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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.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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