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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro attend a news conference following talks in Moscow.

Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

For Latin America, political risks overshadow economic gain from Ukraine crisis

Countries that rely heavily on imported food and energy face the greatest risk of social and economic crises from the disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet even those that are themselves big producers of these essential commodities are suffering fallout from the war. Rising prices for basic goods in many parts of Latin America, for example, are testing governments already struggling to manage elevated public frustration caused by pandemic hardships. We asked Eurasia Group expert Yael Sternberg to explain how this is playing out.

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President Pedro Castillo during the appointment of the new Prime Minister, Aníbal Torres.

Latin America News Agency via Reuters

New president falls victim to Peru’s messy politics

A series of scandals and resignations have forced Peruvian President Pedro Castillo to shuffle his cabinet four times in his first six months in office. Lawmakers have already tried to impeach him once. Though his latest cabinet shuffle could bring some respite, Castillo is not out of the woods yet — and may never be. Why all the turmoil? We asked Eurasia Group analyst Yael Sternberg.

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U.S. army instructor from the Joint Multinational Training Group trains Ukrainian service members to operate with M141 Bunker Defeat Munition (SMAW-D) grenade launcher, supplied by the United States.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: US troops in Eastern Europe, Peru government reshuffle, Denmark lifts COVID restrictions

US deploys troops to Eastern Europe. A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the US of “ignoring” Kremlin demands to limit NATO further expansion to the East, the White House sent more than 3,000 troops to alliance members Germany, Poland, and Romania. This was in addition to an order for 8,500 US troops to be ready to deploy to Eastern Europe on short notice. With Russia continuing to mass more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, Moscow and Washington have been at loggerheads in diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis, raising fears of war. Russia wants guarantees that NATO will not expand further East into what the Kremlin sees as its sphere of influence. But the West refuses to accept that demand, offering instead to commit only to limits on weapons deployments in Eastern Europe. It’s worth noting that none of the 3,000 US troops are being sent to Ukraine — neither NATO nor the US have an appetite for sending troops there. But Putin, it seems, just might …

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Russian President Vladimir Putin holds talks with U.S. President Joe Biden via a video link in Sochi, Russia December 7, 2021.

Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Biden vs Putin, Rohingya vs Facebook, Peruvian congress vs president

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agree to disagree. But what a disagreement it is…. From what we know, during their Tuesday video call, the Russian president made clear that NATO’s flirtations with Ukraine are a red line, and that Moscow is prepared to defend its sphere of influence. The Kremlin also wants to see movement on the 2015 Minsk peace plan, which would give Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine broad autonomy. Biden meanwhile stressed that if Russia stirs up fresh trouble in Ukraine, the US is prepared to impose more severe economic sanctions. The US president also told Putin that Washington doesn’t accept the idea that Ukraine’s interests are subordinate to Russia’s. All of that leaves us more or less where we were before the call: Russia with more than 100,000 troops camped out on the Ukrainian border, and the US sounding the alarm about a possible invasion.

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Peru's socialist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo addresses supporters while holding an oversized pencil, a symbol of the Peru Libre party, at a rally in Lima.

REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda

Peru makes a radical choice. Will it pan out?

Fed up with years of political dysfunction, and wracked by the world's worst per capita COVID death toll, Peruvians have made a radical new choice for president.

After a day or so of nail-biting uncertainty, the results of Sunday's runoff appear to show that Pedro Castillo, a Marxist-leaning former schoolteacher who gets around on horseback and carries an oversized pencil with him everywhere, has edged out Keiko Fujimori, the authoritarian-minded daughter of the country's former dictator.

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Peruvian flag during street protests in Lima

REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda

What We’re Watching: Peruvian runoff, Haitian resignation

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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Guillermo Lasso and his wife Maria de Lourdes Alcivar react after Lasso wins Ecuador's presidential runoff vote.

REUTERS/Maria Fernanda Landin

What We’re Watching: Andean election results, China’s vaccine effectiveness

Andean aftermath: Two big weekend elections in South America produced two stunning results. In Ecuador's presidential runoff, the center-right former banker Guillermo Lasso upset early frontrunner Andrés Arauz, a leftist handpicked by former president Rafael Correa. Lasso will take power amid the social and economic devastation of the pandemic and will have to reckon with the rising political power of Ecuador's indigenous population: the Pachakutik party, which focuses on environmental issues and indigenous rights, is now the second-largest party in parliament. Meanwhile, in a big surprise next door in Perú, far-left union leader Pedro Castillo tallied up the most votes in the first round of that country's highly fragmented presidential election. As of Monday evening it's not clear whom he'll face in the June runoff, but three figures are in the running as votes are counted: prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, rightwing businessman Rafael López Aliaga, and conservative Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Meanwhile, in the congressional ballot, at least 10 parties reached the threshold to win seats, but there is no clear majority or obvious coalition in sight.

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Supporters of Peru's presidential candidate Verónica Mendoza hold a giant national flag during a campaign closing rally in Lima.

REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda

What We’re Watching: Andean elections, AstraZeneca’s hell week, former Aussie PM is designated driver

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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