Letter From the Editors

In this issue of the Digest, Andrei Pertsev shares an inside view from Kremlin sources about Putin’s campaign platform for the 2024 election (yes, he apparently still needs one, despite the lack of competition for the Russian presidency). Media outlets will seek to portray Russia as an “island of tranquility,” protected by a wise and fearless leader against the chaos and unrest in the West.

Unfortunately, recent events in the North Caucasus make such a claim hard to swallow. In response to the ongoing Israel-Palestine war, a rash of hate crimes against Jews broke out in majority-Muslim regions of Russia. In the city of Nalchik, for example, a Jewish community center that had been under construction for months was set on fire, and someone painted a death threat against Jews on the wall along the perimeter.

A more violent and controversial incident was a riot at the Makhachkala airport that spilled out onto the tarmac, where a flight of refugees from Israel had supposedly landed. This blatant disruption of Russia’s image as a harmonious “multiconfessional” country could easily have embarrassed the Moscow leadership. And yet Russian officials managed to find the perfect scapegoat: a Telegram channel called “Morning Dagestan.” The head of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, issued a statement that the channel had posted calls for people to come out for a demonstration with anti-Israeli slogans, playing a key role in bringing the airport crowd together and riling it up. As it happens, this channel is operated from Ukraine, which of course is a puppet of Western propaganda aimed at destabilizing the Russian paradise. Foreign Ministry officials particularly pointed the finger at exiled parliamentary deputy Ilya Ponomaryov. One could almost believe them, given that many political liberals in various countries have expressed support for Palestine in one way or another. But the plot thickens: A Meduza investigation revealed that Ponomaryov has not operated the channel in over a year. He handed it over in 2022 to a media entrepreneur named Abakar Abakarov. Apparently the inflammatory posts came out under Abakarov’s watch.

No matter who was responsible for the breakout of anti-Semitism in Russia, Ukrainian President Zelensky (despite being Jewish himself) may not be able to dissociate himself from the ugliness. This is far from the only issue giving the current Ukrainian leadership bad PR. Unlike the upcoming Russian presidential election, the one in Ukraine faces a rocky road ahead. First, there’s the question of whether it will even take place, given that a sizable chunk of the country’s territory (and population) is embroiled in war. Second, if it does, Zelensky is in for stiff competition from his former adviser, Aleksei Arestovich. In an interview with Meduza, Arestovich explains why he broke ranks: “I knew how they were harming [Ukraine] by spreading mass corruption, by leading the country down an authoritarian path: Instead of reforms, there was stagnation, monopolization and so on – in short, all the hallmarks of a collapsing democracy.” Of course, the main plank in Arestovich’s campaign platform may not rally a great deal of domestic support: He favors resolving the war with Russia with the help of the “Kissinger formula” – renouncing (at least for now) the return of Ukraine’s lost territories in exchange for NATO membership.

Despite Arestovich’s talk about an “authoritarian path,” at least Ukraine still has a civil society healthy enough to allow the points above to be stated openly. In a similar vein, the newly released European Commission report on Georgia praised its “vibrant civil society” as a key factor that influenced the EU’s decision to grant the country candidate status. But the Tbilisi government caught some criticism, too: The report stated that Georgia’s level of preparation for further reforms “was negatively affected in practice by the country’s deep political polarization” and “the lack of effective cross-party cooperation.”

Whew – what a relief that our own country doesn’t have to meet such standards!