Letter From the Editors

The problem with having choices is that even the right decision might leave you with regrets. There is a certain comfort even in the grimmest inevitability. It is at this point perhaps inevitable that Ukraine must go on the defensive, but Zelensky’s choice to replace the popular Zaluzhny with Syrsky as commander in chief has some Ukrainians feeling anxious.

In part to alleviate these concerns, Syrsky did his first interview at his new post to explain the elements of the new defensive strategy – particularly the roles of technology and the economy. He also tried to defuse certain concerns about his leadership style by asserting that “I might choose to abandon some position, but I wouldn’t let all the personnel die.” He was forced to prove this later in the week when he began evacuating troops from the now untenable stronghold of Avdeyevka.

If the mood on the Russian home front is cheerier despite heavy losses in battle, perhaps this comes from a diminished illusion of choice. Expert Dmitry Oreshkin compares Russia’s upcoming presidential election to “athletic parades on Red Square under Stalin. Every participant is supposed to carry a huge portrait of the dear leader.” There is no talk among the opposition of a successful challenge, only of undermining Putin’s unofficial target of 80% of the vote with 75% turnout.

And after the CEC scratched Boris Nadezhdin, there are limited opportunities to do even that. Oreshkin summed up the logic of his disqualification thus: “It was quite possible that his rating would grow to 15% or even 20%. It was possible – and unacceptable.”

So, with the antiwar candidate out, liberals are looking for a new person, who has been conveniently supplied by the Kremlin- approved New People – Vladislav Davankov. As Republic’s Rimma Polyak reports, his liberal proposals include “handing down ‘humane’ sentences for nonviolent crimes, as well as banning ‘hidden’ censorship and abolishing ‘cancel culture.’ ”

So, Nadezhdin’s supporters will all flock to Davankov, right? Not so fast. At a press conference after failing to overturn his disqualification, Nadezhdin backed away from any endorsements “which could cause problems for an ‘ally.’ ” Oreshkin encouraged dissenters to give up on liberal saviors altogether and instead unite in their support for “Candidate I.B. [Invalid Ballot]” by spoiling their ballots and thus pushing Putin below the 80% threshold.

Cancel culture might be a good campaign target for Davankov. Russian nationalists swarmed on Telegram this week to denounce a new state-funded film adaptation of “The Master and Margarita” after learning that its director, Michael Lockshin, had posted pro-Ukraine messages on social media. While many of the responses showed ignorance of the target, the source material and its history, others held an unexpected political edge. “What’s going on?” wrote blogger Yelena Yakimchuk. “Some people get years in prison for something they said on social media, while others get a couple of billion from the state budget for their film.”

Nationalists turning to civil libertarianism? Oppositionists trying to consolidate behind one candidate, regardless of ideology? Does that remind you of somebody?

Aleksei Navalny’s death this week was met with a sense of inevitability by both allies and foes. Leonid Gozman writes that “He felt he had a mission and a destiny. And he proved himself worthy of that mission.” Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin reported being “saddened” by the opposition leader’s death. “A particular branch of our future, which some hoped for and others feared, has disappeared forever,” said one.

To quote Robert Frost: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.” But this is Russia. Putin justifies himself by claiming that he is returning Russia to its historical path – that of Stalin and Peter the Great. This week, we should remember that Russia has another path it can return to – that of the Decembrists, Sakharov and, yes, Navalny. Russia eternally comes back to the road not taken. And that has made all the difference.