Letter From the Editors

On the heels of recent years’ geopolitical cataclysms, it appears that the destabilization of the post-cold-war order is working its way down to the local level, delegitimating a growing number of governments around the world. One country on the brink is Moldova, where the struggle between President Maia Sandu and Gagauz leader Evghenia Gutul is coming to a head. After Gagauzia began to lose the privileges of autonomous status last year, Gutul reached an agreement with Moscow to supplement constituents’ pensions with MIR-card transfers through banks in separatist Transnistria, while allies of her outlawed Sor party held a congress in Moscow to plan an electoral strategy against Sandu.

Now, the Moldovan parliament has passed a bill allowing the country’s Information and Security Service to rescind the citizenship of “subjects of international restrictions,” presumably including the Western-sanctioned Gutul and her deputy. Gutul rhetorically responded in kind that restrictions on the opposition and Gagauzia’s autonomy were “about legitimizing the intervention in Moldova, in our province, in light of the upcoming October presidential election. . . . and ultimately the protection of Romanian citizens.” As NG’s Svetlana Gamova reports, a former Romanian intelligence chief gave credence to these claims by asserting that if the need arises, Moldova will get military support from the Romanian Army, along with NATO units stationed in Romania. Thus, in just over a year, a dispute over a political party in one province has mushroomed into another proxy confrontation between Russia and NATO.

For the Russian press, however, the big question of legitimacy this week concerned the status of Ukraine’s Vladimir Zelensky, who has remained in power under martial law past the scheduled inauguration date. Novaya gazeta Europe’s Olga Musafirova presents her defense of postponing elections in line with Ukraine’s legal experts, general public and, perhaps most importantly, domestic opposition: “[Even] most opponents admitted that it would be irresponsible to hold an election in Ukraine at the moment.”

As for Russian criticism of the move, NG’s Ivan Rodin provides a comprehensive overview and analysis, summarizing detractors’ views of Zelensky thusly: “An illegitimate usurper president, a failed country, a nationalist ideology and a ‘war to the last Ukrainian’ in the interests of the West.” As Rodin argues, the Kremlin intends for this “information bombardment” to recast the war in terms of Chechnya circa 2000: Zelensky’s choice is “either to surrender or to become a target.” Putin’s Ukrainian friend Medvedchuk has even come out of the woodwork as a potential replacement, although his legitimacy would clearly issue only from the barrel of a gun.

Military force is a notoriously fickle source of legitimacy, as the Kremlin should mark well. The underlying causes of Prigozhin’s mutiny are still very much in place, as indicated by prowar bloggers’ reports that news of arrests in the Defense Ministry “was met with ‘great enthusiasm’ on the front lines.” At the same time, local governments are narrowing the foundation for the political system’s credibility by restricting ballot access to candidates deemed “foreign agents,” NG explains, “as if the opposition candidates planning to run were real dissidents and not just another part of the political establishment.”

Perhaps Putin should consult his colleague, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about how to strike the right balance between democratic legitimation and authoritarian control. Journalist Marianna Belenkaya discusses the Iranian system in detail with Republic.ru following President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a freak helicopter accident.

While the opposition is fragmented, Belenkaya says, waves of unrest have become more frequent, and recent election cycles have been rife with boycotts and ballot-spoiling: “The legitimacy of such a government seems questionable. People somehow need to be attracted, which is why there’s a behind-the-scenes struggle in ruling circles. Perhaps they will decide on an election with imaginary intrigues, with the appearance of competition.”

Will appearances be enough for Iranians, or, for that matter, anyone else in this disillusioned world? “Sometimes a black swan flies out when you least expect it,” Belenkaya responds.