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Annie Gugliotta

What We're Watching: World War Z, US-Venezuela thaw

What’s Z deal with that Russian symbol?

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak was widely criticized for taking to the podium of a World Cup event over the weekend with the letter “Z” taped to his leotard. Why? Well, since Putin ordered his armies into Ukraine two weeks ago, the Roman letter Z — often rendered in a paintbrush style — has become a symbol of support for the invasion and for Putin’s regime. In Russia, it’s been slapped on cars, drawn on lapels, and even emblazoned on the sweatshirts of the guys in this super chill “non-fascist” video in support of the war. Where does the Z come from? The clearest answer is that it’s the symbol the Russian military has slapped onto its trucks and tanks in Ukraine to distinguish them from the same Soviet-era hardware that the Ukrainians also have. The Russian Ministry of Defense’s Instagram account has all kinds of uses for the Z now: Za Pobedu! (For Victory!), DenaZification! DemilitariZation! Still, why not use a Cyrillic letter? Then again, after all the sanctions and boycotts, the Roman letter Z might soon be the only Western thing left in Russia.

US meets with Venezuela’s Maduro

With fears that the war in Ukraine could push global energy prices even higher, Washington has brought an olive branch to an unlikely shore. US officials recently met with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to discuss conditions for repealing the crippling US sanctions in place against the South American oil producer. Washington, which broke off relations in 2019 over Maduro’s rigged elections and crackdowns on opposition protests, is reportedly demanding free and fair presidential elections and extensive reforms to the Venezuelan oil sector. Maduro, for his part, wants an end to US sanctions on Venezuelan oil and to be readmitted to the SWIFT global financial platform (see our explainer on SWIFT here.) Venezuela is, of course, a close ally and partner of Russia. With Moscow itself now under crushing economic and financial sanctions, the US is surely gauging whether there’s room to drive a wedge between Caracas and Moscow.

What We're Watching: US and Russia in Geneva, mass testing in Tianjin, a big loss for Venezuela's Maduro

US and Russia in Geneva. Senior US and Russian diplomats opened talks in Geneva on Monday, kicking off a round of discussions between Kremlin and Western officials across Europe over the next few days. Vladimir Putin wants Joe Biden and NATO leaders to redraw the security map of Europe by promising that Ukraine, Georgia, and other Russian neighbors will never join NATO and that the security alliance will not place missile system in Ukraine. That would, in effect, redivide Europe into Western and Russian spheres of influence. The Biden administration and NATO officials have said they will not allow Russia to veto NATO membership for countries that want to join. European leaders have warned the US to honor these promises, and Ukraine’s government is watching and waiting as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops remain poised near the Ukrainian border. Russia says it will pursue its aims by military means if necessary. NATO says it's ready to respond. The US says any Russian incursion into Ukraine will draw harsh sanctions against Russian and more supplies of Western weapons for Ukraine. Putin began this game of chicken, and we’ll be watching in coming weeks to see how far he wants to push it.

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What We’re Watching: Russia’s Memorial banned, Switzerland vs EU, Venezuela’s oil rebound (for now)

Memorializing Memorial. Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the liquidation of Memorial International, one of the country’s leading human rights organizations, which for the last 30 years has chronicled abuses committed during the Soviet era, including by the KGB, President Putin’s former employer. The court said the group failed to register foreign funding under a state law that many deem unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Memorial Human Rights Center, an affiliate group that has been documenting political repression in post-Soviet Russia, now faces a separate court hearing that will determine its future. In handing down its verdict, the Supreme Court said that Memorial “creates a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state,” but historians sayS the group, established in 1989, plays a crucial role in documenting what happened to millions who suffered the Gulag forced labor camps, as well as other forms of oppression. Memorial’s lawyers say they will launch an appeal, but we’re not holding our breath for an overturned verdict.

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Chilean presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast from far-right Republican Party meets with supporters during a campaign rally in the outskirts of Santiago, ahead of the first round of presidential elections on November 21, Chile, October 25, 2021.

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

What We’re Watching: Elections in Chile & Venezuela, Modi blinks, Chinese buffet ban

An extreme choice for Chilean president. Chileans go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential election. The two frontrunners are former lawmaker José Antonio Kast, a rightwinger who pines for Augusto Pinochet, and former student leader Gabriel Boric, who's moderated his positions from his more far-left days but still wants to spend big on social programs. Kast, who's benefited from rising anti-migrant sentiment, is currently leading in the polls, while Boric hasn't been able to campaign for two weeks after getting COVID. Still, Kast probably won't get 50 percent of the vote, meaning that things will go to a December runoff in which Boric is projected to have a slight edge. Just months ago, Chileans elected a largely left-leaning assembly to rewrite the Pinochet-era constitution following mass protests over rising inequality in late 2019. The next president will want to have a say in that process.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds a press conference in Caracas.

REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

New Venezuela talks: Maduro won, so what’s there to talk about?

You'd think that when a country suffers the worst peacetime economic collapse in modern history or generates the world's second largest refugee crisis, it would stay in the news for a while.

Not so with Venezuela, which, for all its struggles over the past three years, has fallen from global headlines.

Now's a good time to take a fresh look at this story, because later this week, the government of Nicolás Maduro will sit down with the opposition, still led nominally by "interim president" Juan Guaidó, to negotiate a path forward after nearly four years of political and economic crisis.

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What We're Watching: Modest hopes for Venezuelan talks, Israel-Poland diplomatic spat deepens, Ebola in the Ivory Coast

Will fresh talks help Venezuela? For just the fourth time in half a decade, the Maduro regime and opposition forces have met for fresh talks to try to chart a path forward for crisis-ridden Venezuela. The negotiations, held last week in Mexico City, were attended by both President Nicolás Maduro as well as opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who in 2019 declared himself interim president after an election widely viewed as rigged was met by mass protests. What's the aim of these talks? Well, depends who you ask. For Guaido's camp, the focus is on free and fair elections, the release of political prisoners, and human rights. (Maduro has shown some goodwill in recent days by agreeing to release opposition politician Freddy Guevara.) Maduro, on the other hand, is desperate to have crippling US sanctions lifted so Caracas doesn't have to rely as heavily on China, Russia and Iran. But because Maduro has refused to give up power, analysts say, the opposition's immediate goal now is to pave the way for local and regional elections in November, as well as to boost the COVID vaccine rollout. The next round of negotiations has been set for next month.

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What We're Watching: Indian farmer revolt, EU vs vaccine makers, Myanmar saber-rattling, Maduro's miracles

Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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Returning Cuba To Terror List Is An 11th Hour Move By Pompeo & Trump | The Red Pen | GZERO Media

Returning Cuba to terror list is an 11th hour move by Pompeo and Trump

Does Cuba belong back on the US's State Sponsors of Terrorism list? The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board showed their support for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision on this issue in a recent opinion piece, "Cuba's Support for Terror." But in this edition of The Red Pen, Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow, Jeffrey Wright and Regina Argenzio argue that the WSJ's op-ed goes too far.

We are now just a few days away from the official end of Donald Trump's presidency, but the impacts of his latest moves in office will obviously last far beyond Joe Biden's inauguration. There's the deep structural political polarization, the ongoing investigations into the violence we saw at the Capitol, lord knows what happens over the next few days, there's also last-minute policy decisions here and abroad. And that's where we're taking our Red Pen this week, specifically US relations with Cuba.

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