Jul 29, 2019

Beijing and Moscow stare down pro-democracy protests

Riot police in Hong Kong. Photo: Laurel Chor/Getty Images

Emboldened pro-democracy movements are testing China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The big picture: Beijing and Moscow have repeatedly horrified the world, but never one another, with their treatment of dissidents and protestors.

The latest from Hong Kong, where protests that began over a controversial extradition bill have expanded in scope and raged for 3 months:

  • Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters as tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of central Hong Kong on Sunday, Axios’ Orion Rummler writes.
  • A key protest location was the Yuen Long neighborhood — where thugs with suspected links to organized crime attacked protestors, journalists and commuters last weekend.
  • A defense spokesman hinted last week that the Chinese military might be called upon to restore order. That could be a death blow to the “one country, two systems” framework that governs relations with mainland China.
  • But in a highly anticipated assessment today, officials from China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office suggested it's up to Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leaders (whom it praised, along with police) to end the “chaos” on the streets.
  • Bill Bishop writes in his Sinocism newsletter that “we will probably see a ramping up of police deployments and aggressive tactics to control the protests, which in turn will probably backfire.”

The latest from Moscow, where opposition leader Alexei Navalny says he fears an “allergic reaction” suffered in jail may have been the result of poisoning:

  • Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in jail for organizing protests last week over the expulsion of opposition candidates from local elections.
  • In a blog post written today from his cell after he was brought back from the hospital, Navalny says he “woke up with a hot and prickly face, ears and neck.” He insists, “I have never had an allergy.”
  • Navalny’s personal doctor, who was unable to examine him up close, claims “this is the damaging effect of unidentified chemicals.”

A second round of protests in Moscow was violently dispersed on Saturday. “Officers clad in riot gear used batons against demonstrators,” some of whom had been chanting slogans such as "Russia without Putin,” Radio Free Europe reports. There were at least 80 injuries and 1,373 arrests.

  • “No one expected the City Duma vote to turn into such a headache for the Kremlin. The legislature has few significant political powers, and elections to the 45-seat body are traditionally low-key,” Marc Bennetts reports for Politico Europe.
  • “But political analysts say that the Kremlin is determined not to allow genuine opposition candidates to gain a foothold on the electoral ladder because it believes this would trigger the beginning of the end for Putin’s carefully managed political system.”

Worth noting: One of the many fronts on which Navalny has irritated the Kremlin is his criticism of its embrace of China, a relationship in which Russia is increasingly the junior partner.

  • “What Mr Putin is doing today will almost certainly make the next leader of Russia hostage to his China policy," he's quoted as saying in the Economist.

Go deeper

The strongmen vs. the streets

A protester is arrested on Saturday in Moscow. Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty

The world’s two most powerful authoritarian states have been unable to quell pro-democracy demonstrations that have now spanned several weeks and drawn global attention.

The latest: Flights out of Hong Kong were canceled today after protesters flooded into the airport, while Moscow witnessed its largest protests in seven years over the weekend. Video of police battering demonstrators has emerged from both cities. Broader crackdowns now seem likely, particularly in Hong Kong.

Go deeperArrowAug 12, 2019

Leading Putin critic Alexei Navalny hospitalized with mysterious illness

Alexei Navalny. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny was discharged from the hospital and sent back to jail Monday, despite suspicions raised by his personal doctor that he was poisoned with "undefined chemical substances" — not suffering from an allergic reaction, as had previously been reported.

Why it matters: Navalny is an anti-corruption lawyer whose fierce opposition to Vladimir Putin has caused him to be arrested and jailed by Russian authorities a number of times. Navalny's spokesperson says he has never had an allergic reaction in his life, raising questions about whether his illness could in fact be the product of political retaliation. Putin has been accused of poisoning or having political opponents assassinated in the past.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Jul 29, 2019

Hong Kong police fire tear gas on protesters as thousands rally across city

Protesters throw back tear gas fired by the police in Sham Shui Po district in Hong Kong Sunday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong police again fired tear gas at protesters, as thousands of people defied a ban to rally on the streets in several districts and at the international airport Sunday, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Activists have been repeatedly met with tear gas by riot police, as Hong Kongers mark the 10th straight weekend of protests. The former British colony retained a high degree of autonomy when it was returned to China in 1997 — including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary. Hong Kongers worry that’s all crumbling as the Chinese Communist Party tightens its grip on the territory, per Axios' Dave Lawler.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Aug 11, 2019