What We're Watching: Bolton's Exit, Kremlin Spies, and Turkish Threats

What We're Watching: Bolton's Exit, Kremlin Spies, and Turkish Threats

Exit John Bolton - Yesterday's news that President Donald Trump has fired national security advisor John Bolton offers yet more evidence that, however his critics will characterize his motives, Trump is eager to avoid fresh military conflicts and wants to try to make deals instead. The ultra-hawkish Bolton appears to have wanted a more aggressive approach to Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela, and other places where US adversaries operate. Trump had evidently reached the limits of his trust in Bolton's judgment. But the remaining mystery is why, in the first place, a man elected on promises to end wars hired a man who wants nothing more than to start them? And, of course, who will want this job next?


Russian Spy Games – A CIA mole provided sensitive Kremlin intelligence, including photographs of documents seen by Vladimir Putin, for more than a decade, according to a bombshell CNN story. The source led the CIA to believe Putin had personally ordered Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. But in 2017, the CIA pulled him out of Russia – a decision that a source told CNN was partly motivated by the Trump administration's patchy handling of classified intelligence. The New York Times followed with other details, including concerns among some US intelligence officials that their most senior Russian asset may have been a double agent. There's plenty of fodder in this story for those on all sides of the Trump-Russia story – we're watching to see how Trump's critics, the president himself, and Vladimir Putin react now that the spy games have become public.

Turkey's Waning Hospitality – Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said that unless the US sets up a safe-zone within Syria where he can send a million of the Syrian refugees currently living in his country, he will "open the gates" for them to head into Europe. Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, by far the largest number of any country. But Ankara's hospitality is wearing thin. Since 2015, the EU has given Turkey $6.7 billion to deal with the influx of migrants, but Erdogan says this isn't enough now, as Turkey's deepening economic woes have fueled anti-Syrian sentiment among Turks. We're watching two things here: first, will Trump agree to Erdogan's ultimatum on setting up the safe zone? Second, if not, will the EU-Turkey deal hold up? Given the backlash against migrants across the EU, Brussels can ill-afford to see millions of fresh arrivals now.

What We're Ignoring:

Calls to abolish higher education – A Republican state senator from Tennessee received national attention after he called to abolish higher education during his weekly radio show. Kerry Roberts, who represents a district near Nashville, said the move would "cut off a liberal breeding ground." The lawmaker subsequently walked back his comments, suggesting they were hyperbole (judge for yourself – his education remarks start around 50 minutes in). We are ignoring this story, because we'd rather tune in to a serious debate about whether Americans would be better off spending time and money on vocational or technical education rather than on increasingly expensive four-year degrees.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

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