What We’re Watching: Russians in another Stan, Djokovic drama, Mali sanctions, Europe vs anti-vaxxers

What We’re Watching: Russians in another Stan, Djokovic drama, Mali sanctions, Europe vs anti-vaxxers

Russia in Kazakhstan. Anti-government clashes in Kazakhstan have gotten increasingly violent, with the death toll now reaching 164 after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a controversial “shoot without warning” order on Friday. What started as a demonstration against a fuel price hike has since turned into a movement protesting government corruption and authoritarianism — with regional implications. Enter Russia, which responded to the pro-Russia Tokayev’s request for help with about 2,500 “peacekeeping” troops and future deployments being planned under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the former Soviet Union’s version of NATO. This comes as Moscow has recently amassed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. The Russians will on Monday start talks with NATO and the US about the ongoing situation with Ukraine, but also discuss enhancing security plans with Kazakhstan, whose northern territory is claimed by Moscow. Russia has been clear about what it wants in Ukraine — for NATO to stop expanding further eastward into the former Soviet states. But what does Vladimir Putin want exactly in Kazakhstan, one of the region’s most energy-rich countries?


No-vac Djokovic’s next moves. It wasn’t a political case at first, but it’s become one, fast. Novak Djokovic, the world’s top-seeded men’s tennis player, came to Oz with ambitions to win his 21st grand slam title. But after being denied entry for being unvaccinated and questions about his medical exemption from previously getting COVID, Djokovic took the Australian government to court, challenging deportation. A judge on Monday reinstated his visa, but again the case isn’t going to be open and shut — or game, set and match. The federal government can still cancel the visa for a second time, and in that case Nole will be banned from Australia, and the Australian Open, for three years. Meanwhile, Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, is set to leave the rundown hotel where he was staying alongside many asylum-seekers also awaiting their future. Still, the question remains: is arguably tennis’ GOAT a victim of politicization, or just entitled? The Australian government’s final decision must be announced by Tuesday if the Serbian star is to play in Melbourne.

ECOWAS vs Mali. In response to Mali delaying its planned election next month, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States has decided to close all borders with Mali and impose tough economic sanctions on non-essential financial transactions, and Malian state assets in West African banks. Mali has been run by a transitional civilian-military government — with the generals calling most of the shots — since an August 2020 coup, followed by a de-facto second power grab nine months later. ECOWAS met the first with a border closure and sanctions package, which it lifted when the junta agreed to share power with civilians and hold elections in early 2022. However, the bloc didn't act after the second coup, and was caught off-guard by the postponement. Mali’s generals, meanwhile, say they prioritize ensuring a peaceful election over a speedy one. No way, say Mali's neighbors, who want a vote ASAP because West Africa needs more stable governments, in part to fight jihadists that have taken control of vast swaths of the conflict-ridden Sahel region.

Political omicron in Europe. As the omicron variant continues to drive cases and hospitalizations up globally, new pandemic restrictions — including vaccine mandates — are stoking fresh political fights in Europe. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is facing strong backlash over his recent comments against anti-vaxxers (and refusal to walk them back). Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris on Saturday to protest against Macron’s plans to ban the unvaccinated from bars and restaurants. Macron may have science on his side, but he'll have to tread carefully because the French presidential election is only three months away, and the incumbent needs to maintain his lead over conservative challenger Valerie Pécresse. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic saw a similar mass rally in Prague to decry a vaccine mandate for everyone over 60 due to take effect in March. What's interesting here is that the new Czech government was against the plan when its parties were in the opposition, but now says it might keep the mandate due to omicron. Flip-flopping on such a polarizing issue is not a good start for a shaky coalition in a country with one of the EU's lowest rates of trust in government.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week, discussing Boris Johnson's tenuous status as UK PM, US Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Ukraine, and the volcano eruption in Tonga:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

It certainly looks that way. He's hanging on by his fingernails. He's losing members of Parliament. He's giving shambolic media interviews. In fact, I think the only people that don't want him to resign at this point is the Labour Party leadership, because they think the longer he holds on, the better it is for the UK opposition. But no, he certainly looks like he's going. The only question is how quickly. Is it within a matter of weeks or is it after local elections in May? But feel pretty confident that the days of Boris Johnson are numbered.

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