Letter From the Editors

If you want to recall which news stories dominated the Russian press in 2021, look no further than the predictions commentators are making for 2022. Russian International Affairs Council Director Andrei Kortunov offers us a representative sample in his “nonalarmist outlook” for the coming year.

Unsurprisingly, tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border top Kortunov’s list. He predicts, with conditional optimism, that the situation will stabilize once Ukraine commits to a political settlement in the Donetsk Basin. This happens to be Vladimir Putin’s stated condition, which he repeated in his annual press conference on Dec. 23. The Russian president blamed Ukrainian militarism for the tensions, which had waned from a peak early in the year: “People are saying ‘war, war, war.’ . . . And we are being warned in advance, ‘Do not interfere. Do not protect these people.’ ”

On a very much related note, Kortunov’s following predictions deal with Russia’s bilateral relations with the US, NATO and the EU, respectively. With regard to the first two, Aleksandr Golts reminds us: “Putin is firmly convinced that Washington is the main and only source of power in NATO,” and thus the Kremlin approaches them as a single entity. While 2021 saw the emergence of top-level dialogue and bilateral working groups in Russia-US relations, Moscow’s latest set of demands to restrict NATO activities, which many commentators call “ultimatums,” are putting the two on a collision course.

According to Fyodor Lukyanov, the Kremlin’s idea may be to “make demands that would be completely unacceptable so as to take this stance: Sorry, we wanted to make it work, but you refused.” He clarifies, “If this is the case, we can expect Moscow to take steps demonstrating Russia’s determination to unilaterally change the status quo.” Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko seemingly confirmed this interpretation by saying that, if the US rejects these proposals, “We will also switch to a regime of creating counterthreats, but then it will be too late to ask us why we decided to do that and why we deployed certain [weapons] systems in a given territory.”

Kortunov’s predictions for EU-Russia relations in 2022 point to rosier possibilities, including the first gas deliveries via Nord Stream 2 and a joint approach to limiting carbon emissions. After all, Putin shifted his tone on climate change in 2021, which many commentators saw as an olive branch to the West. The next item on Kortunov’s list, about efforts to avoid a humanitarian and political crisis in Afghanistan following the August 2021 withdrawal of US troops, offers another opportunity for Russia to find common ground with Western partners.

Moving on to Russia’s friends, Kortunov hopes for an orderly transition of power in Belarus, a view shared by many around the world. President Lukashenko rounded out a year of increasingly erratic behavior by expressing his willingness to welcome Russian nuclear weapons back into his country and locking up two of his 2020 rivals for the presidency.

Washington and Beijing have also upped the ante in their confrontation since Biden’s inauguration, bringing Russia and China even further into alignment – though not, many experts assert, into an alliance. Yevgeny Verlin of Republic.ru has gathered the opinions of these experts ahead of a Putin-Xi summit in Beijing during the 2022 Winter Olympics. The consensus on the prospects for an alliance might be best expressed by Academician Vladimir Petrovsky: “Allied relations are fundamentally not suitable for great states like Russia and China.” However, political analyst Vasily Kashin points out that the recently renewed Treaty of Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation includes “a tool for quickly moving current relations between the two countries into a formal alliance in the event of an emergency.”

Kortunov also waxes optimistic on the stabilization of the truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This could be achieved by working out the demarcation and transport disputes that caused the latest round of skirmishes in November. Seeing as there are no other articles on the topic in this issue, he may be right. After all, no news is good news.