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To start your week with a bang, we've got …

  • Winners and losers at COP27
  • The World Cup of corruption
  • Kazakhstan moving away from Russia’s crime scene
  • Twitter welcoming back Trump

Thank you for reading.

The Signal Team

SIGNAL - The GZero NewsletterPresented by mastercard.com

To start your week with a bang, we've got …

  • Winners and losers at COP27
  • The World Cup of corruption
  • Kazakhstan moving away from Russia’s crime scene
  • Twitter welcoming back Trump

Thank you for reading.

The Signal Team

   

COP27 delivers on reparations but fails on fossil fuels

Two days behind schedule, the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, finally wrapped up with a historic agreement on Sunday. Wealthy countries will pay poor nations for the economic damage caused by climate change. The so-called "loss and damage fund" will compensate the developing world for impacts like droughts and flooding, which rich nations led by the US had resisted for 30 years. But so far it's only a political statement of intentions with no financial commitment, so it'll be up to future COPs to work out the details. What's more, climate activists' joy over the much-awaited reparations deal was overshadowed by a lack of progress in cutting fossil fuels. Efforts to include stronger language on phasing out oil and natural gas on top of coal were rebuffed by top fossil fuel producers as well as by major guzzlers in the developing world who won't jeopardize their economic growth to embrace renewables. In other words, a victory for climate justice but a painful defeat for clean energy at a COP where expectations were low.

Get more COP27 insights from Eurasia Group analyst Franck Gbaguidi on our Instagram and YouTube channels.


Nationalist bloc might take power in Malaysia

As expected, Malaysia's general election on Saturday delivered a hung parliament without a clear winner. But there were plenty of losers. The opposition multiethnic alliance led by former PM Anwar Ibrahim won the most seats (80) but fell far short of a majority in the 222-member parliament, while the once-dominant UMNO Party got its worst result ever with only 30. And perhaps the biggest upset was 97-year-old ex-PM Mahathir Mohamad losing his seat — his first election defeat in 53 years. Meanwhile, a Malay-first alliance captained by Muhyiddin Yassin, yet another former PM, overperformed with 73 seats. Muhyiddin is now favored to return to the premiership after clinching the support of two regional parties from Borneo and is wooing UMNO, but Anwar says he should have a go first. Who'll make the call? The current king under Malaysia’s unique rotating monarchy, who has the constitutional power to appoint the next PM and wants a name by Monday.


 
 

 
 
   

FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, has long been tainted with corruption scandals — and the 2022 edition of its top competition is no exception. The World Cup is being held in Qatar despite the fact that even FIFA itself "admitted" that bribes were exchanged before the tiny emirate with zero soccer tradition got the nod in late 2010. But what about the countries whose national teams qualified for the tournament? We take a look at how the most and least corrupt countries would play against each other as soccer teams on a pitch. Note: If you're missing Saudi Arabia, believe it or not, it ranks as less graft-ridden than Croatia.


 
 

 
 
   

The way we pay is changing fast, and as retail purchases ramp up for the holidays, fighting online fraud becomes even more important. Mastercard has launched #PayProtected – a new campaign to keep consumers safe when shopping online by helping them spot and avoid scams.


 
 

 
 
   

Since it invaded Ukraine, Russia hasn't just been making enemies – it’s also been losing friends. Some Central Asian countries – considered part of Russia’s backyard thanks to their Soviet heritage – have begun distancing themselves from Moscow.

Tensions have been building. In October, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon told Vladimir Putin at a summit that his country needs “more respect.” At September’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov kept Putin waiting before a meeting. And last week, four of Russia’s treaty allies – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — abstained from a vote in the UN General Assembly that demanded Moscow pay war reparations to Ukraine.

“Central Asian Republics have always wanted to be free of Russian influence. Seeing Russia falter in Ukraine, they sense their opportunity,” says Husain Haqqani, director for Central and South Asia at Washington’s Hudson Institute.

Kazakhstan is proving the boldest. Many in the region were treading carefully at first. No one had openly criticized Putin, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which depend on Russian troops for security, were particularly quiet. But it was Kazakhstan, the largest Central Asian economy, that took the lead, declaring its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Soon after, Uzbekistan, the second-largest economy in the region, followed suit.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has had the top job for a year and was elected Sunday to a seven-year term. He has repeatedly refused to back Russia's invasion, and Astana, the Kazakh capital, has rejected the Russian-manufactured “independence” of the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The signaling hasn’t just been diplomatic. At home, Astana canceled an annual summer parade marking the World War II defeat of the Nazis by the Soviet Red Army, and it banned the "Z" military symbol used by pro-Russian/anti-Ukraine elements.

Most notable, however, was Kazakhstan’s refusal to send troops to Ukraine at Moscow’s request. This was a striking move by Tokayev, whose regime was rescued from a violent uprising in January when Russian troops were airlifted to come to his aid.

Considering Tokayev’s recent moves and new electoral mandate, experts expect him to navigate further away from Moscow. “Kazakhstan, as the largest and most prosperous and influential player in the region, seems to be asserting greater strategic autonomy,” Haqqani says.

But Tokayev also faces a dilemma. Kazakhstan shares the second-largest border on the planet with Russia, an indefensible 4,750 miles. The country also houses the second-largest number of ethnic Russians after Ukraine, making up just under a quarter of its 19-million-strong population.

The invasion of Ukraine being premised on the excuse of protecting ethnic Russians is something that would make any Central Asian country with a Russian minority – which is all of them – nervous. Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and Putin’s one-time stand-in, has called Kazakhstan an “artificial” country, echoing Putin’s language about Ukraine. Pro-war commentators in the Russian government and media have also stepped up their anti-Kazakh rhetoric, accusing the country of being disloyal and even hinting that it’s next in line for invasion.

Plus, most Kazakh imports and exports are dependent on Russia. Kazakhstan is the world’s 10th-largest energy producer, and 95% of its oil and gas flow through pipelines that Russia controls – pipelines Moscow has switched off at will. So how can Astana reduce its dependence on Russia without drawing its ire?

Having the right friends is important. As regional heavyweights, China and Turkey are watching this space, but they’re also showing up to bat. Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have recently voiced their support for Kazakh "sovereignty and territorial integrity."

If push came to shove, China would probably not get involved directly, considering its “no limits” friendship with Russia. But Turkey, which is tied to Kazakhstan through the Organization of Turkic States and even military intelligence cooperation, would probably help out.

Diversification is key. Kazakhstan wants to avoid suffering secondary sanctions and becoming collateral damage. So Astana is seeking solutions in the form of new partners, energy routes, and diplomatic ties. Again, leading the pack are China and Turkey, both of which are bound through new investments, infrastructure, and security deals with the Kazakhs.

Kazakhstan’s smart “multi-vector” foreign policy has helped it develop inroads with China and the West in recent decades – and experts believe that’s to Astana’s advantage. While Kazakh oil and gas flow through Russia, the increasing use of tanker and rail transport links now accounts for 5% of its energy export traffic. The idea is to grow these and enhance its “Middle Corridor” to connect China with Europe, bypassing Russia entirely, but diversifying out of Russia’s orbit won't come cheap.

Can Kazakhstan escape? Russia thinks of itself as a Big Brother-cum-BFF to Central Asian states and won’t simply walk away. Moscow watches over the region through diplomatic oversight backed by military might. Regional forums like the SCO (that it co-leads with China) provide it cover, while security pacts like the Collective Security Treaty Organization grant it legitimacy. Maintaining military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, meanwhile, give it muscle.

Astana can diversify its trade and diplomacy, but the country’s proximity to Russia – compounded by political, cultural, and economic ties – means Kazakhstan will struggle to fully escape Russia’s sphere of influence.


 
 

 
 
   

What happened in the US midterm elections is becoming clear: The red wave-turned-ripple was only enough for Republicans to narrowly win the House, while the Democrats kept the Senate. But why it happened is a harder question to answer.

On GZERO World, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith speaks to Ian Bremmer about all things midterms.

Her take on what saved the Dems? Abortion rights and protecting democracy turned out voters.

And what about the GOP? Keith has some thoughts on whether it's still a MAGA party or a Trump personality cult and, looking ahead to 2024, whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a viable alternative to the former president.

Watch the full episode here.


 
 

 
 
   

51.8: Twitter CEO Elon Musk reinstated Donald Trump's account after 51.8% of some 15 million Twitter users voted in favor of it. But will the @realDonaldTrump actually return? The former US president is committed to his own Truth Social startup but might seek a carve-out as he's running again in 2024.


43: The world's longest-serving president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, is all but assured to stay in office after holding a sham election on Sunday. Obiang, 80, has ruled the oil-rich yet super corrupt West African nation with an iron fist for 43 years.

65: At least 65 people were killed Sunday in Turkish air strikes against Kurdish militants across northern Iraq and Syria. The offensive is a response to the deadly blast in downtown Istanbul a week ago, which the Turks blamed on the Kurdistan Workers' Party, classified as a terrorist group by Ankara and its NATO allies.

1 million: Mexico — and the whole of Latin America — is set to lose its last panda. Famously frugal President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is unlikely to cough up the estimated $1 million to buy another one from China, a cost Mexico has avoided for decades under an old deal that allowed it to breed pandas locally without supervision from Beijing.

0: That's how many minutes refs will wait before issuing yellow cards to players wearing rainbow-colored armbands at the soccer World Cup. Some European stars like England captain Harry Kane wanted to show support for LGBTQ rights in Qatar, which bans all same-sex relationships. But FIFA clarified: don't you dare.

 
 

 
 
   

Destroying nature … can’t be a good thing. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, beginning at 8 am EST (10 pm JST), Eurasia Group’s Shari Friedman and Franck Gbaguidi will moderate the discussion on turning biodiversity risk into opportunity with Ian Bremmer, Suntory Holdings’ CEO Tak Niinami, and a panel of experts.

Please register to attend here.


 
 

 
 

This edition of Signal was written by Wajahat S. Khan and Carlos Santamaria. Edited by Tracy Moran. Graphic by Luisa Vieira.