Hello and welcome to a special edition of Axios World from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: May James/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images and Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images
"This has been a very upbeat Davos," David Miliband, chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, remarked today in an interview with Axios.
Behind the scenes: That was a frequent observation this week. With the trade war with China on hold and a hot war in the Middle East looking less likely, the wealthy and the powerful gathered at the World Economic Forum seemed to feel a weight off their shoulders.
They had reason to:
While the climate crisis was the main focus of the week — and scientists and political leaders did raise the alarm — corporations took the opportunity to one-up each other in their branding and pledges to do their part.
The flipside: Inside conference rooms, renowned experts expounded on vexing topics like artificial intelligence and global pandemics.
The bottom line: "The stock markets are up, and American businesspeople in particular think they're becoming great again," Miliband said.
The author (R) in his unnatural habitat. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images
Where economics collides with geopolitics, the emerging realities are far more concerning.
The big picture: "We live at a time when markets are global, capitalism is global, but its traditional partner — liberal democracy — is in retreat," said Miliband, who is also a former U.K. foreign secretary.
Why it matters: As the distribution of economic might shifts, so does political power. And the world's autocrats and strongmen currently appear far more confident than liberals in the West, Miliband points out.
At least in Davos, the autocrats are clearly part of the club.
Photo: Julia Reinhart/Getty Images
No story caused a bigger stir in Davos this week than the news that two suspected Russian spies had been caught in August posing as plumbers in the Alpine town.
Zoom in: One prominent attendee instantly suspected a personal connection.
Zoom out: Browder's Hermitage Capital was the largest foreign investment fund in Russia until 2005, when he was expelled from the country and Hermitage's offices were raided.
Driving the news: "The Russians are particularly mad at me right now," Browder told Axios, "because we’re on the verge of getting a European Magnitsky Act."
Between the lines: "Every time there’s something like this going on, the Russians always do something to me," Browder says. "In Canada, when they passed their Magnitsky Act, they put me on the Interpol list for like the sixth time."
Worth noting: Browder speculates that Russia may have been "planning an operation" against him, though nothing directly links the "plumbers" to him.
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Image
One of Davos’ most interesting twists came early in the week, with the news that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó was coming.
Why it matters: Guaidó defied a travel ban in visiting Europe and said his presence in Davos put members of the Venezuelan opposition in danger. He used the platform today to demand elections and call for more support from Europe.
Between the lines: Guiadó’s message is that the time for dialogue with Maduro is over, and the time for elections has arrived. But he’s also said there can be no free elections until Maduro steps down, meaning the logjam remains.
What to watch: Guaidó took a calculated risk in leaving Venezuela. The Maduro regime could jail him upon his return, but they've thus far been unwilling to test the red line the Trump administration drew around his security.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Contributor, Michael Kovac/Getty Contributor
Core to the Davos creed is that when business titans and world leaders meet, they can solve big challenges together.
The flipside: Sometimes the world leader hacks the business titan's phone instead (allegedly).
Why it matters: If this story proves true, the nominal leader of a U.S. ally spied on the head of one of America's largest companies, who doubles as the owner of one of America's most influential media outlets.
Major Chinese cities, including Beijing, have canceled large public celebrations of the Lunar New Year in an attempt to contain a deadly coronavirus outbreak.
The latest: There've been 18 deaths and at least 584 cases of 2019-nCoV, including one in the United States, writes Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly.
What to watch: Recent moves by China to suspend travel from certain cities could lead to citizen panic and distrust for their government officials, Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University told Eileen.
"How do you enforce a lockdown of a city the size of New York or London without a massive violation of human rights and provoking fear?" Gostin said.
A swarm of locusts in Kenya. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images
"It seemed Europe’s sleeper trains had reached their final destination. Until this week. After a 17-year hiatus, the Brussels to Vienna night train has resumed service."— The Telegraph on a romantic option now on offer for Europe's climate conscious: a sleeper train rather than a cheap flight.