Letter From the Editors
A major theme in this week’s news from Russia is served up to us by international affairs maven Sergei Karaganov. In an interview with Argumenty i fakty, Karaganov urges Russia to reject old stereotypes, using this vivid metaphor: “We ate the intellectual gruel that the West cooked up for us. It went sour a long time ago, but we’re still chewing on it.”
These days, the Moscow authorities seem to be busy serving up gruel to their own people, on topics ranging from the domestic economy to the conflict in Ukraine. On the latter front, coverage of Week 16 shows conventional warfare morphing into information warfare. For example, Ivan Rodin comments on pro-Russian activism in occupied portions of Zaporozhye Province, where explosions in Berdyansk and Melitopol are being blamed on Ukrainian terrorists: “[T]he process of secession is being persistently hammered out in the media, and . . . the trail of pro-Kremlin PR specialists is quite clearly visible.” He quotes the following talking points by Vladimir Rogov, a member of the self-proclaimed province’s government: “Terrorists are acting against us, . . . and this further unites people in the rightness of choosing the path to Russia. Because the Zelensky regime, and the Ukrainian regime overall, is a strictly terrorist regime; it is a classic Ukrainian state, a Banderovite gangster underground, which can only fight against peaceful people.”
These remarks were not enough to get Rogov kicked off social media (although his reference to Stepan Bandera is like mentioning Hitler in our neck of the woods). But Russian official Dmitry Rogozin did get banned from Twitter for calling Ukraine “an existential threat to the Russian people,” concluding with the exhortation: “So let’s put an end to it. Once and for all.”
Small wonder that Ukraine and its neighbor Moldova are stepping up their efforts to join the EU, and that the European Commission seems poised to recommend upgrading their candidate status. The Kremlin has its own interpretation, of course. Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it this way: “The EU is working very crassly, forcing these not-yet candidates [for membership] to open a second front” against Russia.
SPIEF seemed to show the objective prevalence of anti-Russian sentiment in the West: Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov announced that no official delegations from countries considered “unfriendly” by Moscow would attend. These include the US, the UK, all EU members, Australia, Japan, Canada and Switzerland.
On the other hand, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova assured Izvestia ahead of the event that Russia still has plenty of friends, especially India and China. And that’s not all. Yelena Chernenko reported from the SPIEF floor: “Some participants have already caused a media sensation. Foremost among these is a small delegation of the Taliban. . . . [T]hey came to the forum to negotiate with Russian companies regarding energy and grain deliveries to Afghanistan.” Delegations from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics were also expected, and session speakers included the Russian comedy duo Vovan and Lexus, known for their prank calls to Western celebrities.
One news flash that was no joke came on the Russia Day holiday – a public message from Kremlin domestic policy chief Sergei Kiriyenko published in Izvestia, stating that “all Russia will rebuild the Donetsk Basin, which has been destroyed by the fascists,” at the expense of trillions of taxpayers’ rubles. Or maybe it was a prank? Meduza reports that the article quickly disappeared, and Izvestia later attributed the text to hackers.
Perhaps the Russian public would have swallowed the allegedly fake idea anyway. After all, according to the Levada Center, military patriotism has not soured for the Russian public – 75% still support the Ukraine war. Be it ever so grueling, there’s no place like home.