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Luisa Vieira

Time favors ... Ukraine or Russia?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been grinding on for nearly a year (or nearly a decade if you ask the Ukrainians). In this time, momentum has swung back and forth between Russia and Ukraine. But now, the front lines have stabilized, making gains harder to come by for both sides.

There’s consensus that in the near term, Moscow will be unlikely to achieve its war aims and Kyiv will be equally unlikely to liberate all its territory. A lasting ceasefire, let alone a negotiated settlement, remains as distant as ever because neither country is willing to make territorial concessions as long as they believe they can achieve a stronger negotiating position through continued fighting. And both sides still believe defeat is unthinkable and victory is at least possible (if not likely).

There’s no end in sight to what seems to be evolving into a war of attrition. Which raises the critical question: Who has the advantage in a drawn-out war, Russia or Ukraine?

Let’s look at both sides of the argument.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses via video link the 26th Annual Economist Government Roundtable in Lagonisi, Greece.

DPA via Reuters

What We're Watching: Ukraine tackles corruption, Nordics-Turkey NATO drama

Ukraine sacks officials over graft

Just days after the Ukrainian defense ministry called reports of graft in its procurement contracts “nonsense,” a deputy defense minister has been sacked to “preserve the trust” of Kyiv’s international partners. Also ousted: one of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top deputies, a fellow known for living lavishly and speeding around in a flashy car while his countrymen sleep in trenches. The move follows reports that Ukraine’s defense ministry had overpaid for food supplies, suggesting that kickbacks were in the mix. Despite making progress in recent years, Ukraine’s government has long struggled with endemic corruption, but Kyiv is particularly concerned to allay concerns in Europe and the US, which have sent tens of billions of dollars in aid to the country since Russia’s invasion. We’re also watching to see how things play out among rank-and-file soldiers — allegations of corruption at the top during a war where troops are defending their country with homemade dune buggies is a bad bad look …

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New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern throws in the towel
Gabrielle Debinski

What We’re Watching: Ardern's shock exit, sights on Crimea, Bibi’s budding crisis, US debt ceiling chaos

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern throws in the towel

In a shock announcement on Thursday, New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern said she no longer has “enough in the tank” to continue in the top job and will step down on Feb. 7. Ardern, a darling of the center-left who in 2017 became the world’s youngest female head of government, led the nation of 5 million through a host of challenges in recent years, including the horrific massacre at two Christchurch mosques, the pandemic, and a volcanic eruption on Whakaari/White Island that killed 22 people. Like much of the developed world, New Zealand is currently in the throes of an inflationary crisis that’s forced the central bank to aggressively raise interest rates. What’s more, as the cost of living crunch hurts ordinary New Zealanders, Ardern’s Labour Party is falling behind the center-right National Party in the polls ahead of the next general election in Oct. 2023. It’s unclear who will replace her, but Ardern’s deputy, Grant Robertson, already said he does not want the gig. In a rare act of political civility – and yet another reason why we should all move to New Zealand – Ardern’s rival, Christopher Luxon, head of the National Party, thanked Ardern for her service and for giving her all to a "demanding job."
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Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu with other members of the new Israeli parliament after their swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Bibi’s big plans, Lula’s tough choice, US-bound travel from China, Zelensky's plan, Santos' unraveling

Meet Israel's new government

When Israel’s new government is sworn in on Thursday, it will be the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. Led by Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, whose right-wing Likud Party reaped the most votes in last month’s race, the bloc is made up of two ultra-Orthodox parties as well as right-wing and far-right parties. To get coalition partners on side, Netanyahu made several overtures to Religious Zionism, a far-right alliance that finished third in the polls, including agreeing in principle to annex the disputed West Bank and applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements. Still, Bibi, a fluent politician, hedged his bets, saying that the timing and implementation of such a policy would depend on the PM’s judgement. What’s more, the coalition agreement includes 1.6 billion shekels ($450 million) annually for development and building roads in the West Bank, while also plans for legislation allowing business providers to refuse service based on their religious beliefs – broadly seen as a measure to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Bezalel Smotrich, the ultra-nationalist head of Religious Zionism and incoming finance minister, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Israel’s New Government Isn’t What You’ve Heard” in which he pushed back against claims that the new government will undermine the independent judiciary, but many Israelis are worried.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Washignton, D.C.

Zelensky made his case to Congress. What happens next?

In a historic address to a joint session of the US Congress on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded his case for why the US should continue greenlighting security aid to his country. So what’s Zelensky getting and what does he still want? The Biden administration announced this week that it was earmarking another $45 billion – part of a sprawling $1.7 trillion government spending bill that passed the Senate on Thursday and awaits a House vote – in military assistance to Ukraine. Half of the funds will go toward arming Ukraine’s army and replenishing US stockpiles. Crucially, an additional $1.85 billion package was announced on Wednesday that includes the Patriot air defense system that Kyiv has long been requesting to help protect its energy infrastructure from Russian bombardments.

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US President Joe Biden meets with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office at the White House.

REUTERS/Leah Millis

Zelensky charms Washington. But will it be enough for the long haul?

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky turned down US officials who offered to get him out by famously quipping: "I need ammo, not a ride."

Almost 10 months later, he finally got both.

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Ukraine's President Zelenskiy visits Ukrainian service members in Bakhmut, Ukraine.

Reuters

Three hundred days of war in Ukraine

Tuesday marked 300 days since the start of Russia’s attempted obliteration of Ukraine. For almost a year now, war has tormented the Ukrainian people, though their resolve remains unshaken.

The spectacular failings of Russia’s military endeavors over the past 11 months have been well documented. Still, the winter months will bring unprecedented challenges for Ukraine as temperatures and morale plunge.

In a sign that Kyiv is doubling down on efforts to secure more support ahead of a grueling winter, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will reportedly arrive on Wednesday in Washington, DC – his first time leaving Ukraine since the war began. The Ukrainian president will meet President Joe Biden at the White House and address a joint session of Congress, where he'll likely thank them for the US' ongoing support and request that the funds keep on coming.

Here are three of the biggest challenges facing Ukraine in the months ahead.

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Donald Trump announces that he will once again run for US president in 2024 during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The world watches Trump

Americans were watching as Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy on Tuesday night, but Trump’s entry into the race also grabbed the attention of political leaders around the globe.

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