Eurasia Group's World in a Week summary of top stories for the week of 26 October 2020.
From the end of the 2020 US presidential election campaign to Covid-19 politicization in Brazil, here are some of the top stories Eurasia Group's analysts are following this week.
Top story: Trump running out of chances for a comeback
Why it matters: After last week's final debate finished without a moment that would change the race, President Trump is running out of opportunities to reset a race he is losing. Trump's efforts to tie Joe Biden to allegations of corruption against his son Hunter have so far failed to catch on outside of his base, keeping voters' focus on the coronavirus and slowing economy, where Trump is more vulnerable.
For more news and analysis of US politics, follow Jon Lieber on Twitter.
Energy, Climate & Resources
Top story: Projected slowdown of deforestation in the Amazon
Why it matters: Preliminary data shows the area of wildfire and forest clearing in the Amazon rainforest increased by roughly 35% in 2019–2020, but a modest decline is expected in the 2020–2021 season. Despite controversy over the reasons for a potential deceleration, the projection could create an opening for other countries to engage with Brazil on talks over conservation funds and carbon credits. But if deforestation accelerates again, the US and Europe will likely intensify pressure on the country.
Top story: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives
Why it matters: Secretary Pompeo is traveling to India along with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for the annual “2+2” dialogue on 26–27 October, where the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) is expected to be signed. This is the last of four foundational agreements that help facilitate the exchange of classified information and sensitive technologies between the US and foreign countries. The discussions are also expected to cover the ongoing border situation with China as well as broader regional security cooperation.
From India, Pompeo is traveling to Sri Lanka on 28 October; he previously was scheduled to visit in June 2019, but his trip was cancelled due to rising local sentiment against a proposed military agreement. Pompeo's visit comes amidst concerns about Sri Lanka gravitating closer towards China and immediately follows a visit by Chinese Politburo member Yang Jiechi, which saw Sri Lanka agree to more Chinese loans. Finally, Pompeo is also scheduled to visit the Maldives, the first time a US secretary of state is visiting since 2004.
Top story: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his key ally, opposition leader Raila Odinga, have unveiled the final version of the Building Bridges Initiative report—an agenda of constitutional reforms.
Why it matters: Among the key recommendations of the report is the expansion of Kenya's executive branch to include a prime minister with two deputies in addition to the existing presidential structures. The promise of more seats at the table has shaped the current constellation of political alliances which, if passed as stated in the report, will define electoral dynamics in 2022.
For more news and analysis of Africa, follow Amaka Anku on Twitter.
Top story: The US Department of Justice on 19 October unsealed an indictment against six alleged members of Russia's main intelligence directorate, accusing the group—part of a GRU unit known in industry circles as Sandworm—of orchestrating a series of destructive cyberattacks. The actions detailed in the indictment included the 2017 NotPetya malware incident, attacks on the 2018 French national elections and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, and attacks on Ukraine's power grid, among other alleged activities.
Why it matters: The indictments are another milestone in the US's attempt to impose higher costs on adversaries that engage in malicious cyberactivity, including legal action against suspected hackers. They are part of a broader US strategy of “persistent engagement” that includes tracking of cyber adversaries and potentially also offensive cyber responses to malicious pursuits. Each of the incidents detailed in the indictment had already been attributed to Russia by the US or other governments, and none of the six Russian nationals charged are likely to stand trial. Instead, the main value of such an indictment is its signaling effect: By exposing the tradecraft and identities of one of the world's most notorious hacking groups, the US government wants to show that it has the ability to gain visibility into their activities; expose tools, techniques, and procedures; and “impose risks and consequences” on the perpetrators.
Why it matters: President Jair Bolsonaro will remain under pressure after he said last week the federal government would not buy a vaccine under development by Chinese company Sinovac in a partnership with the Sao Paulo state government Butantan Institute. The president responded to criticism from his hardline base of support to the health ministry's announcement that 46 million doses of this vaccine would be bought for the first half of 2021, on top of another 140 million doses from the AstraZeneca-Oxford and OMS-led efforts. But despite his anti-China rhetoric, Bolsonaro may not be able to hold the line on that narrative for long. Sinovac's vaccine is under Phase III trials, and if it is approved within the coming months by food and drug agency ANVISA, the president will have a harder time coming up with an excuse to avoid such a deal. Significant delays on vaccine rollout are unlikely; in fact, Brazil is in a better position in comparison to other emerging countries when it comes to Covid-19 vaccination, thanks in part to local manufacturing capabilities.
Top story: Algeria is entering the final days of campaigning around the constitutional referendum that will be held on 1 November.
Why it matters: Between February 2019 and March 2020, the “Hirak” protest in Algeria called for the ouster of the political system and implementation of a new democratic, rules-based political order. This led to the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a purging of the political and business elite, and the holding of elections last year that brought President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to power. The protests only really stopped with the outbreak of Covid-19, and underlying dissent remains high. The constitutional drafting process has been heavily criticized for being drafted exclusively by the regime and ostensibly strengthening the powers that be. As the leadership seeks to solve Algeria's myriad economic issues—the country is wholly dependent on oil and gas, but prices are low and its production is decreasing—the risk of new protests in the coming months will rise again.
For news and analysis of the Middle East & North Africa, follow Ayham Kamel on Twitter.
Top story: EU leaders hold a virtual summit 29 October to discuss the bloc's coronavirus response, as member states grapple with a spike in cases.
Why it matters: Thursday's European Council will mark top-level engagement to harmonize EU efforts against and tracing of Covid-19. EU members have largely responded unilaterally to the health crisis, despite significant coordination to jointly address the economic fallout. Advancing a common platform on quarantine regulations, cross-border contact tracing, testing strategies, and temporary travel restrictions would improve the EU's ability to counter the pandemic but will likely take more time after Thursday's video teleconference.