What We’re Watching: Navalny’s return to Russia, Italian PM in the hot seat, COVID probe begins

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Reuters

Kremlin critic heads home: Leading Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny plans to return to Russia on Sunday from Germany, where he has been recovering from an August 2020 assassination attempt in Russia widely attributed to agents of the Kremlin. The stakes are high: for one thing, the moment he lands, Navalny faces up to 3.5 years in prison for failing to comply with the terms of a suspended prison sentence he received in a 2014 graft trial. But the Kremlin will have to tread carefully. Navalny, a charismatic, nationalistic anti-corruption crusader with a sizable following among Russia's urban elite, has long been a thorn in President Vladimir Putin's side. But jailing him could turn him into a political martyr (as opposed to a literal martyr, which seemed to be the plan back in August) right as Russia heads towards legislative elections this winter. Those elections could prove dicey for the Kremlin: the Russian leader's popularity is near historic lows and the country is reeling from coronavirus. Putin also remembers that it was the rigged elections of 2011 that provoked the largest street protests in Russia's post-Soviet history. Who led them? Alexey Navalny.


Italy's PM in a tough spot: Following the collapse Wednesday of Italy's government, all eyes are now on Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's next move. Conte can try to cobble together another coalition by giving more power to the center-left Viva Italia party, but that would be perceived as caving to the demands of a junior coalition partner that caused the current crisis because it wants to dole out more on pandemic economic relief -- a move Conte rebuffed because he says it will plunge Italy further into massive. Conte could also seek a confidence vote in parliament and hope the far-left Five Star platform whips up more votes in favor than against. Or he could give up and ask to call an election, with the far-right Lega party ahead in national polls and poised to win a majority with its allies. The government collapse comes at a perilous moment for Italy, which is battling a surge in COVID cases after being one of the hardest-hit countries in the world back in the spring. With the economy in dire straits, more political instability is the last thing the country needs, but Conte — a technocrat appointed to his position as a compromise between the populist right and left, with no political base of his own — may be powerless to stop it.

WHO in China: After months of delays and refusal, Chinese officials have granted a World Health Organization team of at least 13 experts investigating the origin of the coronavirus access to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic began over a year ago, as China suffers its worst resurgence of COVID since last summer. It's been a rocky road to get to this point — Beijing initially held up the mission, and is still giving the WHO experts a hard time on the ground as President Xi Jinping tries to control the probe and prevent any finding that may implicate his government in a serious coverup and compromise his country's global reputation. (This also comes as sub-par efficacy rates of a Chinese vaccines threaten Beijing's vaccine diplomacy strategy to win back the trust of some developing nations). But time is on Xi's side: the investigation into the origins of COVID-19 will take months if not years. The pace and accuracy of the probe's findings also depend on how much access the WHO is given to closely guarded sites and data.

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

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Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

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