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Hard Numbers: Hong Kong's anti-democratic crackdown (again), former FARC rebels protest, US election issues to watch, Turkey's woes

Mask-clad representatives in Hong Kong's legislature argue and throw papers in the air.

8: Hong Kong police arrested 8 pro-democracy politicians over a fight that erupted last May in the city's legislature during a debate over key committee assignments. Asked why only pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested when the scuffle involved pro-China/establishment politicians as well, a police spokesperson simply said: "It's not about social status or political background."


236: Hundreds of former FARC rebels marched in Bogota, Colombia's capital, over the weekend, demanding better implementation of the landmark 2016 peace deal and an end to the killing of former FARC militants. The protesters say that even though former FARC combatants agreed to demobilize and reintegrate into Colombian society, some 236 former rebels have been targeted and killed by government forces over the past four years.

440: Daniel Nichanian, an American political scientist, has put together a comprehensive cheat sheet that tracks key electoral issues to watch on November 3. There are currently 440 issues on Nichanian's meaty list of "things" to keep an eye on, which includes state legislature spats over gun control, mandatory sex education, and redistricting reform.

66: At least 66 people died after an earthquake in the Aegean Sea rocked Turkey and some Greek islands. The Turkish city of Izmir bore the brunt of the quake. The natural disaster will only compound Turkey's recent woes, as the country is already facing high inflation and unemployment, as well as a plunging currency.

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Earlier this week the European Union agreed to slap sanctions on a handful of senior Russian officials over the jailing of top Putin critic Alexei Navalny. Using a new set of sanctions designed specifically to target human rights abuses, Brussels will freeze bank accounts and deny visas to four of Russia's top justice and security officials involved in Navalny's case.

As punishments go, that's not particularly drastic: surely it stings a bit to lose access to European banks and beaches, but no one suspects that these measures are going to convince the Kremlin to free Navalny. The dissident's own people have called on Brussels to do more.

So why does the EU, the world's largest economic bloc, seem to have so little leverage over a country whose economy is barely larger than Spain's? A few things to bear in mind.

Russia keeps the heat running in Europe. The European Union depends on Moscow for some 40 percent of its gas imports and 30 percent of oil imports. For some EU countries, the numbers are even higher: Germany gets half its gas from Russian companies and is moving ahead with a new Russian gas pipeline as we speak. In Eastern Europe the dependency ranges from two-thirds in some countries to one hundred percent in the case of the Baltic states.

The EU needs Russian cooperation outside of Europe too. Over the past decade, Moscow has shrewdly positioned itself as a kingmaker in several crises beyond Europe's borders that reverberate within the union. In Syria, Libya, the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa, Russian military or mercenaries exert an outsized role in conflicts that have generated large numbers of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.

There isn't really an "EU". The European Union is actually 27 member states, each with their own interests and views on Russia. Germany, for example, has to balance its ambitions of staking out a firmer pro-democracy European foreign policy against the energy needs of its powerful industries. France has long sought closer cooperation with Moscow on geopolitical issues across the Middle East and Africa. Many former Eastern Bloc states, meanwhile, have begun to see Moscow as a useful counterweight to an overbearing or incompetent Brussels. And of course, the UK, which historically took a harder line against Russia, is now no longer part of the EU at all.

Doing more would require a tough stomach. To be clear, it's not that the EU doesn't have ways to seriously hurt the Kremlin. Sanctioning Russia's oil and gas exports or its foreign debt would deal a big blow to Putin's regime. But the blowback for Europe would be tremendous — European consumers and factories would likely suffer massive energy shocks, while financial markets and banks that trade Russian debt would see turmoil.

After all, there's a reason that even in 2014 — when Russia invaded an EU partner state and started a civil war there — both Europe (and the US, with far less vulnerability to Russian retaliation than its European friends) stopped short of making big moves like this.

The bottom line: Europe is keen to be a more active global player on security and human rights. But when it comes to Russia, reality bites hard.
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