Letter From the Editors

It was business as usual at the Kremlin last week. Putin gave a speech to Russian entrepreneurs, had phone conversations with foreign leaders (from “friendly” countries, of course) and generally went about his normal routine. The only unscripted event came on Friday, when the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Putin and his children’s rights commissioner. The two are wanted for “the war crime of unlawful deportation of population,” including children. According to Aleksei Fenenko, the warrant is intended to put pressure on the Russian government, restrict the movements of the Russian elites, and, more fundamentally, make sure the Kremlin knows who’s boss. Its ultimate goal, Fenenko argues, is to boot Russia from the UN Security Council, an objective the Americans have “dreamed” of for years. Meduza sources close to the Kremlin say that Putin’s restricted ability to travel would deal a blow to “domestic propaganda” and its efforts to present Putin as a “defender***against colonial oppression.” Meduza’s sources also believe that The Hague may issue warrants against more Russian officials in the future, but that this won’t have much of an effect on them since “civil servants don’t travel abroad [during wartime] anyway.”

So then what to make of Putin’s trip to the Crimea and Mariupol the very day after the warrant was issued? Many argue that Putin’s double was actually the one to make the trip, but Republic.ru’s Aleksandr Zhelenin presents compelling reasons why Putin would have made the trip himself. First, he says, Putin’s “ego was undoubtedly hurt” after Zelensky paid a courageous visit to Bakhmut. Because of this, Putin “urgently needed to respond to his Ukrainian counterpart’s dashing trips to the front with an equally cool PR campaign.” And, second, Putin has always been something of an adventurer who loves taking the occasional risk. Take, for example, his hang-gliding with Siberian cranes or his descent to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland in a bathyscaphe. Calling Putin an “expansionist” dictator “willing to risk changing existing international rules by brute force,” Zhelenin says that Putin is using his war against Ukraine and the West in a last-ditch effort to obtain promises of financial and military support from China during Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.

Indeed, China’s proposed peace plan for Ukraine was the subject of intense scrutiny during Xi’s visit. However, as Aleksei Maslov argues, it’s “too soon to speak about the formation of a Russia-China geopolitical axis. Here everything depends on the success of Beijing’s and Moscow’s efforts to settle the situation in Ukraine. All that we’re seeing now are plans, very productive plans, but nonetheless just plans.” And with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken making it clear that the US will not get behind China’s peacekeeping efforts unless they are focused on Russia’s withdrawal of its troops from Ukraine, it seems unlikely that China will opt for exchanging its trade turnover with the US and the EU – valued at $1 trillion – for what Zhelenin describes as “the highly questionable benefits of a strategic alliance with Russia.”

So what did come out of the summit? Aside from innocuous blanket statements about multipolarity and the “three no’s” (no alliance, no confrontation, no targeting), there did seem to be some progress on strengthening ties between the two countries, with promises to increase trade by a modest $10 billion and to expand cooperation on energy and transportation initiatives.

But what does any of this mean to the average Russian just trying to get by? As NG reports, a new poll by NAFI shows that ordinary Russian citizens are most concerned about the yawning gap between rich and poor in terms of access to education, transportation, housing and, in particular, health care. Perhaps it is Putin’s failure to focus on the everyday problems of his citizens, and not the arrest warrant from The Hague, that will ultimately cause his downfall.