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Annie Gugliotta

What We're Watching: World War Z, US-Venezuela thaw

What’s Z deal with that Russian symbol?

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak was widely criticized for taking to the podium of a World Cup event over the weekend with the letter “Z” taped to his leotard. Why? Well, since Putin ordered his armies into Ukraine two weeks ago, the Roman letter Z — often rendered in a paintbrush style — has become a symbol of support for the invasion and for Putin’s regime. In Russia, it’s been slapped on cars, drawn on lapels, and even emblazoned on the sweatshirts of the guys in this super chill “non-fascist” video in support of the war. Where does the Z come from? The clearest answer is that it’s the symbol the Russian military has slapped onto its trucks and tanks in Ukraine to distinguish them from the same Soviet-era hardware that the Ukrainians also have. The Russian Ministry of Defense’s Instagram account has all kinds of uses for the Z now: Za Pobedu! (For Victory!), DenaZification! DemilitariZation! Still, why not use a Cyrillic letter? Then again, after all the sanctions and boycotts, the Roman letter Z might soon be the only Western thing left in Russia.

US meets with Venezuela’s Maduro

With fears that the war in Ukraine could push global energy prices even higher, Washington has brought an olive branch to an unlikely shore. US officials recently met with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to discuss conditions for repealing the crippling US sanctions in place against the South American oil producer. Washington, which broke off relations in 2019 over Maduro’s rigged elections and crackdowns on opposition protests, is reportedly demanding free and fair presidential elections and extensive reforms to the Venezuelan oil sector. Maduro, for his part, wants an end to US sanctions on Venezuelan oil and to be readmitted to the SWIFT global financial platform (see our explainer on SWIFT here.) Venezuela is, of course, a close ally and partner of Russia. With Moscow itself now under crushing economic and financial sanctions, the US is surely gauging whether there’s room to drive a wedge between Caracas and Moscow.

What We're Watching: US and Russia in Geneva, mass testing in Tianjin, a big loss for Venezuela's Maduro

US and Russia in Geneva. Senior US and Russian diplomats opened talks in Geneva on Monday, kicking off a round of discussions between Kremlin and Western officials across Europe over the next few days. Vladimir Putin wants Joe Biden and NATO leaders to redraw the security map of Europe by promising that Ukraine, Georgia, and other Russian neighbors will never join NATO and that the security alliance will not place missile system in Ukraine. That would, in effect, redivide Europe into Western and Russian spheres of influence. The Biden administration and NATO officials have said they will not allow Russia to veto NATO membership for countries that want to join. European leaders have warned the US to honor these promises, and Ukraine’s government is watching and waiting as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops remain poised near the Ukrainian border. Russia says it will pursue its aims by military means if necessary. NATO says it's ready to respond. The US says any Russian incursion into Ukraine will draw harsh sanctions against Russian and more supplies of Western weapons for Ukraine. Putin began this game of chicken, and we’ll be watching in coming weeks to see how far he wants to push it.

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Annie Gugliotta & Jess Frampton

Top Risks 2022

Every year, Eurasia Group, our parent company, produces its list of the top 10 geopolitical risks for the coming year. The report is authored by Eurasia Group's president, Ian Bremmer, and its chairman, Cliff Kupchan.

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What We’re Watching: Russia’s Memorial banned, Switzerland vs EU, Venezuela’s oil rebound (for now)

Memorializing Memorial. Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the liquidation of Memorial International, one of the country’s leading human rights organizations, which for the last 30 years has chronicled abuses committed during the Soviet era, including by the KGB, President Putin’s former employer. The court said the group failed to register foreign funding under a state law that many deem unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Memorial Human Rights Center, an affiliate group that has been documenting political repression in post-Soviet Russia, now faces a separate court hearing that will determine its future. In handing down its verdict, the Supreme Court said that Memorial “creates a false image of the Soviet Union as a terrorist state,” but historians sayS the group, established in 1989, plays a crucial role in documenting what happened to millions who suffered the Gulag forced labor camps, as well as other forms of oppression. Memorial’s lawyers say they will launch an appeal, but we’re not holding our breath for an overturned verdict.

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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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Chilean presidential candidate Jose Antonio Kast from far-right Republican Party meets with supporters during a campaign rally in the outskirts of Santiago, ahead of the first round of presidential elections on November 21, Chile, October 25, 2021.

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

What We’re Watching: Elections in Chile & Venezuela, Modi blinks, Chinese buffet ban

An extreme choice for Chilean president. Chileans go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential election. The two frontrunners are former lawmaker José Antonio Kast, a rightwinger who pines for Augusto Pinochet, and former student leader Gabriel Boric, who's moderated his positions from his more far-left days but still wants to spend big on social programs. Kast, who's benefited from rising anti-migrant sentiment, is currently leading in the polls, while Boric hasn't been able to campaign for two weeks after getting COVID. Still, Kast probably won't get 50 percent of the vote, meaning that things will go to a December runoff in which Boric is projected to have a slight edge. Just months ago, Chileans elected a largely left-leaning assembly to rewrite the Pinochet-era constitution following mass protests over rising inequality in late 2019. The next president will want to have a say in that process.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds a press conference in Caracas.

REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

New Venezuela talks: Maduro won, so what’s there to talk about?

You'd think that when a country suffers the worst peacetime economic collapse in modern history or generates the world's second largest refugee crisis, it would stay in the news for a while.

Not so with Venezuela, which, for all its struggles over the past three years, has fallen from global headlines.

Now's a good time to take a fresh look at this story, because later this week, the government of Nicolás Maduro will sit down with the opposition, still led nominally by "interim president" Juan Guaidó, to negotiate a path forward after nearly four years of political and economic crisis.

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Paige Fusco

The Graphic Truth: Venezuela's sprawling LatAm exodus

The exodus of Venezuelan nationals is currently the world's second largest refugee crisis, exceeded only by the one in Syria. Of the over five million Venezuelans currently living outside their country, more than 80 percent are located throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, with the lion's share hosted by neighboring Colombia. We take a look at which other Latin American countries have sizable populations of Venezuelans at the moment.

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