Dear Vladimir, we all love and respect you

It’s Monday, it’s a new week, and while we won’t pretend to know everything that’s going to happen over the next seven days, we have some sense of what’s coming up.

Here’s your briefing on some of the most important and interesting stories happening in the week ahead.

1) Putin takes to the screens

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Putin during last year’s four-hour chat

What’s happening?

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds his annual televised conference with a selected group of Russians. It’s usually a long one – his record is four hours and 40 minutes in 2008.

Why does it matter?

Some interesting little nuggets always come out of Putin’s annual Christmas performances, and this year is not likely to be any different.

First of all, expect plenty of praise from the people who call in to chat to him. One man last year began his call by saying: “Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, we all love and respect you.”

But the past two events have seen the Russian president devote time to discussing his relationship with US President Donald Trump. Last year, he attacked Trump’s opponents in the US for not treating Trump with enough respect, and went on to praise the US president’s achievements.

Will he be quite as effusive a year on, as the links between the Trump camp and Russia come under ever closer scrutiny by US investigators?

2) An inquest to watch

What’s happening?

A day before Putin’s address, a coroner in London is due to detail his findings on the death of a Russian businessman who died in mysterious circumstances.

Why does it matter?

Depending on what the coroner concludes, it could make already tense relations between Russia and the UK even more strained.

Alexander Perepilichnyy, 44, collapsed in November 2012 when out jogging near his mansion in Surrey. An investigation by Surrey Police later found he had died of natural causes.

Critics have argued a full investigation should look into whether Perepilichnyy, who was working to expose a money-laundering scheme linked to Russian organised crime, was poisoned.

Over the past few months, an inquest has been held to look into the circumstances of his death. But in the summer, it was decided that sensitive information that could have revealed whether Perepilichnyy was working with British spies would not be made public at the inquest.

3) 100 days to Brexit

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What’s happening?

Wednesday marks 100 days until the UK is due to drop out of the European Union.

Why does it matter?

Brexit starts to become even more real.

As we move towards the double figures of days leading up to 29 March 2019, it’s still not clear on what terms the UK will leave the EU – if at all.

The infighting among the governing Conservatives last week meant that a vote on PM Theresa May’s vision for Brexit was delayed.

There is one thing we can say with some certainty though: there’s no way of predicting what will happen in UK politics this week.

4) Tense times in DR Congo

What’s happening?

Africa’s fourth most populated country goes to the polls on Sunday, two years later than scheduled.

Why does it matter?

The build-up to the vote threatens to bring a return of more violence to a country of more than 80 million people.

DR Congo’s government said it had delayed the 2016 presidential elections because of clashes, but this allowed President Joseph Kabila to stay in office when he was supposed to leave at the end of his two terms (a move critics said was a power grab).

The country hasn’t had a peaceful democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. And as the date of the 2018 election nears, violence is breaking out again.

Last week, after deadly clashes, voting machines were destroyed in a large fire.

5) Lights out in the US?

What’s happening?

Unless the US Congress agrees on a funding deal for several government agencies by 23:59 EST on Friday (04:59 GMT on Saturday), the US government will shut down.

Why does it matter?

Any government shutdown can disrupt services across the country – from applications for visas and passport applications, to the (possible) closure of national parks.

We’ve been here before – most recently in January – and there have been a number of close calls, with funding deals struck at the last minute.

But it does look like a shutdown may happen this week, one that would probably last over Christmas.

A big bone of contention is Mr Trump’s insistence that any deal should include $5bn (£4bn) for border security, including for a wall along the border with Mexico.

In a meeting with leading Democrats last week, Mr Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government if he didn’t get the wall funded.

Watch this space.

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Media caption“See, we get along,” the president joked during testy exchanges with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer

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