Letter From the Editors
In Ivan Krylov’s classic fable, familiar to every Russian child, a swan, a pike and a crawfish try to move a cart together. But each is pulling in its own direction: “Crawfish scrambled backwards, Swan strained up skywards, Pike pulled toward the sea. Who’s guilty here and who is right is not for us to say – But anyway the cart’s still there today.” When it was written in 1814, some literary critics saw Krylov’s fable as a metaphor for the uneasy alliance between Russia and its allies in the anti-Napoleon coalition. Today, similar geopolitical parallels have emerged, as Russia, the West and Ukraine try to somehow untangle the complex situation that’s been developing along Ukraine’s borders.
After yet another round of Geneva talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the US “once again tried to put Ukraine front and center.” Meanwhile, for Russia, the conversation is not just about Ukraine, but about the overall security architecture (read: guarantees from NATO about nonexpansion to the east).
For their part, NATO and the US continue to boost Ukraine’s defenses for a conflict they consider imminent, including the Stinger air defense system and portable Javelin antitank rockets, writes Rossiiskaya gazeta. In addition, the US announced that it was withdrawing some of its embassy staff from Kiev. Great Britain followed suit, while NATO’s press service announced it was sending “additional ships and fighter jets” to the region.
Apparently, this flurry of war preparations is starting to unnerve Kiev. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky blinked first, calling the US’s decision to evacuate staff an “overreaction.” That’s hardly surprising, considering that the hryvnia has taken a tumble in the wake of prewar panic.
Similarly, Russian markets have reacted nervously to the growing tensions, and the Russian business community is looking on in horror as their assets dwindle and capital flees the country. Alas, thanks to Putin’s efforts to rein in the oligarchs’ political influence, most (if not all) entrepreneurs fear speaking out, writes The Moscow Times. “Many of those in business today understand they hold their positions only as long as President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle allow it.” Case in point: billionaire Gennady Timchenko, who said after being slapped with anti-Crimea sanctions: “Personal inconveniences and costs to one’s business can and should be neglected when it comes to the interests of the state.”
Meanwhile, another well-connected businessman who is having a bad week in his home country is Armenia’s now-former president Armen Sarkisyan. The country’s fourth president announced his resignation this week due to having virtually no power in the country. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, Sarkisyan’s recent flurry of activity abroad has been met with resistance and even resentment by the country’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan. Pashinyan “prefers to make all decisions by himself,” so Sarkisyan has effectively been sidelined. Then there’s the fact that Sarkisyan has spent most of his life in the UK, growing his business, and has very little clout at home. Now Pashinyan will get to appoint a fifth president. Will this result in another “swan, crawfish and pike” scenario? A fragmented government is going to have a tough time helping the country navigate many complex issues, including border demarcation with Azerbaijan and a weak economy.
Perhaps looking to preempt possible economic damage from more Western sanctions, Russian President Putin held a video meeting this week with leading Italian CEOs. The meeting was controversial, as the Italian government and Brussels strongly encouraged some execs to bow out (at least three attendees did pull out). Still, such industry giants as Pirelli, Enel and Generali attended. The head of Italian-Russian Chamber of Commerce said: “The best investments – and of course, the best businesses – are always created in these moments of difficulty.” Just as the Sixth Coalition was able to defeat Napoleon in the end, perhaps future business ties will help untangle the knot made by the swan, the crawfish and the pike.