What We’re Watching: Russians let Putin stay, Syria donors pledge, US & China battle over tech

Putin Forever: Russian voters overwhelmingly approved a raft of constitutional amendments that will allow Vladimir Putin to serve two more six-year terms when his presidency ends in 2024. Putin's victory, which surprised no one, came after an independent election monitoring organization said that the Kremlin's referendum campaign was "rigged." Local government officials were told they could lose their jobs if turnout wasn't high enough, the group found. Meanwhile, some authorities had openly offered "prizes" for voting. The constitutional changes, which would allow Putin, now 67, to stay in power until he is 83, were packaged with other amendments, including a clause that outlaws same-sex marriage. Over the last year or so, Putin's popularity has sagged, in part because of specific missteps like a botched pension reform, but also because of a broader lack of clarity about what his plans are for Russia after two decades in power. On the upside, he just got himself another 16 years to figure it out.


Syrians in need get funding lifeline: Dozens of international donors committed on Tuesday a total $7.7 billion to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. After grinding almost a decade of civil war, Syria has now plunged even deeper into its own abyss owing to the double blow of economic collapse and the coronavirus pandemic. There are currently more than 11 million Syrians in need of assistance, and over 9 million are not getting enough food after food prices have jumped 20-fold since 2011. Almost half the labor force has no work. Still, the money raised at the pledging conference, which was hosted by the European Union, fell well short of the $10 billion the UN asked for, which could provide a glimpse into the future of humanitarian funding for Syria as donor fatigue sets in and donor budgets run low due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Tech Cold War" continues: China has accused the US government of abusing its powers after the US Federal Communications Commission barred Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE from benefiting from American subsidies for mobile carriers (mainly in rural areas). The subsidies ban is the latest episode in the deepening US-China war over tech domination, with the US pushing back against China's rise as a technology powerhouse and China looking to cut its own tech dependence on the US. The rivalry has already spilled over to other markets like the UK, which earlier this year decided to allow Huawei, a leading supplier of 5G equipment, to build its 5G network despite US warnings that it is a high security risk for such critical infrastructure. As US-China tensions deepen, more and more countries are going to have to make a tough choice: use cost-effect components made by Chinese firms while risking Washington's ire, or choose budget-busting alternative suppliers.

Paper was originally made from rags until the introduction of cellulose in 1800. Since then, it has transformed into a "circular" industry, with 55% of paper produced in Italy recovered. It no longer just comes from trees, either. Some companies produce paper with scraps from the processing of other products like wool and walnuts.

Learn more about this rags to riches story in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

In late 2017, Zimbabwe's long-serving strongman Robert Mugabe was deposed by the army after 37 years in power. Amid huge popular celebrations, he handed over the reins to Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former spy chief. It was an extraordinary turn of history: Mugabe, one of Africa's last "Big Men" and a hero of the struggle to end white minority rule, went out with barely a whimper, placing Zimbabwe — stricken by economic ruin and international isolation — in the hands of "The Crocodile."

Mugabe has since died, but almost three years after his departure, Zimbabwe's woes continue.

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As the world prepares to mark the 75th anniversary since American forces dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, global non-proliferation efforts, first codified in Cold War-era treaties, are in jeopardy. While the overall number of nuclear weapons continues to decrease — mainly because the US and Russia have set about dismantling retired weapons — both countries, which account for 90 percent of the world's total nuclear arsenal, continue to modernize their nuclear weapons programs. Meanwhile, the New START treaty, which limits the number of long-range nuclear weapons that each side can deploy to about 1,500 apiece, is at risk of collapsing. Here's a look at which countries have nuclear weapon stockpiles and who's ready to use them.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, we are in August, summer, should be taking it a little easier. Coronavirus not taking the stress levels off but hopefully giving people the excuse, if you're not traveling so much, be close with your families, your loved ones and all that. Look, this is not a philosophical conversation, this is a talk about what's happening in the world, a little Quick Take for you.

First of all, you know, I'm getting a little bit more optimistic about the news in the United States right now. Yes, honestly, I am. In part because the caseload is flattening across the country and it's reducing in some of the core states that have seen the greatest explosion in this continuation of the first wave. Yes, the deaths are going up and they should continue to for a couple of weeks because it is a lagging indicator in the United States. But the fact that deaths are going up does not say anything about what's coming in the next few weeks. That tells you what's happened in the last couple of weeks.

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TikTok, ya don't stop: The wildly popular video app TikTok has been in the crosshairs of American lawmakers for many months now. Why? Because the app is owned by a Chinese company, raising national security concerns that it could funnel personal data on its 100 million American users to the Chinese government. The plot thickened in recent days after President Trump abruptly threatened to ban the app altogether, risking a backlash among its users and imperiling US tech giant Microsoft's efforts to buy the company's operations in the US. Canada, Australia and New Zealand. After a weekend conversation between Microsoft and the White House, the sale negotiations are back on but US lawmakers say any deal must strictly prevent American users' data from winding up in Chinese Communist Party servers. And Trump says that unless a deal is reached by September 15th, he'll go ahead with the ban. The broader fate of TikTok — which has now been banned in India, formerly its largest market, and may be broken up under US pressure — nicely illustrates the new "tech Cold War" that is emerging between China and the United States.

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