Blinken and Austin Meet Zelensky; Macron Wins Second Term


Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election, U.S. Secretaries of State Antony Blinken and Defense Lloyd Austin visit Ukraine’s capital, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Blinken and Austin Visit Kyiv

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election, U.S. Secretaries of State Antony Blinken and Defense Lloyd Austin visit Ukraine’s capital, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Blinken and Austin Visit Kyiv

U.S. Secretaries of State Antony Blinken and Defense Lloyd Austin made a swift trip to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Sunday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a show of support for the embattled leader.

The two men are the highest-level U.S. officials to meet with Zelensky since the war began with Russia’s invasion 61 days ago.

As Zelensky had requested when he announced the visit on Saturday, Blinken and Austin came bearing gifts: $322 million in new military financing and $165 million in new ammunition. Those announcements bring total U.S. military assistance to Ukraine to $3.7 billion since the war began.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to request even more Ukraine funding from Congress in the coming days, after he warned last week that the initial allocation is already running low. As Politico reports, the new funds could get embroiled in Washington politics, with Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer ready to bundle any request along with still-blocked COVID-19 funding to force a concession from Republicans.

U.S. weapons could flow to Ukraine with even less friction if Congress passes a bill to reboot the World War II-era Lend-Lease program. The Senate approved the bill before the two-week recess, and the House of Representatives is set to take it up this week now that Congress is back in session. As well as providing Ukraine with easier access to U.S. weaponry, the bill’s text includes “governments of Eastern European countries” also impacted by the invasion as potential recipients.

Blinken and Austin did not just promise weapons, however. The U.S. diplomatic presence in Ukraine will also be upgraded, with diplomats set to inch back into the country from Poland to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Unlike other Western powers, France and the European Union among them, the United States is still not ready to reopen its Kyiv Embassy.

By the time it does open, a new ambassador could be in place. Bridget Brink, a career foreign service officer and currently the ambassador to Slovakia, has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, a position left vacant since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled from the post by then-U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019. Brink must first get through the Senate confirmation process.

The World This Week

Monday, April 25: Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos França hosts his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Brasília, Brazil. Cavusoglu also visits Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela on his weeklong travel.

Karen Donfried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, commences a weeklong tour of the Balkans, beginning with Kosovo today.

Tuesday, April 26: Russian President Vladimir Putin holds talks with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in Moscow.

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, pays a two-day visit to the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine.

Wednesday, April 27: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosts Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed in Moscow.

France’s constitutional council formally declares the winner of Sunday’s presidential election.

Thursday, April 28: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits Japan for talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Zelensky hosts Guterres in Kyiv.

A presidential election runoff takes place in the self-declared republic of South Ossetia.

Sunday, May 1: New Zealand opens its border to vaccinated travelers from visa-waiver countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.

What We’re Following Today

Macron wins second term. French President Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen in Sunday’s presidential election runoff. Macron won approximately 58.5 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 41.5 percent; the result was a repeat of 2017’s contest, albeit with a reduced margin of victory and the strongest showing for a far-right leader in French history.

Voter turnout, estimated at 72 percent, is the lowest for a French presidential runoff in half a century and is down 2.5 percentage points from 2017. In addition to the 28 percent of registered voters who abstained, 6 percent of voters cast spoiled or blank ballots.

Bringing a message of unity to his victory speech, Macron pledged to reach out to voters who embraced Le Pen and also those who didn’t vote, describing himself as “president of everyone.”

With Macron set to become France’s first two-term president in two decades, the focus now turns to legislative elections in June, which will decide the amount of leeway Macron has to govern. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, riding a wave of support from an unexpectedly robust showing in the presidential election’s first round, has urged disaffected voters to “elect him as prime minister” by voting for his party.

Slovenia’s election. In another boost for the European Union, a pro-Europe coalition defeated Slovenia’s ruling Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), led by the far-right Trump admirer Prime Minister Janez Jansa. The left-leaning Freedom Movement won around 34 percent of the vote to SDS’s 24 percent, according to preliminary figures. Turnout increased 15 percent from the previous election in 2018, as 67 percent of voters cast ballots this time around.

Nigeria’s tragedy. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari lamented a “national disaster” after an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in the Niger Delta killed more than 100 people on Saturday. It is the second major disaster at an illegal refinery in recent months following an explosion in Rivers State that left at least 25 people dead in October 2021.

Keep an Eye On

The dollar’s supremacy. Israel will add the Chinese renminbi to its foreign exchange holdings for the first time as part of a “philosophy” change at the Bank of Israel, Deputy Governor Andrew Abir told Bloomberg. The decision also adds the Japanese yen, Australian dollar, and Canadian dollar to the bank’s currency portfolio; reduces its holdings in U.S. dollars and euros; and increases its British pound reserves. Israel held roughly $206 billion in foreign exchange reserves at the end of March.

Von der Leyen meets Modi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen today in New Delhi. The two leaders are expected to discuss establishing a trade and technology council as well as reviving free trade talks.

The meeting comes as New Delhi hosts the Raisina Dialogue, India’s answer to the World Economic Forum’s conference in Davos, Switzerland.

Odds and Ends

Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly has taken old-school precautions to protect its data as the country’s public institutions suffer from a ransomware cyberattack. Antonio Ayales, the assembly’s executive director, has given the order to turn off its website at night as a security measure, citing the lack of staff to oversee operations after hours.

The Russian-speaking cybercrime group Conti has claimed responsibility for the attacks and seeks a $10 million ransom. Outgoing Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who has refused to pay the hackers, said last week the attacks were not about money and were designed to “threaten the stability of the country in a situation of transition.”

“They will not achieve this,” he added.

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