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What We’re Watching: European omicron wave, Bolsonaro on Telegram, Chinese blind date

Omicron to sweep Europe. The World Health Organization reports that Europe will soon be the latest region to face a “west-to-east tidal wave” of the omicron COVID variant, on top of continuing infections with the delta variant. A senior WHO official predicts that “more than 50 percent of the population in the region will be infected with omicron in the next six to eight weeks.” Beyond the public health and subsequent economic impact of this event, governments across Europe must manage the political fallout. The most impactful example will come in France, where President Emmanuel Macron faces center-right and further-right challengers in his bid for re-election in April. The latest pandemic wave will also create challenges for Germany’s brand-new coalition government and maybe for Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who’s expecting an especially tough fight for re-election this spring.

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What We’re Watching: Eastern Europe border crisis, US-China climate pledge, Bolsonaro’s a centrist now

Migrants suffer as Eastern European deadlock deepens. The stalemate at the Polish-Belarusian border continues, with reports that several migrants languishing in freezing temperatures in the forest have recently frozen to death while waiting for asylum. The EU says Minsk is using the migrants as a political weapon against Brussels international heavyweights have intervened in recent days to try t chart a path forward. German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who's just days away from her retirement — has been appealing to Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his sway with Minsk to resolve the dispute. Putin, who's no doubt enjoying his clout and leverage, says that Brussels needs to negotiate directly with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – but that has been a non-starter so far because the EU has cut off communication with the strongman since his rigged re-election last year. Feeling emboldened by the standoff, Lukashenko doubled down Thursday, saying that if the bloc slaps fresh sanctions on him, he would cut off the flow of gas that flows from Russia to Western Europe via Belarusian territory. That's a scary prospect indeed for a Europe which is already dealing with painful gas shortages as winter approaches.

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What We’re Watching: Bolsonaro’s COVID crimes, Mali calls al-Qaeda, Facebook gets a facelift

Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A long-running Senate investigation in Brazil has found that by downplaying the severity of COVID, dithering on vaccines, and promoting quack cures, President Jair Bolsonaro directly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. An earlier version of the report went so far as to recommend charges of homicide and genocide as well, but that was pulled back in the final copy to a mere charge of "crimes against humanity", according to the New York Times. The 1,200-page report alleges Bolsonaro's policies led directly to the deaths of at least half of the 600,000 Brazilians who have succumbed to the virus. It's a bombshell charge, but it's unlikely to land Bolsonaro in the dock — for that to happen he'd have to be formally accused by the justice minister, an ally whom he appointed, and the lower house of parliament, which his supporters control. Still, as the deeply unpopular Bolsonaro limps towards next year's presidential election, a rap of this kind isn't going to help.

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What We're Watching: Bolsonaro on the ropes, Georgian nightmare, Pandora's box opened?

Is Bolsonaro on the ropes for good this time? Tens of thousands of Brazilians hit streets across the country in recent days calling for the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro. For months, pockets of anti-Bolsonaro sentiment have been bubbling nationwide, but now a record 58 percent of people polled say his performance is "bad" or "very bad." Soaring prices for electricity, food, and medicine have added to lingering discontent with right-winger Bolsonaro's disastrous handling of the pandemic. And a scandal over potential corruption in vaccine procurements hasn't helped either. Bolsonaro can still count on the unwavering support of about a quarter to a third of the population, and he has strong loyalty among cops and soldiers. But as discontent spreads, it's looking less and less likely that he'll be able to defeat his presumptive rival in next year's presidential election: the leftwing former president Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva. Current polls suggest Bolsonaro is in for a drubbing, but if so, will he accept defeat?

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What We're Watching: Taliban government, Bolsonaro’s insurrection sputters, Myanmar uprising

Taliban name interim government: Three weeks after taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban on Tueaday appointed an interim government made up largely by veterans of the 20-year war against the US. The most high-profile names are PM Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, foreign minister under the first Taliban regime (1996-2001); interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, with a $5 million US bounty because he's the leader of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, a group responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on US and Afghan forces; and deputy PM Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's top negotiator with the US in Qatar. The Taliban had promised an inclusive government that would represent all Afghans, but the interim one is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns. It also has exactly the number of women most predicted: zero. The Taliban hope that an interim cabinet will make it easier for them to gain international recognition and to get on with the complicated business of governing Afghanistan — and find the money to do so.

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Clashes in Brazil as Bolsonaro's support plummets

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here with the Quick Take. Back in the office, we are functioning and open after a year and a half which is absolutely insane. 80 new employees since the pandemic who haven't met each other in person, most of the time. So God, we're happy to be back here. And wanted to kick it off by talking about Brazil.

Haven't talked about Brazil in a while, but it is their Independence Day. And wow, what an Independence Day it is. President Bolsonaro, who is in the cellar, popularity wise, the lowest popularity he's had since he's been president. And for lots of reasons, mishandling of COVID, economic problems, energy shortages, even a little bit of corruption scandals. Seen as not an effective president of the country and presidential elections next year. So, a combination of things that are setting him off individually. And has said quite famously in the past few days, that in upcoming elections, he's either going to win, or be arrested, or be killed. That those are the only three options.

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Yes, a January 6 could happen in Brazil

The next elections are more than a year away, but Brazilians are already holding their breath: President Jair Bolsonaro will face off against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in a very tight contest between two of the most popular and yet controversial political leaders in Brazil. Polls are giving Lula an edge today, mostly because of Bolsonaro's mismanagement of the pandemic, but a lot will change until October 2022, especially as a recovering economy makes Bolsonaro more competitive.

If Lula wins, coming back to power after spending almost two years in jail for alleged corruption, Brazil will take a dramatic policy shift in many areas, especially on the environmental agenda. But stakes are high not only because of that: with so much in play, Bolsonaro is threatening to contest the election results if he loses. We find out more from Silvio Cascione, Brazil director at Eurasia Group.

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Haitian president's killing reflects unprecedented rise in violence

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

What do we know about the assassination of Haiti's president?

Well, we know it's not making an awful lot of news the assassination of the leader of a country, because Haiti's a tiny economy. It's incredibly poor, it's been devastated by natural disasters and also by general lawlessness in the country. And over the last month, gang violence has become historically unprecedented. The police have been unable to maintain law and order in the streets, in most of the cities or sort of, major towns in Haiti. You've had thousands of Haitians displaced. You've had dozens of civilians killed and then overnight a gang entered the personal residence of the president. Again, police and presidential guard unable to stop them and he's dead. And his wife, the First Lady is in the hospital. It's a pretty staggering situation and obviously, some international support, some peacekeepers could be useful on the ground. Aid by itself is not going to do it right now.

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