Letter From the Editors

The headline from the first article in this week’s feature about the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum gives a winking reference to the closing lines from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem “Broadway” (1925). After describing the sights and sounds of New York with characteristic hyperbole, the poet concludes that despite all the impressive sights, he will not take his cap off to the city: “Soviets have our own pride / We look down on the bourgeois from on high.” In like manner, modern Russia’s most prominent Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) did not kowtow to the imposing delegation of Americans at SPIEF. Instead, as reported by Marianna Belenkaya, he tactfully thanked the partners who continued working with Moscow “in spite of the pandemic and the difficult situation with international relations.”

Judging from the speeches and deals made during the conference, Qatar topped the list of these partners, along with other countries in Asia and Africa. The only bright star in the West was Germany, as Putin announced the completion of the first line of the long-embattled Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The subtext to these announcements was, of course, the broad array of sanctions that the US and Europe continue to impose on Moscow. Some experts are suggesting that the West follow the same game plan with Russia’s neighbor, Belarus, after that country’s authorities abruptly grounded a Ryanair flight in Minsk, on the pretext of a bomb threat (as covered in the previous Digest issue). The most dangerous incendiary device found on board was journalist Roman Protasevich, who leads the NEXTA Telegram channel, a key communication outlet for Belarus’s protest movement – he was promptly seized and put in jail.

This week, media all over the world were buzzing about an “interview” with Protasevich aired on state-owned Belarussian TV channel ONT. Aleksandr Baklanov writes: “During the program, Protasevich – who has been in custody in Belarus since May 23 – made a number of contradictory statements, leading many, including his parents, to believe the interview was conducted under duress. . . . On air, Protasevich said that he had pled guilty to organizing unauthorized mass protests in Belarus after the contested presidential election in 2020.” Not only did the journalist implicate himself, but he criticized his country’s opposition movement and praised perennial leader Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Ukrainian officials are doing just the opposite. In fact, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta, legislators have drafted a document calling on global leaders to recognize batka as a threat to international security. Furthermore, despite choosing Minsk as the site of trilateral talks since 2013 to settle the Donetsk Basin conflict, Kiev now wants to change venues. Chief Ukrainian negotiator (and former president) Leonid Kravchuk told journalists: “The talks must be moved, because the current regime in Belarus, which was established by self-proclaimed president-dictator Lukashenko, and the criminal-political situation itself do not make it possible to consider Belarus a possible platform for continuing negotiations.” RIA Novosti quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s response: “I would like to reiterate what Moscow has said many times. We insist that the West stop demonizing those it doesn’t like.”

Do we detect a note of hurt feelings here? Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov turned the hurt into a threat when he announced, in preparation for the upcoming Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, that Russia will soon be sending a number of “uncomfortable” signals to the US. Yury Paniyev interprets this remark as a response to Biden’s stated intention to pressure the Russian president to respect human rights. Of course, Putin doesn’t need help from diplomats to make the US uncomfortable – as evidenced by his memorable remark at SPIEF: “I don’t give a damn if someone somewhere tries to block me. What matters to me is that the people of Russia trust me.” You put those bourgeois Americans in their place, Vladimir Vladimirovich!