What We’re Watching: France’s EU presidency, Kim Jong Un’s 2022 plans, NYC’s new mayor, Sudan’s PM steps down

What We’re Watching: France’s EU presidency, Kim Jong Un’s 2022 plans, NYC’s new mayor, Sudan’s PM steps down

France takes over EU presidency. France has assumed the EU's rotational presidency, which allows Paris to set the bloc’s agenda for the next six months at a very interesting time for both EU and French politics. French President Emmanuel Macron will want to make a big splash as he vies to become the bloc's de-facto leader after the departure of Angela Merkel. Macron's ambitious plans include reforming the EU's budget rules to allow member states to spend more than 60 percent of their annual GDP, which he’ll have a tough time selling to debt-averse Germany. He also will continue to push hard for the EU to develop a military capability independent from the US, and to embrace nuclear power as a green source of energy as Brussels just proposed. Also, in the run-up to the French presidential election in April, the centrist Macron will use the EU presidency to tell voters how France can benefit from a stronger Union led by France — particularly to fend off challenges from his right in fellow Europhile Valerie Pécresse, and his far right in Euroskeptics Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. So far, Macron isn't off to a good start: he had to remove a giant EU flag perched on Paris’ Arc de Triomphe after his three main rivals called it an attack on French identity.


North Korea is in for a tough 2022. North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un famously likes to drop bombshells in his New Year's Day speeches, like his 2018 nuclear button. But this time, he decided to write a letter telling his people that this year the regime will focus on rural development. Although boosting food production may not sound as exciting as Kim's trademark bombastic statements boasting about nukes or lashing out at South Korea and the US, the more urgent problem is to escape a looming famine. It won't be easy: North Korea's food production system is in the dumps due to decades of mismanagement, and more recently a severe economic crisis caused by the pandemic-related closure of the border with China, Pyongyang’s main economic lifeline. Kim, who recently marked his 10th anniversary as supreme leader, seems to be in survival mode for 2022, and both seeking a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War and restarting nuclear talks with Washington are low on his priority list as feeding his people takes precedent.

Gotham has a new boss. Minutes after New Yorkers rang in the new year, they also inaugurated a new mayor. Eric Adams, the city’s second Black mayor, faces big problems in the Big Apple: almost two years after the pandemic began, unemployment is double the US average, violent crime has skyrocketed, and pre-existing socioeconomic and racial inequalities have widened. But Adams says that under his watch, New York City will re-emerge bigger and better by luring back businesses, subway riders, and tourists. The former cop also promises to make America's largest city and urban economy safe again by being tough on crime while reforming the NYPD, which just got its first female commissioner. Beyond the city limits, how Adams performs could have an impact on the November midterms, where his Democratic Party faces very long odds to retain control of both houses of Congress. For moderate Dems, more candidates with messaging like NYC's centrist, club-hopping, vegan mayor is the antidote to Republicans appealing to moderate voters who don't want to defund the police. First, though, he has a lot of work to do to wake up the city that never sleeps.

Sudan’s PM resigns as the country spirals. Sudan’s embattled PM Abdalla Hamdok resigned Sunday, saying he made the decision because the country is at “a dangerous turning point.” How did we get here? In October, the Sudanese army deposed the country's joint civilian-military government, placing Hamdok under house arrest and arresting scores of political prisoners. Weeks later, Hamdok was released and reinstated in a shaky deal negotiated by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who led the coup. The military said that the civilian-military alliance would remain intact until fresh elections are held in 2023, but pro-democracy Sudanese aren’t buying it, saying the deal is a ruse for the army — formerly aligned with longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir — to cling on to power. This weekend several demonstrators were shot by security forces, prompting Hamdok to resign to try and lower the temperature. But it might be too late to rescue Sudan’s democratic dream: dozens of protesters have been killed by the army since the coup, while security forces have taken extreme measures to quash dissent, including censoring the press.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week, discussing Boris Johnson's tenuous status as UK PM, US Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Ukraine, and the volcano eruption in Tonga:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

It certainly looks that way. He's hanging on by his fingernails. He's losing members of Parliament. He's giving shambolic media interviews. In fact, I think the only people that don't want him to resign at this point is the Labour Party leadership, because they think the longer he holds on, the better it is for the UK opposition. But no, he certainly looks like he's going. The only question is how quickly. Is it within a matter of weeks or is it after local elections in May? But feel pretty confident that the days of Boris Johnson are numbered.

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