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What We're Watching: A poisoning in Russia, new weapons for the UAE, China vs food influencers

What We're Watching: A poisoning in Russia, new weapons for the UAE, China vs food influencers

A poisoning in Russia? Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny remains in critical condition after falling ill in what his aides say is a poisoning. Navalny, a vocal anti corruption activist, is the most prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin. A history of high-profile poisonings of Putin nemeses has led to suspicion that the Kremlin might have had a hand in the alleged attack, but there is no evidence to support that as of now. More immediately, the incident may put Putin in a tricky spot: Navalny enjoys substantial popularity — he was one of the leaders of the mass protest movement of 2011. In 2018, the Kremlin flimsily disqualified him from running in the presidential election, rather than facing him outright. His demise could well provoke a new wave of unrest at a sensitive moment for Putin: although the Russian president recently secured the right to rule until 2036, his approval ratings are touching all time lows, protests against him have recently erupted in Russia's Far East, and hundreds of thousands protesting next door in Belarus sets an example he surely doesn't want Russians to follow. We are keeping an eye on Navalny's condition, Russia's streets, and how Western countries will react if a deliberate poisoning is in fact traced back to someone in the Russian government.

New weapons for the UAE? There has been much fanfare recently over the historic agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, brokered by the Trump administration. United in their mutual enmity towards Iran, it's the first time that a Gulf Arab state has normalized ties with Israel. But in recent days, widespread optimism has been clouded by reports that the Trump administration used its bargaining power to negotiate the sale of sophisticated F35 fighter jets to the Emirates — a contract the UAE has been trying to lock down for years. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not happy about the reported side deal, to which he was not privy. Why? Since the 1970s, America has committed to ensuring Israel maintains a "qualitative military edge" over its Arab neighbors (this policy was reflected in a 2008 US law). As a result, successive US administrations have refused to sell Arab states that are hostile to Israel some sophisticated weaponry (rousing the ire of allies in the Gulf). Now, with reports that the Trump administration is pushing for the arms sale — which would include stealth F35 fighter jets and advanced drones — Israel is worried about how this will affect the sensitive balance of power in the region. But at the end of the day, neither the Trump administration nor PM Netanyahu will have the final say because only the US Congress can certify such weapons sales. Stay tuned.

China's crackdown on... food influencers: The Chinese Communist Party's crackdown on ethnic minorities and dissenters is well established. But now, it's setting its sights on a new demographic: food influencers. Food shortage in China — exacerbated by the deepening trade war with Washington — is a massive problem that President Xi Jinping is trying to address through his "Clean Plate" campaign, aimed at shining a light on food wastage — a value at odds with food influencers who often peck at over-the-top meals prepared for the digital gaze. Now, food influencers within the popular Korean digital scene known as Mukbang (loosely translated in Korean as "eating broadcast," where people tune in to watch their favorite stars... eat) are having their videos blurred out on Chinese platforms. Meanwhile, Chinese people searching relevant terms are also being served warning notices by the government to stop engaging with the content. "I don't eat much in my videos and try to eat healthy food," one Korean influencer recently said in response to the latest act of Chinese censorship.

Pop quiz: what percentage of plastic currently gets recycled worldwide? Watch this video in Eni's Energy Shot series to find out and learn what needs to be done to prevent plastic from ending up in our oceans. Plastic is a precious resource that should be valued, not wasted.

This Monday, March 8, is International Women's Day, a holiday with roots in a protest led by the Russian feminist Alexandra Kollontai that helped topple the Tsar of Russia in 1917. More than a hundred years later, amid a global pandemic that has affected women with particular fury, there are dozens of women-led protests and social movements reshaping politics around the globe. Here we take a look at a few key ones to watch this year.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world last year when he recovered from an attempted assassination plot by poisoning — an attempt that bore all the fingerprints of Russian government. Then he shocked the world again by returning to Russia and timing that return with the release of an hours-long documentary that catalogued the Putin regime's extensive history of corruption. Virtually no one, therefore, was shocked when he was immediately sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and expert on authoritarian regimes, believes there was a method to Navalny's madness. "His decision of '….I'm going to do something that harms me personally, but is going to be a lesson for Russians. I'm going teach a generation of Russians how to be brave.' I mean, not very many people would have the guts to do that."

Applebaum's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television stations nationwide starting Friday, March 5. Check local listings.

It's not like things are going well in Mexico.

COVID has killed more people there than in any country except the United States and Brazil. Just 2 percent of Mexicans have gotten a first vaccine jab, compared with nearly 24 in the US. The Biden administration made clear this week that it won't send vaccines to its southern neighbor until many more Americans have been vaccinated. Mexico's government has cut deals for doses from China, Russia, and India.

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A body blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister: Imran Khan suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when members of the National Assembly, the country's lower house, voted to give the opposition bloc a majority in the Senate. (In Pakistan, lower house legislators and provincial assemblies elect senators in a secret ballot.) The big drama of it all is that Khan's own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party holds a lower house majority, which means that lawmakers supposedly loyal to his party voted in secret for opposition candidates. Khan's allies claim that PTI members were bribed to support the opposition, and the prime minister says he will ask for a lower house vote of confidence in his leadership. That vote will not be secret, but even if he survives, the political damage is done. Without a Senate majority, he has no chance of passing key reform plans, including constitutional amendments meant to centralize financial and administrative control in the federal government. Khan has, however, refused to resign.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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