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Ukrainian fighters from the Azov Regiment searched and guarded by Russian troops in Mariupol.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: Putin’s propaganda, new Iran-Israel feud, Title 42 tussle

Putin’s new (propaganda) weapon

Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, not Russia’s Vladimir Putin, has waged a winning “information war.” Zelensky’s video speeches to foreign governments, the UN, and on Monday to the World Economic Forum at Davos have brought his country substantial military, economic, and political support. Stories like Monday’s anti-war resignation of a senior Russian diplomat and the highly publicized conviction of a Russian soldier for a war crime further boost Ukraine’s momentum. But last week’s surrender of hundreds of Ukrainian fighters from a Mariupol steel plant gives Russia a new propaganda weapon Putin could use for weeks or months to come. Many of the captured fighters belong to the Azov Regiment, a group with a history of ultra-nationalist, white-supremacist politics. While Ukraine’s government says it wants to recover these soldiers in exchange for captured Russians, a leader of pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists said Monday that all these prisoners should be tried for war crimes in Donetsk. A highly publicized trial of Ukrainians as right-wing war criminals won’t change many minds on either side about the war itself, but it could provide Putin a powerful distraction from a season of bad news for Russia.

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Albanese addresses supporters in Sydney after winning Australia's election.

REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

What We’re Watching: Australia elects new PM, Poland hearts Ukraine, Saudis stand by Russia

Albo takes over in Oz

After his Labor Party won Saturday's parliamentary election, Anthony Albanese, known popularly as Albo, is set to become Australia’s new prime minister. But it remains unclear whether Labor has a parliamentary majority: if his party falls just short in the end, it'll be a minority government, so Albanese will need some support from the Greens and climate-focused independents to get laws passed. In a gesture toward both, Albanese announced Sunday that he wants to make Australia a renewable energy superpower — a sharp departure from Scott Morrison, aka ScoMo, his coal-loving conservative predecessor. While mail-in ballots are still being counted, Albanese was sworn in Monday as acting PM in order to attend the Quad Summit in Tokyo on Tuesday. Albanese will need to hit the ground running because Australia is also in the AUKUS security partnership, which China doesn’t like one bit. Just weeks after Beijing inked a deal with the neighboring Solomon Islands that'll allow the Chinese to gain a military foothold in the Pacific, expect the China question to continue dominating Australian foreign policy under the new government.

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Vladimir Putin watches a military parade on Victory Day in Moscow.

Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via REUTERS

Putin declares ... nothing

In the end, Russian President Vladimir Putin threw the experts for a loop again.

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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Pelosi in Kyiv, Indian scorcher, Modi tours Europe

Pelosi visits Ukraine — will Biden go next?

Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-level US official to visit Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion. Pelosi met with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday amid growing pressure from Kyiv for President Joe Biden to travel to the country, which Zelensky feels would be a symbolic show of US support for Ukraine. Biden has so far been non-committal, but Pelosi's trip is arguably more significant at this time, given that Biden wants the US Congress to approve $33 billion in additional aid for Ukraine. Meanwhile, a long-awaited operation was underway to evacuate 100,000 people trapped in a steel plant in Mariupol, the only part of the besieged Ukrainian port city not yet occupied by the Russians. The UN is coordinating safe passage with the Red Cross for the evacuees to reach Zaporizhzhia.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a press conference at a metro station in Kyiv.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: Zelensky meets top US officials, Indonesia hoards palm oil

US officials visit Kyiv

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky spent Sunday waiting for a visit from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the highest-level American delegation to visit Kyiv since the Russian invasion began. Zelensky reportedly told the senior US officials that Ukraine needs more powerful weapons to resist the Russians. After the meeting, Blinken announced that the US would reopen its embassy in Ukraine (in the western city of Lviv) and pledged more military funding to Ukraine in addition to the $800 million in military support Biden announced on Thursday, which included heavy artillery, ammunition, and tactical drones. But Kyiv is also asking for long-range air defense systems and fighter jets. The Americans have rebuffed similar earlier requests and blocked NATO allies like Poland from supplying Soviet-era warplanes to avoid risking a direct military confrontation with Russia. Meanwhile, Ukraine is trying to set up humanitarian routes for escape from the besieged port city of Mariupol, where an estimated 100,000 people remain stuck with little food, water, or heat.

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A torn flag of Ukraine hung on a wire in front of a destroyed apartment building in Mariupol.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We’re Watching: All eyes on Mariupol, IMF to the rescue, Shanghai mulls easing lockdown

Mariupol's last men standing

As President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted, Ukraine’s remaining fighters in Mariupol ignored Moscow’s deadline to surrender on Sunday. Zelensky has warned that he'll call off peace talks if Russia carries out threats to kill these defenders. After a seven-week siege, Russia is close to capturing the strategic southeastern port city. This would help form a land bridge from mainland Russia to Crimea and boost Russia’s efforts to gain control of eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin recently decided to concentrate on the Donbas in the second phase of its invasion. But Russia continued to also strike the capital, Kyiv, over the weekend and hit Lviv in western Ukraine with missiles on Monday. Is this a response to Friday’s sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet? The EU, meanwhile, is preparing its next round of sanctions, and Zelensky’s economic adviser estimates that Ukraine will need at least $1 trillion for its economy to recover from the war with Russia. Where will it get the money? Keep reading ...

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Putin attends a meeting with the head of the Republic of Ingushetia at the Kremlin in Moscow.

Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

Russia’s war heads for a deep freeze

Who will win Russia’s war in Ukraine? What might a peace deal look like? The sad truth is that true victory may elude both sides, and there is no foreseeable basis for a lasting peace agreement.

The likeliest outcome in Ukraine is “an unstable, violent stalemate,” according to political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, one that creates future risks for Ukraine, Russia, and the world.

Here’s why ...

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Zelensky addresses the UN Security Council in a video message

Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: Zelensky at the UN, French race tightens, Sri Lankan crisis worsens

Zelensky wants justice over Russian war crimes

In his first address to the UN Security Council, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday said Russians accused of war crimes in Ukraine must be brought to justice, noting that the atrocities in Bucha and elsewhere are the worst Europe has seen since World War II. Prior to Zelensky’s speech, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is working with the UN-backed International Criminal Court to investigate the alleged war crimes. The International Court of Justice has already ordered Russia to cease and desist but has no authority to enforce its ruling. But some argue that pursuing indictments during ongoing conflicts can frustrate efforts toward peace agreements, thereby raising the risk of further atrocities. Meanwhile, the mounting allegations are putting more pressure on Western powers to slap harsher sanctions on Moscow — perhaps even targeting Russian oil and coal by the EU.

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