Letter From the Editors

This week’s news coverage shows an intriguing aspect of the Russian press: Even as officials and pundits expound the Kremlin’s view of world events, experts and commentators maintain a diligent counterpoint with their own opinions and quotations from Western sources.

Case in point: The buildup of Russian soldiers and weapons at the Ukrainian border. Russia’s media outlets amply covered Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba’s visits to Latvia and Sweden to try to persuade the West that Vladimir Putin is trying to bring down the Kiev regime. Kommersant reported him as saying: “We are not trying to understand what’s going on in Putin’s head. That’s a thankless job. We are working on making it clear to him that a new attack against Ukraine will be too costly, so it’s better not to do it.” Meanwhile, military expert Aleksei Leonkov portrays Moscow’s actions as a response to Western provocations, calling the situation a “war of nerves” in which the goal is “to put Russia up to a dare and to understand how far it is prepared to go to protect the unrecognized republics” in Donetsk and Lugansk Provinces. He continues: “Planned deployments of weapons and military advisers to Ukraine may be an alarming signal that the US is preparing to use the Ukrainians to quickly break through DPR/LPR defensive lines and reach the Russian border.” More broadly, Security Council Deputy Secretary Aleksandr Grebenkin tells Rossiiskaya gazeta about “a significant increase in military and other activities by NATO countries in the Black and Azov Seas,” as well as “a risk of infiltration into Russia by members of international terrorist and extremist organizations.”

Speaking of border troubles, another example of point/counterpoint is the migration crisis in Belarus. Sergei Mikhailov is certain that the entire situation was orchestrated by Minsk with help from Moscow: “There are a number of signs confirming the crisis was created artificially. First, tens of thousands of potential migrants received detailed instructions on how to use the Belarussian route from trusted sources on social media. . . . Second, airlines had to be quickly persuaded to organize additional flights to a country that had not previously been in great demand. Third, for some reason, Belarussian consulates began to issue visas in a massive and simplified manner to citizens of Iraq and Syria. . . . Fourth, upon arrival in Minsk or Grodno, the refugees were escorted to the border in an organized manner.”

Yet Russian Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev focuses on guards at the Polish border who are treating refugees “inhumanely.” What’s more, he blames the West for both the cause and the consequences of the migration crisis: “Having wrought chaos and destruction in the Middle East and North Africa, the Westernizers are now wondering why the populations of these countries are moving en masse to other regions. . . . What is happening today on the Belarussian-Polish border can also be regarded as a result of external pressure on Belarus. The West failed to destroy the country’s leadership, and to plunge the country into chaos, into protest marches, so now they are trying to flood the state with migrants and undermine the social welfare and health care systems.”

Perhaps intending to place himself above the fray, Aleksandr Lukashenko’s bosom buddy Vladimir Putin acknowledged to the Foreign Ministry collegium that “there are problems” in Belarus: “We are aware of this, and are calling for dialogue between the authorities and the opposition.” Huh? Does this mean that batka hasn’t been holding national dialogue all along as part of his Herculean efforts at political reform?

Moscow’s apparent disrespect might make neighboring Minsk grumble. However, relations seem quite friendly with another East European neighbor: Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic crossed the Black Sea to meet Putin in Sochi, where they agreed on expanded trade relations and a sweet-as-honey deal on natural gas. Nice payback for refusing to impose sanctions on the Russian bear’s territorial ambitions.