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A service member of pro-Russian troops stands guard next to a combat vehicle, with the symbol "Z" seen on its side, in Mariupol, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We're Watching: A rare win for Putin, Chile drafts constitution, North Korea's COVID catastrophe

Putin enjoys rare win in Ukraine

This week brought more bad news for Vladimir Putin and his invasion. Ukrainian fighters have pushed Russians back from the city of Kharkiv, the fight for the Donbas appears to have stalled, and Russian commentators are becoming more open about their country’s military failures on the internet and even on state-controlled TV. But the surrender of hundreds of Ukrainian fighters from a Mariupol steel plant gives Russia a genuinely important win. First, it clears away the final obstacle to establishing a land bridge that connects Russian-occupied Crimea with the Russian border. Second, it’s a big propaganda win for Putin, who insists the war is aimed partly at “de-Nazifying” Ukraine. Many of those who surrendered belong to the Azov Battalion, a group with a history of ultra-nationalist, white-supremacist politics. Ukraine’s government says it hopes the now-captive troops can be traded for captive Russians, but Russia’s parliament may ban any release of Azov prisoners. Ultimately, Putin will decide their fate. Are they most valuable to him as trophies, or as pawns who provide him with an opportunity to appear magnanimous?

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What We're Watching: Chilean beekeepers, bartering in Xian, possible Turkish-Saudi détente

Standing up for the bees in Chile. Chilean beekeepers demonstrated Tuesday outside the presidential palace in Santiago, calling for the government to provide more support for the ailing industry. The protesters set up on the street dozens of hives containing 10,000 bees to draw attention to their plight, and stop police from shutting down the rally. (At least seven police officers were stung.) Beekeepers say that a decade-long “megadrought” has ruined the crops and flowers needed to sustain bees — and they want the government to guarantee honey prices or provide subsidies for producers. This might seem like an obscure agriculture story, but it’s not: bees pollinate some of Chile’s major food exports like avocados, apples and almonds, and thus help sustain an industry worth a whopping $6.46 billion in exports in 2020. Although the government says it has been supporting some communities facing water shortages, the bee industry says it’s not enough. Disgruntled beekeepers might be in luck: the leftist Gabriel Boric, who supports expanding Chile's social safety net, will be sworn in as president in March.

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Why This COVID Surge Is Different Than 2020 | Behind Putin's Threats | World In :60 | GZERO Media

Why this COVID surge is different than 2020; behind Putin's threats

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on Omicron, Putin's antics, and Chile's millennial president.

With Omicron cases increasing, is December 2021 really any different than December 2020?

Of course, it's different. You know why it's different? Because so many more people are vaccinated and so many people have already gotten COVID, which means the likelihood that they're going to be severely hospitalized or die goes way, way down. So we should be worrying less individually about COVID even though the policy impact the shutdown impact for at least a few weeks is going to be very significant. And of course, if you haven't gotten your boosters, get those boosters. Of course if you're not vaccinated, I don't know what a booster's going to do for you. Why am I even telling you that?

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Chilean presidential candidates Gabriel Boric, of left-wing coalition 'Apruebo Dignidad' (I Approve Dignity), and Jose Antonio Kast of the far-right Republican Party, pose for pictures before a live televised debate ahead of December 19 second round presidential elections in Santiago, Chile, December 13, 2021.

Elvis Gonzalez /Pool via REUTERS

Chile is no longer boring

My Chilean friends won’t love this, but I’ll say it anyway: for a long time their country’s greatest virtue was that it was sort of boring.

A stable, prosperous, reasonably centrist country surrounded by perennial economic or political basket cases, Chile was the staid uncle with the nice watch. The khakis-and-a-button-down country with the green mountains and the unexpectedly good soccer team.

Goodbye to all of that. This Sunday, 19 million Chileans face one of the most extreme choices that any Latin American presidential election has thrown up in years.

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Chilean presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast from far-right Republican Party meets with supporters during a campaign rally in the outskirts of Santiago, ahead of the first round of presidential elections on November 21, Chile, October 25, 2021.

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

What We’re Watching: Elections in Chile & Venezuela, Modi blinks, Chinese buffet ban

An extreme choice for Chilean president. Chileans go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential election. The two frontrunners are former lawmaker José Antonio Kast, a rightwinger who pines for Augusto Pinochet, and former student leader Gabriel Boric, who's moderated his positions from his more far-left days but still wants to spend big on social programs. Kast, who's benefited from rising anti-migrant sentiment, is currently leading in the polls, while Boric hasn't been able to campaign for two weeks after getting COVID. Still, Kast probably won't get 50 percent of the vote, meaning that things will go to a December runoff in which Boric is projected to have a slight edge. Just months ago, Chileans elected a largely left-leaning assembly to rewrite the Pinochet-era constitution following mass protests over rising inequality in late 2019. The next president will want to have a say in that process.

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Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon.

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

What We're Watching: American missile defense, Chilean impeachment scandal

The US ups its missile defense game. Israel has used for years a precise missile defense system — known as the Iron Dome — as a bulwark against short-range rocket attacks from terror groups. In recent weeks, the US has been using the same technology — jointly developed by Israeli and American defense contractors — in the US Pacific territory of Guam to test its own defense capabilities against Chinese weapons, according to the Wall Street Journal. This comes after Beijing, as part of a military drill, recently sent sophisticated hypersonic missiles into space that could reach Guam, about 1,800 miles from mainland China. The Pentagon is not messing around in anticipating potential threats from Beijing right now as bilateral tensions continue to rise. However, the DOD says this tech isn't a long-term fix because Iron Dome isn't meant to be used to thwart cruise missiles, which are capable of transporting a nuclear warhead long distances. Meanwhile, the US military has requested more than $200 million to develop a new missile defense system for Guam, but Congress has yet to deliver.

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Annie Gugliotta

What We’re Watching: Erdogan picks 10 fights, Sudanese coup, Bosnia on the brink, Chilean right-winger surging, G-20 split on climate, Colombia nabs top narco

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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What We're Watching: Right-winger on the rise in Chile

Right-winger on a roll in Chile: José Antonio Kast, an ultra- conservative politician who pines for the days of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, has ridden a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to the top of the polls ahead of next month's presidential election. He's currently at 21 percent, one point ahead of leftist former student leader Gabriel Boric. Talk about political whiplash: it was just a few months ago that Chileans elected a broadly leftwing constituent assembly to rewrite the country's Pinochet-era constitution in the wake of mass protests about inequality. But Kast, an avowed free-marketeer and social conservative, has tapped into rising resentment against the vast numbers of migrants – in particular from Venezuela and Haiti – who have arrived in the country in recent years. Last month, for example, saw an outbreak of violence against Venezuelan refugees in the northern city of Iquique. Kast has called for digging ditches along the borders and wants a special police force to root out illegal migrants. In the last presidential election, Kast got less than 8 percent of the vote. This time he's making a race of it.

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