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.

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Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Andean aftermath: Two big weekend elections in South America produced two stunning results. In Ecuador's presidential runoff, the center-right former banker Guillermo Lasso upset early frontrunner Andrés Arauz, a leftist handpicked by former president Rafael Correa. Lasso will take power amid the social and economic devastation of the pandemic and will have to reckon with the rising political power of Ecuador's indigenous population: the Pachakutik party, which focuses on environmental issues and indigenous rights, is now the second-largest party in parliament. Meanwhile, in a big surprise next door in Perú, far-left union leader Pedro Castillo tallied up the most votes in the first round of that country's highly fragmented presidential election. As of Monday evening it's not clear whom he'll face in the June runoff, but three figures are in the running as votes are counted: prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, rightwing businessman Rafael López Aliaga, and conservative Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Meanwhile, in the congressional ballot, at least 10 parties reached the threshold to win seats, but there is no clear majority or obvious coalition in sight.

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