What We’re Watching: Monsoon hits South Asia, Russians steal vaccine research, criminal president gone in Suriname

What We’re Watching: Monsoon hits South Asia, Russians steal vaccine research, criminal president gone in Suriname

South Asia under water: A deadly monsoon has pummeled large swaths of South Asia in recent days, wiping out entire villages and causing families to seek safety on rooftops in scenes reminiscent of the deadly tsunami that hit the region in 2004. Millions of people across India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Nepal have been displaced because of heavy floods and landslides — and meteorologists say these harsh weather conditions are unlikely to change in the coming weeks. So far, the state of Assam in northeast India has been hit particularly hard by flash floods, affecting some 4.3 million residents. Meanwhile, the monsoon has also devastated refugee camps in Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh, home to 750,000 Rohingya refugees. Every year, seasonal floods hit South Asia, causing death and destruction. But the inundations this year, the worst in decades, come as many of these countries are grappling with explosive COVID-19 outbreaks that are crippling already weak healthcare systems.


Are Russians trying to swipe COVID-19 vaccine data? The US, the UK and Canada on Thursday accused Russian hackers of trying to steal research on coronavirus vaccines. The allegation puts a spotlight again on Russian dirty tricks in Western countries, this time to unfairly benefit from a global effort to develop a vaccine in the near term. The Russian government has, as usual, denied any involvement, but the US National Security Agency has singled out Cozy Bear, a hacking group linked to Russian espionage and believed to be responsible for the 2016 cyberattack on the US Democratic National Committee server. Apart from Russia, the US previously suggested that China and Iran were trying to get their hands on the vaccine research. All this comes amid a growing debate over which countries will get it first, how doses can be distributed equitably — and even more importantly which countries finally decide to hoard the vaccine or share it with the rest of the world.

Suriname boots its criminal president: Former military dictator Desi Bouterse is finally out of power in Suriname, after losing the presidential election to opposition leader Chan Santokhi. Voters punished Bouterse — who has ruled the former Dutch colony for most of the last 40 years — for his rampant corruption, economic mismanagement and abysmal handing of the coronavirus pandemic. What's more, in 1999 he was sentenced in absentia to 11 years in jail for cocaine trafficking in the Netherlands, and just months ago to another 20 years for ordering the 1982 killing of 15 political enemies in Suriname. However, Bouterse won't end up behind bars if he stays away from the EU, and an arrest warrant has yet to be issued for his domestic conviction. Santokhi, a former justice minister and police chief, now has two priorities: reorienting Suriname's foreign policy away from neighboring Venezuela (and China) to pursue closer ties with the Netherlands, and figuring out how to avoid the "resource curse" from a major new oil discovery.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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