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Geopolitics

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Flashback In The USSR? How Former Soviet Republics Are Reacting To War in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has been upfront about his desire to rebuild Russia’s influence in the region. Former Soviet states are watching developments in Ukraine closely, with many trying to ensure futures free of interference by Moscow.

For 69 years, the Kremlin was able to keep what were de facto separate nations within the Soviet orbit by the use of weapons, hunger and fear. Even after the collapse of the USSR, every Russian leader considered the former republics to be at least a zone of his influence.

Yet Vladimir Putin has revealed his true understanding of neighborliness, repeatedly stating that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a huge tragedy for Russia. And on this, one might agree, he is right.

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Under the Communist Party, each of the national republics also had their own government, albeit ultimately controlled by the Kremlin. Each of the republics, whether in Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, or Ukraine, had their own capital, culture, language and traditions. For each of the national republics, secession from the Soviet Union brought liberation and independence — an opportunity to build their own state. For every former member state, that is, except Russia.

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Journalism In A Zero-Trust World: Maria Ressa Speaks After Rappler Shut Down Again

The Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke with The Wire's Arfa Khanum Sherwani about how journalists everywhere need to prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario of government-ordered closure and what they should do to face up to such a challenge.

HONOLULU — For someone who’s just been ordered to shut down the news website she runs, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is remarkably cheerful about what may happen next.

In a speech she gave to a conference at the East-West Center here on challenges the media face in a “zero trust world”, Ressa said that she and her colleagues were prepared for this escalation in the Philippines government’s war on independent media and will carry on doing the work they do. “If you live in a country where the rule of law is bent to the point it’s broken, anything is possible…. So you have to be prepared.”

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Why Inflation In Iran Is Hitting Even Harder

Inflation is nothing new in Iran. But its staggering rise is pushing millions of Iranians toward abject poverty.

-Analysis-

As inflation in Iran spikes to record heights, President Ebrahim Raisi and his Economy Minister Ehsan Khanduzi insist the government is working to curb the price hikes wreaking havoc on household budgets. Yet there is very little in Raisi's year-long record to indicate earnestness in getting a grip on inflation or mitigating its impact on the poor. The endemic inflation of the last four decades, and particularly the explosive inflation of the last three years, are forging a frightening picture of daily life for many Iranians.

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John Lee And The "Mainlandizing" Of Hong Kong

The festivities to mark 25 years since the British handover to China of Hong Kong also marked the official arrival of the new leader of Hong Kong, John Lee, who will move things even faster and closer to Beijing.

The scene was set well Friday as Hong Kong marked 25 years of being back under Chinese rule. The weather forecast predicted a typhoon, just as it had in 1997 when the sovereignty of the island city was officially transferred to Beijing, ending the era of being a British colony that had begun in 1842. But there were other storms brewing.

Streets flooded with Chinese and Hong Kong flags, cheering crowds, history lessons and speeches — and at the center was President Xi Jinping, who arrived on Thursday, for his visit outside mainland China since the 2020 Covid outbreak, and his first visit to Hong Kong since 2017.

But the other face to keep track of for Hong Kong’s 25th Handover anniversary looked a bit more tense than Xi's behind their respective white masks with a red "25" on the side.

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Geopolitics
Dominique Moïsi

Is Soft Power Dead?

With an activist Supreme Court creating a gap between democratic rhetoric and reality in the U.S., and Russia and China eager to flex military muscle, the full-force return to hard power looks bound for dominance.

-Analysis-

PARIS — Russia's war in Ukraine rages on, tensions are erupting in the South China Sea and now abortion rights are being stripped away in the U.S.: Looking around the world, we have to ask: what is left of the notion of soft power?

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How can we talk about the power to convince when the power to coerce is increasingly the norm? And when there is such a gap between rhetoric and reality in the U.S. and in Russia and China, hard power almost seems to have become part of soft power?

“We will lead the world not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Joe Biden said the day after his election. But what kind of example was he talking about? That of the Supreme Court’s judges, whose decision promises a terrible future to women and to all those who still wanted to believe in an enlightened and liberal America?

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s Decoy-In-Chief

The Russian Foreign Minister, among the country’s most recognizable figures, embodies both the corruption and confusion of the Putin regime. Not everything is what it seems — and that’s the point.

From the outside, one might have the impression that the Russian Federation is run through a highly complex and well-coordinated apparatus that ensures that any single cog in Vladimir Putin’s system is by definition both in synch with the other cogs — and utterly replaceable. The Kremlin appears to us through this lens as an impregnable citadel with long arms and peering eyes that are literally everywhere.

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And yet, this is a completely false picture — and there’s no greater proof than in looking more closely at one of Russia's most prominent figures, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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Economy
Benjamin Quénelle

How Much Longer Can The Russian Economy Survive Sanctions?

The head of the Kremlin boasted at the recent forum in St. Petersburg International Economic Forum about Russia’s economic resilience against Western sanctions. But behind the scenes, Russian business leaders tell a different story.

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — "The most effective sanction to weaken the Kremlin? Not to target us and punish us, but to give us visas instead ... to abandon the sinking the ship!" This businessman's iconoclastic perspective embodies the anxiety one could detect percolating just below the surface at the "Russian Davos" Forum in St. Petersburg last week.

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Officially called the "International" Economic Forum, the annual event organized by Vladimir Putin is meant to attract foreign investors — but this year, the elite of the national business community were cut off from the rest of the world. "Just among Russians... And forced to line up behind the regime and its economic strategies that lead us to a dead end," says the same source, a Russian manager in one of the main state-owned companies.

Like so many others, this man in his 40s, a typical representative of the new upper middle class, with a foreign passport in hand, educated in the West, liberal and multilingual, discovered his name on the lists of Western sanctions. Directly or indirectly, a large part of the Russian business world has been caught up in the European and U.S. sanctions against Moscow.

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Geopolitics
Julio Borges

Venezuela-Iran: Maduro And The Axis Of Chaos In The Americas

With the complicity of leftist rulers in Venezuela, Bolivia and even Argentina, Iran's sanction-ridden regime is spreading its tentacles in South America, and could even undermine democracies.

-Analysis-

CARACASThe dangers posed by Venezuela's relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran is something we've warned about before. Though not new, the dangers have changed considerably in recent years.

They began under Venezuela's late leader, Hugo Chávez , when he decided to turn his back on the West and move closer to countries outside our geopolitical sphere. In 2005, Chávez and Iran's then president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, signed collaborative agreements in areas beyond the economy, with goals that included challenging the West and spreading Iran's presence in Latin America.

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Geopolitics
Claus Christian Malzahn

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz: A Very Special Responsibility

As successor to Angela Merkel, Olaf Scholz is facing a wealth of challenges at home and abroad. In the coming days, he faces key international summits while a domestic energy crisis begins to spiral. Is the new Chancellor up to the challenge?

-Analysis-

BERLIN — Forty years ago, Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz was elected vice chairman of the Young Socialists. It was the heyday of the peace movement; Scholz, too, demonstrated against the stationing of U.S. medium-range missiles on the soil of the Federal Republic.

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Back then, too, in 1982, there was a turning point.

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Geopolitics
Kayhan London

Why The West Is Finally Taking A Harder Line On Iran

After years of ignoring or downplaying domestic protests in Iran, Western states and media have begun to imagine — and even prepare for — the still slim but growing possibility of a regime change in Tehran.

-Analysis-

LONDON — In past weeks, European countries and the United States have adopted a harsher tone against Iran, with criticisms going beyond the issue of stalled talks to revive the 2015 multilateral pact on Iran's nuclear program.

While the European Union and United States are still reluctant to declare the pact dead or ditch all hope of restarting talks with Tehran, they know the negotiations are at death's door. That is because the Iran has shown it has no intention of ending nuclear activities with the aim of developing a bomb.

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Geopolitics
Igor Ilyash

Unpacking Why Belarus Will Or Won't Join The War Against Ukraine

Analysts have closely followed whether Belarus, a loyal Kremlin ally, will invade its neighbor. But even though the Belarusian president toes the Kremlin line, he is unlikely to want to get in over his head in Ukraine.

-Analysis-

KYIV — For several months, Belarusian troops have been conducting regular training exercises, particularly in the regions bordering Ukraine. Combined with the specific statements by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, this raises logical fears about the direct involvement of the Belarusian army in the war.

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Geopolitics
Luis Rubio

Our World Is "Flat" No More: Welcome To The Era Of Pure Geopolitics

The dominance of a single narrative of globalization and liberal democracy is over.

-Analysis-

MEXICO CITY — As the Bolshevik leader Lenin once observed, there are decades when nothing happens and weeks in which decades take place. The big turns in history tend to go unnoticed in their decisive moments because daily life doesn't suddenly change for most people around the world.

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Yet in retrospect, certain moments become crucial. Everything suggests the invasion of Ukraine is one of those turning points, with enormous implications for the world's future.

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