Letter From the Editors

Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of South Africa in 2018. Since then, our Digest – which tries to publish a representative sample of Russian news – has mentioned him in 13 articles. Ten of these have come out just in the last three months, including two in this issue. Why has this world leader recently gained such stature in the Russian press? Perhaps because he has become one of the few who can shake hands equally comfortably with both Vladimirs – Putin and Zelensky.

This week, Ramaphosa was among the delegates from 47 African countries who visited St. Petersburg to discuss trade relations, technology, energy, food supplies, natural disasters and much more. Valdai expert Natalia Tsaizer sizes up the importance of this event as follows: “The political dialogue between Russia and Africa is reaching a new level. Originally based on friendship and mutual understanding, relations have now become highly strategic and partnership-based. Africa’s modern political and economic establishment has been offered a sincere and open dialogue on equal terms. The main point of the summit was voiced more than once: peace, security and development for the prosperity of future generations.”

No sooner will one Global South-oriented summit end than another will begin in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 5. But quite unlike the one that just took place on Putin’s turf, this one will apparently exclude Russia as the leaders of some 30 countries, mainly from Asia and Africa, meet to discuss how to settle the Ukraine war.

Russian experts interviewed by NG disagree on the Saudis’ motives in setting up this discussion. Vladimir Frolov says that Riyadh is “acting as almost an ally of the US and promoting the American vision of a settlement.” On the other hand, RIAC expert Kirill Semyonov sees the summit as merely the next stage in Saudi Arabia’s evolving role as a mediator. “As far as I understand, there will be countries there that do not occupy a pro-American or pro-Kiev position. This is a broader international club,” Semyonov says. He speculates that after this event, Riyadh may set up a subsequent meeting with Russia and without Kiev.

Be that as it may, Moscow is hedging its bets in the run-up to yet another Global South gala as BRICS considers the applications of 22 countries to join this up-and-coming alliance. Results will be announced at the BRICS summit in three weeks. Yury Paniyev quotes our friend Ramaphosa, who is hosting the event: “BRICS has acquired a very important stature in the world, with many countries across various continents of our world seeking to be part of it.” Russia, for one, would like to see more members in the club. As Paniyev explains: “An expanded BRICS will help thwart the West’s attempts to isolate Russia in the international arena.”

But the West is keeping its pieces in play, too. Sergei Strokan reports that British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley and Acting US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to several African countries just after the Petersburg summit. Strokan sees this concatenation of visits as evidence of a “cold war 2.0” between the West and Russia. In this day and age, though, “the battle for Africa is still different than it was in the era of bloc confrontation. At that time, it was enough for an African country to proclaim its commitment to the ideals of the free world or its desire to adhere to a socialist orientation, and it would begin to receive generous aid from the West or the USSR, respectively.” Now that “Africa has come a long way in its socioeconomic development,” the dividends of cooperation are not ideological but economic.

Yet, Strokan concludes, “the main point of the battle for Africa remains: Just as before, it is primarily a struggle for influence.” As this dice game heats up, we have a distinct feeling that one of the highest rollers will be Cyril Ramaphosa.

Longstanding confrontations have continued to simmer globally during this scorching summer of record-high temperatures. Most notably, after repeatedly wavering on its participation in the grain deal, which allowed Ukraine to safely transport its grain exports through the Black Sea, Russia has finally backed out of it entirely. Calling the deal a “one-sided game,” Putin said Russia would not return to it unless obligations to his country’s agricultural industry are met. The player with the best chance of enticing Russia back into the deal is Turkey. However, as Valentin Loginov writes in Izvestia, “Turkey is not interested in the mere supply of Ukrainian grain, but in the mechanism for implementing a multilateral project that would demonstrate its ability to play the role of peacemaker.”

Both Turkey and Russia would like to be peacemakers in the confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Erdogan, however, doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of the situation there, recently saying that the Russian peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh would be withdrawn when its term expires in 2025. But Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan responded: “They can only be withdrawn once there is no threat to the existence of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh” – a condition he does not believe will be met by 2025. As for Russia, expert Armen Khanbabyan says that its failure to stay involved in this peace process would “spell the end not only of Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus, but also its actual presence there.”

Another area where Russia is desperate to hold onto its authority is Gagauzia, an autonomous region in Moldova. With a Russian spy scandal unfolding in Chisinau, Gagauzia’s ties to Moscow are coming under suspicion: Its ruling Sor Party has been declared unconstitutional and its leader, Evghenia Gutul, has been accused of representing a criminal group. Now the Moldovan parliament is discussing a bill to slash funding to the region, which means that Gagauzia will have little choice but to maintain its close ties to Russia.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, two US nuclear submarines arrived in South Korean waters, officially for peaceful purposes. The subs’ appearance naturally enraged North Korea, which said the move was a “typical product of their extreme anti-DPRK hostile policy reflecting the most hostile and aggressive will of action” and retaliated by launching missiles toward the Sea of Japan. In turn, China, which is reportedly building up its nuclear arsenal, accused the US of “using the conflict between North and South Korea to create obstacles for Beijing.”

Needless to say, conflicts will arise between countries with differing agendas, but things can also go sour between like-minded people. Take, for example, the recent arrest of “turbopatriot” Igor Girkin. This ex-military commander, who also goes by the nom de guerre “Strelkov,” was arrested on July 21 on charges of extremism for online posts calling Putin a “cowardly mediocrity” and criticizing the Army’s handling of the “special operation.” In fact, expert Abbas Gallyamov argues, Strelkov and his Club of Angry Patriots are the real cowards: “When was the last time they went out and showed their displeasure?” Instead, they “are sitting on the couch with a beer.” But the real irony here is that Girkin is facing the same charges as Aleksei Navalny, even though the two represent opposite ends of the political spectrum. As Mikhail Shevchuk writes, “Patriotism in [Russia] is the purview of the state” and “speaking out in favor of the war and speaking out against it have the same meaning.”

Speculation that Girkin might be offered safe haven in Belarus, like infamous mutiny leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, was fueled by Lukashenko’s July 23 visit to St. Petersburg for talks with Putin. The fate of Girkin remains to be seen, but at some point Putin himself may have to seek refuge in Belarus. And then he and batka can crack open a cold one and reminisce about all the cowardly acts they wrought in their time.