What we’re watching: US troops in Eastern Europe, Peruvian government reshuffle, Denmark lifts COVID restrictions
The United States is deploying troops to Eastern Europe. A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of ‘ignoring’ Kremlin demands to limit NATO’s eastward expansion, the White House sent more than 3,000 troops to members of the alliance, Germany, Poland and Romania. This was in addition to an order of 8,500 US troops ready to deploy to Eastern Europe on short notice. As Russia continues to mass more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, Moscow and Washington are at loggerheads in their diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis, raising fears of war. Russia wants guarantees that NATO will not expand further east into what the Kremlin considers its sphere of influence. But the West refuses to accept this request, offering instead to commit only to limiting the deployment of weapons in Eastern Europe. It should be noted that none of the 3,000 American soldiers are sent to Ukraine – neither NATO nor the United States has any desire to send troops there. But Putin, it seems, might just…
Is it time to relax COVID restrictions? Denmark has become the first EU country to lift all pandemic-related restrictions, noting that COVID-19 can no longer be considered a “socially critical disease”. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said masks and “green passes” will no longer be required in public places, but she noted that this could change if new variations emerge. The development comes as Denmark has one of the highest per capita COVID cases in the world, although hospitalizations and deaths remain low as most of the population – just over 80%, according to Our World in Data – is vaccinated. Other EU countries are taking similar steps: France is lifting some restrictions, though indoor mask requirements and vaccination mandates remain, and the changes are coming despite still high cases and deaths. Finland is on a similar trajectory. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has warned countries not to prematurely “declare victory” over the virus, saying COVID “continues to evolve”.
The Peruvian President reshuffles the Cabinet… again. Struggling Marxist President Pedro Castillo changed his government for the third time in six months, replacing half of its 18 members, including the finance minister and prime minister. The move came after Peru’s interior minister resigned late last week, accusing the president of thwarting anti-corruption efforts. The folkloric Castillo – a former rural schoolteacher who campaigned on horseback with a gigantic pencil – won an election last year on a promise to fight corruption. But he struggles to build working relationships with non-leftist parties, and his ministers keep getting caught up in scandals. A recent crime wave in the capital, Lima, and last month’s disastrous oil spill at the country’s largest refinery have not helped. The latest reshuffle raises questions over whether Castillo can complete his term. The Peruvian presidency is a notoriously fickle post – in 2019, a carousel of impeachments and resignations saw the country with three different presidents in a single month. Can Castillo stay in the saddle until the next election?