Letter From the Editors

Russia has followed up on its break in diplomatic relations with the Czech Republic in late April by approving “a list of foreign states ‘committing unfriendly actions’ in relation to the Russian Federation, Russian citizens or legal entities.” The Czech Republic has the dubious honor of joining the US on this list of only two states. As expert Yevgeny Roshchin explained to Kommersant, the concept of unfriendly countries flows naturally from the long tradition of friendship treaties between states. In his opinion, this list represents “a sort of informal response to some kind of breakdown, and sometimes a conflict that the parties do not want to transition into open confrontation.” This explanation will do little to mollify the Czech Republic, which has accused Russia of violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and warned of further travel and trade repercussions.

In another diplomatic collapse, Moscow has announced its intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. This treaty, which allows states parties to fly over the territories of other signatories to observe military activities, was intended to build trust between states with military partnerships. The US withdrew from it in 2020, claiming that Russia was using its flights over US territory to identify targets for attacks on US infrastructure. Russia will soon follow suit, noting that the US can still access information about Russia through its NATO channels, while no alliance that Russia is part of can share the same information about the US with it.

In other diplomacy news, Russia’s strategy of vaccine diplomacy is continuing to limp along. While some European officials claim that Russia has stalled deliveries of its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to countries that signed on to the anti-Russia sanctions imposed following Aleksei Navalny’s arrest and sentencing, Mikhail Shevchuk reports in Republic.ru that the delays are more likely tied to the enormous technological hurdles involved in producing large volumes of doses than to any political motivations. After all, Sputnik V was expected to be Russia’s crowning glory on the international stage.

As if this weren’t enough for poor Navalny, his Anticorruption Foundation is soon expected to be designated “extremist” by the Moscow City Court. In fact, a bill is now before the Duma that would bar anyone who helps manage or even just donates to an extremist organization from running in any election for three years. The catch is that the new rule would be retroactive. While United Russia legislators insist that it is not directed against any particular organization, people who worked for or supported the Anticorruption Foundation before it was labelled extremist would effectively be precluded from the ballot. In its editorial on the subject, Nezavisimaya gazeta concludes: “It is odd that a government that is constantly citing its own popular support does not trust the citizens themselves to determine which candidates are radicals.”

Meanwhile, Russia will have to grapple with actual manifestations of dangerous extremism. A case in point is the recent school shooting in Kazan, which left eight children and one teacher dead and 22 others injured. Although school shootings are rare in Russia, stricter measures were not put into place after a similar fatal school shooting in Kerch in 2018, following fierce backlash from hunters.

Finally, we would be remiss not to mention Belarussian President Lukashenko’s ambitious plan to stick around for as long possible. In a document that expert Valery Karbalevich describes as “Aleksandr Lukashenko’s political last will and testament,” Lukashenko lays out the procedure for the transfer of power after his demise. As political analyst Pavel Usov explains, upon Lukashenko’s death, control of the government will pass to the Security Council, whose goal will be to keep power “in the family.” Although experts assert that this document contravenes the Belarussian Constitution, it’s unlikely that the Constitutional Court will object, at least while Aleksandr Grigoryevich is still here with us.