Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Russia’s crackdown on protesters supporting jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is known for his arguments against President Vladimir Putin. Reuters reports that over 5,300 people have been detained for demanding the release of Navalny, and the U.S. contemplates an appropriate response to this show of force. On January 31st, Blinken told NBC News he was “deeply disturbed by the crackdown” on Russian protesters that Sunday. Despite Blinken’s determination to address the tensions in Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov advised against any new sanctions by the U.S. and claimed Moscow will ignore Blinken’s comments. While not committing to specific actions, Blinken stated he is not only reviewing protests for Navalny, but “Russian election interference in 2020, the SolarWinds hack and alleged bounties for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan,” says Reuters. The new Secretary of State also noted that Biden “could not have been clearer in his conversation with President Putin” during their telephone call last week, reiterating Russia’s need for policy reform.
Blinken also shared opinions on controversial diplomatic matters regarding several other countries. In reference to citizens losing personal freedoms in Hong Kong, he stated that “if they’re the victims of repression from Chinese authorities, we should do something to give them haven.” According to Reuters, he also criticizes China’s “lack of transparency” in allowing experts to study origin sites of coronavirus. Lastly, Blinken expresses concern over nuclear weaponry in Iran and North Korea. According to his interview with NBC News, he warns it could be only “a matter of weeks” before Iran is able to produce a nuclear weapon as restraints continue to lift following Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 deal. To promote denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Blinken wants to work with U.S. allies and create other “diplomatic incentives.”
To have success in diplomatic affairs, the U.S. must mend alliances and address present world conflicts. The Biden administration also must categorize issues that either require or do not require American intervention. According to Blinken, the U.S. should remain relatively detached from the unrest in Russia; however, they should get involved in protecting Chinese refugees.
Blinken references the ongoing turmoil in Russia and his criticism of how the government is handling the conflict. On January 31st, 2021, protesters “were met with the harshest show of force by Russian security services in years,” says CNN. In 85 different cities, more than 5,000 people have been detained, a record since protests in 2011. Citizens now protest the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who led mass demonstrations against Putin’s government in 2017 and 2018.
Navalny has a significant history with anti-corruption campaigns in Russia. He rose to prominence in 2008 when he started blogging about malpractice and corruption by the Russian government. BBC News labels him a “thorn in the Kremlin’s side” who attracts a mainly young audience. Navalny has tarnished the reputation of United Russia by denouncing it as “a party of crooks and thieves” involved in vote-rigging.
In a personal fight with President Putin, Navalny accuses Putin of poisoning him in August 2020. After collapsing on a flight over Siberia, the opposition leader fell into a coma and was airlifted to Berlin for treatment. On September 2nd, 2020, the German military conducted tests that revealed “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group,” says BBC News. Putin admits to keeping Navalny under surveillance yet denies any targeted attack on his life. Navalny then posed as a Russian security official during a phone call and managed to obtain a confession of the poisoning by an agent. As Navalny returned to Moscow on January 17th from his hospital stay in Berlin, he was immediately arrested. Protests have surged in response to Navalny’s detainment. The question remains whether he will still manage organizing large scale public protests while in prison.
The complex relationship between the U.S. and Russia may reorient after Blinken’s blatant criticisms of Russian policy. Though he expresses his opinion on the handling of protests there, he clarifies that “it’s about them. It’s about the government. It’s about the frustration the Russian people have with corruption, with autocracy, and I think they need to look inward, not outward.” Reuters continues to emphasize Blinken’s encouragement for Russian government reform in the article. Though Russian corruption is a focal point of his opinions, Blinken’s mentions of conflicts in China, Iran, and North Korea shed light on major concerns of the new Biden administration. Biden’s plans for Russian foreign affairs and other diplomatic relations will unfold as he furthers his presidency.