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.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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