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What We're Watching: Putin eyes Belarus, NZ shooter gets life, Mali coup continues

What We're Watching: Putin eyes Belarus, NZ shooter gets life, Mali coup continues

Will Putin, or won't he? In his first public remarks on the unrest in Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he's ready to send a special police squad into the country to restore order if "extremist elements" cause things to spin "out of control." As protests against Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko's bogus re-election continue, Putin's remarks are the clearest indication yet that the Kremlin is mulling a direct intervention. But are we really headed for a Ukraine 2014 redux? It's complicated. Putin can't stand Lukashenko, and would love to see him gone, but he also wants to prevent the Belarusian opposition from succeeding in a way that might inspire Russians. What's more, intervening directly in Belarus would probably be a harder sell at home than he had to make in 2014: for Russia, Belarus' cultural, economic, and strategic importance all pale next to Ukraine's. But Putin also has a reflexive fear of instability: if the situation deteriorates significantly next door — and his pledge of support could well encourage Lukashenko to push things too far — Putin could roll the dice and send in the troops.


Life in jail for NZ mosque shooter: A New Zealand court on Thursday sentenced Brenton Tarrant to life in prison for murdering 51 people at a Christchurch mosque in March 2019. Tarrant — an Australian white supremacist who pleaded guilty, defended himself and showed no remorse during the trial — is the first person in New Zealand's history who will spend the rest of his life behind bars without any chance of parole. The worst mass murder the country has ever seen prompted a wave of anti-gun legislation, including a ban on semi-automatic weapons and a government amnesty and buyback program for other arms. It also ignited a global debate about how to combat online hate speech and Islamophobia (Tarrant live streamed the entire massacre on Facebook). However, the libertarian-minded New Zealand First Party, a junior partner in the coalition government led by Jacinda Adern, the progressive prime minister, has so far resisted attempts to pass sweeping laws that many experts believe would help curb the spread of intolerance on the internet.

Coup leaders free ousted Mali leader: Mali's ruling military junta has released former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita over a week after he was arrested and forced to resign following a coup by rebel army officers. Keita's release had been demanded by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has imposed trade and financial sanctions on post-coup Mali and is pressing the coup leaders for a timeline to make a transition to a civilian government. The junta wants to stay in power for three years, but ECOWAS wants elections a year from now. Meanwhile, there are concerns that armed jihadi groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State may take advantage of the current instability to make further inroads in Mali. France has committed to keeping its troops there for now, but we're watching whether the coup leaders will be able to restore order not only in the capital but also in swaths of the country controlled by Islamic militants. Back in 2012, instability after a coup enabled jihadis to take control of a huge chunk of northern Mali for over a year.

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When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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