Letter From the Editors
This week, the world was transfixed by the battle for the Azovstal metallurgical plant. As the main center of resistance for Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol, Azovstal was pounded by relentless shelling for weeks until it was ultimately taken by Russian troops on May 20. The following day, President Zelensky said that the Ukrainian soldiers had received a “signal” from Ukrainian Armed Forces command that they could “leave and save their lives.” The rest, he said, is up to “commitments made by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Russia, which had promised that the surrendering troops would be safe to wait for ‘one format or another for exchange.’ ” However, DPR head Denis Pushilin ominously warned that a tribunal for these prisoners of war is “inevitable.”
Russia’s seizure of Mariupol brings it one step closer to achieving its quest to control all of eastern Ukraine. But what other goals remain in the east? As expert Vasily Kashin tells RBC Daily, Russia will still have to take industrial centers in the DPR/LPR. This will require “serious efforts,” because these areas have “long-term field fortifications,***including a large number of concrete structures.”
Thus, the war in Ukraine could wear on for months. But with the US and Europe injecting $10 billion to $15 billion into the conflict every month, some in the West are calling for compromise. Most notably, a New York Times editorial warned that it’s dangerous to assume Ukraine can push Russia back to its pre-Feb. 24 positions, and former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said that “the dividing line should return [to] the status quo ante.”
Needless to say, Kiev did not respond favorably. The tamest response came from Zelensky, who remarked that Kissinger’s calendar must be turned to 1938, not 2022. But presidential administration adviser Aleksei Arestovich expressed himself more colorfully: “Why don’t you go to hell, dumbs***s, with suggestions like that.”
While Russia and the US remain profoundly entangled in Ukraine, both sides are now looking to Asia to shore up support for their policies. Asserting that “the West has adopted a dictatorial stance,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “both we and China are interested in seeing the West stop obstructing the natural processes of the democratization of international relations, [and] the establishment of genuine multipolarity that reflects the clout of states in this new world.” He also called Eurasia “the most promising part of the world for developing economic ties.” To this end, Putin called for a “greater Eurasian partnership” that, according to Vedomosti, would “develop and supplement WTO rules.”
For his part, Biden traveled to South Korea and Japan for meetings with their respective leaders and, later, with Quad members. While the main purpose of Biden’s trip was to “get [US] allies involved in an economic confrontation with China,” as Izvestia explains, this goal was thwarted by the bombshell that Biden dropped during his visit – namely, his confirmation that the US would use its military to defend Taiwan. Naturally, this infuriated China, and it may also have harmed Biden’s chances of building up an Eastern coalition to support Western sanctions against Russia. Calling Asia “the most interesting arena of international politics,” Fyodor Lukyanov explains that “instead of offering lucrative economic incentives to India and China for joining the boycott of Russia, [the US] issues warnings about the ‘cost’ of being ‘on the wrong side of history.’ ”
But what of Russia’s domestic front? Recent polls by the Public Opinion Foundation show what Ivan Rodin calls an “oscillation” between positive and negative feelings about Putin. The pendulum is swinging with increasing frequency, raising the specter of protests and demonstrations. And with Meduza sources close to the Kremlin expressing horror and dismay about the course of the war and the toll of sanctions, Russia’s future may ultimately be resolved by its people, and not by the East or the West.