Letter From the Editors
This week had no shortage of jittery events. Ukrainian cities came under an unprecedented shelling attack by Russian forces, allegedly for the “terrorist act” of blowing up the Crimean bridge. At least, that is what President Putin said during a session of the Russian Security Council. “If attempts to carry out terrorist attacks on our territory continue, Russia’s responses will be harsh and will correspond in scale to the level of threats posed to Russia,” he added ominously. The strikes targeted mainly Ukraine’s power supply and lines of communication. According to military expert Aleksei Leonkov, the goal is to force the Kiev regime to shift focus from combat operations to infrastructure repairs: “The Ukrainian regime is spending the bulk of its resources on combat operations. Now it will have to invest a portion of them in infrastructure,” he said bluntly.
Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly session voted overwhelmingly to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Even its fair-weather allies, Turkey and Hungary, supported the resolution. The only countries that voted against were, tellingly, Syria, Belarus, North Korea and Nicaragua. Turkey’s vote may seem surprising, considering that Erdogan met with Putin on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, where the two leaders discussed creating a natural gas hub in Turkey. Ankara has also been positioning itself as a mediator in the Russia-Ukraine war on the heels of the successful grain deal Turkey helped broker earlier this year.
And yet, nerves are on edge not only in the Western camp, as it watches the escalation in Ukraine go from bad to worse. A whole other set of players has been eyeing the geopolitical field with jitters of late – only they are wary of Washington, not Moscow. One such case was Saudi Arabia, which faced a fury of indignation from Washington this week over the decision to cut oil production that OPEC+ adopted recently. US lawmakers have called on the US to withdraw troops from Saudi soil, as well as to stop supplying the kingdom with weapons. “If Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to help Putin, they should look to him for their defense,” reads a joint statement from Congressional representatives Sean Casten, Tom Malinowski and Susan Wild.
Moscow, it seems, would be more than happy to oblige – at least judging by a lengthy editorial in Nezavisimaya gazeta that calls for strengthening economic, military and educational ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, as Xi Jinping prepares to headline the historic 20th Congress of the CPC, he is also looking to Moscow – but more as a cautionary tale. According to Xi, “A strong country must have a strong army.” Experts like Vasily Kashin point out that the CPC has been obsessively studying the USSR’s demise, and has apparently concluded that “the CPSU lost its levers of control over society and weakened ideological control. There was also talk about loss of control over the Soviet Army.” Could this explain Xi’s recent purges within the People’s Liberation Army, which included many top officials who were supporters of the previous leader, Jiang Zemin?
You can never be too careful – a lesson that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is also taking to heart. Andrei Lankov writes that Pyongyang’s nuclear problem is hardly the delusional pipedream of a madman. Dr. Strangelove he ain’t, and if anything, the Kim dynasty is incredibly pragmatic at ensuring its political survival – at a heavy cost to the general population. Kim Jong-un understands perfectly well that North Korea can’t compete with the South economically. But it can – and will – resort to nuclear blackmail in order to extract dividends and cling to power. While Kim has not stopped worrying, he certainly learned to love the bomb. In a post-truth world, it seems more and more leaders are opting to speak softly and carry a big stick.