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Morning Brief

World Leaders Mark Auschwitz Liberation Without Poland

Disagreements between Poland and Russia cast a shadow over the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gestures following a dinner reception at his official residence in Jerusalem, on Jan. 22.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gestures following a dinner reception at his official residence in Jerusalem, on Jan. 22. HEIDI LEVINE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: World leaders are in Jerusalem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, China locks down the city of Wuhan amid fears of coronavirus as millions of Chinese prepare to travel for Lunar New Year, and opening arguments continue in Trump’s impeachment trial.

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World Leaders Gather in Jerusalem Amid Poland-Russia Feud

World leaders have gathered in Jerusalem today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prince Charles, and French President Emmanuel Macron speaking at the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. There is one notable absence: Polish President Andrzej Duda, who declined to attend because Putin was given a speaking slot as a leader of a main Allied power.

Russia and Poland are embroiled in a disagreement over how World War II began, and particularly over the Soviet Union’s 1939 nonaggression pact with Germany. On Monday, Duda will lead another ceremony at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp—to which Putin was not invited. The feud has cast a shadow over the commemoration, where Israel hoped to present a united front against anti-Semitism.

What is the feud about? In recent months, Putin’s government has downplayed parts of the Soviet Union’s World War II legacy—such as attacking Poland from the east as Germany attacked it from the west in 1939—and highlighted its role in the liberation of Poland from the Nazis. That’s led Poland to accuse Russia of rewriting history.

Putin last month appeared to blame Poland for the outbreak of war—remarks that were unusual even by his standards. While Putin has clearly done some archival research, his historical revisionism wouldn’t earn him a passing grade at any reputable university, Sergey Radchenko argues in FP.

What about Polish revisionism? Poland, meanwhile, has faced criticism that it is ignoring the role of some Poles who aided the Nazis. Indeed, the Polish government’s own questioning of Poles’ role in the Holocaust—and its effort to criminalize any mention of Polish responsibility—led to a diplomatic standoff with Israel last year and prompted Israel’s foreign minister to declare that Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.”

Historical memory. At a state dinner in Jerusalem on Wednesday, speakers urged those in attendance to unite in the fight against modern anti-Semitism. There has been speculation that the event in Israel is biased because it was organized by a Russian-Jewish billionaire with ties to Putin. Avner Shalev, the chairman of Yad Vashem, denied those rumors. “We’re in the business of historical truth,” he told the New York Times. “We don’t want to play any political game.”

What We’re Following Today

Lunar New Year kicks off amid virus crisis. Wuhan, China’s seventh largest city—with approximately 11 million people—faces a partial quarantine from 10 a.m. Chinese time today, according to a newly issued government notice. Flights, long-haul buses, and trains from the city, have been canceled. The closure of a major transport hub comes as hundreds of millions of Chinese begin traveling for the Lunar New Year. Already some people have canceled trips or planned to avoid public spaces.

On Wednesday, Chinese officials confirmed more 544 cases of the virus and 17 deaths within China, with the virus now spreading beyond the country’s borders. Five other countries have also reported cases, and airports around the world have stepped up screening of travelers from China.

The World Health Organization will decide today whether to declare a global emergency in response to the virus. Chinese pressure has kept Taiwan out of that meeting—despite the fact that Taiwan has been affected by the virus, Natasha Kassam writes for FP.

For more news and analysis on stories like this, sign up for China Brief, delivered on Wednesdays.

Opening arguments continue in the U.S. Senate. Opening arguments by House prosecutors in U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continue today in the Senate. They have been granted 24 hours over three days to lay out their case, which hinges on the allegation that the president withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure it to investigate a political rival. Trump’s lawyers pushed for a speedy trial, but Republican senators are not likely to dismiss the case before hearing arguments. Votes will be held next week over whether to admit new evidence.

Newly released documents show that some senior Republican senators—who are now sitting as jurors—were already questioning the Trump administration’s decision to withhold the military aid, FP’s Robbie Gramer reports.

ICJ issues a decision in Myanmar case. The International Court of Justice decides today whether to grant a request for emergency measures in a case that alleges Myanmar is committing genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The U.N. court’s ruling on “provisional measures” to stop further atrocities would be the first step in a legal case expected to take years. The lawsuit was brought to the ICJ by Gambia in November with the backing of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.

Keep an Eye On

The plot to hack Jeff Bezos. U.N. experts say they have evidence indicating the “possible involvement” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an alleged hack against a phone belonging to Amazon chief and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos in 2018. The experts are now urging the United States to investigate the allegations, based on a report that suggests a malicious file was sent to Bezos from a WhatsApp account used by Mohammed bin Salman.

Italy’s ruling coalition. The leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, resigned on Wednesday amid internal disagreements. The move increased the chances of another political crisis in Italy, where far-right leader Matteo Salvini is pushing for early elections. Salvini’s League party faces a major electoral test on Sunday in the region of Emilia-Romagna—traditionally a leftist stronghold.

U.S. veterans’ criticism of Trump. On Wednesday, Trump seemed to brush off injuries sustained by U.S. troops during Iran’s strike on a military base in Iraq earlier this month. The service members are being evaluated for possible traumatic brain injuries, and Trump’s remarks immediately drew criticism from veterans’ advocates, FP’s Lara Seligman reports.

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Odds and Ends

Across Bolivia, the interim government is removing references to former President Evo Morales, who held office for 14 years and stepped down in November under pressure. Murals have been painted over, soccer stadiums renamed, and statues toppled in attempt to undo what interim President Jeanine Áñez has called a “personality cult” around Morales.

The world’s Doomsday Clock is up for its annual adjustment today, when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decides whether the world is moving closer to its end, considering threats from nuclear war and climate change. The metaphorical clock is already set at two minutes to midnight—the closest it’s ever been. The group did not move the minute hand last year.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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