Letter From the Editors

Indonesian President Joko Widodo pulled out all the stops to ensure a successful G-20 summit, which took place in Bali this week – he even scrambled the Air Force to seed rain clouds so as to avoid tropical rainstorms soaking the participants. But controlling the weather is easy compared to getting all parties to agree to a communiqué. This document is considered the bare minimum for a summit result, yet even such humble aspirations looked questionable amid rumors that the Western camp was insisting on tough rhetoric concerning Russia.

But perhaps the rumors were just that? “Curiously, shortly before the summit, a number of Western leaders, who were supposed to play the role of ‘bad cop’ toward Moscow, suddenly, one after another, started talking about the possibility of dialogue with Vladimir Putin,” writes Kommersant reporter Sergei Strokan. It certainly wouldn’t be the only rumor flying around – the day before the summit, reports appeared that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had been hospitalized upon landing in Bali. Those were apparently called “fake news” by unsinkable Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who submitted a picture of Lavrov calmly working on some papers, clad in shorts and a T‑shirt. The confusion did not end there, since many netizens pointed out that Lavrov’s T‑shirt featured the work of Basquiat, a queer artist – was this a form of subtle subversion? Or just a way to generate buzz in the media?

Mixed messages seem to be coming from every corner of the world this week. In Moldova, when the power went out, plunging the entire country into darkness, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita was quick to blame Russia. Later, it turned out that Romania – which supplies energy to the republic – was actually the one that flipped the switch (albeit in order to protect the grid, which was strained by Russia’s bombings of Ukrainian infrastructure).

Gavrilita’s opponents, represented by a meeting of eight parties with right, left and centrist views, were quick to seize the opportunity to demand the government resign amid “an endless galaxy of conflicts, media scandals and internal strife,” writes Svetlana Gamova. According to Moldovan politician Iurie Muntean, the new coalition seems to have the West’s blessing, so it may be more than just a “café cabal of politics-adjacent fans who talk about talk.”

Speaking of moving from words to deeds, President Putin submitted his proposed amendments to the Law on Citizenship. In effect, it would enable the government to strip naturalized Russian citizens of their passports for “discrediting the Armed Forces, public calls for changing the country’s borders and participation in the activities of undesirable foreign organizations,” writes Nezavisimaya gazeta. In an editorial, NG laments that this would signal a return to the Soviet practice of stripping people of Soviet citizenship for deeds unworthy of that “lofty” title. For now, the amendments are aimed only at naturalized – not birthright – citizens (and most likely will be used against “pro-Ukrainian elements” in the newly annexed territories). Of course, the Russian Constitution prohibits stripping anyone of their citizenship, or dividing citizens into classes (naturalized vs. birthright). Still, “the application and interpretation of law in Russia is a separate and very important area of activity by the ruling authorities, where they sometimes rather creatively develop laws that are set in stone, including Constitutional norms,” the publication stated. Case in point – the right to peaceful assembly, which is guaranteed under the Basic Law. However, you need permission from the authorities to actually practice that right. Tomato, tomahto.

Back in sunny (presumably) Bali, semantic sticking points were ironed out after all, and President Widodo managed to achieve a joint communiqué. But according to Yelena Panina, the global state of affairs is actually much more complex. The key role here will be played by the confrontation between Beijing and Washington, which, as the meeting between Xi and Biden demonstrated, is not going away any time soon. Can the US successfully engage two rivals at once? And will Moscow find itself the third wheel in this brave new world?