In Other News: Evidence Against the Kremlin, India-China Standoff & More – September 4, 2020

September 4, 2020

Evidence is piling up linking the Kremlin to extralegal assassinations and foreign election meddling, increasing the risk that Russia will face more cohesive pushback from the international community. This week, news emerged that: 1) the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency had set up fake Facebook accounts and even hired journalists to write for a fake left-wing news site to stoke partisan tensions; 2) a Homeland Security Department memo asserted with high confidence that Russian state media agencies were pushing false information about U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s mental health; and 3) the German government confirmed doctors’ initial findings that Russian dissident Alexey Navalny was poisoned with Novichok in what is thought to be an attempted assassination by the Russian state. Meanwhile, in Belarus, journalists from Russian state-backed TV channel RT stepped in to replace hundreds of Belarusian journalists who went on strike in protest against what were widely viewed as fraudulent elections that delivered a victory to Alexander Lukashenko, a longtime Kremlin ally who has been president of Belarus since 1994. Each of these incidents has at least a veneer of plausible deniability, complicating a coordinated international response. However, it is only a matter of time until the cumulative impact of Russia’s actions causes sufficient alarm for countries or blocs to band together to counter the Kremlin’s increasingly aggressive stance toward its enemies, perceived and real.

Indian and Chinese soldiers engaged in another tense standoff for the first time since a clash at the border in June killed at least 20. The soldiers, stationed in the Himalayas near the Line of Actual Control (an agreed demarcation at the two countries’ long-disputed border), approached each other and shouted but did not engage. Indian officials have indicated that the incident was in response to a late-night Indian operation to claim vantage points allowing them to observe Chinese troop movements in disputed territory, and that the operation was prompted by Chinese incursions into Indian territory. This latest flare-up would be unremarkable except that it is the first such incident since the fatal June clash, and comes after several weeks of bilateral efforts to ease tensions. Parallel with those efforts have been a series of punitive Indian trade actions targeting China, including restricting Chinese firms’ access to buildout of India’s 5G network and a ban on dozens of Chinese apps (like TikTok), as well as moves to bolster diplomatic and military ties to countries like the U.S. that are powerful enough to be a credible counterweight to China. India appears to be using every means at its disposal to counter what it – and most of the rest of the world – sees as a pattern of aggressive Chinese behavior targeting neighboring countries. Any incident that adds to the risk of escalation is cause for concern, especially when it involves two nuclear-armed neighbors with nationalist-leaning heads of state. However, we do not think either side has the appetite now for a larger conflict.

Latin America’s economy will contract by approximately 9.4% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Mexico, Argentina, and Peru are likely to see double-digit declines in growth this year, making it the worst economic downturn in the region since WWII. Still, the IMF projects that the region will see a recovery of 3.7% growth in 2021. Many countries have tried to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19, but the pandemic continues to rage through the region. Brazil’s confirmed death toll from Covid-19 currently stands at approximately 120,000, and Mexico’s is at about 64,000. Popular outreach by their governments could be blunting the economic impacts in the short term. But Latin America is suffering from multiple related economic factors from the pandemic including: 1) the negative impacts of lockdowns and travel restrictions inside the region; 2) the reduction of trade within and outside the region; 3) the reduction of foreign investment; and 4) lower remittances from the United States and Europe. Many countries are also suffering from a decline in global demand for commodities, a significant drop in tourism, and low oil prices. Coming out of the pandemic, the region will likely have to deal with growing crime, insecurity, and social and political unrest – and the possibility of increased migration to the United States from Mexico and Central America. See TAG’s Special Report: Latin America for more insight.