Letter From the Editors
This week, Western leaders held emergency talks in Brussels to address the war in Ukraine. Although NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explicitly said that NATO countries will not send troops to Ukraine, he reiterated the alliance’s pledge to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities and send more arms to Kiev. Later, the US and Great Britain announced they would be adding hundreds more Russian individuals, and dozens more Russian defense companies and organizations to the sanctions list.
Back in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reacted to the expanded sanctions, saying: “The US has sent global business rules to the trash heap.” And in an apparent countermove, Putin announced that Russia will stop accepting euros and dollars from “unfriendly” countries for gas supplies and will switch to ruble settlements only. Russian experts agree that the move makes sense: With imports dropping dramatically, Russia doesn’t need the foreign currency it once did to pay for those goods. The Europeans, however, seemed unfazed by the plan. Many leaders said they would continue using the currencies stipulated in their gas contracts, and Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa even quipped: “I don’t think anyone in Europe really knows what rubles look like.”
All jokes aside, though, a future of sanctions and depleted foreign currency reserves is something that regular Russian citizens will have to be prepared for. In an interview with Izvestia, Valery Fyodorov, general director of the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion, said that 70% of Russians polled approve of the “special operation,” while 20% do not. Their main fears are not war and isolation, but high unemployment rates and inflation.
Indeed, as political analyst Abbas Gallyamov says in an interview with Republic.ru, as the war continues, Russians will experience a sharp drop in quality of life. When this happens, “the trend toward protest sentiment and the regime’s falling popularity, which dominated [the agenda] the last few years, will once again manifest themselves,” creating fertile ground for a “palace coup.”
But who would lead such a revolt? According to Gallyamov, it could be members of the Russian establishment, who until recently dreamed of a quiet retirement in Nice, but are now facing the prospect of “living out the rest of their lives in a prison cell in The Hague.” Or the initiative could come from the military, once the top brass starts to wonder how “the glorious Russian Army, which was considered invincible, couldn’t handle the Ukrainians, whose [Armed Forces] were never taken seriously.”
Gallyamov, however, doesn’t believe in the possibility of a revolution in the purest sense. Instead, he says, “there are other types of coups, such as when the elites overthrow an unpopular ruler not to help the opposition seize power, but instead to hang on to it.” This is the most likely option for Russia, he concludes, but he warns not to expect a revolt any time soon.
For now, the establishment is firmly behind Putin, at least publicly. While third countries like Turkey are making honest efforts to advance settlement talks, it seems like the only thing many top Russian officials can do is spew hot air. Comments from people like Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov (“[the West has] this hysterical and inadequate vision of what is happening”) and Russia’s OSCE representative Aleksandr Lukashevich (“a Russophobic bacchanalia [in the West]”) do little to move things forward.
Right before the Russian authorities banned Meta for “Russophobia,” Sergei Lavrov also picked up the theme, stating during a speech at MGIMO: “If you are a Russophobe, you can do anything, and everything is allowed.” According to him, Zelensky is dragging out negotiations between Moscow and Kiev to dramatize the situation, and “to speak in front of world parliaments in khaki shirts and after each such speech, emotional and in tears, demand NATO’s intervention again.”
Meanwhile, it looks like the guy in the khaki shirt is actually getting the better of the Russian side.