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World Leaders to Watch in 2018

As traditional values are tested and global economies shift, three political figures stand in positions to change the fabric of world affairs.

Since Kim Jong-un became supreme leader in 2011, he has refocused the global spotlight on the Hermit Kingdom. North Korea’s threats aimed at the US and President Donald Trump’s public spat with the young dictator have dominated headlines across international media, sparking worldwide concern.

With at least 89 confirmed missile tests conducted by the current regime, including a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile launched in November 2017 that theoretically places most of the planet in its 13,000-kilometer range, nuclear tensions have reached the highest peak since the Cold War. With the 2018 Winter Olympics set to open in South Korea in February, the Korean neighbors have engaged in their first diplomatic talks in two years, raising hopes of an easing of strained relations between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington.

Mohammed bin Salman’s swift rise to power in 2017, when he became Saudi Arabia’s crown prince aged just 31, has made him one of the most influential figures in the Middle East. His Vision 2030 outlines a blueprint to modernize the kingdom’s traditionally conservative society and diversify the economy away from oil dependency. The crown prince sent shockwaves through Saudi Arabia when he pledged to return the country to “moderate Islam,” confirmed the lifting of the ban on women drivers decreed by his father, King Salman, last year, and launched a controversial anti-corruption purge that saw some of the country’s most prominent men arrested.

MBS, as he is known, will play an important part in the global economy in 2018 as he considers the sale of approximately 5% of  Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, which would shatter all previous records of initial price offerings.

Come March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be up for re-election. Although his victory is but a foregone conclusion, support for anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny continues to grow across the country. Although Navalny was prevented from registering his candidacy, he presents a challenge to the regime that none of the other presidential hopefuls can muster, making the Kremlin palpably nervous.

Many critics dismiss the upcoming election as political theater, but the threat of social mobilization, especially among Russia’s youth, across the country could usher in even harsher domestic repression and aggressive foreign policy for the upcoming six years of Putin’s presidency.

*[This article has been updated on January 12, 2017.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: karawan / Shutterstock.com