Myanmar’s Military Stages a Coup

Myanmar’s Military Stages a Coup

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Myanmar’s military seizes control in a coup, thousands take to the streets of Russia to protest for a second week in a row, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes his first public comments on nationwide farmer protests.

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Myanmar Coup Puts Halt to Democratic Transition

Myanmar’s military has seized control of the country and detained several leaders of the democratically elected National League for Democracy party (NLD)—including the country’s de facto president Aung San Suu Kyi.

The coup began with mass arrests in the early hours of Monday morning, on the same day lawmakers were to take their seats in parliament for the opening session following November’s election. A statement read later on military-run television, signed by Vice President Myint Swe, said control of “legislation, administration and judiciary” was now in the hands of General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of Myanmar’s military, for the next 12 months.

That election had been the subject of increased tension between the military—who still controlled key state ministries as well as holding a quarter of seats in parliament—and the NLD. Without evidence, military leaders have alleged massive voting irregularities—10 million cases of voter fraud—and demanded voter lists be released by the country’s election commission for analysis.

A complicated landslide. November’s vote saw the NLD win a landslide victory, increasing their overall majority in parliament. Although international observers did not point to widespread fraud, the election was criticized for disenfranchising Myanmar’s ethnic minorities: Virtually all Rohingya are barred from voting and voting was canceled in Rakhine state, home to both Rohingya and the Buddhist Rakhine minority.

Fears of a coup were driven to high point in recent days after Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in a speech published in the military-run Myawaddy newspaper, warned it may be “necessary to revoke the constitution” in certain circumstances.

Pressure on Biden. Those circumstances arriving not only put the future of Myanmar’s democracy movement in question, but add another pressing issue for a Biden administration eager to reorient U.S. policy toward Asia. In a foreshadowing of possible sanctions, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the United States “will take action against those responsible,” if the military’s moves are not soon reversed.

The World This Week

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a U.S. audience on transatlantic relations as he takes part in a virtual discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council.

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations following her confirmation hearing last week.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to deliver a speech outlining his plans for U.S. foreign policy over the course of his presidency.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borell begins a three day trip to Russia, beginning with a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

On Saturday, Feb. 6, African Union heads of state and government meet for a leaders summit in Addis Ababa.

On Sunday, Feb. 7, Ecuador holds presidential and legislative elections. Andrés Arauz, the 35-year-old left-wing protegé of former President Rafael Correa, and Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker, lead the polls heading into the presidential vote.

What We’re Following Today

Navalny protests erupt again. Protests in support of jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny continued on Sunday, as more than 5,000 protesters were arrested across the country. Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, was one of those detained by police, although she was later released.

The Sunday protests, if they begin to follow the same pattern as Belarus, could end up a carefully managed sideshow for Russian President Vladimir Putin. As Alexander Gabuev writes in Foreign Policy, a few street protests will not be enough to dislodge the Russian leader. “It is very hard to see how weekly protests … will somehow force a regime willing to poison a prominent opposition leader with a deadly nerve agent to simply let Navalny go free,” he writes.

EU U-turn. European Union officials have admitted to making a “blunder” after the European Commission invoked emergency powers on Friday to impose trade restrictions across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—effectively undermining their longstanding opposition to a hard border on the island during years of Brexit negotiations and uniting British and Irish leaders in anger.

The decision, soon reversed, was made as part of the EU’s imposition of export controls, still in place, on coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc. The World Health Organization’s vice-head Mariangela Simao has criticized the move as part of “a very worrying trend.”

Modi speaks on farmer protests. Ahead of today’s budget announcement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the actions of some protesters during last week’s farmer protests in New Delhi an “insult” to India’s flag—his first public comments after months of farmer unrest. His comments came after protesters raised the Sikh religious flag as well as a farmer’s union flag alongside India’s tricolor after they had stormed the historic Red Fort on India’s national holiday.

Modi, speaking in his monthly radio address, added that his government is “committed to modernizing agriculture and is also taking many steps in that direction.”

Keep an Eye On

Taiwan tensions. Taiwan’s defense ministry announced that six Chinese fighter aircraft had entered its air identification zone on Sunday, along with one U.S. reconnaissance aircraft—a rare admission of U.S. activity around the island. Taiwanese officials said that both countries’ aircraft had flown inside the south-western corner of its declared zone. The increased aerial traffic comes as Chinese forces are reported to have simulated missiles strikes on a nearby U.S. aircraft carrier as part of a military exercise days after Biden’s inauguration.

Central African Republic’s refugee exodus. Over 200,000 people have fled the Central African Republic since violence erupted following a disputed presidential election on Dec. 27, the United Nations refugee agency has reported.

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, a 12-member regional group, has called for a cease-fire, as well as the lifting of a 2013 U.N. arms embargo in order to provide weapons to government troops. Writing in Foreign Policy on Jan. 29, former U.S. Ambassador to CAR Laurence Wohlers explained why the prospects for wider international intervention are limited.

Odds and Ends

Scandinavia’s largest film festival is reflecting upon the coronavirus pandemic and themes of social isolation by giving one movie buff the chance to watch the festival’s offerings alone for a week on a desolate island. Lisa Enroth, an emergency nurse, was selected among thousands of volunteers to experience “The Isolated Cinema” that organizers have set up at the top of a lighthouse on the island of Hamneskar in western Sweden.

The unusual treatment is part of artistic director Jonas Holmberg’s vision for the festival, where he hopes to highlight how the pandemic has changed a viewer’s relationship with film.

Movies will still be shown at the festival’s traditional home—the 700-seat Draken cinema in Goteborg—although only one ticket, drawn by lottery, is available for each screening.

That’s it for today.

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By Staff Writer