What We're Watching: Poland ditches ban on foreign media, Somalia's power struggle, Erdogan vs Istanbul

Demonstrators hold placards and flags during the demonstration. Thousands of people came to the presidential palace in Warsaw to protest against restrictions of media freedom by the Polish government

Poland backs down on contentious media law. Poland’s populist President Andrzej Duda has vetoed a law that would have barred companies outside of the European Economic Area from owning a stake in Polish media corporations. Critics say the now-nixed law was aimed at silencing US-owned news channel TVN24, which has covered Warsaw’s increasing authoritarian tendencies in recent years. Indeed, Washington was blindsided on December 17 when Poland’s parliament adopted the new law, saying it violates a trade and economic agreement between the two countries. Duda’s ruling Law and Justice Party, meanwhile, which heads one of Europe’s most “illiberal” governments, says the legislation was not aimed at ally Washington, but rather at freezing out hostile actors – like Russia – from its media ecosystem. Duda has been in a tight spot: the nationalist leader previously said he supported the proposed legislation, but he has clearly decided that a deepening row with Washington amid rising inflation and a COVID spike at home is not worth the headache.


Somali president and PM clash. The president of Somalia on Monday moved to depose the country’s prime minister as part of an escalating struggle for power that could plunge the fragile East African country into chaos. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed accuses PM Mohammed Hussein Roble of stealing land from the armed forces. The PM, meanwhile, says this is a bogus charge intended to halt ongoing parliamentary elections. Earlier this year, President Mohamed’s attempt to extend his term by two years provoked a violent backlash. He walked that back as part of a tenuous power-sharing agreement with PM Roble, which included a plan to hold fresh elections by the end of 2021. But so far, those elections — run under a complex system in which traditional elders select parliamentary delegates to elect the president — have been only partially completed. The clash between the country’s two most powerful men, who hail from rival clans, threatens to split the country’s armed forces and other security services. The powerful jihadist militants of al-Shabaab, meanwhile, who have waged war on the Somali government since 2007, are happy to have a distraction than can help them carry out deadly attacks. The big loser in this drama are the six million Somalis (roughly a third of the population) who the UN warns “urgently need humanitarian support.”

Turkey launches terror probe of Istanbul city employees. The Turkish government is investigating whether more than 400 employees of the Istanbul municipal government have ties to terrorist or militant groups. Tensions between Istanbul and the national government have run particularly high since 2019, when popular opposition leader Ekrem Imamoglu defeated the candidate of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP party in mayoral elections. And since a failed 2016 coup, Erdogan's government has jailed or removed tens of thousands of officials across the country for alleged ties to militant or religious groups that are at odds with Ankara. Critics of Erdogan’s government say the Istanbul terrorism probe is meant to weaken Mayor Imamoglu, who is seen as a potential rival to the increasingly unpopular Erdogan in 2023 presidential elections. And here, in case you missed it, is Signal's imaginary look at President Erdogan’s seemingly crazy economic policies… from his own perspective.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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