Letter From the Editors

After much ado, the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken finally did take place in Reykjavik. And although some drew parallels to the 1985 summit between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan, no major breakthroughs happened in the Icelandic capital this time around. Still, conversation between Lavrov and Blinken was “professional,” writes RBC’s Yevgeny Pudovkin. And unlike the tense meeting between Lavrov and EU representative Josep Borrell in Moscow this February, the sides “touched upon specific issues on which the parties had points of contact,” said Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council.

Those issues include Afghanistan, Ukraine, strategic stability, and the JCPOA – with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov expressing hope that the latter can be revived once all the parties are back on board (hint, hint, America). At the same time, Ryabkov warned that Russia will not succumb to pressure from the US, and that “a meaningful dialogue with the US is possible only in conditions of mutual respect and consideration of our interests.”

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Dmitry Rodionov certainly thought that Russia got no respect at the summit. He accused Blinken of throwing his weight around and once again trying to strong-arm Moscow. “One might make the case that nothing will change in the dialogue between Moscow and Washington, and the meetings at various levels will be necessary only to demonstrate that relations between our countries still exist,” the expert summed up gloomily. So much for a warm meeting in Europe’s northernmost capital.

Russia’s position seems to be stronger in another long-standing conflict – the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, which escalated to open clashes in recent weeks. Marianna Belenkaya writes that Moscow has seemingly been taking a hands-off approach in the conflict (except for Putin’s cryptic phrase that the conflict “is taking place in close proximity to our borders,” which puzzled geography buffs). However, a Hamas delegation urgently sought a meeting with Russian Foreign Ministry officials, while Lavrov held phone talks with his counterparts in Egypt and Jordan. According to Belenkaya, this demonstrates that Moscow is perhaps the only player that enjoys a certain level of trust from both parties to the conflict. Meanwhile, its growing role in the Middle East could make it the perfect go-between.

But expert Fyodor Lukyanov was quick to rain on that parade, saying that since the end of the cold war, regional conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian ones have become basically unresolvable. “No one is counting on political reconciliation,” he writes. During the cold war, “any regional conflict turned into a proxy confrontation between the two superpowers.” Thus, it could be resolved by those same superpowers. Now, “both local and regional altercations will go the way local players can manage them.”

The trend of turning inward was underscored in a big way by Russian Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, who posited that only a strong state – and not any supranational institution – is capable of protecting its people from crises like the coronavirus pandemic. “It turned out that the state alone. . . can handle the most complex tasks of mobilizing and redistributing resources in order to cope with the severest crises,” Zorkin wrote. “All of a sudden, the ‘strong arm’ of a sovereign state was necessary,” he added. According to Zorkin, another problem states will have to grapple with is digital technology, which “can evolve into what is known as digital dictatorship” without proper public oversight.

What would Dmitry Medvedev make of Zorkin’s piece, considering that this week the former prime minister proposed making COVID‑19 vaccinations mandatory? Or how does it fit with the proposal by Russia’s Federal Corrections Service head to put prisoners to work at construction sites and other projects that currently hire Central Asian labor migrants? Is this another example of the state’s growing role in protecting the interests of its citizens? At what point does the “strong arm of the state” begin to strong-arm its citizens?