In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship

Russia in 2019 and What Lies Ahead

Russia in 2019 and What Lies Ahead

full The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia. The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia. Russia in 2019 and What Lies AheadFebruary 14, 2019Daniel ShapiroWhat can we expect for Russia in 2019 and beyond? At a recent policy workshop held by the Washington, D.C.-based PONARS Eurasia network, scholars and analysts addressed this broad question and related issues, including the outlook for Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president, the expected impacts of sanctions and some aspects of Russian foreign policy. With Russia’s political and economic environment arguably the most challenging the Kremlin has faced in years, the points that resonated the most at the workshop were that Putin will maintain his power through the end of his term (and possibly beyond), will likely implement policies to combat his falling approval ratings and will continue shifting Russia toward new partnerships—mainly in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Prospects for U.S.-Russian relations were generally seen as grim, although one historically minded scholar provided a spark of optimism for the future, saying that America’s current turmoil could lead to more normal relations sooner than commonly believed.

What can we expect for Russia in 2019 and beyond? At a recent policy workshop held by the Washington, D.C.-based PONARS Eurasia network, scholars and analysts addressed this broad question and related issues, including the outlook for Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president, the expected impacts of sanctions and some aspects of Russian foreign policy. With Russia’s political and economic environment arguably the most challenging the Kremlin has faced in years, the points that resonated the most at the workshop were that Putin will maintain his power through the end of his term (and possibly beyond), will likely implement policies to combat his falling approval ratings and will continue shifting Russia toward new partnerships—mainly in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Prospects for U.S.-Russian relations were generally seen as grim, although one historically minded scholar provided a spark of optimism for the future, saying that America’s current turmoil could lead to more normal relations sooner than commonly believed.

Putin: Strong or Weak?

Regarding Putin’s near future, one group of scholars at the Feb. 1 workshop generally agreed that the Russian president will maintain power for the duration of his current term, discussed potential Kremlin fixes to problems of legitimacy and lower-than-usual approval ratings and debated whether or not Putin would retain some form of power after his term ends in 2024. Nikolay Petrov, from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, argued that the “relationship between society and government has changed” since the Kremlin’s unpopular pension reforms, with Russians no longer willing to accept things they would have “gladly” accepted before the reforms. A Levada Center poll from June 2018 showed that 89 percent of respondents negatively viewed the increase in men’s retirement age to 65 years and 90 percent opposed the increase for women to 63. Levada also found that the share of people who named Putin as their most trusted public figure dropped from 59 percent in November 2017 to 39 percent in September 2018. Petrov argued that Putin has a “huge problem with legitimacy” and believes the Kremlin will likely embark on another “small victorious war”—an idea Brian Taylor of Syracuse University disagreed with, saying that such an undertaking would only compound Putin’s approval-ratings problem after five straight years of declining domestic living standards. Kirill Rogov of the Moscow-based Liberal Mission Foundation agreed that Putin’s low ratings are “challenging and dangerous for the regime” and that some sort of change is needed. He argued, however, that the Kremlin had demonstrated its strength, not weakness, in 2018, able to tell the public “all [its] bad news” (budget consolidation, pension reforms, tax hikes) and not sustain critical damage. Sarah Wilson Sokhey from the University of Colorado Boulder agreed that the regime remains quite strong, noting that there are some “very capable people” working in the Kremlin and that, pension controversies notwithstanding, Putin will remain firmly in power over his next six years. Beyond that time frame, Petrov put forward two possible scenarios that could help Putin keep some hold on power post-2024: (a) He could move to chair the Security Council and the State Council after leaving office; or (b) he could pursue a “Belarusian option,” involving leadership, in some form, of the Russian-Belarusian Union State, which has existed de jure since 2000.

Economic Challenges

Russia’s economic forecast poses its own challenges. While the Putin administration has laid out ambitious macroeconomic goals—including ensuring that Russia’s economic growth stay above the world average, that inflation remain below 4 percent per year and that productivity increases by 5 percent each year—Brian Taylor noted that these goals are “highly unlikely to be achieved in the next five or six years.” Although macroeconomic stability does exist in Russia, growth remains low, and certainly below the world average, he said; living standards are falling, and Russia is underperforming compared to its fellow BRICS countries. Indeed, in its January 2019 Global Economic Prospects report, the World Bank predicts that Russia’s GDP will grow by 1.5 percent in 2019—well below the projected world forecast of 2.9 percent and the forecasts for any of the BRICS countries, with the exception of South Africa. Additionally, sanctions remain a key problem for the regime—and will likely continue to be for some time. Nigel Gould-Davies of Mahidol University International College focused on sanctions’ impacts on Russia’s elites, arguing that Russian business elites are in an “unprecedented state of anxiety.” (That said, recent reporting shows that some business elites have clearly benefitted in the face of sanctions.) David Szakonyi of George Washington University argued that while sanctions have heightened the political risk involved in doing business with Russia and, as such, have scared off many Western companies, the weakened ruble has made some Russian exports much more competitive in world markets. In February 2014, the exchange rate was around 35 rubles to the dollar; currently it is about 65, helping boost Russia’s 2018 budget surplus close to 3 percent of GDP. Additionally, Szakonyi argued, despite Western skittishness toward trade with Russia, Moscow has made steps toward increased cooperation with countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, blunting the effect of sanctions to some degree. Thus, while sanctions have hit some elites and companies hard and have spawned a “cloud of risk” surrounding business in Russia, the government is accumulating resources for a “spending spree” should another crisis hit. Overall, the panelists discussing Russia’s economy and its great-power status generally agreed that sanctions are here to stay, as did those discussing Russia’s foreign policy and its impacts.

Russia’s Shifting Place in the World

Panelists also discussed various aspects of Russian foreign policy, including Moscow’s relationship with former Soviet republics, its shift toward East and Southeast Asia and U.S.-Russian relations. Irina Busygina from the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg discussed Russia’s relationship with other post-Soviet states, focusing mainly on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which she considers to be the “first relatively successful attempt to establish strong multilateral institutions of post-Soviet regional integration.” Generally, until 2014, negotiations regarding the formation of the EAEU involved “non-transparent bilateral bargains” with potential members; however, following the Ukraine crisis, this approach changed. Moscow felt it could no longer afford to lose “any member” of the union and moved quickly to establish an “ambitious multilateral project in Eurasia,” which Busygina argued in fact has reduced Russia’s relative power in the post-Soviet space. Additionally, according to Dmitry Gorenburg of CNA Corp. and Harvard University, Russia has moved closer to Southeast Asia as part of an overall “turn east” that began after the 2008 financial crisis. The goals of this move are many—to avoid overdependence on the West, to modernize the Russian Far East, to find markets for Russian weapons and resources and so on. The discussion of Russia-U.S. relations was dominated by sanctions, with a separate, briefer discussion of the Arctic, and the overall outlook was relatively bleak. However, Ivan Kurilla of the European University in St. Petersburg claimed that a return to normal relations is “not as distant” as many might think, arguing that the United States is going through an “identity crisis” whose end could provide an opportunity for improvements in relations, as such critical junctures have, according to Kurilla, many times in the past.

Daniel Shapiro is a graduate student associate with Russia Matters and Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

Photo by essuera shared on Pixabay for free use.

Sorting Through the Noise: RM's Most Popular Reads

Sorting Through the Noise: RM's Most Popular Reads

teaser Monkeys and bells Monkeys and bells Sorting Through the Noise: RM's Most Popular ReadsFebruary 08, 2019RM StaffInquiring minds want to know what's really going on. Is Russia building up its nuclear forces? Under what conditions does Russia intervene militarily in other countries? Did Russia really slash its defense budget? What's next for jihadists from the former Soviet countries of Central Asia? Check out our most popular reads for answers to these questions and more.

Top 10 of 2018

1. Measuring National Power: Is Vladimir Putin’s Russia in Decline? by Simon Saradzhyan and Nabi Abdullaev

2. Russia and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Laying Out the Publicly Available Evidence by David Filipov, Kevin Doyle and Natasha Yefimova-Trilling

3. Isolation and Reconquista: Russia’s Toolkit as a Constrained Great Power by Marlene Laruelle

4. Kissinger on Russia: Insights and Recommendations by RM Staff

5. When Does Vladimir Putin’s Russia Send In Troops? by Simon Saradzhyan ...

Inquiring minds want to know what's really going on. Is Russia building up its nuclear forces? Under what conditions does Russia intervene militarily in other countries? Did Russia really slash its defense budget? What's next for jihadists from the former Soviet countries of Central Asia? Check out our most popular reads for answers to these questions and more. 

Top 10 of 2018

  1. Measuring National Power: Is Vladimir Putin’s Russia in Decline? by Simon Saradzhyan and Nabi Abdullaev
  2. Russia and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Laying Out the Publicly Available Evidence by David Filipov, Kevin Doyle and Natasha Yefimova-Trilling
  3. Isolation and Reconquista: Russia’s Toolkit as a Constrained Great Power by Marlene Laruelle

  4. Kissinger on Russia: Insights and Recommendations by RM Staff

  5. When Does Vladimir Putin’s Russia Send In Troops? by Simon Saradzhyan

  6. Team Trump on Russia: John Bolton’s Views by Kevin Doyle
  7. Jihadists from Ex-Soviet Central Asia: Where Are They? Why Did They Radicalize? What Next? by Edward Lemon, Vera Mironova and William Tobey

  8. The Collapsing Russian Defense Budget and Other Fairy Tales by Michael Kofman

  9. Putin's Pivot: 4 New Features of Russian Foreign Policy by Daniel Treisman
  10. Russian Strategists Debate Preemption as Defense Against NATO Surprise Attack by Alexander Velez-Green

Top 10 of all time

  1. Measuring National Power: Is Vladimir Putin’s Russia in Decline? by Simon Saradzhyan and Nabi Abdullaev
  2. Kissinger on Russia: Insights and Recommendations by RM Staff
  3. Isolation and Reconquista: Russia’s Toolkit as a Constrained Great Power by Marlene Laruelle
  4. Russia and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Laying Out the Publicly Available Evidence by David Filipov, Kevin Doyle and Natasha Yefimova-Trilling
  5. Russian Military Buildup in the West: Fact Versus Fiction by Michael Kofman
  6. Russian Nuclear Forces: Buildup or Modernization? by Hans M. Kristensen
  7. Yes, Russian Generals Are Preparing for War. That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean the Kremlin Wants to Start One by Simon Saradzhyan
  8. When Does Vladimir Putin’s Russia Send In Troops? by Simon Saradzhyan
  9. Gangster Geopolitics: The Kremlin’s Use of Criminals as Assets Abroad by Mark Galeotti 

  10. Putin as Bismarck: Ehud Barak on West’s Russia Blind Spots, the Middle East and More by RM Staff

      Photo by congerdesign shared under a Pixabay license.

      As Russia and US Give Up on INF, ‘New Cold War or Not’ Debate Flares Again

      As Russia and US Give Up on INF, ‘New Cold War or Not’ Debate Flares Again

      teaser Photo of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John F. Kennedy over photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump Photo of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John F. Kennedy over photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump As Russia and US Give Up on INF, ‘New Cold War or Not’ Debate Flares AgainFebruary 07, 2019RM StaffWith Russia and the U.S. both suspending participation in the INF Treaty, fears of a new arms race abound, with some analysts declaring a “new Cold War.” Russia’s foreign minister dismissed such notions this week, reportedly saying, “I don’t think we’re talking about the development of a Cold War… A new era has begun.” NATO’s secretary-general made the same point last spring. But not everyone agrees with them.

      In policy and academic circles the “New Cold War or Not” debate has been percolating for years, prompting thoughtful dueling Twitter threads among the professorial social-media set. Those who call today’s tensions a “Cold War” sometimes use the term simply to emphasize the intensity and dangers of the current standoff between Russia and the West. When details of the comparison surface, they tend to involve military threats—top among them nuclear war, including accidental war—and the two sides’ competition for global supremacy. Those who say “Cold War” doesn’t apply today also marshal plenty of convincing arguments. These include Russia’s relative weakness since the Soviet collapse, the absence of an ideological battle between Moscow and Washington, the end of the global bipolarity that had accompanied that battle, Russia’s much greater interconnectedness with the global economy and, of course, the rise of China. Both those who do subscribe to the term “Cold War” and those who don’t point out differences between today’s confrontation and the 20th-century version. Many foreign-policy experts, for example, have noted with alarm the lack of communication channels between Moscow and Washington and of safeguards to manage the risks of escalation.

      Below are some of the most striking similarities and differences between U.S.-Russian tensions now and before as pointed out by Western and Russian politicians and analysts on both sides of the debate.

      With Russia and the U.S. both suspending participation in the INF Treaty, fears of a new arms race abound, with some analysts declaring a “new Cold War.” Russia’s foreign minister dismissed such notions this week, reportedly saying, “I don’t think we’re talking about the development of a Cold War… A new era has begun.” NATO’s secretary-general made the same point last spring. But not everyone agrees with them.

      In policy and academic circles the “New Cold War or Not” debate has been percolating for years, prompting thoughtful dueling Twitter threads among the professorial social-media set. Those who call today’s tensions a “Cold War” sometimes use the term simply to emphasize the intensity and dangers of the current standoff between Russia and the West. When details of the comparison surface, they tend to involve military threats—top among them nuclear war, including accidental war—and the two sides’ competition for global supremacy. Those who say “Cold War” doesn’t apply today also marshal plenty of convincing arguments. These include Russia’s relative weakness since the Soviet collapse, the absence of an ideological battle between Moscow and Washington, the end of the global bipolarity that had accompanied that battle, Russia’s much greater interconnectedness with the global economy and, of course, the rise of China. Both those who do subscribe to the term “Cold War” and those who don’t point out differences between today’s confrontation and the 20th-century version. Many foreign-policy experts, for example, have noted with alarm the lack of communication channels between Moscow and Washington and of safeguards to manage the risks of escalation.   

      Below are some of the most striking similarities and differences between U.S.-Russian tensions now and before as pointed out by Western and Russian politicians and analysts on both sides of the debate. Most of these comments were made in 2018, but some go back as early as 2014; in the tables below, comments by Westerners are listed first, by Russians second.

      American/Western leaders and experts who think it is a new Cold War (or something close)

      American/Western leaders and experts who think it is not a new Cold War

      Undecided/Unclear

      Then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis: “Long-term, strategic, Cold War-style competition has reemerged, and the U.S. is being challenged in the air, on the sea and land, in space and in cyberspace.” (Defense.gov, 10.30.18)

      NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg: “We are in a situation where we’ve not been before. We’re not in the old Cold War, but we’re neither in the strategic partnership we were trying to build after the Cold War. So this is something new.” (AP, 04.07.18)

       

      President Donald Trump: “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?” (Twitter, 04.11.18)

       

      Robert Legvold, Columbia University: “Whatever muddled hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage may have had for better times with Trump in the White House and whatever obscure intentions President Trump may have had of improving relations, the two sides remain mired in the new Cold War into which they had plunged in the last years of the Obama administration.“ (09.06.17)

      “We thought Central Europe was secure. We thought it was stable. We thought it was at peace. Now it is not. So that is why I call it a new Cold War. Your point about increased defense spending—we’re remilitarizing a relationship that we had been demilitarizing. That’s a new Cold War.” (03.05.15)

      Reprinted by Russia Matters, 11.20.18

      Odd Arne Westad, Harvard University: “Today’s international affairs have moved beyond the Cold War. Bipolarity is gone. … China is getting more powerful. … Russia is a dissatisfied scavenger on the fringes of the current order. … Ideology is no longer the main determinant. China, Europe, India, Russia, and the United States disagree on many things, but not on the value of capitalism and markets. China and Russia are both authoritarian states that pretend to have representative governments. But neither is out to peddle their system to faraway places, as they did during the Cold War. Even the United States, the master promoter of political values, seems less likely to do so under Trump’s “America first” agenda. … Whatever international system is being created at the moment, it is not a Cold War. … If we want to apply history to policymaking, we must learn to be as alert to differences as we are to analogies.” (Foreign Affairs, 03.27.18)

       

       

      Eugene Rumer, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “We need to understand how we ended up in a new Cold War with Russia after declaring it our partner on many occasions over the last quarter-century. We should look at our record and ask ourselves whether we have done everything right, whether we have made any mistakes and how we might avoid repeating them in the future.” (Los Angeles Times, 01.22.18) 

      Former NATO commander James Stavridis: “Phone conversations are occurring with some regularity, and most importantly, [Supreme Allied Commander Curtis] Scaparrotti and [head of the Russian Armed Forces Valery] Gerasimov have tentatively scheduled a face-to-face meeting in Europe. This is an important element if we are to avoid stumbling backward into a full-blown Cold War with Russia.” (Bloomberg, 03.27.18)

       

      Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the U.N.: "The cold war is back — with a vengeance, but with a difference.  The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present." (United Nations, 04.13.18)

       

      U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Washington and Moscow are not "doomed to a Cold War rivalry," but "it has been a struggle" to reduce the risk of confrontation with Russia. (RFE/RL, 01.23.19)

       

       

       

      Lawrence Freedman, King’s College London: “It is not so much a replica of what we might call Cold War 1.0 but a new version with its own characteristics. Cold War 2.0 deserves the designation because it might turn hot. That is the risk that demands attention.” (New Statesman America, 03.14.18)

      NB: See the distinctions Prof. Freedman outlines in the right-hand column.

      Lawrence Freedman, King’s College London: “The emphasis on nuclear power is one of the major continuities between the two cold wars. Yet the differences between the cold wars 1.0 and 2.0 are profound. The most obvious and major change is that Russia is in a far weaker position than the Soviet Union was… Second, Cold War 1.0 was a global affair. Although it began in Europe, it soon spread to Asia and then on to the Middle East and Africa. In Cold War 2.0 Syria is the major exception to Russia’s European focus… Third, the shrinkage from the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation had major economic consequences… Fourth, during Cold War 1.0 the interaction between the Soviet bloc’s economies and those in the rest of the world was minimal, other than in the energy sector… Fifth, Moscow can no longer claim leadership of an international ideological movement… Sixth, Cold War 1.0 was a struggle of the pre-internet age. Cold War 2.0 has been shaped by the internet.” (New Statesman America, 03.14.18)

       

        Angela Stent, Georgetown University: “Rhetoric about the possibility of nuclear war emanates from Moscow. While this is not the Cold War that existed prior to the Soviet collapse, the harsh, adversarial rhetoric and military posturing certainly feel like the Cold War without the channels of communication that operated then.” (Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.31.16)  

       

      Stephen Walt, Harvard University: “The current situation is bad. But to call it a “new Cold War” is misleading more than it is enlightening… For starters, the Cold War was a bipolar competition… Moreover, the two superpowers stood in rough parity with each other… On balance, the United States was ahead, but never by a big enough margin to relax. So, the two superpowers competed constantly for additional influence… At the same time, the Cold War also featured an intense competition between rival political ideologies: liberal capitalism and Marxism-Leninism. … Even worse, given each side’s universalist pretensions, the mere existence of one posed a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the other.” (Foreign Policy, 03.12.18)

       

       

      Timothy Colton, Harvard University: “The Cold War analogy gives us only so much purchase on the current scene. Twenty-first century Russia is bereft of a universality and transformative ideology such as lay behind Soviet behavior. It does not pose an existential threat to the United States. ... Much smaller in population (absolutely) and economic assets (relatively) than the USSR in its time, and without satellite states or reliable political kinsmen, the newest Russia does not have the wherewithal or the missionary spirit to carry on a worldwide struggle or to align the international system around it. It is in no position to be anyone’s great Other.” (“Russia: What Everyone Needs to Know,” 2016)

       

       

      Thomas Graham, Yale University / Kissinger Associates: “Every time a serious problem emerges in U.S.-Russian relations, someone reaches for the Cold War trope. It is time to put it to rest. The Cold-War rivalry resulted from a set of circumstances—ideological and geopolitical—that no longer exist today. What is taking place between Russia and the United States is a not-so-unusual rivalry between great powers.” (Russia Direct, 03.15.14)

       

      Russian leaders and experts who think it is a new Cold War (or something close)

      Russian leaders and experts who think it is not a new Cold War

      Undecided/Unclear

       

       

      President Vladimir Putin:

      • The Cold War ended long ago, the era of acute ideological confrontation belongs to the distant past, and the situation in the world has fundamentally changed.” (07.16.18)
      • Asked to comment on Western analysts’ interpretations of his boasts about new weapons as a declaration of a new Cold War: “In my opinion, the people you have mentioned are not analysts. What they do is propaganda.” (03.02.18)

      President Vladimir Putin (asked whether the recently deceased former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had been right to think the Cold War was over): “No, he was not. All processes follow a pendulum trajectory, moving in one direction and then in the other. Now the pendulum has moved slightly towards cooling, but I am sure that everything will regain balance, and we will join efforts to fight today’s challenges. This is the only way to overcome them.” (Kremlin.ru, 06.17.17)

      Sergei Karaganov, Higher School of Economics: “I would say it is [a new Cold War]. … To call things by their proper names, the West has started a new Cold War in an attempt to reverse its disadvantageous position in the new global balance of power.” (Russia in Global Affairs, 09.04.18)

      Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “I don’t think we’re talking about the development of a Cold War… A new era has begun.” (Reuters, 02.04.19)

       

      Fyodor Lukyanov,  Council on Defense and Foreign Policy: “We have entered a period of real Cold War with all the attendant consequences. … The current conflict will largely be economic rather than military in nature. … This tactic makes sense since, unlike the USSR, our country today is part of the global economy.” (AIF.ru, 03.28.18)

      Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov: “I don’t think that we are in a state of a new Cold War because there are no grounds for a Cold War in the old meaning of the word, meaning a confrontation between systems and ideologies, ideological rivalry." (AP, 08.23.17)

      Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov: “We [Russia and the United States] may have entered a period comparable in many aspects to the Cold War… The level of negativity toward Russia and the consciously cultivated anti-Russian sentiments, especially in the media, are alarming.” (TASS, 12.05.17)

      Dmitry Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center (writing shortly after the start of the Ukraine crisis): “The post-Cold War [period] may now be seen, in retrospect, as the inter-Cold War period. … There will be no return to the eyeball-to-eyeball Cold War confrontation, though; on the contrary, the relationship is likely to grow even more distant. Elements of U.S.-Russia cooperation might survive where the two countries’ interests clearly meet, but doing anything together in Syria or Iran would become much more difficult. Trade and investment will be restricted as a result of U.S. government sanctions, and the Russian equity market, owned largely by foreigners, will collapse. … Thankfully, some of the worst things of the first Cold War will never likely be resurrected. Officially sanctioned Russian patriotism, even with an anti-American bent, will not be tantamount to a new ideology. Although the static military confrontation is unlikely to be resurrected, nuclear deterrence will be reaffirmed, and competition in the military sphere will spread to other areas, from cyberspace to conventional prompt global strike…. This will be the dawn of a new period, reminiscent in some ways of the Cold War from the 1940s to 1980s….This new conflict is unlikely to be as intense as the first Cold War; it may not last nearly as long; and — crucially — it will not be the defining conflict of our times. Yet, it will be for real.” (Foreign Policy, 03.04.14)

       

      Dmitry Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center: "The crisis over Ukraine … resulted in Russia’s confrontation with the United States and its estrangement from Europe. This confrontation has often been labeled a second Cold War.The analogy, however, is flawed: The world has changed too much since the 1980s to suggest that today’s antagonism is merely a revival of an old conflict. The new confrontation is better described as a Hybrid War—a term which, like its predecessor, is capitalized here to highlight its distinct place in the history of international relations. This time, the U.S.-Russia conflict is not central to the world system, but, nevertheless, its outcome will help shape the future of that system. The current Hybrid War is a conflict essentially between Russia and the United States over the issue of the world order… This Hybrid War’s most distinguishing feature is that it is being fought in a truly global, virtually borderless environment… Unlike its Cold War predecessor, this conflict is asymmetrical. At least since the 1970s, the Soviet Union was the United States’ equal in terms of both nuclear and conventional military power… The Russian Federation, by contrast, has few formal allies, no satellite states, and a handful of protectorates… It has no ideology to compare with the comprehensive dogma of Marxism-Leninism, and although it is still a nuclear superpower, it lags far behind the United States in non-nuclear military capabilities. Economically, Russia—with its estimated 1.5 percent of the global gross domestic product—is a dwarf.” (Carnegie, 01.25.18)

       

      Putin’s advisor Sergei Glazyev, former senior Defense Ministry official Leonid Ivashov and other Russian hawks teamed up to write a report called “Cold War 2.0: Strategy for Russian Victory” in 2015. The chapter called “Cold War 2.0” argues that references to a new Cold War serve both as a reflection of current tensions between Russia and the West, as well as their potential for conflict, and as an instrument of Western “psycholinguistic” manipulation of Russian policy influencers because it suggests that “you lost the last ‘Cold War,’ so you’re bound to lose this one too.” (Full text of report, in Russian)

      Historian Sergei Oznobischev of the Primakov Institute wrote an article entitled “‘New Cold War’: Recollections of the Future” in which he argues that Russia’s current standoff with the West does not have the characteristics of the “classical” Cold War and arguments to the contrary are not convincing. However, the current lack of trust and other problems in the bilateral relationship pose the risk of a new “hybrid” confrontation on new terms. He recommends working together on areas of joint concern, such as international terrorism, as a possible way forward. (Abstract in Russian, Polis, No. 1, 2016)

       

        Andrei Sushentsov and Maxim Sushkov, MGIMO: “The current developments in Russian-U.S. relations are not a new Cold War. Yet the exchange of political and military signals is becoming increasingly harsh: provocations, sabotage and compromising information campaigns have become more acrid.” (Russia in Global Affairs, 01.17.19)  

       

      Photos by United States Department of State shared in the public domain and by Kremlin.ru shared under a CC BY 4.0 license.

      Worldwide Threat Assessment on Russia: 2019 vs 2018

      Worldwide Threat Assessment on Russia: 2019 vs 2018

      teaser World map World map Worldwide Threat Assessment on Russia: 2019 vs 2018February 01, 2019Daniel Shapiro and Natasha Yefimova-TrillingThe latest Worldwide Threat Assessment, released this week by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, describes Russia as a major threat to U.S. interests not just in its own right but particularly in tandem with China—a pairing mentioned about twice as often as in last year’s assessment. The first half of the foreword focuses solely on these two countries and the 2019 document even has a new section called “China and Russia”—listed in first place among eight “Regional Threats.” The authors anticipate that Beijing and Moscow “will collaborate to counter US objectives” across the globe, striving for “technological and military superiority” and posing “economic, political, counterintelligence, military, and diplomatic challenges,” including attempts to use “rising doubts” about liberal democracy to their advantage. The assessment likewise points to the “disturbing” trend of “hostile states … intensifying online efforts to influence and interfere with elections here and abroad.”

      More generally, this year’s assessment also places a greater emphasis on Moscow’s global ambitions, ranging from Africa and Latin America to the Balkans and Southeast Asia. (That said, Ukraine gets only five mentions in 2019 vs. 10 in 2018, although this year’s report is 50 percent longer.) Other notable differences between the two assessments arise in the areas of cyber threats and weapons of mass destruction. In the former, the 2019 document’s authors express heightened concerns about Russian threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, including power grids; in terms of WMD, they assess that Russia—not linked explicitly to chemical weapons in 2018—was among the countries that “have used chemical weapons on the battlefield or in assassination operations during the past two years,” the latter almost certainly a reference to the March 2018 assassination attempt against former double agent Sergei Skripal in England.

      Below we give a run-down of the most salient differences between this year’s assessment and last year’s. The referenced sections appear in the same order as in the 2019 document.

      The latest Worldwide Threat Assessment, released this week by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, describes Russia as a major threat to U.S. interests not just in its own right but particularly in tandem with China—a pairing mentioned about twice as often as in last year’s assessment. The first half of the foreword focuses solely on these two countries and the 2019 document even has a new section called “China and Russia”—listed in first place among eight “Regional Threats.” The authors anticipate that Beijing and Moscow “will collaborate to counter US objectives” across the globe, striving for “technological and military superiority” and posing “economic, political, counterintelligence, military, and diplomatic challenges,” including attempts to use “rising doubts” about liberal democracy to their advantage. The assessment likewise points to the “disturbing” trend of “hostile states … intensifying online efforts to influence and interfere with elections here and abroad.”

      More generally, this year’s assessment also places a greater emphasis on Moscow’s global ambitions, ranging from Africa and Latin America to the Balkans and Southeast Asia. (That said, Ukraine gets only five mentions in 2019 vs. 10 in 2018, although this year’s report is 50 percent longer.) Other notable differences between the two assessments arise in the areas of cyber threats and weapons of mass destruction. In the former, the 2019 document’s authors express heightened concerns about Russian threats to U.S. critical infrastructure, including power grids; in terms of WMD, they assess that Russia—not linked explicitly to chemical weapons in 2018—was among the countries that “have used chemical weapons on the battlefield or in assassination operations during the past two years,” the latter almost certainly a reference to the March 2018 assassination attempt against former double agent Sergei Skripal in England.

      Below we give a run-down of the most salient differences between this year’s assessment and last year’s. The referenced sections appear in the same order as in the 2019 document.

      FOREWORD

      2018

      2019

      Portrays Russia as a threat; the third paragraph reads as follows: “China and Russia will seek spheres of influence and to check US appeal and influence in their regions. Meanwhile, US allies’ and partners’ uncertainty about the willingness and capability of the United States to maintain its international commitments may drive them to consider reorienting their policies, particularly regarding trade, away from Washington.”

      Portrays Russia as a primary threat; the first half of the Foreword is dedicated solely to China and Russia, arguing that they “seek to shape the international system and regional security dynamics and exert influence over the politics and economies of states in all regions of the world.” The assessment says Russia and China are “more al­­­igned than at any point since the mid-1950s, and the relationship is likely to strengthen in the coming year.” It goes on to argue that their desire “to expand their global influence” will increase “the risk of regional conflicts, particularly in the Middle East and East Asia.”

      GLOBAL THREATS

      Cyber

      2018

      2019

      Russia was said to pose one of the “greatest cyber threats to the United States during the next year,” along with China, Iran and North Korea. Russia was expected to “conduct bolder and more disruptive cyber operations during the next year, most likely using new capabilities against Ukraine.”

      The list of countries posing the “greatest espionage and cyber attack threats” has been cut to only China and Russia. The Russia-related emphasis in this section has turned from Ukraine to the United States itself, as the report asserts that “Moscow is now staging cyber attack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage US civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis and poses a significant cyber influence threat.”

      Online Influence Operations and Election Interference

      2018

      2019

      The report argued that “Russia probably will be the most capable and aggressive source of this threat in 2018,” listing a number of potential strategies and techniques Russia could use in this area. It said that “the 2018 US mid-term elections are a potential target for Russian influence operations.” Such operations were described under the “Global Threats” rubric called “Counterintelligence and Foreign Denial and Deception.”

      A new category of global threats has been added: “Online Influence Operations and Election Interference.” The language from the 2018 report that Russia will likely be the “most capable and aggressive” leader of influence operations has been removed; however, the potential strategies and techniques enumerated in the 2018 report largely remain. The specific election now at the center of concern is the next race for president, though without explicit mention of Russia: “Our adversaries and strategic competitors probably already are looking to the 2020 US elections as an opportunity to advance their interests. … We expect [them] … to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences.”

      Weapons of Mass Destruction

      2018

      2019

      The report focused on Russia’s development of a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that allegedly violates the INF Treaty. Regarding chemical weapons, the 2018 assessment said that “both state and nonstate actors have already demonstrated the use of chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria,” but did not implicate Russia in this.

       

      The report includes similar language on the GLCM but goes further to say that “Russia will remain the most capable WMD adversary through 2019 and beyond, developing new strategic and nonstrategic weapons systems.” The 2019 report also addresses President Vladimir Putin’s annual address in March 2018, in which he announced new weapons programs. The document also assesses “that North Korea, Russia, Syria, and ISIS have used chemical weapons on the battlefield or in assassination operations during the past two years.”

      Counterintelligence

      2018

      2019

      The report assessed that “the leading state intelligence threats to US interests will continue to be Russia and China, based on their services’ capabilities, intent, and broad operational scope.”

      The language in the 2019 report is essentially the same: “Russia and China will continue to be the leading state intelligence threats to US interests, based on their services’ capabilities, intent, and broad operational scopes.”

      Space and Counterspace

      2018

      2019

      The 2018 report stated that “foreign countries—particularly China and Russia—will continue to expand their space-based reconnaissance, communications, and navigation systems in terms of the numbers of satellites, the breadth of their capability, and the applications for use” and that “both Russia and China continue to pursue antisatellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce US and allied military effectiveness.” The report noted that Russian and Chinese launches of “experimental” satellites are “of particular concern,” as some of these satellites’ on-orbit activities are intended to “advance counterspace capabilities.” The report also notes that while Russia and China support international agreements on the nonweaponzation of space, these agreements do not address many classes of weapons.

      The 2019 report states that “China and Russia will field new counterspace weapons intended to target US and allied space capabilities.” The report echoes the language of the 2018 report, noting that “China and Russia are training and equipping their military space forces and fielding new antisatellite (ASAT) weapons to hold US and allied space services at risk, even as they push for international agreements on the nonweaponization of space.” The 2019 report also notes that “Russia is developing a similar ground-launched ASAT missile system for targeting low-Earth orbit that is likely to be operational within the next several years.”

      REGIONAL THREATS

      China and Russia

      2018

      2019

      The 2018 report did not have a “China and Russia” subsection.

      “China and Russia” are listed as the first “regional threat” in the section (followed by “East Asia,” “Middle East and North Africa,” “South Asia,” “Russia and Eurasia,” “Europe,” “Africa” and “The Western Hemisphere”). Overall, the report concludes that “China and Russia will present a wide variety of economic, political, counterintelligence, military, and diplomatic challenges to the United States and its allies. We anticipate that they will collaborate to counter US objectives, taking advantage of rising doubts in some places about the liberal democratic model.” Chinese-Russian cooperation is “expanding,” both bilaterally and through international bodies, “to shape global rules and standards to their benefit and present a counterweight to the United States and other Western countries.”

      East Asia

      Southeast Asia and the Pacific

      2018

      2019

      No mention of Russia.

      This section is noteworthy in that it emphasizes a split between Russia and China: “Russia may also continue its diplomatic and military cultivation of Southeast Asian partners, and some countries will be receptive to Moscow as a balance against China’s push for hegemony.”

      Middle East and North Africa

      Syria

      2018

      2019

      The 2018 report briefly covered Russia’s involvement in Syria, noting that “Russia and Iran are planning for a long-term presence, securing military basing rights and contracts for reconstruction and oil and gas exploitation.” It also said that Syria’s “battered economy will likely continue to require significant subsidies from Iran and Russia to meet basic expenses.”

      This year’s assessment says much the same: “Russia and Iran probably will attempt to further entrench themselves in Syria,” supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime and trying “to secure rights to postwar contracts to rebuild Syria’s battered infrastructure and industry in exchange for sustained military and economic support.”

      Russia and Eurasia

      General

      2018

      2019

      The report stated that “President Vladimir Putin will rely on assertive and opportunistic foreign policies to shape outcomes beyond Russia’s borders. He will also resort to more authoritarian tactics to maintain control amid challenges to his rule.”

      Similar to the 2018 report, the 2019 report states that “Putin has the tools to navigate challenges to his rule, and he is likely to sustain an assertive, opportunistic foreign policy to advance Russia’s interests beyond its borders and contest US influence.”

      Russia-U.S. relations

      2018

      2019

      “Moscow will seek cooperation with the United States in areas that advance its interests. Simultaneously, Moscow will employ a variety of aggressive tactics to bolster its standing as a great power, secure a ‘sphere of influence’ in the post-Soviet space, weaken the United States, and undermine Euro-Atlantic unity.”

      “Although we judge that Putin and other elites would like to see cooperation with the United States where US and Russian interests overlap, they view publicly blaming the United States for internal challenges as good politics.” The report also argues that “Moscow will continue pursuing a range of objectives to expand its reach, including undermining the US-led liberal international order, dividing Western political and security institutions, demonstrating Russia’s ability to shape global issues, and bolstering Putin’s domestic legitimacy.”

      Global Ambitions

      2018

      2019

      Russia was portrayed largely as a regional power. The report stated that “Russia will compete with the United States most aggressively in Europe and Eurasia, while applying less intense pressure in ‘outer areas.’”

      Russia is portrayed as a much more global player. In terms of “global ambitions,” the report states that “Russia’s efforts to expand its global military, commercial, and energy footprint and build partnerships with US allies and adversaries alike are likely to pose increasing challenges. Moscow will continue to emphasize its strategic relationship with Beijing, while also pursuing a higher profile in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America.” Furthermore, the 2019 report argues that “Russia seeks to boost its military presence and political influence in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, increase its arms sales, expand information operations in Europe, and mediate conflicts, including engaging in the Middle East Peace Process and Afghanistan reconciliation.”

      Russia and Its Neighbors

      2018

      2019

      Ukraine, which had been deemed worthy of a separate section in 2018, was seen as a stalemate: “The conflict in eastern Ukraine is likely to remain stalemated and marked by fluctuating levels of violence. A major offensive by either side is unlikely in 2018, although each side’s calculus could change if it sees the other as seriously challenging the status quo.” Regarding the general post-Soviet space, the report argued that “the Kremlin will seek to maintain and, where possible, expand its influence throughout the former Soviet countries that it asserts are in its self-described sphere of influence.”

      Both the statements from the 2018 report are essentially repeated, although the post-Soviet space has been subsumed under a single “Russia and Its Neighbors” rubric. Regarding Ukraine, “a major offensive by either Ukraine or Russian proxy forces is operationally feasible but unlikely in 2019, unless one side perceives the other is seriously challenging the status quo.” And on the general post-Soviet space the 2019 report uses the exact same language as the 2018 report.

      Europe

      2018

      2019

      The section on Europe was relatively small, with only a passing reference to Russian influence campaigns.

      The section on Europe is significantly longer, and the report argues that “Russia and China are likely to intensify efforts to build influence in Europe at the expense of US interests.” Additionally, the report notes that “the United Kingdom’s scheduled exit from the EU on 29 March 2019, European Parliament elections in late May, and the subsequent turnover in EU institutional leadership will limit the ability of EU and 39 national leaders to contend with increased Russian and Chinese efforts to divide them from one another and from the United States.” Finally, the 2019 report covers the Balkans, arguing that “Russia will seek to exploit ethnic tensions and high levels of corruption to hinder the ability of countries in this region [the Balkans] to move toward the EU and NATO.”

       

      Photo by Yuri_B shared under a Pixabay license.

      Do Trump’s Afghanistan Claims Mirror Moscow’s Rhetoric?

      Do Trump’s Afghanistan Claims Mirror Moscow’s Rhetoric?

      teaser A Soviet soldier on watch in Afghanistan, 1988. A Soviet soldier on watch in Afghanistan, 1988. Do Trump’s Afghanistan Claims Mirror Moscow’s Rhetoric?January 11, 2019RM StaffEarlier this month, President Donald Trump offered his take on Soviet Russia’s experiences in Afghanistan as he argued in favor of a huge U.S. troop withdrawal and a larger contribution by Moscow to stabilize the war-racked country. The U.S. president put forward two basic propositions: that the 1979-1989 war in Afghanistan bankrupted the Soviet Union and led to its collapse and that the reason Moscow (rightly, according to Trump) invaded Afghanistan “was because terrorists were going into Russia.” Both claims drew a barrage of criticism in the U.S., Europe and Afghanistan. Even the Wall Street Journal’s editorial writers, normally measured in their criticism of Trump’s conduct and policies, said of his contention about terrorists that they “cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President.”

      Among the rebukes leveled at Trump was, in the words of one Republican commentator, that he was repeating “Soviet-Putinist propaganda.” But was he?

      Earlier this month, President Donald Trump offered his take on Soviet Russia’s experiences in Afghanistan as he argued in favor of a huge U.S. troop withdrawal and a larger contribution by Moscow to stabilize the war-racked country. The U.S. president put forward two basic propositions: that the 1979-1989 war in Afghanistan bankrupted the Soviet Union and led to its collapse and that the reason Moscow (rightly, according to Trump) invaded Afghanistan “was because terrorists were going into Russia.” Both claims rightly drew a barrage of criticism in the U.S., Europe and Afghanistan. Even the Wall Street Journal’s editorial writers, normally measured in their criticism of Trump’s conduct and policies, said of his contention about terrorists that they “cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President.”

      Among the rebukes leveled at Trump was, in the words of one Republican commentator, that he was repeating “Soviet-Putinist propaganda.” But was he? While Russian diplomats had cautiously welcomed earlier reports of a planned U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Kremlin supported Trump’s two propositions. The state-owned RT media conglomerate, known to toe the Kremlin line, also chose to withhold support in its coverage of Trump’s Jan. 3 remarks, including a story on its Russian-language website titled “‘An Argument for Ignoramuses’: Why Trump Blamed Afghanistan for the Soviet Collapse.” Instead, the report quoted at length from critical responses in U.S. newspapers, including political scientist Barnett Rubin’s comment to The Washington Post that, “The most shameless Soviet propagandist never claimed that Afghan terrorists were attacking Russia.”

      Russian officials’ and propagandists’ decision to refrain from endorsing Trump’s claims—especially that Moscow was right to send troops into Afghanistan because otherwise terrorists would have invaded the Soviet Union—is all the more notable given that Moscow has been casting its Soviet-era Afghan war in a more favorable light than before. Indeed, Russia’s State Duma plans to adopt an official document next month, stressing the long-ago military campaign’s legitimacy in terms of international law and overturning a 1989 Soviet parliamentary resolution condemning the invasion.

      However, looking beyond the immediate Russian reaction to Trump’s remarks, one finds that both his propositions echo some earlier assessments of the Soviet-era Afghan war (see below). For example, while the official Russian statements, documents and textbooks reviewed for this blog post do not support Trump’s claim that the Soviet Union “went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan” and ceased to exist as a result, at least one of them does acknowledge that the campaign put a significant drain on Soviet finances. More importantly, while none of the sources claimed, as Trump did, that “terrorists were going into Russia” at the time of the Soviet invasion, some prominent ones—most notably President Vladimir Putin—have said or implied that concerns about a spillover of the Islamist insurgency from Afghanistan into the Soviet Union across their shared border did contribute to Moscow’s decision to send troops.

      Proposition I as formulated by Trump:

      “Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. … The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. … A lot [of] these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.”

      Russians’ take on Proposition I in chronological order:

      • Analytical memo from Moscow-based Institute of the Economy of the Global Socialist System to Central Committee of CPSU: “With the sending of troops to Afghanistan our policy … has crossed the permissible boundaries of confrontation in the ‘third world.’ The benefits of this action turned out to be insignificant in comparison with the damage that was inflicted on our interests.” (1980)

      • Economist and former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, in his book explaining the collapse of the Soviet Union, cited the war in Afghanistan as an example of disproportionate geopolitical ambition, but did not identify it among the major drivers of collapse. Gaidar identified about a dozen structural, longer-term factors and several more immediate triggers whose confluence led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The predominant factor was the inefficiency of the Soviet economy, which could not cope with a sharp drop in revenues from oil exports. (2007)

      • 11th-grade textbook "History, Late 19th - Early 21st Century" (N.V. Zagladin and Yu.A. Petrov): “Economic losses were estimated to have totaled tens of billions of rubles.1 … [S]pending allocated through the Defense Ministry alone exceeded 12 billion rubles and 8 billion hard-currency-equivalent rubles on various aid… These expenditures had a significant impact on the state of the Soviet economy.” (2004)

      • Boris Gromov, army commander who led withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989: “The collapse of the Soviet Union had been approaching even before the campaign in Afghanistan began. These were complex processes, and they had begun long before that. They were underway, gaining momentum. It would be more correct to say that the war in Afghanistan gave one of the impulses for the collapse of the USSR.” (2016)

      • The online version of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential library notes that the Soviet decision to send troops had “an extremely negative impact on the international standing of the USSR. The country, in fact, found itself in partial international isolation.” (Undated)

      Proposition II as formulated by Trump:

      “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. … They [the Soviets] were right to be there.”

      Russians’ take on Proposition II in chronological order:

      • Official reason for sending troops as formulated by the Soviet Politburo on Dec. 12, 1979: "In order to provide international assistance to the friendly Afghan people, as well as to create favorable conditions for preventing anti-Afghan actions by neighboring states." A secret appendix to the Politburo’s resolution on how to spin the deployment of troops said it should be portrayed as “rendering help and assistance to the people and government of Afghanistan in fighting against external aggression,” which, as Leonid Brezhnev described in his Dec. 12, 1979, draft letter to Jimmy Carter, “had been occurring for a long period of time and now has acquired yet a wider scale.” (A classified Nov. 29, 1979, document co-authored by three Politburo members and the secretary of the Central Committee makes it clear that the Soviet leadership’s primary geopolitical concern was the possibility of a friendlier stance toward Washington by Afghan President Hafizullah Amin.)

      • “History of Soviet Russia” textbook (I.S. Ratkovsky and M.V. Khodyakov): “The coup in the leadership of the PDPA [People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan] (October 1979), the death of head of state [Nur Muhammad] Taraki, the rise to power of Amin, who carried out repressions in the party, and the strengthening of the Islamic opposition all forced the Soviet Union to resort to the use of force.” (2001)

      • President Vladimir Putin:  “Of course, one of the motives was the wish of the Soviet Government to secure our southern borders. Afghanistan was an extremely volatile and unpredictable neighbor. And we see what is happening there today. I must say that the Soviet military commanders … were against the operation, citing the difficulty of conducting military operations on that particular terrain. This is attested to by the documents and the testimony of the veterans who were engaged in these processes. But the superpowers and their allies had been engaged in a global confrontation for decades, and they proceeded in accordance with the logic of confrontation and their own vision of their geopolitical interests of the time.” (2004)

      • Russian historian and retired general Alexander Lyakhovsky wrote in his 2009 book “The Tragedy and Valor of Afghanistan” that the key trigger behind the Kremlin’s decision to send Soviet troops was the failure of the local Communist leadership’s armed forces to repel the onslaught of the mujahedeen.

      • 11th-grade textbook "History, Late 19th - Early 21st Century" (Zagladin and Petrov): The Soviet leadership’s decision to send troops to Afghanistan was dictated by the desire to attain “full political control over the territory of Afghanistan, protection of own borders, [and] countering attempts by the other superpower to gain a foothold in the region.” (2014)

      • Vladimir Putin: “Of course, there were a lot of mistakes, but there were also real threats that at that time the Soviet leadership tried to stop by sending troops into Afghanistan. … At that time our country encountered what is today called political Islam in Afghanistan. The extremist organizations were only getting born at the time, and they were being artificially fed from the outside.” (2015)

      • Senator Franz Klintsevich, leader of the Russian Union of Afghan Veterans, said (when he was a State Duma deputy from the Kremlin’s United Russia party) that, “The presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan ‘froze’ the threat of terrorism, which has now become problem No. 1 for all mankind. The Soviet Union was the first to take on the brunt of ‘jihad,’ whose theoreticians and implementers were ideologically and financially fostered by the secret services of Western countries, first and foremost the U.S.” (2015)

      • Russian Defense Ministry encyclopedia: “The DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] leadership viewed third countries’ support of the armed opposition [in Afghanistan] as these countries’ participation in a war against Afghanistan and repeatedly appealed to the USSR for direct military assistance. By the end of 1979, the situation in the country had deteriorated dramatically, [and] a threat that the left regime would fall had emerged in what the Soviet leadership believed could lead to an increase in the influence of Western countries on the southern borders of the USSR, as well as to a transfer of the armed struggle to the territory of the Soviet Union’s Central Asian republics.” (Undated)

      • The online version of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential library notes that the March 1979 mutiny of some DRA forces in Herat province, where the rebellious soldiers allied with the mujahedeen, was one of the more notable precipitants of the Soviet decision to send troops because that province bordered the Soviet Union’s Turkmen Republic. (Undated)

      1Contrast that sum with the Soviet defense budget, which, according to SIPRI, totaled 138 billion rubles in the last full year of the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan alone (1988). Official Soviet rate was 1 Soviet ruble = $1.51 as of January 1979.

      Photo: A Soviet soldier on watch in Afghanistan, 1988. RIA Novosti archive image by A. Solomonov shared under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. 

      Cold War 2.0 Is Dangerous Distraction From Vastly Greater Threats to West

      Cold War 2.0 Is Dangerous Distraction From Vastly Greater Threats to West

      teaser Haymarket riot Haymarket riot Cold War 2.0 Is Dangerous Distraction From Vastly Greater Threats to WestJanuary 02, 2019RM StaffRussia Matters’ weekly analytical digest did not come out Dec. 24 or Dec. 31 because of the winter holidays in the U.S., but here is a roundup of notable Russia-related commentary published since our last edition of the Russia Analytical Report—beginning with Anatol Lieven’s compelling argument that Western leaders must address the causes of domestic discontent instead of demonizing Russia and China in a new cold war.

      Russia Matters’ weekly analytical digest did not come out Dec. 24 or Dec. 31 because of the winter holidays in the U.S., but here is a roundup of notable Russia-related commentary published since our last edition of the Russia Analytical Report—beginning with Anatol Lieven’s compelling argument that Western leaders must address the causes of domestic discontent instead of demonizing Russia and China in a new cold war.

      I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

      New Cold War/saber rattling:

      “Western Nations Are Repeating the Mistakes of 1914,” Anatol Lieven, The National Interest, 12.22.18

      Nuclear arms control:

      “Is there a glimmer of hope for the INF Treaty?” Steven Pifer, Brookings, 12.27.18

      “Arms Control and the Aging Process,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 12.24.18

      Counterterrorism:

      “The New Face of Terrorism in 2019. Forget the Middle East—it’s time to prepare for attacks from the former Soviet Union,” Vera Mironova, Foreign Policy, 01.01.19

      Conflict in Syria:

      “Trump abandons a mission that was working,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 12.19.18

      “What Trump's Syria decision means on the front lines,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 12.23.18

      Elections interference:

      “Mueller's Report Will Be a Bore,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Wall Street Jenkins, 01.01.19

      “Russia's Information Warfare,” Renee DiResta, New York Times, 12.17.18.

      “Why Russia sees the NRA as key to manipulating American politics,” Laura Ellyn Smith, The Washington Post, 12.18.18

      U.S.-Russian relations in general:

      “A better approach to 'America First',” Antony J. Blinken and Robert Kagan, The Washington Post, 01.01.19

      “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan,” Robert Kaplan, New York Times, 01.01.19

      “A look into the crystal ball for Jan. 1, 2020,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 01.01.19

      II. Russia’s relations with other countries

      Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

      “Europe Should Woo Russia When Putin's Gone,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 12.28.18

      “The End of Europe?” Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, 12.18.18

      “Russia sees opportunity in ailing Venezuela.” Anthony Faiola and Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, 12.25.18

      Ukraine:

      “Is a Russian military operation against Ukraine likely in the near future?” Michael Kofman, Russia Military Analysis blog, 12.26.18

      “Is Russia about to invade Ukraine again? That may depend on Trump,” The Washington Post editorial, 12.30.18

      Fact-check of Petro Poroshenko’s claim that 54 percent of Ukrainians support joining NATO, Russia Matters, 12.31.18

      III. Russia’s domestic policies

      Domestic politics, economy and energy:

      “Putin’s Courtiers: How Sanctions Have Changed Russia’s Economic Policy,” Alexandra

      Prokopenko, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.20.18

      Security and intelligence:

      “Putin’s Keystone Spies,” Yulia Latynina, New York Times, 12.17.18

      “How Russia’s military intelligence agency became the covert muscle in Putin’s duels with the West,” Anton Troianovski and Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post, 12.28.18

       

      Illustration: "The Haymarket Riot" by Harper's Weekly, in the public domain.

      RM Picks: What to Read on the Kerch Strait Crisis

      RM Picks: What to Read on the Kerch Strait Crisis

      teaser Image of the Kerch Strait from space Image of the Kerch Strait from space RM Picks: What to Read on the Kerch Strait CrisisNovember 30, 2018RM StaffLooking to make sense of the events between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and their implications? Click below for our recommendations.

      Looking to make sense of the events between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and their implications? RM recommends the following articles:

      Photo shared by NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

      Putin’s Remarks on Use of Nuclear Weapons Are Confusing, But Unlikely to Constitute a Shift in Nuclear Posture

      Putin’s Remarks on Use of Nuclear Weapons Are Confusing, But Unlikely to Constitute a Shift in Nuclear Posture

      teaser Russian President Vladimir Putin Russian President Vladimir Putin Putin’s Remarks on Use of Nuclear Weapons Are Confusing, But Unlikely to Constitute a Shift in Nuclear PostureNovember 28, 2018Simon SaradzhyanRussian President Vladimir Putin’s eschatological talk of nuclear Armageddon at this year’s Valdai forum has stirred up heated debates on how well his description of Russia’s potential use of nuclear weapons matches the country’s official military doctrine. One commentator concluded that “Putin clearly doesn’t put much stock even in rules that he wrote himself,” while another accused him of lying that the Russian military doctrine does not provide for the possibility of a first nuclear strike. However, a close look at Putin’s Oct. 18 remarks and Russia’s 2014 military doctrine reveals that, while Putin deviated from the language in the doctrine, he did not lie on the first use issue. Nor did he seem to be hinting at a shift in Russia’s nuclear posture. More likely, he was signaling to Washington that the existing nuclear arms control treaties need to remain in place for the sake of ensuring strategic stability in the U.S.-Russian nuclear dyad and avoiding an accidental war between the two countries.

      First, about the supposed lie: In her Oct. 19 take on Putin’s Oct. 18 remarks, New Yorker columnist Masha Gessen claimed that the Russian leader supposedly insisted at the Valdai forum that Russia’s 2014 military doctrine does not...

      This post was originally published on the author's blog on Oct. 19. A lightly edited version is reproduced here.

      Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eschatological talk of nuclear Armageddon at this year’s Valdai forum has stirred up heated debates on how well his description of Russia’s potential use of nuclear weapons matches the country’s official military doctrine. One commentator concluded that “Putin clearly doesn’t put much stock even in rules that he wrote himself,” while another accused him of lying that the Russian military doctrine does not provide for the possibility of a first nuclear strike. However, a close look at Putin’s Oct. 18 remarks and Russia’s 2014 military doctrine reveals that, while Putin deviated from the language in the doctrine, he did not lie on the first use issue. Nor did he seem to be hinting at a shift in Russia’s nuclear posture. More likely, he was signaling to Washington that the existing nuclear arms control treaties need to remain in place for the sake of ensuring strategic stability in the U.S.-Russian nuclear dyad and avoiding an accidental war between the two countries.

      First, about the supposed lie: In her Oct. 19 take on Putin’s Oct. 18 remarks, New Yorker columnist Masha Gessen claimed that the Russian leader supposedly insisted at the Valdai forum that Russia’s 2014 military doctrine does not reserve the right of first strike for Russia. “Putin indicated that he was explaining the Russian military doctrine, which, he said, doesn’t reserve the right of first strike for Russia,” Gessen wrote in the New Yorker. “The Russian military doctrine provides for the possibility of a first nuclear strike, and Putin was lying,” she wrote.

      In reality, while Putin insisted that Russia' nuclear strategy does not allow preventive strikes, he never said the Russian military doctrine rules out first use of nuclear weapons. Rather, the Russian leader described the following scenario as the only one under which Russia would use nuclear weapons: “We will employ nuclear weapons only when we have ascertained that someone, a potential aggressor, is conducting a strike against Russia, our territory,” Putin said.  The scenario does not explicitly contradict the Russian military doctrine’s language on use of nuclear weapons, which is as follows: “The Russian Federation shall reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” In theory, a strike on Russia’s territory, which Putin has described, can be conventional and still put Russia’s existence in jeopardy, therefore meeting one of the two sets of conditions that the 2014 document deems to be sufficient for Russia’s first use of nuclear weapons. It is true that Putin did not mention in his remarks the other set of conditions for the use of nuclear weapons—that of nuclear weapons being used against Russia’s allies—however, while such an omission could be confusing, it does not qualify as a lie.

      While omitting some of the doctrine’s language on use of nuclear weapons, Putin also chose to insert some propositions about such use that the 2014 document does not contain. This could also create confusion regarding Russia’s official, public nuclear posture. While insisting that Russia’s concept of using nukes does not provide for a “превентивный удар” (preventive strike), Putin also stated at the Valdai forum that, if attacked, Russia would carry out a “ответно-встречный ударwhich the Kremlin translated into English as “reciprocal counter strike,” but which I would rather translate as “counter-strike on warning.” Per Putin’s description, it is the kind of strike that he, as the commander-in-chief, would order after ascertaining that an adversary’s warheads are already on their way and that their trajectories end in Russia. He would issue this order without waiting for the warheads to actually reach their targets. While referring to the use of nuclear weapons in response to aggression, the 2014 doctrine doesn’t specify what forms that response could take. However, the fact that the doctrine does not contain specific language on counter-strike on warning per se has not stopped Putin and his commanders from contemplating under what circumstances Russia would conduct such a strike. Putin himself has referred to the counter-strike on warning concept at least once before. He said in an interview for the Russian-language documentary The World Order 2018, which aired in March 2018, that Russia’s plans for using nuclear weapons call for a “ответно-встречный удар,” (counter-strike on warning), offering a similar explanation of the conditions under which such a strike would be carried out. (That statement went, by the way, largely unnoticed in Western press, in my view, but Putin’s interviewer at the recent session of the Valdai Forum, Fyodor Lukyanov, brought it up.)

      In some earlier instances, Putin has also actually distinguished between “ответный удар” (counter-strike, a strike in response to) and “ответно-встречный удар” (counter-strike on warning). Putin did so in his Oct. 22, 2015 remarks at the Valdai Forum saying, “If one country believes that it has created a ‘missile umbrella’ over itself and can protect itself from a counter-strike or a counter-strike on warning, well, then its hands are untied in the use of any types of weapons.” This statement indicates that he sees a certain difference between the two kinds of strikes.

      Additionally, the concept of counter-strike on warning has been clearly present in actual military planning both in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. For instance, the commander of the Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN), Sergei Karakaev, has referred to a counter-strike on warning as something his forces’ mobile ICBMs would be involved in in case of war. In his 2011 interview, Karakaev offered a description of such a strike similar to the description given by Putin, saying Russia would launch its nuclear weapons after detecting a “mass launch” of adversarial nuclear weapons, but before the warheads land in Russia. He also explained that in contrast, “ответный удар” would commence only after the warheads land in Russia. Some of Russia’s former top nuclear commanders, such as former chief of staff of the RVSN Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, have also made it clear that post-Soviet Russia’s strategic nuclear forces have continued to plan for carrying out counter-strike on warning. The fact that both the Russian leader and his strategists have in the past referred to counter-strike on warning as part and parcel of Russia’s military planning indicates, therefore, that Putin’s Oct. 18 statement does not constitute a departure from Russia’s actual nuclear posture.

      Why would, however, the commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces personally assert twice this year that Russia’s concept of the use of nuclear weapons provides for a “counter-strike on warning?” I think this rhetoric is all part of the Kremlin’s strategic signaling to the U.S. as the INF Treaty is dying and New START is set to expire. Highlighting the fact that Russia’s nuclear posture is based on the concept of “ответно-встречный удар,” which carries a greater risk than “ответный удар,” underscores that a mistake or accident, such as glitches in the early warning systems or an accidental or unauthorized launch, can trigger a massive nuclear response. By highlighting this, Putin is signaling that it is best to preserve the existing nuclear arms control agreements that reduce such risks. They do so by ensuring a certain degree of transparency and predictability in the two sides’ nuclear postures and deployments, as well as increasing warning and decision-time.

      Simon Saradzhyan is the founding director of Russia Matters. The views expressed here are his own.

      Photo courtesy of the Kremlin.

      From Russia Sanctions to Central Asia: Highlights from Harvard’s Davis Center at 70

      From Russia Sanctions to Central Asia: Highlights from Harvard’s Davis Center at 70

      teaser Davis Center timeline Davis Center timeline From Russia Sanctions to Central Asia: Highlights from Harvard’s Davis Center at 70November 21, 2018Daniel ShapiroThis fall, Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies celebrated its 70th anniversary with a weekend of panels that brought together alumni, current students, faculty and others associated with the center for discussions on a wide range of topics concerning Russia and Eurasia. Below are some highlights. An exhibit featuring the timeline of U.S.-Russian interaction shown above is on view at Harvard until Dec. 14, 2018.

      Present-Day Russian Politics

      Harvard’s own Alexandra Vacroux chaired a panel on the connections between Russian foreign and domestic policy, with speakers discussing political networks, xenophobia and sanctions. Henry Hale of George Washington University argued that Russian politics are largely defined by extended networks of personal acquaintance and that the Putin regime is not as stable as it may appear, since it is vulnerable to interruptions in these networks, among other problems. Yoshiko Herrera from the University of Wisconsin-Madison approached the topic from a different angle, focusing on Russian nationalism. She noted that while xenophobic violence in Russia has decreased, it has been refocused toward a dislike of the West, although not toward a rejection of European identity. Other panelists focused more on economics. Oksana Antonenko, an analyst with the global consultancy Control Risks, addressed Russia’s continued resource reliance and lack of presence in many global supply chains. Antonenko also discussed sanctions, arguing that they have in fact served to benefit state-run industry to the detriment of the private sector. Christopher Jarmas, a recent Davis grad now working as an analyst at the Sayari consultancy, also addressed sanctions, emphasizing that they are meant to have a long-term impact and are more effective when states are closely tied together economically, and that their impact on Russia will really be felt once oil prices fall.

      This fall, Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies celebrated its 70th anniversary with a weekend of panels that brought together alumni, current students, faculty and others associated with the center for discussions on a wide range of topics concerning Russia and Eurasia. Below are some highlights. An exhibit featuring the timeline of U.S.-Russian interaction shown above is on view at Harvard until Dec. 14, 2018.

      Present-Day Russian Politics

      Harvard’s own Alexandra Vacroux chaired a panel on the connections between Russian foreign and domestic policy, with speakers discussing political networks, xenophobia and sanctions. Henry Hale of George Washington University argued that Russian politics are largely defined by extended networks of personal acquaintance and that the Putin regime is not as stable as it may appear, since it is vulnerable to interruptions in these networks, among other problems. Yoshiko Herrera from the University of Wisconsin-Madison approached the topic from a different angle, focusing on Russian nationalism. She noted that while xenophobic violence in Russia has decreased, it has been refocused toward a dislike of the West, although not toward a rejection of European identity. Other panelists focused more on economics. Oksana Antonenko, an analyst with the global consultancy Control Risks, addressed Russia’s continued resource reliance and lack of presence in many global supply chains. Antonenko also discussed sanctions, arguing that they have in fact served to benefit state-run industry to the detriment of the private sector. Christopher Jarmas, a recent Davis grad now working as an analyst at the Sayari consultancy, also addressed sanctions, emphasizing that they are meant to have a long-term impact and are more effective when states are closely tied together economically, and that their impact on Russia will really be felt once oil prices fall.

      Contemporary Central Asian Politics

      A panel on contemporary Central Asian politics, chaired by Eurasianet’s Caucasus editor, Joshua Kucera, focused on Central Asian states’ changing internal and external political outlooks. Regarding foreign policy, Nargis Kassenova of Kazakhstan’s KIMEP University noted Russia’s general lack of attention toward Central Asia and Central Asia’s turn toward other regions (such as China, the West and the Gulf States) for inspiration for modernization. Kassenova also argued that Central Asian states were forming a sort of “strategic partnership” with China, while Pauline Jones from the University of Michigan added that Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia is not zero-sum, and that even as China’s influence grows, Russia’s influence will likely remain constant. The conversation around domestic politics mainly focused on Uzbekistan’s new government. Jones mentioned how Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has shown some support for globalization, but has not advocated for liberalization and tends to look toward Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev for inspiration. Kassenova added that Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan wants to be a more “normal autocracy.”

      History and Arts

      While much attention was devoted to politics, a fair share of it went to history and the arts as well. The anniversary celebration was bookended by events related to iconography, including an opening panel—led by Harvard professor Michael Flier and Davis graduate Sarah VanSickle whose work as a student had focused on the use of religious imagery in Ukraine’s Maidan protests—and an excursion to the Museum of Russian Icons. Davis Center director Rawi Abdelal led a panel on history’s impact on the present, in which Harvard professor Timothy Colton raised the question of modern-day Russia’s direction, so different-seeming now compared with the days of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, with President Vladimir Putin focusing less on Russia’s “direction” per se and more on ensuring that the Russian state itself is as structurally strong as possible. Harvard’s Terry Martin discussed the historic strength of the Russian state and how this history manifests itself today in the “information state” described by UCLA’s Daniel Treisman, while Harvard’s Serhii Plokhii described ties between Russia’s imperial legacy and its modern-day Ukraine policy. Julie Buckler, also of Harvard, trained her sights elsewhere, discussing historical artifacts such as Faberge eggs, lapel pins and icons and how they are viewed in contemporary Russia.

      Expert Round-Up: Impacts of US Midterms on Russia Policy

      Expert Round-Up: Impacts of US Midterms on Russia Policy

      teaser VOTE sign VOTE sign Expert Round-Up: Impacts of US Midterms on Russia PolicyNovember 08, 2018RM StaffWhat impact will this week’s midterm elections have on the U.S. policies most relevant to U.S.-Russian relations? Russia Matters has scanned publications by some of the West’s leading media and think-tanks for initial insights. Most commentators seem to agree that a Democratic-led House of Representatives is likely to revive or intensify some of the investigations into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections and to expand sanctions against Russia, but that President Donald Trump’s executive powers are deep and broad enough to let him continue pursuing a Russia policy of his own choice. (Though it’s worth noting that even with a Republican-led Congress, the Trump administration has hardly been dovish on Moscow.)

      The center of decision making on Russia sanctions and policy, according to former Obama administration official Peter Harrell, will likely shift from the Republican-majority Senate to the House. In fact, new sanctions on Russia were likely regardless of the election’s winners, according to Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer. They note that under a Democratic House, the Kremlin...

      What impact will this week’s midterm elections have on the U.S. policies most relevant to U.S.-Russian relations? Russia Matters has scanned publications by some of the West’s leading media and think-tanks for initial insights. Most commentators seem to agree that a Democratic-led House of Representatives is likely to revive or intensify some of the investigations into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections and to expand sanctions against Russia, but that President Donald Trump’s executive powers are deep and broad enough to let him continue pursuing a Russia policy of his own choice. (Though it’s worth noting that even with a Republican-led Congress, the Trump administration has hardly been dovish on Moscow.)

      The center of decision making on Russia sanctions and policy, according to former Obama administration official Peter Harrell, will likely shift from the Republican-majority Senate to the House. In fact, new sanctions on Russia were likely regardless of the election’s winners, according to Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer. They note that under a Democratic House, the Kremlin can simply expect more of them, as well as more investigations. New sanctions are likely to be tougher for Russians both inside and outside the Kremlin, including for ordinary citizens, Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky writes. 

      But the midterm results aren’t all bad for Moscow, according to two leading experts from the Carnegie Moscow Center. Alexander Gabuev says the Kremlin may actually view the split Congress as a good thing, as it will exacerbate the already deep divisions in U.S. politics. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, writes Dmitri Trenin, the center’s director, the impact of the U.S. midterm elections is negligible. Trenin explains that Putin’s investment in Trump is not about Washington’s Russia policy, the U.S. Congress or how well or poorly Republicans fare in the midterms; instead, Trump’s importance to Putin lies in his departure from previous U.S. foreign policy and the disruption he creates in the global system—which Putin sees as positive for Russia.

      Things aren’t all bad for Trump, either. In pursuing his goal of better relations with Russia, the U.S. president is unlikely to be hindered by a divided Congress, since the executive branch has a relatively free hand in foreign policy issues, say Andrew Weiss, a former Russia director on the National Security Council, and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Moreover, while Democrats are readying to slap new sanctions on Russia and put Trump’s White House under a microscope, according to Financial Times’ Katrina Manson, Robert Mueller’s investigation may be facing difficulties. This is particularly true following the ouster of Jeff Sessions as attorney general the day after the midterms, as noted by the New York Times editorial board.

      And what does Europe make of all this? Some worry that the mixed outcome of the midterms means Americans could back Trump for a second term, according to both Bershidsky and Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times.

      Check out our round-up below for more on the impacts of the U.S. midterms for Russia policy.

      What kinds of new sanctions and investigations to expect:

      “What’s Bad for Trump Is Worse for Putin: The Kremlin can expect more sanctions and more investigations from a Democratic House,” Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer, Foreign Policy, 11.07.18: The authors, reporters for Foreign Policy, write: “The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is promising more investigations into Russian meddling … and both parties are likely to push for more sanctions… ‘There is a decent chance that we will see the center of gravity on Russia sanctions and Russia policy shifting from the Senate to the House,’ said [former Obama administration official ] Peter Harrell… New sanctions on Russia were likely regardless of who won the elections. … [T]he Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act … would impose sanctions on Russian sovereign debt, Russian energy projects, oligarchs and national banks. … Another significant piece of legislation to watch is the Deter Act.” Congressional aides also “expect the new Democratic majority to reintroduce several key bills aimed at cracking down on Russian election meddling in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

      “How Congress Can Take Back Foreign Policy: A Playbook for Capitol Hill,” Brian McKeon and Caroline Tess, Foreign Affairs, 11.07.18: The authors, a former national security official and a senior fellow at the Penn Biden Center, offer various recommendations: In January, they write, the congressional committees “that cover national security … should hold hearings on U.S. policy toward Iran, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Central America” among other issues. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee should take “a close look at the Chinese and Russians who have bought Trump properties … as well as the lavish spending by foreign governments at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.” Congress should also highlight “how U.S. foreign policy toward China, Russia and the Persian Gulf is affected by Trump family business interests. … The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence … should focus on standard oversight of the intelligence community” rather than on Mueller’s Russia investigation. “Building on the Russian sanctions it passed in 2017, Congress should also promptly consider the Defending American Security From Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018.”

      How the Kremlin perceives the results:

      “Why Putin Isn’t Sweating the Midterms,” Dmitri Trenin, Politco, 11.06.18: The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “Some are advising the Kremlin to stay clear of Trump’s White House… Yet, Putin is determined to continue his face-to-face contacts with Trump. … In his recent public remarks … Putin suggested that when Trump wins his second term in 2020, he will be freer to stabilize and normalize relations with Russia. … The new Congress promises more of the same: more sanctions, more investigations, more accusations about the Trump-Russia connection. Thus, they [analysts] say, engaging with Trump is futile… [T]his line of analysis … totally misses what Putin sees in Trump. … To Putin, Trump represents a new departure in U.S. foreign policy. What Putin considers positive for Russia is the disruption that Trump is creating for the global system… In this, Trump, for all his idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies, is the most avowedly Russia-friendly American leader Putin is likely to encounter. … Trump wants a ‘great America,’ the world’s mightiest power that is focused mostly on what it regards as its own national interests. … [S]uch an America would be ideal for Russia.”

      “US Midterms: Why The World Fears ‘Trumpism’ Is Here to Stay,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 11.06.18: The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, writes:The Putin government has not given up on Mr. Trump. Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow of the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow, says he thinks ‘Putin’s preferred outcome’ would be for the Republicans to maintain control over both the House and the Senate… The expectation of a potential second term for Mr. Trump is also rising in Russia. However, even a result where the Democrats win the House but not the Senate ‘doesn’t look bad from Moscow’s viewpoint,’ he [Gabuev] says. ‘A split Congress … will add dysfunctionality to the U.S. political system, so the country might become even more divided and inward-looking . . .  Something that weakens your opponent is good for you, that’s the logic.’”

      The election results will have limited impact on president's foreign policy course or national security:

      “US Midterms: Democrats Ready to Put White House Under Microscope. New Committee Chairmen Prepare Agendas Despite Talk of Bipartisanship,” Katrina Manson, Financial Times, 11.07.18: The author, a correspondent for the Financial Times, writes: “Democrats will try to scale back the U.S. military presence in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa, as well as demand more information about U.S. relations with Russia and North Korea. Many are also eager to reassert support for NATO and strengthen the U.S. alliances with Western allies… Total deadlock [between Democrats and Republicans] is unlikely… Both parties share ‘a common threat perception of North Korea, Russia and a common concern about China,’ says Louis Lauter, who leads congressional affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. … Andrew Weiss, a former Russia director on the National Security Council … said he was skeptical that a divided Congress would create a dramatic shift, adding that the White House had a much freer hand over national security than other policy areas.”

      “How House Democrats Will Try to Reshape Trump's Foreign Policy,” Amanda Erickson, The Washington Post, 11.07.18: The author, a foreign affairs reporter for The Washington Post, writes: “The Democrats cannot do much to change the president's foreign policy course. ‘It's not at all obvious that the midterms will have much effect on foreign policy,’ said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘Under our system, almost all of the initiative resides with the executive branch. That's not going to change.’”

      Impact on Russia investigation by Mueller:

      “Mueller Was Running on Borrowed Time. Has It Run Out?” Editorial Board, New York Times, 11.07.18: The New York Times editorial board writes: “Robert Mueller, the special counsel, always knew he was running the Russia investigation on borrowed time. That time may have just run out on Wednesday afternoon [Nov. 7], when President Trump ousted his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, less than 24 hours after Republicans lost their eight-year lock on the House of Representatives. … Trump has made clear that he thinks the attorney general should function as a president’s personal lawyer… In the days before Mr. Sessions recused himself last year, Mr. Trump tried desperately to stop him… The president may believe that in Mr. [Matthew] Whitaker he’s found his Roy Cohn,” whom the authors describe as “an infamous mob lawyer and fixer.” Trump “may also believe that the Republican majority in the Senate … is prepared to embrace such a corrupted standard for American justice.”

      Where do new chairs of House committees stand on Russia:

      “Democratic House Brings Uncertainty to Trump Foreign Policy,” Mike Eckel, RFE/RL, 11.08.18: The author, a senior correspondent for RFE/RL, writes: “Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), an outspoken critic of the Kremlin … is likely to take chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Another Russia critic, Adam Smith (D- Wash.), is likely to take over as head of the House Armed Services Committee. … Jim Risch of Idaho is widely expected to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations. He is not considered to be as hawkish on Russia policy as [Bob] Corker, or as the other Republican who has expressed interest in the chairmanship—Marco Rubio… Little change, if any, is expected in the congressional approach toward Ukraine… House Democrats may consider funding for more weapons supplies to Ukraine's armed forces.”

      “What’s Bad for Trump Is Worse for Putin: The Kremlin can expect more sanctions and more investigations from a Democratic House,” Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer, Foreign Policy, 11.07.18: The authors, reporters for Foreign Policy, write: “One sliver of good news for the Russians may be the change in leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee… With Sen. Bob Corker (R), a key architect of Russia sanctions, set to retire, committee chairmanship will pass to Trump loyalist Sen. Jim Risch. … ‘I would be surprised if Risch would want to do anything on Russia,’ [former Obama administration official Peter] Harrell said. … Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who had been dubbed ‘Putin’s favorite congressman,’ lost his seat in California’s 48th district.”

      Election results suggest Trump is here to stay:

      “Europe's 2018 Takeaway: Trump Is No Fluke. Commentators and politicians see the mixed outcome as evidence Americans would back the president for a second term,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 11.07.18: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “It’s something of a shock to European U.S.-watchers that the midterms prove that Trump’s victory in 2016 wasn’t a freak accident… For most European countries, little will change after the U.S. vote. At best, the new Democratic leadership in the House will propose alternative policies and try to heal rifts… The Democrats’ performance in the midterms doesn’t foretell a landslide, or even a narrow win, in 2020. On this side of the Atlantic, only one country faces somewhat increased risks from the midterms: Russia. … Russian officials have long known that they have to dig in for the long haul when it comes to U.S. hostility. Europeans, too, are getting accustomed to the prospect that Trump’s America is not necessarily just a painful but brief interlude.”

      “US Midterms: Why the World Fears ‘Trumpism’ Is Here to Stay,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 11.06.18: The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for Financial Times, writes: “The results of the 2018 midterms will be seen all over the world as a crucial test of whether Donald Trump has permanently changed America. … If the Republicans do well, then many will conclude that ‘Trumpism’ is here to stay. The rest of the world would have to make a long-term adjustment to an America that is highly protectionist and suspicious of treaties on principle… However, if the Democrats prosper on Tuesday night, then the US president’s foreign critics will cling on to the hope that the Trump years may yet turn out to be an aberration.”

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