Letter From the Editors
This week, the press was full of unintended consequences – some already coming to pass, and others looming on or just over the horizon.
Blowback manifested itself most vividly in Belgorod Province, where Ukrainian artillery bombarded several border towns while covering attempted incursions by regular motorized infantry as well as antigovernment Russian militias (who have made raids before). While the ground forces were repulsed, Russian authorities needed to evacuate hundreds of wounded and dispossessed locals using the same mechanisms they had developed for evacuees from the “new regions.”
Pollster Yelena Koneva predicts that, as the war comes closer to home and costs more Russian lives, public sentiment will move against it. The recent drone attacks lead Tatyana Rybakova to conclude from historical experience: “Sooner or later, Muscovites have to come face to face with what the rest of Russia is suffering from. And then it usually turns out that no amount of products on the shelves, no amount of Russian National Guard soldiers at bases, and no amount of Pantsir [missile systems] on rooftops can save the system from collapse.”
In the short term, however, Ukraine’s attacks on Russia proper are generating blowback of their own. Koneva’s own polling indicates that 47% of Russians would currently oppose withdrawing from Ukraine even if Putin favored doing so, compared to only 35% last year. Furthermore, she notes: “The Belgorod governor has just announced that the best way to stop the shelling of Belgorod Province is to annex Kharkov Province to it,” and his response to the attacks has boosted his approval rating into the 90% range.
Émigré political analyst Fyodor Krasheninnikov hammers home this “rally around the flag” effect: “For Russia . . . this raid is a godsend. Considering that Putin claims his crusade is against Nazism and neo-Nazism supposedly spreading in Ukraine, these neo-Nazis attacking peaceful villages in Belgorod Province is a dream come true.”
The Kremlin’s political footing is much worse in the South Caucasus, where both Putin and his frenemy Nikol Pashinyan are facing blowback from the failure to reach a settlement way back after the first Karabakh war, as Ekspert explores in detail. The first wave came when Armenia lost the second Karabakh war in 2020, and now Pashinyan has little choice but to concede the loss of Artsakh, a republic that Yerevan never officially recognized, but which looms large in Armenia’s national consciousness. Citing expert Vladimir Novikov, the authors say that Pashinyan is both “doing all he can to shift the responsibility for the lack of a peace treaty with Azerbaijan onto Russia” and “intentionally taking the problem to a level where it would be outside of Moscow’s reach.”
In other words, the Armenian prime minister’s impossible problem is now Russia’s: “An agreement on such terms means either armed clashes, or the end of Russia’s peacekeeping mission and the withdrawal of our troops from the region. At the same time, considering Pashinyan’s threats against the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and his pro-Western stance, we may be forced to say goodbye to our 102nd military base in the Armenian city of Gyumri – i.e., to eventually cede the region to the Americans or the Turks.”
However, as another article from Ekspert notes, the Americans are dealing with problems of their own. While the debt ceiling will be raised, and Congress will once again avoid default, the debate has called attention to some unpleasant facts: International ratings agencies have downgraded US sovereign debt, consumer loans are growing toxic and deposits are dwindling. Countries are starting to trade in their own currencies or in specie. “Default is by no means required to stop [US bonds from] being the most reliable instrument in the world – there are other ways to not fulfill your obligations. For example, by freezing the reserves of undesirable countries,” Ekspert writes. How many times will the Russian press write of impending US bankruptcy? The answer is blowback in the wind.