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What We're Watching: Moscow Streets, Ukraine's Fresh Start, Hong Kong Thugs

What We're Watching: Moscow Streets, Ukraine's Fresh Start, Hong Kong Thugs

Moscow's Streets – More than 20,000 Russians hit the streets of Moscow last weekend to protest the exclusion of opposition candidates from city elections scheduled for September. Organizers say that, unless their candidates are allowed to stand, they'll be back in bigger numbers next Saturday. Russian protests may become an increasingly common occurrence: A recent poll from Moscow's Levada Center finds that more Russians are willing to hit the streets to shake their fists.


Ukraine's Transformation – Next door, Ukraine's political makeover is now complete. In April, 73 percent of voters, the highest turnout in the country's brief democratic history, chose comedian Volodymyr Zelensky as their president. On Sunday, voters gave his party, Servant of the People, a majority of seats in parliament, something no post-Soviet party in Ukraine has ever managed. What's more, nearly three-quarters of Ukraine's lawmakers will be first-time members. The new president and his party have a mandate to change the country. Now all they have to do now is manage relations with a giant and aggressive eastern neighbor, find a way to end a separatist insurgency in the Donbass, and uproot the corruption that bleeds the country's economy, undermines relations with international lenders, and blocks Ukraine's path forward. Onwards!

Gangs of Hong Kong – Gangs of club-wielding men in masks left Hong Kong shaken on Sunday night after they beat up a number of people who were returning from pro-democracy rallies. Reports say the men in white shirts were members of the Triads – a vicious transnational organized crime group. The organized attacks -- and reports that the police stood by and did nothing -- have fanned popular anger. At the same time, protesters took more direct aim at Beijing's control over the territory, vandalizing the mainland's liaison office with independence slogans. All of this will inflame an already tense situation between Hong Kong executive Carrie Lam's government and an increasingly vocal opposition.

What We're Ignoring

Jair Bolsonaro's beef with his own scientists – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lashed out at his country's space agency last Friday, accusing it of "lies" after it published data showing that the pace of Amazon deforestation picked up in May and June. We're ignoring the president's accusation—though never the Amazon—for two reasons: First, the data are hardly a surprise, since Bolsonaro campaigned on reducing protections on the rainforest to make life easier for farmers who clear-cut trees to provide grazing land for livestock. Second, the study by space agency INPE was based on satellite images and has been backed up by the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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