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What We’re Watching: Russians in another Stan, Djokovic drama, Mali sanctions, Europe vs anti-vaxxers

Russia in Kazakhstan. Anti-government clashes in Kazakhstan have gotten increasingly violent, with the death toll now reaching 164 after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a controversial “shoot without warning” order on Friday. What started as a demonstration against a fuel price hike has since turned into a movement protesting government corruption and authoritarianism — with regional implications. Enter Russia, which responded to the pro-Russia Tokayev’s request for help with about 2,500 “peacekeeping” troops and future deployments being planned under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the former Soviet Union’s version of NATO. This comes as Moscow has recently amassed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. The Russians will on Monday start talks with NATO and the US about the ongoing situation with Ukraine, but also discuss enhancing security plans with Kazakhstan, whose northern territory is claimed by Moscow. Russia has been clear about what it wants in Ukraine — for NATO to stop expanding further eastward into the former Soviet states. But what does Vladimir Putin want exactly in Kazakhstan, one of the region’s most energy-rich countries?

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Kazakhstan unrest could affect Putin's view on Ukraine

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What's happening in Kazakhstan?

Well, evidently rebellion, revolt, protest, massive threat of survival of the regime. And that's why Russia now are sending in troops. How will this affect Europe? See how it affects his attention towards Ukraine. He has to be worried when he's sitting in the Kremlin about the stability of the entire post-Soviet space. I think we're heading for dramatic weeks.

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What We're Watching: Turmoil in Kazakhstan, Macron targets anti-vaxxers, Haiti presidential murder probe

Kazakh political turmoil.Dozens” of anti-government protesters have been killed by security forces in Kazakhstan, which has declared a state of emergency over the worst political crisis in a decade. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacked the entire government in response to widespread street protests, which started days ago over a planned fuel price hike. Since then, the demonstrations have morphed into wider outrage against an entrenched regime, in power since the Central Asian republic broke away from the USSR in 1991. Things are escalating rapidly in Almaty, the business capital, where demonstrators have reportedly set the presidential palace on fire. Tokayev — who took over in 2019 as the handpicked successor of former strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev — now says he may assume wider powers to end the crisis and asked Russia to send in “peacekeepers” under the umbrella of the CSTO, a Moscow-led grouping of former Soviet Republics. Vladimir Putin, always wary of popular uprisings in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, is one of the two world leaders closely watching developments in Kazakhstan along with Xi Jinping, given that China is thirsty for Kazakh oil, gas, and minerals.

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What We’re Watching: France’s EU presidency, Kim Jong Un’s 2022 plans, NYC’s new mayor, Sudan’s PM steps down

France takes over EU presidency. France has assumed the EU's rotational presidency, which allows Paris to set the bloc’s agenda for the next six months at a very interesting time for both EU and French politics. French President Emmanuel Macron will want to make a big splash as he vies to become the bloc's de-facto leader after the departure of Angela Merkel. Macron's ambitious plans include reforming the EU's budget rules to allow member states to spend more than 60 percent of their annual GDP, which he’ll have a tough time selling to debt-averse Germany. He also will continue to push hard for the EU to develop a military capability independent from the US, and to embrace nuclear power as a green source of energy as Brussels just proposed. Also, in the run-up to the French presidential election in April, the centrist Macron will use the EU presidency to tell voters how France can benefit from a stronger Union led by France — particularly to fend off challenges from his right in fellow Europhile Valerie Pécresse, and his far right in Euroskeptics Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. So far, Macron isn't off to a good start: he had to remove a giant EU flag perched on Paris’ Arc de Triomphe after his three main rivals called it an attack on French identity.

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EU 2022: COVID waves, Russia & Ukraine, and French presidential elections

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

Another year of the pandemic has passed. We are in a new wave in Europe, and that is dominating quite a lot of the politics of different countries.

But as we are looking ahead towards the next year, what do we see there?

We hope the pandemic will gradually fade away, but that is by no means certain. We do face a lot of worries of what's happening in the east of Europe, the intention of Russia. Will Putin really launch a major invasion of Ukraine, or a minor military operation? Or it’s just sheer blackmail under military pressure? I think the first weeks, the first months of next year will be decisive in that particular respect.

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Five choices

We have lots of big elections on deck in 2022. Today we’ll preview five that will feature high international stakes and especially colorful candidates.

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Biden & Putin will continue Ukraine talks; Germany’s new chancellor

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What came out of the video conference between Presidents Biden and Putin?

Well, that's a very good question. We don't know, but they agreed to continue talking about the issues that Mr. Putin backed up by the threat of an invasion of Ukraine has put on the table. There is somewhat of a disquiet in Europe over that, but Biden has said that there's not going to be any talks about Ukraine without Ukraine at the table. This is a story that will continue for quite some time.

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The Graphic Truth: French presidential frontrunners

France's presidential election is only three months away, and it’ll be no snoozer. Although barely one-quarter of French voters back current president Emmanuel Macron, he’s heavily favored to win re-election because he’d almost certainly beat far-right hopefuls Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour in a runoff. But the center-right French president now faces an unexpected challenge from the old establishment right: Valerie Pécresse, the nominee of the Les Republicains party, could give Macron a run for his money if she makes it to the second round. We take a look at how the top four French presidential candidates have polled over the past six months.

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