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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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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