Letter From the Editors

The frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that recently flared up over Nagorno-Karabakh might once again be on ice. The humanitarian ceasefire that the two sides negotiated in Moscow last week is at least temporarily stanching the bloodshed, but animosity and antagonism are still running high. Despite scattered reports of violence in the early hours of the ceasefire, officials report that the truce is largely being observed. Azerbaijan claims to have achieved its goals during the fighting and a diplomatic victory during the talks in Moscow. Questions remain about what the ceasefire agreement means for long-term peace prospects and the balance of forces in the South Caucasus, which is quickly turning into a powder keg. Russia, Turkey and Iran have competing interests in the region and are seeking to leverage them amid the current crisis. The situation is perhaps most fraught for Russia, which has long been maintaining equidistance between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and any signals that it is favoring either side now could trigger a chain of negative reactions for Moscow.

The Kremlin is no stranger to triggering negative reactions. This week it continued to shrug off allegations that it ordered the poisoning of its most vocal critic, Aleksei Navalny. The European Union and Great Britain this week slapped sanctions on Russian individuals whom they deem at least indirectly complicit in the crime. Vladimir Pastukhov blisteringly criticizes the Kremlin’s disingenuous, cookie-cutter response of disinformation and disorientation. He says Putin’s crisis management algorithms are standardized and well honed. The columnist says the Kremlin sees the current global situation as the first stage of a third world war being launched against Russia by the West to spread its liberal ideology, which Russia views and treats as a toxin – a biological weapon. The Kremlin is protecting itself by “focusing on controlling mass consciousness via creative myth generation,” Pastukhov claims. The regime’s main task, he writes, “is to create and foster the neoimperialist myth, constantly upgrading it and protecting it from corrosion.” The myth is to serve as ideological inoculation against foreign values and thinking – and more specifically, Western sponsored “color revolutions.” To counteract Western influence, Kremlin strategists are basically dusting off the methods the Soviets used to foster the communist myth, the columnist continues. Pastukhov concludes his analysis with a stark prediction: The neoimperlialist myth that the current Russian regime is perpetuating to remain in power will inevitably come crashing down – and likely in a violent Russian revolution.

Indeed, the stakes have perhaps never been higher for the Putin regime. Yes, it bought itself some time and maybe some security when it introduced a new Constitution that gave Putin the opportunity to claim continued legitimacy, but only on paper. Putin need not look far for a sober reminder that, as Pastukhov puts it, “the more you tell others to go to hell, the shorter your own path there may turn out to be.” Aleksandr Lukashenko, another post-Soviet strongman, is in an increasingly desperate fight for his own political survival, facing mounting public pressure and now even an ultimatum to step down after this summer’s presidential election that Belarussians say was stolen from them. Analyst Aleksandr Morozov says Lukashenko has few face-saving options for getting out of the mess he created for himself. Anton Khodasevich goes even further, saying the embattled Belarussian leader is now fighting merely to remain a dead man walking – an image sure to send shivers down spines in the Kremlin as it draws comparisons to Putin’s position. And the upheaval in Kyrgyzstan following postelection demonstrations certainly offers no reassurance. But perhaps it offers some guidance: President Sooronbai Zheenbekov stepped down this week to avoid violence, understanding that people’s well-being is more important than personal power.