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Johnson meets Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson in Stockholm.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: UK-Nordic security pact, Biden-ASEAN summit, King Abdullah II at the White House

Boris Johnson embraces NATO-bound Nordics

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed security declarations on Wednesday with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö. These documents are promises that if either Nordic country is attacked, Britain will come to its aid. In return, Sweden and Finland promise the same support for the United Kingdom. Asked for specifics, Johnson said his government would offer “whatever Sweden requested" and would “share more intelligence, bolster military exercises, and further joint development of technology.” On specific weapons, the UK PM said that would be determined by what was requested. These are simply political promises, not security guarantees of the kind NATO membership offers. But this show of solidarity comes at a sensitive moment; Finland and Sweden are widely expected to announce their application for NATO membership in the coming days, and their governments have warned that the “gray zone” period between formal application and certain acceptance will leave them vulnerable to various forms of Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Russia’s offensive in Ukraine continues, and US intelligence now believes Moscow is planning for a long war with intentions of achieving “goals beyond the Donbas.”

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Emmanuel Macron et Marine Le Pen

Frederic Chambert / Panoramic

What We're Watching: Le Pen-Macron debate, round two in Ukraine, China's big Pacific move, Israel-Hamas flare-up

France’s moment of truth: Le Pen and Macron go head-to-head

Ahead of the second round of voting in France’s presidential elections on April 24, President Emmanuel Macron and his rival Marine Le Pen will go head-to-head in a live TV debate on Wednesday. Le Pen, head of the far-right National Rally, won 23% percent of the first-round vote on April 10, just five points behind the incumbent. (Macron’s lead in the polls is now believed to be as much as 12 points.) Indeed, the debate will be a crucial moment in the tighter-than-expected race for the Élysée. Le Pen is vying for a comeback: last time the two candidates debated in the 2017 runoff, she was accused of being light on policy and heavy on insults. Le Pen will want to emphasize her populist, anti-establishment credentials that have proven popular with the electorate – particularly young voters – while playing down claims that she is chummy with alleged war criminal Vladimir Putin. Macron, on the other hand, will try to play up his progressive bonafides to appeal to younger voters who cast their first-round vote for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon – who reaped 22% of the vote – but are inclined to stay home on Sunday.
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What We’re Watching: Iran-Russia lovefest, East Jerusalem tensions, Kim Jong Un acting up

Iran and Russia heart each other. The presidents of Iran and Russia have little in common personally, but they share many geopolitical interests, including in Afghanistan and Syria. They also have a common resolve in countering "the West.” These issues are all on the agenda as Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi held their first in-person meeting in Moscow. Raisi is a hardline cleric who leads a theocracy with nuclear ambitions. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is a wily autocrat who enjoys provoking America and Europe, and has ambitions to return to the glory days of the territorially expansive Soviet Union — as seen with the Kremlin's recent provocations on the Ukrainian border. With the Iran nuclear talks on life support and Joe Biden already bracing for Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow now have even more reasons to scheme and cooperate. Indeed, Moscow and Tehran have increasingly been cooperating on energy and security issues (Iran might be buying Russian military technology) as their respective relations with the West deteriorate.

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What We're Watching: Musk irks China, Abbas meets Gantz in Israel, Putin requests Biden call

A scent of Musk in US-China space spat. Pull up! pull up! Beijing earlier this week accused the US of creating danger in space after Chinese astronauts commanding their country’s sparkling new space station nearly crashed into a satellite launched by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Beijing says the US government has to ensure that Musk’s satellites honor a 1967 treaty on safety in space. Given that SpaceX plans to launch thousands more satellites as part of its Starlink global internet access project, an already cluttered orbit is going to get even more dangerous. Governments will have to sort out who is responsible for policing private spacecraft. In the nearer term, we wonder whether this week’s near-miss space spat will have implications for Musk back on earth: China is currently the only country outside the US where his Tesla electric car company runs a factory (Germany is next, beginning early next year.) Chinese social media has reportedly lit up with criticism of Musk, with anecdotal accounts of calls for a Tesla boycott. That could hurt. Last year, Tesla sold $3 billion worth of cars in China, more than a fifth of its overall sales.

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What We're Watching: A big German debate, rare Israeli-Palestinian meeting, North Korea restarts a reactor

German elections heat up: Less than a month from Germany's general elections, the three contenders vying to replace longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel went head-to-head in the first major prime-time TV debate. The three chancellor wannabes — the Green Party's Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz, Germany's finance minister from the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, and Merkel's handpicked successor Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU coalition — debated climate change policy, taxes and COVID recovery, as well as Germany's place in the world. A post-debate survey showed that 36 percent of viewers said Scholz had the best performance, but polls suggest that the election remains anyone's to win. After soaring in the polls in the spring, Baerbock has fallen behind thanks to claims that she embellished her credentials. Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, is extremely unpopular, particularly after a series of gaffes as the country dealt with devastating floods in July. Whatever the outcome, next month's winner will probably have to form an ideologically broad coalition government.

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What We're Watching: Egypt closes Gaza border, Swedish PM resigns, Tunisia's indefinite emergency

Egypt closes Gaza border: Egypt closed the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip this week, giving no indication when it'll reopen. Rafah, one of two economic gateways to Gaza and the only entrance not controlled by Israel, is the primary exit point for Palestinians in the Strip to travel overseas. So why did Egypt close it? Well, Cairo — which has been trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas militant group that runs Gaza since an 11-day war broke out in May — is extremely peeved at the lack of progress, and blames Hamas for the impasse. Much of this is linked to a recent wave of violence, whereby Hamas launched a series of bomb balloons across the border with Israel, causing multiple fires across Israeli communities, and prompting Israel to launch several military strikes in response. Egypt has long been a negotiator between Israel and the Palestinians, and Egypt-Israel ties have warmed in recent years: last week, Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel met with Israel's PM Naftali Bennett, and invited him to visit Egypt.

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TITLE PLACEHOLDER | World In :60 | GZERO Media

What to expect from Biden-Putin summit; Israel-Hamas tenuous ceasefire holds

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

How did the Biden-Putin summit go?

Well, we don't know, because it's not over yet, but I'll tell you, the opening, the opening looked fine. They shook hands. They're well prepped. Putin had to be on time because Biden was coming later. That made it a little bit easier. I think this is so overdone. This is not Gorbachev-Reagan. This is Russia in the context of a much more important strategic priority, China, for the United States. I expect little is going to come out, in terms of substance. The meeting will be cordial. There will be some desire to work together on things like arms control. The big question will be, what exactly is said, and if anything is committed to on cyberattacks, how the US is going to respond because so far Biden's looked pretty weak on that issue.

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Myanmar migrant workers protesting against the military junta hold a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a candlelight vigil at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

REUTERS/Jorge Silva

What We’re Watching: Suu Kyi on trial, Blinken in Israel, Mali coup 2.0

Suu Kyi in the dock: Myanmar's former leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday made her first court appearance since the military coup that deposed her last February. Suu Kyi, 75, faces uncorroborated charges — ranging from illegally importing walkie-talkies to breaching COVID rules — that could put her behind bars for the rest of her life. The National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi's political party that defended her in court, is now also at risk as the military junta is trying to dissolve it — mainly because it trounced the pro-military party in the December parliamentary election. Myanmar's generals seem to think that they can go back in time to the days of complete dominance if they throw Suu Kyi in jail and ban the NLD. But they may be underestimating the popular appetite for democratic change in a country where the military is as powerful as it is unpopular. Whatever the junta decrees, expect the NLD to continue its political activities underground and in exile.

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