Morning Brief

Russia Dismisses International Criticism of Navalny Verdict

Navalny’s sentence means he will be unable to contest September’s parliamentary elections.

Law enforcement officers block Moscow's Manezhnaya Square on February 2, 2021.
Law enforcement officers block Moscow's Manezhnaya Square on February 2, 2021. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Russian dissident Alexei Navalny is sentenced to prison, Myanmar civil unrest begins to stir, and Mario Draghi may be Italy’s next prime minister.

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Hundreds Arrested as Navalny Sentenced

A Moscow court handed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny a prison sentence of two years and eight months on Tuesday, as authorities hope to put an end to a saga that has seen thousands of Russians take to the streets in protest over the last two weeks.

That support showed no sign of waning outside the court after the verdict was announced: Over 900 protesters were arrested yesterday, according to a monitoring group.

The court found that Navalny had broken the terms of his probation for a previous conviction for stealing $500,000 from two companies. Navalny denies the charges, and the European Court of Human Rights at the time called the case “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

The reasoning behind his probation breach is murky, as Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have approved Navalny’s transfer to a German hospital for treatment after he was poisoned in August.

More to come? Navalny’s relatively short prison term could soon be extended, as investigators prepare a fraud case that could carry another ten-year sentence. As Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon reports, Tuesday’s sentence may be just enough if it means Navalny will not be a threat in September’s parliamentary elections.

The Kremlin has dismissed international condemnation of the verdict. “You should not interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. And we recommend that everyone deal with their own problems,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

Shaken, or only stirred? Writing in Foreign Policy Vladislav Davidzon argues that the Russian response “has not been anywhere as smooth as normal,” a signal that the authorities don’t quite know whether to approach the problem of Navalny with cunning or brute force. Alexander Gabuev has a rather more pessimistic view: That events in Belarus—and the lessons learned there from weeks of protests—will help Russia’s authorities weather the unrest, no matter how long it takes.

What We’re Following Today

In Myanmar, civil unrest stirs. Staff at 70 hospitals in Myanmar conducted work stoppages on Wednesday in protest of Monday’s military coup, according to the newly formed Myanmar Civil Disobedience Movement. The move follows sporadic chanting and the banging of pots and pans in the city of Yangon as citizens begin to show public signs of unease with the military takeover.

On Tuesday, the United States officially designated the power grab as a coup, meaning U.S. aid to the country will now be reviewed. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council remains deadlocked on the text of a resolution condemning the coup.

Iran reaches agreement with South Korea. Iran has agreed to release the crew of a South Korean oil tanker in what its foreign ministry called a “humanitarian” move after the vessel was impounded in early January. The vessel’s seizure was believed to be a bargaining chip to convince South Korea to free up $7 billion in Iranian funds currently frozen in South Korean banks as a result of U.S. sanctions.

South Korea’s foreign ministry welcomed Iran’s decision to release the sailors, saying it was a necessary next step to “restore trust” before resolving the issue of the frozen funds. Regarding the funds, the ministry stated it “will do what it can in a speedy manner while discussing consultations with the United States on the issue.”

Italy’s new prime minister? Italian President Sergio Mattarella meets with Mario Draghi this morning to explore whether the former head of the European Central Bank could form a government of national unity after Giuseppe’s Conte’s attempts to salvage a coalition failed. Calling early elections ill-advised, Mattarella said his duty was “to appeal to all political forces [to support] a high-profile government.”

Support for Draghi is split between major parties, making a broad coalition difficult. A senior member of the 5-Star Movement—the largest parliamentary grouping—said they would not back him, while the Democratic Party said it stood ready to offer support. That leaves Draghi needing the support of right-wing parties whose allegiances are as yet undeclared.

Keep an Eye On

Vaccine nationalism. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus condemned vaccine nationalism as “morally indefensible” in a full-throated call to arms to the international community published in Foreign Policy on Tuesday. Tedros also suggested vaccines could be made available to more countries by sharing vaccine technology and temporarily suspending intellectual property rights. “Vaccine nationalism combined with a restrictive approach to vaccine production is in fact more likely to prolong the pandemic—which would be tantamount to medical malpractice on a global scale,” Tedros writes.

Iran upgrades nuclear facilities. Iran has installed new advanced centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow nuclear sites, according to Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The new equipment has a higher capacity for uranium enrichment, making it easier to surpass purity levels previously prohibited under the Iran nuclear deal. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Iran’s move increased U.S. “urgency” to tackle Iran’s nuclear program, although no schedule for talks has been announced.

Odds and Ends

A Taiwanese man has been granted a reprieve from paying a hefty fine for breaking strict coronavirus quarantine requirements after authorities discovered he had been kidnapped.

The man, described in the New York Times as Mr. Chen, had been staying with a friend in order to observe the two-week mandatory quarantine after arriving from Hong Kong when debt collectors came to the house, mistook Chen for the homeowner who owed them money, and forcibly removed him from the premises.

After Chen’s abduction was reported to the police, those same authorities arrested him and issued a roughly $3,500 fine for breaking quarantine. A further investigation uncovered the reason behind Chen’s sudden departure, and the fine was rescinded.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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