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Jean Luc Melenchon poster at French leftist movement La France Insoumise's (LFI) headquarters in Paris.

Reuters

What We're Watching: Macron has a left problem, Japan's nuclear option, the election no one cares about

Japan embraces nuclear to wean itself off Russian energy

Russia's war in Ukraine is pushing notoriously slow-moving Japan to make unusually swift policy shifts. In mid-March, Tokyo gave up its decades-long effort to negotiate with Russia over the return of the disputed Kuril Islands. Now, it's ready to ditch Russian energy, which resource-poor Japan needs to keep the lights on. (Tokyo joined Western sanctions against Russia but has not yet banned imports of Russian oil and natural gas.) PM Fumio Kishida announced Thursday that Japan will restart its mothballed nuclear reactors — a big deal because nuclear power is a highly sensitive topic in the only nation to suffer an attack with atomic weapons. Also, a tsunami caused in 2011 the Fukushima disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. That led Japanese public opinion to sour on nuclear, but now a majority support Kishida's plans, which also aim to help the country become carbon-neutral by 2050. Interestingly, the announcement comes just days after a top Japanese investor confirmed a $21 billion natural gas project in Siberia despite uncertainty over Russian sanctions and fears that Russia will cut off Japan first.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for an European Union Summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium December 16, 2021.

Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: EU vs twin threats, Hong Kong’s “election”, a Sicilian miracle

EU vs Omi-Kremlin. EU leaders met on Thursday to craft a response to the two major challenges of the moment for the bloc. The first is the surging number of COVID infections driven by the new omicron variant. An EU-wide approach has already been undermined as several countries — Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and Greece — moved unilaterally to tighten entry restrictions. The EU is expected to redouble its efforts to accelerate vaccination campaigns: currently about 60 percent of adults have received two jabs, but that number falls below 50 percent in much of Eastern Europe. With omicron infections doubling every two days, there isn’t much time to get ahead of the winter wave. The other big challenge is Russia, which continues to mass as many as 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border. Vladimir Putin says he wants guarantees that NATO won’t expand eastward any more, and the EU and US are worried he’s about to invade Ukraine to underscore the point. Brussels is warning severe economic consequences if that happens, which could potentially involve mothballing the Nord Stream 2 Russian gas pipeline to Europe. But here too, the EU is divided — some smaller Eastern member states want Brussels to slap sanctions ASAP as a deterrent, while France and Germany worry about provoking the Kremlin into war.

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