Letter From the Editors

Tens of thousands of people throughout Russia were left without heat, hot water and electricity during a cold snap in early January.

Regions from Leningrad Province to the Far East were affected by the outages, but Moscow Province, which is known for having the best infrastructure in the country, was the hardest hit. In the Moscow suburb of Podolsk, investigators even opened a criminal case against the operator of a boiler room blamed for causing a major interruption in service. Regardless of where responsibility for that accident lies, there’s no denying that Russia’s utility system is in disrepair. According to NG, the deterioration rate of the country’s utility systems has been rising since 2019, outpacing the repair rate for infrastructure. And even though new housing is going up all over the place, it is still being built on crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure.

To hear officials tell it, however, the government is spending hand over fist to update vital infrastructure. In fact, on a visit to Chukotka, Putin touted the allocation of 337 billion rubles to the housing and utility sector. As Republic points out, though, this is a mere fraction of what the government has spent on the war in Ukraine.

But even if United Russia can convince voters that it is doing all it can to address the failing infrastructure system, it will still have to watch out for RFCP State Duma Deputy Sergei Obukhov. The latter is calling for the nationalization of “strategic industries” and is threatening to open a parliamentary investigation into the outages – the last thing United Russia needs in the run-up to the March 2024 presidential election.

Meanwhile, in some chilling, non-weather-related news, Russian Security Council deputy chairman Dmitry Medvedev has again raised the specter of nuclear war. In a recent Telegram post, he said that under its nuclear doctrine, Russia could use nuclear weapons against Ukraine if the latter uses missiles supplied by the West to attack launch sites in Russia. As NG argues in an editorial, the government may be using Medvedev to float more radical ideas about the Ukraine war to see how they sit with voters. Such a move would insulate Putin from frosty rhetoric that might not go over so well with the public.

Frigid air has also settled over civil society in the Russian region of Bashkortostan, where activist Fail Alsynov was sentenced on Jan. 17 to four years in prison for incitement of ethnic hatred on the basis of an apparent mistranslation of part of a speech he made in the Bashkir language. The jail sentence sparked a protest by thousands of Bashkirs, who are growing increasingly weary of Moscow’s “unfair and repressive” treatment of the regions amid the country’s worsening socioeconomic situation. In an interview with Republic, political analyst Abbas Gallyamov says that the protest was “ethnopolitical, national” and that Moscow is “pursuing a course of Russification, homogenization, unification” and “destroying regional identity – national languages, national culture.” This creates the potential for protests in every ethnic region of Russia, so the Kremlin will “suppress this protest, so that other people will not be tempted to take to the streets. They will crush the protest very hard. But now the protest has been suppressed, there will be more resentment, which means the next time the explosion will be even bigger.”

With all this shiver-inducing news, it seems impossible that a spring thaw will ever arrive. But there is some hope for a warming trend. In an English-language adaptation of an original article published in Bumaga, Meduza provides a summary of how libraries are handling “extremist materials” after the successful Russian writers Boris Akunin and Dmitry Bykov were added to the list of “terrorists and extremists.” Now, librarians are finding ways to make these materials accessible to the public despite the ban, with one saying: “It turns out you can resist much more than it seems.”

Promising words, indeed, for those seeking to unfreeze the center’s stranglehold on the country.