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What We’re Watching: Truce in Nagorno-Karabakh, Brazil pauses Chinese COVID vaccine trial, Peruvian leader resigns

A serviceman examines a residential area of the city damaged in a rocket attack in Ganja, Azerbaijan on 11 October

Did the Azeris win in Nagorno-Karabakh? After six weeks of intense fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenia and Azerbaijan have signed a long-term truce, brokered by Moscow. The deal is broadly seen as a win for the Azeris, who can keep land won during the decades-long conflict, while Armenia has agreed to withdraw from adjacent territory. While in recent weeks both sides said they would not give up until they emerged victorious, Armenia's strategic edge all but disappeared this week, when it lost control of the strategic area of Shusha (which Armenians refer to as Shushi), the enclave's second largest city, as well as a key road used to supply its troops with weapons. What happens now? President Putin said that Russia will send peacekeepers to guard the borders, while Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan, will also take part in the "peacekeeping" mission. After the deal was inked, euphoric Azeris flocked to the streets of Baku to celebrate, while furious Armenians stormed the parliament in Yerevan and raided the office of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, calling him a "traitor." Three previous ceasefires collapsed, but this one appears to set out a more comprehensive map for reconceptualizing the South Caucasus, where Armenia and Azerbaijan are located. Will it hold?


Brazil halts Chinese COVID-19 vaccine trial: Brazilian health authorities hit pause on a Chinese company's COVID-19 vaccine trial after an undisclosed safety "incident" occurred in late October. The drug, which is being produced by Sinovac Biotech, is one of China's most promising vaccine candidates. As part of a Phase III trial, the final stage before a vaccine's approval, Sinovac began vaccinating participants in São Paulo over the summer. The drug company is also conducting advanced trials in Indonesia and Turkey, though neither of those countries have suspended the program at the time of this writing. Sinovac, for its part, said that it is "confident in the safety of the vaccine," a stance echoed by the Chinese government (although the company is privately owned). While it is not uncommon for clinical trials to be suspended when new issues arise, several Chinese vaccines have already been given limited approval by the government even before the safety and efficacy of the drugs have been fully fleshed out, violating a slew of international safety protocols.

Vizcarra out in Perú: Martín Vizcarra agreed to step down as president on Monday after the Peruvian parliament voted to remove him over allegations that he accepted bribes from construction companies when he was a regional governor. This comes just two months after Vizcarra survived another impeachment vote after being accused of trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. These political crises come as Perú is been pummeled by the pandemic, suffering one of the world's highest per capita mortality rates. Since both the presidency and the vice presidency are now vacant (Mercedes Aráoz stepped down as VP in May following a brief stint as interim president), the acting head of state will be Manuel Merino, speaker in Perú's unicameral Congress. Merino will serve as interim president until the next parliamentary election, currently scheduled for April 2021, where the current frontrunner is former football (soccer) player and Lima district mayor George Forsyth. Meanwhile, Merino's caretaker government faces tough challenges ahead in dealing with the pandemic, getting the Peruvian economy back on track after huge losses in the mining sector, and navigating a fragmented political landscape that risks further turmoil as the vote looms.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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