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The logo of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project is seen at a rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

What We're Watching: Russian gas pipeline problems, China's economic slump, the other mobilization

Did someone blow up the Nord Stream pipelines?

The operator of the two Nord Stream gas pipelines, which run from Russia to Western Europe under the Baltic Sea, reported “unprecedented” leaks and massive pressure drops on Tuesday, stoking fears of foul play. Nord Stream was not actually carrying gas to Europe at the time — the EU froze approvals for the new Nord Stream 2 line after Russia invaded Ukraine, and Russia halted existing flows through Nord Stream 1 in August, blaming Western sanctions. But the incident comes as Europe bundles up for winter with substantially reduced shipments of Russian gas. Seismologists recorded explosions in the area on Monday, and European officials have suggested sabotage, but so far there is no hard evidence. Russian officials, for their part, lamented the incident’s impact on “energy security,” while some pro-government outlets have suggested American sabotage. If it were deliberate, who’d benefit most from blowing up a non-operational pipeline? Apart from the geopolitical intrigue, there are environmental concerns too — the line is now leaking gargantuan amounts of methane, churning up the sea off the Danish island of Bornholm.

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From left to right, Lega leader Matteo Salvini, Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi, and Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni during a campaign rally in Rome.

REUTERS/Yara Nardi

What We're Watching: Italian election, Chinese anti-corruption drive, Lebanese bank shutdown

Italy votes!

Italians head to the polls on Sunday and are likely to elect Italy’s first far-right leader since World War II. Giorgia Meloni, 47, who heads the Brothers of Italy Party (which has neofascist roots) is slated to become Italy’s next PM. Polls indicate Brothers will win about a quarter of the vote, while her three-party coalition, including Matteo Salvini’s far-right Lega Party and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is projected to secure around 45%. Four years ago, Brothers – established in 2012 – reaped just 4% of the vote, but it has benefited recently from the left’s implosion as well as Meloni’s refusal to back the centrist Draghi government, which collapsed this summer, making her the most formidable opposition figure (Salvini and Berlusconi backed Draghi). Italy has convoluted voting rules but will be voting on 400 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and 200 seats in the Senate – the winning coalition needs a majority in both. Meloni aims to dilute the EU’s power over Italian affairs, though she believes Rome must preserve close ties with Brussels, and she supports EU and NATO efforts to contain Russian aggression. Read this primer to learn more about what Meloni does – and doesn’t – stand for.

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Paige Fusco

Biden’s “new” Taiwan policy: strategic clarity or confusion?

China on Monday blasted the US for egging on Taiwan “separatists” after President Joe Biden vowed that the US would defend the self-ruled island from a Chinese invasion. Okay, nothing new here, right? Not exactly.

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Participants of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.

Reuters

From talk shop to regional bloc: What to make of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization met last week in Uzbekistan, observers braced for impact. Would China’s Xi Jinping meet India’s Narendra Modi? (No). Would Modi meet Pakistan’s PM Shehbaz Sharif? (Also, no). Would anybody put Vladimir Putin in his place? (Modi sort of did). Would China get real with Russia over Ukraine? (Not really, though Putin did emerge as the obvious junior partner to Xi in the huddle). Amid the fanfare and the photo-ops, these developments posed larger questions: Is the SCO relevant? Does it have ‘bloc potential?’ Is it a threat to the West?

The Big Brother club? Given the exception of India, the SCO is often thought of as a talking shop of autocratic regimes. But between its eight members – China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – it represents 3.1 billion people, spans most of Eurasia, and boasts a quarter of the world’s GDP, thanks to some of the world’s biggest energy reserves. Moreover, it’s still getting bigger. Iran just acceded as a full member; Belarus is hoping to be next; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Turkey have also taken the first step towards membership by signing on as dialogue partners. The SCO is also expanding to the Middle East, as Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia have become partners.

What does the SCO really do?

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Ari Winkleman

What We’re Watching: US mulls China sanctions, Uzbek talks focus on ‘cooperation,’ US train strike averted

Will the US preemptively sanction China over Taiwan?

If you thought US-China ties couldn't get any icier, think again. Washington is reportedly mulling sanctions in a bid to deter Beijing from invading Taiwan — and nudging the EU to follow suit. No specifics yet, but the package would presumably target the Chinese military, which has upped the muscle-flexing ante near the self-ruled island since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in early August. Such a move would be similar to how the US and its allies warned Russia there would be a steep price to pay for invading Ukraine. Taiwan would welcome preemptive sanctions and has long called for the Americans and, more recently, the Europeans to do more to protect the island against Chinese aggression. But any sanctions would also rile Xi Jinping, who’s up for “reelection” next month and has vowed to reunite the island with the mainland before the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2049 – by force, if necessary. While the White House has refused to comment, a sanctions plan could signal that US intelligence believes Xi might make a play for Taiwan sooner rather than later.

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Armenia and Azerbaijan Conflict Flares | World In :60 | GZERO Media

Armenia and Azerbaijan flareup gets Russia involved

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on World In :60.

Are Armenia and Azerbaijan on the brink of another war?

Yesterday, it did look that way. The Azeris engaging in drone and artillery strikes literally into the homeland of Armenia, not contested territory, clearly linked to the fact that the Russians have had serious problems over the last several days in Ukraine and they are the big supporter, big ally of Armenia. Fortunately, it looks like we have a cease fire now and the Russians are engaging quite quickly with both sides to try to reduce the temperature. Engage in deconfliction. How the Turks are playing in all of this, because clearly they would've known before these Azeris were going to make those strikes, that's an interesting question. Watch that pretty carefully over the coming hours.

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Luisa Vieira

China-Russia relationship status: It’s complicated

The presidents of China and Russia will meet in person this week for the first time since early February, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine. Back then, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin announced in Beijing a bilateral friendship "without limits." Seven months later, the relationship has strengthened but also seen trouble — and this is likely to continue.

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Indian soldiers deployed in the Ladakh region bordering China.

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The hedge edge: India’s savvy but selfish non-aligned diplomacy

After facing off in the western Himalayas for over two years, with more than 100,000 troops deployed in what is considered the world’s highest battlefield, the Chinese and Indian militaries are finally disengaging.

The latest breakthrough, announced Thursday, comes after 16 rounds of negotiations conducted since June 2020, when some 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops were killed in a rare bloody skirmish. This was the worst fighting between the two sides there since a 1962 border war won by China and strained ties between Beijing and Delhi.

But while the Indians continue to negotiate with the Chinese, what does this mean for India’s perceived position as a natural “counterweight” to China? Indeed, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Delhi has bolstered its relationship with Moscow, Beijing’s new partner “without limits.” Are the Indians in fact trying to play all sides by moving closer to the China-Russia axis while staying a US strategic partner?

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