Great power rivalry
Ukraine: A counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops advanced swiftly this week across territory that was due to be annexed by Russia, marking a humiliation for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and adding to fears that he may launch a nuclear strike.
The retreat by the Russian military from villages and countryside in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the southern Kherson region occurred just as Putin and his parliament moved to formalise the annexations of the regions. The Kremlin has warned it will view assaults on the annexed territory – which covers more than 15 per cent of Ukraine – as direct attacks on Russia, but was forced this week to acknowledge that the boundaries of at least two regions remain fluid.
“We will continue consultations with the population regarding the borders of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Putin last week repeated his nuclear threat, warning that he would use “all available means” to defend Russian territory. In Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, officials this week began equipping evacuation centres with pills that can counter radiation from a nuclear attack.
Ukraine has been trying to quickly advance before Russia is ready to deploy a further 300,000 conscripted troops. Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, told state media on Tuesday that more than 200,000 reservists had already been called up. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled abroad to escape the draft.
Putin said last week that he was willing to resume negotiations with Ukraine. On Tuesday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree that ruled out holding talks with Putin.
“It is the Kremlin that is doing absolutely everything for this war to end only on the battlefield, not at the negotiating table,” Zelensky said.
Solomon Islands: The government of Solomon Islands this week revealed it initially rejected a new pact between the United States and the Pacific over concerns that the wording was targeted at Beijing.
During a visit to New Zealand, Jeremiah Manele, the foreign minister of Solomon Islands, said his government was uncomfortable with the draft agreement because it “put us in a position that we have to choose sides”.
“We don’t want to be placed in a position that we have to choose sides,” he said.
Asked whether the sections that were removed related to China, he said: “Indirectly.”
Solomon Islands this year signed a secret security deal with China, which fuelled concerns in Washington, Canberra and Wellington about Beijing’s growing regional influence.
In an attempt to bolster ties, the US president, Joe Biden, hosted 14 Pacific leaders for a landmark summit last week. The summit resulted in a deal that included commitments by all attendees – including Solomon Islands – to co-operate on climate change, natural disasters and maritime security.
Manele told reporters in New Zealand this week: “We welcome the US re-engagement with the Pacific – and we look forward to working with all our partners.”
Democracy in retreat
Brazil: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the leftist factory worker who became president of Brazil, remains favourite to make a spectacular political comeback despite a surprisingly strong vote for the nation’s far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro.
At elections last Sunday, Lula won 48.4 per cent of the vote, compared with 43.2 per cent for Bolsonaro. The pair will now contest a runoff election on October 30.
Lula, who was president from 2003 to 2010, was a popular leader – at home and internationally – and won acclaim for his efforts to use the proceeds of the nation’s commodities boom to address poverty and inequality. But he was later imprisoned for 19 months, until 2019, over corruption and money-laundering convictions that were later annulled.
Since the end of Brazil’s mining boom in 2014, the economy has struggled and living standards have dropped. Bolsonaro, a Covid-19 vaccine sceptic who opposed lockdowns, has been blamed for worsening the devastating impacts of the pandemic, which left almost 700,000 people dead, the second-highest toll after the US.
Lula had been hopeful of winning an outright majority to avoid a runoff. He indicated this week that he may now make alliances with centrist political figures to try to shore up his vote.
The close result added to concerns that Bolsonaro – an admirer of Donald Trump – may lose the election but refuse to concede.
Bolsonaro has claimed that Brazil’s electronic voting system, which was introduced to prevent fraud, is vulnerable to manipulation and insists that he can lose only if the election is stolen. He performed much better last weekend than polls had predicted, allowing him and his supporters to claim vindication for their suggestion that he is being undermined by a corrupt democratic system.
On Monday, Bolsonaro said on social media: “I’ve never lost an election and I know I won’t lose this one. We won against the lying pollsters and now we will win the election.”
Spotlight: Truss’s tax U-turn
Britain: On Monday, Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, abandoned a £45 billion plan to cut taxes for high-income earners – a proposal that caused the pound to plunge and left the country on the brink of financial ruin.
Truss became the Conservative Party leader last month after Boris Johnson resigned following a series of political scandals. She then pushed for the tax cut despite it being roundly opposed by economists, Conservative MPs and the British public. The proposal sparked chaos and forced the Bank of England to take emergency action, buying £65 billion of government debt to stabilise the economy and prevent the failure of some pension funds.
But Truss this week made a humiliating U-turn. First, she conducted a round of interviews, defending the tax cut and insisting it would boost economic growth. As the pressure mounted, she blamed the tax cut on her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, telling the BBC the tax cut was “a decision that the chancellor made”. Finally, on Monday, she and Kwarteng announced the cut was being shelved.
“We get it, and we have listened,” Kwarteng said in a tweet.
The proposal to abolish the 45 per cent tax rate for those earning £150,000 or more came as a recession looms and many Britons are struggling to cope with soaring inflation.
Grant Shapps, a Conservative MP and former cabinet minister, wrote in The Times that his leader should not “be making big giveaways to those who need them least”.
“When pain is around, pain must be shared,” he wrote.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 8, 2022 as "Brazil to return to polls as Lula falls just short of majority".
For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.
All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.
There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.
Select your digital subscription