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Bundweswehr logo on German soldiers' uniforms.

Imago images/Gerhard Leber via Reuters Connect

In a historic shift, Germany decides to bolster armed forces

The shockwaves from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have hit Germany hard. For much of the post-World War II era, change in German politics, when it occurred, tended to be gradual. But the horror of war in nearby Ukraine has triggered an abrupt and momentous change of German foreign and defense policies. After years of starving its armed forces of resources and of acquiescence to aggressive behavior by Russia, Europe’s economic powerhouse has announced accelerated plans to beef up its military and backed crippling sanctions against Russia. We spoke to Eurasia Group expert Naz Masraff to get more insight into this dramatic shift and its implications.

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Ukraine Tension Point Between Biden & Putin | Germany's New Government | Europe In :60 | GZERO Media

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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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends a news conference in the Federal Chancellery following the video conference with the country's 16 state leaders on the surge in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, in Berlin, Germany, December 9, 2021.

Michael Kappeler/Pool via REUTERS

Enter Olaf — can he keep Germany’s traffic light blinking?

As of this week, for the first time since Gwen Stefani was topping the charts with Hollaback Girl, Germany is not run by a person named Angela.

Olaf Scholz — the pragmatic, robotic, determined leader of the center-left SPD party — now holds the reins of Europe’s largest economy.

But he also leads a three-party coalition, the first in Germany’s modern history, with the progressively, climate conscious Greens and the business-friendly fiscal hawks of the Free Democrats party. The coalition is known as the “traffic light” owing to the colors of its three members.

Here are a few immediate and longer-term challenges for Scholz.

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What We’re Watching: Biden and Putin chat, Scholz takes the reins in Germany, Remain in Mexico returns, Pécresse enters the French fray, Suu Kyi learns her fate

World War III or nah? US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are set to speak by phone on Tuesday, as the crisis surrounding Ukraine gets dicier by the day. Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops along its border with the country, and the US is warning that Putin is gearing up to invade soon, though the underlying intel isn’t public. No one is quite sure what Putin’s up to with this stunt. Is he trying to pressure Kyiv into moving ahead with the lopsided (but probably best possible) Minsk peace accords of 2015? Or is the Kremlin seeking a broader NATO commitment not to expand further? Or does Putin actually want to invade Ukraine? Either way, Biden has his work cut out for him. Putin is clearly more comfortable risking lives and money to preserve a sphere of influence in Ukraine than the West is, so the US president has to be careful: don’t set out any red lines that NATO isn’t willing to back, but also don’t push the situation into a broader war that no one (ideally) wants.

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What We're Watching: Angela out, omicron in

Exit Angela, enter omicron. Social Democrat Olaf Scholz will officially take over this week as German Chancellor, leading a coalition with the Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. His government has already laid out plans to accelerate Germany's transition to carbon neutrality, to bolster European sovereignty in the face of rising challenges from Russia and China, and to rein in fiscal spending – not only in Germany but across Europe – as the pandemic recedes. But one immediate challenge is that the pandemic isn't actually receding yet. Scholz will take office just as cases are surging. The current 7-day average of new cases in Germany is more than twice as high as the previous peak which was a year ago, before vaccines were rolled out. With the evidently more transmissible omicron variant already spreading, Scholz has said he favors making vaccines obligatory, even as blowback against mandates has been rising in Europe.

What We're Watching: Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell, Iran nuclear talks resume

Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...

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What We're Watching: Europe's anti-lockdown protests, Chileans vote, a shaky deal in Sudan, German negotiations in the home stretch

Europe anti-lockdown protests get violent. Pockets of unrest spread across Europe in recent days as tens of thousands gathered in several cities across the continent to protest government measures aimed at curbing a fast-spreading wave of COVID-19. Violent clashes broke out between demonstrators and police in The Hague and Rotterdam where Dutch cops opened fire at an increasingly aggressive crowd protesting the tightening of restrictions. Meanwhile, more that 35,000 people turned out in Brussels, while large crowds rocked Vienna, protesting fresh lockdowns that initially targeted only the unvaccinated, as well as new vaccine mandates. The state of the pandemic in Europe is not good. Germany recorded more than 48,000 new cases Sunday, the highest on record, prompting new lockdowns in the lead-up to Christmas, while deaths across the continent are also rising since the summer months, though they remain well below pre-vaccine levels. What's more, far-right groups, like Austria's Freedom Party, are taking advantage of COVID fatigue and anti-vaxx sentiment to encourage people to defy government rules and sow chaos.

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What We're Watching: Germany's next government taking shape

Who's going to run Germany? With coalition negotiations now reportedly in the home stretch, we could know what the next German government looks like as soon as Monday or Tuesday. Following elections that were held back in September, the center-left SPD, headed by Chancellor-in-waiting Olaf Scholz, has been hammering together a three-way coalition with the progressive Greens and the fiscal hawks of the Free Democrats Party. One big question mark is whether the spendthrift Greens or the tighter-pursestrings FDP will get the powerful finance ministry portfolio. Meanwhile, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock is expected to become Germany's first female foreign minister, part of Scholz's larger pledge to ensure that the cabinet is split 50:50 between men and women.

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