What to Make of Belarus’s Brazen Arrest of a Journalist
In Belarus, the controversial arrest of a prominent opposition activist will force a Western reaction, but the beleaguered opposition still faces major challenges, likely enabling the Belarusian regime to sustain its power.
On May 23, Belarusian authorities arrested the wanted opposition journalist Roman Protasevich after forcing a passenger plane that he was on to divert and land in Minsk, using the pretense of a bomb scare. The diverted Ryanair flight was headed to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where Protasevich, Tikhanovskaya and a number of other Belarusian opposition figures are based.
- Ryanair said the flight was nearly in Lithuanian airspace before it turned east toward Minsk after Belarusian air traffic controllers notified the plane’s crew of a potential security threat and instructed it to divert. According to Belarusian state media, President Aleksander Lukashenko personally gave the order to send a fighter jet to force the plane to land after authorities reportedly received a threatening email purporting to be from the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The alleged email, however, was sent three days after Hamas reached a cease-fire agreement with Israel to end their latest flare-up in Gaza, raising questions of authenticity.
- Emerging reports also suggest that members of the Belarusian security services surveilled Protasevich in Athens, boarded the flight and tried to convince the crew there was a bomb on board. At least one likely intelligence officer reportedly instigated a fight with crewmembers
to insist on the claim’s validity, although it remains unclear if or how this interaction played a role in diverting the plane.
- Six passengers — including Protasevich and his partner, who was also detained — did not return to the plane after Belarusian authorities searched luggage and cleared the flight to continue to Vilnius after a seven-hour delay. This lends credence to the claim that four intelligence officers were on the Ryanair flight and deplaned in Minsk.
The seemingly unprecedented incident adds to the Belarusian government’s expanding crackdown on dissent, which has increasingly targeted journalists in recent months, illustrating Lukashenko feels no compunction for blatant norm-breaking.
Protasevich fled Belarus in 2019, but was added to the country’s most-wanted list last fall for supposedly inspiring terrorism and mass unrest during the demonstrations that roiled the country in the wake of the Aug. 9 fraudulent presidential election.
China: EU, U.S. Politicians Coordinate Call for Beijing Olympics Diplomatic Boycott
Jun 7, 2021
A group of politicians in 11 North American and European countries issued a coordinated call June 7 for their governments to stage a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Why It Matters: The prominence of the Beijing Winter Olympics will raise the profile of Chinese human rights issues in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong as activists push for Western countries and companies to take action to tarnish Beijing’s efforts to present a positive global image at the upcoming games. China may respond to any high-profile statements or boycotts by leaders or corporations with the retaliatory measures it has deployed in the past.
Belarus: EU Formally Adopts Ban on Belarus Airlines
Jun 4, 2021
Belarus carriers will officially be banned from flying over EU territory or landing at EU airports beginning at midnight on June 5 amid calls from the country’s exiled opposition leader for more Western sanctions.
Why It Matters: The European Union’s quick action is intended to appease pressure for more action as the bloc works on imposing additional sanctions on Belarus after Belarusian authorities hijacked a commercial flight last month to arrest an opposition journalist.
Cuba: Government Legalizes Certain Private Sector Businesses
Jun 3, 2021
Cuba’s Council of Ministers approved legalizing private businesses in the country that have previously operated under the label of “self-employed,”
Why It Matters: This announcement is part of a broader economic shift in Cuba toward a blended system of public sector dominance and private sector activity, similar to that of China. This reform, in particular, will enable the thousands of privately owned businesses and agricultural cooperatives in the country to more easily scale operations. Such efforts to make Cuba more market-friendly could also draw increased investment from traditional allies like China, Russia and Iran.
U.S: Biden to Revamp Trump-Era Investment Ban on Chinese Companies
Jun 3, 2021
U.S. President Joe Biden will soon issue an executive order that overhauls Trump-era bans on investing in Chinese companies
Why It Matters: June 11 is the deadline for the Trump-era investment bans to go into effect on blacklisted Chinese companies, hence the Biden administration’s urgency to revamp the blacklist. Biden’s revisions will further specify criteria for investment bans, supporting his rules-based approach to diplomacy. The changes will also give his administration more leeway in implementing the bans amid early signs of U.S.-China trade talks.
Israel: Israel to Request Iron Dome Resupply During US Visit
Jun 2, 2021
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will visit the United States on June 3 to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and request a $1 billion resupply of the interceptor missiles used in Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system.
Why It Matters: The United States will likely approve the resupply of interceptor missiles, which Isreal leaned on heavily during the latest conflict with Palestinian militants. But this time, such support will prove more controversial among American legislators and voters, with likely greater media and political scrutiny. Helping Isreal replenish its Iron Dome system could also inspire more congressional pushback from Democrats who have become more vocally critical of U.S.-Israeli ties in the wake of last month’s violence.
Pakistan, Tajikistan: Countries Sign Defense Pact Amid Afghan Security Concerns
Jun 2, 2021
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed a series of agreements, including a defense cooperation pact, during their June 2 meeting in Islamabad.
Why It Matters: For neighboring countries like Pakistan and Tajikistan, the withdrawal of U.S. troops and uncertainty surrounding peace in Afghanistan pose severe security threats, particularly from terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime. This is particularly true for the regions near the Afghan border, where militant activity is already high in both Pakistan and Tajikistan.
U.K..: British Bid to Begin CPTPP Accession Process Accepted
Jun 2, 2021
The members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on June 2 accepted the United Kingdom’s bid to begin the accession process to join the trade bloc.
Why It Matters: The move represents part of the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit strategy of signing free trade agreements around the world. While this will create new trade opportunities for the United Kingdom, the CPTPP countries are very distant from it and are currently not among its main trading partners. If it does join, however, it will gain the power to veto the incorporation of new countries, such as China.
China: U.S. Allies Join Calls for Wuhan, Xinjiang Probes
Jun 1, 2021
The British intelligence agency MI6 is investigating the origins of COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan in coordination with similar U.S. probes.
Why It Matters: Western calls for Wuhan and Xinjiang investigations are likely to fall on deaf ears in Beijing. If these calls spread to more neutral areas like Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, however, China will feel pressure to respond with more than a dismissive tone. But even then, Beijing is not likely to allow objective thorough investigations into the origins of COVID-19 or the treatment of Uyghurs, as they would threaten Beijing’s narratives of effective Chinese governance.
Morocco’s willingness to use migrants as leverage to gain recognition of its Western Saharan claims will become a recurrent source of security and economic risk for Spain and other EU member states this summer. But this strategy will ultimately be limited by Rabat’s financial reliance on its European neighbors.
Switzerland’s decision not to update its partnership agreement with the European Union will create bilateral trade disruptions in the future as the existing deals expire or become outdated.
Unelected institutions are clearing the path for Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi to win the June 18 presidential election and possibly succeed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. As president, Raisi would be less apt to pursue domestic reforms, leaving little room for consensus with the West on issues that go significantly beyond the current scope of nuclear talks.
Catalonia’s new government will not make any significant unilateral moves toward secession and will instead focus on the region’s economic recovery. This will temporarily reduce one of the main sources of political risk in Spain, even as independence will remain the Catalan government’s long-term goal.
Economic growth seen this year is unlikely to be sustainable in the long term, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushes to cut interest rates in ways that further destabilize the country’s already fragile currency and financial situation.
The ideological differences within Israel’s new unity government will likely lead to its early demise — leaving open the potential of a more strongly right-wing Israeli government to take its place that would risk stoking more unrest in the Palestinian territories and further straining Israel’s relations abroad.
A resurgence of protests risks destabilizing the country’s one-year-old government ahead of October elections, but is unlikely to unseat Iran’s deep-rooted influence in Baghdad.
Widespread protests and congressional hesitancy will likely either significantly scale back or completely stop the government’s proposed tax reform, threatening the economy’s post-pandemic recovery.