Letter From the Editors

July 8 was a banner day for the Russian justice system. Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva handed down the nation’s first conviction on the newly instituted charge of “spreading fake news about the Russian Army.” The charges had been brought against Moscow City Council member Aleksei Gorinov for remarks he made during a closed council meeting in April. As Andrei Karev reports: “He will spend seven years in prison literally for believing that any war is a bad thing and that killing children is horrible – and, of course, for referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a ‘war’ instead of ‘a special military operation,’ as the oppressive new law prescribes.”

But “fake news” in principle is still a bad thing, right? After all, Aleksandr Titov writes that the many falsehoods that Boris Johnson spread in his years as UK prime minister, including the benefits that would come from Brexit, were a major factor behind his resignation on July 7.

On the other hand, some leaders  think that the antidote to “fake news” should be no news. According to Arkady Dubnov, this was a misstep on the part of Uzbek authorities when they got wind that protests were being organized via social media channels in the country’s autonomous region of Karakalpakstan: They responded by shutting down the Internet. This tactic came back to bite them when President Shavkat Mirziyoyev tried to negotiate with the protesters. As Dubnov tells it: “[T]he authorities had to deal with a poorly organized crowd without a specific leader and without proper communication channels, . . .and there was no opportunity to explain to people what the government was going to do.”

In a way, the protest movement itself was triggered by poor communication: The Uzbek parliament had introduced a constitutional amendment that would abolish the autonomous status of Karakalpakstan without conducting any polls to get a sense of public opinion. Once local residents learned that this change was under discussion, thousands of them organized marches in several cities. One thing that Mirziyoyev did right, says Dubnov, was to listen to the angry public. Rossiiskaya gazeta reported that when he met with protesters in the regional capital of Nukus, he said that the constitutional provisions that enshrine the autonomous status would remain unchanged.

The best course of action going forward, Dubnov concludes, is for the authorities to admit their mistakes and fix them. It would be misguided, he notes, to blame the unrest on external forces, a theory that “is being echoed by certain brilliant orators like [Belarussian President] Aleksandr Lukashenko.”

Lukashenko has his own “external forces” to grapple with, such as the self-styled Kalinouski Regiment, a group of Belarussian soldiers who went off to Ukraine to fight against the Russians. The group named itself after Kastus Kalinouski, a revolutionary who led a revolt against Russia in 1863. The Belarussian president, quoted by Nezavisimaya gazeta, commented that the group is “made up of our fugitives and others. . . . They came under fire, the fighting started, so they ran away alongside the Ukrainians. A few dozen of our fugitives and some 20 Ukrainians from the Kalinouski Regiment did not make it out.” Lukashenko took the opportunity to criticize his country’s opposition supporters for egging on this militant group: “[T]hey don’t talk about how they threw people into the furnace, promising to pay them well, and those 20 people died. Who will answer to their parents? . . . Let our secret services give the public this information: See, this is where fighting gets you.”

Lukashenko may not be your model pacifist, but he’s been talking for months about not wanting to get involved in the Ukraine conflict. For example, in April, Belta quoted him as saying: “We do not need this war. . . . Because as a result of this conflict between two Slavic peoples, we are the ones who may suffer the most.”

Good thing that batka isn’t in Russia – he might have been behind bars by now.