Letter From the Editors

Like magicians who have lost their rabbits, politicians around the world seem to be struggling with ways to keep the electorate interested. Take, for instance, Russia’s tired “establishment opposition,” such as the LDPR and the Communists. Once considered formidable challengers to the ruling establishment, they have long become merely convenient sparring partners for United Russia. And this suited the government – and the voters – just fine. Until now. Thanks to the “special military operation,” the public seems to have been shaken from its apolitical stupor, writes Ilya Grashchenkov. “First, military registration and recruitment officials knocked on the door with [a call for] mobilization. Then, the tax service stopped by. So, many people woke up and asked themselves: What is going on in the country?”

However, the narratives offered by today’s political parties are unsuitable for the post-February 2022 challenges, he contends. “Deprived of its opposition gene, the RFCP risks losing its identity” with the upcoming retirement of its perennial leader, Gennady Zyuganov, he says. As for the LDPR, it has become “the fifth wheel for the ruling establishment that must be rolled uphill following the death of its driver, Vladimir Zhirinovsky.” And the less said about A Just Russia and its leader Sergei Mironov, with his penchant for posing with sledgehammers, the better. “The landscape will change, and by 2026 we might see a completely different lineup of political forces from what we have been accustomed to since the 1990s,” Grashchenkov predicts.

The winds of change are also blowing across America’s political landscape. For the first time in history, legal charges were filed against a former president of the country. After leaving a Manhattan court following 34 charges (interestingly, nothing on calls for insurrection), Donald Trump lashed out at his adversaries from his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump seems to have forgotten he is no longer president, since his remarks resembled a State of the Union Address, writes Sergei Strokan – except in Trump’s case, the speech focused on America’s defeats. That is hardly the first precedent he set, echoes political expert Konstantin Sukhoverkhov: “Before the Trump era, losing presidents and other prominent American politicians stepped aside . . . and gave their party’s challengers a chance to become ‘stars.’ . . . Not only has Trump not left politics in the two years since the election, but he plans to run for a second term. He is mentioned in the American media more often than the current leader, even though Trump has not been in the White House for two years.”

Still, the charges against Trump could open a Pandora’s box for “the oldest democracy in the world.” As Sukhoverkhov says, they do create “a negative background around him, but it won’t actually stop him from being elected.”

Not to be outdone, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan also decided to step up his political grandstanding. Perhaps to boost his ratings with the more conservative voters in the run-up to the May election, he lashed out at US Ambassador to Ankara Jeff Flake. The reason for the ire? Flake’s meeting with the opposition’s consensus candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. In true Trump fashion, Erdogan did not hold back: “Shame on you! Use your head. You are an ambassador. The one you talk to here is the president.” He also added that Turkey needs to “teach the US a lesson” in the upcoming election. However, experts were cautious to point out that despite his blustering rhetoric, Erdogan still remains the candidate of choice for Washington. “The relations between Erdogan and the US are strong enough,” says Turkish expert Kemal Has. “Erdogan sometimes irritates Washington and likes to bargain, but in any event, he is an obedient ally for both the White House and NATO. Everyone knows his character very well. Erdogan is an autocrat and he is fiercely critical of Western countries, but when all is said and done, if you put pressure on him, you may get what you want.” So perhaps the winds of change are just a tempest in an election cycle teapot.