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What We're Watching: Putin's Belarus play, Ivory Coast election ruling, historic Asian recession

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi, Russia. Reuters

Putin's strings attached: As protesters continued to throng the streets of Minsk, Belarus' strongman Alexander Lukashenko traveled to Moscow earlier this week to seek support from longtime frenemy Vladimir Putin. During a meeting in which body language told much of the story — the burly Lukashenko uncomfortably beseeching Putin who sat stone-faced in a dread manspread — the Russian President said he'd throw his Belarusian counterpart a $1.5 billion emergency loan. But he also pressured Lukashenko to open the way to fresh elections. That's something that the Belarusian president has resisted so far — after all, the current unrest came in response to his rigging of the August election, and it's hardly clear that he would win a redo. That may be precisely the point, from Putin's perspective. He has disliked Lukashenko for years, but the last thing he wants is for street protesters to depose him, which might give Russians some crazy ideas of their own. But a reasonably fair vote might be just the way to get rid of Lukashenko. What's more, the Belarusian opposition has been careful not to alienate Russia, meaning a change of power wouldn't necessarily hurt the Kremlin's interests. What will Lukashenko do? $1.5 billion can buy a lot of vodka and saunas.


Final verdict on Ivorian election: Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara can run for a third term despite a constitutional two-term limit, the country's top court has decided. The ruling also banned former President Laurent Gbagbo from seeking the presidency in next month's election, and cleared the way for Henri Konan Bedie — another former president and coup leader — to be the main opposition candidate against Outtara. Nearly 80 people have died in violent street protests in the Ivory Coast since Ouattara announced he would run again after his handpicked successor, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, suddenly died in July while serving as prime minister. Outtara has been in office since 2011, when he took power following a brief yet bloody civil war that erupted after his predecessor Gbagbo refused to accept an election result. Whoever wins, expect more political instability in Francophone West Africa's largest economy.

Asian recession for 2020: Developing economies in Asia and the Pacific (basically all except Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea) will, as a group, experience a recession this year for the first time since the early 1960s, according to the latest update from the Asian Development Bank. ADB projects that the regional economy will contract 0.7 percent in 2020 and grow again 6.8 percent next year, confirming that the region's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will be more gradual (in the form of an L or swoosh) rather than what wonks refer to as the more optimistic "V-shaped recovery." Some economies will perform better than others though: China's is expected to grow by 1.8 percent in 2020, while India's will decline by 9 percent, and most Asian economies that are highly reliant on tourism revenues — such as the Philippines and Thailand — will suffer double-digit declines. Right now, ADB views a prolonged pandemic as the biggest risk for developing Asia's economic recovery from COVID-19, although the bank also says to watch the economic fallout of the US-China rivalry over technology and trade.

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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10: Violent protests against new coronavirus restrictions have erupted in at least 10 regions in the Netherlands, which recently imposed the country's first nationwide curfew since World War Two. Protesters clashed with police and looted stores — and police say that a far-right anti-immigrant group has taken advantage of the discontent to exacerbate tensions.

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One result of the law enforcement crackdown on pro-Trump Capitol rioters following the events of January 6 is that many right-wing extremists have left public social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for encrypted apps like Telegram and Signal. But renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher isn't all that concerned. "The white supremacist stuff, it's like mold. They thrived in the light, actually." Now that these groups no longer have such public platforms, their recruiting power, Swisher argues, will be greatly diminished. Plus, she points out, they were already on those encrypted apps to begin with. Swisher's conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no doubt that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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