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What happens if Alexei Navalny dies?

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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What We’re Watching: Castro steps down, US sanctions Russia, a crescent-shaped critter in Krakow

A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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The limits of a China-Russia partnership

Whenever China and Russia shake hands, alarm bells ring in Washington. It's an old story given new life by increasingly contentious US relations with both countries and a new round of glad-handing by senior Chinese and Russian officials. What if China and Russia were to form some kind of axis of revisionist powers, Americans (and others) wonder? How dangerous might that be for US interests and for global democracy?

China and Russia have obvious overlapping interests. Start with trade. China is the world's largest importer of oil and natural gas. Russia is the number two exporter of oil and the top for natural gas. It's a natural partnership.

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Putin's next move won't be a Baltic invasion that could unify NATO

Russian President Vladimir Putin needs a way to boost his popularity at home, but is he likely to launch a military campaign targeting the Baltic states, as Russian studies expert Leon Aron argues in a recent Politico op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analysts Alex Brideau and Zachary Witlin take out the Red Pen to break down why a Baltic invasion is unlikely to be on Putin's agenda.

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The Graphic Truth: Russia's bid to vaccinate the world

While multiple Western countries ramp up coronavirus vaccinations with the Pfizer and Moderna jabs, Vladimir Putin's Sputnik V gamble is now paying off as developing nations increasingly turn to Russia's cheaper yet equally effective vaccine to inoculate their populations. Sputnik V — one of only three jabs which is more than 90 percent effective against severe COVID cases — has already been approved for use in almost 30 countries, most of them longtime Russian allies but also a host of other nations — like for instance Hungary or Mexico — that aim to hedge their bets if supplies of other jabs dry up. If the trend continues, can Russia win the global vaccine race against the West and China? We take a look at where Sputnik V has been approved for use or domestic production, and how many doses will be distributed and manufactured in each country.

Angela Merkel's missed connection

On Angela Merkel's last Valentine's Day as chancellor, she thinks back to East Germany, 1987. He was a foreign agent, she a quantum chemist. What might have been?

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