Morning Brief

U.S. Announces New Sanctions on Venezuela

The United States is again punishing Maduro’s regime, arguing it moved to take over the legislature.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido raises his fist after a rally in Caracas on Jan. 11.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido raises his fist after a rally in Caracas on Jan. 11. YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States issues sanctions against seven Venezuelan politicians, protests continue after the plane disaster in Iran, Russian spies hack the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, and Haiti’s president threatens to rule by decree.

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New U.S. Sanctions Hit Maduro Regime

The United States imposed new sanctions against seven Venezuelan politicians, including Luis Parra, on Monday. The move comes a week after the military blocked opposition leader Juan Guaidó from entering the National Assembly building—just long enough for Parra, an ally of President Nicolás Maduro’s regime, to be declared the new head of congress. (Guaidó was reelected in a separate session held by opposition lawmakers.)

On Monday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin characterized the incident as taking place “at the bidding of Maduro.” The sanctions, the latest U.S. action to target the Maduro regime, will freeze any assets held by the seven lawmakers in the United States and prevent them from engaging in business with U.S companies. The move comes a year after the United States recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Slipping support? Last week’s leadership crisis was seen by many as a blow to the opposition. While Guaidó was reelected by his peers and managed to enter the National Assembly on the first day of the new session, he’s likely to hold future sessions elsewhere. Meanwhile, the size of his rallies have dwindled since early 2019. On Saturday, Guaidó called for more protests against the Maduro regime in front of a crowd of just a few hundred people in Caracas.

Beyond the capital. Still, the Maduro regime’s grip does not extend far outside Caracas, the New York Times reports. The economy suffers under bad management and U.S. sanctions. While the president uses his power to keep resources flowing in the capital, basic services in the countryside are nearly non-existent. Now, people are turning to gangs, paramilitaries, or Colombian guerrillas for protection and aid.

What We’re Following Today

Iran faces further fallout over Tehran plane crash. Protests are ongoing in Iran, where demonstrators have pushed back against the government since it admitted the military mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane in Tehran last week, killing all 176 people on board. Though it is difficult to know the scale of the protests, images online showed crowds of possibly hundreds in Tehran and in the southern city of Isfahan. In videos from the previous days, gunshots could be heard—raising fears that the regime has begun to crack down on the unrest. (Iran’s police have denied using live rounds.)

Meanwhile, officials from the five countries with citizens onboard the plane—including Canada, which had at least 57 citizens on the flight—will meet later this week in London to consider possible legal action. Canadian officials have been invited to help analyze the flight data recorders from the plane and Canadian experts will be allowed to see the wreckage and the crash site. The analysis of the black boxes could take place in Ukraine.

Russian hack of Ukrainian gas company at center of impeachment probe. A California-based cybersecurity firm, Area 1 Security, claims that Russian spies from Moscow’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, hacked Burisma—the Ukrainian gas company at the center of the debate over President Donald Trump’s impeachment. Last year, according to various witnesses, Trump pressured Ukrainian leaders to investigate Burisma and its ties to Hunter Biden, the son of the former U.S. vice president, Joe Biden. According to Area 1, the GRU targeted Burisma employees with a so-called phishing attack in order to gain access to their accounts and company data.

Haitian president could soon rule by decree. Facing political deadlock, Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse said Monday that he may rule by decree later this week. Analysts say the move would undermine the legitimacy of the country’s democracy. Moïse claims the mandates of senior lawmakers have expired after Haiti failed to hold elections in October. (His opponents blame him for seeking to reshape the electoral law.) Haiti has faced months of street protests demanding Moïse’s resignation over poverty and corruption. The president is almost three years into a five-year term.

Fires still burning in Australia. Though forecasts call for rain on Australia’s east coast later this week, the danger of the bush fire season is nowhere near over. On Monday, at least 180 fires were still burning and Melbourne was blanketed in smoke, sending air quality to dangerous levels. Climate experts have warned that the devastating fire conditions could become the norm in Australia—forcing the government to reconsider its policies. Facing criticism, conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison has suggested that his government would revisit its targets to cut carbon emissions.

Keep an Eye On

Another U.S. Democratic debate. Six U.S. Democratic presidential candidates qualified to take the stage later today in Iowa. With most of the original contenders dropping out—including Sen. Cory Booker on Monday—the field has narrowed considerably. Ahead of the debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders clashed over Warren’s statement that Sanders told her in 2018 that a woman couldn’t defeat U.S. President Donald Trump.

Catalan separatists in the EU Parliament. Two Catalan separatist leaders began their terms as lawmakers in the European Parliament on Monday, promising to put their secessionist cause on the agenda. Spain has called for the arrest of Carles Puigdemont and Antoni Comin, who live in self-imposed exile Belgium. The pair were elected in May but at first prevented from taking their oaths.

Afghan refugees in Iran. Iran is forcibly deporting tens of thousands of Afghan refugees, including many who have lived in Iran for decades. Returning to the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan puts the deportees at significant risk, leading many to make attempt to cross back over the border and into Iran, Ruchi Kumar and Hikmat Noori report for FP.

Foreign Policy Recommends

The Afghanistan Papers published by the Washington Post last month provide an insider’s view of the failures of U.S. strategy in the war in Afghanistan. Kelly McHugh-Stewart was a teenager when her father, U.S. Army Col. John M. McHugh, was killed while on duty in Afghanistan. She spent years trying to understand the war, only to find an unexpected comfort in the revelation that even the most senior U.S. policymakers didn’t fully grasp what they were doing, as she writes candidly this week in the Washington Post. –Amy Mackinnon

Odds and Ends

The Korean film Parasite made history on Monday, becoming the first Korean production nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. (It’s also the first to compete in the international feature category.) Directed by Bong Joon Ho, the movie is a class satire that has performed unusually well at the U.S. box office for a foreign language film. Parasite has been nominated for six Oscars in total. No foreign language film has ever won best picture.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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