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Malala Yousafzai speaks during the Transforming Education Summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in Manhattan, New York.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: UNGA meets amid global crises, Hungary scrambles to secure EU funds, protests persist in Iran

UNGA high-level talks begin

World leaders are gathering at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week for the annual General Assembly. The event kicked off Monday with a summit on education. On the plus side, they’re attending in person for the first time since the pandemic began. On the down side, the world is as divided as it’s been at any time since the Cold War. An overarching item on the agenda will be the ongoing war in Ukraine — debate will focus not only on how to end the war, but also the extent to which the nations of the world are willing to hold Russia accountable for starting the conflict and for potential war crimes. A second but related issue is the ongoing global food crisis, which has been worsened by the war in Ukraine despite a recent agreement to resume grain shipments from Ukrainian ports. The UN World food program is worried food prices could continue to rise over the next five years. Third is climate change, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that “the message to world leaders is clear: lower the temperature — now.”

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Watch For A Shifting War Narrative | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Europe’s oil sanctions and a shifting Russian war narrative to come

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here and I am back in New York City with a Quick Take to kick off the week. And the big news, a hundred days in just about continues to be, yes, the Russian war in Ukraine. And most importantly, in the last 24 hours, the sixth round of sanctions agreement coming from the Europeans, most importantly, essentially an oil boycott.

Now there's a lot of back and forth on what exactly this means because the Hungarians, with Viktor Orban, much more aligned with the Russian president and also very dependent on energy from Russia, was extremely obstreperous and basically refused to participate in the deal. So they got an extension and that extension is temporary but undefined.

What that basically means is that the boycott is on oil that's transferred through ships as opposed to by pipe. And that means that a bunch of the East Europeans will be excluded from it, will still be buying Russian oil. But the reality is, two thirds of all the oil that Europe gets from Russia is already going to be cut out. And if you add to that, what the Germans and the Poles are doing, their pledges to wind down their own pipeline imports by the end of the year, you're talking about 90% of Russian crude to Europe is now going to be boycotted. That's a very big deal. That's a very big cost, billions and billions of dollars, to the Russians every year. Some of that they'll be able to sell at a discount to other countries around the world. Some of it they won't because there's going to be a challenge when most of the ships that they can get the oil out come from Europe and they need to be insured as well. And all of that is under direct sanction. It means the Russians are going to have a very hard time.

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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during their meeting in Budapest.

Reuters.

What We're Watching: Hungarian holdout, hope in Shanghai, US troops return to Somalia

Is Hungary holding the EU “hostage”?

The European Commission is pushing hard for a bloc-wide ban on Russian oil imports. But one member state — Hungary — has gone rogue and is holding up the embargo. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, Lithuania’s representative accused Hungary of holding the bloc “hostage,” after PM Viktor Orbán demanded that Brussels dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to offset losses from moving away from cheap Russian fossil fuels. Orbán is buddies with Vladimir Putin and has been trying to expand Hungary’s economic relationship with the Kremlin in recent months, so he is driving a hard bargain, saying that ditching Russian oil would be an “atomic bomb” for his country’s economy. Landlocked Hungary relies on Russia for around 45% of its total oil imports, and finding alternative sources could lead to shortages and price hikes at a time when Hungarians are already grappling with sky-high inflation. Still, Brussels says Budapest is being greedy because Hungary has already been given a longer window — until the end of 2024 — to phase out Russian imports. But Orbán is hoping to get more concessions ahead of a big EU summit on May 30, when the bloc aims to find a political solution to this stalemate.

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Macron celebrates his victory during a rally at the Champ de Mars in Paris.

JB Autissier/Panoramic

Macron beats Le Pen, encore

Sometimes the polls aren’t wrong. On Sunday, centrist French President Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right hopeful Marine Le Pen in a rerun of their 2017 presidential runoff.

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Putin greets Orbán during their meeting at the Kremlin in 2018.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Hungary hearts Russian gas, Israeli government in trouble, Ukrainian exodus

Hungry for Russian gas, Budapest will pay in rubles

Fresh off his decisive election victory last weekend, Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán broke with the rest of the EU on a key point of pressure against Moscow on Wednesday, saying he’s ready to pay for Russian natural gas in rubles if the Kremlin asks him to. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently threatened to cut off gas entirely to the EU — which relies on Russia for 40 percent of its supplies — unless member states pay for the stuff using Russian currency. Although the Brussels says no way, it’s ultimately up to each individual country to decide what it wants to do. Orbán, among the most Russia-friendly leaders in the EU, also runs a country that depends entirely on Kremlin-exported gas. Still, while Budapest may be going rogue against the rest of the EU on this, it wouldn’t make much of a financial difference for Moscow: Hungary accounts for just 3% of Russia’s gas exports to the continent. Meanwhile, stricter US sanctions — which include Russia’s largest bank since Wednesday — are pushing the country closer to a technical default on its sovereign debt.

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Authoritarians Like Putin No Longer Care What You Think | GZERO World with Ian Bremmer

Authoritarians gone wild

Political scientist Yascha Mounk says we're in a new era of naked power politics.

That means Vladimir Putin doesn’t care what you think anymore about his blind ambition. And he really doesn’t have to because authoritarians like him are on the rise.

On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks to Mounk, who explains why confidence in democracy is declining in the West at the same time authoritarian leaders like Putin and Xi Jinping have become more honest about their demands and lack of respect for democracy.

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A soldier takes a photograph of his comrade as he poses beside a destroyed Russian tank and armored vehicles in Bucha, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

What We’re Watching: Russian war crimes, Orbán 4.0, Sri Lankan turmoil

EU sanctions loom over alleged Russian war crimes

After Russian forces withdrew from the outskirts of Ukraine's capital, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government on Sunday accused them of committing war crimes by massacring civilians in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. Authorities are gathering evidence of the alleged atrocities to build a case against Russian officials at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and former ICC chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte wants to issue an international arrest warrant for Putin. To convict, Ukrainians would need to show a pattern of deliberate targeting of civilians. Still, the carnage has convinced the EU to act: it is preparing a wave of fresh sanctions against the Kremlin. It's unclear what the new measures will be, but pressure is mounting on the bloc to finally target Russian oil and natural gas, which many EU states depend on for energy. Late Sunday, Zelensky appeared at the Grammys in a pre-taped message. "Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos," he said, asking viewers to support Ukraine any way they can. Meanwhile, Russia-Ukraine peace talks may resume on Monday in Turkey, and Moscow is saying it’s not yet ready for face-to-face talks between Putin and Zelensky.

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Podcast: Naked power politics challenge global democracy, says author Yascha Mounk

Listen: Confidence in democracy is declining in the West at the same time authoritarian leaders like Putin and Xi Jinping have become more transparent about their demands and lack of respect for democracy, says Johns Hopkins University professor Yascha Mounk, author of a new book, "The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure."

On the GZERO World podcast, Mounk tells Ian Bremmer we're in a new era of naked power politics, illustrated by the way Putin is transforming Russia into a repressive regime. Putin believes the West is decadent while he views himself as a strong leader with traditional values. Meanwhile, the biggest challenges ahead for democracies like the US are racial disparities in wealth, tribalism, and extreme partisanship.

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