Russia and Belarus Expand Military Drills as Russia Claims Credit for Attack Without Evidence

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at expanded Russian military drills, fallout from the storming of Brazil’s government buildings, and COVID-19 infections in China’s Henan province.

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What Are Russian Troops Doing in Belarus?

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at expanded Russian military drills, fallout from the storming of Brazil’s government buildings, and COVID-19 infections in Chinas Henan province.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

What Are Russian Troops Doing in Belarus?

Russia and Belarus are reportedly expanding joint military training exercises in Belarus.

Hundreds of Russian troops—between 1,400 and 1,600 soldiers—arrived in Vitebsk, Belarus, on Sunday, per unofficial Telegram channels. Reuters was unable to confirm that information but did report that Russia and Belarus had added weapons and soldiers to exercises and that they were doing drills that drew on Russia’s experiences in its war in Ukraine.

All of this will add to mounting fears that Russia is planning a new military push from the north. As the Guardian notes, Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko has said Belarus will not join the war, but the country has been used in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conflicts before. (Last year, it served as the point of origin for an ultimately failed push toward Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.) That such a push failed last year does not mean that Putin will not try again.

Last month, Putin visited Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus’s capital, where Lukashenko offered the following blunt assessment: “The two of us are co-aggressors, the most harmful and toxic people on this planet. We have only one dispute: who is bigger. Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] says it’s me. I’m already starting to think that he is. We decided that it doesn’t matter, since we’re together.”

Russia also claimed that it killed 600 Ukrainian forces in a “mass missile strike” in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine in retaliation for a New Year’s Day attack that killed dozens of Russian soldiers. However, it could offer no evidence for this strike, and the Ukrainian military has dismissed the claim as “another piece of Russian propaganda” and an attempt to demonstrate a forceful response to Ukraines successful strike. A Reuters reporter said the missile attack had in fact missed its targets and that there were “no obvious signs of casualties.”

What We’re Following Today 

Fallout from the storming of Brazil’s National Congress. Brazilian authorities detained more than 1,000 supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday, the day after Bolsonaro loyalists stormed the country’s congressional building, supreme court, and presidential palace. Brasília’s federal district governor, a Bolsonaro ally, was also removed from his position for alleged shortcomings in providing security around the government buildings that were invaded.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was inaugurated a week before the protesters stormed the buildings, said there was “no precedent in the history of our country” for the “acts of vandals and fascists.” Lula also vowed, “We are going to find out who the financiers of these vandals who went to Brasília are, and they will all pay with the force of law.”

Bolsonaro, who is in the U.S. state of Florida and went to the hospital on Monday, has denied responsibility for events and criticized Lula’s response. FP’s Catherine Osborn, writing in Foreign Policy, warned, “Pro-Bolsonaro Brazilian lawmakers have already said they believe Sunday and Monday’s detentions are excessive. If Lula’s administration is not careful about clearly establishing and proving which crimes may have been committed in the attack, then they could give the far right more fuel to grow their ranks.”

COVID-19 infections in Henan. Almost 90 percent of people in central Henan province, the third most populous province in China, have been infected with COVID-19, according to a local official. That suggests more than 88 million people in Henan have been infected. However, visits to fever clinics peaked in the middle of last month, “after which it showed a continuous downward trend,” said Kan Quancheng, director of the health commission for the province.

Elsewhere in China, celebrity deaths with no stated cause have caused anger, and satellite photos and video footage showed increased traffic and crowds at funeral homes, according to a Washington Post analysis. The news comes as China reopens its borders—and as COVID-19 cases in the country surge and are expected to continue to rise as people travel to celebrate the Lunar New Year later this month.

Official data released last week told a different story. The Chinese government claimed that just 120,000 people have been infected and only 30 people have died since China relaxed pandemic restrictions in early December 2022.

Keep an Eye On

Protesters in Iran gather to try to stop executions. People protested outside a prison in Iran following reports that authorities were preparing to execute two more people. Iran already hanged two people on Saturday, Jan. 7, bringing the total number of people executed in connection with anti-government protests that began last autumn to four people. An Islamic Revolutionary Court had found them guilty of “corruption on Earth.” The United Nations’ office of human rights spoke out against the “shocking” executions. Activist group 1500tasvir said Monday that it had stopped the additional executions “at least up to this moment.”

The Australian Open gives green light to infected players. Players at the Australian Open will not need to take COVID-19 tests. If they are infected, they can still play. Last year, Novak Djokovic was controversially deported over his COVID-19 status; this year, “We just wanted to follow whats currently in the community,” said tournament director Craig Tiley. Tiley added that the Australian Open had recommended that anyone who was feeling unwell should stay home.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse by Alexander J. Motyl

Lessons for the Next War by FP Contributors

Taiwan’s Government Has a Messaging Crisis on China by Hilton Yip 

Sergio Guillermo Diaz, an Argentine artist, has found that there is an economic incentive to paint on his country’s devalued currency. “Nowadays, it makes sense for me to paint on the largest denominated bill here in Argentina. Once I paint on it, I can sell it for much more than what the bill is worth,” he told Reuters. Annual inflation in Argentina likely came close to 100 percent last year. Painted banknote images include soccer star Lionel Messi lifting the World Cup trophy and a satirical depiction of the peso dropping.

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