23 January Update: Protests In Russia

Protesters took to the streets in cities across Russia on 23 January to challenge the government’s decision to arrest opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Bitter winter weather, the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of incarceration did little to deter thousands of people. Russian police and security forces were out in force, arresting over 3,000 demonstrators. This weekend’s gatherings indicate that there will be a large number of similar protests between now and parliamentary elections in September. This weekend’s protests only serve to highlight the resignations of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cabinet following his annual address to the Federal Assembly in which he proposed changes to the constitution which could potentially allow him to remain as the head of the Russian government past 2024 when his final term as president ends. More specific, Putin’s proposed political changes also place Navalny’s arrest under the microscope as many observers inside of, as well as outside Russia are making a connection between the two. After all, where there is smoke, there’s also generally fire.

Navalny was arrested almost immediately after returning to Russia from Germany. The fact that Russian authorities wasted little time moving against him has made the Kremlin appear nervous and vengeful. The action also serves to cast a deeper shadow over Putin and his intentions through the coming months as parliamentary elections approach. The potential for political unrest in Russia in the coming months is quite real. Vladimir Putin has had a hold on Russia for two decades. The majority of Russians continue to support their president, but that support is quite tentative. Putin will be acting to make certain that support does not collapse, while Navalny is undoubtedly working to erode that support and redirect it to his opposition movement.

The coming months promise to be active ones in Russia.

China’s Diplomatic and Military Activity Worries Taiwan

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In a televised interview with a CNN reporter, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen issued a warning about the People’s Republic of China’s growing military power, and increasingly assertive foreign policy in the region. Tsai said the threat of military action against Taiwan increases by the day, and she may not be exaggerating. China has been running live fire exercises close to Taiwanese territory on a regular basis lately, and there have been incidents of PLAAF aircraft flying dangerously close to Taiwan.

Beijing has also placed heavy diplomatic pressure on Taiwan with a presidential election coming there next year. International support for Taiwan has declined over the past few years largely because of Chinese efforts to undermine and isolate Taiwan. In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke of working towards the peaceful reunification of China, and Taiwan. Xi warned that Taiwan independence was a “dead end” and made it a point to mention that China did not rule out the use of force to bring Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province, back into the fold.

The opposition Kuomintang party (KMT) said it might be inclined to sign a peace deal with China if it wins the presidential election in 2020. Beijing has already begun making overtures to the party and will continue to in the leadup to the election. The purpose of the overtures is obviously to isolate Tsai’s government and help sway the election results.

On Wednesday, Tsai told reporters Taiwan will not accept an agreement that encroaches on the nation’s sovereignty, or democracy. She has called on the nation’s allies, and the international community as a whole to stand with Taiwan in the face of China’s threats and actions.