Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Astrologer's Guide to Foreign Affairs

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

At the very beginning of Vladimir Putin's presidency, an acquaintance of mine whom I consider to be a little out to lunch, analyzed the astrological data on the new president and came to the following conclusion: "This person is quite uncompromising. Under his rule, Russia will constantly be bickering with others."

The more time that has passed since his prediction, the more I have come to believe in astrology.

"One dawn hurries to relieve the other, giving half an hour to the night," wrote Alexander Pushkin regarding St. Petersburg's White Nights. If you replace the word "dawn" in the poem with "sanction," you would have a very precise and poetic definition of Russia's current foreign policy.

I sighed with relief when Moscow recently lifted sanctions against Georgia imposed last year for its arrest of Russian officers suspected of spying and allowed the import of Moldovan wine that was banned as a way of punishment for Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's pro-Western stance. But almost immediately, new diplomatic scandal followed: The Foreign Ministry slapped sanctions on a U.S. academic journal, Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wrote an article for the influential publication back in May. Then, for two months the Foreign Ministry carried out tedious, back-and-forth correspondences with the magazine's editorial board over their proposed editorial corrections and cuts. After both of these venerable parties could not come to an agreement over which subtitle to use for the article, Lavrov, in a big harrumph, yanked his essay, thereby denying the journal's readers a chance to learn what the foreign minister thought about the possibility of a return to a "containment" and the "Cold War." The world learned of these events from a special news conference held by the Foreign Ministry on Thursday. The following day, very much in a Cold War spirit, the press release appeared in a prominent spot in the leading newspaper, Izvestia.

On the same day, Izvestia had a front-page report on the festival of Finno-Ugric people held in Saransk with a story of how Putin punished the Estonian president by not inviting him to participate together with the leaders of Finland and Hungary, whose majority populations are Finno-Ugric. The newspaper also covered the new sanctions between Russia and Britain.

In the space of just a few days, Moscow has forgiven some old offenses and taken revenge for others. On this backdrop, the squabbling over the subtitle -- the content of which has become a stumbling block between Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Ministry -- appears almost sentimental. According to the press release, the magazine's editorial board wanted the subtitle to refer to the need to prevent a new Cold War, while Lavrov felt that the issue has no grounds and should not be addressed in the subtitle.

In my view, this dispute is "a battle of the good against the best," which gives credit to both the author and its editors.

Yet the Vremya Novostei newspaper concluded, "The deterioration of Russian-U.S. relations is spreading in new directions." The newspaper's article was clearly written in support of the Lavrov's version of the subtitle; in fact, it substantiated the stance taken in the subtitle suggested by Foreign Affairs.

Personally, I like both subtitles. There is no objective basis for a return to the Cold War. On the other hand, Russia's actions in relation to the rest of the world all too often resemble petty squabbles, even when Moscow is rightfully defending its interests. The result is that the West is becoming more irritated with Russia. I think Putin understands this deep in his heart, but can't do anything about it. That's just how the stars are aligned.

I only hope the president will consult an astrologer before he chooses his successor.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Strategii i Praktika Izdatelskogo Biznesa, a magazine for publishing business professionals.