Foreign Policy

Navalny Protests Sweep Russia as Kremlin Cries U.S. Interference

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russia hits out at the United States following nationwide protests, Greece and Turkey meet for boundary talks, and tensions over Taiwan increase.

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Navalny Protests Sweep Russia

Russian authorities have attempted to deflect attention from Saturday’s nationwide street protests—the largest in years—by accusing the United States of interfering in the country.

On Saturday, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the U.S. embassy in Moscow of fanning the flames of dissent by publishing protest times and routes (as part of a notice to avoid such gatherings) on the embassy website. “What was that: a setup or an instruction?” Zakharova told the Russian news agency TASS, adding that if the Russian embassy in Washington had done the same during U.S. protests “global hysteria” would ensue.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added on Sunday said the U.S. embassy move was, albeit indirectly, an “absolute interference” in Russia’s internal affairs.

The government’s rhetorical counters came after thousands of Russians across roughly 100 towns and cities protested amid freezing winter temperatures on Saturday, heeding a call from detained anti-Putin activist Alexei Navalny to take to the streets to demand his release.

Over 3,500 people were arrested during the protests, according to the monitoring group OVD Info—the most arrests the NGO had ever recorded in one day.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin has successfully weathered unrest during his almost two decades in power, the protests come on the heels of other public displays of dissatisfaction: In the summer, thousands marched in Khabarovsk, in Russia’s Far East to protest the detention of regional governor Sergei Furgal before taking on an anti-Kremlin tone.

Despite the anti-U.S. rhetoric, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said he was hopeful that “rational kernels” of cooperation could be found in talks he hoped would take place between the two countries soon, which likely means the door is open to continue talks on extending the New START nuclear weapons agreement.

More sanctions? Polish President Andrzej Duda thinks so. Speaking to the Financial Times, Duda said more sanctions were “absolutely justified” based on the case of Navalny and Russia’s involvement in Georgia and Ukraine. Duda said Poland was ready to “build consensus” on the issue, saying it was the only way to achieve results “without rifles, cannons and bombs is via sanctions.”

A problem from Obninsk. Writing in Foreign PolicyVladislav Davidzon explains why Navalny has got under the skin of a “hybrid political regime that Putin has constructed,” which “has allowed a great deal of space for all sorts of ambiguity and blowing off steam.” By attempting to embarrass and therefore challenge Putin so directly, Navalny is forcing the Russian system “to make a decision about how to deal with him that it has no interest in making.”

On Monday, Jan. 25, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to deliver the article of impeachment against former U.S. President Donald Trump to the Senate today.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a vote on the nomination of Antony Blinken to serve as Secretary of State.

Acting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte hosts the two-day Climate Adaptation Summit.

The World Economic Forum hosts the annual Davos summit virtually—featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a host of political and business leaders.

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, an order from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requiring all travelers entering the United States to have received a negative COVID-19 test within three days before their flight takes effect.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party holds its 13th Party Congress to elect the party’s General Secretary and Politburo and set out priorities for the next five years.

India celebrates Republic Day, a national holiday marking the day in 1950 when the country became a republic. A tractor protest by farmers over new agriculture laws is planned to coincide with celebrations.

On Wednesday, Jan. 27, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for her confirmation hearing.

The U.S Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decides whether to raise, lower or maintain U.S. interest rates.

Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund hosts the Future Investment Initiative annual conference featuring global business leaders.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, Biden announces a number of health care actions, including rescinding the so-called “Mexico City Policy,” which prevents non-governmental organizations from receiving global health funding if they include abortion in family planning advice.

Transparency International releases its annual Corruption Perceptions Index country rankings.

Sadyr Japarov is expected to be sworn in Kyrgyzstan’s next president following his victory in a presidential election on Jan. 10.

On Friday, Jan. 29, Biden announces a new set of immigration actions, including the creation of a task force on family reunification, a review of the so-called “public charge” rule, and expanding opportunities for legal migration.

What We’re Following Today

Greece-Turkey talks. Greek and Turkish officials meet in Istanbul to begin exploratory talks aimed at resolving maritime boundaries between the two countries. According to reports, Turkey wants to expand the agenda of talks to include questions of airspace and the demilitarization of some Greek islands. The talks, which had been on hiatus for five years, gained fresh impetus in August after a Turkish seismic survey ship began oil and gas explorations in waters Greece claims as its exclusive economic zone. 

Taiwan tensions. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Beijing to “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan” after Chinese fighter jets and bombers crossed the midline of the Taiwan strait on both Saturday on Sunday. The move comes as the Trump administration elevated the level of formal U.S. relations with Taiwan in its final days, removing restrictions barring contact between U.S. and Taiwanese officials. Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States attended President Joe Biden’s inauguration last week, the first time a Taiwanese government official has been invited to a U.S. presidential inauguration since 1979.

Italy vaccine pressure. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday that the country would take legal action against pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and AstraZeneca for failing to deliver the volume of vaccines as stated in their supply contract. Both companies have blamed manufacturing issues for the delays in distribution.

European Council President Charles Michel said he shared Italy’s concerns, and warned that the European Union plans to use “legal means” to make the companies respect their contracts. Italy’s Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri said the delay has pushed back the country’s vaccine program for over-80s by four weeks.

Estonia’s new government. A woman will lead Estonia’s government for the first time in its history after Estonia’s two largest parties reached a coalition deal on Sunday. Kaja Kallas, the chair of center-right Reform party will lead a government alongside the Center Party. Jüri Ratas, the Center Party leader who resigned as prime minister last week following a corruption scandal involving members of his party, will not be part of the new cabinet.

Democrats speak out on Palestinian vaccine access. Several Democratic lawmakers have criticized Israel for not making efforts to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who recently ran unsuccessfully for chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Haaretz on Sunday that while he commended Israel’s vaccination campaign, he was “disappointed and concerned by their government’s exclusion of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation from these vaccination efforts, despite making COVID vaccines available to Israeli settlers in the West Bank.” Castro’s remarks came after similar statements from Sen. Tim Kaine as well as Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, and Marie Newman.

Vaccine inequality. A new study from the International Chamber of Commerce predicts the global economy could lose as much as $9 trillion next year if vaccines are not distributed more equitably to poorer countries. The authors note that more than half of the economic damage would be wrought in rich countries that are expected to already have their populations vaccinated by the end of 2021. 

Scottish independence. The Scottish National Party published a “Roadmap to Referendum” document on Saturday as the majority party in Scotland’s devolved parliament pushes for an independence vote. The document calls for a bill to be passed authorizing a referendum once the pandemic subsides, daring Westminster to challenge the referendum’s legality in court. The plan hinges on the SNP winning a parliamentary majority in elections scheduled for May 6, which polls show it is on course to do.

French lawmakers have passed a bill to protect “the sensory heritage of the countryside” following a string of disputes over noisy animals and some of the pungent smells they leave behind.

The law is meant to give local officials a way to respond to complaints brought by residents and newcomers. In recent years, courts have issued a restraining order against a horse for leaving its droppings too close to a neighbor’s fence, as well as an order for a couple to drain their pond after local residents complained about frogs croaking too loudly.

“Our rural territories are not just sceneries, they are also sounds, smells, activities and practices that are part of our heritage,” Joël Giraud, France’s junior minister for rural life told the French Senate. “New country dwellers aren’t always used to it.”

That’s it for today.

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