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What We're Watching: Merkel's Putin pipeline dilemma, India-China border clash, Morales setback in Bolivia

Putin, Merkel and a poison pipeline: As the evidence mounts that Russian state actors were behind the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has threatened to punish Vladimir Putin by imposing sanctions on a critical gas pipeline that is meant to link Russia to Germany. Navalny has been receiving treatment in Germany, and so far Moscow has ignored Merkel's demands for a thorough accounting of the attempt on his life, which occurred nearly two weeks ago in a Siberian airport. This has put Merkel in a tough spot: on the one hand, stopping construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline would inflict a huge blow on gas-exporting Russia. But German business groups and international investors in the project are pressuring her to keep politics separate from the nearly-complete project, which is meant to massively increase gas imports for German factories and households.

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What We're Watching: Post-election chaos in Belarus, Biden taps Harris, Bolivia's roadblock

Belarus' post-election fire rages on: At least one person has died and over 2,000 have been arrested in violent protests that erupted in Belarus after strongman President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory with about 80 percent of the vote — results deemed fraudulent by international governments. The opposition claims Sunday's election was rigged — as has regularly been the case in the country since Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator," took over in 1994. Lukashenko, who some young people refer to as "Psycho 3%" for his denial of the coronavirus and low (unofficial) approval ratings, has shut down the internet and is blaming Russian agitators for the protests amid a recent fallout with Vladimir Putin, his long-time ally and fellow strongman. Putin wants to keep Belarus in Russia's sphere of influence and is wary of the country getting closer to his rivals in Brussels. Meanwhile, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya — the political unknown wife of a jailed opposition blogger who has defied Lukashenko's tight grip on power — has fled the country and is now in Lithuania. As the situation remains in flux, it's unclear how stability could return to Belarus anytime soon.

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What We’re Watching: UK ditches Huawei, Bolivia becomes COVID hotspot, Caucasus clashes erupt

UK flops on Huawei: The UK has banned equipment made by the Chinese tech titan Huawei from its 5G networks. The move is a big about-face for London, which as recently as January had said it would allow the use of Huawei components, although with some restrictions. But a lot's changed since January. For one thing, the US — which has banned Huawei gear over national security concerns — is putting more pressure on a post-Brexit, pandemic-wracked Britain that badly needs a good transatlantic trade deal. In addition, UK-China relations have soured over Beijing's new Hong Kong security law, which erases the autonomy promised to the city when London handed it back to China in 1997. But in banning Huawei, London is wrestling with an increasingly widespread dilemma. Huawei provides the fastest and cheapest way to build 5G networks, which everyone agrees are critical for 21st century economies. But using Huawei gear also means accepting the risk of Chinese cyber-snooping on the one hand, or Washington's anger on the other. As the US-China rivalry steadily intensifies, this tradeoff is going to become an acute problem for many countries around the world.

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What We're Watching: Mistake in Bolivia, missed call in Korea, and will US troops ditch Germany?

Oops! Maybe there wasn't fraud in Bolivia's election: In October 2018, thousands of Bolivians flocked to the streets to protest irregularities in the re-election of long-serving leftwing President Evo Morales, the nation's first president of indigenous origin. After the independent Organization of American States (OAS) supported those claims, Morales was pushed out of office by the military, and fled to Mexico. But now, Latin America experts at the University of Pennsylvania say that their own research into the contentious ballot fails to support the OAS' findings. The allegation that Morales' cronies interfered with the vote counts and rigged ballots was based on incorrect data and flawed statistical modeling, the researchers say. The new findings do not, importantly, prove that Bolivia's elections were held in a manner that would be considered "free and fair." Still, the OAS blunder, if true, is a big deal: since Morales left the country, a rightwing caretaker government, led by Jeanine Áñez, has cracked down on Morales supporters and postponed fresh elections. Bolivia's parliament recently passed a law compelling Áñez to hold a new vote by August. Morales, for his part, said he will not run in the do-over election, but his handpicked successor is leading in the polls.

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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Bolivia's endless "interim," Philippines' war on the media, EU asserts itself in the Balkans

Bolivia's endless "interim:" Coronavirus makes it hard to hold elections these days, and that seems to suit Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Áñez just fine. Áñez, an outspoken conservative, took power last fall after the Andean country's long-serving leftist president Evo Morales was ousted amid protests over election fraud. At the time, Áñez was expected to stick around for a few weeks to organize a new, fair election and then stand aside. But she quickly took bold steps to undo Morales' legacy and then, despite initially claiming no interest in the presidency, launched her own candidacy. The election was supposed to have been held last weekend, but was cancelled over public health concerns. Now parliament, still controlled by Morales' party, has voted to hold the ballot within 90 days. But Áñez, who is polling behind Morales' preferred candidate despite her well-regarded response to the coronavirus pandemic, says that's too soon to do it safely. That sets up a bitter fight in an already deeply polarized country, and it doesn't help that low oil prices are throttling Bolivia's gas-exporting economy. Until the elections issue is resolved, expect things to get ugly in the "interim."

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