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.

Civil rights activist Janet Murguía joins the 'That Made All the Difference' podcast to discuss her upbringing as the daughter of immigrant parents and how that experience informs her life's work advocating for Hispanic-Latino civil rights and battling systemic inequality.

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"Go ahead, take it," President Putin says to you.

"Take what?" you ask.

"This Covid vaccine," he continues, turning a small syringe over in his hands. "It's safe. Trust me. We… tested it on my daughter."

Would you do it? Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that a lot of people will say yes. On Tuesday he announced that Russia has become the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine, and that mass vaccinations will begin there in October.

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20.4: The UK economy is now officially in a recession for the first time in 11 years, after British economic growth plunged by 20.4 percent quarter-on-quarter from April to June 2020. The quarterly decline — attributed to the economic crisis fueled by the coronavirus pandemic ­— is double that of the US and second only to Spain's in Europe.

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Vietnam vs coronavirus (round 2): After going three months with no local transmissions of COVID-19, Vietnam is worried about a resurgence of the disease after a recent outbreak in the coastal city of Da Nang that has already spread to 11 other locations throughout the country. Authorities in Vietnam — widely considered a global success story in handling the pandemic thanks to its aggressive testing, contact-tracing and quarantines — believe the Da Nang outbreak is tied to an influx of domestic tourism there after lockdown restrictions were recently eased by the government. As a precaution, they have converted a 1,000-seat Da Nang sports stadium into a field hospital to treat the sick in case local hospitals become overwhelmed. More than 1,000 medical personnel, assisted by Cuban doctors, have been sent there to screen residents, and the capital Hanoi plans to test 72,000 people who recently returned from Da Nang. Will Vietnam prevail again in its second battle against COVID-19?

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"First off you have to say, it's not just one epidemic. There are many outbreaks. All epidemiology is local, just like politics," former CDC director Dr. Frieden told Ian Bremmer. He expressed concerns that, although COVID-19 is relatively under control in the Northeast, outbreaks continue to rage across the South and Southwest. The real failure, Frieden argues, is at the federal level where nearly six months into a pandemic Washington still lacks the data required to understand the virus' spread, let alone control it.