This Week’s Highlights
- U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley met Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov in Helsinki on Sept. 22 for six hours. “We need to put in place policies and procedures to make sure that we increase certainty, to reduce uncertainty,” Milley said after the meeting, RFE/RL reports. Milley also said allowing military service chiefs to form stronger relationships with their Russian counterparts and allowing observers at exercises are ideas worth exploring. The Russian Defense Ministry said that “during the meeting, the military leaders discussed issues of mutual interest, including reducing the risk of incidents in the course of military activities. The meeting was constructive.”
- The U.S. House of Representatives has agreed to add legislation to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA-2022) that would place sanctions on Russia's Nord Stream 2, according to RFE/RL. The House also approved an amendment to the NDAA-2022 that would ban U.S. citizens from buying or selling newly issued Russian sovereign debt on both primary and secondary markets, while its Rules Committee also passed an amendment which recommends the U.S. administration consider imposing sanctions against 35 Russian citizens, including Russian ministers and major businessmen.
- The U.S. has vowed to support European countries hit by an energy supply crunch blamed on Russia and to “stand up” to suppliers accused of manipulating prices, the Financial Times reports. The International Energy Agency has called on Russia to send more gas to Europe, while the Kremlin has suggested that the current supply crunch proves the need for more pipelines, according to the Financial Times.
- Since early September, Russia has been stepping up its military attacks and airstrikes in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib and its surroundings, Al Monitor reports. Some believe the escalation is a prelude to a Syrian government offensive to take Idlib, the country’s last rebel stronghold. Others, meanwhile, believe the activity is merely to gain leverage in the upcoming tripartite summit between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Sochi in late September.
- Germans will head to the polls Sept. 26 for the country’s general election. The Social Democrats’ candidate, Olaf Scholz, is leading in the polls with around 25 percent, VOA reports. "I also say that Russia and other countries need to accept that European integration will continue," he told DW in August. "If we want to ensure joint security in Europe, then it's about the European Union and Russia." He said he would push for a new strategy toward dealing with Russia and other eastern European countries.
- The ruling United Russia party retained a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, following elections that have been criticized as neither free nor fair by Russia’s opposition and the West. A number of Russian opposition leaders denounced the results as blatantly falsified, with jailed activist Alexei Navalny accusing the Kremlin of stealing the elections and a group of Russian parliamentary candidates calling for rallies to protest what they saw as fraudulent results. Sergei Shpilkin, a well-known Russian analyst of election fraud, estimates that actual support for United Russia was about 33%. The U.S. State Department criticized the crackdown on Kremlin critics leading up to the vote, saying it kept Russian citizens from being able to exercise their civil rights, while the U.K. called the elections a “serious step back for democratic freedoms.”
This Week’s Highlights
“In some crucial ways, Russia and the United States were not so different—and Putin, for one, knew it,” writes Brookings’ Fiona Hill. “[T]he United States has begun to move closer to Russia, as populism, cronyism and corruption have sapped the strength of American democracy. ... [T]heir populations have proved equally susceptible to political manipulation. ... Trump put the United States on a path to autocracy, all the while promising to ‘make America great again.’ Likewise, Putin took Russia back toward the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union under the guise of strengthening the state and restoring the country’s global position.”
“A future of great-power competition with China and Russia conjures images of world wars, cyberwars and trade wars. Those threats are real, but history tells us that—strange as it may seem—sudden seizures of small territories will continue to be the most common spark for wars and near wars between powerful nations,” writes Prof. Dan Altman. “Despite the small size of the territories seized, these events are not of small importance. And the world has not seen the last of them.”
“It seems inevitable that China, or any other country experiencing newfound strength, would become more ‘assertive.’ It is therefore unlikely that Moscow would strive to achieve even closer relations with Beijing by attempting, for example, to establish a formal alliance with China,” writes Prof. Alexander Lukin. “China has no need for Russia as an ally anyway: the trend toward assertiveness runs contrary to the idea of becoming tied down with formal obligations that could limit the country’s sovereignty and freedom to maneuver. It is, therefore, very likely that the peak of Russian-Chinese rapprochement has already passed.”
“For BRICS to lose significance, the United States would have to offer those members most suspicious of China—India and Brazil—attractive multilateral arrangements that would give them weight and due importance in global governance. Outside of this, there is little motivation for BRICS members to downgrade their commitments,” argues Manjari Chatterjee Miller, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Parliamentary elections in Russia matter to the West inasmuch as they are a barometer of the degree of political competition and or repression inside Russia,” writes Prof. Angela Stent, while Carnegie’s Tatiana Stanovaya argues that the election “detects internal splits … within the ruling elite over the problem of how to deal with the ruling party,” thus helping “us to better understand the nature of decision making in the Russian leadership.” Carnegie’s Andrei Kolesnikov writes that “the fight against so-called foreign agents and undesirable organizations will continue,” which “along with the Kremlin's historical policy of describing Russia's entire history as a defense against the West, is at the heart of current ideology and propaganda.” Meanwhile, Director of the Levada Center Denis Volkov notes that the West does not “show much interest in parliamentary elections in Russia, not considering routine diplomatic inquiries, purely academic observations and rather ritualistic denunciations of the non-democratic character of Russian elections.”Read more