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
- Russia has said it will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, the Financial Times reports. Moscow’s decision effectively cripples the 2002 treaty. Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that American allies did not appear willing to save the treaty by satisfying Russia’s demands in recent months that with the U.S. out of the treaty, they no longer pass along any intelligence gathered through it to Washington, according to the New York Times.
- The head of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff Valery Gerasimov held phone talks with the Chairman of the U.S. Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, the Russian Defense Ministry said. "The sides discussed the issues of security and maintenance of stability in various regions of the world that present a mutual interest," the Ministry said, TASS reports.
- The Trump administration on Jan. 14 labeled China, Iran, Russia, Cuba and North Korea as foreign adversaries as part of a new set of rules aimed at protecting the U.S. telecoms supply chain, Reuters reports. The rules will go into effect 60 days after publication, according to the Wall Street Journal. Shipments of communications hardware, software and other gear from those nations could be blocked under the new rules as posing a national-security risk.
- Over the past week, tens of millions of people have downloaded Telegram and Signal, making them the two hottest apps in the world, the New York Times reports. Their sudden jump in popularity was spurred by a series of events last week that stoked growing anxiety over some of the big tech companies and their communication apps, like WhatsApp, which Facebook owns.
- Russia will restart construction of its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany this week, Financial Times reports. Gazprom will use the pipe-layer Fortuna ship and two support vessels, which are capable of laying about 1 kilometer of pipe a day. That could see it finish construction in about four months. “The Europeans must stop the construction of Nord Stream 2, and the Americans must suspend the sanctions,” adviser to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden Nicholas Burns told German newspaper Handelsblatt.
- At the end of 2020, trade between Russia and China decreased by 2.9 percent in annual terms and amounted to $107.76 billion, according to the PRC's General Customs Administration statement released Jan. 14, according to TASS. Interfax reports that China was the main buyer of Russian agricultural products in 2020, with its purchases totaling $4.049 billion, up 27 percent, while the European Union was second with $3.325 billion, up 13 percent, and Turkey was third with $3.137 billion, up 26 percent.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has hosted a trilateral meeting in Moscow with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, RFE/RL reports. Following the talks on Jan. 11, Putin, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian issued a joint statement on the Kremlin website announcing the creation of a trilateral working group to oversee the "unblocking of all economic and transport links" in the region. Aliyev called Putin's invitation for the trilateral meeting "very useful and productive," saying afterward that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict "remained in the past." However, Pashinian said the conflict was still not resolved, insisting that key issues surrounding the conflict were in suspension and needed to be resolved immediately.
This Week’s Highlights
- A very useful step for Moscow and Washington would be to revive the practice of convening bi-annual U.S.-Russian meetings at the assistant/under-secretary or deputy foreign minister level, suggest Prof. William C. Potter, founding director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and Anton Khlopkov, founding director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow. They also note that it would be worthwhile to resurrect a number of the arms control, nuclear energy and nuclear security working groups that were originally established under the bilateral U.S.-Russian Presidential Commission.
- Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Joe Biden have said that, in principle, they want to invoke a provision of the New START treaty, write Anton Troianovski and David E. Sanger of the New York Times. One complicating factor, however, is that critical members of Biden's cabinet may not yet be confirmed by the Senate in time for the negotiation.
- Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a senior fellow with the Belfer Center, writes that with regard to cyber, specifically, is there merit in initiating negotiations with the Russians and Chinese, without preconditions, in order to explore the possibility of agreeing on mutual constraints in areas of common interest, and lowering the possibility of confrontation in areas of disagreement, i.e., development of a cyber “rules of the road?”
- A poll of 15,000 Europeans in 11 countries conducted for the European Council on Foreign Relations has revealed that in no surveyed country would a majority want to take Washington’s side in a conflict with Russia. “Amazing only 36 percent of respondents in Poland and 40 percent in Denmark say that their country should side with the U.S. in such a scenario,” write Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard in their analysis of the poll conducted for ECFR by Datapraxis and YouGov in November and December 2020. “This shift in perceptions might have as much to do with power as anything else. What Europeans love about the memory of Cold War 1.0 is that they were on the winning side; the fear in many European countries is that Cold War 2.0 might have a different outcome,” they write.
- American thinking about Russia is clouded by misperceptions, writes former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. Many analysts wrongly assume that Russia is a declining power. Biden and his national security team must retire outdated perceptions of the Russian threat and formulate a new policy to contain the Kremlin’s economic, military, and political influence, McFaul writes. Washington can work to counter Putin’s ideological project even while working with the Russian government in narrow areas of shared interest and deepening ties with Russian society at large.
- America is indeed exceptional in one sense, relative to older powers such as France, Japan, Russia and China, writes Charlie Lane of The Washington Post. Unlike them, this country did not grow organically over millennia but was settled, or conquered, in the modern era, then consciously organized according to historically derived political theory. "It has defined its raison d'etre ideologically," the most astute modern analyst of exceptionalism, Seymour Martin Lipset, wrote.
- Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition activist arrested on his return to Moscow on Jan. 17, may not possess the same righteousness as Andrei Sakharov, the most famous of Soviet dissidents. But there is no doubting his courage, writes the Financial Times’ Ben Hall. The Kremlin’s high-visibility persecution risks turning Navalny into a rallying point for domestic opposition, according to Hall. He must be effective if Putin fears him so much. The Russian leader does not seem to care that dispensing with due process makes Navalny a symbol of the abuses of an authoritarian regime, Hall writes, but the West must.