What We're Watching: Ethiopia dam dispute, India-Pakistan ceasefire, upheaval in Armenia

Map of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which flows through Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan

Egypt and Sudan want some dam help: Cairo and Khartoum have called on the US, EU, and UN to intervene in their ongoing dispute with neighboring Ethiopia over that country's construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile. Egypt and Sudan, which are downstream of Ethiopia and worry about their farmers losing water, want binding targets and dispute resolution mechanisms, while Ethiopia, which sees the dam as a critical piece of its economic future, wants more flexibility and has given little ground in talks. Efforts by the African Union to mediate have failed as Ethiopia presses ahead with filling the dam even after being sanctioned by the Trump administration last year for doing so. The dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as it is called, has threatened to spill into military conflict at several points in recent years. Can the "international community" turn things around?


US airstrike on Iran-backed militias: On Thursday, President Biden ordered an airstrike against "multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups," according to the US military. The US side has called this a "proportionate military response" to three rocket attacks launched from Syria on US forces in Iraq. The first of those three attacks killed an American civilian contractor and wounded five others. If Iran is testing the new US president, this strike is meant to signal that the US will hit back if tested, but still hopes both sides can de-escalate. We'll be watching to see how many more punches Iran's proxies in Syria want to throw before Washington and Tehran move to restart nuclear talks.

India-Pakistan ceasefire: Longtime foes India and Pakistan have agreed to a ceasefire in the predominantly Muslim area of Kashmir for the first time in almost two decades. (A 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control was consistently violated.) In theory, this means that armed forces from both South Asian nations have agreed to stop exchanging fire across the border by midnight Friday, in a bid to end a low-grade conflict that's killed hundreds of locals and military personnel over the past few decades. Relations between the two sides have long been hostile but soured further in 2019 when New Delhi blamed Islamabad for a terror attack that killed 30 Indian military personnel, resulting in a series of tit-for-tat attacks and cross-border skirmishes. The row between the two nuclear powers went from bad to worse that same year, when India revoked Kashmir's special status in an attempt to integrate the region into India, irking Islamabad and sparking an uptick in violence. However, the two sides have committed to halting hostilities and sorting out the status of disputed Kashmir before — it would be a massive feat if they can pull it off this time around.

Coup in Armenia? Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has accused the army of attempting to stage a coup after the military establishment called on him to step down over the PM's alleged foreign policy blunders in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. The PM — who has been under pressure to resign for months over his ill-fated decision to surrender some territory to the Azeris in order to stop the conflict and ensure a longterm truce — responded by firing the head of the armed forces. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashinyan's supporters heeded his call to turn up on the streets of the capital, Yerevan, where they were met by a similar number of anti-government demonstrators. With the two main opposition parties supporting the army's demand for the PM to call it quits, Pashinyan is fast running out of options to stay in power. Meanwhile, of the two main outside players involved in Nagorno-Karabakh, so far Turkey has condemned the coup attempt, while Russia has kept mum. Indeed, Pashinyan's political survival could in part depend on Russia, which has forces and military bases in Armenia. What will Vladimir Putin do?

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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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?

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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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