Letter From the Editors
As the drumbeat of war booms ever louder, Western leaders are continuing to make desperate attempts to find some sort of compromise that would satisfy Russia and avert an invasion of Ukraine.
In a conversation described as “balanced and businesslike,” Putin and Biden continued to dance around the issue of Russia’s main demands for security guarantees without finding any common ground. Following their call, Putin adviser Yury Ushakov said that the talks took place “in an atmosphere of unprecedented hysteria by American officials about Russia’s alleged imminent invasion of Ukraine.” Ushakov also accused the Americans of “artificially fanning hysteria around the so-called planned Russian invasion, even naming dates,” and that talk of an invasion “sets the stage for possible provocative actions by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”
French President Macron had a similar conversation with Putin, but said he did not see that Putin had any intention of invading Ukraine. UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace, however, who met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, said that an invasion was “highly likely.” For his part, Shoigu said that the military and political situation in Europe is becoming increasingly tense, but through no fault of Russia’s: “We do not fully understand the reasons for the escalation of this tension. Nevertheless, we see that it is growing,” he said.
Meanwhile, newly minted German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz travelled to Moscow to speak directly with Putin. Scholtz called the talks “friendly,” but Putin “asserted that Moscow cannot turn a blind eye to how the US and NATO apply a loose and self-serving interpretation to the key principles of equal and indivisible security that are enshrined in many pan-European documents.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s commentary on the US and NATO response to Moscow’s package deal sums up Russia’s position perfectly: “The American approach to transparency surrounding military exercises is one-sided and solely aimed at ‘shedding light’ on the activities of Russian troops. We welcome Washington’s readiness to discuss the prevention of incidents on the high seas and in the airspace above them. However, this work cannot replace the settlement of the key issues Russia has outlined.”
So while NATO and the US will remain Russia’s No. 1 international threat for the foreseeable future, at home, the Kremlin apparently views migrant workers as a top threat, particularly since the flow of migrants into Russia has picked up as COVID‑19 travel restrictions have been loosened. According to Dmitry Medvedev, who was appointed by Putin to lead an interagency committee on migration policy, migrant workers – who are mainly from Central Asian countries – hold on to their traditions and lifestyle and generally live in ethnic enclaves. These enclaves, Medvedev asserts, are “like little states within a state where people live by their own laws and their own codes, and, most importantly, ignore our laws. Without proper control, they could, and unfortunately often do, become a breeding ground for extremist and terrorist attitudes, and a hotbed for crime.”
Ironically, the same concern does not seem to extend to the safe enclave the Chechen authorities have established for themselves. As Chechen human rights defender Ruslan Kutayev claims in an interview with Republic.ru, everything the Chechen authorities do is at the behest of the Kremlin and is intended “to intimidate people in the rest of Russia: If you’re not happy with Putin, you’ll get Kadyrov instead.”
Finally, let’s not forget Aleksei Navalny, whose plight has faded into the background amid the concerns of an invasion. Navalny, who is already serving a nearly three-year sentence in the Yves Rocher case, is on trial again for fraud and contempt. A guilty verdict could add another 15 years to his sentence, ensuring his silence until almost 2040.
So Putin is wrapping things up neatly on the home front in his pursuit of pan-Slavic imperialism, and the elimination of dissent and independent voices. Now, the whole world is holding its collective breath in fearful anticipation of what his next moves on the international front will bring.