Welcome to Tuesday, where Chinese authorities move quickly to suppress the anti Zero-COVID protests, Iran and the U.S. face off in a tense World Cup match, and a sleeping giant awakes in Hawaii. Meanwhile, Chinese-language media The Initium reports on a very different type of protest in China’s universities led by students fed up with harsh lockdowns.
The death of Belarus' Foreign Minister tightens Kremlin grip on Lukashenko
Whether or not the 64-year-old died of natural causes, the Kremlin is reinforced now in Minsk — leaving even less wiggle room for Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko, writes Oleksandr Demchenko in Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg.
Ukraine is closely following the events in Belarus, where the sudden death of Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei has sparked much discussion and speculation. Some are convinced that the 64-year-old was poisoned, perhaps targeted by the Kremlin to send a message to Belarus' strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko that he must increase his support for Moscow, including his readiness to enter the war against Ukraine.
Ukrainian politician and military observer,Alexei Arestovich doesn't back such a theory, taking at face value that Makei died of natural causes: If the Kremlin wanted to remove the president of Belarus, he says, they would have done it long ago. "I do not think that in such a country as Belarus, the death of even a significant politician will change anything if it is not the death of Lukashenko himself," said Arestovich.
Ukrainian newspaper Livy Bereg was focused on trying to understand what comes next after Makei's sudden death.
We probably won't know the cause of death in the near future, although Moscow and Minsk are trying to convince us that the Belarusian Foreign Minister died of natural causes. We will not speculate, but the experience that the special services of Russia and Belarus have in eliminating unfriendly diplomats cannot be ignored.
The death of Makei is an essential signal for Ukraine. His departure means that President Alexander Lukashenko has little to no opportunity to communicate with the West, a link to which the late Makei provided.
Some may say that Makei was an important figure in the system that Lukashenko built, some may even recall that the late Belarusian Foreign Minister was once seen as a successor to the Belarusian president. All this does not matter. Makei, like any Belarusian official, was essentially a nobody: he responded to the whims of Lukashenko, who always depended to some extent on Moscow. Now this dependence has arrived at virtually 100%.
Makei was the one who for many years was the main channel of external communication for Lukashenko: with Europe, Russia, or the domestic opposition. This changed to some degree after the 2020 protests when the West imposed sanctions against Makei.
Let's remember that Lukashenko has long been adept at making the system work for himself, not for Moscow. He created the means to be able to maneuver, which meant packing the law enforcement agencies of Belarus with those loyal to him, and that included Makei. This would wind up helping the regime survive during the protests nearly three years ago.
For some time, Makei was able to communicate with the Belarusian opposition, which, it should be said, was permeated with KGB agents. He was able to negotiate with Europe to ease sanctions against the regime, which always allowed Lukashenko to blackmail Moscow. Recently, Makei was the one who negotiated with the West to reduce penalties on Belarusian potash production in exchange for the release of some members of the opposition from Belarusian prisons.
It was Makei who recently held 10 separate meetings with foreign officials at the UN General Assembly, offering the terms of this "barter" in particular to the United States. Lukashenko sent signals to the West about his readiness to communicate through Makei. In reality, it was just another deception: the self-proclaimed head of Belarus wanted to mitigate the pressure from Europe and the United States to increase his price in negotiations with Moscow.
The Kremlin recently allocated 105 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) to Lukashenko for the so-called import substitution programs (in fact, for the war) and probably got tired of this game.
Like most of the Belarusian officials put in power by Lukashenko, the late Belarusian Foreign Minister defended the interests not of Belarus but of the regime. It allowed its leaders to enrich themselves and protect their wealth from Moscow oligarchs, which have been gradually taking everything away from them over the past two years.
After the failed attempt to overthrow Lukashenko's regime, Russian officials in Belarus, who were already numerous, gained new powerful positions. Now such Kremlin-friendly figures as the Secretary of State of the Security Council of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Volfovich will be in charge of some of the most critical processes in the country.
It is not simply Makei's death, or how he died, that is important, but the transition of Belarusian power into the hands of the Kremlin. The former Foreign Minister of Belarus was just an executor. And now Lukashenko has almost no room for maneuver.
— Oleksandr Demchenko / Livy Bereg
• China appears to quell protests: After nationwide protests over the weekend, Chinese authorities have promptly clamped down on anti-lockdown activists the past two days, with police arresting demonstrators, censoring millions of social media posts, and canceling of scheduled protests in Beijing and other cities.
• Kyiv Christmas, Pope v. Russian Minorities: Christmas trees will be put up around Kyiv despite the war, said Vitali Klitschko, mayor of the Ukrainian capital. "We cannot let Putin steal our Christmas." Meanwhile Moscow criticized Pope Francis’ singling out the Chechen and Buryat ethnic minorities as some of the "cruelest" Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.
• Somali troops end hotel siege: After a 20-hour battle, Somali security forces regained control of the Villa Rose hotel, ending a siege Tuesday by the al-Shabab extremist group that had seized the establishment used by government officials in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. At least 14 people were killed, including eight civilians.
• Three Palestinians killed in Israeli forces clashes: Three Palestinian men, including two brothers in their 20s, have been killed by Israeli forces in two separate incidents in the occupied West Bank. Israel’s search-and-arrest raids have left at least 140 Palestinians dead this year, the highest number of casualties since 2006.
• Markets rebound: News that Beijing was mulling changes to its zero-COVID policy sent Asian markets up, with Chinese stocks in Hong Kong jumping 5% by closing Tuesday.
• U.S. Iran face off in Qatar World Cup: The United States and Iran soccer teams will meet today in a politically charged game at the World Cup in Qatar which will see the loser eliminated from the competition.
• Nasa's Orion capsule breaks distance record: The Orion spacecraft, at the core of NASA’s Artemis I mission, has moved some 430,000 kilometers (267,000 miles) from the Earth, the furthest any spacecraft designed to carry humans has ever traveled.
“China stops the call for freedom” titles Amsterdam-based De Telegraaf which dedicates its front page to the protests in China against the Zero-COVID policy. The latest demonstrations led to massive arrests of protesters and authorities presumably censored millions of social media posts about or in support of the citizen uprising.
Following complaints that the word monkeypox fueled racist tropes and stigmatization, the World Health Organization will now start using “mpox” to designate the disease that was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Health experts also said the old nomenclature was imprecise since monkeys have almost nothing to do with the disease and its transmission. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year until monkeypox is phased out.
Chinese students' “absurd” protest against COVID lockdowns: public crawling
While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state, reports Shuyue Chen in Chinese-language media The Initium.
🎓 Crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it." The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned.
😷 Lockdowns in schools and the ever-intensifying political atmosphere in China have made university students like Xin depressed. All the news made her feel "suffocated," she said. She wanted to express her emotions, but there were no outlets. State-controlled media limited comments and discussions, while with strict censorship meant social media accounts are regularly blocked if COVID controls are discussed. Xin said that the public group crawling is "for people to forget these things temporarily, and to air our frustration in a simple way."
🚫 But crawling was deemed to be a more radical way of expression — and indeed soon caught the attention of the authorities. The day after Xin's crawl, she received an "urgent reminder" from her friend — photos and videos of students crawling had been leaked to teachers, and school authorities were now tracking down those who had participated. Her school's sports fields were immediately closed down, and students were gathered in an assembly to be told that “one should not crawl on the ground.”
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“The so-called ‘golden era’ is over.”
— In his first major foreign policy speech, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was the end of the “golden era” between the UK and China, as the “naïve idea that trade would lead to social and political reform” had shown its limits. Sunak added that it was time to “evolve our approach to China,” albeit without resorting to “simplistic Cold War rhetoric.” During his party leadership campaign earlier this year, Sunak was criticized for being too soft on China.
Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, has erupted for the first time in 38 years. Residents have been placed on alert and warned about the risk of falling ash, but no evacuation orders have been issued as populated areas are unlikely to be impacted for now. — Photo: USGS/ZUMA
• Important Things: A Rare Unfiltered Look Inside Russian Schools — VAZHNYYE ISTORII/IMPORTANT STORIES
• Gun Violence In America: Don't Blame The Victims — That Means Rappers Too — THE CONVERSATION
✍️ Newsletter by Bertrand Hauger, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Laure Gautherin
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