EU vs Poland (yes, again). The EU’s top court on Tuesday ruled that Poland’s recent judicial reforms, which give the government leeway to appoint sympathetic justices, violate EU rule-of-law norms. Warsaw claims that its own constitutional court has already decided that Polish law supersedes EU law, so the stalemate continues. The EU and Poland have been fighting over this issue for years, but Brussels has recently begun showing its frustration with Poland — and Hungary too — over these issues. While the “illiberal” governments of both countries are popular, the EU also knows that most Hungarians and Poles want to stay in the 27-member union, and Brussels’ ability to delay badly-needed EU pandemic relief money is a strong point of leverage. Defying Brussels is already starting to get expensive for Warsaw — in a separate judicial dispute, the EU is fining Poland 1 million euros ($1.1 million) per day until it abides by the bloc’s rule-of-law norms.
Haiti’s presidential assassination investigation goes global. Turkey has arrested a Haitian businessman of Jordanian origin allegedly connected to the plot to kill Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse last July. The suspect — detained in Istanbul en route to Jordan from the US — has been linked to a Florida-based doctor with Haitian roots who reportedly wanted to return to Haiti and assume the presidency after Moïse’s death. More than 40 suspects have been arrested so far, including several Haitian security personnel and Colombian mercenaries. Although we still don’t know who ordered the hit, the most plausible theory is that wealthy Haitians living abroad hired professionals to do the job. Meanwhile, Haiti itself remains mired in the political chaos that followed Moïse’s assassination. With a weak government, gangsters like the notorious Monsieur Barbecue are now running the show in the chronically unstable Caribbean nation.
During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.
Just hours ago, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping held their first bilateral videoconference together. The three-hour virtual meeting was, as expected, cordial despite sharply diverging views on many issues. (An effusive Biden even managed to elicit something between a Cheshire Cat grin and an outright smile from the famously stone-faced Xi.) Without much detail, both sides agreed to continue working together on climate following their COP26 joint pledge, and to return to normalcy on trade. On Taiwan — by far the prickliest of many prickly topics including Hong Kong and Xinjiang — Xi warned America to not “play with fire” while Biden responded that both countries are responsible for avoiding open conflict over the self-governing island. Nevertheless, the two leaders showed, at least in the brief part of the call that was open to the public, that they can deal with each other face to face in a respectful way, which puts at least some “guardrails” (the precise word Biden mentioned) on a bilateral relationship that is otherwise spiraling in slow motion toward confrontation.
Russia has been massing soldiers along the Ukrainian border — again.
This time it’s roughly 100,000 troops. The Ukrainians, Americans, and Europeans are all alarmed. The head of the CIA has raised the issue with Putin directly. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken is issuing strongly tweeted statements, and on Tuesday, Germany suddenly delayed the construction of a massive new natural gas pipeline from Russia. Things are getting tense.
With the EU and Russia already at odds over the worsening situation at the Belarus-Poland border, a lot of people are wondering: is Putin going to invade Ukraine… again?
In a word: No.
In 350 words: The costs of an invasion, both human and material, almost certainly outweigh any conceivable benefits. It is true that annexing Crimea and supporting the separatist uprisings in eastern Ukraine in 2014 boosted Putin’s popularity at a time when his approval ratings were flagging. And today, his popularity is again near pre-Crimea lows because of persistent economic malaise and a rampant pandemic. His moves to crush what remains of Russia’s independent opposition certainly don’t give the impression that he feels secure.
But consider what an invasion of even a part of Ukraine might look like today. Back in 2014, after Moscow’s man in Kyiv, Viktor Yanukovich, was forced to flee a popular revolution, Russia rushed into areas of Ukraine where there were already large ethnic Russian populations. People there spooked by the anti-Russian rhetoric of the government that took power after Yanukovich’s ouster were often eager to be “rescued” by Russia.
Today, no other regions of Ukraine fit that description. To invade today would mean entering an almost entirely hostile country, risking a significant amount of casualties. It’s not as though the 225,000-strong Ukrainian army, reinforced since 2014 with US weapons, would roll out a red carpet for Putin. And back home in Russia, an invasion wouldn’t be popular. Polls show that only 13 percent of Russians think a war with Ukraine would boost Putin’s standing. Twice as many think it would hurt him. Putin could certainly manufacture a more supportive narrative, but he’d be fighting an uphill battle.
Plus, occupation isn’t cheap. Nursing the separatist governments in eastern Ukraine costs Russia about $4 billion a year. Crimea about half that, annually. That comes on top of the billions in new infrastructure it has built on the peninsula.
In many ways, Putin already has Ukraine right where he wants it. No, it’s not the pliant client state that he’d like, but it is largely paralyzed between East and West, which is as good an outcome as Putin can realistically get. There is no serious prospect of Ukraine joining either NATO or the EU. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 enabled the Kremlin to keep an eye on who’s doing what in the Black Sea. And Ukraine’s dysfunctional post-revolution politics are hardly a source of inspiration for Russians wondering about their own future.
So… why is Putin mustering all these troops? It’s hard to know for sure, says Alex Brideau, head of Russia analysis at Eurasia Group, but one explanation he notes is that Putin is simply sending a message to the Ukrainian government and its western backers: don’t you push us too hard.
Moscow is unhappy about increased US military aid to Kyiv, Ukraine’s deployment of Turkish drones near the front lines in Eastern Ukraine, and NATO warships patrolling the Black Sea. Moscow and Kyiv are also still deadlocked on how to solve the conflict: Russia wants broad autonomy for the separatist regions, while Ukraine wants control of the Russia-Ukraine border back first.
A Russian missile shot down on Monday a Soviet-era defunct satellite, breaking it up into thousands of fragments and throwing NASA into a tizzy. As the number of satellites in space has grown rapidly in recent years, the amount of trash floating up there too now vastly exceeds the tonnage of the satellites themselves from accidents, collisions, explosions, and the odd missile hit. It’s not just a litter problem — space junk moves at over 17 thousand miles per hour, as fast as functioning spacecraft, so even a tiny fragment can severely damage a satellite. We compare the number of satellites to the debris circling Earth.
11: Myanmar’s ruling junta has charged deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi with election fraud and abuse of power. The Nobel laureate, who’s been detained since the February coup, now faces a total of 11 counts — ranging from corruption to illegally importing walkie-talkies — that could put her behind bars for over a century.
5,000: The EU has drafted a plan to establish a joint military force of up to 5,000 troops by 2025. Brussels aims to have its own capacity to intervene in crises without having to rely on the US.
6: Six people died and more than 30 were injured on Tuesday after twin suicide blasts rocked Uganda’s capital Kampala. The fatalities include the three bombers. The government has blamed the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic State-aligned militant group.
In 2018, Donald Trump thought he could bring peace between the Koreas, and denuclearize the North, all by himself. He failed, and now the North Koreans have more and better nukes. Veteran Korea correspondent Jean Lee is not surprised because she knew that “behind all the theater and drama of the summits,” the North Koreans would not hit the pause button. What’s more, she was concerned they were fooling everyone into believing we would all be safer. Watch a clip from her interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.
Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: The Korean Peninsula from K-Pop to Kim Jong-un
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Ian Bremmer’s Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Just about to head to Singapore, but before I do, I thought I would give you guys a quick recap on the COP26 summit, couple weeks long in Glasgow.
And I understand that it’s fashionable and important to talk about just how immediate and immense the climate crisis is, and that we didn’t do enough, and we have more work in front of us, and all that is true, but actually I come away from the last two weeks fairly optimistic in the sense that the acceleration of effort that we’re seeing from all corners, I mean there’s even more from the central governments than you would’ve expected, and they were the underperformers, certainly more from the private sector, more from the banks, more from the corporates. And as a consequence, right now, I mean the big headline is that we are still on track for 2.4 degrees centigrade of warming if all of the countries make good on their existing pledges, which is itself unlikely. So we’re not really on track for 2.4, it’s higher. And that’s double where we are right now, 1.2.
Having said that, there are a number of positive things that I think are also getting baked in, not just how much carbon is in the atmosphere. One is that they have decided, the participants of COP26, that they’re going to come with new goals next year, as opposed to every five years, which had been the process. So as we’re seeing more effort, as we’re seeing more progress, we’re also seeing stepped up urgency. And the very fact that you will now have a one-year, an annual summit that becomes an action-forcing event, even if it’s marked by half measures, will end up getting you a lot more progress. I think that’s significant and everyone agreed to that.
Secondly, the fact that fossil fuels were specifically called out in this agreement. And you’d think, well, that’s crazy. Of course, we know that fossil fuels are one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, and so you need to get past fossil fuels if you’re going to reduce climate change. But the fact is that governments, because all governments are able to veto the draft, have been unwilling to make that mention. We now actually see that this is a global draft that is really about making the transition away from fossil fuels, and everyone is on board with that now. A lot of countries are much more squirrely. A lot of countries will take a lot more time. Some because they’re really committed in terms of the wealth that they make from the production of oil and gas; think about Saudi Arabia, think about Russia. Some because they’re really poor and they desperately need to be able to continue to use relatively cheap energy to bring their people up to middle class, specifically India, but also Indonesia, to a degree China and others.
Having said all of that, I think it is pretty clear now that we are on track to have a majority of the world’s energy consumption well before 2050 to be coming from renewable energy. And I include nuclear in that because it doesn’t lead to carbon emissions, but in other words, post-fossil fuels, not gas, not oil, not coal. The International Energy Agency believes that that date is potentially 2035, which is wrong because it again requires that everyone actually adheres fully to stated goals. And this is a lot of countries that don’t necessarily have a way to get from here to there legally enshrined, especially in the nearest-term. But the big story is acceleration of effort, and related to that, reduction of cost, improvement of technology; the fact that at scale, solar and wind, and particularly solar, are increasingly much cheaper than coal.
And so, once you have the financing that allows you to put new infrastructure in place, and again, it’s using old infrastructure that is so much of the reason why there’s going to be more of a lag around fossil fuels, you will see all countries, not just wealthy countries, moving much faster. So I mean, the four years of the fact that the United States and the Trump administration left Paris Climate Accord, renewable energies were still getting cheaper. They were still getting invested in inside the United States. State governments, mayors, city governments, lots of private sector actors, NGOs, they were all continuing to press and do more to respond to climate change, even as the federal government basically punted for four years.
The Biden administration is more disappointing than you would expect. John Kerry doing a really strong job and not alienating or antagonizing many people inside Biden administration, which frankly, a lot of people were surprised by, myself included. Nonetheless, I mean, you see that with the $1.2 trillion in infrastructure and what is likely coming down the pike in the coming weeks on social spending, a lot of the committed green transition spending is going to be taken out. So the Federal Government is doing less, but even so, you are getting significant effort from the United States, even in terms of moonshots. Part of this is there’s so much money, interest rates are so low, investors are not happy with the idea of half a point, a point of returns every year. They’re chasing returns and they’re much more willing to invest in untested, but potentially moonshot technology.
So the fact that Peter Thiel, a company he’s been involved in just raised $500 million for fusion energy technologies, I mean, could go absolutely nowhere, but it’s by far the largest investment we’ve seen in that tech. Some of these things move, some of them are more incremental changes in improving things like battery technology and energy transmission, with greater efficiency and lower waste, the storage. All of these things very, very important to move the global economy away from fossil fuels.
Now, long-term, this is going to be very, very challenging for countries that are reliant on the production of fossil fuels. And in that regard, I think the UAE, which is looking to pump more now, but recognizing they need to diversify far more in the short- to medium-term, seems like a smarter strategy to me than the Saudis who I think believe that higher prices for longer are going to persist, and they will can continue to be the inexpensive producer of last resort. They will be, but I’m not sure that goes for as long as they are presently betting, just given how fast we’re seeing government action is actually moving.
Now, of course, all of this is happening at a time where the planet is routinely breaking records and will continue to break records every year for extreme weather trends and for high levels of temperature. And of course, that means that larger parts of the world will be unlivable for longer periods of time. There will be more forced migrations. There will be more difficulty in providing agriculture for an additional billion people on the planet over the next 20, 25 years, most of whom will be in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is facing some of the greatest climate stresses. All of that is true. And particularly true is the sharp reduction in biodiversity that comes along with all of this that doesn’t affect humans immediately and directly, but has all sorts of knock-on effects that we don’t yet quite understand on the planet. And if you have a massive, great extinction, even if you don’t know the science, you can generally suspect that there will be problems for the planet going forward, but this no longer feels like an existential threat to me.
In other words, I see out of COP26 that we have passed the tipping point of global seriousness on climate action. And so even if COP26 was not the point of no return; it was not, we either take seriously or we fail; it was not, we have to get to 1.5 degrees or its Armageddon; that was never true, but what I’m seeing is significant progress. I’m seeing a rationing up of the resources of the intense focus, maybe not of the coordination, but certainly of the urgency on a country-by-country, sector-by-sector, company-by-company basis.
And in that regard, we should come out of COP26 fully aware of just how much worse global climate will get over the next 25 years. By 2050, so much of the increase in climate change we’re going to see is already baked in from carbon that we have already emitted. We are facing this cliff where 1.5 degrees is increasingly completely unreachable, and I’m not expecting that. But I am, nonetheless, more optimistic in human potential and capacity to address and respond to this challenge, the most existential, the most significant, the most all-encompassing challenge of our lifetimes that we’ve faced thus far on the basis of everything we’ve seen over the last two weeks.
So how’s that to kick off your week? Maybe a little different than the headlines you’re seeing other places, but I understand if it bleeds, it doesn’t necessarily lead. But at least for me, I feel like it drives us a little less crazy that way. So, better to talk about what’s actually going on.
Hope everyone is well. I’m on the way to Singapore and I’ll see you all from there. Be good.
The EU targets “everyone!” The EU on Monday unanimously agreed to impose fresh sanctions on “everyone involved” in bringing migrants to the Belarus-Poland border, where a diplomatic and humanitarian crisis continues as thousands of asylum-seekers shiver in makeshift camps. Brussels says Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has deliberately created this crisis to strike back against existing EU sanctions that were imposed in response to his sham re-election last year and his hijacking of a RyanAir flight this summer. Reports show that Belarus loosened visa restrictions for migrants — largely from Iraq — to serve as a transit point for migrants hoping to cross the EU border to apply for asylum. Details of the new sanctions aren’t yet decided, but they are likely to target political officials, travel agencies, and airlines. Lukashenko has vowed to fight back, but he won’t cut off the Russian gas flows that traverse his country on the way to Europe — Vladimir Putin quickly slapped down that possibility after Lukashenko raised it over the weekend. The question remains: will EU sanctions change Belarus’ behavior?
Austria’s lockdown of the unvaccinated. Beginning Monday, unvaccinated Austrians will be required to stay in their homes for all but essential outings or face a fine of 500 euros ($572). The move comes as Austria suffers one of the highest rates of new COVID infections in Europe. The country currently has a vaccination rate of 65 percent, which lags behind most of Western Europe but exceeds levels in Eastern Europe, which is experiencing an even harsher wave of the virus. The Austrian measures will last for 10 days and be enforced by police spot checks. The unvaccinated were already prohibited from entering restaurants, but the government says the additional restrictions are necessary to boost vaccination rates and head off a crunch at ICUs. Critics — including the right-wing Freedom Party — say the policy is discriminatory and violates Austria’s constitution.
A different sort of lockdown in India. India’s Supreme Court called on Monday for an immediate lockdown of Delhi, the country’s capital. But this time, the threat to public health comes not from COVID but from the toxic smog that regularly pollutes the city’s air. The Delhi government has pronounced itself “ready to take steps like complete lockdown,” while calling on the governments of neighboring regions to do the same. There will be no in-person classes in schools this week, government officials will work from home, and private businesses are urged to do the same. The city’s many construction sites will also remain shut down for three days. Delhi suffers from the exhaust produced by millions of vehicles, crop-stubble burning by farmers, coal-fired plants on the outskirts of town, and the open burning of garbage. By some measures, India is home to 13 of the world’s 14 most polluted cities, and in 2019 air pollution was blamed for more than a million deaths.