What We’re Watching: EU agrees recovery fund, Emirati lift off to Mars, Far East tests Putin

What We’re Watching: EU agrees recovery fund, Emirati lift off to Mars, Far East tests Putin

Compromise on EU pandemic relief deal: In the wee hours of Tuesday, EU leaders reached consensus on a 750 billion euro fund to help EU member states recover from the crippling coronavirus-related economic crisis. Almost five days into what was supposed to be a three-day summit in Brussels, a group of "frugal" countries, led by the Netherlands, agreed to a combination of 360 billion euros in loans and 390 billion euros in non-repayable grants that will largely benefit Italy and Spain. These two countries were the hardest hit by the pandemic, but are reluctant to embrace labor market and pension reforms in exchange for EU rescue money. Disbursement of the funds will finally not be tied to upholding EU norms on democracy and the rule of law, as Hungary and Poland had pushed for. Although the "frugal" countries won generous rebates on their contributions to the EU budget, they failed to secure clear strings attached for big-spending recipients to get the money. Any deal is subject to parliamentary approval in all EU member states, so it will still be a long time until anyone sees any of the EU relief cash.


UAE goes to Red Planet: The United Arab Emirates successfully launched a Mars probe on Sunday, becoming the first Arab country to carry out a space mission. It's a major feat for the UAE, a rich but tiny Gulf nation which only started its space program six years ago, and has been able to pull off a launch to the Red Planet (almost entirely on its own) in about half the time it normally takes countries to do so. If the Emirati probe arrives safely, it will be joined on Mars by similar missions to be launched by the United States and China. With this move, the UAE — now a member of the elite club of countries with ambitious space programs — plans to achieve twin political goals: stoke nationalist sentiment by landing the Mars probe to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its independence in December 2021, and demonstrate its regional leadership on science and technology in the Arab world, where many Gulf states are exploring how to leverage such innovation to diversify their economies away from oil and gas.

Putin tries to tame the East: After more than 10,000 people again hit the streets in the Russian Far East region of Khabarovsk to protest the ousting of their popular governor, President Putin named a replacement in hopes of calming the protests. Will it work? Supporters of Sergei Furgal say that his recent arrest on murder charges was political payback from the Kremlin, whose own gubernatorial candidate Furgal beat handily in the last elections. Furgal is a member of the spectacularly misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, a far-right nationalist outfit that usually plays the role of lapdog opposition to the Kremlin. Lately, however, party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has been mouthing off more about the Kremlin. Critics say Furgal's replacement is just a more pliant member of the same party. With Putin's approval ratings touching all-time lows and Russia's economy battered by the pandemic, the Kremlin is keen to quash this bit of regional insubordination, lest it spread to other parts of Russia's vast hinterland that are frustrated with Moscow's political and economic dominance.

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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