Putin Is on a Roll Abroad, But Problems Are Mounting at Home
Vladimir Putin is on a roll.
Fears of Russian election meddling have roiled nations from Europe to the U.S., allowing the Kremlin to cast a shadow far longer than it has since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In much of the Middle East, he’s made Russia the go-to power for the first time in decades, rescuing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and joining OPEC in cutting production to shore up oil prices.
At home, Putin is kicking off an election campaign that’s largely a formality. While he again adopted his father-of-the-nation persona at his annual press conference today, the bulk of the questions so far at the marathon event have been ones for which Putin has few good answers. Polls show sky-high approval ratings, yet the economy is stalled, incomes are stagnant and his cash-strapped government is often unable to provide basic services.
The presidency of Donald Trump has brought not the hoped-for thaw but a deeper freeze. The probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections — Putin said the claims were “dreamed up” by Trump’s opponents — seems only to be accelerating in the face of the White House’s best efforts to publicly undermine special counsel Robert Mueller.
Despite his head of steam, Putin’s next term looks harder than his last.
Rhetoric v. policy | Trump insisted again yesterday that his proposed tax cut is all about helping the middle class, even as Republican leaders formed a last-minute plan to cut the top rate paid by million-dollar earners. Not all Republican senators are firmly on board with the latest approach, even though a vote could come as soon as Tuesday. Lawmakers are rushing to reach their self-imposed end-of-the-year deadline.
UN warns on North Korea | A United Nations envoy expressed “deep concern” upon returning from Pyongyang, telling diplomats he believed Kim Jong Un’s regime wasn’t ready for talks while developing a nuclear weapon that could strike the U.S. The warnings came as Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in met in Beijing and discussed ways to ease tensions with North Korea over its missile tests, even as the options for doing so are likely to remain limited.
Iran’s powerful new tool | Reaction across much of the Arab world to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been muted. But the policy shift struck at the core of Hezbollah’s mission: Confronting the Jewish state. Supporters of the Iranian-backed Shiite movement reacted angrily and their chief Hassan Nasrallah called on armed groups to unite. Donna Abu Nasr examines how Trump has buttressed Iran’s argument that it — not rival Saudi Arabia — is the true defender of Palestine.
China’s Arctic inroads | Talks with Finland to build a telecommunications cable on the polar seabed underscores Beijing's interest in developing the warming Arctic as a shortcut to Europe. The 6,500-mile (10,500-kilometer) fiber link — made feasible by the shrinking ice cap — could cut data delay between the two regions in half.
‘Net neutrality’ in crosshairs | The Federal Communications Commission is poised to vote today to gut Obama-era rules that forbid Internet providers from blocking or slowing certain websites, or giving priority to others for a fee. Todd Shields and Lucas Shaw explain why one champion of the earlier efforts to increase government oversight has been less outspoken this time around.
And finally... Britain’s pro-Brexit tabloid the Daily Mail reacted with fury to last night’s Tory rebellion, accusing the 11 lawmakers responsible — or “self-consumed malcontents” as it called them — of betraying Prime Minister Theresa May and those who voted to leave the European Union. “Proud of Yourselves?” it asked after the rebels ensured parliament will have a veto on any deal to leave the EU. Usually when a Mail headline ends in a question mark the answer is “No.” But on this occasion, as some of the rebels cheerfully replied, it’s a Yes.
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