1,735 words (6.5 minutes).
For your radar:
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Vladimir Putin has gone to extreme lengths to control the flow of information in Russia, but there’s one step he hasn’t dared take: shutting down YouTube.
Why it matters: One of Putin’s first initiatives upon taking office 20 years ago was to bring Russia’s independent TV networks under his control. But YouTube has replaced TV in the news and entertainment diets of Russians under 30, and it's become the go-to platform for Putin’s critics, Russian journalist Andrey Loshak tells Axios.
The big picture: Loshak has explored Putin’s attempt to bring Russia’s once free-wheeling internet under his control in the award-winning Current Time documentary, “InterNYET: A History of the Russian Internet."
Flashback: Putin convened a meeting on the internet as prime minister in 1999, Loshak says. He had one question: “Can it be controlled?”
Driving the news: A new law gives the Kremlin the power to sever Russia's connection to the world wide web under "emergency" circumstances.
Putin has taken intermediary steps to tame Russia’s internet.
But the government has turned the screws on Russia's domestic internet giants.
Which brings us back to YouTube — where Russia’s most visible opposition figures, including Alexei Navalny, can be heard. Why doesn’t Putin simply ban it?
What to watch: “He’s dreaming about how to destroy it, but it’s dangerous," says Loshak.
Some of the Internet Research Agency's handiwork. Illustration: Axios Visuals
Sergey Pavlovich Polozov says he was so surprised to find his name included in special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments that he told himself it couldn’t be him — until he saw a more detailed document that included his date of birth.
Why it matters: Mueller’s indictment accused Polozov of providing “material and technological support” to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the St. Petersburg-based “troll factory” on the front lines of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
In an interview for Loshak's documentary, shared exclusively with Axios, Polozov scoffs at the idea that he and the other 12 Russians indicted could have influenced American voters.
Polozov essentially admits to one of the accusations against him — that, in Mueller's words, he “oversaw the procurement” of proxy servers that “masked the firm’s location when conducting operations within the United States.”
He compares his work for the IRA to that of an SEO consultant and says “blaming me is the same as blaming Zuckerberg for creating Facebook.”
The state of play: Polozov says he’s surviving just fine under indictment, but won’t travel abroad for fear of extradition to the U.S. Fortunately, he says, Russia is "such a big country."
We've seen the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths from the coronavirus in China jump significantly over the past few days.
Fleeing Idlib. Photo: Rami Al Sayed/AFP via Getty Images
Bashar al-Assad’s Russia-backed offensive on Syria's northwestern enclave of Idlib — home to the last rebel-held areas — has forced some 150,000 civilians to flee over the past two weeks and led to direct clashes with Turkey.
Why it matters: David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, pointed out in a recent Axios interview that the future of Idlib is being decided by an “arm wrestle between the Russians and the Turks” with “no U.S. engagement” and massive humanitarian consequences.
What to watch: In northeast Syria, meanwhile, there have been a series of “potentially dangerous standoffs” between Russian contractors and U.S. troops, per WSJ. U.S. envoy James Jeffrey says Russia is attempting to “challenge our presence in the northeast.”
1. Sinn Féin, a left-wing nationalist party historically associated with the IRA, has taken a surprising polling lead ahead of Saturday's general election in Ireland.
2. The premier of the German state of Thuringia has stepped down after just one day. To win, Thomas Kemmerich formed an alliance in the state parliament that included the far-right AfD.
3. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived in Washington, ahead of a visit today with President Trump, with a message: The U.S. and China should not see Africa as a battlefield to be conquered, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh writes.
Reality check: China already dominates trade with Africa.
Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary rest in the hills of Tipperary, 1921. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Ireland’s election campaign has overlapped not only with the U.K.’s formal exit from the EU — further dividing the Irish Republic from Northern Ireland — but with rolling celebrations of the centenary of Irish independence.
Driving the news: Plans to honor fallen Royal Irish Constabulary members who stood with the British against groups like the IRA had to be scrapped after a public outcry, per the NY Times.
“A lot of what has happened in the last three years has brought out militancy in people who thought they were quite moderate nationalists. Three years of listening to the debate about the border, and to British ignorance about Ireland, have allowed a reflex anti-British sentiment to come to the fore.”— Diarmaid Ferriter, University College Dublin
Zoom out: Around the world, current political circumstances are bringing nationalist sentiments that had been buried into the open.
In India, where politics is now dominated by the Hindu nationalist BJP, the man who killed Mahatma Gandhi has been honored in an increasingly public fashion.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro defends the country’s brutal military dictatorship.
Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed at the White House in May. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Axios contributor Barak Ravid has broken story after story about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to unlock warmer relations in the Arab world.
1. The White House hosted a secret trilateral meeting in December between the U.S., Israel and the UAE on coordination against Iran.
2. Israel and the U.S. have been discussing a deal that would see the U.S. recognize Moroccan sovereignty in the occupied Western Sahara and Morocco take steps to normalize relations with Israel.
3. Netanyahu met in Uganda with the leader of Sudan's governing council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and discussed the possibility of normalizing relations.
Adam Entous and Evan Osnos have a piece in the New Yorker this week that's worthy of that formidable joint byline.
The Feast of Sant'Agata in Catania, Sicily. Photo: Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images
“We have perhaps the best relationship we have ever had with China, especially with President Xi.”— Trump in his State of the Union
“The Chinese Communist Party presents the central threat of our time."— Mike Pompeo
h/t Josh Rogin