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What We’re Watching: US-Russia nuclear talks, Spanish PM faces the music, Thai protests continue

Art by Gabriella Turrisi

US and Russia buy time to talk arms control: Americans and Russians are close to agreeing on a one-year extension of their last remaining nuclear arms control agreement. For months the two sides have been unable to settle on terms to extend the New START treaty, an agreement limiting long-range nuclear weapons that was hammered out by the Kremlin and the Obama administration back in 2011, and expires next February. One of the main points of contention was the Trump administration's insistence that Russia bring China into any new arms control pact. But Beijing has no interest in capping its nuclear arsenal at levels far lower than what the US and Russia have, while the Kremlin says that if China is part of it, then other Western nuclear powers like the UK and France should join as well. But those disputes will be shelved now, as Moscow and Washington have agreed to freeze their nuclear arsenals for one year and to keep talking about an extension in the meantime. Of course, the Kremlin — which proposed the one-year extension as a stopgap — can't be sure just whom they'll be talking to on the US side after January…

Spain's no-confidence vote: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez faces a no-confidence vote in parliament over his minority coalition government's alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis. Infections have already surpassed one million, while Spain is suffering the worst pandemic-related economic crisis in the European Union. Although Sánchez has (just barely) enough votes to stay in power, the move will give Santiago Abascal, the firebrand leader of the increasingly popular far-right Vox party, an opportunity to blame the PM for all of Spain's problems. But his real target is the establishment center-right Popular Party, which Abascal is painting as too weak to lead a true conservative opposition. The PP, for its part, will vote against removing Sánchez — but only because the no-confidence mechanism was brought by an extremist party. Moreover, the PP is also under pressure from its moderate wing to support the leftist government on declaring a second nationwide state of emergency against COVID-19. Will the urgency of dealing with the public health crisis bring some badly-needed compromise to increasingly toxic Spanish politics?

Thailand lifts protests ban: Thai leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has lifted the state of emergency he declared days ago to stop young pro-democracy activists from protesting against his government and the all-powerful king... after the youngsters completely ignored the ban on public gatherings. Since the rallies started months ago, Prayuth has shied away from launching a harsh crackdown against the peaceful protesters, despite calls by hardliners and royalists to unleash the military on them. But lately the former army chief and 2014 coup leader has focused on fighting the activists on the internet by censoring social media, blocking critical news sites, and shutting down an independent online TV network. Prayuth has also detained a handful of the most prominent pro-democracy activists, but the arrests have done little to cow a movement that remains defiant. So, what's the way out for both sides? Years ago the beloved former Thai king would have already intervened to calm things down — we're watching to see whether his less-revered son and successor will follow dad's playbook.

Bank of America's $25 million jobs initiative provides Black and Hispanic-Latino individuals access to skills and training needed for jobs of the future. Learn more about the initiative, which involves partnerships with 21 community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

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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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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60: Africa's top public health official said Wednesday that 60 percent (780,000,000 million people) of the continent's inhabitants need to receive a COVID vaccine in the next 2-3 years in order to achieve herd immunity across Africa's 54 countries, and avoid the disease becoming endemic throughout the region. Despite recent optimism about the efficacy of several COVID vaccines, global health officials are worried that African countries will be at the back of the queue in obtaining doses.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on US politics:

Is Trump out of options now that William Barr said the DOJ found no election interference?

Trump's problem isn't William Barr not finding election interference, it's that he lost the election and he lost it by millions of votes, and he lost it in the most important key states by tens of thousands of votes. Now, this was a very close election. The three closest states, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, Trump only lost by 44,000 votes so far, and if he'd ended up winning those three, we'd have an Electoral College tie. But the election was not close enough that Trump's strategy of trying to kick this to the courts and then getting it to go all the way to the Congress, with an alternate slate of electors, it just wasn't possible. Had the election been a little closer, he might've had a shot. But as it is, his chances are over. Joe Biden's going to be inaugurated on January 20th.

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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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