Letter From the Editors

The world was stunned this week by the news that a veritable treasure trove of classified US documents had surfaced on social media. The documents detailed sensitive US intelligence on the country’s rivals and – embarrassingly – its allies. More significantly, though, they contained the particulars of an anticipated Ukrainian offensive. Washington scrambled to respond to the leak, with top officials admitting that some of the information was accurate. Senior Zelensky adviser Mikhail Podolyak, however, dismissed the files as “photoshop” and “virtual fake leaks.”

Curiously, Russia didn’t get particularly worked up about the document dump. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the leak “cannot influence the final outcome of the special operation.” And military expert Aleksei Leonkov called the leak an “intelligence game” intended to plant disinformation, and recommended that Russia take a “closed-mouth approach.” He summed up his comments by saying that US officials appeared nervous about the leak and that “the first to get nervous is the one to lose.”

Leonkov’s commentary appeared in Rossiiskaya gazeta, the official mouthpiece of the Russian government. Another such outlet is the news program Vesti, which is broadcast on the Rossia TV channel. In a lengthy interview with Republic.ru, Yelena Martynova, who anchored the program in the 2000s before leaving Russia for good, traces Vesti’s transformation from an innovative news show into what she calls a “propaganda one.” In Martynova’s story, we can discern the origins of the brain drain that Russia is currently experiencing due to the war in Ukraine. An early cause of her disillusionment was the hostage crisis at the Dubrovka theater center. At the time, she was experiencing pregnancy complications and was taken to the same hospital where the hostages were brought. Although she was a firsthand witness to the scene, her superiors did not allow her to call in to Vesti with a report.

Other terrible events of the first decade of the 21st century that added to Martynova’s discomfort were the sinking of the Kursk submarine and the seizure of the school in Beslan. As these tragedies mounted, she found her work coming under increasingly tight control. Her tenure at the program ended in 2010, when she was told that she wouldn’t be able to write anymore if she couldn’t “understand.” Today, she is living in Europe and says she sometimes watches those “painfully familiar faces” from her previous life “spreading outright lies” on Russian television.

Now, Russia is evidently expecting a new wave of its citizens to start streaming out of the country, especially with the fall conscription season looming. To plug up any holes in the dam, the State Duma quickly passed a law digitizing the military registration system. As Meduza explains, the new law will complicate life for those who do not wish to serve: People subject to the draft will not be able to travel abroad, and evaders will not be able to drive, buy or sell real estate, or take out a loan. According to NG, “digitization will also create much clearer dividing lines between those who want to do their duty and those who decide to evade it. The digital trail of individual decisions of any type will reveal the actual intentions of the citizen.”

This ominous news for potential conscripts brings us to the biggest hole in the bucket – the war in Ukraine. With friction between Kiev and Hungary on the rise, with Brazil and China teaming up to form a “peace club” to promote a settlement in Ukraine, and with Poland temporarily suspending grain imports from Ukraine, it feels like world leaders are tiring of the war and are now seeking ways to extract benefits from it for themselves. But all this self-interest only helps to prolong the deadlock: Ending the war will require more than just temporary patches, and the bucket will keep springing leaks until a permanent solution is found.