What We're Watching: British borders, Russian Muslims, and missing weapons

What We're Watching: British borders, Russian Muslims, and missing weapons

Britain's immigration shake up — The British government has announced a shake-up to its immigration rules that will cut visas for low-skilled workers and impose new immigration criteria, including fluency in English. The new rules, which will take effect next January, are meant to lower immigration overall, and they will hit particularly hard for the large number of eastern European immigrants who work in sectors like old age care, hospitality, and construction. This is a big reversal for Britain, which in 2004 was one of just three EU member states to open its labor markets to citizens of the former Communist countries that had recently joined the bloc. Boris Johnson's Conservative Party says the new rules will prioritize people with skills over a boundless supply of "cheap labor." But critics point out that the British economy is currently at full employment, and that migrants are needed to fill vacancies that Britons won't.


Russia vs Tatars — In 1992, from the ashes of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Tatarstan voted for independence from Russia. Tatars, almost all of whom are Muslim, are Russia's second largest ethnic group, and the capital of their republic is Kazan, a city of 1.2 million about 500 miles east of Moscow. Though Russia refused to let Tatarstan go, then-President Boris Yeltsin cut a deal in 1994 that gave Tatars exclusive rights to their own (abundant) natural resources, the ability to collect their own taxes, and protections for their language and culture. But beginning two years ago, protections for the Tatar language have been stripped away, presumably to save ethnic Russians the trouble of having to study it. What was once a required six hours of Tatar language per school week has been scaled back to two weeks of optional coursework. Activists protesting these changes have been harassed, fined and, in some cases, jailed.

The Pentagon's missing receipts — About $715 million worth of US military equipment earmarked for anti-ISIS groups in Syria between 2017 and 2018 is simply unaccounted for, according to a new Pentagon audit. The report says that US military personnel who were supposed to funnel the equipment to Syrian groups via Kuwait didn't keep proper records of what was disbursed or to whom. More alarmingly, it warns that officials "left thousands of…weapons and sensitive equipment items vulnerable to loss or theft." This isn't the first time this has happened: the US also doesn't know the fate of about 750,000 guns meant for Iraqi and Afghan enforcement, and in 2017 Amnesty International reported up to $1 billion in arms destined for Iraqi and Kuwaiti forces had gone missing.

What We're Ignoring

China's duck army – An army of 100,000 ducks is mustering in western China to combat a swarm of locusts approaching the country from the border with India and Pakistan, according to Chinese state media. The video is irresistible, but we're ignoring this story because it's not the first time China has had to call in its "air force" to deal with the locust threat. Twenty years ago, China drafted 700,000 ducks and chickens to fight a similar invasion.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

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.

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