Letter From the Editors
They say hindsight is 20/20. In the case of Russian polling expert Grigory Yudin, his foresight is 2022 – he predicted that a major war would break out between Russia and Ukraine two days before Putin launched the invasion. A year later, in an interview with Meduza, Yudin outlined what he believes is the root cause of this confrontation – resentment. This resentment has spread like a virus in a large portion of Russian society. “I think that the feeling of resentment, which has been overflowing lately in Russia, is supported at a very high level, and we haven’t yet reached the point where someone might realize that we . . . have normal, legitimate interests, and we need to reach them by building relationships with other countries in the right way,” Yudin concludes.
Of course, Yudin doesn’t exactly let the West off the hook. This resentment is “related to the patronizing role that the US and some parts of Western Europe took on,” he says. “Russia was invited to join a whole host of key international clubs, and Russia influenced decisions on key global questions. But that patronizing tone . . . was there.” Naturally, that is not an excuse for the path that Putin has chosen, and Yudin says that there was a wide range of alternate narratives available to frame the collapse of the Soviet Union. And yet resentment was the one that the Russian leader chose.
A clash of narratives took on a violent form in Russia’s Bryansk Province, where armed self-proclaimed partisans made a brief incursion, resulting in at least one fatality. The reports coming in on March 2 were wild and often contradictory: Some news outlets reported that hostages were taken and infrastructure blown up. The number of victims also seemed to vary. The Russian Volunteer Corps took responsibility for the attack. Its leader, neo-Nazi Denis Kapustin (who likes to go by Denis Nikitin), called on the Russian people to rebel against their authorities. Kapustin/Nikitin also stated that his “corps” was officially fighting as part of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Ukrainian officials rushed to deny this, but their narratives also seemed contradictory. For instance, while calling the attack a “typical” Russian false flag operation, presidential adviser Podolyak also tweeted: “Fear your partisans,” while another official said: “Maybe Russians are starting to wake up, to realize something and take some concrete steps.”
Russian magnate and Rusal owner Oleg Deripaska also did his part to cause confusion in the mediascape this week. Speaking at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, Deripaska said that the Russian economy was going to run out of cash in 2023. “We will need foreign investors. And the first thing foreign investors will do is they will watch Russian investors to see how they make their money and what their work conditions are,” he warned. Is the West’s dream of an “oligarch rebellion” finally coming to fruition? Republic’s Tatyana Rybakova has a bucket of ice water for those who still dare to dream. According to her, while Deripaska is right to point out that attracting investors from places like India and China is vital – and that they may get scared off by Russia’s jungle law of doing business – he’s hardly a revolutionary. “Back in the Soviet days, if you wanted to criticize the authorities even a little, you had to line your speech with quotes from Lenin. . . . It seems that today’s oligarchs express their dissatisfaction with the direction Russia is taking in a similar fashion: They want their voice to sound loud and clear, but they are careful not to deviate from the party line. The problem with this approach is that it will never result in any real change,” she concludes.
So it seems that both the inside (oligarch rebellion) and outside (partisans) paths to real change have been blocked, at least as long as key figures continue to ride the fence.