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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks by video link during NATO's annual parliamentary assembly in Madrid, Spain.

Europa Press/ABACA via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: NATO doubles down on Ukraine, Erdoğan mulls Syria ground operation, Chinese COVID protests mellow, news outlets make Assange petition

Lasting support for Ukraine?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin hoped for a quick victory that would disarm Ukraine and replace its government. Ukrainian fighters, backed and armed by NATO governments, have shredded Putin’s Plan A. His Plan B is to inflict punishment on Ukrainian civilians with attacks on the infrastructure that provides light and heat during the cold, dark winter ahead to try to divide opinion in Europe and the United States over their long-term support for Ukraine’s government. That’s the backdrop for two noteworthy pieces of news this week. On Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers, gathered in Bucharest, will renew their vow, first made in 2008, that Ukraine will one day join their alliance. In the meantime, individual member states will offer more weapons, perhaps including US small precision bombs fitted to rockets that help Ukraine strike enemy targets deep behind Russian lines. The alliance itself will offer electricity generators, fuel, and medical supplies. The message to Moscow: You won’t win a war of attrition. Ukraine’s allies will boost that country’s defenses for as long as it takes to deny Russia a victory.

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A man scuffles with the security officials before the result of Kenya's presidential election is announced in Nairobi.

REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

What We’re Watching: Kenyan election jitters, Ukraine hits Wagner, Israel strikes near Russian bases

Kenya's new president is … ?

Deputy President William Ruto won Kenya's presidential election with 50.5% of the vote, the electoral commission declared Monday. Still, the process was very messy: authorities initially delayed the announcement amid clashes at the national counting center and accusations of vote rigging from Ruto's rival Raila Odinga. What’s more, four out of the commission's seven members refused to endorse the result over vague fraud claims. So, what happens now? Odinga, who represents the country’s dynastic politics, might contest the result in court, as he did five years ago, when the Supreme Court found so many logistical errors in the presidential election that it forced a rerun. Also, in 2007 more than 1,200 Kenyans were killed following a similarly disputed vote. (Both Ruto and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta were then taken before the International Criminal Court for inciting violence, but charges against both were later dropped.) All eyes are now on the 77-year-old Odinga, in his fifth and presumably last run for the presidency. Will he risk more unrest and perhaps violence to win at all costs? Such uncertainty doesn't bode well for East Africa's most vibrant democracy. This election “started off as the most transparent and ends up in farce," tweeted political cartoonist Patrick Gathara.

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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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Paige Fusco

What is Turkey thinking?

It’s been over a month since Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO. But despite expectations of a speedy process, the joint bid has been met by an unexpected and troublesome obstacle: Turkey.

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People work at the site of a mudslide after pouring rains in Petropolis, Brazil.

REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Hard Numbers: Deadly mudslides in Brazil, Israel strikes Syria, Saudi women seek bullets, problem parrots in New Zealand

105: At least 105 people have been killed in mudslides and floods in Brazil. The disaster saw streets “turned into rivers” in the city of Petropolis, 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. Hundreds are now expected to be facing homelessness in the wake of the floods.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the 11th BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil November 13, 2019.

Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin via REUTERS

Putin meets Xi, US takes out ISIS leader, Costa Rica votes

Putin-Xi Olympic meeting. “It's probably the most important geopolitical summit we've had in years,” says Ian Bremmer. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet on Friday in Beijing, where Putin will also attend the Winter Olympics inauguration. The two have a lot to discuss in their first in-person meeting in two years, including tensions over Ukraine, trade, and lunar exploration. Putin will likely assure Xi that Russian oil and gas will continue flowing to China. Xi, meanwhile, is expected to support Russia’s demand that NATO halt its eastward expansion. China’s leader sees the Ukraine crisis as a welcome distraction from COVID and Xinjiang. On the other hand, Xi doesn’t want a war that will hurt the economy, so he would prefer that Putin find a diplomatic resolution.

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What We’re Watching: US-China Olympics drama, Venezuela’s struggling opposition, Syria goes narco

US government reps will boycott Beijing Olympics. The US announced Monday that American government officials will not attend the Beijing Winter Olympics. China responded to reports of the diplomatic boycott by saying that the move is a “naked political provocation” and an affront to China’s 1.4 billion people. For months, the Biden administration has toyed with whether to skip the Beijing Games because of China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. Washington, however, has not banned US athletes from competing, which would be a major escalation at a time when US-China relations are at their lowest point in years. Still, from Beijing’s perspective, the move is humiliating and a blow to its prestige on the world stage, particularly if other countries follow suit and pull their representatives, too. Beijing vowed Monday to hit Washington with “countermeasures” if it goes ahead with the diplomatic boycott, though it’s unclear what the CCP might whip up as payback.

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