Letter From the Editors

The heads of Russia’s economic agencies took advantage of their platform at this year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which was held from June 14 to June 17, to deliver some grim news about the Russian economy. According to Republic’s Tatyana Rybakova, the officials, including Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, Economic Development Minister Maksim Reshetnikov, presidential adviser Maksim Oreshkin and Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina, all addressed the need to raise taxes and cut subsidies for businesses and private individuals, with Siluanov reminding the audience that “you can’t make money out of thin air.”

But, Rybakova notes, the most anticipated speech was Putin’s, because “we understand who makes the decisions, including the economic ones, around here.” Listening to Putin talk, it became clear that “the heads of the economic agencies had gotten their knickers in a knot for nothing.” According to him, Russia has rebounded after a tough start to 2022, and now boasts record-low poverty and unemployment rates and an inflation rate that is the “envy” of many a Western country. Putin concluded the economic part of his speech with assurances to provide every citizen with an Internet connection, raise minimum wage, ease requirements for business and increase investments. He even promised allocating 11 billion rubles to support glamping, which Rybakova dryly comments is “probably the single most important area for the Russian economy.”

Meanwhile, over in France, Emmanuel Macron is angling for an invitation to the upcoming BRICS summit in South Africa, but it’s unclear what exactly he hopes to achieve there. By way of an explanation, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said: “Dialogue is always positive, even when we don’t agree 100% on everything,” and that the BRICS summit would be the perfect place to continue this dialogue. Whether Macron will be able to travel to Johannesburg and perhaps take a little glamping side trip to a South African nature preserve remains to be seen: Any invitation must come from the host country, and South Africa has only said that his involvement would be an “innovation within the current BRICS participation model.”

Polish politicians, however, will not have time for any glamorous camping trips this summer. With parliamentary elections scheduled for the fall and the ruling PiS party facing economic troubles and fallout over its “Russian influence” law, a united opposition just might be able to pull off an election victory. According to Republic, such a victory “may provide a new example of a broad civic coalition’s success against politicians appealing to ‘traditional values’ and seeking enemies abroad to consolidate their power.”

The possibility of a similar victory for the Russian opposition looks remote – particularly since, as Andrei Kolesnikov says in an interview with Republic, the country is “comprised of many little putins***who are ready to anticipate what Putin would do, [and] how he would act in their place.” And even though Kolesnikov says establishment liberals “have long ceased to be liberals,” “it can be assumed that this segment of the elites will play a role in Russia’s transition from a tough dictatorship to a more or less soft regime, and maybe even a democracy.” Nevertheless, Kolesnikov concludes that the transition to a post-Putin Russia “is a task not only for the Russians – who, to reiterate, will have to navigate an extremely difficult economic, moral [and] intellectual path toward normalization. This is also a task for Europe and the Western world as a whole.”

If this transition comes to pass within Putin’s lifetime, he may find himself with enough spare time to mix a little disaster tourism in with his glamping. As Rybakova writes: “After all, what else could we compare the current Russian reality to if not glamping, when, against the backdrop of war, ruins and a manmade flood, a glass dome rises offering all manner of amenities for observers. And its lanterns are twinkling invitingly.”