Letter From the Editors

The two news features in this issue of the Digest ostensibly tell, respectively, about discord within NATO and the final days of Russia’s presidential campaign. But the specter of the Ukraine war looms over both of them. For example, the catchphrase used by political strategist Pavel Danilin to sum up the logic of Putin’s campaign platform – “It was, it became, it will be” – could easily be filled in with Ukraine as the subject: “It was a free nation, it became a threat, it will be ours.” The war is so central to Russian political life these days that an up-and-coming political hopeful who openly opposed it (Boris Nadezhdin) was barred from running for president.

This apparent gambit to clear the field for another Putin victory prompted St. Petersburg politician Maksim Reznik to propose an initiative called Noon Against Putin. As Meduza explains it, “Everyone who doesn’t support Putin goes to the polls at exactly 12 p.m. on March 17. Reznik doesn’t suggest voting for any particular candidate, just not for Putin.” The trouble is, says political analyst Aleksei Mukhin, that even the seemingly like-minded ideological stratum of liberals can’t agree on any tactics beyond this: “These guys, especially the emigrants, are simulating frenzied activity, since they themselves are shut out of the process. They don’t have their fingers on the pulse, hence all the hemming and hawing and the lack of a unified approach.”

Speaking of which, French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent remarks about the possibility of sending NATO troops into Ukraine triggered some hemming and hawing from other European leaders, including the head of the alliance itself, Jens Stoltenberg. Maksim Yusin explains why Macron dared to raise a hitherto taboo subject: “He’s allowed. He is a lame duck; he can afford to think not about elections, but about his place in history.” Yusin goes on to praise the French leader’s boldness: “The problem is that there don’t seem to be any other Macrons in the Western world today.” Other politicians in the region, “even in Poland or Lithuania, not to mention Italy, Germany or the US, would hardly want to risk a war with a nuclear superpower . . . so that Vladimir Zelensky can solemnly proclaim ‘victory over the Russian Empire.’ ”

The concept of victory has gotten called into question not only from political quarters, but from a religious one as well. Pope Francis, who spoke out against Russian aggression in the first weeks of the Ukraine war, made statements this week in an interview on Swiss TV that left a different impression: “The strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates. . .  Negotiating is never a surrender. It is the courage to not bring the country to suicide.” Despite the Pope’s clarification at the end, as well as his spokesman’s hurried disclaimer, the phrase “white flag” raised red flags throughout the world. Most people considered these remarks to have been directed toward the West rather than Russia (after all, Putin isn’t catholic).

Another surprise was the conclusion drawn by journalist Mikhail Shevchuk, who in the past has not hesitated to criticize Putin’s policies. Here he takes a more conciliatory attitude: “The process [of ending the Ukraine war] can only be mutual, and concessions must be made by the Kremlin, by Kiev and by Brussels.” For example, “NATO choosing not to, say, deploy troops within Ukraine or American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe . . . does not seem like too high a price to pay for saving thousands of lives.”

Taking the high moral ground, allowing your enemy to save face, showing mercy and understanding – these are all laudable values to raise kids on. In fact, they probably align well with Putin’s new national project of “raising well-rounded and socially responsible individuals.” But any child will tell you: Good values don’t stop bullies.