What We’re Watching: Armenians & Azeris won't talk, Indian sectarian violence ruling, US-Taiwan infra plan

Armenian military volunteers gather in Yerevan. Reuters

No peace talks over Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia and Azerbaijan are resisting pressure from Russia and the United Nations to stop fighting and talk out their dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. Since major clashes erupted over the weekend, killing scores on both sides, the two countries are inching closer to a wider war that could potentially draw in not only Russia — which is treaty-bound to defend Armenia — but also a newly assertive Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan. Vladimir Putin has offered to mediate, but so far has no takers. Meanwhile, Armenia says Turkey has sent Syrian mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh and shot down an Armenian fighter jet. As if that weren't enough, the latest outside player to weigh in on the conflict is France, whose support for Armenia has put Paris at odds with NATO ally Turkey. We are watching to see if more countries — for instance the US — will get involved, and if this resurgent conflict becomes an even uglier proxy war.


India exonerates BJP leaders over sectarian violence: An Indian court on Wednesday acquitted 32 people — including the former deputy prime minister and two leaders of the ruling BJP party — over their alleged role in the 1992 demolition of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya that sparked a wave of sectarian violence. Seventeen of those exonerated are now dead, among them Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP prime minister at the time. The ruling is great news for Hindu nationalist supporters of PM Narendra Modi, who just weeks ago played to his base by setting the first stone of a new Hindu temple that is being built over the razed remains of the mosque. The site has long been disputed by Hindus and Muslims, but a controversial Supreme Court verdict last fall allowed construction of the temple to proceed. On the other hand, the acquittals are seen as a blow to India's 180 million Muslims, many of whom worry that Modi is seeking to replace the country's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of Indian identity.

It's infrastructure week with Taiwan! The US and Taiwan have announced that they will team up to develop infrastructure projects across Asia and Latin America. The plan is meant as a direct challenge to China's trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to build new roads, rails, and ports in over 75 countries. For Taiwan in particular, the idea is to decrease its economic dependence on Beijing, which considers the self-governing island to be part of China. Most of the world (including the US) formally agrees with that view, but Washington has long maintained close ties to Taiwan. The Trump administration's recent moves to inch closer to Taipei have raised hackles in Beijing, where Xi Jinping has signaled his intent to eventually re-establish Chinese control over Taiwan. Alas, "infrastructure week" never amounted to much in the US, but with US-China tensions rising, it could get hot fast in East Asia.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from sunny Nantucket and going to be here for a little bit. Thought we would talk about the latest on COVID. Certainly, we had hoped we'd be talking less about it at this point, at least in terms of the developed world. A combination of the transmissibility of Delta variant and the extraordinary misinformation around vaccines and COVID treatment means that we are not in the position that many certainly had hoped we would be today.

The United States is the biggest problem on this front. We are awash in vaccines. Operation Warp Speed was an enormous success. The best vaccines in the world, the most effective mRNA, the United States doing everything it can to get secure doses for the entire country quick, more quickly than any other major economy in the world, and now we're having a hard time convincing people to take them. The politics around this are nasty and as divided as the country, absolutely not what you want to see in response to a health crisis.

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If your country had suffered decades of crippling corruption, wouldn't you want to prosecute those responsible? Of course you would. On Sunday, almost 98 percent of Mexicans who voted in a national referendum on this subject said, in so many words: "Yes, please prosecute the last five presidents for corruption!"

The catch is that turnout was a dismal 7 percent, meaning the plebiscite fell way short of the 40 percent turnout threshold required for its result to be binding.

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The COVID delta variant — which first surfaced in India earlier this year — is spreading rampantly throughout every continent, and is now the most dominant strain globally. But low- and middle-income countries, particularly in regions where vaccines have been scarce, are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the more contagious strain. We take a look at the 10 countries now recording the highest number of daily COVID deaths (per 1 million people), and their corresponding vaccination rates.

China tackles delta: China is the latest country to express serious concern over the highly contagious delta variant, after recording 300 cases in 10 days. Authorities there are trying to trace some 70,000 people who may have attended a theatre in Zhangjiajie, a city in China's Hunan province, which is now thought to have been a delta hotspot. Making matters worse, a busy domestic travel season in China saw millions recently on the move to visit friends and family just as delta infections spiked in more than a dozen provinces. Authorities have enforced new travel restrictions in many places, including in central Hunan province, where more than 1.2 million people have been told to stay in their homes for three days while authorities roll out a mass testing scheme. The outbreak has reached Beijing, too, with authorities limiting entrance to the capital to "essential travelers" only. Indeed, the outbreak has raised fresh concerns about Chinese vaccines' protection against delta, though many experts say they are still at least 55 percent effective in preventing serious illness.

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It was a weird series of events. Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya took to Instagram to lament that her country's Olympic Committee had registered her for the 4x400 relay event at the eleventh hour (because a fellow participant had failed to pass drug screenings) despite not having trained.

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100: A scorching heat wave has caused more than 100 wildfires across Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coastline in recent days. Scientists say that dry conditions induced by climate change have helped spread the fires, which have already killed eight people and caused mass evacuations from tourist hotspots.

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Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal