Ukraine, Russia: The war of peace.
Also: Israel, Palestine, the US, Nepal, India and Singapore.
UKRAINE. RUSSIA. The war of peace.
Suggestions of stalemate and negotiation divide Kyiv.
A Ukraine presidential spokesman criticised the armed forces chief on Saturday after the latter told The Economist the war with Russia was at a "stalemate". NBC on Friday said US officials had asked Kyiv to consider talks with Moscow..
INTELLIGENCE. The rift between Volodymyr Zelensky and his popular but outspoken general, Valery Zaluzhny, is a gift for Kremlin propagandists. That it is playing out in Western media gives credence to Moscow’s claims the West is tiring of the war. Unlike in Russia, there is little evidence any split in Kyiv’s elite is leading to mutinous feelings in the armed forces, but morale is worsening, and the average soldier’s age is now 43 as recruitment efforts stall.
FOR BUSINESS. Ukraine seems unlikely to reclaim its lost territories. The question is how long it can continue fighting into 2024, with or without more Western aid. Should an armistice be reached, Zelensky would unlikely stay on as leader, but Ukraine would likely retain Kyiv and enjoy, in the long run, a recovery akin to post-war South Korea or West Germany. This ultimately may be a better outcome for most Ukrainians, not to mention backers in the EU and US.
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ISRAEL. PALESTINE. Axis of reticence.
Hamas’s friends remain reluctant to intervene.
Hezbollah's leader stopped short of declaring war in a long-awaited address on Friday. Benjamin Netanyahu ignored calls for a ceasefire or "humanitarian pause" following another visit to the region by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
INTELLIGENCE. Hassan Nasrallah made vague threats amid a low-level campaign of strikes along the Israel-Lebanon border, but by distancing Hezbollah and Iran from the 7 October attacks he would have disappointed Hamas. Having effectively split Gaza in two without the war spreading significantly, the Israel Defense Force will be feeling vindicated in its approach so far. Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is under mounting pressure within and beyond Israel to resign.
FOR BUSINESS. Israel has warned of a long campaign, but it may be able to declare a quick victory if most of Hamas’s Gaza-based leaders are neutralised and power can be transferred to another group. During his visit, Blinken met with the Palestinian Authority’s 87-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, who suggested such a transfer. The problem for Abbas, beyond his age, however, is his party’s complete lack of credibility. The war may be short, but the peace will be distant.
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UNITED STATES. Coming up trumps.
A worrying poll for Joe Biden, and many US allies.
Donald Trump led Joe Biden in five of six key battleground states, a New York Times poll found on Sunday. House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Sunday it "makes sense" to combine aid for Ukraine with funding for the US border.
INTELLIGENCE. America-first Republicans will be buoyed by the poll, which suggests the party’s hardball tactics on funding for Israel and Ukraine are working. Other surveys, however, suggest a different outcome if third candidates are included. A Quinnipiac poll last week put Trump at 36% against Biden at 39% and Robert F Kennedy Jr at 22%. Many Democrats see the risk as not about them, but about Biden, who is increasingly losing the support of his base.
FOR BUSINESS. Biden’s policies on Israel and his age aren’t his only vulnerabilities. Some 68% of Americans believe he has acted wrongfully in connection with his son Hunter, whom Congress might subpoena on alleged influence-peddling. But Trump has even worse legal issues. The best he can hope for is to spread the distrust and confusion, even if that harms the economy and the US’s international standing. It will be a long year ahead for poll-watchers.
NEPAL. INDIA. Holding the fault line.
Delhi may need to act fast on a neighbour’s tragedy.
Nepalese officials on Sunday warned of possibly bigger earthquakes to come after 157 were killed and thousands left homeless on Friday, the country's worst quake in eight years. Narendra Modi on Saturday said India stood in solidarity.
INTELLIGENCE. Delhi sent relief on the weekend, but will be eyeing any moves from Beijing, which after Nepal’s 2015 earthquake sent $483 million worth of assistance – second only to India and unusually high by Chinese standards. China and India are in a war for influence in the Himalayas, where they have a disputed border. Bhutan, which last week made progress on its own border with China, this week sent its king to India as a signal of reassurance.
FOR BUSINESS. As in 2015, India will be the chief player in Nepal’s recovery. Similarly, it remains Nepal’s chief trade partner. Yet Chinese investment could one day change this. While signature projects like the Pokhara Airport have been criticised for cost, mundane initiatives, like border crossings, could make a difference. Delhi once relaxed in the knowledge that Nepal is linked to India by plains but separated to China by mountains. Yet this is also true of Pakistan.
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Lee Hsien Loong outlines a transfer of power.
Singapore's prime minister said Sunday he planned to hand over to deputy Lawrence Wong before elections in 2025. DBS Bank, seen as a bellwether for the city-state, reported a surprise 18% jump in quarterly net profits on Monday.
INTELLIGENCE. Wong would be just Singapore's fourth prime minister – all from the same party – since 1965. There's no reason he can't continue the country's near-matchless economic record, but a series of political scandals and growing geopolitical tensions will bring new challenges. Much of Singapore’s success is due to geography and the competence of its elites, but much is also due to the tailwinds of globalisation and US hegemony in Southeast Asia.
FOR BUSINESS. A multipolar world could be less kind to Singapore – as it was in the 1940s – but so far it has adroitly handled US-China rivalry, avoiding the pressures of other states, like Australia and South Korea, stuck in the middle. In many ways it has benefited from this rivalry. Western firms have relocated there from Hong Kong. Chinese investors in the West has used it as a neutral domicile. As many economies flounder, its firms have been rebounding.