What We're Watching: Turmoil in Kazakhstan, Macron targets anti-vaxxers, Haiti presidential murder probe

Kazakh law enforcement officers block a street during a protest triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 5, 2022.

Kazakh political turmoil.Dozens” of anti-government protesters have been killed by security forces in Kazakhstan, which has declared a state of emergency over the worst political crisis in a decade. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacked the entire government in response to widespread street protests, which started days ago over a planned fuel price hike. Since then, the demonstrations have morphed into wider outrage against an entrenched regime, in power since the Central Asian republic broke away from the USSR in 1991. Things are escalating rapidly in Almaty, the business capital, where demonstrators have reportedly set the presidential palace on fire. Tokayev — who took over in 2019 as the handpicked successor of former strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev — now says he may assume wider powers to end the crisis and asked Russia to send in “peacekeepers” under the umbrella of the CSTO, a Moscow-led grouping of former Soviet Republics. Vladimir Putin, always wary of popular uprisings in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, is one of the two world leaders closely watching developments in Kazakhstan along with Xi Jinping, given that China is thirsty for Kazakh oil, gas, and minerals.


Macron wants to make the unvaccinated miserable. French President Emmanuel Macron is in hot water after saying he wants to make life difficult for unvaccinated people (he used the French word emmerder, which translates to “piss off” or “hassle.”) The unrefined comment comes as omicron cases are surging in France, while hospitalizations are also steadily rising. As the public health situation deteriorates — and the collective appetite for lockdowns wanes — the French parliament is set to pass a bill that would tighten requirements for the health pass system, so that proof of a negative test will no longer be enough to enter public places like restaurants, bars, and museums. While France has a solid vaccination rate — 73 percent of the population is fully vaxxed — a very vocal vaccine-hesitant constituency has rallied against government containment measures. Naturally, Macron’s political opponents used the unfolding scandal to smear the president just three months out from a tighter-than-expected presidential election: far-right hopeful Marine Le Pen accused the incumbent of “continuing his policy of division.” It’s unclear if this mini-scandal will have real political implications, but Macron — who in the past has been accused of being an aloof elitist detached from real people — can hardly afford another misstep as he tries to maintain a steady lead in the polls.

US charges suspect in killing of Haitian president. Six months after Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his bed in the middle of the night, the first suspect has been arrested by US officials and charged in an American court. Mario Antonio Palacios, a former Colombian soldier, was arrested in Jamaica and flown to Panama, from where he was extradited to the US. (America has jurisdiction over the proceedings because Haiti says the operation was largely planned and financed in Florida.) Indeed, the FBI has been helping Haitian authorities — who lack resources and institutional backing — to investigate the attack, which has plunged the Caribbean country further into chaos and lawlessness. If convicted, Palacios could face a life sentence. But operatives involved in the plot — many of whom are former Colombian military — say they were deceived by a Florida-based security company, which originally trained them to kidnap the former president, not kill him. At least 18 Colombians believed to be involved in the magnicide remain in prison in Port-au-Prince, as well as dozens of Haitians, including a US physician of Haitian origin believed to be the mastermind of the entire plot to take out Moïse.
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.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?

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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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What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week, discussing Boris Johnson's tenuous status as UK PM, US Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Ukraine, and the volcano eruption in Tonga:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

It certainly looks that way. He's hanging on by his fingernails. He's losing members of Parliament. He's giving shambolic media interviews. In fact, I think the only people that don't want him to resign at this point is the Labour Party leadership, because they think the longer he holds on, the better it is for the UK opposition. But no, he certainly looks like he's going. The only question is how quickly. Is it within a matter of weeks or is it after local elections in May? But feel pretty confident that the days of Boris Johnson are numbered.

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