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What We’re Watching: Former Malaysian PM sentenced, Turkey backs down on sea plans, Europe quarantines Spain

What We’re Watching: Former Malaysian PM sentenced, Turkey backs down on sea plans, Europe quarantines Spain

Former Malaysian leader gets 12 years: A Malaysian court on Tuesday sentenced former prime minister Najib Razak to 12 years in prison for corruption related to the multibillion-dollar 1MDB state investment fund scandal, which brought down his government 2 years ago. According to the judge, Najib received more than $700 million out of the at least $4.5 billion that 1MDB looted from state coffers to pay for luxury hotels, yachts and even the Hollywood film "The Wolf of Wall Street." Although he was convicted of using part of the money to buy his wife a $27 million pink diamond necklace and to fund his political campaigns, the former PM insists he was duped by fugitive financier Jho Low and his partner Riza Aziz, Najib's stepson. So, what happens now? While the sentence is a permanent stain on his record, Najib is out on bail and will not go to jail until he exhausts the appeals process. Also, his political party returned to power in February and is now the biggest bloc in the current Malay nationalist alliance government, while Najib himself — who remains immensely popular among many ethnic Malays — is an elected MP and will only be disqualified if the conviction stands. The bottom line: whether or not (or even if) he ends up behind bars will test how serious Malaysia is about rooting out corruption.


Hopeful news from the Med and Aegean: Turkey and Greece are old rivals who have divided the island of Cyprus. Greece is a member of the EU, and Turkey is not. But the two countries are also NATO allies, and their governments have tried at times to improve relations in recent years. This summer, however, tensions have surged again as Turkey claims the right to drill for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean — energy discoveries there have boosted Israel, Egypt, and EU member Cyprus, and Turkey wants a piece of the action — and to explore natural resources in the Aegean Sea, most of which Greece claims for itself. When Turkey announced it would send a research vessel into contested waters last week, Greece and France called for sanctions against Turkey, and Germany hinted it might follow. For now, Turkey has de-escalated tensions by promising to halt drilling during negotiations. EU officials say tensions have begun to ease, but this is a story to keep an eye on.

Stay away from Spain: Several European countries have implemented travel restrictions for citizens traveling to Spain after the country reported several fresh COVID-19 outbreaks. This is a huge blow for the Spanish tourism industry, which accounts for about 15 percent of Spain's GDP and was hoping to recover at least part of its pandemic-related losses during this summer season. Ironically, when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK would impose a two-week quarantine (now revised to 10 days) on all travelers from Spain, his transport secretary was on holiday... in Spain. The Spanish government also gave mixed signals: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez hit back at Johnson, calling the UK's move an "error," while Spain's top epidemiologist mused that less British tourists coming will probably help contain the spread of the coronavirus throughout Spain. The bigger picture is that the new restrictions against Spain highlight the risk of countries rushing to reopen for tourism without clear (and reciprocal) policies on who is allowed in, and how. Other tourism-dependent European countries like France, Italy or Croatia will surely be monitoring what happens to Spain so they don't end up in the same situation.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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In the fall of 2019, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, Ian Bremmer asked Dr. Fauci what kept him up at night and he described a "a pandemic-like respiratory infection." Fast-forward to late February 2021 and Dr. Fauci tells Ian, "I think we are living through much of that worst nightmare." Dr. Fauci returns to GZERO World to take stock of the nightmare year and to paint a picture of what the end of the pandemic could look like—and when it could finally arrive.

Catch the full episode of GZERO World, where Dr. Fauci discusses the latest in vaccine roll out, schools re-openings, and plenty more, on US public television stations nationwide, beginning Friday, February 26. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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