5 min read

An audio experiment.

It's been a quieter week in Washington as lawmakers prepare to return to Capitol Hill on Monday. The people who typically roam the halls of Congress spilled into nearby coffee shops to take informal meetings with lobbyists and journalists.

Everyone who wasn't in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum or in Germany for the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting is laying the groundwork for when work kicks off and enjoying the final days of working from home in leggings and comfortable sweaters.  

I suppose it's fitting that this back-to-school vibe surrounds us only two days after the new moon, helping usher in the end of January with fresh energy from the cosmos.

I'm trying something new this week too. But first, a disclaimer: I am not a podcaster. I have never in my life made a podcast. But last week, I gave you a snippet of an interview I did with the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan.

He had interesting anecdotes and was engaging in a way that brought me back to my undergrad Russian history lectures. So I'm trying to bring you the full interview in an audio format.

Unfortunately, I couldn't upload the interview directly because the file was too large. So instead, I uploaded it to Google Drive and made it accessible to anyone with the link.

Please let me know if you have trouble listening to it, or if you have a recommendation for how I can better upload audio files. If you enjoy this, maybe I'll bring you more non-podcasts in the future.  

Skip to the end for a story about a strange gift a sanctioned Russian oligarch gave the ambassador.

What I'm writing:

• U.S. lawmakers gathered in Switzerland this week for the annual World Economic Forum were tasked with defending their policies from European officials who fear rising protectionism could cripple the global economy. The Inflation Reduction Act  — specifically the $369 billion it devotes to climate and energy programs — dominated the conversation in the corridors and on stages.

What I'm reading:

• The Calvert Journal has a profile of Chateau Chapiteau, a commune/hotel in Georgia that I will absolutely visit the next time I'm there.

• Meduza has a great story about the present and history of Zittau, a city in southeastern Germany that's a tripoint between Germany, Czechia, and Poland.

• NewLines Magazine has a first-hand account from an aid worker and photojournalist about the gut-wrenching work of trying to rescue migrants at sea. "We heard the desperate screams long before we approached the sinking boat," she writes. "Until that fateful afternoon, it was inconceivable to me that the same sea that had filled our summers with wondrous sights, enriching our memories, could also turn into a treacherous graveyard."

• Russia and its ally Belarus launched a series of air-force exercises along the border with Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reports.

• The U.S. is warming to the idea of providing Kyiv with the weapons it needs to target Crimea, the New York Times reports. "While the U.S. has always held that Crimea is still part of Ukraine, the Biden administration has refused to assist Kyiv in striking the Russian sanctuary for fear of escalating the conflict. However, the administration has now come to believe that if the Ukrainian military can show Russia that its control of Crimea can be threatened, that would strengthen Kyiv's position in future negotiations."

• The head of the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group claimed that its fighters captured the village of Klishchiivka, southwest of the key city of Bakhmut, Reuters reports. Ukrainian forces say the town is crucial to the defense of Bakhmut because it lies on the high ground directly east of roads into the city.

• The Wagner paramilitary group is expanding its mining projects in Africa to bring in millions to prop up the war in Ukraine, according to a Western official and a U.S. cable obtained by Politico.

• A former commander in the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group has claimed asylum in Norway after crossing the country's border, the BBC reports.

• Berlin is consciously and deliberately stalling on sending Kyiv battle tanks, Jeremy Cliffe writes for the New Statesman.

• Belarus put the country's main exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on trial in absentia for treason, the New York Times reports. Tikhanovskaya, who is based in Lithuania, said her government-appointed defense lawyer had not responded to her efforts to get in touch.

• The U.S. Coast Guard is tracking a suspected Russian spy ship off the coast of Hawaii in international waters, CNN reports.

• Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said his country was "not enthusiastic" about European Union membership anymore and hit out at critics of Vladimir Putin, Politico Europe reports.

• Kosovo's prime minister thinks a deal to settle relations with Serbia is within reach. Experts say the situation on the ground hardly gives cause for optimism, Balkan Insight reports.

• U.S.-born financier and political activist Bill Browder accused doctors involved in treating imprisoned former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of being "probably involved" in malpractice and taking orders from government officials, Radio Free Europe reports.

• Hundreds of thousands protested on the streets of Paris and other French cities amid nationwide strikes against plans to raise the retirement age, but President Emmanuel Macron insisted he would press ahead with the proposed pension reforms. The Associated Press has the story.

• Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested in Sicily, the New York Times reports. Denaro, a fugitive for 30 years, was linked to dozens of murders in the 1990s.

• Peru's capital city is bracing for further unrest as thousands of protesters from across the country pour into Lima to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte after nearly six weeks of turmoil that has claimed close to 50 lives. The Guardian has the story.

• New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced that she no longer has "enough in the tank" to lead and would be stepping down from the post next month, the BBC reports. The shock announcement comes as polling indicates a difficult path to re-election for the ruling Labour Party in next October's elections. The party will vote to find a replacement leader today.

• Mursal Nabizada, one of the few women parliamentarians who remained in Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power, was shot dead along with her bodyguard, the New York Times reports.

• The United Nations special envoy for Yemen indicated that a renewed truce might be on the horizon as regional and international diplomatic activity to end the country's eight-year conflict intensifies. Al Jazeera has the story.

You can write to me for any reason at: c.maza@protonmail.com