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November 09, 2017

From street protests to road closures

Yesterday there was a general strike called in Catalonia to protest the pre-emptive imprisonment of eight members of the dismissed Catalan government. As with the October 3 protest, this was called a "national stoppage" by the organisers. As an actual work stoppage this was less successful, but instead protesters blocked roads and railways on a large scale. There were reports of road blockages at 70 different points across the region, and the Spanish railway operators reported that 150,000 passengers were affected by railway blockages on the AVE high-speed line through Barcelona, as well as commuter trains. This could mark a qualitative change in the way the Catalan separatist grass-roots carry out their protests. The road and railway closures were carried out by students and so-called "referendum defence committees", aligned with the radical-left separatist party CUP, while the larger grass-roots organisations such as ANC and Ómnium concentrated on standard street gatherings. A relatively small number of people can cause a disproportionate disruption by concentrating on blocking roads and railways, and this kind of protest is more likely to be dispersed by police than an unauthorised gathering on a street. Yesterday there were no reports of arrests or police brutality. 

Speaking of ANC and Ómnium, their leaders Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart had their pre-emptive prison confirmed on appeal by the Spain's National Court yesterday. The two were jailed in mid-October on account of their participation in pickets around Catalan government offices which were being searched on September 20 for evidence of the organisation of the banned October 1st independence vote. A panel of five judges noted the presence in Belgium of dismissed regional president Carles Puigdemont and four members of his cabinet as demonstrating Sánchez and Cuixart present a risk of flight. Today, the Supreme Court will hear the five members of the board of the Catalan parliament that have been indicted for crimes ranging from rebellion to misuse of public funds, and will decide on the prosecution's request for their preemptive imprisonment. In the coming days it is expected that the Supreme Court will also decide whether or not to unify the various related cases from at least four courts in Spain and Catalonia. 

Puigdemont, meanwhile, continues his "internationalisation of the conflict", with daily appearances in Belgian media, open letters to his supporters in Catalonia, and attacks on EU leaders such as Jean-Claude Juncker and Antonio Tajani. Yesterday Belgian PM Charles Michel had to answer a barrage of questions on the Catalan situation in the Belgian parliament. He insisted that the court cases in Belgium and Spain will not become a government affair, and that the political crisis is in Spain, not Belgium.

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November 09, 2017

What Russia wants

Dmitri Trenin writes about Russia's emerging foreign policy doctrine. Right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia did not have much of a strategy. It has since tried two, both of which have failed in the last decade. The first one was to support the US after 9/11 and seek an alliance with Nato based on counter-terrorism, and even a desire to integrate with the EU. The second strategy, towards the end of the last decade, was common defence parameters with the US, built around missile defence. Both failed because Russia was ultimately not prepared to pay the price: the acceptance of US leadership.

As Plan A and Plan B collapsed, Russia found itself without a Plan C. But a new grand strategy is now emerging in the form of selected regional partnerships, for example in the Middle East.

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