Letter From the Editors

Warning: This issue’s first feature may cause cognitive dissonance. As Vladimir Putin taunts Ukraine, and Russian and Western diplomats trade barbs as though spoiling for a fight, those who actually know how to do battle (i.e., Russian military experts) caution about the dangers of war. French President Emmanuel Macron visited both Moscow and Kiev this week in an attempt to cool tensions between the Slavic neighbors. As though to mock his efforts, Putin took a flippant tone in urging Ukraine to implement the Minsk ceasefire agreements, paraphrasing a Soviet-era punk song about necrophilia: “Like it or not, my beauty, you have to put up with it.” Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his British counterpart Liz Truss locked horns during closed-door talks. At the press conference that followed, Truss read a prepared statement accusing Russia of preparing to invade Ukraine and calling for Russian troops to be withdrawn from the border. Lavrov responded with a dismissive summary of the entire negotiation event: “[W]e have heard nothing secret, nothing confidential, nothing privileged, except what is constantly heard from the bully pulpits in London.”

But the Russian military is not so dismissive. As reported in last week’s Digest, All-Russian Officers Assembly (AROC) chairman Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov made a statement against war between Russia and Ukraine, and demanded Putin’s resignation on behalf of officers. This week, Ivashov garnered support on Facebook from an unexpected quarter: retired FSB Gen. Yevgeny Savostyanov, who once worked with Putin in the presidential administration. The general told Republic.ru that Ivashov’s statement “provided coherent criticism of foreign policy, and analyzed the state of affairs inside the country and the danger of reckless military ventures.” On the positive side, security and disarmament expert Aleksei Arbatov stressed that the two sides’ diplomatic corps have plenty of issues to discuss that are more productive and less incendiary than haggling over Ukraine – such as indivisible security, including the security of all European countries; regional arms control measures; confidence-building and transparency measures, such as overflight inspections of missile sites; and limitations on the scale of exercises near Russian and East European borders.

However, the Kremlin may not need to bother with Brussels or Washington, as its closer neighbors offer lower-hanging fruit. For example, specialized Telegram channels just published a copy of the months-old the Union State Military Doctrine, in which Russia and Belarus jointly pledge to counter “external military dangers” such as “military-political unions expanding to the borders of the member states or acquiring global functions.” (Hmm, we wonder what sort of expanding unions they have in mind?)

More surprising than Putin cementing an alliance with his old friend Aleksandr Lukashenko is that he has now done the same with Russia’s powerful Eastern neighbor. Rossiiskaya gazeta reports that just before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Putin and Xi Jinping “signed a joint statement in which they denounced the further expansion of NATO and accused the alliance of using ‘cold war approaches.’ China supported Russia’s security guarantee, while Russia confirmed that it considers Taiwan an inalienable part of China.”

NG quotes former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd’s comments on the Moscow-Beijing statement: “It is the first time since the Sino-Soviet split that China has taken a definitive position on European security in support of Russia on something as fundamental as NATO.”

Is the world headed for a new era of international relations, in which the Kremlin no longer considers the West worth dealing with? Or is it building up alliances only to play an even giddier game of diplomatic brinkmanship with the US and NATO? As Aleksandr Golts warns: “One of the worst situations in military operations is to run full speed into one’s own minefield.”