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General view of Severodonetsk from the last floor of a damaged building in the outskirts of the city.

Rick Mave / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: Russian progress in Ukraine, gun ban plans in Canada, DRC-Rwanda tensions

Ukraine update: Is the war really shifting?

In recent days, Russian forces have made incremental gains in the Donbas. Vladimir Putin’s military now controls most of Luhansk province, and they are close to taking the strategic city of Severodonetsk, which would open the way to a wider Russian occupation of Donetsk province. Russia has shifted strategy in recent weeks, withdrawing from areas it couldn’t hold around Kyiv and Kharkiv to focus on more limited objectives in the East and South. Some military analysts warn that Russia’s recent gains are still coming at a very high cost in terms of human losses and morale. But even these slight shifts in the winds of war have raised fresh questions in the EU and US about what comes next. Driving Russia out of the east and south does not seem immediately possible. And although Washington continues to send Ukraine advanced weapons, US President Joe Biden on Monday said he would exclude rockets that could strike into Russian territory. After more than three months of war, the Ukrainians are still fighting like hell to defend their country and their democracy, but it’s no clearer yet what a reasonably achievable endgame looks like for Ukraine, for its Western backers, or for Moscow.

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A serviceman of the Russian Southern Military District's 150th Rifle Division looks through binoculars during a military exercise at Kadamovsky Range.

Erik Romanenko/TASS

What We’re Watching: Ukraine updates, Qatari gas, North Korean missile tests, Rwanda-Uganda thaw, Portuguese election

Ukraine troops, talks, and TV. As Russia moved medical units to support its troops at the Ukrainian border — which the Pentagon assessed as a Cold War throwback — US President Joe Biden now says he’ll send a small contingent of American troops to Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, US lawmakers are working on a bipartisan “mother of all sanctions” bill that aims to preempt a Russian invasion. The UK, for its part, upped its game with more troop and air deployments of its own, as well as possible action against Russian oligarchs with London-based assets and connections to Vladimir Putin. On Monday, US diplomats will face off against the Russians at the UN Security Council, although Russia and its ally China will veto any measure they don’t like. As for bilateral diplomacy, the US formally rejected Russia’s demand that Ukraine be barred from NATO, but another round of talks with Moscow is likely. (By the way, don’t miss SNL’s take on Russian misinformation in the Ukraine crisis.)

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What We're Watching: Rwandan "justice," ISIS-K hits the Taliban, Canada's vote, COVID vaccines for kids, the UNGA podium

Hotel Rwanda hero given 25-year sentence: It's been more than a year since Paul Rusesabagina — the former hotel manager credited with saving more than 1,200 Tutsis and Hutus during the 1994 Rwandan genocide as portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda — was misled into boarding a plane that eventually flew him to Kigali, where he was arrested. Now, Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US permanent resident who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2006, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges. Rwandan authorities say Rusesabagina's punishment is for his support for the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, a group accused of coordinating a string of attacks in southern Rwanda in 2018. But supporters of Rusesabagina say the trial is simply retaliation for his public criticism of President Paul Kagame, who has ruled the country since the civil war ended in the mid-1990s and has been dubbed a "benevolent dictator." Western governments have criticized Kagame for targeting Rusesabagina, and President Biden could bring up his case directly with the Rwandan president when the two leaders attend a G20 summit in Rome next month.

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Rwanda: The good, the bad, and the ugly

For many, Paul Rusesabagina became a household name after the release of the 2004 tear-jerker film Hotel Rwanda, which was set during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Rusesabagina, who used his influence as a hotel manager to save the lives of more than 1,000 Rwandans, has again made headlines in recent weeks after he was reportedly duped into boarding a flight to Kigali, Rwanda's capital, where he was promptly arrested on terrorism, arson, kidnapping and murder charges. Rusesabagina's supporters say he is innocent and that the move is retaliation against the former "hero" for his public criticism of President Paul Kagame, who has ruled the country with a strong hand since ending the civil war in the mid 1990s.

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What We're Watching: Putin recruits Maduro, Lebanon's new prime minister, Rwandan "hero" arrested

Caracas looks for volunteers to test Russian vaccine: Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro is looking to recruit volunteers to test Russia's controversial COVID-19 vaccine. The Venezuelan government, which relies on billions of dollars in loans from the Kremlin, says it will take part in Russia's clinical trial despite the fact that the drug has been broadly criticized by the scientific community for not going through adequate phases of testing to ensure its safety and utility. After announcing in late August that he would offer up some 500 Venezuelan volunteers to participate in the drug trial, Maduro, whose government has been increasingly isolated after dozens of countries recognized Juan Guaidó as the country's legitimate leader in 2019, was scrambling on Monday to recruit enough guinea pigs to avoid disappointing Vladimir Putin, one of his (very) few remaining allies. Maduro also said he would be first in line to take the Russian drug when mass vaccinations start in October. We'll be watching to see if he keeps his pledge.

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GZERO World S1E20: Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Remember when President Trump allegedly referred to many African nations as "sh&#hole countries"? Soon after in Davos, he met with a prominent leader of one of those countries: Rwandan president and head of the African Union, Paul Kagame.

In a wide-ranging and candid interview, President Kagame recounts that somewhat...sensitive...conversation and responds to his own critics who point to an increasingly authoritarian government in Kigali.

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