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What We’re Watching: Navalny poisoning confirmed, Israel-Hamas truce, Japan PM hopefuls

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny at a rally in Moscow.

Germany confirms Russian dissident was poisoned: German lab tests have verified that Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, a defiant critic of Vladimir Putin, was recently poisoned with Novichok, the same Soviet-era nerve agent used in 2018 in the UK against former KGB spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, both of whom survived. After Germany asked Russia for an explanation, the Kremlin (as expected) brushed off the allegations and demanded that Berlin share information about the case. The use of Novichok, a rare and highly specialized poison, suggests some level of state involvement in the attempted killing, but Putin has so far declined to comment publicly on the poisoning.

Israel, Hamas stop fighting (for now): Amid a coronavirus outbreak in the Gaza Strip and a rising caseload in Israel, the Israeli government and the Palestinian militants of Hamas agreed to a temporary ceasefire. The one-month truce includes a Qatari cash infusion for Hamas, and an Israeli pledge to lifting a fuel sales ban on Gaza (which was initially imposed after Hamas began launching balloons filled with explosives and rockets into southern Israel, prompting retaliatory airstrikes by Israel). Gaza's 2 million residents are hoping that the truce will finally put them back on the electrical grid after weeks of darkness due to the fuel shortage. The enclave was placed under lockdown last week after its first community transmission of COVID-19 was detected. Experts have warned that a deadly outbreak of the coronavirus could be catastrophic in Gaza, where social distancing is often impossible and the health system is always on the brink of collapse.

Race is on to succeed Abe in Japan: Following Shinzo Abe's abrupt resignation as prime minister of Japan, several members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are expected to throw their hat into the ring to replace him. According to a Kyodo poll, the current frontrunner is former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, whom Abe defeated twice in battles for the LDP leadership in 2012 and 2018. Although Ishiba — a rare vocal critic of Abe in favor of stronger ties with other Asian countries amid the US-China rivalry — has strong grassroots support among the wider electorate, he is less popular with the party establishment. Ishiba, who has yet to confirm he's running, will likely face off against Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, an LDP darling who is trailing Ishiba in the surveys but is widely considered to be the consensus candidate in a party leadership contest where only LDP lawmakers will be allowed to vote due to the coronavirus pandemic. Will they pick the popular insurgent or the trusted Abe lieutenant?

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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