Dec 5, 2017

To tell where Russia is headed, look to Putin's PM pick

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks during a TV interview broadcast in Moscow on Nov. 30, 2017. Photo: Alexander Astafyev, Sputnik / Government Pool Photo via AP

Although Russia's presidential election is not until March, it's clear that Vladimir Putin will be re-elected. What's less clear, and more interesting, is who he will then pick as his prime minister.

Putin's choice will offer hints about the agenda for his next term. A reform-oriented candidate like former finance minister Alexei Kudrin would signal acknowledgment of worries about the economy and willingness to take painful steps to improve it: reducing the state's economic footprint or addressing unsustainable social spending.

Last spring, current prime minister Dmitri Medvedev was thought to be a goner after corruption allegations against him and ensuing mass protests. Keeping him on would indicate that Putin is more confident in his stability. With questions about Putin's own political future only growing louder — he's 65 and this next term would be his last under constitutional limits — he may feel no need to rock the boat unless absolutely necessary.

The bottom line: In Russia, the president holds much more power than the prime minister. Ironically, Putin's choice of prime minister looks to be more telling than his own re-election.

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Japan to close schools through late March to control coronavirus outbreak

A couple takes photos in front of the Olympic rings in Tokyo. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday that the government will ask elementary, middle and high schools around the country to close until late March as an attempt to contain its novel coronavirus outbreak, AP reports.

Why it matters: The government's decision — impacting 12.8 million students across 34,847 schools — comes as concerns mount about the spread of the virus in Japan, which has 189 confirmed cases and hundreds more abroad the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship.

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What the coronavirus means for Trump's presidency

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A poor response to the coronavirus could be politically devastating for President Trump, and so far his administration has given the strong impression that it’s still scrambling as the risk of a pandemic mounts.

Why it matters: There’s only so much any president can do to stop a virus from spreading, and for now the coronavirus is still very much under control within the U.S. But if the disease get worse in the months ahead, and if the administration seems to be caught off guard, that spells trouble for public confidence in Trump.

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Coronavirus updates: New global case numbers surpass China's

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus is now affecting every continent but Antarctica and the WHO said Wednesday the number of new cases reported outside China has exceeded those inside the country for the first time.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected over 82,000 others in some 50 countries and territories. As Denmark and Estonia reported their first cases Thursday, Scott Morrison, prime minister of Australia — which has 23 confirmed infections — told a news conference, "The risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us."

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