Letter From the Editors
All quiet on the western front. Or rather, there have been few operational-level changes for the Russian press to report on. Over in the Ukrainian press, there is talk of fighting around Zaporozhye Province’s village of Robotyne, but unless that battle clears the Ukrainians’ road back to the Sea of Azov, it might not make too big a splash on the pages of establishment outlets in Moscow.
And perhaps even in that case, the reaction would be mild. Referring to last year’s retreat from Kherson, Ukrainian pollster Aleksandr Shulga notes: “Three-quarters of Russians said it was a good thing because it helped save soldiers’ lives. But this was after the fact. I think that if we asked people how they would feel about Russia abandoning the land bridge to the Crimea today, their reactions would be negative. But if Ukraine manages to deoccupy that territory, Russian propaganda will spin it . . . and people’s responses will change to positive.”
While the Russian press has few successes to write about regarding the stated aims of “demilitarization and denazification” in Ukraine, there have been an abundance of headlines that seem to coincide with Moscow’s global strategic goal of multipolarity.
Following up on efforts by Turkey and China, Saudi Arabia is now building influence by trying its hand at peacemaking. The absence of a Russian envoy among representatives of 40 countries at a Jeddah meeting has not soured Russian foreign policy scholars on the kingdom. Bogdan Bespalko views the snubbing as a relatively meaningless sop to Washington, since Riyadh “is preparing to reduce oil production . . . and this is much more important than any summits.” Artyom Adrianov goes further, saying that “by holding this meeting, Saudi Arabia is asserting itself as a global player.”
Denis Leven of Novaya gazeta Europe thinks this dovish assertiveness might lead the kingdom to challenge Russia on previously friendly turf: “We are talking about a potentially broad consensus involving BRICS countries that have leverage over Russia, as well as African and Latin American states, which have recently been important to the Kremlin given its recent anti-Western and anticolonial rhetoric.”
This anticolonial rhetoric is still on full display, judging from an audio recording posted on Telegram about the recent coup in Niger. Unconfirmed reports say the speaker is none other than fallen Wagner PMC head Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose mercenaries have been employed by a junta in Mali and are negotiating with another one in Burkina Faso. “What happened in Niger is essentially a struggle of the people of Niger against their colonizers,” the message said. “In fact, it means gaining independence.”
Official government representatives in the West condemned the coup, as did Lavrov, who called it “unconstitutional.” This causes Fyodor Lukyanov to muse: “By post-cold war standards, Niger is an ideal target for a ‘just intervention.’ . . . Why wait?” The answer, provided in several articles by Lukyanov, scholar Kirill Smirnov and even a body of French senators, is that past interventions by the Western bloc have failed so often that there is no longer any stomach for them. The most credible challenge to the junta is coming not from the West, but from the Economic Community of West African Countries. And the financial interest in avoiding a force solution comes from contracts not with Wagner, but with Chinese oil companies.
Of course, no discussion of ambitious regional powers would be complete without involving Erdogan’s Turkey. This week, Viktoria Panfilova highlights Ankara’s exertion of soft power in Kyrgyzstan in the form of several education initiatives. As Stanislav Pritchin comments, “Kyrgyzstan lacks the capacity to develop its own education, and that is why Turkish education is welcomed. . . . This is not the best news for Russia’s influence [in the country], which is why discussions on opening Russian schools and coordinating efforts in education have recently intensified.” Yet another example of how movement toward Russia’s goal of multipolarity might only multiply its rivals.