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Firefighters at the site of a Russian missile attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

State Emergency Service of Ukraine via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: G7 stands up to Putin, Israel and Lebanon reach maritime deal, South Korea touts missile shield

The war grinds on

Following another day of sound and fury as Russia fired more missiles into Ukrainian cities on Tuesday, G7 leaders announced “undeterred and steadfast” military and financial support for Ukraine’s defense and warned Vladimir Putin’s government that any Russian use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be met with “severe consequences.” Ukrainian air defenses shot down some of Russia’s missiles on Tuesday, but Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky told G7 leaders that more and better systems were an urgent priority. On Wednesday, Putin is expected to meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a security conference in Kazakhstan, and the Kremlin spokesman told reporters the two leaders might discuss the possibility of peace talks. So, in a week of dramatic images from Ukraine, what has really changed? Ukraine has proven it still has partisans inside Crimea that can inflict real damage on important Russian infrastructure. Putin has demonstrated that he’s willing to satisfy the demands of Russian nationalists to punish Ukrainian civilians, though he says the next steps will continue to be incremental. Russia’s dwindling stockpile of precision-guided missiles, which Western export controls will make hard to replace, dwindled further. And despite pleas for peace from foreign governments, neither Russia nor Ukraine has signaled any credible basis for compromise.

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Luisa Vieira

The Graphic Truth: Erdonomics vs. Turkish economy

This week, Turkey’s annual inflation rate reached 83.45%, a 24-year high. And that's just the official number — independent experts believe the actual figure is more than 186%, which means prices have almost tripled.

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People gather at a tram stop in front of a board displaying a portrait of a fallen Russian soldier in St. Petersburg. A slogan reads: "Glory to heroes of Russia!"

REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

What We’re Watching: Russian scramble, DeSantis’s migrant flights, Bolsonaro in the night sky

Putin calls up reservists

In his biggest “admission” to date that the war in Ukraine is not going to plan, Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of Russian reservists. The move is estimated to affect some 300,000 reservists out of the 25 million Russians who fit the criteria of having had some military experience. However, in a rare taped address to the nation, Putin stopped short of actually declaring “war” in Ukraine, instead using his fiery speech to insist that Russia's goals have not changed and to warn NATO that he'll use any weapons at his disposal to achieve Russia’s objectives — a thinly veiled threat that nukes are on the table.

Meanwhile, Tuesday saw two (seemingly contradictory) developments that suggest Ukraine’s aggressive and successful military counteroffensive now has Russian policymakers scrambling for responses. First, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a PBS interviewer that, based on comments made by Putin at last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, he believes the Russian president wants to end the war in Ukraine as soon as possible. (Note: Erdoğan’s comments on potential terms of a peace deal may have been badly translated or taken out of context.)

Second, officials from the Russian-backed separatist provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk announced they would hold referendums on the question of joining Russia, beginning on Friday (!) and running through Tuesday. Putin announced his support for the votes, which would pave the way for the annexation of Ukrainian territory the Russian military still controls. Occupation authorities in the southern region of Kherson and in Russian-held parts of Zaporizhzhia quickly said they would do the same. Moscow insists that attacks on any territories annexed by Russia will be treated as attacks on Russia itself, with all the unstated and scary-sounding implications of that distinction. Ukrainian and Western officials have dismissed the votes as illegal and farcical.

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Ari Winkleman

What We’re Watching: US mulls China sanctions, Uzbek talks focus on ‘cooperation,’ US train strike averted

Will the US preemptively sanction China over Taiwan?

If you thought US-China ties couldn't get any icier, think again. Washington is reportedly mulling sanctions in a bid to deter Beijing from invading Taiwan — and nudging the EU to follow suit. No specifics yet, but the package would presumably target the Chinese military, which has upped the muscle-flexing ante near the self-ruled island since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in early August. Such a move would be similar to how the US and its allies warned Russia there would be a steep price to pay for invading Ukraine. Taiwan would welcome preemptive sanctions and has long called for the Americans and, more recently, the Europeans to do more to protect the island against Chinese aggression. But any sanctions would also rile Xi Jinping, who’s up for “reelection” next month and has vowed to reunite the island with the mainland before the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2049 – by force, if necessary. While the White House has refused to comment, a sanctions plan could signal that US intelligence believes Xi might make a play for Taiwan sooner rather than later.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Lviv, Ukraine.

Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office via Reuters

What We're Watching: Erdogan's diplomacy, carnage at Kabul mosque, US-Taiwan trade talks

Erdogan is everywhere

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very busy this week. On Thursday, he flew to Lviv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the Turkish president’s first visit to Ukraine since Russia’s war began six months ago. Erdogan, who has tried to position himself as an elder statesman and mediator between Kyiv and Moscow, vowed to help rebuild Ukrainian infrastructure just weeks after brokering a deal with Russia to resume Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports amid a global food crisis. The trio also discussed efforts to secure a contested nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. This comes a week after Erdogan held a face-to-face with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, where they pledged to boost energy cooperation. What’s more, Erdogan’s Ukraine trip came just one day after Ankara announced it was restoring full diplomatic ties with Israel. Indeed, Erdogan is looking to get wins wherever he can as he tries to divert attention from Ankara’s deepening economic woes. In a move that made many economists shudder, Turkey’s central bank on Thursday further slashed interest rates to 13% despite the fact that inflation has topped a whopping 80%. Loosening monetary policy to boost growth has long been Erdogan’s shtick, but as a cost of living crisis continues to hurt Turks, his ruling party is falling in the polls less than a year out from elections.

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Editions of Taiwanese newspapers reporting on U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's historic visit to Taiwan.

Kyodo via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Tensions in Taiwan, violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, Erdoğan in Russia

(More) trouble in Taiwan

Tensions in the Taiwan Strait are now at their highest level in a quarter-century after China fired ballistic missiles at waters near the self-governing island on Thursday. The launch was part of broader live-fire drills scheduled to conclude on Sunday — Beijing's furious answer to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting Taiwan earlier this week. So, what might happen next? We're keeping an eye out for three things. First, whether China escalates even further by shooting missiles into waters off eastern Taiwan — thus violating the island's airspace, tantamount to declaring war. (By the way, the Chinese might need a bit of target practice after five projectiles landed inside Japan’s EEZ.) Second, how the drills will impact navigation and trade in the region, with many flights cancelled and cargo ships now avoiding the Taiwan Strait. Third, how the US will respond: 26 years ago Bill Clinton ended the last major US-China standoff over Taiwan in one military fell swoop, but it's unlikely Joe Biden will have the appetite to risk all-out war with China. Sanctions? Strong-worded statements blasting Beijing and supporting Taipei? You bet. But that'll be the end of it. Meanwhile, 23 million Taiwanese people will spend the next few days frantically awaiting China's next move.

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From left to right, the presidents of Russia (Vladimir Putin), Iranian (Ebrahim Raisi), and Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) hold talks in Tehran.

utnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via REUTERS

What We're Watching: Tehran trilateral, EU food jitters, Sri Lankan presidential vote

Putin, Raisi & Erdogan in Tehran: friends with differences

Leaving the former Soviet region for the first time since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Tehran on Tuesday with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts. The conflict in Syria, where Russia and Iran are on the opposite side of Turkey, was the main item on the agenda, but little of substance was announced beyond a pledge to rid the country of terrorist groups and to meet again later this year. Importantly, Turkey’s recent threat to invade northern Syria to destroy Kurdish militant groups based there still hangs in the air — a point underscored by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call for Russia and Iran to be more “supportive” of Turkey’s security concerns. Still, both Moscow and Tehran have warned him against an invasion. Putin and Erdogan also failed to close the remaining gaps on a UN-backed plan to restart Ukraine’s seaborne grain exports. Lastly, while Putin and the Iranians traded shots at NATO and the West, there was no public mention of the current, fast-fading efforts to revive the long-stalled 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meet on the sidelines of the Caspian Summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

Putin in Iran: Alliances, arms, and energy on agenda

Iran and Russia are considered staunch enemies of the West, paying for it with crippling sanctions and diplomatic isolation — in Tehran's case over its nuclear program and in Moscow's over its invasion of Ukraine. The two countries, consequently, have turned to one another and boosted their economic and military cooperation.

But even as the US attempts to back a new, anti-Iran order in the Middle East, Russia is making its own moves there.

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