What We’re Watching: It’s a Kim Jong-un Christmas!

North Koreans bearing gifts? – What kind of present will North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un leave under the tree for President Trump this year? US spooks are worried it could be a missile test: Talks over the North's nuclear arsenal have stalled since a summit between the two leaders broke down in February, leaving Pyongyang chafing under US sanctions. Testing a new ICBM that could reach the US would be one way for Kim to get Trump's attention, but it might provoke the US to seek even tighter financial curbs against the North. China, South Korea, and Japan have engaged in a flurry of diplomacy in recent days to try to tamp down rising tensions.


Turkey's refugee warning – Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said over the weekend that more than 80,000 refugees from the Syrian province of Idlib had fled for the Turkish border amid bombing by the Assad regime and Russian forces – and that Turkey would not shoulder the full burden of accepting them. Under a deal with the EU, Turkey already hosts more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees, and public anger about it is rising. That's one reason Erdogan recently invaded northern Syria—to create a "safe zone" for the resettling of some of those people. He says that unless Europe backs his plans, he'll "open the gates" to allow millions more refugees to enter the EU.

West African countries cut a lingering colonial tie – For decades, former French colonies in Africa have used a common regional currency known as the CFA Franc. Over the weekend, eight of those countries in West Africa – Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo – agreed with France to rename the currency the "Eco" and to scrap the requirement that they keep half of their foreign reserves in this currency. The new currency will still be pegged to the Euro, as the CFA Franc was. We are watching to see what effect the change has on the economy and well-being of these countries' populations.

What We're Ignoring

A flimsy fall-guy verdict in Saudi Arabia – A court in Saudi Arabia convicted eight people in the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and sentenced five of them to death. None of those people, of course, is Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman -- whom Western intelligence agencies believe ordered or approved the killing – nor two of his top advisers who were believed to have intimate knowledge of its details. This is hardly surprising – Saudi Arabia's highly politicized judicial system was never expected to punish the country's de facto leader or his aides. Still, we are ignoring this verdict because, frankly, it's (M)B.S.

Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to child online protection. First and foremost, as a technology company, it has a responsibility to create software, devices and services that have safety features built in from the outset. Last week, in furtherance of those commitments, Microsoft shared a grooming detection technique, code name "Project Artemis," by which online predators attempting to lure children for sexual purposes can be detected, addressed and reported. Developed in collaboration with The Meet Group, Roblox, Kik and Thorn, this technique builds off Microsoft patented technology and will be made freely available to qualified online service companies that offer a chat function.

Read more at Microsoft On The Issues.

Vladimir Putin has ruled Russia for twenty years, but he has a problem: his current presidential term ends in 2024, and the constitution prevents him from running for re-election then.

As a result, the question of what he'll do in 2024 has been on the minds of Russia's oligarchs, spooks, bureaucrats, and a lot of ordinary folks, as well. After all, over the past two decades, Putin has made himself, for better and for worse, the indispensable arbiter, boss, and glue of Russia's sprawling and corrupted system of government. As the current speaker of Russia's legislature once said, "Without Putin, there is no Russia." Not as we currently know it, no.

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It's been nine years since Libya's long-time despot Muammar Qaddafi was killed in a violent uprising, bringing the oil-rich country to the brink of civil war. That conflict entered a new stage last year when violence between warring factions competing for territory intensified around Tripoli, Libya's capital, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 civilians. In recent weeks, fighting has intensified again, and ceasefire talks have failed. Here's a look at who's who and how we got here.

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India's supreme court to weigh in on citizenship law – India's southern state of Kerala filed a lawsuit in India's Supreme Court, claiming that a contentious new citizenship law that's caused nationwide protests is discriminatory and violates India's secular constitution. Kerala is the first state to legally challenge the new law backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, which opens a path to Indian citizenship for migrants from neighboring countries— provided that they are not Muslims. In addition to the Kerala action, at least some of the 60 petitions filed by individuals and political parties are also likely to be heard by the court next week. Amid a climate of deepening uncertainty for India's 200 million Muslims, we're watching closely to see how the court rules.

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Vladimir Putin has held power for twenty years now, alternating between the prime minister's seat and the presidency twice. He has made himself so indispensable to Russia's political system that even the speaker of the legislature has mused that "without Putin, there is no Russia." The constitution says he can't serve as president again after his current term ends in 2024 – but he'll find a way to keep power somehow. As he starts to lay those plans, here's a look back at his approval rating over the past two decades.