Letter From the Editors

Sergei Lavrov kicked off the week with a blitz tour of Africa to ramp up support and promote Russia’s narrative on that continent. The move was certainly logical – the Soviet Union’s support for African independence gives Russia an opener with many African leaders. And let’s not forget that many African students – some of whom are currently employed in the government sector at home – studied in the USSR at one time. “African countries have a different attitude toward Russia than Europe and the US, in large part thanks to the memory of Soviet aid to the region,” says Africa expert Irina Filatova.

This was seemingly confirmed during Lavrov’s meeting with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is considered a doyen of African politics, having been in power since 1986. Museveni commented that all of Africa, except for Ethiopia, had been colonized in the 19th century and suffered from slavery for 500 years before that. Russia supported the anticolonial movement from the very beginning, he recalled.

Perhaps feeling jittery about the possible loss of his country’s erstwhile influence on the continent, French President Emmanuel Macron took off on an Africa tour of his own. The goal, according to a French official, is to “show the commitment of the president in the process of renewing the relationship with the African continent.” This drew jibes from some Russian experts. For instance, Aleksandr Vedrussov mocked Macron’s effort to run “in Lavrov’s tracks in an attempt to pick up the pieces of the French Empire. The era of Western dominance has irrevocably faded into the past.”

The top issue during Lavrov’s visit was certainly the prospect of a food crisis over the blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments. In the run-up to his tour, Russia, Ukraine and the UN reached a deal to resume grain shipments. The agreement was very nearly derailed when the port of Odessa was shelled from Russian positions. However, the first shipments of grain nevertheless set off for Istanbul as planned.

The successful “grain drain” operation could be a sign that compromise is not dead after all. Or, conversely, it could be an indication that the Russia-Ukraine war is here to stay, so the world will just have to get used to finding workarounds. Recently, Adm. James Stavridis predicted a Korean War scenario for the Ukraine conflict, “which is to say an armistice, a militarized zone between the two sides, ongoing animosity, kind of a frozen conflict.” Military expert Aleksandr Golts further analyzed Stavridis’s prediction, adding: “This was the first real clash of the original cold war. In the course of the Korean War, the Soviet Union and the US mastered the art of inflicting maximum damage on the opponent without starting a nuclear war.” In fact, both sides sought to conceal evidence of a direct confrontation between two nuclear states: Soviet pilots who flew missions over Korea were issued Chinese uniforms and names (although the jig was pretty much up when they spoke Russian to each other over the radio). Meanwhile, Washington did not reveal that fact to Americans, fearing that a wave of public outrage over the USSR’s involvement would make a nuclear confrontation inevitable.

Keeping the public in the dark is something that Turkmenistan – and its newly minted president, Serdar Berdymukhamedov – hopes to master. According to NG, Turkmenistan is planning to cancel the Internet for all of its citizens. The country has been purchasing special equipment “for in-depth traffic analysis, pessimization (lowering a Web site’s position in search engine results), and partial or complete blocking of the Internet.” On top of that, Turkmen authorities are also considering shutting down all transport routes for two years, supposedly to prevent an outbreak of COVID – which, according to official claims, never reached the country. The move shows “the complete bankruptcy of all ideological doctrines propagated by the Turkmen authorities,” says Turkmen expert Serdar Aitakov. Apparently if you can’t win friends or influence people, the next step is to take them hostage.