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.
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Among President Trump’s Twitter bombshells, it ranks among the biggest, if not the most surprising: Defense Secretary James Mattis is leaving at the end of February.
Backdrop: Trump framed the news as a retirement. Mattis made emphatically clear it was a resignation. It comes during a week that revealed that what Trump’s top national security officials say — to him, and to the world — doesn’t necessarily matter.
From his resignation letter …
Mattis was a reassuring presence for allies trying to make sense of Trump’s erratic foreign policy, and he was considered to be a brake on some of the president’s impulses. But his influence with Trump had reportedly been waning for months.
Early on in the Trump presidency, diplomats from Europe and other allied countries would quietly say that Trump’s fiery rhetoric didn’t always matter because his national security team — Mattis, Tillerson, McMaster — would talk him out of it. That sense faded over time. So did the officials.
The bottom line: What we saw this week on Syria may be a sign of what’s to come from Trump’s foreign policy. No interagency processes, no consultation with the key players. Just Trump’s instincts, and his twitter feed.
From the Axios Expert Voices network ...
"Can't do it, Vlad." Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images
More than three months ago, Vladimir Putin's national security adviser Nikolai Patrushev gave his Israeli counterpart a document. Axios contributor Barak Ravid has the scoop on what it said, citing two Israeli officials with direct knowledge:
"They asked us to open the gates for them in Washington."— Israeli official
Netanyahu rejected the proposal because he thought the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran could be used as leverage on the Iranians over Syria, according to the Israeli officials.
Go deeper: Read the full report
A Ukranian serviceman stands on the deck of the command ship Donbass docked in the Azov Sea port of Mariupol Photo: Gleb Garanich/AFP/Getty Images
Vladimir Putin declared today that the crisis in relations with Ukraine will continue "as long as Russophobes remain in the corridors of power in Kiev.” Meanwhile, in Kiev, a brawl broke out in parliament over a poster accusing a Ukrainian politician of serving as “Putin's agent.”
The big picture: Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are still simmering 25 days after Russia intercepted, fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off of Crimea, taking 24 sailors prisoner in the process. Both sides continue to accuse the other of provocations that could lead to war.
Putin insisted that Russia will hold the sailors until they face trial. In Ukraine, a top national security official said Kiev has “no choice” but to send warships into the Sea of Azov — a move that could spark another confrontation.
Go deeper: Watch for this full report — cut short here because of the Mattis news — in the Axios stream tomorrow morning.
Erdogan supporters hang an effigy of Fethullah Gulen in the wake of the failed coup. Photo: Kursat Bayhan/Getty Images
Press secretary Sarah Sanders said this week that President Trump has told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he'll "take a look at" extraditing Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen — the man Erdogan claims organized a coup attempt against him in 2016. Gulen has lived in the U.S. for two decades.
I spoke with Soner Cagaptay, a fellow at the Washington Institute and author of "The New Sultan," who says it's unlikely Trump would be able to extradite Gulen without a court decision.
Zoom out: Cagaptay says Gulen is more than just Erdogan's enemy — his network once had millions of followers. Cagaptay says there is now a widespread consensus against Gulen in Turkey: "Half of the country that loves Erdogan thinks Gulen tried to kill him, and the other half of the country that hates Erdogan hates Gulen" for empowering him earlier in his political career.
President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci (C) at a state ceremony after parliament passed a law creating a 5,000-strong standing army. Photo: Erkin Keci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Kosovo voted last Friday to create a standing army. The move comes a decade after independence from Serbia, which was enraged by the move and went so far as to threaten military intervention.
Kosovo's vote has divided the international community, writes Ryan Scherba of Balkan Insider:
Between the lines: The increase in the capacities of the KSF has been fraught with controversy. Some states, like Russia and Serbia, contend that it violates international law, while the U.S. and many EU countries consider it a sovereign right for Kosovo. Some of the hesitation from the international community is because Kosovo is bypassing a change to its constitution, which would be blocked by Kosovo Serb representatives.
What to watch: President Trump penned a letter to Kosovo's president urging him to agree to a comprehensive solution with his Serbian counterpart — and to sign it at the White House.
Much has been written in recent weeks about the death of the U.S.-led world order. But at an event on multilateralism at the French Embassy on Tuesday evening, French Ambassador Gérard Araud made an interesting case:
His bottom line: “In a paradoxical way, we are back to power politics,” with the big countries throwing their weight around. But this time, we lack the “unsaid rules of what you can do and cannot do,” and the red lines countries know not to cross. The question: Can the U.S., China and Russia ever agree on the rules of the game?
Kashmiri Muslims pray before a cleric displaying a holy relic believed to be of a Sufi saint outside the Dastgeer Sahib shrine in Srinagar, Indian Administered Kashmir. Photo: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images
“People don’t want to acknowledge [Trump's] victory — isn’t that disrespect for the voters? Or in Britain, Brexit passed and no one wants to implement it. They’re not accepting the results of elections. Democratic procedures are being weakened, they’re being destroyed.”— Vladimir Putin, champion of democratic values
Thanks for reading — I’ll see you in a week!