What We're Watching: Finger-pointing over Greek fires, US military's vaccine mandate, Kim Jong Un's sister's tirade

A man holding a hose is helped to climb a slope, as a wildfire burns in the village of Gouves, on the island of Evia, Greece, August 8, 2021.

Fire and anger spread in Greece: The Greek island of Evia and surrounding areas have been ablaze for almost two weeks now, destroying hundreds of homes and ripping through more than 56,655 hectares of land. As the climate-linked wildfires have spread to the greater Athens area and beyond, public anger with the government has been boiling over, too. Local officials say that the national government has failed to provide adequate support for hard-hit communities, including aerial reinforcement needed to help put out fires raging through the forests. Critics also say that in many places, ill-equipped fire crews are relying on locals to help save homes and forestry from multiple blazes. PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, for his part, apologized (sort of) for any shortcomings in the government response, but said that his government had done whatever it could to tackle a natural disaster of "unprecedented dimensions." But angry residents pushed back, arguing that despite previous assurances, Athens didn't invest in recruiting more firefighters, as well as firetrucks and fire bombers even though there has been indication for some time that severe droughts and heatwaves are making wildfires more extreme — and frequent.


US military's vaccine mandate: In a massive development Monday, the Pentagon said that all active members of the US military — 1.3 million people across several military branches — will be required to get a COVID vaccine no later than mid-September. Those who refuse will face retribution, which could include administrative reprimands or even expulsion. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that going forward, it would be near impossible to deploy unvaccinated US troops in countries with strict vaccination rules. Additionally, a COVID outbreak within the US military would also undermine its ability to aptly respond to dangerous situations. To date, around 65 percent of active-duty personnel are at least partially vaccinated, while that number hovers at a much lower 50 percent for members of the Army. For months, both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the military have been struggling with lower-than-hoped for vaccination rates within their ranks. But legal experts warn that the Biden administration and the Pentagon should brace for pushback in the form of lawsuits from those who refuse to get the shot.

Kim Jong Un's sister on a rampage: Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea's supreme leader, is lashing out at South Korea and the US for holding annual joint military drills that Pyongyang demanded be cancelled amid a recent thaw with the South. What's more, Kim Yo Jong is also threatening more nuclear activity because of Seoul's drill with Washington, and proceeded to ghost the South Koreans on the bilateral hotline recently reestablished by the two countries a year after Pyongyang cut off communication. To be sure, it's hard to know what the North Koreans are really thinking, but perhaps Kim Yo Jong's antics are, at least in part, aimed at the Biden administration, which has shown little interest in engaging with the Kims since Joe Biden became US president, unlike his predecessor. It's not uncommon for the North Koreans to make outrageous statements when they feel they're being shafted, nor when they want to deflect attention from serious problems like a COVID-fueled economic crisis or looming famine. Regardless, if this tone continues, the latest détente with the South will likely be short-lived.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

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The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy: GZERO World with Ian Bremmer - the podcast

Listen: Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low. A wave of lockdowns could disrupt the world's second-largest economy — just a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That could spell disaster for Beijing, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. If things get really bad, though, Huang believes China will pivot to living with the virus, especially as the cost of keeping zero COVID in the age of omicron becomes too high.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

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For Angela Hofmann, practice head for Industrial & Consumer at Eurasia Group, the world's most visible brands are in for a very rocky year.

Navigating culture wars will be very tricky, as well as fighting with competing demands from consumers, employees, and regulators on issues like China, diversity, and voting rights.

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Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

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An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

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