What We’re Watching: Libya’s future, Russia vs UK in Black Sea, US blocks Iranian news sites

What We’re Watching: Libya’s future, Russia vs UK in Black Sea, US blocks Iranian news sites

Peace in Libya? Representatives from several outside players with a stake in Libya's future are meeting in Berlin with the country's interim unity government to chart a path toward peace after a decade of bloody internal conflict. Since 2011, the energy-rich North African country has been split between areas controlled by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army, a militia headed by warlord Khalifa Haftar. It's long been a proxy war as well, with Turkey backing the GNA and Gulf states and Russia supporting Haftar. One major concern is what to do with the 20,000 foreign troops currently in the country, which include Turkish soldiers and Syrian fighters on Ankara's payroll in Tripoli, as well as Russian mercenaries. Western powers want the Turks and Russians to withdraw their forces, but Ankara and Moscow would rather wait to see how things play out. Another thorny issue is how 75 UN-appointed Libyan lawmakers will agree on the legal basis to hold a general election in December without a constitution in place. We'll be tracking progress on both.


Black Sea shenanigans: Moscow says it happened, London says it didn't. Who ya gonna believe? Russia claimed Wednesday it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs to scare off a British warship near the Crimean coast. As the Russians tell it, the Brits beat a hasty retreat, but the UK denies that anything of the sort happened at all. As they tell it, the warship was unbothered as it conducted "innocent passage" through Ukrainian territorial waters. And there's the rub — ever since Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin considers the waters in question to be its own, and Moscow gets very prickly about NATO ships showing up there. Regardless of whether shots were fired or not, the incident underscores how fragile relations between Russia and the "West" are, even after that Biden-Putin summit last week which was meant to smooth things over.

US swipes Iranian news sites: The US Justice Department has taken down 33 Iran-affiliated news websites for allegedly spreading disinformation among American voters before the 2020 US presidential election, and another three for links to an Iranian terrorist group. Although the websites are owned by US companies which did nothing wrong, the DOJ has legal basis to shutter them because the Iranian entities did not register the domain names with US authorities — a breach of US sanctions against Iran. All of this happens as Americans and Iranians continue to renegotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with both sides, as usual, playing hard-to-get. Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi doesn't want to meet Joe Biden, but we all know that it's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — who still wants to make an agreement but doesn't want to seem too eager — who will have the final say.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the EU's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?

I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.

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Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

16: Rich countries have secured 16 times more COVID vaccine supplies than developing nations that rely on the struggling COVAX facility, according to analysis by the Financial Times. COVAX is steadily losing bargaining power to buy vaccines at low prices due to the combined effects of booster shots being doled out in developed countries, as well as low-income countries deciding to buy jabs on their own.

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Listen: Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

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