Letter From the Editors

This was the title of a 1961 poem by celebrated Soviet writer Yevgeny Yevtushenko. He answered the question indirectly: “Ask the soldiers / who lie beneath the birches /and let their sons tell you / whether Russians want war.”

We wonder how many of those soldiers’ descendants attended the rally in and around Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium this week to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Crimean annexation. Tens of thousands of supporters cheered as they watched footage from 2014 on the big screens, accompanied by songs in praise of Russia’s military. It certainly looks like Russians want war. So says ARCSPO pollster Valery Fyodorov, who reports that 70% of respondents to a recent survey support the bloody conflict that’s been raging in Ukraine for three weeks now.

Oh wait, that isn’t really a war – it’s a special military operation. And lest we think that the Moscow leaders actually wanted to take this drastic step, we should listen to Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev: “It has become obvious that US advisers are encouraging and helping the Kiev regime to create biological and nuclear weapons. . . . Under these circumstances, we had to take preemptive measures to ensure the security of Russia and its citizens.” And Vladimir Putin used the word “genocide” to describe the Ukrainian government’s actions in the Donetsk Basin. So Russia couldn’t just sit by and watch, right?

Some of this propaganda is countered by military expert Aleksei Arbatov, who asserts that Russia faces no existential threat from Ukraine. Mentions of nuclear forces made by both Moscow and Kiev lead Arbatov to warn against the dire consequences of further escalation. “There is only one way out – a political settlement. The most important thing right now is to negotiate a ceasefire and start providing massive humanitarian aid to civilians in Ukraine.”

While Arbatov hopes for Ukraine to commit to neutral status in return for security guarantees by the UN and the OSCE, Ukrainian adviser and negotiator Mikhail Podolyak has a different endgame in mind: “[I]t’s fundamentally not just a peace agreement – this doesn’t suit us. And the old security system, where NATO played a dominant role, doesn’t suit us either. . .  The OSCE is also failing to provide security.” Instead of a bilateral peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine, Podolyak envisions a multilateral agreement signed by five to seven countries.

Still another scenario for Ukraine’s future is offered by Aleksei Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information. Instead of a unified, neutral Ukraine, “Now I see a completely different picture [that would entail] Ukraine being split in two. . .  The south, east and center would be under Russia’s influence, while western Ukraine would be under the collective West’s influence. A sort of quasi-state akin to East and West Germany.”

One of those two Ukraines is already forming a new government, if we believe RT and Radio Sputnik. These Russian state media published an article titled “Kherson’s new regional authorities call for establishing ties with Russia,” which reported on a “founding congress” for “a new governing body” called the Rescue Committee for Peace and Order. RT posted a video that showed several people, including two members of Kherson’s City Council, sitting in the regional administration building listening to activist Kirill Stremousov talk about relying on Russia for stability. However, Meduza reports that the RT video was probably staged: One of the men featured in it wrote on Facebook that he had been arrested by pro-Russian forces before the “congress” and taken to the administration building, where he and the council members unwillingly took part in the hoax.

Amid many illusions like these, the war itself is all too real. Another famous Yevtushenko poem (translation published in the Digest) mourns the massacre of 100,000 Ukrainians in Kiev’s Babi Yar ravine at the hands of Nazi soldiers. What would he say now if he could hear his fellow Russians calling Ukrainians fascists?