Welcome back to Axios World! We have 1,598 words (6 mins) worth of globetrotting to do this evening.
Johnson today on the campaign trail. Photo: Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be steaming toward the parliamentary majority he desperately desires to pass his Brexit deal and end the gridlock in Westminster.
Why it matters: Thursday’s vote is the culmination of three years of intense efforts to deliver Brexit, and to block it. The rocky road Johnson has plodded along since replacing Theresa May in July would become much smoother with a resounding electoral mandate.
Driving the news: This has been a brutal campaign fought by two leaders who are disliked and distrusted by broad swaths of the public.
The latest polls:
Breaking it down: James Johnson, who ran Downing Street’s polling under Theresa May, gives the Conservatives a 75% chance of a parliamentary majority.
Numbers to watch: Johnson's bar for success is the 326 seats needed for a majority, though he might keep the top job if he falls just short.
The big picture: Johnson has based his campaign on the argument that if the U.K. can only “get Brexit done,” it will be able to move onto other things, including a great new trade deal with the U.S.
Reality check: Peter Westmacott, a former U.K. ambassador to Washington, says even if Johnson’s Brexit deal passes, there will be “numerous dramas throughout the course of 2020” as the U.K. negotiates its future trading relationship with the EU, while a U.S.-U.K. trade deal will take “years of hard bargaining."
Trump at 10 Downing Street. It was, technically, a red carpet welcome. Photo: Alastair Grant-WPA Pool/Getty Images
Trump plays a central role in one of Corbyn's key claims: that Johnson plans to "sell out” the U.K.’s National Health Service to cut a trade deal with his "friend" in Washington.
Flashback: Trump is so politically toxic in the U.K. that Johnson, one of the few European leaders with whom he has genuinely warm relations, was careful not to get too close at last week’s NATO summit in London.
Between the lines: Johnson, the pollster, says focus groups suggest Trump isn’t as much of a liability with British voters as he’s made out to be.
Three U.S. administrations have, over 18 years, told the public the U.S. was making steady progress in Afghanistan despite knowing the war effort was failing.
Driving the news: The facts are laid bare in new reporting from the Washington Post, based on more than 2,000 pages of interviews conducted by a government oversight agency to determine what went wrong in Afghanistan. The Post gained access to the documents after a three-year legal battle.
The big picture: Generals, diplomats and other top officials generally describe a war effort without a functional strategy, along with a corresponding PR effort to obscure the dysfunction and hide setbacks.
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing. What are we trying to do here?"— Douglas Lute, a retired general and former Afghan war czar for Bush and Obama
By the numbers:
Ukrainians gather outside the Presidential Office building in Kiev ahead of the Normandy Four summit in Paris. Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
The “Normandy Four” — the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia — gathered for the first time in more than three years today, aiming to revive the stalled process toward peace in eastern Ukraine
Why it matters: Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the talks with all the leverage, Alina Polyakova of Brookings writes for Axios Expert Voices. Here's why:
1. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team are new to the diplomatic game. Putin prepares thoroughly for high-level meetings and knows his French and German counterparts well.
2. French President Emmanuel Macron is pursuing his Russia "reset," while German Chancellor Angela Merkel's weaker political standing at home has left her more vulnerable to pro-Russian voices in her government.
3. The U.S. had played an informal but important role in earlier negotiations, but its commitment appears shakier in light of the impeachment proceedings.
What to watch: Ukraine's best bet, though still a terrible deal, may be a perpetuation of the status quo dating to Russia's 2014 invasion: a simmering conflict that costs Ukrainian lives but doesn’t enshrine permanent Russian control of the region.
In other Russia and Ukraine news...
Go much deeper: Our Putin special report
Referendum day in Buka, the capital. Photo: Ness Kerton/AFP via Getty Images
The people of Bougainville voted Saturday on whether they want their island to become the world's newest country.
Why it matters: The FT notes that the referendum has "sparked a scramble for political influence among foreign mining companies, which want to establish operations in an area that contains copper and gold reserves estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars."
What to watch: The referendum is non-binding, and Papua New Guinea's leaders seem reluctant to grant independence.
People across the Arab world are "turning against religious political parties and the clerics who helped bring them to power," the Economist writes of a theme that runs through a wave of recent protests.
By the numbers: A recent Arab Barometer survey found that over the past five years across Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia and Libya...
The big picture: Most people still consider themselves religious in all six countries, but the Arab world's non-religious minority is growing strikingly fast.
Harvesting seaweed in Taizhou, China. Photo: Liu Zhenqing/VCG via Getty Images
Quoted, Nobel prize edition:
“We have been very clear about this and have clarified that there are several reasons we find this highly problematic."— Olav Njølstad, director of the Nobel Institute, on the unprecedented decision by this year's peace laureate — Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed — to skip all press appearances while receiving his award
"To many in the West, Suu Kyi’s decision to personally defend Myanmar’s purge of the Rohingya completes her transformation from symbol of hope to ambassador of hate."— The Washington Post on past laureate Aung San Suu Kyi heading to The Hague to defend the indefensible