Putin is still winning

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia September 4, 2020.

At first glance, it's been a tumultuous few weeks for Russia's president Vladimir Putin.

There have been large anti-Kremlin protests in Russia's Far East. Putin critic Alexei Navalny has survived an assassination attempt that many now blame squarely on Russia's president. Turmoil in neighboring Belarus reminds many of the troubles Russia faced six years ago in Ukraine.

Look more closely, and Putin is sitting prettier than you'd think.


Start with Navalny. Putin is widely accused of ordering, or agreeing to, the murder of Alexei Navalny. And, yes, Navalny is now awake and surrounded by smiling family in a German hospital. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on September 2 that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent and chemical weapon available only to state intelligence services. It's not a weapon designed to deceive. And the purpose of the attack was probably less to kill Navalny than to intimidate all of Putin's critics by demonstrating what his government is willing to do. In that sense, it's mission accomplished.

Now look at the results of last week's Russian local elections. United Russia, the ruling party that Russians identify with Putin, lost its legislative majority in a couple of provinces, including Tomsk, where Navalny was poisoned. Western headlines note that pro-Navalny candidates won some seats on city councils.

But United Russia claimed victory in all 18 gubernatorial elections in which it competed, and its candidates won with higher vote margins than in elections last year. Did the coronavirus allow election-tampering far from the prying eyes of international observers? It's possible. That won't change the result.

Speaking of the virus, add the positive news for Russia's vaccine. On August 11, Putin announced that Russia had become the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, which was given the name "Sputnik V" to remind the world that the Soviet Union was first to put a man in orbit. Eyes rolled in many countries as experts, suspecting a Soviet-style propaganda campaign, pointed to doubts about the vaccine's testing process.

But then the peer-reviewed international medical journal The Lancet reported on September 4 that in early phase trials of Sputnik V, it had indeed "induced a strong immune response" in the 76 people who participated with no adverse effects. There are still plenty of questions about the vaccine, but the headlines that most will see are that more countries are now lining up to pay for a jab. This week, India became the latest to open its wallet. From Mexico to Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia to Vietnam, Belarus, and Brazil, more countries are showing an interest in Sputnik V.

Finally, there's the ongoing turmoil in Belarus. Protests there threaten the two-decade rule of Alexander Lukashenko, a man who has long irritated Moscow but who has integrated his country into an economic union with Russia that Putin hopes to deepen.

For the moment, however, Russian economic (and potentially military) support has been enough to keep Lukashenko in power. Belarus is much smaller and easier to manage than Ukraine, and it's now clearer than ever that Lukashenko owes his political survival directly to Putin.

Not a bad thing for a Russian president who relishes control.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

After Biden's first visit, do his European allies feel that America is back?

I think they do. Wasn't particularly surprising, we've heard that message before. But now it was, sort of more concrete issues. I'm not certain there was, sort of major, major, major progress. But there was the beginning of a dialogue on trade and technology issues with Europe, clearly on security issues with NATO, and quite a number of other issues with G7, and general satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting with Putin. So, altogether good.

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Listen: Former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder weighs in on US President Joe Biden's first trip abroad, which included a very important first stop at the G7 summit in the United Kingdom, and the way forward for the US and its closest friends. Did he convince allies that "America is back" and ready to resume its leadership role in global affairs? And if so, does it even matter if Americans still need to be convinced that US engagement in the world is vital? Daalder speaks with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent policy developments:

With the Supreme Court's recent decision, is the Affordable Care Act here to stay?

Yes, this was the Court's third ruling on the Affordable Care Act upholding its constitutionality. This challenge was brought by Republican attorneys general who argued that the repeal of the individual mandate tax undermined the court's previous justification for allowing the law to stand. They were unsuccessful, yet again. And the political salience of the Affordable Care Act has really diminished in the last several years, with Republicans moving on to fight other issues and the Court signaling very strongly they don't want to get involved in overturning this piece of legislation. The Affordable Care Act will be here at least until Congress wants to legislate on it again.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, shut out from COVAX because of payment problems.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars.

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