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Russia-Ukraine: Don’t expect full-on invasion, but Putin isn’t bluffing

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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No progress after US/NATO-Russia talks, Boris Johnson in trouble

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

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An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

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What We’re Watching: Russia vs US/NATO, Twitter back in Nigeria, Syrian war crimes verdict

US/NATO-Russia talks. Did this week’s flurry of high-level diplomacy in Europe make any significant progress to stop war in Ukraine? Depends on who you ask. The Russians say the talks were unsuccessful, insomuch as Washington has not agreed to the Kremlin’s demands for NATO to not further expand into former Soviet territory. What’s more, Moscow is now threatening to send Russian troops to Cuba and Venezuela — two of its allies in Washington’s own geographical sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere — if the Americans don’t cave. The US and NATO admit “significant differences” remain between both sides, but want to keep talking. Meanwhile, Poland has warned that the risk of war in Europe is the highest it’s been since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

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Kazakhstan & The West Wing in a G-Zero world

The popular 2000s American political drama TV series The West Wing is famous for, among other things, its mostly accurate — albeit idealized — portrayal of the inner workings of US foreign policy. In the final season, outgoing President Jed Bartlet deploys American peacekeepers to stop a war between Russia and China over unrest in… Kazakhstan.

Right now, the Central Asian country is reeling from the worst political turmoil since it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991. But the current crisis is so far playing out quite differently from the TV war script — in a world that’s a lot more G-Zero than it was in 2006.

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What We’re Watching: Russians in another Stan, Djokovic drama, Mali sanctions, Europe vs anti-vaxxers

Russia in Kazakhstan. Anti-government clashes in Kazakhstan have gotten increasingly violent, with the death toll now reaching 164 after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a controversial “shoot without warning” order on Friday. What started as a demonstration against a fuel price hike has since turned into a movement protesting government corruption and authoritarianism — with regional implications. Enter Russia, which responded to the pro-Russia Tokayev’s request for help with about 2,500 “peacekeeping” troops and future deployments being planned under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the former Soviet Union’s version of NATO. This comes as Moscow has recently amassed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. The Russians will on Monday start talks with NATO and the US about the ongoing situation with Ukraine, but also discuss enhancing security plans with Kazakhstan, whose northern territory is claimed by Moscow. Russia has been clear about what it wants in Ukraine — for NATO to stop expanding further eastward into the former Soviet states. But what does Vladimir Putin want exactly in Kazakhstan, one of the region’s most energy-rich countries?

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Can talks between Russia and the West prevent war in Ukraine?

Amid mounting fears of a war between Russia and Ukraine, US and Russian representatives will meet in Geneva on Monday to discuss security issues, including NATO expansion and the recent Russian troop buildup on the border with Ukraine. Russia and NATO representatives will also meet in Brussels on Wednesday about the same tensions, with further talks in Vienna on Thursday hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. We asked Jason Bush, senior analyst at Eurasia Group, what has prompted the flurry of meetings, and what can be expected from them.

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