Letter From the Editors
As artillery units continue to duel over the trenches at Bakhmut and tens of thousands die, a certain type of fighter is eager to see the war expand: the keyboard warrior. It was once easy to dismiss the bellicose murmurings of these armchair generals, but they are increasingly involving themselves in politics – and politicians, in turn, are imitating them.
We see this dynamic in the actions of former DPR defense minister Igor Girkin (alias Strelkov), who has formed an online community of the hawkish opposition, the “Club of Angry Patriots.” Ilya Grashchenkov describes the movement as “a kind of outlet for Telegram warriors . . . writing posts [asking] why the Russian Army is not destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure, and why we are not using aviation or tactical nuclear weapons.”
Strelkov quickly moved to shore up his opposition bona fides by insulting most of the government, calling Prime Minister Mishustin a “tax collector,” Senate leader Matviyenko a “crazy old granny,” and Duma Speaker Volodin by a homophobic slur for good measure. He has long criticized Defense Minister Shoigu, but that is more standard fare among hawks like Prigozhin and Kadyrov. However, he departs from them by speculating about Putin’s possible death or overthrow.
Graschenkov suspects a ploy by the special services. “If there are active or retired law-enforcement and security officers . . . who will be ready to unite and seize the reins when the transfer of power begins or the ruling authority weakens, it is better to identify them now,” he says, citing Father Gapon as a past example. It is worth remembering that, even if he was a double agent, Gapon still managed to shake the tsarist autocracy to its core.
Another self-proclaimed “warrior,” Chinese ambassador to France Lu Shaye, made waves when he told an interviewer that post-Soviet states don’t have “effective status under international law. Because there is no international treaty specifying their status as sovereign countries.” This remark prompted outrage from most of the world, with Ukraine and the Baltic states first in line. Scholar Nikolai Vavilov asserts that the ambassador must be “motivated to make bold statements by a kind of carte blanche from top leadership,” perhaps to serve China’s twin aims of dividing the West and laying the groundwork for future moves in Taiwan.
Curiously, in China it was a military blogger, not a statesman, who sought to calm the waters. In a move Yevgeny Verlin says has “never been observed on Chinese social media before,” a content creator known as “Jiangsu History Buff” presented a detailed record of Ukraine’s sovereignty both in fact and in relation to Beijing, from independence all the way up to Xi’s call to Zelensky this week.
Semi-official bloggers in Jiangsu aren’t the only ones exhausted with overheated rhetoric. Lynne Tracy, in her first interview as the new US ambassador to Russia, complained of Putin’s old saw about “Anglo-Saxons.” Former Moldovan president Igor Dodon likewise chided Ukrainian officials for their “fiery, aggressive statements” threatening to invade Transnistria.
Harm to national feelings and even territorial integrity have less dire implications than impediments to the global food supply, but, according to Mikhail Sergeyev, Russia’s rhetoric about resuming a blockade of Ukrainian ports may be overblown. “Statements about reducing the duration of the grain deal helped the Russian authorities create the appearance that they were influencing events,” he says. “But, in fact, the government has fewer and fewer effective levers to protect its interests in the Black Sea region, and its main tools are now diplomacy and loud verbal threats.”
Another commentator, Valdai Club expert Andrei Lankov, appears surprisingly calm about nuclear saber-rattling on the Korean peninsula. With growing calls in South Korea to match the North’s deterrent potential, he asks, “Does all this mean that the Korean Peninsula will soon become the scene of hostilities? Of course not.” Perhaps we should all follow Lankov’s lead and take the rhetoric down a notch.