Letter From the Editors

Earlier this year, Kazakh President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev proudly announced the departure of a container train along a new route from Kazakhstan to Turkey that bypasses Russia, going through Tehran instead. “This is a significant event, given the difficult geopolitical conditions,” he said on that occasion.

Tokayev was at the center of another significant event this past week, when he handily won reelection to the presidency with 81% of the vote. Tokayev had scheduled this election early, after only three years in office, but a recent Constitutional amendment secures his term until 2029.

Although reform was the theme of his campaign platform, Tokayev has such widespread support that he doesn’t really need to make any changes. Vyacheslav Polovinko writes: “With results like these, neither Tokayev nor his team really need reforms, which are merely a smoke screen: Any changes will only derail the presidential train from the reform track, sending it onto another track where it can hum along nicely at 81% horsepower.”

Another train that seems to keep humming along nicely is at the other end of the “Turkic world” in Ankara, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he is ready to meet with his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad. After a decade-plus of tension that started with the Syrian civil war, the two former friends now seem to have a common enemy: the Kurdish militia, whom most of the regional players blame for a terrorist bombing this week in Istanbul. Turkey quickly responded to the attack with air strikes in northern Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.

The editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta point out how little outcry there was from NATO members against this violence, especially in comparison to how the West regards Russia’s activity in neighboring Ukraine: “They condemn some for the use of military methods, but remain silent in the case of other [countries] (their own).” On the other hand, the NG editorial argues, Moscow is setting an example for the rest of the world in how to stand up for itself: “The Russian special operation accelerated the effective dismantling of the global system of checks and balances. . . . Moscow broke rules that it had repeatedly rejected and that it did not participate in creating. This rebellion has become a bellwether for the leaders of states that, under ‘normal’ circumstances, could not resolve territorial and border conflicts in their favor.”

Of course, one could also say that Erdogan’s train of foreign policy is bypassing Russia. Turkish officials are making it clear that Operation Claw-Sword is being conducted with minimal reporting to Moscow. A similar phenomenon seems to be happening in Moldova, where President Maia Sandu is literally looking in the opposite direction for economic relief. She authored an article in Politico appealing to the West for help relieving a drastic shortage of natural gas amid skyrocketing energy prices. Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of CIS Countries, responded without pulling punches: “The Moldovan crisis is a direct result of Sandu’s shortsighted policy of reorienting Moldova toward the West. . . . Gas is one of Moldova’s main problems, and here Sandu’s refusal to cooperate with Russia looks particularly strange” in light of the fact that the EU itself depends on imported energy.

This week’s news also features Russians grumbling about their efforts being derailed elsewhere in the world. Arctic Council official Nikolai Korchunov laments the lack of cooperation on his committee from other Arctic countries, especially since the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. And American Studies professor Irina Akimushkina criticizes Russia’s diminished soft power efforts in Cuba.

Despite the Kremlin’s loud roar as a military power, is it becoming a mere whistle stop on the geopolitical railway?