Letter From the Editors

While the spectre of communism may no longer be haunting Europe, ghosts of conflicts past continue to rattle chains around world. This week marked the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was the first – and thankfully so far only – use of nuclear weapons by one country against another. The bombs killed 210,000 civilians. But apparently 75 years was not enough for the US, Japan and its former and current allies and foes to achieve closure. When former US president Barack Obama visited Hiroshima with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in 2016, he did not apologize for the US bombings – as Valery Kistanov writes, few in Japan expected him to, but many secretly hoped he would. Perhaps he was swayed by a letter from US veterans who survived the infamous Bataan Death March, who urged him to delay visiting the Hiroshima memorial until there is “an equally poignant memorialization of the Americans who perished in Japan.”

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev offered his own view of the US nuclear bombings in an interview with Rossiiskaya gazeta. According to him, “The Americans targeted civilians with nuclear weapons, which means that their actions differed little from the crimes of militarist Japan.”

That wasn’t the only bone Patrushev had to pick with history. Apparently, ghosts of fascist and Nazi ideology still roam Europe and the post-Soviet space: “Unabashed nationalists are coming to power in neighboring countries.” According to Patrushev, that is especially true of Ukraine: “Leaders [of nationalist movements] advocate establishing a corporate-syndicalist state in Ukraine – in effect a Nazi state. Russophobia, which these organizations inherited from Ukrainian accomplices of the fascists of 1930-1940, is being imposed on a fraternal nation.”

Apparently the spectre of “the Ukraine scenario” also haunts the Kremlin when it comes to its ally Belarus, which kicked off a presidential election this week. But this won’t be the usual cakewalk for perennial Belarussian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko. According to Denis Lavnikevich, “For him, this is perhaps the most difficult election of his career: For the first time, his opponents are not just popular, but overwhelmingly so.” In classified polls, batka’s ratings indeed look dismal: In Minsk, 61% of respondents said they would not vote for him under any circumstances. What’s more, he’s also losing support in rural areas, as well as among pensioners, government employees, and blue-collar workers at state-run enterprises.

Perhaps that’s why Lukashenko has been stepping up the anti-Russian rhetoric and portraying himself as the protector of Belarussian sovereignty. Of course, Vladimir Mamontov says that blaming Russia for stoking revolutionary fervor in Belarus doesn’t hold water: “We understand the need for campaign tricks to draw in as much of the electorate as possible – which in Belarus today is very different from the one that elected Lukashenko 26 years ago.*** But there is no spring in the Kremlin tower’s clock that is trying to set off a Belarussian maidan.” And if Belarus wants to go the way of Ukraine, fine – but then you must buy oil and gas at global market prices, dear Aleksandr Grigoryevich, Mamontov adds.

If a “Ukraine scenario” does in fact happen in Belarus, what will that cost Moscow? Mikhail Sergeyev puts the figure at $3 billion. According to economist Yekaterina Novikova, if Minsk severs ties with Moscow, “[Russia] can expect [Belarus] not only to default on its loans, nationalize Russian military infrastructure, and prohibit oil and gas transit [via its territory], but also to raise prices on goods made in Belarus.”

The ghost of the 2014 Ukrainian events may still haunt Moscow, but not everything is quite so dismal. For instance, energy expert Vladimir Zharikhin says that despite the state of tension between Moscow and Kiev, the two countries still trade with each other and ensure energy transit to Europe. What’s more, Ukraine’s losses from breaking up with Russia were far greater than Moscow’s – and that’s a ghost that may come back to haunt Minsk.