What We're Watching: Brussels vs Belarus, South Africa's COVID corruption, a fresh fix for the WHO?

What We're Watching: Brussels vs Belarus, South Africa's COVID corruption, a fresh fix for the WHO?

The EU's Belarus problem: While Belarus' strongman president Alexander Lukashenko vowed on Wednesday to crack down on the thousands of Belarusians still protesting against the country's recently-rigged elections, EU member states were convening for an emergency session on the country's deepening crisis. So far, the European Commission has pledged 53 million euros to support Belarusians, including two-million going towards those wounded in the recent government crackdown, as well as 1 million aimed at bolstering an independent media that has been under assault for decades. Most of the funds will go towards the country's post-pandemic economic recovery. However, to date, the EU has not explicitly called for Lukashenko to step aside and has failed to reach a consensus on whether to hit Minsk with sanctions. That's because some member states, such as Hungary, are friendly with Lukashenko, and have called for more dialogue with Minsk, rather than punitive measures. But power brokers in Brussels, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, have made it clear that swift action must be taken to protect the Belarusian people, and to stave off a potential Russian intervention in the crisis by Lukashenko's longtime frenemy Vladimir Putin (i.e. Ukraine 2.0).


South Africa's COVID corruption probe: South African special investigators allege that government institutions, including the capital city's health department, cut crooked deals for coronavirus-related tenders — including for PPE procurement, quarantine sites and disinfectant equipment — totaling a whopping $290 million. It's the latest challenge for President Cyril Ramaphosa who took over as head of the African National Congress party (ANC) in 2018 after the ouster of the party's disgraced former leader Jacob Zuma. At the time, Ramaphosa pledged to root out corruption, bring "ethics into politics," and revive the country's battered economy, but attempts at reform have so far proven elusive, largely because of dysfunction and competing factions within the ANC itself.

A different way to fix the WHO: US President Donald Trump isn't the only one who thinks the World Health Organization is too weak, poorly funded, and beholden to national interests to do its job well — it turns out France and Germany agree with him. But unlike Trump, who is walking out on the organization, Paris and Berlin are proposing massive reforms that would give it more money and stronger oversight powers, according to a Reuter's exclusive. The details of the proposal are yet to be ironed out ahead of discussions as soon as next month. We're watching to see three things. First, how do Germany and France plan to get countries to pony up more dough in the middle of a global recession? Can they really give the WHO more muscle to force member states to do things that are in the interest of global public health? And lastly, are the skeptical Americans and the Chinese going to agree?

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.

More Show less

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

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.

More Show less

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.

More Show less

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.

More Show less

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?

More Show less

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...

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal