Ukraine 2018

Ukraine 2018

On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman took to Facebook to accuse Russia of murdering dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. Hours later, Babchenko (pictured above) walked into a press conference to announce that Ukrainian security services had, in fact, staged his “murder” to flush out a Russian hit squad operating in Kyiv.


The government’s story makes little sense — did they really need to fake a murder to catch a would-be killer? — and media organizations have roundly condemned the Ukrainian government for this stunt. But the Babchenko story highlights the confusion, deception, and (often justified) paranoia that still make Ukrainian politics so colorful.

As it happens, your Friday author has just returned from 10 days travelling around Ukraine. A few trip highlights underline other aspects of life in today’s Ukraine:

Courting Europe: The Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, still features improvised shrines to dozens of civilians killed there during the 2014 protests that ousted then-president Viktor Yanukovych. But the battle-cries heard last weekend came from football fans in town to support Liverpool and Real Madrid at the UEFA Champions League Final. As with last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Kyiv continues to host major European events in hopes of strengthening tieswith the EU.

Urban Promise: We saw countless active construction sites in the capital, the well-preserved pre-Bolshevik beauty of Odesa, and the buzz of young people filling restaurants every evening in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv.

Rural poverty and alcoholism: “Ukrainian Sheriffs” is an award-winning documentary that offers a sad and funny account of daily life in the rural village of Stara Zburyevka as Russian-backed militias wage war in the country’s east. Spoiler alert: poverty and alcoholism, not Russians, are the biggest threats. See a trailer here.

Corruption: Yanukovych’s Mezhyhirya palace, where the former president hid his stolen wealth and questionable taste, sits on an estate outside Kyiv. Visitors can enjoy Yanukovych’s hidden mansion, his ostrich enclosurethe reservoir where his men dumped damning documents during the protests, and the guesthouse sauna protesters used to dry them out after Yanukovych fled to Moscow. Unfortunately, corruption is a thing of the present. In 2017, Transparency International ranked Ukraine #130 in the world for corruption, just five places higher than Russia.

Internal tensions: We passed the trade union building in Odesa consumed by fire on May 2, 2014. Russia’s push into Crimea weeks earlier had begun with “spontaneous” pro-Russian demonstrations in Crimean streets. A similar attempt to stir trouble provoked gunplay in Odesa — and 42 pro-Russian protesters burned alive in this building where they sought refuge. Four years later, an investigation of the incident grinds on.

Nationalism: We enjoyed dumplings in an unmarked restaurant in Lviv, which you enter only with a password (Glory to the Heroes!). The maître d’ carries a machine gun, you dine inside a bunker that once housed Ukrainian fighters battling both Nazis and Soviets, and you pay extra to shoot pellets at a picture of Putin. The restaurant, open 24 hours, is pure kitsch, and everyone is smiling, but it reflects an underlying nationalism, particularly in Western Ukraine, that sometimes treats “others” as suspect.

This week’s phony assassination story helps Russians question the credibility of Ukraine’s government and security services, reinforcing a message I heard from Ukrainian friends during my visit: “The Russians want to carve us up, but it’s the corruption and ineptitude of our own leaders that really stand in our way.”

Bottom-line: Too many of Ukraine’s wounds are still self-inflicted.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truck loads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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