Alexei Navalny's jail sentence; EU slow on vaccine distribution

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

First, what's the update with Alexei Navalny?

The, well-liked around the world, very popular among the West, less so in Russia, but still the closest thing you have to real opposition to Putin in the country, just got a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence. Some of that is house arrest, but most of it is actually in prison, and this is a much harder line than we've seen before with suspended sentences and house arrest, and clearly, it's because Navalny has become more of a household name and has caused more of a problem for President Putin at a time when President Putin's approval ratings are lower than they were. They're in their low 60s, which in Russia is not so great for Putin, and the economy is doing worse, and people are angrier about their pensions that aren't worth as much and wages that don't go as far, and Navalny has done everything he can, including flying back to Russia after not dying from the poisoning attempt at the hands of what almost certainly was the Russian Special Service.


So, you put all of that together, and now Navalny is a significant thorn in Putin's side and is a reason for the Americans and many Europeans to want to increase sanctions against Russia, which we will now see. They'll be primarily not against Russian sectors of the economy or key businesses. They'll be mostly against individuals, Russian elites, close to Putin, any of those seen as involved in the Navalny case, and probably some ministers and maybe some oligarchs. Which the intention would be to embarrass Putin and to undermine some of his elite level support, because that's the only way you put pressure on Putin. The mass level opposition isn't there. Let's also keep in mind the demonstrations we're seeing in Russia in support of Navalny, as dramatic as they've been, and we've had 5,000 arrests across Russia in the last week, but they're tiny compared to Belarus. They're tiny compared to the arrests for the demonstrations you saw on Khabarovsk just a year ago in Russia. So, it's not as if... as big of an issue as this is for Western headlines, the fact is that Putin is still pretty solidly entrenched in Russia itself, and his willingness to take a hard line and crack down to ensure that remains the case is pretty much complete.

Okay next. Why is the EU struggling with vaccine distribution?

Well, in part, because the EU is working together. It is coordinated, all countries are handling vaccine appropriations and distribution as one European union. In principle, that gives them a lot more market influence, but it also means it's big it's bureaucratic, and it took them a while to get behind making big orders, which meant they were behind the United States and the United Kingdom. And so now, you have the U.S. moving towards 10% of the population vaccinated, while Europe is more like two or three, and there's no question that Europeans are frustrated about that. It does mean a couple of months of greater spread in Europe, as these South African and other variants that are much more transmissible come out, while the United States in the coming months should look a lot better. Vaccine distribution you already see in Israel with over 50% of the population having been jabbed, the percentage of case spread is already going down meaningfully. That's really, really good news, and for the EU, it's going to lead to some backlash. There's no question, but overall, I think they'll get through this. The European leadership will get through this, and by the middle of the year, as they get vaccines also rolled out across the population, they will see the same level of restriction in terms of mortality and hospitalizations. The vaccines, the level of capacity of these vaccines, just a fantastic story for everyone as they get rolled out.

Is the Republican Party fracturing?

I don't think so. I mean, I see now Senate Minority leader McConnell going after Marjorie Greene, the crazy QAnon member of Congress, but remember McConnell also did that initially in terms of Trump and impeachment, and then backed away when he realized that the party wasn't with him. So, I think it's pretty clear that some of the leadership of the Republican party would prefer if they could dump the crazier, Trumpist pieces of the party, but if it turns out that the party is not there, and that the population that supports the Republican party isn't there, then they're going to back down to ensure unity of the party. And so, let's remember that whatever they ended up doing, the leadership of the Republican party is not going to risk political power. They're not going to risk their party fragmenting. They took a hit in Georgia. They lost two seats and lost control of the Senate, largely because the Trumpist wing of the party was too large, they couldn't prevent Trump from making many voters in Georgia feel like this election was rigged, so why should they turn out, and certainly Marjorie Taylor Greene has the potential to cause problems at the margins, but not to fragment the party, because the leadership won't allow that. So, the answer to is the Republican Party fracturing, in my view, is a very, very strong no.

Finally, it's Groundhog Day, six more weeks of winter, and what else?

Oh, it's got to be lockdown, six more weeks of lockdown. Why? Because it's a horrible pandemic year. And so, I think of Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, that means, he's stuck underground for another six months, nevermind snow.

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University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland says drinking makes us feel good and has historically encouraged socializing. But there are negative implications, as well. We now have the problem of "distillation and isolation": getting as much booze as you want and drinking alone, especially during the pandemic. There's a gender issue too: the "bro culture" associated with alcohol can exclude and even be dangerous for women. Not all regions have the same problems, though, as drinking habits vary widely. Watch Slingerland's interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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