What We're Watching: Putin's pasta concerns, Iran's mixed signals on nuclear deal, US-UK try for mini trade deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin's pasta woes: In his annual press conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin tackled a wide range of issues of interest to his country — and the world. As expected, Putin denied that his government meddled in the recent US election or poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin also demurred on whether he'll run again for president in 2024, called on the US to extend the New START treaty on nuclear arms reduction, confirmed he hasn't taken the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, and said that US President Donald Trump won't seek asylum in Russia because over 70 million Americans voted for him. Interestingly, throughout the four-hour live Q&A session the Russian leader seemed more upset about the rising prices of certain food items like pasta, which Putin had been ranting about all week (possibly to deflect attention away from a damning news report claiming that he has a 17-year-old daughter from an extramarital affair with a former cleaner who now has $102 million in assets). In the months to come, we'll be keeping a close eye on the price of spaghetti as a window into Putin's state of mind.


Iran's mixed signals on the nuclear deal: In a rare sign of unity between two leaders who often disagree on tone and policy, both Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed willingness this week to reenter the Iran nuclear deal should the US agree to remove crippling economic sanctions. It's the first indication that Khamenei, who calls the shots in Iranian politics, would be willing to resume direct negotiations with the West. Still, there are several domestic factors that might complicate efforts to return to the nuclear accord, abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018. First, hardliners in Iran's parliament recently passed a bill suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. If this goes ahead, it's unlikely to inspire much goodwill from the incoming Biden administration, which will reenter the agreement, it says, only if the Iranians are fully transparent and cooperative. Additionally, Iranians head to the polls in June, which could give rise to a much more extreme executive body that rejects dialogue with the US entirely. The Supreme Leader, who has issued conflicting messages on the prospects of reentering the nuclear deal in recent months, clearly wants to keep his options open.

US-UK "mini" trade deal? As the UK and the EU continue to run out the clock on a Brexit trade deal, another agreement — albeit a somewhat pared-down version — could be in the works for Great Britain with its top trading partner: the United States. Both sides are now negotiating a compromise that involves reforms to the way the NHS pays for US medications, as well as other conditions. The move comes after the Brits last week broke with the EU on subsidies for European aerospace giant Airbus — a symbolic gesture since the UK is no longer part of the EU and therefore cannot put retaliatory tariffs of its own on the US for its assistance to its aerospace company, Boeing. Either way, the UK and its "cousins" on the other side of the Atlantic seem to be making progress on cutting mutual tariffs just weeks before the Trump administration gives way to President-elect Joe Biden. But that progress is no indication that a future US-UK trade agreement will be any easier under Biden, who's not eager to cut a quick deal and has four years to negotiate with London.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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500: Fuel shortages in conflict-ridden Haiti are putting many hospital patients at risk. If fuel isn't delivered ASAP, UNICEF says around 500 people – including children and COVID patients – are at very high risk of deterioration. Supplies and deliveries have been disrupted for weeks because of heightened gang activity in the country.

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Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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