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Handout photo dated January 14, 2020 shows an MQ-9 Reaper flies over the Nevada Test and Training Range.

William Rio Rosado via Abaca Press via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: Drone drama, DeSantis vs. Ukraine, Japan hearts South Korea, Pakistan-Khan standoff

Drone drama over the Black Sea

In what is so far the closest thing to a direct clash between the US and Russia over Ukraine, a Russian jet on Tuesday crashed into an American drone over the Black Sea, sending the unmanned craft hurtling into the water.

Moscow disputes the claim, saying its jets didn't hit the drone. The US accused the pilots of two Russian Su-27s of being “unprofessional” and “environmentally unsafe” for harassing and “dumping fuel” on the $32 million MQ-9 Reaper drone.

But scholars point out that the US didn’t call the act “unlawful.” Russia was evidently within its rights to disrupt a drone in international territory that was almost certainly gathering intel for Moscow’s adversaries in Kyiv. Still, the incident shows the dangers of US and Russian military hardware operating in such close proximity, even if they aren’t in direct conflict.

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A motorist rides past a hoarding decorated with flowers to welcome G20 foreign ministers in New Delhi, India, March 1, 2023.

REUTERS/Amit Dave

What We’re Watching: Tense G-20 talks in India, Finland’s fence-building, China’s economic activity, Chicago’s mayoral runoff

An awkward G-20 summit in Delhi

When G-20 foreign ministers met in New Delhi on Thursday, it was, as expected, an awkward affair. While India, the current G-20 chair, had hoped that the bloc would focus on issues of importance to the Global South, like climate change and the global food crisis, the agenda was disrupted by US-Russia bickering over the war in Ukraine, which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called "unprovoked and unjustified war", while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed the West for not doing enough to extend a deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports that will soon expire. Of course, focusing on anything else was going to be a tall order when the top diplomats of the US, China, and Russia were all in the same room. (President Biden and Xi Jinping last met at the G-20 summit in Bali in November, though there was no bilateral meeting between the US and Russia.) In a sign of how fractured Washington's relationship remains with these two states, Blinken on Wednesday again urged Beijing not to send lethal weapons to Russia and canned China’s peace plan for Ukraine. As for US-Russia relations … need we say more? India, which has gone to painstaking lengths to maintain its neutral status over the past year, says it thinks the group can get stuff done. But at a meeting last month of G-20 financial heads, the group couldn’t even agree on a joint statement.

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Photo composite of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping

Luisa Vieira

What We’re Watching: China’s budding diplomacy, Biden’s border control, Russia’s big plans

What’s next for Russia & China?

Russia and China broadcast their friendship to the world on Wednesday as the West freaked out about the possibility of Beijing turning to arm Moscow’s troops in Ukraine. After meeting Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin said that strong Russia-China ties are “important for stabilizing the international situation.” (A tad rich coming from the guy who upended geopolitics by invading Ukraine a year ago.) Putin also confirmed that Xi Jinping would visit Moscow for a summit in the coming months. Wang, for his part, clarified that while their famous partnership “without limits” is not directed against any other nation, it certainly should not be subject to external pressure. He said both countries support “multipolarity and democratization of international relations” – in other words, not a US-led liberal international order. Still, no matter what Western governments say, the Chinese are not so willing to break ties with the US and its allies, mainly because Beijing's trade relations are too important. Meanwhile, we wonder whether the current status of the Russia-China relationship — friends with benefits but complicated — will blossom into a marriage (of convenience) or end in a bad breakup. What we know for sure is that China is getting more involved in the Ukraine conflict generally. Learn more here.

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“Blood and glass" and the power of Big Tech

A little more than ten years after the start of the Arab Spring — a popular pro-democracy revolution helped along by Facebook and Twitter — the world's largest social media platforms this week banned the US president for inciting deadly violence in the United States.

If ever there were an illustration of the simultaneous promise, peril, and more importantly the power of social media to shape our lives and politics, this is it.

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American carnage

Our newsletter is called Signal. We chose that name because we wanted to do our best to separate "signal" from "noise" for our readers — to cut through ideology and emotion to try to offer insight into what's happening, why it's happening, and what might happen in the future. With that in mind, here's what has happened in the United States over the past 24 hours and how we got here.

President Donald Trump has built a large following by telling people that American politics is a game that has been rigged against his supporters. In November, he was defeated by Joe Biden in a free and fair election. Before, during, and after that election, Trump has tried to persuade his followers that the election was stolen from them. That charge is false. It has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits and court cases, and no court has found that it has merit.

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What We're Watching: New US Supreme Court justice, Morales can go back to Bolivia, Nile dam talks resume

SCOTUS battle rages on: In a major victory for US President Donald Trump just a week out from the presidential election, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, who was then swiftly sworn into office at a nighttime ceremony at the White House. Barrett, a conservative who was tapped to replace deceased Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just 46 days out from the presidential election, is the first Supreme Court justice to be confirmed in over 150 years without the support of a single member of the minority party. Democrats are furious, saying that Republicans — who blocked Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016, arguing at the time that the seat should only be filled after the next US president was elected some nine months later — have cynically backtracked on their own assertions. Democrats have also called the rushed confirmation process "illegitimate." Pressure is now mounting on Joe Biden (specifically, from the progressive wing of his party) to expand the size of the Supreme Court should he win in November, so Democrats can install liberal justices to offset the crucial court's hard-right shift.

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What We're Watching: Walter Reed's door, Sudan's peace, Nagorno-Karabakh's war

What's next for patient Trump? After four days of confusion about the state of President Trump's health following a positive test for COVID-19, the US President was discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center on Monday evening — just 29 days before the US election. Before falling ill (the president reportedly required both oxygen support and a cocktail of experimental medications only used in severe cases of COVID) and being forced off the campaign trail, Trump trailed challenger Joe Biden by significant margins in some important swing states. With just four weeks until Election Day — and millions of Americans already voting by mail — we are watching the pace of President Trump's recovery and how quickly he'll return to his signature large rallies. And if Trump recovers quickly and fully, will his claim of having "beaten the virus" resonate with the undecided voters whose support could help save his campaign?

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The world leaders who love Trump

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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