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Austria: Don’t Get Drunk With Russians in Ibiza, and Other Lessons for Europe

Austria: Don’t Get Drunk With Russians in Ibiza, and Other Lessons for Europe

An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.


Amid the fallout from the tape, Mr. Strache blamed it on the booze but resigned from his post as vice chancellor of Austria, and Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz (pictured above) has called for snap elections. After months of scandals surrounding the Freedom Party, Kurz said, "enough is enough."

Enough indeed. Last year, the clean cut 31-year old Kurz led his conservative Austrian People's Party (OVP) to victory in part by tacking to the right on immigration. But in order to govern with a majority, he formed a coalition with the FPO – a Eurosceptic, anti-immigration party that has Nazi roots and, since 2016, a partnership agreement with United Russia, the Kremlin's party of power.

Amid rising sympathy for right-wing ideas in Austria, Kurz's gamble was simple: he would tame the tiger of far-right populism by bringing it in to government.

Instead, the tiger clawed down the drapes.

Beyond numerous scandals that revealed a certain soft spot for Swastikas among the members of the FPO, Kurz's decision to give the party control over Austria's security ministries upended Vienna's ties to other European intelligence services, which worried about sensitive NATO intel getting leaked to Moscow.

The snap election will be held this fall. Whether the episode damages FPO support or helps Sebastian Kurz, we won't know for months. But in the meantime, there are three important lessons:

  1. Bringing extreme parties into government doesn't necessarily soften them.
  2. Russia, which seeks a less unified EU, is a very attractive partner for many far-right European parties. (Though we note also that eastern European right-wingers' wariness of their former imperial overlords is a major reason why there's no coherent far-right bloc across Europe.)
  3. Don't get wasted with "Russians" in Ibiza unless you really, really know what you're doing.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

The enormous scale of the coronavirus pandemic was captured earlier this week as the global death toll surpassed 1 million people. As the weight of the grim milestone sunk in, the New York Times noted that COVID-19 has now killed more people this year than the scourges of HIV, malaria, influenza, and cholera — combined. While some countries like Germany and South Korea are models in how to curb the virus' spread through social distancing and mask wearing, other countries around the world have recently seen caseloads surge again, raising fears of a dreaded "second wave" of infections. Here's a look at countries where the per-capita caseload has spiked in recent days.

"The jury is out" European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde says when asked if things in Europe will get economically worse before they get better. "All I know is that it's going to be a journey, and probably a long journey." Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of a new GZERO World episode.

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