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What We're Watching: A Syrian Pandora's Box

What We're Watching: A Syrian Pandora's Box

Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.


Orban's Urban Rebuke – Viktor Orban's Fidesz party outperformed all others in Sunday's local elections across Hungary, but opposition candidates made headlines by winning control of Budapest, the country's capital, and ten of Hungary's 23 large cities. The fiercely nationalistic Orban, who prides himself on building an "illiberal democracy," remains hugely popular in rural areas, and we're watching to see if he responds to this setback in the cities by tightening his grip on the country's media and pushing for changes to Hungary's constitution to further centralize power. We're also watching to see how an emboldened opposition might respond.

Ecuador's Lingering Money Problems – In a deal to end nearly two weeks of violent protests, the Ecuadoran government agreed late Sunday to cancel cuts to fuel subsidies. The protests began after President Lenin Moreno ordered the government to stop subsidizing gasoline and diesel sales as part of a plan to stabilize Ecuador's finances by securing $4 billion in emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund. Protesters have gone home (for now), but oil-exporting Ecuador remains stuck with the same basic problem: lavish government spending plans rolled out during boom times are no longer sustainable now that oil prices are lower and the economy has slowed. What's more, the government is saddled with several billion dollars of outstanding loans to China. We're watching to see how President Moreno squares this circle – which requires a mix of unpopular spending cuts and tax hikes – without touching off more unrest.

Tunisia's Outsider Must Now Work Inside – An austere, stiff, and formerly little-known law professor has won Tunisia's presidential election in a striking rebuke to the country's mainstream political parties. Kais Saied, an independent who ran a deliberately low-profile campaign, defeated charismatic populist media tycoon Nabil Karoui by as much as fifty points, according to exit polls. High turnout showed that Tunisians clearly want something better after a decade of dysfunctional post-Arab Spring governments. Saied won't have it easy. Tunisia's presidency has few formal powers and the party that backed Saied in the runoff – the Islamist Ennahda – has the most seats in Parliament but will have trouble forming a government. And so Saied, who lacks a party of his own, now faces a problem familiar to many outsider candidates: how to work within a system that he was elected to overhaul.

What We're Ignoring

Vietnam's Ban on the New Yeti Movie – The Vietnamese government has banned screenings of DreamWorks' animated blockbuster, Abominable, the story of a Chinese girl who finds a yeti living on her roof. Why? Vietnam is angry that the film contains a map showing a controversial U-shaped dotted line that indicates China's claims over large portions of the oil-rich South China Sea. The so-called "nine-dash line" is a regular maritime feature on Chinese maps, but other countries bordering the sea, like Vietnam, reject Beijing's claims. We're ignoring this controversy because Vietnam's ban won't change the movie or the politics of the South China Sea—and because we like animated yeti movies.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

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Even as vaccines roll out around the world, COVID-19 is continuing to spread like wildfire in many places, dashing hopes of a return to normal life any time soon. Some countries, like Israel and the UK for instance, have been praised for their inoculation drives, while still recording a high number of new cases. It's clear that while inoculations are cause for hope, the pace of rollouts cannot keep up with the fast-moving virus. Here's a look at the countries that have vaccinated the largest percentages of their populations so far – and a snapshot of their daily COVID caseloads (7-day rolling average) in recent weeks.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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