Geopolitical Highlights - Jan 29th 2023
This weeks sees the Pope visit Africa, Petr Pavel start as Czech President, UN confront the Afghan humanitarian crisis, Ukraine-Russia dynamics over tank supplies, and more.
Here are some of the highlights in the forthcoming week concerning geopolitical and macro events.
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TGG has a YouTube Channel!
The BIGGEST and thrilling news is the launch of my YouTube Channel!
While its only a couple of weeks old, I am EXTREMELY excited to take this next step in building The Global Gambit.
Many of you will know my hesitations with starting one, given the significant upscale in editing and production work, however, equally so many of you have been very encouraging and, even pushy (positively of course) in taking the plunge!
So l decided to do just that.
There are many events l have lined up with some guests that frankly, l am amazed have agreed to join, including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya - the leader of Belarusian’s democratic movement, and who most deem the legitimate winner of Belarus’s 2020 election!
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Lastly, l will be uploading clips of previous podcasts as audio-only content, including some that you won’t or will never hear on the conventional podcast so don’t miss out.
Czechia Presidential Elections
Over Jan 26-27th the Czech people decisively voted in Petr Pavel as the new president.
A result of 58% to 42%. And a turnout of 70%+ (the highest ever).
The position is largely symbolic, but equally who could have won would have also been symbolic of how Czechia’s response could have shifted over Ukraine.
What do l mean by that?
Simply, that Pavel’s opponent, Andrej Babis, has long been seen to be a Putin-specific sympathizer, and involved in various questionable, even nefarious activities in the past several years while being Prime Minister.
Conversely, Pavel is a former chief of the general staff of Czech Army and chairman of NATO Military Committee - so its clear where he will stand on the Ukraine War.
Babis was/is largely seen to want to emulate Viktor Orban - leader of Hungary, with centralizing control, suppressing political opposition, and politicizing the judicial system.
But none of this worked.
Due to how strong and independent Czech media is; unlike that of Hungary’s.
Bottom-line: Pavel’s victory is a reassurance for democracy and resistance to any populism growing within the Visegrad Group.
(made up of Hungary, Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia).
Though there is still a risk over this for upcoming elections in Slovakia and Poland later this year.
And so starting from this week, Pavel will have a disproportionately important role in ensuring sustained unity among these countries while also counterbalancing to Hungary.
To learn more about the election implications for Ukraine, check out my first proper video podcast, with journalists, Filip Horky and Zuzana Cerna.
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Tanks to Ukraine & Russia’s Response
You’ve likely read on this.
If not, basically Ukraine will be receiving upwards of 100 tanks from various Western countries.
This was dominated by Germany’s reluctance to send its Leopard 2s - a heavily sought after and effective tank.
However, they eventually did, seemingly after the US committed 31 of its own M1 Abrams.
Many see this done by the US, less due to providing their own tanks, but more as a way to appease/reduce the pressure on the German’s and encourage them to release their Leopards.
Which are easier to train on, less distance to supply to Ukraine, and are in wider use among other EU states who want to supply them.
Now, Russia’s response has been nuanced.
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There may not be clear statement being released, as such, but observers do expect a new offensive when the weather improves, and so the time-sensitive aspect to when the tanks get onto the ground is important.
That said, Russia could respond in other ways.
Intensify attacks on civil settlements or infrastructure, raise the rhetoric of NATO threats, nuclear talking points or similar.
Lastly, another major point.
It will take months, even potentially a year in the case of the Abrams, to reach Ukraine.
And then you have to train up the Ukrainian forces.
We touched on this aspect during a podcast on drones and how they influence the battlefield.
Not just how to use them, but how to fix them and more.
Much of this comes to the issue of how long will the war last, and to what extent should we or will Western/NATO states continue their support.
The Zelensky administration has already shifted to calling for more fighter jets now, and so, this discussion around the supply of both more equipment as well as funding will continue.
Remember this is an information war too, and both, including Ukraine, need to continually sustain it to ensure unwavering support from the West/NATO.
Till now, both sides have seen little military gain or change - Russia did retake Soledar, but otherwise not much else.
So, these tanks, whenever they do arrive, could be a major influence.
Be it in ho Ukraine uses them, or how Russia responds - pre-emptive or not.
Pope Visits Africa
Tuesday Jan 31st will see Pope Francis visit Africa, specifically the DRC and South Sudan.
The 4-day trip is especially about building renewed sense of belief in Catholicism, most notably in DRC, where 40% are Catholic and another 30% Christian.
But also because of the severe conflict still plaguing the DRC and creating turmoil for so many millions.
I will be hosting an event on the war, in Feb so watch out for that on Twitter or YouTube.
There is some speculation whether the Pope will use the trip to apologise for the historical mistreatment by the Church as he did in Canada.
DRC suffered horrifically under Belgium colonial rule, so it may well be something the Pope seeks to do.
He’s very open minded usually, taking questions from reporters or public in a way that many won’t have seen, and pushed to decriminalise homosexuality for instance - 60 countries still see it as illegal.
Africa is also where Catholicism is still growing - 20% are in the continent, and many new priests/practitioners are emerging too.
So, this trip carry a lot from the georeligious standpoint (is that a word?).
The UN will be meeting to cover the humanitarian and human rights crises in Afghanistan.
Taliban have undone much of their promises on women’s/girls rights.
As if they ever were going to keep to them.
These include banning women/girls from school or college, doing humanitarian work, and holding certain jobs.
The Taliban isnt a monolith but any moderates in it aren’t making these decisions.
4 agencies, amongst others:
Save the Children
Norwegian Refugee Council
They’ve all stopped operations due to these policies and that only undermines women’s rights more.
The UN also stated that 28 million Afghans face reliance on aid from outside the country - 2/3 of the whole population.
The UN has and is trying to find areas of engagement; of compromise and to navigate the Taliban’s inconsistent approach to interpreting sharia law.
Various very senior UN staff, like the Dep Sec Gen Amina Mohammed or Head of Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffins, but again a lot of this is distinguishing between words/promises and actual action from the Taliban.
Despite saying it would be against their interest to roll back women’s rights they still have, and is only making their ability to govern harder.
All this and more l covered during an in-depth panel on the podcast.
Eg, by only resulting in the US and others freezing assets that would greatly help them - or they could at least exploit easier…
The UN isnt immune from issues though as its far more divided now - least in Security Council - than say 20 years ago when the Taliban were ousted.
China and Russia combat with the P3 (US, UK, France) far more than usual.
Plus China didnt come to the Taliban’s rescue like they hoped with FDI for instance, mainly due to threats'/risks from the radicalization across the country.
Things remain very bleak for the country as we continue into 2023 sadly.
Those are some of the main highlights this week!
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