Letter From the Editors
Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roskosmos (the Russian counterpart to NASA) used some memorable imagery when asked in an RG interview about the impact of US sanctions on cooperation in space. Regarding the International Space Station, that decades-old symbol of peaceful coexistence between the two nuclear superpowers, Rogozin said: “We are not destroyers, nor do we intend to swing a sledgehammer in a ‘crystal room’ like the ISS.”
This metaphor seems to apply to some places here on Mother Earth as well. Let’s start with the Black Sea. While war continues to rage in Ukraine and talks between the conflicting parties are going at a snail’s pace, Yelena Suponina writes that Turkey’s President Erdogan could work the situation to his benefit if he treads carefully as a mediator between the two sides: “Erdogan is performing a balancing act to make sure that Turkey’s gains don’t depend on whether this ambitious undertaking results in a breakthrough at the negotiating table. It’s an unbeatable hand. . . . Turkey’s mediating role allows it to keep its relations with Russia intact and refrain from joining Western sanctions despite pressure by the US. At the same time, [Ankara] is not abandoning cooperation with Ukraine, despite Russia’s desire for it to do so.”
Suponina details the economic benefits of this role: Turkey is a prime destination for both Russian and Ukrainian tourists; Turkey imports more than 80% of its grain from Russia and Ukraine, and also buys sunflower oil and seeds from both countries. And then, of course, there are the vital supplies of Russian gas to Turkey. Suponina points out the political benefits of such commerce, as reliable supplies of goods ensure social stability in the run-up to the 2023 Turkish presidential election.
Russia, too, can use all the stability it can get right now. In fact, you would think the whole country was its own “crystal room,” given how people are tiptoeing around all sorts of delicate issues – the falling ruble, rising prices, sanctions and (especially) national pride. Even Putin’s loyal press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has drawn criticism from Kremlin supporters, including Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, for making “insufficiently patriotic” comments in his public statements.
And we can only imagine how much more fragile ordinary Russians must feel. In response to Russian polls showing majority support for Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, Aleksei Navalny argued that such results are meaningless in the light of current restrictions on free speech: “What kind of polling is there even to talk about when both the question ‘Do you support the war in Ukraine?’ and the answer ‘no’ could result in 15 years of imprisonment for the poller and the respondent, respectively?”
Navalny’s solution? Shatter the “crystal room” from the outside. In a series of Twitter posts addressing a broad swath of Western bigwigs, including political leaders and tech company CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, Navalny laid it on the line: “We need ads. Lots of ads. A huge national antiwar campaign will start with an advertising campaign,” He envisions this campaign targeting the Russian Internet audience with actual figures on the country’s Army losses, the impact of sanctions on Russian oligarchs’ assets, and “how we would all be better off without this war.”
Speaking of a different kind of warfare, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told Izvestia of “an economic and financial war . . . being waged against us” by the West as it refuses to engage in dollar transactions with Russia. “The foreign currency accounts of the Finance Ministry, as well as the international reserves of the Central Bank, have been frozen.” Everybody nearby had better cover up – even the finest crystal will break if it gets cold enough.