In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.
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Western powers claim that they present a united front against the Kremlin’s current threats in Ukraine. But clearly there are reasons for doubt. President Joe Biden provided more last week when he appeared to question whether NATO would in fact act with “total unity” if Vladimir Putin orders Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.
Do Western allies really agree on a common approach to keeping Russia out of Ukraine? What are the major points of contention among them?
On the economic front, the US is prepared to go big: the White House has been pushing for tougher economic sanctions if the Kremlin encroaches on Ukraine’s sovereignty, including by cracking down on both Russian financial institutions and international entities that lend Russia money. It also has more than 8,500 troops ready to move into Eastern Europe if Russia escalates.
But Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas is undermining efforts to present a united Western front against Russian aggression.
Germany. While some Western governments have sent defensive arms to Ukraine, Berlin has so far refused. It argues that arming Kyiv would encourage both Ukraine and Russia to escalate the conflict. Germany is not only reluctant to send weapons to Ukraine, but it has also scuttled attempts by NATO states, like Estonia, to deliver German-made arms to Ukraine. (Berlin retains some authorization rights over exports of their weapons.) Germany has also refused to back a proposal to cut Moscow off from the global electronic-payment system known as SWIFT.
Facing criticism, Germany’s new government has said that the country’s reluctance to arm the Ukrainians is in part the result of its pacifist foreign policy – an approach required by Germany’s militarist past. But analysts say that German reliance on Russian natural gas – which accounts for half of all its gas imports – better explains Berlin’s hesitancy to draw the Kremlin’s ire.
France. French President Emmanuel Macron is capitalizing on the sense of urgency – and division – to assert himself as Angela Merkel’s replacement as the leader of Europe. Macron has been talking tough on Russia – saying preemptive sanctions are on the table to deter a Russian incursion – while also calling for more diplomacy. Moreover, Macron, who has long advocated for European strategic autonomy, has called for a united Europe to engage with Russia separately from the broader US-NATO dialogue. (On Wednesday, Paris is hosting a group of Ukrainian, Russian, French, and German officials to try to chart a path forward.)
The UK. London has traditionally positioned itself as a “bridge nation” between the European Union and the United States, particularly when US presidents and European leaders have clashed on big geopolitical issues. Though this dynamic has changed since Britain left the EU, the UK is still a powerful NATO player with a lot of strategic leverage. As Putin continues to build up Russia’s military presence on the Ukrainian border, London has aligned closely with Washington, sending more than 2,000 short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in recent days and calling for an “unprecedented package of sanctions.” Indeed, the stakes are lower for London, which gets most of its natural gas imports from Qatar and the US.
The Qatari wildcard. The Biden administration is reportedly in talks with the Qataris, global liquified natural gas heavyweights, to increase supplies to Europe in the event that Russia invades Ukraine.
However, rerouting supply routes is no small feat, particularly because more than 80 percent of Qatari gas is currently tied up in contracts with Asian states. But Eurasia Group analyst Raad Alkadiri says the US plan could work, particularly if it means the Qataris get premium prices for their exports and get to play a more consequential role in geopolitics. Still, Europe is already facing tight gas markets, and it needs to ensure available and secure supplies. At the moment, a lot of it comes from Russia.In sum, the leaders of NATO countries will continue to insist that they speak with a single voice on questions of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the consequences of potential Russian aggression. But Vladimir Putin has good reason to wonder whether that’s true.
The US and China compete on many fronts, and one of them is artificial intelligence.
But China has a different set of values, which former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is not a big fan of — especially when those values shape the AI on apps his children use.
"You may not care where your kids are, and TikTok may know where your teenagers are, and that may not bother you," he says. "But you certainly don't want them to be affected by algorithms that are inspired by the Chinese and not by Western values."
For Schmidt, the Chinese government is ensuring that the internet reflects the priorities of the ruling Communist Party.
Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World: Be more worried about artificial intelligence
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- Why is Xi Jinping willing to slow down China's economy? - GZERO ... ›
- Why is China trying to game the gamers? - GZERO Media ›
- Be more worried about artificial intelligence - GZERO Media ›
- The technopolar world: A new dimension of geopolitics — Kevin ... ›
Russia and China have always had a complicated relationship. They almost went to war over a border dispute in 1969, and have historically regarded each other as neither friends nor enemies, but rather competitors for influence in Asia and elsewhere.
But that all started to change in 2014, the year Moscow and Beijing saw a US hand in the revolutions that prompted Russia to seize Crimea from Ukraine, and China to crack down on umbrella-wearing protesters in Hong Kong. China is increasingly thirsty for Russian oil and natural gas, and both have a common interest in standing up to “the West.”
We know how much of the West views Russia and China. But how do Russia and China view the West? Here's a hypothetical recent catch-up video call between BFFs Putin and Xi.
Xi: My dear Vladimir, what’s your Ukraine endgame? The Americans and NATO clearly think you're going to invade, and threaten to punish you for it. The question is, as always, will theywa walk the talk on sanctions that'll hurt them too, especially the Europeans who need your gas? Probably not.
The most they’ll do is send the Ukrainians weapons to fight you. They’ll put lots of NATO troops on alert, but no boots on the ground inside Ukraine.
You know China has your back. And if push comes to shove, we're already working on an alternative to the global SWIFT payments network if the Americans kick you out. It's about time we do business on our own system, without the US sanctimoniously telling us how to behave in our own backyard.
Putin: Yes, my old friend, the West is freaking out — as usual. First, I never said I’d invade. In fact, my boys told them that was not my plan, though I’m happy they don’t quite believe that. Second, I’m baffled at all the uproar over my red lines when I've simply asked NATO to stop encroaching on former Soviet territory.
China has much to gain if I get my way with the Ukrainians. If the US and NATO agree to even some of my demands, that'll demonstrate the West is weak and in decline, while the East, our two great nations, are strong and on the rise. The world will be right to wonder how America would respond to you making similar plays for the South China Sea or Taiwan.
Xi: For sure, but no need to rush. After all, you have the Americans and the Europeans exactly where you've always wanted them: outraged, but at odds over how to respond. They can't call your bluff, if you are indeed only posturing, because they're not a united front like us.
So, can you please hold off for a month or so? I have the Beijing Winter Olympics coming up, and my zero-COVID policy hasn't made things easy. And don't get me started on Xinjiang, which has nothing to do with the Games — and is no one else's business anyway — yet has all my international sponsors in a tizzy.
Putin: I guess we have a scheduling conflict then. If I wait until after the Olympics, the terrain will be too muddy for my soldiers.
What’s more, now we have an opportunity to carve out our respective global spheres of influence: China’s in East and Southeast Asia, and Russia’s in the former Soviet Union. Why should the Americans get to dictate what we get to do on our borders when they are thousands of miles away, and can't even get their own democratic house in order?
Putin: Uh, sorry, my friend. You’re breaking up a bit. Bad wifi. Let’s talk later…
Rebel soldiers have ousted Burkina Faso's democratic government in the first military coup of 2022. Last year, soldiers also seized power in Myanmar, Mali, Guinea and Sudan. But attempts around the globe in recent decades have become both less common and less successful. That's partly because the end of the Cold War diminished outside superpowers' interest in backing coups against governments they didn't like. Here's a look at the historical record.
Another coup in volatile West Africa. Monday’s military coup in Burkina Faso is the fourth armed takeover of a West African government in just 17 months. As in neighboring countries like Mali — which has had not one but two coups since 2020 — it will be hard for outsiders, like the African Union and the regional group ECOWAS to reverse this assault on an elected government. Why? For one thing, al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated militant groups are winning battles with soldiers and killing civilians in barely governed parts of Burkina Faso. For another, more than 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people have been forced from their homes since 2018. Street protests in major cities and mutinies in military bases have made clear in recent months just how unsustainable Burkina Faso’s security situation has become. Events in Mali, Niger, and Guinea have followed a worryingly similar pattern, and the Ivory Coast and Benin also face growing jihadist threats. We’ll be watching to see whether Burkina Faso’s junta has more success than the government it ousted in beating back jihadist attacks and restoring security to the country — and what happens if it doesn’t.
China's internet "purification" campaign. Xi Jinping doesn't like big celebrities — other than his famous singer wife — because they often show off their expensive lifestyles online, encouraging Chinese youth to worship money instead of the ruling Communist Party. That's why ahead of next week's Lunar New Year, the government plans to take down celebrity fan groups and censor influencers whom Xi regards as "unpatriotic." What's more, minors will no longer be allowed to become online influencers. The campaign is part of Xi's broader "common prosperity" vision to combat rising wealth inequality in China, which has prompted a surge of charitable giving by tycoons, especially tech billionaires. It has also canceled celebrities who flaunted their wealth or embarrassed the CCP by doing things like visiting a Tokyo shrine that holds the remains of World War II criminals, acquiring foreign citizenship, or using a surrogate to have a baby born in the US. Keep all of this in mind if you're an aspiring influencer in China.Thai stoners rejoice. On Tuesday, Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis by dropping it from its list of banned substances. This is a very big deal for a country known for some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws, including the death penalty for anyone caught with even small amounts of certain narcotics. Still, a tangle of laws related to cannabis leaves unclear whether recreational use and possession will be prosecuted. For now, the percentage of THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes you high — must be under 0.2 percent. In recent years, Thailand has relaxed its policy on so-called soft drugs, first legalizing medical marijuana and later kratom, a popular plant-based mild stimulant and painkiller. But the country still has a big problem with addiction to hard drugs — especially yaba (crazy pill), a highly addictive combination of methamphetamine and caffeine sourced from the lawless border areas of neighboring Myanmar.
Hard Numbers: Oz buys Aboriginal flag, Malawi vs corruption, ISIS human shields, Boris the party animal
14: The Australian government paid $14 million for the copyright of the Aboriginal flag so that anyone can display it without fear of being sued. Indigenous artist Harold Thomas created the flag 50 years ago as a protest image; since then, it has become the dominant Aboriginal symbol and an official national flag.
3: Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera sacked the entire government after corruption charges were brought against three ministers. Critics say Chakwera has not delivered on his promise to fight graft since he was elected in 2020.
700: Islamic State fighters are using some 700 boys as human shields to stop US-backed Kurdish forces from storming a prison the jihadists attacked to free ISIS prisoners in northern Syria. American airstrikes are supporting the Kurdish combatants in a rare US military intervention.30: British police are investigating whether a surprise birthday party for PM Boris Johnson, which was attended by some 30 people in June 2020, violated COVID lockdown rules. Johnson is fighting for his political life amid growing calls from within his Conservative party for him to step down.
Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthening NATO, omicron and the end of COVID-19, and on the most recent military coup in West Africa — Burkina Faso:
How will Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthen NATO?
Well, NATO over the last 10, 20 years even was increasingly beset by problems. You had the US unilateralism focused more on Asia. You had the old mission of defending against the Russians less relevant. The French wanting strategic autonomy. Macron leaning into that. Now, of course, Merkel's gone, too. But the proximate reality in danger of the Russians invading Ukraine, actually, as much as the Europeans are more dependent on the Russians for their economy and their gas, they're also more concerned about Russia in terms of national security. That has driven a lot of coordination, including announcements of a lot more troops and material from being sent by NATO states to Ukraine and also to defend NATO borders, like in the Baltic states as well as Bulgaria and Romania. I would argue that what Putin's been doing so far has had no impact greater than bolstering NATO, and it's one of the reasons why I'm skeptical that a full-on invasion is something that Putin has in the cards because that would frankly do more than anything else out there to make NATO, focused on Russia, a serious and going concern.
Is omicron the end of the COVID-19 nightmare?
If you put it that way, I guess I would say yes. I think it's the end of the nightmare, because the people that have been living with the nightmare, primarily in the developed world, so many are going to be getting omicron and that's going to create a lot more natural immunity, plus most of those populations are already vaccinated. A lot of them are boosted and we've got all these therapeutics. I think that going forward, after omicron is done in relatively short order, this just feels like a very different virus for most of the countries that have been back and forth, back and forth with lockdowns. With the poorest countries in the world, very young populations, they've been living with the virus from day one. They don't have the vaccines in most. They've had to deal with it. In the case of China, that's the big question everyone knows I've been focusing on, but they're going to continue with these lockdowns, and so it hasn't been a nightmare per se, but it is going to be an economically very significant issue this year. But it's a little different than the way the question was phrased, so that's how I'll answer it.
Another coup is happening in West Africa. What's happening in Burkina Faso and in the region?
Yeah, it's the third coup in the region that we've seen in Mali and Guinea and now in Burkina Faso. It's this new organization that no one's heard of until yesterday that basically said it's military, the government in Burkina Faso was not doing a great job of maintaining stability and security in the country, and there've been growing attacks and influence of local Islamist extremists. That's a problem in all the countries that we've seen these military coups in recent months and, as a consequence, the Democratic elected government is no more. Former French colony, United States not doing an awful lot about it, China does most of the trade with them, but they're not engaged particularly either. So, as a consequence, it makes news and it moves on, and that's where we are.