Letter From the Editors
“What is the end goal of [Putin’s] ‘special military operation?’ . . . When will the war end, and is Putin even capable of ending it?” Kirill Martynov asks in Novaya gazeta Europe. As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine arrives, it is remarkable how many questions are still unanswered from the morning of Feb. 24, 2022. One might have hoped Vladimir Putin’s long-awaited Message to the Federal Assembly would resolve these questions. Instead, many listeners were left wondering.
The anxieties of that morning, too, not only remain, but continue to heighten. During his Message, Putin announced Russia’s suspension of the New START treaty and preparations to test nuclear weapons should the US do so first. As Aleksandr Golts points out, even though Russia’s nuclear deterrent lags behind that of the US in both quality and quantity, this is one of the Putin’s only remaining means to escalate with the West. “But now even these means have been exhausted. It cannot be ruled out that as the Kremlin climbs the spiral of threats, sooner or later it will venture to conduct a showy nuclear explosion under the guise of a test.”
An alternative (but no less alarming) explanation for this step might be Putin’s spiraling personal hatred for Joe Biden, who built his prepresidential legacy on nuclear arms limitation and renewed the treaty in 2021. The feeling appears mutual, judging from Biden’s appearances in Kiev and Warsaw this week. Mikhail Shevchuk notes in Republic.ru that “symmetrical speeches by the Russian and American presidents on the anniversary of the special military operation naturally looked like a duel,” and that “both view the conflict as a global, historic clash of civilizations.”
Shevchuk recalls that in his previous speech from Warsaw, Biden said “this battle will not be won in days or months.” For Putin’s part, Golts observes that “his remark that Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine will receive a 14-day leave every six months suggests that the Kremlin is planning to conduct long-term combat operations.”
With the 20th century’s superpowers grappling “for as long as it takes,” optimists might look to the leaders of emerging powers as peacemakers. In the opening months of the war, Turkey’s Erdogan took the initiative of hosting talks between Russian and Ukrainian emissaries. Trading weapons with both hostile states was an unusual way to establish trust as an intermediary, but these efforts bore some fruit in last summer’s grain deal. Now, however, Erdogan faces stiff headwinds both at home and abroad. In a piece for Republic.ru, Kirill Krivosheyev details how the Turkish leader’s electoral troubles were mounting even before the earthquake unleashed a new crisis around incompetence and corruption. And Vlada Stankovic reminds us that after years of expansionist scheming (often with Putin’s help, no less), Erdogan’s NATO allies would not be sorry to see him go.
Enter Chinese foreign policy point man Wang Yi. China’s Foreign Ministry released a highly anticipated list of its peace priorities during Wang’s tour of Europe, and most of its points look reasonable – almost too reasonable. Who can disagree with statements like “the safety of civilians must be protected” or “nuclear proliferation must be prevented and nuclear crisis avoided”? China’s opinion carries weight not only with nonaligned countries such as Brazil, but with Ukraine itself. Zelensky told Die Welt that he would like to see China as an ally.
And what about the Russians, who also see China as a potential ally? The Russian version of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s proposal appears to align with Putin’s stated justification for the war, saying “the security of one country cannot be achieved at the expense of the security of others.” The English version, however, reads “the security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others,” which sounds like an objection to what Putin is pursuing and how. I guess that sometimes peace plans are lost in translation.