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.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

More Show less

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

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.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

More Show less

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

More Show less

In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

More Show less

Nasal sprays, oral vaccines, and other new types of COVID-19 vaccines may be ready soon, according to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. She previews some of these needle-less vaccines and notes that the possibility of being able to store vaccines at room temperature could be a game-changer for vaccinating poorer nations. The advantage of nasal sprays, she explains, is that they "would generate local mucosal immunity in addition to systemic immunity." Dr. Swaminathan's conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 9. Check local listings.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal