Vladimir Putin has held power for twenty years now, alternating between the prime minister's seat and the presidency twice. He has made himself so indispensable to Russia's political system that even the speaker of the legislature has mused that "without Putin, there is no Russia." The constitution says he can't serve as president again after his current term ends in 2024 – but he'll find a way to keep power somehow. As he starts to lay those plans, here's a look back at his approval rating over the past two decades.
As the private sector innovates aid and financing, seeking holistic solutions to neighborhood challenges is the cornerstone of the approach.
Businesses, which rely on healthy communities for their own prosperity, must play a big part in driving solutions.
The Women’s Tennis Association this week decided to suspend all tournaments in China, over doubts that the country’s star player Peng Shuai is safe and sound. Peng recently disappeared for three weeks after accusing a former Vice Premier of sexual assault. Although she has since resurfaced, telling the International Olympic Committee that she’s fine and just wants a little privacy, there are still concerns that Peng has been subjected to intimidation by the Chinese state.
The WTA, which wants to be able to interview Peng outside of China, says it’s putting principle above profit in a country where it reportedly has more than $100 million on the line. The NBA, by contrast, which has been famously reluctant to criticize China, has operations there worth some $5 billion. (Spot the difference?)
The decision by the WTA — the first major sports organization to ditch China over human rights questions — will add momentum to longstanding calls for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, despite the International Olympic Committee’s “unanimous conclusion” that Peng is fine.
Until now, the Olympic boycott campaign has focused chiefly on China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. But Peng Shuai attaches name recognition, star power, and a courageous personal story to the issue in a way that could galvanize wider awareness and pressure. Influential global tennis superstars like Serena Williams and Novak Djoković have already praised the WTA's decision, and trending hashtags abound.
The Biden administration, for its part, says it is considering a “diplomatic boycott,” in which top officials would not travel to the Games. Britain and Canada have floated similar ideas, but to actually keep their athletes from competing would be a major escalation. The US hasn’t done so since boycotting the 1980 Moscow Summer Games over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier.
The boycott dilemma. Doubtless a boycott by the world’s largest economy — and perennial top medalist at the Games — would be a blow to China’s prestige. But in addition to considering the impact on athletes, Washington would also need to answer an important global political question: how many other countries — particularly smaller ones wary of angering a cash-flush China — would actually follow suit?
Biden wants the world to believe that “America is Back” — but if the US stands up with a boycott that few others follow, it could look like an own-goal.
Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...
Tehran’s list of demands. Days into the resumption of nuclear talks in Vienna, Iran has a proposal for moving towards a new nuclear agreement. The list of Iranian “demands” likely includes the removal of US economic sanctions to get the ball rolling, which has so far been a non-starter for Washington. This development comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency said this week that Iran continues to enrich uranium at close to weapons-grade levels, including at the contentious Fordo site, which, under the terms of 2015 deal, is to be used only for research and development purposes. When asked Thursday about the state of negotiations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Iran’s recent behavior doesn’t inspire much confidence, but that the next few days would be crucial to move things forward. The Europeans are shuttling back and forth between the Iranians and the Americans, who aren't participating in the talks directly yet. And time is of the essence: according to some estimates, Tehran is already just weeks away from having enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon.
This week, the World Health Organization’s governing body agreed to begin multinational negotiations on an agreement that would boost global preparedness to deal with future pandemics. The WHO hopes that its 194 member countries will sign a treaty that helps ensure that the global response to the next pandemic is better coordinated and fairer.
The specifics remain to be negotiated over the coming months – and maybe longer – but the stated goal of those who back this plan is a treaty that will commit member countries to share information, virus samples, and new technologies, and to ensure that poorer countries have much better access than they do now to vaccines and related technologies.
Crucially, backers of the treaty insist it must be “legally binding.”
Let’s start with the most obvious obstacles to success. While many European governments support this effort, the US and China will want to weaken its provisions, though for different reasons.
In Washington, ratification of any treaty depends on a vote of the US Senate, a body historically unsympathetic to any plan that requires a surrender of US sovereignty to an international body like the WHO.
In Beijing, China’s tense relations with the WHO over access to COVID-related information suggests that officials won’t commit to provide outsiders with unfettered access to suspected sites of outbreaks, to politically sensitive information, or to the Chinese citizens who have that information.
Neither government wants to look like THE obstacle to progress on pandemic preparedness, so both will participate. But Washington and Beijing will each work to produce an agreement that lacks the “teeth” that proponents insist a treaty will need.
Even if the US and China were to agree to a document that’s legally binding, how much confidence can anyone have that rules will be observed in an actual emergency or that those who resist can be held to account?
This problem surely sounds familiar. We live in a GZERO world, one in which the most powerful states don’t share political values or priorities.
Everyone can agree that cyber security is a common problem, but the major powers won’t accept a truly binding set of rules on the use of cyber-weapons.
Governments of the world’s leading economies agree on the need to reduce carbon emissions to “net zero” as quickly as possible, but the US, EU, China, India and others don’t agree on how to share the sacrifices needed to reach that common goal.
Add the historically large and growing number of refugees crossing boundaries in every region of the world. Few governments are willing to shoulder the economic costs and domestic political risks that come with accepting responsibility for their fate. The inability to manage borderless problems like climate change and global inequality of opportunity means the number of migrants will continue to grow in coming years.
Unfortunately, every country now faces these urgent threats that aren’t bound by borders.
None of this means that pandemic conventions and climate summits are a waste of time. Incremental progress toward multinational problem-solving is far better than none at all, and today’s failures can point governments toward more effective, and easier-to-reach, solutions next year.
These gatherings themselves add public pressure on governments to take actions they might not otherwise take. They also bring together private-sector leaders, scientists, activists and others who can offer solutions in some areas that governments won’t go.The bottom-line: We should never expect grandiose political promises to be kept, but nor should we ignore the reality that incremental progress and new ideas can take on a life of their own.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on an issue that has had Americans fighting — and in some cases killing — each other for 50 years: abortion.
The court must decide whether a recent Mississippi state law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy is legal and, more broadly, whether it runs counter to the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973.
That decision legalized abortion nationally up until fetal viability — which is now around 23 weeks of pregnancy — on the grounds that women enjoy a constitutional right to privacy.
Early indications on Wednesday were that the conservative-dominated court would uphold the Mississippi law, but we won’t know if a majority will move to explicitly overturn Roe v Wade until a final ruling is issued next summer.
If Roe is struck down, almost half of American states would immediately outlaw most abortions. Passions are, as ever, running high.
Why is this issue so intense in the US?
Viewed from abroad, the battles over abortion in the US can sometimes seem strange. While other countries have struggled with the issue, the ferocity and violence surrounding the question in the US stands out.
One big reason is that in addition to arguing about abortion itself, Americans are often arguing about the way the issue was decided.
Opponents of abortion often argue that a moral issue like this should be left to elected state legislatures, which reflect the preferences of their constituents better than the unelected justices of the Supreme Court in far-off Washington, DC.
Supporters of choice, meanwhile, say an issue this fundamental is precisely one in which universal rights have to be identified and then upheld by the highest court in the land. If we’d left Jim Crow up to local legislatures, they point out, that injustice might have persisted for decades longer.
This tug-of-war between states’ rights and national prerogatives has defined America from the earliest days. It once plunged the country into war. And it’s still an electric issue in the US on everything from healthcare, to guns, to voting rights, to vaccine mandates. Abortion is no exception.
A problem with Roe v Wade. Even some supporters of the right to abortion see faults in Roe v Wade that have left it open to attack.
The late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, felt the Court had perhaps moved too fast, issuing a sweeping decision before a broad majority of citizens and states were in line with it. She also argued that by focusing on privacy rather than the more universal concept of gender equality, the Supreme Court had left abortion on shakier ground legally.
When the Court enshrined a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2015, by contrast, it was already behind the popular curve — 30 states had already done so. At the time of Roe, only 20 states had legalized abortion.
Other countries have handled it differently, putting legislatures or popular referenda in the driver’s seat.
Majority-Catholic Italy, for example, legalized abortion in the late 1970s through a law backed by two referendums. Ireland also made the move in 2018 through a referendum, while Argentina did it last year through a legislative process.
Not everyone in these countries agrees with those moves, but supporters of the right to choose can still point to democratic and legislative legitimacy in a way that is harder to do in the United States.
So what do Americans actually think about abortion today? About 60 percent say it should be legal in most or all cases, according to a recent Pew poll.
But there’s a caveat: a recent AP/NORC poll showed that while 61 percent of Americans support that right within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, that figure falls by thirty points when it comes to the second trimester. The Mississippi law applies just two weeks into the beginning of the second trimester.
What happens next? This court’s view on Roe won’t come out until next summer — that is, just 2-3 months before midterm elections. No matter which way it goes, the decision will be a(nother) culture war bomb ahead of that vote.
Hard Numbers: Germany to restrict the unvaccinated, Turkey’s finance minister resigns, the Lebanese want out, April is safe in Scotland
67,186: Germany announced Thursday that people who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 will be subject to new restrictions, including being unable to enter stores and gather in large groups. This comes as Germany recorded 67,186 new cases Thursday, hundreds more than the previous day, according to the Robert Koch Institute. Hospitals are filling up and Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz, who comes into office next week, says he would support broad vaccine mandates.
40: Turkey’s finance minister Lutfi Elvan resigned Thursday, as the country’s financial crisis continues to deepen. The Turkish lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar since September, in large part because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted on slashing interest rates despite rising inflation.
63: Life in crisis-wracked Lebanon has become so dire that some sixty-three percent of Lebanese say they want to leave the country permanently, according to a new Gallup poll. Where do they want to go? Almost one-third of respondents want to resettle in Canada, while 19 percent want to move to Germany.
5,000: A sea turtle named April has been flown 5,000 miles from the Maldives to Balloch, a Scottish village, to receive medical treatment for a range of injuries caused by plastic pollution. April, an olive ridley sea turtle, is doing well in the care of a Scottish conservation group that has identified a lung infection.
Listen: Are global leaders finally taking needed action on environmental issues? Coming out of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, we've seen governments agree to a certain set of policies to fight climate change. But that isn't the only urgent environmental issue we face. The twin problem of climate change AND biodiversity loss are a serious threat to not just governments, but also investors.
The latest episode of Living Beyond Borders, a special podcast series from GZERO brought to you by Citi Private Bank, looks at how important biodiversity is to the global economy, and what leaders need to do to prevent further loss. Moderated by Caitlin Dean, Head of the Geostrategy Practice at Eurasia Group, this episode features Anita McBain, Managing Director at Citi Research, heading EMEA ESG Research; Harlin Singh, Global Head of Sustainable Investing at Citi Global Wealth; and Mikaela McQuade, Director of Energy, Climate and Resources at Eurasia Group.
Managing Director at Citi Research, heading EMEA ESG Research
Global Head of Sustainable Investing at Citi Global Wealth
Director of Energy, Climate and Resources at Eurasia Group
Practice Head, Geostrategy, Eurasia Group
While the debate over fetal rights vs a woman’s right to choose is particularly ferocious in the US, it’s also a divisive issue in many parts of the world, particularly in countries where the Catholic Church holds influence. We take a look at abortion laws globally, as well as countries with the highest and lowest official abortion rates.