Letter From the Editors

Two big events coincided in the post-Soviet space on Sept. 4: In Sochi, Presidents Putin and Erdogan met face to face for the first time in over a year; and in Kiev, President Zelensky announced the resignation of Aleksei Reznikov as Ukraine’s defense minister.

All three presidents did their best to give the press a positive spin on their respective events. Putin emphasized continuing trade cooperation with Ankara on natural gas, nuclear power and the import of agricultural products from Turkey. Erdogan expressed optimism that the international agreement to export grain from Ukraine (terminated by Moscow in July) would be renewed. And Zelensky emphasized the “new approaches and other formats of interaction with both the military and society at large” that would be ushered in by Reznikov’s successor, the young Crimean Tatar official Rustem Umerov who already has a track record of brokering international deals.

Yulia Latynina connects the dots between the two Sept. 4 events in a provocative way. “Russia and Ukraine are arguing over the Crimea, but within the framework of the ‘decolonization’ discourse now so popular in Ukraine, the Crimea is in fact neither Russian nor Ukrainian, but Crimean Tatar. . . . Umerov’s appointment clearly reminds both Putin and the West that . . . the West is not the only one that can provide weapons for the deoccupation of the Crimea.”

And who will come out the winner in this conflict? Latynina continues: “This war, by and large, is a war between democracy and authoritarianism as two methods of social order. And democracies, by and large, are losing it. . . . The post-COVID, postindustrial democracies of the West, with all their social media hegemony and universal suffrage, were unable to adequately respond to the challenge thrown at them. . . . [T]he net beneficiaries of this war are economically successful autocracies – China and Turkey. Not Putin, of course. But not Western open society, either.”

Turkey’s influence in the former Soviet empire does seem to be growing, judging by this week’s coverage of that region in Nezavisimaya gazeta. For one thing, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is feeling abandoned by Moscow as Ankara’s ally Azerbaijan takes more steps to close off the Armenian exclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. And Kyrgyzstan, another member of the pan-Turkic alliance, recently made an ostentatious arrest of pro-Russian politician Adukhan Madumarov. According to political analyst Aleksandr Korbinsky, “This is a direct insult to the Russian president.”

Perhaps it’s also evidence that the illusions created by Putin and his Soviet predecessors “to mold the mythological consciousness of an entire nation (global revolution, communism, mature socialism. . . and so on)” are finally wearing thin.

By the way, the words quoted above come from a controversial open letter published in Nezavisimaya this week by Valery Garbuzov, the longtime director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ US and Canada Institute, who lost his job in the wake of a similar piece published Aug. 29. We should note that part of Garbuzov’s argument is that Russia is not alone in crafting expansionist/imperialist myths. “These tools have changed as regimes changed. . . . Such practices have been characteristic of many countries in different historical eras.” Take Turkey, for example. But will its grand ambitions be thwarted if Saudi Arabia becomes (in the words of Leonid Tsukanov) “a power pole in the new world order”? Tsukanov cites recent efforts by the Saudis to broker settlements of international conflicts, including the well-attended August meeting in Jeddah on the Ukraine war. Even so, President Erdogan probably needn’t worry: After all, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rules only a kingdom, not an empire.