The World Next Week podcast is up. CFR distinguished visiting fellow and former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly joined Bob McMahon and I on the podcast this week to discuss security challenges at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Bob and I also discussed upcoming parliamentary elections in Thailand and ongoing protests in Ukraine.
- Russia is on a full-scale security alert as it prepares for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, which are set to start next Friday. The Islamic jihadist group based in Dagestan that bombed a train station and trolley bus in Volgograd in late December has vowed to attack Sochi. Russian security officials have responded with what they are calling a “ring of steel” around the Olympic Village. As many as 100,000 security officers will be on the scene looking to foil any terrorist plots. The U.S. government has sent two warships into the Black Sea to evacuate U.S. citizens in the event of an attack.
- Thailand’s prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra insists that Sunday’s scheduled elections will go ahead despite efforts by protestors to halt the vote. Yingluck dissolved the Thai parliament in December and called for snap elections in the face of growing opposition to her effort to pass an amnesty bill that would have benefited her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist who was ousted in a military coup back in 2006. Thailand’s political dispute breaks down largely on regional and class lines, with Yingluck drawing her support from country’s poor, rural north and her opponents drawing their support from the middle and upper classes in Bangkok and the south. The opposition Democratic Party is boycotting the elections, which it probably would lose if it did participate. Yingluck’s critics are demanding that she give way to a “people’s council” that would enact unspecified reforms to Thailand’s political system. Some of the protests have turned deadly, making it harder to find common ground between Thailand’s “red shirts” (pro-Yingluck) and “yellow shirts” (anti-Yingluck).
- Protests in Ukraine over President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision last December not to sign a long-awaited trade deal with the European Union show no signs of abating. Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov resigned on Tuesday in a bid to defuse the protests, which have turned deadly in the last week. But giving in to the protester’s demands for a more transparent government that looks to Europe rather than to Russia could jeopardize the considerable economic support that Moscow extended to Kiev in December as a reward for walking away from the EU deal. Russian president Vladimir Putin has signaled that keeping Ukraine within Russia’s sphere of influence is a high priority for Moscow. Whether he is willing to overtly pressure Kiev while the Sochi Olympics are underway remains to be seen.
- Bob’s Figure of the Week is Vladimir Putin. My Figure of the Week is ten. Our audience-nominated Figure of the Week comes from TWNW listener and CFR senior fellow Steven Cook (@StevenACook) who picked Erdem Basci. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.
For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:
Sochi Winter Olympics: The Washington Post reveals security concerns for U.S. Olympians. CFR.org posts a meeting transcript on U.S.-Russian relations going into the games. CNN asks how safe Sochi is and details U.S. preparations for evacuating Americans from Sochi. Yahoo News reports that the Sochi organizing committee chief has said that Sochi will be “among the most security-friendly games.”
Thailand’s Parliamentary Elections: Al-Jazeera reports that Thailand’s Election Commission has decided to proceed with the February 2 vote. Josh Kurlantzick discusses the role of the military in the Thai crisis. BBC News answers frequently asked questions about the protests in Thailand. Reuters reports that Thailand will deploy ten thousand police offices on Election Day.
Unrest in Ukraine: NBC News has everything you need to know about the crisis in Ukraine. BBC News reports that a former Ukrainian president has said the country is on the “brink of civil war” and details the annulment of Ukrainian anti-protest laws. The New York Times reports that Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich has left negotiations and gone on sick leave.