What We're Watching: Turkey's (latest) currency collapse, US-EU sanction China, Slovakia's Sputnik crisis

Pigeons fly in front of a large poster of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Bursa, Turkey, April 6, 2019.

Turkey's president has himself a big (bad) weekend: The Turkish lira on Monday lost 15 percent of its value against the US dollar after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sacked his Central Bank head Naci Agbal. What was Agbal's offense? He had raised interest rates in order to combat rising inflation. That's a pretty standard policy response, but Erdogan hates higher rates since they (deliberately) cool the bank lending and consumer spending that keeps voters happy. The currency plunge, which will now likely stoke further inflation, is the largest one-day lira selloff in three years, and puts Turkey on the brink of a fresh currency crisis. Also this weekend, Erdogan provoked protests after withdrawing his country from a European treaty meant to stop violence against women. Erdogan and his allies view (Turkish) the treaty as an alien concept that aims to weaken the "traditional social fabric." Meanwhile, local activists and watchdogs say violence against women in the country has surged in recent years.


US, EU, and allies sanction China: The US, Britain, Canada, and the EU on Monday announced new coordinated sanctions on China over Beijing's human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province. More than one million Uighurs are believed to have been locked up since 2017 as part of what Beijing describes as a benign "deradicalization campaign," but which is widely believed to be a network of internment camps where minorities are held indefinitely without trial. Several Chinese individuals involved in the mass detainment project will now be sanctioned, as well as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, which the EU says is responsible for "large-scale arbitrary detentions" in China. This is the first time that the European Community has hit China with sanctions since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In response, a furious Beijing slapped retaliatory sanctions on 10 European officials, denouncing Brussels' "gross interference" in its internal affairs. Coming amid deepening US-China tensions over trade, human rights, and technology, we are watching to see if Beijing hits back at Washington too.

Sputnik injects a political crisis into Slovakia: Earlier this month, the Slovak government, struggling with rising coronavirus cases and a sluggish EU vaccine rollout, bypassed EU authorities and ordered several hundred thousand doses of the Russian made Sputnik V jab. The move immediately provoked a political crisis, as two of the four parties in Prime Minister Igor Matovič's coalition demanded he resign and threatened to withdraw from government over the move to take vaccines from Russia, which haven't been approved by the European Medicines Agency. Matovič's health minister resigned last week and now the PM himself says he is willing to step down in order to end the crisis. But there's a catch: members of other parties would have to relinquish their cabinet posts too, and so far that's a non-starter. Matovič, in power barely a year, heads a coalition of parties elected to clean up corruption after the murder of a high-profile investigative journalist rocked the nation. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has tested the coalition's resilience. Slovakia — with a population of 5.4 million — has the world's 12th highest COVID death rate per 100 people.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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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:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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