It's a big week: Putin takes office, Syria holds elections, and North Korea takes a worrying step closer to nuclear capability. But it's not all doom and gloom: enjoy the spectacle of top Murdoch executives fielding awkward questions at Britain's Leveson inquiry.
Putin back in office
Vladimir Putin returns as president of Russia on Monday, having served two consecutive four-year terms at the start of the millennium. This time around, he's allowed to serve six years. But a bigger difference is that Putin's critics are no longer lurking in the shadows: the run-up to the election was marked by mass protests against his regime, and police detained more than 250 people after demonstrations turned violent on the eve of Putin's inauguration. Will his historic third term fix any of Russia's worsening economic and social problems? Don't hold your breath.
Syria is finally holding elections this week, but the process will be a sham. Continuing violence and an opposition boycott means the cosmetic vote will leave power firmly in the hands of President Bashar al-Assad. The vote has been postponed until now so that Assad could launch a "reform process", without addressing the absurdity of one party unilaterally imposing "democratic" reforms.
Nuclear North Korea?
There is speculation that North Korea will test a “highly enriched uranium device” in the coming week. Military forces in neighbouring nations are on high alert. But if the test goes ahead, the world will most likely react as it has before: with a few grumbles, as almost every conceivable sanction is already in place. Last month, a rocket that most observers agree was part of a ballistic missile programme crashed moments after launch. Even if this week's test is successful, the consensus is that North Korea is not yet close to creating viable nuclear weapons.
Murdoch in the hot seat
Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International, appears before the Leveson inquiry on Friday – Andy Coulson, former editor of Murdoch's News of the World and spin doctor to prime minister David Cameron, will take the stand on Thursday. The inquiry, set up to investigate press ethics in the wake of the UK's phone-hacking scandal, will probe further into the dodgy relationship between the Murdoch empire and senior politicians and police officers. Expect more damaging revelations.