Alex Kliment is Creative Director at GZERO Media and a Senior Editor of GZERO Daily. He also writes and directs Puppet Regime, GZERO's political satire puppet series. Alex first joined Eurasia Group in 2006 as a Russia analyst, after which he co-founded the firm's first Emerging Markets practice and later led a research team serving the firm's corporate clients. He's also worked previously as a journalist for the Financial Times in Washington, DC, and São Paulo, Brazil. Alex holds degrees from Columbia University and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Alex speaks a few languages and is the only person you will ever meet who has impersonated a New York City phone booth, killed Alexander Hamilton in a suburban commuter parking lot, and done a better Trump voice than Alec Baldwin (bring it on, Alec.)
The Russian opposition leader who died suddenly at an Arctic penal colony earlier this month, will be laid to rest Friday in Moscow — around 6am for you East Coast early birds.
Navalny’s family and colleagues have accused authorities of preventing a wider civil ceremony to honor him. Last week Navalny’s mother said the penal colony threatened to withhold his body entirely unless she promised a private funeral.
Navalny’s wife Yulia, who has sworn to continue her late husband’s work, warned on Wednesday that she didn’t know if the funeral, or the trip across town to the cemetery, would be “peaceful.”
About a thousand people showed up at great risk to their lives, but there's been no major crackdown so far — but we're watching for what's next. This is, after all, the funeral of a man who at his peak was able to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets to decry Vladimir Putin’s party of “crooks and thieves.”Putin, for his part, has a choice to make: it’s important to nip any protests in the bud, particularly as he heads towards a sham “election” later this month. But as every strongman knows, cracking down too hard risks heightening the symbolic and political power of the event.
Hard Numbers: Alberta renewables ban, ‘Dirty Harry’ smuggler arrested, Three Amigos at risk, China keeps digging into Canadian mines
0: New regulations from the Alberta government will permitzero new renewable energy projects to be built on private property that has high value for irrigation, specialty crops, or other farming importance, as well as areas where projects would interfere with “pristine viewscapes.” Alberta, which leads Canada in renewables development, has drawn nearly $5 billion into the sector in recent years, stoking concerns about the balance of farmland vs. alternative energy.
25,000: A man has been arrested in Chicago and charged with human trafficking in connection with the death of an Indian family of four that froze to death while trying to cross illegally from Canada into the US in 2022. The 28-year old man, nicknamed “Dirty Harry,” is accused of paying $25,000 to the driver who smuggled the family. With so much attention on the migration situation at the US southern border, the number of migrants seeking to enter the US from Canada has soared in recent years.
2: The so-called “Three Amigos Summit” could wind up with only two amigos this year, after Mexican President Andrés Manual Lopez Obradorthreatened to ditch the North American Leaders meeting. AMLO, as the left-populist leader is known, said that he wouldn’t show up unless his country got “respectful treatment.” The remark comes as AMLO’s administration blasts possible new US and Canadian tariffs on Mexican steel, but it probably doesn’t help that last week it emerged that the US had spent “years” investigating ties between AMLO and drug cartels.
2.2 billion: Tighter restrictions on Chinese investment in Canada’s critical minerals industry appear not to have had much deterrent effect, according to a new study which shows that Chinese firms plowed at least C$2.2 billion into the sector last year. That came even after Ottawa forced three Chinese companies to sell their stakes in Canadian businesses in 2022. Copper miners were a particular focus, according to the report.
Hard Numbers: Election violence in Mexico, Baby deficit in Korea, tactical nuke leak in Russia, A gigantic disappearance in the Pacific, Gaza's bleak milestone
2: Two mayoral candidates in the central Mexican farming town of Maravatío were shot dead within hours of each other earlier this week. One of the candidates was from President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador’s Morena party, the other from the opposition National Action Party. Maravatío is in Michoacán state, where cartel wars have raged recently, spotlighting broader concerns about narco-fueled political violence across the country ahead of nationwide elections in June.
29: A cache of 29 secret Russian military documents from a decade ago appears to lay out the Kremlin’s threshold for using tactical nuclear weapons. The slides, leaked to the Financial Times by Western spooks, say Moscow would use the weapons – which are far smaller and more targeted than the intercontinental ballistic missiles that target the US – if Russia suffered an otherwise unstoppable conventional incursion, or sustained significant damage to its submarine fleets, airfields, or command centers.
0.72: South Korea’s birth rate, the world’s lowest, dipped further in 2023, according to new data which show that the average South Korean woman will have just 0.72 babies. That was down from an already dismally infertile 0.76 in 2022, and it’s far below the “replacement” rate of 2.1 children per woman. Experts say the high costs of child-rearing – as well as gender pay gaps and difficulties of balancing career and motherhood – are causing the fertility collapse.
7,000: What could have caused 7,000 of the world’s largest creatures to disappear? Scientists think that unusually high sea temperatures in the North Pacific led to the starvation of that many Humpback whales in the decade or so after 2013, as the hotter waters reduced the prevalence of their main source of food - tiny phytoplankton. The big bump in humpback deaths put a dent in what had been several decades of remarkable recovery for a species driven to the brink of extinction by hunters in the 1970s.
30,000: Over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed amid the devastating Israel-Hamas war in Gaza that began on Oct. 7, health officials in the enclave said on Thursday. It's likely that the official death toll is an undercount, given the challenges of tracking deaths in a warzone and the fact that many bodies are still under rubble. The Gaza health ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count, but Israel estimates it's killed roughly 10,000 Palestinian militants so far.
Hard Numbers: Meloni suffers Sardinian blow, Russia jails another critic, Japan’s baby bust continues, Big Oil pumps Big Money
0.4: The rugged island of Sardinia has dealt rightwing Italian PM Giorgia Meloni the first serious electoral blow she’s suffered since taking office in 2022. In local presidential elections (Sardinia has special autonomy from Rome, and its own president) a candidate from the left-leaning anti-establishment 5-Star Movement beat the Meloni-backed candidate by a mere 0.4 points. Alessandra Todde will now become not only Sardinia’s first female leader, but the first 5-Star member to head any of Italy’s 20 regions.
30: It must be election season in Putin’s Russia! Leading human rights activist Oleg Orlov was sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges that he had “repeatedly discredited” the Russian army by criticizing the invasion of Ukraine. During the sham proceedings, Orlov – whose Memorial human rights group shared a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize – sat quietly reading Kafka’s The Trial. In his statement to the court he said he regretted nothing, and asked the presiding judges “Aren’t you afraid?”
758,631: Last year only 753,631 babies were born in Japan, a fall of more than 5% from 2022, reaching a record low for the eighth straight year. The Japanese government is struggling to turn around a slow motion demographic crisis that could see the world’s fourth largest economy lose a third of its population in the coming decades, strangling the economy and straining social safety nets.313 billion: It’s no secret that Big Oil isn’t a Big Fan of Joe Biden, whose climate agenda has antagonized the fossil fuel sector. But the industry can complain all the way to the bank these days: top US producers are on track for net income of $313 billion since Biden took office, triple what they made during the same period of the preceding Trump administration, which was overtly friendlier to the sector. The lesson? Presidents matter a lot less than pandemics and wars when it comes to energy sector profits.
He may be barred from electoral politics for the next six years because of convictions for abusing his power. He may be facing a flurry of serious legal charges over his alleged attempts to foment a coup last January after losing his 2022 re-election bid.
But in a deeply polarized country, Brazil’s firebrand former rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro is still immensely popular. Over the weekend he showed it, calling tens of thousands of protesters into the streets of São Paulo, the country’s business capital and most populous city. Among them were a number of lawmakers and even the state governor of São Paulo.
Telling his followers that he, and they, are victims of a campaign by the current leftwing government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to “erase the past,” Bolsonaro demanded amnesty for his supporters who ransacked federal government buildings last year in Brazil’s own echo of January 6th.
Prosecutors say Bolsonaro directly fomented that violence and sought to subvert the results of the 2022 election, which he narrowly lost to his old nemesis, Lula. While Bolsonaro cannot compete in the next presidential election in 2026 he’ll exert significant influence over it – whether from the sidelines or from jail.
Hard Numbers: Doctors’ orders in Korea, runaway train in India, self-immolation in DC, Case closed on Nord Stream
4: The South Korean government has given junior doctors four days to end a mass walkout over government plans to increase medical school admissions. The authorities say the admissions plan is meant to solve doctor shortages, but the junior docs say med schools can’t cope with larger student bodies, and that the biggest shortfalls are actually due to low pay. At the end of the four days the government will suspend medical licenses and open criminal cases against the strikers.
43: Social media posts showed a ghost train careening through northern India on Monday, after the crew hopped out for a tea and forgot to set the parking brake. The freight train began rolling down a hill and managed to travel without a conductor for 43 miles before it was stopped by officials who laid woodblocks across the tracks. Not quite as cinematic a save as the time that guy caught a runaway Indian locomotive on a bike, but still, with 53 cars laden with stone chips barreling down the track, this version had plenty of blockbuster appeal of its own.
2: There have now been two incidents of pro-Palestine protesters setting themselves on fire in front of Israeli diplomatic buildings in the US. On Sunday, a 25 year old US airman died after igniting himself outside the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. In December, an unidentified protester self-immolated outside the consulate in Atlanta.17: A full seventeen months after mysterious explosions rocked the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines linking Russia to Europe, Denmark has closed its investigation into the incident. The Danes follow the Swedes who did the same earlier this month. The explosions occurred in the two countries’ economic zones. Copenhagen says it’s sure there was “deliberate sabotage” but doesn’t have more than that. Remember our piece on who likely did it? Read or watch it again here
How does Vladimir Putin manage to keep this up? For all the destruction he’s visited on Ukraine, his invasion has also inflicted so much damage on Russia.
There are the financial and economic costs. There’s the diplomatic isolation. There’s the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Russians who’d rather bet on a future abroad than support Putin’s war for the past at home.
But above all, there are the dead. The Kremlin doesn’t announce casualty figures, but a running tally by the BBC and the independent Russian outlet Mediazona estimates that at least 45,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine.
To put that in perspective, it’s triple the number of Soviets killed in the USSR’s decade-long invasion of Afghanistan, often described as the “Kremlin’s Vietnam.”
In fact, it surpasses the number of Soviet and Russian troops killed in the entire period between 1945 and 2022, a period that also includes the Kremlin’s hamfisted and initially disastrous bid to suppress Chechen separatists and jihadists in the 1990s. To put it in American terms, those 45,000 dead would amount to 100,000 flag-draped caskets in the United States.
And yet, there’s hardly been a peep from Russian society.
To find out why, I sent a note to Lev Gudkov in Moscow. Gudkov is the academic director of the Levada Center, Russia’s last remaining independent pollster. I last saw him in person in 2018, at his messy office on Nikolskaya Street – a ritzy pedestrian boulevard – that’s just a five-minute walk from the Kremlin, which has long considered Levada a “foreign agent.”
At 77, Lev has the weary, knowing demeanor of a man who has spent his life asking questions in a society that is increasingly wary of answering them.
The Kremlin has pressured Levada over the years but always seemed to allow it to continue its work. Even autocrats, after all, need to know what their people are comfortable saying to strangers.
“The people don’t know how many are dead and wounded,” he told me. More than 60% of Russians get their news primarily from state-controlled TV, which will shout at you about neo-Nazis in Kyiv, perverts who run Europe, or cats thrown from Russian trains – but will not tell you about the bodybags coming home from Ukraine.
People who do speak out about casualties are arrested, harassed or, on occasion, driven to suicide, which is what happened this week to a hawkish military blogger who suggested Russia had lost 16,000 troops in its recent campaign for a single Ukrainian town.
Another problem, to adapt a Vietnam-era protest line, is that the Russians dying in Ukraine “ain’t no Gazprom executive’s son.”
“The funerals are held by individual families,” says Gudkov, “and its overwhelmingly conscripts from marginalized social groups who don’t have the power to mobilize.”
A look at the casualty map bears this out. Young men in remote and relatively poor Russian provinces like Tuva or Buryatia, for example, are up to 45 times as likely to die as their counterparts in Moscow or St. Petersburg.
All of this makes perfect sense. Russians don’t know about the casualties, face huge consequences for trying to find out, and are victim to the propaganda mill that keeps support for Putin above 80% and approval of his war not far behind.
But blaming this sort of collective delusion simply on a Very Bad Autocrat™ is too easy. The reality is that it can happen in democracies too, and it does.
On the eve of the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example, I looked at a poll that showed 72% of the population approving of their government’s decision to launch a disastrous, unprovoked war.
But it wasn’t from Russia. It was from the US, and it was taken in 2003 to gauge popular support for the invasion of Iraq.
Say what you will about the failure of mainstream media to question the WMD narrative – and there is lots to say – but the US was, and is, a pluralistic paradise compared to today’s Russia.
But even so, it took four whole years of debacle in Iraq for a majority of Americans to finally decide that the invasion was a “bad decision.”
The emergence of social media in the years since has hardly helped. Nearly 20% of Americans today say pop star Taylor Swift was engaged in a Deep State psyop to sway the next election, while a third of Americans still think the last one was “stolen.” And as many as half of Hillary Clinton’s voters once believed Trump’s victory was the result of Russian tampering with vote tallies. None of the above is true.
The point is that you don’t actually have to live under the sway of a late-stage autocrat who controls the airwaves to believe bad, stupid, or crazy things.
A badly contaminated news environment can in some ways be as bad as a tightly controlled one.
Hard numbers: Panda diplomacy returns, Biden’s dog’s bites revealed, Global democracy wanes, US cell service flickers out
24: In less friendly, fuzzy, and frolicsome animal news, it has been revealed that Joe Biden’s famously foul-tempered dog “Commander” bit US Secret Service agents at least 24 times. The incidents all occurred between October 2022 and July 2023. The German shepherd was removed from the White House last fall.
7.8: How much of the world’s population lives in a “full democracy?” Just 7.8%, according to a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Meanwhile, flawed democracies and authoritarian regimes are each home to about 40% of the world’s people. The study finds that overall, the strength of the world’s democratic institutions is at its lowest ebb since the study began in 2006, as a number of partial democracies slide towards authoritarianism.100,000: More than 100,000 users of major US cell phone service providers were without signal for part of Thursday in a massive outage that has yet to be explained. Subscribers of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Cricket were affected. Was it a malicious attack? Nobody knows yet, but Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio made a point of warning that a “Chinese Cyberattack” would be “100 times worse” than Thursday’s outages.