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.

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

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A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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