Letter From the Editors

This week, State Duma opposition leaders vied for Putin’s affection at a Kremlin lovefest. In a series of meetings with the Russian president, the heads of the RFCP, LDPR, A Just Russia – For the Truth and Noviye Lyudi all rallied around him in a demonstration of support for the war in Ukraine. In return, Putin praised each leader individually for their patriotism and focus on domestic issues. But the biggest box of chocolates went to RFCP leader Gennady Zyuganov, who received Putin’s heartiest congratulations on the occasion of his party’s 30th anniversary and his own reelection as its leader.

Describing the meetings as a “mass self-revelation session,” Boris Vishnevksy writes in Novaya gazeta Europe that these politicians are merely “five shades of political grey.” Indeed, the party heads were unanimous in their praise for Putin’s handling of the “special operation.” They all expressed their full approval of Putin’s actions, with Noviye Lyudi leader Aleksei Nechayev taking it the furthest, saying that he sees part of his job as instilling envy – that flip side of love – in people who have fled the country.

No relocatees, however, are likely to feel envy after reading Republic.ru’s transcription of a series of harrowing voice messages a mobilized conscript left for the publication’s editors. The man, who asked to remain anonymous for fear that he would be killed, describes the scant training he and his fellow conscripts received before being sent – virtually unarmed – to the Avdeyevka cauldron in the Donetsk people’s republic, even though their papers said they should have been sent to a Russian village on the border. Near the cauldron, the man’s unit found itself wedged between Ukrainian troops with superior weaponry and Russian barrier troops with orders to shoot members of the unit if they attempted to retreat. Clearly terrified, the man asks: “Do I really need this Donetsk Basin?” While acknowledging that he is willing to fight, he also says “You can’t imagine how much I hate this war. I just despise it.” In one of his last communications, he says he is being sent to the front and would be “in touch in early March,” warning that “If I’m not, that means I was killed or am missing.”

Just as conscripts are being herded into cauldrons, so too are Russians being herded into the past. In an article for Novaya gazeta Europe, Svetlana Stephenson describes the Russian leadership as a group of “zombies living in the past and hating those who they believe have taken the past away from them.” One such official is Tatarstan’s children’s ombudsperson, who posted a “Stalintine’s” Day card online (since deleted). Noting that Soviet troops liberated what is now Lugansk Province on Feb. 14, 1943, this official said her card was intended as “a challenge to the vapid and harmful cultural import from the West.” Meanwhile, Stephenson argues, “young people***just want to live, build their futures and fall in love.”

The same goes for young people in Ukraine. Unfortunately, though, the country will only be able to provide this opportunity if it can secure the weapons it needs from the West. While its hopes of receiving a beautiful bouquet of fighter jets were dashed at a Feb. 14 meeting at NATO headquarters, Ukraine did come away with gifts from various European countries, including new air defense systems, an influx of cash and over 40 Leopard 2 tanks.

Speaking of military equipment, this week the US shot down three “unidentified flying objects” over its territory days after it took out a Chinese military balloon on Feb. 4. Although Washington does not attribute these new objects to China, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that they are proof that “China, but also Russia, are increasing their intelligence and surveillance activities against NATO allies.” So if your significant other gave you balloons for Valentine’s Day, beware – someone may be listening in.