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Putin is still winning

At first glance, it's been a tumultuous few weeks for Russia's president Vladimir Putin.

There have been large anti-Kremlin protests in Russia's Far East. Putin critic Alexei Navalny has survived an assassination attempt that many now blame squarely on Russia's president. Turmoil in neighboring Belarus reminds many of the troubles Russia faced six years ago in Ukraine.

Look more closely, and Putin is sitting prettier than you'd think.

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What We're Watching: Merkel's Putin pipeline dilemma, India-China border clash, Morales setback in Bolivia

Putin, Merkel and a poison pipeline: As the evidence mounts that Russian state actors were behind the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has threatened to punish Vladimir Putin by imposing sanctions on a critical gas pipeline that is meant to link Russia to Germany. Navalny has been receiving treatment in Germany, and so far Moscow has ignored Merkel's demands for a thorough accounting of the attempt on his life, which occurred nearly two weeks ago in a Siberian airport. This has put Merkel in a tough spot: on the one hand, stopping construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline would inflict a huge blow on gas-exporting Russia. But German business groups and international investors in the project are pressuring her to keep politics separate from the nearly-complete project, which is meant to massively increase gas imports for German factories and households.

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What We're Watching: Putin eyes Belarus, NZ shooter gets life, Mali coup continues

Will Putin, or won't he? In his first public remarks on the unrest in Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he's ready to send a special police squad into the country to restore order if "extremist elements" cause things to spin "out of control." As protests against Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko's bogus re-election continue, Putin's remarks are the clearest indication yet that the Kremlin is mulling a direct intervention. But are we really headed for a Ukraine 2014 redux? It's complicated. Putin can't stand Lukashenko, and would love to see him gone, but he also wants to prevent the Belarusian opposition from succeeding in a way that might inspire Russians. What's more, intervening directly in Belarus would probably be a harder sell at home than he had to make in 2014: for Russia, Belarus' cultural, economic, and strategic importance all pale next to Ukraine's. But Putin also has a reflexive fear of instability: if the situation deteriorates significantly next door — and his pledge of support could well encourage Lukashenko to push things too far — Putin could roll the dice and send in the troops.

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Putin's vaccine gamble

"Go ahead, take it," President Putin says to you.

"Take what?" you ask.

"This Covid vaccine," he continues, turning a small syringe over in his hands. "It's safe. Trust me. We… tested it on my daughter."

Would you do it? Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that a lot of people will say yes. On Tuesday he announced that Russia has become the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine, and that mass vaccinations will begin there in October.

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Historic EU COVID recovery fund deal; Turkey and Greece Aegean dispute

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

How will the EU coronavirus recovery fund work and are there winners and losers?

How it's going to work? Hundreds of billions of euros being distributed between, its collective redistribution from wealthy countries to poor countries. And that money has been now unanimous agreement between all 27 members of the European Union. Not 28, the Brits are no longer a part of the table. And it's historic. It's by far the biggest political success that we've seen anywhere around the world in providing real multilateral leadership to help make it easier for those countries that are suffering the most. In the case of Europe, that means the poorer countries that don't have the ability to bail out their devastated economies. Again, you are seeing double digit contractions across Europe economically this year. Now you're seeing hundreds of billions of euros, half of that will be grants, don't need to pay back, half will be loans. That was a big part of the of the debate, of the controversy.

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