This page features the weekly news and analysis digests compiled by Russia Matters. Explore them by clicking "Read More" below the current week's highlights and subscribe using the subscribe links throughout the site, like the one below, to receive our digests via email. Past digests are available in the News Archive, which is accessible via the link on this page.
This Week’s Highlights
- The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has singled out a "growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states" as a key challenge facing the United States in its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. At the same time, the document notes the extension of New START, pledging that the Biden administration will “engage in meaningful dialogue with Russia and China on a range of emerging military technological developments that implicate strategic stability,” “pursue new arms control arrangements [and] take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”
- Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview there would be “seen and unseen” elements in the U.S. response to the SolarWinds attack, the New York Times reports. But the goal, he argued, would be to shape Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior over the long term.
- The U.S. and EU have announced coordinated sanctions against Russian officials over the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, but spared Russian oligarchs, RFE/RL reports. However, Western officials have warned that Biden might be prepared to place restrictions on Russia’s government debt if Russia is found to break international laws against the use of chemical weapons and if the U.S. president could convince Europe to do the same, according to RFE/RL. The Russian ruble dropped 1 percent March 5 on these reports while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the potential new sanctions "crazy," The Moscow Times reports.
- A Gallup poll released March 1 demonstrated that the Americans’ overall favorable view of Russia has dropped six points to a new low of 22 percent, and 77 percent now have an unfavorable opinion of the country.
- China’s Defense Ministry released a statement March 1 that said: "Today’s China-Russia all-embracing strategic partnership is a model of a new type of international relations … The two sides adhere to the principle of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting of third countries, which differs completely from the military alliance between some countries,” the South China Morning Post reports. Russia and China have commitments under the 2001 friendship treaty, which says that in the event of a danger to either side, consultations should be held on the means of eliminating that threat. "If we look at the U.S.-Japanese treaty or the NATO treaty, the commitments there are also vague. The wording in the Russian-Chinese treaty does not differ that much from them," Russian Sinologist Vasily Kashin said, TASS reports.
- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Belarusian counterpart Viktor Khrenin held talks in Moscow March 5 and agreed to set up three joint military training centers, with one of them to be based in Belarus, Interfax reports. The two also discussed the Zapad (West) 2021 exercise that will be one of the largest joint exercises.
- Sixty-four percent of Russians believe that the coronavirus was invented in a lab, according to Russia’s leading independent pollster the Levada Center, The Moscow Times reports.
This Week’s Highlights
- Investing military might with self-righteous moralism has not only produced one policy failure after another, but it has also tarnished the very ideals conscripted into power politics, argues Stephen Wertheim of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Biden should bring home many of the troops scattered across the globe and thereby disentangle the United States from regional disputes, Wertheim writes. From there, Biden should wind down the war on terror, build peace with North Korea and tell the Pentagon that ''great power competition'' will not be the organizing principle of relations with China and Russia.
- Washington cannot return to a pre-October 2019 position of retaining control over the entirety of Syria’s northeast; therefore, the United States must lock Moscow into some sort of agreement that limits its options and binds Russia into a process that Washington can help guide, writes Aaron Stein, director of research at FPRI. Negotiating with Moscow is Washington’s best option, he argues.
- Trying to kill the Nord Stream 2 project when it is 90 percent complete risks rupturing relations with Europe's most powerful nation, which must be at the center of any democratic alliance to combat autocracy, argues The Washington Post’s editorial board. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is reportedly looking for ways to mitigate the pipeline problem, perhaps through guarantees to Ukraine.
- The challenge from a resurgent Russia can be addressed through a combination of force and inducement, writes Dimitri Simes of the Center for the National Interest. Inducement alone will not be enough, but force and coercion without inducement and dialogue are unlikely to work either, according to Simes, and they have the potential to bring about the end of history, not in a triumphalist fashion, but rather in the form of the end of human civilization.
- America’s ability to deter and contain a revisionist Kremlin will be more effective and less expensive if Washington does it together with allies, writes John Herbst, director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. The most important task here is to strengthen NATO’s presence in its southeast quadrant. Greater cooperation with the EU is also essential to ensure a more effective sanctions policy. These measures, Herbst writes, are not meant as a substitute for dialogue with the Kremlin that would advance America’s interests.
- The new Biden administration would do well to recognize the increasingly diminishing returns to each new sanctions action against Russia and also recognize that sanctions have affected the internal political economy of Russia in unforeseen ways not necessarily favorable to U.S. foreign policy, writes Daniel P. Ahn, former chief economist at the U.S. State Department. Instead of simply adding to the quantity of sanctions, Ahn writes, the Biden administration should focus on improving their quality by considering their potential consequences. A sanctions target would likely see significant economic harm only if it is dependent upon key Western inputs for which substitutes are difficult to find, according to Ahn.