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THE KERCH CLASH: RUSSIA AND UKRAINE ON THE BRINK

THE KERCH CLASH: RUSSIA AND UKRAINE ON THE BRINK

Over the weekend, Russian naval forces detained several Ukrainian ships after firing on them in the Kerch Strait, a narrow bit of contested waters linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov along the Russo-Ukrainian border. It’s a major escalation between the two countries, who have been locked in an armed conflict since 2014.


In response, Ukraine has imposed martial law and a defiant Moscow is waiting to see what costs, if any, Europe and the US are willing to impose for what they see as an act of Russian aggression.

How’d we get here? In 2014, after a popular uprising toppled the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula and fanned a separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine. To link Crimea with mainland Russia across the Kerch Strait, which separates the two countries, the Kremlin built a $3.6 billion bridge that was completed earlier this year. Since then, tensions over the waterway have soared, with each side claiming the other is encroaching on its waters.

Ukraine has gotten the worst of it. Ships carrying lucrative steel and grain exports from Eastern Ukraine – critical for the country’s economy – must pass through the Kerch Strait. Russian customs and security officials, citing security concerns about the bridge, have intensified spot checks and detentions of Ukraine-bound vessels. One of those incidents is what led to the clash on Sunday.

Western governments have condemned Russia’s attack and raised the prospect of new sanctions on Russian officials. NATO, for its part, has called on Moscow to release the ships and sailors that are currently being detained. But beyond that, don’t expect much. NATO is under no obligation to defend Ukraine, which is not a member state. More broadly, Ukraine matters an awful lot more to Moscow (for strategic, economic, and cultural reasons) than it does to the West. Plus Europe’s got its own problems these days.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko secured a parliamentary declaration of martial law in about half of the country. Since a military response by Ukraine’s much weaker forces is all but inconceivable, Poroshenko’s critics suggest that the move, which prohibits any political campaigning or voting while in force, is a cynical ploy to delay upcoming elections that the unpopular president is almost sure to lose.

Russia says Ukraine provoked the incident, but Putin is likely testing the international reaction to his power play for de facto control over the Sea of Azov.

Your move Mr. Trump: US President Donald Trump has blamed former President Barack Obama for allowing Russia to seize Ukraine in 2014. Now Moscow is bidding to seize control of the Azov Sea. How will Mr. Trump respond? The two men are still scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit later this week in Argentina.

Pop quiz: what percentage of plastic currently gets recycled worldwide? Watch this video in Eni's Energy Shot series to find out and learn what needs to be done to prevent plastic from ending up in our oceans. Plastic is a precious resource that should be valued, not wasted.

This Monday, March 8, is International Women's Day, a holiday with roots in a protest led by the Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai that helped topple the Tsar of Russia in 1917. More than a hundred years later, amid a global pandemic that has affected women with particular fury, there are dozens of women-led protests and social movements reshaping politics around the globe. Here we take a look at a few key ones to watch this year.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world last year when he recovered from an attempted assassination plot by poisoning — an attempt that bore all the fingerprints of Russian government. Then he shocked the world again by returning to Russia and timing that return with the release of an hours-long documentary that catalogued the Putin regime's extensive history of corruption. Virtually no one, therefore, was shocked when he was immediately sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and expert on authoritarian regimes, believes there was a method to Navalny's madness. "His decision of '….I'm going to do something that harms me personally, but is going to be a lesson for Russians. I'm going teach a generation of Russians how to be brave.' I mean, not very many people would have the guts to do that."

Applebaum's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 5. Check local listings.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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A body blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister: Imran Khan suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when members of the National Assembly, the country's lower house, voted to give the opposition bloc a majority in the Senate. (In Pakistan, lower house legislators and provincial assemblies elect senators in a secret ballot.) The big drama of it all is that Khan's own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party holds a lower house majority, which means that lawmakers supposedly loyal to his party voted in secret for opposition candidates. Khan's allies claim that PTI members were bribed to support the opposition, and the prime minister says he will ask for a lower house vote of confidence in his leadership. That vote will not be secret, but even if he survives, the political damage is done. Without a Senate majority, he has no chance of passing key reform plans, including constitutional amendments meant to centralize financial and administrative control in the federal government. Khan has, however, refused to resign.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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