What We're Watching: Another bad day for Boris, NATO-Russia talks on the cards, Malaysian corruption scandal
Boris’ horrible, no good, very bad day. Boris Johnson is no stranger to controversy. In fact, sometimes he appears to relish it. But not this time. As British authorities weigh whether to impose unpopular restrictions amid a surge in omicron cases, a video has surfaced of top Downing Street aides tastelessly joking about flouting lockdown rules last Christmas by gathering for a holiday party. At the time, Britons were forbidden to gather with friends and family during the holiday season, let alone say goodbye to dying relatives. What’s more, Downing Street has been accused of trying to cover up the shindig – a “wine and cheese” night, according to the video – until this damning footage materialized. Johnson says he is “sickened and furious” about it, and a top aide has since resigned. (Johnson himself has not been accused of attending the party.) Meanwhile, London police say they are looking into the case. The timing is pretty awful for Johnson, who is already facing party backlash over a series of blunders in recent months, as well as his perceived failure to address Brexit-related shortages of gasoline and goods. Currently, 55 percent of Britons disapprove of his leadership.
Biden to convene NATO-Russia talks. A day after chatting with Vladimir Putin about the situation along the Ukrainian border, Joe Biden says he wants to bring NATO allies in for a broader discussion with the Kremlin about how to “bring down the temperature” in Eastern Europe. Moscow says it’ll send proposals for a new security agreement by next week. What the Kremlin wants, more than anything, is for NATO to agree not to expand any further into the former Soviet Union, and to give security guarantees about any NATO deployments in current Eastern European members of the bloc. But many of those eastern European states themselves are aghast at the idea that their security choices should be dictated by Moscow rather than by their own leaders and people. Is Biden preparing to make an unforgivable concession to Russia, or is it a pragmatic step to defuse what has been a sore spot in relations between Russia and the West since 1991? We, along with everyone from the Baltics to the Balkans, are watching closely.
Najib gets no joy on appeal. A Malaysian appeals court upheld a graft conviction of former PM Najib Razak, who in July 2020 was found guilty of bilking nearly $10 million from a subsidiary of 1MDB, the country’s state development fund. Najib still stands accused of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars more than that from the fund, in a global scandal that erupted in 2016, drawing in multiple governments and international banks. Still, Najib remains an influential figure in Malaysian politics: although his UMNO coalition lost badly in 2018 because of the 1MDB revelations, they’ve been back in power since 2020, and Najib himself still holds a parliamentary seat. Najib can appeal today’s verdict one more time, but he is still facing more than 40 other corruption charges as well.