🌍 Joe Biden makes surprise visit to Kyiv
Plus: Mexico nationalises its lithium
Hi there Intriguer. Being stuck in an airborne metal tube for hours can be tough. But imagine enduring a 16-hour flight only to end up exactly back where you started. That’s what happened after an outage at New York’s JFK airport forced an Air New Zealand flight to make one of the world’s all time great U-turns. Somebody get those Kiwis some moist refresher towels, stat.
Today’s edition is a 5.0 min read:
- 🇺🇦 Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine means different things in different capitals.
- 🇲🇽 Mexico’s lithium reserves are now under state control.
- ➕ Plus: Nigeria’s instability, how the papers are covering North Korea’s latest missile launch, and Brazil’s first minister of Indigenous peoples starts in the (rather tough) role.
PS: A warm welcome to the ~6,000 intriguing new folks who’ve joined us this month! If you like what you see, tell a friend or seventy, and help us reach our goal of 10,000 new subscribers by the end of February. Need a li’l motivation? We’ll be giving away an iPad to the Intriguer who helps the most. So don’t stop now! Scroll to the end for more info 👇
– VC & EP
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇦🇫 Afghanistan: The Taliban will convert former American military bases into special economic zones for foreign business. Hoping to steer the country out of its economic crisis, the Taliban also signed a 25-year oil exploration deal with China last month.
- 🇵🇹 Portugal: Portugal will cancel its ‘golden visa’ program, launched in 2012 to expedite residency applications for wealthy foreign investors. While it’s drawn billions of dollars in investment and revenue, critics say it’s also driving the country’s cost-of-living crisis.
- 🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea (PNG): An armed group is demanding a $1M ransom for the release of several hostages, including an archaeologist from Australia. Modern weapons have exacerbated tensions in PNG’s volatile (and resource-rich) highlands region.
- 🇵🇾 Paraguay: During a visit to Taiwan, President Abdo has vowed Paraguay won’t end its 65-years of diplomatic relations with Taipei. But one of Paraguay’s top presidential candidates, Efrain Alegre, says he’ll switch recognition to Beijing if he’s elected in April.
- 🇸🇾 Syria: Syrian officials have accused Israel of launching a missile attack in Damascus that killed five people on Sunday (19 January). Israel has consistently targeted the network of Iranian-backed militias and arms traders it accuses of operating inside Syria.
🇺🇦 UKRAINE | DIPLOMACY
“One year later, Kyiv stands.”
Briefly: US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Monday (20 February) where he met President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top Ukrainian officials. He spent some five hours in the capital before returning to Poland via a 10-hour train ride.
Biden’s visit was more symbolic than substantive, coming just days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion on 24 February. While his visit wasn’t the first by a Western leader (e.g., France, Germany, Canada, Australia and the UK all visited last year), it’s the most significant: the US has committed more aid to Ukraine than any other country.
But Biden’s onward itinerary may be just as important as the brief Kyiv visit itself: he’ll meet Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw today, as well as leaders from other Eastern European allies. And he’ll deliver a highly-anticipated speech on NATO unity.
Intrigue’s take: An historic visit like this sends a clear message to several audiences at once: US support for Ukraine won’t waver. And that message means different things in different capitals:
- in Kyiv, it means keep fighting
- in Moscow, it means find yourself an exit
- in Beijing, it means don’t get involved
- in Western capitals, it means stick together
- and in Washington, it means stay the course.
Also worth noting:
- Biden agreed to release an additional $500M of lethal aid, but stopped short of promising any new weapons systems.
- The visit surprised almost everyone: Russia got a heads-up from Washington just a few hours beforehand.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin will also deliver a major speech today, a year after unilaterally recognising the independence of two breakaway Ukrainian regions.
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: North Korea’s new ballistic missile launch.
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🇲🇽 MEXICO | METALS
AMLO charges ahead with nationalisation of Mexico’s lithium
Briefly: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (often known by his initials, AMLO) signed a decree on Saturday, officially handing responsibility for Mexico’s vast lithium reserves to the country’s energy ministry. This move effectively kicks off the lithium nationalisation process that AMLO announced last year.
A Li-ttle context: Lithium is a core battery input that’s key to the energy transition, so it’s charged with geopolitics. And Mexico is sitting on $600B of the stuff, so foreign companies have flocked to Mexico like finance bros to a Patagonia vest. But AMLO’s policy means all foreign mining concessions will now be placed “under review”. And this has foreign mining executives sweating like… finance bros overheating in a Patagonia vest.
Intrigue’s take: AMLO, who rarely leaves Mexico, clearly has his eye on domestic politics here. But that doesn’t mean he’s ignoring the geopolitical angle. He said Mexico must “nationalise lithium so that it cannot be exploited by foreigners from Russia, China or the United States”. So this particular nationalisation is ‘non-aligned’. But if Mexico’s struggling oil sector is any guide, it’s hard to see its lithium sector thriving without foreign partners.
Also worth noting:
- The majority of Mexico’s lithium reserves are held in clay soils, but companies have yet to devise a commercially viable process to extract the precious metal from the clay.
- Between January 2021 and January 2023 the price of lithium carbonate traded in China (the world’s #1 lithium buyer) rose by more than 1000%.
📊 CHART OF THE DAY
More money, more or less the same problems…
Nigeria’s security budget has nearly tripled between 2015 and 2023 as the country seeks to address persistent terrorist threats and violent crime. According to a Statista survey conducted last month, 62% of Nigerians fear being attacked.
Some progress has been made: the government has managed to wrestle large swathes of North-eastern Nigeria back from Boko Haram insurgents. But it’s still a grim outlook.
Today, Nigerians are also bracing for possible electoral violence, ahead of a tight race for the presidency this Saturday (25 February).
👀 EXTRA INTRIGUE
We’re very online, so you don’t have to be.
🗳️ POLL TIME!
Were you expecting US President Joe Biden to visit Kyiv to mark the war’s one year anniversary?
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Friday’s poll: Can a change in leadership help the Wold Bank address (some of) its problems?
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 ❌ No, the problems are structural, not cosmetic. (64%)
🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🤔 Yes, a new perspective will undoubtedly help. (36%)
Your two cents:
- ❌ A.W: “Having worked for the [World Bank Group], I can attest that they are simply not able to adjust to the new reality. For example, the internal processes/procedures mean [renewable energy] projects take 18+ months to process. Those in developing countries simply can’t wait that long for energy and neither can the planet”
- 🤔 C: “It is always good to bring someone in with a fresh perspective. Breathing new life in any area is a good thing. Sometimes the status quo needs to be shaken up.”