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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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