April 14, 2021
Guess who's ghosting the Supreme Leader of North Korea now?
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Guess who's ghosting the Supreme Leader of North Korea now?
Watch more PUPPET REGIME!
Once upon a time there was a kingdom of squabbling princes... Angela Merkel is sick und tired of that kingdom.
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Yemen left behind: A virtual pledging event aimed at raising funds for war-torn Yemen raised $1.7 billion, well shy of the $3.85 billion the UN says is necessary to alleviate suffering from years of famine conditions and war. At the session, jointly hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, the US pledged $191 million towards Yemen's humanitarian effort, while the Germans promised $241 million. The UN says the pandemic has limited the ability of wealthy countries to provide humanitarian help for Yemen, where two-thirds of the population rely on food aid to survive after six years of conflict between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition. This development comes as the Biden administration has sought to enforce a ceasefire in Yemen by stopping US support for the Saudi military campaign there and removing the Houthis from the US' State Sponsors of Terrorism list to help open Yemen up to more aid. Meanwhile, the Houthis continue their assault of the city of Marib, now home to millions of displaced Yemenis, exacerbating the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Eye in the sky on North Korea: Newly published satellite images reveal fresh construction at a site that experts say North Korea uses to store nuclear weapons. It's possible that Kim Jong-un is racing to add to his nuclear stockpile to strengthen his bargaining position before the Biden administration settles on a North Korea strategy. Maybe he's preparing for nuclear tests later this year. It's also possible the DPRK built new structures that it knows the US will photograph and analyze in order to pressure Biden to engage without having to conduct a costly, risky nuclear test. The larger question is what Biden's North Korea strategy will be. Return to the max pressure approach of Barack Obama? Find some way to engage Kim Jong-un directly as Donald Trump did? That approach at least brought a pause to the nuclear tests. We're watching to see how Biden tackles a problem that may have no solution.
Ethnic cleansing in Tigray: The US government believes that Ethiopian government forces are carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, the northern region where separatists have fought Ethiopian army troops since November. A new Amnesty International report, meanwhile, alleges crimes against humanity committed there by Ethiopian government forces and troops from neighboring Eritrea fighting alongside them. The Ethiopian government calls the reports "misinformation and propaganda." To prove its point, it has recently accredited several international media organizations to report on Tigray, reversing a months-long media blackout. But Addis Ababa has also detained local employees or translators for Agence France Presse, the Financial Times, and the BBC. The crisis in Tigray is already spilling into neighboring Sudan as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee violence and the threat of famine. US president Joe Biden, meanwhile, has pledged to re-engage with Africa, largely neglected by the Trump administration, and we're watching to see how his administration addresses this growing crisis taking place within the borders of one of Washington's regional allies.
Now that Joe Biden is president, he's getting an earful from the likes of Putin Merkel, Kim Jong-un and .... who else?
After days of tension and uncertainty, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the US presidential vote -- but how are world leaders like Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, and Mark Zuckerberg taking the news?
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You think you've been in a knot about Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona? Spare a thought for the leaders of Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Germany and.... Facebook!
As American political news junkies get ready for what is expected to be a very long US election night, around the world a select group of world leaders will also be refreshing the FiveThirtyEight homepage with their own interests in mind, scrutinizing incoming results from the electoral college battleground states that will determine whether President Donald Trump is reelected or Joe Biden wins the White House. Let's put you in their shoes.
If you're Vladimir Putin, this year feels different. You're not as involved as you were in 2016, and you don't hate Joe Biden nearly as much as you despise Hillary Clinton. But still, you'll be keeping an eye on Pennsylvania, which will likely be the last swing state to count all its votes, because at the end of the day you don't want either candidate to win outright. You crave confusion, chaos, and court battles that'll further erode trust in the US election system.
On the other hand, if you're Xi Jinping, you don't want civil unrest to delay the result. You like your five-year plans, and you want to know ASAP which US leader you'll be working with for the next four years. Although it won't make much of a difference these days now that Democrats and Republicans agree that you're bad for America, you've spent weeks analyzing demographic shifts in the Atlanta suburbs to figure out whether the GOP will hold Georgia. If it does and Trump gets reelected, you know he'll be tough(er) on China. But he won't bring many European and Asian friends to the fight, unlike Biden who plans to get everybody who has a beef with you on the same page.
If you're Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, in Great Satan's election you're rooting for Biden — the devil you've known longer, the one you know you can make a new (nuclear) deal with. That's why you'll be tracking turnout in Arizona's Maricopa County, the exact spot you think might put Biden over the top. Then you'll have your own election to worry about next year (a hardliner victory will make that deal a bit harder to pull off, though).
Deal-making is also on your mind if you're Boris Johnson. As the UK's prime minister, you'll be watching — under lockdown in Downing Steet — early returns from Macomb County, where unexpected mass turnout by Trump voters could keep Michigan red. That may improve your odds of signing a trade agreement with the US in the near term, which Biden might not entertain unless you back down on a no-deal Brexit. On the flip side, do you really want four more years of Trump's diplomatic "capriciousness"?
Now, imagine you're Narendra Modi obsessing over voter turnout in North Carolina's "research triangle" in Chapel Hill-Durham-Raleigh, where many Indian Americans have landed top-notch IT jobs. Although almost three quarters of them will be voting for Biden, you're torn between the candidate who will give more H1-B visas to India's best and brightest, and a kindred spirit in your dislike of China and Muslims.
If you're Jair Bolsonaro, you'll be looking for the latest data from Florida's famously competitive Miami-Dade County, where you hope your fellow Latinos will come out in droves for Trump. After all you're one of only a handful of world leaders who have endorsed your buddy — and you've got a lot riding on his reelection. You're wary of Biden, who won't let you get away with destroying the Amazon rainforest, nor take kindly to your anti-LGBTQ tirades.
Finally, picture yourself as chain-smoking Kim Jong-un, bespectacled eyes glued to your ultrawide flatscreen TV in your sumptuous Pyongyang palace, hoping suburban women in Wisconsin won't abandon Trump like most polls say they will. You need someone to talk to, and don't expect Biden to respond to your letters, let alone meet with you like Trump (although Joe probably won't even try to talk you into giving up North Korea's nukes).
For more from our extremely nervous world leaders, follow us on Twitter, where we hear there may be a US election night hostile takeover by Puppet Regime....
Watch Ian Bremmer discuss the World In more than 60 Seconds:
What are your takeaways from night one of the RNC?
That the country is incredibly divided. That if you are pro-Trump and you were watching that RNC, you thought it was very powerful. You thought it was a strong message. It reflected interest that you have in the country. And if you can't stand Trump, then you thought it was a dumpster fire and it solidified your preexisting beliefs.
I accept that the RNC is more of a cult of personality around Trump, who occupies all the oxygen in the room, but also just has a far greater reach and following in media than we've seen from other leaders of Republican or Democratic parties in recent history. But I also recognize that there are a lot of people out there, Senator Scott, certainly Nikki Haley, Steve Scalise, others. It's you know, I wouldn't say it's a broad demographic tent, but I do think it is a broad political tent in terms of the ideological orientations of the people that are represented there, as well as the fact that if Trump wasn't president, you would say that there would be a lot of infighting among that group. But there isn't in this environment.
There were a couple of disastrous speeches, certainly, and everyone's making fun of Kimberly Guilfoyle, who really shouldn't be public speaking about issues that matter. But, you know, she's with Donald Trump Jr. and the family is, you know, a very big piece of this.
I will say I'm a little surprised Jared Kushner has not been announced as giving a speech yet. Maybe he will show up over the course of the week, given that every member of the Trump family that likes the president is speaking. But, you know, that's where you have it. The amusing thing, I suppose, is that they're doing so much more of it live and so while the production quality isn't as high, the potential for there to be something of interest, gaffes, something that's more sort of newsworthy and watchable, does go up a bit. But again, completely divided and it's not like there a lot of people that are watching both. Okay, that's it.
Alexei Navalny was poisoned. What is going on?
Well, you know, if you're a Russian opposition member, that has to be one of the most physically dangerous occupations in the world. And the fact that he was poisoned but was not killed and looks like he was poisoned with the same kind of agent that other Russian, you know, double agents and others have been, the Skirpal poisoning, for example, a few years ago in the UK, the same kind of thing. The Russians, of course, denied it. The Russian government said that there was no such poisoning. The doctors in Omsk that were spoken to by the Kremlin said, "no, he definitely wasn't poisoned." Of course, they get him to Germany and the truth actually comes out.
What's extraordinary is that there's almost complete impunity. President Putin in Russia feels like there is nothing that can be done against him, irrespective of what he does to Russian citizens. There is no rule of law. There are no constraints on his power. And it's deeply disturbing that one of the most important countries in the world has a leader that feels like he can act that way. Of course, in China, Xi Jinping. The way that the Uighurs are treated, the way that they've acted in Hong Kong recently, same kind of thing. In the case of Navalny, the German government, both the chancellor and the foreign minister, Merkel and Heiko Moss, had a very strong statement saying that they would not tolerate this. That they demanded a full investigation, that the people responsible must be held to account. But not supported by the EU as a whole. And President Trump is saying no such thing.
So, I mean, the Germans are kind of talking themselves, almost voices in the wilderness, and it increases the sense of impunity that President Putin actually has. It's depressing from a global and human perspective. But boy, it sends a message. I mean, Navalny on this plane and crying out in pain and then in a coma and probably isn't going to die, but, you know, certainly dangers for the rest of his life in terms of, you know, the ongoing health that he has. It's hard to imagine he's going to want to go back to Russia any time soon. It's going to give you second, third, fourth thoughts if you're a member of the opposition in Russia or you're a journalist that wants to write about truth. There is no challenging President Putin at this point or any time in the foreseeable future. And for those that see what's happening in Belarus and say, the Russians, you're next. Even with the demonstrations we've seen in Siberia and the Far East, I just don't see it.
What's happening in South Korea with the closure of schools?
Well, we have a few hundred cases a day now, which in South Korea is a lot. The South Koreans have had, you know, sort of zero tolerance in terms of trying to ensure that they can control the virus and therefore, lots of contact tracing, extensive testing, and quarantine - shutting things down. Even though they have, you know, almost complete compliance in mask wearing and social distancing in their schools, now that they've seen a few hundred cases coming out of these schools, they're shutting the schools down. Not everything, not higher ed kids that are about to take their big exams. I mean, high schoolers to get into college. But younger kids, they are all going to be virtual for the coming month. And on the one hand, that has improved the popularity of President Moon, who is seen as handling this very effectively by the South Korean people. So, for those of you watching South Korea as a country, that's significant. In the United States, it certainly tells you that as we try to get kids to go back to schools in areas where you have hot zones, where you have lots of cases, likely you're going to have a lot of schools closing down again. I think it's hard to imagine that schools are going to be able to open, you know, feasibly and across the board, at least until next year. That's my view right now. And for all of you parents out there that are like, "please, God, get my kids out of the house, I can't take this. I'm also working. So is my husband. So is my wife." I'm sorry, but I think that's where we're going. It's going to be challenging.
Finally, what do you make of Kim Jong-un rumors of incapacitation?
I've only seen them come out of one news source so far. I don't find them very credible. It's not the first time. Last time around, a couple of months ago, reported widely by the AP and CNN and turned out it was no such thing. We have very little information on what's happening inside North Korea. And, you know, you don't have intelligence that's coming out. You don't have journalists on the ground that have sources that are off the record. So you basically have to deal with accounts that come from people that have left North Korea, who certainly have political agendas and can't really be trusted about what they do and don't know. And whatever you can find, the tea leaves you can read from watching North Korean state television, state media, satellite imagery. That gives you a lot of information when they're preparing, say, a nuclear or ballistic missile tests, gives you very little information when you're talking about whether Kim Jong-un is alive or dead.
The fact that they thought he was in a coma a couple months ago and now they're saying it again, I don't have any particular reason to believe it, nor do I have any reason to believe that North Korea is going to cause much trouble, especially in the run up to US elections. I think they at the very least want to see what's going to happen out of the US before they decide how much they want to orient towards a more friendly engagement, see if they can shake some cash loose or a tougher line policy to see if they can shake some cash loose. Either way, the outcome they're looking for is shaking some cash loose.