Letter From the Editors

On this page, you can find this publication’s mission statement: “to provide the reader with a broad picture of the news presented to the Russian public.” Many readers like you seek out this broad picture because they wish to understand the motivations of Russian policy-makers, and the local press offers insight into both elite and public opinion. For the narrative threads of current events to make sense to us, they must, as Stanislavski said of theatrical action, “have inner justification, be logical, coherent and real.”

In a move that was all too real, police from Chechnya swept up Zarema Musayeva, mother of Telegram muckraker Ibragim Yangulbeyev, in a raid in Nizhny Novgorod, a thousand miles from home. According to human rights defender Igor Kalyapin, this is simply Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov playing true to character. Kalyapin says that Kadyrov views himself as “master of all Chechens,” and finds any check on his power infuriating. Since Ibragim is publishing from an undisclosed location outside Russia, Kadyrov ordered the arrest of the young man’s entire family, including the Nizhny Novgorod raid to pick up his father, retired judge Saidi Yangulbayev. But Saidi escaped with his children, and the Chechen leader was instead humiliated as “a man who fights against mothers.”

Even more enraged, Kadyrov stoked a movement against the Yangulbayevs as “terrorist accomplices.” First, a Duma deputy publicly called for them to be beheaded. Then a rally was stage-managed in Grozny, complete with inflated attendance numbers, and thinly veiled incitements to violence against the family and its supporters in the press. What motivated people to attend the rally? According to Kalyapin, “God forbid they end up on one of Kadyrov’s ‘black’ or ‘grey’ lists. Then he’d torture them or send them to rot.”

Thankfully, most politicians are more subtle than Kadyrov. But there is a downside to that: We often can’t read their motivations until a major shift has already occurred. For example, key details of the recently ended unrest in Kazakhstan are just now coming to light. In wholesale markets belonging to Bolat Nazarbayev, brother of former president Nursultan, authorities “seized stolen cars, weapons, ammunition and shields, suggesting that members of the ‘family’ might have been involved in the January events.” Combine that information with Nursultan Nazarbayev’s sudden retirement as chair for life of the Security council and the en masse resignation of his family from their positions atop government agencies and company boards, and we get a clearer picture of what’s happening in Kazakhstan. Current President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev and his predecessor are very respectful to each other in public, of course. But keep Tokayev’s possible motivations in mind when you read about his government staffing shakeup and ambitious plans for social welfare.

As far as the motivations of the parties involved are concerned, the biggest story of the week is also the most mysterious. The Biden administration continues to sound the alarm about an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it is unclear what its sources are, or what anybody is supposed to do about it. Putin’s diplomatic team built an argument around negotiating for indivisible security (that the US should not enhance its security at the expense of Russia’s), and then, when the State Department made a secret proposal to that effect, someone in the Foreign Ministry apparently leaked it to sink the negotiations. Gennady Petrov comments, “if this were a movie script, any producer would toss it in the trash after just a once-over.”

Many of the following articles consider the Russian authorities’ motivations for their current policies. One stands out in particular, in which Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov echoes Pavel Milyukov’s 1916 “Stupidity or Treason?” speech. In the face of depopulation and corruption, Russia’s leadership has decided to betray the country to its demise: “War is the very means that will solve this task so that Russia can retain for a short time its antinational leadership and hold on to the wealth stolen from the people. We cannot think of any other explanation.”