What We're Watching: Polish state of emergency, Ukraine-US meeting, South African nuclear power, Russia's troll

Polish Army Soldiers build a fence with concertina wire at the Belarusian border in order to stop immigrants from entering the country in Krynki, Poland on 27 August, 2021.

Poland weighs state of emergency: Poland is weighing whether to declare a state of emergency as thousands of immigrants continue to flood its border with Belarus. The order, which would be invoked for the first time since Communist rule, would allow the government to restrict people's movements in certain regions for 30 days. Poland, along with Latvia and Lithuania, has accused Belarus' strongman President Alexander Lukashenko of facilitating illegal border crossings, particularly for Iraqi migrants, as retribution for EU sanctions on Belarus. Indeed, there's even evidence that Belarusian troops physically pushed migrants to enter EU territory. Poland has registered more than 3,000 attempted crossings this month alone, and has responded by beefing up its border security, including erecting barbed wire fences. There are reports that Minsk is now planning on sending migrants from Morocco and Pakistan, which has absorbed the lion's share of Afghan refugees to date. Knowing that the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 caused deep fissures within the 27-member bloc, is Lukashenko now trying to weaponize the Afghan refugee crisis to sow divisions within the EU just as the bloc is already concerned about another refugee crisis?


Zelensky at the White House: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday. After navigating a very testy relationship with former President Trump, the Ukrainian leader is surely pleased that there's a new man in charge in Washington. Indeed, Zelensky is likely to find a kindred spirit in President Biden on issues including energy security and Russia. Biden, for his part, has echoed Kyiv's strong opposition to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, saying that the project would allow an already-brazen Kremlin to weaponize gas exports in order to harm Ukraine. So what does Zelensky want? He may ask Biden for more military assistance as a bulwark against the Kremlin, and is likely to again bring up the issue of Ukraine joining NATO, having recently grown increasingly angry at Western allies for excluding Kyiv from the club. More economic support from Washington could also be on Zelensky's agenda, but when Biden headed the Ukraine portfolio as Obama's VP, he said that Kyiv needed to tackle corruption and implement reforms in order to unlock more US assistance.

South Africa's nuclear dilemma: In a bid to address its rolling power outages, South Africa wants more nuclear energy. But the government's recent decision to double its nuclear generation capacity has been met with strong criticism from the country's energy experts, who say that the government should opt for investment in renewables like solar or wind, which can be installed more quickly and are less costly. On the one hand, nuclear plants generally require a high upfront investment, have cost overruns, and can take years to get up and running, not to mention the risk of another Fukushima. On the other hand, however, they produce almost zero direct carbon dioxide emissions, and nuclear power is reliable — exactly what the country needs to fix its spotty electricity problem. Regardless, the move is quite a flip-flop for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who just two years ago scrapped his predecessor Jacob Zuma's deal for Russia to build South Africa's second nuclear plant because it was, you guessed it, too expensive.

What We're Ignoring:

Russia's troll: Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov wins this week's chutzpah awards for warning that the West was seeking to undermine Russia's upcoming elections. From September 17-19, races will be held for the State Duma as well as dozens of regional parliaments. "We have only one answer to all these attempts. We are guided primarily and exclusively by the will of our citizens, the will of our people," Lavrov said about those in the West (presumably referring to the US and EU) seeking to sow doubt in Russia's electoral outcomes.That's a bit thick, coming from the top diplomat of a country that both Americans and Europeans have caught red-handed trying to meddle in their elections.

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Meet Visa

Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

Change?

Though he's a man of the center-left, Olaf Scholz, current finance minister and most likely next chancellor, wouldn't represent a radical break from Merkel. He's among the more fiscally frugal of Germany's Social Democrats, and after decades in German politics, he's an experienced technocrat and a skilled manager of political alliances.

Nor would a change in government radically shift Germany's foreign and trade policies. Its new government, whoever it includes, will keep strong security ties with the United States and NATO and protect opportunities to expand economic relations with China. Germany's dependence on Russian energy will demand a continuation of Merkel's pragmatic approach to Vladimir Putin's government.

Scholz's conviction that a strong and cohesive EU is good for Germany will limit any temptation to get tougher with the governments of Poland and Hungary over their violations of EU rules and principles. And aware that COVID can widen gaps between richer and poorer EU countries, and that anti-EU economic populism remains a potent force in Italy and elsewhere, he's likely to support a generous approach to pandemic recovery in southern Europe.

But climate policy, an area where Merkel concedes she should have done more, will be an important and interesting story to watch. Given its leadership within the EU and its standing as the world's fourth largest economy, the influence of Germany's next government on climate policy will be crucial to global climate strategies. A new German government with Scholz as chancellor will likely push the pace of transition from carbon to renewable energy, at least in part because the Green Party coalition partner will push for this as hard as it can. The Greens must show progress on the climate front to maintain political credibility and popularity. If the Free Democrats are indeed part of the coalition, they'll push hard to limit tax increases to pay for tougher climate action, but they won't blow up the coalition that gives them a seat at Germany's governing table.

Merkel's legacy

Even in a country that values stability and continuity, Angela Merkel's 16-year run is remarkable. More than once she's proved the maxim that it's not the smartest or strongest who survives, but the one most adaptable to change. Merkel is smart and strong, to be sure, but she'll be remembered longest – by both devoted admirers and bitter critics – as the leader who insisted Germany could and should do more to help indebted countries survive Europe's sovereign debt crisis (2010-12) and to manage the surge of migrants that followed unrest in the Middle East (2015-16). Her improvisational talents also led her to change tack on nuclear power (after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan) and on common European debt.

But the main reason Merkel leaves power with an 80 percent approval rating is that, whether she receives more credit than she deserves, she has presided over a period of economic expansion and prosperity in Germany that few other world leaders can match. It's all the more remarkable then that her party looks set to find itself in opposition once a new government is formed. It's Merkel that German voters like, not her political family.

Bottom-line: Whatever he accomplishes as Germany's next chancellor, Olaf Scholz will find Angela Merkel a tough act to follow.

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Is a US government shutdown coming?

Hard to say. Republicans and Democrats generally are in agreement about the need to fund the government. And they generally agree at what level the government should be funded. And they generally agree about the need for supplemental money for Afghanistan and some natural disasters, coming out of hurricanes this season and wildfires. What they're not in agreement about is the federal debt limit, which is the cap on US borrowing that the US hit in early August and needs to be extended by some time in October. Otherwise, the US will have a first-ever default. This would be a very bad outcome with cataclysmic results for the entire world economy.

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Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen a lot during her 16 years in power. She's navigated a global economic recession, multiple wars in the Middle East which sparked an EU refugee crisis, and now a once-in-a-generation pandemic. Often the only woman in the room, Merkel has had to learn to tactfully deal with dozens of idiosyncratic world leaders. Many have come and gone since 2005, but Merkel has won elections again and again. We take a look at who she's dealt with from the top democracies (by economic size) throughout her tenure.

In May 2020, economic historian Adam Tooze told GZERO World he feared 1 in 5 American workers could still be out of job now due to COVID. It didn't happen. Why? Tooze says he failed to anticipate how quickly we'd get highly effective vaccines, and the scale of the economic stimulus the government was willing to put up. During the 2008 financial crisis, he explains, "we were still beginning to flex our muscles with regards to economic policy, and the scale of fiscal and monetary stimulus that we've seen is as unprecedented as the shock of the spring of last year."

Watch Tooze's interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television starting Friday 9/23/21. Check local listings.

Will Evergrande be China's Lehman Bros? Chinese authorities are bracing for the increasingly likely default of Evergrande, the country's most indebted property developer. If Evergrande — a gargantuan corporation with properties in 200 cities across China — stiffs its creditors, that'll send shockwaves throughout the country's financial system, and the wider Chinese economy and society. The possible ripple effects on home buyers and countless companies and individuals that do business with or are owed money by Evergrande have invited comparisons with Lehman Brothers, the US investment bank whose 2008 collapse triggered an American financial crisis that quickly spread to the entire world. Although in principle authoritarian China has ways of containing the fallout, the potential for social unrest is real — and opacity could make it worse. More broadly, the demise of such a big player in the country's once-booming real estate market, which accounts for over 7 percent of GDP, would expose the shaky foundations of China's debt-driven economic growth model, eroding confidence in China both at home and abroad.

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Betrayal. Treason. Duplicity. These are some of the words used by the French government to describe the US' recent decision to freeze Paris out of a new security pact with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which nixed a contract for Australia to buy French submarines.

Macron's subsequent tough stance against one of its oldest and closest allies is unusual, including his decision to briefly recall the French ambassador from Washington, the first time a French president has done so. But this headstrong strategy is also a deliberate diplomatic choice.

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