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.

The Business and Market Fair that recently took place in Sanzule, Ghana featured local crops, livestock and manufactured goods, thanks in part to the Livelihood Restoration Plan (LRP), one of Eni's initiatives to diversify the local economy. The LRP program provided training and support to start new businesses to approximately 1,400 people from 205 households, invigorating entrepreneurship in the community.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky sat down yesterday with Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron for a meeting in the Elysée Palace in Paris for peace talks. This was the first-ever meeting between Putin, Russia's dominant political force since 2000, and Zelensky, who was a TV comedian at this time last year.

Not much was agreed beyond a broader exchange of prisoners and a renewed commitment to a ceasefire that has never held. Fears that Putin would use Zelensky's inexperience to back him into a deal on Russian terms weren't realized, but the relationship between the two has only just begun.

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The UK currently benefits from EU trade pacts covering more than 70 countries. But if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal in place, London could lose its preferential access to those markets. In preparation for such a scenario, the UK has signed 20 "continuity" agreements, allowing countries to keep trading with the UK under current rules even after Brexit. Here's a look at which countries and blocs have signed these deals with the UK, and the total value of each trade relationship.

Macron not backing down over pensions – Despite six days of mass unrest that has paralyzed Paris' public transport system and dented both tourism and Christmas retail, the government will stand firm on a proposal to reform and unify the country's 42 different pension plans. France's pension system, one of the most generous of any major industrialized country, has major budget shortfalls that contribute to the country's ballooning deficit. Last year, Macron abandoned a proposed fuel price hike that ignited the Yellow Vest movement. But overhauling France's "welfare state" was central to his 2017 election platform, and acquiescing to protesters this time around would be political suicide. France's prime minister – tapped to lead the pension reform project – is expected to announce the plan's final details tomorrow. We're watching to see how this might escalate things further.

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