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What We’re Watching: Kherson evacuation, China’s flex in Taiwan, botched bomb plot in Brasilia

Local woman cries as she prepares to enter an evacuation train from Kherson, Ukraine.

Local woman cries as she prepares to enter an evacuation train from Kherson, Ukraine.


A bloody few days in Ukraine and Russia

Three Russian service members were killed by what Moscow claimed was falling debris inside Russia on Monday after a Ukrainian drone was shot down over the Engels military base about 400 miles from the Ukrainian border. It’s the second time in a month that Ukraine has targeted that base, which Kyiv says the Kremlin is using as a launching pad for missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. The incident is problematic for President Vladimir Putin, who has long tried to reassure Russians that the war won’t be coming home or impacting their everyday lives – a narrative that’s harder to sell when deadly drones are flying inside Russian airspace. The timing was also embarrassing for Putin, who was hosting leaders from former Soviet republics when the attack occurred. While Kyiv has mostly been on a high since President Volodymyr Zelensky’s successful trip to Washington, DC, last week, it was also a bloody weekend for Ukraine: Russia pummeled the southern city of Kherson on Christmas Eve, leading to at least 10 deaths and scores of injuries. Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities are urging residents to evacuate the city in preparation for what's still to come.

China’s muscle flex in the Taiwan Strait

China sent 71 warplanes and seven ships towards Taiwan in a 24-hour period, marking the largest show of force by Beijing in the Taiwan Strait in months. Taipei claimed that 47 Chinese aircraft crossed the median line, an unofficial buffer between the two states. Analysts say that Beijing’s muscle flex was largely a response to a spending bill passed by the US Congress in recent days, which boosted security assistance for Taiwan, including fast-tracking Taipei’s access to weapons procurement. Beijing was predictably peeved by the development, accusing Washington and Taipei of provocations. In response, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen announced that mandatory national military service would be increased from four months to one year. Indeed, this was the biggest show of force in the Taiwan Strait by Beijing since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the disputed island in the summer, prompting an aggressive naval and aerial response from China. Still, the last thing President Xi Jinping wants right now is an escalation with the US, given that he’s grappling with a medical emergency and an overwhelmed healthcare system as his government abandons its zero-COVID policy.

Brasilia bomb plot

Just days out from the inauguration of Brazil’s incoming President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, police in Brasilia found an explosive device attached to a truck tanker outside the capital’s international airport. One person has been arrested in connection with the botched bomb plot (the device reportedly failed to detonate as planned.) A large stash of weapons, ammo, and other explosive devices were also found at the rented apartment of the suspect – a staunch supporter of outgoing far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. In recent weeks, the alleged bomb plotter had traveled from out of town to participate in protests outside the military headquarters in Brasilia in hopes of wreaking havoc and prompting the military to declare a state of emergency that would upend Lula’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 1. What’s more, police say this was part of a series of planned attacks around the capital and that other suspects will soon be arrested. While Lula says he is committed to bringing the deeply polarized country together and declared in his victory speech on Oct. 30 that “there are not two Brazils," Bolsonaro supporters are determined to stop left- wing Lula from taking office, going so far as to attempt storming police headquarters in Brasilia in recent weeks. Bolsonaro, for his part, still refuses to concede the election, so we'll be watching to see how high the temperatures rise.


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