Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and French President Emmanuel Macron. February 8, 2022.
Macron does the rounds. French President Emmanuel Macron is on a diplomatic tour to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis. On Monday, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two chatted for five hours, with Macron reporting he had “secured an assurance there would be no deterioration or escalation.” But Russia later said Macron’s version was “not right,” and pushed back against reports that Putin had agreed to withdraw troops from Belarus. Was Putin lashing out because Macron left the Kremlin to fly to Kyiv where he reaffirmed Europe’s commitment to Ukraine? Either way, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who’s set to meet with Putin in Moscow on Feb. 15, will be taking note. Tellingly, Macron appeared less sanguine in Kyiv, saying the stalemate could continue for months.
Will the Marcos family rise again? Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., son of the late dictator, is the frontrunner to succeed outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Marcos, alongside VP running mate Sara Duterte — whose father is ineligible to run due to term limits — is polling well ahead of his rivals. Marcos has a massive social media presence, but he remains a polarizing figure due to his dad’s legacy of kleptocracy and martial law. He recently beat a disqualification petition against him over an old tax conviction, but several more are pending. While the cases make their way through the courts, expect a campaign dominated by personalities and political dynasties in a country where name recognition is the only game in town. The official race kicked off this week, and the election will be held on May 9.
As part of international Safer Internet Day, Microsoft released the latest results from its sixth annual study Civility, Safety and Interaction Online – 2022, and a newly updated Digital Civility Index (DCI) score. The survey, conducted in 22 countries, polled teens aged 13-17 and adults aged 18-74 about their exposure to 21 online risks across four categories (reputational, behavioral, sexual and personal/intrusive), their experiences of life online (including during the pandemic) and how interactions in those areas impacted their perception of online civility. To read the report and learn more visit Microsoft On the Issues.
A truck sits near Parliament Hill as truckers protest COVID vaccine mandates in Ottawa.
Canada’s picturesque capital isn’t known for high-stakes political protests and standoffs with police. But for many days, Ottawa has been paralyzed by the Freedom Convoy, a fleet of some 500 trucks whose drivers crossed the country to protest a new federal law requiring all unvaccinated truckers to quarantine when returning from the US.
Protesters’ demands have since expanded to include, variously, an end to all COVID restrictions and the ouster of center-left Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who refuses to meet with them. Although they’ve been “mostly peaceful,” the protests have been disruptive — a local court even issued a 10-day injunction against horn-blowing this week. The cops are overwhelmed, and the city is under a state of emergency.
Trudeau has dismissed the protesters as a “fringe minority,” though there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan for uprooting them. Meanwhile, his opponents in the Conservative Party are split over whether the truckers are promoting freedom or fomenting disorder.
Given that protests like this are almost always viewed through a partisan lens, here are a few questions to try and give them a fair shake, whatever your political leanings.
How popular is the Freedom Convoy? Polls show that about 30% of Canadians support the convoy, and 44% share the truckers’ frustration with pandemic restrictions. The Canadian Truckers Alliance says the “vast majority” of the country’s truckers are already vaccinated, and it has blasted the Freedom Convoy’s choice to occupy public roads and highways.
Is it having an effect? At the federal level, no. But provincial governments in Saskatchewan and Alberta — where many of the truckers live — have recently scrapped all local vaccine mandates and restrictions. Supporters of the truckers credit their #honkhonk convoy for tipping the needle out West, though plummeting cases and infection rates are also part of the story.
Do the truckers … have a point? The grand pandemic debate about individual freedom versus collective responsibility won’t be resolved on the streets of Ottawa. The idea of vaccine mandates was to incentivize the broadest possible protection for society, so that business and society could resume as normal.
But Canada has already vaccinated more than 80% of the population. And while the jabs are clearly effective at preventing severe illness, they aren’t containing the virus. So the benefit of being vaccinated is now mostly individual rather than collective.
Ought we continue to force vaccination on a small number of hardcore holdouts in a largely vaccinated country — particularly if the collective case for vaccination is now weakened?
Are they going too far? Civil disobedience relies on being disruptive enough to catalyze political action for a just cause without becoming such a nuisance that people broadly turn against the movement. This is the challenge that essential workers face all over the world when they protest about issues important to them — whether it’s farmers in India, construction workers in Australian, or truckers in Brazil.
Messing with the economy of downtown Ottawa is one thing, but on Monday some of the truckers took the extraordinary step of blocking the single busiest international border crossing in North America, the nearby Ambassador bridge linking Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, Michigan.
At a moment when Canada, like just about everyone else, is struggling with soaring inflation, blocking a crossing that accounts for a quarter of Canada’s trade with the US — its largest commercial partner — was a risky move. The Trucking Alliance has already been sounding the alarm about shortages of cross-border drivers and deliveries. The Freedom Convoy’s actions could make that worse. If so, it certainly won’t help their cause, will it?
For Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page, new voting laws in some Republican-led states could help Donald Trump do in 2024 what he failed to do in 2020.
The changes, he says in a GZERO World interview, will make it easier for state legislatures to decide electoral college votes. That’s exactly what Trump’s people tried to do in the last presidential election.
It reminds Page of what happened in 1876, when the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War coincided with a disputed presidential election.
The outcome? Jim Crow.
“This is the legacy of, of those days,” he says. “A that’s part of the big argument now. Are we going to get rid of these last vestiges of discrimination from the Jim Crow era?”
Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Black voter suppression in 2022
Hundreds of Canadian truckers angry about vaccine mandates have paralyzed Ottawa, the capital, for more than a week. They’ve blocked roads, honked their horns, and called for Trudeau’s resignation. Now, they have obstructed access to the Ambassador Bridge — a crucial artery connecting Detroit, Michigan, to Windsor, Ottawa, that accommodates the transfer of more than a quarter of US-Canada annual trade worth a whopping $137 billion. Here’s a look of how this route compares with a few other major land trade routes.
48 billion: The EU plans to spend $48 billion to become a major chipmaking hub in response to the global semiconductor shortage. The US also wants to produce more homegrown semiconductors and reduce its dependency on Asian suppliers.
6: Nicaragua’s parliament passed a law authorizing the state to take control of six universities deemed to be critical of strongman President Daniel Ortega. Students from all six schools participated in the 2018 street protests, which failed to oust Ortega.
100 million: The Pentagon has approved selling Taiwan $100 million worth of US-made tech to upgrade the self-governing island’s Patriot missile defense system. Washington doesn’t officially recognize Taiwan but continues to supply weapons to Taipei amid rising tensions with China.
5: New York is the fifth US state to announce plans to lift some mask mandates as COVID cases fall. Other states looking to ease restrictions include California, Connecticut, Delaware, and Oregon.
Scholz & Macron during a press conference in Paris.
It’s a big week for European shuttle diplomacy.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron kicked off a two-day trip to Moscow and then Kyiv, where he’s meeting the presidents of Russia and Ukraine to seek a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis. At the same time, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Washington, trying to convince US President Joe Biden to trust him despite being wish-washy on Russia — just a week before Scholz meets Vladimir Putin himself.
Get ready to rumble in the fight for European diplomat-in-chief.
But first, a clarification: whatever you might read about Macron “going rogue” on Biden, or about Scholz’s dovish approach to Russia threatening European unity, France, Germany, and the US are still allies. Macron keeping Scholz and Biden out of the loop on his talks with Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky is as unlikely as the German chancellor cutting a deal with Biden behind Macron’s back.
Also, a common European or NATO position on Ukraine will depend on whether Putin actually invades, pulls back, or does something in between. Still, France and Germany have somewhat competing interests, which reflect how their leaders might approach conversations with the other big players in this crisis.
France has tried to carve out a Goldilocks position on Russia, somewhere between US toughness and German caution. Macron wants to get the Russians to withdraw from the Ukrainian border in exchange for offering Moscow a new security partnership with Europe that’ll do two things. It will address Putin’s gripes about NATO expansion while moving Russia closer to Europe and away from BFF China.
Ambitious? Perhaps. But Macron — who once called NATO “brain-dead” — thinks he can pull it off by convincing other NATO allies to forever hold off on Ukraine’s future membership without saying so explicitly (like member states have done for decades with Turkey’s bid to join the EU).
Macron’s ultimate goal is to realize France’s decade-long dream of having a European foreign policy more independent of America and led by Paris. A diplomatic breakthrough with Putin would be a big boost for those plans — and would play well at home just weeks before the French presidential election in April.
Scholz, for his part, would rather not rock the boat. And it’s not just because Germany is more dependent than France on Russian natural gas.
First, Scholz still has some housecleaning to do on clarifying Germany’s actual stance on Russia. His two junior coalition partners and part of his SPD party are gunning for a harder line on Russia, but influential members of Germany’s business community — especially those with a stake in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — and other SPD voices are urging him to lay low.
Second, the Germans are as reluctant to take more responsibility for Europe’s defense outside NATO as they are to let the French take ownership of it. They are happy following Angela Merkel’s playbook of letting the Americans call the shots and then calming down Washington if things get too hot.
The German chancellor certainly looked glum when Biden announced during a joint presser on Tuesday that “we” will stop Nord Stream 2 if Russian troops cross the Ukrainian border.
How did the Macron-Putin meeting go? What is going on with the Canadian truckers’ protest? Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on World In :60.
How did the Macron-Putin meeting go?
What was five hours long and it was like a football field away from each other. And of course, Macron is focused on his election coming up. So with all of that, you’d think it would be problematic, but actually engagement between Macron and Biden the day before was pretty strong. And it does look like the ball’s moved a little bit diplomatically. Most importantly, some of the news coming out of the Kremlin overnight that indeed the Russians are planning on taking those troops out of Belarus after the military exercises are over. Now I mean, of course, if they say they are planning on taking them back out of Belarus and putting them into Ukraine, that would be a technicality, but pretty bad. But no, actually that does seem like a bit of a climbdown. Still, Putin is not friendly. He is blustering all over the place and certainly, he wants to be respected. He doesn’t feel like he is right now. But on balance we’re in a slightly better place because of the Macron meeting than we were the day before.
What is going on with the Canadian truckers’ protest?
Well, a relatively small number of Canadian truckers who are anti vax mandate in the country decided to basically shut down central Ottawa. And first of all, it’s not about the truckers as a whole. 90% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated. Secondly, this was largely the Canadian government in Ottawa not wanting any confrontation and so allowing these truckers to come in and basically take over the city and make lots of people miserable. And now they’ve declared a state of emergency. What is interesting is that the Conservative Party in Canada is becoming much more populist and the potential for a Trump-style leader in Canada to take over the conservative movement and potentially even win the premiership is real. And that would be kind of shocking for those that are focused on Canada as the nicer, softer side of the United States. There is a real populist movement that’s gaining strength in Canada and the truckers are a part of it.
When the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page had just finished high school. This legislation changed the lives of Black people in America because Jim Crow laws had virtually prevented Blacks from voting in the South, he said in an interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.
But in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the law by taking away pre-clearance for states, which had blocked states — especially the former Confederate ones — from changing their voting laws based on racial discrimination.
At the time of the SCOTUS ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts said pre-clearance wasn’t needed anymore. But many disagree.
Now, Page says Republicans tend to benefit from making it harder to vote, while Democrats want to make it easier.
“We’re getting right at the heart of what democracy is all about, when we’re at loggerheads over who should be allowed to vote and, and who shouldn’t.”
Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Black voter suppression in 2022