Letter From the Editors

The Donetsk Basin is currently experiencing its worst flare-up in violence since June 2020. Naturally, the conflicting parties all have different explanations for the exacerbation, but they do appear to agree that it all boils down to Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO. According to political analyst Vadim Karasyov, Kiev’s desire to wriggle out of the Minsk agreements (both the first and the second) is behind the buildup of troops and equipment on its side of the border. Kiev believes that dismantling the agreements would open the path to NATO membership, while Moscow is convinced that the crisis in the Donetsk Basin will only worsen if Kiev does end up joining this alliance. Hence the amassing of Russian troops and equipment, which experts argue is actually Moscow’s attempt to avoid a direct confrontation. The leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics agree that Kiev is trying to edge them out of any reconciliation process, but they also blame the deteriorating situation on Ukraine’s domestic problems – like getting its citizens inoculated against the coronavirus and managing its floundering economy. In sum, though, the problems in eastern Ukraine cannot be separated from the greater issue of European security. This fact essentially means that the situation is stalled, since no European nation – or the US, for that matter – is willing to involve its own military right now.

In spite of the obvious confrontation building between the European Union and Russia over Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov hinted that Russia would be open to the EU joining a “Greater Eurasian Partnership.” This may have been a gesture of “diplomatic politesse” on his part, but his offer was a slap in the face to members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU). This group, which was established with the goal of removing trade obstacles between its members, has grown into what Gleb Prostakov calls “an impressive bureaucratic apparatus” dominated by a Russia intent on making members follow its own dictates, particularly in regard to sanctions.

However, EaEU member Armenia must look to Russia for security – the question of Armenia joining NATO is off the table because of Turkey’s membership in the organization. In fact, as Sergei Markedonov argues, the biggest question on Armenia’s domestic agenda is, in fact, Russia, which seems likely to support current Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan in the upcoming early parliamentary elections as the only candidate who can guarantee the postwar order secured by the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement that Moscow helped orchestrate.

Russia also seems to be on more solid ground in its role as a member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). As Igor Shuvalov, chair of VEB.RF, explains, these countries have been cooperating closely throughout the pandemic, including on economic rescue programs and the coronavirus vaccine, and are focusing on revamping their economies in the wake of the pandemic by developing urban technologies and green cities.

In spite of this seemingly bright spot, Russia has used up what political analyst Georgy Kunadze calls the “credit of international trust and goodwill” extended to it in the early 1990s as a newly independent state charting a democratic course, and now finds itself with few well-wishers at the international level.

And, as so often happens in Russia, this uncertainty in the international arena led to heightened pressure on the domestic front. In a column for Republic.ru, Aleksandr Ryklin describes separate interviews with Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Russian National Guard director Viktor Zolotov that appeared in the Russian press. In Ryklin’s analysis, these interviews served as a two-pronged warning to the Russian public. Patrushev’s message was: “If you’re unhappy with something, keep it to yourself.” In other words, don’t go out and demonstrate, or you’ll come face-to-face with Zolotov’s subordinates on the streets. A chilling message indeed from a country that appears bent on putting a polite, diplomatic face on things.