Letter From the Editors
“Freedom is better than a lack of freedom,” then-Russian presidential contender Dmitry Medvedev uttered while on a campaign visit to Krasnoyarsk in 2008. Medvedev’s usual mix of honorable intentions and clumsy rhetoric (who could forget his oft-quoted and tone-deaf “You hang in there!” in response to pensioners griping about low pensions in the Crimea) were emblematic of a brief but romantic era when the Russia-US bromance had not yet entered its star-crossed phase. (Despite all the ominous premonitions, such as the Barack Obama administration’s failure to get their Russian right, inadvertently calling the “reset” an “overload” – Nostradamus, where are you when we need you?) But Cyrillic Freudian slips aside, the US and Russia still managed to sign the New START treaty, expending the nuclear arms control regime.
Today, Medvedev has been relegated to the status of a perpetual benchwarmer (although his quips and attempts to “get jiggy with it” continue to enthrall netizens), and the New START treaty he signed with Obama is hanging on by a thread. Russia made another half-hearted attempt to get the treaty extended without preconditions this week, when President Vladimir Putin instructed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to once again pitch a proposal to the US administration, which was then quickly volleyed back. While Russian International Affairs Council head Andrei Kortunov believes that a Biden victory may get the treaty extended, he nevertheless does not see a future for it: “It is clear that there won’t be another START treaty. We will still have to somehow switch to a new regime – not only in the sense of including China, but also considering changes in nuclear weapon parameters.”
In other legislative initiatives this week, the State Duma drafted legislation barring judges from criticizing Constitutional Court decisions. To be more specific, judges will no longer “have the right to disclose dissenting or concurring opinions in any form, or to refer to them publicly.” This drew the ire of Communist Party Duma Deputy Valery Rashkin, who believes the latest initiative is further evidence that the “new and improved” Constitution that was approved this summer is nothing but window dressing to keep the Putin regime in power forever. Rashkin also railed against the law on the State Council, “an incomprehensible, nebulous governing body,” which he called a “dummy with frills.” Rashkin laments that these initiatives will only result in “further plundering of the country, a shrinking population, the impoverishment of pensioners, the continuation of political repressions, and the exodus of young people from Russia.” Looks like these days, Russian politics is less Medvedev and more Volodin, whose quip that “after Putin, there will only be [another] Putin” might as well be the official motto of the State Duma. Yes, unlike the aberration that was the Medvedev presidency, today’s Russia is looking more and more like its eastern neighbor – China. In the opinion of another Duma Deputy, Vyacheslav Nikonov, that might actually be a good thing. The conflict between the US and China is heating up, and in this cold war 2.0, Nikonov predicts victory will go to China, which is better equipped to deal with the confrontation thanks to its ancient history, strict political and social hierarchy, and growing technological know-how. And while the US still has some remnants of its erstwhile superpower status (including the “soft power” to stir up trouble for China, which is how Nikonov sees the Hong Kong protests and the Uighur problem), it’s basically a paper tiger. “The American way of life is associated with chaos and race riots, and the [American] health care system is disintegrating and unable to cope with the pandemic,” gloats Nikonov. No one ever said that freedom is neat and tidy, or that political predictability is synonymous with stability – as evidenced by the sudden collapse of the Soviet Empire, which few saw coming. Freedom may yet prove to be better than a lack of freedom. Let’s call it Medvedev’s revenge (dance, Dimon, dance!).